NaNoWriMo: Custom Cookie Ransom

The Master Cookiesmith’s hands were steady as she prepared to add the final lines of decorative icing. The icing was blood red, one of the Emperor’s family colors, and infused with the vampiric energies of three types of demons. None but the Emperor himself would be permitted to taste such a work of art, and the Master Cookiesmith felt a surge of love and pride for her work as the final detail fell into place.

It had taken her sixty years to master the art of cookiesmithing, starting when she was a young girl. The Guild of Cookiesmiths had visited her village when she was only four years old, and had immediately detected her talent. The strange-looking, light-skinned guild scouts had taken her from her home and her family and locked her in the Tower of Baking for fifteen years while she learned the basics of her craft. She started in the sweltering oven rooms, shoveling coal and stoking the fires, and slowly worked her way up to decorations, infusions, and enchantments. Even her own dark skin began to lighten somewhat after all those years away from the sun, but she learned and mastered new skills more quickly than any other novice cookiesmith. She specialized in weaponized cookies and was in charge of keeping the army’s armory well-stocked with razor-sharp gingerbread throwing discs and frosted shurikens, but her true passion lay in the life-giving cookies. It took an incredible force of will to focus at the level necessary to create one of these masterpieces, each of which must be customized for a single person.

Her passion and skill had been noticed by one of the Emperor’s servants on an inspection tour through the Guild, and she had been immediately promoted to Master Cookiesmith and selected to produce the centerpiece for the Emperor’s annual Day of Renewal. She was honored to be chosen, but more than that, she was pleased to be permitted to spend her work hours on something she enjoyed, rather than mechanically churning out tray after tray of the same boring confections.

And now, her work was completed. She lovingly set the Emperor’s cookie in its sheltered case in the cupboard, locked it, and went to bed. The ceremony was in two days, and she would need plenty of rest before then. It was the Master Cookiesmith’s responsibility to present the Emperor with his cookie at the appropriate moment on the Day of Renewal, in front of all his loyal subjects (the non-loyal ones having all been purged in the preceding Day of Cleansing), and she would need all of her strength.

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NaNoWriMo: Cosmic Amish Psychiatrist

“I hate this stupid piece of crap!” shouted Rick, shifting his position on the tea house couch and jabbing his finger at the slightly cracked screen of his iPhone. Most of his friends had already upgraded to the newest one. It had way more RAM than his, which was constantly freezing up when he left more than about ten apps open for a while. It was ridiculous. He’d paid good money for this phone, and it was already outdated. He could trade it in towards the upgrade, but it wouldn’t help much. A new iPhone comes out, the old one becomes next to worthless – especially if the screen is cracked.

The smells spiced tea and sounds of the other regulars chatting and laughing around him faded out as, for the millionth time, the scene replayed itself in his head in slow motion. The phone, only two days old, slips from his hand and plummets towards the sidewalk. Still moving forward, his toe catches the edge of the phone and bumps it onto the grass, where it suffers only a small crack instead of a screen-smashing fatality. He’d been lucky. But ever since, that crack had haunted his nightmares. How could he have let it slip?

All his friends at the tea house had laughed long and hard at his stupidity. Maybe he shouldn’t have talked up the new phone so much at the start. He was just so excited, so proud to finally have the latest model. He couldn’t afford to replace the screen, and now he was stuck with this thing until he saved up enough money to buy a new phone. Maybe if he cut his bills somehow… He could probably suspend the internet service at home and just use the phone for a while. Ah, but then, he couldn’t do that – his ISP would charge him a huge fine for breaking his contract. On the other hand, he could put off buying a winter jacket and use that money towards the new phone. He could just layer sweaters and hoodies when it got really cold. And then Angela could stop teasing him for five minutes.

Angela was an Android user. Her phone had only cost a fraction of what his had, and she was able to download games and programs without fighting her way through the app store. It had more RAM than his, too. But sometimes she had to restart it, because some of the programs didn’t get along perfectly, and that made him feel a little better. Anyway, she couldn’t keep ten apps open at once, ever, or it would start to freeze up. When he asked her how she could possibly deal with that, she shrugged her shoulders and said she just closed programs when she wasn’t using them.

What a loser. And she had the nerve to tease him?

“Here’s your Yogi Chai.” Rick’s private little pity party shattered along with his concentration the barista set the tray down in front of him. It smelled amazing, which Rick found annoying. It was interrupting his bad mood. “Do you want anything to eat?”

Rick shook his head. “Not today, Trish. I’m not hungry.”

