Economics – Dodo Style

Walk into a college book store and you’ll find books worth more than the gross domestic product of Papua New Guinea.  Select the economics book that has the most attractive cover and open to the first chapter.  It should be…

Hosing College Kids – A Model For Profit

The next ten chapters look a little like this…

 Chapter 1 – Just a Little More Money and You’ll be Happy

 Chapter 2 – The Road to Riches Is Paved With Plastic
 Chapter 3 – Stocks, Bonds, Beany Babies, and Other Investments

 Chapter 4 – Bankruptcy and How to Keep Your Stuff
 Chapter 5 – The Best Nightclubs on Wall Street

 Chapter 6 – Too Much Debt and Other Misnomers

 Chapter 7 – Killing Rich Relatives without Getting Caught

 Chapter 8 – Pennies, Why Nobody Cares

 Chapter 9 –  Executive Hair Care

 Chapter 10 – Understanding Most of the Tax Code

What you won’t find in an economics text are three chapters I believe are more important than those listed above.  This is what you should REALLY know about money…

 Supplemental Chapter 11 – Inheritance

“Blood may be thicker than water but money is thicker than both.”  If you want to see a family tear itself apart like a pack of rabid dogs, wait until wealthy Aunt Beatrice dies with no will.  Cousins will slash each other’s tires.  I’ve seen it happen.

Even with a will, things can turn into a mess.  Thusly, I suggest distributing most of the money before you die. 

Hate your family?  Plow your money into a house full of rare antiques, then die without a will.  Your blood will circle the house like vultures about ten minutes after you start breathing.  Your family will shatter like a beer bottle in the parking lot.  Remember…”Revenge is a dish best served cold…like you.”

 Supplemental Chapter 12 – Money Marries Money

“Birds of a feather flock together.”  This is especially true of the wealthy.  They have their own schools and clubs.  They associate with their peers at work (same income bracket).  It’s a little like an invisible caste system.  After all a GM executive isn’t going to hang out with the manager of McDonald’s restaurant #2564712.  It doesn’t matter that only the fast food restaurant is making money.

Professional athletes don’t quite get this at least not right away. 

 Supplemental Chapter 13 – Money and Youth

Maturity is a hard value to measure but here are a few qualities most would agree on :  patience, self-control, perspective, and selflessness.  People absorb these at different rates but one thing is for sure…you can’t buy them!  Buying your eighteen year old a BMW because he slacked his way through high school WILL retard the process.

The solution?  No one is allowed to make anything more than $30,000 dollar before the age of thirty.   Uh, any volunteers?

The Juvenile Miscreant’s Guide to Criminal Mischief

It’s late on a Sunday evening.  Four teenage boys are missing their bedtimes for the sake of criminal mischief.  The security light on the gymnasium’s west wall hasn’t worked for weeks and the dense shadows there provide the perfect place to park their get-a-way car.  They drift into their hiding spot with only their parking lights.  Having failed physical science, they all mistakenly believe that light from a smaller bulb wouldn’t reach the nearby neighborhood.

Bold words bolster their plan.  “Just think guys, tomorrow morning Matt will get to school and everyone will be laughing at him.  It’ll be great!  And once the girls find out it was us, they’ll be all over us.”

Another speaks.  “Yea, we’ll go down as legends, man.  Hogan, do you have the camcorder?”

“Yea, it’s right here.”  He looks out of the car window examining the darkened school.  “What are the chances we’ll get caught?  I mean I’d hate for anyone to find out.”

The miscreants sneak to the front of Audubon High School’s gym.  Hogan steps into the parking lot and begins recording.  The others take out their cans of neon spray paint.  A hiss escapes the cans as they print out in large letters M-A-T-T   I-S   A   D-O-D-O   B-R-A-I-N   4-E-V-R.

The hooligans chuckle and snicker as they make their way back to their car.  Matt will arrive at school tomorrow and suffer the humiliation that comes with being a dodo-head…because he is one. 

Yet, there is a gap in the boy’s tactics.    Memories are not enough.  They want the ability to prove to anyone that they are the masterminds of the Dodo-Head graffiti.  They want undeniable proof that it was them who bravely defaced public property.  Oddly enough, that will also be the police’s goal.

The Oral of the Story:  “Smart criminals keep the evidence in their pocket – Dumb criminals pin it to their chest.”

Allow me to provide a quick primer.  I’m calling The Juvenile Miscreant’s Guide to Criminal Mischief.

Principle Number One:  People can’t keep their mouths shut.  Like a cold virus, you’ve got to expect each person involved in your little misdemeanor to tell AT LEAST two other friends.  From there word will spread quickly.  The writer’s of the Juvenile Miscreant’s Guide to Criminal Mischief recommend having only one close accomplice and not all of your peeps involved.

Principle Number Two:     Borrow a family member’s car.  When you tell your grandchildren tales of your misdeeds, the story gets much more interesting if you add in, “and the whole time we were in Uncle Frank’s pickup!”  And when you do get busted won’t it be neat to share the legal problems with a member of the old family?  A court room is a lonely place…bring your family!  Just don’t open your Christmas gift this year.

Principle Number Three:  Know your misdemeanors.  There are folks out there that believe that knocking over a convenience store is a misdemeanor and holding up a bank is a felony.  It makes sense to us too…but you’d be wrong.  A good miscreant reads and reviews his state’s bylaws before his next action.

Principle Number Four:  For Pete’s Sake, don’t video it!!  This involves a bit of common sense.  It’s easier to get by with something when no one saw you do it than when everyone can watching you do it from the comfort of their office chair.         

The Ink & The Wing (Part Two)

 For Franklin the ebony birds had become a bad omen.  They were there each morning standing in small clusters near the lake’s shore.  The farmer had stopped feeding them in hopes they would go away.  He even fired his shotgun and hit several but the birds didn’t die.  They only flailed about for a few moments before righting themselves. Nothing killed them.  If Franklin or his wife approached the lake between sundown and sunrise, the birds would fly at their heads and try to remove their ears. 

That the loss of the song birds coincided with the disappearance of his two sons indicated to Franklin that the blessings he had so enjoyed in his life had been revoked.  It felt as if he were paying back the many good years with these weeks of misery and sorrow.  And there was no way of knowing how long the darkness would last.

 A full four weeks after Aaron and Ben’s disappearance, Franklin awoke during the predawn hours and dressed for the day.  His intuition woke him just before the sun rose.  Franklin began the short walk to his barns when a familiar sound hooked his ears.  It seemed out of place to his ears now but there was no denying the short chirp of a cardinal. 

 “What?”  Franklin stopped in his tracks.  “It seems so long ago like a memory suddenly remembered.  Is it true?”

 The chirp grew louder quickly.  As the first beams of sunlight brightened the fog over the lake, the cardinal Franklin heard flew downward from the eastern woods.  It fluttered its wings as it landed and disbanded the black birds.  The inky flock flew up and into the lake’s dense fog.  Franklin watched in amazement as the cardinal turned toward him.  It hopped near the front toe of the farmer’s boot and looked up. 

 A smile came over Franklin’s.  “Can I interest you in some seed little one?”


 Benedict sat in the darkness of his office waiting for the shutters to open.  It was pleasing to him to watch the black bird work.  He would doze all night and when the bird arrived, he would light a lamp.  The light didn’t seem to bother the animal at all.  The bird made no sound at all as it worked.  Its beak moved quickly over the paper leaving a thin trail of perfect script.

There was a flap of wings outside Benedict’s window and the magistrate jerked his body awake.  He turned to light the lamp.  Once it was lit he turned back to his desk.  The shuttered opened slowly but what came in was not the black bird.  It was a small blue bird with its breast of orange and its wings and head marked with a radiant royal blue.

 Benedict smiled.  “Hello little one, have you come in your friend’s stead?  What do you have to tell me that I may add another brick to the monument of my name?”

 The blue bird descended to the parchment with a quick single hop.  As the black birds did, it brought its beak down on the paper and scratched it over the surface.  It did not leave a black trail but instead it crafted characters of gold.  Its message was short and was out of the window within moments.  Benedict rose from his chair.  The gold wording did not mention a name or any specific crime.  It promised him the chance to catch the world’s greatest thief at the edge of Pire Lake at dawn.

