Archive for December, 2019

The Year Ahead: 2020

December 31, 2019

The Year Ahead: 2020

This is my annual post where I look ahead to the next year. I’ll make some predictions, but I’ll warn you ahead of time…I don’t always get things right. ;)

Taking a look at last year’s post,

The Year Ahead: 2019

I did pretty well…maybe not as well as the year before, but still, I’m satisfied.

I missed on my first prediction:

Alexa gets the ability to send books to your devices

Miss. As far as I can tell (Amazon doesn’t always promote things), this didn’t happen the way I suggested. I wanted a way to manage my content: to send books I’d already bought to my devices. I thought that might come through a Goodreads skill (that’s what apps for Alexa are called), but there isn’t one. I think this coming year, 2020, may be more about software and services than hardware (not that there won’t be new hardware), so maybe that’s still coming.

UPDATE: Thanks to reader Shari Brownlee! This gets changed to a Hit. As I mentioned, Amazon doesn’t always promote things much, but on the Manage My Content and Devices page, Shari pointed out this: “Using Alexa, you can now send ebooks, audiobooks, personal documents, etc., to your Kindle or remove them permanently from your library. Try saying “Alexa, manage my content”.” I tested it, and it didn’t work well for me…I used my typical test title, Alice in Wonderland…but I have multiple versions of that, and it asked me to identify which one I wanted to send. I tried to get it to give me options, but even though I was talking to an Echo Show (where I thought it could show me titles on the screen), I couldn’t get it to do that. Still it exists, so it counts.

Amazon opens more brick-and-mortars, including an Amazon Go cashierless store for the public near the HQs

Hit. I mentioned the 4-Star stores (My trip to an Amazon 4-Star Store), AmazonBooks (The new Amazon Books opened in Walnut Creek California today…and I was there!), and Amazon Experience Centers. I specifically said, “If there is a Go store open to the public near an HQ, I’ll count this as a hit next year.” There are now multiple Amazon Go stores open to the public in at least four cities…including Seattle, one of the HQs. The other three cities are Chicago, New York, and San Francisco.

Amazon Go page

While not calling it HQ3, Amazon announces more localized complexes

Hit. They opened multiple locations in New York (where the HQ2 ran into opposition), Salt Lake City, and more. These got quite a bit of publicity, so it wasn’t just that they opened a regular fulfillment center.

Two out of three for the predictions…not too bad. 😉 UPDATE: I actually hit three out of three, as reader Shari Brownlee pointed out to me! That’s better than “not too bad”. 😉

Now, let’s quickly run through my “speculations” from last year:

  • Alexa speaks more languages: hit. She speaks German, several dialects of English, several dialects of Spanish, French (both Canadian and from France), Italian, and more
  • Amazon does something with Max Headroom: Miss. This was really random, and just didn’t happen 🙂
  • The Department of Justice investigates Amazon for trade practices: Hit.
  • Amazon invests in a book preservation program: Miss. Well, as far as I know: I didn’t see any announcements on this
  • Alexa wearables: hit. This was a super duper hit, with a ring, earbuds, glasses frames, and more
  • Amazon introduces or partners with a Microsoft Teams/Slack type business collaborative suite: miss. I didn’t see that happen
  • Over 10,000 Alexa-enabled devices: hit. I’ve seen the number 28,000, and there may be more now
  • Amazon starts a podcasting platform. Miss. There are more podcast options for Alexa, but they didn’t set up a new publishing platform
  • Amazon does an easy video publishing platform. Miss. I was picturing something like Alexa taking a video and then you could verbally share it with people
  • Amazon-branded robot. Miss. Interestingly, my new Vector robot (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*), a gift from our adult child & significant other, has Alexa built into it. It can’t do quite a few Alexa things (it won’t read me my Kindle books or play music), but it does quite a bit…it can even speak in Samuel L. Jackson’s voice
  • I called one a bonus, that we’d get stories on Amazon’s healthcare initiative, and we did, but I figured that was so obvious I wouldn’t take credit

Oh, and I think it was back in 2015 that I predicted Amazon would do a news app…that happened this year. 🙂 I’m sometimes ahead of the curve with them…

Now, the predictions for this year:

Let me start out by saying that this may feel like a “building” year. They introduced so many out there hardware things this year, that I think that will be quieter (but there could be at least one new market-creating item). Also, in the USA, it’s a Presidential election year. While Amazon certainly thinks long term, they (and many other companies), may want to sit back a bit to see what happens. The outcome of this election may make a difference to the business climate, including regulation. I am very specifically not saying one or the other would be better (I stay away from politics in this blog), but simply point out that the two approaches are likely to be different, which may make companies cautious to commit until that outcome is known.

