The Alien Next Door

thealiennextdoorMy next-door neighbor may be an alien, and I don’t mean from another country. I know this sounds like “ooh, boy, another whacko on the loose.” And frankly, if it were coming from anybody else but me, I’d definitely be nodding my head and thinking, “yep, nut job,” right along with everybody else who’s not some conspiracy freak harboring a theory or swearing they’ve seen with their own eyes UFOs landing in the back 40. That said, I’m beginning to have my reservations about the woman in Apartment 3D.

Her name is Oksana Metic. Or at least that’s what she calls herself. Early on in our acquaintance she openly admitted to me that she was an alien. I didn’t believe it for a second. This was on the occasion that she invited me over for tea for the first time one afternoon a week or two after I’d moved into the apartment next to hers. We’d already run into one another from time to time on the steps, in the corridor, and the patio below, and had traded the usual pleasantries that next-door neighbors normally do. She came on as friendly and sociable, though she hadn’t given away too much history about herself initially. She seemed about my age, mid-thirties. From her looks and the way she spoke I assumed that she might be Asian, but even though she spoke English correctly, it was impossible for me to pinpoint from what country the accent came. For all I knew, she might have been born in Korea, North Dakota, eastern Europe, or somewhere in Canada. They do have a peculiar accent up there. But wasn’t Oksana a Russian name? I couldn’t remember.

At our first get-together, while she poured the tea, she said, “Just so there are no surprises later on, I should probably confess something to you now and be done with it.”

I nodded, intrigued. “Oh? What might that be?”

She passed me my cup, paused a moment, then looked me directly in the eye. “I’m an alien.”

I bobbed my head again. “Yes, well, I thought you might be by your name . . . and accent, but I didn’t want to pry. Anyhow, there’s no need for concern. I’m not up tight about one’s nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, social or occupational status, school creds, whether or not one is documented, and so on. I’m all for unity in diversity and the oneness of mankind.”

She gave me a wry grin. “I’m delighted to hear it. So much racism, bigotry, prejudice, and nationalism going on these days, it’s a wonder that we even survive as a species. But that’s not what I meant.”

I raised the teacup to my lips. “Oh, it isn’t?”

“No. I meant that I’m an alien in the sense that I’m not from this planet, or any other one in this solar system. I’m what you might call . . . an extraterrestrial.”

I blinked. I stared. I cracked a smile. Surely I’d heard her wrong. Probably because of the accent. It was, after all, a bit strong. Ukrainian, perhaps? Greek? I glanced down at the tea cup. I took a sip. And then another. My eyeballs must have popped.

“Oh, my God! What is this? It’s absolutely delicious!”

“You like it? It’s not too strong, is it?”

“No-no, not at all. It’s perfect. I mean, it’s more than perfect!” I sipped some more. “It . . . uhm, well — oh God, this is really superb! — it has an amazing aroma . . . no, more than that, stupefying! And-and a fantastic taste I’m not at all familiar with. I don’t think I’ve ever had this kind before. No, I know I haven’t. Ever. What is this stuff! What’s it called?”

Oksana chortled. “Pangbornean Sunrise.”

“Pangbornean Sunrise . . . I’ve never heard of it, but I tell you that it’s out of this world.”

“It’s definitely that, all right. It’s imported. Not sold here in grocery stores or tea shops.”

“Really? So where do you buy it? Online?”

She shook her head. “Directly from Pangbornea.”

I thought. “Pangbornea? Pangbornea? I’m afraid I don’t recall any country by that name. Is it an island perhaps? Like Borneo? Or some place where they’ve recently changed the name? They seem to rename countries all over the place; it’s a miracle we can keep track. Burma to Myanmar, Ceylon to Sri Lanka, Benadir to Somalia, Formosa to Taiwan, Siam to Thailand, British Honduras to Belize, Transylvania to Romania . . .”

Oksana interrupted. “It’s a planet, not a country.”

“A planet . . . ?” I drank some more and nearly swooned.

“Where I come from. What I started to explain to you. I wouldn’t normally tell people this, for obvious reasons, but I figured since we seem to be hitting it off so well you’d find out anyhow sooner or later, and I didn’t want to give you any impression that I was hiding something from you.”

Was she teasing me, or had she flipped her lid? I played along. “Well, live and let live, I always say. I don’t care where it’s from. It’s to die for.”

She laughed then. “You don’t believe me!”

I grinned. “I think you’re pulling my leg is all. It’s okay. I’ve got a playful sense of humor too.”

She shook her head, tickled. “I’m not pulling your leg, but fair enough. Whatever. Here, have one of these cookies.”


“No. These are locals I bought at 99¢ Only Store.”


Oksana Metic smiled.

“More tea?”

