The teacher stood up and the murmur of voices finally stopped. “Thank you,” she said. “This is a creative support group to help us further explore and develop our talents. I’d like to begin by having everyone introduce themselves and tell us about a talent that they have. Let’s start with the lady in the green shirt and go around the circle from there.”

The lady in the green shirt stood up and giggled nervously. “Hi, I’m Sylvia. I like to paint in my spare time. I’m not very good yet, but I think if I keep practicing, I’ll get better.”

Sylvia sat down and there was an awkward pause where the people sitting on either side of her just looked at each other. Finally the teacher stood up. “Thank you, Sylvia,” the teacher said. “And welcome to the class. I’m sure that you’re better than you think you are. Let’s hear from the gentleman in blue next and then go from there.”

The gentle man in blue stood up and smiled. “Hello,” he said. “My name is Kyle and I can sneeze on command.”

A few people laughed, but Kyle looked serious. “It may not seem like much,” he said. “But it’s my talent and I’m proud of it. I practice a lot to keep my skills up, and I’ve done what I could to share my gift with the world.”

Sylvia scooted her chair away from him a bit. “What do you mean?” she asked. “Do you go around sneezing on people in public? That’s not very nice. You’ll spread germs.”

Kyle sighed. “A talent like mine isn’t very common. It’s normal for me to be misunderstood.”

The class began to murmur. The teacher finally stood. “Settle down,” she said. The noise stopped. “That’s better. Let’s let Kyle explain more about his unusual talent before we jump to conclusions, all right?”

The class mumbled and nodded and turned to look at Kyle again. “Well, There aren’t many people who can sneeze whenever they’d like. Allow me to demonstrate.” Kyle sneezed. “There, you see? Now you try.”

The class members made various odd sounds. Sylvia clutched her purse and looked ready to run out the door. Kyle laughed. “It’s not easy, is it?” he said.

“How do you share your talent with others?” the teacher asked.

“Fake sneezes are always inferior to the real thing,” Kyle said. “I get small parts in plays and television shows and commercials. I help the artists who need a sneeze for their script realize their creative vision.”

“Very good, Kyle,” the teacher said. “Why don’t you have a seat, and we’ll hear from the next person.”

The man sitting next to Kyle stood up. “Hi, I’m Jim. I’m double jointed. Look, I can put my leg behind my head.”

“Wow, another unusual talent,” the teacher said. “I can tell that this is going to be an unusual class. Next?”

“Ahoy, I’m Susan, terror of the classrooms. I can speak like a pirate, mateys. Arrrrrr!”

The next student stood up. “I’m Dave, and I’m good at filling in crossword puzzles.”

“That’s not a creative talent,” Sylvia said.

“I fill out crossword puzzles in pen,” Dave said.

“Nice,” Jim said. “That’s really gutsy. Do you get the answers right?”

“Mostly,” Dave said.

“But it’s not art,” Sylvia said.

“It’s performance art,” Kyle said. “Like walking on a tightrope or reciting poetry or singing opera or something.”

“But no one would come watch someone fill in a crossword puzzle,” Sylvia said.

“People pay to listen to opera,” Dave said. “I wouldn’t do that.”

“Class, let’s be respectful of other people and their talents.   Everyone has a place here. Now, who’s next?”

The tall, pale man wearing sunglasses stood next. “My name is Vlad, and I can change into a bat.”

“That’s it. I’m leaving,” Sylvia said. She stormed out of the classroom.

“That’s too bad,” the teacher said. “So, who’s next?”



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.

Letters from Grandpa

Ethan watched his mom go through the mail and sort it into piles. “Did I get anything?” he asked.

“Not today,” she said.

Ethan frowned. “I never get any letters.”

Mom tossed all the junk mail into the recycling bin.   “You have to send letters to get letters,” she said.

“But who would I write to?”

Mom smiled. “How about Grandpa?”

And so, Ethan wrote a letter to Grandpa.

