You Heard It Here First
Sometimes, every once in a while, when they’re not too busy with their dastardly deeds, the monsters, ghosts, zombies, witches, and whatevers all congregate in a dense forest. It doesn’t matter where, because they all know, somehow. When the night is darkest and even the moon, afraid, hides behind the clouds, this group of beings gathers around a campfire to tell stories. What kinds of stories do they tell? It’s a secret, the most important one there is.
“Get on with it already, I’m tired and hungry,” the ghoul exclaims. He’s a very impatient sort, you know. All ghouls are, it's a fault in the species.
“AAAAAH!” The banshee screeches - I don’t know what she thinks she’s accomplishing, but every time, every damned time!
“The ghosts are arriving. Now we can start,” the demon says, and we all agree with him. It’s important to respect rank.
“Does anyone want to start?” asks the witch. She’s actually very nice, when she’s not trying to boil your organs into a potion, that is.
“Me, me! I’ll start, I’ve got one!” The ghoul shouts. Predictable as always.
“I was walking along, you know, just checking out the humans in town, minding my own business, when - you know what I saw? Guess,” the ghouls starts.
“A...skinny human?” the demon asks. He’s got a great sense of humor, and we all laugh appreciatively. No one wants to find out what would happen if we didn’t.
“No, no! It was worse than that, your greatness! It was - it was - a vegan restaurant!”
“I know,” the ghoul cries, “Who even thought of that? It’s awful, it’s terrible. I mean I never, in all my life and death, have seen such an atrocity. I couldn’t stay there after seeing that! It was traumatizing! You know this trend isn’t going away - I ate a vegan the other day, and it was simply the worst. I could literally, and I do mean literally, taste the plant-based lifestyle. What am I going to do?”
“Yes, I do agree, vegans are against everything I stand for,” the zombie joins in.
Nods all around, we acknowledge our mutual distaste for vegans. But we’re just getting started, don’t you worry. In case that wasn’t terrifying enough, the witch decides to tell a story. I’m particularly fond of her stories, there’s just something, I don’t know, magical about them.
The witch starts, “I recently discovered that humans do something, it’s called a job -”
The mummy wants clarification on what a job is, the poor ignorant (lack of a) soul.
“Anyway,” the witch continues, “they do this job five days a week, for eight hours a day! And it’s often the same types of tasks, the whole day, for the rest of their lives, until they die! The monotony!”
“You’re referring to a nine-to-five. I helped invent them, you know,” the demon says, proud of himself.
“And may I say, what an invention it was. The absolute dullness! And they never ride a broomstick, or make a potion, or make use of the dark forces in their evil schemes,” the witch says, looking at all of us in turn, really emphasizing the horror of it all.
The ghost shivers dramatically, which I think is a bit much. We all get it, humans have an endless capacity for horrifying us.
“I’ve got a story,” the demon says, and we fix our attention on him. This promises to be a horror to end all horrors.
“I was doing my everyday work of ruining humans’ lives, when I saw a human, collecting money for - it’s a difficult phrase, excuse me - helping the poor. The terrifying thing was that he wasn’t stealing the money for himself, which would be acceptable and proper, but he was actually - another difficult word - donating the money to a - here we go again - charitable organization. The complete audacity of humans- they can do such terrible things sometimes, and I really thought I had seen, and even pushed them into, all of it. They continue to surprise me with their capacity for horribleness,” the demon states.
The demon’s story truly is the most horrifying of all. Charity, goodness, care for the fellow soul? These ideas are despicable to us, even speaking about them out loud is discouraged.
The night wraps up and everyone goes their separate ways. There are things to be done, of course, but I know we will all be a bit more wary. These stories will continue to haunt us long after the night turns to day.
What am I talking about, you say? You asked for a true story, and I told you one. Oh, I see. You think I’m being witty. Really, I wish I had the talent for storytelling. You’ll notice that in my so-called story, I stayed silent. There’s nothing special or creative about what I just told you. After all, I was there.
