One Small Thing

2021 has not been a great year. It might be better than 2020, but let’s be brutally honest, the bar is so low it might be mistaken for lying on the ground. I wrestled with how to write about this surreal tragedy we have been pushing ourselves through. While ranting about each and every baffling and terrifying event might prove cathartic for me, it would undoubtedly be an enormous drag for anyone who had the misfortune to read it. So instead, I offer this very short story that suggests that things possibly might change.

“It doesn’t look good,” he said.

“No,” she replied, “it does not.”

They walked around the piles of debris that towered around them. At the peak of one, a jagged piece fell, bisecting a smaller mound of rubble at its base.

“It’s hard to believe that this could happen.”

“And yet, here we are,” she countered.

He kicked a small, empty plastic bottle. It bounced and clattered away. In the distance, other collapses could be heard. With a sigh, he sat on a container.

“It just keeps getting worse and worse.”

“So it seems.”

“It feels as though there isn’t anything that can be done.”

“Does it?”

“Why are you arguing with me?” he sputtered.

“I’m not, but it feels like you’re arguing with me.”

“Fine!”

“We’re on the same side,” she reminded him.

A pause followed. Not quite an awkward one but neither a companionable one either.

“I know…” he admitted.

She sat next to him and said, “It’s nice to hear it out loud. Every now and again.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“I just don’t know where to start. We try to make things better but that just seems to make someone else angry.”

“You’re not wrong. People can be difficult.”

“Do you mean me?” he asked with a sad smile.

“Only occasionally.”

“Good to know.”

“You’re much better than most.”

“Please, I’ll blush!”

“I’d love to see that.”

She leaned into him and they sat for a while.

“Do feel better?” she inquired.

“Calmer. Not necessarily better.”

“That’s fair.”

“So… What are we going to do?”

“Well, we’re not going to give up.”

“We aren’t?” he asked.

“Of course not!” she stated with certainty.

“Because that feels like a solid plan.”

“Is that a joke?”

“Not my best work,” he admitted.

“No. But I do get it. It would be easy to just surrender to all this.”

“I like easy.”

“Everybody likes easy. Because it’s…”

“Easy.”

“Exactly. But things don’t get better with easy.”

“I don’t suppose they do.”

“So we do the hard thing. Which in this case is continuing.”

“It feels like throwing rocks in the ocean.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“So what’s the point?”

“The point is we aren’t alone.”

He looked around, all he could see were massive piles of garbage.

“No one here but us chickens.”

“Not right here, but I know that we’re not the only ones who care.”

“How? How can you know that?”

She looked him straight in the eye and said, “Because I know that people don’t want to live like this, and if they don’t, they will do something about it. Consider it a leap into the void.”

“That sounds terrifying,” he replied.

“Maybe, but it can’t get much worse than what’s going on now.”

As she said that, a nearby tower of refuse burst into flame. They looked at each other and exploded with laughter. After a few minutes of uncontrolled and inappropriate mirth, they finally stopped.

“If I didn’t laugh…”

“Exactly,” she agreed.

“So what do we do now?”

“We start. Something small.”

“Because?”

“Because it’s where you start. Do one small thing. Then another and so on.”

“I suppose so.”

“I’m glad we’re on the same page.”

“Me too. Though I’m still scared and angry.”

She took his hand and asked, “How about now.”

“Not as much now.”

“That’s all it takes. One small thing. Ready?”

“Yes, I am now.”

And with that, they leapt.

Gift of Giving

I am an excellent gift giver. Is this a brag or even a humblebrag? No, it’s a fact and one other thing, which I will reveal later. “Why bring this up at all?” you might be asking yourself, “I’m busy enough without your non-brag bragging.” 

Because it is the season of gift-giving. I’m going to pause here for those who questioned this topic to go “Ahhhh!”

Pause…

Now back to the gift-giving. It is for many people, a source of great stress. We can put a lot of pressure on ourselves on getting that PERFECT GIFT. A gift that will make this holiday (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Festivus, Orthodox Life-Day, Saturnalia, etc) complete. That’s a lot to ask of a thing, so let’s accept that while a gift can be excellent, it’s not magic.

If it’s not magic, then what’s the secret? How can we match your self-declared skill in this specific wheelhouse? Simmer down there, I’m going to lay a little wisdom on you all. Ready? Good.

ONE-LISTEN

People tell you what they want or need all the time. Sometimes literally. “I really need a new scarf.” Or “I quite liked the Dune movie, I should read the book.” Maybe, “I’d like to start cooking more.”

All of these are just sitting there, ready to be picked up. Scarf, copy of Dune, cookbook, cooking classes, or a new pot and/or pan. All you had to do was pay attention. It also involves not being self-involved.

Simple and so hard. Even before supply chain problems and the world being on fire, it’s not always easy to not worry about oneself. I’m not advising a Saint’s level of selflessness, just be aware of what’s being said. Here’s an example of this from my own life.

When shopping at a Costco with an old girlfriend, (ah the romance), I looked for those giant cartons of Pepperidge Farms goldfish crackers but they didn’t have them. A mild disappointment at best but I mentioned it to her, then promptly forgot about it.

The next time I was at her place, one of those giant cartons of Pepperidge Farms goldfish crackers awaited me. It was one of the best presents I’ve gotten. It meant that what I said, even in passing, perhaps especially in passing, mattered.

Are we still together? Let’s just say that love and goldfish crackers aren’t a universal solution. Nonetheless, this is the sort of thing to listen for. Whomever you do this for will be touched by your attentiveness. If not, those little crackers will fill the hole left by loneliness. Just kidding. Nothing will fill that hole.

TWO-ASK

Don’t ask the recipient, unless you both don’t care about the surprise. Do ask their friends or family. Often times they can give you excellent insights. Also swear them to secrecy, if you can trust them to do so. Use your best judgment. 

THREE-DON’T WAIT

It’s July, you see a sea glass necklace your sister would just love, but her birthday was two months ago and it’s five months till Christmas. You could make a note to come back later and pick it up close to the holidays. It will still be there, right?

WRONG! Oftentimes, unique gifts will not wait for you to make up your mind. If you know that’s an excellent gift for someone. Get it. If you fumfer, you will likely lose out. Or more accurately, the person who would love that thing loses out. (A side note: Don’t tell them that you saw something that they would adore and but waited too long. In this case, the thought DOES NOT COUNT!)