Steve Pulley

Note: A little wordplay on our extraterrestrial’s name: ‘Oksana’ means ‘foreigner’ in Ukrainian; it stems from the Greek ‘Xena’, also meaning ‘foreigner’. ‘Metic’, also Greek, refers to an alien who paid a fee to reside in an ancient Greek city.
Posted in Stories | 2 Comments

Pedro Orfglander’s Run for Election

pedroorfglanderbobbleheadcollectionPedro Orfglander and his bobblehead collection
caused scandal, chaos, and widespread objection,
resulting in his summary rejection
as candidate in his town’s mayoral prospection.

“Unconstitutional poppycock,” cried Pedro.
“Why, from San Diego, Waco, even Montenegro,
my bobbleheads exude molto allegro,
cause joy . . . even a cure for lumbago!

“Watch their heads recoil, bounce and bobble
with every happy movement how they do wobble.
How can you my election hobble,
just because my heads spring and gobble?”

“It’s not per se your bobblehead affection,”
clarified the town upon reflection,
“that aroused in us our insurrection . . .
just your boneheaded crusade for election!”

Steve Pulley

Posted in Poems | Leave a comment

Lathering Up a Sweat

latheringupasweatThe dripping faucet awakened Angus Beshneddeldekker. At first he did not equate the sound to either dripping or a faucet, rather the uliginous goings on of a wambling gut the aftermath of imbibing a bit too much down at Bimbo Bonnie’s Bar with bibulous buddies earlier that evening. His wife Grace had already administered the wonted curtain-lecture upon his return home, to which he dutifully lowered his head as an act of requisite espousal contrition, after which they retired to separate bedrooms.

Besh — as Angus was commonly known, since he preferred not to be called Angus due to the association with a certain breed of cattle, and nobody, not even his buddies dead sober, nor, for that matter, his wife Grace, could begin to pronounce it properly without suffering a consequent palatoglossal charley-horse — placed a pudgy hand over an equally pudgy abdomen, wondering if the sound he heard was a prelude to puking last night’s dinner and schnaps. He perceived a gurgle of sorts, something along the lines of a flow in an irregular current with a rippling noise not unlike the euphonies of a gently babbling brook, but it did not seem to foreshadow any impending fulminant purge.

He listened for a bit until the sound slowly coalesced into a definite drip . . . drip . . . drip redirecting itself away from his gut and wending its way out of his bedroom, through the hallway, and into the nearby bathroom. He at first thought to simply ignore it and go back to sleep, then take care of it later in the morning when he was refreshed with a hangover instead of still hazed by intoxication. But his bladder kicked in just about then, so there was no other recourse than to roust himself out of bed and kill two birds with one stone, if that idiomatic expression could be applied.

Besh somehow pushed and pulled himself to his feet and slowly staggered to the bathroom. The night light glowed enough for him to locate the toilet, whereupon he somehow managed to relieve himself without wetting its surroundings. He then turned to the sink, washed his hands, and finishing gave the faucet knob a twist. He saw no drip, but he still heard one. He turned next to the shower, then the bathtub, but they too proved steadfastly dry.

“What the devil?” he muttered.

The dripping sound certainly seemed to spring from the bathroom, but where? He leaned over and pressed his ear to the toilet tank. All quiet on that front. He next tottered into the tub and applied an ear to the spigot. Not a peep. He dragged a stool into the shower stall, climbed drunkenly aboard, and stretched as high as he could, but nary a sound beyond his own labored breathing answered back.

Could it be a head noise, he pondered. Water on the brain? He pounded the butt of his hand against his noggin. He nearly fell off the stool. He carefully made his way down and then sat upon it, thinking.

“Might this be some kind of diabolical trick of Grace’s? Can it be possible that she’s out to drive me mad?”

Besh exited the bathroom and made his inebriated way tippy-toe into the spare bedroom where his wife slept. Her expression denoted nothing short of angelic, and she snored in such a fetching manner that shame suffused him for even conceiving such a dastardly idea that this marvelous example of womanhood could possibly perpetrate an act to drive him bonkers. He withdrew then and wandered about the house, both in search of the elusive drip and in self-reproach for harboring doubts about his wife.

Besh, flashlight in hand, finally drifted outside in his pajamas to inspect the house in the still dark predawn. By then he’d lathered up a sweat. A faint breeze wafted over him then, first mercifully cooling him, then taking on an uncomfortable chill, and he pondered if this combination of sweat and breeze might conspire to down him with pneumonia or some other godawful respiratory malady.

“Grace! Grace!,” he sniveled, “If I get through this alive, I swear to you by all that’s holy I’ll never set foot in Bimbo Bonnie’s Bar ever again.”

