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.

Baking a Pie

Chad checked the phone and saw that it was his sister Sally calling. He pushed the button to take the call.   Sally’s voice came through the phone, sounding bright and cheerful. “Hi Chad, let’s get together for Mom’s birthday,” Sally said.

“I’m fine. And how are you?” Chad asked.

Sally sighed. “Really Chad? Fine. Tell me how you’ve been.”

“I told you I’m fine,” Chad said.

“Chad.” Sally said. She sounded irritated. Even all grown up, Chad thought that was rather funny. So he laughed.

“I was going to go visit her anyway. What did you have in mind?” Chad asked.

“I was planning a nice dinner so that she doesn’t have to cook. Monica is going to help me make chicken pot pies.   Jared is bringing a salad. So, you get dessert,” Sally said. Her voice was back to bright and cheerful.   Chad scowled at the phone.

“Why do I get the last choice?” he asked.

“Because you’re the youngest. Just buy a bag of cookies or some ice cream or fruit snacks or something. It’s not a big deal,” Sally said.

“Fine,” Chad said. “But I’m going to bake something. It’s going to be the best thing anyone’s ever eaten. You’ll beg me for the recipe, and I won’t give it to you.   Then you’ll be sorry.”

“That sounds nice,” Sally said. “I’ll see you on Saturday at five. Don’t be late.”

She hung up. Chad frowned. He had three days to figure out how to bake something amazing. That shouldn’t be so bad.

After watching some videos about making sculptures out of sugar and cooking things with blowtorches, Chad decided to think a little less big. Who knew that creating desserts would require so many expensive tools?

Chad started going through his cupboards to see what tools he did have.   After a bit of searching, he found and old pie tin. Perfect.   He could bake a pie. His mother loved pumpkin pie.

He looked online for a recipe and printed it up. Then he accidentally left it home when he went to the store.   That shouldn’t be a problem. He knew what he needed. Let’s see. It was a pumpkin pie. He needed a pumpkin. He checked the produce section. There weren’t any pumpkins.

He found someone in an apron unpacking boxes of apples.   “Where are the pumpkins?” he asked.

“Sorry, it’s the wrong season for them. We’ll have them in the fall,” the man said.

Who knew that things could be seasonal?   Strange. Chad picked up some big purple vegetable. It looked big enough to fill a pie and his mom loved purple.   What else did he need? Eggs, butter. He still had sugar in the cupboard.

He went home to check his recipe. It said he needed pumpkin pie filling. He looked that up. It came in a can, but you could make it by cooking the pumpkin.   No problem. He’d use the directions and cook the purple thing.

He didn’t have flour, so he substituted cornmeal.   He didn’t have pumpkin pie spice, so he used hot sauce. That should be plenty spicy. He ran out of sugar and substituted salt.

Despite the minor setbacks, the pie came out of the oven looking beautiful. There was just enough time for it to cool. Chad felt a sense of accomplishment. Maybe he should have gone to school to be a chef. He obviously had a natural talent for cooking.   Maybe it wasn’t too late. Maybe he should buy himself a blowtorch.

He packed towels around the pie and drove slowly to his mom’s house. He drove carefully around every corner and ignored the line of cars behind him honking at him to go faster. They didn’t know that he had a beautiful pie to protect.

Chad proudly presented the pie to his mother and wished her a happy birthday. Everyone was impressed by Chad’s beautiful pie. Even Sally. Chad smiled and soaked in the praise. He ate quickly, looking forward to finally tasting his masterpiece.

He cut just the right number of wedges and carefully slid them onto the plates. He passed them around and everyone took their first bite. It tasted strange. Not at all like a pumpkin pie. Perhaps the flavor wasn’t so bad, but it was hard to tell because of how salty it was.

It was inedible. Chad tried to choke down another bite anyway. He looked around the table. Monica and Jared were making faces. Dad was gulping water from his glass. Sally looked like she was trying not to laugh.

But mom was smiling and eating her pie as though it was wonderful. “Maybe a little less salt next time dear, but I think that you had some great ideas here,” she said. “Well done.”

Chad took another bite. No, it really wasn’t good. His mother smiled. He smiled back. “Thanks, mom,” he said. “I was thinking of buying a blowtorch.   Maybe I can make you something else.”

“I’d like that,” she said.

As Cursed as a Button

The little girl ran out of the house squealing. “Buttons, buttons, lalala,” she sang loudly. She shook the button jar she was holding with every note.   “Buttons are pretty, buttons are mine…”

Mem the evil fairy sat up and scowled. The sun was barely up. Who comes running around and yelling like that so early in the morning? She casually tossed a bad luck curse at the button jar and flew off to find a new tree to sleep in.

The little girl tripped. She clutched the button jar to her chest and ran into the house crying. That night, her mother got sick with a mysterious illness.   A week later, her father lost his job.   The water pipes burst. Rats moved into the walls. The little girl got lice. Two months later, they decided to move. The little girl buried the button jar at the base of the tree the night before they left.

After their move, the mother miraculously recovered. The father found a better job. The little girl stopped tripping over her feet. The family was glad to have recovered from their terrible patch of bad luck.

However, the bad luck was just beginning for the family who bought their old house. Somehow the home inspection missed the rats and fractured pipes. The father discovered eight new allergies and the mother had constant headaches.

Their little boy, Ned, was often sent outside to play quietly. On one of these occasions he was wearing his favorite pirate hat that he kept accidentally sitting on lately. He found a broken shovel and started digging at the base of the tree in the back yard.

He paused to try to remove all the splinters in his hands and then kept digging.   Clink! Ned uncovered the button jar. He pulled it out of the dirt, and it made an ominous hissing sound as the buttons shifted.

