Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 3)

November 25, 2015

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 3)

“Good afternoon! I figure you all know this by now, seeing as how this is the third lecture in this series, but my name’s ‘Tack’ Carlson. I’ve learned a couple of your names, but I have to tell you, I’m pretty good with faces. I think that’s  part of  being a lawyer, at least of  the courtroom variety. We’re pretty good observers, and right decent at telling how you feel about things. After all, that’s my job: to get you to feel a certain way about the facts, and I can’t change your feelings if I can’t tell what they are now.

I don’t see any unfamiliar folks out there…did you all attend the first two talks? Great! Don’t worry, there isn’t going to be a test. You’ll get those in your regular classes here at Fictional Character University…I’m just  a  guest speaker for an elective.

Let’s just do a little review first.

The name of this series is Surviving ‘The End’. Everybody in here is a lead character in a first novel which is still in a draft. I’m hoping to help you get past that first novel and on to a second.

I’m not going  to claim to have all the answers, but I’ve done it myself, and I can humbly say, well as much as a lawyer can ever be humble, that  I know something about the topic.

In the first talk, I told you about

Rule #1: You have to accept change.

I explained how long-lasting characters usually have some kind of stress in their first novels, or just before the novel starts. It’s part of your origin story, and helping the real-worlders get to where you are…at least in their heads.

In the second one, we discussed

Rule #2: Be the same.

Anybody remember what else I called that?”

“The principle of ‘Ride the same horse'”.

“Yep! Antares, isn’t it?”

“You grok.”

“Just knowing somebody’s name is a pretty low thresholding for grokking,  isn’t it?”

“Maybe I didn’t say it just because you knew my name.”

“Maybe not. I remember we had a nice piece of dialog. Ready to ride with me a bit further?”


“Well, I’m  pretty sure Antares knows the answer, but what’s the topic of today’s talk?”

“Have interesting friends?”

“Yes…friends and enemies, for that matter. Thanks for giving Antares time to respond to some texts…although I’m guessing you’ve been doing that all along. What’s your name?”

“Sujay Rodriguez, but they call me ‘C.J.’. I’m a safety inspector.”

“Do you inspect anything in particular?”

“I used to work for a state agency, but my job got eliminated. I got a decent severance package, so now I freelance…anything, anywhere, any time.”

“How does that work? How do you have all that knowhow?”

“Most safety issues involve the same thing…somebody doing something stupid. That usually isn’t the guy who gets hurt…it’s the guy who told the guy who got hurt what to do.”

“I see.”

“The rest of it’s just a matter of doing the research.”

“I understand doing research. Not sure I’d want to have you on a jury in a negligence case, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I wouldn’t want to have most of us characters on a jury…we have a tendency to take over. You know, a lot of strong personalities.

That brings me to today’s topic.

We have those strong personalities, but that’s not enough. We need to have other folks around us, too…and interesting folks.

They can be a lot of things: sidekicks; bosses; friends; lovers; enemies…there are a lot of choices.

Here, let me demonstrate with something I call the ‘And Chain’.

We talked about Sherlock Holmes before. If I say, ‘Sherlock Holmes and…’, and you know I’m talking about another person, what would you say? ‘Watson’, right? Let’s keep going…give me a different answer. Holmes and…”

“Professor Moriarty.”


“Mrs. Hudson.”


“Inspector Lestrade.”


“The Baker Street Irregulars.”

“Good answer! We  could keep going. All of these characters are memorable. All of them have appeared in more than one Holmes title. Real world readers know them.

How about a more recent example…Stephanie Plum. Stephanie Plum and…”



“Grandma Mazur!”

“Ranger…he’s hot!”

“Well, it sounds like the class generally agrees with you. Let’s keep going. Stephanie Plum and…”


“Yes, he owns the Bail Bonds business…and he’s Stephanie’s cousin.”


“That’s not a character!”

“Actually, I would consider Rex, the hamster, a character…and I reckon my horse Seafounder would agree with me. Characters don’t have to be human beings…heck, dogs and cats have been main characters, along with a whole slew of other species. There are other human characters, and if I name off a few I think most of you will recognize them: Connie, who also works in the Bonds office; Grandma Bella; Moon-Man Dunphy;  and that’s not even counting crossover folks and one-timers.

The point is, you might be super interesting, but you aren’t enough.  Humans are social animals: it wouldn’t seem realistic to the real-worlders, so to speak, if you existed in a vacuum. Besides, some people are going to read your books just to catch up on those other characters…and them reading your books is what’s going to keep you alive.”

Speaking of staying alive, shouldn’t Rex be in the Guinness book as the oldest hamster ever?”

“Well, he’s not as old as Sherlock Holmes, and he is still going strong. I wanted to introduce you to somebody. Come on out! This here’s Catherine Ketcham, better known as–“

“Catch ’em Kate!”

“Thank you, Antares. How many of you have heard of Catch ’em Kate? Great! How would you describe the character?”

“A female bounty hunter?”

“Just a bounty hunter will do, mister. My sex ain’t got nothin’ to do with it.”

“Easy, Kate. I’m sure that’s how Stephanie Plum get described, too.”

“That don’t make it right, Tack. What’s wrong for me is wrong for that Jersey gal.”

“Gender and diversity is an issue that we can save for another time.”

“Ain’t it always?”

“I wanted to give it a full session, that’s all. You know I’ve never treated you any differently.”

“That’s for durn sure.”

“Um…where was I? Right, the importance of having other characters like Kate with you in your stories. What I do as a lawyer would be pretty tame…Kate runs them down, and that brings a needed boost of adrenaline to the Courtroom Cowboy novels.”

Yep…and then you get them bonded out again.”

“If I do, that just gives you another chance to bring them in, right? Twice the bounty.”

“Them’s lawyerin’ words. You always did know how to turn scat into flapjacks.”

“Does anybody have any questions?”

“Where’s Dusty Ambush?”