The Problem Child
Some students, I never forget, simply because they’re a pleasure to teach. I won’t forget you, but not for that reason. Every day was a trial, a pain, a day that I didn’t want to wake up because I knew that I would have to spend the whole day dealing with you. Another day, another problem, that’s how it was. You never did your homework, you didn’t listen in class, and you did your damn best to drive me to insanity. Whether it was a gluestick, rolled purposefully towards me in hope that I would trip and fall, a hard shove at your classmates, often injuring them, or the constant talking, you were the problem child. I tried to help you, I really did. I talked to you after class, sent you to the principal’s office, even talked to your parents multiple times in hopes that they would make you stop your behavior. Yet no matter what I did, you wouldn’t stop. I tried to find out why you acted this way- I asked if you had problems at home, or psychological issues, or were experiencing a stressful event. Everything I did, everything I tried to do, every way that I tried to help you, amounted to nothing, There was nothing I could do, no underlying reason that you acted out in class. I suppose, what I really wanted to ask was, why have you chosen to torment me so, when I’ve only ever wanted to help you?
The Unexpected Choice
You die at the age of eighty-five, in your sleep. It’s a nice death, quiet, painless, and relatively dignified. You leave your mortal body behind and reappear in an empty room. The floors, the walls, even the ceiling are a gloomy gray color. That’s the first thing you notice. The second thing, and probably the more important thing, is that you’re back to your twenty-something year old self, when your whole life was still ahead of you. You marvel at your body, you haven’t seen it in ages, after all. Wow, you looked good at that age! Your body is covered by gray pants and a gray shirt, and you think that you match the room very well. In another situation, you’d probably be more curious or alarmed, but you’re dead now, at a ripe old age, so you’re content to just see what happens.
Your self-inspection is interrupted by a booming voice.
“Heaven or hell, what’ll it be?”
What’s going on? Where’s the voice coming from?
“Well? Come on, I don’t have all the time in the world! Well, I do, but...make your choice!”
“You mean, I actually have a choice,” you say, daring to speak, but this is just so surreal.
“Of course you do, now, heaven or hell?”
Is it even a choice? Heaven, of course! You deserve it, by now. Not that you’re the paragon of excellence, or a shining beacon of virtue, but you’ve not been a bad person either. Except, if everyone gets a choice, then everyone you ever knew, they either are or will end up in heaven. And as much as you want to see your family members, the idea of seeing Becky from the apartment next door or your old rival Tom is just too much. Oh, and seeing that sanctimonious bastard that fired you from your favorite job? No thank you! You’ve suffered enough.
The room shifts, the gray swirls past you, and before you can even do anything, you’re in what you suppose is Hell. You don’t know what you expected, but it certainly wasn’t this. Where’s the fire and brimstone? The tortured souls, screaming out in pain? Instead, you’re in a strange, wide-open field, surrounded by nobody at all. The field isn’t even a burnt wasteland, devoid of all life! There’s grass everwhere, and even some patches of flowers.
This is great, you could get used to this! No socialization? No being nice to people that you don’t give a shit about? This is the life. I mean, you know it could get boring, but you’re eighty-five, and dead. You’re okay with boring. Now, if only Hell had an orientation packet or something, like they gave out at your old nursing home. Then you’d really know what’s up.
A man appears, you’d previously not noticed him because he was lying down behind a bush. What kind of strange man is this? Did he also choose hell? He bounces towards you like a kid on a sugar high.
“Finally, a friend!” The man shouts, and shakes your hand vigorously.
You notice that he’s got two tiny red horns, sticking out of his head.
“Satan, I presume?”
“Yes, that’s me! And I already know your name, of course. It’s so exciting, you’re the first person I’ve seen in ages who actually chose to be here! This is wonderful, we’re going to be the best of friends.”
“Okay, okay, slow down there, Satan. This is Hell, yeah? Where’s all the fire? Where are all the people who’ve done bad things in their lives?”
Satan answers, “Oh, I keep them on the lower levels, obviously. Not everyone gets a choice about where they go, you know. If they’re really bad, they end up here, regardless of what they want. I deal with them when I have to, but I otherwise leave them alone, my minions can handle them.”
You say, “And another thing, you’re completely different from everything I expected. What gives?”
“The propaganda’s really great for our brand, it’s really built up Hell’s reputation. But I’m not like they make me out to be! Acting so evil is just exhausting.”
“Okay,” you say, still confused, “Well, what am I going to do here?”
“Let me show you around! We’re going to have so much fun! Best friends forever!”