She smirked at him. “Having another epic battle with your iPhone, are you? Watch out you don’t cut yourself on that broken glass there…”

Rick resisted the urge to throw the phone across the room. He was preparing a retort when everyone in the room covered their noses in unison, Rick included. “What smells like cow manure all of a sudden?”

There was a blinding flash and a puff of smoke, and out of the air walked a man. He was wearing black linen pants and suspenders, a plain white shirt, a tremendous and wild black beard, and a straw hat which he quickly removed when he realized he was indoors. He smiled the smile of a man content with life and confident of his place in it, and reached out to shake Rick’s hand. Rick found himself automatically standing and bowing his head to the mysterious visitor (who he quickly identified as the source of the unpleasant odor).

“Hallo, young man.” The stranger’s voice came out booming and strong, like someone who was accustomed to speaking to large groups outdoors, and he had an odd accent. “The Lord has given me word that you are in need of my help. What seems to be the trouble?”

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NaNoWriMo: The Incredible Love Showdown (Part 3)

The competition was on. Ryan was going down. Jessica was there to support him, but that didn’t matter. When she saw him get destroyed by the underdog, she’d realize Dan was the man for her. He’d win the game, defeat his rival, and get the girl.

The game began. One of his teammates managed to get control of the ball. They were on offense. He passed to Dan (as per his instructions), who headed towards the goal. He was ready to shoot when Ryan came out of nowhere and stole the ball.

Ryan’s team scored the first goal within five minutes. The second, within ten. That was okay. It would be even more dramatic when Dan started scoring goal after goal. It was all about the feel of the breeze on his sweaty arms, the smell of the grass being ripped up by cleats, and the goal, always the goal. His victory would be spectacular.

He kept telling himself that right up until the final minute. Ryan’s team won 5-0.

That was it. It was over.

All his hopes, his dreams, his plans, evaporated. This Valentine’s Day, he’d be alone again.

Suddenly, it hit him: this wasn’t his love story after all. It was Ryan’s. He won the game, and he would get the girl.

He watched, nauseated, as Jessica ran up to Ryan and threw her arms around him. She pulled back, and he forced himself to watch as Ryan leaned in for a kiss. So, he was interested in girls after all. It had all been a ruse. He’d gone the “I’m broken but your love can fix me” route, and for him, it had worked.

“Ew! What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Jessica’s voice rang out across the field, and Dan stared in disbelief as she pulled herself out of the hero’s arms. Could it be that he still had a chance?

“I’m sorry, I just thought that—”

“You thought that winning a soccer game meant I would want to kiss you? Ryan, we’re just friends.”

An expression of frustration spread across Ryan’s face. Dan was enjoying the show, sipping at his Gatorade and trying not to look like he was watching.

“Great,” muttered Ryan. “It happened again. I waited too long, and now I’m getting friend zoned.”

CRACK came the sound of Jessica’s palm slapping Ryan’s sculpted cheek as hard as she could. “Don’t you ever talk to me, or any woman, like that for the rest of your life, you creep!” She stormed away, her face flushed with anger. And Dan was in luck – she was heading in his direction. This was his last chance. He couldn’t mess this one up.

He moved to intercept her. “Wow. I’m so sorry, Jessica. He seemed like such a nice guy. I’ll never understand how some men can be such jerks. They don’t even know what true love is. Come on, I’ll buy you dinner and we can talk about it.”

…is what he planned to say. But as he took a step towards her, she swerved to avoid him. She shot him a glance that could melt steel and snapped, “And you stay away from me, too, creep. If I ever see you around my work again, I’m calling the police.” She called the last part over her shoulder as she continued to storm away.

Dan stood next to Ryan, both in shock. They shared a moment of solidarity. Each of them had done their best to be the hero and get the girl, and it had blown up in their faces. It was almost as though Hollywood had it all wrong.

They looked at each other for a moment, standing on the edge of an epiphany. Time slowed down as their brains worked in sync, striving to solve the puzzle at last. At last, a light bulb lit up over each of their heads simultaneously. They gave each other conspiratorial smiles that said, confidently, Nah, she’s probably just a lesbian.


Epilogue

Jessica decided to walk home rather than taking the bus. She needed to release some steam and get some of the anger and frustration out of her system. It had happened again. How did this keep happening? She thinks she’s finally made a good friend, a decent guy who doesn’t treat women like trophies or sex toys, and he turns out to be another creepy weirdo. The whole time, Ryan had been trying to manipulate her into sleeping with him. Friend zoned. What a disgusting idea. How about creepy friend who thinks I owe him sex.

