The Littlest Cave


We have always lived in the cave, for many generations. Our life here stretches back as the Cave itself is deep. No one has ever explored it to its very end. No one knows if that is even possible. My ancestors sought shelter here, escaping the Great Dark that lives just outside. No one knows what the Great Dark is, just that it was so immeasurably frightening that now, even to look outside the Cave, is certain death.

Throughout my lifetime, no one has ever left the Cave. No one dares, not with the Great Dark. A huge wall at the cave’s opening protects us from it. All we see are shadows on the wall at the end of the first room in the Cave, and all we hear are the thunderous roars. It never leaves. It sits waiting, patiently, for anyone foolish enough to venture without.

There is a story of someone who left and returned. Some say it was true, but because the story says he left and then came back, I think it fable. Nevertheless, truth or myth, the man left. After many journeys to the Holy Place in the Cave, his family mourned him. A rite of Burial was held, and the cries resounded the walls surely to the very end of the Cave.

But then, to everyone’s surprise, he came back. He spoke of a greater Cave outside this one. It was a brilliant blue, he said, and just within it was hung an Orb of Fire that moved across the Great Blue Cave, burning so hotly that it turned the skin red. Then when the Orb of Fire disappeared, it was replaced by another one, one smaller and whiter that too traveled across the Great Cave, which was no longer blue but now black. He spoke of magnificent animals that trod across the Great Cave, huge monstrous beasts whose every move left deep marks in the ground. He spoke of gigantic plants, with leaves so many in number and go great in size that they blocked out the Orb of Fire.

Yet when he was asked about the Great Dark, he laughed and said there was no Great Dark, that the shadows on the wall were the huge plants outside and the roaring was a sound that came from overhead during times when water fell from the Great Blue Cave (which was no longer blue but now grey) to the ground. It was decided that he was mad, and the elders had him put to death.

Since then, no one ventures outside. Not only is it dangerous and deadly, but the Great Dark has the ability to drive a man insane. No one will risk that.

No one.


The Littlest Pole Dancer


I been a pole dancer… well, pretty much all my life. I love it. Really, I do. I get up there and I spin and spin and spin, and the guys just look at me and… well, you know what they’re thinkin’, right? But I never did anything like that, no way. I mean, it’s one thing to squeeze an extra twenty outa some lunk who thinks he might get a shot. It’s another to actually give him that shot.

Oh, I did, once. Big mistake. This one guy, he’d been comin’ here for nights in a row. Sat right up front, that chair right there. I’d come on, and he’d smile at me, and I’d smile at him, and then I’d go into my dance, and when I was finished, he’d look at me like I was the most perfect woman on earth. So one night, between dances, I start talking to him — management doesnt mind; they say anything to get the customer to spend some more is fine with them — and he tells me about his life and I tell him about mine and he’s really sweet. I mean, really. Then he asks me one night if we can go for coffee when I get off, and I say sure. And that’s all it was, I swear. Just coffee. We were in that diner for three or four hours, talking about stuff. I told him things I aint never told anyone, like how much I loved my Mamma, even though she said I was dumber than a bag of bricks (well, she was probably right on that one, but anyway…). Then afterwards, when the sun was comin’ up, I got in my car and drove home, and I was all, you know, happy about this. Here was a guy that had seen my pretty well naked and still treated me like I was, you know, a lady.

And it was nice.

So we went out a few more times. Nothin’ big, just coffee and talkin’. And then one night, when we were in the parkin’ lot, I was about to get in my car, and he asked if he could kiss me.

He asked. He didnt just do it. He asked.

And of course I said yes. And we did and it wasnt any big tongue wrestlin’ match. It was just a kiss. But it was the nicest one I ever got.

So now, I decided I was gonna put together an all-new routine, just for him. I mean, sure, the other guys would see it, but that didnt matter. This was gonna be just for him: new flips, new ways of hangin’ off the bar, all kinds of neat stuff that no one had ever seen on that pole before. I spent days workin’ on it, and when I was finished… well, if anything on the pole said “I love you”, this was gonna be it.