Alexa makes big strides in sounding natural

That’s stated pretty generally, but I’ll set some sort of parameter. This is complex, and probably needs to significantly include artificial empathy. Amazon may announce an artificial empathy program. The celebrity voices (there will be more than just Samuel L. Jackson…I’ve speculated that one might be Jackson’s Marvel castmate, Scarlett Johannson) will help with that. It is possible that there will be a story saying that Alexa has passed the Turing Test (people not being able to identify whether it is Alexa or a human being talking to them after speaking to each for 5 minutes…that’s a simplified version of it. If the Turing Test gets mentioned as Alexa having passed it, I’ll count it). I’ll count this as success if: Amazon announces progress and a major program around natural sounding speech and/or Alexa passing the Turing Test is in a news story and/or some poll or study shows that people think Alexa sounds natural.

An Amazon published books wins a major non-genre prize

The Booker, the Nobel Prize, National Book Award…something like that. They’ve already won some genre-specific prizes. This feels risky, but with more established authors striking deals with Amazon, it seems possible.

Something specific is announced as a milestone for Amazon using robots

This might be a fulfillment center completely staffed by robots (although they could be managed by humans…robots would do the labor, which is the origin of the word). It could be in the area of AI writing or curating books for Amazon (that’s still a robot: tech doing the work humans have done). There could be an Alexa channel of some kind, where the AI picks the content. To get credit for this, I’d want either Amazon to announce it or for it to be a “major” news story: let’s say one reported by a mainstream news source.

I have my doubts about my success on those!

Now, let’s do my speculation. These are fun for me, and they are much more guesses.

  • Amazon does something with Books-A-Million, possibly even buying it
  • Lizzo does something with Amazon, maybe in conjunction with Prime Day
  • Amazon does still do a speech-to-text (dictation) program of some kind (that would be despite some specific objection to it)
  • Something specific happens with Amazon fighting climate change: while they have been doing some ecological things all along, this is seen as a big move, such as switching to electric delivery vans
  • Prime Video starts focusing more on obscure, cult, sort of less prestige content. That’s in part to counter Disney+: more R-rated content becomes available, more low-budget genre fare (often decades old). Also countering that, Amazon announces an anthology series based on classic (specifically, public domain) short stories. Very famous creators are involved
  • Elon Musk & Amazon (or Jeff Bezos) do something together…maybe something as simple as Alexa in the Cybertruck, but we see it in the news
  • Amazon does something specific for video production for creators. Last year, I suggest a platform for publication, but this could just be automated video editing
  • I’m feeling something big happening in South America for Amazon…like an HQ
  • I’d still like to see Amazon do something specific with preserving and/or making available public domain books
  • Amazon uses AI to analyze books in some new way. Maybe it’s a way to recover information, like querying books. Maybe it produces short summaries of books. This is challenged by publishers

Okay, that’s three predictions and ten speculations…lucky 13! Virtual fingers crossed!

Any predictions from you? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Some of my readers are already in 2020 at the time of publication: Happy New Year!

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

Bufo’s Alexa Skills

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :)

Shop ’til you help! 🙂

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other organizations, begin your Amazon shopping from a link on their sites: Amazon.com (Smile.Amazon.com)

Happy bookish birthdays (31 December) to…

December 31, 2019

Happy bookish birthdays (31 December) to…

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

Bufo’s Alexa Skills

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :)

Shop ’til you help! 🙂

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other organizations, begin your Amazon shopping from a link on their sites: Amazon.com (Smile.Amazon.com)

Happy bookish birthdays (30 December) to…

December 30, 2019

Happy bookish birthdays (30 December) to…

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

Bufo’s Alexa Skills

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :)

Shop ’til you help! 🙂 

The Year in E-Books 2019

December 30, 2019

The Year in E-Books 2019

Every year, I look both backward and forward. This is my annual post, looking at what happened this year. If you want to see the details, please see the ever-expanding ILMK E-Books Timeline. For posts in this series for previous years, see The Year in E-Books category.