He thought about this solemn oath a moment, then realized that it was essentially meaningless, since the result of the commitment, either alive or dead, would be the same.

“Maybe I should rephrase that,” he muttered, trying to concentrate.

He heard a sound then behind him and lifted his head.

“Besh! What in God’s merciful name are you doing outside at this hour making an ass of yourself? You’re going to wake the entire neighborhood! Are you insane?”

He tottered around and saw Grace standing at the front door, nightgown swishing in the breeze, eyes afire.

Besh gave her an adoring smile. “No, my sweet. Just drunk.”

Steve Pulley

Note: Alas, Besh never could find the source of the drip, nor could I.*

This story was based on a number of writing prompts, including a few archaic expressions not often used in today’s ordinary speech, to wit: lathering up a sweat; the dripping faucet awakened Angus Beshneddeldekker; a faint breeze; uliginous (growing in swamps or muddy places); wamble (move unsteadily; feel nausea; of the stomach, to rumble, growl); curtain-lecture (scolding administered in private by a wife to her husband).

* One of my readers has offered the following solution to Besh’s as well as my own inability to locate the source of the drip:

“I needed a laugh this morning, Steve, thank you. By the way, might the drip have been an overflow from the plastic tub under the bathroom sink pipe inside the cabinet? Grace would have dumped the tub when she cleaned – I hope :P.”

Many thanks, Theresa!

Posted in Stories | 2 Comments

Coffee With Half-and-Half

coffeewithhalfandhalfAs a child,
sitting at the breakfast table,
adjacent to my dad,
I watched, fascinated
as he poured a small amount
of half-and-half into
the very center of his brimming cup,
his cup of steaming coffee.
The creamy liquid, swallowed
by the dark Arabian brew,
would seconds later
slowly reappear
in delicate, arabesque streams,
interplaying now
with one another
in enthralling ghost-like eddies.
My dad would always wait
until it settled
before he slipped in his teaspoon
to give his morning drink
a porcelain-clinking stir.
I do not know for sure
if he did this for my pleasure
or his own.
it all seemed like a swirling show,
a choreography
prepared each day
just for me.

Steve Pulley

Posted in Poems | 2 Comments

The Steak of Wrath

thesteakofwrathSparkaline McMasters glowered at her Remington, though through no fault of her typewriter. She’d written: “The steak of wrath found its mark, and Claudia, bledding porfusly from the braest, fell to the ground, wrihting in pane.”

“Dammit,” she swore, “what’s wrong with my fingers today? And when the hell is somebody going to invent some kind of a device for typewriters that can stop idiots like me from making stupid typos and spelling errors in the first place!”

Bette Nesmith Graham was still a year away from inventing what would be called Liquid Paper, and the first IBM Personal Computer would not be born for another 26 years, and so Sparkaline either had the option of erasing the errors with a hard eraser, or run a line through them and write or type the correction in the empty line above or in the margin.

“Ah, hell,” she grunted, “I’ll just fix everything later,” and continued to type.

It wasn’t easy for the woman. Aside from her 73 years, she still knew how to spell, but advancing arthritis had other ideas, one of these being the mania of seizing her fingers when she least needed them to be seized. For three decades she’d been a prolific writer and had won a modest but still solid readership among fans of fantasy/romance novels. Sparkaline McMasters — her nom de plume, not her real name, which was the less-fetching Agnes Angstrom (a descendant of Anders Jonas Ångström of ångström unit fame) — still entertained a loyal following, but her physical infirmities were beginning to make her job difficult. And to be frank, she was getting not just a little bored with the genre.

Her new novel — the one she was currently working on — wasn’t doing her any favors either. It’s working title, “The Wormhole Snafu”, had nothing to do with the modern scientific usage of the word ‘wormhole’; that is, designating a hypothetical solution of the Einstein field equations having a non-trivial structure connecting separate points in spacetime, much like a tunnel with two ends, each at separate points in spacetime — whatever that meant. American theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler wouldn’t coin the term “wormhole” in that sense until 1957. Sparkaline’s “Wormhole”, on the other hand, was the surname of her novel’s antagonist, Lord Gared Wormhole, a thoroughly vermiculate villain who both prevailed and survived through an underhanded ability to worm his way through other people’s lives much like the woodworm beetle’s insatiable and destructive appetite for burrowing into wood furniture. As for the ‘snafu’ part, Lord Wormhole would in due course receive his merited comeuppance, thanks to his own accrued cockups. Albeit wicked through and through, he lacked the shrewdness of a first-rate scoundrel that might have otherwise garnered him the Throne itself.

