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       The Devil Still Has My Lawnmower & Other Tales of the Weird, p.1

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The Devil Still Has My Lawnmower & Other Tales of the Weird
The Devil Still Has My Lawnmower

  & Other Tales of the Weird

  A Short Story Compilation by

  Giando Sigurani

  Copyright 2012 Giando Sigurani

  ISBN: 9781476109800

  Cover by Kent Mudle

  Table of Contents

  Title Page and Copyright


  The Chicken Nugget of Peace

  The Panel

  8-ball & Ouija Board

  The Ancient Persian

  A Shot in the Dark

  Danny Dizzle

  A Marriage of Magic and Science

  The Devil Still Has My Lawnmower

  About the Author

  Also by Giando Sigurani


  A loving father and good neighbor ventures into the depths of Hell to retrieve his lawnmower from the Devil himself, or else face a fine by the Homeowners Association. A spectacularly boring man finds the secret to universal peace, prosperity, and happiness in his chicken nugget. A frustrated writer launches her manuscript into deep space in a desperate hope of getting published on another world, accidentally causing an interplanetary war in another galaxy.

  These are just a few of the funny, tragic, or just plain strange stories in this collection by science fiction mastermind Giando Sigurani.

  The complete collection includes:

  The Chicken Nugget of Peace: A spectacularly boring man finds the secret to universal peace, prosperity, and happiness in his chicken nugget. Now he has to decide: is he too uninteresting to do anything about it?

  The Panel: Hostile aliens have taken over Earth. An emergency panel at the House of Representatives is assembled to address it. Hopefully, they'll actually get something done this time.

  8-ball & Ouija Board: By sheer coincidence, a genuinely magical 8-ball and a possessed Ouija board have wound up in the same house and under the same Christmas tree. Now it only remains to be seen whether there is room in this world for both of them.

  The Ancient Persian: While cleaning house, a college student finds an old Persian carpet that turns out to be both magic and ill-tempered.

  A Shot in the Dark: A frustrated writer launches her manuscript into deep space with the incredibly slim hope of getting published on another world. Unfortunately the aliens that find it take it just a bit too seriously.

  Danny Dizzle: A powerful Rudyard Kipling poem about a soldier being hanged... translated into much less powerful Snoop Dogg. (With apologies to Mr. Kipling).

  A Marriage of Magic and Science: Aleister Crowley, L. Ron Hubbard and Jack Parsons travel to the middle of a Nevada desert to cast a spell that will end the world. Stop me if you've heard this one.

  The Devil Still Has My Lawnmower: Alan is a loving father, good neighbor, and stand-up American citizen, so of course he has no problem loaning his lawnmower to his neighbor. But when it comes time to mow his own lawn, he learns that his neighbor is not who he once believed, and that he must venture into the fiery pits of Hell to get his lawnmower back. Either that, or face a fine by the Homeowners Association.

  The Chicken Nugget of Peace

  George Smith woke up in the usual way, with the sun shining into his eyes from the window next to his bed, and against all reason, he smiled.

  He knew what day it was. It was the day he had marked on his calendar two weeks previously, the day he looked forward to every time he threw himself upon the lumpy mattress within his tiny studio apartment to catch a few snatches of sleep before the next shift.

  It was a Sunday. It was the only day off he would have from both his jobs for a very long time, and he was going to spend it doing something spiritual.

  Not spiritual in the same way most people consider it to be. He would not spend his morning going to church, to be followed by donuts in the lobby and a discussion about the family picnic to be held next week, no doubt the sort of things God wanted of him. No; today, George had a much more important goal. It did not sound as significant or profound to other people as it did to him, but he was not in the least bothered by this. It was significant to him for the very simple reason that he planned for it.

  He did so when he noticed that the two jobs he had, the shitty retail one, and the other shitty retail one, had coincidentally given him the same day off– Sunday– which had inspired him to rush off to his little black book and crack it open.

  The little black book was nothing special. Within it was a list of things he wanted to accomplish in his lifetime. They were not spectacular achievements: about as exciting as British cricket, as one co-worker had put it.

  He picked the item that occurred furthest up on the list that was not also crossed out, and marked it on his calendar.

  The task was this:

  He was going to be first in line at the Chicken Emporium when it opened.

