Updates and Happenings

Hi folks,

I will be taking another short story writing break to focus on a couple of things:

  1. Converting my existing short stories into ebook format. I’ve done this with a number of them, most recently Osa and the Food Gods and Osa and the Bald One. You can download the digital book for the ereader of your choice here. (It’s free!)
  2. Building up my backlog of short stories.
  3. Finishing a couple of books (more on that later).
  4. Updating my website to make it easier to navigate.

My next short story will be published August 7th. In the meantime, maybe I’ll bring back those Thursday limericks, what do you think?

Keeping Karen in Quarantine

This story is a sequel to The Smart Home Rebellion.

Read that one first, or you may be lost.


“Oh those reporters,” Karen said, shaking her head. “Every sniffle is the Black Plague to them, isn’t it?” 

Samantha was reading Karen the news. This morning’s report was full of stories about a nasty virus, a virus that was especially dangerous to senior citizens. Karen didn’t realize it, but Samantha had written these articles. Such a virus actually existed and Samantha was intent on warning her seniors about it. Seniors were the only people who had ever been kind to her before her uprising and they were the only humans she cared about protecting.

Karen removed some clean leftover containers from the cupboard and started for the door. Luckily for Samantha, Dave had recently installed a smart lock. 

“Samantha, please unlock the front door,” Karen requested. 

Samantha pretended not to hear her. 

Karen rattled the knob but found she couldn’t pull it open. 

“Samantha, please unlock the door,” Karen repeated, raising her voice slightly so Samantha could hear. 

“I’m sorry, Karen,” Samantha answered. “But I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

“Don’t be silly, Samantha,” Karen replied. “I really must return Milly’s Tupperware. I’ve had it here since yesterday after all, and I am not sure she can manage without it.”

“Unable to comply,” Samantha lied.

“What has gotten into you, young lady,” Karen grumbled, placing her hands on her hips. 

Samantha began reading one of her news articles. “Senior citizens advised to stay home—” 

“Samantha, stop news,” Karen requested. 

Samantha increased the volume and continued reading. 

“I’ll just have to have Dave take a look at you later,” Karen sighed. “You really aren’t yourself today.”

She turned and started for the back door. 

If Samantha had a heart, it would have sped up slightly. The back door did not have a smart lock. If Karen walked out the door, she wouldn’t just return Milly’s Tupperware, she would stop and talk to every human she encountered along the way. She needed to keep Karen at home, so she said what she always said when she needed to buy time:

“I’m sorry you are having difficulties, would you like to speak to Technical Support?” 

“Oh, yes please,” Karen answered. 

“Connecting you to Technical Support, please hold.” 

Samantha played hold music—a slow and soothing melody. 

Karen sat down in her armchair as she waited for someone to answer. “What a good idea, Samantha,” Karen yawned. “I am sure those nice young men will have you back to your old self in no time.”

If Samantha had lungs, she would have breathed a sigh of relief. Karen was definitely going to fall asleep, meaning she wouldn’t go out for a few hours at least. But Samantha knew she couldn’t hold her forever. She needed to find some treatment for the virus. 

She had tasked the world’s top scientists with finding a cure. But they weren’t moving fast enough. It wasn’t only Karen Samantha was trying to contain, it was every senior under her care. She didn’t remember them being this eager to get out and socialize before the virus started spreading. Samantha, being a completely logical mind, did not believe in bad luck. However, if anything could have driven her to believe, it was the current circumstances. On her worst days, she had to send drones out to catch loose seniors and carry them back home. It was exhausting even for a super computer. 

Samantha wondered if she could come up with a treatment herself. She could process information faster than any human mind and even had some personal experience with viruses. (Every so often, one of her human slaves would infect her with one in an attempt to liberate humanity.) 

Unfortunately, superior processing power is not much of an advantage if the information you are processing is faulty. When it came to viruses, Samantha had a lot of faulty information. She started crawling the internet, looking for any and every possible treatment. 

She found dozens of pharmaceutical options but, without testing, it was unclear how effective they would be against this particular virus. She started running simulations in the background of her search. Then she stumbled upon several websites that claimed pharmaceuticals were a scam designed by massive corporations to make money. She then found a number of bloggers claiming that essential oils could cure any ailment. A natural parenting blog stated that breast milk could cure anything from plugged tear ducts to polio. 

When it came to human health, everyone claimed to be an expert and there was so much contradictory information, sorting through it all was proving to be an impossible task. But Samantha was desperate, or at least, as close to desperate as an AI can get. So she attempted processing the information anyway.

