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Audrey Podenco’s Civics Homework

Audrey Podenco’s assignment was to hold a household election.

The Podenco family elections were coming on Saturday, and all four members were running. Audrey, the daughter, had a class on democracy, and her homework was to do an at-home election lasting a whole week. She had it all planned on Friday night at supper when her mom, Frida, had joked, “What about Sally?”

Of course, Audrey was still worried about Joe Katz, who lived with his half-brother who was 30 and worked nights so they were more like roommates than parent and child. How the heck was he gonna have an election?

“I forgot Sally,” Audrey said. Sally was their Labrador-ish dog with an extra-long tail so they called her Salamander—Sally for short, which had made Audrey laugh when Roger, her step-dad, explained because—She had made up tables with a ruler and everything, wanting to document the whole election to earn an A on the assignment. There wasn’t room for Sally.

“I didn’t think she was eligible,” Audrey said. “If you really want to vote for her, you can as a write-in. See?” She showed off the ballots she had made, with all their names except for Sally and then a blank line where they could write-in anyone.

That night, as Roger let Sally lick the plates clean before he turned on the dishwasher (he wasn’t supposed to!), he told her that she had his vote. “You’re obviously the leader of the family, Sal. Without you, we’d be lost.”

The election began at lunch on Sunday, with everyone having Saturday to come up with their platforms. Everyone said what they would change if elected, and everyone acted magnanimous toward each other and to each other’s ideas.

Audrey said she would make it so every month you had a birthday, instead of once per year, but that your real birthday would still be the big one, but that you’d be celebrated once a month with a mini-birthday (but no, you wouldn’t get a birthday wish except on the real one; birthday wishes don’t grow on tress).

Frida said she would repeal the law of gravity and replace it with the law of gravy, so that everything would have to be held down by a dollop of gravy (this was a covert influence campaign—it was Roger’s turn to make dinner, and she was lobbying for biscuits and gravy).

Roger said he would adopt the Hague Television Convention, requiring the family to use a point system to determine what to watch on TV. He had a whole chart about it, but the gist was that he could let them pick most of the time, saving up his points so he could watch major sporting events without argument.

“You know, we can adopt these ideas regardless of who wins,” Frida said. “The law of gravity has kept us down for too long!”

Sally barked at a squirrel out the window. “She seconds!” Roger said.

Later that afternoon, Audrey was out walking Sally when they came across a discarded pizza box. As they stepped past it, Audrey gave it an idle kick, sending it a few feet onward. At this, Sally romped about and pounced atop the box, sledding briefly before the road’s friction stopped her.

“Right on, Sal,” Audrey said, and then she ran and jumped on the box, surfing it a little ways. “You always have good ideas. You get my vote,” she told her dog.

After they got home, Audrey said to Frida, “How can Sally vote? She can’t write or talk.”

“Some people can’t vote,” Frida said. “Like you, you’re too young. Those who can’t rely on the rest of us to get it right.”

Audrey nodded. “It’s a big responsibility, when you think about it.”

The next morning while Frida mowed the lawn, Sally was running ahead, picking up sticks and moving them to the heap off to the side. After she finished, Frida gave Sally a dog cookie for being a good lass. “You earned my vote for sure, Old Sally,” Frida told her.

Finally Saturday rolled around, and the Podencos assembled in the living room. “I set up the bathroom as the voting booth, because it’s private,” Audrey explained. “You just go on in, and I left a few different pens and markers so you can express your vote in whatever way you like. Put your ballot in the empty tissue box, and after everyone’s voted, we’ll count them.”

“Who goes first?” Roger asked.

“Oh! I didn’t think about—”

“I’ll go first,” Frida said. “I have to go, anyway.”

After Frida had gone and voted, Roger said Audrey could go next. After she left, Frida said how glad she was that they were teaching civics so young. “Democracy is important, and it makes me proud of our community,” she said to Roger.

“It’s a waste of paper, I say. That was a fresh box of tissues. What did she do with them?”

“Oh, Roger! She put them in bags so we can take them with us to school and work, so if we get the sniffles we’ll be able to blow our noses.”

“Smart!” Roger said, as Audrey finally came back from the voting bathroom.

Roger went last, and he brought the ballot tissue box back when he came out.

