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On the Shelf

Getting Ahead
The Stars Fell
Cripple Sketch
A Large Steel Screw


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This is a story of a little boy. I do not know much about little girls, aside from that they are not little boys, but there may be enough that is not different between the two for a little girl to understand what happened once to this little boy.

Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Danny.

Danny lived in a wonderful neighborhood with lots and lots of kids to run around and play with. He had his own treehouse in a tree in his backyard and he kept a whole chest full of legos out there for something to do. His parents were loving and kind (the kind who read bedtime stories, even when they would rather go to bed). Everyone loved Danny at school. He was a smart boy, so the teachers liked him, and he made all the other kids laugh, so he was never without friends.

But Danny's bestest best friend of all was Josh. Some people thought Josh was an imaginary friend, but Danny knew he was Real. Danny spent all of his time with Josh. And when he wasn't with Josh, all he would talk about was Josh.

"He's really big," Danny would say, "bigger than my dad and your dad and even bigger than the giant bear we saw at the zoo. And he's old. Older than grandpa's grandpa."

Sometimes, even though Danny was a smart boy, he would get confused. He'd get stuck on his times tables or forget how to spell 'jiraff'. But he would remember that Josh knew more than even Mrs. Morgan, the teacher. And sometimes Danny's dad would leave Danny's room before he'd actually gone to sleep, but Danny didn't mind. Josh was always there. He would be there until Danny went to sleep and be there to wake him up in the morning (in case mom forgot).

Danny did everything with Josh. On rainy days, Danny would put on his rainsuit and then go running up and down the street and then, SPLASH, jump right into a big puddle. And Josh would laugh, long and deep. On windy days, Danny would climb up into the tallest branches above the treehouse, and Josh would shake the branches back and forth. (This time Danny would laugh.) On hot summer days, Danny would get out his chalk and spend all day coloring on the sidewalk. Then, at the end of the day, he would show Josh what he had drawn on the sidewalk. Josh would smile, and then show Danny what he had drawn in the sky. On clear nights, Danny and Josh would lie on the roof and wink back at all the stars that winked at them.

One day, it was discovered that the treehouse tree was rotting on the inside and it needed to be cut down. A little later, Danny overheard his mom and dad fighting. They got so mad at each other that they forgot about his bedtime story. Danny was upset and he couldn't concentrate, so he stopped paying attention in school. He couldn't laugh himself, so he stopped making his friends laugh. Since no one really wants to be around someone who's always sad, his friends (whether intentionally or not) gradually stopped playing with him. They really cannot be blamed, since it is very difficult to play with someone who doesn't play back. Finally Danny's dad sat down with him and explained that their family did not have enough money any more. In order to get enough money, Danny's dad was accepting a job far away. They were going to move away from the wonderful neighborhood and all the friends that Danny still had and go somewhere else.

Danny ran upstairs and locked himself in his room. Danny was upset. He didn't like losing his treehouse and all his friends. He wanted mom and dad never to fight and he didn't want to move. Where was Josh? Why didn't Josh stop all of this from happening? If Josh was really Danny's friend, he wouldn't have let this happen.

Josh had been in the room the whole time, so he decided to answer Danny.

Danny? Josh said, How big are you?

"I'm bigger than Johnny next door..."

How old are you and how much do you know?

"Um, I'm seven in two weeks and I know my times tables up to 7 by 8 and I can spell cat and dog and even gorilla."

And who is your bestest best friend of all?


I am bigger than your dad and bigger than the giant bear you saw at the zoo. I am older than your grandpa's grandpa and I know more than Mrs. Morgan. I stay with you until you fall asleep and I am still there when you wake up. I was there when you were born and I will still be with you when you die. I play with you in the rain and in the sun, at day and at night. Why did you think that I would leave you now?

"Josh, I'm sorry." Danny was crying. "It just hurts. And I don't like it."

I know, but that's what friends are for. You wouldn't need friends if it never hurt, and friends wouldn't be friends if they didn't help each other through pain. I am your bestest best friend of all; that means that there will be pain, and I will help you through it.