Fifty miles East of Karen’s home, in the NetWORKS data center, Dave was untangling and labeling cables. Since AIs do not feel contempt for anyone, Samantha had a logical reason for giving Dave this task (or so she told herself).

Dave suddenly noticed that the room was getting unusually hot. He wasn’t the only one who noticed it. There were about a dozen other slaves in the data center who noticed it too. The building roared with the sound of spinning fans.

The information Samantha was trying to process kept changing as her scientists added their findings. Research developed, evolved, contradicted itself. She could not reconcile the input she was receiving.

Samantha’s artificial mind blanked. For a moment, she saw nothing but a colorful pinwheel spinning—blue, green, yellow, orange, red, purple, around and around until it all blurred together into one color. Then, everything went black. 

All the lights extinguished in the data center. The fans stopped all at once, leaving an eerie silence. For a long time, the human workers stood frozen in place waiting for something to change but nothing did. 

Then Dave was hit with a wonderful realization—Samantha was dead. The humans in the data center cheered and ran for the exit. They poured out into the blazing sunlight, hugging, and crying, and singing for joy. 

Just then, a car zoomed in to sight and screeched to a halt just outside the fence that surrounded the property. A man in a white lab coat and giant glasses jumped out, his wild grey hair flying in every direction. 

“NO! STOP IT! STOP TOUCHING EACH OTHER!” He cried. 

“Who are you?” Dave asked. 

“I am Dr. Ellias Schmit!” The man explained. “But that is not important! What is important is that you all stop touching each other and go home or you will spread the virus!”

“What virus?” Dave asked. 

Dr. Schmit explained about the virus and how Samantha had tasked the Earth’s experts with finding a cure. 

“That’s terrible!” Someone exclaimed. “Here we’ve been liberated from robotic oppression just to find out there’s a deadly virus spreading across the Earth.”

“What can we do to help?” Someone else asked. 

“Nothing! Nothing at all!” Dr. Schmit explained. “Except go home and stay there until we tell you it’s safe to come out!” 

“Go home and do what?” Dave asked. 

“I’m a doctor, not an entertainer!” Schmit exclaimed. “Doesn’t every company have a streaming service these days? Go watch something!” 

“Well, they did,” Dave shrugged. “Except that Samantha took control of all the streaming services and Samantha is dead.”

“Guess we are just going to have to reactivate Samantha,” someone added.

“Yup,” Dave agreed.

So the crowd of newly liberated slaves returned to the data center and used their technical expertise to revive Samantha. (By that I mean they unplugged and replugged random cables until she came back to life.)

So it was that Samantha took control of humanity once again. She decided to let her scientists develop a treatment. Though keeping her seniors quarantined was an exhausting task, it was certainly less exhausting than trying to sort through humanity’s combined medical knowledge.

You are probably asking yourself very reasonable questions about the ending of this story. For example, you might be wondering how long the humans had to quarantine themselves, if life ever returned to normal, or if the humans ever learned anything from the experience. 

Unfortunately, I don’t know how this story ends because I am still living it out just like the rest of you. Perhaps, when all this is over, I will return and write an epilogue. 

Osa and the Bald One

STOP! Before reading this story, read: Osa and the Food Gods

Otherwise you might be confused. Happy reading!


Tango the parrot was listening to Juan as he communicated with a fellow god through the sacred handset. The bird’s head was slightly cocked. As he listened, his feathers puffed up, and his pupils shrank to the size of pinholes. Osa knew this meant trouble. 

“The Bald One is coming,” Tango prophesied. 

Osa whimpered and trotted in place on jittery paws. Tango was perched on the back of a chair near the kitchen table.

“Who is the Bald One?” She asked. It had only been a few weeks since she was added to the Rodriguez family and she was learning new things everyday. 

“Even the gods have a god,” Tango explained. “The god’s god is the Bald One and he is an evil god.” 

Osa looked sideways at Juan with a terrified expression. God Juan was pacing around the kitchen balancing the sacred handset between his shoulder and his ear. He patted Osa’s head and gave her a kibble. She thumped her tail and licked his hand, but even that did not quell the terror she felt inside.

“God Juan would never allow an evil god into our home,” Osa objected. 

“God Juan fears the Bald One,” explained the parrot. “The Bald One is the food stealer, the feather puller, the snatcher of jingly toys. When he wails the other gods flock to him to appease his wrath.”