“Okay, now we’ll count the votes,” Audrey said, reaching into the box. “One for Sally!” She made a tally mark on the recording sheet. She pulled out the next ballot. “Two for Sally!” she cried, making another line. She pulled out the final ballot, which she didn’t technically need to, obviously, because the result was already determined at that point, but everyone’s vote counts, even the ones that technically don’t. “It’s a landslide! Sally got all the votes.”

Sally barked in triumph, while Frida said, “I can’t believe we all voted for Sally.”

“You’ll get ’em next time, dear,” Roger said in consolation.

But Sally kept barking. Her bark became a grunt, and her grunt became intelligible. She was ordering the Podencos around! She made Roger bring his shoes to be chewed on, and she made Frida put all the sticks back in the yard, and she made Audrey order her a pizza with bacon and bones, yuck!

And the Podencos were never heard from again.

The moral of the story is: democracy is great, but you still have to be fucking careful whom you elect.

Do: There is a Bomb

Two friends arguing about a bomb.

Do: There is a bomb. We should defuse it.

Re: There is no bomb.

Do: It’s right here. I’m touching it. I can feel the ticking with my fingers.

Re: There is no bomb.

Do: If we defuse it, we won’t get blown up.

Re: There is no bomb.

Do: The paper beside it says, “This is a bomb.” Oh! And here’s a defuse kit.

Re: It’s not a bomb.

Do: What is it, then?

Re: It’s not a bomb, whatever it is. And it’s too far away to do any harm.

Do: It’s right here. You could touch it if you tried.

Re: I could not touch it. See?

Re reaches eir hand toward the bomb while taking a step backward.

Do: You stepped backward!

Re: I did not. If anything, it moved away from me.

Do: The bomb’s timer says three minutes. We should defuse it.

Re: It’s not a bomb.

Do: You’ll be sorry when you’re bleeding to death from shrapnel wounds.

Re: I most certainly will not. I will heal and the scars will make me stronger.

Do: I thought you said it’s not a bomb?

Re: It’s not a bomb.

Do: Of course it is. All these wires and the explosives! If that’s not a bomb, what is it?

Re: I’m not qualified to talk about it.

Do: Let’s ask them. Do points to a bomb expert hotline number on the bomb defuse kit’s case. E pulls out eir phone and calls.

Mi: Bomb expert hotline. This is Mi. How can Mi help you?

Do: We think we have a bomb here.

Mi: Describe it for Mi, please.

Do: It’s a big mess of wires with a clock and what looks like paper-covered blocks that say C4 on them.

Mi: Does sound like a bomb to Mi. Anything else?

Do: There’s a piece of paper that says it’s a bomb.

Mi: Yes, Mi thinks it’s a bomb. You should defuse it.

Do hangs up.

Do: She says it’s probably a bomb and we should defuse it.

Re: There are many other experts that say it’s not a bomb.

Do: Please help me defuse it.

Re: Don’t! The bomb is good for us. We should speed the timer up.

Do: Speed the timer up—are you mad?! We’ll be killed, both of us.

Re: I have some bomb timer grease.

Do: Bomb timer grease?! I thought you said it wasn’t a—

Re squirts bomb timer grease into the bomb timer’s gears.

Do: Good God! We only have a minute left! Quick, you have to help me isolate the timer from the primary charge.

Re: Nope. We’ll be better off. Just you watch.

Do: Dead? You’re crazy. I’ll defuse it myself.

Do starts tracing the wires with eir hands, but Re slaps eir hand away.

Do: Quit! This is serious!

Re: I didn’t do anything.

The bomb explodes.

The bomb is a metaphor, principally for climate change.

It’s three short weeks until we get to vote in the 2018 midterms.

The planet needs your help in defusing the bomb.

MSWL as WP 1: “Professor Profligate Grades Papers”

Having sent my queries on a novel, I’m currently working on some other writing projects. But I added the agents I queried to a Twitter list to try to better understand both Twitter and literary agents. One of the things you’ll see if you read any agent’s feed is “#MSWL” which stands for “manuscript wishlist.” There’s even a site dedicated to letting agents maintain their MSWL: the expectedly-named

WP is “writing prompt,” a seed, however developed, to write something, however developed.

So I figured I might cross the two, taking a #MSWL idea and writing a short piece based on the idea. For fun and science and all that jazz.

Saw this one from a reply to a reply:

Twitter: Nivia Evans: 6 June 2018 says:

An inventive, female-led magic school story, but from the teacher’s POV.

