Tag Archives: short stories

2020… Was a Year.

It probably won’t surprise anyone to learn that my 2020 was very, very boring.  Living with an immunocompromised roommate sent me into seclusion fairly early in the pandemic, and I’ve rarely had the opportunity to poke my head out since then.  Which means that when the time rolled around for my mother to begin dropping hints about how important my yearly travelogue is to maintaining readership for the family Christmas letter, I hedged.  A lot. 

You see, while quarantine life has certainly been rife with bizarre and mildly amusing excerpts, there have been very few of the massive logistical failures and bad ideas that characterize these stories.  Oh sure, I went on a socially distanced bike ride where one rider suffered a blow out that saw him literally trying to rebuild a high performance racing bike tire with a few feet of duct tape and I became severely dehydrated after accidentally dumping 80% of my water out on the trail halfway through.  But it’s quite hard to write about an event where you still aren’t entirely sure which memories are real and which ones were hallucinations created by a brain eager to distract itself from what must have seemed like its imminent demise.

And then, in the most underwhelming of Christmas miracles, Amazon delivered the most appropriate subject matter imaginable for this dumpster fire of a year:

An electric hair clipper held by someone who clearly should not be trusted with one.
Yeah, this seemed like a great idea at the time.

Because nothing says 2020 more than someone who can barely be trusted to comb their own hair trying to give themselves a haircut because some a hair stylist on YouTube made it look easy.

The first thing I did upon receiving the kit was to take the photo above to message it to a select group of close friends to announce that the backup plan of showing up to the next sci-fi convention sporting the world’s laziest/best Cousin It costume ever was off the table.  The second thing I did was show it to my roommate Katie.

“I’m not cutting your hair,” she informed me.

“That’s fine,” I replied.  “I was going to do it myself.”

She gave me a long look.  “You know how?”

“I watched some YouTube videos!” I chirpily replied.

I chose to interpret her silence as embarrassment for not having considered this and set off to the bathroom to reacquaint myself with the topography of my own forehead.  My plan was simple.  I would use a series of hair clips to partition my head into three, each of which could be cut using one of the many comb attachments the kit had shipped with to a precise length.  I grabbed a comb, spent about five minutes creating a line between the side and top of my head, then carefully put the first clip in place to hold the hair on the top safely out of the way. 

The clip fell out.  So I tried partitioning my hair again.  The clip fell out again.  So then I tried doing it a third time.  And it fell out a third time.  So I started deviating from the script, trying to find some way to hold my hair safely out of the way.  I eventually found something that worked where I roughly grabbed a mass of hair, twisted it into a thick rope, coiled that rope, then skewered it with two clips to form the world’s lumpiest bun in the center of my head.  It didn’t look quite as neat and tidy as the partitioning in the videos, but I found it was easy at this point to pretend that wouldn’t matter.  Finally, I fitted the first comb on the end of the clipper and began trimming the right side of my head.  Hair began to fall away in massive clumps as I sighted my earlobe, bleached bone white after months of being kept out of direct sunlight.  And then came a tiny barely audible squeak at my right ankle.

I looked down to find Celty – Katie’s new kitten – had joined me in the bathroom and begun batting at one of the clumps of hair on the floor, no doubt wondering if there was a small edible animal beneath it she could eat.  Buoyed by the unexpected infusion of vitamin Aww, I went back to work. 

A kitten staring up at the camera looking cute because she knows it will make it easier to wreak havoc.
Also known as The Despoiler of Worlds

A moment later I felt another presence at my right ankle.  I looked down and saw Sepp, my ever-faithful wiener dog, leaning up against my leg and giving me an inquisitive stare.  I patted him on the head, then started in on the left side.

My brain didn’t really realize how much trouble I was in until about five seconds after it was too late to stop it.