“I was hoping for a question for Kate, who was kind enough to join us today.”

“Tell ’em, Tack.”

“Okay, Kate. It is educational, even if…emotionally uncomfortable. Dusty was too weak to make the trip. While I’ve been lucky enough to keep getting new books and stories published, not to mention the adaptations, and to have Kate’s assistance, Dusty…well, Dusty hasn’t been in a new novel for, oh, thirty years or so. You’ve heard about characters fading into obscurity…that’s what’s happening with Dusty. He’s getting weaker and weaker…some days, it’s hard to even make out what he’s saying.”


“That’s  something you all have to understand. As long as real-worlders are reading you, you’ll stick around. Having new stories for them helps, but if they are reading your old stuff, that will keep you strong and vital.”


“Gerry Carlisle! Sorry for the interruption, class. This is Gerry Carlisle, from the Interplanetary Hunter stories. Gerry, can this wait? I’m in the middle of a lecture.”

“Sorry, no. It’s an emergency.”

“Did you need Kate?”

“We could always use another strong arm, but we also need a lawyer…and that means you, ‘Professor'”.

“I guess that ends today’s lecture, then. I’ll have the school let everybody know if we need to reschedule the next one. Gerry, can you at least tell them the nature of the case?”

“Rather not.”

“Who else is with you?”

“Jimgrim, Edward Malone, Frank Reade, and Mrs. Paschal.”

“Sounds like you’ve got plenty of room for me and Kate. Let me ask you: that spaceship of yours have room for a few observers?”

“There’s room.”

“Thanks! I’m sure you don’t mind if I bring along a few of these students…it would be great for them to see a real adventure, and I think they could be helpful.”

“As long as they aren’t just deadheading.”

“Oh, they’ll work, I’m sure. Everybody’s signed field trip releases, right?  Or had their legal guardians give approval? Good. Antares…the baker…and let’s bring the cat. As for the rest of you, I want you to think about those three lessons: embrace the change, be the same, and have interesting friends and enemies. If you have any questions, send me an e-mail.

One last thing…Gerry,  I hate to ask you this, but–“

“Seafounder’s already onboard in one of the holding pens.”

“That horse is a durn sight smarter than Tack, anyway.”

“You know, Gerry, if you aren’t sure there’s enough room to take all of us, maybe Ms. Ketcham…never mind, I’m just kidding. Kate’s right about Seafounder…although it sounds like my legal education might be of some small use in this instance.”

 “I told you we needed you. Look, we need to go now…you two can argue after we blast off.”

“I’m sure we will…it wouldn’t be much fun if we didn’t. I hate to leave the class in such suspense…can’t you just give them a hint?”

“Professor Challenger’s been arrested.”

“Where are we going? I’ll need to study up on local jurisdiction on the way.”


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

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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things. 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 2)

November 14, 2015

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 2)

“Welcome back!

This is the second in my lecture series on how to survive your first novel here at Fictional Characters University. If you missed the first one, well, you might want to have a talk with your placement counselor.

Here’s a link to the recording of the first one, in case you want to review it later:

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 1)

You’ll find it in your reference materials, and online at my FCU homepage.

Just to refresh your recollection, I’m Thackeray “Tack” Carlson. I’ve been in 23 novels, and a heap of adaptations, and I made my first appearance in 1936.

You might think 23 puts me into a rarefied category, but you know what? Just being in two novels does that. We characters don’t have much of a life expectancy…not one percent of us make it past our first novel and on to a second one.

You’re all here because you are hoping to be one of the lucky ones.

Well, let me tell you…there is a lot of luck involved.

Sure as daylight in Dallas, though, it’s not just luck. There are things you can do to up your odds. There are no guarantees: it doesn’t matter how good a case I’ve made in court, you never know what’s going to happen in that deliberation room.”

“Professor Carlson?”

“Tack is fine…I’m not on the faculty here, just a guest lecturer.”

“Um…I was wondering. As a fictional lawyer, don’t you know you are going to win every case?”

“Well, let’s just say I’ve won my fair share…some people might say more than that. No question, I’ve got it easier than my real world counterparts, but I’ve lost a few cases. I guess the difference is that when I lose, something good always comes out of it. Wouldn’t satisfy my fans if it didn’t. As I was saying, there are some guidelines for getting to number two.

Last time, I talked about embracing change. You need an origin story. You see, we fictional folks are extraordinary. That’s what makes us worth reading about. People are going to want to know what made you that way. They want to see a path from every day to once in a lifetime. That doesn’t mean they want to walk that path…most of them are just fine with the troubles and tribulations they have now. It just helps them sympathize and yes, believe in you, if they can see how you got there.

Does anybody remember what I said I was going to talk about this time?”

“Be the same.”

“Yep. Thanks for paying attention last time…or for cheating off the website on your SmartPhone. Either one shows initiative.

You see, I don’t want to set you up just to get to two books…I want you to do a series. You have to figure out what makes a reader want to find out more about you…and what makes them satisfied when they do.

What’s your name, ‘be the same’?”

“Antares Nebula”.

“Science fiction?”

“Young adult. My name’s meta: I’m a kid from a hunter/gatherer culture who got adopted by geek parents.”

“Okay. You knew the topic of today’s talk…do you mind if I use you to illustrate a point?”

“Go ahead…I’m used to that.”

“What’s the name of the Lone Ranger’s horse?”


“I’m impressed! I wasn’t sure you’d know.”

“I’ve got the internet. Besides, my parents taught me to be interested in everything, and John Reid’s one of the original superheroes.”

John Reid? Are you sure?”

“I wanted to keep it simple. I’ve found I have a tendency to confuse people.”

“Got it. Well, the point is, you knew the name of his horse. Lots of people do. Does your family have a car?”

“No. We’re part of the sharing economy…we don’t like to own stuff.”

“I understand. Do you know anybody who has a car?”

“Some people at my Mom’s work.”

“What are the names of their cars?”

“You mean like the model?”

