But Flatter

“I’m tired of following this human around,” said the shadow. “It’s stupid.”

“Bored?” asked the other shadow. “Yeah, they do tend to do the same stuff over and over.”

“It’s not boredom!” If they hadn’t been speaking in shadow-voices, which naturally travel through the shadows of sound waves, the shout would have woken up its person. “It’s not. I… I want what it has. To be able to do stuff, not just whatever it does but flatter.”

“Put in for a transfer,” said the second. “Be the shadow of a factory or an office building for a while. Those can be real peaceful. And being so big? Really gives you perspective.”

“No, I want to do things! Like the humans. It’s not fair. Why don’t we get to do? Act instead of react? I just want some choice!”

“Well, what do you do at night?”

“At night?”

“Yeah, you know. With the lights out, the big boss covers your shift. I like to go flying out in craters on the moon.”

“We can go off duty?” Its shadow-voice was breathy, unbelieving.

“Did you even read the shadow manual?” But it was talking to empty darkness, the other shadow already gone.

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As Honor Demands

“Sir Acornium, a moment! While I am sure you did not intend it, I am positive that I just now saw you digging up a delectable treat that was not your own.”

“My word, Sir Pufflecheeks, that accusation is as shocking as it is false. I buried that worthy meal last fall. I must demand that you rescind your statement or be prepared to defend it.”

“I cannot in good conscience say otherwise, nole sir, for I know your words for false. You see, I buried that comestible myself, in that very spot!”

“You will not gainsay your accusation?”

“I cannot. And while I have no wish to do you harm, know, good sir, that I stand ready.”

“Then let this be the field of honor! Have at!”

Matt elbowed Jana and pointed out the window. “Look at how wild those squirrels are going at it. They’re such crazy critters!”

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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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