I’m sure that in the pets’ minds, everything that followed looked very much like a classic Akira Kurosawa films where two Samurai face off in a forest while cherry blossoms rain down all around them, only with the cherry blossoms replaced by human hair.  It didn’t look quite so picturesque from my view.  I don’t really know which one of them made the first move, but it took essentially no time to go from that to both of them chasing one another around, through, and over my legs with joyful abandon.  At one point they accidentally collided and face planted into Celty’s litterbox.  Under any other circumstances this probably would have made them pause for a moment, but not today. The time had come for the ultimate battle of chase between cat and dog, beneath the rain of human hair as spoken of in the ancient legends, and they would not be deterred.  I’d decided that perhaps pausing the haircut was called for when Katie arrived, drawn by the sound of paws scrabbling against tile.  The moment the door opened Celty immediately broke off to determine if she had brought treats, giving me a moment to examine my progress so far and Sepp a moment to check if hair was edible.

A confused wiener dog standing on a towel covered in hair which he is giving a tentative taste test.
Answer: Not very.

I would describe the look as very fashion forward.  The untidy bun holding up the hair on the top had largely disintegrated, allowing a few strands of hair to escape down the sides and back.  In the excitement I’d somehow managed to cut the hair on the left side to be significantly shorter than the hair on the right, which I believe Bob Ross would refer to as a “happy little accident.”  And I was NOT completely bald, which at that point felt like a major accomplishment.  Katie, clearly not up to date with the latest trends, had a somewhat different take.

“Oh my god,” she said, “were you going for the fabulous lesbian look?”

I shook my head.

Katie sighed and held out her hand.  “Give me the clippers,” she said, “I’m giving you a haircut.”

Yes, I thought as I meekly handed over the clippers.  All according to plan.

And that, gentle readers, is how you get a free haircut from your roommate during a global pandemic.  Use this knowledge wisely.

The author sporting a surprisingly competent looking quarantine haircut.
Let’s hope for a better 2021!

Call of the Mild

There are times that I worry about my dog.

When I first decided to get a Dachshund, one of the reasons I gravitated towards them was that they were well known for being somewhat fearless when it comes to outdoor excursions, which is a plus for anyone or anything associated with my family.  Everything I read talked about how Dachshunds were known for the kind of fearless lunatics that would dive into a hole knowing that there was an angry Badger waiting at the bottom of it, which seemed like about the right mindset for a dog that might be called upon to serve as a hiking buddy for my dad.

What I got was Seppel, who is essentially the dachshund version of the stuffy butler from Downton Abbey

It became obvious early after adopting him that Sepp has a… special relationship with the outdoors.  He has a strong aversion to dirt, water, any activities performed between the hours of 9PM and 10AM, and most non-air-conditioned hotel rooms.  He is a dog who, when presented with a small muddy patch that other canines might feel compelled to roll in, will stop and begin to whine plaintively until someone else can come and pick him up so that he does not have to suffer the indignity of mud between his delicate toes.

Sufficed to say, I was concerned about this.  Whenever I go out of town Sepp tends to stay with my parents, and I know from experience that if you leave my dad alone with a dog for more than two hours he will take them out hiking.  Obviously, Sepp would need to learn how to properly live up to the Dachshund stereotype if he had any hope of survival in this family.

So when my parents invited me and Sepp to join them in a brief camping trip to Trout Lake for a family reunion, I jumped at the chance.  I believed the trip would be the first step to unlocking Sepp’s inner outdoorsdog.  And in hindsight I can only assume that this belief is the result of some internalized mechanism I’ve adopted to make sure I never run out of material to base these stories on.

At the start of the trip, things looked good.  Mostly because we were still in a car with ample air conditioning and a doggy throne of blankets and memory foam prepared by my mother, who I’ve come to realize is much better at perceiving reality than me or my dad.  Sepp seemed quite happy to be chauffeured to the pet store to buy some basic doggy camping supplies, because he foolishly trusted that I would never deliberately do anything to cause him discomfort.  Because he, like all members of my family, believes many things that he shouldn’t.