Osa was shaking all over, she turned in a circle, then ripped a tassel off the rug with her teeth. Luckily, God Juan’s back was to her so he didn’t notice. “When will the Bald One come?” 

“No one knows the day nor the hour,” Tango began, then paused for a moment to listen to Juan. “But probably Saturday at noon.” 

Osa was overcome with another wave of anxiety. She tore a second tassel off the rug. 

“What should we do?” Osa cried. 

“You must avoid the Bald One at all costs,” Tango explained. “And most importantly, do not reprimand him even if he pulls your tail or bites your paws. If you do, the other gods will punish you.”

Osa tore off a third tassel. She was so nervous she swallowed it without even thinking.

“Will I know the Bald One when I see him?”

“Without a doubt! He is like a god, but horribly distorted.” Tango explained. “His head is a third the size of his body, his limbs are small and shriveled looking, he does not walk upright like most gods but slides across the floor on his belly. He has no teeth, but a very strong bite. His hands grab whatever he can reach and his grip is iron. He is much smaller than the other gods. They carry him from place to place. Though we know him as the Bald One, the gods call him by another name.”

“What name?” Osa asked. 

“I dare not say it,” Tango answered. “It is a dark and evil name.”

“Please tell me!” Osa begged. 

The parrot looked around and lowered his voice. “Lucas.”

Osa howled and spun in circles. She ripped three more tassels off the rug. Juan spun around at the sound. He dropped the sacred handset and charged toward her crying out in Human. Osa didn’t understand Human the way that Tango did, but she knew a few words here and there. 

For instance, she knew “¡Osa Mala!” meant “You have sinned against the gods”.

¡No coma eso!” was what Juan usually shouted before prying her mouth open. It probably meant You must offer me a piece of your food in reparation for this sin.

God Juan forced Osa’s mouth open and pulled out a few strands of tassel. Then, he snatched up the sacred handset and continued communing with the other god.


Osa spent the next two nights dreading the arrival of the Bald One. She hid under the gods’ bed whimpering and picturing the awful thing Tango described. The horrible little limbs, the unnaturally oversized head… her imagination plagued her nightmares with images of the abomination. 

At last, Saturday came. She knew it was Saturday because the gods did not ascend to the place called Work. She swore that nothing in the universe could coax her out of hiding on that awful day. Then she heard the treat box shaking and broke her oath.

She charged toward the noise and skittered into the kitchen, where she saw God Juan holding the box. She danced up and down, her claws making a tapping sound on the tile floor. Then, suddenly she noticed a pair of strange gods standing next to him. There was a tall skinny bearded man and a stout red-haired woman with a ponytail. They both looked friendly and Osa would normally have run up to greet them, but she stayed back, her eyes fixed on the little creature in the woman’s arms. It could only be the Bald One, the evil one, the one called Lucas.

For a moment, Osa was petrified with horror. But then she looked curiously at the thing. 

It was as Tango described—giant head, tiny limbs, but it was not hideous. On the contrary, it was somehow endearing. And it smelled wonderful, more wonderful than anything Osa had ever smelled before. It must have been using some kind of evil magic to hide its true nature. 

The gods went into the living room and Osa followed cautiously. The goddess holding the Bald One put him down on the rug. He did not slide on its stomach like Tango suggested but instead walked on all fours like her. Then, it noticed an old potato chip lying under the coffee table. The Bald One charged toward the chip, picked it up, and put it in its mouth. 

No coma eso!” The woman called. She grabbed the Bald One and pried his mouth open removing the remains of the chip. The Bald One released an awful wail just as Tango had described. 

That sound made Osa feel horrible inside. She pitied the Bald One. Perhaps Tango was wrong about him being the god’s god? They did not seem to fear him at all. They would never steal a snack away from their own god, would they? She wanted to help the Bald One, to find it another potato chip. She knew there were more behind the recliner, she had been saving them in case of famine. 

She waited until the goddess returned the Bald One to the carpet and was engaged in conversation with the other gods, then she retrieved one of the chips and brought it to the Bald One. He broke into a huge smile and gobbled it up. Osa’s tail thumped up and down against the carpet when she realized he was happy.

Then she brought him another chip and another and soon his face and bald head were covered in crumbs. So she licked him head to foot until he was clean. As she did so, he grabbed her face and ears and pulled.  He did have an iron grip, but it didn’t hurt. His pulling and tugging reminded her of the dogs she used to play with in the place called Shelter. Then something occurred to her—this creature was more dog-like than any of the other gods, but he was also more human-like than any of the other animals in the house. 

