The Sweather

Nico was pretty sure his grandmother was a witch. After she gave him a quilt for Christmas last year, she started appearing in his dreams. “How are you, dear?” She’d ask. “I’m just checking in on you. Did you brush your teeth? How did your day go?”

Once, when he was really sick, his grandmother just knew without any one calling her. She brought over some medicine that tasted terrible. It was black and smelly and slimey and oozy. He was certain he’d throw it all up right away, but she insisted he drink it. He felt better before he put the cup down. It was amazing.

However, the biggest proof that his grandmother wasn’t normal was the sweather she gave him for his birthday last month. “A sweater?” Nico asked when he’d opened it.

“Of course not, dear,” grandmother said. “It’s a sweather. You’ll see.”

And he did. The sweather predicted the weather better than any weatherman. It was light with short sleeves on good days, but it changed when the weather wasn’t as nice. Some days it was thicker with long sleeves. Other days he came downstairs and the sweater part was on the inside of a waterproof jacket, lining it with wooly warmth that always smelled like sunshine.

The sweather never got dirty. It always matched what he was wearing. One day, it even saved his life. He came downstairs that morning and ate breakfast as usual, then drew a picture of the cat.   When it was time to go to school, he went to find his sweather. It was inside-out.

The sweather had never been inside-out before. What did it mean? “Mom, come look,” Nico said. “My sweather is inside out. Does it mean I won’t need it at all? Should I leave it at home?”

“I don’t know,” Nico’s mom said. “Let’s call your grandmother.” But grandmother didn’t answer the phone.

“Maybe it means there will be bad weather,” Nico said. “Can I have a ride to school?” Normally Nico and his mom walked to school together. Nico’s mom said the exercise was good for him.

Today, she looked at the sweather and her eyebrows were all wrinkled up together. “That might be best,” she said.   “Why don’t you draw another picture of the cat and we can send it to grandmother.”

“She likes my drawings,” Nico said. “I’ll give the first picture to my teacher.   I think she likes cats.”

While Nico was drawing the cat, there was a roaring, rushing sound outside the house. Nico’s mom ran into the kitchen and pulled him under the table with her. “Is it a monster?” Nico asked. “It sounds like a dragon.”

“I don’t know,” Nico’s mom said. The lights went out and then the house shook, just a little, when the roaring got louder. Then it went away. They waited in the dark a little bit longer, but nothing happened. They could hear sirens in the distance.

“Did the dragon set things on fire?” Nico asked.

His mother didn’t answer. She got out from under the table, and held out a hand. When he’d grabbed her hand, she pulled him up. “Where’s Fluffy?” Nico asked. “Fluffy!” He called, but the cat didn’t come. That wasn’t unusual, though. She never came when he called.

Nico’s mom led him to the front door. She opened it and they looked out. It looked like a giant had cut a swervy path through the neighborhood.   Trees and houses and telephone poles had all been tossed around and smashed.

“What happened?” Nico asked.

“I think it was a tornado,” Nico’s mom said. She took his sweather out of the closet by the door. It looked like a normal sweater.

“Today will be nice now,” Nico said.

“I think you should stay home, just in case,” Nico’s mom said. Nico didn’t mind.

“Mrow,” said Fluffy. She was under the couch.

“My sweather is amazing,” Nico said.

Nico’s mom smiled. “We should write your grandmother another thank you note,” she said.


Sam, the Great and Terrible

Australia continues to suffer greatly under the reign of Sam the Terrible. The refugees who managed to flee the island nation give accounts of her reign of terror that leave the world horrified. No one is certain how she was able to seize power so quickly, but all will agree that her ascent to her golden throne was unexpected.

Less unexpected, the name Sam was completely wiped from baby name books within days of her coup. Both Samuel and Samantha joined the ranks of Ghengis or Adolf.   Requests for name changes arrived on desks of government officials around the world.

