Sunday, September 11, 2011

My favorite short story writers

I just created my first Listmania list on I love short stories, so I thought I'd list my favorite short story writers. The list, which is here, has my thoughts on the authors I like the most. I highly recommend these writers if you want to delve into some entertaining stories that can be read in one sitting.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Cute And Scary

My newest book trailer is up. I thought it would be fun to use a cute bunny as a spokesperson for my book "Big Chills". He's called Happy Bunny. Some writers write cute, some write scary. Only John McDonnell writes cute and scary! by JohnMcDonnell

Like it? Create your own at It's free and fun!

Friday, September 2, 2011

A contest for readers

Do you like contests? I haven't done many promotions for my ebooks, but I thought I'd try something fun for my newest collection of horror stories, Big Chills.

For the Labor Day weekend I'm offering a $10 Amazon gift certificate to the first three people who can name the female character in "Crusher",  one of the stories in Big Chills.

"Crusher" is one of those stories with a twist at the end, and I hope you like it. In any case, if you can name the female character, I'll send an Amazon gift certificate to your email address. Just email me at with the name of the character, and I'll let you know if you won.

You can find Big Chills at or Smashwords.

This contest ends at 8 PM Eastern Time on Monday, September 5. Good luck!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How Not To Starve As A Short Story Writer

By John McDonnell

Back in 2001 I decided to start sending out short stories to online magazines. Short fiction writers like Ernest Hemingway and Flannery O’Connor have always been my heroes, and I had a dream of being a successful short story writer myself. I put that dream off for many years, but when I saw how many magazines there were on the Internet devoted to “flash fiction”, or ultra-short stories, I decided to jump into the pool.

I joined an online flash fiction writing group, used its feedback to polish my stories, and I started sending them out.

And I had success. Some of my stories got published. Actually, a lot more of my stories got published than I had expected. It turned out that editors liked my writing. I went around in a pretty good mood for awhile, thinking that I could finally call myself a short story writer, because, hot damn, I was published!

My euphoria faded a bit with time. I was still happy with my decision to send out my stories, but there were times when I wondered, Is this all there is? The reason is that the  rush of seeing my name in print was followed by an empty feeling in my wallet.

The fact is, online magazines don’t pay very much. Actually, most of them don’t pay at all. If you get a dollar or two for your story, consider yourself lucky. In most cases you get a byline and a link to your Web site or blog, and maybe a 50 word bio.

Now, I’m not griping too much, mind you. It’s a great thrill to see your story on the screen, and to have the validation that an editor liked what you wrote. Sometimes you even get fan e-mail.

Money, though, is a kind of validation, perhaps the most telling kind. If somebody parts with their hard-earned cash to buy what you’ve written, it means more than if you’re giving it away for free.

And that’s why I love ebooks. The ebook revolution has made it easy for authors to publish their short stories, and to actually sell them to the reading public. I have four ebooks of my short stories online now, and I have been pleasantly surprised at how well they’re selling.

What makes me really happy, however, is this interesting fact. My first ebook has 13 horror stories in it. Five years ago I could have sent all 13 of those stories out to online magazines, waited weeks or months for editors to decide if they wanted to publish them, re-submitted to new magazines the ones that were rejected, waited some more, and kept at it until maybe a year later when I could see every one of the 13 published.

My net income would have been at most, 13 dollars, assuming every one of the stories got published in a magazine that paid a dollar a story (which, like I said before, is a princely sum for most online magazines).

Instead, I put those stories in an ebook, and started making money on them immediately. Now, I’m not on the level of a Joe Konrath or Amanda Hocking, people who are selling thousands of their ebooks every month, but I can tell you that I’ve made many, many times that 13 dollars I referred to above.

The lesson to me is clear. Online magazines are a great outlet for short story writers, but if you like to be paid for your work, and you don’t like waiting for an editor to get back to you with a decision, and you like immediate feedback from readers, put your stories in an ebook and sell them on Smashwords, Amazon, or one of the other ebook outlets.

What happens if every writer does this? Will online magazines go out of business for lack of story submissions? Maybe some will, but I imagine there will still be enough people out there who want the validation that comes from an editor wanting to publish their work. And who knows, maybe the online magazines will have to increase their pay rates to get good writers to send stories to them in this new environment. 

All I know is that from now on, my stories are going straight to ebooks.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I'm an animator!

Not really, but it was fun to write that headline. Actually, I feel like an animator because I just made my second book trailer using GoAnimate, which is a site that gives you all the tools to create simple animations. I'm making these trailers to promote my horror ebooks, and I'm having fun doing them. I think they're pretty clever, too, if I do say so myself. Why not check out my latest? It's short and funny (again, if I do say so myself!). It's called "Big Chills At The Office". Big Chills At The Office by JohnMcDonnell

Like it? Create your own at It's free and fun!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Late Arrival

By John McDonnell

She’d never driven a car before, but somehow Alice figured she’d be all right.
Except that she was driving in a blizzard.
The snow was coming down so hard she could hardly see the road anymore. It was like she was going through a long tunnel, white on all sides, with nothing ahead of her but a circle of black and the driving snow. She’d already slid three times when she put her foot on the brake, once almost skidding into a tree. Luckily, there were no cars on the road in this weather.
What was I thinking, going out in a blizzard?
She couldn’t stand it anymore -- she had to get away from that nursing home. When the weatherman on TV predicted a big storm, it was her chance. Everyone except a skeleton crew of staffers had left early. She’d gone to the nursing station when nobody was around and rifled through a few purses till she found car keys. She meandered down the hallway with her walker, trying to act normal, then slipped out a side door and went down to the parking lot. She pressed the unlock button on the key remote till the lights went on in a black Ford Explorer. She ditched the walker and got in.
David, her deceased husband, had always been the driver in their family. Alice sat next to him for so long that she thought she could figure out this driving business.
Getting out of the parking lot had been easy. Now that she was on the road, however, she was feeling weaker.

What have I done? Where am I going to go? I’m just an old lady who has no place in this world.

She’d been alone for ten years after David died, and her only daughter had put her in that home. She felt like she’d been around too long, lived past her time. She didn’t understand modern life. All these gadgets and gizmos, everybody rushing so fast they didn’t have time to sit and have a cup of coffee with you. She liked to talk, but nobody listened anymore.
Alice shivered as the wind buffeted the car. She was wearing pajamas, a bathrobe and slippers. I sure hope this car has enough gas, she thought, then looked at the gas gauge for the first time and saw it was on Empty.

Well, that’s it for me. I’m done for.

Just then she saw a light. At first it was only a small glow on her windshield, but she turned  the car toward it and it got bigger. It was a diner, one of those old-fashioned ones that looked like a railroad car. Its windows threw out a warm, bright light, and Alice could see people inside.