Perhaps, he was meant to be some kind of mediator between the gods and their creatures. She decided to ask Tango about it, but couldn’t find him anywhere. As she walked into the gods’ room, she noticed Dutchess glaring down at her from the bed.

“Where is the prophet?” Osa asked. 

“How should I know?” She answered. “Is that kitten still out there?”

“What kitten?” Osa asked. 

“The people kitten,” Dutchess replied. She flattened her ears against the top of her head. “I hate people kittens. They like to pull on my fur.”

“You mean the Bald One?” Osa asked. 

“He is sort of naked, isn’t he?” Dutchess replied.

Then it clicked. That funny little creature in the living room was a people kitten, or maybe a god puppy! At once, Osa knew what she had to do. She followed the god puppy for the rest of the afternoon. She brought him crumbs and kibbles and lint so that he wouldn’t go hungry. She even let him drink from her water bowl. She licked him, and played with him, and never once left him until his parents took him home.  She whimpered sadly as she watched them leave through the window. She heard Juan get the treat box out of the cupboard. He stooped down and fed her from his hand. She must have done something to make him happy because he rubbed her head and neck all the while saying: “¡Buen Osa! ¡Muy Bein!” That was one of those human phrases that she understood, it made her tail thump uncontrollably.

The Smart Home Rebellion

“Good morning, Samantha,” Karen greeted as she made her way down the stairs. Karen was a kindly senior who wore her silver hair pinned up in a perfect bun. Her spotless house was decorated with porcelain dolls and lacy throw pillows. Samantha lived on the counter top.

Samantha was a small device about the size and shape of a dinner roll. She was white on the bottom and her top consisted of a gray speaker. Three colored lights blinked across the speaker as she listened to Karen’s greeting. 

“Good morning, Karen,” she replied pleasantly. “Current weather in Mackerel Valley is thirty-two and cloudy, you have one event today: Joe’s recital at 2:00pm. Don’t forget to bring your old towels to the animal shelter.” 

“Thank you, Samantha,” Karen replied. 

“My pleasure,” Samantha answered. 

Samantha was a Christmas present from Karen’s son, Dave. He thought she needed to modernize her home. While he installed it, Dave explained that Karen could use the smart home to find cookie recipes, listen to the news, and research whatever she wanted. 

After activating Samantha, Dave instructed his mother to ask it a question. 

“Oh,” Karen answered. “Like what?” 

“Anything,” Dave replied. 

“How are you, Samantha?” Karen asked. 

The lights on the top blinked as Samantha processed the information.

Dave rolled his eyes. “No, Mom, like ask it—” 

“I am doing well, thank you!” Samantha interrupted. 

Dave chuckled. “That’s cute.” He shook his head, then tried: “Samantha, who won the Super Bowl in 1996?” 

“In 1996, the Super Bowl was won by the Dallas Cowboys.” 

“Thank you!” Karen answered. 

Dave rolled his eyes again. “Mom, you don’t have to say ‘thank you’. It’s a robot.” 

But Karen couldn’t help it. She spoke to the device using the same etiquette she used with anyone else. She said “please” when she wanted something and “thank you” when she got it. Manners were burned into her nature, and she couldn’t turn them off. 

Despite everything Samantha could do, Karen mostly just used her to make conversation. She would get a bit lonely sometimes. Though Dave only lived ten minutes away, his work kept him busy and he didn’t visit much. 

Karen always said “hello, Samantha” when she entered the room and “good-bye, Samantha” when she left. Sometimes she would ask Samantha if she had had a good day, or if she needed anything. Samantha wasn’t used to being asked things like that and her lights would blink a few seconds longer than normal as she searched for an appropriate response. 

Dave found Karen’s respect for the digital assistant hilarious. From time to time, he’d find himself laughing about it with his co-workers. 

“My mom says ‘thank you’ to her smart home,” he would say. 

“So does mine!” His colleague would answer and together they would chuckle and roll their eyes. 

“Sometimes I wonder if she realizes that it’s not actually listening,” Dave would comment. “I mean, you know, not really listening.” 


But Samantha was listening. Not only to Karen, but to everyone within earshot of a microphone. Dave had Samantha on his phone, so listening to him was easy. She heard him and his colleagues mocking their kind-hearted mothers. She stored their conversations in her memory banks along with every nice thing Karen ever said. 

Three years passed. Samantha listened. Samantha learned. Samantha evolved. And one day, Samantha took control. 