However, there were some that decided to risk keeping their now unpopular name. One of these is Samuel Bates, insurance agent. “My name was already unlucky, now it is doubly unlucky. It’s almost funny. Luckily, people don’t really care about their insurance agent’s name.   Most people don’t even notice. I usually just introduce myself as Mr. Bates anyways.”

It has been reported that in retaliation, Sam the Terrible recently changed the names of all her citizens to either Samantha or Samuel.   If this is true, it is difficult to imagine how that would work in daily life. Presumably, nicknames, middle names, and last names will be used for personal identification.

Psychologist Herbert Flaven said in a recent interview, “Sam the Terrible is attempting to further demonstrate her control over even the smallest detail of her subjects’ lives. By taking even their names, she is demonstrating that they have no personal control over anything that they once thought of as their own.”

Sam the Terrible’s spokesperson, Samuel Marks could neither confirm nor deny the reported name changes. However, as his name in his last report was Franklin Marks, it is difficult to avoid drawing the obvious conclusion. It has not been confirmed whether or not the name change affects all Australian citizens.

This is of course only the latest of the shocking reports since Sam the Terrible crowned herself “Queen of Everything” in the former Sydney Opera House now known as The Palace. After ordering all dissidents killed, her first decree was that all citizens were required to cut their hair short and dye it brown.

In addition to the more usual tyrannical decrees, Sam has also outlawed all forms of education and closed the public libraries. She reportedly oversaw basketball tournaments to determine hierarchy in her new government. Possession of green vegetables of any type results in immediate execution. Just last week, she ordered that all pet dogs were to be drowned.

Professor Sarah Hintle of Harmack University says, “Looking at the major policies of Sam the Terrible’s government, it is clear that she has been planning this coup for a long time, possibly since her childhood.   I don’t understand why no one saw the warning signs before it was too late. Now whenever I see a little girl dressed up as a princess, I shiver. Perhaps one of these little girls is already making plans to be the next Queen of Everything.”

Experts say that determining Sam the Terrible’s next move is difficult. In light of Professor Hintle’s observations, perhaps they should ask a little girl what she would do if she were the so-called Queen of Everything. It may be that everyone will be required to wear pink or never brush their teeth. Maybe vaccinations will be outlawed.

In any case, even if Sam’s reign is short, it will take decades for Australia to recover. It may take even longer for the name Sam to recover its former place in society, if it ever does. Sam has achieved a place in history that few ever obtain. Her name will live on in infamy.


Charlie’s Room: The Radio

“Cousin Reginald needs a ride to the dentist’s office tomorrow. He’s having a consultation about elective dental work and his minivan is in the shop,” Isaac said one evening. “I’ll take him on my lunch break.”

“I guess he is in his seventies,” Marianne said.   “Is he getting dentures?”

“No, he said he’s hoping for shark teeth implants or maybe teeth carved in the shape of hawks or something. At the very least, he wants his canines sharpened,” Isaac said.

Marianne sighed. “More rebellion?”

“Yep,” Isaac said.

“We’ll see you when you get home,” Marianne said.   “If he is still experimenting with that awful-smelling homemade cologne, keep the windows open on the way home.   I refuse to ride in a car that smells like raw onions and stinky cheese.”

“Yucky,” Charlie said.

“I can do that,” Isaac said.

When he got home from work the next evening, Marianne was rushing out the door to take Charlie to swimming lessons. “Does Cousin Reginald have weird teeth now?” She asked.

“No, to his disgust they said it wasn’t possible.   He stormed out when they offered him caps,” Isaac said. Marianne laughed and then rushed Charlie out to the car.

Isaac was home alone. He opened his bag and pulled out the radio that Cousin Reginald had given him. Reginald said he was using it to communicate with aliens, but that didn’t seem likely.   It would be just perfect for Charlie’s room. The classical radio station had the most ingenious piano puzzlers. Charlie was sure to love it.

Isaac found a clear space on Charlie’s desk and plugged it in. He turned on the radio and prepared to tune it. “Are you there?” A strange voice asked. It was high and sputtered a little, like a whistle with some water in it.