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NaNoWriMo: The Incredible Love Showdown (Part 2)

Fate and true love notwithstanding, Dan knew better than to enter the tournament without any training whatsoever. And so he spent the next two weeks making his own training montage, kicking the ball at an empty net, jogging around the pond in the park while listening to drum and bass music on his phone, and juggling the ball in his bedroom every evening (he got all the way up to 11 hits without dropping it one night).

Meanwhile, he was busy wearing Jessica down.

He winked at Jessica as he ordered his daily Frappuccino. She rolled her eyes at him and completed the order without making any further eye contact. Dan was on to her game, and that game was called Hard To Get. She was an expert player, and if Dan were a bit less savvy in the ways of feminine wiles, he might even have been persuaded that she was genuinely uninterested in him – but he knew better. He had done his homework, and he knew how the game was played. It was just a ploy, just a filtering mechanism to deter the ones who weren’t strong enough to endure.

He’d wear her down like Leonard wore down Penny on The Big Bang Theory. And he wasn’t even as big of a nerd as that character, so he had an advantage already.

He took his order and left her a big tip, for which he was rewarded with a curt “thank you, sir”, then took his time getting his change into his wallet and putting his wallet into his pocket and gathering up his cup. He had to time this perfectly. He knew Ryan’s schedule, and he knew Ryan’s habits. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched as Ryan approached from behind him. He was coming to say hello to Jessica and give her one of those stupid European-style cheek kisses, like he always did. Dan took a deep breath, then turned and walked straight into him.

His scalding hot Frappuccino was smashed open and splashed all down the front of Ryan’s shirt. He calculated his strike to send stupid handsome Ryan off-balance, and he tumbled to the floor in a sticky mess of caffeine and irritation.

As predicted, Jessica came running around the counter to help him up. “Oh my god, Ryan, are you okay?”

Ryan easily got back up and brushed the worst of the mess off his clothes with the napkins so thoughtfully provided by Jessica. “Yeah, I’m fine. It’s no big deal. These things happen.” Then he smiled at Dan.

He wasn’t upset or antagonistic at all. This was going to be more difficult than expected. Dan had to go off-script. “What the hell is your problem, man? You just ruined my Frappuccino. And you bumped my shoulder. That hurt. Why don’t you watch where the hell you’re going next time, idiot?”

Ryan, his honor insulted by a fellow man, immediately challenged Dan to a fight. Or at least, that was what he was supposed to do. In reality, he smiled placatingly and said, “you’re probably right. That was my bad. Here, I’ll buy you another drink.” Before Dan could gather his wits and think of a way to save the situation, Jessica was pressing another fresh Frappuccino into his hand and waving him out the door, while Ryan stayed to chat with his “friend”.

At least it wasn’t a complete disaster. He had established himself as kind of a jerk, providing the appropriate contrast to the good-hearted guy she would eventually discover had been inside all along. However, his rivalry with Ryan hadn’t been formally initiated yet. At the last moment, he remembered his goal. Striding back into the cafe, he roughly jabbed at Ryan, interrupting his conversation with his true love.

“You. Ryan. You’re a soccer player, right?”

“Dude, how do you know my name?”

“Never mind that. There’s a tournament next weekend and I want a rematch out there, on the field.”

“Rematch?” Crap. He’d forgotten to change the script.

“I mean, let’s settle this on the field.” He slammed down a flyer for the tournament on the counter. “What do you say? Are you in? Or are you chicken?”

The look on Ryan’s face told him he was on the right track. He was caught off guard. In fact, he almost looked frightened. So did Jessica.

“Uh… Well, yeah, I mean, I was planning on being in the tournament, so…”

“That’s what I thought. I’ll see you there, loser.”

He turned and strode back out the door without looking back. He was dying to see the looks on their faces, but that wouldn’t fit the script.

The next step was inviting Jessica to watch his team practice. When she saw how pathetic they were, they’d get sympathy points. Then it would be all the more impressive when, fueled by her love and support, he blew everyone away and won the whole game (and his lady’s heart) by himself.


“No, thanks.” Dan gripped his Frappuccino in surprise. He hadn’t planned for this.

“Really? We can change the practice times, if you have to work or something.” He tried to smile roguishly, but he wasn’t sure if he’d quite managed it.