The first sign of trouble occurred when we arrived at the campground only to discover that we’d been beaten there by Sepp’s greatest and most deadly enemy – precipitation.  I really can’t overstate just how much my dog hates water in all its forms.  I considered it a great step forward when he stopped growling at his water dish.  And now we had taken him to some strange wilderness where water liberally fell from the sky into a bathtub bigger than most parking lots he’d seen.  The ten minutes we spent waiting for the rain to stop was a flurry of concerned barking and stern nudges directed at my dad as Sepp requested that he come to his senses and drive away to somewhere with HBO.  But we held firm and convinced him to come out with us.

While my dad and I set about erecting our campsite before the rain started up again, I staked Sepp to the picnic table and let him explore his new home away from home.  There was still no sign of the fearless dachshund I’d read about in his exploration of the camp, but there was at least signs of a normal dog as he trotted around sniffing trees, puddles, and the butt of an exceptionally jaded squirrel.  After about half an hour of this he trotted out into the middle of the camp and peed straight into the fire pit, declaring it to be the latest addition to his holdings.  And for the rest of the day, he seemed to be legitimately enjoying his extended walk.

Everything is fine! I thought to myself.

And then we got to the tents.

Sepp was… concerned when night fall saw us retreating not to the throne-equipped Prius, but what I imagine what must have looked to him like a large grocery bag pinned to the dirt.  He was likewise concerned to see that he had only a single doggy bed set aside for him, with blankets crafted from my clothes and coat rather than the finery his station demanded.

“What is this madness?”  His eyes seemed to be asking me.  “This is OUTSIDE.  The place I go to pee.  We don’t sleep here!”

“Who’s a good boy!” I replied, scratching behind his ears in an enthusiastic fashion.

So, resigned to his fate, Sepp settled into his bed and began wrapping my pants around him as I tucked him in with my jacket, and we both nodded off for a good night’s sleep.

Two hours later, I was awoken by a very cold, very wet nose being poked into my left eye.

I reluctantly opened it to see Sepp’s silhouette looming over me.  Apparently very pleased with himself, he licked my nose once and let out a soft whine.

“Go to sleep,” I told him.

He pointed to my sleeping bag, then looked back at me and whined again.

“Go to sleep,” I repeated, still not really understanding.

Sepp wagged his tail, and then stuck his head inside the sleeping bag.

Now, the sleeping bag I was using was far from the kind of restrictive mummy bag that great comedy routines are made of.  But in that moment, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell.  As small as dachshunds are, it’s easy to forget that they’ve got huge barrel chests that wouldn’t look at all out of place on a greyhound.  His chosen point of entry was not wide enough to accommodate both that and my neck.  I responded to this by letting out a series of pained choking sounds, while Sepp responded through digging.  This is a time-honored pastime of his people which he has never really caught on to (presumably because it would get dirt in his nails,) so I suppose the demonstration that he knows how to do it counts as progress.  Unfortunately, the intensely unpleasant sensation of having a dog known for digging prowess trying to bore through my nipple kept me from recognizing this for the breakthrough that it was.

Somehow, I managed to reach up and undo the zipper enough for Sepp to pop straight through the neck hole into the sleeping bag.  I could no longer see him at this point, but from the whapping of his tail against the side of the bag I could tell he was pleased with himself.  He did a quick circle on my chest and then flopped down, poking his nose out right next to my shoulder.

Well, I decided, at least he’s comfortable there.  Then I nodded off again, content that we’d be able to spend the rest of the night in this position.

An hour later, I awoke to the sensations of sweaty paws against my forehead and realized that I’d forgotten how this usually goes.

Four more times, I was woken up by Sepp’s passage in and out of my sleeping bag in search of a superior spot.  Each time I adjusted it to try and make it easier.  I unzipped the feet first.  Then I tried unzipping the neck further.  Eventually, after he’d woken me up just to run through the entire length of the bag like a play tunnel, I even tried unzipping it entirely to lay over both of us like a blanket.  Then I gave him my pillow.  Then most of the thermarest.  One by one, the few comforts which made camping tolerable were sacrificed at the altar of the dog.  None of it worked for long.  Each effort ended the same way – a few moments of rest interrupted by a cold nose and a low, demanding whine.

