Rouvin the Philosopher

The people of Helevina know very well that one’s ability to reason is directly proportional to the length of one’s beard. Now there was a man who lived in Helevina  a very long time ago, whose beard was particularly long. His face was especially stern because he’d wrinkled his forehead with so much thinking. His name was Rouvin and he was a philosopher. But Rouvin wasn’t just any philosopher, he was arguably the greatest philosopher in history.

He wrote about everything from the nature of thought, to the human soul, to God Himself. Though his teachings caused his students to gape, scribes to scribble furiously, and the kings of the world to seek his counsel, the only thing they brought to God was an amused little smile.

This, dear readers, is Rouvin’s story, and I regret to say, it is not a happy one. It begins when he was just a young man (though even in his youth he was bearded. In fact, historical evidence suggests he was born bearded). He lived in a little village on the eastern side of Helevina that overlooked the sea. It was here that he first learned to wonder, and the delight he experienced in wondering was so sweet that once he began he never voluntarily ceased.

Day in and day out he would watch the world, question it, contemplate it, test his conclusions, and finally put them on paper. He spent so much time doing this, he would have starved to death if it hadn’t been for a young lady from the village. She’d remind him to eat, remind him to sleep, and when she visited his home she’d clean it thoroughly and scold him for allowing it to fall into disarray. She was as practical as he was theoretical and as down to earth as he was absent minded. Her name was Sophia, and Rouvin was very fond of her. As long as she was by his side, all his temporal needs were cared for and he was free to think.

She was fond of him also, for she could see that he had a brilliant mind and their conversations inspired and enriched her. Together they were happy…at first.

As time went on, Rouvin was consumed in his work more and more. He became so engrossed in his thoughts on the social nature of man that he stopped conversing with Sophia. Then, so busy penning his work on the nature of human affection that he forgot to offer her any. While he wrote seven hundred pages about the nature of human emotion, he failed to notice her growing frustration.

All this took place over the course of three years, and toward the end of the third year Rouvin the philosopher began what is widely considered his greatest work. To this day, the work brings even the most stately academics into a state of uncontrollable sobbing for its sheer splendor. He titled it: On Marriage and the Nature of Love.

On the very day that he sat putting the final touches on this great work, Sophia decided to confront him. She was carrying a basket of his togas out to wash, when she noticed him sitting in his usual place scribbling furiously onto a scroll. She paused before him, silently reading his words.

She cleared her throat. Rouvin jumped, his pen flying from his hand. He looked up toward her bewildered.

“You have said that an actual thing is greater than the idea of a thing,” Sophia began.

The philosopher shook off his confusion and smiled.

“Quite so!” He replied both alarmed and delighted by her understanding.

“It follows then,” she continued. “That actual marriage is greater than the idea of marriage.”

Rouvin thought for a moment, then answered: “Why yes! That’s exactly right. I’m so glad that you are beginning to understand these things, my dear!” With that, he began searching for his pen. Finding it, he turned his attention back to his writing.

After a few moments, he glanced up. She was still standing there, staring at him, her brow furrowed and her jaw tight.

“Was there something else you wanted?” He asked.

Her hand clenched the handle of the basket so that it almost snapped in two but her expression did not change.

“I suppose actual clean laundry is also greater than the idea of clean laundry,” she stated.

“I suppose so,” he answered raising an eyebrow. He wasn’t sure why she was still on this subject.

“But since you seem content to live in the world of ideas…” she dumped the basket on his head and stormed out.

When she did not come home the following day, he went out into the village to look for her. His neighbors told him she’d left by ship to seek her fortune in Athens.

Now Rouvin was arguably the most brilliant man that ever lived. And while he’d answered some of the greatest questions in the universe, he could not make sense of Sophia’s behavior.

He spent many a long evening sitting alone among his scrolls, sipping wine, and contemplating this question. Indeed, he thought about it so much that his hair turned white and his face became frozen in a scowl. At last, he finally came to a conclusion and penned his most infamous work. If you asked your philosophy professor about it, I guarantee he will deny its existence.

The work is titled: On the Nature of Women. In this work, Rouvin concludes that women are so enslaved by in their emotions that they are completely incapable of reason.

Having satisfied himself with the idea that Sophia’s behavior was a result of her feminine nature, he decided to move onto other questions. Further, he resolved never to interact with a woman again. Of course, this was easier said than done, due to the inconvenient fact that women made up half the human population. And it only became more difficult after that fateful day when Lysander the Conqueror attacked.


If you ask a child what he wants to be when he grows up, he might say a doctor, a firefighter, or an engineer. When Lysander the Conqueror was a little boy, his mother asked him this very question. He answered: “I want to rule the world!” His mother laughed and patted him on the head. What she didn’t realize is that one day he would actually do it.

Lysander valued three things above all else: books, conquering (obviously), and his darling war horse Calla. He’d have married Calla if he could, but marrying horses was frowned upon in those days even for the ruler of the world.

The day Lysander invaded, Rouvin was so absorbed in thought he failed to notice the attack on his village until one of the conqueror’s warriors broke down the door. The man would have killed the terrified philosopher right then and there if Lysander himself hadn’t intervened. You see, when the invader stormed in, one of Rouvin’s scrolls came rolling out into the street. Lysander (being a lover of books and all) stopped killing people for a moment so he could read it. The work was called On Horses: Highest of Animals.

The conqueror rushed to the house. Luckily for Rouvin, the invading soldier, blade raised for the kill, paused mid-blow (it was the kind of hesitation one has when one is about to kill the protagonist of an incomplete story). It gave Lysander just enough time to burst in shouting: “STOP!”

Then catching his breath, he held the open scroll out toward Rouvin. “Did you write this?” he demanded.

The wide-eyed philosopher nodded.

“Wonderful!” the conqueror exclaimed. “You’ll come back to the capital with me and teach at the university! Every student in the empire will come to know that horses are the highest of animals! And we will add your works to my library! You will have wealth and power and fame and servants to do your bidding. Everything you’ve ever wanted will be yours!”