It didn’t seem to matter, anyway: Jessica wasn’t looking. “No, that’s not necessary. Good luck.” She smiled pointedly at the next person in line behind him. “What can I get for you today?”

Dan stepped slightly to the side and stood where Ryan normally did when they stood around chatting. “Aw, come on, now. We could really use your support. I’m afraid my team isn’t very good, and we’re having some real problems with motivation.”

He was so focused on his sales pitch that he missed the exchange of looks in secret girl code between Jessica and her supervisor, who had been observing the conversation from the coffee grinder. Now she called out, “Hey, Jessica, sorry, but you can’t have personal visitors during your shift.” She looked at Dan. “Sorry, sir, but you’ll have to move along for now.”

That supervisor was his worst enemy sometimes, but he was staying positive. He had caught the important phrases there: during your shift and for now. He smiled understandingly at Jessica, who was flashing her supervisor a strangely relieved-looking glance. (Surely another manipulative trick.) “No problem. I understand. So when do you have your break?”

But Jessica was already ignoring him, taking the next customer’s order. He shrugged and headed for the door, but not before adding one final, “Remember, six thirty in the park! I’ll be watching for you!”


Jessica didn’t show up at practice that day. Dan kept glancing around, waiting for her to stroll into view, overcome with curiosity and a secret attraction to him that she just couldn’t resist anymore. He missed almost every pass and didn’t score a single goal during their scrimmage, but that wasn’t important. What was the point in doing well when she wasn’t there to see it?

Surely she’d come by another day. He just needed to keep at her. Pity was an acceptable route to his final destination. And so every day he stopped at Starbucks during her shift (he knew her schedule, of course) to brood and wait for her to ask what was wrong, so he could say it was nothing, and then, when she pressed him for more information, confess that his team wasn’t doing well and he didn’t think they’d make it without a little support.

She didn’t ask. And on the third day, when he walked in, Jessica’s supervisor took over the register and sent her in the back for something. On the fourth day, she was nowhere to be found. And the supervisor was entirely unhelpful.

The final practice came and went. So this was it. If she didn’t come to the tournament, he was screwed. She had to see his victory, or all his plans would come to nothing.


It was the morning of the big tournament, and Dan was very depressed. He’d left several flyers with Jessica’s supervisor, who promised to pass them along to her, but he wasn’t really convinced. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go at all. She was his soul mate, he was sure of it – by this point, she should be starting to realize what a great guy he was deep down inside, and starting to fall for him. At the very least, she should be moved by pity to come and see him and his awful team play. Instead, he was going to a tournament for a sport he didn’t care about with a group of idiots who couldn’t play, and for what?

Still, something miraculous could still happen. In fact, as soon as he thought of it, he realized that that was certainly the case. She was, right this moment, sitting at home, maybe lying in bed in some sexy pajamas or sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of hot coffee, wrestling with her conscience, slowly starting to realize that she really did want to see him play, to support him. After all, he’d done everything right, followed all the scripts perfectly. She loved those films, so this must be what she wanted. There was no other logical explanation.

Excitedly, he got dressed and grabbed his bag. He jogged onto the field in high spirits, a strong contrast to the lethargy of his teammates. He delivered a pep talk to rival the ones he’d seen in a few sports films (and even made sure to play inspiring music on his phone speaker while he talked), which was met with rolled eyes and a few yawns, and they took to the field.

His team was still garbage, but luckily for them, so were their opponents. Dan said a silent prayer to whatever gods had made soccer a popular game in every country but America, and when one of his teammates managed to score on a penalty kick, they won the first round of the tournament.

After a short break for orange slices and sports drinks and complaints about sore muscles and lost asthma inhalers before moving to the second field for the final match of the day (there being only four teams available for the tournament). It was his group of rag-tag underdogs versus Ryan and his well-trained army of soccer players. Dan risked a glance at the crowd – or, rather, line – of people on the sidelines. Lo and behold, there was Jessica, smiling and waving— at Ryan.

NaNoWriMo: The Incredible Love Showdown

Dan took a long, deep breath as he looked himself over in the full-length mirror. Valentine’s Day was on its way. There were only four weeks left to prepare, and he had a lot of big ideas. This was going to be the year he won Jessica’s heart. The time had come at long last. He was ready. She would finally be his.

He’d been studying hard, watching every romantic comedy she had listed on her Facebook page (and there were a lot of them) and memorizing the patterns. To be fair, it wasn’t the most complicated of formulas. All he had to do was meet her (check), fall in love with her from afar (check), spy on her online and by watching her through the window during her shift at Starbucks (check), ask her out (check), get rejected (check), and then do something to prove his love to her, at which point she would realize how she truly felt, recognize that fate had brought them together and he truly was worthy of her affections, and fall madly in love with him. Romance accomplished. Roll credits.