Dear Grandpa,

            On the way home from school today, I saw a squirrel.   Did you walk to school when you were my age? Did you have recess? I like to play four square. My favorite lunch is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.   Write back please.

            Love, Ethan

A week later, Mom handed Ethan a letter. “It looks like Grandpa wrote back,” she said.   Ethan ripped open the envelope and unfolded the letter.

Dear Ethan,

            I rode an elephant to school. We had to stick to the shadows so that the dinosaurs didn’t see us and try to eat us. We couldn’t play four square because of all of the lava on the playground. If we tossed the ball wrong, it melted and caught on fire at the same time.

So, mostly we just used big rocks to crack open small rocks to see what was inside. Generally, what’s inside of rocks is more rock. But sometimes there are jellybeans. You have to be pretty lucky to find jellybeans.

I liked to bring a lunch pail full of frog eye salad to eat at lunch time. There was a kid at my school from the fancy part of town.   He had a trained penguin bring him shaved ice for lunch on a silver tray. I always thought that would be a pretty lousy lunch. I imagine he was rather jealous of my salad.

What have you been learning this year in school?
Love, Grandpa

Ethan read the letter out loud to his mom. She laughed out loud. “Ethan, you know that people weren’t around the same time as dinosaurs, right? And I’m sure your grandpa didn’t ride an elephant to school or see any penguins there.”

“What about the frog eyes?” Ethan asked.

“That’s a type of pasta,” Mom said.

“Oh,” Ethan said. “I think I’ll go write Grandpa back now.”

Dear Grandpa,

Thanks for writing back. Mom said that your stories mostly weren’t true. They were funny though. In school we learn reading and math and science and geography and things like that.   What did you learn in school?   What did you do for fun? Did you have homework? I do sometimes. But Mom lets me play video games when I get my homework done. Write back soon.

Love, Ethan

A week later, Ethan got another letter.

Dear Ethan,

Maybe I dreamed the elephant. And the dinosaurs. I’m not sure. I’m pretty sure there was lava though. In school we learned the three Rs: resting, remembering, and wrestling. Or something like that.

Homework took a long time to do. We had to dive into the ocean and wrestle giant squids in order to get ink for our pens. We had to pound reeds into paper to write on. We didn’t have calculators, so we had to gather people together until we had enough fingers and toes to count on to finish our math problems.

Most of my friends used their extra time trying to take over the world.   I usually relaxed with my favorite book, an unabridged dictionary. It was an amazing book. There was something new on every page. I tried to take over the world once, just for fun, but that’s another story.

Do you like to read?

Love, Grandpa

Ethan read the letter to Mom. “Did Grandpa really wrestle squids and make his own paper?” Ethan asked.

“They had paper and ink at the store when he was younger,” Mom said.   “Grandpa really isn’t that old.”

“He’s really funny though,” Ethan said. “I’m going to go write him another letter. Then maybe I’ll read the dictionary.”

And Ethan wrote another letter, and then he discovered the dictionary was more interesting than he thought. And later his Grandpa wrote back, but that’s another story.

Another Frog Prince

The frog hopped into the wizard’s office. He jumped onto the chair by the wall, and from there he leapt onto the desk.   The wizard put down his pen and straightened his glasses.

“It’s me, Humphrey,” the frog said.

“Your majesty? What happened?” the wizard asked.

“That princess who was visiting for the week in order to discuss the new trade agreement,” Humphrey said.

“Oh, was she a witch then?” the wizard asked.

“How did you know?”

The wizard snorted. “Most of the old royal families are. How else would they manage to keep power this long?”

Humphrey smacked the desk with a webbed foot. “Hey! There aren’t any witches or wizards anywhere in my family.”

“No, yours is a relatively young royal family,” the wizard said. “Your ancestors were barbarians. Besides, technically you’re part of a constitutional monarchy now.”

“Why does that make a difference?” Humphrey asked.

“Well, you have less real power,” the wizard said.