  He was going to buy the freshest batch of chicken nuggets.

  He was going to take the first chicken nugget made that day.

  He was going to dip it in Honey Mustard sauce.

  He was going to eat it.

  That was it. It was not by any means an amazing feat, but it was special to him in that very same way it was not special to absolutely everyone else.

  As it happened, not only did George have among the most boring names in the history of uninteresting nomenclature, but he himself was also a very uninteresting person. Even when his co-workers pestered him to get out more, he would tell them that he had no intention whatsoever of becoming even remotely compelling.

  Stamp collecting, birdwatching, chess, even the hobbies that were regarded by most of society to be terribly dull were each shunned by George, for fear that they might interfere with his personal beliefs.

  His personal beliefs were another thing that raised eyebrows. They were concerned with everyone’s particular purpose in life, including George’s. If, George reasoned, there exist those with great, world changing, awe-inspiring purposes (Einstein, Gandhi, Genghis Khan), then there are those on the opposite side of the spectrum that didn’t have one at all.

  George firmly, adamantly, and passionately believed that he was one of them.

  He had explained it, painfully thoroughly, so many times and to so many people that he had very nearly gotten sick of it. It seemed that each time he did, someone would tell him that he had a terribly bleak outlook on life, and each time he would turn his nose up and say that it wasn’t the point. George’s purpose in life, he constantly attested, was to not have one. He was there to balance the scales. He would be trite, bleak, and plain so that some day, somewhere else down the line somebody else could be fascinating.

  When asked if this upset him in any way, he would say no to that as well. Does a bolt get tired of holding things together? Does a hairpin grow weary from keeping hairstyles in shape? Does a hammer, God forbid, ever get sick of having to hit things? No, he would say, they did their jobs without protest, and so did he.

  It was for this reason why all the appointments in his little black book were not even slightly exciting to the average person. George did not want any of them to be unique or fascinating for fear of taking the glory away from someone else in the future, and that’s how he wanted it to stay. He had designed his agenda so that each seemingly un-fulfilling appointment would make him think he was unique, without actually being so. It was the closest thing he allowed himself to do without getting a hobby.

  He grinned widely as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. The Chicken Emporium did not open until 8:00 A.M. and the sun was just starting to rise, so he was safely going to keep his s
chedule. He showered, brushed his teeth, donned his plain clothes, put on his large plain glasses, and fed what he could only presume to be his cat.

  At least, he was pretty sure it was a cat. All he knew for sure was that every now and again the litter box that he kept in the bathroom needed changing, the food tray he kept near the kitchen occasionally empted itself, and the water bowl next to it had to be refilled every once in a while. The cat in question, however, had not been seen for more than two years.

  He was fairly certain that it was a black, female cat of indeterminate size and even less determinant breed. He had deduced that it was black because in the summer seasons, when most domesticated mammals shed their fur to prevent heat stroke, he had found black cat hairs sticking to nearly every surface in his apartment that only ever yielded to the industrial-strength vacuum cleaner he often borrowed from a co-worker. He was certain it was female, because on one occasion, when he was cleaning out his closet, he had discovered a box of kittens.

  It was unsettling, to say the least, to discover a cardboard receptacle filled with not one but in fact twelve mewing, purring balls of fur that he was certain were not there before. The most interesting part, though, is that they had been there for more than two weeks, and already had their eyes open. He didn’t dare throw them out, but on the other hand he couldn’t look after them either, so he decided to wait and see what happened.

  What happened was whenever he returned from his shitty retail job or his other shitty retail job, they were all still alive, energetic, and well-fed. There were still no signs of their mother as far as he could tell. They were getting their sustenance from somewhere, though, there was no doubt about that.

  After a few weeks, the kittens started leaving the box and eventually the apartment, fully-grown adults. There were grays, oranges, whites, and one or two black cats, but still no sign of their mother.

  He decided that the cat might be invisible or, as a more logical explanation, only came out when she was certain he was not in the apartment. Eventually, the last kitten left the box a fully-grown feline, and he was forced to leave it as a mystery unsolved.

  Now, he just put out the food, refilled the water, and changed the litter box without any questions. It was not a good idea to become fascinated by the whereabouts of his cat. That might lead to himself becoming fascinating, and he simply could not have that.