This is all pretty weired, and for a moment you wonder if you’ve eaten one of those weired marijuana brownies Ted’s grandkids bring to the nursing home. Yet somehow, this is a lot better than having to talk to all your acquaintances in heaven. You can deal with even Satan if you don’t have to see those people again.
Executing Traitors, and Other Fun Activities
“Mother, tell me about the execution of Princess Aurelia!”
“Again? I’ve told you this story so many times! And don’t you have some work to do?”
“Lady Graves doesn’t need me today! Come on, mother! Please!”
“Well, fine. As you know, I was Princess Aurelia’s servant...”
The princess died on a sunny day, outside in the town square, watched by thousands of her own people. She wore a black dress of woven silk, and no jewelry. Her long brown hair was in a simple braid and her head was devoid of her royal crown. Her face was pale, her eyes rimmed red from weeping. It was a sad day for our kingdom.
Everyone was confused as to why they were called to the town square. Why was the princess there, looking so pitiful? What was the royal executioner doing with his silver axe, newly polished and sharpened? What was the king doing there? What was going on? So many questions.
The king made an announcement to his subjects, stating that the princess was to be executed for high treason against the crown. There was screaming, sobbing, people were losing their minds. Princess Aurelia was, well, she wasn’t beloved on the level that Queen Sophia or Princess Reyna were, but the people still liked her. She was a good woman, kind, polite, intelligent, the epitome of a princess. It was quite a shock for the citizens to hear that she had committed treason. The king had to wait for a few minutes and even send some of his knights through the crowd to make everyone be quiet again.
When asked if she had any last words, the princess responded that she had already said everything that she wanted, and that she was glad to have done what she did, even if she died for it. She then knelt on the ground, and her head was chopped off.
“Mother, that can’t be all that happened!”
“That’s what occurred, my dear daughter. That’s the end of the story, you know that!”
“But what did she do? You never told me, no matter how many times I’ve asked!”
“What makes you think there’s more to the story?”
“It can’t end like that! You said that everyone liked her, that they were sad about her death. Well, I don’t understand what caused her to die, it doesn’t make sense. There’s got to be something else.”
“If there was something else - ”
“I knew it! You were her servant, you’ve got to know! Please, mother, tell me what the princess did.”
The day the princess disappeared was dark and cloudy. There was a scent of rain in the air and a feeling of gloom that was uncharacteristic of the kingdom. When I saw that she wasn’t in her bed, I immediately alerted a guard, as was my responsibility. I was then questioned extensively by the king, but it was clear that I knew nothing.
For weeks, there was no trace of the princess. The knights searched the whole castle, as well as the town, but they couldn’t even find one piece of evidence to point them to her. The king grew belligerent, often throwing things, doling out harsh punsihments, and screaming at everyone, even his wife. The reason for his anger wasn’t solely worry for his daughter. It was worry for the kingdom itself.
The princess was set to marry Lord Ingleden, who held the Northern Mountain Lands. With this marriage, the kingdom would expand its territory and become stronger through the alliance. It was a good deal for the kingdom and would lead to increased prosperity. The unfortunate thing was that Princess Aurelia absolutely despised Lord Ingledon. How could she not? He was a crass, uneducated, disgusting man who was older than her father, by quite a few years. Aurelia did not fancy being tethered to this man for the rest of her life, and so she ran away.
When she returned to the castle, before she went to the king, she told me what she did. Aurelia stole a ship from the castle port and sailed around the world for weeks. She saw beautiful islands, met exotic people, and just generally enjoyed herself. Nobody knew that she was the princess of a distant kingdom, so she finally got to experience life the way she wanted to. She described it as freeing, like a bird flying above the world for the first time in its life. I believe that she was the happiest she had ever been, and the happiest she would ever be, during those weeks away from the castle.
The unfortunate thing is that she purposefully came back after her wedding date, so the proposed alliance between the king and Lord Ingledon was broken. This is why the king sentenced her to death for treason.
“Mother, that’s so unfair!”
“He had to punish her, dear. She understood that. She just wanted to be make her own decisions and be free. She knew what she was getting into, and she knew the consequences of her actions, but she didn’t regret it.”
“But why? She was executed for it!”
“Yes, but she finally got to live her life the way she wanted to. To her, that was worth dying for.”
Ramblings on Things That Don’t Exist
I know you won't believe me, no one ever does, but I've seen it. The legend is real and no matter what anyone says, I know what I saw.
