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Enjoy stories from...
Robert (Parma Hts.) Adult   |  Valerie  (Cleveland) Adult  |  Carole (Parma) Adult  |  Darcy (Berea) Gr. K-3  |  Ellie (Berea) Gr. K-3
       Thomas (Cleveland) Gr. 9-12 


The Animal Kingdom

It is important that man must help preserve our animal kingdom. Even though we are a higher form of this domain, we must help preserve the lower forms of animal life. This is critical for our balance of nature. The various Zoos around the country have been helping to preserve this balance for many years. They cannot do it alone. They need our help. Help can come in many forms, monetary, volunteer, and  career associates. The reward can be seen in our Zoos and Parks across our Country. Please join us and be a part of this worthy cause.

Robert S, Parma Heights (Adult) 


The Man In It

The pock-marked face
Glows with fluorescence,
A white hypnosis
Seizing sanity only for
A night.

Valerie G, Cleveland (Adult)

Natural Healing

Earth
Hold me
Sky
Raise me
Wind
Carry me
Water
Cleanse me
Fire
Purify me

Valerie G, Cleveland (Adult)  


Interfaced

Burning lion-face,
nestled dog,
determined lady in blue -
What log?
What charms of color
for me and for you!

This log—a new
literary interface,
joins us to County
by vivid mural.
Relish the colors,
so wild and jaunty.

Carole M, Parma (Adult) 


Pinka

Once there was a girl who had ice powers and her name Elsalina. There was also a boy who had fire powers whose name was Firiraere. They grew up and got married.

One day Firiraere got Elsalina a pink fluffy flying puppy. Elsalina said, “ Thank you! Thank you!”
She named the puppy Pinka. Pinka and Elsalina loved to play in Elsalina’s garden.

One day Pinka went missing. Elsalina was so sad she didn’t eat, drink, sleep, or move. Firiraere was concerned so he went looking for Pinka. He spent weeks looking for her. Finally one day he saw a bit of Pink in the bushes. He had found Pinka! He picked her up and saw her wing was hurt.

When he and Pinka returned home, Elsalina jumped for joy. They kept Pinka inside for a few weeks to help her wing heal. When she was healed Elsalina, Pinka, and Firiraere played for hours.

Elsalina didn’t want to lose Pinka again so every day Elsalina took Pinka for a walk, fed her, gave her water, gave her a bubble bath, and played with her from sunrise to sunset. Elsalina and Firiraere loved Pinka so much! And
Pinka loved them too! They lived happily ever after. The End.
       Pronunciation
              1. El-sa-lin-a (El-sa-leen-a)
              2. Fir-ira-ere (Fee-are-a)
              3. Pink-a (Pink-a)

Darcy G, Berea (Grades K-3)      


The Legend of the Pink Puppy

Once upon a time, there were two people who were having a fight about who was better. The fire dude got mad and erupted into flames, and the water dudette flooded herself with water. ( I don’t want you to be mad at me because I didn’t give names, but their names are really embarrassing to them, and they said they would kill me if I told you guys).

One day, the fire dude and water dudette met and still couldn’t get along. They were walking away from each other, when all of a sudden, a pink puppy with wings appeared out of nowhere! The pink puppy said, “Come with me on a magical journey. And magically, you won’t hate each other.” Fire Dude and Water Dudette talked things out, and off they went.

On their magical journey, they encountered a starry pit that they had to cross. It was like midnight, but pushed into a hole. So they just hopped on pink puppy’s back and flew away into the sunset.

After that, they had to cross the volcano of death. The Fire Dude gave them special boots that allowed them to walk on lava. So, they walked across the lava together.

Then, they had to cross a lake of rising water. The water girl put bubbles around them and they floated through the water to the middle of nowhere. After all that, the puppy asked, “Do you still hate each other?”

So they said in unison, “YES!!!”

So now, the pink puppy disappeared and the fire dude and water girl were stuck on this unknown abandoned island, hating each other.