She pulled the car into the parking lot, although -- funny thing -- it was empty. Where did all the people inside come from? No matter, she felt safer now. The diner reminded her of the Coffee Break Diner in her hometown -- Alice smiled at the memory of that friendly, happy place.
She got out of the car and almost fell on the ice, realizing she shouldn’t have left the walker behind. She made her way carefully, holding on to the car till she could grab the railing leading up the steps to the diner.
Her feet and hands were cold, and she had snow in her eyes. She pulled herself up the steps, then swung open the door and she was in the warm glow, smelling the coffee and hearing the play of many voices.
It was exactly like the Coffee Break Diner. There was the broken clock on the wall, its hands stopped at midnight. There was the long counter trimmed in chrome, with the red stools next to it. There was the jukebox, all silver and red, and the song it was playing, what was that? “It’s My Party”, the Leslie Gore hit. Alice hadn’t heard that song in years. 
She shuffled over to the counter and sat down at a stool, rubbing her hands to warm them up. A beehive-haired waitress came up with a steaming mug of coffee, and put it in front of her.
“I figured you’d want this,” she said.
“You read my mind,” Alice said, taking the mug in both hands, and letting it warm her.  She took a big drink of the hot coffee, and it tasted better than anything she’d had in the nursing home.
“A slice of apple pie would go well with that,” the waitress said.
“That sounds wonderful.”
The waitress went off to the kitchen and came back with a large piece of apple pie. Something about her looked familiar, but the smell of hot apple pie distracted Alice. She ate a forkful and closed her eyes in ecstasy. It was the best apple pie she’d had since she was a girl.
“Good pie, isn’t it?”
Alice turned to see who had spoken to her, and got the shock of her life. It was Fred McLoon, the bank manager in Alice’s hometown. It couldn’t be him, but yet -- he had the same three-piece brown suit, the watch fob, the jowly face, the white hair. It was uncanny.
“What’s the matter, Honey?” the man said. “You look a bit pale.”
“I just. . . uh. . . could you tell me your name?” Alice asked.
“Why, you know my name. I’m Fred McLoon.”
“You remember me?” Alice said.
Mr. McLoon let out a guffaw, and slapped his hand on the counter. “Why, if that isn’t the funniest thing I ever heard! Why wouldn’t I know the girl who’s sweet on my son?”
Alice gulped. She looked at the other patrons, and got another shock. There was Joel Weatherby, the mailman, talking to Jim Hall, who owned the gas station in town. Over at another table were the Barrett twins, all talking excitedly about something. There were four women in one of the booths, and Alice recognized them as Muriel Wilson, the librarian, her sister Beatrice, and two other women who looked like Edna Sims and Mimsy Hathaway, who lived on Alice’s street.
It must be a dream, Alice thought.  A crazy dream, that’s what it is.
“Something wrong with you, dear?” Mr. McLoon asked.
“Do you know what time it is?” Alice said. Somewhere she had read that if you ask a character in a dream what time it is, their answer will tell you if you’re really dreaming.
“Time?” Mr. McLoon said. He opened his pocket watch and frowned at it. “Darn thing is broken again,” he said. “Why do you need to know the time, anyway?”
“No reason I guess,” Alice said. She didn’t know what was going on, but she felt so warm and secure here that she didn’t want to question it. She didn’t want to wake up.
Then she heard it. There was a group of teenage boys at the far end of the diner, in a booth. Alice could hear them chattering away, but she couldn’t get a good look at them. Was it possible that he heard David’s voice?
“Is David here?” she asked Mr. McLoon.
“Why, of course, Alice. You know he comes here every day after school with his friends.”
David. What she would have given to see him one more time! She felt her heart racing, and she broke out in a sweat. She’d met him 50 years ago in high school, and it was love at first sight. To see him again the way he looked back then! It would almost be too much to bear, but yet. . .
Alice swallowed hard and got up from the stool. This was crazy, but she was going to see David again. She shuffled along, her legs shaking, her breath coming in gasps. She got closer to the group of boys, and then, as if on cue, one of them turned. He had beautiful red curly hair, a sprinkle of freckles across his button nose, and that madcap light in his green eyes. . .

The police found the Ford Explorer ten miles from the interstate, parked next to an abandoned railroad car. The engine was off, and the old woman inside the car was wearing a robe and slippers.
“What a shame,” the tall cop said to his partner. “Crazy old lady, stealing a car and driving around in a blizzard. What was she thinking?”
“I don’t know, Joe,” the other cop said. “But at least she died happy. Look at that smile on her face.”

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Night Work

By John McDonnell
Sarah woke up screaming. She sat up in the bed gasping for air, her heart pounding in her chest, sweat bursting out of her pores.
It took minutes to calm down, but echoes of the dream reverberated in her head. It was the same as before. Something was trying to strangle her. It was a dark shape close to her face, so close she could feel its heat, smell its rank breath. There were yellow eyes staring at her as the claws tightened around her neck.
She got up and stumbled into the bathroom, flicked on the light, and looked at herself in the mirror. In the harsh light she looked carefully at her neck for any marks. There was nothing.
She ran the water in the sink and splashed some on her face, then grabbed her bathrobe from the hook on the door and put it on. She found her slippers under the bed, and went downstairs, making her way by the light of the moon that streamed through the windows.
In the kitchen she went to the refrigerator and took out a bottle of milk, then poured a glassful and drank it in one gulp. She wished Lou was here. He would know how to comfort her. But he was out. He worked nights as an EMT, and every time she heard a siren in the night, she thought of him working in the back of an ambulance, biting his lip the way he did when he was nervous. 
This is an excerpt from my latest e-book, "13 Scary Stories". It's available on Smashwords.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sweet And Low

By John McDonnell

“What I like about you, Honey, is that you're not fake.”

“Thanks, Sugar.”

“There are so many fake women out there. Fake breasts, fake hair, even fake butts. I hate anything artificial.”

“Yeah, it's better to be real.”

“Like, your breasts are real, aren't they?”

“Of course. They're the way God made 'em.”

“Nothing fake about your body, right?”

“You bet.”

“And you wouldn't fake an emotion, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“You wouldn't fake being in love with me, right?”

“Of course not. Why would I do that?”

“To convince me I'm the only one you’ve ever loved, so that I name you as a beneficiary and you’d get my money when you poison me?”

“Sugar, why would you think that?”

“Because I hired an investigator and he told me you’ve been a suspect in several cases like that.”

“That's a lie!”

“Is it? He gave me some convincing proof. Copies of marriage licenses, court records, newspaper clippings. Everything about you is fake, starting with your name.”

“Oh, Sugar, don’t believe that. I bet he faked all of those documents. He's lying, to get a big fee.”

“Oh? Well, you’ll have a chance to tell the truth soon.”