“No, the individual car. Since we’re talking about the Reid family, like the Black Beauty.”

“I don’t know.”

“Has any of them had more than one car since you’ve known them?”

“Sure. My Mom’s co-worker totaled hers.”

“That’s too bad.”

“It really wasn’t…long story, and one I probably shouldn’t talk about in class.”

“We don’t want to get anybody in trouble. Did she get the same kind of car?”


“Was anybody shocked that she got a different car?”

“Not really.”

“What if the Lone Ranger drove that same car?”

“The Lone Ranger doesn’t drive a car.”

“Exactly, thank you. The Lone Ranger doesn’t drive a car. The Lone Ranger rides a horse named Silver. The Lone Ranger also wears a mask. The Lone Ranger uses silver bullets, and doesn’t shoot to kill. All of those are things that make the Lone Ranger, well, the Lone Ranger. Readers expect to see those elements when they see the Lone Ranger.”

“What about Tonto?”

“Hold on to that thought…I’m going to come back to that.

Real worlders aren’t defined the same way…they are much more complex. Think about it: how many words describe one of us when a reader first meets us? How many data points? It would be unusual if readers knew more than about five things about us after that first encounter. I’m a mixed race lawyer cowboy with a horse named Seafounder. That defines me.

When a real worlder meets another real worlder, they have probably a hundred data points or more: height, hair color, eye color, accent, shoe brand, where they sit in the room, what car they drive, brand of clothes, perfume or cologne or whatever, and so on.

Change one of my characteristics and I might be twenty percent different to the average reader. Change one characteristic about a real worlder, and it’s only maybe one percent.”


“Are you asking one, or did you want me to ask you one?”

“Um…asking. It’s not really important, though.”

“I was just kidding you…let’s let the class decide what’s important. That’s what the readers do when we speak, anyway.”

“I was just wondering: why is your horse’s name Seafounder?”

“Well, I don’t know about everybody else, but I think that’s a great question…especially since it lets me give you a great answer. My original author’s name is Buck Tooson, but as I mentioned last time, her real name was Mary Prydudd. Anybody know what kind of name that is?”


“You got it. Anybody here speak Welsh? No? Worth a shot…I’ve noticed every year that these classes are getting to be more diverse. ‘Cyfiawnder’ is Welsh for ‘Justice’. Buck figured, rightly I think, that folks would have anglicized that, so Cyfiawnder become Seafounder. Now, I know a lot of you probably don’t see a connection between being a lawyer and justice, but Buck did, and I do, too. Good story, right? Thanks again for asking.

Let’s see…oh, yes.  So, you don’t to go against what people expect to see. I call the principle, ‘Ride the same horse’.

Does that sound boring?

It doesn’t have to be…although be careful about what your author wants to make part and parcel of your main characteristics. You want it to be flexible enough to work in a lot of situations. Remember, you can refuse to pick up that buggy whip, if that’s what the author wants you to do. If you are really uncomfortable with it, they can tell.”

“I don’t want to be the same all the time.”

“There are some options for taking a personality vacation every once in a while. You can go undercover as someone else. You can have a dream sequence. You can go off canon…you know, in parodies and fan fiction, unofficial adventures. Just don’t overdue it.

Now, who asked me about Tonto?”

“That was me.”

“What’s your story?”

“I bake cupcakes that change people’s lives. You see, I have deep insight into the problems people have, and I bake a specific cupcake with particular flavors, ingredients, and decorations that act as a catalyst to send them in a new direction.”

“That’s different. Who else is in the bakery with you?”

“I’m pretty much it, at least as the story goes so far.”

“Do you see the same people, after you change them?”


“Nobody helps you? There are no recurring characters besides you? You don’t have a Tonto?”

“Not in eleven short stories, and not in the latest draft of the novel. Is that a problem?”

“Let’s just say that’s going to be the topic of my next lecture in this series: Rule #3: have interesting friends and/or enemies. See you all then!”

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

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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things. 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 1)

October 15, 2015

Surviving “The End”: advice for literary characters (part 1)

“Welcome to this afternoon’s lecture at Fictional Character University. Just to make sure you are all in the right session, everyone here is appearing in their first novels, right?”

“Do short stories count?”

“No. While short stories are an excellent medium, it’s really not the same as a novel. How many of you have appeared in a short story? More than one story? Look like about 25%…I’ll make sure to address those differences, then. If you have any additional questions, you can e-mail me after class.

Let’s go ahead and get started. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Thackeray Carlson, but I’m usually called ‘Tack Carlson’. I’ve been featured in twenty-three novels, one hundred and four short stories, a comic book, movies, and a TV series that I guarantee you none of you saw.

I’m the son of a freed Caribbean slave and a disgraced British diplomat.

My nickname comes from two things.

One is my expertise in caring for horses. I’m guessing some of you haven’t spent much time around a barn…’tack’ is what we call the equipment we use with our horses…saddles, bridles, reins, or as my horse Seafounder would call it, ‘The original wearable technology.’

The other one is that it’s short for ‘Tactic’. While I’ve done my share of fighting in my adventures, both hand to hand and with weapons, it really comes from legal tactics. Yep, I’m a lawyer. Oh, that’s another name you might know: I’m called the ‘Courtroom Cowboy’, even though the closest I usually get to an actual cow is on a supper plate.

My first publication was as a minor character in a Dusty Ambush short story in Thrilling Western. My author is Buck Tooson…or to use her given name, Mary Prydudd.

That was in 1936.

After a bunch of short stories and a couple of anthologies, I hit the big time with The Courtroom Cowboy #1: The Sagefire Case.

Now, if I’d been like most characters, that would have been it. No reason to expect I’d survive that first novel and get on to a next.

But I did.

Then I did it again…and again…and again.

Eventually, I even outlived Mary…uh, Buck.

Yep, some of  you might be worried about what will happen when your author dies, but that doesn’t have be the end of it. I’ve had six different authors over the years…and that’s just talking about the books.