And speaking of the title’s “Snafu,” Sparkaline begrudgingly knew that her publisher would never allow it, given the acronym’s literal military equivalence. Still, she decided to keep the working title until something else more palatable came to mind. Botch, bungle, fumble, foul up, mess up, and similar synonyms didn’t seem to have the same biting panache of snafu, so probably she’d have to think up something totally different. Sparkaline sighed. She returned her gaze to her typos.

“The steak of wrath, indeed,” she read aloud. “It’s supposed to be the /stake/ of wrath! Hmm? Or is it? What about the steak of wrath?”

She chuckled. Maybe Lord Gared Wormhole instead of being an aristocrat could act as a nefarious sous-chef in the service of the King. Then “the steak of wrath” might be more feasible. Of course, this might also end up turning the novel into more of a satire of some kind. Either way, the hapless Claudia was evidently destined to be skewered. Sparkaline entertained the idea for a while. Why not give it a shot, she thought. Even throw in a few intriguing if not questionable recipes to boot. It would save her from writing another dreary fantasy, which were beginning to bore the hell out of her, even if her readers lapped it up. And why in the service of another king? Wormhole could simply sweat it out in the kitchen of some restaurant. Should it be a fancy-schmancy Italian restaurant or a dive? She could still make Wormhole a saboteur in an eatery, as well as a screwup. But what might be his motive? Why would he bump off restaurant clientele with his “steaks of wrath”? Were they poisoned? Too spicy? Why in God’s name would the restaurant’s chief chef allow such a thing to happen, not to mention management?

Sparkaline McMasters broke off her reveries there. Five other typos to attend to awaited as well, and no telling what her misbehaving fingers were capable of over the rest of the page. She was being silly just because she wearied of yet another potboiler. She massaged her hands, feeling the ache in their joints.

“But what if I did go ahead and write something different?” she asked herself aloud. “I mean altogether different? Maybe the sous-chef angle? Maybe what else? A western?”

She pursed her lips and mused for a several minutes. Then with a shrug and a quick nod of the head, “What the hell, let’s see what I can do with a shoot-em-up, and if that doesn’t work, then back to the psycho sous-chef.”

She tore the page from her typewriter, wadded it up, tossed it in a nearby trash can, and inserted a blank sheet. She rarely if ever initially plotted out her novels. Far more often she simply started writing whatever came into her head, and then worried about devising the sequence of events afterwards. She stared at its pristine whiteness for a few seconds, closed her eyes for a moment, stirred, shook and slowly lowered her gnarled fingers to the keyboard.

“Hell was just not hot enough for TexMex Trotter,” she typed. “Not according to the half dozen townsfolk he’d hornswoggled out of their life savings, herds, homes and land, not to mention seduced wives and daughters. Maudie Trusket was one of the latter. Trotter had sweet-talked that delicate flower into bed, plucked her precious petals, and then left her indecorously untended, a harrowed mother-to-be.”

Sparkaline paused to re-read, and laughed, shaking her head. “Oh, brother! Cockamamie as hell . . . but still, this might be fun.” She continued.

“It did not take Maudie long to realize not only her precarious situation, but also Trotter’s disinclination to assume any culpability or obligation. In a word, he ridiculed her naiveté and blithely continued on his way to other garden sowings. Maudie’s gentle heart wronged, slowly hardened, then turned to stone.

“‘Somehow, I shall avenge myself,’ she swore.”

Sparkaline paused again, musing. “How the heck shall she avenge herself, I wonder . . . ? Ah, but of course! The steak of wrath!”

There was a knock at the door. Shave and a hair cut, two bits. Her son Larry.

“Door’s open, hon,” she shouted.

Lawrence McMasters turned the knob and pushed into his mother’s study.

“Not bothering you?” he asked, seeing her arched behind her typewriter peering at him over the top of her spectacles.

She smiled. “Not a bit, Son. You could be a godsend. I think I need your wise advice.”

“Godsend? Wise advice? How so?”

“Well, for starters, you may well either save me from writing my very first western, or pester me to do it at all costs.”

“A western?” His eyebrows raised.

“Yep. Believe it or not, I am crazily just about to start one.”


“Um-hm. It was a toss-up between that and a restaurant crime thriller. Truth is, I’ve had it writing these fool fantasy romances. I can’t do it anymore. They bore me to tears. The last one almost drove me barmy. Before I die or first go completely senile, I think maybe I’d like to go out with blazing saddles under my carcass instead of Chaucerian maidens bedded by less-than-noble Lotharios. Tell me I’m wrong.”

“Mom! You’ve never once had a maiden bedded by a Lothario.”

“Hmph! Just goes to show that you never read between the lines then. Why do you think my books sell well, or why they could ever be published at all?” She waited a response, but only got a shrug. “Subtlety, lad. Guileful subtlety.”

Her son burst out laughing. “Okay.”