For those of you who are always looking for a happy ending, you may be interested to know that Danny moved to a perfectly nice neighborhood that may have been even nicer than the one he left. He started laughing again and he had lots of friends. But his bestest best friend of all was Josh.

Getting Ahead

The morning sun sent streaks of light across the sky. The city lay quiet. No one woke inside the houses. Coffee cups sat unused in kitchen cupboards. The streets lay empty, devoid of the morning traffic. Nothing moved except a rusty old volkswagon driving into town. Inside that car sat a man. Baggy eyelids exposed many a sleepless night and his slightly aged face was fixed steadfastly on the road. Neatly dressed in a suit and tie, he drove slowly into town. Dan Jones had made the same trip from his house in the country to town every morning for the past thirty-seven years. As the traffic light turned green, Dan drove up to a three story office building. He'd worked here ever since he was old enough to work.

Dan stepped out of the car with the ease of long experience. Where is John?! He thought to himself. That lazy bum! I told him to meet me at six this morning! Dan made his way inside to his desk. Why am I always the first one here? Why don't the guys ever show up on time? While I'm here working my butt off, they're at home sleeping. Ha ha! But I'll show them! I'm getting ahead, so I don't have to live in this good-for-nothing town anymore. Any year now I'll get enough money to go to the big time. I'll move off to New York, or maybe Chicago, and start my own business. Then I'll show them! Absorbed in thought, Dan sat down at his desk for a good day's work.

When the sun lifted off the horizon, Dan was still busy at his desk. Where is John! Dan fumed, We have to finish the Robertson report today! If we don't get that finished by tomorrow, it will certainly look bad on my record. I don't understand how John gets on so well. I work so much harder than he does, and yet he still gets promoted before me. I can't believe it. I must surely be next in line for promotion, if I don't start slacking off now. Realizing that he had stopped working, he plunged back into it with renewed energy.

The sun slowly approached its zenith and the timeclock on the wall rang for lunch break. Dan looked up from his work and stretched. Glimpsing some passing object outside, he went to a window. A pigeon sat on the windowsill. The midday sun shone brightly down on the city. Not a thing stirred in the city, except for an occasional bird. It was just last week, wasn't it? John was just moving into his new office. No, wait! That was last year. He rubbed his face in frustration. I have to stay on task. That's why John was promoted instead of me. He quickly returned to his desk and began typing rapidly. Tap-tap-tap bam tapety-tapů

The sun was on its way down to the western horizon and John had still not arrived at the office. Dan looked at the clock on the wall. 2:43, I can't believe John hasn't even dropped by to tell me he's not working today. I've got a mind to go to his house and drag him in here. He's always been lazy. Even when I tell him that he needs to stay on task, all he says is "Oh, lighten up, Dan." Well this time he's really in trouble. When we don't get this Robertson report finished I'll just have to say John wasn't here to help me. He got up and looked at the clock on the wall. 2:46, just enough time to get in a few hours of work once I get John in here. He stepped toward the door as if to go. Suddenly, a strange look came over his face. He stared around the abandoned room as if struck with a new idea. Wait! Where is everyone else! They couldn't have all taken a day off. Maybe there was a company trip that no one told me about. He quickly ran to the window. But where are all the others? Why are there no cars in the streets? Frantically, Dan began to pace. Where are the people walking their dogs? What happened to everyone? WHAT HAPPENED? He sank down on his knees and sobbed.

The desolate city rested in deathly tranquility as the sun lowered down to the horizon. The timeclock rang five o'clock signaling the end of the work day. Dan, startled, sprang up from his heap on the floor. Oh no! Was I dozing off again!? A whole day wasted! I'll have to come in early tomorrow to make up for it. He hurried to the door. Oh! And I have to remind John to come in with me at six tomorrow to work on the Robertson report. If we don't get it finished by the day after tomorrow it's going to look bad on my record. I have to get ahead so I can leave this town. Ready to work hard and be the best he could be, Dan left the office.

No one noticed him pull out of the office lot, and no one saw him drive out of town. No one was on the roadway. No one locked their doors for the night. No one moved. No one spoke. No one worked, except for a tired man driving to work each morning and driving home at night.