The trick was finding the correct way to prove his love. He couldn’t take something directly from one of the films – it had to be original. But not too original, obviously. so he’d made a list of examples to use as inspiration.

Mostly, it seemed to involve a combination of:

1. doing something incredibly stupid and/or inappropriate, then making a heartfelt apology and/or gesture of sincerity.

2. displaying his manly prowess by dominating other males in some variety of competition.

3. proving his loyalty and devotion by not giving up, no matter how many times she rejected him.

4. making a physical advance on her while she was “playing hard to get”, proving that he was manly enough for her.

Fortunately, he didn’t see any evidence of any men attempting to understand the woman’s point of view, listen to her problems, be sensitive and caring, look for common interests or compatible personalities, or taking a long, hard look at themselves and figuring out how to make themselves more likable and interesting. Well, there were certainly characters who did those things, but they never got the girl in the end. It was clear what women really wanted, and it was mostly Harrison Ford forcing themselves on them until they fell in love.

Easy peasy.

Of course, there was one other important element he hadn’t quite accounted for yet: a rival. Without a competing man vying for her affections, how would he prove how much better he was in comparison?

Dan’s reflection looked back at him meekly. Muscles? Not a whole lot. Body hair? Uneven. Chiseled jaw? Not even close. Rugged good looks? No. All he saw in front of him was a semi-flabby, awkward-looking dirty blond with a small head, an unkempt rust-colored goatee and, for some reason, coarse black chest hair. He couldn’t risk some sort of young Bruce Willis sauntering in and wooing his lady-to-be. He needed to up his odds. He needed to rig the deck. He needed control over the situation.

Instead, he had Ryan.

Ryan was his only competition for Jessica’s heart. He was aloof, crude, and stupid – three qualities that women seemed to go nuts for. Worse still, he was good at sports. He played soccer with a local group of guys every Monday evening, went mountain biking every weekend, and even liked to go skateboarding by the shopping center on sunny afternoons. And the cherry on top of the whole perfect package? He had no interest whatsoever in women.

He wasn’t gay, or at least he said he wasn’t gay. He just didn’t seem interested in dating or romance. He had never had a single girlfriend, which naturally made women want him more than anything else. He was a prize that no woman could ever win, and the worst possible rival for Jessica’s affections.

Somehow, Dan had to prove himself manlier than the alternative. He had four weeks to do it – and one chance to make it happen.

It took longer than he expected to round up enough friends to form a soccer team. Most of them (himself included) hadn’t played since they were 14, but that didn’t matter. All that was important was that he had enough bodies on the field to constitute a team; once they fell far enough behind to make it look hopeless, he would be scoring the winning goal and saving the day himself. He didn’t waste too much time figuring out how that would happen. After all, this was true love, and love always finds a way. The power of his love would give him the strength, skill, and talent to win the game, and Jessica’s heart.

NaNoWriMo: Relentless Ice Cream Armageddon (Part 3)

It was about noon on a Wednesday when the air raid sirens went off in Prague, which was unfortunate, because that was the precise time when the sirens were tested each week. It was nearly half an hour before people started to realize they had been going on a little too long, and tried to remember what they were supposed to do in a situation like this. There hadn’t been a war in a good long while. Who was trying to bomb them this time? Germany again? Russia? America? Or maybe it was Ukraine, or China, or Egypt. The streets were full of people sure they knew what was going on, and devoid of people who knew what they were actually supposed to do. Eventually, like proper Czechs, they formed lines, though hardly any of them could say what they were waiting in line for.

“It’s the Muslims,” remarked one shabbily-dressed young man with a shaved head and one or two missing teeth to the a young woman, perhaps a university student, just behind him in line. “I’ve been saying it for years. We need to ban them before they kill us all.”

The young woman, Sofie, who was, in fact, a university student, and also, as it turns out, a Muslim, stared at him, wide-eyed. “Is it possible you mean ISIS?”

The man just shrugged. “It’s the same thing. Everyone knows that. Islam is a violent religion. It’s obvious. They’re all terrorists. They teach their kids to blow themselves up and kill as many non-Muslims as possible so they can go to heaven.” He spoke as one does to an equal, confident that this young woman had the same understanding as he did, and was intelligent enough to see the truth. “You don’t see white people killing each other because they think God told them to.”