The odds are, you are going to meet your end way before your author does.

Now, I’m not trying to scare you…just being realistic.

There are things you can do to give you a better shot at book number two…and that’s why we’re here today.

Plenty of folks have made it over the years, of course: Sherlock Holmes; Dracula; Nancy Drew…heck, even H.G. Wells’ Time Traveler has been in more than one book, and if you’ve read the first one, that might be a surprise.

Let’s get started

Rule #1: You have to accept change.

That’s one of those differences between a novel and a short story. All you short story vets out there: it’s possible you are exactly the same as you were in the first one. You come in and solve the case, or get the guy, or whatever. You are completely comfortable and predictable.

In a novel, it can’t be the same. I’m assuming here that you are the star of it, not just a background character. You’ve got too be different at the end of the book than you were at the beginning.”

“Professor Carlson?”

“Tack is fine…of course, if you want to call me ‘esteemed counsel’ or ‘pardnuh’, I’m okay with either.”

“Yes, sir. I never thought Sherlock Holmes changed much…that was one of the things I admired about the character. He knew who he was from the beginning.”

“Holmes is a great example of my point. What happens in the first book…if we leave out the case itself? Holmes moves in with Watson. That is an absolutely life changing event for Holmes. Part of the joy of the book is seeing Holmes and to a lesser extent, Watson, adjusting to that situation, and each other.”

“Tack, what about Dracula?”

“Another great example. Don’t get confused by the movies, where they act like the evil count has been around since the beginning. It’s pretty clear Dracula hasn’t been revived for all that long in the first book, but let me ask you: what’s the other big change?”

“Van Helsing’s arrival?”

“Sure, having an enemy can be a good thing…readers love a good bad guy! I was thinking of something different, though. We see the book through Jonathan Harker’s eyes, at least originally. Anybody know what he does for a living?”

“He’s a lawyer, right?”

“Good enough. He’s there to help with a real estate transaction…the Count is moving. What’s more stressful than moving? For Dracula,, it’s a fate worse than death…literally.

That’s something to think about. Stress makes you an interesting character. The best way for readers to see who you are is when you are pushed out of your comfort zone. They also have their own challenges, and they’ll be sympathetic to you. If you get through it, they’ll admire you.

Nobody wants to read about somebody whose life is perfect and static.

Do any of you know the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory? No? This link will be in your reference materials:

 It doesn’t have a connection to Sherlock, as far as I know, but it’s a list of the most stressful life events.

This slide has the top ten:

1. Death of spouse
2. Divorce
3. Marital separation from mate
4. Detention in jail or other institution
5. Death of a close family member
6. Major personal injury or illness
7. Marriage
8. Being fired at work
9. Marital reconciliation with mate
10. Retirement from work

Think about the long lasting characters. How many of them had one of these thing happen to them in their first novels, or just before the novel, but driving the events?

Now, you might think I should be talking to the authors about this, but you have to embrace the idea of this. We all know: authors can’t make us do anything we don’t want to do…at least, good authors can’t. It’s a whole lot harder to make your author go somewhere they weren’t planning to go…but you can dig in your feet and refuse to go where they plotted. It’s a little like being a bratty three-year old: you can’t get the adults to try a new restaurant, but you sure as heck can make them give up going to that sushi place!

We’re just about out of time for today, so let me ask you all: how many of you have a major change in that first novel? Looks like most of you. How many of you have something from that top ten list? Okay. For those of you who raised your hands, you’ve got a leg up on those who didn’t. If you don’t have that change, think about what you can do. Your author wants you to smile and hold hands with your Significant Other while you walk down the beach on the perfect family vacation? Refuse to do it. Just don’t take that hand…let your author figure out what that means. None of your books are finished yet, or you wouldn’t be here. If you wanted to be around longer than that, you’ve got to be smart.

Alright, that’s our time. Next time, I’m going to talk about what might seem like a contradiction based on what I’ve just told you. Rule #2: Be the same.”

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

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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things. 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Trouble at school

January 22, 2015

Trouble at school

Teacher: “Thank you for joining me today. I know our students’ guardians lead very busy lives.”

Guardian: “Certainly. I apologize that I only have twenty minutes before I have to be somewhere else…I have a meeting with a client in Lunarville.”

Teacher: “Something exciting?”

Guardian: “Not really…routine atmosphere sweetening contract. Appearing on the moon always sounds glamorous, but for me, it’s just business.”

Teacher: “Well, this shouldn’t take too long. I wanted to talk to you about your child, Beck.”

Guardian: “Well, yes. Not to be obvious, but we wouldn’t have that much else to talk about.”

Teacher: “Ha, ha, right you are. I guess I’m just a little uncomfortable broaching the subject. It’s something I don’t see very much.”

Guardian: “What is it? Grades are good, and I can assure you there has been no cheating. Something behavioral? I haven’t seen anything from guardians of other students in Beck’s grade at your school…at least, not about Beck.”

Teacher: “It’s not something like that, fighting or sexing or something. It’s more…personal. I think I caught Beck…reading.”

Guardian: “I see. Um…what made you think that?”

Teacher: “We were watching a required video. All of the other students were reacting as expected. As you know, our school test scores on communal laughing and sadness are in the top ten percent in the country. The only student who wasn’t responding like everyone else was Beck.”

Guardian: “Well. Perhaps…perhaps there was some technical problem? Couldn’t see or hear the projection?”

Teacher: “No, I checked that seat myself…everything was good. I thought perhaps it was something more benign, like a seizure or something. I had a student once with untreated epilepsy. Can you believe that? What’s next, the Black Plague or polio? Anyway, I checked the medscan data, though…nothing like that, but there was a braingraphic I didn’t recognize. I asked the room system to identify it, and it said that it was indicative of someone reading.”

Guardian: “Did the other students hear that?”

Teacher: “Oh, no, I was very discreet. I waited until everybody else’s consciousness was somewhere else.”

