New Year’s Eve

“Lottie, it’s New Year’s Eve,” Dad said. “We’re going to stay up until midnight!”

“Really?” Lottie asked. Her normal bedtime was eight o’clock. “How late is midnight?”

“Twelve o’clock,” said Mom. “You’ll be staying up four hours extra. Do you think you want to take a little nap now?”

“No. Naps are for babies,” Lottie said. “I can help with the puzzle.”

Lottie helped with the puzzle until it got too boring. She ate chips and watched a movie. At first staying up was exciting. But then she started to feel tired. She yawned.

“You can’t be tired yet, Lottie,” Dad said. “We still have three hours to go.”

“I’m not tired,” Lottie said. She was tired. Her eyes started closing on their own. It got harder and harder to open them and stay awake.

“Don’t go to sleep. You’re almost there. Just a little over two hours, Lottie,” Mom said.

Lottie suddenly felt suspicious. Her parents were always telling her to go to bed.   Why did they want her to stay up now? It didn’t make sense. Maybe these weren’t her real parents.

Lottie felt a little less tired. She needed to find her real parents and rescue them. She started to search the house.

“What are you doing?” Her maybe-not-real-mom asked.

“I’m looking for something,” Lottie said.

“What are you looking for?” Her maybe-not-real-dad asked.

“It’s a secret,” Lottie said.

“Just stay out of our room,” Maybe-not-real-mom said.

Aha! Of course they’d hide her real parents in the one place she normally wouldn’t look. Her real parents wouldn’t mind if she went in their room just this once. They’d want Lottie to save them from the not-real-parents.

Lottie looked in other places until the not-real-parents lost interest.   Then she opened the door and snuck into her parents’ room. She looked under the bed. Boring.   No people. She looked in the closets. Nope. She checked the bathroom. Empty.

Lottie looked out the window. It was too dark to check outside. She carefully closed the bedroom door and went back downstairs. She needed more information.

“What happens at midnight?” Lottie asked.

“It will be a new year,” Maybe-not-real-mom said.

“It’s so much fun, Lottie,” maybe-not-real-dad said. “We’ll bang pots and pans together and yell and make lots of noise!”

“In the middle of the night?” Lottie asked.

“That’s right,” maybe-not-real-dad said.

That confirmed her worst suspicions. These couldn’t be her real parents. They’d never tell her to stay up late and make lots of noise at night.   She wasn’t supposed to bang pots together or yell in the house in the middle of the day.

“Hmmmm,” Lottie said. She tried to look like her normal self. She was feeling tired again, but she didn’t want to fall asleep around the not-real-parents.   She looked around.

She could squeeze in behind the couch. She went to her bedroom and got her blanket and pillow. She started to crawl backwards, pulling them in behind her.

“Lottie, what are you doing?” Not-mom asked.

“I’m going to sleep,” Lottie said.

“But you’ll miss the New Year!” Not-dad said.

“I don’t care. I’m going to sleep now,” Lottie said.

“All right, if you’re sure,” Not-mom said.

She would find her real parents in the morning. They couldn’t be hidden far away. Maybe they’d come back on their own. Maybe the not-parents were going away at midnight, and if she was awake they’d take her too. All the more reason to fall asleep now.

As she drifted off, she heard Not-dad say, “But she’s always wanting to stay up late.”

“Kids are so funny,” Not-mom replied. “Sometimes I wonder what she’s thinking.”

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Picky

Harold paused by Melvin’s desk. “It looks like we can get a group discount on tickets to the game this weekend.   Are you in?” He asked.

“I thought baseball was all done for the year. There’s snow out,” Melvin said.

“No, it’s basketball now,” Harold said.

“Is it going to be much different than that baseball thing we went to this summer?” Melvin asked.

“Well, it’s inside. And it’s a different sport,” Harold said.

“Does it last as long?” Melvin asked.

“It can,” Harold said.

“Are there soft seats? You get soft seats at the movies and they’re shorter,” Melvin said.

“No.”

“Is there a soundtrack?” Melvin asked.

“Well, sometimes the announcers…” Harold began.

“Like at the baseball game?” Melvin asked. Harold nodded. Melvin snorted. “That’s more like listening to ringtones than a soundtrack. And it was so boring. They should at least try to script it.”

Harold laughed. “If they scripted it, it wouldn’t be real. People go to a game to see something real.”

“No they don’t. It has an imposed set of rules and people who train heavily to boost their performance.   Real life is nothing like that.   And I can watch real life for free,” Melvin said.