 Benedict studied the words carefully.  It bothered him that the message was so vague when the others were so specific.  In the end, Benedict decided it really didn’t matter.  That a magic bird was writing him messages was what was important.  Tomorrow he would be ready to catch whoever this master thief might be. 


 Franklin had borrowed a boat from another farmer further south.  He used it to search the Pire Lake for signs of his sons.  It had been a fruitless search.  There was nothing to be found but sunken logs, turtles, and waterfowl.  Regardless, Franklin’s search spanned the lake several times over.  The cardinal led Franklin to the boat exactly where the farmer had left it two days ago.

 “Tell me my crimson friend, are you here to restore my joy and banish this curse that is taking my soul?”

 The bird turned its head away and faced its dark beak toward the lake.  It didn’t move again until Franklin stepped into the boat and began paddling.  With the sun just half raised and fog as thick as he could remember, Franklin couldn’t see where he was going.  The bird seemed to know.  From its perch on the front edge of the boat, the bird would flutter its wings a bit and point a different direction.  Franklin changed the boat’s course in accordance.

 Other than the predictable lap of the lake water there were no sounds.  Finally, Franklin’s ears picked up the whisper-like sound of wings.  In the span of only seconds, the beating became louder and hazy black shapes began moving through the air around him.  It was the black birds again.  The fog partially masked their movements but Franklin could still sense them.  Some small and others seemed too large to fly.  He brought his paddle slowly out of the water.  They would attack him soon and he had nothing else with which to fight.

 Then the cardinal moved.  It fluttered its wings then darted into the fog.  Franklin lost sight of the crimson crest and feared he had been abandoned.  He guardedly watched as the nearest black form circled closer.  The wings were discernable now.  Suddenly the cardinal shot through it.  There was a quick sound of tearing and a low moan.  Next, a splash as the circling bird fell into the water.

 The other winged wraiths seemed to come for Franklin a bit faster now but none reached the farmer.  Sometimes flying near enough to be clear ,other times a blur, the cardinal cut through each sending their bodies to the lake. 

 The fighting eased and Franklin continued paddling.  Before long it was only him and the lapping of the lake again.  The brave cardinal did not return.  Franklin looked about in a confused state.  He didn’t know where the cardinal was leading him or even what direction he was facing.  He was probably near the middle of the lake but there was no way to be sure.  Finally, the bow of the boat unexpectedly struck land.  Franklin stepped onto shore and walked inland.  There was no island in Pire Lake and it was impossible for him to have crossed the lake so quickly. 

 The farmer left his boat.  He walked for a short distance before he began seeing human shapes emerging from the fog.  Most were prostrate on the sandy ground but a few were sitting up.  Franklin and ran up to the nearest.  It was the girl Rachel.


 The next morning Benedict was on the shore line with five of his deputies.  They were all armed with revolvers and rope.  Three boats rocked on the lake’s surface.  It was still dark.  Benedict expected the sunrise to reveal the master thief.  The other men questioned him but he didn’t try to explain.  The bird’s messages had never been wrong and until proven otherwise he would do whatever they instructed.

 Each man sat near the shore staring blankly into the dense fog.  Benedict wanted it quiet and so almost nothing was said for almost two hours.  As the sunrise came about, a small bird sailed over Benedict’s head toward the lake.  It disappeared a second later but its wake opened a crease in the fog.  Looking on, Benedict finally saw something.  It appeared to be a small boat just a short ways off the shoreline.

 He stood which brought in his men’s attention.  “There just out ahead of me.  I see who we’re looking for.” 

 “Sir, I don’t see anything.  Are you sure?”

 The magistrate didn’t respond to the question.  He didn’t know how much time he would have.  Already it seemed as if his promised target was disappearing.  “Just like I told you, two of you paddle northwest and two of you go southwest.  It’s a small boat with a single occupant…arrest anyone you find on the lake.  Stay quiet.”

 A couple of the men exchanged confused looks but they complied.  The men were as quiet as they could manage but the boats complained by creaking.  Martin stepped into his boat with the youngest deputy, a lad named Martin, getting in just behind him.  At Benedict’s signal, the young man took the long paddle and began pushing away from shore.

 The thief’s outline darkened as he came back into view.  Benedict controlled the speed of their boat by giving his deputy brief signals.  Nothing was said and the paddle was moved with little splashing.  It looked as if they would catch the thief but Benedict could not close the distance to the other boat.  He took out his revolver then put it away.  As sure as he was that this was the great thief he was promised, he couldn’t take a shot without at least seeing the other person’s face.

 Then the thief’s boat unexpectedly bumped up onto shore.  Benedict didn’t realize there was an island in Pire Lake and they couldn’t have crossed so quickly.  He turned and looked at Martin.  With widened eyes, the other simply shook his head.  He was also surprised.
 The light had grown stronger.  The fog began absorbing much of the sunlight thinning it and spreading its illumination into an ivory glow.  Benedict could see the tall man step out of his boat pulling his long handled oar with him.  The end of the oar was not a widened portion of wood; what emerged from the water was the wide, curved blade of a reaper’s sythe. 

 Benedict broke the silence.  “You there!  Stop!  My name is Benedict, chief magistrate of Foresburg!  You are under arrest!”

 The other didn’t stop or even turn to look at the men.  He hoisted the sythe over one shoulder and slowly began marching onto the land.  Birds completely black against the filtered sunlight began descending through the fog. 

 “Sir, we…we can’t keep going.  This isn’t right!  There’s no island in the lake!  I don’t know where we are.”

 Benedict leaped out of the boat into the knee deep water.  With one hand he began pulling the boat onto shore with the other he removed his gun.  “Do you have your revolver?  Then take it out.  We’re going after him.”

 Martin took his gun out but didn’t stand.  “Sir, please.  We need to go ba..”  

 “Enough!  Get out of the boat!  He knows we’re here and we have to catch him before we lose him.  I was promised this!”

 Martin stepped out of the boat carefully as if the thick mud around his boots would suck him under.  His revolver was held before him but it shook almost uncontrollably.  Any shot he fired would be useless.

 Both men walked onto the short scrub grass and tried to peer through the fog that surrounded them.  It was still too dense to see properly.  Benedict knew that the sun should have burnt the fog away by now.  It must be close to midmorning. 

 A bird crossed Martin’s face.  It was darker than shadow and flying faster than any arrow.  The deputy cried out and went to his knees.  He dropped his gun as he brought his hand up to his face.  When Martin pulled it away there was blood.  Another winged blur went across Martin’s back and the deputy went to the ground.

 Benedict dipped to one knee and picked up Martin’s gun.  The other man was whimpering now.  Consumed by his cowardice; Martin was absolutely useless. 

 There was movement just ahead of Benedict; another black bird circled around to attack him.  Benedict raised his gun but before he pulled the trigger the blue bird reappeared crashing through the other bird.  There was a tear and low cry as the wraith fell to the ground.

 “That’s good.”  Benedict stood and began moving forward again.  “My special friend has returned.”

 The magistrate picked up his pace.  Short grasses gave way the small shrubs and stunted trees.  He was going slightly uphill and as he did the fog thinned.  He caught up to the dark reaper quickly.  The reaper had quit moving and was standing on a small rise facing Benedict.  The reaper’s hood was down showing a face that looked sculpted from coal.  There was no color either to hair or eyes, only blackness.  The same was true for the hand gripping the sthye’s shaft.

 Benedict didn’t pause long.  He brought his revolver up and put a bullet into the left side of the reaper’s face.  The head jerked backward and after the reaper straightened half of his face was shattered.  In response, the reaper raised his weapon with the shaft held parallel to the ground.  Five black birds of prey flew to the shaft from unseen perches.  The reaper then brought his arm down and the large birds came for Benedict.

 Faster than any blink the blue bird appeared again.  Its dive took it through multiple birds; breaking them and sending the inky creatures to the ground.  The evil birds seemed to explode this time with a curtain of black feathers obscuring Benedict’s view. 

 “No, I won’t lose him.”  Benedict stepped through the slowly descending feathers both guns raised.  The reaper was gone.  He quickly turned and the feathers that were still hanging to air reformed into the reaper’s tall body.  Benedict put four bullets into the reaper.  This time there was no reaction.


 Franklin had to touch Rachael before she responded.  Her hair looked wet and tangled.  When she looked at Franklin her eyes looked drowsy.  She was thin as if she had been starved.
 “Rachel, Rachel it’s me.  I’m Aaron’s father Franklin.  Where is he?”