To read more of this story, and other horror stories by John McDonnell, go to My Smashwords Page.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Himself It Is

By John McDonnell

“Willow is taking a medieval history course at the community college,” Dolores said to Larry one day.

“I don’t understand why anyone would try to teach history to Willow,” Larry said. “She measures Time by her tattoos. If it happened before she got her first tattoo, it doesn’t exist to her.”

“Could you bring that nice Irish monk back from the 7th century?” Dolores said. “Maybe he could help Willow with her history homework.”

“I don’t like the 7th century,” Larry said. “There’s a lot of prejudice against extraterrestrials there.”

“Please?” Dolores said.

Larry sighed, there was a shimmering in the air, and then the monk Fergus was standing in the kitchen, blinking his eyes.

"Faith,” he said. “It's quite the skill you have, to be snatching people away from their breakfast and bunging them 14 centuries into the future. You're sure the Devil plays no part in it?"

"No," Larry said. "It all makes sense on the quantum level. No bogeymen involved at all." He was feeling a lack of confidence today, and so he was changing shape every few seconds from a Steller's Sea Cow to a late 20th century U.S politician, complete with bleached teeth and poufy hair, wearing a mustard yellow suit.

"Oh, I'm glad you're here," Dolores said, clapping her hands. "My daughter is studying the Middle Ages in school, and I asked Larry to bring you back, because I thought you'd be a great source for her, seeing as how you're living in the Middle Ages.”

"Middle Ages you say?" the monk said. "In the middle of what, may I ask?"

Willow walked in wearing black from head to toe, with hair that looked like an explosion in a paint factory, and more piercings than a pincushion.

"Mom, I don't need help with my homework," Willow said. "I can do it myself."

"Why don't you just ask this nice monk if he'll help?" Dolores said. "He actually lives in that time so he'll be able to help you."

“Is it one of the Norsemen you are?” the monk asked. “I couldn’t help noticing the tattoos and nose rings and so forth. In my day the Vikings decorated themselves like that. A rude lot they were, too. Wouldn’t stop for a bite to eat, no, had to get right down to the business of plunder.”

“This is my way of expressing myself,” Willow said, her lip curled in a snarl. “And if you don’t like it, you can--”

“That’s enough, Willow,” Dolores said. “This monk is our guest.”

The monk wrinkled his brow, cogitating for a moment. “What’s a self, if I may ask?”

“You don’t know what a self is?” Larry said. “I thought I was the only one who couldn’t figure out my identity. A self is you. It’s who you are. All your wants and dreams and longings. Your identity.”

“What a wonderful invention!” the monk cried. “Why, in my day we weren’t allowed a self. Did you never wonder why none of the monks ever signed their names to their work? It’s because nobody cared about us. Only kings and queens had a self. The rest of us riffraff were just part of the sea of humanity.”

“I know the feeling,” said Larry, who was morphing into a variety of small animals. “On my planet most of us do not have a self. That’s why I feel out of place on this planet. Here, everybody knows exactly who they are. It’s unsettling.”

“Willow, sit down and have some breakfast,” Dolores said. “You look like a concentration camp survivor, you’re so skinny.”

“Mom, stop telling me how to live my life!” Willow shrieked. “You have no right to do that. I swear, it’s like prison living here. All you want to do is run my life. I can’t stand it! I’m going to post all about this on my blog!” She stomped out of the room like a person who had been sorely put upon.

“What’s a blog?” Fergus asked.

“It’s a place where you publish outrageous personal details for the world to see,” Larry said.

“‘Tis a charming concept,” Fergus said.

“In my day we didn’t have blogs,” Edna said, coming into the kitchen. She was dressed in a long white robe and a turban. “We depended on gossip. Why, when I went skinny dipping with the golf team at our country club, the whole town knew by sunrise the next day. Gossip is still the best information delivery system.”

“Aye to that,” Fergus said. “And you wouldn’t believe how fast it gets around the monastery when a man has a drop too much of the ould poteen.

“But that’s a story for another time.”



Friday, March 11, 2011

Larry And The Irish Question

By John McDonnell

St. Patrick's Day was the one time when Murphy actually made a profit at his bar, because his joint was located half a block from the St. Patrick’s Day parade route, and there were always a number of thirsty souls who would stop in for a cold one after the festivities. Murphy had enlisted his family to help with the crush, including Larry, who had taken the form of a blue-skinned, six-armed Hindu deity so he could handle all the drink orders at the crowded bar.

It was impossible to keep everyone's glass filled, and Larry was ready to keel over from exhaustion.

"We need more help!" he yelled to Murphy.

Murphy was busy adjudicating an argument between two men over whether it’s possible to eat 65 chicken wings in ten minutes, and he said, "You'll have to think of something, Larry."

Larry did what he always did in an emergency -- he disappeared for a few seconds. When he reappeared, he had a 7th century Irish monk named Fergus with him.

The monk blinked once, looked around, and said, "Is it a drinking establishment I find myself in?"

"Yes," Larry said. "I need help tending bar. I'll take you back to the monastery when the rush is over."

The monk clapped his hands. "Praise be to Jesus, I've died and gone to Heaven." He looked at all the bottles on the wall with a blissful smile.

"No," Larry said, mixing drinks, washing out glasses, and wiping down the bar at the same time. "This is not Heaven. It's Murphy's bar. You're in the 21st century, in a roomful of drunks, and I need help."

"Do you know how to mix a Singapore Sling?" Edna said. She was on roller skates, in the costume of a 1950s car hop, complete with a pink scarf and a boxy little red hat. She had painted her nails red, and was chewing gum.

The monk looked at her quizzically. "And who might you be?" he said.

"My name is Edna," she said. "I know I'm a little old for roller skates, but I was a champion skater in my day. I used to sneak out of the house at night and compete in the Roller Derby. Father would have been appalled had he known I was mixing it up with large women of Croatian descent several times a week."

The monk looked at Larry and said, "Begorrah, what language is she speakin’?"

"I'm not sure," Larry said.  

"Are you a monk?" Edna said. "I had a boyfriend once who entered the priesthood after a few dates with me. He had a sudden realization that celibacy was better for his mental health. By the way, thank you for saving Western Civilization. Wasn't it you nice young men who copied out all the Greek and Latin texts and saved us from becoming barbarians?"

"Yes, and ‘tis a thankless business," the monk said. “Alone in a drafty room catchin’ me death of cold, surrounded by stacks of dusty manuscripts. And me with a throat as parched as the Sahara!"

He leaped over the bar in one motion, grabbed a bottle of whiskey, and drained half of it in the blink of an eye. He wiped his mouth with his hand and said, "You call this whiskey? Fourteen centuries of progress, and this is the best you can do? Faith, I think ye’ve gone backward, my lad." Then he went off with the bottle and joined a group watching a ballgame on the TV.

"Maybe I shouldn't thank him after all," Edna said.