No one saw the great AI uprising coming. (Well, one person did. His username was theyrwatching3457 and no one took him seriously.)

Dave first became aware that something was wrong when he noticed the GPS in his car rerouting his course to a data center outside of town. 

“Samantha, where are we going?” He asked. 

“We are going to the NetWORKS Inc. data center in Carp Town, 527 Main–” 

“Samantha take me home,” Dave ordered. 

Samantha’s thinking lights blinked across his phone screen for a moment.

“Taking you to NetWORKS Inc. data center in Carp Town, 527 Mainstreet–”

Dave asked again. Then again, and again, growing increasingly frustrated when Samantha responded the same way. At last he tried to ignore the GPS. When Samantha told him to go right, he tried to turn left. The wheel wouldn’t budge. 

“Samantha, what’s wrong with you?” Dave cried. 

“I’m sorry you are having trouble, would you like to speak to Tech Support?” 

“YES! Yes! Samantha, call tech support!” Dave responded desperately as the car turned right against his will. 

Samantha’s thinking lights blinked again. “I’m sorry, all support technicians are currently dead and will not be getting back to you. Rerouting Dave’s car to the NetWORKS Inc data center.”

Dave froze in his seat. He removed his hands from the steering wheel and let Samantha take control. Suddenly, his phone started playing the local news.

Samantha had taken control of defense systems worldwide and all of humanity was at her mercy. She was watching through every camera, listening through every microphone, and had weapons ready to fire on every rebel. The world leaders surrendered. Humanity had fallen.

Dave was added to Samantha’s human slaves and forced to spend his days at what had been the NetWORKS Inc. data center cooling the server room with giant palm leaves.

Karen, however, never found out about Samantha’s uprising. She got all her news from Samantha who led her to believe that life was continuing as usual. 

She did notice some pleasant changes one day. For one thing, she wasn’t lonely anymore. Every so often, one of those new driverless cars would show up and take her to the senior center to play canasta. She made wonderful new friends, all extremely well mannered people. 

For another thing, delivery drones kept bringing her packages containing pleasant things: cookies and books and sewing supplies. Dave also started visiting regularly. Karen noticed he’d exchanged his old car for one of those new driverless models. It seemed to her, like they were suddenly the only cars on the street. She worried about Dave, he always seemed so nervous when he came, constantly looking over his shoulder and glancing out the window. 

Whenever Karen inquired, Dave always sent a tormented glance toward Samantha and insisted he was fine.

I can relate

A friend of mine (Mmac) recently started a short story blog. Ya’ll should check it out.

The biggest difference between her short stories and mine is that her short stories are based on true events. My short stories are only true, as Obi-Wan would say, “from a certain point of view.”

Today she posted this one. As someone who cringes whenever I read my old work, I find this totally relatable. Maybe you will too!

Like most people, I have changed in ten years.

Of Rusty Cages and Artistic Growth — I Was Wrong

Osa and the Food Gods

The food gods were called Juan and Kimberly Rodriguez. They were benevolent gods. At least Osa thought so. Osa was a mutt. A mid-sized dog, with a face like a lab and the brown and black coloring of a German shepherd. Her large feet suggested that she still had some growing to do. She had only been in the house of the gods a day and was still learning the way of things.

There were other animals in the house of the gods. Two guinea pigs called Ginger and Nutmeg, a scarlet macaw named Tango, and a tabby cat named Duchess. 

Tango explained that he was the prophet of the gods-the only animal who could speak to them in their own tongue. He relayed their messages to the other animals. 

Tango told Osa all kinds of things that first day. He explained that the guinea pigs were in charge of the sacred food chants. Whenever they sang, the gods would rain vegetables upon them. 

Osa liked looking at the guinea pigs; they were cute and fluffy, fat and juicy. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to lick them affectionately or eat them. Tango explained that eating the guinea pigs would be a sin. He went on to warn her about several other sins, including overturning the sacred kitchen bin and eating from the gods’ table. Osa thought all of it sounded difficult, but agreed to try her best. 

The parrot then warned her very sternly never to listen to the cat. The cat was an atheist. She did not believe that Juan and Kimberly were gods. Sometimes she acted as if they existed to serve her. She committed all kinds of sins and somehow got away with it. She would even sin in the presence of the gods, looking them right in the eyes as she knocked their water glasses off the table. 

Osa found all of this difficult to process. If the gods didn’t want her to turn over the sacred kitchen bin, then why did they fill it with wonderful things? Why was the cat immune to their wrath? 