So as you go through life and you see something that you know will bring someone else joy, just get it, and put it away. When the holidays roll around and everyone else is franticly searching for presents, Jingle All The Way style, you’ll be sitting comfortably in front of a roaring fire, drinking eggnog like a boss, listening to the Vince Guaraldi Trio, and smiling because you’ve done your shopping. Well done!

FOUR-THE PERFECT GIFT

As stated previously, perfection doesn’t exist. However, it’s possible to come close, but it is a real challenge. What is this rare and wonderful item? The thing that you didn’t know you wanted till you saw it.

This is tough to pull off, maybe even impossible. But when you can do it, wow, it’s amazing! Naturally, there is no one thing that can fill that order for everyone. Especially a car with a bow on the roof. If you do that you’re a dead-eyed, soulless monster. Am I planting my flag on this hill? You bet your holly jolly jingle bells I am.

Okay, back to why this is so hard. Say your sweetie collects Peanuts memorabilia. Charlie Brown and Snoopy stuff all over the place. You want to give them something special but it looks like they have everything already. Given their breadth of what they have, it’s a concern. They likely have done daily deep Google dives looking for additions to the collection. What do you do?

Let’s go back to part one. Listen. Did they mention a piece they are looking for? A character they resonate with? Start with that. 

Additionally, you can find a lot of artists who will make something for you to order. A wholly unique gift. It will also show that you’ve been paying attention.

As I said before, it’s tricky at best. Even if it’s not an epiphany in wrapping paper, the fact you made a real effort will be appreciated. In this case, the thought DOES count.

FIVE-WRAPPING UP

So, I’ve given you two solid techniques, one possibly useful trick, and a final aspirational idea. The fact is that being good at gifts isn’t that difficult if you pay attention. Here’s another tip, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to do this. The best gifts don’t have to cost a lot of cash. If you have a big budget for gift-giving, good for you. It must be nice. Or so I would imagine.

In the beginning, I said that my being an excellent gift-giver was a fact and one other thing. The other thing is you don’t always get excellent gifts. 

One Christmas, I was given by a close friend, a memo cube. You might ask, “What is a memo cube?” A memo cube is a plastic cube filled with square pieces of paper, for writing down messages. This was not something I ever desired nor was it was something I never knew I wanted. Truthfully, had I given memo cubes even one second of thought, I wouldn’t have ever desired one. Why did he give it to me? I still don’t know.

Just so you don’t think I’m just grousing, I have received many thoughtful gifts over the years. For example, I’m a big fan of robots. A good friend of mine gives me a robot or robot-themed gift for my birthday every year. Clearly, I’m not the only excellent gift giver. A reassuring thought.

So when you go off to shop for the holidays, keep my advice in mind. Those you give to will appreciate it. And if by some twist of fate you come across a memo cube, keep walking.

Tiny Robots

Here is a short story that I wrote a while ago. It is not an epic tale but I suspect if you live in the five boroughs, you might relate. And if you live somewhere else, this is glamour of big city life.

If there is anything worse than finding bedbugs in your New York City apartment it’s tiny robots. While the robots are not going to devour you like the bedbugs and are not high on the ick scale, they are in fact, downright adorable. They have little sprongy antennae, wide (relatively speaking) round eyes, rubber soled feet and if they were not dangerous as all get out, they would be wonderful toys.

They were designed to look that way by Professor Hieronymus Superious, a genuine mad scientist, who had made the original tiny robot to build a much larger robot. Why build tiny robots that in turn would build a larger robot? Well, he was a mad scientist and maybe not the most rational person, especially since the intended use for the larger robot was world domination, or at least the five boroughs.

Once the tiny robots gained sentience, they reasoned once the big version was built, they would be recycled. Their logic was sound and they turned on their creator who was subsequently arrested by the F.B.I.’s Mad Science Division. The tiny robots disappeared into the infrastructure of New York.
The first thing they did was got rid of all the vermin. Rats, mice, water bugs and rumor has it, an albino alligator were purged from the sewer system and out of every building.

Everyone was pretty jazzed about them in the beginning. The mayor even declared an annual robot day, it was June 13th. But once they started to cannibalize people’s electronics, they became extremely unpopular.
A sentiment I could get on board with as by the time I got home, after some drinks with friends, those miniature jerks had already dismantled my microwave and re-purposed it to build more cute little automata. A chorus of beeps, pings and chirps sounded as they fled into the walls, under cabinets and though any and all available nooks and crannies.

My cat Mac, an orange tabby, was perched on top of the bookshelf, watched the rapid robot exodus. I’d be annoyed, but a cat will only chase the minuscule machines once, super low voltage shocks are not deadly but they do make an effective deterrent. There was an uneasy détente between cats and robots and as long as they kept to themselves, no one got hurt.

I put my now cold dinner on the counter next to the husk of my former microwave, and thought about how to deal with this. Legitimate robot exterminators were very expensive and I knew my landlady would not be shelling out for one.

Since they had not gotten to my laptop, I searched for a more financially reasonable solution. Amazon offered several robot repellers though third party sellers but the reviews for them were mixed at best. There was a mini-EMP machine but everyone in the block would need remove all their electronics while it went off and it was way to much money.

It occurred to me that crowd sourcing might turn something up, so I posted on Facebook, twitter and instagramed a pic of my ruined microwave.

“So sorry!”, “That blows!”, “Call one of the robot killer guys”, and “Sux to be you.” Were among the replies. Mostly sympathy, but no new answers until I got a PM from my old roommate who was now living her boyfriend.

“Becca, Kurt and I had the same thing happen, so I know how bad this sucks. There is a someone who can help you, send her a message, R_hero78@automata.net, and put REFERRAL:CASSIE HOROWITZ in the subject line, she can help you.”

Since my options were limited to watch every piece of electronic equipment I owned be disassembled or emailing a perfect stranger for help, I took the second one. If Cassie was messing with me I’d… well I wouldn’t beat her up, but I might unfriend her but if I was being honest, I probably wouldn’t even do that. So I send the email, explaining my problem.

Almost immediately I got a reply, I’ll be there in thirty minutes. Please do not leave your apartment or turn off the lights and have some food ready to eat.

I did all of it and heated up the take out I brought home in my actual stove, which I last used to make last year’s attempt at Thanksgiving dinner. After managing to both burn the outside of the turkey and maintaining a frozen center, we had Thai delivered.