“Never mind that,” Humphrey said. “Can you fix this? The witch princess says I have to agree to marry her, and then she’ll break the spell.”

“You don’t want to marry her then?” the wizard asked. “It would make the trade agreement discussions easier.”

“I think it would set a terrible precedent, don’t you?” Humphrey asked. “Now, you’re a wizard, so magic me all better. Please.”

“Fine, fine.” The wizard got up and pulled a book off the shelf. He thumbed through it while muttering. “Fairy wings, feathers, there we go, frogs. Hmmm. This’ll take ten straight hours to brew. I’ll give you a list of ingredients to gather.”

“How am I supposed to do that?” Humphrey asked. “I can hardly go out like this. What if someone saw me? And I’m not really able to carry things around.”

“I’ll come with you then,” the wizard said. “But you’ll have to help gather the ingredients, or the cure will be less effective.”

“All right. So, what’s the first ingredient?” Humphrey asked.

“Hair from the witch that cursed you,” the wizard said.

“How am I supposed to get that? I never want to see her again,” Humphrey said.

“I’ll tell you what,” the wizard said. “Ride on my shoulder. I’ll find her and distract her. You grab one of her hairs.”

“Okay,” Humphrey said. “Just don’t let her turn me into anything else. I think I’d have a panic attack if she turned me into a spider.”

So, the wizard and Humphrey strolled around the castle. The wizard asked a few people about the witch princess.   She was in the library. Humphrey and the wizard hid between some aisles of bookshelves and waited.

Finally, the witch princess hurried by, carrying a stack of books. The wizard stuck out his foot at just the right moment and tripped her. The witch princess and her books went flying. Humphrey hopped to the ground and raced towards her, then froze.

She was lying next to a mound of black fluffy fiber, and her head was completely bald. He turned and hopped back to the wizard, just as the witch princess sat up and started screaming.   The wizard scooped Humphrey up and dropped him on his shoulder. Then he pointed at the witch and mumbled something.

She stopped screaming and turned into a frog. “That solves that,” the wizard says.

“No it doesn’t,” Humphrey said. “I’m still a frog.”

“I’m sure no one will notice,” the wizard said.

The witch princess frog tried pointing and mumbling. Nothing happened. “What have you done?” she asked.

“Nothing much,” the wizard said. “Is it lunchtime?”

“Stop it,” Humphrey said. “You’ve got to find a way to change me back.”

“If you change me back, I’ll change him back,” the witch princess frog said.

“Hmmmm. I’ll have to look at my books again,” the wizard said. “Now neither of you has any hair. Maybe I’ll start looking after lunch.”

The wizard scooped up the witch princess frog and put her on his other shoulder. “I think I’ll make up some spaghetti today. With fresh meatballs,” he said. “And maybe some garlic bread. And a nice side salad. I could make biscotti for dessert.”

“When I’m myself again, I’m turning you into a frog for making me wait,” the witch princess frog said.

“I’ll help,” Humphrey said.

“On second thought, maybe I don’t need to check my magic books at all,” the wizard said.

“Do you need help making the biscotti?” the witch princess frog asked.

“I’ll make the salad,” Humphrey said.

After lunch, the wizard started looking through his books. Two hours later, he looked up from a large, dusty old book. “If a princess kisses you, you change back,” the wizard said. “Know any princesses?”

“No one can see me like this!” the witch princess frog said.

“Me neither,” Humphrey said. “It’s embarrassing.”

“All right then, I’ll keep looking,” the wizard said.

Four hours later, he flicked a spider off the book he was reading.   Humphrey shrieked and hopped off of the desk onto the chair by the wall. “Why did you do that?” Humphrey asked. “You know I’m scared of spiders.”

“I love spiders,” the witch princess frog said. “I have a room full of spiders in glass tanks.”

“Never visit me again,” Humphrey said.

“I wouldn’t want to visit someone who hates spiders,” the witch princess frog said. “You obviously have no taste.”

“Fine,” Humphrey said.