  When the water bowl was filled and the food tray was teetering, he put on his coat and left to stand outside the doors of the Chicken Emporium. The walk was only a few blocks, and the wind was not as relentlessly unpleasant this day as it was the day before, so he figured he had ample time.

  At last the drab gray walls of the Chicken Emporium loomed ahead of him. He chittered with glee as he approached his goal, his destiny. Eating the nugget in and of itself would not fill his heart with the serenity he desired. Rather, the very idea that he planned something and got it done is what would do it for him.

  He got to the door first, just as he planned. He could see the unhappy employees sponging down the counters as they prepared for the flurry of greedy, messy customers that were surely about to flood the place. George glanced at the windows, noticing with interest the “We Begrudgingly Serve Starbucks Coffee, Because We’ve Discovered That You Can’t Possibly Sell Anything Else To People These Days” sign that accurately summed up the emotional atmosphere of the Chicken Emporium.

  At last, an employee came to the shiny glass doors with a ring of keys, and George was free to fulfill his two-week-planned destiny. The girl at the counter was a tragic case of teenaged angst stuffed in a fast food uniform and given a slight acne problem. She gave a horrified sigh and asked him what he would like to order, and he gleefully told her that he would like the freshest batch of chicken nuggets, please. He handed over his money and craned his neck into the back of the shop, where the unhappy fry cooks unhappily fried things. He saw them dump a fresh batch of week-old chicken nuggets into the greaser, noticing the shape and size of the one that touched the grease first. The girl at the counter handed him his change, arched an eyebrow in inquisitiveness, scoffed, and served the next customer. George just stood aside and watched as his fresh batch of chicken nuggets were prepared.

  After what seemed an eternity, the fried goods were ready and the cook slid them across the counter in their shiny white box. To George it might as well have been a polished limousine.

  He was almost in tears when he thanked the expressionless gentleman that handed it to him, and walked with a steady, majestic gait as he made his way to the eating areas outside. The building blocked most of the wind, and it was a rather cool day.

  He glided into his seat and stared at the box. If he were a religious man, he would have prayed. He watched it for a few seconds as he tried to take in the idea that something he did, something he planned for, was about to go right. At last he opened the box.

  He peeled off the wrapper on the cup of Honey Mustard sauce.

  He took the chicken nugget.

  He dipped the chicken nugget in the Honey Mustard sauce.

  He opened his mouth, closed his eyes, licked his lips, and prepared as the chicken nugget inched slowly toward its goal–

  “Mr. Smith.”

  The very serious voice came from somewhere above, and George noticed that it was not the least bit inquisitive. It was a voice that knew precisely whom it addressed, and did not like to be ignored. George delayed eating his chicken nugget for just a moment as he beheld the speaker.

  He was blocking the sun. In rather the same way the moon looks during a solar eclipse, the front of him was darkened while the edges of him were brightened as the light bent around his large, broad-shouldered backside, revealing that his skin was colored emerald green. He was wearing what looked like a large, hoodless ski parka that looked like it was capable of insulating a delicate snowflake from a direct hit by a solar flare. He was also wearing pitch-black sunglasses and a very solid frown.

  He had someone with him, a smaller person with the same complexion standing directly behind him and dressed in exactly the same manner, but instead of looking at George he was looking at the chicken nugget and biting his lip with nervous anticipation, a bead of sweat forming on his brow. The sweat was electric yellow.

  “Mr. Smith,” repeated the eclipsing figure. “I will be blunt, because I am fully aware you appreciate that sort of thing, and because I don’t think I have a lot of time to explain myself. We have come from a very, very long way away on a mission of universal peace, and we would very much like to talk to you.”

  George’s chicken nugget remained poised inches away from his mouth, and as it wavered from his unsteady arm the eclipsing visitor’s friend seemed to grow even more nervous. “Er,” he said. “You do?”

  “Yes, Mr. Smith. As you might be able to tell, we are not exactly from your world. You can understand how the matter we are about to discuss might be a matter of great importance.”