The next morning, my mother was up bright to take Sepp for a walk where she introduced him to the wonders of rolling in dead things right before a three-hour car ride.  My dad and I stayed behind, both nursing cups of hot tea while we mentally steeled ourselves for packing away the wet tents in the car.

“How’d he do last night?” My dad asked.

I considered my response.  “Okay,” I said.  “A little active.”

“That’s good,” my dad replied.

I grunted in response and looked over at his tent, where two large padded collapsible cots had been set up for him and my mom. “How were those?”

“Really nice.”

“Do they come in dog sizes?” I asked.

Who Would You be if you were a Star Wars Character?

So when I’m looking to kill time in a way that seems moderately productive to an outside observer, I often turn to the site Quora and answer questions that are directed at me. Sometimes this is a great opportunity to teach someone a valuable skill, technique, or just impart some wisdom I’ve picked up along the way. Most of the time though, it’s questions about minutiae in Star Wars or Star Trek. And every now and then, I get an excuse to write up something completely ridiculous. This is what happened when someone asked me who I’d be if I were a Star Wars character.

Rendar Prox shivered as he stepped out of the modified YT-1300 freighter that had taken him to this strange planet of “Wes-con’Sen.” Snow-dusted triangular trees, seemingly untouched by civilization. Surely, there couldn’t actually be anyone living here. And yet all the stories said this is where he was. The mysterious wise figure who was his last hope to save the galaxy.

A wookie, the co-pilot of the ship he hired, howled behind him as the ground crackled beneath the ship.

“I hear it too,” Prox called back. There were other stories about this planet too. Stories that some kind of strange, burrowing predators named dachs lived underground, swallowing up anyone who wandered into their territory. “Go ahead and take the ship back up, I’ll comm you in two hours.”

“Unless the dachs get you first,” Chewbacca grumbled back as he closed the hatch of the Millennium Falcon and started preparing the old ship for takeoff.

Prox scanned the treeline. There was a small opening some distance off that looked about the right size for a person to go through, which was as good a spot as any. He set off for it, trudging through snow half-way to his knees. He’d gotten about half-way there when there was an ear-splitting “CRACK!” noise from behind him. He spun around and saw the ground rising up underneath the Falcon, the back half vanishing beneath the snow in an instant.

So the dachs are real! He thought in horror.

He started to move forward, determined to do something, but then reason returned. Chewbacca and Han were already as good as dead. If the dachs were big enough to eat an entire starship, there was nothing that he could do to save them with his single holdout blaster. So instead he turned around and began sprinting for the opening in the trees.

Unfortunately it wasn’t much of a sprint. He wasn’t used to running in snow like this, and his boots were built more for flying X-Wings than riding tauntauns. He’d barely made it ten meters before he slipped and fell straight into the snow. The cold momentarily blinded him as he struggled to regain his footing. And then he heard it. Someone approaching him from out ahead. Could it be him? The mysterious figure, arriving just in time to save him from being eaten by the native fauna?

He pulled his head out of the snow and squinted through the flakes still stuck to his face in the direction of the approaching noise. It was hard to see still, but… yes! There he was. A short figure with long ears, his head covered with short red fur and the rest of his body garbed in simple clothes that might befit a monk.

“Help!” Prox shouted to him.

The small mysterious wise figure shouted something back and quickened his pace. The snow must have been even harder for him, as it came up almost to the top of his neck, but he sped on as if powered by mystical forces. And then he was on Prox. Literally on prox. As in the small wise figure actually leapt onto his back and began shouting in his strange, alien language.

I see, Prox realized. He wants me to carry him on his back to show that I’m strong enough to be a worthy pupil!

“I’ll try, master!” Prox grunted as he pushed himself out of the snow.