“I’m serious. There’s always an elusive intimation that it’s some heroic Lancelot’s intention to score in the end. Sure, my gals always start out chaste and suffering under the yoke of poverty, misogyny, misfortune, churlish masters, harridan mothers, ruthless overseers, boorish barons, and on and on . . . but in the end they are miraculously rescued by some well-favored benefactor – or, occasionally vice versa, she’s rescuing some poor but handsome schlump in dire straits of his own. But they always end up between the sheets on the last page, a sparkle in the eye of the guy, and the girl ain’t complainin’.”

Sparkaline did not ignore the fact that the beginnings of her possible western sounded suspiciously similar to her previous English period novels.

“Aren’t you mixing metaphors?” observed Larry.

“What do you mean?”

“First it’s Chaucer, then it’s Knights of the Round Table.”

“Hush up. You know what I mean.”

“Yes, but Mom, such cynicism. My-my.”

“Face it, laddie, people eat this stuff up like chocolate candy. But I’ve lost the chocolaty taste to write it.”

“I can understand that. So now you’re thinking a western will spark you up?”

“Who’s to say? Maybe. Could also end up just like my romance novels of Jolly Old England, only now in the location of the rough and ready Not-So-Jolly Old West.”

Larry nodded, still a smile twitching his lips. “Well, Mom, you were born in Arizona after all, so maybe for a change you do need to don your Stetson, pack a loaded six-shooter, sharpen your spurs, fasten your riata, saddle up and, whip in hand, ride hell-bent for leather into the sunset . . .”

“Stop, Son. You’re making me sound like Gail Davis mistreating her overworked horse Target. In any case, I’m now having some second thoughts, wondering how the switch might befuddle my fans.”

Larry raised a hand, musing. “Wait up a bit, Mom. You might be on to something here. A rousing horse opera just might do you a world of good. Hmm, yes.” He paused, then his eyes lit up. “Better yet, why not make it a science-fiction horse opera?”

“A what! Are you out of your mind?”

“On the contrary, I think it may be a stroke of genius. Mixing two completely different genres into one. How many writers have ever tried that?”

“Scads. But aside from that, I don’t know anything about science-fiction.”

“Maybe not, but who cares? Look what Edgar Rice Burroughs did with his John Carter from Mars series. He may have known plenty about fiction, but he didn’t know a blessed thing about science-fiction either.”

“So you’re saying I should do a Flash Gordon at the O.K. Corral.”

“Yes!” Her son chuckled. “Something like that.”

She added dryly, “And shall I guess that you would also propose a Dr. Zarkov for the Doc Holliday role, Dale Arden as the overly congenial barkeep at the Crystal Palace, while Ming the Merciless and his ilk will represent the Clanton brothers and The Cowboys, Tombstone being the planet Mongo?”

Larry laughed. “Yes, that’s the idea!”

“What about Wyatt Earp’s horse, Dick Naylor . . . I mean, Flash Gordon’s spaceship?”

“Actually the spaceship belonged to Zarkov. Wait! Wyatt Earp’s horse’s name was Dick Naylor?”

Sparkaline nodded. “So I’ve been told. Well, your space opera in the Old West is a plum crazy idea, but all the same I kind of like it. I’ll definitely give it some thought. I think if I’d write something like that, though, it’d have to be a farce. And that kind of appeals to me after cranking out all those sober period romances. By the way, Son, what brings you here at this hour? Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”

Larry’s grin turned down. “Oh, that . . . Well, ahem, truth be told, Mom, I got sacked. That’s why I came over . . . to let you know. But not to worry. I’ll find a job elsewhere in a jiffy.”

“Fired? Fired! You’re kidding. Seriously? How could you get fired? You just got hired!”

Larry scratched an ear. “Well, long story short, Mom, I decked my boss.”

Appalled, Sparkaline cried out. “You what! Why on earth would you do that?”

“I’d rather not say.”

“What do you mean you’d rather not say?”

“Well, if you must know, he said something insulting that frankly I could not abide.”

“Insulting? Since when did you ever take issue with an insult?”

“Since this morning.”

“What was the insult?”

“I’d rather not say.”

“You’d rather best say if you know what’s good for you, sonny.”

Larry hesitated, swallowing. “Mom . . .”

“Out with it!”

“Ahem . . . Well, uh, my boss . . . that is, my former boss . . . made, um, a-a disparaging remark about your last three novels . . . and, uh, well, I took exception to his, shall we say, unacceptable appraisal.”

Sparkaline gaped at her son, then coughed. “Ahem . . . well, a person is, uhm, entitled to his or her opinion. I don’t think it merits fisticuffs, however.”

“He called you a hack.”

“H-He called me a hack?”

“He did. A hack and a Grub Street penny-a-liner.”