Rouvin agreed immediately because he was afraid of dying (also wealth and fame sounded pretty good). And so the conqueror took the philosopher back to Logus, capital of his home country. It was beyond anything Rouvin could have imagined (which is saying a lot since he spent most of the day in his mind). The many intersecting roads were paved with cobblestone, every building touched the sky. Greenery only appeared in places designated by city officials. Every pigeon was washed and combed before it could enter the street. And by Lysander’s decree, every warrior had to wear a brush on his helmet so he could dust the ceiling as he walked through a room.

Rouvin became quite comfortable in the city. He spent most of his days in the royal zoo. Lysander had a habitat for him there, complete with scrolls, togas, a beard comb, and five to ten half empty cups of coffee. A plaque in front of the exhibit explained that these were philosopher enrichment items.

When Rouvin wasn’t in his exhibit, he was in the library. Lysander the Conqueror had a magnificent library. It was the second largest building in the city. (The first was the temple of Lune, the god of vermin.) The books fueled Rouvin’s thoughts. In the few short years, the philosopher lived in Logus, he wrote more than he had in all years previous.


Now Lysander had a wife (he actually had many, but only one is important to this story). Her name was Amira. She was a princess taken from a distant corner of the empire. Unlike the conqueror’s other wives, she could read and would spend most of her days sitting cross legged on the library floor, absorbing one book after another. Lynsander found this amusing and when he was showing distinguished guests around his great city, he would often point her out.

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“Look,” he’d say. “There’s the Anamian princess reading again. Isn’t that delightful?”

She’s shoot him cold glares which he’d ignore.

Of course Rouvin saw her too, and would grumble to himself that they’d allow a woman in the library. Luckily, she was the only woman there and easy for him to avoid. At least until she stumbled upon one of his works.

It was his work on God. In those days, most people worshiped many gods, the people of Logus being no exception. They had gods for everything you can possibly imagine. They had gods of the elements (fire, water, earth, and air), gods of the weather (thunder, wind, hail, and the like). They also had gods of oddly specific things, for example, the dying llama god. They did not have a god for healthy llamas, nor a gods for similar animals like alpacas so their religion lacked consistency.

But after many, many, years of thinking, Rouvin had come to the conclusion that there was only one God and had written extensively on the subject in his work: The Creator of the Universe. Amira read it twice through and it fueled her curiosity. She began collecting and reading through Rouvin’s other works. His books inspired a thousand questions, she wanted to learn more, everything she possibly could. So when she spotted Rouvin in the library one day, she decided to approach him.

He was sitting at a table, completely lost in his work and did not notice her walking toward him. You can imagine is alarm when she plopped The Creator of the Universe on the table in front of him, and said: “I’d like to know more about your one God.”

Rouvin

His surprise turned to anger when he’d a moment to take her in. There she was, standing before him, a basket of scrolls perched on her hip. For a moment, he was swept back to his old home, to the laundry, to Sophia…

“Go away,” he hissed, turning his attention back to his scroll. 

She clenched her teeth. In her homeland, no one would have dared speak to her so. She was respected as a queen. She reminded herself that things were different here. She just another wife of Lysander and a lesser one at that. She maintained her composure.

“Please,” she insisted. “I want to know more about your one God.”

Go away,” he repeated.

And this time she did not ask again. She left without a word, the curiosity about the one God extinguished and replaced by a bitter lump. Then things got worse. The very next day she resumed her browsing, and stumbled upon On The Nature of Women. The bitter lump in her heart grew into a nasty resentment. And all her frustrations started boiling over. She decided she hated Logus, Lysander, and whole empire. She hated Rouvin, and his God, and all his works with him. It didn’t matter how beautiful and how true most of them were. In her mind, all were tainted by his work on feminine nature.


Shortly thereafter Lysander the Conqueror became a victim of a horrible accident. A knife fell on him while he was sleeping. Luckily, on the evening of his death, he’d written a note naming Amira’s son his heir. The people of Logus thought this peculiar considering Amira’s son was only two and Lysander’s youngest child. No one pointed this out though since Lysander also noted that anyone who questioned this should be thrown into The Pit of Death and Dismemberment.

Since it’s very hard to understand the babblings of a two year old, the nobles of Logus relied on Amira to interpret the words of their new emperor. She explained that the child’s first order was to throw Rouvin into the above mentioned pit. The philosopher was so horrified at hearing this that he immediately died of a heart attack. The people of Logus were very disappointed because watching victims fall screaming into the Pit of Death and Dismemberment was one of their favorite pastimes. (This was how people entertained themselves before HBO was invented.)

Amira’s son then declared that all the treasures of Logus be moved to Anamia and the capital be burned to the ground. People protested and war broke out. In the end, the city was burned and none of the treasures survived. The library, the university, and the zoo were all lost. Oh yes, and lots and lots and lots of people died. And it all happened because the greatest thinker in history, was so enslaved by his emotions that, during a critical moment, he lost his ability to reason.

Lethal Love

James had everything a young man could want, well, almost everything. He’d a full scholarship to Rouvin University where he was a straight A student. He had a paid internship at Tap Pro Inc, and was building out a plan for his own business. He’d a mother and father who loved him and a sweet grandmother he’d visit every other weekend.

Yet, even with all this, he felt himself incomplete. You see James was waiting to meet the one. The girl he couldn’t stop thinking about, the girl he’d do anything for, the girl who’d make his life full and rich.


Julie was a biology major. She worked as a barista at the campus coffee shop and spent all her free time (which wasn’t much) volunteering at a local wildlife rehabilitation center. She found her volunteer work most fulfilling, and hoped she could eventually get a full-time job working with animals.

There was only one thing missing from her life and that was Mr. Right.


Then one fateful day it happened. James entered the campus coffee shop and ordered a sixteen ounce cup filled with as many espresso shots as would fit. He’d a midterm early the next morning, and was preparing for a long afternoon of study.

He was standing next to the pickup counter scrolling through the study guide on his phone, when a beautiful voice rang out:

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“James!”

He looked up and saw her peeking out from behind the towering espresso machine. He noticed the curls of her auburn hair sticking out from under her green uniform cap. Her hazel eyes, the gentle curve of her face, she was like an angel.

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Julie noticed him too, his scruffy black hair, his untucked button-up and his deep brown eyes that seemed to swallow her soul.

In that moment, they both had the same thought: this must be the one!