Exactly thirty minutes later, my buzzer sounded.

She wasn’t what I expected. I though she might be a kindly aunt type with white hair in a sensible ponytail and a twinkle in her eye or a hot nerd girl with big glasses and elaborate tattoos and skinny jeans. Instead, she was slightly overweight with weary eyes, dressed in a peacoat over a food-stained hoodie over a tee-shirt with Korean lettering and the image of pink and blue monster. Her jeans were definitely not skinny but they were speckled in what at first looked like paint but turned out to be minute burns.

“Is the food ready?” she asked.

“Yes!” I replied and took it out of the oven. I hadn’t burned it, which gave me a sudden and secret burst of pride.

“Put it on the table,” she said as he took a handful of plastic pipes from her battered messenger bag.

She began to assemble a small tower, about three feet tall with a base that was made of Legoes. Pressing a switch, a pattern of lights flickered up and down the height of the tower.

“What is that?” I asked.

“It overrides their programming,” she said as she began to eat.

I now had this stranger in my apartment, eating my food and it occurred to me that I didn’t even know her name

“I’m Rebecca Lee, “ I said holding out my hand.

Wiping her hand on her jeans, she shook mine and said, “Call me Lucius.”

“Just one name?” I asked, shaking as long enough to cover my own hands in grease.

“Yep.”

“Like Banksy!” I said.

Lucius grunted and said, “Sorta.”

So I sat and watched her eat for ten minutes or so. She ate like she was alone, which made me wonder what I looked like when I had dinner alone, which was more often that I liked. I decided that I was more ladylike but resolved to stop eating out of takeout cartons.

“Excuse me,” I said, “but what comes next?”

Lucius nodded to the living room over my shoulder. I’d like to say I just took the sight in with the cynical weariness of a true New Yorker but I was born in Wisconsin so I screamed.

Standing in flawless symmetrical rows, the tiny robots gazed at the small, though not to them, tower. Their micro eyes blinked in a synchronistic rhythm with the lights.

“WHATTHEHELLDIDYOUDO!” I yelled without breathing.

“Relax,” Lucius said, “They’re being reprogrammed, they won’t do anything.”

“They’re on my laptop,” I whispered.

“It’s fine,’ replied Lucius, who spoke at a normal volume. “And you can shout if you like, they can’t hear you now.”

While it was an unnerving sight, they covered the entire living /bedroom, but they did not dismantle any electronics.

“What are they going to do?” I asked.

“Hmmm?” murmured Lucius

I turned, looked her in eyes and said, “You said they are being reprogrammed. To do what?”

Lucius took a bite out of a spring roll, chewed and said, “More productive tasks.”

“That’s a little vague.”

She shrugged and we sat in uncompanionable silence for while.

“Listen-” I began.

“What?” interrupted Lucius.

“I don’t want to seem rude, but are you a…”

She regarded me with mild disinterest.

“Well… You know…” I finished.

“I don’t.”

“What?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she said.

I took a deep breath, and said, “Are you a mad scientist?”

Lucius laughed. It sounded like a princess might laugh. It was so unlike her appearance all I could do was stare. The giggles slowly stopped.

“No,” she said, “I’m not a mad scientist. I don’t have a trust fund.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“It’s tough to have the money or time to build a teleporter or spaceship when you have to work nine to five.”

“Oh. That makes sense,” I said.

A series of musical notes sounded from the tower. Lucius wiped her mouth and took a battered grey metal cylinder, unscrewed the top and lay it on the floor. The tiny robots then marched into the opening and when the last of them filed in, she sealed the top.

My phone pinged and I jumped a little.

“My bill,” said Lucius.

It was very reasonable, much less than I expected.

“I take PayPal,” she said as she disassembled the tower and put it back in her bag.

I sent the payment and she was ready to go.

“Thanks for getting here so quickly, you really were a life saver,” I said.

Lucius nodded as she looked at her phone.

“I have another job,” she said. “If they come back, just message me.”

“Great!” I said holding out my hand but she had already walked out. I had not made a new besty but my place was free of tiny robots and that’s all I cared about.

I cleaned up and was browsing new microwaves online, when it occurred to me that Lucius never said what she was doing with the tiny robots. She said she wasn’t a mad scientist. Why would a stranger who was hired strictly through referrals lie? Oh…

The Most Dangerous Challenge

In many kung-fu stories, the fate of the world and even the multiverse is determined by martial arts prowess. This seems like a terrible method of governance. It feels like it would favor bullies and thugs, unlike our system that… Well, it’s got problems. This story offers a different option. Is it any better? You’ll have to decide that for yourself.

“My Prince, the Dread Masters have arrived,” said the majordomo as he bowed.

Straightening his abnormally high and over-embroidered collar, the Prince of Highlandia gestured that the unpleasant guests should be shown in.

Clad in black armor that somehow also glowed black, the Dread Masters entered the throne room. Their leader, known as the Most Dread Master, and his lieutenant, the Lesser But Still Very Dread Master strode in followed by the other Dread Masters. Their names all indicated where they all stood in the hierarchy of Dread, but since they only got longer, we will not list them here.

“The time has come, oh Prince,” sneered the Most Dread Master, “The three moons of fate have eclipsed the seven suns of destiny.”

Sighing, the Prince of Highlandia replied, “Yes, yes, it’s pretty hard to miss.”

“Are you prepared for the Challenge That Will Shape The World?” asked the Most Dread Master just as he had rehearsed with his Dread Acting Coach.

“ARE YOU?” added the Lesser But Still Very Dread Master.

“I thought I said to just glower, menacingly,” the Most Dread Master whispered at his lieutenant.

“Just thought it would help,” sullenly replied Lesser.

“Well, it didn’t!” spat the Most Dread Master, “Did it?” he then asked the Prince.

“Not really.”

“I prepared a song. A very scary song,” Lesser said hopefully.

The Most Dread Master pushed down his disappointment. Just because someone is excellent in martial arts, doesn’t mean they had any sense of theater. He had to take care of this before it became a ‘thing.’

Lesser’s face lit up. “Really?” 

“Listen, I asked you to glower because you’re so good at it. The best, in fact.”

“Absolutely! You are my best glowerer, hands down.”

“I think I need to hear that. It’s been a rough week. My girlfriend-”

“Let’s talk later, okay? After the Challenge That Will Shape The World.”

“You got it my Most Dread Master!”