So the big night comes, and he’s sittin’ out there, just like always. And he’s smilin’ at me, and I’m smilin’ at him, and it’s all good. My third dance, I decide it’s time to give him my present. So0 I give him this big major smile, and then I worked that pole like sixteen ways to Sunday. The other guys sittin’ there, they know this is new, and they’re watchin’ me and all whoop-whoop and throwin’ money at me till the stage was littered in green. Even the other girls, on their stages, slow down to watch what I’m doin’. I mean, I hate to sound all me, but it was pretty darn spectacular. And it was all for him.

But… the more I did it, the more he just… glared, like he was really angry or something. So I tried even harder to make him happy, pushin’ it till I’d put everything I had into spinnin’ on that pole. I was concentratin’ so hard on it that when I finished, it didnt matter that the whole place around my stage was yellin’ and applaudin’ and screamin’ for more.

His chair was empty.

When I got back to the changin’ room, the girls were all, like, “Wow, can you teach me that?” “That was so amazing!” Frank, our manager, said it was the hottest thing he’d seen in years, and that’s pretty high praise from a guy who’s seen a girl ride a pole for twenty years. But I never showed anyone how to do it. It wasnt for them. It was for him.

He never came back. I still dont get it.

The Littlest Historian


Breathe deep, he told himself. Just breathe deep. Someone will find you. Someone will fix this.

He’d been in charge of the Library… well, all his life, even as a small boy. He didnt remember any time outside the dark cavernous room that was his universe; for all he knew, he was born there. He didnt even know for certain how old he was: the face in the mirror looked perpetually young, but he knew it was a lie. Or a trick of the light. Or… something. And he knew this because it was his job to know otherwise.

Every day he dutifully turned one page on the Book. That was it. The Book might change as he took them off the shelves to replace other Books whose time had passed, but his job never did. Just one page. That page, he had been told (by whom?), chronicled all the events to unfold that day… every single one throughout all Creation. He didnt know for certain if this was so, but he believed. And because he believed, he dutifully turned one page. As he did, words magically appeared on the page: dense, tiny, written in an elegant yet strong script. This, he was told, is What Will Happen that day. If there is a problem, they said, we will fix it. Not you. This is your job, no more. He nodded, understanding and yet not.

He’d been doing this for… millenia. He knew this was so because he could see the evidence right before him: thousands upon thousands of books he’d taken off the shelves, one at a time, thousands upon thousands of books he’d put back on the shelves when their time was done. And he could likewise see all the thousands of books to come, books he was strictly forbidden ever to open — and because he believed, they never were.

At least, not until yesterday… or maybe last week. He wasnt sure.

He couldnt explain what possessed him. A sudden feeling of his own mortality, perhaps. The knowledge, the certain knowledge that when he got to the last book, time would end… and so would he. In younger times, he’d never even considered the possibility. The library was so vast that certainly it had to contain an infinite number of books. But as the eons passed, he saw that that was not so. To be sure, there were thousands, perhaps millions left… but he was also on a journey that led irrevocably to that Final Page in that Final Book.

And wondering what it might be had begun increasingly to haunt him. Did things just… stop?, he wondered. Would the Library just blink out of existence? Or would it remain here, its books depleted of their knowledge? And what would happen to him? Did he move on to another library somewhere? Or did he too just stop existing? Or did he simply stay in this room, waiting for…

He tried not to think about it. He tried. But every day, turning the one page, moving ever closer to that Final Statement, obsessed him. Finally, one day, unable to stop himself, he decided to know. He walked to the farthest end of the Library, deeper and deeper into the increasing blackness… until he found it.

The Final Book.

Hesitantly, he leaned down and lightly touched it, as though it might spark out at him or shoot fire at his eyes to blind him of its knowledge. It didnt. He gently extracted it from the shelf and carefully looked at it. It had no binding marks. No titling. It was neither heavier nor lighter than the countless others he’d carried. It was just… another book.

Still fearful of what he was about to do, he sat on the floor, the book in his lap. You can always put it back, he told himself. Just leave it unopened and put it back on the shelf. No one will ever know. But he knew he couldnt do that. He flipped it over and grasped the fabric wrapped cover, then gently lifted it…

He didnt even notice the first tremors, but the second wave threw him against the wall as the enormous shelves began to sway, some already sending their contents into cascading piles in the spaces between. The third wave hit like the whole room had been cut from its moorings and sent spinning into… whatever was outside. The mighty wooden shelves now collapsed about him, the thousands upon thousands of books flying through the air, hurtling to the floor, some closed, more open, their pages suddenly replete with suddenly appearing script, its elegance lost, as though the words could not slam together fast enough to elbow their way on the page.