Guardian: “Thank you. I wouldn’t want other students to get the wrong impression and then communicate it to their guardians.”

Teacher: “No, you definitely wouldn’t. This city doesn’t take kindly to cerebral isolationists.”

Guardian: “I’m well aware of that. We were warned about that thoroughly when we first moved here.”

Teacher: “Oh, that’s right. You are immies from one of the colonies…did you know that some of them still allow reading?”

Guardian: “I’ve heard about that, yes. I suppose…I suppose that’s just a matter of culture.”

Teacher: “Hardly. Culture by definition is a shared experience. One of the greatest discoveries of the modern era was when scientists proved that reading, by nature of it being an individual experience, is inherently anti-cultural. If you don’t share your experiences with others, you can’t really be part of a society. People in the old days suspected that…they called cerebral isolationists ‘bookworms’, like tapeworms or roundworms. People who read, and you’ll pardon my use of the word, but I feel it’s necessary in this context, ‘books’, are parasites. They feed off of the experiences of a society, but they don’t participate in building new experiences.”

Guardian: “People who read didn’t read all the time…they did other things, too.”

Teacher: “Only because they were forced to do that. Have you been to the city museum yet? They have a room dedicated to artifacts where ‘bookworms’ would say how they would rather be reading than doing anything else, and ‘too many books, too little time’, claptrap like that. It’s absolutely chilling, and proof of how they were selfishly wrapped up in their own worlds…not in ours.”

Guardian: “We’ll plan a trip. Listen, I’m going to have to run. Is it possible the sensors were in error?”

Teacher: “Not likely.”

Guardian: “Hacked? Another student playing a joke?”

Teacher: “It would not be a very funny joke, but I’ll have IT run a forensic diagno if you like. However, remember that I first noticed the behavior physically. Have you spoken with Beck about reading before?”

Guardian: “Yes, that’s been a topic of conversation in our house…even before we moved here.”

Teacher: “I think it would be worth another discussion. If I see the behavior again, I may have to turn Beck over for counseling.”

Guardian: “Naturally.”

Teacher: “One last question, then I’ll let you go.”

Guardian: “What is it?”

Teacher: “I looked up the name ‘Beck’ on a Birthsite, and it suggested that it came from a classical musician named Beck Hansen.”

Guardian: “That’s right…very popular in the colony where we met.”

Teacher: “But when I asked our students to come up with an old-fashioned password using their first names and three numbers, your child wanted space for twelve letters, not seven. I thought that was odd.”

Guardian: “Beck probably misunderstood the exercise. From everything you are telling me, perhaps we will do some home cognition testing.”

Teacher: “That’s probably a good idea. I wouldn’t worry too much, though. We had just watched a movie the day before, and part of the name of the movie was in the password.”

Guardian: “What did you see?”

Teacher: “Frankenstein, Independent. It’s a fabulous story about how this ancient doctor ignores conformity and thinks differently from everybody else, and then gets justice. It’s quite inspirational and can really have an impact on students. That’s probably where Beck got that nonsense word for the password…Steinbeck123. I mean, ‘Steinbeck’ couldn’t be somebody’s name, right?”

Guardian: “Sounds unlikely.”

Teacher: “A child is going to know their own name…as you say, probably misunderstood what we were all doing. Well, thank you again for your time. I’ll keep an eye on things for you.”

Guardian: “You may not have to do that. We are considering moving.”

Teacher: “Really? Beck hasn’t said anything about it. Somewhere else in the city?”

Guardian: “My job may take us back to the colonies. It’s all come up rather suddenly.”

Teacher: “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that! It would certainly be a step backwards.”

Guardian: “Yes…a step backwards. Sometimes, that’s the only possible solution…”

Join more than a thousand readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

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! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

A Kindle Carol, Part 3

December 25, 2014

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.


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!”


“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!”


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 become 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 24, 2014

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…


“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.


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.

A Kindle Carol, part 1

December 23, 2014

A Kindle Carol, part 1

It was a cold night in the publishing house.  Every night was cold, and the days weren’t much better.  The employees (well, the ones that were left after the latest round of layoffs) had been told it was a cost-cutting measure.  Samir in Accounting had gotten quite a laugh when he suggested it was to match the CEO’s reptilian heart.  Michel had disagreed…he said Scrooge had no heart.

Bob Cratchit would have disagreed for a different reason, if anyone had shared the joke with him.  He’d been Mr. Scrooge’s Executive Assistant for nearly twenty years.  He believed that there was some humanity left in the Old Man, although it had been diminished by years of declining sales.  It had been ten years since his last raise…before any of his children had been born.  Company policy prohibited raises based purely on longevity, and Scrooge had given him a perfect review ten years ago.   Nine years ago, his boss had said there wouldn’t be any point in doing another review…unless Bob’s performance declined.  Bob was proud of the fact that it hadn’t.

Tonight was going to be a particularly difficult test.   It was time for the annual holiday marketing strategy meeting.  J. Marley Publishing hadn’t turned a profit in three years, and was rapidly depleting its cash reserves.  It had accepted an offer of twenty-five cents on the dollar for its audiobook business in exchange for a considerable loan that would see them through the spring.  If something didn’t change, there would be no Jay-Em romances on the beaches that summer.


Scrooge’s voice carried into Bob’s little cell of a cubicle.  He didn’t shout: he saw no reason to spend the extra energy that would take.  The phones would only accept incoming calls…even salespeople had to use their own phones to call their clients.  There was no way to call someone’s extension from inside the building, and Scrooge wasn’t going to waste the valuable time it would take to walk the ten steps from his inner office.  Time was money: although when Scrooge saw his own face in the mirror, he knew he might soon have very little of either left.

“Yes, Mr. Scrooge?”

“How many are going to be in the meeting?”

“Just three of us, sir.  You, your nephew, and myself.”

“Don’t bother printing out any agendas, then.  We can’t afford the paper.  No coffee, no donuts.  Don’t bring the garbage can: we won’t need it.”