“He what! A Grub Street penny-a . . .! Why that miserable, low-life bastard!” She thus tried to contain herself. “He said that to you, and for that you clocked him?”

“I did, Mom.”

“Son, Son, you mustn’t do things . . .” Tears suddenly gushed from her eyes. “Oh, hell, come to my arms, my beamish boy!”

He came. She hugged.

Later, after she’d dried her eyes and the two were sharing a mid-afternoon tea laced with an overly generous shot of whiskey, Sparkaline McMasters said, “Larry, darling, since you now seem to be without a job on my account, how would you like to spend some time collaborating with me on my next novel? We’ll do the science-fiction western merger as you suggested.”

“What?” Larry stared at her with open surprise. “But Mom, I don’t write. I’m in advertising.”

“That’s not writing?”

“No, of course not. It’s lying to the public, manipulating them so they’ll buy our clients’ products.”

“And you called me cynical? Wouldn’t you like to help out your old mom?”

Larry shrugged slightly, but intrigued. “Well, gee . . . I don’t know. Maybe. If I can. What’d you have in mind?

“Right now it occurs to me that on top of that crazy plot we might also add what I’ve already been toying with.”

“More, even? What’s that?”

“Well, the working title is, ahem, ‘The Wormhole Snafu’.”

Larry looked shocked. “The what?”

“You heard me. My publisher would never let me call it that, naturally, so instead I’m thinking to call it ‘The Steak of Wrath’.”

“‘The Steak of Wrath’?”

“Yes, but listen to me a bit.”

Larry nodded, dismayed. “I’m all ears.”

Sparkaline went on to explain to her son about the despicable Lord Gared Wormhole, how her quivering arthritic hands had of late been creating peculiar typographical tricks, one of note causing Claudia, the wronged lover of Wormhole, to be mercilessly slain by a “steak of wrath” driven through her breast rather than by a “stake of wrath,” this triggering a harebrained idea of transforming Wormhole instead from a nobleman into a sous-chef with an agenda at an Italian restaurant. Then, even a further shift where Wormhole metamorphs into TexMex Trotter, still a cad, of course, but now an American cad, out to plunder the Old West.

“Gracious!” exclaimed Larry, eyes wide.

His mother nodded. “I know. Then you come along with this screwball whimsy of a Flash Gordon yarn. It’s a wild kettle of fish, that’s for sure. But you know, Son? Somehow I like it.”

Larry blinked. “For sure? Do you really believe we can take all of this colossal mess and mold it into a single novel?”

“Hang on just a tad.” Sparkaline McMasters seemed to zone out for a moment, eyes closed. At last she opened them, a slow smile working on her lips. “Yes, I do think we can do it. And what if we stage it in an Italian restaurant in, say, El Paso or Laredo, Texas, and call it a spaghetti western space opera? What do you think?”

Her son gaped at his mother, dazzled, then convulsed in laughter. “Oh, my gosh, Mom! You’re a bloody genius!”

She smirked sweetly. “I guess I rather am, aren’t I?

Steve Pulley

Posted in Stories | 4 Comments


tesseract1.gifDon’t you dare talk to me about tesseracts.* Don’t you dare! When I was about 14 years old, I read science fiction writer Robert Heinlein’s 1941 yarn, “And He Built a Crooked House”† which was about a tesseract house. It was, like all of Heinlein’s stories, entertaining, but at that age I was still struggling with 3-dimensional objects. Objects of the fourth dimension were then, as they pretty much remain even now, outside my capacity to wrap my head around.

I felt like A Square, the 2-dimensional square hero of English school teacher Edwin A. Abbott’s 1884 novella, “Flatland”.¶ A Square lives in a 2-dimensional universe, where everything is made up of polygons, lines, squares, triangles, etc. A Square is suddenly visited by a three-dimensional sphere (named A Sphere), which he cannot comprehend until he is physically yanked out of Flatland and sees Spaceland (a 3-dimensional world). When A Square returns to Flatland and tries to describe to friends, family and associates, the concepts of “Upward, not Northward” and “Cube”, utterly incomprehensible to all, some of whom think he’s lost his mind and others that he is a heretic. In the end, his efforts to convert others to the existence of Spaceland condemn him to perpetual imprisonment where he languishes away. I’m kind of like A Square, but the 3-dimensional variety, named, oddly enough, S. Pulley to distinguish me from other similar 3-dimensional creatures. I’m not a pulley, that is, of the block and tackle variety, but a flesh-and-blood human model.