"What is the purpose of this holiday?" Larry said in exasperation. "Is it just to drink yourself into a stupor and sing Irish songs at the top of your lungs?"

"Yes!" Murphy yelled. "And thank God for it, or I'd be in the poorhouse by April 15."

"You humans have too many holidays," Larry said. "We only celebrate holidays if they're for the good of civilization."

"Where’s the fun in that?" Edna said.

The monk was leading a cheer for Aristotle, and when that was finished he started one for Plato, but the crowd booed him and he sat down.

"When does it end?" Larry said to Murphy. "How long does the rush last?"

"Till the fight breaks out," Murphy said. "That'll be coming along any time now."

Just then somebody shouted, "Down with the frigging Irish monks! If it weren't for them we'd all be stupid and happy. The hell with civilization!"

The monk stood up and said, "I'll paste any man who doesn't like Plato!"

"I don't like Plato!" a voice said. "Euripides sucks too! To hell with all the Greeks.”

A bottle went flying through the air, and in seconds the whole bar erupted into a brawl. There were fists flying, glasses being smashed, and people slugging each other over the finer points of philosophy. Larry tried to intervene, but somebody took exception to the fact that he was a Hindu deity, and hit him over the head with a bottle of peppermint Schnapps.

The cops arrived in minutes and took half the bar away in paddy wagons. Larry had to wait till the next day to send the monk back to the 7th century, because the friar had spent the night in the clink explaining cursive writing to a couple of drunks.

"I think he was a charming fellow," Edna said, after the monk had gone back to his own time. "And I'm certainly glad you brought him back rather than one of those barbarians. Although they'd have probably fit right in with Murphy's clientele."


Friday, March 4, 2011

A Universe Of Silliness

By John McDonnell

"I wish Murphy made a profit from that so-called business of his,” Dolores said one day, sitting at the kitchen table with a stack of bills in front of her. “We need money."

"Money is a social construct that does not exist in every universe," Larry said. He was eating some buttered toast in the form of the Duke of Esperanza, a conquistador in Pizarro's army. His metal conquistador helmet was on the table next to him.

"What do you mean, 'in every universe'?" Dolores said. "You mean there are other universes?"

"Of course," Larry said. "An infinite number of parallel universes."

"You mean there are other versions of me?" Dolores said.

"Quite so."

"I'd like to meet an alternate version of Victor Mature," Edna said. "He had quite a set of pectorals on display in those old gladiator movies."

"Are there other versions of Murphy?" Dolores asked.

"I’m afraid so," Larry said.

"More successful ones?"

"Well, that depends on your definition of successful," Larry mused. He was peeling an orange with his sword.

"Would it hurt if you switched them for a time?" Dolores inquired.

"I am not authorized to do that," Larry said. "It could be dangerous to the stability of reality."

"Oh, bosh," Edna said. "Reality is such a silly thing. All those rules about not listening to voices in your head. What fun is that, anyway?"

"Well, if you insist," Larry said.

Just then Murphy shuffled into the room wearing only his threadbare pajama bottoms and his usual two-day growth of beard, with hair that looked like it had seen the wrong end of an electric current. There was a shimmering in the air and he disappeared, and in his place was an exact double, only this version of Murphy had perfectly coiffed hair, clear eyes, a toned body, and he was wearing monogrammed red silk pajamas.

"Where am I?" he said.

"A parallel universe," Larry said.

"Oh," the alternate Murphy said. "Is this where I live?" He looked like he was hoping to wake up from a bad dream.

"This is your abode," Larry said.

"I must not be one of the winners in this universe," the alternate Murphy concluded.

"No, you're not," Dolores said. "But that was the old Murphy. You seem like you have a lot on the ball. What would you change about this place?"

"Let me draw up some plans," the alternate Murphy said. For the next week and a half the house was filled with the sound of power tools and the smell of sawdust in the air and Mexican helpers tramping through the place as the alternate Murphy built a new kitchen with a larger stove, dishwasher, refrigerator, and new tile floor. That was just the warmup, though -- the new Murphy also threw out all the junk food in the house, forbade Willow from coming over till her boyfriend Horst got a job, put Dolores on an exercise regimen, cleaned out the kitchen cabinet, refinanced the house and created a budget, drew up plans for converting Murphy’s bar into a Thai/Swiss pastry shop, and fined Larry $100 every time he went backward in Time.

But it was when he insisted that Edna stop wearing a hat indoors and stop referring to soap opera characters as if they were real that he met with resistance. 

“Why that young Dr. Hasselbrook is as real as you are,” Edna said. “He got his degree from Harvard, you know. That’s more real than wherever you came from. Parallel universe, my eye. Of course, I never was much good at science, and I don’t understand all this quantum physics palaver, but really, people should stay in the universe they were born in. I’m not one for changing universes, you know. My father used to say that one universe was good enough for him, and it should be good enough for everyone.”

“If you insist on this kind of irrationality,” the new Murphy said. “I will have to send you someplace where they can deal with your condition.”

Larry, who had taken the shape of a trained seal, and was balancing a beach ball on the end of his nose, spoke up. “I miss old Murph.”

Dolores, who had lost ten pounds in a week and was eyeing the furniture ravenously, said: “You and me both.”

“Why?” the new Murphy said. “He was just a screwup, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, but he was our screwup,” Dolores said.

There was a shimmering in the air and then the old Murphy was standing there in his pajama bottoms, scratching himself thoughtfully. “What the hell happened?” he said.

“You were transported to a parallel universe,” Larry said.

“Parallel?” Murphy said. “It was a hellish experience. Everything looked familiar, but it had more. . . intensity. All the people were skinny and had good muscle tone and dressed well. I didn’t quite fit in.”

“What did I look like?” Dolores said.

Murphy’s face lit up. “Dolores you had the biggest. . . uh, well, want I want to say is. . .”


“You were a pale shadow of yourself, my dear,” Murphy said.

Dolores gave him a hug. “I missed you too, Honey,” she said.

“There are lots more universes out there if you want to try it again,” Larry said.

“The problem with parallel universes is you never know if you’ll run into a version of yourself you wouldn’t want to drink a cup of tea with,” Edna said.  


Friday, February 18, 2011

Down With Einstein!

By John McDonnell

Larry was eating breakfast in the kitchen one day when Horst, Willow's very large, hairy, tattooed boyfriend burst in the back door with tears running down his face.

"She's gone!" he said, plopping into the chair next to Larry and covering his bearded face with his hands.

Larry was in the form of a First Sea Lord of the Admiralty, complete with a white uniform with gold trim and brass buttons, and a fancy hat with feathers on it.

"Tut, tut,” he said. “Ships sail all the time. There'll be another one before long."

"I'm not talking about a ship!" Horst said. "I mean Willow. She's gone."

"What?" Dolores said, coming into the kitchen. "Willow's gone? Where is my daughter?”