“Hey, look! The new kid found treasure,” someone shouted. Ned looked up. There was a boy watching from the fence. Ned hadn’t been able to make any friends since moving into the awful new house.   Perhaps this was his chance.

He trotted over with the button jar. There was a gathering crowd at the fence. “It’s just buttons. You can have it if you’d like,” Ned said. He handed over the button jar without hesitation. Somehow, everything suddenly seemed lighter.

“Hey, you’re not so bad,” one boy said. “I don’t need any buttons. Well, maybe the one that looks like a baseball.”

All the kids took one or two, except for Mert, who was kind of mean sometimes. He took the rest of the buttons and the jar too and stomped off. The other kids stayed to play pirates.

Ned’s luck had finally changed. His mother’s headaches and his father’s allergies seemed to vanish overnight.   “We must have been acclimatizing to the new place,” his father said.

Someone finally came to fix the pipes, and the problems weren’t as extensive as they’d thought. The rats finally started eating the poison left for them in the attic. There was a terrible smell for a few weeks, but it just meant they spent more time outside.

Ned’s new friends had mildly bad luck over the next few weeks until all the buttons had been lost here and there. The playground was an unlucky place to be for a while after that.

But poor mean Mert seemed unlucky for a long time after that. He got terrible grades and awful rashes and no one picked him for anything. Six weeks later, he stepped on a rusty nail and had to stay in the hospital for a week.

His mother took the opportunity to clean out his room. She tossed the button jar, along with Mert’s collection of baseball cards that one day would have made him a very wealthy man.

The next day, the neighborhood kids visited him with handmade cards. Mert was so grateful to be remembered and included that he wasn’t even slightly mean. His luck changed after that.

However, the town now had the most unlucky, haunted landfill ever reported.   Twice, filmmakers tried to come make documentaries, but it didn’t work out well for them. They stopped trying. Landfills just aren’t all that attractive to film in the first place.

Mem did eventually find a tree in a quiet place. She built herself a lovely little house inside the trunk and felt no guilt over cursing anyone who bothered her. In her opinion if they were yelling and shouting in a graveyard, they deserved what they got.

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Time Travel

After six decades of work, planning, and determination, Johan finally perfected his plans for a time machine. When he told his sister Anna, she was worried about the consequences of his discovery.

“Johan, if you change the past, you may not like how that changes the future.   Look forward, not back,” his sister said.

Johan laughed. “Anna, if time travel is possible, I can keep changing things until I get the outcome I want.”

Anna frowned. “And if you see yourself?   Will you go mad?”

“Does it matter?” Johan asked. “I can fix that too. There is nothing I do or have done that can’t be fixed now. The world is at my fingertips. I can live a thousand lifetimes and pick the one I want to keep.   I am now effectively immortal.”

“Perhaps you are already mad, Johan,” Anna said. Johan just laughed.

When Johan gave the plans for his machine to his younger self, the older self and his machine disappeared and young Johan was alone. The future had changed and older Johan, as he was, would no longer exist.

It took young Johan a decade to build the machine from the plans.   Finding funding was difficult.   He considered publicizing his research and asking for donations, but he hesitated.

If others had the option of changing time, they could change it in ways he didn’t approve of. They could steal his work and keep him from being born. They could hurt things he loved and help things he didn’t care for.

He only trusted his future to his own hands. So, he kept the research quiet. He worked at a terrible job that he hated to earn the money for materials.   He took classes to learn the construction techniques he’d need.

Young Johan worked through holidays and had no other hobbies. He had no friends and nothing he did for fun.   Anna, Johan’s sister, was the only person he told about the time machine.

“Johan, I don’t think this is a good idea,” she said. “I think you need to remember to live in the present.”

Johan laughed. “I can live all I want when the machine is finished. I have multiple lifetimes ahead of me.”

“Do you remember your last lifetime?” His sister asked. “The lifetime where you created this machine?”

“No,” Johan said. “This time I’ll keep a journal. I won’t include technical information though, just in case it falls into the wrong hands. I’ve already memorized and burned the plans for the machine.”

Anna frowned. “I don’t think that’s wise Johan. If you can’t refer to the plans, you may make a mistake in your work and not know it.”

“I’ll be fine,” Johan said.

Finally the machine was ready. He was a decade older and wiser. Perhaps he could give his younger self some pointers so this moment could come sooner.   Johan thought about it.

He remembered watching his older self fade away, leaving no memories behind.   If he gave the information to his younger self, his present self would cease to exist and he’d have nothing to show for all his work. He would be gone before he had a chance to really live.

Perhaps he could study some history and live in the past for a while first.   He could carefully use his knowledge to protect himself and perhaps make a little profit to pass on to his younger self later. It wasn’t as though waiting a bit would make a difference to his younger self.

When he was ready, he could reconstruct the plans and pass them on with the money he’d made and the lessons he’d learned. That would make everything easier. He picked a date to visit and prepared to leave.

“Johan, you don’t have to do this,” Anna said.

“I have waited my whole life for this. If I don’t go, I think I would always regret it,” Johan said.

“I will miss you,” Anna said.

“You won’t remember that I left,” Johan said.

Johan pressed buttons and pulled levers. The machine disappeared and reappeared. However, something must have gone wrong. There was no civilization on the horizon.

Johan stepped out of the machine and looked around at the strange forest.   He leaned over to examine an unusually large flower when the ground began to shake. He had enough time to stand, turn, and face his fate. Then a dinosaur ate him.

The machine was smashed. The knowledge of time travel was lost to the world. Anna did miss him after all.

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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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