Ellie C, Berea (Grades K-3)    


Office Smacks

The sudden burst of heat shot through Lawmpoek Qraarel’s body even as the clock-radio alarm came on, blaring out the hard-rock music program which was currently on the college station. Qraarel could hear the music just fine, and of course the volume was set slightly lower than what was usually considered appropriate for this genre of music. But the thermal-alarm always proved much more efficacious in assuring that Qraarel woke up instead of just lying in bed as the music played.
And considering that it was February in Cleveland, the heat-burst was especially appreciated, even though Qraarel really did enjoy the music.
Why had his people never created such an artistic concept?
Live and learn.
The adage rang true throughout the galaxy, not merely here on Earth.
He was slowly but surely acclimatizing himself to the prescribed morning routines. He no longer wound up swallowing the toothpaste or mouthwash, and of course bathing and other kinds of soap-and-water cleanse were regular rituals on his own planet as well as Earth, but most fortunately he never needed to shave.
But he did have to take extra time in the shower that morning because he was beginning to shed again. But he checked the full-length mirrors repeatedly to make sure all loose scales were pulled off. He didn’t use Human deodorants – after all, he steamed through his mouth and cloaca rather than sweat through his skin – but he anointed himself with those essential oils which were a regular element in the hygiene of his species. Humans seemed to like the scents of those chemicals, so that was in his favor.
Dressing in Human business attire, however, was a real bother. He could wear standard Halaowskan boots and be within company dress-standard, but the button-shirts, pants, and jackets were such a bother – and neckties were close to impossible most of the time. But at least he didn’t have to try hiding his tail inside one of his pant-legs all day anymore: Management finally allowed for a discreet posterior vent to be tailored into all his pants so his tail could stick out freely.
Qraarel still had trouble understanding the psychological inhibitions which made Humans tend to be so horrified by his own normal tail.
After breakfast – which was always as swift as much of his usual daily eating was -- Qraarel made certain his comp, iDevices, ware, papers, and comestibles were all in his carry-bag before bundling up against the elements.
Then exiting and locking up, he started out. Fortunately he had been allowed his own SmartCar as his commutes on the bus always proved a disaster. Humans in crowded conditions were extra-paranoid about being touched by non-Humans. And widespread media expounding about interplanetary tolerance and brotherhood remained largely unheeded.
Well, Humanity had only been in contact with Halaow and the other Conglom planets for a few Earth-years now. Humanity needed time to adjust.
Yes, Humanity needed time.
But as always this morning, Qraarel would have liked it if his commute to work took less time.
************************************************************************

The meeting to confirm the present vending proposal didn’t begin until eleven because the vendors themselves had become gridlocked in traffic. So Qraarel immediately began snacking. He oft told himself that if there was one thing Earth society – or at least the American subjuncture of it -- had gotten right it was their creation of the concept of what they usually called “junk food”. The incredible savor and variety which manifested itself in this particular branch of Human cuisine stood equal to any other convenience-ready foodstuffs to be found elsewhere in the galaxy. And for Qraarel this was actually quite significant as the Jrugraazhee – or Halaowskans, as Humans reckoned them – ate large meals only about twice in an Earthly week; snacking was their regular form of eating. Qraarel’s Human coworkers and superiors tolerated it well enough, but most certainly preferred that he dined and quaffed upon Human comestibles rather than any provender he acquired from some other planet, and Qraarel usually obliged them.
Usually, but not always.
Actually, Qraarel and his Jrugraazhee associates were rather fortunate in this manner, for by and large the Humans had decidedly pronounced problems in tolerating the eating habits and/or preferences of the Tlamirr and the Hkevlans.
Hopefully that would change once Humanity became more familiarized with the sundry races of the Conglom.
But for the present, Qraarel had to continue his lessons in the infrastructural functions of multicorporate America. But the more he came to understand, the more trouble he often had in believing what he understood.
At length, the meeting began and before too long was over. There was still dispute in concern with upgrades and stipulations, but Qraarel’s bosses claimed that progress had been made and the final contracts would be approved and signed in due course.
But things weren’t totally without incident. Qraarel was exiting and had started on another Slim Jim when a vendor named Mary Connor came up to him and asked: “Were you sitting on your tail all during that time? Doesn’t that hurt?”
Invariably some Human would approach Qraarel to ask some question in regard to his anatomy or biological functions at least twenty times during the work-week. Connor’s question was the eighth so far for that particular week.
Qraarel sucked in his meat-stick and answered, “My tail is stiff but the muscles are nonetheless quite flexible. Our people often carry objects of some bulk with our tails. They are more than prehensile enough.”
Connor nodded but Qraarel didn’t require telepathy to tell him she really hadn’t been listening. It wasn’t that she couldn’t understand, but she honestly didn’t expect an answer.
Qraarel always marveled at how Humans effortlessly shifted between audacity and inhibition.
But for now, Connor had headed away.
And Qraarel was stuffing the first Twinkie of the day into his mouth.
***********************************************************************************