“Fine, I guess that’s a no for you,” Harold said.

“That’s right. If it’s anything like the baseball game, all there is to do is sit and eat and talk.   The food was expensive, the people were drunk, the game was boring, and they didn’t even have free wifi. I hope you have fun,” Melvin said.

“Ouch,” Harold said. “I guess you’re not a sports fan. Well, you’ll feel left out when it’s all we talk about next week.”

“Oh, I’m sure I’ll look up the scores and such and be able to follow along,” Melvin said.

“Whatever,” Harold said. He stalked off.

Janet paused by Melvin’s desk. “Hey, there’s a comic con coming up in two weeks. A group of us were going. Do you want to join us?” She asked.

“Is it going to be any different from the one we went to last year?” Melvin asked.

“There’s new speakers,” Janet said. “And we’re all going to wear Star Wars costumes. It was Avengers last year, you remember?”

“Are the lines going to be as long?” Melvin asked.

“That’s part of the fun,” Janet said. “You get to talk to people you wouldn’t have met otherwise that share your interests.”

“We didn’t really do that last year. We just stood there and shuffled forward every so often,” Melvin said.

“No, we talked to those girls in the Sailor Moon outfits for twenty minutes,” Janet said.

“The ones who kept rolling their eyes at us?” Melvin asked.

“And we talked to those school teachers, they were nice,” Janet said.

“I suppose so. But we could hardly see the speakers and it was too loud and the food was expensive.   Everything was expensive,” Melvin said.

“Yes, but it’s an experience,” Janet said. “And it only happens once a year.”

“Pass,” Melvin said.

“Whatever,” Janet said. She stalked off.

Susan had the desk next to Melvin. She’d agreed to go to both the basketball game and the comic con the moment she was asked. When Melvin was getting ready to go for the day, she asked him, “Melvin, what kinds of activities do you like to go to?”

“Oh, I like almost anything,” Melvin said. “I’m not picky.”
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Marking the Spot

Gerald looked both ways and then darted out the back door of the manor and into the nearby woods. He pressed his arm against his chest, holding the golden chalice in place, hidden under his black coat. He tried to run as quietly as possible through the thick snow, but his boots crunched loudly beneath him leaving an easy trail through the snow that anyone could follow.

Finally, he stopped and listened. Far away a bird sang. Nothing more. He chuckled quietly as he pulled out the chalice. It glinted in the weak sunlight that filtered through the leafless trees from the over cast sky. It was finally his.

It was always meant to be his. He knew it the moment he’d come in for his interview for the assistant gardener job.   He’d waited in the front room and glanced through the open door into the parlor and saw it there on the mantle.   It glowed in a beam of sunlight and he thought he heard angels sing. At that moment he knew that he had to have it, no matter what it took.

He’d cautiously asked around. It was a priceless family heirloom, valued at more than Gerald had made working hard the last ten years. There wasn’t any way for him to acquire it legally. He looked at it longingly through the windows whenever he could.   It was always all alone, unloved, uncherished.

Now its owners were out of town for a week, with just the butler home. The butler had slipped and fallen on the icy path and turned his ankle and Gerald was called in to sweep the walks. It was a sign. The way was clear. The butler had gone in to take his pain medicine and lie down. Gerald walked in quietly and took the chalice.

Unfortunately, he had no way to get it home. He hadn’t brought a bag, just his shovel. The sharp-eyed postman had offered to drive him over.  The postman wouldn’t look the other way on the ride back.  He was so law-abiding it made Gerald’s teeth hurt.

He’d have to hide it and bring a bag the next time he was called to the house.   If the family came home before then, they’d blame the butler for its absence. Everyone always blamed the butler, right?

Gerald looked around. There was a little den, just the right size, nearby in the thin snow under a large tree.   He wondered what animal lived there.   It didn’t really matter.

Gerald murmured an apology to his chalice as he wedged it into the den and put a large rock on top. He built a snowman right on top of the rock. There, he’d marked the spot well. He blew a kiss. He’d be back.

He did marvelous job shoveling the walk. He felt as light as air. Mine, mine, mine, he thought. He smiled at the postman who picked him up. The postman frowned and looked suspicious, but he’d never know.

Gerald grinned. The next time it snowed, he would be back with a bag, and the chalice would come home with him. He’d keep it under his pillow and look at it every night. He couldn’t wait.

But it didn’t snow. It rained.   It rained off and on for weeks. It was a month before Gerald was called back to trim the hedges. He brought a large bag with a lunch in it in case anyone asked. As soon as the head gardener turned the corner, Gerald slipped into the woods.