 The girl’s brow slowly knit and her eyes narrowed.  She licked her lips then spoke in a slow voice.  “I’m sorry.  Please forgive me.  I haven’t been able to move.”  Her chains clinked as she lifted her wrist.  The movement seemed like it pained her.

 Franklin reached over and grabbed the rusty chain with both hands.  He tried to pry it off of Rachel’s wrist but it didn’t give.  He pulled at the chain and it also resisted him.  Rachel looked away seemingly disinterested.

 After pulling on the iron fastenings for a few minutes, Franklin finally stood up and called out in a harsh whisper.  “Is anyone here free?  I need help.”

 The voice that responded was a familiar one.  “Father?  It’s me Ben.  Is that you?  Oh, please!”

 Franklin’s heart lurched in his chest.  Hope replaced all the feelings in his limbs as he moved toward the voice.  Ben materialized from the fog bound by the same chains but sitting upright and apparently alert.

 “Ben, are you alright?”  Franklin took his son’s shoulders and nearly shook them.  Then he hugged the boy unable to believe that he held his son again.  “What’s happened?  How long have you been here?  Where is Aaron?”

 “I don’t know how to answer your questions.  I do know Aaron is somewhere behind me.  But we’ve had to shout to hear each other.  A man in dark robes brought us here and walks by often.  He never says a word and the strangest part is his skin. It’s solid black almost like he’s been dipped in ink.  Most of the others fell asleep soon after they arrived here and haven’t woken up.  I spoke with Rachael for a while but she isn’t making a whole lot of sense.”

 Ben held his arms out.  “Father, can you get these chains off me?”

 Franklin and Ben tried the restraints together but they didn’t give.  The farmer looked around desperately for a rock or anything to smash the chain with when he heard a gun fire.

 “Son, I don’t know how to free you but I’m not leaving.  I’ll free you no matter what it takes.”
 The cardinal reappeared literally dropping down from the canopy of fog around the two men.  It landed on Ben’s first shackle which sprung open.  Then it moved to the other wrist and that shackle opened as well.  As father and son stood the bird flittered up to Franklin’s shoulder.

 “Father, where did the cardinal come from?  I don’t understand.”

 “It has brought me here presumably to help you.  I don’t know more.”

 They reached another man sleeping on the ground only steps from Ben.  The bird opened the shackles the second Franklin’s fingers touched the iron.  Ben shook the stranger but he did not stir.  They tried twice more to rouse the man but he would not wake.  A second gunshot quickly followed by three more keep them moving.

 Aaron was found and freed as well as Josie and two others who seemed not to be overcome with drowsiness.  They left those who were asleep.  Nothing they tried broke their slumber and the cardinal took no action.  A man’s scream ended their effort to free others.  Franklin began leading them back in the direction of his boat stopping one last time to free Rachael.   
 As Aaron hoisted Rachael to her feet, Franklin watched a tall form emerge from the fog near them.  It carried a long sthye slung over one shoulder and the other arm looked as if it were dragging two bodies by the collar.  It dropped the bodies and began coming for those Franklin had freed.  It didn’t seem to take steps.  Instead it seemed to glide over the ground.  The cardinal flew off Franklin’s shoulder and sped directly into the reaper’s chest.  The robes opened and seemed to swallow the bird.  Then there was the agonizing sound of tearing.  The reaper doubled over but it did not fall.

 Franklin pulled himself out of his stupor and turned away.  He sprinted back to the shoreline.  The small company had already crowded into the boat.  “Go!  Push it away!” 

 He trudged through the water crawling into the boat along with the others.  Aaron was sitting at the back trying to paddle away.  The boat moved slowly into the fog.  The shoreline dissolved and the heavy boat sat low on the lake by itself. 
 As they drifted toward shore, the fog lightened and the warm sunshine began burning the fog into wisps.  The lake cleared and the sky looked as if it were midday. 


 Franklin’s song birds returned along with his rescued sons.  Rachael, Josie, and the two others that were saved were returned to their families.  It was difficult for those who had been taken to describe their abduction.  They described time feeling slowed and haze the fog induced.  Within weeks, nothing was said about the reaper or what happened to those still missing.

 The appearance of the reaper and the songbirds that put an end to his gathering remained a mystery.  For Franklin, it was death attempting to extend his cursed hand into the natural realm.  The cardinal that turned the tide and destroyed death’s temporal power must have been something or someone holy.  Now that the cursed fog no longer clung to the waters of Lake Pire, it no longer mattered

 Benedict’s body was found drowned in the lake along with the young deputy.  He was given a hero’s funeral and on his grave stands a wide granite slab noting his heritage and the work he did bringing the thieves of Foresburg under the rule of law.

 As men before him, he could not bring justice to the greatest thief of history.

The Wing And The Ink (Part One)

The yellow speckled song bird glided over the lake’s still surface seemingly without effort.  As it neared Franklin’s farm the bird brought its wings back and stalled in mid air for a second before dropping to the cool grass.  Franklin swung his hand again casting seeds and stale crumbs to the small congregation of song birds that greeted him each morning just as the sun began rising.

There were thousands of birds living around the lake.  Some flew arching through the air like acrobats on the trapeze.  Others worked the water’s waves and ripples waiting for an opportunity to eat.  The larger birds glided far above the treetops masters of their cloud borne kingdom.  But it was the songbirds that filled the whispering trees with song and coaxed the sun to rise.

was a dairy farmer and cheese maker whose property bordered a northwest arm of Pire Lake.  The farmer was an older gentleman but still strong.  He enjoyed the pleasures of a sturdy, hardworking woman and the able hands of two healthy sons.  Franklin’s endeavors were profitable and his handsome family was well respected in Foresburg. 

Before the sun’s orb had fully crested the hills, Franklin had his cows herded into his barn for their milking.  The farmer kept the barn doors open preferring to keep the cows inside using only a narrow gate made using just three long boards.  Franklin didn’t want to shut out the bird’s songs believing it was their singing that brought the sun up each day.

Summer days were still new.  Franklin rose while some stars still shown through the first sunlight’s veil.  He began walking toward his barn with seed in his hand listening closely for the whereabouts of his faithful songbirds.  He heard nothing.

“That’s odd.”  Franklin peered about.  “Normally the birds come to me before I reach the barn.  Perhaps they have gathered near the lake shore.”

Franklin walked through dew clad grass to Pire’s shore and listened again.  There was nothing.  Even the sounds of night, crickets and frogs, seemed absent from the lake.  As light from the sunrise brightened the sky, Franklin noticed an unusually thick fog that clung to the water.  Fog wasn’t uncommon but the density this morning also puzzled Franklin.  He shrugged and turned back to his farm.

 “Well, I have a handful of bird food and no birds.  This has never happened before…a bad omen.”

He noticed the faint beat of flapping wings.  Franklin took a glance behind him and saw the steady flight of a solitary bird.  It flew far north then circled toward him.  Before long it reached Franklin taking to the grass only a foot from his boot.  Franklin had to look at the bird twice to be sure of what he saw.  The bird was small like his songbirds but it was completely black.  The eyes, talons, beak, and feathers were all like pitch.  He waited for the bird to sing but it said nothing.  

Another minute passed before Franklin surrendered.  “Aren’t you a strange one and no song to boot.  Very well, take the food.  It appears that no one else is interested.”
The next morning brought the same dense fog masking a silenced lake.  The black bird returned, bringing others of its ilk.  They brought no songs to herald the morning only the night’s residual stillness.  Franklin stopped feeding the small birds; he considered them a bad omen.  The birds however, did not leave.   

It seemed an entire flock of the blackened birds were clustered about on the third morning but Franklin was too busy to pay heed.  He and his sons were due in Foresburg to sell their cheese and milk, visit friends, and purchase other foodstuffs.  It was always a bit exciting for Franklin’s sons, Ben and Aaron, on days they went into the city.  The north road that circled the lake was a long one and they traveled it hardly once per fortnight or whenever there was cheese ready to be transported.  The draft horse was harnessed and the cart was loaded.  Franklin and his sons began the three hour trip listening to only the short squeaks of the wheels.

After the stillness of Pire Lake, Foresburg seemed more than alive.  They stopped at one of the inns to visit and sell to Olan then they went to the market and quickly sold everything else they had brought. 