“Chuck! Hey, Chuck!”
Michael Hecht came rushing up to Qraarel as he headed towards the multi-purpose room.
Hecht was always calling Qraarel some name which to his way of thinking was “cute”:
Chuck Walla or Iggy Wanna or Monty Tor or Cam Me-Yen.
The fact that Qraarel happened to be a sentient reptile inspired Hecht to often address him by at least one of these names when he spoke to him. But at least Qraarel tolerated it. Hecht was lucky that the Hkevlan Sorr’hmun-Gaatu didn’t piecemeal him for calling him “Ahnold”.
But Hecht apparently needed to express himself in this way under certain circumstances, so Qraarel allowed his indulgence.
“Michael, can I be of any assistance?”
He then promptly popped the rest of the dill pickle into his mouth and started to crunch.
Hecht hesitated for maybe thirty seconds, but eventually found his voice.
“I was – curious about something.”
“All you Humans are curious about us Conglom-worlders. That is to be expected. This is Earth’s first official direct interaction with otherworlders. So, may I ask what you may be curious about now?”
“I was wondering, you know? Your species. You’re telepathic, right?”
“Among ourselves and congruent life-forms,” Qraarel answered with some caution. “We aren’t just instantly receptive to thoughts, however. We have to initiate perception via a lowering of normally operating mental barriers through meditation. You’re not asking me this because you wish for me to spy on somebody, are you? You know I’m under stipulation –“
“Please,” Hecht let out. He seemed to be pleading. “It’s not for business or personal gain – well, not pecuniary gain anyway.”
“Then what kind of gain?”
“Romance.”
Hecht’s desperation was evident. Qraarel had observed from the start that Humanity had for some time been involved in certain schisms between the genders. The concept was baffling to Qraarel, but he had heard of similar things occurring among certain other mammalian civilizations from time to time.
A disturbing realization, however, was that those civilizations which experienced similar schisms had, if Qraarel were
not mistaken, all gone extinct.
“Are you serious, Michael?” Qraarel puzzled. “You wish me to probe the minds of the women in our business and –“
“It doesn’t have to be anyone from here, Qraarel! Just go down the street sometime and see if you can zero in on a friendly vibe. Didn’t you tell me that that’s how your people hitch up?!”
Hecht wasn’t exactly accurate in recalling what Qraarel had once casually mentioned, but his point had its validity. Telepathy was indeed a prime component in familial and sexual relations on Halaow.
“Please, Qraarel,” Hecht said heavily. “I turn thirty-five in three weeks. And I’d like nothing better for my birthday than to have a lady in my life. I’m still a virgin, for cripe’s sake! I want to be married and start a family before I’m forty!”
Cleveland had a reputation as a city which wasn’t all that promising as far as being single was concerned. Indeed, the statistics at that time implied that as many as half of all the single heterosexual men in the city were still virgins at the age of fifty. And furthermore, additional stats claimed that over two-thirds of single Cleveland women refused to date Cleveland men under any circumstances, and invariably sought male companionship in other cities – and most especially in cities in Canada.
But Qraarel was well-aware that statistics could never be taken as what Humans called “gospel truth”, even though most Humans took them as exactly that. But that was beside the point. Qraarel didn’t really consider Hecht a friend, but compassion had ever and again been a crucial factor in the statutes of the Conglom. And what Hecht was asking was certainly odd from a Halaowskan point of view, but Qraarel could sense the poor Human’s desperation. And the precedent of ethics involving the personal use of telepathy in the non-telepathic society of Humanity was barely defined as yet.
Maybe when he went out shopping during the weekend …
He could certainly be discreet enough.
“I’ll consider it, Michael,” he finally said.
“That’s all I ask,” Hecht replied with obvious unease. “That’s all I ask.”
Then mostly surprisingly, Hecht actually hugged Qraarel before going off.
As Qraarel began on a small bag of cashews, the obvious desperation of the Human male was plainly obvious. And it disturbed Qraarel that Human society could be so un-supportive of someone who simply sought what most Humans clearly took for granted.
******************************************************************************