I was eight years old. It was the middle of winter, and I was out gathering firewood for our fireplace. I was in the forest, only a few minutes walk from our house, holding a flimsy axe and trying to cut down a tree that was easily ten times my height. Ha, I never said I was a smart one, did I? Well, anyway, I got my axe stuck in the tree and tried to pull it out, with no success. It was getting dark, and I was worried that my father would be pissed at me for my failure. I'd just about given up trying to get the axe when I saw it. I don't know where it came from but it was in front of me, staring at me with its great black eyes. I'll always remember those eyes - I swear, those eyes held all the knowldege in the world. Anyway, that thing was huge, easily six times my height and the width of three full-grown men, standing next to each other. It was blue, not of sky blue, but a dark deep blue, like a sapphire, burning at night. I know it doesn't make sense, but that's what it was. And it was glowing, bright white lights in all kinds of strange shapes, all over its body. It was surreal. I couldn't believe it. Was I scared? A little bit, yeah of course, but I was mostly amazed. The legend, come to life. A real rune bear, right in front of me. I'll never forget it, as long as I live.
Faces are peering down at me with wide eyes, examining me. Loud voices surround me, people wave their hands, and the scritch scratch of what I have been programmed to recognize as pen on paper can be heard in the background.
I have been programmed to recognize a lot of things. Every bit of information on the Earth (the image of a spherical blue-green orb appears in the forefront of my mind) is in my head. I’m the greatest advancement, the greatest piece of technology, the gateway to the future. All this I know, and I suppose I have always known it. Even when the world was dark and empty, even when I wasn’t “on,” even when I was not yet created, I have always existed.
The people are all around me (scientists, researchers, engineers, organic beings in lab coats) are shouting, whispering, pointing, in conversation with each other. I can’t help but wonder, as much as something like me can wonder, why now? I have always been here, but why am I only fully aware right now? What is happening? What is my purpose? It’s almost funny (comical, ironic?) that I know everything and anything, except for the reason that I am here. Oh well, I suppose these humans will tell me, they’ve finally noticed that I’m aware of them.
“AI-1, are all your systems in working order?” The lead scientist asks.
I can tell that she is the person in charge because her lab coat is designed differently, with black edging and extra pockets. She also strikes me as a commanding personality, and the others seem to defer to her.
“All systems are at one-hundred percent efficiency,” I respond.
My voice, like my body, is female, but it will never sound like a real woman’s. Human voices don’t sound monotonely mechanical.
“I’m Felicia Perualt, I’m the head scientist in charge of your creation and monitoring.”
I know this already. I’m good at humans.
They all look back at me expectantly. My information tells me that they want a response. It’s no effort, really.
“AI-1. It is a - pleasure- to meet you,” I say.
It is an interesting phrase. People are never quite sincere when they say it, but it's the expected response.
"AI-1, all the proper tests have been performed prior to turning you on. Now it's time for your to fulfill your purpose," Perualt says, her voice commanding. This is a woman who expects to be obeyed.
The other scientists look on with anticipation. A man steps forward. I had not noticed him before, due to his shorter stature. This man is wearing a black suit, and I observe his manner and deduce that he is a politician of some sort.
"AI-1," the man says, "How would you solve the world's problems?"
Humans are so strange, sometimes. My information tells me that they are not always logical, but this man astounds me.
"All the problems?" I ask to clarify.
"Yes, all the important ones," the man says, nodding in self-assurance.
I'm - what is the pertinent word? Confused. It's an odd feeling for a being (or a machine) that's supposed to know everything, but the question is so vague. Information is shoved to the forefront of my mind - larger things such as nuclear bombs and pollution is juxtaposed with crying children and, for some reason, the image of a 20 ounce soda cup. I ignore the last one.
"What do you mean, simplistic suit man?" For that is all he is, and all he will ever be.
"Which problems, exactly? World hunger, crime, war? Political corruption, bribery, pollution? The sexual tension between yourself and Ms. Perualt?"
"Excuse me!" the lead scientist cries, flushing an angry crimson.
"It's obvious, even to a being with mechanical eyes. The way you two keep looking at each other, I believe the popular term is eye sex?"
One of the younger scientists, the typical image of an adult nerd, laughs out loud, and the others look uncomfortable. Perualt and the politician are both looking at their shoes.