Turning back to the Prince of Highlandia, the Most Dread Master intoned, “So my Prince, are you prepared for the Challenge That Will Shape The World?”

“You already said that.”

“Well, it’s literally the event that will determine the fate of every being in the realm for all eternity. It deserved to be said twice! Maybe even three times!”

“Would you like to say it again?”

“Twice, I think imports the gravity of this event,” declared the Most Dread Master in a tone he felt was both wise and threatening.

“Agreed,” nodded the Prince as he sagely stroked his beard. The beard stroke really sold the sagacity.

“As was written in the scrolls of sacred conflict, let the champions present themselves!” declared the Most Dread Master as he stepped forward.

The Prince, who was in his late middle age and had what could be accurately described as a ‘Dad Bod’, stood up.

“You? You are the champion?”

“I am,” he said with a shrug.

The Most Dread Master waited for a ‘mere jest’ or a ‘got you’ or even a ‘psych!’ It did not come.

“What happened to your loyal cadre of warriors? Johnny Lightning Hands? Myka Mistress of the Razor-Whip? Mysteroid, the Living Smoke? The Mongoose Twins, Ebi and Abi? Bunfar, the Guy with Swords for Feet?”

“Oh, they’re up there,” the Prince said pointing up a balcony. 

All his champions waved and cheered, which resulted in some clanking in the case of Bunfar who stomped his feet swords with great enthusiasm. 

“Are you not going to take this seriously?” asked the Most Dread Master with unmasked irritation. 

“Of course I am, this will shape realm forever.”

“So you think you can defeat me?” 

“I don’t think that.”

“Haha, you will-”

“…I know it.”

It was a classic burn. The Most Dread Master was rapidly losing the mystique of menace that he had spent years cultivating. Time to make some big power moves.

“Okay, Prince ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’ Check this out.”

With a flicker of darkness, the Most Dread Master teleported about the throne room, shattering vases on plinths with masterful kicks and strikes. Appearing and disappearing into and out of puffs of oily black smoke, which he thought was extremely cool. The fact that the smoke smelled of potpourri was perhaps less cool than he wanted it to be.

“And that’s just the tip of the dark iceberg of my martial arts techniques!”

The Prince applauded and said, “Impressive. Very much so. I enjoyed the potpourri.”

“It’s not potpourri, it’s the scent of dying springtime!”

“Sorry, it just reminded me of potpourri.”

“Well, you were wrong!”

“Would you like to hear the challenge?” stated the Prince in a serious manner.

“Indeed I would!”

Carrying the scrolls of sacred conflict, the majordomo entered and unrolled them to a specific spot.

“I’ve been reading over the scrolls and I discovered something of great interest to me.”

“Do you think you’ve discovered some loophole that will allow you to avoid this?”

“Not at all. But listen to this, ‘The challenged, in this case, me, may choose the nature of the conflict, and the challenger must abide by this or forfeit on pain of disintegration.’”

“I know, I know! It’s a proviso so you can choose where and how we fight. It could be in the Ice Volcano on the edge of the Sea of Fire, or on a Dragon-Owl’s back in a lightning storm, or if we both are blindfolded and have to compose haiku while leaping from branch to branch in the forest of very slippery leaves.”

“Yes… And no.”

“What the hell does that mean!”

“The thing is, the challenge doesn’t have to be a fight,” the Prince offered with a smile.

“Don’t be absurd! That’s what we do! Our whole way of life is based on superiority through martial arts! You can’t just go changing it!” sputtered the Most Dread Master.

“The scrolls do not specify the challenge needs to be one of fighting.”

“Where is my Dread Litigator?” 

There was a great deal of reading and arguing between the Master and his attorney. Part of it was why their copies of the scrolls were on black parchment with purple lettering. It had seemed so very metal when they were made but turned out to be extraordinarily difficult to read. Finally, the Most Dread Master spoke.

“On advice of counsel, I accept that the challenge need not be one of the martial arts. Even though it makes a mockery of everything our most sacred and profane traditions stand for.”

“Very magnanimous of you,” said the Prince.

“I thought so,” replied the Most Dread Master.

There was a dramatic pause.

“Now, and only now, will I reveal my challenge to you, my foe.”

“It better not be trivia! If it’s trivia we should have teams!”

“While that might’ve been entertaining, I had something else prepared.”

At that, servants set up a long table and placed cloth-covered trays upon them. A distinctive acidic smell wafted across the throne room.

“By the sightless eyes of the Iron Crone… No.” 

“Hot wings. Marinated with the essences of one hundred different peppers. Including the feared Pandemonium Pepper which only grows in the darkness of Valley of the Mad. Whoever can eat the most, will mold the world for evil or good.”

While the Most Dread Master enjoyed things that would make the hardest hearts weep, he could not stomach spicy foods. Even black pepper was too much for him. But the challenge had to be met.

He took off his cape with a flourish to show he still had style, and also to prevent it from being stained. As he handed it to the Lesser But Still Very Dread Master, he said quietly, “Send a dark crane to the Dread Gastroenterologist. Tell him I will need his services very shortly.”

Sitting across from his ancestral foe, the Most Dread Master looked at this, his final battlefield, and uttered these words.

“So, no blue cheese dressing?”

Journey to Nowhere

For those not from the New York area, there is an annual tradition of the Mermaid Parade held each year at Coney Island. It’s a fun day where people dress in their most fabulous and in many cases, skimpiest outfit. Plus you can enjoy a Famous Nathan’s hot dog and ride the Cyclone roller-coaster. Of course, that might be a dangerous mix.

Another aspect of attending the Mermaid Parade is getting there if you don’t live close. It’s a long trip for many New Yorkers, depending on where you are. Below is a log of one such trek, written in an old-timey style. Tally-Ho!

An Excerpt From “Journey to Nowhere, the Failure of The MTA in the Early Twenty-First Century”
By Professor Nari Applebaum

It is a well-documented fact that the mass transit system of the five boroughs of New York City was a disaster of unimaginable proportions. So much, that the early part of the twenty-first century were known as the “Age of Tardiness”, due to the chronic lateness that plagued the citizenry.

While many tales of being delayed have been passed down through the generations, like any story, they have grown with the telling. One of the most famous, “The Rerouting of the 4 Train by the Albino Alligator of Union Square” is considered to be apocryphal. (Editors note: It is a proven scientific fact that the last of the albino alligators were devoured by the Rat King in 1957.)