“The desalination-and-piping project on the West Coast can be completed and put into operation within three Earthweeks,” Qraarel said as his presentation came to a close. “This solution to your country’s irrigation and wildfire problems should be in full operation within a very short time after. Are there any questions?”
CEO Heatherton asked, “When can the asteroid-mining project be underway?”
That was Heatherton. He was much more interested in mining gold and platinum from asteroids and moons than he was in saving America’s agriculture and wilderness-areas from the effects of climate change.
“Give it four more weeks,” Qraarel replied. “SpaceX will need time to properly integrate the design-specs.”
“Can’t you just give them the technology, and if necessary install it for them?”
“Ah, Mr. Heatherton?” It was Jack Evans, the middle manager for Qraarel’s division. “Sir, if you will excuse me –“
“What is it, Evans?”
“I must remind us all here that the agreement of both the Government and the United Nations with the extraterrestrial Conglom specifically states that their representatives not hand over the actual technology nor give complete schematics as to its construction or installation. They are simply to give us a portion of the design and we are supposed to work it out from there. And may I also remind us that they are obligated only to give us designs which are within the present or development capacities of our own current scientific level. Please forgive my bluntness, but those are the provisions of the agreement.”
Heatherton nodded, then said, “Very well then. If there’s nothing else, then we can adjourn.”
Qraarel felt bad for Evans. He was beginning to learn that being too honest in this particular work environment was not what might be considered pro-survival. And it disappointed him. Evans was obviously one of those rare individuals who could be a middle manager without compromising his compassion and other positive sociological traits.
But the next day Evans was replaced without any explanation given. The new middle manager was a man named Richard Tupper, who when Qraarel was introduced to him made no move to shake hands with him but said: “Er, sorry, but I have a fear of snakes.”
“I’m not a snake,” Qraarel replied simply.
“Well,” Tupper said with notable queasiness, “you’re a lot like a lizard. But … I’m afraid of lizards, too. I’m … sorry … for not giving you a good first impression, but I welcome you to our planet and – keep up the good work.”
Tupper promptly ran to the men’s room, and was able to make it in time just as he began to hurl.
Qraarel sighed, and opened up a small can of Pringles.
The taste of the potato chips helped decrease any residual anxiety he may have still been feeling.
******************************************************************************