Sofie, who was white, did her best not to visibly cringe, not wanting to give her discomfort away. A man like this, in a tense situation like standing in a long line, could be very dangerous indeed. However, being a student, and still not completely disillusioned with the world, she made an attempt to bridge the gap of their respective background knowledge. “Actually,” she said in as non-threatening a tone as she could manage, “Christians have a long history of religious violence. Plenty of white serial killers throughout history have claimed that God told them to do what they did. And Muslims can be white, as well. So really, you can’t judge people based just on their skin color or religion. Anyway, the vast majority of Muslims are kind, peaceful people. It’s actually quite a nice religion. ISIS is about as representative of Islam as the American KKK is of Christianity. I really don’t think you need to worry too much.”

But the man had gone pale, and was no longer listening. “Muslims can be… white?” he asked, the terror visible on his face as his eyes darted around the crowd in obvious paranoia. He lowered his voice: “So they could be anywhere… How will we stop them?”

It was at that moment that a large glob of caramel swirl ice cream landed directly on the top of his head. He screamed and thrashed around, his fists balled up, ready to defend himself, and Sofie, who had recently been reading American news as part of a global politics class, silently thanked the government for their strict gun control laws.


The wave of religious fervor, denial, xenophobia, and paranoia slowly engulfed the world, which in many ways was hardly much of a difference from the way things had already been – only now, it was coated with ice cream. At first, there were news reports with death tolls due to suffocation, malnutrition, ketoacidosis, simple starvation, and violent injury due to conflict over food sources or, more commonly, ideological differences. Eventually, the news media gave up, or was cut off completely, and the world population’s fear and hatred was slowly buried under a silent, sticky mound of delicious ice cream. Was it a plague? An act of God? A cheeky prank by an alien race which was a little tired of seeing reality shows piped into space by satellite and had no regard for the myriad other life forms on the planet which were also being snuffed out? The few survivors each had a theory, but none had any real answers.

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NaNoWriMo: Relentless Ice Cream Armageddon (Part 2)

Sam pushed his way through the break room, past his coffee-drinking, gossiping co-workers, shimmied around the paper-jammed copier reeking of toner and the technician slamming his palm against it in frustration, narrowly dodged an intern carrying a stack of loose papers higher than her own head, and screeched to a halt just outside the editor-in-chief’s open door. He knocked on the frame with two knuckles and waited for her to look up from the copy she was working on.

“What is it, Sam? We’re slammed, here.”

Sam grinned. “I know we are, Heather, I know we are, but I’ve finally found it. I’ve been telling you for months, the bees are the next big story, and I’ve got it at last.” He waved the folder in his hands back and forth, simply oozing with excitement. “The melittologist I was talking to has completed his research project, and oh boy—”

“You can stop right there, Sam,” snapped the editor-in-chief. “For the last time, the bees are old news. There aren’t going to be any more bees pretty soon, anyway.”

Sam did his best to restrain himself from jumping up and down with excitement. He managed to keep it to a marked tightening of every muscle in his body. “But that exactly what I’m trying to say! Dr. Amestone has found that it’s not that the pesticides are killing the bees directly, it’s that—”

“And I already told you, shut up about the bees. Haven’t you been paying any attention to the projects I actually assigned?”

Sam’s enthusiasm vanished without a trace, replaced by a nervousness that had been hiding under the surface, trying to scream for his attention but being held back, hidden under a think layer of excitement. He felt the sudden need to swallow, but his throat was too dry. “Well, of course they’re next on my list, but—”

This time, Stephanie didn’t have to cut him off verbally. She simply shot him an icy glare, and slowly got up out of her chair. “There aren’t going to be any more bees, Sam, because there aren’t going to be any more anything. No more bees, no more ants, no more spiders, no more birds, no more bears, no more nothing.” The small, deceptively mousey-looking woman was taking slow steps across the room toward Sam, who was reminded of a middle school bully, also a good foot shorter than him, who used to dunk his glasses in the toilet and make him wear them to class dripping wet. He instinctively backed away, and fiddled with the right temple of his glasses.

“The bees aren’t going to be a problem, Sam, because there are no more farms, no more fields, no more crops, and no more food. The ice cream has covered everything.”

Sam was backed up against the wall now, looking almost straight down at his editor-in-chief. The smell of her cheap perfume stung his nostrils, and he wondered why she continued to wear it. Possibly no one had ever dared inform her that it didn’t suit her.

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