Harold Blight and the Third Door

Harold Blight was a sleepwalker.

As surely as every day he would wake up at 6:45 sharp, eat a bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon on top, and dress in a crisply clean suit and tie, every night he would fall into a deep sleep at 9:45 sharp, get out of bed twenty minutes later, and unlock the back door to wander the darkness.

If anyone at the high school where Harold taught eleventh grade chemistry had heard of his nighttime ramblings, they would have been astonished.  Who would ever have guessed that the perfectly combed Mr. Blight had a sleeping explorer inside?

To be fair, Harold Blight was only vaguely aware of it himself. He often thought that he did not awake as rested as he ought from his nine hours of sleep, and once or twice he had been startled to awareness by some noise and found himself in his back yard.  So far, though, he had always been able to silence the whispering voice in his head suggesting that his life was not what it appeared.

It was only the aliens, then, who witnessed the extent of Harold’s adventures.

At first, watching him was only a matter of staving off boredom.  Studying the patterns of homo sapiens was fascinating by day, but at night most of them just lay around for hours and even the twenty-somethings that passed the night in bars or the teenagers that sneaked out their windows engaged in the most predictably boring behaviors.  Harold Blight’s nighttime journeys were the most interesting show in town.

Sleepwalking Harold was a daredevil. He liked to balance himself on fences and walk the length of them with his arms stretched out. He liked to climb tall trees and then leap from one to another. He liked to plunge into the nearby lake and see how long he could hold his breath.

Sleepwalking Harold was an artist. Three times he used his bare hands as the mud to paint a still life on the side of the Henderson’s shed. Once he used his old-fashioned push mower to cut an empty field into a picture of the president’s face. And nearly every night he found sleeping birds and poked them awake so he could harmonize with their songs.

The aliens never knew what the crazy man would get up to next.

It was the night he painted his face to look like a bird and then stood in the middle of the street playing chicken with the cars that they were first tempted to interfere.  Unlike fences, cars were deadly, and if anything happened to Harold Blight, the aliens would be back to drinking way too much zorlag at night to stay to awake.

Direct interference was forbidden, of course. You didn’t ruin centuries of scientific study just because you thought zorlag was ruining your health. But introducing a subtle change in the landscape would not alter history, or at least not enough to draw the attention of their supervisors.

That’s when Harold’s bedroom got a third door. The first door led to the hallway, of course, and the second to his neatly organized closet.  The third door led to an alternate dimension, where Sleepwalking Harold could explore distant universes in relative safety.

Sleepwalking Harold ran with herds of Paloxis on the wide open plains of Benarfa Faloomp, and Harold Blight wondered why his pajamas were covered with feathers. He exchanged his down pillows for cotton.

Sleepwalking Harold climbed the endless stair of the tower of Harnak Ratha, and Harold Blight had sore feet for a week. He went out and bought new Naturalizers.

Sleepwalking Harold flew through the rainbow tinted atmosphere of Haroliris, and Harold Blight couldn’t stop smiling for days. On a whim he brought home a dreamcatcher from the street fair and then hid it in his closet when his friends came for game night.

Sleepwalking Harold went through the third door every night while the aliens placed bets on his next burst of impulse, and Harold Blight went off to teach every day while the aliens took notes on his extraordinary denial.

Hypothesis were formed, controlled experiments conducted. A very well-received academic paper was published. A prestigious award was handed out.  Roasted Paloxi from Benarfa Faloomp was served at the reception after.

Harold Blight woke up at 6:45 sharp, shook the sand from his hair, ate a bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon sprinkled on top, and, being careful of his sunburned neck, dressed in a crisply clean suit and tie.

He sang Beach Boys songs all the way to work and looked forward to 9:45 and another good night’s sleep.





The Great Advent Brawl of 2014


It’s the worst Christmas disaster since the year the power went out during It’s a Wonderful Life and I witnessed every minute of it. You can see a lot from the top of the tree, and I may have a broken wing, but there’s nothing wrong with my ears, let me tell you.