With most of the afternoon still before him, Aaron hopped off the cart and looked into town.  “Father, I’m going to visit Rachel.  It’s been almost a week since I’ve seen her and I think I’ll ask her if she’d like to go on a picnic at the lake’s shore.”

 With only two years between them, Ben was also courting one of Foresburg’s young women.  He joined Aaron on the floor of the market square.  “A picnic sounds like a wonderful idea!  I’d like to join you.  I’ll bring Josie and we’ll play a game of cards.”

Aaron gave his brother a short look. “You’ll be nothing but a pest.  I’d rather have flies.”   

 “You know Rachel’s mother, the fine lady that she is, won’t let you two run off to the lake without a chaperone.  Little brothers make superb chaperones.”

 Franklin smiled and handed the boys a large piece of cheese wrapped in a thin cloth.  “I’m going home.  Borrow one of Olan’s horses and try to be home before it gets too late.  Remember, the cows don’t care how sleepy you are and neither do I.”


 When Foresburg’s old magistrate died, Benedict made a grand show of wanting the position.  It wasn’t an easy job but it did come with respect and power.  Foresburg was a bit unruly compared to many villages experiencing a persistent problem with thieves.  Benedict considered breaking these “thief rings” an opportunity to establish his name and make himself into a local hero.  Benedict was a tall man for this area with broad shoulders and a full beard.  Born from a family of minor nobles he had access to Foresburg’s reins of power.  He was determined, well organized, and intuitive.  It took only two days for the mayor to call upon Benedict to serve as the next magistrate. 

As soon as his powers were in place, Benedict wasted little time picking through the ranks of his deputies.  He sought out young men yet to be touched by the city’s corruption and he recruited older law enforcers with experience from other towns.  His early successes brought Benedict popularity and power that came from the people’s trust. 

That is why Calvin Bonner came to the courthouse door well after sunset.  He pounded on the door and demanded to see Benedict.  The night watchman initially thought to deny the man’s request before Calvin reminded him of his close association with the magistrate. 

Benedict was working through ledgers when Calvin was ushered in.  “What is it Master Calvin?”

The other man’s face was set with concern.  “My daughter Rachael and her friend Josephine were taken to Pire Lake earlier today and they have not returned!   They are never to be away from home after the sun sets!”

Benedict stood.  “Who took them?  Were they on horseback?”

“A farmer’s boys, two young men named Aaron and Ben.  They are sons of Franklin the cheese maker from across Pire Lake.  And no, all four left town on foot.  They couldn’t have gone too far out of town.”

“Very well,” the magistrate stepped past Calvin.  “I’ll rouse two of my deputies and go to the lake.  We’ll find the men and young ladies as well.  If anything has happened to your daughter or the other, Master Calvin, they will not go unpunished.”


 Franklin didn’t hear Aaron and Ben return from Foresburg.  He woke up the next morning and walked by the boy’s room.  The blankets were undisturbed and the lamps were cold.  Outside there was no sign anyone had been in the barn.  The black birds were the only ones about; silent observers watching Franklin search. 

  “Something’s wrong.”  Franklin woke his wife and instructed her to milk the cows.  He then saddled the draft horse and began the curving road around Pire Lake back to town.  Several hours later he arrived at the Foreburg’s city gate. 

Franklin rode by the inn and found Olan sweeping the old structure’s wooden porch.  If the boys had stayed at the lake too long it was most likely they spent the night with their old friend.  At the least, they would have asked to borrow a horse. 

“Olan!  Have you seen Aaron and Ben?  They didn’t return home last night.  Have you seen them?”

 Olan’s face twisted a bit.  “You don’t know?  The magistrate arrested both of them when they failed to return with Rachael or Josephine yesterday.  Your sons were coming back into town after sunset just as Benedict was riding out to find them.  Aaron and Ben claimed to have lost the girls which Benedict did not believe.”

 “What?!  Ben and Aaron would never have harmed those girls!  That’s ridiculous!”  Franklin turned toward the courthouse.  “I’ll need to free them.  There must be some misunderstanding.”

 “Wait!”  Olan wasn’t finished.  He stepped off the porch and approached Franklin’s horse.  “You won’t be able to get them out.  Benedict would never allow it.  He has said that since the boys were the last ones to see the girls that Aaron and Ben need to confess where the girls are now or the ladies need to appear on their own.  The families have already been out in the woods searching and have found nothing.  If you go to the courthouse, you will be confronted by many angry people.”

 “Then what do you suggest I do?”

 A grin broadened Olan’s face.  “He he, I served one of the young deputies the other day and the dolt left his keys.  Oh, he came back to see if he’d left them at his table but I told him nay.  Surely it is a good thing to have keys to the courthouse if needed right? 

“I’ll go into the courthouse’s cellar tonight and tell the night watchman that I saw the girls south of town.  If he leaves to alert someone for only a minute or two, I’ll have your boys free.  Go home and sometime after dawn tomorrow have a boat just off the piers.  Aaron and Ben should be there hiding.  Just be there to snatch them up.  Until the girls are found they need to go into hiding.”

 “What you’re planning is a crime and Master Benedict is a hard man.  Why would you do such a thing?”

 “Searching for the women is one thing but jailing your sons is a step too far.  Don’t waste worry on me.  I’ve enough pull to see to my own matters.”

  Franklin studied the ground for a bit.  Trouble this strong had never bitten his family before.  “Fine, I’ll go home.  I will trust in you Olan.  Free my sons and I will have my boat near the piers on the lake.” 

 There was no sleep to be enjoyed that night.  Franklin and his wife stayed up preparing food and packs for their sons to take once they arrived home again.  They would flee to one of the larger towns that existed beyond the mountain passes. 

That morning, as Franklin walked over a short rise to the lake’s shore and his small fishing boat, the number of ebony birds grew thick.  Unexpectedly, one flew near Franklin’s head causing him to duck.  Before Franklin could straighten it came back swooping for his head. 
Franklin stayed low and scurried to the edge of the lake.  “As soon as I retrieve my sons, I vow to kill these shadow spawn.”

The farmer looked about but was unable to find his small boat.  During the summer he kept it tied to a pine tree that grew unusually close to the shoreline even when it was pulled out of the water.  All that was attached to the tree was a bit of rope.  Franklin picked it up and examined the end.  The rope wasn’t chewed though by some raccoon or river rat it was severed by iron.

“I don’t understand.”  He looked around the edge of the lake using the weakened sunlight of the predawn.  He found nothing.  The haze on the lake was thick making it difficult to see beyond twenty feet.  Franklin finally spotted the boat out in the water a short bit from where he stood.  It wasn’t empty.  Someone propelled the craft forward with a long pole.  The figure stood erect barely moving as it worked the oar.

“Wait!  Come back!”  Franklin dove into the water and tried to reach the boat.  Instantly, more black birds the size of ravens came out to the predawn sky to tear at his head and arms.  Franklin cried out and went under the water in an effort to protect himself.  He came up again and sharp beaks went into his scalp.  Franklin vainly tried swimming to the boat until the birds finally forced him to turn back.

 Franklin ran out of the water and the evil birds turned back to the lake.  When he turned around his small boat and the thief in it were gone.  He returned home bleeding from cuts across his face and arms but he did not seek his wife’s help.  Instead he saddled his horse and again made the long ride into town.   

The farmer immediately rode to Olan’s inn.  His friend was there and stunned to see Franklin walk through his doors.  “Franklin!  What are you doing here?!  You are supposed to be on the lake meeting your sons!  I managed to free them but the night watchmen saw them run from the courthouse.  The deputies chased both Aaron and Ben towards the lake.  If you’re not there then I don’t know what will happen to them.  I barely escaped detection myself.”
Franklin left Olan and rode back out of town to the lake.  At the largest pier, Benedict stood with a contingent of his deputies. 

“Where are my sons?!”

“Are you Franklin?  I was hoping you could tell us.”  Benedict’s voice worked its way over those of the surrounding men.  “They somehow escaped from their cells in the courthouses cellar.  I’d like to know how.  You can begin by telling me why you are in town so early or why your face is covered in blood.”

“You didn’t answer me!  Where are my sons!”

 The magistrate took a deep breath.  “They fled into the lake.  In fact several people here saw a small boat though the fog on the lake’s horizon.  I was going to presume it was you.  So who was in the boat?  Your wife?”