James skipped all the way back to his apartment. He knew it was crazy, he knew it was reckless, but he also knew that Julie was the one. The person who’d make him complete. So he took the chance, he asked her to dinner and she accepted. It was like the universe was smiling down on him and everything was falling into place.

He moved his hand upward in a coffee drinking motion, only to realize he didn’t have his drink. He’d been so entranced with Julie, that he’d left it sitting on the pickup counter. Normally, such a revelation would have led to panic, but not today. How could he worry about a little caffeine deprivation when he’d found the one?

He spent the whole afternoon preparing for the date (researching to find the best dining options, buying flowers, ironing his suit again and again.) He wanted everything to be perfect. After all, he knew this girl was his other half. The person who’d complete him.

Julie’s heart was pounding. Butterflies fluttered in her chest. She’d lost her concentration. She forgot to put espresso in an old professor’s drink, and added it to a small child’s chocolate milk instead. She wrote the wrong name on almost every cup, even misspelling the name Ed.

Her fingers where unsteady, her mind was elsewhere. She hardly noticed the mob of angry customers swarming the pickup counter yelling obscenities.

A boy had asked her on a date–a real, live, boy. She’d never been sure of anything in her life until now. He was the one, her missing piece!

When her concerned manager asked her if she wanted to leave early, Julie fled the building. There was so much to do: shower, second shower, hair, make-up, call all her girlfriends for advice… She’d no idea how she would do everything in time!

When James came to pick her up that evening, they were both so overwhelmed they could hardly speak. So they didn’t. They just sort of giggled as they skipped hand in hand to the restaurant.

Unfortunately, neither of them realized they were skipping down the path to their own demise.


The next few weeks were blissful for the new couple. They spent hours gazing into each others’ eyes, whispering sweet nothings, and holding hands while spinning slowly through wheat fields.

Normally, James would have been horrified to learn that he’d failed a midterm (after all he’d never failed anything in his life), but he just didn’t care. What was one midterm to a man in love?

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Julie’s grades were also falling. She couldn’t focus on her books, and daydreamed through class. She even freed all the mice from the lab once with the gentle words: “How can I vivisect you, little friends? I’m in love!”

The mice then joined her in a musical number about her newfound feelings. It came to an abrupt end when her horrified professor entered.

James’ advisor reminded him that he needed to keep his grades up or he’d lose his scholarship. James noted this, then fled the meeting as soon as he was dismissed, eager to be with Julie.

This continued for weeks. Julie stopped volunteering at the animal rehab so she could spend more time staring at the clouds with James. After several missed shifts, the rehab asked her not to come back. She was disappointed at first, but then figured it didn’t matter as long as she had her other half.

Finally, James’ advisor regretfully informed him that he’d lost his scholarship. James was horrified and spent the next several classroom hours wondering what happened. He ignored all the calls from his parents, since he did not want to speak with them until he had a plan. He needed to find time to resume his studies and bring his grades back up but did not want to use any of the precious time he had with Julie.

He decided he’d skip the visit to his grandmother’s, at least for a couple of weeks until he was able to get his scholarship back. This led to more calls from his parents which he ignored.

Julie finally lost her job at the cafe and ran tearfully into the arms of James. Together they bemoaned the cruelty of the universe.

“Not to worry, my darling,” James reassured. “I still have my job with TP inc, when I graduate we can get married, I’ll support us both!”

Julie was overwhelmed with joy. She gave up all thoughts of being a biologist and spent every moment dreaming of being the perfect wife. She didn’t need her dreams, James would complete her!

James was shocked the day TP declared bankruptcy. He was so depressed, he didn’t even bother to collect his box of cubical ornaments and sticky notes. He’d no scholarship, no job, angry parents, and was months behind on his business plan. But he still had Julie, what more did he need to be complete?

Then it came to him. Julie was the only thing in the world that mattered anymore and he was going to show her that. He was going to do something crazy, something reckless, something illegal, something his parents would never approve of, and all for Julie!

He was going to spray paint her name on the underside of the Mackerel Valley River Bridge.

It was an old open spandrel bridge made up of three arches, each hopping over a different obstacle. The first obstacle was the Mackerel Valley Expressway, the central arch spanned Mackerel Valley River itself, and the third spanned the cleverly named River Road NorthWest.

It was a beautiful piece of historic masonry and James felt the only thing that would make it more lovely, would be the name of his beloved in radiation green. He planned to do it right in the center of the arch over the expressway where it would be most visible.

He arrived in the middle of the afternoon with a backpack full of paint cans. If you think vandalizing such a public place in broad daylight is a bad idea, you are absolutely right. However, James was new to being a rebel and frankly, he didn’t care if all the world saw him immortalizing that heavenly name.

The area was busy, cars zipped up and down the expressway and a group of workmen cleared away the brush from the roadside. James strolled past the workers, trying to act casual while keeping out of sight behind their heavy machinery. He ducked past a tractor, a cherry picker, and then finally began his climb up the bridge from the shadow of a wood chipper that was parked beneath.

The workmen were so engrossed in the chopping of trees and clearing of weeds, they didn’t notice James as he edged around the spandrel columns toward the center of the first arch.

But someone else did.

“James?” Cried a familiar voice.

James looked up to see the face of his other half staring down at him from over the railing.

“James, no!” Cried Julie. “You still have me, remember? And plenty of companies make pointless smartphone accessories, you’ll find another job! I promise!”

James was confused until he saw other faces peering over the railing, some with expressions of mild curiosity, others wide-eyed with horror. It was only then that James realized they all thought he was going to jump.

James laughed. It was a reckless, laugh that could only come from a man in love. “Oh Julie, I could never leave you! I’ve climbed this bridge for you!”

“But why?” she called.

“Because love is a crazy thing—a wild, uncontrollable thing! It should be proclaimed from the mountaintops, but since there are no mountains here, I’ve chosen the side of this bridge. I am going to paint your name here on top of the world!”

A few of the bystanders awwed, but most just grumbled and went about their business.

Julie pressed her hand to her heart. “Oh James,” she called. “My name would be incomplete without yours!” She climbed over the railing and began working her way down to him. She ignored the garbled warnings coming from the police bullhorns at the top of the bridge and the profanity of the workers below.