It had been brewing for over a week. It’s all this advent stuff, the counting down until Christmas Day, you know? Used to be you just wrote a letter to Santa and lit a candle every Sunday, but these last few years there’s something new every time you turn around, and if you think these guys like being replaced with something fancier and more trendy, you’ve obviously never met an Elf on the Shelf.

That little Elf was really the instigator. The candles on the mantel have been around a long time, almost as long as I have, and they’ve seen enough Christmas traditions come and go that they don’t get worked up about much. Those calendars on the wall get pretty huffy about how no one opens their little doors after the first week, but they’re all talk. I mean, that Elf of the Shelf was a cocky little twit those first few years, so you can’t really blame the calendars for muttering under their breath a lot, but honestly, even if they weren’t pinned in place, they wouldn’t have the guts to do anything rash. Shelfy, though? He was always a little unstable, so it wasn’t exactly a shock that he finally tipped.

It was the Lego calendar that did it. You’ve seen these things, right? A fantastic new toy to build each and every day? That Elf may have bells on his toes, but there’s no way he can compete with a build-your-own-spaceship. He tried. I mean, he pulled out all the stops. Wrote jokes on the bathroom mirror with lipstick. Spilled flour all over the kitchen floor. Hung upside down over the kids’ faces when they woke up in the morning. He got their attention with that one, but as soon as the screams died away, he was tossed aside in the mad scramble to see what new little package of magic bricks was waiting for them that day.

Everyone went off to work and school, so I was the only one there to see the look on Elf’s face when he crawled out from under the pile of dirty pajamas. Well, me and the wall calendars, and their remarks on the occasion didn’t do anything to improve his state of mind, let me tell you.

I think that was the day he started plotting it. Or maybe it was the next day when the little space man mini-figure showed up. That space man was silver and shiny, and he refused to speak at all. After the kids had gone crazy over him and then been rushed out the door, the Elf tried to start up a conversation. He was pretty obviously fishing for weaknesses, but he didn’t find any because the mini-guy didn’t say a word. The more questions the space man ignored, the angrier the Elf got. It was pretty funny, really, but if I had realized what it all would lead to, I wouldn’t have laughed so hard, believe me.

In any case, the next day (this would have been yesterday) Shelfy went around muttering under his breath and pulling bits of tinsel down off the garland on the stairs. I saw him doing it, but I guess I assumed he was up to his usual tricks, going to litter it all over the kids’ pillows or tie it around their toothbrushes or some such nonsense. You know what they say about assuming.

He put his plan into action just after dinner tonight. The family was gathered around in the living room watching television, and Shelfy goes and gets out this long rope he’s made by tying those bits of tinsel together. It wasn’t until he started swinging it that I realized he had turned it into a lasso. Let me tell you, that Elf has quite an arm (considering it’s made out of a pipe cleaner). He snagged the Lego calendar in one throw and with a mighty yank, he pulled it right down off the kitchen counter. It crashed to floor in a mangled heap of bent cardboard, and Shelfy let out a crow of victory.

He hadn’t counted on the toys that had already been opened, though.

This is December 8th, people, which means three little robots, four flying ships, and a ticked off space man.

They swarmed. That’s the only word for it. One minute, Mr. Elf on the Shelf is standing there laughing his head off, and the next minute, he’s being dive-bombed by airplanes made of brightly colored bricks. Shelfy’s laugh turned to a scream pretty fast.

He still had his lasso, though, and he was determined to use it. He whipped it around so fast he managed to actually take out one of the tiny ships, breaking it to pieces on the tile. The enraged robots now entered the fray, leaping off the counter toward Shelfy’s head. Two of them hit their spot, but the third overshot and hit the wall instead, tearing a long strip right down the middle of the oldest advent calendar.