 Franklin’s knuckles were white around the reigns.  “Someone stole my boat and is out on the lake!  I don’t know who or where my sons are!”

 Without addressing Franklin further, Benedict rotated to the nearest man.  “Take six teams of men and begin walking around the lake.  Two of these groups need to be on horseback so to arrive on the far side quickly.  Hammond, you and Martin escort this man back to his home and make sure the criminals aren’t hiding there.”

 After two days of searching, no one was found.  No bodies appeared in the lake.  The families of Rachel and Josephine continued to press Benedict about the whereabouts of their daughters.  The magistrate had nothing to offer them.  The girls were gone and so were his primary suspects.

 Then something mysterious occurred.  Benedict entered his office on the courthouse’s third level and found the shutters of the window near his desk open.  He walked over and examined the latch.  The metal had been cleanly snipped. 

 “But how?  The latch is on the inside and if the watchman wanted the window open he could just pull it…”

 Benedict looked to his desk and noticed one of his spare ledgers was covered in script.  The ink was dark and heavy but also perfect in its clarity and beauty.  The magistrate picked it up and turned the document towards the sunlight.  It was a list of names.  Beside each name a crime was listed and when it occurred.  The leaders of several thief rings were mentioned and information needed to catch them. 

 Without waiting for his breakfast to be delivered, Benedict tested the first name listed.  In a shanty house on the western side of Foresburg, he and his deputies found gold coins and several silks stolen from the brother of the mayor. 

It was the first step in making Benedict a legend.  Other arrests followed all played out in stunning fashion.  Within a week, the thief rings were smashed. 

A new problem developed.  The jail in the courthouse’s cellar filled and the prison was also filled to capacity.  Criminals were being arrested and housed faster than Benedict or any of the lesser judges could see the accused.

Benedict walked into his office and picked up the new ledger.  By now he knew who was writing the messages but he failed to tell anyone else.  A couple of nights ago he stayed in his office all night and watched the shutters.  A lamp was lit near Benedict’s chair.  Benedict himself hid.  Exactly an hour before dawn, a large black bird whose entire body appeared cut from the night sky, sprang the shutters open.  It hopped from the sill to the desk and began running its beak along the new parchment.  Benedict said nothing and he did not move until the bird finished.  Finally, the bird opened its wings and disappeared out of the window.
The day’s list contained only a couple names but the message at the bottom was more interesting.  It addressed the overcrowding problem at his jails with a simple solution.  Benedict pursed his lips and marched to the prison. The magic had been right so far.  He would try this as well. 

An offer was made to all inmates regardless of their crime or how long they’d been held.  Just before dawn each day, deputies would take any volunteers to Pire Lake.  If the prisoner could swim from the farthest pier to the other side he would be allowed to go free but would not be allowed to return to Foreburg.

 Many enthusiastically accepted Benedict’s offer.  The lake was very wide but in the darkness before dawn it would be easy to swim to one side and eventually get out early.  The prohibition of returning to Foresburg was laughable as well.  What would stop them from eventually coming back to town?

 Two days later, in the darkness before dawn, Benedict and his deputies led a long line of chained criminals out of town to the shores of Pire Lake.  Each was released into the lake and watched as they swam into the fog.  When the last man was released, Benedict sent a few riders to the other side of the lake to count those who succeeded.  He also posted two deputies on the roads coming back into town.

 When all returned that afternoon, they reported seeing none of the criminals.  Of the fifty that were given to the lake, not one was accounted for.  Benedict found this news delightful.  The messages had served him well again.  The thieves were gone and he wasn’t draining the town’s resources feeding them.  Some of his deputies and the families of the disposed criminals wondered what had happened but they were ignored.

 Each morning the black bird returned with more names and Benedict continued to feed the lake.


In the jungle lives a large tribe of tree dwelling monkeys.  Their days were filled with lisirly naps surrounded by the rinds of juicy mangos and green banana peels.  Swinging from branch to branch and tree to tree they scattered birds while chasing each other about.  Other than pythons there was little to threaten the monkey’s easy existence.  Days blended together until their memories became pointless.

Among their number was Nobo.  He was a young male who enjoyed the highest branches never knowing the anchorage of a home or the burden of work.  His life was carefree just like his brethren except for one concern.  He had fallen in love with one of the chief’s daughters, a beautiful female named Oma. 

Her coat always seemed to glow with the dappled light that made it through the canopy.  It reminded Nobo of the waning sun and looked warm to the touch.  She had long lashes and slender fingers.  Nobo could spot her graceful movements past a hundred other available females.

Instead of approaching Oma, Nobo would sing her praises to his cantankerous uncle an old male named Crank.  Crank was one of the tribe’s elders and considered the wisest. “She stands out as a full moon among the simple stars. Yet on the occasions Oma has looked to my tree her beautiful black eyes never fix on me.  There is no look of recognition. I don’t think she can see me from the trees, sky, and the other monkeys.  I could be on the limb directly in front of her, my world tipping her direction, and she wouldn’t blink.”

 Crank looked up from his latest banana.  “Ha!  The solution to your problem is easier than peeling this banana!  Why don’t you leap over to her limb and say hello?  You’re agile with good teeth.  I’m sure she would at least talk to you.”

 “I can’t do that!  It won’t be enough for her to remember me!  Good teeth?!  Bah!  Nobo!  Listen to my name!  Even it sounds like so many of the other males.”  Nobo frowned.  “No, I must have a something marks me as different.  I’m not just another common suitor.  I must be unforgettable.

 “I know very little about being unique but I most certainly know creatures that are, two really.  In fact, they are the most unique creatures in the world and they live here in the jungle.”

 “Who?!  Tell me.”  Nobo couldn’t help but leap a bit.

 Crank raised one brow a sly look crossing his face.  “Well, the first is a powerful bird named Proud Cloud.  Really he’s a parrot but very, very large.  He flies between the earth and sun directing the path of both.  As he leads the sun over the jungle sky, Proud Cloud must beat his wings with extra force.  When he does, he loses feathers.  Now these feathers are made of a material softer than a newborn’s pelt but stronger than teak.  They ride sunbeams to earth and are nearly impossible to see.  As the feathers strike the earth, they are absorbed into the jungle soils where plants use the colors to decorate themselves.  The fantastic colors you see lacing the flowers are taken from Proud Cloud’s magic feathers.” 

 Nobo couldn’t contain himself.  “Perfect!  I’ll gather Proud Cloud’s feathers!  Tell me uncle, how do I gather them?”

 “You’re not listening.  They fall to the earth faster than overripe fruit and are absorbed faster than the rain.  You cannot catch them but you can try and communicate with Proud Cloud.  Flying to and around the sun is thirsty, hard work.  If you can reach him with a fresh juicy fruit, he may fly down to visit with you.  Now how do you toss a fruit that high?  I don’t know.”

 “I will find a way.”  Nobo didn’t wait.  He thanked Crank and went off into the dense canopy of the jungle to think.  “I need a way to reach the surface of the sun.  I can throw a mango the length of a lower tree limb but that won’t do.” 

He tested a trick he had done as a younger monkey.  He leaped near the end of a thin limb and it bent under his weight.  As he jumped away the limb sprang back giving Nobo an extra push.  “Yes, the trees are much stronger than I am.  I will use their strength and resiliency to throw fruit to Proud Cloud.”

 Nobo gathered mango and brought them to a thin tree limb.  He lightly wedged the fruit into a fork near the end of the branch.   For almost an hour he practiced jumping toward the end of the limb, grabbing the end, bending it over, and releasing his grip just as the branch reached its lowest.  Mangos flew among the trees careening into tree trunks and whipping through leaves.  One even landed on the head of a wandering elephant earning Nobo a rather loud reprimand.

 By sunset, however, Nobo had his tree sling mastered.  The fruit sat patiently on the end of the limb and when Nobo reached it, he would wrap two fingers around the fruit to keep in place.  The second Nobo released his weak grip the fruit went to the same spot in the sky with more speed than a springing cobra.