There was a sudden crash as an entire section of the ceiling came loose and smashed onto the piles of broken wood shelving. He looked up into the jagged hole and saw… nothing. Just blackness. The very thought that there was something beyond the Library gave him hope, even as a massive oak shelf careened behind him and knocked him —

He awoke… hours later? Days, perhaps? He didnt know. At some point, the Final Book had been jerked away from him. He had no idea where it landed. It was now just one of millions upon millions of books in piles across the great space.

Breathe deep, he told himself. Just breathe deep. Someone will find you. Someone will fix this.

The Littlest Sandwich


They did not like messy sandwiches.

“Why not,” I asked, mildly intrigued. It was quiet in the café: only the three of us sitting at adjoining tables, two of many set in an orderly, precise array along the faux plastic brick. Outside, the air glistened after a brief, intense shower. Mothers reprimanded their children, gleefully jumping in newly formed puddles. Old men, still wrapped in their sweaters and raincoats, sat stone-faced on benches like ancient idols. Pigeons swarmed at their feet, penitents in search of bread crumbs. The cars sliced across the wet asphalt, their wipers flicking aside the unexpected drop fallen from a still-sodden tree branch.

The question seemed to perplex them. They looked at each other in shocked amusement, as though the question itself was unfathomable. The woman, whose head was completely shaved, gently lifted her napkin and, eyes laughingly averted, daubed the corners of her lips. The nan, tall yet not lanky, merely smiled. “They’re just so… messy,” adding a look that emphasized the obviousness of it all. “No matter how you pick it up,” he continued, “it just collapses in your hands.”

“Then you have to resort to a knife and fork,” the woman continued. “Doesn’t that simply defeat the whole purpose?”

Outside, a young girl, five or six years old, laughingly chased a puppy. A ribbon, loosely tied to her hair, came loose and danced away in the light breeze.

The woman silently took a freshly filled salt shaker and positioned it on the table with Zen-like precision.

“And no matter what you do, no matter how careful you might be, a messy sandwich will wind up somewhere on your clothes,” the man said, a slight furrow on his brow.

The woman nodded. “Your shirt, your jacket… your pants.” She shook he head in mild revulsion.

“And in the most embarrassing places possible.”

“And no dry cleaner for… well, blocks.”

“You could just spot clean it,” I said. “A bit of club soda.”

She smiled and shook her head. “That usually just makes it worse.”

A flock of nuns, imperceptibly raising their skirts to avoid the wet sidewalk, chattered as they flew across the windows.

“So, to you then,” I continued, “what constitutes it? How does one create the perfect sandwich?”

The woman hesitated, as though about to reveal a long-held family secret. “It must be… consumable.”

“Well, of course,” I laughed.

“No, no, you don’t understand. It has to be consumed in a simple, elegant manner.” She raised a hand. “It should require no more than just this. Just this one hand.”

“Nothing so big as to make it unwieldy,” the man concurred.

“No. It must be simplicity itself to handle. The bread must be… pristine.”

The man nodded, repeating, “Pristine.”

“Strong, solid, muscular… yet pliable. It should bend to your wishes. Not crumbly, of course, but not doughy either.”

The man’s hand glided through the air. “Just… smooth.”

Somewhere down the street, a woman’s braying laugh echoed across the buildings. Panicking, the pigeons flew off. The stone idols ignored their flight.

“The meat is of course the centre of attention, the divine purpose of the sandwich,” the woman went on, “It should be chewable — and yet not tearable.”

“You don’t want something you have to rip apart to enjoy,” the man added.

“Exactly. It must have a certain smooth density, such that it dissolves with only the slightest nibble.”

“Bologna, for example. Perhaps sausage. Cheese, perhaps, although of course that doesn’t really qualify as a meat,” the man said with a light grin.

“Mmmm…” the woman nodded.

“Mustard?” I asked. “Mayo?”

“A slight glaze, if you must have it at all.”

Outside, the sky was darkening again. Mothers called in their children and bundled them away to safety. The stone idols stood, raised their collars, and rolled silently away.

“Any other condiments? Lettuce? Tomato?”

The woman paused thoughtfully. “No. No, you do not want to add anything more, because then you simply heighten the risk.”

“Of messiness,” I said with a small smile.