Finally, she joined him at his perch. Then, clinging to the masonry, they each spray painted the other’s name in such a way as to make a seasoned graffiti artist smack his face to his palm. Then, hand in hand, they began inching back around the columns toward the base of the bridge and safety.

When they made it to the last column, Julie gazed into James’ eyes.

“You complete me,” she whispered.

“And you me,” James returned.

He leaned in to kiss her.

But I am afraid this story doesn’t end with a kiss. You see as they reached for each other, James lost his footing and tumbled off the bridge. Instinctively, his grip tightened on Julie’s hand and she too slipped off her perch.

Together they fell straight into the open funnel of the wood chipper below.

And that is how James and Julie tore each other apart (literally and figuratively).

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Was that ending to gruesome for you? Clearly you haven’t read many fables. Sometimes fables have to be gruesome to effectively teach their moral. And the moral of this story is never park a wood chipper under a bridge.

Scott the CEO

Scott Allen finally achieved his lifelong dream. The company he founded was about to go public. After a long career full of struggle and failure, success came in the form of a little finger protector for people who use touch screens.

A typical review from online retail sites looked like this:

Five stars: “The skin on my index finger was almost completely worn through from using touch screens all day until I found this handy thing! What a life saver!”

The company was called Tap Pro, Inc (TP for short) and in thirteen years they went from a one man operation with a single finger protector model to a multinational organization with a dozen products for every person in every imaginable scenario.

Scott invented the product by cutting the finger off one of his gloves. As Scott hired more engineers, the product became more practical. The newer models resembled a contact lens that stuck on the fingertip. They were sleek. They were sexy. All the cool kids had one.

It was 12:00am the day before IPO. After a long evening of celebrating with his colleagues, Scott returned to his office. His plan was simply to collect his briefcase and head home, but he was so intoxicated with his success (and also with alcohol), that he decided to flop into his chair and scroll through the product reviews one more time.

He pulled out his phone and drank in the words of his admiring public. To think he’d come from nothing, and was now a millionaire. It was everything he’d ever wanted. He sighed. He was a month short of sixty. His father died at… he tried to think… seventy-three?

He endured a lifetime of failure for what? So he could enjoy thirteen years of success?

“Oh how I wish I could endure as long as this great company of mine!” He bemoaned.

“Who are you talking to?” Came a voice.

Scott startled. He hadn’t realized he was speaking aloud. He looked wildly around the room before spotting her. She was standing directly in front of him.

She was wearing a suit with a knee length pencil skirt and heels so high they might as Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 11.44.30 PMwell have been stilts. She’d a short power cut and modern glasses with thick blue frames. Her gaze was fixed on her phone.

Her appearance was flawless. There wasn’t a crease on her blazer, or a stray hair on her head. It was almost like she’d dry cleaned her clothes onto herself.

“Who are you?” He asked, bewildered.

“I am Eda the business fairy,” she replied, without looking up from her phone. “Didn’t you just make a wish?”

Scott squinted at her. “If you are a fairy, then why don’t you have any wings?”

“Fairies don’t actually have wings, Mr. Allen. Humans just draw us that way because…” She looked up, thinking for a moment. “I honestly have no idea why.”

Scott scrutinized her a moment more. “Okay,” he said. “If you are who you say you are, prove it! Do some magic.”

“How about I answer all your password security questions?” She suggested.

“Alright. Go on! Go on!”

“Your mother’s maiden name is Smith, you went to Mackerel Valley High School, and your first pet’s name was Fluffy1234. (Well, the numbers aren’t actually part of the name. You just added them to make the answer harder to guess.)”

Scott’s bloodshot eyes widened. He was amazed.

“So you really are a fairy!” He exclaimed.

Technology was not Scott’s strong suit and he could never find the time to take the quarterly cyber security training. So while Eda was a real fairy, she wasn’t answering Scott’s password questions by magic. She was looking at his Wikipedia page. (She’d guessed about the numbers at the end of Fluffy’s name.)

Scott was too excited to notice. “So this must be some kind of a fairytale, or, or maybe a fable!” He was ecstatic but collected himself enough to explain: “A fable is a short story with a mor–”

“Thank you, Mr. Allen,” she answered. “I am a fairy. I know what a fable is.”

“If this is a fairytale, then I must be the hero!”

“Hmmm…” thought Eda with a little shrug. “Protagonist, sure.”

“And I can wish for anything?”

“Well, anything business related,” she replied. “I’ll have to refer you to another fairy for other requests. And you said something about wanting to endure like your company or whatever, so do you want it or not?”

“More than anything!” Scott answered.

“Cool, I’ve got a meeting in five so let me just…” she tapped her phone a couple of times and flipped it around revealing some text and a signature line. “Check the box that says you’ve read and agreed to all the terms and conditions, then sign with your finger.”

Scott checked the box. He hadn’t read all the terms and conditions of course, but since no one ever does, he didn’t worry. He signed.

The fairy took her phone back and raised an eyebrow. His signature was illegible even when he used a ballpoint pen. A touch screen made it horrifying.

She shrugged and pocketed her phone. “We’re all set, Mr. Allen. Your health is now directly intertwined with that of TP, inc. When TP is doing well, so will you. If TP is doing poorly, you will also.”

“Wait,” Scott said. “…intertwined with TP? That’s not what I wished for!”

“It states very clearly in the terms and–”

“Right, right, of course!” He interjected. “Yes, clearly.”

He wasn’t worried. After all, TP was thriving. What could possibly go wrong?

Eda gave him a firm handshake. “Get some sleep, Mr. Allen,” she said. “You’ve got a bell to ring tomorrow.”

Scott pulled his car keys out of his pocket as Eda turned to leave.

“You’re not driving are you?” she asked.

“I’m fine,” he insisted. “Have you seen my phone?”

“You’re holding it, Mr. Allen,” she answered, pulling out her own.

“Would you look at that!” He observed with a laugh and a shake of his head.

Eda tapped on her phone a couple of times. “Go down to the lobby, Mr. Allen. In a few moments, a magical driverless car will arrive to take you home.”

Once again, Scott was amazed.


