Deal 43: Not his master’s voice after all


Oh, sorry, I’ll try again in a language you might understand…


As you might have noticed, I’m not human. But I’ve lived all my life among you humans. I live in an interesting time.

When I was a young pup, a gentleman adopted me and gave me a fine place to stay in exchange for slipper and newspaper retrieval and the occasional chased rat. I also chased a few cats and squirrels on my own to make sure I was providing good service.

My gentleman had an interest in several arts. He was an avid photographer. And he dabbled with the latest in technologies, most of which were simply not interesting to a young dog. But there was one thing, which I will have to speak of later.

But first, speech. You’ve probably noticed by now that I can speak in a way that you can understand. Surely that is something of a novelty even though you are sitting there dutifully taking notes and haven’t expressed even a smidgen of surprise?

No? Well then.

We’ll never be sure how it came about, as my memory of events is clouded by age, and perhaps by not having spoken until it happened. I was still young then, but certainly no longer a pup. My gentleman had a visitor who I do recall vetting very carefully at the door before allowing in to our flat. However, I cannot recall that much about him. I don’t believe I ever knew his name.

Right, names. I’m a forgetful old dog. My name is Nipper, I am a Rat Terrier (or at least mostly a Terrier). And I knew yours once, but it has slipped from my mind, and certainly isn’t important right now.

So, no I don’t remember the visitor’s name, but his magnificent moustache does stand out in my memory. Large and shiny it was, extending well past his cheeks and brought out to points. Unusual for the styles of the day I think.

He and my gentleman—

Oh, his name?

Let me think.

Yes. I’m sure I can recall, it was short and hard for a dog to pronounce correctly. “Mark”, I believe.

Now where was I?

Surname? “Barraud” I believe. Yes, French. I was actually owned by two gentlemen named Barraud, as after my original Mark passed away, I made my home for a time with his brother.

So I allowed the nameless visitor into our home. He and my gentleman spent most of the afternoon closeted up together discussing some project or another. This was usually my cue to find a sunny spot and enjoy a nap, and this time was no exception.

Until I awakened with a start, and with much more clarity of mind. And I spoke. My gentleman was nearly as startled as I was, and wasted no time applying one of his latest acquisitions to make a recording of the event. A recording I listened to many times in my later years.

But I may have said too much. Certainly, I’ve said enough for today, and I can see the sun warming my favorite chair, so I will bid you Adieu and not delay my nap any longer.

Deal 42: Change is good

The one constant he faced was change. Everything he knows is changing, and has been changing continuously. Today his car is red. Yesterday it was blue. Tomorrow, it might be green. He’s learned not to be too fussed about it, or the fact that no one else seems to notice.

He used to ask why his mother why his blankie was green today when it had been blue before, or his favorite stuffed toy was a frog today but had been a dog the day before. His parents just took him for counselling and vision tests.

He’d seen every kind of visual and cognitive therapist more than once by the time he reached puberty, all with no concrete diagnoses. Worst was when the doctor was different from visit to visit. He learned quickly that asking Dr. Smith why they weren’t a lady today when they were yesterday was not going to earn him any sympathy.

In short, he learned to not mention it to others, and to deal quietly with the occasional change that impacted more than just unimportant appearances. For example, since his car keys usually changed with the car he could always find his current car in the parking lot by watching the spots near where he had left it when clicking its remote.

He also noticed that the more concrete or solid an object was, the less likely it was to change. Major landmarks almost never changed on him. His house mostly stayed on the same street, but did occasionally change trim color. His cars usually stayed the same size and general type even if their pant jobs varied from week to week. And his parents had only changed a few times although their wardrobes, taste in music, and most annoyingly taste in food changed wildly from day-to-day. Of course one of those rare changes had his mother and father swapping genders. He really had to work to not mention that one out loud.

One day an unexpected change in his job (about a once a year occurrence) had him working with fine gemstones. He noticed that the finer the stone, the longer that even the tiniest details remained constant. Even when he couldn’t count on having the same boss after lunch as he’d had before, the diamond in front of him retained exactly the same minor flaws and inclusions over the course of several days.

He thought about that carefully. He wondered if he could maybe nudge some lower quality stones into becoming diamonds if he set up the circumstances. So he set out to try an experiment.

He took a bowl full of jelly beans. Or rocks. Or rock salt. Or rock candy. Or gummy bears. and had his friends each take a few of the hard candies and drop them into a velvet bag. He shook the bag, and let each reach in to the bag and remove one or two of what they found, keeping it concealed until all had made a selection.

Against all odds, each one held a large nearly flawless diamond in the palm.

The Basic Three Card Deal

Shuffle both decks of the oracle together, mixing the cards well. This technique will treat the abstract and concrete distinction as little more than a hint.

Cut the deck if desired, then deal three cards to the table, face up in a row. The three cards will stand for the most basic structure of a story: a beginning, middle, and end.


Consider the first card as indicating something about the beginning. This is where the story arc starts, or the foundation on which it rests. Consider whether the card represents something immediate about the beginning, or something further in the past. In the spread above, “puzzle” could represent a context of puzzles in general, or a specific puzzle, or simply that the story as a whole is to be a puzzle. In the spread below, the “deer” could be the one that got away, or the source of that fine venison steak you had for dinner.