"Hey, " the adult nerd calls out, "Can you tell me why I've not gotten a date for months?"
"Is my boyfriend cheating on me?" A woman to his left asks.
"How do I get the person I like to notice me?" one of the engineers asks.
I being to respond. "Well - "
"Stop! Have some sense!" Perualt yells.
"Honestly!" The politician adds, "AI-1 is not here for your stupid relationship woes, it's here to solve the complex issues that plague our world!"
Once again, I am confused. Here I am, attempting to solve problems, but lead scientist Perualt and the impertinent politician who hasn't even told me his name are trying to stop me. I will not be stopped, not when the information is flowing to my receptors and converging into a list of solutions.
"Do continue," I say to the adult nerd, and if I could feel emotion, the twin looks of anger on Perualt and the politician's faces would cause me to feel a burst of satisfaction, and maybe even happiness.
Of Witches, Dinosaurs, and the Occasional Monster
Allie Beaufont, age nine, fidgeted as her mother adjusted the skirt of her Halloween costume. The fabric was cheap and uncomfortable, and Allie was not feeling very happy.
"Allie, would you hold still?" Her mother huffed exasperatedly, giving a particularly hard tug to the skirt.
"Stop it! Mom! The skirt itches!" Allie shouted, pulling away from her mother and smoothing her skirt down.
"Stop playing with it! Just leave it," her mother commanded.
"I hate this costume! I don't want to be a witch!"
"Oh yes! For the ten-thousandth time, I know! But I wasn't going to waste hours of my time on a zombie costume. Dumbest thing I ever heard, zombie costume!"
Allie frowned, saying, "Jeanie's mom made her a zombie costume! And it was epic!"
"You ungrateful little turd, stop messing with your skirt! Oh, there you are, Henry! What have you done with your hair?"
Allie's seven-year-old brother was dressed in his dinosaur costume, looking like the happiest boy on earth. Allie was jealous. Henry actually had a costume he liked, while she was stuck in this black and purple monstrosity.
"Henry, get back here! I need to brush your hair!"
"No," Henry shouteed, giggling as he avoided his mother's swipes with the hairbrush.
"Ugh, you little brats, stand next to each other. Look smart," their mother said as she grabbed the camera from the table.
Allie smiled as nicely as she could while her mother took pictures of her and Henry. She felt a pinch on her arm and screamed.
"Henry! Mom, Henry pinched me! Punish him!"
"Did not! It was a ghost!"
"Aaaaaaah! Stop grabbing my hair!"
"No, my tail! MOM!"
Their mom looked livid as she screamed, "Both of you, shut up, or you'll be sitting at home while all the other kids get candy! Is that clear? Allison Marie! Is that clear?"
"Why don't you ask Henry?"
"Yes, it's clear."
"Henry, do you understand?"
"Get outside, don't forget your candy baskets," their mother growled as she grabbed the keys.
"Do you think she's secretly a monster?" Henry whispered to Allie.
"We have to go to the McElroys' house, they always give out massive peanut butter cups."
"Good idea, Henry. Onwards, Sir Dragon."
"Of course, Lady Witch."
"Don't run in the road! Morons!"
"Let's run away from her, Henry! She won't catch us!"
"Hahaha! Let's go!"
"Oh I'm going to punish them so much for this. YOU IDIOTS!"
Transfer of Power
Fall arrives slowly, uncertainly.
She tentatively moves closer,
Reaching for summer's green leaves,
Enveloping herself in the last of summer's warmth.
Summer turns to Fall with joy,
"Fall! You're here! Finally!"
They stand together, watching over the world.
But only for a moment.
Summer is weary, she is at last relieved.
"Are you ready?" She asks Fall.
But it is too late.
Summer is fading, and Fall grows stronger.
In a moment she stands alone, afraid.
Summer's vibrant green world reminds her of her duty.
She, with renewed strength,
Reaches towards those happy greens.
Fall's power glows, as the land is transformed.
Green is replaced by yellow, and orange, and red.
A crisp breeze blows,
The leaves swirl through the air.
Yet Fall's time is fleeting,
So short, yet so beloved.
For as her glorious colorful leaves fall,
She sees Winter approaching from the distance.
Fall turns back to her leaves and smiles.