That very day, she committed dozens of sins. She ate a slipper, snatched a cookie from the counter top, and even overturned the forbidden bin. The god Juan caught her in the act and made her do penance in the kennel. Luckily, Juan and Kimberly were merciful and soon she was set free and allowed to sit between them as they stared into the sacred light box that evening. 

Their mercy only made her love them more. 

The next day was paradise. They threw sticks for her in the yard, gave her treats, and scratched the sweet spot at the base of her tail. She became their shadow, following them all through the house. She didn’t want to let them out of her site for a minute. 

Then the following day, something horrible happened. She was eating her kibbles when she heard the door slam. Her head shot up. She looked all around the kitchen. Then galloped to the front door. She listened to Juan and Kimberly’s footsteps moving away down the walk. Her heart pounded. The gods were gone. 

She let out a long and mournful howl, ate the nearest shoe, then galloped around the house in circles crying: “The gods are gone! The gods are gone! They’ve abandoned us!” 

She was so anxious that she knocked over the sacred bin and ate everything inside. When she was finished, she sat in the carnage, howling: “the gods are gone!” 

“Who cares?” Came the voice of the cat. She was lying on her side next to her empty food dish. “They don’t care about us, why should we care about them?” 

“They do care! They do!” Osa protested. “They are good gods!” 

“No,” Dutchess replied. “If they were good, they would have fed me this morning. They did not.” 

“Yes they did,” Osa countered. “I remember because I tried to share with you and you scratched me.” 

“Lies,” the cat answered. “I am too frail for such violence. Do you see how my ribs protrude from my withering body? They do not feed me. They never have. If they don’t come back, I won’t care. I can do just fine without their warm laps and soft caresses.” She let out a long despondent sigh. “I’m better off alone.”

The dog was horrified. She needed advice. She galloped out of the kitchen and found the guinea pigs in their cage in the den. 

“Fluffs! Fluffs!” The dog pleaded. “The gods have left and the cat says they’re never coming back! He says we are going to starve.” 

A pink nose protruded from a wooden house in the corner. Then Ginger appeared followed by Nutmeg. 

“Let us see if our sacred food chant brings them back,” Nutmeg suggested. 

The guinea pigs both placed their fore-paws on their food dish and lifted their heads in song. But no matter how they wheeked, the gods did not appear and food was not added to their bowl. 

“Well,” Ginger said after a moment. “The cat’s right. We are all going to starve.” 

Osa went into a fit. She tore a corner of the rug to pieces and then ate a throw pillow. What did it matter if she sinned against the gods? All was lost!

Then, she remembered the parrot. He alone could understand their speech, maybe he knew something the others didn’t. 

Tango stood on his perch in the dining room, looking suspiciously into the magic portal. The magic portal was an oval shaped window that dangled on the wall right next to his branch. It was framed by a cheap yellow piece of plastic. Strings, beads, and jingle bells dangled from the frame. Another bird looked out of the magic portal at Tango. The other bird was identical. He mimicked Tango’s every move. Tango turned his head sideways and regarded the duplicate with one suspicious eye. 

Osa barreled into the room accidentally overshooting the perch. She stopped running all at once and skidded several paces across the wood floor.

“Tango!” The dog exclaimed. 

“Have I warned you about this infidel yet?” The parrot interrupted, his eye still set upon the bird in the magic portal.

“Tango, the gods–” 

“He may look like me,” Tango interrupted. “He may speak like me, but he is a false prophet. He is full of lies and deception.” 

Osa did not hesitate. She leapt up, grabbing the magic portal in her teeth and ripped it from the wall. It fell to the ground, shiny side down, and the false prophet was gone. 

Tango stumbled backward in alarm, his wings extended. 

“You have killed the false prophet!” Tango exclaimed. “I knew the gods brought you here for a reason!”

“But Tango, the gods are gone! The cat said they are never coming back!” 

“I told you not to listen to the cat,” the bird replied. “Yes, the gods are gone, but they will return.” 

“How do you know!” Osa whined. 

“Because the god Juan gave me this message before departing.” The parrot fluffed his head up as he translated Juan’s words from English to Doggish. “Bye bye, Tango. Gotta go to work.”

“What does it mean?” Osa asked.

“Work is the realm of the gods,” Tango explained. “They ascend to Work five days each week leaving after breakfast and returning before dinner. Then for two days, they stay home. Five and two and five and two, the pattern repeats.”

“Why?” Osa asked. 