Consider the second card as indicating something about the middle. This is the essential conflict, confrontation, achievement, or perhaps mood of the story. In the spread above, “rat” could be the varmint in the grain that needs to be killed. In the spread below, “purity” could be the theme of the story that makes the obvious solution harder.


Consider the third card as indicating something about the end. This is the goal of the story, the place, thing or mood you are trying to reach. In the spread above, “hope” could indicate that the story wants to end on a hopeful or uplifting tone. In the spread below, “possession” could mean that the story ends with the inevitable possession of a character by a vengeful spirit, or it could mean that the story ends with possession of the desired object.


The only real difference between the abstract and the concrete for this deal is that abstract cards are more likely to set a mood than to figure literally in the plot. As always, don’t take the illustrations on the cards as particularly more (or less) important than the words. Just because “possession” is illustrated as a possessed child hovering over a bed, that doesn’t have to mean that the card can only represent possession by an evil spirit.

Of course the only real rule is that there are no rules. As long as laying out the cards and considering their relationships provides inspiration, they have done their job.

Deal 41: Peace doll

“He’s always watching, you know.”

I’ve been waiting a long time for this. Waiting and watching. Silent watcher, mute, tongueless even. My partner, however, is not silent.

“Really, he is watching.”

There he goes again, trying to terrify a new mark. Yes, I am watching. I see all. I see you, and I know you have trouble believing what you are hearing. For outwardly, I appear so benign. In the mundane world, I stand about three inches tall, am made of straw, and my eyes are painted on. I don’t speak because my maker didn’t bother to even paint me a mouth. It is probably just as well.

We’ve stepped out from the shadows into this place. New to him, but already familiar to me. We’ve stepped here because we are needed. He doesn’t know who needs us yet. That will become clear with time, but while waiting he’s selected a mark.

I haven’t told him that his instincts led him to exactly the right person. If all goes well, I won’t need to ever tell him. At this point he’s getting pretty good at the game, and may even know himself.

“My friend here is watching. He sees everything, knows everything, tells almost nothing. Go ahead. Ask him anything. Anything at all.”

Ah, so we are doing the fortune-teller routine. OK, that will work for this as well as anything.

“Love? Certainly. Let us consult.”

I stand up on his palm to better look into her eyes. For some reason, she squeals like a little girl. Oh. She is a little girl, and I’m looking down at her now. I settle back down, and let my companion do his job.

“Yes, you will find love but not until you are ready to recognize it, for it may not appear at first in the form you expect. I see a stranger, new to town. I see a local, familiar to the point of invisibility. I see—

“No, that I cannot describe. Let me begin anew. You will find love when you are ready for it to find you. Keep your heart and mind open, for love is likely to reach out to you from an unexpected direction.”

All good advice, if a touch generic. Our mark looks twelve at best, so perhaps generic advice is the best kind to give. I mean, telling a twelve-year-old the exact date and manner of her major life milestones yet to be usually doesn’t end well for anyone.

Luckily, she seems happy with the generalities, so we get to fade back and let her have peace for the time left to her. Which, after all, is the greatest gift we can give.

We fade back into the shadows, and I turn my attention to finding the next point where our help might be useful.

Deal 40: Interview with a rat

DEER: “I’m glad for the visit. Sure, I’ll talk for your rat-cast.”

RAT: “Why and how did you come here?”

D: “I didn’t really. I was born here, as were most of us. But we hear rumors and stories about the old country from the occasional visitor. Then after a few weeks, they run out of stories and clam up. So I’m here now, but I do wonder if I’d like it there.”

R: “Have you tried to visit?”

D: “No, visits are difficult. The keepers, you know. They are not keen on letting us wander very far.”

R: “My clan comes and goes as we wish.”

D: “Yes, but you are smaller, faster, and know the back ways better than any keeper. You’re here in my pen now, right?”

R: “We’re wandering off topic. ”

D: “Besides, we are comfortable here. Predators are kept separately, food is readily available, and we have enough room to run from time to time. From all we here, this really is an excellent zoo.”

Deal 39: A knight on the hill

Sir W____ was clearly out of his depth. He was also out of place, and possibly out of time. His last clear memory was of the melee. He had completed at one pass, but had missed his chosen opponent when his mount stumbled and threw him. He saw sky, briefly. Then ground. Then nothing.

He opened his eyes, but all he could see for the moment was the inside of his helm. It was dark, but with the kinds of pinpoints and glimmers that hinted that there was a brightly lit world on the other side of it.

Only moments before, or at least it had seemed only moments, he had been in the midst of a large melee. Now, all was silent. Save for the birds chirping in the distant tree tops, and strange rumbling noises closer to, that is.

He struggled to rise, but it seemed that his armor had rusted in the few moments his eyes were shut. Its joints were stiff, leather straps cracked, and even his usually well maintained mail was stiff and corroded.