“Yes, sir.  Anything else?”

“No.  Don’t be late…I can’t abide tardiness.”

“Yes, sir.”  Bob Cratchit had never been late for anything in his life, much less a meeting.  He wondered what had made Scrooge forgetful, and hoped the Old Man wasn’t ill.

Scrooge wasn’t sick, or not especially sick.  When you get as old as he was, you were always sick with something.  You outlived most of the viruses…it was your own failing systems that would probably get you.   That’s why they call it natural causes…only fools were surprised when the end came.

Marley had been no fool.  Everything was in order, and Scrooge had found it all laid out in minute detail.   He had followed his old partner’s plans for three years.  Marley had always been the face of the organization, and his name could still open a few doors.  Lately, though, there had been fewer and fewer of those doors…open or otherwise.

He could almost picture Marley now.  They would strategize before these meetings.  But strategies suggest choices.  Nobody in the book industry had a lot of choices left.  “People just don’t read any more”, thought Scrooge, “unless it’s under 141 characters”.  Books were going to go the way of newsreels and LPs.   Even if the electronic cancer didn’t kill them, the rising cost of paper would…the expense of natural resources bringing on natural causes.

“Hey, Unca!”

Scrooge’s nephew burst into the room.

“Seven minutes early.”

“I figured that would be okay.  Why not get the meeting done, and we can get out of here early…it’s the night before Thanksgiving, after all.”

“Hmph.  That doesn’t mean today has to be any shorter.  Why not two hours…or half the day?  Why not take the whole week off?”

“Why not?  A lot of people do.”

“Idiots.  You can’t run a business by taking off time.  If it was up to me, we’d work through Thanksgiving.”

“You don’t mean that, Unca.”

“I do…and if you had any sense, you’d agree with me.”

“Oh, I have plenty of sense, Unca…runs in the family, right?  So, you want to have Bob join us in the Conference Room?”

“You’re already here.  Cratchit!  Cancel the lights and turn off the heat for the rest of the building.  We’ll meet here now.”

“Yes, sir.  Right away, sir.”

“You mean the heat’s on?  It’s like a refrigerator in here.”

“Mr. Scrooge, would you like to begin with old business?”

“Let’s dispense with that, Unca.  I wanted to let you know…I met with some guys from Amazon.”


“They were talking to me about the Kindle–”

“Bah!  E-books!”

“Hear me out, Unc.  They were telling me that they thought the Jay-Em line would be a good bet.  Romances do well…all those Harlequin imprints…Kimani, Silhouette, Steeple Hill…Samhain’s moving titles, too.”

“We’re not in the software business.  We sell books.”

“These are books, Unc…they’re just a different format.”

“Paperbacks and hardbacks, those are different formats.  E-books are nothing.  What do they charge for those things?”

“Well, actually, they suggested we offer a couple of them for free–”

“FREE?  That’s not a business, it’s a charity.  Call Bill Gates…he can give them away in South America or something.”

“But Unca–”

“If those e-books were worth anything, they wouldn’t be giving them away.  Books are paper, period.  Nobody’s going to pay any real money for fake books.”

“They really open up the market, though, Unca.  People who have difficulty reading the paper books can really use the increasing text size and the text-to-speech.   It’s easier for people with arthritis and you should understand about the aging population.”

“Our market’s dying off, you don’t need to remind me.  As to the blind, they can already get books for free.  That’s no help.”

“But this is more convenient, and they can share with the family.  They don’t have to prove any kind of disability to buy books from the Kindle store.”

“We’re not here to make their lives easier…we’re here to make money.”

“But Unca, I’ve got some numbers here…oh, my cell!  It’s my wife…excuse me while I take this.”

“Cratchit, go work on those end of year calculations.  No point in wasting the time while my nephew conducts his personal business.”

Left alone in his office, Scrooge’s gaze fell on the J. Marley Publishing logo on the wall.  It was a stylized silhouette of old Marley himself.   As he stared at it, he fancied he saw the portrait turn and look at him.

“These old eyes of mine are playing tricks on me,” Scrooge thought.

“Ebenezer Scrooge.”

“Audio hallucinations as well.  It was only a matter of time.”

“I am no hallucination.”

“Nonsense.  My mind is starting to go…I haven’t been getting enough sleep lately.  After the holidays, I’ll catch up and then I won’t have to worry about mind slips like you.”

“You know who I was.”

“I know you appear to be Jacob Marley, but you could have been a two-headed giraffe.  It’s just a normal consequence of sleep deprivation.  See that stack of bills?  That’s real.”

At this, the figure of Marley let out a wail that shook Scrooge to his toes.  He was sure that Cratchit and his nephew must have heard it, and would rush in at any moment.  When that didn’t happen, he knew that only he could hear and see it.

“It seems it’s just the two of us.  Alright, I’ll play along. ”

“We do not play games in this office…you of all people should know that.”

“What do you want of me?”


“Good luck with that.  There is very little of me left…I’ve already given everything to this company.”

“You do not know what you have to give.  But you will.  If you can still learn, you will.”

These last words chilled Scrooge.  He was unsure that he could learn anything new…and if he couldn’t, what would be the consequences?  He frantically looked at the ghost, looked for anything there that might give him a way to avoid the lesson.  He noticed the spectral ruins of buildings at the feet of the phantom.

“What…what are those crumbled walls?”

“Those are the chains to which we sold when I was alive…Crown Books, B. Dalton, Waldenbooks…I am tied to them in death as I was in life.  I stumble over them, wander their empty halls…I can not leave them, can not move on to more fertile markets.   If you can not change, you will join me here in death.”

“Tell me, spirit…tell me what I have to do!”

“That is not for me to do.  When you see me, you see our lives together.  The echoes of the past will overwhelm any truth I might tell you now.  That will be for the others.”