“Fine,” the witch princess frog said.

An hour later, the wizard sat up and smiled. “I think I’ve got it. I just have to say the spell backwards. Hold still.”

He pointed at Humphrey first and mumbled, and then he pointed at the witch princess and mumbled some more. They changed back into their normal royal selves and hurried out of the room.

They left in opposite directions.   The trade agreements were finished quickly, and Humphrey and the witch princess never talked to each other again.   They lived happily ever after.

Chess, Sort Of

Adam dropped a box on the table. Something inside rattled. “Do you want to play chess?” he asked.

Carol looked up. “How do you play?”

Adam lifted the lid and started looking at the pieces. “I don’t know. I think it’s some sort of war game like battleship or checkers. I bet we could figure it out.”

Carol pushed her colored pencils out of the way. “That sounds fun. Do you have the rules?”

Adam lifted the game board out of the box and unfolded it. He looked at the bottom of the board. “Nothing here,” he said.

“There’s nothing on the box, either,” Carol said, putting it back on the table. “There is a picture of the game all set up on the front of the box, though. So, I guess we could start there.”

“Do you want the black pieces or the white pieces?” Adam asked.

“The black pieces,” Carol said. They looked at the picture on the box and started to set up their pieces.

“This looks like the board for playing checkers,” Adam said. “Maybe we’re trying to get our pieces to the other side.”

Carol nodded. She straightened her row of small pieces. “That makes sense. And if the pieces meet, they can have a battle.”

“Rock, paper, scissors?” Adam asked. He picked up a horse-shaped piece and examined it.

“Sounds good,” Carol said. “And you get more points for taking out the bigger pieces.”

“And double for getting to the other side.” Adam started placing his row of small pieces. “These look like bowling pins.”

“I think they’re the soldiers,” Carol said. “Or maybe they’re the ordinary citizens.”

“Or penguins. Mine are penguins. What do you think the horses are?” Adam asked. “Centaurs?”

“Centaurs have people heads. Maybe these are soldiers who ride horses, like knights,” Carol said. “Or I guess they could just be fighting horses, but that’s a little weird.”

“I think they’re fighting horses that can talk. And these ones are aliens. Look, they only have one eye and big mouths. That’s kind of cool,” Adam said.

“And these ones look like buildings. I guess if they have fighting buildings and aliens, then they can have fighting horses. The ones with crowns must be the kings and queens.” Carol looked at the box and started to place the pieces on the back row.

“My penguins are all lined up now,” Adam said. “Where do the aliens go?”

Carol handed him the box. “Can the pieces move sideways and diagonal and backwards?” she asked.

“Do we need to decide that now?” Adam asked.

“Of course we do,” Carol said. “And we should probably decide how many points everything is worth. Games are more fun when everyone is playing by the same set of rules. It’s more fair that way too.”

“Fine, fine. I’ll get a paper and pen. I hope it doesn’t take too long,” Adam said.

“That depends on how much we argue,” Carol said. “So, can the pieces move in any direction?”

“Why not?” Adam said. “But only one square at a time, and we take turns.”

“That’ll take forever,” Carol said. “How about five squares?”

“That’s too many,” Adam said. “Three squares.”

“Deal,” Carol said. “One point for the citizens…”


“…and two for the rest?” Carol asked.

“Three for the king and queen,” Adam said.

“Great.” Carol put her last pieces in place. “So, who goes first?”

Adam looked at the box again and switched a few of his pieces around.   “Just a minute.   Okay, I’m ready. You got to pick the color you wanted, so I’ll go first.”

“That’s not fair. I’ll give you my pieces, and then I can go first,” Carol said.

“I don’t want your pieces. Besides, everything is already set up,” Adam said.

Carol frowned. “We could always trade chairs. I want to go first.”

Adam leaned back in his chair. “We should settle this like adults. Paper, rock, scissors?”

Carol held out a fist over a flat palm. “You’re on. Best two out of three?”