The first thing I’ll note is that there no longer seems to be any kind of prestige barrier in being published by Amazon. That was there in the beginning: the biggest authors didn’t seem to want to go with Amazon, for the most part. I think they weren’t seen as really a major publisher. Well, that’s been evolving over time, and this year, very top names have made deals. I think that may have been influenced by the success of Amazon as a movie/TV studio. Among those in agreement with or whose work was being published by Amazon were: Stieg Larsson; Blake Crouch; Veronica Roth; Andy Weir; Mindy Kaling; Sylvia Day; and Dean Koontz.

Next, Amazon absolutely continued its journey towards a true world market. One of the most important was Souq becoming Amazon.ae, which brought it into the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and brought Arabic language support in the app and on the website. There is a long literary history in Arabic, and Amazon has carried e-books in the language, but this is definitely a step up. Amazon also introduced Kindle Lite in Kenya. The full Kindle app had been available, but this is specifically designed for slower networks & phones with less storage. Amazon also launched Amazon.sg in Singapore, and separately, support for traditional Chinese. While the latter does affect sales in the USA, it also broadens the appeal.

In addition to spreading around the world with e-books, Amazon is also making e-books available everywhere with Alexa. They released a lot of wearables (a ring, glasses) and Alexa/Echo devices. While I didn’t have it for much of the year because it hadn’t been released, I’m sure that since I have, I’ve done most of my reading with my Echo Auto in the car.

Microsoft killed its current e-book platform (it’s done that before), which meant that people couldn’t access their books online.

Barnes & Noble was bought by the same company that owns the UK’s Waterstones…giving them the biggest physical bookstore chains in both countries.

In terms of creatives, Amazon ended its Kindle blogs through the Amazon store…which I’d personally been using for about ten years. I haven’t made up that income, but I’m not dependent on it. On the other hand, they opened up Alexa skills for publication to the store (I have four there: https://amzn.to/2EmJkyc ). I’m not making money on those, though, but again, it’s not crucial.

UPDATE: Thanks to reader Brian Hartman for reminding me about this! Another program Amazon stopped: Kindle Matchbook. This enabled customers who had previously bought some physical books to get a discounted price on the e-book. It was introduced in 2013, but I don’t think it ever really caught on very much. As the pricing strategy on Kindle books stabilized, I think they may have decided that they just didn’t really need to do that. Also, it could be that people had already surged and taken advantage of it initially and then interest dropped off, although I don’t know that.

I’ll wrap up on this with pointing out that Amazon paid a lot of attention to EBRs (E-Book Readers). They introduced a frontlit Kindle for just $89.99: New Kindle (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*). That was nice to see!

UPDATE: I have included this in the past couple of years, but neglected to include it this year: these are counts when I search the titles of the 2019 Amazon press release archive…AWS (Amazon Web Services) dominates, even though I rarely talk about it here. I’m more concerned with books and consumer gadgets than enterprise, despite how big and successful a part of Amazon it is. Also, when I went to do this, Amazon has changed something (again) meaning that I can’t have continuity with last year. I use to be able to search just within the titles of the articles, but now it appears I can only search for keywords…which greatly increases the results Hm…I’ll show you 2019/2018 to give you a sense of how it is trending.

  • tablet=233/230 (+3)
  • Kindle=243/232 (+11)
  • Fire TV=249/234 (+15)
  • Echo=243/233 (+10)
  • Alexa=246/234 (+12)
  • AWS=245/232 (+13)

Doesn’t look like much switch in publicity focus…maybe they just did more press releases overall.

I felt like it was a good year! Anything else stand out to you? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

Bufo’s Alexa Skills

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :)

Shop ’til you help! 🙂

Happy bookish birthdays (29 December) to…

December 29, 2019

Happy bookish birthdays (29 December) to…

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

Bufo’s Alexa Skills

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :)

Shop ’til you help! 

Happy bookish birthdays (28 December) to…

December 28, 2019

Happy bookish birthdays (28 December) to…

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

Bufo’s Alexa Skills

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :)

Shop ’til you help! 🙂 

Happy bookish birthdays (27 December) to…

December 27, 2019

Happy bookish birthdays (27 December) to…

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

Bufo’s Alexa Skills

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :)

Shop ’til you help! 🙂

Happy bookish birthdays (26 December) to…

December 26, 2019

Happy bookish birthdays (26 December) to…

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

Bufo’s Alexa Skills

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :)

Shop ’til you help! 

A Kindle Carol, Part 3

December 25, 2019

A Kindle Carol, Part 3

This is part 3 (and the conclusion) of the story that had begun in this earlier post.

It was like being everywhere at once.

Warmth and sorrow, family and fear, here and there…it was all the same.  It seemed to flicker like an old nickelodeon…phft-phft-phft as each smallest split second changed to the next.