 The morning of the next day Nobo sat near the branch he had practiced with waiting for the sun to come into position.  Once it was, Nobo began launching mangos and other fruits into heaven listening as each eventually found its way back into the trees and down to the earth.  The little monkey was growing tired and frustrated when he noticed that his latest volley never returned.  He quickly threw another fruit up and it also did not return.
 Nobo used a large leaf to try and shade his small black eyes.  He searched for any sign that the magical parrot had decided to descend.  There was more waiting before the black outline of a very large bird could be seen spiraling downward.

“I did it!  I did it!”  Nobo’s squeal carried over the other busy noises of the jungle.  “Here he comes!”

 Nobo was unprepared for the heat that would accompany Proud Cloud.  The multicolored parrot was longer than the limb he landed on.  Steam and smoke rose from his vibrant plumage and tiny embers flecked away from his head and wings as he shook them. Proud Cloud’s beak wasn’t black like other parrots instead it was a brazen gold.

 “Hello, little one.”  Proud Cloud boomed.  When he spoke Nobo heard thunder.  “It has been some time since I had reason to return to the earth.  Thank you for the fresh mango.  How can I serve you?”

 The monkey could barely contain himself.  Nobo began swinging his arms wildly as he spoke.  “Proud Cloud!  What a wonder you are!  Thank you for coming!  Please, please, may I have a small cluster of your feathers?  I desire the affection of Oma and she may chose me if have such a prize.”

 Proud Cloud shook his head.  “No young one.  My feather’s are for another purpose but I can offer you something else.  If you will feed me again tomorrow, I will bring to you a gem of great worth.  These gems are called sun tears and they are only found of the surface of the sun.  They glow with the sun’s power and you will not find them on earth.  Will that do?”

 “Yes!”  Now Nobo was fully leaping in the air.  “Please!  Such a gift will be perfect for Oma!  No other male will be able to match it!  I will send you the juiciest mango you will ever taste!  Thank you!”

 “Then I will see you tomorrow when the sun is again in this position.”  Proud Cloud opened his wings and beat them once then again and the giant bird was airborne.

 Nobo flew into the forest gathering mangos for tomorrow.  He didn’t tell the other monkeys about Proud Cloud or even return to his tribe that night.  Instead he rested in the arms of the tree that would aid him in winning Oma.  Mangos, some of the best the jungle had to offer, sat nearby. 

 The little monkey was ready hours before he needed to be.  He spent some time practicing the mango throw but otherwise he paced back and forth on another limb. 

   When the morning hour arrived, Nobo leapt into the air, snagged the end of the opposite branch with just two fingers holding the mango in place, and just as his decent began to slow Nobo let go.  Whoosh.  The fruit was gone in the next instant.  Up it went directly toward the sun.  Nobo listened…nothing.  The monkey scampered up the tree and set a second mango on the branch.  He catapulted another fruit skyward.  It didn’t return.  His effort had not been in vain.  Proud Cloud would return with the prize he needed!

 The magical creature did return and he was just as striking as the day before.  His bronzed talons resting on the same scorch marks left from where he perched the day before.  Held in his beak was a  tiny stone that glistened and shone with its own light.

 Proud Cloud set the stone on a tree limb near his head.  Small trails of smoke immediately curled up from the bark.  “Here you are my little friend.  Your kindness has been rewarded and I thank you again.  May the sun tear please you.” 

The parrot stretched one wing.  Sparks scattered wildly in the wind.  “These trips to earth exhaust me and I will not return for many years.  Of course, you are always welcome to send me food.”  He cawed as if he was laughing and flew into the air again.  Soon he was gone having returned to the edge of the sun.

 Nobo shrieked with joy and scampered to the branch holding the sun tear.  The gem pulsed with a bright pure white illumination.  Long tails of smoke still twisted as they rose from the bark around the stone so Nobo blew on the sun tear to cool it.  He did this for several minutes before finally deciding to pick it up.  The sun tear immediately burned his hand.  The monkey dropped it and it bounced off several tree branches before landing in the underbrush below.

 Despite other efforts, the gem never cooled and Nobo had to use sticks to carry his prize.  “This will not work!  I can’t give Oma something too hot for her to handle!  Unless I can find a way to cool it, all of my work has been wasted.”

 Rain began falling.  As the raindrops struck the surface of the sun tear small bursts of steam mixed with smoke.  This gave the monkey an idea.  He scurried to a crescent shaped lake nearby and dug a small hole.  With several folded leaves, Nobo began scooping water into his depression.  The water filled hole and Nobo dropped the sun tear in. 

 “There, tomorrow I will return and pick up the sun tear.  By then the lake’s cool waters should have tempered the gem’s heat.”

 Unobo traveled back to his tribe and found his uncle Crank.  “Uncle!  You were right!  The Proud Cloud is amazing!  It’s beak and talons looked like they were made of blazing metals and his plumage was beautiful!”

 Crank tossed away a banana peel and turned his graying head.  “What?  You met Proud Cloud?  Is that what you’ve been doing?  You’re pulling my tail!”

 “No and he was magnificent!  Truly a unique being!  He gave me a gemstone from the sun but it was much too hot.  I filled a hole with cool lake water and will let its heat ease over night.  Tomorrow I will go and fetch it.  Perhaps I should wear it around my neck so Oma can see it and me.  Or do you think the end of my tail would be better?”

 The older monkey laughed out loud.  “Well then, if you thought the story of Proud Cloud was impressive listen to this.  There is another creature with traits that distinguish it from the other common animals of the forest.  It is a tortoise by the name of Lapis Luzy.  You see, this tortoise has a shell made from hundreds of beautiful gems.  All kinds…sapphires, rubies, emeralds, diamonds, and all sorts of other gems of all different colors.  Lapis Luzy can crawl, dig, and swim like all tortoises but he prefers to live underground.  There he finds the roots of young tree saplings and wraps their roots around special gems.  The hard jewels allow the tree to take the soft soil it grows in and make it into strong wood.  With young ebony trees, Lapis Luzy places an onyx which makes the wood heavy and black.”

 Nobo’s eyes were wide.  “Uncle, have you ever seen Lapis Luzy?”

 Crank clenched his teeth and shook his head.  “No, of course not, he stays underground and comes out for swims only an during the darkest hours of the new moon.  He lives in darkness and prefers it greatly to the bright heat of the day.  Lapis Luzy is afraid of what the other animals would do if they ever spotted him.”

 The younger monkey rubbed his knuckles together.  “He has a shell made of sparkling gems and he stays out of sight?  Uncle Crank, that’s terrible!  What a waste!  He may be more beautiful than Proud Cloud and yet he stays out of sight by choice!  That makes very little sense.”

 “I agree.”  Crank plucked another banana.  “So listen to your own words.  When will you introduce yourself to Oma?  I believe you have traits that are special as well.”

 “Stop playing games with me uncle.  You know I have nothing to offer.  That will change after tomorrow.”

 Nobo slept with the other monkeys that night.  But unlike their carefree slumber he couldn’t contain his eagerness.  He imagined the many ways he would spring past Oma the next day and how hard he would have to work to get her attention.  He envisioned her bright black eyes and those long lashes focusing on him and the sun tear.

 Just as dawn began to cast its life giving radiance over the tops of the jungle canopy, Nobo made his way back to the crescent lake.  The hole was just where the monkey remembered but to Nobo’s surprise the hole was dry, completely dry!  The sun tear sat on the bottom with heated earth around it still flashing and still glowing with a steady light.

 “Now what will I do?!”  Nobo reached down and touched the sun tear.  It was still far too hot to handle.  “If water will not cool it what will I do?’

 A voice high in pitch and a bit unnerving came from the behind a nearby lacewood tree.  “You could trade it away.  I have never seen anything of its like amidst the gems of earth and I’m sure to know a few things about precious stones.”

 Nobo let out a shriek and jumped away.  He wouldn’t leave the sun tear but he needed to know what was facing him.  “Who is it?”

 A tortoise only as tall as Nobo stepped out from behind the tree.  He walked on two legs instead of four and his shell glittered even in the understory’s dim light.  Lapis Luzy’s shell was more magnificent than Nobo had imagined.  The gems were all cut presumably by the sharp nails Lapis Luzy had on his fore paws.

 “I am Lapis Luzy.  I help care for this jungle and especially the trees you see around you.  As I have said, I have collected all sorts of jewels for my shell but never have I seen one like that.  What do you call it?”

 “It’s called a sun tear.  I received it from a great bird known as Proud Cloud.”