What we are presenting is a rare document of an expedition from northern most part of Manhattan, Washington Heights, to the Mermaid Parade, a celebration once held in the southern region of Brooklyn, called Coney Island. The journal of this journey was discovered during the excavation of the long disused Hoyt–Schermerhorn subway station, preserved in what was known at that time as a smart phone.

For those of us who enjoy the smooth, efficient teleportation of today, what you read below will seem horrific, but just remember, it was a savage time.

Friday June 15th, 2018 9:37 P.M.
The day for which I have pined for is at long last is but one slumber away! A parade of Mermaids at the Isle of Coney! Last year inclement weather ruined the proceeding and sorrow was my only suitor. But that is no worry as all climatologists agree that it shall be sunny, warm and any clouds will be of the whitest and fluffiest quality!
I fear that Morpheus’ kiss will be withheld but I shall do my best to rest for the festivities on the morrow.

Saturday June 16th, 7:03 A.M.
It is at last the day I have longed for! I have donned my spangly-est summer flock and a mock tiara! Accompanying me is my dearest friend, Mina, who has also bedecked herself in a most shiny manner. We shall certainly catch Neptune’s gaze!

Our journey is about to begin as we enter the 181st. Subway station! Although the trip from Heights of Morningside to the Isle of Coney will be a lengthy one, I have placed a flask of water and a lemon flavored Luna bar in my purse, if I should become peckish while we travel. Though I must save my appetite for Mr. Nathan’s world-renowned sausages!

We are also to be joined by our gentlemen friends, Justin and Roberto. I tried to persuade them to travel uptown so we could set out together, but they insisted that they could join us en route. If this is our greatest misfortune, I shall count myself blessed. Oh, the trolley is arriving! We are on our way!

Saturday June 16th 7:37 A.M.
Fiddlesticks! The trolley has sped past the station at 96th Street! Apparently there is some work being done on the tracks! Mina has just spotted the notice posted in the car. I suppose we were too exited to see it. I have sent a message of text to Justin to meet us at station in Times Square with Roberto.
I feel as though we would not be in our present predicament if the gentlemen had listened to me and we had all set out together. This is a minor inconvenience and will soon be forgotten.

Saturday June 16th 8:23 A.M.
It seems fate is indeed fickle. We have been immobile betwixt stations due to a sick passenger ahead of us. I have always considered myself to be a compassionate person, who can put her own needs aside for the greater good. Nonetheless, I cannot help but think wonder why someone who was ill would ride the underground trolley and not go to hospital post haste. Does this make me a terrible person or are they inconsiderate for putting everyone else in this position?

Saturday June 16th 8:57 A.M.
We are finally on the move again and are fast approaching the 42nd Street Station. I hope that the ailing passenger has gotten the care they need. Perhaps my vexed mood might be attributed to the fact I did not eat a proper breakfast. Am tempted to consume some of my Luna Bar but I steel myself with thoughts of the culinary treats that abound at the Isle of Coney. I will be strong.

Saturday June 16th 9:17 A.M.
There is a passage that allows passengers from the A trolley to go to the Time Square Station. Inexplicitly, that passage is blocked due to more construction! While we are given a transfer token, Mina and I have no choice but to brave 42nd Street aboveground. The street is littered with tourists, all of whom walk at a snail’s pace, and for some reason, performers dressed as Elmo every ten feet or so. That must be bewildering to any child. Despite this obstacle course, we get to the proper station. Finally.

Saturday June 16th, 9:25 A.M.
Mina and I have arrived of the platform for the N and Q trolleys and spot Ricardo who is waving enthusiastically. Hugs all around but where is Justin? Apparently, according to Ricardo, Justin has been delayed, but his message of text proclaims his intent to be there as swiftly as possible. I will give him the benefit of the doubt.

Saturday June 16th 10:18
Although he promised an alacritous arrival, Justin has only now joined us. If there is anything more agonizing than waiting for someone to arrive whilst standing on an underground trolley in summer time, I cannot imagine it. I know that it is still technically spring, but it seems summer has arrived early, like an unwanted guest. While I am sorely tempted to use my sharpest tone with Justin, but he is so apologetic and insists on paying for our feast at Mr. Nathan’s that I cannot help but forgive him. A Q trolley just pulled in and we are finally on our way. Huzzah!

Saturday June 16th 10:31
As the trolley clatters, we have been chatting about the things we wish to do once we arrive. Mina is keen to ride the mechanical attraction, the Cyclone. Roberto is not as enthused, having ridden it once before, resulting in some intestinal distress. Mina teases him, though gently. She confided in me that she is rather smitten with him. Perhaps love will bloom like a sea anemone in a mermaid’s garden? These thoughts quickly fade as someone has begun to scream!

Saturday June 16th, 11:08
They speak of the rodents that dwell in the depths of the tunnels but to see one brazenly strut within the confines of a trolley car is beyond belief. A panic gripped the passengers as they tried their best to avoid contact with the foul vermin. In the past, I had chortled at the antics of the pizza rat, but the reality, minus the slice is most distressing.

A woman with the mightiest purse I have ever seen, full of courage and many containers of makeup, has bludgeoned the offending creature, to much cheering by passengers, myself included, and is proceeding to punt its unconscious form towards the door at the end when suddenly with a deafening screech, we are all flung to the ground!

Saturday June 16th, 11: 32
It seems that during the fracas with the rodent, someone panicked and pulled the emergency stop cord. There was much moaning and cursing in the wake of this. I shall not repeat what was said, but know that the denizens of the Five Boroughs pride themselves on their colorful expletives and this was as fine a demonstration as you could ask for.

A conductor soon came through demanding to know why the cord was pulled and who the culprit was. He issued many threats as to the severity of an unwarranted trolley stop but no one confessed. In the kerfuffle, no one seems to have seen the act. Our conductor, clearly apoplectic with rage stormed out of the car. I considered asking him when we will be moving but he seemed disinclined to polite inquiries. Let us hope that we will be moving shortly.

Saturday June 16th 11:51
Know this, if you pull the emergency stop cord on a trolley, it will result in not merely a brief halt to travel, but one of indeterminate length. We waited for what seemed like hours to continue, even though I know that it is but minutes.

An announcement issued forth from the speakers that this train is now out of service, we are to be lead through the tunnels to the next station, accompanied by constables of the transit ministry. Had I know that I would be indulging in some spelunking, I would not have worn my flippy floppy sandals. They are not practical footwear for trudging though the decades of filth that have accumulated on the bottom of a trolley tunnel.