At first, Scrooge/Everything couldn’t focus.  It was one rush of feelings, emotions, thoughts, and nothing.  You couldn’t look anywhere in particular because wherever you looked, you saw something else…or was it the same thing?  You (and I) saw yourself (and it) whenever we/they tried.

Eventually (although it happened instantly), Scrooge/Everything became aware of scenes.  Not as things separate from himself or from each other, but as part of existence (and yet, the whole of it).

Scrooge felt the immersion of someone reading a book…how you enter the author’s universe, while still being part of yours.

He was a single mother, a soldier in Iraq, the captain of the high school football team, himself, a surgeon, a small child sleeping on a cement floor with five other siblings, a cat, a dog, a thought, a prayer, a kiss, a tear…a moment.

He became aware of the Cratchit family.  Bob was still at work…we had that meeting tonight.  He felt his (Bob’s?) wife’s resentment, but resignation at the same time.  Two young children, who he knew were the twins, were playing a videogame.  A third tiny youngster shouted encouragement.

“Get him, Robby, get him!”

“I’ll get him, Tim.”

Scrooge knew there was nothing on the screen right then for Robby to get.  He was humoring Tim, who was blind.  His video self fired off a shot at the wall…the TV made the distinctive “pzzoo” sound of the ray rifle.

“Did you get him, Robby?”

“Sure did, Tim!  Sure did!”

The other gamer, a girl named Kelsea, rolled her eyes.  She didn’t really approve of lying, but it made Tim happy to be a part of the game.  She was itching to see the next level, and they weren’t going to have as good a chance of getting there if Robby kept wasting his ammunition charge like that.  Still, she figured it was worth it to see Robby high-five tiny Tim’s outstretched hand.

Buzz!

A voice came through the intercom.

“Mom, it’s me!”

Scrooge knew it was Martha, the oldest daughter.  “I’ll get it!”  Tim ran unerringly to the button and buzzed his sister up the stairs.

“Hey, Double-T!  I got you something!”

“Whatizitwhatizit?”

“Well, the teachers let us out early for Thanksgiving, and Ms. Ramirez dropped me off at the library–”

“Did you get me a book?”

“I did,” Martha said smiling.  “The Scarlet Pimpernel.”

“Oh boy, thanks!  What’s a pimplemill?”

Tim’s mother called from the kitchen.  “Pimpernel.  It’s a flower.”

“A flower?”  Tim was still holding out his hands to Martha.

“Not this Pimpernel, Double-T!  He’s a hero…with a secret identity and everything.”

“Like Daredevil?”

“Even better.  He saves people from the bad guys in old France.  If he didn’t, they’d cut off their heads!”

“Yaaaaay!  I’m going to go listen to it right now!  Thanks, Martha!”

Tim took the box of CDs that Martha slapped into his open hands and ran down to the room he shared with Robby and Kelsea.

“That was nice of you, Martha.”

“Well, Mom, Ms. Ramirez offered to drive me.  Mr. Cho brought turkey in for everybody, so I had enough lunch money left for the bus.  I can probably get one of the other kids to take it back.”

“Mom,” Kelsea said hesitantly, “Latella’s cousin is blind.  They don’t have to get books from the library…he gets all the audiobooks he wants sent to him for free.”

“That’s great, dear.  But to do that, you have to have a doctor certify you as blind as there is a lot of paperwork to fill out.”

Scrooge/Kelsea fell silent.  S/he knew that they couldn’t afford a doctor.  Scrooge/Mrs. Cratchit wished again that Bob had a job with full benefits.  She’d always wondered if little Tim’s eyesight could have been saved if they weren’t just going to the community clinic.  She knew it probably wouldn’t have made any difference, but she couldn’t help wondering.

“Mom, when is Dad going to get here?”

“I don’t know, Robby.  They have that annual marketing meeting tonight.”

“Dumb old Scrooge!”

“That’s Mister Scrooge, Robby…he is your father’s boss, after all.”

“I know.  I just hate that guy sometimes.  Why doesn’t Dad just quit and get a better job?”

“We don’t say hate in this house, you know that.  It’s not that easy, Robby.  It’s a hard time to find work out there.  Besides, your father likes working for Mr. Scrooge.”

Martha pouted.  “I don’t know why.  He treats him like dirt.  He doesn’t pay him anything, and he makes him work all the time.”

“I can’t say I really understand it either, dear, but it’s what your father wants.”