Much to his surprise, the master responded by making a small yelp of distress and rolling off of his back to flop un-elegantly into the snow. Prox reached to help him back up, but the master only let out a growling noise and bit down on his glove, pulling it off and sprinting back towards the trees.

Oh, Prox thought as he watched the master run away on all four limbs, his no doubt wizened tail wagging rapidly back and forth. This must be some kind of test of my humility.

So Prox followed, doing his best not to think murderous thoughts as his hand slowly froze solid. Fortunately, the master seemed to have thought ahead. In running out to meet Prox and then immediately turning back, he’d created a clear path through the snow that Prox could follow. Pure brilliance. In no time at all Prox was safely within the trees, panting for breath while the master sat and watched him with big, inquisitive eyes, Prox’s glove still held in his mouth.

“Thank you, Master Reinemann,” Prox reached out. “Could I have my glove…?”

Master Reinemann responded by growling and shaking his head “no.”

“Okay.” Prox retracted his bare hand and stuffed it beneath his armpit. “I… don’t quite understand the purpose of the lesson, but I’m sure I’ll get there eventually.”

Master Reinemann stared back with those same curious eyes for a long time and sniffed.

“I guess you want to know why I’m here.” Prox reached into his pocket and pulled out his father’s lightsaber. It was ornately decorated, with delicate scrollwork flowing down the choke into the silver and gold sculpture of the pommel.

Master Reinemann dropped the glove and began to sniff at the lightsaber.

“You recognize it?” Prox asked in excitement.

“I think he’s going to pee on it,” Master Reinemann responded in basic.

“Wha…?” Prox gaped in confusion.

“I mean, doubt me if you want, but I think I know him pretty well” A bearded man dressed in a long gray coat, thick gloves, and weirdly formal shoes and slacks stepped around from behind Prox where he’d apparently been watching. “Why are you talking to my dog?”

Prox stared up at the newcomer and felt his face starting flush, which only made the cold around him worse. “You’re Master Reinemann,” he said.

“Yep.” Master Reinemann nodded.

“So who’s the little guy?”

“That is a dachshund,” Master Reinemann said in a solemn tone. “And oh look, I was right!”

“GAH!” Prox jerked his father’s sacred weapon away from the sudden stream of warm yellow urine splashing on the emitter. “Wait, that’s a dach?”

“Dachshund,” Master Reinemann repeated as if he were talking to someone just a little slow.

“But… He’s so tiny!”

The Dachshund made a disapproving grumble and began burying Prox’s stolen glove.

“Yep,” Master Reinemann said.

“Do they get bigger?” Prox asked.

“They occasionally get wider,” Master Reinemann told him.

“But…” Prox looked out towards where the front half of the Falcon still jutted out of the ground at about a thirty degree angle. “What did that, then?”

“Gravity,” Master Reinemann told him. “They landed a starship on a lake just a week after it froze over. Frankly I’m surprised it didn’t fall through the moment they touched down.”

“But…” Prox repeated. “All the legends about the dachs being able to eat entire starships…”

“That’s what we call a metaphor.

“Meta-phor…” Prox mouthed the unfamiliar word. “Then it’s true. You really are the one they call the last of the Science Fiction Writers!”

The last of the Science Fiction Writers made an unpleasant face. “They’re really calling me that?”

“I was told that you were the only one who could help me,” Prox went on. “A terrible calamity has befallen the New Republic. A new enemy has come out of nowhere. According to an ancient Jedi prophecy, only one wise in the forgotten ways of technical plausibility can save us!”

“So you’re trying to learn how science fiction works… because of a mystical prophecy.” Master Reinemann made a small pained noise and began to rub at his temples. “Well, that’s a great start.”

“I was hoping you might be able to teach me how to use this.” Prox wiped the few bits of urine off of his father’s lightsaber and held it out. “My father’s lightsaber.”

Master Reinemann raised an eyebrow and took the weapon. “Okay…” He turned it over in his hands several times and found the activation stud.