Did I say those wall calendars were all talk and no action? That was before their grandfather was killed. Suddenly, every door on every calendar was opening and closing at one. Tacks ripped out of the walls and those calendars took flight. Yes. I’m serious. I’ve never seen anything like it. The flapped down toward the chair that Shelfy was desperately climbing in a bid to get away from the angry Lego-bots, brushing him and his pursuers to the ground. Both robots broke into pieces, and the Elf scrambled away quick as a wink. He managed to grab hold of the nearest calendar as it lifted back into the air for another attack. He clung tight until it swung him up over the table then let go. The calendars were coming back for another attack, but before they got there, a silver blur streaked across the table. It was the space man.

Space Man and Shelfy tumbled off the table and across the floor, over and over, punching and kicking, right down the steps and into the family room. So far, the family hadn’t noticed a thing, but the dog did now. He leaped up from his spot on the couch, barking at the tangled up toys, still going at it on the rug. I guess that puppy thought it was a new game or maybe a threat to the family that he needed to fend off. All I know is, he launched himself into the fray, slamming his smelly, furry self right into the Christmas tree.

You guess it. It tipped. I felt it. I had that horrible moment, the one where you know it’s going to happen but there’s nothing you can do to stop it? And over we all went. I managed to flutter a bit with my unbroken wing and save myself, but most of the ornaments weren’t so lucky. At least half of them smashed. The other half lay in shock and terror, wondering why the tree had stopped at forty degree angle.

Answer? The tree’s fall had been stopped when the top branches hit the mantle and got lodged there. Good news for the ornaments that never hit the ground. Bad news for the candles that stood on the mantle.

Down they went, all in a row like dominoes falling one after the other. Those candles which had hurt anyone or even spoken an unkind word in all their lives were cracked and chipped leaning sadly to one side. The last one fell off completely, rolling slowly across the floor to stop at the feet of one naughty Elf and his mini-figure enemy.

Both toys stared in shock and horror.

The family stared in shock and horror.

It had all happened so fast. One minute all was happy and bright and the next? Disaster.

“What just happened?” asked the dad after a second.

“I’m not sure we’ll ever know,” said the mom.

“That is the craziest thing I have ever seen!” yelled the son.

“I couldn’t even see what was going on!” said the oldest sister.

“I bet the angel saw it!” exclaimed the youngest sister.

The whole family laughed.

But she was right. I saw the whole thing, every single minute, and let me tell you what, it’s time for a little less advent at Christmas time, people.

It would be a lot safer for everyone.

Ironic Giant

Henry Granger was an inventor.

He had a different job, of course, sweeping floors at the local elementary school, but he was not a janitor.  He was an inventor, through and through.  He only felt truly alive when he was in his basement workshop, tinkering with wires and scrap metal.

His mother, who lived in a tiny apartment on the top floor of his house and cooked him a terrible dinner every night at 6:00 would yell down the stairs, “Henry!  What’s all that racket?  Are you messing around with those tin cans again?”

Henry always answered politely, “Sorry for the noise, Mother.  Can’t invent anything without a little banging.”

“Looks like a bunch of junk to me,” she sniffed, but he just dipped his burnt meatloaf in some ketchup and said, “It always looks like junk before it’s finished.”

The pile of scraps on Henry’s workbench on the meatloaf night did look like junk.  Odd pieces of bent iron stuck out all over the place and the knobby round piece on top was covered in rust.  Thick wires crisscrossed in every direction like a child had tied the whole thing together.  No one could have guessed by looking at it that it was actually Henry Granger’s finest invention.

It took a few more days of tinkering to get it just right, but when Henry was satisfied that it was ready, he invited his friend George over to have a drink and see his masterpiece.  George worked with Henry at the school, and he was most definitely a janitor, but he was also a kind and friendly sort, and the two men got along like jam and bread.

“Whaddaya call it?” George asked when he saw the invention.  It didn’t look much better than it had a few days before, just as much rust and just as many wires.  The only significant change was that it now sported two arms and two legs along with its knobby head, so that it was clearly identifiable as a two-foot-tall robot.

“I call it Giant,” Henry said gravely.

“Seems like a silly name for such a little bitty robot,” said George.

“Well, that’s just the thing,” said Henry, who was fond of being just a little too clever.  “It’s an Ironic Giant.”