  George appraised his new visitor from top to bottom, noticing that he had to sweep his head such a wide angle to accomplish this that he felt a painful pop in his neck. The visitor didn’t look human. His arms were proportionally longer than they should have been, his head was slightly smaller, and he was more than eight feet tall. The muscles in his neck seemed to have eschewed the basic principles of muscular structure and instead seemed to follow the laws of industrial hydraulics. All these things, even without taking the green skin into account, seemed convincing enough.

  “Oh really?” George said. “And who are you? How do you know my name?”

  “We are a usually peaceful race from a large planet approximately 19.5 billion billion billion light-years away, Mr. Smith. It was no small feat arriving on your tiny blue-green homeworld. We have developed monitoring skills and information gathering techniques that most races can’t even fathom, much less develop. We have been watching you, Mr. Smith.”

  The chicken nugget wiggled a little more, and the smaller of the two figures winced. “I
see,” said George. “You’re space aliens.”

  “Yes, Mr. Smith.”

  “What do you mean by usually peaceful?”

  “We are usually peaceful in the same way that your kind is usually not peaceful,” said the alien calmly. George thought about this, and shrugged. He didn’t pay much attention to the news, but even someone as uninformed as he knew that there always seemed to be at least one disgruntled, heavily armed interest group fighting another disgruntled, heavily armed interest group somewhere.

  The chicken nugget moved towards his mouth again, and the smaller alien let out a little cry of pain. George frowned, and raised an eyebrow. “So if you’re both space aliens,” he said, “then how are you talking to me? Shouldn’t you be speaking another language or something?” George, like most people, had not been in many situations involving creatures from outer space, so he decided to get a feel for his current one by including as much research he could remember about such matters into the conversation, which for him consisted of the times he flicked to the science fiction channel whenever the local news was talking about something interesting.

  “When one’s entire culture and technology are devoted towards the integration of every single creature in the universe into a boundless state of universal peace,” the alien answered, “one of the first barriers that society learns to break is the language one. It is also, as we have discovered, the easiest.”

  George nodded again, his chicken nugget following him. The smaller of the pair of creatures looked like he was about to burst. “Why are you wearing those jackets?” George asked.

  “This planet is very cold compared to our homeworld,” the larger alien responded. “We are much closer to our suns.”

  “And the sunglasses?”

  “It is much brighter here, as well.”

  “How can it be hotter and darker at the same time? If your planet was so close to the sun, wouldn’t it be brighter?”

  The alien smiled. “A rather astute observation, Mr. Smith. Our planet is darker because our suns are darker. And we have a lot more birds.”

  George decided to leave it at that, and waved the chicken nugget around in the air as he spoke, noting that the smaller of the aliens was grasping his head and hopping on one foot. Despite his personal beliefs, he was becoming very interested in these creatures. It was then it dawned on him that a visit from space aliens might make him into a unique or interesting person, so he moved to get rid of them. “So you’re on a quest for universal peace,” he said. “What does this have to do with me?”

  “He’s just... waving it around like that!” the smaller alien blurted suddenly.

  “We have discovered that the best way to establish universal peace, Mr. Smith, is to first acquire ultimate knowledge,” the larger alien said without even acknowledging his companion.

  “Is that why you have developed all that monitoring equipment?” asked George.

  “Partly, yes. But another part of it, Mr. Smith, is the tracking, documentation, and collection of samples from every single element in the Universe.”

  George just stared politely. The Honey Mustard dripped off the end of his chicken nugget, and the smaller alien let out a frightened squeal. “All right,” he said, trying not to notice it.

  “It is very simple, Mr. Smith. The Universe is made up of mostly empty space, and the occasional particle of matter. Empty space and its properties are fairly easy to comprehend. It is the matter, actually, that has proven to be more difficult.

  “Through our extensive research, we have been able to understand and collect samples of almost every single type of matter and every single combination of it in the Universe. It was this way that allowed us to develop our superior technology. When one knows exactly how every single particle in a device will function, it is much easier to build it.

  “As our technology expanded and our research grew, we became aware of a new type of element, a new molecule we had not yet encountered. The problem was its rarity, Mr. Smith. This molecule, this element, is so rare that in fact only one particle of it exists in the entirety of the Universe. As our research neared completion, we realized that it would not be possible to reach our goal of universal peace without it. It is essentially the center of the Universe.”