“He was one of the first to fight against the new enemy,” Prox said sadly. “And one of the first to-”

“HOLY FUCKBALLS!” Master Reinemann shouted as the lightsaber’s brilliant blue blade snapped into existence. “This… what the hell is this?”

“Uh…” Prox blinked. “It’s the weapon of a Jedi knight.”

“It’s a weapon?!” Master Reinemann looked back at him. “This is not a weapon. It’s a self-amputation tool at best.” He waved the blade around a few times. “The blade is, what, a rod of magnetically contained plasma? With the amount of power that has to go into keeping the thing rigid like that, you could probably run a small starship. And you’re using it so you can sword fight people.”

“But… sword fighting is so civilized.”

“Since when did ‘civilized’ describe carving people up with a plasma torch?” Master Reinemann turned off the lightsaber and handed it back to him. “The sensation of burning is one of the most intensely unpleasant things a person can experience. You’ve actually found a way to make dismemberment even more traumatic than it already was. Not that it matters much, because anyone with a ranged weapon is just going to shoot you before you can use the damn thing.”

“Ah,” Prox said. “But the Force helps us see threats before they happen. Thanks to that, we can use this to deflect blaster bolts!”

“Blaster…” Master Reinemann shook his head. “Ah, right, the pocket nuclear slingshots you call ranged weapons. Tell you what, I’m going to throw a snowball at you. I want you try and block it with your lightsaber.”

Prox nodded and planted his feet in a defensive stance, then turned on his father’s blade. As he did so he reached for the Force. He could see the vital moment so clearly. Even as Master Reinemann reached down and began packing snow into a rough sphere, he could see the finished product as it left his hand, its flight through the air, and the position his blade would need to be to intersect the snowball.

This would be child’s play.

“You ready?” Master Reinemann asked.

Prox closed his eyes, willing the image into even clearer focus. “I’m ready,” he said.

And then the snowball was in the air. The Force flowed through Prox’s arms, pulling them and his blade up into the perfect position. The snowball hit the blade, the center vanishing in a puff of superheated steam in a moment…

…And then two halves of the snowball slammed directly into his face with a wet “thump” noise.

Prox staggered back a step, powering down the lightsaber as he started to spit pine-needle laced snow out of his mouth.

“You see,” Master Reinemann said, “The fact that you can deflect a blaster bolt kind of makes sense. It’s constrained plasma. The blade is constrained plasma. They’re naturally going to repel one another. But snowballs aren’t plasma.”

“But the blade should have vaporized it,” Prox protested.

“Ah, afraid not,” Master Reinemann shook his head. “There’s this thing call the Liedenfrost effect that keeps that from happening. Point is though that all you need to do to beat your space-sword there is a projectile with a cross-section that can’t be neatly blocked by a two inch straight line. Or, you know, someone firing at you from both the front and back at the same time. Kind of makes the argument for it being an effective defensive tool pointless.”

Prox stared down at the lightsaber. Suddenly, the Jedi weapon seemed a lot less impressive than it had a moment ago.

“So… you’re saying that the Jedi should use blasters against this enemy.”

“Ehhhh…” Master Reinemann waved his hand in the air. “Let’s not go that far. I could spend literal hours on how you’d probably be better off with bullets for about ninety percent of the things you use blasters for.”

“So you’ll teach me?” Prox asked.

Master Reinemann sighed, then reached down and pulled Prox’s half-buried glove out of the snow. “Sure. Beats spending another week failing to invent the Holonet version of Netflix. You sure you’re ready to have me systematically deconstruct your entire aesthetic?”

“I have no idea what that means!” Prox told him. “But I’m not afraid.”

“Well, that’s good.” Master Reinemann reached down and picked up the Dachshund, who immediately began trying to climb inside his big gray coat. “Because by the time you realize how completely screwed you are against someone who’s technology actually makes sense, you will be.” He paused and repeated for dramatic effect. “You will be.