We’re welcoming a new cabalist to our ranks today, Jon Hansen, whose fiction has appeared in such venues as Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Realms of Fantasy, and A Field Guide to Surreal Botany, who starts out with something small but intriguing…

After the funeral you find the box in your father’s desk.  Gun-metal gray with rounded off corners, one long hinge holding on the lid, and a small dent in the front, as if it had been thrown across the room at something.  On top is a faded piece of paper, held on by yellowing cellophane tape, with the single word, ‘QUESTIONS,’ inscribed on it in neat handwriting.

You pick up the box.  It’s surprisingly heavy, but you can lift it.  The lid won’t open, but you think you can hear faint noises coming from inside it.  You hold it up to your ear and hear muffled voices: “Where were you last night?”  “Who is she?” “Don’t you still love me?”

You put it back in the desk.  What you really want is a box called ‘ANSWERS’.

Charley was on the verge of winning his 100th game of pig pong. It was a grueling sport, but he had made it his own by dint of countless hours of practice. He had sacrificed ice cream socials, Friday night dances, trips to the movie theatre, everything. All had been subsumed by his one life-consuming goal. And it had all been worth it. Now, with pig pong declared the newest Olympic Sport, he was perfectly positioned for a gold medal next year at the Pyongyang games. All the name calling, clod throwing, scum bunnies from Central High School would finally get their paybacks. Yes, they’d be sorry.

But now, it was time to focus. Randi had just backhanded a big hairy sow low across the center of the net. Squealing, the pig bounced in the near-right quadrant and spun towards the outside corner. *Wack* (“Eeeeeeeeeee”) Charley returned the hog, dropping it just on Randi’s side of the net in his patented pigspin return. No point. It was his serve.

“If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the smokehouse!” Charley laughed.

“Honey, I ain’t even rolled up my sleeves.”

Charley scowled, dropped the porker smartly for a good bounce, and slammed it towards the white line just below Randi’s navel. Yes, it took a big woman to play pig pong successfully, but there wasn’t an ounce of fat on her 6’1″ frame. She returned the swine to Charley’s left corner. Return. Right corner. Return. Left corner. Return. He began to sweat. This was a long volley for pig pong. Usually either the table or the suid gave out by now. Good thing they weren’t playing a boar. Right. Return. Left. Return. Right. Return. Sweat poured down Charley’s face. Randi was indeed a worthy opponent. He might just ask her out after the game. Left. Return. Right. Return. Left. Return. Right corner–and away. No point. Randi’s serve.

And so the game wore on, neither combatant yielding. Finally, the score was 20:18, Randi’s serve, game point. This was where he would do it. He would take the serve away one last time and crush her. She slammed the oinker down on the table and fired it straight for the right corner. Charley lunged and whacked the pig on the ham. He lurched back to position just in time to see the curly tail disappear over the other end of the table. He had lost. LOST! She must have cheated. Moved the table, something! He would NEVER ask her out now.

“Good game,” she said, grinning, “want to go for a root beer?”

*No farm animals were harmed in the writing of this story.

The end

Two years ago, Jay Lake generously supplied us with a first line for us to write short shorts to.  Through a bureaucratic glitch at the Daily Cabal offices, mine got sent 23.094688221709% of the way to Alpha Centauri, hit a mirror the Centaurians had set up, and has only just returned.  I suspect alien hands hands have tampered with it.  Check out the other Zoli stories. We’ve got a few clever reinterpretations.

Zoli liked to hang around psychiatrists’ waiting rooms to hit on the low self-esteem chicks.  That wasn’t exactly right.  Zoli would have liked to like that… if it worked out.  Also, his name wasn’t Zoli, but he’d heard that Zolis do exceedingly well at picking up chicks, so he had changed his name.

Zoli also liked golf magazines, kicking one’s feet up on the cool, beveled glass coffee tables.  The pages crackled and snapped satisfactorily with each flip.  The plush blue upholstery snuggled his back.  The faint floral perfume of a female in… say, females were why he was here.  He cast an eye about.  Mothers occupied children with blocks pushed through wire circles.  And back again.   So many to choose from.

The secretary called him over with a crooked finger.  “Can I help you?”

“I have an appointment.”


Sweat trickled down his forehead and wandered into the thicket of his brows.  “Zoli.”

The secretary glanced at him, then at her keyboard.  “First or last?”

Zoli stopped himself from saying neither.  “First.”



The secretary shook her head.  “Zoli Zoli?”

Zoli beamed.  “Yes!”

“You’re not on the schedule.”

“Can you pencil me in?”

“Sure.  Psychologists pencil in creeps–I mean, suicides all the time.”


The secretary called over her shoulder.  “Another Zoli suicide!”  Every male in the room turned as if he’d heard his name.  The secretary held out her palm to Zoli.  “Fifty-buck Zoli suicide fee.”

Zoli paid and was about to hit on a dowdy woman who looked particularly depressed when a stunning blonde asked him to step into her office–the kind of blonde you’d see on an Alfred Hitchcock movie.


Zoli wasn’t entirely sure what happened next.  He seemed to remember the psychologist slipping an Alka-seltzer into a champagne glass.  She wore a white coat, so he trusted her implicitly.  The rest was a blank.  His head was still fuzzy when she…

Choose your own adventure!

1. …slit his throat–and all of the Zolis yet to come. Women lived happily ever after.

2. …kissed Zoli.  They were two of a kind. They lived happily ever after.

3. …administered shocks and truth serum to find out that no one could date the low in self-esteem without owning that quality himself. They lived happily ever after.

4. …keeled over.  Everyone died.  A disease lethal only to humans wiped them out. Earth lived happily ever after without the constant mellow drama.

A homeless guy panhandling downstairs had told me this was where the old lady lived. The one eating all the livestock. The one who might be my missing grandmother. If this was her, and I thought it was, she needed help. I knocked again. Sometimes old people took a long time to get to the door. I was just finally turning away when the cover slid away from the peephole.

“Yeah?!” A voice roughened by hard use.

I had not decided what to say. “Um.” My mind was empty.

“Three seconds.”

“Ms. Johnson,” I said desperately, “I think I’m your grandson.”

Silence. Then the door swung open. There she stood, Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies. Instead of a corn cob pipe she had a can of Bud.

“No,” she said and moved to slam the door.

“I’m pretty sure. My mother was…”

“I believe you; don’t want to talk.” She bounced the door off the hand I put out to stop it.

“And I heard about the cow. I’m curious. How…”

She rolled her eyes and took a swig, stepping aside to give me room. As soon as I was in she slammed the door hard enough to shake dust off the knickknacks on the shelves, if there had been any. There weren’t. A battered wooden table with a couple of chairs was all the furniture in the front room. The only thing on the table was a 4-inch ceramic horse, which was, frankly, hideous. She set the beer can down beside it.

I cleared my throat.

“I don’t know how to say this, Grandma. I hear you’ve been eating animals. Raw, whole, live. Is this true?”

For a moment she just stared. My eyes flicked to the doorway as I measured my chances of escape. Then she laughed, a true belly laugh, improbably loud coming from her. It went on and on. Gradually she subsided. She wiped her eyes.

“Raw, sure. Whole? No. Live? No. I did eat a dead fly. The spider might have been in a coma. The rest of them were ceramic, and good riddance to the lot. The cat was pink, nuff said. The dog had Heartfelt-Moments eyes. The cow was an abomination. People make the most disgusting crap imaginable. I dispose of it.” She pointed at the center of the table.

“And tomorrow? Tomorrow I’m going to take care of that obnoxious horse. You watch me.”


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