Just before we arrived at the Beverley Road station, I would swear that I saw the selfsame rodent that plagued us scuttle away into the inky darkness, with what I can only describe as a wicked grin. Can a rat grin? Lest I be thought mad, I keep such thoughts to myself. My eyes are firmly locked on the prize. Nothing shall stand in my way.

Saturday June 16th 12:03 P.M.
The Q trolley will not be running for hours but Roberto has suggested we summon an Uber carriage to take us the rest of the way but it seems we are not alone in that notion. The wait time is unacceptable. I suggest we walk to the Ditmars Avenue station, as the F trolley will bring us directly to our destination.

There is a distinct lack of enthusiasm for this plan, as our misfortunes have robbed my companions of both vim and vigor but I inspire them through my force of will.

Ditmars ho!

Saturday June 16th 12:29 P.M.
Our trudge was brutally hot, and accompanied by a fair bit of grumbling by our gentlemen, but we have arrived! Mustering our energy, we dash up the stairs and into a trolley in the nick of time! Ahhh… The sweet chilled caress of conditioned air, it is balm for our ragged spirits. Soon we are laughing and all seems right with the world. It seems the worst is behind us.

Saturday June 16th 12:46 P.M.
I journey on alone. Whilst traveling, a troupe of those acrobatic young men who leap about the bars and polls of a trolley car accompanied by rhythmic music entered the car and began to perform. Everyone secretly fears being kicked inadvertently even though it never seems to happen.

Well, Fate has struck another blow to this day. Mina, who was enjoying the show up to the point, was kicked in the face. The acrobats fled the car, to where I cannot say. Mina is inconsolable. She is sporting a rather nasty bruise, I have assured her that I can remedy it with some judicial applications of cosmetics.
She however, is having none of it. Mina insists that this expedition is cursed and sworn to leave at the next stop to return home. I point out that it is ridiculous to abandon this as we are so close to our destination.

The eyes of my closest and dearest friends turn upon me as if I were a bedlamite. An awkward silence falls upon the car, broken only by the clatter of the trolley on the tracks.

Mina and Roberto exit at the next stop. I ask Justin, sweet Justin if he will finish this with me. He simply shakes his head and joins the others.

If the universe thinks that I will give up, they are sorely mistaken. I will enjoy the parade, eat at Mister Nathan’s and perhaps even brave the Cyclone. Needing no one else, I will complete this voyage.

This was the last entry. It is unknown if the author of this journal finally attended the mermaid parade, but the device that contained this journal was found miles from her final goal. It might have been lost as she returned home or perhaps stolen. Sadly, there is no way of knowing. Although speculation is a fool’s errand, I like to think she made it to the parade and home safely. I can admire her fortitude even as I pity her for the time she lived in.

Ensign’s Log

Photo by Jacub Gomez on Pexels.com

Today is Star Trek Day, honoring the anniversary of the first time it was broadcast, fifty-five years ago. This is a short story I wrote that is, let’s call it Star Trek adjacent. I’m a big fan and this is my way of paying tribute. With the serial numbers filed off.

Live Long and Prosper and… Engage!

Ensign Edward Park’s Personal Log-StarDate 8720.73

I have been tasked with transporting Atlas, favorite pet of Captain Buhle of the U.S.S. Centurion. While some of my shipmates have dismissed this is as a dull errand, I see this as an avenue into the Captain’s good graces. I’ve wanted to serve on the Centurion since I was a child and read about their exploits.

I don’t see this as brown-nosing, (Lieutenant J.G. Pillington I’m looking at you!) but rather as an opportunity to show Captain Buhle that I’m a responsible officer with much to offer. She apparently dotes on Atlas so this can only help my career.

Hard to believe that no one else volunteered for this.

End of Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate 8721.11

Have arrived at the Altairian outpost and taken possession of Atlas. The name must be ironic as the case he came in was very small. Some sort of miniature dog? Atlas is sleeping now so I can’t really tell. The Lieutenant who passed him along to me advised me to not fly too fast in such a small craft. Apparently, it would upset up Atlas, which he said was dangerous.

I’m supposed to rendezvous with the Centurion tomorrow so I have plenty of time to make it. Atlas, you are in the safest of hands.

This is easier than I could’ve imagined.

End of Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate 8721.56

This is bad, very bad. I’m currently fleeing from a Gorgorian Rapid Raider. There’s supposed to be a cease-fire after the conference at Mantok-Prime. I hailed them to remind them of that fact but frankly, they were more interested in mocking me and firing upon the shuttle than in any real diplomatic solution.

Shields are holding but since they gave me a shuttle with no weapons, I will have to outfly them. Why don’t our shuttles have weapons? Right now it feels like they should.

End of Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate 8721.89

We escaped! I suppose that’s obvious since I’m here to record this log, but it’s kind of a miracle. The Gorgorian Rapid Raider had hammered us, alarms were blaring to tell me the shields were about to fail, and then Atlas began to whine. Honestly, I couldn’t tell right away, as he was harmonizing with the alarms.

Then suddenly, he stopped. Then the Gorgorian Rapid Raider exploded. We, and by we I mean the shuttle, started spinning out of control. Fortunately, I am a fully trained star pilot and had no trouble steadying the flight path. Eventually.

Sensors indicated that the Gorgorian Rapid Raider suffered a massive quantum engine failure. Maybe the Gorgorian Rapid Raider passed through a micro singularity. Those Gorgorian Rapid Raider need to hire some more qualified engineers.

Am I saying Gorgorian Rapid Raider too much? No. An Ensign’s logs need to be thorough and accurate. I mean, a Gorgorian Rapid Raider is a formidable foe.

That ought to be worth a commendation. Fingers crossed.

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate 8722.24

Well, the engines are damaged and I had to drop to sub-light speeds. This is very inconvenient. If I can’t repair the problem I won’t make my rendezvous with the Centurion. I’m reluctant to send out a distress signal as it might attract more attention from the Gorgorians.

Also, it would reflect poorly on my abilities as an officer and damage my chances of getting assigned to the Centurion. That, I refuse to let happen. Time to roll up my sleeves and get working.

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate 8722.73

Well, that took longer than I anticipated. I ran half a dozen level one diagnostics, realigned the crystalline shunt, and hand cleaned thirty-seven isotronic chips and the damned thing still didn’t turn over. It wasn’t till I re-polarized the power coupling that it worked again.