“There is something else, Ms. Connor?”
Qraarel had just concluded the vending deal without any difficulty, but Mary Connor had that look in her eyes again. And Qraarel just couldn’t ignore it when Humans gave him that look.
Mary Connor stammered, “I – I don’t – I mean, if it’s personal, I – well –“
“No need to be ashamed of being curious about me. You have a question, ask it.”
This was in Qraarel’s opinion the best way to deal with this aspect of Human anxiety, and thus far it seemed to be working virtually perfectly.
“Do you,” Connor trembled out, “lay eggs?”
“I’m a male of my species, Ms. Connor. But the females of my race do indeed lay eggs as part of the Jrugraazhee reproductive cycle.”
“Then you don’t have families?”
“On the contrary, Ms. Connor, we do.”
“But do you suckle your children?”
“Our females don’t have breasts, Ms. Connor. My species is analogous to your world’s reptiles in that manner as well as many others.”
Connor actually seemed pained. Qraarel was tempted to probe her mind, but he decided not to.
“How,” Connor inquired, “how can there be any bonding between mother and child … if there’s no suckling?”
Qraarel shrugged. “There is. Isn’t it that way with your world’s birds and crocodilians?”
“Really?!”
Connor obviously realized her faux pas. Everyone knew about birds taking care of their eggs and young. But she did try to regain composure rather promptly.
“I mean,” she stammered, “it’s just that –“
“Ms. Connor! I would speak with you!”
Sorr’hmun-Gattu strode up with his usual high, bounding gait. The tall, grey, hairless but very muscular Hkevlan was twenty-one centimeters taller than Qraarel, who was a full two meters in height himself. Qraarel was a bit relieved at Sorr’hmun’s arrival, but Connor began to visibly blanch.
“Ms. Connor,” the Hkevlan said in a voice that boomed even when he lowered it, “I must inquire in regard to certain upgrades which you specified should be –“
Qraarel managed to catch Connor before she fell to the floor.
Sorr’hmun was obviously disappointed.
“Humans. Why must they be such a pusillanimous breed?”
“We are the first otherworlders most, if not all, of them have ever had constant social contact with,” Qraarel quipped. “They may have postulated interaction with alien races, but this is their reality now, and not all of them can adjust to it so soon. No doubt you recall the wars your race and mine fought against one another for so many constellation-cycles?”
The hulking, hairless Hkevlan grinned at that recollection.
“You were worthy foes. But alas – these Humans would not last a short while in a conflict with either –“
“We are not here to fight the Humans, my colleague. But to enlighten them. To see that they are ready for – “
“Did I faint?” suddenly asked Connor. “Sorry.”
As Connor started to stand on her own again, Sorr’hmun reiterated in a much softer tone, “I would speak with you, Ms. Connor, in regard to –“
“Oh … you mentioned upgrades?”
In a very short time Mary Connor and Sorr’hmun-Gattu were conversing with one another in a completely polite and civilized fashion, but it was still obvious that Connor was apprehensive and more than a little troubled.
Qraarel, however, felt certain that Connor and at least some of the other Humans he and the other Conglom-aliens working at Earls Gettering – as the name of that Human company was – were beginning to adjust to one another accordingly. It had, after all, taken a few Earthly centuries for the various worlds of the Conglom to properly interrelate to one another in a cooperative enough manner to even create the Conglom.
There was no sane way to not take that into account.
Humanity had been alone on planet Earth for a very long time. They were essentially interplanetary isolationists. But now they were finally having a taste of one of their race’s most coveted dreams.
Qraarel reflected upon that as he himself had a taste of a small bag of Star Bites.
‘My Favorite Martian’.
‘Mork and Mindy’.
The ‘Coneheads’ skits on ‘Saturday Night Live’.
‘Alf’.
‘Third Rock from the Sun’.
‘The Neighbors’.
Qraarel watched videos of these various television sitcoms over and over. They were both fiction and intended as humor, but Qraarel found them easier to relate to than the “serious” science-fiction which was the more regular fare for much teevee and film viewing. Jack Evans had told Qraarel that comedy was an art which was far more difficult to nurture and continue than straight drama, and after Qraarel had become knowledgeable enough in Earthly humor he could see Evans was right.
Comedic programming was rarely interested in scientific accuracy, of course, but Qraarel watched these videos over and over again to acquaint himself with the psychological subtext involved. True, the psychology was mostly just as skewed as the hard science related to, but it gave him some idea as to the workings of the minds of the Humans who wrote and directed and acted in such portrayals.
The basic essential premise was of some extraterrestrial or group of extraterrestrials who found themselves on Earth due to an accident – usually the crash-landing of a “flying saucer” – or because they were instructed by their superiors to go on some assignment there, and their interrelations with various Humans, as well as each other if there were more than one of them. In some programs the alien or aliens had some Human or Humans who acted as confidantes who actively concealed the aliens’ presence and/or real identity from the rest of Earth society. In many programs the alien or aliens had the advantage of already having a fully (external) Human appearance, in other programs the alien or aliens were through technology or some advanced inherent ability able to transform themselves into the shape of Humans, while in yet other series the alien did not have any shape-changing advantage and needed to be continuously hidden from sight by their Human allies.
The levels of conniving and credulity were often very extreme.
Of course for Qraarel it was nonetheless endlessly fascinating largely because the dramatic arts in all forms had become extinct on Halaow centuries earlier. So to be in a society where they still flourished in so many aspects of media was surely what so many of his Human co-workers might call an “added perk”.
And yet, he found those dramas and comedies which dealt with Humans in supposedly realistic or semi-realistic situations to be surprisingly unfulfilling and overly contrived. And programs or films which weren’t comedic but featured extraterrestrials seemed far too insubstantial.
But the comedies?
They really were never actually good, in his opinion, but at least he was able to relate to them on some level. But what level that was and why he really had no sane answer for.
********************************************************************************