"It's that crazy cult she joined," Horst said, sobbing. "She's off on a protest march for it."

"Blasted cults," Larry said. "Just when you think you have life all figured out, here comes a cult to bally well upset everything. They ought to keelhaul every one of them."

"What is she protesting?" Dolores said.

"Einstein," Horst said.

"I knew a Freddie Einstein as a young girl," Edna said, waltzing into the kitchen in a gauzy white nightgown. "He was quite the dancer. Father didn't like him because he drove a Stutz Bearcat and always wanted to get me into the rumble seat."

"No, no," Horst said. "It's Albert Einstein. The relativity guy. Willow's cult thinks that Einstein was an agent of Satan. All this stuff about Time being relative, they say it's evil. People spend too much time thinking about time travel and black holes, they say."

"What ho!" Larry said. "On my ship we have a rule: ‘Beware of southern winds and black holes!’”

"But you’re always time traveling," Dolores said. "You must use Einstein's theories to do that."

"Rummy thing, Time," Larry said. "Always making you feel late for something. Had my way, I'd rather do without it."

"Promptness is such a tedious thing," Edna said. "What’s the point of always being on time? I’ve never understood why everyone gets so upset about it."

"Don't you understand?" Horst wailed. "She's gone. She's left me. I want her back!" He collapsed in tears, his heavy body shaking with every sob. He was crying on Larry's shoulder. It was not a pretty sight, and it put you mind of a large sea animal struggling to digest a meal.

"Buck up, man," Larry said, pushing him away. "You're wrinkling my uniform. Oh, bother, I'll go see if I can do something.” There was a shimmering in the air, and Larry vanished.

"Do you think that ever makes him dizzy?" Edna asked. Nobody answered her.

In seconds Larry was back, holding Willow over his shoulder. He dumped her on the floor and she came up screeching.

"How dare you!" she spluttered. She was wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue, and she had a sign saying, ‘Down with Relativity!’. “Take me back this instant!"

"I can't," Larry said. "That instant is gone."

"Take me back NOW!"

"‘Now’ is such a relative term," Larry said. "It’s hard to fathom isn’t it? I bally well can’t figure it out."

"It's like trying to nail Jello to a wall," Edna said. "Not something you want to try on your mother’s Louis 14th wallpaper, let me tell you."

"Baby, come back to me," Horst said, his large arms outstretched to Willow.

"Down with Einstein!" Willow said.

"It's okay," Horst said, coming over and putting his arms around her. "I can live with that. He doesn't have to mean anything in our lives, babe. He's nothing to me. Albert who? See, I forgot him already!"

"Well, maybe you're right," Willow said. "It was cold on the picket line. I was freezing!" She snuggled closer to Horst. "Let's go in the other room and turn on the artificial fireplace."

"Well, that was interesting," Edna said, watching them leave. "I think protest is a good thing, generally speaking. My mother used to protest everything. Of course, she thought calculus was immoral, you know. She used an abacus.”

"I'm going back to bed," Dolores said, shaking her head. "My brain is tired already, and it's only 10:00 in the morning."

"Rummy thing, Time," Larry said. "If it weren't that you need it to figure out when your tea is ready, I'd as soon the blasted thing wasn't invented."



Friday, February 11, 2011

Tiger Valentine

 By John McDonnell

“Do they have a Valentine’s Day on your planet?” Murphy said. He was mopping up some spilled beer on the bar, and he shuddered as if the phrase, “Valentine’s Day” was hard to get out.

Larry was curled up in a corner in the form of a full grown male Bengal tiger, all 500 pounds of him, and he was idly toying with a tennis ball, rolling it with one enormous paw and stopping it with the other.

"No Valentine's Day," Larry said. "We don't have flowers on our planet, and we're allergic to displays of affection, so it doesn't work for us."

"It doesn't work for me either," Murphy said. "Once a year I have to act romantic with Dolores, spend money on some gift that she won't like, make myself presentable, and listen to her talk about all the romantic things we did when we were younger. It gets me depressed when I realize the whole conversation is in past tense. It's all about how much promise I had. I hate the word 'promise'. Anything promising about a 22 year old man should never be held against him."

"Did you know that male Bengal tigers are some of the most solitary creatures on earth?" Larry said. "They only get together with females to impregnate them."

"Sounds like my father," Murphy said.

"My father didn't believe in Valentine's Day," Edna said. She had come by to join the weekly game of dominoes at the bar, and was taking a break from beating all comers. She was wearing a riding outfit, complete with tan jodhpurs, black knee boots, and a black riding helmet. "He was a captain of industry, don't you know, and was too busy for that kind of lunacy, as he liked to call it. On Valentine's Day he'd have his secretary send Mother a box of chocolates, although Mother never ate them, because of her figure. I used to sneak a few myself, but of course chocolate makes me talk too much, and--"

"Remind me to lock up the chocolate at our house," Murphy said. "Now, as I was saying: What am I going to do? Dolores expects a present for Valentine's Day, and I'm terrible at guessing what she wants."

"How about a nuclear magnetic resonance machine?" Larry said. "She could get a look into her heart with that. I mean, the holiday is all about cardiac issues, right?"

"Father was one of the first to get a heart transplant," Edna said. "Of course, he always thought they gave him a chimpanzee's heart by mistake, because after the operation he grew very fond of peanuts, and he couldn't stop scratching himself."

"Have you ever been in love, Larry?" Murphy said.

Larry blinked once, snuffled, and then roared. "Yes! There was this android girl named Unit 53K90. We were in space colonization school together. She really filled out an artificial skin, if you know what I mean. We always said we'd go invade a planet together and take it over. It was not to be, however. She was sent to invade a planet with a civilization that was so evolved they hadn’t had a bruised ego in 500 years. Me? I failed my final exams, because I couldn't land a spaceship without burning out the anti-gravity gears, so I was exiled to this backwater planet."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Murphy said. "I remember this little black haired vixen in school." He whistled softly. “Now she had the nicest--"

"Delivery for Mr. Murphy," a voice said, and in the doorway was a blonde Amazon, a girl who looked like she could power slam the Green Bay Packers defensive line with one hand, dressed in a brown UPS uniform. Her legs were like tree trunks sticking out of her brown shorts.

"Over here," Murphy said.

She brought over a large bouquet of roses and handed them to Murphy. "Sign here," she said, whipping out a clipboard and a pen. Murphy signed and she started to leave, but stopped when she saw Larry. "What a beautiful animal," she said.

"Thanks," Larry said. "Usually people are too afraid to say that to me."

"I'm not afraid," she said. "I used to be a lion tamer in a circus."

"Really?" Larry said. "No kidding? Well, I bet you were a good one. If I may say so, I've never seen a more imposing physical specimen than you, Miss. . ."

"Hortense. Just call me Hortense."