Scrooge’s heart beat faster than it had in years.  Seeing your dead business partner was one thing…he could manage Marley.  But other people…other ghosts…Scrooge had always been better with numbers than people.  That had been Marley’s area.

“Three others.  Listen openly to what they tell you, Ebenezer.  You will not be given another chance.”

At this, the figure faded back into the logo on the wall.

The ruins crumbled into dust, and the dust to lesser dust, until there was no sign that anything had ever been there.

“Delusions,” said Scrooge, “brought on by stress and lack of sleep.  Where is that nephew of mine?  Work…that’s what I need.  Back to work, and I won’t be bothered by these ridiculous visions any more.”

He noticed the old-fashioned Rolodex that sat on a corner of his desk.  He flipped backwards, precisely one letter at time.  “Just the thing,” thought Scrooge.  “I’ve been meaning to get this organized.”

He began with the letter A.  He looked at the first card.  “Dead.”  He put it in a large envelope he used to take shredding to the bank…JMP wasn’t going to pay a shredding service while he was in charge.  He looked at the second card.  “Out of business.”  The third: “Merged.”

Soon, his envelope was filled to overflowing.  He decided he would need something bigger.  He took a dusty plaque honoring the company on its first million seller out of a box.  He tried to shake the cards into the box, but they wouldn’t come out of the envelope.

“Out, you lazy garbage!  Staying together isn’t going to save you!”

He shook harder, and the cards came out in a lump.  Scrooge was stunned, though, to see that they didn’t fall.  They hung in the air above the box.   Slowly, the cards began to spread out…first in one direction, then another.  Two long flows spread towards the floor, and two more towards the walls.  A fifth formed a lump at about Scrooge’s chest level.  It took on the shape of a child.

“Neezy,” it said in a soft and gentle voice.

“Neezy?!”  No one had called Scrooge that since he was a child himself.  Scrooge had almost no memories of his own childhood…they had long ago been crushed under the weight of corporate responsibility.

The figure, who ruffled and shuffled as its card body constantly flowed and changed, held out a “hand” to the Old Man.

“No, no!  What is it?  Where do you want to take me?”

“Only where you have already been.  You will see nothing new…nothing you haven’t already lived.”

Scrooge thought about that…if there was damage to be done by the past, it had already hurt him…and he had beaten it.  He had forgotten the worst of it before…he could do it again.

“Spirit, you do not frighten me.”

“It is your past we will see…do you frighten yourself?”

The hand began to withdraw, but Scrooge snatched it before it could merge back into the card cloud.  He had never been afraid to seize an opportunity.

The rustling became an overwhelming sound, like being swept up in a tornado!  The sprite grabbed Scrooge’s other hand, and they whirled in a mad game of ring-around-the-rosy, spinning faster and faster, until it seemed to Scrooge he was in danger of exploding outwards into a million pieces!

The spinning stopped, the sound subsided…and Scrooge saw something he would never have expected…

To be continued…

This story continues in Part 2.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog on December 1, 2009.

A Halloween classic to read aloud

October 31, 2013

A Halloween classic to read aloud

This is one of the classic horror stories.  It was first published in 1843 and written by Edgar Allan Poe, who died in 1849.   The story should be in the public domain everywhere.  As a Halloween treat, you may want to read it to each other out loud.  You can take turns, or one person can read it all.  You could let your Kindle take a turn…but that won’t be the same.  This shows the advantage of free distribution of the classics that e-books facilitates.  Be prepared, though…it’s scary!   It should take about fifteen minutes…hokey Halloween voices optional.  Parents, be advised…this could cause nightmares.

Enjoy?  Or at least…experience.  I now present…

THE TELL-TALE HEART (by Edgar Allan Poe)

TRUE!–nervous–very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses–not destroyed–not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily–how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture–a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees–very gradually–I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded–with what caution–with what foresight–with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it–oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly–very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this, And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously–cautiously (for the hinges creaked)–I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights–every night just at midnight–but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers–of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back–but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out–“Who’s there?”

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening;–just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief–oh, no!–it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself–“It is nothing but the wind in the chimney–it is only a mouse crossing the floor,” or “It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.” Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel–although he neither saw nor heard–to feel the presence of my head within the room.

When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little–a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it–you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily–until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.

It was open–wide, wide open–and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness–all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man’s face or person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.

And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense?–now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eve. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment!–do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me–the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once–once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye–not even his–could have detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out–no stain of any kind–no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all–ha! ha!

When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o’clock–still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart,–for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled,–for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search–search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct:–It continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness–until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

No doubt I now grew _very_ pale;–but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased–and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound–much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath–and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly–more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men–but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed–I raved–I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder–louder–louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God!–no, no! They heard!–they suspected!–they knew!–they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now–again!–hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed!–tear up the planks! here, here!–It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

Bonus: Quoth My Kindle

I originally published Quoth My Kindle (with apologies to Edgar Allan Poe) in this thread in the Amazon Kindle forum.   It is based on Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem, The Raven.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore-
As I reached to slide to sleep mode, suddenly I found my hand slowed
As if driving up a steep road, driving with a heavy load
“I can’t seem to move it forward, as if some Kowboy had ‘whoa’d,
It’s a fluke and nothing more.”

Suddenly, a wheel was spinning, a face appeared, and it was grinning
I gasped and nearly dropped my m-edge, dropped it on the hardwood floor
I shook my head, I couldn’t take it; wasn’t sure if I would make it
Then that voice: speakers of portent – portent I would know the score
Then the robot quirkily intoned words that shook me to the core
Quoth my Kindle: “READ SOME MORE.”

“I need sleep!” I firmly stated, yet I found I hesitated
Reading – reading how it drew me like it never had before
So I sat there, pushing buttons, appetite of sev’ral gluttons
Bestsellers, public domain, ’til I think I filled up my brain
“Tis some magazine I’ve never even purchased at the store”
“I need to get up early!” I heard myself again implore
Quoth my Kindle: “READ SOME MORE.”

