Safe

The dragon warily eyed the man dressed in iron. “Why have you come to the mountain, to my home?” The dragon’s voice carried the weight of age and experience. It commanded an answer.

“I am here to slay you, fearsome beast.”

The dragon did not laugh, for the seriousness in the man’s words was evident. “And why do you seek my death? How have I wronged you that only my death will sate your anger and grief?”

“You have done nothing to me, fiend.”

“Yet you call me ‘beast’ and ‘fiend,’ and you propose to end my existence.”

“Just so.” 

“Are you simply another example of the cruelty of humanity? Or is there some other reason I must die?”

“You have terrorized a village just a day’s ride from here. They have implored me to end your threat.”

In spite of itself, the dragon scoffed. “I know the village of which you speak. It was founded over a hundred years ago. I have lived here for over a thousand years. They have never received harm from me. As long as they leave me alone, I am content to suffer their presence. You are misinformed.”

“Do you not breathe fire? Do you not fly on your hunt? How long before you turn your attention to their livestock? Their children?”

The furnace inside the dragon became hotter, and smoke began to spill from its nostrils. “What foolishness. They wish me dead because one day I might threaten them. And you have agreed to this plan. The depraved nature of your kind reveals itself once more. I should end you and the village. Leave now, never return, and I shall forgo my just vengeance.”

“I think not.” As he spoke, the man threw a pouch into the air. It traced an arc towards the dragon’s face, and the dragon breathed once to destroy whatever it might be. As soon as flame touched it, the pouch exploded in a blinding flash. The dragon, blinded by the searing white light, could not see the man approach. It’s vision cleared just as the man thrust his sword into the right eye and deep into the brain.

The dragon deflated where it lay. The man attempted to pull the sword free but could not move it. Looking around the piles of treasure, he found another sword, simple in its appearance, and strapped it to his waist. Now all that remained was to go back to the village to let them know they were finally safe.

Bad Timing

“What do you think happens to us when we die?”

“Are you kidding me?”

“No.”

“Well, if I’m really lucky, I won’t have to have these kinds of conversations when I’m dead.”

“Come on. Be serious.”

“I am. Why do you always bring up such morbid topics?”

“Aren’t you curious about what comes next?”

“Sure. I mean, I guess. But who knows? There’s only one way to find out, and I’m not very eager to do so today.”

“But what do you think?”

“Look, I get that you are stressed out; I’m stressed out, too. And I know that talking – a lot – is how you deal with stress. Right now, though, we have to defuse this bomb. So maybe we can put the topic of death on hold until we’re finished here, yeah?”

“Fine.”

Superpowers

“If you could have one superpower, what would it be?”

“You mean like flight or invisibility?”

“Exactly.”

“Hmmm…”

“Haven’t you thought about this before?”

“I suppose, but…”

“So what power would you want?”

“It’s kinda stupid.”

“There are no stupid answers. It’s just a fun game.”

“Okay, well, you know how when you have to park a long way from the entrance to a store, and, as you’re walking in, a spot a lot closer opens up?”

“Yeah.”

“I would want to be able to teleport my car to the closer spot, so I wouldn’t have to walk as far when I leave.”

“You want to be able to teleport?”

“No, not teleportation. Just the ability to teleport my car to open parking spots.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it. It would make trips to busy stores less annoying.”

“I might need to rethink that whole ‘no stupid answers’ thing.”

“Think about it. If you had the ability to teleport yourself or anything, someone would eventually ask you to be on their superteam. That seems like such a hassle. This is a practical power, but not so much that anyone expects you to be a hero.”

“So teleporting your car – just your car – to open parking spots?”

“Yep. I have some other ideas for superpowers. Warning Label Man is one I came up with years ago…”

“You know what? I’m good. Let’s talk about something else.”

Happy New Year

There were few grains of sand left in the top half of the hourglass. Soon they would fall, and the year would end. The decision was upon her, and it seemed harder this year than in previous years. She had never failed to turn it over, to begin again. Now, however, she found herself considering it. Recently, every year seemed worse than the last. Why allow it to continue?