“What the hell are you drinking, Monty?”
The presentation was over. Before heading back to their regular work Qraarel and the various others involved were having a fifteen-minute break for coffee and donuts. But after one cup and two donuts, Qraarel had suddenly reached again into his pack.
But this time he was consuming a decidedly non-Earthly beverage – one that suddenly heated itself up when uncapped.
And Michael Hecht of course had to ask what it was.
“This is melk,” was Qraarel’s answer. “A minor catalyst in the container warms it up to near-boiling when exposed to oxygen, but only upon initial exposure. Then it cools down at a normal rate, like coffee.”
“It looks,” observed Hecht, “like a watered-downed pudding or oatmeal.”
“Maybe.”
He began unpacking a few more snacks.
“These,” he told Hecht, “are pilkers. And this is sp’poooo. I trust you don’t find them too disgusting.”
“Not at all,” Hecht replied, and he was being truthful. “But we have more than enough coffee and donuts here. And I know you like coffee and donuts.”
“I do.”
“So – what? You miss some tastes from home?”
“That’s part of it,” replied Qraarel, “but you know my appetite. There’s a reason for that. My species is what you would considered warm-blooded reptiles, something in the manner of your birds albeit extrinsically and anatomically we are much more like your lizards and crocodilians. Well, when ambient temperatures are low, as in winter, we eat more to sustain an adequate body temperature. Therefore, if I would get too carried away in this instance, I could easily eat up all your donuts and drink down most of your coffee – and you know my species doesn’t urinate.”
“Don’t you eat,” asked Hecht, “three meals a day?”
“Large highly diversified meals? Only about twice or thrice every eight or nine of your days. Eating large bulky meals of that kind makes us rather lethargic, triggering a proclivity towards torpor. And I have too much work to do here to start hibernating now.”
“I wonder,” continued Hecht. “Can Humans ingest these ‘other’ foods you eat?”
Qraarel sighed. “Our dietary needs are roughly similar, but there are a few significant differences. No doubt many of the other-Earthly foodstuffs I have access to can be successfully and safely ingested by your kind, but then again there would be the question as to whether or not you would find them palatable or not.”
“I’d like to try.”
Qraarel sighed. “I think I may have something with me you might find tasty enough. Here.”
He pulled out a pressure-wrapped packet of quella slices. Hecht opened the packet, took out and sniffed at one of the pieces of blue-and-gold fruit, then popped it into his mouth.
“Hmmm,” he pondered after chewing and swallowing it. “Sort of flowery. Like roses but – that sweet quality. Like a wellripened persimmon, but sweeter. Smoother.”
Suddenly, before he could say another word, Hecht was besieged by several of his fellow Human co-workers who had seen him put an alien foodstuff in his mouth. They were asking all kinds of questions –
While others promptly flocked around Qraarel, asking him questions as well.
Hecht wound up with no ill effects from either ingesting the quella or the impromptu interrogation he found himself in after doing so.
But Mr. Tupper had Qraarel in his office not long after, and although there was obviously a lot of unnecessary apprehension for the first thirty seconds or so Mr. Tupper – who soldiered on very admirably even though he obviously still maintained his fear of reptiles – got Qraarel to agree to never share un-Earthly food with his Human co-workers without a conclusive laboratory analysis of the food in question first.
But when Qraarel brought up that all the otherworldly foodstuffs he had access to had already been rigidly scrutinized by both the FDA and the World Health Organization, Tupper promptly dropped the subject and told Qraarel to keep up the good work.
Then Qraarel returned to his projects – and Tupper went promptly home, saying he was nursing a migraine.
******************************************************************************