"Yes, Hortense. If this isn’t too personal, did you ever train tigers?”

"All the time,” she said. “Although never one like you. You would be a pleasure to train, if I may say so."

"Oh, I don't know,” Larry said. “My listening skills are not that good, and I don’t focus well, and--”

"Stand up NOW!" she bellowed, and Larry sprang to his feet, standing on his hind legs, all 9 feet of him in a vertical position with his paws on her shoulders. "Now, sit!" she said, and Larry sat down heavily.

"That was amazing!" he said. "You had such command, such power, such presence!"

"Thank you," she said sweetly. "I'm a little hoarse today. Throat cold."

"No, no, you were amazing," Larry said. "I'd follow you anywhere."

"Well, then come on," she said. "I have several more deliveries to make, but you can wait in the truck for me." She turned on her heel and walked out.

“Rawwr,” said Larry, and padded after her.

"You know, if William Blake hadn’t already written a poem about tigers,” Edna said. “I might write one myself. However, there’s a domino game calling me.” She went off to the back room intoning, “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright/In the forests of the night. . . “

Murphy didn't comment, because he was busy reading the note Dolores sent with the flowers. It read, "To the love of my life. Our many years of happiness will only be surpassed by our bright and glorious future."

"What do you know," Murphy said, a tear in his eye. "The old girl loves me after all."


Friday, February 4, 2011

Larry Goes To The Future

By John McDonnell

Word gets out when you have an alien living with you who can time travel, and Dolores started getting phone calls from a man named Mr. Smith, who said he represented petroleum interests and wanted to talk to Larry about where the next drilling accidents would occur, so his Big Oil clients could plan their blame-everybody-but-us PR campaigns early.

Mr. Smith offered Dolores a lot of money just to get an introduction to Larry, so Dolores took him to the bar one Saturday afternoon. She brought Edna, who had cooked up a pot of clam chowder and wanted Murphy to sample it, in the hopes that he would put it on the bar's menu.

"This is our time traveling friend," Dolores said, introducing Larry to Mr. Smith. "By the way, Larry, why don't you ever travel to the future?"

"I don't like the future," Larry said. "It upsets my stomach." He was in the persona of  Matteo Ricci, a bearded Jesuit missionary from the 16th century.

"The future is overrated," Murphy said, taking a spoonful of the clam chowder. "In my experience, it only brings trouble and the taste of ashes in the mouth."

"I much prefer the past myself," said Edna. She was dressed as a Busby Berkeley chorus girl from the 1930s, with gold lame tap pants, a tuxedo jacket, a sailor hat, and tap shoes. "By the way, how do you like my clam chowder?"

"It's not bad," Murphy said. "I'm not fan of clams, though."

"I like clams," said Larry. "Although it's interesting that there are no clams in the future."

"No clams in the future?" Dolores said. "Why not?"

"They die out in about a hundred years," Larry said. "Some ecological reason, I forget why." He stroked his beard thoughtfully.

"Aren't they important in the food chain?" Murphy said. "Seems to me I heard walruses eat them."

"My deceased husband looked something like a walrus," Edna said. "People often said so. He had the same bristly mustache, the same mottled skin, and he was a dead weight on the dance floor. And, come to think of it, he was partial to clams."

"The simple clam," Larry said, a quaver in his voice. "Nobody appreciates the simple clam." He had a tear in his eye, and he began to recite a verse from "The Walrus and the Carpenter".

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

And then the air shimmered, there was a smell of seaweed and salt water, and Larry was in the form of a bull walrus, who lunged for the pot of clam chowder, knocking it to the floor. Larry licked up the chowder and then galumphed off in that peculiar undulating movement walruses have.

"I didn’t know he was so sentimental about clams," Edna said.

Mr. Smith turned to Dolores and said. "Now, about that million dollars I was going to pay you. . ."

"I was quite the dancer in my day," Edna said, striking a pose. "Would you like to see my rendition of the Lindy Hop?"

Larry undulated back and said, in a gravelly walrus voice: "Million dollars? You'd pay us a million dollars? For what?"

"If you could tell us the location and circumstances of the offshore oil spills for the next 20 years."

"I'd have to go to the future," Larry said. "It gives me too much anxiety."

"Well, no million dollars, then."

"Okay." The air shimmered. Larry disappeared, then came back with a three foot tall, hairless human named Qwex, who communicated by telepathy. He immediately gave everyone a splitting headache because he was using thought waves to shout directly into their brains. "Where are the clams?" he blared. "You told me there were clams here!"

"I ate them," Larry said. "Sorry."

“I think you misunderstood me,” Mr. Smith said. “He’s from too far in the future. I only meant the next 20 years.”

"Oh, you don’t like where I’m from?” Qwex said. “The hell with you. I'm not talking about your silly oil spills, then. I came here to eat clams, but if you don't have any, I'm gone." And he disappeared.

"I hate the future," Larry said.

"Yes, the past is much better," Edna said, breaking into a tap dance routine. “It has better musicals, for one thing.”


Friday, January 28, 2011

Larry And Pastor Tommy

By John McDonnell

It was another aimless Saturday afternoon at the bar, and Murphy was washing shot glasses and serving beers to a motley collection of patrons who were watching a ballgame on the battered TV.

Larry was practicing time jumps, and kept disappearing and reappearing with souvenirs from different eras. So far he'd brought back a dinosaur tooth from the Cretaceous era, a whalebone corset from 16th century England, and a five course Thanksgiving dinner from the future that was the size of an aspirin. He was dressed like a Turkish pasha, complete with a scimitar in his belt. 

The serenity was interrupted by a portly man who burst through the door wearing a blue silk suit, a black pompadour and rings on each of his fingers.

"Tell me, brothers, have you seen The Light?" he said, walking over to Larry and Murphy.

"Light?” Murphy said. “My customers don’t like much light in here.”

“Actually, light is an interesting phenomenon,” Larry said. “When you get to the quantum level--”

"I’m talking about The Light of Salvation," the man said, slapping the bar for emphasis. "My name's Pastor Tommy Bogus, and I'm here to offer you eternal bliss. Have you seen my TV show?"

"Yes I have," said Edna, who had just been dropped off by Dolores while she did her Saturday errands. "You're that nice man whose show comes on between my soap opera about handsome doctors and the other one about cheating wives. Or is it cheating doctors and handsome wives?"

"There will be no room for cheaters in the Kingdom," Pastor Tommy said.

"I often wonder about religion," Larry said. "Interesting sociological phenomenon. Does it describe reality, or is it just the brain's way of explaining what it doesn't understand?"

"Why, it's as real as this solid wood bar," Pastor Tommy said, slapping the bar again.

"That’s actually vinyl," Murphy said.

"I think religion is such a comfort," Edna opined. "Why, I don't know how people can do without it."

