Between Worlds

Adam was tired of all of the noise of city life.   He knew that if he could just get away from it all, he would be able to write the perfect novel. It would be intellectual and witty and change the world.

So, Adam bought a cabin at the edge of the wilderness.   It was far away from everything.   It had a well, and he brought enough bland, boring food to last a year. He was prepared. He set out and settled in, ready to write.

The first day he wrote for hours and hours.   Everything he’d wanted to write down for years just poured out of his pen onto the paper. The second day, he spent a lot of time looking out the windows and trying to decide what to write next.

On the third day, he decided to go on a walk and see if it would help him think. He started walking down the path to the stream when he heard a honking noise behind him. He turned around, startled.

There was a goose standing on the path. “Hello, human,” the goose said. It was apparently a talking goose.

“Hello,” Adam said.

“I have a question. Do humans breathe fire?” the goose asked.

“We don’t,” Adam said.

The goose flapped its wings and huffed. “But I saw it. I know I did. The other geese don’t believe me, but it’s true. We stopped in a large grassy area by a pond. A human sat nearby and stared at the water. And then, he breathed a big cloud of smoke out of his mouth.”

“Some humans burn um, little sticks,” Adam said.   “They breathe in the smoke and breathe it out. It’s terribly unhealthy.   I wouldn’t recommend it.”

“That’s what I saw?” the goose asked.

“Probably.”

“He wasn’t breathing fire?” the goose asked.

“Probably not.”

“Thank you for answering my question,” the goose said.   “I’ll go tell the others.” The goose turned and flew away.

Adam returned to his cabin and started writing again. Two days later, he was staring out the windows again. He decided to shave off his beard because he didn’t recognize himself in the mirror anymore. And then he went on another walk.

“Hello, human,” a tiny, high-pitched voice said from the bottom of the porch steps. “What happened to the fur on your face?”

“Hello,” Adam said, looking around. Ah, there was a little brown mouse looking up at him and twitching its nose. Adam ran a hand over his chin. “I shaved my beard off. I didn’t like how it looked.”

“But isn’t your face cold at night without fur?” the mouse asked.

“Not particularly,” Adam said.

“Hmmmm,” the mouse said. Then it darted away.

Adam went back inside and looked at himself in the mirror again. Then he started writing. Three days later, he was sick of writing and the cabin and the terrible, terrible bland food. He rushed out of the cabin and down the path to the river.

And then he realized that the large shadow in the path up ahead was actually a bear. Adam paused, not sure what he was supposed to do. Was he supposed to play dead or run away in a zigzag pattern or climb a tree?

“Hello, human,” the bear said. A talking bear? Well, that was convenient. Maybe all the animals talked around here.

“Hello,” Adam said. “Did you have a question for me?”

“Do you change your skin like the trees change leaves?” the bear asked. “The last time I saw you, your skin was green, but now it’s red.”

Adam looked down at his red plaid flannel shirt.   “This is a shirt,” he said, pulling it away from his body a bit. “I wear it outside my skin to protect my skin. It’s made from plant fiber.”

“It’s not skin?” the bear asked.

“Not skin,” Adam said.

“Strange,” the bear said. He shook his head and lumbered away.

Adam went back to the cabin and started to write again.   He realized he was writing about a talking duck. He checked his manuscript. The first half of his novel was a biting satire about city life. The second half was full of talking animals. The two halves didn’t work together at all.

“I could start over and write a biting satire with talking animals as characters, but that’s been done,” Adam said. Really, it would take a lot of editing to turn all of this into something that would work as a story.

Adam looked at the calendar. He had at least eleven more months of boring food and talking animals to look forward to here. Or he could give up and go home and try something else. He looked out the window. A breeze blew through the branches of the tree outside. The leaves shivered.

“I’ll give it a few more months,” Adam decided.   “But maybe this time I’ll start with an outline.”

“Good thinking,” the mouse said. “And try to grow the fur back on your face. You still look terribly cold.”

“What are you doing in my house?” Adam asked.

“It was my house first,” the mouse said. And it scampered away.

Taking Care of Your People

Spot probably had the strangest humans in the whole world. To begin with, they named him Spot. It was such a weird name. It would perhaps make sense if he had spots anywhere, though even then it wasn’t very imaginative. However, Spot was all black, from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail. His silly humans just weren’t good at naming things.

They also had a hard time remembering what they named him. “Polka dot,” Stick Thrower said one day. “No, that’s not right. Your name is Stripes, right Tiger?”