Earls Gettering’s Cleveland office in the Brinckley Building was one of ten business locations across America involved with the Conglom’s integration experiment. Five Conglom races were chosen in this experiment as they were deemed the best suited to function physically, socially, and psychologically on planet Earth and among Humanity. But of course the parameters of compatibility between Humans and the Conglom-representatives were far from exact, and so Earls Gettering’s Cleveland office arranged for its lower two floors to be designated and adapted as Conglom lounge-and-dining areas. For out of the seventeen Conglom-reps involved with the study – three Halaowskans, four Tlamirr, four Hkevlans, four Ctongcoids, and two n’Vezzsch -- there had been problems with compatibility from the very start; either from Humans, Conglom-reps, or both. But the Conglom anticipated this, so Earls Gettering was prudent to take their advice in concern with having part of their workplace deemed reserved for Conglom-reps exclusively.
The problems encountered were various. The dry-and-baggy-skinned Ctongcoids, who to Human reckoning resembled beige mummies with antennae instead of eyes, had a deep social anxiety in concern with eating or drinking in front of species not in the Conglom. Apparently they once would only eat or drink among their own kind exclusively, and to accept other Conglom-races watching them do so had taken a long time for them to tolerate.
Like the Ctongcoids, the celadon Tlamirr – with their petite superslim physiques, high and sharply oval heads, very flat faces, and chinless mouths with a small, triangular process at either edge of their upper jaws – only ate food from their native world.
And in an Earth-type atmosphere, it stank.
Stank so bad Humans who had the misfortune of smelling it promptly were forced into rather violent vomiting.
The n’Vezzsch, however, were not limited to their own planet’s foodstuffs – but the types of Earth-foods they could indeed safely eat were actually quite limited: goat’s milk, goat’s cheese, mushrooms, the oilier kinds of Earth’s fish, and various rodents. Of course, many Humans tended to think the eating of rats by n’Vezzsch to be “absolutely normal for cats”. But in truth, n’Vezzsch – who stood no taller and were no more muscular than the Tlamirr -- resembled Earthly felines only to a degree: Their ears were indeed cat-like in appearance, but their rounded, hairy heads were better equated in aspect to maybe the puffier heads of certain brands of dust-mops. And their eyes more closely resembled those of owls rather than cats. They also had noses so flat their presence was only indicated by the slanting nostrils below the inner ends of their eyes. And even odder was the indented nature of their surprisingly small mouths – as their eyes, etc., actually projected out from above the mouth. Thus although they may have seemed somewhat feline, the n’Vezzsch hardly struck one as active predators. And in truth, they tended to be rather introverted around folk they were unfamiliar with, and Humans were certainly that for the time being.
The tall, heavily muscled Hkevlans, however, were indeed active predators – and the only limitations they had on consuming Earthly foodstuffs were that said foodstuffs be animal.
And preferably alive.
Two great logs placed in deep metal troughs of moist dirt have actually been put in an area of this Conglom “lounge” for the Hkevlans to shovel under from time to time. The dirt under the logs was regularly re-stocked with earthworms, slugs, millipedes, centipedes, pill-bugs, toads, frogs, salamanders, small snakes and snake-eggs, ants and other insects, and various other small creatures which were placed in a state of near-hibernation by a specific application of low-frequency vibrations. Also, a regular abattoir had been set in that same area wherein the Hkevlans brought in goats, deer, and other live animals to slaughter and devour.
Needless to say, there were tons of complaints from Human “bambiists” who objected outright to “problem deer” being trapped from various neighborhoods and towns to be transported to downtown Cleveland to be eaten by aliens. But their outcries were promptly answered by pleas for understanding in regard to extraterrestrial necessities – but some people just went on complaining.
After floors ten and eleven of the Brinckley Building had become the “extraterrestrial lounge-and-dining-area”, most Humans stayed out of there, even though there were no official restrictions in regard to Humans visiting. But as was anticipated, almost all Humans simply stayed away – some out of consideration for the Conglom-folks’ privacy, but mostly out of irrational fear.
But there was one notable exception.
Michael Hecht.
Qraarel often noticed him there, sometimes talking to some of the Conglom-folk, sometimes simply walking around and looking. This Qraarel considered promising.
Sometimes Hecht would ask some decidedly interesting questions. He might ask whether Ctongcoids could see as Humans see, or whether Hkevlans had more than one skin color. Indeed, he had even asked Qraarel what the dominant skin color among Halaowskans was; as Qraarel was lime-green, Krueff Fonq was chestnut-brown, and Baxqvillek Aij was burnt-orange. He was intrigued by how Hkevlans brewed ales and stouts from such unsavory things as Earthly poison oak and the blood of the animals they killed.
He had once even asked the n’Vezzsch if they purred.
Granted, Hecht was sometimes intrusive, but for the larger part his inquisitiveness was to be admired.
Apparently Hecht’s long years of living alone had actually allowed him to be more accepting of the differences of others, and that was something the Conglom was actively searching for among Humans – and as was decidedly anticipated, most Humans were thus far found rather wanting in that trait.
But Hecht seemed to be getting there.
And Mary Connor seemed also to be trying, although it seemed a little more difficult for her.
Qraarel remembered how Hecht had asked him whether he could help Hecht find –
Yes. Maybe Mary Connor would want someone who could be with her as she interacted through problematical contact with otherworldly persons.
It seemed a definite possibility.
*******************************************************************************