The Stars Fell

"We'd known they were coming for years. They knew that we'd fight them to the last man. There was nothing that either of us could have done about it."
    - President Wells

Far above a busy street in the middle of the city, a light glimmers in the night sky. Unheeding, the pedestrians hustle about their nightly routine. As the light descends, people begin to notice. All action stops and everyone watches as the light approaches Earth at an astonishing speed. A store owner steps outside his shop just as the disc touches down. A deep, booming voice echoes across the city, broadcast through loudspeakers placed for this exact purpose.

"Attention, citizens! The aliens have landed. Do not panic. We are ready. Every man, woman, and child has been trained to zap aliens. We will fight them. We will never give up, and we will win! May all the gods of humanity be with us in this desperate hour."

A ramp begins to descend from the craft and scuffling is heard from inside as the beings prepare to emerge. A barrage of clicking and snapping sounds assault the clear black air as every single person loads and readies their personal choice of firearm. There is a tense silence while the combatants steel their nerves.

The first one out is blown away by the shopkeeper's shot gun. As soon as the opening clears, another and another slobbering beast comes charging out. Alien warbles and human cries mingle as guts fly and blood mists the air. A woman screams as she is tackled by a five-legged beast, only to cry with surprise as its head splatters from a little girl's pistol fire. A shout goes up. All the aliens lie dead or dismembered.

The survivors huddle over the wounded or with each other. There are no tears, however; they have already been shed. They were prepared. Everyone was prepared.

At evenly spaced distances around them, countless more lights descend.


"Look! Look at what you've done, Wells!"

President Wells stands behind a pedestal. His face is illuminated only by the dim moonlight streaming through high windows. He is a short, stout man with black hair and bushy eyebrows. His eyes are slightly baggy and red irritation lines run through them. His brow is furrowed and his mouth is in a constant frown. Before Wells and to his left, a semi-circle of men and women sit watching him. Every type and strata of humanity is represented. No conversation is passed between them. They sit and watch. To Wells' right, a man paces, frantically gesturing at a large vidscreen. He has a full head of curly red hair, a big red beard and a red moustache. This is Mr. Gibson, former Secretary of State and ardent protestor of Wells' policies. His eyes gleam as he turns to address the assembly.

"Honored representatives of the Human Conglomerate, you have just witnessed the coming of aliens. You have also observed President Wells' techniques to persuade the populace to slaughter these beings at first sight. No one gave them a chance to leave their vehicles, let alone explain themselves. If the President had only seen fit--"

At this point Wells cuts in. "Excuse me, that's not true. Am I never to be allowed to speak in my own defense?"

"We are not here to be amazed by your oratorical talent, Wells," Gibson retorts. "You will speak only--"

"Let the man speak." Again Gibson is interrupted. This time the culprit is representative Humphrey, an elderly and well-respected man. "I said, let the man speak. You have done nothing but accuse him all night long."

There are no protests, and Gibson sits down, glowering all the while at Humphrey. Wells begins to give his account.

"A little over two years ago I received word from an advisor that one of our deep space probes was returning strange signals. Apparently there were thousands of large objects heading at an incomprehensible speed towards Earth. Our first images of the alien armada caused quite a stir at the White House. They would be here in a few months. All forms of communication were tried. We received no response. Our only recourse was to assume that their objective was the hostile takeover of Earth. There were not enough soldiers in the world to take on a force that large. So I proposed Project Seven. We would create an army of citizens. The world was mobilized. We had two objectives, the production of weapons and the training of the masses. Schools became combat grounds. Offices became target ranges. It was the world's first complete draft. When the aliens landed, we were ready. It was a hard struggle and there were many casualties, but we did it! We won! I saved the human race!"

"On the contrary, Mr. President, you just may have destroyed everything that was human. The beings out there aren't human, they're heartless killers. They don't laugh or cry. Every trace of humanity has been stripped from them!"

Wells sighs and explains, "We'd known they were coming for years. They knew that we'd fight them to the last man. There was nothing that either of us could have done about it, Mr. Gibson. Humans adapt; that's what makes them human, not any emotion or other frailty. All that I have done is shown people how to defend themselves. If I had not acted the way I did, we would all be dead right now. Would that have made you happy, Gibson? Would it have been a better world with the human race exterminated like so many rats?"