 The tortoise looked confused.  “Proud Cloud?  Well, never mind, I will pull a gold plate from my very shell for a chance to own that sun tear.   If you will trade that bright gemstone to me, I will bulge it out as a mask to fit your face.  It will be crowded with many sparkling jewels.  I have little doubt that not one of your kind has ever had one.

That sun tear will give a sparkling light to each stone in my shell…even when I’m underground.  Please, kind monkey.”

Nobo tried to pick up the sun tear again but it was still too hot.  There was no way he would be able to use the stone.  Lapis Luzy had already pulled one of its gold plates off the bottom of his shell and was beating into a mask shape.  The magic creature was done within minutes and offering the valuable mask to Nobo.

“Here,” Lapis Luzy offered.  “Go ahead and try it on.”

Nobo took the mask and slid it over his face.  Holes for his eyes were there and it fit perfectly!  He trotted over to the lake’s surface for a look at his appearance.  The water reflected emeralds, rubies, and other colored stones perfectly arranged and forming an outline of the monkey’s face.  When Nobo turned around, Lapis Luzy was gone as well as the sun tear.

“Well, I was going to take his offer regardless.”  Nobo pulled the mask away from his face.  Even the gold along the inner lining was perfect and smooth.  “With this mask on, I will be impossible to ignore.  Everyone, even Oma, will become entranced.”   

Nobo raced back to his tribe with the mask tucked under one arm.  Crank was still sitting in the same familiar spot near a plentiful banana tree.  His back turned to Nobo’s approach.

“Uncle!  Uncle!  Look at what I have!”

Crank slowly looked up from his banana.  When the old monkey finally focused on what Nobo had his eyes went wide.  “What is that?!”

Nobo handed the jeweled mask to his uncle.  “I traded the sun tear I received from Proud Cloud to Lapis Luzy for that gold mask.  There’s never been anything like it!  Once I put it on, Oma’s eyes will be drawn to me as a heavy stone is to the earth!”

Crank didn’t say anything for a moment.  He simply rotated the valuable mask in his paws before trying to place it over his face.  When he removed it, he was frowning. 

“Nephew, where did you get this?”

“I’ve already told you.  A sun tear from Proud Cloud was traded to Lapis Luzy for this mask.  Do you think Oma will like it?”

“I didn’t think those creatures existed!  They were stories I heard as a youngling!  Yesterday I thought you were joking.  But how do you expect to attract Oma if she can’t even see your face?   Nobo, I had greater faith in you.  You ignore my real advice and chase after ridiculous frills like this.  Besides, what do monkeys care about gold or jewels!”

Nobo cast his gaze to the forest floor.  “Then uncle what would you have me do?”

Crank scooted closer to his nephew.  “Stop listening to my stories and do as I instruct. Go to the south end of the lake and pick an orchid that is white laced with pick.  Take her the flower along with fresh fruits and you will have much better luck.”

“How do you know this?  How can you be sure?”

“I spend time with her and her father!  That is how I know she loves white orchids laced with pink.  You will find yourself much better suited for gaining her attention if you will focus on her and what she loves instead of trying to make yourself more interesting.”

Nobo found the orchid Crank told him about and returned.  He offered it to Oma who leaped with delight.  She placed it behind her ear and Nobo thought she looked more beautiful than ever.  The young monkey spent as much time as he could with Oma asking her about her interests and even learning which end of the banana she preferred to peel first.

While monkeys do not trade in gold or precious gems, Uncle Crank did find a good use for the mask.  Not only did he still spend his time eating bananas and telling the younger monkeys stories but he also found opportunity to scare the tails off the younger monkeys using the mask.

Forum Question – Spanking

Forum Question: What is the best tool for spanking your child?

Great-Grandma Franklin- “Well, when you live on a cattle farm you get a lot of flies.  So many flies you can hardly see.  So I always kept about six of those old wire handled swatters around.  I could hit two flies and the backside of a rotten kid with one swing.  Then I made the kid eat the flies.”

Mama Mullen- A bamboo cooking spoon is my corrective tool of choice.  Not only does the name please me…BAM-boo but I like the way the wood flexes a little as it accelerates towards my son’s posterior.  Sometimes if the crosswinds are just right the wood even makes a low whistle.”

Papa Anderson- “Every great performance needs a good introduction.  You know, something to heighten the tension a bit before the grand finale.  It keeps the kids on the edge of their seats. (chuckles briefly)  That’s why my choice is the belt.

Here’s how a pro does it… I begin with a stern look and slowly reach for my pants.  Boy, that really gets’em.  Then there’s the slow whisking sound as I slowly pull the leather strap from the belt loops.  Oh, the anticipation!  Then I bellow, ‘Get to your room!’  If the young people are close to peeing their pants you know you’re doing it right.  Finally, two quick swings across the backside just strong enough to sting…repeat as needed.”

Grandma Franklin- “You know, speaking of fly swatters…I haven’t been able to use a fly swatter correctly because my mother bent them all out of shape over our backsides.  You wouldn’t expect a baseball player to have to hit with a crooked bat but that’s what it was like killing flies growing up.  Nowadays I can’t help but overcompensate.  I miss three quarters of the time!  Spanking scarred me for life!”

Moderator- “Ma’am, we’re asking what you use to spank with.”

Grandma Franklin- “Oops.  Sorry.  I like to spank with the backside of a brand new toy.  The cardboard really drives my point home and it’s all smiles afterward.”

Uncle Teply- “Spanking?!  You see this?  (Points to palm.)  If you’re under thirteen, you get this.  If you’re over thirteen, you get this!  (Makes palm into fist.)  Any questions?”

Drama Mama

Nichole wanders into the guard break room at the pool in a bit of a huff.  “Uh, hello Mr. T.  How are you?”

I look up from a pool supply catalog (sixty pound bucket of chlorine briquettes for a hundred bucks…HOLY COW!…whew, that sump pump has some nice curves.).  “Well, hello Nichole.  You don’t sound very good what’s the problem?  As if I care.”

She sets her purse down and immediately pulls out her cell phone.  “It’s comical really.  My friends showed up at my apartment last night to stage some sort of friend intervention.”

“A friend intervention?  Why, because you’re huffing furniture polish or what?”

She’s already texting someone.  “No, they were just concerned about the health of our friendship.  I laughed through it really.  It was hard to take seriously.  But the real issue was them coming to the outdoor pool while I was on the stand, going into the break room, and taking my car keys.  They went through my car looking for something.”

“Uh…ok.”  There was really only one way to respond.  “You need to move away.  That’s what I would do.”

Nichole’s phone beeps indicating a new text message.  “Very funny, Mr. T.”

As the Internet and especially the cell phone work to connect society at the hip, a dangerous development has occured.  Drama queens and kings can now ramp up their dalliances like electrons in a particle accelerator.   There’s never an opportunity for the worked up parties to go to their corners and take a quick break.

Here are a few simple steps to breaking the hold “drama” may have on you…

Step One – Graduate From High School

Responsibilities are the natural cure for drama and we all know how responsible high schoolers are.  If you’re busy with the things that matter in life (NOT zits, prom, algebra), then there’s precious little room for drama.  In short, “Get a post high school life.”  NOTE: Sororities and/or fraternities retard this development.

Step Two – Take A Powerful Disinterest In Other People

Hey kids!  The phrase, “I don’t care” that you use so deftly with your parents and teachers also works on Sally’s opinion of Bobby Joe’s new hairdo.  If you must comment, just keep it dull or positive…people will tire of asking you.

Step Three – Get Rid Of The Cell Phone

You can live without it.  You can live without it.  You can live without it.  You can live without it. 

Also, take the four hundred dollars your spending on whatever plan you have and dump the money into ice cream.  Trust me…you won’t regret it.

Step Four – Move Away

Really, I wasn’t kidding.  It’s like hitting the reset button.  Try it sometime.

Golden Balls

When I was in high school, I operated under several faulty assumptions: I would always be young, neon colors go perfectlywith black, and s looked for guys with big muscles.  As it turns out, I’m old and neon colors became a fashion fatality.  The idea that women wanted men with bulging muscles stuck with me. 

I remember wearing tank tops whenever I could.  I inflated my pectorals with the assurance that every woman in the room had to be looking.  Weightlifting became the necessary prerequisite to attracting a mate.  Guys who didn’t lift dated, of course, but I was sure that the s really wished they were with someone who worked out (like me).  After all, men put such a premium on a ‘s appearance why wouldn’t women do the same with men?