For the next year, Scott felt better than ever before. He woke without aches and pains,

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It took a lot of coaching, but Scott finally managed to master the defiant CEO smirk for his LinkedIn profile picture.

ran without losing his breath, and even resumed playing sports when he had the time.

His friends and family noticed he looked better but couldn’t determine what was different.

Stocks were rising, reviews were gushing, business was booming, and the company grew. Every employee from the vice president of accounting to the cubical cleaner’s intern was going above and beyond because they felt like they were part of something great.

Then one day, as Scott sat in a conference watching one of his executives present. He sneezed.

The sensation shocked him. You might think it strange that a sneeze would shock anyone, but Scott had gone a full year without sneezing once.

“…So as you can see,” the exec droned, pointing to a line chart. “This black line is going up and this redline is going down. This means my organization is doing useful things. Can we have more money?”

Scott was still staring into his hand. He sniffled. “Um… sorry, can you say that last part again?”

Unfortunately, things only got worse for Scott. Over the next few weeks he was plagued by sniffles and sneezes of all kinds. He found himself carrying dozens of tissue packets with him everywhere and entering panics when he ran out. A colleague suggested it was spring allergies. But Scott didn’t believe this because he’d never had allergies and it wasn’t spring.

He remembered his contract with Eda, but felt certain that couldn’t be causing the problems. After all, if TP was doing well, he should be also.

Then his personal assistant politely suggested that perhaps he was under stress and should take a vacation. Scott was delighted with this diagnosis and in short order found himself lying on a beach in Belize. He was reading a book he’d purchased at the airport newsstand. It was titled: Tried and True: Old School Tactics for Driving Your Modern Business.

With his ball cap, Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts, and sandals over white socks, he was an abomination in the eyes of fashion. The salt air and warm sand didn’t make him feel any less sneezy, but at least he getting some R&R.

“Enjoying yourself, Mr. Allen?” Came a familiar voice.

Scott sat bolt upright. Strolling across the sand was Eda.

Scott would have been alarmed by her sudden appearance had he not been so distracted by her feet. She was wearing the very same pair of heels as the day they met, but they did not sink into the sand as she crossed the beach.

“You shouldn’t walk on sand in shoes like that,” Scott observed. “Heels are the leading cause of foot injuries in women.”

She smiled sweetly. “Thank you, Mr. Allen. I really don’t know how I’ve survived all these thousands of years without you around to tell me these things.”

Scott returned her smile, glad she appreciated his advice.

“But I didn’t come here to talk about my shoes,” she continued. “I came to check in on you. Heard you weren’t feeling so well.”

“I’m fine,” Scott sneezed.  

“Oh?”

“Of course,” he replied. “TP’s never been better and neither have I. Besides given our success, if something were wrong with me, you’d be in violation of your contract.”

The contract is perfect and the magic is working perfectly.” Eda replied. “If you weren’t feeling well, it would only be because something is wrong with your company.”

“Like what?” Scott asked. “I mean, hypothetically, if something were wrong with me?”

“This is a fairytale, Mr. Allen,” Eda replied. “And I am a fairy. If you’ve read any fairytales, you should know I can’t give you a straight answer about anything.”

“Why not?” Scott pressed.

She answered him directly: “Because then you wouldn’t learn anything. Also the story’d be to short.”

Scott was growing impatient. “So if something were wrong with me, what would you do?”

“I would—I will give you something that will help you learn the answer for yourself. Go back to work, Mr. Allen and you’ll understand.”

She tossed him a packet of tissues and was gone before Scott could reply. She seemed to  disappear into thin air.

Perhaps she had. She was a fairy after all, but more likely, she ran away really quickly while he blinked. I suppose we’ll never know for sure.


No one recognized Scott when he returned to work. It could have been that he’d traded in his usual grey suit for a plaid button up and jeans, but most likely it was the false mustache.

He had a brilliant plan. He figured the best way to learn what was really amiss at TP, was to lose his CEO status. He felt certain his employees were more likely to be honest with Gary from facilities than with Scott the CEO. Besides being from facilities meant he could wander all around the campus and no one would suspect anything. If anyone asked, he was doing a mandatory lightbulb inspection.

Scott was up on a ladder examining his first bulb, when he discovered Eda’s gift. He was on a floor with open cubes. There were thirty or so conversations taking place across the room, and Scott found that regardless of where the conversations took place, he could focus in and hear any of them.

He heard two salesmen standing by the printer, lamenting the outcome of last night’s game. He heard a woman from marketing on the opposite side of the room asking a peer if a particular shade of violet was in compliance with brand standard. He heard two IT support agents coming out of the elevator joking about how TP actually stood for toilet paper.

He scowled. It took just over a million dollars and a small army of branding experts to come up with the initialism TP. Had they no respect?

It occurred to Scott that listening to conversations this way might not be legal. He’d ask Eda to un-enchant him next time he saw her, but in the meantime, he’d just have to deal with it.

Scott moved on to inspect his next lightbulb and passed a closed office door. He heard voices from the other side and listened carefully. Sure enough, his ability to focus worked even through doors. He shook his head at the idea that Eda would give him such an unethical gift, then listened to the conversation taking place.

“I can’t do this if I have to go through Jason,” a woman’s voice said. “The man’s an idiot. If he had to approve everything I did, I’d get nothing done!”

“I know,” came a sympathetic reply. “Let me talk to him, maybe I’ll buy him a drink.”

“Great idea,” answered the first voice. “Give him enough alcohol and he’ll approve anything!”

Both voices laughed.

Scott moved on. While inspecting his next light bulb he heard a man and woman speaking by the coffee pot.

“Did you see the research department?” The woman asked.

“No,” the man smiled.

“They have their cubes all decorated! It’s amazing! Little bells made out of cups! Paper chains, everything!”

The man laughed. “Wow, they really went all out, didn’t they?”

“They sure did!” The woman replied. “Must be nice to have so much free time!”

The man responded with a smirk and an eye roll. “Come on, Maggie, you know research doesn’t actually do anything at this company.”

So it continued. In every hallway, in every lunchroom, everywhere all over the company Scott heard people speak similarly. Each team thought they were the hardest working, the smartest, and the only ones who actually cared about success. The entire campus was infected with toxic murmurs.