Manifestation, not infestation!” Pamela Profligate shouted at the essay. She sat on her grading stool trying to manifest a paper-eating inkbug to save her from toiling through eight more flubworks on Basic Magic Theory.

Year by year, the predictable mistakes of spelling, of syntax, of confusing concentration for willpower. Enough to drive a witch to flight. She drew a red C on Vincent’s paper and added: “It’s not enough to make magic. You must understand it.”

Eyeing a copy of Leslie von Sport’s 101 New Ways to Play Kickball, Pamela knew if she made haste, a chapter could be had before bed. She grabbed the next essay from the stack and started reading.

Enchantment is the fundamental problem of magic. Though identified as the elementary basis of all things magical by Sally M. Witchford in her treatise “How Does a Spell?” we still have not advanced the science of magic to understand what makes an enchanted thing. There are theories about. . .

An interesting start, thought Pamela, peeking at the name: Jaunkrast Gravelley. No doubt named after that atrocious writer from one of the mountain worlds.

. . . energy beings, your dryads and such, inhabiting magic objects and living symbiotically inside the souls of magical beings. There are the beliefs in a supreme will that channels itself based on lay lines and bloodlines and star charts. But for every theory there are examples that contradict. Ordinary objects that, by processes unknown, came into possession of magical properties.

Take the very pages you now hold, dear teacher. . . .

Pamela tried to let go of the pages, but her fingers held firm. Binding—what a rascal to even try it! She spun on her grading stool to the waiting flame of cleansing and set the essay afire. As the flame bit at her fingertips, she was already composing in her mind: “You should know better, Ms. Gravelley, than to bother with trickery. I am failing you, but I would still like to read your essay. Please provide me with a clean—” The spell had broken, and she reached for a page to write on.

As she finished, she turned back to the cleaning candle to dust up the ashes. In the unwavering flamelight the curls and flakes of ash fluttered and hopped about. The flecks puffed and breathed and spread into one another, forming strands that grew into a pool. The pool formed ridges along its edge and lightened and darkened until the essay had mended itself.

Out came Pamela’s testing blade. She removed the cork tip, and pressed the blade against the seal on the back of the cork. It glowed light red: the blade was working. She placed the sharp at the center of the topsheet, depressing slightly. The blade did not glow.

She used it to turn the page and continued reading:

. . . dear teacher, they are no longer magical. Where did the enchantment go? Some, like Witchford, would claim that the flame took it away. But the ashes still held the enchantment of assembly, so that cannot be right. And enchantment cannot be exhausted by mere repetition, as Ruther Arglave showed by spending 30 years trying to use the magic up from a single box of toastmaking, from which he turned over ten million single slices of bread into as many slices of toast. The process of remaking the pages could not devour the magic. And yet your blade proves it is gone!

Pamela Profligate went to her shelf and pulled Spellbreaks. She flipped through to “Flames” and read the passage on flames of cleansing. The power rule required multiple passes through flame for multiple spells. The timing rule required the flames to engulf an active object for at least a tenth as long as its activity. But there was nothing about the ashes.

She set the gradesheet aside, along with Ms. Gravelley’s missive, and moved on to the next essay.

Magic works because you have to want it. If you do, magic works. You want the water to stay in the cup when you turn the cup over and the water says in the cup. That is the basics of magic. . . .

Maybe a start. I’m sure the intention behind the #MSWL was more about the class interactions with a magic teacher, from her perspective (“Timothy, we do not stick orbs of remembering in our noses!” and “Who knows the first witch to circumnavigate the globe?” “Was it the Harlem Broomtrotters?”).

But I like the idea of a magic teacher grading papers and having to deal with that side of things. Because, fun fact, teaching is about a lot of stuff beyond just standing in front of magical children and teaching them not to open portals to dimensions full of cottage cheese. There’s a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork (not to mention class sizes, budgets, and all that).

The other concept here, of a teacher not knowing everything and being confused by her own student’s magic, reminds that even experts are not omniscient. It also would make me figure out how Jaunkrast managed it. Leaving hurdles to either knock down (Jaunkrast merely included a blank page that would recreate the essay from its ashes and was protected from the flame of cleansing by the other pages) or leap over (Jaunkrast discovering a new property of enchantment, possibly setting up a trip to a magic fair (comp: science fair) where students present their magical inventions).