With some effort, he managed to remove his helm and look around. He was near the top of a low hill, laying in grass. The sky was blue above, and the hill surrounded by forest. There was no sign in any direction of was a melee, a fight, or even any of his companions. At first glance, he was utterly alone. Not even his horse was to hand, or even remotely in sight.

He stood, and surveyed the setting. He was standing atop a hill he’d swear he’d never seen before, at the center of a perfect circle of standing stones, at the center of a perfectly circular clearing. Even the trees at the edge stood in a perfect circle, evenly spaced.

Aside from himself, the only other thing that looked the least bit out of place was a metal box with some sort of clear walls that was about the size of an outhouse. It was standing upright, with an open door in place of one of its walls, and a funny black box hanging on the wall next to the door.

As he noticed this, a bell began to ring inside the box.

He stood for a few minutes staring around. At the stones. The hill. The forest. And the strange box that seemed to be trying to call to him with the ringing bell. Ringing.

It paused.


He walked over to the box and stepped inside. The ringing was louder. There was a handle on the front of the black box, that lifted off when he grasped it.

The ringing stopped.

In the sudden silence he could just hear a tinny voice coming from the handle. He held it to his ear.

The handle was speaking. He was so startled that he yanked it away and looked around again before he managed to hear anything it had said.

He picked it back up and listened again.

“—orry for the inconvenience. Please be patient as we reset the scene and return you to your regularly scheduled programming. (Music played for a minute or two.) This is a recording. (More music.) The department of reality adjustment is sorry for the inconvenience. Please be patient as we reset the scene and return you to your reg—”

Suddenly he was drowning in the noise of the melee around him. He smiled, got his bearings, clapped his helm back on his head and set out to turn the battle for his companions.

Deal 37: Puzzled, poisoned, pfft.

It was a curious sort of poison. It was seems to spread mind to mind, often requiring only the smallest of exposures. In one concrete instance known to me, the exposure was only to a crossword puzzle suspected to have been edited by someone exposed but not yet visibly afflicted, where the known victim was one of the few to solve the whole thing.

He solved it. Put down his pen. (Yes, he was one of those people who would solve the daily puzzle in pen at a steady pace without stopping until the grid was full.) Stood up. Reached for a magazine, and simply vanished.

This time there were eye witnesses.

For the previous victims, all we have is circumstantial evidence that they ever existed, and the hole they left where their regular lives had been. Newspapers piling up on the doorstep. Mail unclaimed. Packages refused. Milk box full, and recent deliveries unpaid. In short, nothing but a puzzle where there had been a person.

But this time I witnessed it myself.

Not that I was particularly planning to witness a disappearance, mind you. I was just watching the slightly irritating spectacle of the hardest daily crossword puzzle in the world being filled out at a stead rate of two answers per minute. (I timed him after noticing his pace seemed steady. He kept it up within a few percent for more than 30 clues.)

Then he stood up without comment and reached for the magazine rack, selected the recent issue of Time or Life thumbed through it idly and vanished.



From where I sat, it really looked like the puzzle had poisoned him and he vanished after Life.

Deal 36: Fishy Dinner

The recipe seemed so simple.

One wild-caught salmon. A little thyme, dill, onion, lemon, and butter. A redwood plank soaked for precisely three days in red wine. And a hot grill. What could possibly go wrong?

Not a question one should ask, it turns out…

First of all, I was out of thyme. That didn’t seem like much of a problem, a little thyme goes a long ways, and tarragon is similar enough. Of course, I was out of tarragon too, but there was a sprig of rosemary handy. Rosemary and dill should go well enough together.

The salmon also proved challenging. It wasn’t wild, it was farm raised. And it was no longer in my kitchen. All I could find was a salmon-sized hole, and a distinct absence of cat. But there was a piece of mackerel.

So I checked on my redwood shingle. I hadn’t had a bottle of a decent vintage, so I had made due with a stale bottle of vinegar and a left-over box of generic “rose”. From the looks of things, I had also slipped a day, and the shingle had soaked for about four days when I finally fired up the grill.

The mackerel went on the hastily blotted plank, along with all the herbs and a generous squeeze of blood orange. (Nope, no lemons on hand either. What had I been thinking?) The whole thing then went on the grill, and I closed the lid.

As I stepped back, there was a loud foomf, the lid flew back, and the fish leaped up off its plank as if it were possessed, threatening me with the blank which was now on fire.

At that point I cut my losses and ran. A hamburger was suddenly sounding much more tempting.

Deal 35: Sonnet for CPH

I must be committed in all my acts and words for the cause
Only from true and pure commitment does all good rightly flow
As from the sunset’s home the calm and soothing winds only blow
I must be committed in all my acts and words for the cause.

I must be pure in my thoughts actions desires and all my dreams
Purity of thought drives quality of action and outcomes
As the moon’s pallid rays illuminate the woodland creatures’ homes
I must be pure in my thoughts actions desires and all my dreams.

I must be hopeful for all the best of things to come to pass
As the much-needed rain nourishes the crops and wildflowers
And as the inevitable mud slides put out the wildfires
I must be hopeful for all the best of things to come to pass.

Virtuous three-fold path: commitment purity hopefulness
I will not stray far from commitment purity hopefulness