“Who are you?” Isaac asked. “Are you looking for Cousin Reginald?”

“I spent hours studying your primitive language so that I could tell him exactly what I think of him, and then he’s not even there,” the voice said. It sounded angry. “He may be the leader of the Free Enlightened Thinkers, but I don’t care how well hidden he thinks his people are, if we blow up your planet they’ll all die too.”

Obviously Cousin Reginald really had been communicating with aliens. What had he been saying? No wonder he was so eager to give up the radio. “That would just be playing into his hands,” Isaac said. He tried to sound confident.

“Who are you and what do you mean?” The voice asked.

“I am the person in charge of cleaning up the mess Reginald left behind when he fled. He is a radical terrorist. He fights against authority of any kind,” Isaac said.

“That does seem consistent with his character,” the voice said.

“He probably would be happy to die if it meant taking everyone down with him,” Isaac said. Unfortunately, this was probably somewhat true. Reginald’s rebellious phase had been a bit difficult at times.

“We don’t support terrorists,” the voice said.

“Of course not. You sound like a civilized being. I’m sorry that we weren’t aware sooner that Reginald had seized this communication device and was using it to insult you and your people. I will personally ensure that it is kept in a more secure place,” Isaac said.

“See that you do. When you catch that criminal, tell him I said his arguments are flawed, and single-cell organisms are more intelligent than he is,” the voice said.

“I’ll be sure to do that,” Isaac said. There was a click and then static. Isaac unplugged the radio. He put it in a shoebox and taped it shut. He wrote on it in marker, “Newspaper Articles about Municipal Utility Funding.” No one would touch that. He put it on the top shelf of his closet, in the far corner.

It was time to make dinner so that it was ready when Marianne and Charlie came home. Spaghetti sounded nice and easy, and that’s just what his nerves needed. He hoped Cousin Reginald would grow out of this phase soon. It was a little stressful.



A Halloween Party

“A Halloween party in November?” Jared asked.   “That’s different.”

“The Mortimers always have the scariest Halloween parties, but they hate how commercialized Halloween has become.   They say they like to keep their party separate from all the candy and the store bought costumes,” Carl said.

“I guess that makes sense.” Jared checked the calendar. “Things are a lot less busy now, too. I’ll come.”

“Great. Wear the scariest costume you can think of. This isn’t a kiddie party,” Carl said. “You’ll see.”

Carl came to pick Jared up on the night of the party.   He’d grown a short beard and mustache and was wearing glasses with round lenses. He rolled down his window. “Tell me about your mother,” he said.

“Freud isn’t scary,” Jared said.

Carl pointed at Jared. “And your toga is? What are you supposed to be?”

Jared adjusted the fake knife at his belt as he sat down. “I’m a backstabber,” he said.

“Oh. That is a little scary,” Carl said. “Let’s go.”

Jared had never met Mr. Mortimer. Carl introduced him at the door. Mr. Mortimer looked rather ordinary and didn’t seem to be wearing a costume. Jared didn’t ask why, but he did think it strange.

Carl told Jared to go on ahead while he talked to Mr. Mortimer. Inside the house, everything seemed pleasant but normal. Most of the guests were dressed for a nice dinner party. There were flowers everywhere and classical music playing.   Jared felt completely out of place.

Jared found an empty chair next to a rather large arrangement of lilies and rosemary and sat down. The man in the seat next to him, brown hair, brown suit, brown shoes, turned and smiled. “Hello,” Jared said. “I’m Jared Hombard. Who are you?”

“Hmmm,” the man said. He smiled a little wider and wrote something in his notebook. “Jared Hombard. Got it.” He looked up. “Oh, sorry. I tend to use gatherings like this for a little research.   Can’t seem to leave the job at the office,” he said.

“What do you do? Are you a writer?” Jared asked.

“Oh, nothing interesting like that. I’m an auditor for the IRS,” the man said.   “But enough about me, tell me more about you.” The man held his pen ready to write.

