How Louis Saved the World

Louis was home in the middle of the day, because he was sick. If it was up to him, he would have been at school.   Today they were going to make ice cream as a science experiment. That was much better than staying in bed and staring at the ceiling.

Unfortunately, Mom said that if you have a fever and a runny nose, and a terrible cough, and a sore throat and can’t stop sneezing, then you should stay home. Throwing up after breakfast hadn’t helped his argument at all, either. So, Louis blew his nose again and sneezed and looked at the ceiling.   Ceilings are boring.

“Mom, I’m bored,” Louis yelled. Then he coughed. Ouch.   His throat really hurt.

“Then take a nap,” his mom yelled back. “You need to rest so that you can heal.”

Louis scowled. He was much too old for naps, and he wasn’t at all sleepy. Well, he was maybe a little bit tired. But not really enough to fall asleep yet. He turned and watched the shadows on the wall move.   The wind must be blowing through the tree outside.

And then, the shadows started to fade, or maybe the room started to glow.   Louis wasn’t quite sure. It was all a little strange. Everything looked a little bit foggy. Louis blinked, and when he opened his eyes, he wasn’t in his bedroom any more.

He was in a strange metal room filled with blinking lights. Something was making a clicking sound. Three tall skinny beings with greenish skin and bright blue eyes looked at him. They were definitely aliens. Louis looked back. One of the aliens said something, but Louis didn’t know what he was saying. “I don’t speak your language,” Louis said.

The aliens approached and one of them looked closely into Louis’s face.   The aliens smelled like dust.   Lots of dust. Louis sneezed right into the alien’s face, and then he couldn’t stop sneezing.

The alien backed up, but the other two crowded closer. The sneezing hurt his throat and upset his stomach. Louis threw up on the other two aliens. The aliens backed up and bowed. One of the aliens pushed a button on the wall, and the room started to get brighter.   Everything looked foggy. Louis blinked.

And he was back in his room looking up at the ceiling. Had any of that really happened? Mom knocked on the doorframe and came in. “How are you feeling?” she asked. “Any better?”

“Mom, I was just captured by aliens,” Louis said. “I threw up all over them, so they let me go.”

“That sounds like a nice dream,” Mom said. “Is your stomach still upset?” She put her hand on his forehead. “Oh dear, you’re still quite warm. Would you like some ice cream?”

“For lunch?” Louis asked.

“Why not,” Mom said. “You’re feeling sick.”

Maybe being sick wasn’t so bad, except for the staring at the ceiling part.   Even being captured by aliens wasn’t terrible. It had been kind of interesting.   If it really happened at all, of course.

Two days later, Louis was back in class. He’d missed the ice cream experiment and a math quiz, but otherwise things had been pretty quiet at school. Susie said that Dan threw up on the slide just a day ago.

Louis decided that being sick probably happened to everybody at one time or another. He was glad that he felt better now and could move forward. He hoped he didn’t feel sick again anytime soon and that he never threw up on the slide.  That sounded embarrassing.

Hundreds of thousands of miles away, the crew of an alien space ship coughed and sneezed and stared at the ceiling and tried not to throw up. “I thought it was too eager to give us the samples we required. It was completely suspicious,” one said.

“I thought it believed we were peaceful scientists,” another replied.   “How was I to know it recognized us as a possible threat.” The alien sneezed and sneezed and sneezed.

“Well, I’m going to recommend we don’t try to colonize this world. The inhabitants are far too hostile. And they don’t fight fair, either,” the last one said. And then he threw up.

Exchanges

The boss smiled and handed the designs back to Alex. “That is exactly what we were looking for,” he said.

Alex nodded. “Great!   So, I’ll contact Bob and we can start filling out the paperwork.”

The boss shook his head. “I have some one else in mind.”

“Not Bob?” Alex was shocked. “We always work with Bob.”

“Yes, but the new guy says he’ll work for free and provide all the building materials,” the boss said.

Alex frowned. “That sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch?”

The boss laughed. “He’s going to need a lot of training. He’s pretty new to the planet.”

“What do you mean?” Alex asked.

“Just what I said,” the boss said. He pushed the intercom button. “Ella, can you send Webster in?”

“Webster? That’s an unusual name,” Alex said.

“It’s his human name,” the boss said. “For when he’s an exchange student here, learning how to live with humans. He says it’s the author of his favorite earth book. He even has an artificial human suit to wear to blend in with us humans.”

A man came in wearing a black suit with a white scarf tied around his neck and a white powdered wig on his head. “Hello,” he said. “I’m Webster.” He held a hand out and Alex shook it. He held his other hand out and Alex shook it too.

“Hello, Webster,” Alex said. “I’m Alex.   I’m one of the architects in the firm.”

The boss stood up. “Alex, take Webster with you to the Gregson job. Show him the ropes, all right?”

“Okay,” Alex said. “Come with me, Webster. I’ll give you a ride to the site.”

Today they were going to pour the foundation for the Gregson Dental Center.   Webster looked around the large hole dug into the ground and wiggled the metal and wooden framework with his foot.   “So, you fill this with liquid rock, right?” he asked.

“Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that,” Alex said.

“Oh, that’s okay,” Webster said. “I’ve got this.” He pulled out what looked like a little pen and wrote something in the air above the waiting framework.

The framework started filling up with lava. Alex jumped back. The wood burned and the metal melted like it was ice on a hot day. “What did you do?” He asked.

“Provided building materials,” Webster said. “It was part of our agreement.”