Scrooge suddenly found himself back in his office.  He was just himself again.  He was thinking about Bob, when a dark figure grabbed him by the wrist.

“Wait!  Slow down”

The ghost of tomorrow did not wait…it never does.

“Where are you taking me?”

Scrooge felt himself fall through the floors of the building.  He thudded on to the lobby floor.  Workers went past him, carrying chairs and tables.  They came out of the freight elevator, headed for a big truck on the street.

“Somebody must be moving,” thought Scrooge.

The spirit pointed to where the building receptionist was opening the glass case that contained the directory.  She slid out one of the printed names.

“Spirit, tell me…what is happening?”

The spirit continued to point.  The receptionist walked over to the garbage can where a security guard was standing.

The guard smiled at her.  “Well, that’s it, huh?  They are finally gone.”

“Well, it was only a matter of time, I guess.  I heard on the news that they went bankrupt.”

“Got any news on a new tenant?”

“It’s not that easy to fill a whole floor.  I’m guessing it will be awhile.”

She dropped the laminated name in the silver bin and walked back to her desk.

The spirit led Scrooge to the garbage can.  Scrooge stood, afraid to look inside, afraid at what he might see.

“No, spirit, no!”

The spirit stood, immobile and impassionate.  Scrooge couldn’t help himself…he saw the J. Marley Publishing sign, with the logo of Jacob on it.

“Bankrupt!  It can’t be!  I won’t let it happen!  You…you wouldn’t show me this unless I could do something about it, right?  Jacob said it could change…he said I had a chance if I could learn something!  I’ve learned, spirit!  I’ve learned that books are books, whatever the format!  Its not the paper, it’s the words that matter!  And poor Tim Cratchit, and a million others like him!  We…I can help them!  Please, spirit, please!  Give me another chance!”

“Unca?  Are you alright?”

Scrooge found himself back in his office again.

“You…you’re still here!  The business is still here!”

“Sure it is, Unc.  Geez, how long was I on that phone call, anyway?  So, you want to get back to that meeting?”

“Yes…yes, I do!  Cratchit!”

Bob was surprised to hear his boss yelling.

“Get in here.  No, wait, start some coffee first.  Nephew, tell me about those e-books.  I want to do them…I want to get started right away!  Make sure they have that read-aloud thing…that’s important!”

“Sure, Unc, that’s great!”

“Cratchit…Bob, I’ve decided you are going to get a bonus!”

“Uh..a bonus, sir?”

“Yep!  I’m getting everybody in your family a Kindle!  You tell Tim he can have all the books he wants, and you send me the bills.  When he gets done with The Scarlet Pimpernel, you tell him old Neezy wants to talk with him about it.”

“Yes sir!  Bless you, sir!”

Epilogue

Scrooge was never again troubled with spirits.  Jay-Em e-Romances were a permanent part of the bestseller lists, with the first one in the series  always being offered for free.  Martha Cratchit wrote a few herself, eventually becoming a successful author.  The company thrived, and the Greasy Cat Foundation, with Timothy Cratchit as its Executive Director, became a leader in providing free e-book readers to those in need.

May we all learn from the past, savor the present, and build a future not just for us, but for others.

The End

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog on December 24, 2009.

A Kindle Carol, Part 2

December 25, 2019

This is part 2 of the story that had begun in this earlier post.

“The Greasy Cat!”

The spirit child rippled with laughter at the name.

Scrooge’s eyes grew large, and he shook his head to clear it.  There could be no doubt.  Although it was much smaller than he remembered it, he was seeing the treehouse of his youth.  They had called it “The Greasy Cat” after a secret meeting place in The Scarlet Pimpernel.  While the name, Le Chat Gris actually meant “The Gray Cat”, that had been beyond his level of French at ten years old.  Marley had known that “chat” meant “cat”, and the rest had been a guess.

“But how can it still be standing after all this time?”

The spirit child rippled again.

“It couldn’t be, could it…the house was sold years ago.   This whole area is an industrial park now.”

“Not now, silly head,” said the child.

“Of course!  This is the past.  Oh, the times Jakey and I had up there!  The laughter and the secrets.  I’d love to see the inside again…but my legs are more rickety than that old board ladder.”

There was no whirlwind, just a whisper…like the too loud hsh-hsh-hsh of small children hiding behind a couch.

Scrooge suddenly found himself inside The Greasy Cat.  He thought he would feel claustrophobic, but he didn’t.   The room hadn’t gotten bigger…and he didn’t seem smaller.  In fact, he didn’t seem to be there at all, and yet, it was all perfectly clear.