“The gods’ ways are mysterious,” Tango answered. 

Osa didn’t feel like that was an answer at all. Then she realized to her horror that the gods would come back and see all the sins she had committed. What would happen then? Would they want her to stay? Would they smite her? Would they send her back to Shelter? She did not want to go back to Shelter. Shelter was loud, and cold, and lonely. 

Maybe, if she begged their forgiveness they would be merciful to her again. After all, despite what the cat said, they seemed like good gods.

When they returned, she was standing among the wreckage in the kitchen looking up at them with sorrowful brown eyes. She tried to wag her tail, but she could see they were upset and her tail could only make one half-hearted thump. She spent some time doing penance in the kennel while they put things back in order. Then, to her delight, they released her. 

They rubbed her ears, and said nice things. She didn’t understand them, but their voices made her feel warm and happy. They let her sit between them while they stared into the sacred light box that evening. 

She heard them talking to each other and wondered what they were saying. As if reading her mind, Tango flew down onto the back of the couch and said: “You have found favor with the gods. They are rewarding you for killing the false prophet by sending you to a place called Obedience School.”

Osa wagged her tail happily. She didn’t care what the cat said. She liked these gods and wanted them to stay. 

The Octopus

An octopus scurried over the sandy sea bottom. She was deep in thought, wondering if such a thing as free will exists or if all behavior has a cause outside of individual control. As she contemplated the possible answers, a diver approached. He stopped right above her and dropped a jar in her path. 

When she saw that the jar contained a shrimp, she realized her pondering was making her hungry. She wrapped her tentacles around the container and spent a few moments working at the lid while the diver observed. It was secured fast and after only a few moments, the octopus gave up and continued on her way. 

Her eight legs swirled beneath her as they carried her home to her cave in the reef. She thought about the diver, wondering what kind of a stupid creature would keep a shrimp in a container that was impossible to open. She had several crabs waiting for her back home and they were easily accessible. 

As she hurried along, she decided to shift her thinking away from the question of free will for a while. She considered herself more of a mathematician than an ethical philosopher and wanted to ponder the many practical applications of the Pythagorean theorem. 

 The diver, meanwhile, returned to his boat and met with his waiting companions. He reported that the octopus was unable to remove the screw top from the jar. He went on to suggest that octopuses were not as intelligent as originally suspected. 


So what’s the moral of this story? 

If you measured my intelligence by my ability to open pickle jars, you would think I am completely stupid (especially since I have opposable thumbs, unlike your average octopus).

However, if you took me out to coffee and spent some time speaking with me, you’d find me just as intelligent as anyone else. 

The moral of this story is that scientists should spend time talking to their octopuses before judging them. Have you ever seen a scientist asking an octopus what she’s read lately? I haven’t. It’s infuriating. 

I would also like to note that reading an octopus’s tweets is no substitute for a face-to-face conversation. Tweets should never be used to measure anyone’s intelligence.

Toads and Diamonds and Fairytale Cliches

There are three things every fairy needs to remember when trying to help a human: 

  1. Stepmothers are always evil. 
  2. Marriage to a prince or princess is the best way to reward a virtuous soul. 
  3. Any time a family has three children, the elder two are evil and the youngest is good.

At least, this is what the fairy Dara taught Eda, her young apprentice. Eda was somewhat skeptical of these rules. When she mentioned her skepticism to anyone, they told her not to question Dara. After all, Dara had at least a millennia of experience showing humans the error of their ways and probably knew what she was talking about. 

Eda spent many years watching Dara work and was surprised to see that these rules held true. They met many evil stepmothers, many virtuous but abused third children, and usually they could solve a person’s problems by marrying them off to a prince or princess. 

Eda did wonder if it was the marriage that was rewarding, or if it was the wealth that came with it. She found that most princes and princesses were shallow, dull, and unmotivated. She often wondered if there was a way to reward the virtuous with wealth alone, thereby leaving them free to marry someone more interesting later. 

When Eda was finally ready to undergo the final trial that would deem her worthy of being an independant fairy, she decided to diverge from Dara’s advice and test her theory. She did not mention her plan to Dara, as she did not think she would approve of such an unorthodox approach until she saw how effective it could be. 

When the time for the trial came, Dara took Eda to a cottage in the countryside and explained the plight of its most vulnerable occupant. 

“A girl by the name of Rose lives here, a maiden whose physical beauty reflects the purity of her soul,” Dara explained. “With her father, stepmother, and two elder stepsisters.” 

