Angela Slatter

Mason wanted to get the kids’ room finished, so, determined that the best thing to do was get some cute furniture, he carried me off to IKEA, hoping that that chair with the leaf hanging over it would be there, as well as a free table at the cafeteria so we could have meatballs and lingonberry juice.
We didn’t bring the kids, because we knew that then we would go way over budget on pillows shaped like hedgehogs, tiny lamps that changed colors, etc.—not because we can’t say no to our children, or because they might throw tantrums, because they don’t much—really!—but because Teresa, in particular, has a way of sitting down on a pillow shaped like a hedgehog that makes it impossible not to want to repeat such an experience of total adorabilosity in our own home.
It’s horrible, I know, but it could be so much worse.
Instead, I sat down on the pillow shaped like a hedgehog, Mason laughed (I love having a husband who laughs when I mean to be funny), and everything went dark.
I woke up in the manager’s office with Mason trying to revive me with lingonberry juice, the lights in his spiky hair flickering into focus. I said, “I’ve always thought that haircut was too metrosexual,” and almost went out again. He squeezed my hand.
“Thank goodness you’re all right,” said the manager. “We could give you the pillow,” she added to Mason. “I’m sorry. It’s just that it would be so bad for business if you came back.”
“Well excuse me, aren’t adults allowed to sit on hedgehog pillows?” I said, trying to sit up.
Mason squeezed my hand tighter and said, “Of course they are, monkey. The trouble is that they don’t usually start rolling their head and prophesying when they do it.”
“You don’t remember anything?”
“I must have arrived while you were in full swing,” said the manager kindly.
“Yes,” Mason told me, “you pretty much gave a full synopsis of the next decade.”
“It was the bit about our stocks that got to me, I admit,” said the manager. “Although it was nice to know who’s going to win the election.”
They gave us the pillow. I’m looking at it right now, trying to decide what to do next (we’ve already agreed not to let Teresa sit on it).

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In a house near the prairie town of Anntown there lived a small child who liked to pick raspberries from the plants growing around the house.
The family cultivated the fruits with wires and careful grooming and nets to keep the birds away. The child, still too small to do more than pull weeds from the soil when directed by an adult, spent some time each day wandering through the plants and plucking the fattest raspberries from the green branches. This was permitted, provided the child ate every one for lunch. But each day, the child took too many, and one of the adults took the rest for pudding and scolded the child, saying, “You should not be so greedy!”
The next day, the child had forgotten the words and again plucked too many fat, red berries to eat.
On one of these days, the child found a particularly large raspberry lying on the soil near one of the plants. This raspberry was so large that it covered over half of the child’s palm. Imagine how many sweet mouthfuls it would provide! Crying out in excitement, the child picked it up and examined it. No other raspberry had ever grown so large on the green branches!
Then the child saw another raspberry on the ground, equally large, and grabbed at it, imagining how delicious lunch would be.
But the child’s small fingers only splashed against water, over and over.
The second raspberry was a reflection, the child realised.
And while the child had fumbled in the water for a raspberry that didn’t exist, a bird had snatched the real one and flown away. If only the child had not been so greedy, lunch that day would have been more than four un-exceptional berries.

“Excuse me?” Tara said to the man at the door. The scholarship recipients’ dinner was a much more high-toned affair than she was used to, but she was pretty sure she wasn’t so working class that she wouldn’t know about something like an octopus requirement.

“Please present your octopus,” the man repeated, smiling. “Beige snowballs, transit applicants to the steaming room.” He looked at Tara. She looked back, giving him the same look she had given her boyfriend Chad when she’d found out all of her underwear was missing (which was another story–it turned out to be an innocent misunderstanding).

The man at the door glanced behind him at the laughing philanthropists, the small crowd circling the bickering poli sci professors, the grad students hunched over the buffet, cramming fingerfoods into napkins to tuck away in pocket or purse. His smile faltered.

“Olives center my modesty,” he said dismissively, waving her into the room. Tara didn’t budge. She noticed the man’s eyebrows were beginning to smoke, very faintly. His face took on a hugely pained, desperate look, and he turned to walk away, but Tara grabbed him by the arm.

“What are you in there?” she said. “You’re a leftover, aren’t you?”

“Pungently,” he pleaded, pulling away from her. She gripped his arm with both hands, certain now that some of the aliens had stayed behind in some kind of disguise. They couldn’t have simply come to earth, broadcast their messages, and left forever–especially when no one had even been able to figure out what their messages had said.

Inside the building a tray of dishes crashed, and she turned her head for a split second, distracted by the accident. Her quarry took that moment to jerk away from her with all his strength, though Tara held onto the arm with a death grip. There was a snapping sound as the arm broke loose. By the time she looked back, the “man” had sprinted away at unbelievable speed across the lawn of Founders Hall. The armhole of his “human” torso where the arm had torn away revealed just a glimpse of a much smaller, green arm inside. He vaulted a hedge and was gone.

“Tara Gonyea?” someone called from inside. It was growing dark, she realized, and she wasn’t visible to anyone in the warmly-lit hall. She hesitated, then tucked the arm out of sight behind a row of rosebushes. That night, she would hide somewhere nearby and see if the man came back to look.

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