But I’m getting off the subject at hand: tesseracts. As fourth dimension objects were to me back at age 14, tesseracts pretty much remain a mystery even at my present 73 years, quite beyond my grasp. It’s not that I deny their existence, as did A Square’s detractors in Flatland. I just don’t get them, as much as I would like to. I think my inability to comprehend them eventually stunted my intellectual growth, and as a result I never shone in academia. And so I turned instead to drafting, painting, writing, photography, wood-working, piano-tuning, tootling, and so on, all fairly straightforward two- and three-dimensional enterprises, thoroughly enjoyable, but alas rarely money-making or romantic, and none remotely tesseractian.

tesseract2.gifDo I miss understanding tesseracts? I’m not sure, but no, I think not. Because as in the case of A Square, I cannot comprehend beyond the dimension in which I presently exist until I’m removed from it. I keep waiting for A Tesseract to yank me out of Spaceland so I will be able to see . . . what?: Minkowskiland?‡ Spacetimeland? 4Dland? Tesseractiland? Who knows? Maybe when we eventually die, it’ll all become abundantly clear. Will some call it Heaven while others, not so fortunate, call it Hell?

In the meantime, though, don’t you dare talk to me about tesseracts! They give me cerebral indigestion.

Steve Pulley

End notes:
* The tesseract is a 4-dimensional cube. You can read a lengthy description at the following link, which includes drawings and videos of the diabolical beast: Tesseract

† Here’s a summary of Robert Heinlein’s story, “And He Built a Crooked House” written in 1940, which is about a 4-dimensional house built at 8775 Lookout Mountain Avenue in Hollywood, California: “And He Built a Crooked House” Wikipedia
and here is the entire story itself: And He Built a Crooked House

¶ Here’s an explanation of Abbott’s “Flatland”: “Flatland” Wikipedia
and here is the entire novella itself, which I found most entertaining and a wonderful explanation of dimensions: Flatland or Flatland

‡ Menkowski Space: Minkowski Space

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Penelope Prius’s Pixilated Prayer Peags

penelopepriuspeagsPenelope Nisi Prius (no relation to the Japanese automobile),* age 53, widow, high school teacher, resident of Pasadena, California, acquired her prayer beads through a mail order company in New Jersey, The K. B. Siada Beads-a-Bunch Company, Ltd., “purveyor of quality rosary, bead, astragal, peag and wampum supplies”. She had most certainly not purchased them herself, rather they were an unsolicited “time loan” from a “secret admirer,” and with the attached caveat that these be returned to a Post Office Box number in Makanda, Illinois, by the upcoming total eclipse of the Sun, “if not sooner”.

“What could this be?” exclaimed Penelope, frowning, when the package arrived. “I didn’t order anything.”

Upon opening the parcel, she found a folded invoice from The K. B. Siada Beads-a-Bunch Co. on top, describing the enclosed product as a set of peag prayer beads and that they had been paid for. Beneath this lay a sealed envelope with the printed words “!!!READ FIRST BEFORE PROCEEDING!!!”

“What on earth?”

Penelope, who taught English, despised the extravagant use of exclamation points – not to mention semicolons – and oft warned her students that she’d better never find any more than one “!” at the end of a sentence in their homework, and preferably none at all unless absolutely necessary. Nonetheless, she tore open the envelope and read the enclosed note.

“Dear Penny [Penny indeed! thought Penelope, who abhorred such diminutives of her given name],

“Underneath this note you will find a box containing a set of peag prayer beads, which I ordered for you through The K. B. Siada Beads-a-Bunch Company. As you will see, peag prayer beads are special and very beautiful. They are small cylindrical beads made from polished shells and fashioned into strings. Historically, they were and still are in places used by certain Native American peoples as jewelry or currency. However, these particular peag beads are not the everyday lot. These have special powers beyond their normal use. I cannot tell you what these powers might be, because they are unique to the person in possession of them.

“Because of the peculiar nature of these beads, however, they may become unstable under certain astronomical conditions, in particular those of unusual solar events. Therefore, for your own safety, YOU MUST NOT KEEP THEM WITH YOU BEYOND THE UPCOMING TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE. Enjoy them now, but consider them only a time loan. THEY MUST BE RETURNED to the Makanda, Illinois, Post Office and ARRIVE THERE NO LATER THAN NOON, if not sooner, Central Daylight Time, Monday, August 21st. The address to send them to is: PO Box [***], 709 Makanda Rd, Makanda, IL 62958.”

“I detest uppercase words,” sniffed Penelope with open disapproval. “They make me think they’re shouting, and I loathe shouting. One can say the same thing without having to raise their voice.” She continued to read.

“Information about these prayer beads are inside the box, along with basic suggestions as how to best use them. I want you to enjoy them to the fullest during this short period, but PLEASE DO NOT NEGLECT THEIR TIME CONSTRAINT!

“[signed] a secret admirer”

“This has got to be someone’s idiotic idea of a practical joke,” muttered Penelope.