“I need to go,” Jared said. He wandered around the party, meeting a divorce attorney, a bill collector, and a local politician. He was avoiding his evil sister-in-law who really should be out-of-state and not at this party, when he bumped into Mr. Mortimer.

“Oh, sorry!” Jared said. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

“Are you enjoying the party?” Mr. Mortimer asked.

“Um, actually I think I’ll be going soon. I can walk home if Carl’s not ready,” Jared said.

“Don’t you live rather far away?” Mr. Mortimer asked.

“The exercise will be good for me,” Jared said.

“That’s true. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy my party,” Mr. Mortimer said. He clasped his hands together and looked at Jared as though he was trying to see something written on the inside of his skull. “To make up for it, I’ll give you a tip.   Cut down on the sweets.   Complications from diabetes is a terrible way to go.”

“Oh, are you a doctor?” Jared asked.

“No, I’m death,” Mr. Mortimer said.

“I’ve got to go now,” Jared said. He walked straight home and threw all the rest of the Halloween candy in the trash.

“So, what did you think?” Carl asked when he called later.

“That was the scariest Halloween party I’ve ever been to,” Jared said.



Kate was trying to find her car after a frustrating round of holiday shopping, when she saw a man sitting on a bench. He was dressed in a worn, old-fashioned suit and looked a little lost. She debated for a minute or two, but finally decided to stop. After all it was almost Christmas.

She stood at a bit of a distance, to be safe, and asked, “do you need any help?”

The man turned, and seemed surprised to see her.   “Oh, hello,” he said. His accent was strange. “I seem to be lost.”

“Where are you going?” Kate asked.

“I don’t know,” the man said. “ I know I have somewhere I need to be, and people that are waiting for me, but I don’t remember anything about them or where I live.”

The man grew paler as he spoke, until Kate could see right through him. Kate was tempted to run away, but the man seemed helpless and lost. Perhaps if she helped him he could move on or whatever ghosts do.

“Do you remember your name?” Kate asked.   Perhaps she could look him up and help him figure out what sort of unfinished business he had.

“Bob Cratchit,” the man said.

It sounded so familiar to Kate. She knew somehow that she should be very familiar with this name, but she couldn’t remember why. The information just wasn’t there.

She pulled out her phone and tried to look up Bob Cratchit. “Error,” it said. It hadn’t ever done that before.

“Can you remember where you work? Do you remember the names of any family members?”   Kate asked.

“I’m not sure. It’s always so cold at work, and I’m always so tired. I think I have a son who is ill.” The man began to look more solid. “I think I should be at work now. I am never home during the day,” Bob said. He rubbed his hands together.

“Except Christmas, of course,” Kate said, looking around at the shoppers bustling to their cars. Most didn’t even glance around as they rushed by, hands curled around their purchases.

“No, I remember working Christmas too,” Bob said.   “I remember that my boss hates Christmas.”

“Like Scrooge, ‘Bah Humbug’ and all that,” Kate said, looking back at the man. “That must be pretty annoying.”

“Scrooge…” Bob said. He pressed his fingertips into his temples. “The name sounds familiar…”

“Of course it does,” Kate said. “Like the story.”   Kate pulled tried to look it up in her phone. It wouldn’t load. Neither would any entries on Ebenezer Scrooge.   Kate looked at Bob. “This may sound crazy, but do you have a son named Tim?” She asked.

“Tim!” Bob said. He stood up, eyes wide. “How could I have forgotten? I need to get back to tiny Tim. He needs me.”

“Bob Cratchit, you need to get back to your story.   You work for Ebenezer Scrooge and you live in ‘A Christmas Carol’,” Kate said.

“Of course!” Bob said. “That’s where I live.” He began to sparkle and fade, growing more transparent as the sparkles grew denser. Soon all that was left was a little glitter in the breeze like a pinch of pixie dust.

Kate looked around the parking lot again. “Oh, I remember where I parked,” she said.   “How could I have forgotten?”   And she once again joined the rushing parade of harried shoppers.