“Ooooh prettty,” the leprechaun sighed. The garden gnome hushed him
and reasserted his grip on the leprechaun’s arm. The bar was noisy,
there was a chance Pandora hadn’t heard but if the other one kept this
up someone was bound to notice.

The tie of invisibility was knotted around both their necks. As long
as they stayed bound together nobody could see them. Albert felt like
the smart sibling of a pair of Siamese twins, being dragged around by the
leprechaun. It had been the leprechaun’s idea to come to the bar to
stare up girls’ minis and the gnome had agreed thanks to a few glasses
of whisky. Besides, there had to be some advantage to being a
foot tall.

Albert was terrified of being caught. It wasn’t like him to go off on
some undignified panty quest and the leprechaun gave new meaning to
the term ADHD. Disaster was imminent and the gnome wished he were
outta here, preferably with his reputation intact.

“Preeety.” The leprechaun looked blatantly up Pandora’s legs. The girl
took a step back and stared at the floor in their general direction.

For a second, Albert wondered whether she could see them, but her
pupils scanned the space in front of them without focusing and the
gnome relaxed.

Pandora’s confused look turned into a smile that made the gnome feel
like ice-cubes clinking down his back. She opened her purse and
extracted a pearl, twirled it around her fingers and tossed it on the

The leprechaun gasped and the pearl erupted into a lily, which
blossomed and morphed into a white rose.

“Oh!” The leprechaun shouted and leaped off, yanking the tie away from
Albert and leaving him exposed.

“Sorry Miss.” The gnome blushed, tipped his red cap at her and ran.

Three blocks away, he turned around to look. All that was left of the
bar was a mushroom cloud, red with white dots on the top, a typical
Amanita. From where he was, he could still hear Pandora’s mad cackle.

Merlin walked across the ocean on a line of sea turtles stretched like garden stepping stones all the way from Atlantis to Mu. Under the shadeless sun, he cut a somewhat twee figure — beard to his knees, purple robes, pointy shoes, bell-fringed bowler, and in either hand, a parasol.

The water was clear enough he could see all the way down to the bones of sunken cities even he didn’t remember the names of. The clarity was a sign of trouble, and a reminder of why he was out here: the leviathans. They’d scoured the seas of anything they could fit down their maelstrom-wide gullets, from plankton to the 30-foot megasharks.

Merlin hopped from shell to shell, sweated in his robes, and tried not to scratch the sunburn peeling from his nose. He didn’t have to wait long before he noticed turtles swimming by, fleeing. He turned, and the leviathans rose to meet him.

Taller than mountains, they became the sky. Spray and spill-water came down in torrents. One of the vast beasts bent to devour the wizard. Its breath stank of tide pools stranded too long under the sun, of whole schools of beached fish.

Merlin held a parasol out like a sword.

“I have my affectations,” he said, “but they’re useful affectations.”

Just as the monster’s jaws encircled him, its lips and teeth becoming the wizard’s horizon, he thumbed a button and the parasol popped open. It stretched as wide as the leviathan’s mouth, its tines rooting in the distant gum-line. The creature reared back and shook its immense head, but the parasol head fast.

“You can eat whatever you can suck through that,” said Merlin.

The second leviathan narrowed its mouth and charged.

Merlin gathered his robes and sprinted along the line of bobbing turtles. He threw the remaining umbrella at the vast flesh wall of the leviathan’s head.

The parasol unfurled, its supports melting to tentacles that scored the leviathan’s hide with tooth-ringed suckers and gripped it fast.

“You’ll never know rest again,” said Merlin.

The leviathan howled through a dozen octaves and dove, still embraced by the parasol squid.

Merlin sat down on turtle-back.

He rapped on the shell. “Change of course,” he said. “Babylon, please, but take your time. We have a few centuries.”

Aurora started off an ordinary kid, made out of complex strands of DNA and often bored in class.  She passed chain letters during fifth-grade math.  In fact she hated math up until seventh grade, when she worked out that she needed it in all the science classes she loved so much.  So, cautiously, and prepared to flee at the slightest sign of x, she began to make the matter of numbers and the numbers of matter her own.

This is probably why she graduated summa cum laude. In a quiet moment after the loud honors and before the family lunch, she stood looking back across the grassy quad she had crossed so many times on the way to class.  While she tried to get the pebble in her shoe to tip ahead of her toes so she wouldn’t have to take the damn thing off and shake it, she noticed the grass rippling and flattening.

“Perfect timing,” said an Englishman beside her.  She hadn’t noticed him coming up.  She didn’t answer, instead watching the elegant keyhole pattern laying itself out on the lawn.

“Crop circles,” he said.  “I think they just do it to get my attention, nowadays.  It’s what I study, you see.”

He handed her his card: Gerard Manley, Crop Circle Institute, Cambridge.

She forgot all about the pebble and only remembered lunch just in time.

She thought about that first crop circle often while examining rearranged Triticum aestivum and artistically interrupted snowdrifts all over the world.  The circles began to follow her as well.  Not until she returned to a theory involving her old archenemy x, however, did she make a serious breakthrough.  She made her peace with the elusive variable and it lead her to a mathematical analysis of the patterns, laying bare at last their wonderful language.  For they did speak, in an alien poetry that she could finally read as easily as DNA:

May your oceans always be jewels

May your air always be sweet

May your species someday leap from planet to planet

like light leaps from eye to eye

If you can read this, forward it to two interplanetary species in three millennia for good luck!

…Which made her laugh, at the nature of living things, which were never content with the genetic chain letter they sent into the universe each and every moment; they needed to pass notes as well.

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.

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