George blinked at his friend in confusion, then shrugged and took a swig of his Coke.  “Well, it’s a smart little thing.  Can it walk?”

In answer, Henry pressed a button, causing Giant to stagger forward a few steps.

“Well, I’ll be,” George said.  “Can it talk?”

“That’s the part I brought you here to see,” Henry said.  “That’s what makes it my finest invention.”

He pressed another button.  Giant began to hum.  Then it gave a great clunk.

“That means it’s ready,” Henry said.  “Ask it a question.”

“Um…what’s your name?” George said.

“Well, it’s Tiny, obviously, because Henry is so good at making sense.  And your name is Einstein, obviously, since you can so easily remember things you were just told two minutes ago.”

George set down his Coke.  “Whew-eee.  It really can talk.  That’s just amazing, Henry.  You’ve really got something there.”

“Because there was nothing before it could make noise.  Just the wind whistling over your workbench.”

“He just keeps going, don’t he?” George said.

“No, I don’t keep going.  I just shut off the second you brilliant humans are ready to open your brilliant mouths.  What could a robot like me possibly hope to say to such impressive beings?”

George chuckled.  “He’s the funniest little thing.”

“Which you would definitely be qualified to judge because you are such an expert in comedy.”

“I do like good comedy.  Which reminds me of this joke I heard the other day…”

“Oh, please.  Tell us a joke.  I’m sure it will be so original and entertaining,” said the robot.

Pleased with this encouragement, George told the joke.

“As expected, you’re quite the wit,” Giant said when he was finished.  Henry laughed freely since he knew George would think he was laughing at the joke.

That night, after George went home, Henry carried Giant upstairs to dinner at his mother’s.

“Don’t you bring that junk up here to clutter up my space!” said the old woman.

“It’s all finished,” Henry said mildly.  “I wanted you to see him because I made him just for you.  He’s a robot.”

“That’s the ugliest robot I’ve ever seen,” she said, slamming a plate of congealed mac and cheese in front of her son.

“And you’ve seen so many robots, I’m sure,” said Giant.

Henry’s mother looked offended.  “I don’t need to see a bunch of robots to know ugly when I see it,” she snapped.

“Of course not,” responded the robot.  “And I’m sure none of the ugly you’ve seen was ever, say, in the mirror.”

“Well, you little… Henry!  Don’t you let this junky old robot talk to me that way!”

“He doesn’t mean anything by it, Mother.  He’s a robot.  I’ll turn him off for a while if you like.”

“Right.  Because I’m the one he really wants to turn off,” said the robot.

“Well, just see to it that you do,” Henry’s mother said, pointing a wooden spoon at Giant.  “I’ll have no more words out of that pile of junk.”

“Of course, Mother,” Henry said.  He pressed a button.  The lights inside of Giant’s head winked out.

“Much better,” she said.

“Sure it is,” he answered. “I always love it when your voice is the only one I can hear.”

She narrowed her eyes at him, but as he was calmly eating gloopy mac and cheese, she said let the comment slide.

Downstairs later, Henry set Giant back on the workbench and turned on his power.

“Oh, there’s the brave man who made me,” said Giant immediately.  “Boy, do you ever know how to stand up to that woman.”

Henry chuckled.

“You must be so proud of yourself,” Giant continued.  “All the brains it takes to make something like me, and you’re using them so well.  You’re really brave working down in this basement and sweeping floors all day.  Those are some really big accomplishments.”

Henry’s smile faded.

“Being smarter than other people has done you so much good.  You’re really living the high life here.  That pasta tonight was really excellent looking.  I can see why you never leave here.”

With one sweep, Henry knocked the robot off the workbench, causing its head to fly off.  The lights went out.

“Irony is amusing,” Henry muttered, “but no one mocks Mother’s cooking.”



Boo Ha Ha!


Even though I’m all about ghost stories (that don’t involve zombies) I think I’m just about done with the scary stuff for this year.  It’s time to laugh a little, don’t you think?