At least now I can get back on schedule. Apologies to Atlas but I am NOT going to be late.

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate Unknown

A good officer has to be ready for the unexpected. That’s what they taught us at the academy. It’s the first thing they say on the first day. Be ready for the unexpected. It’s a fine sentiment. Except how in holy hell can you be ready for the unexpected? That’s crazy! CRAZY!!!!!!!!!!!

(Log Paused)

Okay, I screamed and feel a little better. Not a lot, but I’ll take what I can get.

We were flying at top hyper factor, at least as fast as this shuttle can go, when Atlas started to howl. Except it wasn’t a howl, exactly. More like a keening wail. I tried to get him to stop. I sang him a lullaby, then tried talking to him in soothing tones, telling him that we were on our way to his mommy, and finally, I shouted at him to just shut up!

I’m not sure why I thought this creature would understand the Galactic Standard tongue, because it did not. The sound it made got higher and higher pitched until there was a burst of bright light and then I passed out. I dare anyone, ANYONE to not pass out in these circumstances.

Upon awakening, I found the familiar sight of rushing stars outside my forward viewport replaced with a swirling sea of colors and fractals. The navigation computer has thus far failed to locate where we are. But it gets worse.

Atlas is missing.

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate Still Unknown but later

Having searched this tiny shuttle fore to aft, I have found no sign of Atlas. I’m not sure what is worse, being trapped in an unknown region of space or losing Captain Buhle’s beloved pet. If I can’t find a way home, I’ll never know. That’s not better. Probably worse.

Time to start scanning and see what I can find out about where I ended up.

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate Who The Hell Knows

So the sensors were no help. Outside the shuttle is what the computer calls a “Pocket, pan-dimensional matrix of unquantifiable energy readings.” Thanks. For. Nothing. In other words, you have no idea. Also, no sign of Atlas. Ugh.

At least the nutritional dispenser is still working but all it can produce is a chicken sandwich and coffee. Some good news, that’s a perfect lunch.

I’m going to see if I can find a way out of this “Pocket, pan-dimensional matrix of unquantifiable energy readings.”

I mean, how big can it be?

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate Who Goddamn Cares At This Point?

So, a pocket dimension can be pretty damn big. I’ve been flying for what the computer tells me is one week, three days, seventeen hours, and forty minutes. I have no choice but to believe it.

Why would a computer lie?

Why indeed…

End Log

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate No Idea

My Chicken sandwich was a little dry today. That should be impossible, given it is made from a static formula. But I swear it tasted like it had been sitting out on a counter for a bit too long. Strange.

On an unrelated note, my beard is coming in nicely.

End Log.

Personal Log Supplemental-StarDate Infinity Plus One

While time seems to stand still, I have not aged, for some reason, my hair and fingernails have continued to grow. Does this make any logical sense? Nope, not at all.

While I have perfected my braiding skills, I fear that this is some sort of personal hell. There are no Rigellian monkey bears with my father’s voice, forcing me to sing in public. Still, it feels pretty personal.

While I sleep, the sounds of Atlas echo through my mind. I try to find him but I find myself stuck in a pool of butterscotch. Let’s be clear, in my dreams. I would kill for some butterscotch right now. Anything except for damned chicken sandwiches and coffee.

All scans have yielded no life sign reading. I’ve lost the Captain’s pet and I can say, with a high degree of certainty, I’ve had lost my mind as well. Log entries that back that up have been deleted. No one needs to read all those quantum limericks. Honestly, not my best work.

In retrospect, I should’ve sent out a distress signal. That’s on me.

Also, whatever Atlas is, I hope he’s lost in his own personal hell. I’ve no idea what that is, but I wish with all my heart he’s there.

So, since I have nothing to look forward to, except more of this endless nothing, I have chosen to employ the self-destruct protocol. If anyone finds these logs, please think kindly of me.

Wait. If I self-destruct, no one will ever read this. So suck a singularity Atlas. You are the worst.

End Log.

Captain Buhle’s personal Log StarDate 8722.67

I am relieved to find the shuttle transporting Atlas intact. He is alive and in good spirits! I was worried about him traveling on a shuttle, it disagrees with him so, but it seems to have worked out.

Unfortunately, Ensign Edward Park has suffered some traumatic side effects from his trip. It will take a few days for him to get his synaptic responses in sync with normal reality. Doc says with some rest, he’ll be right as rain.

The engineering team has told me that the shuttle gave off pan-dimensional radiation but that that was well below any danger levels. In another piece of bad news, all logs were corrupted by the radiation.

When Ensign Park recovers, he can file a report about the incident. He must be a remarkable young officer to have made it through in one piece and keep Atlas safe. I have already requested his transfer to the Centurion, which the Admiralty approved immediately.

And on a personal note, it seems Atlas has taken quite a shine to young Mr. Park, when I visited sickbay, the little fella got quite excited. If I can trust anyone to look after Atlas, it is Ensign Park.

End Log

Live Life Fast, Die Food

This is a short story that combines three of my passions, food, super spy espionage and quippy dialogue.

Svetlana Cortez Abramowitz, agent of B.R.E.A.D. (Baking Restaurant Elite Alliance Division) and noted mannequin model hung by her arms above the giant fondue pot filled with deadly Emmental cheese. She had begun that evening at the underground sudden death clam roll eating tournament under the last Howard Johnsons in Pyrenees mountain range.

With nothing to do but literally dangle, she lost herself in a flashback.

***

Her contact, the Marquise Du Fromage, whose family, ironically, were all lactose intolerant, was nowhere to be seen at the tournament. If her training as a secret agent had taught her anything, it was when in doubt, go to the bar. They usually had peanuts.

“I’d like a Dirty Shirley please, extra cherries,” said Sventlana.

“Right away, Ms,” replied the bartender.

“How do you know I’m not married?” she snarked.

“I don’t, that’s why I used Ms,” said the bartender as he mixed grenadine and vodka, “I didn’t want to presume.”

Taking a sip of the drink, she nodded, “You’re very woke for a bartender.”

“Part of the training.”

“Can I buy you a drink?” said a voice from behind her.

Turning, she saw a tall blond man with piercing earlobes. He had no physical scars but she was sure that he had emotional ones. Guys like him always did.

“I already have one.”

“Did you pay for it yet?”

