A Special Prescription

Mark smiled across the table. As first dates went, this was pretty good. Dan had a bashful charm that had been putting a smile on Mark’s face all night. “Can I see your glasses?” Mark asked.

Dan hesitated in that way that Mark found so cute. “Uh, okay.” He took the thick black frames off and passed them over.

“I just want to see how bad your prescription is.” Mark fitted the glasses to his face peering too closely through them to see Dan’s growing nervousness. A moment later Mark whipped them off in shock. “Those… those colors! Shapes! What was that?”

Dan snatched the glasses back in a panic. “It’s, uh, a special prescription. I’m twenty/four-hundred emotional recognition. These help correct for that. Makes the emotions… more clear. With colors.”

“So that kind of red light I saw glowing, uh, all around you?”

Dan blushed. “Um, that’s attraction. And…” he muttered something Mark couldn’t make out, but Mark was pretty sure he didn’t need to. Mark smiled. Dan smiled. They started holding hands.

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The Finishing Touch

Daniel put the finishing touches on the tiny figurine. No bigger than his thumb, it bore every semblance of humanity. This one was a young boy, dressed for boarding school. He had a barely visible blush to his cheeks, as if he’d been running to make the bell and now stood, all propriety, hands behind his back, ready for lessons.

Daniel sniffed and wiped away a tear that hadn’t yet formed. He’d always wanted a child, but Jenny had died so young and he’d never had the heart to remarry. “Alan,” he whispered. The name let him pretend for a moment that the hole in his heart could be filled.

“I put pressure on you to go to Eton, but you became a Radley boy instead. I was proud you made your own choice. You hated your piano lessons until you loved them. You wish people didn’t call you Al. I will always love you.”

Something in the mixture—the intensity of emotion, the infinite care, the perfect detail—invested the shape with life. The figurine woke as Alan, memories, emotions, and all.

Daniel put Alan on his private shelf beside dozens more immobile figurines, each as carefully painted and intensely loved.

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A Man Built This Trap in His Backyard, and It’s Disgusting How Well It Works

“How does Mr Calhoun keep his yard looking so nice?” Mr Osaka and Mrs Turner stood at the bank of mailboxes and looked across the street at the verdant green. Mr Osaka scratched his balding head.

“Oh, you don’t want to know,” Mrs Turner said. Osaka looked at her, one eyebrow raised, until she said, “Fine, follow me.” She led him across the street and into her backyard, adjacent to Calhoun’s. At the rear corner of the house, between the perfect front yard and the gorgeous backyard, stood a small toolshed. Painted all in black, it had a single door and a sign that read “XBox Room—Keep Out.”

“So?” Osaka said.

“You know all those fraternities two streets over?” Mrs Turner could see Mr Osaka tense. “I see you do. Noticed they’ve been more quiet lately?”

“Not really. But… I guess they haven’t woken up me or Alan, lately.”

“Right. They sneak in here to play Mr Calhoun’s XBox in his little shed, here.”

“So?”

“So after that, they don’t bother us, and Mr Calhoun gets a fantastic mulch.”

“Oh my god,” Osaka said. “And I called those frat boys useless.” He looked over the lush lawn. “Think he’d share?”

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When This Bus Driver Saw a Stray Dog Shivering in the Storm, She Stopped to Do An Amazing Thing

When the bus slowed, squealed, and shuddered to a stop, Howard absently rose and headed to the doors. “Hey.” He stopped. “This isn’t a bus stop. What’s going on?” he called up to the driver.

The driver was peering out into the heavy rain of the grey city. Lightning lit the streets, showing Howard a large stray dog shivering on the sidewalk. Before any of the passengers said anything, the driver walked out into the rain and put a hand on the creature’s head. The mutt didn’t move, as though it expected neither kindness nor cruelty from humankind, only perfect indifference.

Rain obscured the gradual change until it couldn’t be overlooked, making it seem abrupt. The driver’s skin sprouted fur of the same grey-brown as the hound. Howard’s bemusement turned to shock. The dog’s fur also changed, turning smooth and chocolate brown, growing larger and rising to its feet even as the driver shrank. A moment later, a new driver boarded the bus, similar to its predecessor but clearly distinct. “Sorry for the delay. Let’s get y’all back on track.”

Howard watched the dog in the rain as the bus left it behind. It looked soaked, hungry, ignored… and satisfied.

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Basically Awesome

“Nerf guns are basically awesome,” the boy said. He sat on a park bench beside a stranger, an older woman who slouched and leaned back, legs sprawled in front of her. “I’m Perry.” He held a plastic gun toy longer than his arm.

“Mary,” the woman said, and they shook hands. The motion revealed puckered scar tissue under her armpit, visible above the seam of her sleeveless undershirt. Perry’s eyes widened. “What happened?”

“Doctors,” she said, and no more. Perry continued. “Yeah, so basically, this gun can shoot up to ten bullets before reloading, or you can use burst mode and shoot three at a time. See?” He swung the barrel toward her, and Mary reflexively shoved the business end away.

“Listen, kid,” she said.

“Perry.”

“Kid, guns are dangerous. Have you ever seen a friend’s blood soaking into the sand? Ever felt three bullets punch through your armor’s weak spot and through a lung?” He shook his head. “Guns are fucking terrifying, kid, and I hope I never see one again, Nerf or not.” She got up. “Have a nice day.”

Half an hour later, a teenager stopped at the bench, trailed by her friends. “Hey, free Nerf gun!”

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Of Cause and Effect

God looked down at the Earth, which was lush with green and fruitful things and teeming with animals. God thought that this wondrous creation would be nothing without minds to explore and to shape it. So God created humanity.