The only lighting in the room came from a two-battery flashlight with a cracked lens.   If Scrooge needed any more convincing, that would have done it.  He remembered reading so many things with that thin black jagged line across the words.  They pretended it looked like a Z, and that they could use it like a Zorro signal to call that masked defender of the people.  Although there was one night when they would swear they had both heard Tornado’s hooves, Don Diego remained as hidden from them as he had from Sargent Gonzales.

But who was holding the light…

“Jakey!”

“They seek him here,
They seek him there…”

The boy with the flashlight read on, paying Scrooge no heed.

Suddenly, another child’s voice echoed through the gloom in a lightning crack:

“They seek him in his underwear!”

Both kids exploded in raucous laughter, slapping each other and rolling on the floor.

The older Scrooge smiled.   The spirit child became a cloud and whirled around the room, mirroring the boys as they made no attempt to control themselves.

“Oh, I loved that book.”

“Not a book,” said the spirit child sternly.

“Of course it is!  That’s The Scarlet Pimpernel!  That’s why we named the treehouse the Greasy Cat.”

“Comic book.”

“Comic…say, that’s right!  We were reading the comic books!  I remember now.  We would get them at Fezziwig’s.  We used to ride our bikes down there and sneak the comics back under our shirts.  Wouldn’t do to have Dad catch me with a comic, even if it was a classic.”

“Not a real book.”

“They were real to us!  Realer than school, realer than anything!”

“Fake books.”

“Hey, at least we were reading, right?  I might not be what I am today without those comic books.”

The spirit child flew at Scrooge, and for a moment all he could see was a wall of white.

He blinked his eyes and found himself back in his office.

He jumped when a figure suddenly entered the room.

“Hey, Unc…I just need to make one more call…gotta follow up on something with one of the kids.  You know how kids are, right?”

Scrooge’s nephew turned away, his thumbs flicking on the keys.

Left alone in his office, Scrooge gave the question more consideration than it had been meant to deserve.

It had been a long time since he’d thought about children.  Children didn’t buy JMP books.  He didn’t have any kids of his own.  This company had been his life.  When Marley died, he had felt like a single parent.  JMP had been theirs…it still was.  But he had suddenly had to do it all by himself.  They had always divided everything.  It wasn’t as simple as good cop/bad cop, or tough love/tenderness.  They were both tough, and everybody knew it.   They were just tough in different ways.  Marley was tough with people…Scrooge was tough with the numbers.

When he’d been left by himself, he didn’t try to copy Marley.  He couldn’t, there was no point to it.  So, he’d just let that part die along with Jacob.

He missed him now.  He’d know kids.  He’d known what people…all people wanted.

Didn’t Cratchit have kids?  Scrooge thought he did…in fact, he was sure he did.  He’d never met Cratchit’s family…not that he could remember.

“I wish I knew more about them.”

A breeze seemed to cause the potted plant in the corner to wave from side to side.  But it couldn’t be a breeze: there were no windows, and the air conditioning was off.

“Hmph.”

The plant continued to move.  Scrooge smelled that distinctive plant smell, like walking by a park after a rainy day.  The smell terrified Scrooge.

The plant was plastic.

The smell began to fill the room.  It reminded Scrooge of a particularly unpleasant trip, when he had gone to Hawaii for a publishing convention.  He’d always hated travel…meeting with people had been Marley’s part of the deal.  But Marley had been too sick to go…he’d gotten better, that time.

Scrooge coughed and hacked.  Why wasn’t his allergy medicine working?

When he could stand again, he saw that the room was covered in ivy, overgrown in leaves.  They were still growing…flowers sprouted, tendrils twisted around branches.

A man stepped into the center of the room.  At least, “man” was the closest approximation Scrooge’s confused mind could make.  Whatever it was, it was part of the jungle that was all that Scrooge could see.  He couldn’t see where the man started and the plants stopped.

“Ebenezer Scrooge.”

“Are you the second of the spirits?”

“I am here and now.”

“What will you show me?”

“I am here and now.”

The ivy continued to grow and expand.  Scrooge felt it pressing against him, wrapping around him.  He struggled. It covered his face.  He couldn’t breath!  He felt it go through his skin, becoming part of him…or he of it?  Scrooge found it hard to think…his mind was stretched, and the thinner it became the less of him was left.

He fought to control it…control was always how he got through things.

He lost.

To be continued…

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog on December 22, 2009.


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