  George nodded. Despite his best efforts, he could not help but find this fascinating. He almost dropped his chicken nugget, but allowed it to only slip a moment. The smaller space alien turned a noticeably paler shade of green.

  “We are now proud to say,” continued the larger alien, “that we have collected samples of every other type of element in the Universe. When we got that far, we redoubled our efforts for finding this rare element, this incredibly wonderful particle, the last piece to our puzzle, and are even prouder to say that we have found it.”

  “Really?” asked George, and he simply couldn’t hide the fascination in his voice. “Where is it?”

  “We detected it traveling through space, passing one of our information probes a short while ago. We got an idea of what direction it was heading, and followed. We have measured its trajectory, taken every single variable into account that might affect its path, that is, wind speeds, gravity, light, heat, popular television shows, local politics, and radio traffic, and we are certain we know exactly where it is.”

  “Yes? You are?” asked George, excited.

  “Mr. Smith,” said the alien, “I’m afraid that the last remaining piece to our puzzle and ultimately the secret to universal peace, prosperity, happiness and enlightenment is, in fact, your chicken nugget.”

  George could not hide the surprise. He nearly dropped his food, causing the smaller alien to cover his eyes in fright. He wondered what on Earth his chicken nugget had to do with any part of this conversation. “What?” he asked, and instinctively lowered the fried food to his napkin, but did not let go. The smaller alien deflated like a balloon.

  “Mr. Smith,” the larger space alien said slowly, “This rare particle, this amazing element, the one we have been searching for, has just embedded itself in the food you hold in your hands.”

  George looked at the piece of food in his hand and wondered how, exactly, something so banal and uninteresting could be so terribly important that an entire race of creatures would travel mind-boggling distances just to see it. “But,” he said, “This is my chicken nugget.”

  “We understand that, Mr. Smith,” said the eclipse. “And that is why I and my cohort have come to this planet. We are here to negotiate with you.”

  George idly turned the food around in his hands, and the smaller of the aliens started to sweat again. “You don’t understand,” he said, “I’ve been waiting two weeks for this.”

  “We understand perfectly, Mr. Smith, and we have not come empty-handed. We have vast reserves of knowledge that will take your civilization an innumerable measure of years to achieve. We have technology the likes of which will never be seen in this planet’s lifetime. All, Mr. Smith, in exchange for the piece of food you were just about to eat.”

  “No, you really don’t understand. This is something I have to do. I have to eat this, I’ve been waiting ages. You don’t get why I have to.”

  “I assure you, Mr. Smith, that we are perfectly aware of the situation you are in. All of us have reviewed the black appointment book in which you keep your lifetime goals. All of us understand the pressure you are under. I would like to remind you, Mr. Smith, that we are willing to accommodate you greatly for this reason.”

  “Really? You’ve seen it?” George frowned; he didn’t think anybody would care about his calendar, of all things. He’d only shown it to a few people, and their interest was not piqued in the slightest.

  “Yes, Mr. Smith,” the alien said. “We have seen it.”


  “We find everything in it to be terrifically, staggeringly, enormously dull, Mr. Smith. But that is not our concern. We are willing to do quite a lot in return for a very simple service. We beg you to consider what we are off
ering. Would you like to box worlds? Bottle stars? Leap to distant galaxies in the blink of an eye? Would you like to know the meaning of life? Would you like to know the truth behind the Kennedy assassination? Would you like to know,” the alien said, “where your cat is?”

  George was listening with quiet interest, but was suddenly caught off guard. “My cat?” he asked.

  “We understand you’ve been taking care of a small quadrupedal feline and have been befuddled about its whereabouts for approximately two years. We know exactly where she is, Mr. Smith. We will share this information with you if you are willing.”

  George almost let go of the chicken nugget at this. He would like to know where his cat was, actually. Would it hurt to find out? “Yes,” he said, “yes, why don’t you tell me where my cat is?” He was, he was very shocked to find, very interested in this.

  “Your cat has dug herself an alcove behind the water heater,” the eclipse said. “We understand that she does not even know you are there. The fact that you haven’t seen her in two point three years is purely coincidental.”

  “She doesn’t know I’m there?” George asked, horrified. “Who does she think is feeding her?” He was actually glad that this was the reason. It seemed like an appreciatively dull and uninteresting explanation.