The last grain landed on the pile at the bottom. The picture on her television froze on the words “Happy New Year.” Nothing moved as she contemplated the hourglass. Only when he entered the room did her pensive silence end.

“Aren’t you going to to turn it over?”

“I do not know,” she replied.

“You know that time has stopped, right?”

She gestured at the television.

“You want me to turn it over for you?”

Her laugh was humorless. “You could not lift it.”

“I know, but I thought watching me struggle might lift your spirits.”

The longer she wrestled with it, the harder the decision became. More and more doubts gnawed at her.

“Maybe you should get a bigger glass. Maybe a year is too short. A decade, perhaps? Or even a century? That way you’d have more down time between turnings.”

She shook her head. “A year ensures a regular evaluation. It keeps things from getting too far out of hand.”

“But now you’re worried that they have?”

“Yes,” she agreed.

“There have been worse periods, and you didn’t stop it then. Why now?”

“I cannot believe you are arguing for me to make the turn. I would have thought you’d be happy if I stopped.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Sure. But I’m not sure it’d be good for you. I’d hate for you to lose your eternal optimism. It wouldn’t feel right.”

Now she managed a slight, but genuine, smile. “You are getting sentimental.”

“Not in the least. I just don’t like change, is all.”

“Very well.” Effortlessly, she picked up the hourglass and turned it over. The images on the television began to move again. “For the sake of your comfort, I will hold out hope for another year.”

“Okay then. Feel like some supper?”

“Why not.”

“Excellent. And happy new year.”

“We shall see.”

Running Over Santa

“What was that?”

He stopped the car. “I don’t know. I didn’t see anything.”

They both got out and looked behind. There was what appeared to be a man in a familiar red suit lying on the pavement.

“You did not just run over…” She stopped herself before she finished the sentence.

“I’m telling you, there was nothing in the road.”

“Well, what’s that, then? A ghost?”

Before he could again protest his innocence, there was a crashing sound in the trees alongside the road. In the light reflecting off of the snow, they could just make out the silhouette of animals, tied to a sleigh, coming to a stop.

“That seems to settle it, then. You killed Santa Claus.”

He jogged around to the front of the car. “No. Look. The front is fine. No impact. He must have already been there. Must have fallen out of his sleigh.”

“Right. Santa fell out of his own sleigh on Christmas Eve.”

“Why else would he be in the road if his sleigh just landed over there?”

“… I don’t know. Maybe you’re right. But what do we do now?”

“Call the police, I guess. We can’t just run over a dead body and not report it.”

“But what about Christmas? Kids are expecting him. And his reindeer.”

“So? What do you want me to do about it?”

“You could put on the suit…”

“Oh no. I’ve seen that movie. Forget it.”

“Before anyone starts talking about appropriating clothing, maybe check for a pulse?”

Startled, they both turned around to see the man sitting in the road.

“One of you want to quit staring and help me up?”

She ran over and stretched out her hand. “We thought you were dead.”

He took her hand and pulled himself up. “You know who I am?”

“You’re Santa Claus. Aren’t you?” He said, uncertainly.

“Right. So you know I’m basically a magic elf? You really think something like falling out of a sleigh and getting run over by a distracted driver is enough to kill me?”

“I wasn’t distracted!”

“Shh!” She motioned for him to shut up.

“I see the reindeer have already found me. I should get going.”

Before Santa could walk away, she grabbed his arm. “Can I ask…?”

“Go ahead.” He smiled at her.

“How did you fall out of your sleigh?”

Santa laughed, a deep belly laugh. “I was being careless. Trying a few loops. The reindeer like it, and I always find it fun. But don’t tell anyone.” He winked at her as he held his finger in front of his mouth. Then, faster than should have been possible, he dashed to his sleigh and took off into the night.

“No one is ever going to believe this,” he said, as they got back into the car.

“No, they aren’t.”

“Pull Up A Pencil”

It was late. Very late. But there was homework to do before tomorrow. It was the big contradiction of my freshman year of college. I always finished my homework, but I never started it before midnight. Either doing it earlier or not doing it all would have been better for my health, but I had too much fun socializing to seriously consider the former, and the latter was ruled out by my sense of responsibility for school, such as it was. So I was often up until four in the morning, trying to get things done before my 8 AM class.