“No, I was about to open a tab.”

“Then I could still pay for it.”

“I suppose so.”

“Put this on my Dinner’s Club card.”

“Dinner’s Club or Diner’s Club?” inquired the bartender.

“Both.”

“Yes sir!” 

Svetlana regarded the Stranger with a discerning eye, which was her left one.

“If you’re going to buy me a drink, you could at least introduce yourself,” she said eating one of her extra maraschino cherries.

“Why do I owe you something for buying you a drink?”

“How about I try to guess your name,” she suggested avoiding the issue.

“Have at it.”

“Hubert Hucklebean.”

“Do I really look like a Hubert Hucklebean?”

“I suppose not, but if I meet three Hubert Hucklebeans before the end of the year I win a free sub.”

“Meatball or the underwater kind?”

“Underwater that serves meatballs.”

“Then I’m sorry I’m not one then.”

With a flourish, the bartender placed the second drink in front of her. Taking it in her other hand, she toasted herself.

“Why don’t I try to guess your name?” offered the Stranger. 

“Please,” she replied as she sipped from the second drink.

“Myrtle McKenna?”

“Funny you should say that my college roommate wanted to be named that.”

“Did she ever change her name?” 

“Only in Delaware and Guam.”

“Smart. I’ve got another guess.”

“Shoot.”

With the ease of a Nutri Ninja pro, he flung a drugged-tipped cocktail umbrella into her neck.

“I think you’re Svetlana Cortez Abramowitz, agent of B.R.E.A.D.,” he whispered as the room swam around her. She recognized it as a Bulgarian butterfly stroke as everything went black. 

***

“I see you’re lost in thought,” said the Stranger, bringing the narrative back to the present.

“I was,” she said irritably.

“The infamous agent Abramowitz, at last, we meet.”

“We met just before, at the bar.”

“Fine. Technically that’s true.”

She smiled, one of the true joys of life was to be technically right.

“I suppose you’re wondering who I am?”

“Niles Montrose, assassin for hire and failed saucier.”

Flushed, Niles shouted, “A sauce CANNOT be too rich!”

“That’s not what your instructors at the C.I.A. thought.”

“They lacked vision. Especially the ones who were too lazy to get a new eye exam. Most places will do it for free.”

“If you buy from them.”

“It’s a good deal!”

“Only if you don’t have insurance.”

“Lots of people don’t! It’s a real problem. Much like how you are about to be dipped into the world’s largest fondue pot.”

Those problems seemed unrelated but she did have to admit to herself, she was in trouble.

“Dipping an agent of B.R.E.A.D. into a giant cheese fondue, a little on the nose, isn’t it?”

“It’s a lot on the nose and I think you know it. But look over your shoulder, you’re not alone.

Indeed she was not. The Marquise Du Fromage was also chained above the bubbling caldron.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Svetlana inquired.

“You two seemed to be in the middle of something. I didn’t want to interrupt,” said the Marquise.

“Agent of B.R.E.A.D dies with lactose intolerant nobleman. If anyone still read newspapers that would be the headline.”

“Let’s table the discussion about the state of print and get to what your master plan is,” said Svetlana.

“And why should I tell you?”

“The Julia Childe Accords stipulate that when culinary operatives are captured the opposing agent must reveal their plans in detail. Section seven, subsection-”

“-Eighteen,” finished Niles, “Very well, rules are rules. Have you noticed how food trends have surged recently? It all started with bacon. It wasn’t difficult, bacon is delicious. Even when it started getting ridiculous, bacon milkshake and bacon sushi no one batted an eye. But then we popularized kale. Kale! It’s disgusting but people couldn’t get enough!”

As Niles monologued on, Svetlana pressed a tiny button on her clunky bracelet that was comprised of butter cubes held in stasis. The heat of the bubbling cheese quickly melted the shortening and allowed her to slip free of her shackles.

“-and quinoa! Because of us, rice was shunned like it didn’t come back from rumspringa!” declared Niles as Svetlana leapt down behind him. 

“Variety is the spice of life but how about a little salt and pepper?” she asked as she tenderized him with both fists.

They exchanged blows and recipes as they fought in the fondue dungeon until the Agent of B.R.E.A.D. jumped up, and kicked off her very pointy high heel shoes. Embedding them into the wall and trapping him.

“You’ve lost!” she said.

“I noticed. Because you have me immobilized.”

“That’s how it works. So tell me, who are you working for?”

“Oh, you’ll find out soon enough. Not because I’m going to tell you. But because of reasons. Sinister reasons.”

“You’d like that.”

“Yes, I’m actually pretty excited about that part.”

“I can tell because your face lit up when you said ‘sinister reasons’.”

“I feel seen.”

“If we could circle back to my original question about who you’re working for.”

With a smirk, Niles dropped out of his evening jacket, the shoes hadn’t pinned him, pulled out a small envelope and bottle of dark brown liquid from his pants pocket, and downed them both. A hideous crackle was heard, followed by a muffled explosion.

Pop rocks and Pepsi, she thought. The final retreat of culinary killer. Niles was moving his lips and she leaned in to hear his epitaph. He whispered, “Would you like fries with that?” and then expired.

“What does that mean?” she asked aloud.

“Pardon me,” said the unfailing polite Marquise Du Fromage, “If you could lower me down, away from the cheese caldron, I would be ever so grateful.”

“Of course,” Svetlana replied as she worked the winch, “I think now it’s time for some… dessert.”

“Is that an attempt at seduction or do you mean literal dessert?”

She unlocked his shackles and said, “I mean sweets, cake, maybe some gelato.”

“I’ll stick to the cake, gelato makes me gazeux.”

“Very delicate.”

“I wish it was,” the nobleman said ruefully. 

“Then we’ll pass… on the gelato.”

“Can I please just give you this microfilm?”

Taking the information, she said, “Right. I’ll get that that dessert… to go.”

“I’m just going to leave now.”

Just before he exited the room, the Marquise Du Fromage turned and asked, “Do you need a ride somewhere?”

Svetlana smiled and said, “In fact I do.”

“They have taxis out front. You should get one.”

“Oh, I will.”

The nobleman left, as things seemed socially awkward. Svetlana waited a few minutes. Partially to ponder Niles’ last words and also to avoid having to make more small talk with the Marquise Du Fromage who was a bit of a drip.

Would you like fries with that would later return in a most ominous way, but tonight, was all about confection.