  The alien didn’t waver an instant. “Your cat believes that God is feeding her, Mr. Smith.”

  George gaped. “God? My cat believes in God?”

  “Yes, Mr. Smith. Your cat does not know where the food or water is coming from. She has put her faith in a higher power so that the Time of the Next Feeding or the Cleaning of the Great Litter Box will occur if she is faithful and virtuous.”

  “Faithful and virtuous? She’s a cat! And she’s had kittens, I found them!”

  “We understand that the idea of feline sin and virtue does not involve its more basic instincts, but rather more worldly behaviors such as restraining the urge to deface furniture or learning to relieve one’s self in the litter box instead of the potted plants you keep by your kitchen.”

  “Is this... normal cat behavior?”

  “We have discovered that when one is faced with an occurrence that they can’t immediately explain, it is not unusual for them to put their faith in an omnipotent deity and leave it at that. Your cat, Mr. Smith, is no exception.”

  George started to rub his temple with his free hand. Here he was, trying to live an uninteresting life, and now he was talking with aliens from outer space who were trying to get his chicken nugget and telling him that his cat was religious. “Look, I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” he said. “It’s the only thing I’ve planned for in years. Can’t you just let me eat my chicken nugget and leave?”

  “Mr. Smith, I believe I have established that this is a matter of utmost importance,” said the alien with a tinge of impatience. “Have I not offered you enough incentive?”

  George twirled the chicken nugget in his fingers, much to the chagrin of the smaller of the aliens, who was biting his nails. Ultimate knowledge? Since where did he care about such things?

  “Mr. Smith,” said the alien. “I would urge you to consider making the right decision. We have been searching for this element for quite some time. Ultimate knowledge. The most sophisticated technology imaginable. The possibilities are endless.”

  George twirled the chicken nugget thoughtfully. Just this morning his life had been so wonderfully dull, so joyously boring, and now he was holding the secret to universal enlightenment in his hands. Where had things gone wrong? Why should he believe these aliens? Why should he believe his chicken nugget had something to do with universal peace? He had enough trouble as it was trying to believe in his cat’s piety

  He had been first in line at the Chicken Emporium when it opened.

  “Do you need more time to consider our offer, Mr. Smith?”

  He had ordered the freshest batch of chicken nuggets.

  “We are waiting, Mr. Smith.”

  He had taken the first piece fried that day.

  “We have not been unreasonable, Mr. Smith. We are willing to conform, whatever your requests.”

  He had dipped it in Honey Mustard sauce.

  “Mr. Smith, need I remind you that we are a usually peaceful race?” said the alien sternly.

  George snapped his head up, his decision finally reached. “No,” he said. “You said that bit already.”

  He popped the chicken nugget in his mouth, closed his jaws around the secret to universal peace, and swallowed.

  The two aliens were far too stunned at this act of outrageous stupidity to move or even speak, and George, who could have known the meaning of life, who could have had unimaginably powerful technology at his fingertips, or who, if he really cared about such a thing, could have been told that there wasn’t really a Kennedy conspiracy after all, stood up, put on his coat and walked home.

  When he got back, the first thing he did was pull out his little black book and cross out his newly completed task. Next he checked behind the water heater. Sure enough, there was a large, black, and very surprised cat there. She had been wagging her tail slowly and dozing, but froze when he opened the closet door and turned on the light. Her wide yellow eyes dilated in complete shock as George reached down to pat her, to finally reach out and touch the mysterious feline he had been caring for all this time. When his hand touched her, every single muscle tensed in her small furry body, and she darted out of the apartment never, as usual, to be seen again.

  He spent the rest of the day rocking in his rocking chair and looking out the window. He drank some water, went to the bathroom, and picked out a few apples from the fridge. He was about to get back to his chair when he heard a knock on his door. Strange, he thought, today seems to be full of surprises.

  He gasped when the door opened, and backed up slowly when he saw who it was. “What are you doing here?” George asked.

  “You should have found a better purpose, Mr. Smith,” the green, eclipsing figure said with menace. “You could have brought greatness to your world, but instead you chose to keep things exactly the same.”

  George pressed his back against the wall, unable to continue further.

  “Don’t worry,” the alien said. “We’ll take care of the cat.”