“Don’t be silly,” Food Pourer said. “It’s Chevron. Or Zigzag.   One of the two.”

And then they laughed and laughed, as though memory problems were humorous.   Perhaps if they gave names that meant something, like dogs do, they’d find the names easier to remember.

The problems with his name aside, his humans were silly in many other ways.   When it was late at night, they would sit and stare at the flickering lights in the box. Spot understood the appeal of flickering lights. Watching and tracking movement was an excellent way to develop your skills.

These were the type of skills that would make it possible to protect against ambush and hunt for the next meal. But, his humans tended to over train their tracking skills to the point that they never worked on other essential abilities.

They liked to walk, but didn’t want to run or chase interesting smells. Sometimes when he led them outside on the leash, he could get them to jog, just to burn off some of the energy they were saving up.   But then they’d pull him back. “Walk now,” Food Pourer said yesterday, and refused to run another step.

Or they’d release the leash so that they could walk even slower. “Go run,” Stick Thrower said last week. And then he stood there and watched Spot train. He didn’t even walk around in circles. Spot barked and ran up a few times to try to start a game of chase.   Dogs know how to make exercise fun.   Stick Thrower laughed and waved him off. “Go on,” he said.

His humans liked to help him practice pouncing. They’d stand and throw a stick or a ball or a disc. This was Stick Thrower’s favorite thing to do.   Spot would pounce and then fetch the item and wait for Stick Thrower to take a turn pouncing on him. Instead, he’d demand the item and throw it again. He didn’t want to pounce or wrestle or growl.   Just stand and throw, stand and throw.

Despite her lack of training, Food Pourer was always able to bring home food buried in bags or tin cans. Spot was never invited on her hunting trips, so he wasn’t sure where she was hunting. Did she use her tracking skills to follow other hunters and then take their hidden prizes once they’d left?

Perhaps she was embarrassed by this hunting tactic and didn’t want Spot to see. She always shared the food she brought home. Spot tried to share back. He dropped all his finds at the back door.

Some of the gifts he left were taken away by his humans and left in the big plastic can by the side of the house. Spot wasn’t sure why they saved things in there. His theory was that they liked to eat them in secret, after the scent grew a bit stronger.   The big plastic can always smelled so good. He wasn’t ever allowed to look inside.

All good hunters need their sleep, and his silly humans would forget that constantly. When he tried to nudge them gently, they would pat his head or find his chewing stick or fill his water bowl or open the door and send him out. Then they would sit in front of the box again and yawn and rub their eyes.

When they finally went to sleep, they always forgot to choose someone to guard against attack. Spot was sensible enough to volunteer. He could nap during the day. His humans didn’t understand the value of naps. Silly humans.

Sometimes, Spot wondered how his humans managed to live as long as they did.   They were lucky to have someone sensible watching out for them. Silly or not, they were his humans and Spot was very fond of them. Even if they sometimes forgot his name.

 

The Gum Grudge

Cassie was on the way to a job interview. She could be designing page layouts for a major fashion magazine. It was her dream job. This could be the most important day in her life so far.

Nervously, she popped a second piece of gum in her mouth. She chewed until it softened enough and blew a gigantic bubble. Keeping the air pressure constant and precise was calming.

She relaxed her shoulders. And then, someone popped the bubble. She heard snickers around her as she scrapped the gum away from her face.   When she looked around, people’s eyes darted to her hair and then away.

Cassie ran to a nearby restaurant and hurried back to the restroom. She looked in the mirror and almost shrieked.   The gum was in her hair.

She scrubbed at the last patch of gum on her face and washed her hands.   She picked at her hair and rinsed it over and over. The gum wasn’t coming out.

Should she look for somewhere to get ice or peanut butter? Should she get a haircut? She didn’t want a haircut. She checked her watch. Oh no.   She’d just missed her bus.

She called the magazine and explained the situation. They agreed to reschedule the interview, but Cassie knew this would count against her. She could almost feel her dream job slipping away.

She put her phone away and tried to breathe deeply. Then she looked suspiciously at the people around her.   Who had popped her gum bubble?

“You’re not going to get the job you know,” said a soft voice at her elbow. Cassie looked down. There was a ladybug perched on her sleeve.

Cassie looked around. There was no one else close. She held her arm closer to her face. It looked like a normal ladybug. “Hello?” Cassie said in a quiet voice.

The ladybug flew up to her shoulder. “Hello,” the ladybug said. “You looked like you could use some luck.”