My eyes opened and I woke up; knew I dreamt my Kindle spoke up
So I dragged myself off to what had become my bedtime chore,
Although fact is what it did seem, I knew it was just a weird dream
So as I brushed my teeth, I felt safe behind my bathroom door
I kept my head beneath my covers, as I sailed to Morpheus’ shore…
Quoth my Kindle: “READ SOME MORE.”

For more Edgar Allan Poe, try this search for Poe freebies in the Kindle store. If you want to keep it simple, you can get this collection, which has an interactive table of contents.

Some of you may have recognized this post from previous years…yeah, ILMK has been around long enough to have annual traditions.  ;)

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Just me and my book

October 17, 2013

Just me and my book

I remember when
It was just me and my book
Alone in the den
Or next to a brook

That bubbled with water:
I bubbled with thought
Though the thought wasn’t mine
It was one that I bought

It was somebody else’s
Who wrote it all down
Then I went I bought it
When I was in town

But that’s not the case now
When I want to read
I’m never alone
There are things that I need

To see as they happen
I can’t let them wait:
If I missed an e-mail
Imagine my fate!

There’s tweeting and Reddit
And look! Instagram!
They always can find me
Wherever I am

So, sorry Lord Darcy,
Ayesha, and Toto
You can all take a break:
There’s a cat in this photo!

It’s reading a book!
And I just have to say
It looks very happy
Nothing gets in its way

The cat’s not interrupted
It just looks at the words
Or maybe the pictures:
They might be of birds

Ah yes, I remember
My life in the past
Just me and my book
Wow, that was a blast!

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Rise of the Calmbies

September 21, 2013

Rise of the Calmbies

(a cautionary tale)


I may be the last human being on this messed-up planet.

Well, the last real human being, anyway. There’s plenty of them. Since The Change, I can’t leave my house or even get on the internet without running into their sick behavior. It makes me want to puke…but I know what they would do if I did.

Clean it up and ask me if I was okay.

Seriously…does that sound like normal behavior to you?

It didn’t happen all at once. Clearly, it spread, from victim to victim.

Unlike in all those stories, though, it didn’t happen by getting bitten. It just seems like having one of them around you, doing something to you, makes you change.

Yeah, you…not me.

I’m immune.

Don’t ask me why, I don’t know. In fact, don’t ask me anything! As far as I know, you are one of them…and I don’t want you in my face!

I remember the first time I noticed it.

I was at the mall, looking for a parking place. It was a hundred degrees out, and I’d spilled my Coke…all over my cellphone.

After ten minutes of circling like I was trying to land at Logan on a foggy day, I spotted a space a row over.

I came whipping around, ignoring the five mile an hour speed limit signs, and busting off the speed bumps like I was Michael Jordan going in for the dunk. I just missed some old lady with a walker and a MILF with one of those stupid twin side-by-side strollers.

I fish-tailed into the lane, stomped on the gas, and then I saw it.

A guy in a Lexus…with his signal on. Slowly easing into my spot…MY SPOT!!!

He sees me, and what does he do?


Oh, not because he got there first (which he did). That would have been understandable.

No, he smiles…and waves me into the spot.

With a lah-dee-dah gesture, like he was Fred Astaire asking Ginger Rogers to do a Viennese waltz with him.


I blasted my horn, just to show him what I thought, and split the lines. I was so mad I made sure I parked close enough to the Prius on my right that they’d have to climb over the passenger seat to get to the steering wheel.

I don’t know what happened to him…last I saw, he was still cruising around that lot…smiling.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was my first encounter with one of them…a calmbie.

That’s what they started calling them on the news.

At first, it was like every news show: people yelling stupid ideas over each other and spitting in each other’s faces. Some guy from the CDC said it was an infection, and somebody else said it was the wrath of God, and some tinfoil-hat dweeb said it was aliens.


It doesn’t really matter what it was, right? It just was.

People stopped being people…and started being nice. Really nice.

I’d go out to the bar, and they’d hold the door open for me. I’d get on the subway, and nobody was sitting down…just in case somebody needed a seat.

One time, I was running to my car because I knew my meter was expired, and you know who was feeding it for me?

A cop!

That just about blew my mind, but I’m strong…always have been. I’ve never trusted anybody, and I’m not going to start now.

The worst thing, though, was what happened online.

I read this post about how somebody won some contest, and you know what the first comment said?


That’s it. Nothing about how ugly the person was, or how the contest was fixed or oppressed people’s rights or something.

You know what the second comment said?


It just kept going like that.

I’d heard Facebook was finally going to introduce a “Dislike” button, but I knew Zuckerberg was a calmbie when they introduced a new button, all right, but it didn’t say “Dislike”.

Yeah, you now had these two choices:

  • Like
  • It’s not my favorite, but I’m glad other people enjoy it

I mean, gimme a break!

We didn’t build the greatest society in the history of the universe by liking other people!!! We didn’t do it by saying everything is okay.

We did it with walls…and locks on doors…and hate speech…and bitter blogs.

If you don’t knock people down, how are you gonna look taller?

Make a human pyramid?

So, I’m going to sit here…in the dark. I’ve stopped looking out the window: seeing all those people holding hands and smiling and joking and helping each other…I just couldn’t take it any more.

I can’t watch TV. I can’t go online. I’m afraid to go to sleep…there’s no guarantee I’ll have nightmares. It could all be “sweet dreams”, and then what would I complain about?

Don’t worry…I’ll think of something.

After all, I have a responsibility…I’m the last of my kind. The last clear thinking, cynical troll in town.

I figure I just have to wait it out.

It can’t last.

At some point, there will be a cure.

People will snap out of it and start seeing things the way I see them…the way they really are.


I mean, that’s what’s always happened before, right? Anytime things look happy for too long, somebody rips the curtain down and exposes the evil underbelly.

It’s not like people can be nice to each other forever.

Can they?

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.


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