Humanity did as God willed without instruction, exploring and expanding across the earth and building from God’s creation. Their exploration taught them of cause and effect, that everything follows from what precedes it. This led to the obvious question, and humanity built centers dedicated to the contemplation of what cause had effected the world.

Delighted by humanity’s curiosity, God granted humanity revelation of the divine. Temples to questions became temples to God and the answers. Humanity explored many interpretations of the divine revelation, and different groups favored different conclusions. Some forbade alien beliefs. They warred, and many temples fell.

God looked down on humanity, spilling blood and toppling houses of knowledge over as trivial a thing as what to think about God, who wasn’t even part of the world humans had been made to explore. God chose to make a new people, one that would be totally unconcerned with what anyone else thought.

And that is how cats came to be.

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You Have to Say

The three police officers waited in the precinct lot. One stood, two leaned on their cars, but none was at ease. “God, I wish this guy would show up,” Officer Brusky said.

“Stop it,” said Sergeant Chopra. “It doesn’t work like that.”

“Yeah,” added Officer Millikan. “You have to say something like, ‘I wish I could run faster than Usain Bolt,’ and then he shows up.”

They didn’t notice the purple smoke drifting out of their tailpipes until it coalesced into a muscular man with a broad smile. They jumped when he clapped his hands and boomed, “Your wish is granted!”

Service weapons practically leapt into the officers’ hands. “You’re under arrest,” Chopra shouted. At the same time Brusky stammered, “What wish?”

“The wish to run faster, of course! Look at your phone!” Against Chopra’s direction, Millikan holstered her weapon and checked the news. The surprise genie crossed his arms and looked smug. “Oh my god,” she said, “look.” She showed around a breaking news article: Bolt had just broken both legs in an accident.

“I didn’t wish that!” she cried.

Chopra repeated, “You’re under arrest!”

“Of course you did, Officer,” the genie said. “And under arrest for what?”

“Um, battery. On Bolt,” said the sergeant.

Millikan said, “But I didn’t mean it!”

“I never touched him, your Honor,” said the genie, dissolving into mist. “And you don’t have to mean the words. You think anyone else thinks their wish will come true?” He vanished.

“Dammit,” cried Brusky, whose trigger finger looked itchy.

“Told you this wouldn’t work,” Chopra said.

Officer Millikan met with the department counselor a few times, then returned to work. A month later, she ran down a fleeing suspect with unbelievable speed. The next day, the news revealed that Bolt’s supposed injury had been a hoax.

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A Pretty Firm Rule

“So, this is my place.” Robert spread his arms and turned a slow circle. “It’s not much, but… it’s not much.” He smiled.

Mallory took a few strides into the center of the space and pointed at a closed door. “Bathroom?” He nodded and she stepped through the door without hesitation, but didn’t close it. Robert heard his shower curtain clatter. “Hey, you, uh, feel like taking a shower?” Sensing an opening, he tried to lean confidently in the doorway. She was peering into the open tub.

“Nope,” she said. “I have a pretty firm rule about checking the tub for bodies.” Nodding in satisfaction, she left the bathroom. Robert stepping to the side so she could pass.

“Okay, um, why would you have that rule?” Robert watched her make herself comfortable on the couch.

“Ever gone to the bathroom after sex and found a body in the guy’s tub?” She cocked an eyebrow at him. Robert shook his head. “Well, once is enough, y’know?”

From then on, Robert was the sort of person who checked to make sure his date wasn’t the sort of person who checked the tub for bodies. It didn’t help him win many second dates.

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That’s a Strange Noise

Lily was cruising along at a comfortable, almost-legal five miles above the limit when a small smile grew on her face. “Huh, that’s a strange noise” must be the worst thing to say to yourself while driving, she thought.

She started thinking about other times you wouldn’t want to think that: in a plane, on a spaceship. Was it all mechanical conveyances? No, Lily decided, I’d hate to hear a strange noise while high up in a tree or climbing a mountain. Or having sex. Was there any circumstance where hearing a strange noise was a good thing?

Well, she thought, it must depend on the noise. Being strange meant it had to be unfamiliar, and that unfamiliarity made it suspect and potentially dangerous. Even if the noise presaged something good, the listener couldn’t know that, must feel something like fear or discomfort until she could identify the noise. If it turned out to be good, she would experience the pleasure of relief. And if bad, she would have the initial alarm to help prepare herself. But it always started out bad.

Shifting gears to leave the freeway, she heard a metallic squeal. Huh, she thought, that’s a strange noise.

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Bold, Red Letters

KEEP OUT said the bold, red letters on the green door. Sam felt it made clear that the door was worth getting into. He didn’t read instruction manuals, either. A moment with his tools and the door let him in.

That revealed a small office, a comfortable chair, a small rug, a small bookcase, and an old desk polished by use. The room was orderly but not overbearingly neat: a book canted against the reading chair’s armrest, and a pen lay atop a few papers on the desk. Sam looked through the books and papers, leaving little disturbance behind.

He found the notebook inside the desk drawer, next to a pen gone dry. It looked like a journal to him, green with KEEP OUT in bold, red letters. Sam smiled. He wouldn’t need his tools for this one. The inside cover declared in the same bold red NO EXIT. He turned the page.

The first entry began, “After the events of the following page…” Sam blinked, but read on. The author described breaking into a small office and rifling it, coming upon a private journal and opening it. Uncomfortable, he looked around and noticed text on the inside of the door: NO EXIT, red and bold. The next page began, “Then I returned to the previous page.”

Sam felt the skein of the world peel back, and his rising panic subsided into a feeling of superiority as he picked the lock of the green door with the bold, red letters.

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