“Exactly! You understand! He understands!” she repeated gaily as her companion, sage-like, nodded. The rain fell anew, spattering now empty sidewalks and park benches. The woman looked outside with quiet elation. “I adore the rain.”

The Littlest Lawnmower


“Did you listen to the radio today?” his girlfriend asked one lazy summer afternoon as he fussed over the lawnmower engine. He loved his girlfriend, but he loved his lawn more, and he cared for it more tenderly than any lover ever might. It was his masterful creation, one he had coaxed and reshaped into something perfect: dense, evenly cut, beautifully green. The smell of freshly cut grass was his ambrosia.

“No. Why?”

“They were interviewing someone about how plants talk to each other. That that smell of cut grass is actually the grass screaming for help.”

“You’re not serious.”

“I am,” she said, more than a little defensively. “Grass talks through scent, or something like that. You come through, cut it down, and it sends a message to all the other blades: Look out! Monster running amok!” she laughed. “Weird, huh? You want another beer?”

She left after dinner. With nothing better to do, he sat in the dim twilight, nursing another beer as he looked at his beautiful lawn. He tried not to think about it, but… Was it true? Was the grass crying out in pain? Ridiculous, he decided. It’s just a bunch of grass.

The next morning, he got out the mower and started the slow process of guiding the machine across the lawn in a perfectly aligned path. He moved slowly, carefully, making sure each cut was precise. He’d finished the front and was halfway through the back when mower ran out of gas. Time, he decided, to take a break…

… but when he rounded the corner, he was shocked to see… the grass was turning… changing… it was all brown, dying before his eyes. As he watched in horror, the brown spread across the lawn, the blades simply lying down, withering as they folded in on themselves and collapsed to the ground. And then he could smell it: the smell of freshly cut grass, suddenly infusing the air with the unavoidable scent, as though, before finally dying, the grass sent out one last, desperate plea for help…

Then, it was gone. The lawn, only yesterday lush and green, was now brown as the dirt below it. When he walked across it, it snapped under his shoes, like so much brittle glass. He found the one blade of green and pulled it loose, then watching as it turned brown and then to dust in his hand. With a yelp, he dropped it and ran for the patio. Did I do this? he wondered, knowing the answer before he’d even finished the question. A slight wind blew across the desolation, churning up the dry, dead blades and tossing them in the air like ashes from an invisible fire.

He couldnt leave the porch that night. Instead, almost inconsolable, he stared at the grass, begging its forgiveness, promising against all hope that, if it came back, he would never cut it again, that he would let it run wild, that he would simply take care of it, not try to reshape it into something he —

But it was too late. In tears he couldnt even begin to explain, he lay down on the concrete slab and fell into a black, dreamless sleep…

… The sun rose over the top of the fence and slammed him into wakefulness. His eyes opened —

— and the grass was back. Long, green, gently waving in the early morning sun. He lurched upright and sat on the steps, not daring to even put a foot onto this miracle. Instead, he ran his hand through the blades, and they caressed it in return. And when the breeze came across the lawn, the grass danced, and he could smell…

… love.

The Littlest Playwright


All right, Billy. Think. Think. You can do this. Just think.

Okay, deep breath. Now… what do you have to work with. Let’s see. A prince. A princess. That’s good. People always like to see things about royalty. So what are they doing?

Getting married, that’s good. People like to see happy weddings… and we’ve just written ourselves into a corner because it’s happy and that’s that and why oh god did I even agree to write this damn play???

Stop. Deep breaths, remember? The doctor says stress isnt good for you, even at your age. So let’s start again.

Okay. A prince. A princess. They’re getting married. Good. Now, what else.

Maybe it needs a parallel story. Another prince and princess that… okay, maybe already are married, and it’s not working out so well. This is good. This is good. So this prince and princess are separated because… oh, I dont know. Maybe they’re squabbling about the kids. Maybe he’s jealous of her for some reason. Okay, so there they are. But what do I do with them? How do I connect them to the other prince and princess?

Okay, okay, maybe this second pair live in another country, and… and… he’s, like, insanely jealous of her, so he decides he needs to play some kind of joke on her… like, like… like make her fall in love with the worst possible guy. So who would that be?