  Nobody really noticed anything unusual that night, or even the next day. There was just a brief flash of light that spilled out into the parking lot of George Smith’s apartment complex, but that could have been a camera flash, or a light bulb burning out.

  The rest of the night was silent, except for the quiet return of a small black cat who seemed to have calmed her nerves enough to return home. It was empty again, which was fine with her. The apparition that had disturbed her peace only hours before made her question things she did not want to question.

  She was surprised to find her food bowl full and her litter box clean. This miracle filled her with joy, and she renewed her faith in the higher power that was surely looking after her.

  The only difference from before was that this time, she was right.

  The Panel

  “The Representative from Alabama has the floor.”

  Tyler Watson, Senator of Alabama, smiled. He approached the stand, stood tall, and showed no weakness.

  He took his seat at the microphone, and smiled. “Good evening.”

  The Speaker of the House was not fooled by Watson's demeanor. “Senator,” he said. “I understand that you have a proposal for the Panel to Defeat Our Hostile Extraterrestrial Overlords. Some input, if you will.”

  “Yes,” confirmed the Senator.

  “Well,” said the Speaker, “You have the floor.”

  Tyler Watson smiled again, and he gave his proposal.

  The Senate floor was an eruption of screams and emotional torment. Nobody could propose something so horrid. There were not ways to describe it. How could a man, neigh, any creature, propose the thing which Watson was so calmly dictating?

  When he finished, tears lined
the face of every house member. Some were on the floor. Several had vomited. Watson knew the panel would crumble. After hearing those words, no one could recover.

  No government spending on his watch. Not even to save the species.

  And then something unexpected happened.

  Senator Clyde from Arizona raised his hand.

  “Seconded,” he said.

  8-ball & Ouija Board

  Spread upon the motor oil stained driveway was a series of rickety tables loaded with junk. In the sunlight, every minute fault of the worn objects on display was lit up as if under a spotlight. There were childhood toys that may have once inspired nostalgia but now did little for their original owner other than take up space and collect dust. Dime store paperback books with their pages lovingly worn down until the corners were round were stacked ten volumes high. On a rack, clothing that would have been old-fashioned in the disco age wafted lazily in the breeze. It was the first time any of the clothes had moved at all in decades.

  Steve inspected these objects, trying to find something he wanted. He was always there to support his friend Jim. They had been friends since high school, and now lived only two houses down. Jim said he was having a garage sale, and Steve said he'd be there.

  Steve picked up a picture frame, which displayed a very pretty woman in a hilariously 1980s hairstyle and matching out-of-fashion pastel tank top. He chuckled, and held up the frame, which was made with gold-painted brass laid in a pattern that, unlike the woman's hair, had not gone out of style. “Who's this?” he said to Jim, who was surveying his sale with crossed arms.

  “That's my mom,” said Jim.

  “I can't believe people actually wore their hair like that,” said Steve.

  Jim walked over and took the frame from Steve's hands. “Sorry, didn't know the picture was still in there,” he said. He opened the frame and plucked the picture out of it. He gave the empty frame back to Steve. “A dollar for the frame, if you want it.”

  “Sure,” said Steve, handing a dollar over. “They don't make them like this anymore.”

  Then something caught Steve's eye. It was sitting on a table just behind Jim. It appeared to be a perfectly spherical rock, and Steve was oddly compelled by it. He slowly took a few steps towards it, nudging Jim out of the way, as if in a trance. It wasn't an ordinary rock, as Steve noticed. Someone had painted an 8 on it, and a circle around the numeral. Steve placed his hands on the rock, and felt a spark, as if zapped by static electricity. He picked it up and turned it over, and saw a circular window set in the rock, which appeared to display nothing but blackness.

  Then, the window displayed some words:



  “Oh, you don't want that,” said Jimmy, smacking Steve on the shoulder so suddenly that Steve dropped his newly acquired picture frame in surprise, spraying broken glass all over the driveway. “No, you don't want that at all,” said Jimmy, not noticing or caring that there was now broken glass all over his garage sale. Customers leaped out of the way of the harmful debris.

  “Why not?” said Steve. For some reason, he felt very compelled to hold onto the 8-ball at all costs.

  “Why not?” said Jimmy. “Well, let me tell you a story about that 8-ball...”
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