“Can you help me get the job after all?” Cassie asked.   She looked straight forward as she talked, and started walking home.

“No, I can’t give you that kind of luck,” the ladybug said. “But I can help you understand your choices.”

“What do you mean?” Cassie asked.

“Well, you could get angry when you don’t get the job.   You could spend the next eighteen months hunting for the bubble popper in order to sue him or her. You won’t find them. You’ll sound angry at all of your job interviews. No one will hire you. You’ll have to move back home and work at the bowling alley.”

“No!” Cassie said. “Not the bowling alley!” People turned to look at her. Cassie kept walking and pretended not to notice.

“Yes, the bowling alley,” the ladybug said.

“What other choices do I have?” Cassie asked.

“You could laugh about this. Tell it to all your friends as a funny story. At first, it will be hard to do, but the more you tell it, the funnier it will seem. You’ll get over it and move on,” the ladybug said.

“And no bowling alley?” Cassie asked.

“No, there will be other jobs,” the ladybug said.

“Like what?” Cassie asked.

“You’ll see,” the ladybug said.

“What other choices are there?” Cassie asked.

“Oh, there are lots of choices. You could give up now and move home. You could write angry letters to the gum company and get polite form letters back. You could write a letter to the president about the evils of gum bubble poppers, but he’ll never read it. You could start carrying a large umbrella and swing it around you whenever you chew gum.”

“That’s enough choices,” Cassie said. “And most of them are terrible. I think I’ll just learn from this and move on. I’ll call Jeanine and tell her about it when I get home.   And no more gum.”

“My work here is done,” the ladybug said.

Cassie looked down and watched it fly away.

Great Ideas Are Better When You Share Them

“Sam, you’ve got to see what I just invented,” Smith said excitedly.

Sam, who was busy sunning himself on a nice warm rock, didn’t move. “I’m busy,” he said.

“The rock will still be here later,” Smith said.   “Rocks don’t move.”

“But someone could come take my spot,” Sam said. “It’s the perfect rock.” He slowly turned his head. “Wait a moment. Are you trying to trick me into moving so you can take my rock? You are, aren’t you?”

“Of course not,” Smith said. “At least I wasn’t planning on it. Now that you’ve given me the idea, I must admit that I’m tempted.”

“I’m not moving,” Sam said. “Ever.”

“You have to eat sometime,” Smith said.

“I’ll wait until you’re eating,” Sam said.

“If I hide just out of sight, you won’t know when I’m off eating, or when I’m just lying there waiting for you to move,” Smith said.

“I’ll charm my food into coming over here to be eaten,” Sam said. “You’ve heard of snake charming, right? Maybe I’m an expert snake charmer.”

Smith laughed a snakey hissy laugh. “Snake charmers are humans who trick snakes into doing things.”

“I’m not moving,” Sam said. “You can’t make me.”

“Then you’ll never know what I just invented,” Smith said. “You might be missing out on something better than a sun-warmed rock.”

“Impossible,” Sam said. “If it was that good, why share it?”

“Perhaps it’s too good to keep it a secret,” Smith said.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Sam said.

“Secrets are more fun when you have someone to share them with. Then you can whisper about them with your friend and make everyone else jealous.   It’s more fun that way,” Smith said.

Sam nodded. “That does sound fun,” he said. He paused. “But if we’re friends, why are you trying to steal my rock?”

Smith sighed. “I told you, I hadn’t even thought about it until you mentioned it.   I do have my own favorite spot, you know.”

“But your rock isn’t the right shape,” Sam said.   “Of course you want my rock.”

“Let’s stop talking about it,” Smith said. “So, do you want to see my new, amazing, secret invention?”

“Oh, fine,” Sam said. “But if you steal my rock, I’ll steal it back.”

“Fair enough,” Smith said. “Follow me.”

They slithered down into Smith’s subterranean workshop. Standing proudly in the center of the room was an odd contraption made of metal wires and springs. It looked a little like a narrow, hollow table.

“What do you think?” Smith asked. “Isn’t it amazing?”

“What is it?” Sam asked.

Smith huffed. “Prosthetic legs, of course. Watch.” Smith slithered into the device and hobbled slowly around the room.

“That’s ridiculous,” Sam said. “We’re snakes, not lizards.” He paused. “But we could pretend it’s a good invention so that we still have a secret.”

“It is a good invention,” Smith said. He slithered back out of the metal thing.

“Whatever,” Sam said. “I’m going back to my rock.”

“Not if I get there first,” Smith said. And the two snakes raced away, neither of them on foot.