I keep a diary in my head.

I got a letter from my mother today. It’s sans cerif, so it’s either lower-case “l” or capital “I”. I think it is an l. Mom writes every week. Soon I’ll be able to make a whole sentence. Alas, I’m really low on punctuation, and have not a single period, so I can produce nothing declarative. Still, there are many things I want to know, so I think I’ll ask a question.

Today I got a space. Ha ha, that’s what I say when I really got nothing. Always look on the bright side, Dad said. I’m envious. He could afford semicolons! How many can actually use a semicolon? Yet he’ll give me nothing, nothing at all. I have to “make my own way.”

I took a walk in the park. I saw that girl! Yes, the one I’ve mentioned. She is harmonious of form, she walks in grace, and her smile would melt the hardest stone. She sat on a bench by the duck pond, and I walked as slowly as I dared. I was in heaven! To cap off a perfect day, by the path, half-hidden by dead leaves, I found a period. Now all I lack is “I v ou”. I can trade my question mark for at least one of those, I’m sure.

Today: disaster! I got home early, hoping for something from my mother. The box was empty. Upstairs, my apartment door was unlatched. I pushed it open, slipped inside. Nothing in the front room seemed disturbed, but when I got to my bedroom I found the floor awash with papers, clothing, and all the rest of my stuff. The mattress was askew and the letters and punctuation were missing. Nothing else had been taken.

I spent so long saving. If I start anew it will take forever! Even if I don’t get robbed again.

I went back to the park, sat on my favorite bench. (The one by the duck pond.) I sat, staring at nothing. When someone sat beside me I was taken by surprise. It was she, staring at me with her dark eyes and bewitching brows. She held out her hand. On it: a question mark.

I nodded. It didn’t matter that I had no words.

Two years ago, Jay Lake generously supplied us with a first line for us to write short shorts to.  Mine somehow got sent to Alpha Centauri and has only just arrived.  Check out the other Zoli stories on the category link. 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 lacking 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.


Business has been good.  We shook down three owners yesterday for five grand apiece, and that was a slow day.  We raised last week’s earnings to almost a hundred thou, which doesn’t even include the human-vs.-alien boxing match where I had my fellow alien throw the match for an even mil.  Before I met you, your henchmen had all but abandoned you and left you out to dry.  Now you’re the biggest Mafioso don in the City.  Word’s out that all the bosses are looking for their own “ratters” as they call us aliens.  Isn’t it time to pay me what I’m worth as it’d be awful to bump into Guido again who said he will?

No human can match me in the henchman department.  Each paw–four–comes equipped with five blades.  Do you remember our battle with Guido’s East-siders where I’d single-handedly taken out 74% of his henchmen before your human boys would even step out of their cowardice and cover to take aim?  How about the time at Starbucks where Guido sent a courier to deliver a bomb, which my keen hearing and smelling picked up and my tail sent hurtling out the door in the nick of time?

Not only am I superior in ability, but I get paid in cheese–far less than my colleagues of similar rank (although they are often more rank than I–where did you find these guys? dumpster dving?).  Moreover, all you ever serve is a wheel of sharp cheddar.  Imagine eating only and always hamburgers at every meal.  Where’s the Gouda, the Swiss, the Limburger, and Blue?  And why only one wheel of cheese per meal?  Yeah, I’ll grow, but I’m often famished after a hard day of torturing shop owners, and adding to my size should only add to your stature as the Mafioso to be reckoned with.

Finally, you haven’t a henchman whom you can trust more than me.  All the henchmen you have now once abandoned you for Guido and returned with their tails between their legs when you covered more territory than he.  Besides, I have no intention of taking over your business, at this time.  At least, I’d wait until you were dead before taking over.

So how about that raise?  Hold on a sec.  Guido’s on call waiting.

Beyond the city lay fields of grain watered by irrigation tunnels from under the mountain. Between the fields and the herdsmen’s savannah stood a line of towers, roosts for owls who kept the fields clear of mice. Tower-keepers patrolled with slings, killing any snake that might climb up to raid eggs from the nests.

A boy named Saan was one of the few not born into the role–his mother and grandmother arranged the job, hoping he might be the first male in five generations of their family not to be devoured by lions while tending the herds.

One evening, as he walked the path between towers, he saw an owl disappear down a dry irrigation tunnel, an astrolabe in its talons and he ran after it, thinking that whatever magus had lost the instrument would pay a good reward for its return.

Down he ran and down, not realizing how far he’d gone until the dog-headed guardians challenged him with riddles. Saan had heard enough stories to know that the first answer was always “death;” the second, “fear;” the last, “hope.” As he answered the final riddle, a cart drawn by dozens of fennec foxes drew up. He climbed on, and they rolled away into the darkness.

The cave went on, a moonless, starless midnight desert of salt dunes. The only light was an occasional ruby glow deep under the salt-sand, by which Saan could see his fellow-travelers–a pair of elderly troglodyte women, a baboon in a filigree robe, and a scorpion-man with translucent carapace skin and sting-tipped fingers. They rode for hours, and Saan’s stomach rumbled with hunger even though the baboon had shared some dates and the scorpion-man had passed around a bowl of candied scarabs.

The cave narrowed to a tunnel which brought them to the shore of a silent, faintly luminescent sea, along which stood a line of towers like those he’d left above.

“We have arrived,” said the scorpion-man, and the others nodded.

“Where?” said Saan.

“The place of your training,” said the baboon.

“Of your testing,” said the troglodyte women in unison.

Saan saw that the fennec-drawn cart stood near the passage back to the salt desert.

“Can’t I just go home?” said Saan.

“Anytime,” said the scorpion-man.

Then Saan saw that the entrance to the cave passage was carved like the mouth of an immense lion.

“I guess I’ll stay,” he said.

Archive for the ‘Jeremiah Tolbert’ Category

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Monday, September 19th, 2022

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Wednesday, September 30th, 2020

Mar 21
Jason L

Grand Finale






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