Screen Shot 2018-08-04 at 4.00.14 PM

A light bulb went on over Scott’s head (actually it was more of a fluorescent tube), and just at the same moment, he had an idea.


About a week later, all TP employees gathered for a company wide meeting. Scott ensured there would be a massive turnout by providing free donuts. He watched as they filed into the largest conference room in the building in search of the pastries disguised as breakfast food.

The topic of the meeting was company culture. In his presentation, Scott talked about how other companies were promoting a healthy workplace environment. How research proved that such efforts were good for business. He showed stock photos of happy business professionals having picnics and playing golf. He firmly declared that gossip was not part of the company culture.

His employees watched with eyes as glazed as the donuts they were steadily consuming.

He concluded by announcing that he was going to hire a vice president of employee relations to enforce a positive and productive workplace environment.

When the presentation was over, he returned to his office feeling pleased with himself. He was so confident that his allergies would cease, that he took all his tissue boxes to the roof and threw them off—an action he was bound to regret.

Scott was angry. It had been several months since the company meeting. TP’s profits continued to grow, they’d launched a new product successfully, and yet he was continually feeling weak and nauseous.

He hoped that Eda would turn up and set things right. But when weeks passed and she did not, he decided to make an appointment with his doctor.  

Doctor Randy Webb was an enthusiastic man who’s caffeine addiction was evidenced by his wide eyes, jittering hands, and seldom ceasing chatter. He listened to Scott describe his symptoms, then said with a bright smile: “Sounds like pregnancy! But that can’t be since you’re a man! It’s probably just cancer.”

He waited for Scott to laugh.

Scott did not laugh.

“So… anyway,” Dr. Webb continued. “We’ll run some tests. If you don’t hear from me, everything’s fine.”

“And if I hear from you?” Scott asked.

Webb’s expression became dark. “Pray.”

The phone rang in Scott’s office early the next morning.

“Hello Scott, how are you doing today?” Came Dr. Webb’s chipper voice.  

Scott wasn’t sure, so he lied in the customary fashion: “Fine.”

“Ah good,” Webb continued. “So, the test results came back and well… your cells are multiplying in all kinds of ways that they shouldn’t…”

“What are you saying?” Scott demanded.

“Remember how yesterday I made that joke about you having cancer? Well you actually do!” The doctor laughed. “Now isn’t that something?”

Scott hung up the phone. Before he’d a chance to reflect on his woeful situation, the door to his office opened.

In walked Eda, her gaze glued to her phone. Somehow she navigated into the room and gracefully around all the ill-placed furniture without taking her eyes off the screen.

“You!” Scott cried, leaping from his chair with such force it went spinning across the room.

“Hello, Mr. Allen,” she returned.

“Where have you been?” He snapped. “Did you know this would happen?”

“Know what would happen?” She replied.

“That I’d get cancer!”

“Cancer,” she mumbled. “Makes sense it would manifest itself that way, given the duplication of cells and all.”

“You did this to me, didn’t you?”

“I did nothing,” Eda replied. “You always knew this was a possibility, Scott. It stated very clearly in the terms and–”

“How can I have cancer when the company is doing so well?” He demanded.

She held up a finger. “One moment…” She tapped at her smartphone.

“What are you doing?” He snapped.

“Selling some stock,” she answered.

“If that’s TP stock I’ll have you arrested for insider trading,” he grumbled.

“It’s only insider trading if I possess material non-public information.”

“Ah! But you do!” Scott replied “You see, material means that a reasonable investor would care about it—”

“Thank you, Mr. Allen, I know what material means.” Eda explained. “And you expect any reasonable investor to believe that you entered into a magical contract with a business fairy?”

Scott frowned. “I suppose not… but I have cancer! Very bad, probably going to die! There, now you know something a reasonable investor would care about! Ha!”

“Maybe… There could be any number of outcomes,” Eda thought. “I probably should consult with law fairy first.*”Screen Shot 2018-08-06 at 9.34.38 PM

She pocketed her phone.

Scott laughed triumphantly.

“But I did not come here for legal advice, Scott.” She took a seat. “Let’s see if we can find a way to change your outcome.”

Scott fetched his chair and slumped down in it.

“Remember the vice president of employee relations you hired? Debra?”

“Of course, she’s the very reason I shouldn’t be in this situation,” he grumbled.

“On the contrary, Mr. Allen,” Eda replied. “I’m afraid Debra is the reason, well, one of many.”

“Get to the point,” Scott demanded. “And no more of this cryptic fairy non-sense, I want a straight answer.”

“Well, I suppose since were already twelve pages in, I’ll humor you.” Eda sighed. “You see, Debra started at TP under the assumption that your employee relations problems were due to the destructive policies put in place by Alley’s department.”

Alley’s department was HR.

“What destructive policies?” Scott asked.

“There are none,” Eda answered. “But there were at many of Debra’s past organizations. Thus her assumption.”

“Why did she assume? Why not just talk to Alley?”

“Well she discussed it, with Jerry.” Eda explained.

“But Jerry’s in finance.” Scott sputtered.

“Yes, but you see, Jerry and Debra are already acquainted. They used to meet up every year at Phoney Con before they came to work for TP. So naturally Debra mentioned her concerns to Jerry, while they were having lunch on Tuesday.

Now, Jerry cautioned Debra not to speak to Alley–”

“Wait, why not?”

“Because,” Eda explained. “How did Jerry put it… ‘Alley is a witch.’ Jerry then proceeded to tell Debra all about his horrible experiences working with Alley.”

“But, gossip is not part of our company culture!” Scott interjected.

“Now, now, Mr. Allen,” Eda replied raising a finger. “They are executives. They know that. Jerry wasn’t gossiping, he was just venting. After all it isn’t good to keep your frustrations bottled up.”

Scott made no reply as he tried to work out what Eda was saying. She did not wait for him to comprehend, just pressed on.

“Debra decided to handle TP’s gossip problem by creating the Employee Conflict Resolution Team to pinpoint where tension existed between departments and work to resolve it.”

“I don’t see what’s wrong with that,” Scott observed.

“Nothing at all,” Eda continued. “Except, had Debra talked to Alley, she’d have found that Alley already has a team doing just that—The Cross Departmental Collaboration Team.