There was no snow left, so the snowman was gone of course. He tried to retrace his steps, turning over stones as he went. None of them had chalices underneath, or even likely looking animal dens. He’d lost the chalice. He took as much time as he dared and finally wobbled out of the woods and started trimming.

He wanted to weep. How had this happened? He should have walked miles in the dark to return here the very night he’d hidden it. The chalice was worth it. This was all his fault.

At lunchtime, he wandered over to the parlor window to peek inside and mourn the lost chalice. He looked, and the chalice was there on the mantle once more, glowing. Had losing it been a bad dream? It didn’t seem likely.

Was he dreaming now? He rubbed his eyes. It was still there, as beautiful as ever.

“A hunter found it out in the woods,” the head gardener said at his elbow.   Gerald jumped.

“Found what?” he asked.

“The chalice there. No one knows how it got there. It was next to a fox den. The hunter took it as a bribe from the fox and left the poor thing alone,” the gardener said.   “He took the chalice into town to look for the owner. It came home before anyone knew it was gone.”

“What a strange story,” Gerald said. “How did it get out in the woods?”

“No one knows. The butler says that no one is to go into the house any more but the family. He’ll mail us our pay,” the gardener said.

“No one?” Gerald asked. His heart sank. He’d failed the chalice and lost his chance. It was no longer his. He looked back in the window. The chalice glowed, reserved and remote.

“Nope. He says it was a warning from a guardian sprite or something that the security needed to be tightened. A lot of nonsense if you ask me. I makes a good story though.” The gardener laughed. “Lunch is over now, back to work.

“Back to work,” Gerald echoed. He turned and walked away from the window. He didn’t look back.

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Kindness

The three pigs had lots of wolf stew leftover, even with eating like pigs.   “I can’t eat another bite,” the oldest pig said. “But I hate to waste good food.”

“Maybe we could invite someone over,” the middle pig said.

“As long as it’s not that scary wolf,” the youngest said. “Never mind. I forgot.” He giggled.

“Let’s go talk to the three bears. They don’t live far from here,” the oldest pig said.

Papa Bear opened the door just a crack when they knocked. “Oh, it’s you,” he said, and opened the door wider.   “I thought it was that little human girl that wouldn’t stop bothering us.”

“We had a wolf like that,” the middle pig said.

“So we ate him,” the youngest pig said. He looked quite pleased.

The bear raised a brow. “Isn’t that a little extreme?” He asked.

“It was really more of an accident,” the oldest pig said. “He was climbing down our chimney to try to eat us and landed in a pot of boiling water we happened to have on the fire.”

“All right then,” Papa bear said. “I guess it’s not my business. It wasn’t clever of him at all to climb down a chimney when the fire was lit.”

“Right,” the middle pig said. He smiled widely.

“So why have you come to visit?” Papa bear asked.

“We have too much wolf soup,” The oldest pig said. “We thought we could invite some friends over to share it.”

“We are getting a little tired of oatmeal. It stores well, but it seems like porridge is all we eat any more.   If you’d like, we could bring some of that over?”

“Sounds great!” The youngest pig said. He bounced on his hind hooves.

The dinner party was fabulous and they decided they’d have to have another.   The pigs served baked apples at the end and everyone nibbled at them feeling content. “It’s nice to have lots of food, Papa,” Baby bear said.

“It is,” Papa bear agreed.

“Does everyone have lots of food?” Baby bear asked.

“No dear,” Mama bear said. “Not everyone does.”

“Then we should bring them the rest!” Baby bear said. His little face looked determined.

“Yes, let’s!” The youngest pig said.

“Fine,” the oldest pig said. “We still have the rest of the barrel of apples to share too.”

“Who should we bring all this food to?” The middle pig asked.

“Well, there’s old mother Hubbard and her poor little dog,” Mama Bear said.

“And that woman who lives in the shoe with all those children. I think that little girl who bothers us all the time lives there. She does seem pretty hungry,” Papa Bear said.

The oldest pig frowned. “If we deliver the food, they may try to catch and eat us,” he said.

Papa bear laughed. “That might be true. I’ll bring it over. I’ll hold out the food in front of me so they don’t get scared and attack me.   People are so weird,” he said.

Mother Hubbard shrieked when she saw the bear, but her little dog whined and pushed past her when he smelled the food. When she realized the bear was bringing food for her and her little dog, Mother Hubbard cried. Papa Bear wasn’t sure how to deal with that.