“But the lava’s in contact with air. It will cool too quickly to be stable and solid,” Alex said. “We use concrete for building.”

“Concrete?”

Alex sighed. “It’s a mix of gravel and sand and cement and water. I’ll show you, after you get rid of the lava.”

“Oh, you’ll have to wait until it cools and dig it out,” Webster said. “I can’t unmake things. I guess I could make a windstorm or a sinkhole or…”

“Just leave it there,” Alex said. “We’ll deal with it later. Let’s go over to the new supermarket addition. We’re building the supports for the walls.”

They drove across town.   Webster’s face was pressed to the window. “These human eyes can’t see as far as my normal eyes,” he said. “Do you have a telescope?”

“Not with me,” Alex said.

At the construction site, Alex knelt down and patted the foundation.

“This must be concrete,” Webster said.   “Maybe I should take a sample.”

“Leave it be,” Alex said. “I’ll give you a sample of concrete later. For now, we’ll be starting the supports.”

“That’s right,” Webster said. “What are they made out of?”

“Wood,” Alex said. “Here’s a list of the sizes we’ll need.”

“Tree products,” Webster said. “I can do that. I saw tree products all over the office when I was there.”

He wrote in the air, and large support beams made of paper appeared on the ground in front of them. “Almost, but not quite,” Alex said. “This is processed tree product and isn’t as strong as wood. Let’s go to a hardware store and I can let you see the materials we’ll be working with.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Webster said. “Do they have telescopes?”

“No,” Alex said. “Just building materials and tools.”

“Oh well,” Webster said. “Let’s get going. I’m looking forward to seeing how you preserve the ice blocks you build with. It seems much too warm for them to stay stable.”

“It is,” Alex said. “They don’t build with ice here.”

“Mud?”

“No,” Alex said. “But we do use bricks that are made from baked clay.”

“Oh good,” Webster said. “Let’s go see some of those. I want to send some home to my friends.”

“Sounds great,” Alex said. “Let’s go.”

 

A Dark Day

A Dark Day

One morning, Zoie woke up, but the sun didn’t come up. It was dark, and she thought she’d accidentally woken up in the middle of the night. So, she went to the kitchen for a drink of water. The clock said it was seven o’clock.

It was too dark for seven o’clock. Was the clock wrong? She checked the time on the phone plugged into the outlet next to the counter. It said seven o’clock too.   Maybe it was going to be a stormy day? She looked out the window. The sky was dark and clear. She could see stars.

Zoie pinched her arm. She was awake and this was all really weird. Wasn’t her mom usually up by now? “Mom?” Zoie yelled.

“We’re in the living room,” Mom yelled back.

Dad was still home? Shouldn’t he be at work? Zoie hurried into the living room. Dad and Mom were sitting close together on the couch, watching the news on television. “What’s going on?” Zoie asked.

“The sun didn’t come up,” Mom said.

“Why not?” Zoie asked.

“No one knows,” Dad said.

“Why aren’t you at work?” Zoie asked.

“They sent everyone home and closed the nursery,” Dad said. “If the sun doesn’t come up tomorrow, they’re going to have to find special lights for the plants or they’ll die. The boss is going to be researching all day.”

“The schools are all closed, so Zoie and I will be home today too,” Mom said. “I’m so glad I went shopping yesterday. The stores are going to be crazy.”

They ate their breakfast cereal in front of the television and watched the news. According to the reports, the sun had disappeared somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.   The moon was still in the sky, but dimmer. Everyone assumed that meant the sun was somewhere, but no one knew why they couldn’t see it.

Scientists ran calculations and performed experiments, but they couldn’t find any answers. Politicians threatened to fire them. That didn’t make any answers appear either. Meanwhile, people everywhere were panicking, of course.

They rushed to the stores to stockpile food. They fought over loaves of bread and rice and toilet paper.   Zoie was glad that her family was safe at home. Her parents tried to make it a fun day. They played board games and made cookies. They had a picnic lunch on the front lawn. It looked like they were out in the middle of the night.

It was all strange and a little scary. Even when her parents tried to make things fun, Zoie could tell that her parents were worried. They checked the news off and on, but no one knew any more. Was it a plot by a mad scientist or an odd natural phenomenon? Everyone had a theory. They made guesses and predictions. And everyone waited to see if the sun would come up tomorrow.

In the end, that’s all anyone could do. The stores were empty. People were warned not to travel. Planes didn’t fly and gas stations closed. People sat on their front steps in the middle of the afternoon and looked up at the sky. It was still dark.

To save electricity, the streetlights went dark. High above, the stars looked close enough to touch.   Millions of people who had never seen the stars so bright and close, looked up.

Zoie’s parents stopped checking the television when scientists began to talk about the end of the world and politicians gave speeches about plagues of rats or zombies or flying pigs. That night, the world did not sleep well. At dawn, they were already up waiting. And, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, the sun reappeared.

When Zoie woke up, the sun was already up. Her dad was at work, and her mom was making breakfast. School wasn’t cancelled. Life went back to normal.

No one was sure why the sun was missing for an entire day. It left everyone checking the sky constantly, to make sure that it was still there. What else were they wrong about? What else might suddenly go wrong?

 

Far, far away, the moon raised an eyebrow. “Where were you? I had to cover your shift. You should at least have called in sick.”

The sun yawned. “Hey, you get a night off every month. I’ve been there everyday for thousands of years. I needed a day off.”

“Well, let me know next time,” the moon said. “It’s inconvenient when you don’t show up without any warning.”

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.