This thinking started turning around in college.  A goober named Steave seemed to never lack for a date.  Pick any of the s wandering the hallways of my college and a third of them had gone out on a date with him and at least one half had flirted with him.  I couldn’t have earned those ratios with the janitorial staff!

What really surprised me about this Don Juan was his outstanding lack of stature.  He was short, was all of 120 lbs., and a set of shoulders that you could measure with a ruler.  His personality was gregarious and boisterous with a heavy lean towards obnoxious.  

Yet the man consistently found s more than willing to go out with him!  Didn’t they realize that I was available?!  Look calf muscles!  Mrs. Teply even dated him. 

I began calling him “Golden Balls” because I could think of no other reason why this guy had so many dates or the hope of one day procreating.

What also shook my faith in the almighty muscle was seeing Altas-like men come to the pool with dumpy, unattractive troll women in tow.  This guy has pectorals the diameter of dinner plates and she couldn’t win Best-of-Show at the local kennel club!  This was happening too many times for me to ignore.

“You don’t really get it do you?”  Mrs. Teply would say. “Steave had charisma and that’s more important than broad shoulders.  Most s like a nice body but what they are really looking for is a sweet personality, thoughtfulness, and an interest in us as a person.  It just so happens that most of the gymrats have big egos.  Yours could use an adjustment.”

Breaking Up…We Can Help!

With the ever-increasing pace of life you may find yourself needing to end a relationship but not enough time to get the job done properly. It’s tough to find the right opportunity to tell the person you once courted that they should get lost. Even sensitivity sometimes has to take a back seat to convenience, which is why is proud to provide out latest product…The Flash Form Break-Up Letter.

It only takes five minutes, a few simple keystrokes, and a beat up printer to remove the lowlife from your existence. All you need is a name! Don’t delay! You aren’t getting any younger or more attractive than you are RIGHT NOW!! Don’t waste the appeal you have left with your current love dis-interest!


Not-So-Dear (Write Name Here),

I’m breaking up with you and there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s for the best. You know as well as I do that the vast majority of relationships don’t work out so you shouldn’t have gotten wrapped up in this one. (I’ll bet you fall for time-shares too.) To be honest with you, I’m just glad I fell out of love first. I mean, who wants to be dumped…am I right?

I could tell you that it was me and not you but that would be a bald faced lie. After all, it was definitely you. You know that thing you do when you’re watching movies? I hated that. The good news? I won’t have to put up with it anymore!

Also there wasn’t much to say about you in the kissing department. In fact, it was hard to say you brought anything to the table. Am I making myself clear?        CIRCLE YES / NO.

At one point in time I thought you were hot but all my friends told me I could do a whole lot better. I think they’re probably right. Really it wasn’t nice of me to get your hopes up. You’ll have better luck with the lottery.

The wind is just taking us in different directions…specifically your wind. You open your mouth and it’s just blah, blah, blah. Seriously, when you have a good idea just tie it to a pigeon, send it flying my direction, and then tell it your life story. That should blow it off course!

Look I’ve got houseplants to water so that’s it. Please keep in mind that this letter will be sent via certified mail and is considered a common law restraining order in many of Mississippi’s rural counties. Please…don’t try to be a hero.

Well, there isn’t too much else to say. Thanks for showing me exactly what I want by exemplifying what I hate about the opposite gender.

We can still be friends, (Thier Name)

Frank Zastaphol Interview

The walls are completely clad in small tapestries with red tassels, brass gongs the size of dinner plates, and Asian calendars featuring fattened Budas.  Red velvet stuffed to bulging dimensions covers all the furniture.  A stick of incense the thickness of a hot dog is smoldering in the corner causing the entire room to stink like cinnamon.  Miss Nomer feels like she’s in the inside of a candy Red Hot.

A homely Asian man with a completely flat face waltzes into the room through a sliding door.  He’s sporting fifteen birthmarks and a greasy looking Fu Manchu.  On his head is a paper hat that looks like a Chinese lantern.  He squints as he smiles.

Frank Zastaphol:  “Ahhhh, Miss Nomer, good for you to visit.” ( He sits in the plush chair across from Miss Nomer.  His robe glistens with million delighted sequins.)  “Have you come seeking enlightenment, inner peace, or Chinese souvenirs?”

Miss Nomer: She begins setting up her tape recorder.  “Well, do you have soapstone lions?”  He nods.  “Stuffed pandas?”

Frank Z.:  “You bet.  And don’t forget our weapon grade incense.  It’s been proven to make even male dormitories smell sweet and refreshing.”

Miss N:  “Bleach and Honeysuckle?”

Frank Z.:  (Jots something on a memo pad.)  “I’ll put you down for a value pack.”

Miss N:  “Alright, let’s get started.”  She punches the record button.  “Greetings!  This is your bare knuckled, rock overturning, special assignment reporter!  I ask the questions you can’t study for!  I find out what’s in the Special Sauce!”

Frank Z.:  (Skews eyes)  “Uh, it’s thousand island dressing.”

Miss N.:  “I mean your special sauce.”

Frank Z.:  “Uh, ok.”  (Narrows eyes.)

Miss N.:  “So you are the supplier of the fortunes in fortune cookies.  Please describe the fortune creating process for us.  What mystical forces do you tap into?”

Frank Z.:  “Well normally I just listen to static.  Sometimes I hear things.  Daytime soap operas are good sources of the things people want out of life but why don’t you tell me.  What do you think people are looking for in regards to good fortune?”

Miss N.:  (Big smile)  “Money, a better job, beauty, talent, friends, health, cold medications that work, and maybe straight teeth.”

Frank Z.:  (Holds up memo pad.  All of Miss Nomer’s requests are crammed onto the sloppy page.)  “Here’s what I like to do.  I call upon my fortune finger.  (He holds up his right pinky.)  “Now I’ll close my eyes and plant my finger on the pad.  Whatever it lands on will be the subject of my next batch of fortunes.”

Miss N.:  “Excuse me…you have a fortune finger?”

Frank Z.:  “Yea, watch.”  (He plants his finger on the memo pad.  Instead of landing on Miss Nomer’s list it points to a half completed grocery list.)  “Hmmmm, it appears fate has chosen frozen pizza snacks.”  Pulls a small slip of paper out of this robe and begins writing on it.  “Ok, how’s this?”  (He begins writing.)  “Life is like pizza pockets, it is best enjoyed spicy and hot.” 

Miss N.:  “That really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

Frank Z.:  (Shrugs)  “I does if you follow the serving instructions on the box.”

Miss N.:  “Are you sure that stuff you’re burning over there is incense?”

Frank Z.:  (Waves her off.)  “Fine, let’s get back to what people really want…money.  What is it about money that people want?”

Miss N.:  (Confused expression.)  “Are you kidding me?”

Frank Z.:  “Alright, here’s a good fortune.”  (Opens palms toward the sky.)  “A small change will put your face on coins.  Get it?”

Miss N.:  “Mr. Zastaphol, that’s not what people like about money.  Besides, you have to be dead before they will put your likeness on money.”

Frank Z.:  “Then that makes it the perfect fortune!  It is your future…after you’re dead.  Perfect!”  (Leans back in chair.)  “You know, it’s really something that fortune tellers can see major events coming but can never give a date…ever.  You’d think just once we could say, ‘You will win the lottery on Tuesday.

 “Heck, sometimes I even stick in false ones just for my own amusement.  My favorite is, ‘You just won a million dollars!’  Then offer no information.  That’s it.  I can just see the confused looks on people’s faces.”

Miss N.:  (Shakes fist.)  “Ah Ha!  Hard-hitting journalism pays off again!  I got one of those and the waiter refused to give me my money.  Now we know the truth!”

Frank Z.:  (Panicked expression.)  “Oh no.  Look, let me throw in a couple of free fortunes and we’ll call it even.  Um, ok, ‘A good idea is worth a thousand bad ones.’ And how about, ‘A gas station bathroom holds many surprises.’  ‘Plastic comes from cows!”

Miss N.:  “Don’t even try to bribe me!  This thing goes all the way to the top doesn’t it?  Talk!”

Frank Z.:  (Folds arms and turns his head.)  “I have nothing else to say.  This interview is over.”