Tonight was no different. My roommate was already asleep in our room, and there were people still watching TV in the lounge. As a result, I retreated to the only relatively quiet place I could find, the lobby.

It was getting hard to focus on the words, so I decided to take a break. I stood and walked around the lobby trying to wake myself up a bit. Near the door to the building sat the nightguard. They were on duty all night to make sure only residents or their guests entered the dorm. Her head was down, pencil in hand, working on something.

Without thinking about how creepy it might seem, I walked over to see what she was doing. She had a book of logic puzzles open, and she was working on one. When she noticed me, she slid the book over some so that the right hand page wasn’t in front of her. “Pull up a pencil,” she said as she held one up.

I had loved logic puzzles for years, so I took the number 2 and kneeled down in front of the book. She continued working on her puzzle as I made my way through the one she had offered me. When I finished, I thanked her and walked back to my actual homework.

And that is how I met one of my very best friends.

Broadcasting

He grabbed a can of pasta and sat down. Taking a bite while turning on the power, he quickly backed away from the microphone to avoid the initial feedback. Next he checked the meter; there was enough power for about twenty minutes of broadcasting. The transmitter warmed up, he leaned forward in his chair.

“Good morning, listeners. Can’t talk long today. It’s been a bit rainy here on top of the mountain. Solar panels trying to grab what they can. But we’ve got a few minutes, at least.

“Today is,” he paused to check his notes, “looks like it’s April 4th. 2 years and 136 days into this new world. Of course, standard caveats apply. I may have screwed up at some point, so feel free to add or subtract a day or two. But it’s definitely spring. The rain leaves little doubt about that.”

He stood up to look out the single window set high up the wall and then came back to the microphone.

“Just checked. It’s still raining. I’d complain about someone setting up a transmitter running on solar panels in the Northwest, but at least they still provide some juice out here. Don’t think I’d be talking to you without them.

“Of course, I guess I can’t be sure I’m talking to anyone.” He looked morosely at the phone. “I’ve got a phone, but I don’t know the number. And the line has been dead since almost the beginning. And I have no receiver, so I don’t know if anyone else is transmitting.

“I suppose this is as good a time as any to welcome new listeners. I’m James Demi, and I broadcast every day on this channel. Always an hour after the previous day, to try to catch people who may be trying to find a signal at different times. I’m not asking for anything from anyone. Just trying to let anyone else know that they aren’t completely alone in the world.

“I do have to say, though, I’m getting tired of hearing my own voice out loud. I used to rant about the people that created the mess we live in now, but I lost steam on that. My days are pretty boring, so I’m kind of running out of things to talk about.

“Those are words my family would never have expected to hear from me. I was always the talkative one. People couldn’t shut me up. They thought I could talk forever. Turns out, forever is only about two and a half years.

“Still, I can talk. And it use to get me in trouble. In fact, there was this one time. My dad was dating this woman. She was very nice, had a daughter a few years older than I was. They were over at our house just before Christmas, and I mentioned to the two of them that I wanted to get an album. I can’t remember, now, what album it was. Anyway, the mom whispered in my ear that her daughter had the album, and I excitedly asked her to borrow it.

“It turns out, the mom had gotten her the album for Christmas; I had misunderstood what she had whispered. So my penchant for talking and not listening spoiled her Christmas surprise.”

As soon as he finished, he felt silly for telling that story.

“See? I told you I was running out of things to talk about. But don’t worry, I’ll still keep broadcasting. It’s not like I have anything else to do.”

He looked at the clock and checked the meter again.

“I’m nearly out of juice. So I’ll mark down another day in my notes. It’s 9:15 am Pacific time right now. I will come on tomorrow at 10:15, if you have any means of keeping track of time. I think tomorrow I’ll start reading through one of the books I have here. Give you all something other my rambling stories to listen to.

“I’d ask you what you thought about that idea, but we’ve already covered that. Instead, I’ll just wish you all a good day, wherever you are. Whoever you are.”

He flicked the board off. There was maybe a minute or two of power left. Another day done with little else to do. He hung on to the belief that people were listening. The alternative was too depressing to consider.