With that in mind, I bring you this little tale that is absolutely NOT written by me (I found it here.), but which made me laugh and which I’m dying to tell to my kids tonight.

Chris Cross, a tourist in Vienna, is going passed Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof graveyard on October 31st.  All of a sudden he hears some music.  No one is around, so he starts searching for the source.  Chris finally locates the origin and finds it is coming from a grave with a headstone that reads: Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770-1827. Then he realizes that the music is the Ninth Symphony and it is being played backward! Puzzled, he leaves the graveyard and persuades Tim Burr, a friend, to return with him.

By the time they arrive back at the grave, the music has changed. This time it is the Seventh Symphony, but like the previous piece, it is being played backward. Curious, the men agree to consult a music scholar. When they return with the expert, the Fifth Symphony is playing, again backward. The expert notices that the symphonies are being played in the reverse order in which they were composed, the 9th, then the 7th, then the 5th.  By the next day the word has spread and a throng has gathered around the grave. They are all listening to the Second Symphony being played backward.

Just then the graveyard’s caretaker ambles up to the group. Someone in the crowd asks him if he has an explanation for the music.

“Oh, it’s nothing to worry about” says the caretaker. “He’s just decomposing!”

I’m sorry.  I am.  I like puns.  Especially if they’re part of a whole story and not just a question/answer joke.

For kicks I’ve been sending one or two of these stupid fun little Halloween jokes in my kids’ lunches this week.  I decided to go for it, even though, to be honest, I was half-expecting them to come home rolling their eyes and telling me to stop being so…Momish.  But they didn’t.  They came home laughing and telling each other the jokes they’d gotten.  They love them.

Aaaand that’s why you keep trying things as a mom.  Because you just can’t ever predict what they’ll think is fun.  And who wants to miss out on fun just because you were afraid of being mocked?!

I mean, isn’t that the point of Halloween?  To have fun at the risk of being mocked?  So go for it.  Break out your worst puns today.  Word play is good for the soul.

And let’s face it, your kids are going to think you’re weird no matter what you do.  Might as well lean into it.

Photo courtesy of Tina Philips at freedigitalphoto.net.

Why Hippos Shouldn’t Dance

I know everyone is always saying that you can be anything you want to be, that you can do anything you want to do, and that you should always follow  your dreams.

I have to disagree.

I mean, don’t get me wrong.  You absolutely can be almost anything you want to be, and you can do a lot of what you want to do, and you should definitely follow some of your dreams.

But not if you are an elephant and your dream is to fly.  And not if you are swan who wants to play football.  And absolutely not if you are a hippo who wants to dance ballet.

Because if you are an elephant, the only way I can think of for you to fly is to be shot out of a really, really big catapult, and while it may feel wonderful to soar through the air like that, the whole thing is not going to end well for you as an elephant.  Or for anything you  might land on.

And any swan playing football is really making a terrible, terrible mistake.  As I see it, the best case scenario involves you getting mistaken for the ball and thrown helter-skelter through the air.  The worse case (and far more likely) scenario looks more like you at the bottom of a pile of three-hundred-pound men, where, believe me, your elegant beauty is not shown to best effect.

As for you hippos with dreams of dancing?  Just…don’t.  I’ve seen this one first hand, and it scarred me for life.  The one in my back yard actually looked quite lovely in its tutu, but the second it executed its first pirouette, I knew we were in for disaster.  The hippo spinning out of control and knocking down my apple tree was my first clue.  It attempted a chasse which wiped out the begonias and ended with a ground-shaking grand jete.  That finale might actually have won me over if it weren’t for the horrible yelp which led to the awful discovery that the realization of the hippo’s dancing dream had been the end of my dream of owning a dog.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever recover.  (I know my hound won’t.)

So please, elephants, swans, and hippos all, feel free to dream.  Dream of soaring through the skies.  Dream of touchdowns and tackles.  Dream of plies and barres and Swan Lake and applause.

But maybe there’s no need to make that particular dream come true.

(And if you decide you absolutely must, could you do it somewhere far away from me? Thanks.)