Inside the courtroom, a bitter debate emerges over the fate of one man. Outside, crumbled brick and fallen buildings clutter the streets. The disgusting stench of human bodies drifts in the overpowering putrescence of alien blood. Clusters of humans hide themselves, waiting for the next alien attack. That attack will never come.

A man sits in an alley. He holds a semi-automatic in each hand and grenades are strapped around his chest. He sits, quivering and waiting as Gibson's unspoken response shrieks across the broken landscape.




Standing beneath a bright street lamp, his surroundings are lost in darkness. Black beady eyes constantly shift from shadow to shadow. His round face is topped by shaggy, dark brown hair. He coughs before he looks up and speaks.

"I've lost three partners in the past two weeks, Commander! He's killing us like flies! I don't know how he does it. He must be a genius. He seems to anticipate every move we make."

A noise makes him jump. After rechecking his surroundings, he leans closer and talks a little quieter. "I'm getting close, real close, but Zeke keeps eluding me. Every time I get near, he disappears for a good six months, but not this time. I've got a few tricks up my sleeve old Zeke will never see coming. I'll be rep-"

Suddenly, a muffled explosion sounds and the screen fizzles to static.


A gnat buzzes around the single hanging light bulb. The walls are cracked and dirty with dry wall crumbling in places. A damp, musky smell permeates the air as there are no windows for ventilation and a single locked door guards the only entrance. Eight display screens are packed tightly into the wall directly opposite the door. A pulsing switchboard runs along the bottom of the screens and curves around a large upholstered swivel chair.
A figure rests in the chair. He leans over, flips a switch and a monitor pops to life.


A bleary-eyed man appears on the screen. His light brown hair is all in disarray and he nervously pulls at the left side of a small, well-trimmed moustache. What little can be seen of the background reveals the bed and table of a fancy hotel. As he begins to speak he betrays a slight British accent, although he soon reverts to a nondescript tone.

"Yes, Commander?"

"They just got Phillips. I need you back on the case."

Taken aback, he exclaims, "Sir, this is my first vacation in four years!"

"You're the best we've got, Jolson, now that Phillips is gone. This case is crucial to the survival of the Organization. If you stay there, we might not be here when you get back. Zeke's killing agents faster than we can replace them. We need him stopped, and now. "

After a momentary sigh, he responds, "Aye, sir."


All screens go static and silence reigns for an instant. The gnat buzzes and the silence is lost. It hovers around the chair and finally lands on an armrest. The light bulb flashes and goes dark, leaving the room bathed in the half-light of the monitors.
Some time later, the room brightens as a screen begins to clear.


The screen stays fuzzy, but through the static Jolson can be seen frantically gesturing. Barely discernable through cavorting white dots is a payphone. Nothing else can be seen around him.

"The Organization must be alerted at once! I have just uncovered plans of Zeke's to infiltrate the Organization! You may be in very grave danger Commander. Be wary of everyone, even our most trusted agents. Zeke is a master of disguise. Don't be fooled!"

A beep sounds from the switchboard and a piece of paper slides out through a slot, coming to rest in the Commander's right hand.

"I've just sent you an exact copy of the message I intercepted. As you can see, there are important sections missing. I will attempt to uncover the rest of the message at the point of delivery. Zeke is in control of an office building in town. It should be simple to break in and recover the entire document. I'll report back at that time. Please! Lose no time! Every agent must know of this at once. It endangers us all."


Pressing several buttons and flicking a few switches the Commander sends out the message: Zeke has placed a traitor among us. Be warned.

The gnat buzzes again, this time on the switchboard. With a smack the Commander's hand comes down and grinds the gnat into paste.

Time passes.

A screen flicks on.


"Help! I need help!"

The sound of gunfire can be heard and Jolson appears to be pinned down behind an overturned desk. He returns fire and then yells again over the noise.

"I'm trapped in here! There's no way out! I was ambushed. They must have known I was coming."

A funny expression comes over his face and he talks with renewed energy.

"How did they know I was coming here? There's no way they could have, I only told... ...you! It was you! You're the traitor!"

Just then, the desk explodes and a piece of wood lodges itself in Jolson's neck.