Still, she opened the box, and there they were: an exquisite string of beads, seemingly glowing, multicolored shells of varieties she had never before seen. She delicately lifted the string out of the box. They were warm in her hands.

“Oh my, they are exquisite,” she acknowledged, and the very next second, “Secret admirer? Secret admirer, my patootie! Someone has got to be pulling my leg. I can’t stand that! And if these beads are so special, why would they be sending me them with a warning just when we’re going to have a total eclipse?”

She fingered the beads for a moment, wondering who might be the mystery man. Or mystery woman, for that matter. She hoped it wasn’t a woman; she was of the mind that they could be more devious and vindictive than men when it came to pulling pranks. She shook her head violently and grizzled. But wait. Maybe it wasn’t a prank. Could this be legit? Then why hide one’s identity in such an infantile way?

“Dammit, I’m too old for this nonsense, and I certainly haven’t got time now to be fiddling around. I’ve got to finish organizing my school work schedules for the week!”

Penelope stuffed the prayer beads back in the box, back in the package in which they’d been sent, along with the invoice and the enclosed note, and shoved the works into a drawer and out of the way. By the time she’d finished going through her last-minute school preparations, she was so exhausted that she went straight to bed, the mysterious prayer beads quite forgotten. The following days were chaotic at Wormwood High School, as they always were at the beginning of the school year.

It was on Monday morning of August 21st, when her kids began begging her to let them watch the solar eclipse if only for a few minutes, that she suddenly remembered the prayer beads. But that only annoyed her. “Piffle,” she said. In any case, the school principal had already kiboshed the children’s’ petition, given the possibility that one or more of the students would surely be harebrained enough to look directly at the Sun without protection, ravage their eyes, and the school would without question be sued by enraged parents for gross negligence. And, as expected, Penelope’s students pinned the blame squarely on her, as was the case for all the other teachers, and through no fault of their own. The school year had barely begun and already Penelope longed for retirement, though it still flirted a decade away. Damn the solar eclipse, damn the intervening Moon, damn the shadowed Earth, and double-damn those silly prayer beads and the secret admirer who’d sent them to her! If she ever laid hands on that so-and-so . . .

The solar eclipse came and went. In Pasadena the Moon eclipsed the Sun’s area only 62%. Some kids played hooky from school that day, and a few dunderheads went blind as a consequence in spite of the warnings, though fortunately the school could not be held responsible. As soon as she left school that afternoon, Penelope drove directly home instead of the market. She could take care of her shopping later. Right now she intended to rid herself of those cursed beads once and for all, and to hell with sending them to Makanda, Illinois, and presumably back to her “secret admirer,” whoever the devil he, she or it might be.

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay a dime of return postage for this utter nonsense,” she muttered. “The very nerve!”

Leaving her purse, school books and student homework on her desk, Penelope headed for the drawer where she’d deposited the offending prayer beads. The parcel sat in the exact same spot she’d left it a week before. She extracted it, opened the package, set aside the invoice and note, removed the box, set it on the floor, and withdrew from it the peag beads. They looked exactly the same as before. If anything, they seemed all the more lovely. In her hands, the round, polished shells exuded a warmness of a life of its own of fond affection. Penelope caressed them for some time.

“I can’t possibly throw these out,” she finally said aloud. “I’m keeping them for myself, and that’s that. Tough luck, ‘secret admirer’. These are mine now.”

She twisted the string in half, and slipped the beads over her right wrist and felt as though they embraced her as a loving mother would her child. She also felt just a bit giddy.

“I wonder if I can still do cartwheels at my age?” pondered Penelope, a pixie grin now suffusing her face. Then she frowned. “No, there’s not enough room here. I’d probably break a lamp, or my neck. I’ll try it tomorrow at school instead. That ought to impress the hell out of my pupils.”

Her grin returned. She gazed smugly down at the K. B. Siada Beads-a-Bunch paeg prayer beads wrapped around her wrist.

“Well, Mister Secret Admirer smartypants, I guess the joke’s on you!”

It wasn’t. After her unexpected and provocative dance performance the following morning at the auditorium of Wormwood High’s morning whole-school assembly – that is, before the entire faculty and student body – she was summarily carted off in restraints for observation at the Foothill Treatment Center for Mental Health located on the nearby Historic Route 66 Highway.

“I think I ate some bad oysters,” she explained later.

She knew better.

And giggled.

Steve Pulley

* Nisi prius (Latin, meaning “if not sooner” or “if not before” in addition to “unless first”) is a historical term in English law. In the nineteenth century, it came to be used to denote generally all legal actions tried before judges of the King’s Bench Division. I came across the term quite by accident and thought it made a nice name for a character.
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