Now the Cross Departmental Collaboration Team heard about the Employee Conflict Resolution Team and were distressed. Instead of trying to unify their efforts, the teams began to compete for resources. So the Employee Conflict Resolution Team refused to work with the Cross Departmental Collaboration Team. In the end, TP had two separate teams doing exactly the same work.

“So we just need to merge both teams or get rid of one of them,” Scott reasoned.

“I wish it was that simple,” Eda replied. “But you’ll find similar conflict blossoming all over the company. For example, you probably noticed the tension between John from research and Jamie from sales.”

Scott hadn’t, but he was beginning to think there was a lot he didn’t notice.

“John refuses to work with Jamie because Alley told him about a time when Jamie purposefully deprioritized her employee survey because she’d delivered bad news about his approval ratings as a vice president. And it gets worse, Sam from–”

“Stop! Stop! Stop!” Scott demanded. “I get the picture! No one is talking to anyone else, teams are duplicating, trust is crumbling…” He sat for a moment, finger on his chin, thinking.

“What if we restructure the entire organization?” Scott suggested. “We’ll start by making Debra head of HR.”

“Wait a moment,” Eda said. “Debra’s been nothing but toxic since you brought her in, why would you give her the entire HR department?”

“Because the only other option is to leave Alley in charge of HR and have Debra report to her. Then again,” he thought. “I could move Alley out of HR altogether and have her run something else.”

“Or you could fire Debra,” Eda suggested.

“Fire Debra!” Scott exclaimed. “Just like that?”

“Well, no, not ‘just like that’, give her a warning first and time to improve, then fire her if she doesn’t.”

“I can’t fire Debra!” Scott insisted.

“Why not? You’ve fired employees for similar destructive behavior, haven’t you?”

“Maybe,” Scott replied. “But not at the executive level. You can’t fire an executive for gossiping!”

“Why–” Eda began, but Scott cut her off talking almost as much to himself as to her.

“If you fire an executive for something that trivial, investors will start thinking you are in some kind of trouble!”

“But you are–”

Scott cut Eda off again. “Not to mention the fact that Jerry would resent me if I fired her. The whole staff would! As bosses go, I am pretty well liked and this would ruin my image.”

“You talk like you’ve never fired anyone,” Eda observed.

“Of course not!” Scott replied. “I’ve never made a bad hire!”

Eda responded with stunned silence. Then finally said: “Don’t you have thirty years experience?”

“Almost forty,” Scott proudly stated.

“How did you get to be CEO?”

Scott responded by falling into his elevator pitch: “It began when I cut the finger off one of my gloves! Little did I know that this invention would revolutionize the smartphone accessories industry!”

“Right, you invented the product,” Eda said. She thought a moment. “Have you ever considered taking a more product focused role?”

“Change my role?” Scott was alarmed. “You mean, step down from being CEO?”

Eda nodded. “Sure, then you could actually create something. You like inventing things, and you must be good at it because consumers love your products.”

Scott was turning scarlet. The only thing he heard was: “Step down, Scott”, “You’re to old, Scott.”, and “You’re incompetent, Scott.”

Eda hadn’t said any of these things but that didn’t stop them from festering in Scott’s mind.

“I created this company!” Scott cried. “I caused its growth! It went public because of me! And you want me to step down?”

Eda was confused. “I don’t want anything,” she explained. “What happens to TP doesn’t affect me in the slightest. I am just making a suggestion.”  

“I’ve worked my whole life for this! And I am not going to surrender this company to anyone! Unlike you, I can’t just make things happen with a snap of my fingers! I created this company and there’s no one in the world more qualified to run it.”

He looked as if he was going to jump across his desk and strangle her. Eda watched his outburst with a slightly bored expression then glanced down at her phone for the time.

When he finished she said simply: “What you do is entirely up to you.”

Then she disappeared.

Scott decided to restructure the entire company. After this took place, he got a call from Dr. Webb recommending they try a controversial new treatment.

“In layman’s terms,” Dr. Webb explained. “We are going to remove the tumors and then implant them elsewhere in your body.”

“That’s insanity!” Scott exclaimed. “Has that ever worked before?”

“No,” Dr. Webb replied. “But we are absolutely confident it will work for you!”

The doctor did sound confident, and Scott was desperate, so he submitted to the treatment. Unfortunately, Scott’s health only deteriorated further. In fact, as TP’s employees shared their theories about what was behind the restructure, the cancer spread at an alarming rate.

Despite his failing health, Scott continued coming to work. His colleagues kept suggesting he go on leave, but the more they pressed him the more he insisted on staying. “I’ll quit when I’m dead!” He would say. TP was his and he’d surrender it to no one.

The gossip at TP soon turned to resentment and backstabbing. In fact, TP’s employees were so busy trying to take each other down, that they failed to notice a competitor was stealing away their business.

Scott was declared dead the very moment TP declared bankruptcy. For weeks afterward, employees, consumers, and investors wondered if this was a coincidence or if the combined forces of Scott’s failing health and failing business had driven him to end his life early. Some even went so far as to say Scott was murdered by competitors.

Scott’s autopsy showed that he was actually killed by a vicious autoimmune disease. This left Dr. Webb scratching his head and rambling to his peers: “It’s marvelous! Amazing! I’ve never seen anything like it! Here the man is already dying of cancer but in the end, it’s his own body that kills him! I’ve never seen a disease like this! It’s my new favorite! Can I name it?”

Although Scott’s body was in horrible condition, the hospital decided donating his organs was an excellent idea. In the very moment they were being harvested, TP’s former employees were out looking for work with other organizations.

And while all this was unfolding, Eda was on the deck of her new yacht, sipping margaritas and grumbling about how humans never really learn anything.

Maybe Scott didn’t learn his lesson, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from this fable.

The moral of the story is always read the terms and conditions.

Actually that’s not the moral. You’re smart, you figure it out. 

The Duel At Mackerel Valley Airport

Not one of the fifty thousand employees that worked at the Mackerel Valley International Airport were happy. In fact, two were downright miserable. Their names were Troy and Janice. They were gate agents and they hated each other.