A deep laugh fills the room and the Commander speaks again.

"You'll never know how close you were, Jolson. That's funny, I always thought Phillips was the best, but he never even suspected."

The door slams open. The shadow of a large man falls over the back of the chair.

"Turn around slowly and keep your hands off the switchboard, Zeke."

The chair turns slowly around revealing the Commander. His once crisp black uniform is rumpled and in disarray after sleepless nights spent in the control room. His short black hair is matted down and his chin bristles with unshaved hairs.

"It seems I have underestimated you, Phillips. You always have been the most difficult agent to handle."

Phillips stands in the doorway with both hands at arms length clasping a hand gun. His arms shake slightly and a bead of sweat drips down his brow.

"I've got you now, Zeke. There's nowhere to run. You're right in the middle of enemy territory. You're not going to disappear this time."

At this, the Commander only smiles and replies, "Oh? And who says I need to, Agent Phillips?"

Drawn by some unseen signal two men tackle Phillips from behind. As soon as he hits the ground a half dozen more disarm him and hold him down. The Commander looks on with grave interest.

"It seems we have found our infiltrator, men. Take him to a detainment cell."

Phillips is dragged bodily from the room. His shouts can be heard long after he has left the hallway.

"Zeke is the Commander! The Commander is Zeke!"

The Commander only shakes his head in dismay. "There's Zeke's mental preparation techniques at work. The man will not give in even after he has lost. What a shame it is that Zeke has, in the end, outwitted our best agent."

A small chuckle escapes his lips before he gains control of himself. The Commander then returns to the switchboard and resumes control of the Organization.

Cripple Sketch

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.

About a hundred meters away, his head rounds the crest of the hill. His brown hair is matted to his forehead. Drops of sweat glisten and run over his nose to fall softly to the ground. His eyes are glazed over and he stares straight ahead.

"How far has he gone today?"

"This is his sixth lap."

Massive arms pumping, he climbs up the hill. His shirt, saturated completely, clings to his body. His chest pulses quickly and smoothly.

"Why does he do it?"

He mounts the hill to reveal a pair of emaciated and bony legs. Trembling to support his huge upper body, they seem to bend each time his body comes crashing to the ground.

"No one really knows."

Gaining speed, he quickly approaches the two figures.

"Alright, John, time to call it quits."

He looks over, and a grin spreads across his face.

"One more."

Accelerating again, he is gone.

A Large Steel Screw

The world lay stretched out below him. Miniature evergreens and the snowy ground drift lazily toward him. Curled tightly into a ball, he shivers in the cold. He falls with no apprehension. No fear shows in his face. The wind carries all the sound of his laughter far away. Waiting for death, he clutches an object close to his chest. He anticipates his life flashing before his eyes, but a single scene keeps playing itself out in his mind.

He stands in the open doorway of a small airplane, struggling with all his might against two strong-armed thugs. He pulls free from one and falls precariously near the edge. He freezes, observing the immense height to which they have ascended. Nearby, a goose has landed on the wing. Envying the goose for its wings, he is jerked up again.

A man enters the room. The man speaks, filling him with dread.

"It seems you have outlived your usefulness. Get rid of him, boys."

His body tenses all over. A maniacal gleam fills his eyes as he stares out into the emptiness. With a rough shove he is pushed through the doorway. At that instant, he pushes off from the edge. He lands on the wing and frantically scrabbles for a handhold. The cold steel slides unforgivingly by his fingers, and then, he touches something. He grasps it, holding on for dear life as his feet dangle over thousands of feet of nothing. However, it was never meant to hold the weight of a grown man. Ever so slowly, it creaks, grinds, tears, and breaks free, sending him down and down.

A foolish grin is now plastered to his face. He holds the object tenderly. A large steel screw, his last hope and final triumph, rests in his worn and bleeding hands. In that last moment, as he fell to his death, he felt a cool liquid splash his face. Pulling the screw with him, he had ripped a hole in the plane's gas tank. There is no way the plane can make it across the perilous mountains ahead, and, even as he falls, an explosion sends snow hurtling down a nearby peak. He closes his eyes and drifts in the breeze, all the while holding a large steel screw.

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