“There, there,” he said awkwardly. “It’s from us and the three pigs.” He handed over the food and wheeled his wagon over to the shoe house.   Curious children instantly mobbed him.

“Hi, Mr. Bear,” said a tiny child. “Why are you so fuzzy?”

Papa Bear saw a little girl with golden curls rush inside. The old woman came out soon after, looking nervous.   She also cried when she saw the food.   The children yelled and cheered and hugged him. It was hard to break free and leave.

Papa Bear reported back to his family and the three pigs. “That’s so nice,” Baby Bear said. “We should do that again too!” And they did.
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Bad Neighbors

The citizens of the planet Zid had always been good friends with the citizens of the planet Erd. They both were peaceful, creative societies that had much in common. So, when the planet Erd made the unfortunate mistake of importing telma weed seeds, the citizens of Zid happily agreed to let the citizens of Erd live on Zid’s moon while Erd was properly fumigated.

At first, this went quite well. They were able to visit each other for concerts and plays and festivals.   It was all a lot of fun. However, once it became clear that the fumigation process would last nearly a year, things changed.

The farmers pointed out that they weren’t ready to support two planets.   There would have to be some rationing.   The citizens were given tickets and could only buy a certain amount of food each week. This put an end to many of the festivals and parties.

Some of the more wealthy people tried to buy extra tickets. Some of the more criminal people tried to forge more tickets. Some of the less practical people ran out of food early in the week and sat by the stores looking hungry. Every one started worrying that somewhere some one else was getting more than them.

Fresh water had to be shipped to the moon. As the farmers couldn’t do with less water if they were going to grow as much food as they could, water had to be rationed too. Parks went brown. Swimming pools emptied. People showered less and did less laundry. They felt icky and smelly and grumpy.

People argued over little things. Law enforcement was stretched thin. There was a large fire in a city park in the planet’s capital. When the fire brigade finally arrived, they didn’t have enough water available to put it out. It burned for days. The citizens of Zid demanded that their leaders fix everything right now or they’d be replaced.

As the tension increased, the leaders of Zid met with the leaders of Erd.   The Erd leaders said that their people weren’t happy with the rationing either. They pointed out that rationing hadn’t been part of their original agreement.   They implied that the people of Zid were less than honest, and that they were keeping back extra food and water for their own citizens. Talks broke down after that.

The people of Zid continued to send shipments of food and water to the people of Erd. However, the boxes often had insults written on them by unidentified vandals. In retaliation, an unidentified hacker reprogrammed Zid’s communication devices so that everyone’s voice sounded high pitched.

Someone kept messing with the artificial gravity on the moon just slightly, and no one was sure what to expect from one hour to the next.   Someone painted rude words all over Zid’s famous statue gardens. Someone disabled half of Erd’s laundry facilities. Someone sent Zid’s leaders a computer virus that turned their computers off an hour before lunchtime one day.

Erd began negotiations with another ally and moved out after one of their leaders woke up one morning shaved bald. The citizens of both planets rejoiced. The rationing ended.

Erd’s people never stayed more than a month at a time with their other allies.   They had a year of travel and parties and returned home with warm feelings toward everyone but Zid. They sent gifts and payments to everyone else when they finally returned home.

Zid’s bill was ignored, as were their angry missives. The friendship between the two planets, which had lasted for centuries, was over. Or was it? A well-meaning Kettian leader, an ally of both people, decided to step in and help.

In a meeting broadcast all over the galaxy, he tried to gently counsel both leaders to forgive and forget. When they mentioned their grievances, he tried to counsel them to see the other point of view. He was rational and reasonable and calm. The Erd and Zid leaders felt resentful.

When he told them to stop acting like children, it was the last straw. A Zid leader poured his glass of water on the Kettian leader while an Erd leader threw a pie at him. Their people cheered them on.

“We can fight if we want to,” the Zid leader said.

“It’s none of your business,” the Erd leader agreed.

They marched out of the room together. They laughed. “That was great,” the Zid leader said. “The pie was a nice touch.”

“Thanks,” the Erd leader said. They looked at each other awkwardly for a moment. “We had fun visiting you until all that rationing,” the Erd leader finally said.

“It was fun. It’s too bad our resources got stretched so thin,” the Zid leader said.

“I’ll talk to my people. Perhaps we can meet again when things have cooled down a bit?” The Erd leader said.

“I’ll talk to mine too. I think with some work, we can put this behind us,” the Zid leader said. And, with some work and some time, eventually they did.
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