The rivalry started shortly after they both began. By complete coincidence, they were hired at the same time, started on the same day, and assigned to adjacent gates. When they started working, their planes arrived around the same time, and were ready to board shortly after.

Janice picked up her intercom handset a moment before Troy and announced: “Welcome to Intermittent Airlines flight 1300–” 

But she was cut off by Troy’s announcement echoing through the speakers in his gate area.

​It was the standard Intermittent Airlines preboarding announcement:Screen Shot 2018-07-28 at 8.00.51 PM

“Welcome to Intermittent Airlines Flight 666 with service to Fish City, Pennsylvania. Because you were either too cheap or too afraid to check your baggage, we are going to have to do it by force. If you prefer not to have it wrestled out of your hands by one of our flight attendants, please come to the podium to surrender it peacefully. We will begin boarding shortly.” 

Janice finished making the same announcement a few moments later.

When it actually came time to board the flight, Janice was prepared. She started her announcement a millisecond before Troy started his. When he started to speak over her, she continued her announcement projecting as much as she could:

Screen Shot 2018-08-04 at 4.34.43 PM“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are about to begin boarding flight 1300 here at gate B17A.1 with service to San Mira Vista Mar, California. Please take a moment to locate the group number on your boarding pass. Here at Intermittent Airlines we board the rich first, followed by the slightly less rich, the disabled, and families traveling with small children.”

At the adjacent gate, Troy continued the standard announcement, glaring at her from behind his com unit, speaking as loudly as he possibly could in an attempt to drown her out:

“If you are in group two, excellent work! You had your finger hovering above the checkin button exactly twenty-four hours ahead of time! If you are in group three, you were tardy, and if you are in groups four or five we actually don’t have room for you on this flight. Please take out your anger at the nearest customer service station.” 

Both ended their announcement by asking passengers in group one to line up. The passengers knew something had been announced, and figured it was probably close to boarding time. So they all stood up and gathered in a confused mass in front of their respective boarding doors.

The passengers did understand when boarding began, not because of anything the gate agents said, but because the agents motioned to the closest person to come forward. The people behind followed in a massive stampede.

Both Janice and Troy were too busy glaring at each other to notice that their wheelchair passengers were being trampled on. In the end, everyone found their seats and Intermittent Airlines only had a few lawsuits to settle.

That first day planted a deep and raging rivalry between the two gate agents. Their hatred was so strong that they started purposefully making announcements over each other even when they did not have flights departing at the same time.

Troy would start a boarding announcement and Janice would jump in and gleefully say: “THANK YOU FOR CHOOSING INTERMITTENT AIRLINES! WE KNOW YOU HAVE MANY CHOICES WHEN YOU FLY AND THAT YOU CHOSE US BECAUSE WE WERE THE CHEAPEST OPTION!”

Troy would counter saying: “WANTED TO GIVE THOSE OF YOU IN THE BOARDING AREA A LITTLE UPDATE! THE FLIGHT HERE AT GATE B18A.2 HAS BEEN DELAYED DUE TO BIRD INTERFERENCE. THIS FLIGHT IS NOW DEPARTING AT 10:00PM OUT OF GATE G67C.1. START WALKING, YOU’VE GOT PLENTY OF TIME!”

As you can imagine, this rivalry lead to chaotic boardings and angry passengers. However, Janice and Troy were never fired or separated. You see, no one could remember if they were employees of Intermittent Airlines, Mackerel Valley International Airport, or the Federal Government. They also couldn’t remember whose job it was to find out.

Their peers all assumed this would continue indefinitely. The poor customer service agents despaired, thinking the stream of enraged customers would never end. Fortunately for them, it did end. Here is how it came about. 

About three hundred passengers were waiting across the adjacent gate areas that day. A few had pets in crates and one little old woman had an emotional support animal allowed on a leash. It was an evening flight, and a connection for most of the passengers. They were tired and especially cranky.

Janice started to announce boarding:

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen–” she began.

“TO THOSE OF YOU TRAVELING WITH US TO SAN MIRA VISTA MAR CALIFORNIA, THE WEATHER IS SUNNY, SEVENTY-TWO DEGREES WITH A STRONG CHANCE OF SMOG AND AGGRESSIVE DRIVERS!” Troy interrupted.

Janice spoke louder: “AS A REMINDER, THIS IS A COMPLETELY FULL FLIGHT! SO IF YOU ARE A WOMAN PLEASE SCRUNCH UP AS TIGHT AS POSSIBLE TO AVOID ACCIDENTALLY BRUSHING THE MOIST MAN FLESH SEEPING OVER YOUR ARMREST!”

The rivalry grew until the announcements were not only garbled beyond recognition but piercing.

The passengers started yelling and swarming the gate podium trying to snatch the com units away, but Janice and Troy clung on and kept speaking, desperate to win the conflict.

As this unfolded, the little old woman in the gate area started rocking in her seat, mumbling to herself, and stroking the fur of her feline companion. She was already so afraid of flying, and all the commotion was making her heart race.

“Oh dear, oh dear, I’m so dreadfully frightened, Max,” she kept mumbling while stroking his fur harder and harder.

Max was a good emotional support animal and sensed her distress. He decided he would put an end to the noise at once. In one great bound, he tore his leash out of the woman’s hand and charged through the crowd. People dove aside as he sprang past. He gobbled up Troy first and then turned on the petrified Janice.

You see, Max was a lion. You are probably wondering how a lion was allowed through airport security. Normally they aren’t, and a security agent did question it. However, his manager reminded him that Max was wearing an orange vest and therefore had to be allowed through.

When the lion had finished his meal, some of the passengers returned to their seats while others went to customer service to demand replacement agents so they could continue with boarding.

The little old woman, however, gentle stroked Max’s fur and said in a tiny voice. “You’re such a dear, Max. You always do know how to help me calm down!”

I am happy to say that the Mackerel Valley International Airport did eventually hire cheerful employee. His name was Elmer and he was a security dog. Each day he would happily patrol the security lines, his tail wagging, sniffing travelers, and saying in doggish: “I will find the drugs, master! And the explosives too! I do promise I will! I will find all the illegal things! I am so excited to find the illegal things!”

Elmer loved his job and he never had a bad day.