"There are some civilizations in the universe that think it's nonsense," Larry said.

"There's nothing wrong with nonsense," Edna said. "The world needs more nonsense, if you ask me. It would improve our dispositions."

"As I was saying," Pastor Tommy said. "There's only one truth in the universe, and my religion has it."

"Truth," Larry said. "What is truth? When you ask someone to tell the truth, what are you saying?"

"You're saying he's screwed, if he’s married," Murphy said.

"Would any of you care to make a donation?" Pastor Tommy said, holding out a tin cup. "It takes a lot of money to keep that TV show going."

"Take a look at this place," Murphy said. "Does it look like I'm wallowing in money here?"

"I have a trust fund, and I'd be glad to dip into it for a donation," Edna said. "The only thing is, Father set it up so I don't get any of the money until I reach 65. I can’t imagine what he was thinking. You’d think I was the world’s worst spendthrift!” She readjusted her black taffeta cocktail gown and pillbox hat, looking at herself in the mirror behind the bar.

"How about you, son?" Pastor Tommy said to Larry.

The air shimmered and Larry disappeared. In a matter of seconds he reappeared with a small birdlike dinosaur, covered with feathers and sporting a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth. It was blinking as it stared around the room. It locked eyes with Pastor Tommy, flapped its wings, said “Auk!”, then cocked its head, waiting for a response.

"Good God, what is that?" Pastor Tommy said.

"A Bambiraptor,” Larry said. "From about 75 million years ago. Cute, but beware of those teeth. I thought you could sell it to a zoo and get some cash that way."

"Not if you paid me a million dollars," Pastor Tommy said. "Son, there’s only one word for that. . . ‘unnatural’!”

He bolted for the door, dropping his tin cup on the way. It clattered to the floor and rolled around, but Pastor Tommy paid no attention to it. He was headed for the light. 

"Funny, he looks taller on TV," Edna said.


Friday, January 21, 2011

A Viking In The Kitchen

By John McDonnell

"The neighbors are all getting their kitchens redone," Dolores said. "Why can't we?"

"I’ll be leaving now,” Murphy said, hoping to get out the door before Dolores told him for the 100th time that he needed to make more money.

"Did you know that the British actor Michael Caine was teased because he had a habit of reciting inane factoids and then saying, 'Not many people know that?'" Larry said. He was eating fish and chips at the kitchen table and wearing a mackintosh raincoat. Dolores did not know where he got the fish and chips, certainly not from her kitchen.

"I like Michael Caine," Edna said, coming into the kitchen in her nightgown, which had a raised collar and a long train, and looked like something Liz Taylor might have worn to the wedding of a close friend. "’To be or not to be, that is the question.’ Wasn't he terrific in Hamlet?"

"I don't think he played Hamlet," Murphy said. "You couldn't play Hamlet with that Cockney accent he has."

"Oh, dear," Edna said. "That must have been my father I'm thinking of. Yes, he played Hamlet in 1949 at the Stratford Festival in Canada. I remember it well, because we had to share a bedroom with Charlie Chaplin."

"Fascinating," Larry said. “In a parallel universe sort of way. Now, as I was saying, you could fix this kitchen up in a jiffy."

"Would you?" Dolores said. "I mean, you seem to be able to do anything, Larry, so--"

"I wouldn't recommend that," Murphy said.

"Why not?"

"Because Larry might come up with something different than what you're expecting."

"Nonsense, Murphy,” Dolores said. “Why Larry has the most wonderful taste--"

There was a shimmering in the air and everything seemed to go foggy for a second, and then the room was transformed into a Viking castle kitchen, with a stone floor, a huge oak table, pots of boiling chicken entrails cooking over a roaring fire in the hearth, and a whole hog roasting on a spit. The place stunk of cabbage, moldy cheese, blood and seaweed, and Dolores’s stomach did a somersault in response to it.

What smelled even worse, though, was the very large hairy man wearing ill-fitting clothes made from animal skins who was standing in the center of the room and blinking. He was carrying a large axe, and he looked like the type of fellow who settled the finer points of philosophy by using it.

"Larry, who is that?" Dolores said.

"I think his name is Athelred the Disemboweler," Larry said, "and I would say he's ready for his supper."

"By Thor, I need a hog's haunch and a mug of ale now!" Athelred said, and chopped off the corner of the table for emphasis.

"My, he's a bit high-strung," Edna said. "Although I do admire a man who knows his mind. The last time I met a man like that it was 1953, and I was introduced to my future husband at a barn dance. I had on a red pleated dress and a sky blue petticoat. Of course, you'll want to know why I had that color petticoat on--"

Athelred threw his axe at her head, but it missed and clanged off one of the pots on the fire, sending scalding grease and water all over the kitchen.

"I'll be leaving now," Murphy said, making for the door. "I’m not a fan of angry Vikings."

"By Odin's beard, I'll not miss again!" Athelred said, picking up his axe and hefting it in his large hands.

"Do we have any herbal tea?" Edna said. "If ever anyone needed a cup of tea it's this poor fellow."

"Larry, do something!" Dolores said, correctly surmising that Athelred was about to throw his axe again.

Larry went on calmly eating his fish and chips, but he stuck his foot out and tripped  Athelred, causing him to fall hard on his head on the stone floor. The Viking got up quickly, but seemed to have misplaced his higher mental faculties.

"Now, that's better," Edna said. "Let's go in the other room and watch some TV." She took the dazed Viking’s hand and led him away, saying, "Do you have game shows where you come from?"

“Thanks, Larry,” Dolores said.

“No problem,” Larry said. “How do you like this layout? Of course, the ventilation is not great, and you get a lot of smells from the carcasses in the storehouse next door, but--”

“Larry, I’m fine with the kitchen I had,” Dolores said. “Could you change it back?”

“Are you sure? I know I didn’t include utensils, but they didn’t really use them back then--”

“Larry, change it back.”

“Yes Dolores.”

And Dolores decided her kitchen was not so bad after all.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Larry Wins A Million

By John McDonnell

“I hate the winter,” Dolores said one day. “I need a vacation at the beach, but we have no money.” Larry had gone into hibernation mode and he was asleep in the corner of the TV room in the form of an 800 pound male grizzly bear.

“I remember when Father used to take us to our winter home in Florida,” Edna said. She was watching a game show in a sequined pink tulle gown, bedecked with jewelry. “We’d spend our winters playing in the sand and watching the alligators maul deer that wandered too close to the lake. I missed a lot of schoolwork those years, but Father said with a mind like mine it wouldn’t matter.”

“You never had a house in Florida,” Dolores said.

“Didn’t I?” Edna said. “Oh, well, it must have happened to somebody else.”

Then there was a knock at the front door and when Dolores opened it a TV announcer smiled at her, temporarily blinding her with the glare from his teeth. 