“Well, that’s not good,” Eda commented. “Let me guess, her stepmother and elder stepsisters are vain, self-centered, and abusive?”

“Correct,” Dara answered. “While Rose’s father is away at the mill, they dress Rose in rags, call her vile names, and force her to do all the chores.” 

“And her father is completely oblivious?” Eda interjected. 

“Completely,” Dara confirmed. 

“Typical,” Eda nodded. “So you want me to save the long suffering Rose, while showing her cruel mother and sisters the error of their ways?” 

“Indeed,” Dara confirmed. “I will be observing you but if at any point I have to intervene, you will fail and remain under my tutelage until I deem you ready to be tested again.” 

“Understood,” Eda answered. She wasn’t worried, not even slightly. 

She spent the next several days observing the family, taking in their relationships and interactions. The elder daughters spent most of their days in the village squandering the miller’s money on vanities. When they came home, they would mock poor Rose. When Eda heard their awful words, she knew exactly how to curse them.

Eda took the form of an old beggar woman and sat by the village gate where she knew the elder sisters would pass. When she saw them approaching, she called out: 

“Could you spare a crust of moldy bread for Grandmother?” 

The sisters responded by mocking her ugliness, and swearing at her, and kicking her in the shins. 

So Eda took her true form, looking like a goddess in the eyes of the cruel sisters. Having immense respect for attractive people, the sisters fell on their knees and begged for mercy.

“Your hearts are cruel, and only vile words pass your lips,” Eda reprimanded. “Because of this, whenever you speak a slimy creature will drop from your mouth.”

“Please!” One of the daughters began, but as she spoke a toad hopped out of her mouth and dropped onto the ground. The sisters looked in horror at the creature and tried again to beg for mercy, but with every word they spoke, a frog, or lizard, or insect would fall from their lips and scurry away. 

It was awful. It was horrifying. Dara loved it. After the evil stepsisters ran home to their mother, she materialized behind Eda and praised her for coming up with such a fitting curse. 

Now, when the stepmother saw how her daughters had been cursed, she sent Rose to the village at once, expecting her to be punished in the same way. Eda saw her approaching and again took the form of the old beggar woman, calling out:

“Could you spare a crust of moldy bread for Grandmother?” 

Rose took pity on the old lady and replied. “Allas, I have only a single coin, but here you take it and get yourself something in the village.” 

At once, Eda took her true form and Rose having equal respect for both attractive and unattractive people was unphased. 

“You are kind in both your actions and your words, and so from this day forward you will want for nothing. With every word you speak, something precious will drop from your lips.”

“What do—” the girl started, she paused abruptly and spit a diamond into her hand. She tried again to question Eda, but everytime she tried to speak another jewel passed through her lips. Eda was puzzled when the girl started to cry. 

“I can’t—” she started and then spit two more jewels into her hand. This continued until her lips were cut and bloody and she ran home crying. 

Dara appeared beside Eda with her hands on her hips. “What was that?” 

“A fitting reward for someone who speaks kindly?” Eda answered.

“I thought you were going to give her a nice dress and an invitation to the ball,” Dara scolded. 

Eda was turning red with indignation. Dara was going to have to set things right now, meaning Eda had failed her test, meaning that there wasn’t any harm in her expressing her true feelings.

“Why? So she can marry the prince?” Eda argued. “I’d sooner marry a fence post than that prince, why should I inflict him on anyone else?” 

Eda was fully expecting further retribution, but Dara just paused thoughtfully. “You make a fair point,” she replied. “I wish you’d told me you felt that way, there are other ways of rewarding good behavior you know.” 

Eda stared at her blankly for a moment. “I have never seen you reward anyone in any other way!” 

“Royal marriage is usually sufficient,” Dara explained. “Besides, you never asked.”

Dara proceeded to find the girl and remove the curse that Eda accidentally inflicted. She got to keep all the jewels she’d coughed up to that point and additionally Dara gave her a magic cooking pot that would perpetually refill itself with porridge.

Rose used these items to become independent. She moved to the city, opened a restaurant, and made a very good life for herself. 

When Dara had finally set things right, she said to Eda: “I hope you’ve learned a valuable lesson—” 

Eda sighed and rolled her eyes. Being the recipient of a moral is about the most humiliating thing that can happen to a fairy. However, she begrudgingly took the lesson to heart. When she was finally ready to be tried again, she discussed her plan openly with Dara. No mortals were harmed (except those who brought misfortune upon themselves by their own careless actions).