Maybe some day labourer? Commoner of some kind? Royalty and commoners dont exactly do lunch a lot, so that’s be pretty cold if this prince could convince someone to take a roll with his wife just so he could say, “Nyah, nyah, you’re messing around with a stonemason“… or a carpenter… or a weaver… or something like that. Maybe she thinks he’s something else — that’d be good.

Maybe… okay, this is good: maybe this worker is part of some entertaiment for the coming wedding of the first prince and princess, like maybe he’s part of some play they’re gonna perform and… he meets the other princess when they’re rehearsing!

Oh, that’s just pathetic. Think, Bill, think!

Okay, maybe it’s time to think outside the box a bit. Maybe the second set of prince-and-princess are… like… magic folk, like… fairies or something. Fairies! Right! And they live i the forest!… which is where the workmen come to rehearse their play for the wedding! Okay, okay, this is good, this is good.

This is crap.

It needs something else, some other pair of… okay, not prince and princess this time, but not workmen either. Maybe a couple of middle-class kids. And she doesnt want to marry the guy Dad’s set her up with and he has to go to the original prince to get him to force her to marry because he’s getting married and he wants everybody to get married and who does this girl think she is by not getting married anyway?? So she runs away… into the forest! with the guy she wants to marry, and…

Sheesshh. This is getting ridiculous. Heck, Bill, just throw in a trio of witches while you’re at it, huh? Maybe Ford was right: folks just want blood and gore and sensationalism. No one’s gonna care about this silly dream play…..

Hmm. Maybe the prince that’s jealous of his wife thinks she’s been messing around with this other prince, and… and… something about a handkerchief…….

The Littlest War


My first day here, what struck me most was the doors. I mean, obvious, right? But you go through six or seven layers of them, all locking behind you, before you realize they only open in one direction — and that’s in. Once you’re inside and you see the thirty foot walls that surround this place, that’s it; no way out. And that’s cool with me. I dont know whose idea this was, but man, it’s freaking brilliant.

Yeah, the global war thing was getting out of hand. Too many options, I guess, for someone like me. Syria? Ukraine? CAR? The choices were endless, so you can imagine how happy I was when the UN announced the formation of a War Zone. Every country scraped together a few billion, bought off some tin pot dictators, cleared the space of any animal life, and turned it into the perfect battlefield. No idea how big this mutha is, but it’s huge, like some infinite video game, ‘cept it’s, you know, real. Sweet. Buddy told me this was almost half of Northern Africa, and I wouldnt be surprised. Basically, it works like this: say you got an issue with another country. Rather than blowing up each other’s real estate, you get some guys, they get some guys, and everyone heads to the War Zone. Happy times.

Once you arrive, they take you into the Armory. Tell you to load up with as much as you can carry. The idiots are the ones who act like it’s a Chinese buffet and take one of everything. Then they find out real fast that it aint easy carrying all that stuff around. Now me, I travel light, so I picked up a couple of small things, just enough to get me started. I figured, hell, there’s gonna be a lot of stuff lying around out there. I was right. Anything I need — from an M-16 to a shoulder-borne ground-to-air missile launcher — is out there next to someone who couldnt cut it. Hell, weaponry, armour, rations: it’s all out there, ready for the taking. Sure, you have to get past all the bodies — and after a decade of the War Zone, there’s a lot of ’em — but I’m down with that. Never waste, that’s my motto. If some guys gets it, no sense in letting his rations go to waste, right? See this helicopter? I shot this puppy down with one really clean, elegant shot. Havent checked through all of the wreckage yet, but way I see it, I’m gonna be eating like a king for the next week.

Oh sure, technically you’re supposed to only go after your own enemy — rumour has it that almost every country on earth has someone here, and I wouldnt be surprised at that either. I dont think anyone’s left in Syria or Lebanon or Israel — least, not any of the menfolk. They turn us loose here, and the Geneva Convention is out the window. You dont get POWs here, nossir. And those UN guys were smart: even so much as mention war, in any fashion, and off you went, whether you liked it or not. Personally, I like that idea. If you think war is so great — which, man, I do — then you better be ready to put your money where your mouth is. So you look around this place, and you see everyone from drunken frat boys who got a little macho one night at some pizza joint to members of some North Dakota militia who were just itching to play to even a few congressmen who said the wrong thing on a Fox talk show — and let me tell you, those fat old men squeal real pretty when you corner one.

Who wins, you ask? Hell, out here? Everyone.