The Gift of the Magi II

To: The Henry family

From: Mr. and Mrs. Emutape

Dear O:

A Merry Christmas to one and all! We hope your holiday season has been as jolly as ours; and I’m about to tell you exactly what I mean by that.

We read your story, The Gift of the Magi, and we said to each other, “What a touching and heartwarming story.” We loved the comic irony when Mrs. Young sells her hair to buy Mr. Young an accessory for his watch, not knowing that he has sold his watch to buy fancy accessories for her hair. They end up destitute with a bunch of useless garbage, but their sacrifice has brought them closer together.

Well, it might interest you to know that we had our own Magi experience for Christmas this year. I wanted Mrs. Emutape to have a new enamel glaze for her dentures, so I sold my wooden leg to pay for it. And wouldn’t you know it: the next night she walked in and handed me a replacement knee for my wooden leg. “I fought you needed vis new knee more van I needed teef,” she said. “So I sold my teef to buy it.”

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Pluck Packard Saves the Pacific

The bombing run was going poorly for Lieutenant Pluck Packard.

His B-17 bomber was on a critical mission to destroy a Japanese munitions factory on an island near Korea, but nothing was going right.

He hadn’t realized that the navigation system had failed. “Bearing 5, bearing 5, bearing 5,” another bomber in the squadron had communicated, using the coded signal that told him he was leading the group badly off course. Breaking radio silence was a terrible risk, but he was glad they had done so; otherwise he wouldn’t have realized that anything was wrong. Whether the compass had malfunctioned, or atmospheric conditions were interfering with his navigation, he couldn’t tell. But he was lost, uncertain of what direction he needed to lead his squadron.

Lieutenant Packard sat and fretted indecisively, nervously running his fingers around the collar of his leather bomber jacket; then a series of events began that he had no power to explain. To his astonishment, he found a piece of paper pinned beneath his collar. He pulled it out and found a handwritten note. It said: “Look under your seat, and put what you find on the panel.”

Pluck took his eyes off the horizon and read the note again, unable to believe it. It was in his own handwriting! It was written on personalized stationery that his wife had given him for his letters home. He kept that paper locked in his personal strongbox. No one else had access to it, and he doubted that anyone could forge his handwriting so flawlessly — but he hadn’t written the note!

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The Excruciating Pain of Christmas Music, Scientifically Measured

If you’ve visited this blog during the holidays, you know my feelings about Christmas music. It’s my tradition to unleash a primal, Munchian scream against the unbearable, tinny, maudlin, manipulative, manufactured dreck that the Sentimental-Industrial Complex annually sees fit to inflict on us. But this time, science is here to help us.

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How Not to Attend a Writers’ Group, Part 2

Editing on my novel has been proceeding more slowly than I’d like, so to motivate myself I returned to my writers’ group for a critique night. To get myself back in the spirit of things, I submitted “Misconquest,” a short story that you’ve seen on this site.

It was a good way to remember why I stopped going to critique nights.

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What we’ve lost

On the morning of November 9, when the votes were counted and we all knew that Donald Trump would become our next president, I put the following statement on social media:

Well, folks, it’s been a nice republic.

It got a positive response from friends on the left and the right. They all sensed that something very important had been lost, though it was hard to pinpoint what. But those who find profit in that loss are leaving no end of clues, and it’s our job to read those clues.

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Deus Ex Machina

Lightning struck, very close, and violent thunder shook the home of Harold Meltzer in Lower Hambat, Illinois. Sitting on his front porch, staring out, Harold did not react. There was nothing he could do. The storm had been raging for days. The river, already swollen by upstream snowmelt, would crest soon, and overwhelm the levee. That barrier, built to be so mighty, was now exposed as feeble against the wrath of nature. Once it failed, nothing could save the town.

Lower Hambat’s calls for help had gone unanswered. Emergency services were already deployed to the fullest at other locations along the river. Harold thought about his family home, and talons of despair constricted around his heart.

Harold’s neighbors also sat on their porches, looking out, watching the rising waters that measured the exact height of human futility. There was nothing to be done.

Then, something moved.

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The Lost Legend of Rocrates

[Editor’s note: Archaeologists have recently uncovered a new account of this Greek myth, written from a different perspective. As it turns out, the Greeks may have been a little less worshipful of their gods than we had thought. Here’s my translation.]

Once upon a time in ancient Greece there was a clever philosopher named Rocrates, who just happened to be a large boulder. Rocrates lived under a tree in the forest. A family of foxes lived in a burrow underneath him, and their kits played on top of him, and their activities kept him clean. Rocrates laid there for years, happily doing nothing except for thinking up Rocratic dialogues that made the citizens of Athens look dumb.

But nothing lasts forever. The weather changed, and conditions became rainy and moist, and it stayed that way for a long time. The foxes moved out in search of a drier home, and Rocrates noticed that he was getting covered with moss. He felt lonely and wet and itchy, and he didn’t like it one bit. But Rocrates was also very lazy and didn’t feel like cleaning himself.

Rocrates pondered: “Sure, I could flop around until I’ve scrubbed this moss off of me. But I hate doing things for myself. What if I could get somebody else to do it for me?”

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