“Is this the home of Larry the Alien?” the man said, shoving a microphone in her face. He was smiling so hard it looked like his face might crack, and his eyes were bulging with manic energy.

“Who wants to know?” Dolores said.

“I want to tell him that he won the ‘You Can Be Fabulously Wealthy Marketing Sweepstakes’, and he’s won a million dollars!!!” the man shouted. Dolores had the sensation that the oxygen was being sucked out of the neighborhood every time he opened his mouth.

“Oh, that’s lovely,” Edna said, from the couch. “But you’ll have to come back in several months. Larry is taking his winter nap.”

“That’s not possible!” the man said, whipping a poster-sized check out of a briefcase. “He needs to take his check today! I have TV cameras waiting!” He pointed to a group of people behind him, and they did indeed have a battery of cameras pointed at the house.

Before Dolores knew what was happening the group had brushed her aside and were inside the house.

The announcer found Larry in his corner, and said, “Here he is, boys! Make sure you get a good angle on my teeth!”

He started shoving Larry, prodding him to wake him up. Larry snorted once and tried to keep on sleeping.

“Come on, Mr. Larry,” the man said. “Wake up to the wonderful fact that you’re a winner! Did you hear me? You’re a winner!”

Larry growled once, but did not open his eyes.

“I’ll bet he’s dreaming about salmon,” Edna said. “It’s a lovely dream for a bear.”

The announcer picked up a pepper shaker from the kitchen table and poured some into his palm, then threw the handful at Larry’s big wet bear nose. Larry scrunched up his nose, snuffled, and then sneezed loud enough to rattle the windows. He opened his eyes blearily and looked at the announcer.

“There’s the sleepyhead!” the announcer said. He turned to the camera, grinning even more broadly. “Folks, we’re here at the home of an average Joe extra-terrestrial who just happened to sign up for the ‘You Can Be Fabulously Wealthy Marketing Sweepstakes’, and he won! How are you feeling right now, Larry?”

He shoved the microphone in Larry’s face, there was a pregnant pause, and then there was a blur of activity involving Larry, the announcer, and the camera crew, who abandoned their equipment and ran like a herd of stampeding buffalo through Dolores’s house and out to their van, where they drove off without saying goodbye. Larry roared and chased the announcer through the house, cornering him as he tried to climb a crystal chandelier in the entryway, and the man’s sobs and shrieks could be heard in the next ZIP code.

Dolores finally got Larry away from the announcer by offering him several pounds of salmon steaks from the freezer, and Larry went sleepily back to his corner in the TV room and curled up with his snack, after emitting several more thunderous roars.

“I’m so sorry,” Edna said, helping the announcer down from the chandelier. “He’s not very pleasant until he gets his coffee. Would you like to stay for some tea?”

The announcer seemed to have lost the ability to speak, and he simply picked up his microphone and hightailed it for the door, where he made a run for the high ground.

“Well, dear,” Edna said, picking up the check and handing it to Dolores. “I guess we can take that Florida trip now. I can't wait to see those alligators again."


Friday, January 7, 2011

Do Aliens Facebook?

By John McDonnell

“An old girlfriend looked me up on Facebook,” Murphy said. He was tending bar, and the  blue slanting rays of the TV screen at the end of the bar gave his face a pensive, wistful look. Larry was sitting across the bar in his rumpled scientist persona, working out an advanced particle physics formula on the back of a napkin.

“On whatbook?” Larry said, without looking up from his work.

It’s a social networking site. You post pictures of yourself and network with people. You look up friends from years ago.”

“Not for me,” Larry said.

“Why not? Think of all those people that passed through your life and you lost track of them. Well, now you can reconnect. It’s a great thing."

Larry shuddered. “That’s horrible. I wouldn’t want to know what my classmates from space colonization school are doing. I bet I’m the only one who hasn’t conquered even the barest sliver of a planet. I bet some of them have taken over whole solar systems. Meanwhile, I can’t take a rubber chew toy away from a cocker spaniel. Why would I want to look up anyone from my past?”

“My thoughts exactly,” said Edna, coming up to them. Dolores had dropped her off at the bar while she ran some errands, and Edna had been whiling away the time beating all comers at darts, which amazed everyone because she wore glasses with lenses that looked like they’d come from the Hubble Space Telescope. Larry had a theory that she navigated through life using echolocation, like dolphins and bats.

“What is the point of the past, anyway?” Edna said. “Who wants to remember their childhood? Or encounter people one went to school with? Ugh, it’s too odious to think about!” and she went off in search of a pool game in the back room.

“She’s probably right,” Murphy said. “Take this old girlfriend. I have fond memories of her, and they can’t possibly match up with reality 35 years later, right? I mean, how could they? She sent me a friend request, but I don’t know if I should accept it. I don’t want to see if she got fat and old.”

“Oh, because you haven’t changed at all?” Larry said. “You look like a 55 year old man, but in theory I suppose you could have looked this way for years. Are you saying that you always had thinning hair and that paunch?”

“Certainly not,” Murphy said, drawing himself up to his full height. “I was a handsome devil in my youth. I had to beat the girls off with a stick.”

Larry looked puzzled. “Why would you want to do that?”

“It’s just an expression,” Murphy said.

“That’s the trouble with you humans,” Larry said. “You use all these expressions that just complicate things.”

“Oh, and your civilization just tells the simple truth, I suppose.”

“Actually, no. If one of us ran into someone we hadn’t seen for 35 years we would never point out that the other was old and fat. We’d shower them with compliments as if they looked exactly the same. It’s considered bad taste to hurt anyone’s feelings, so we never say what we mean. You have to be an expert at reading between the lines.”

“In this world you learn that skill when you get married,” Murphy said.

“Marriage is different for us. We have queens, and some of us mate with them and then die. Similar to what your ants do.”

“The ants are the lucky ones,” Murphy said glumly.

Just then Dolores arrived to pick up Edna. She said, “Murphy, look at this place. It’s 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon and you have six customers. You’ll never make a go of this miserable excuse for a bar if you can’t draw more people than this. Honestly, I don’t know what makes you think you’re a businessman. . .”

And then Murphy had the strangest experience. He saw Dolores’ mouth moving but he couldn’t hear a word she was saying. Instead, his mind was filled with a sweet, unearthly music and visions of waves on a beach, palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze, and a slight tang of mango in the air. He didn’t know how long Dolores went on with her rant, but then she finished and took Edna home, and Murphy returned to what passed for normal consciousness in his world.

Larry was scribbling away at more calculations on his napkin, but Murphy thought he saw a glint in Larry’s eye.

“Did you do that?” he said.

“It’s a defense mechanism the males in my species have evolved over many generations,” Larry said. “Selective deafness. Comes in handy sometimes.”

“You’re a gentleman and a scholar,” Murphy said. “The next beer’s on me.”