It turned out that Mary Connor was gay. But that didn’t turn out to be a problem as she also happened to have a number of internet friends who actually envied the fact that she got to work with extraterrestrials.
And as it turned out, a few of them were willing to try dating Michael Hecht.
And indeed, within a month Michael – as Qraarel was now more ready to think of him as he now considered him an actual friend – had begun a steady relationship with a twenty-three-year-old rock musician and science-fiction writer named Cindi Moxey.
And it was extremely fortunate that Qraarel didn’t have to go out scanning women’s minds to find one who might like Michael.
Michael and Cindi seemed very happy.
But then Qraarel was suddenly called into the Human Relations director’s office one day.
Earls Gettering’s HR director was a woman named Beatrice Strand. She always wore pantsuits or jeans, and was most usually barefoot. She never wore makeup or perfume, never groomed her hair –
And entertained an attitude which was said to be as disheveled as she was.
Qraarel had met her only once – briefly – and she never spoke to him.
But now she frowned before finally speaking.
“First of all,” she said, “let me say I don’t approve of how you aliens came here to Earth and started dictating everything to everybody, but considering that you’re obviously just a small cog in a big machine, I’ve been willing to tolerate your presence here. But if you’re going to work here – or anywhere on Earth – you better follow the ground rules.”
“Have I violated some company policy?” Qraarel inquired.
He did not like this woman. And that saddened him. But it did happen.
“There are a variety of unwritten codes and rules which we Humans feel are better off left out of all books and lists,” Strand said with the arrogance dripping from her voice, “but everybody with half a brain still knows them.” She indicated a video monitor on her wall, pushed a button. “Remember this?”
“Michael Hecht was asking if I could find him a woman to date,” Qraarel related. “Does this violate company policy?”
“Oh, much worse than that, Mr. Qraarel or however you choose to address yourself – it violates Human policy! Michael Hecht is what we in the Human vernacular refer to as – a loser.”
“How can this be when he was promoted two weeks ago?”
“To Hell with how well he performs on the job – this is about life! If a man is, say, about twenty-four years old and has never had any intimacy with a woman, then that’s really all that matters in the long run!”
“Why should it matter –“
“It just does! Period! If a man gets to a certain age without being successful with women, then he should never be successful with women! Why do you think we have gay rights in this society?!”
“This isn’t like anything I’ve ever been told about gay rights or –“
“This is Ohio, fella – not California! This is Cleveland, not San Francisco! And around here, women know how to determine what a man is and should be!”
That was a falsehood. Qraarel wasn’t reading Strand’s thoughts, but her crass attitude had triggered his empathic capacities – and he was therefore able to sense that Strand wasn’t actually being truthful with him. This was some kind of game she was playing because something – no doubt Michael’s sudden luck in love – had aroused some form of personal contempt in her, making her feel she was suddenly out of control of her own personal reality.
And so now she was on the offensive against an enemy who had no idea she suddenly hated him for a reason which was for all practical purposes delusional and stupid. An enemy who wasn’t an enemy but that she wished was an enemy.
Simply so she could justify satisfying her sudden albeit unnecessary compulsion to punish someone.
“The media goes on and on about ‘diversity’ and ‘paying it forward’,” continued Strand. “All this crap about helping those who are less fortunate. But that’s only true up to a point. There are people in this society that you simply don’t help. And that is that!”
“So,” Qraarel said stiffly, “you are saying you will fire me for helping Michael Hecht in his quest for love?”
“I can’t fire you and you know it. However – “
Saliva was actually gleaming from the edges of her lips as she continued.
“However, if Michael Hecht refuses to face his destiny, then he is going to be fired.”
“He’s done nothing wrong!” Qraarel actually shouted.
“He’s offended me. That’s reason enough. And you know something? I’ve eaten iguana meat before. You guys taste just like chicken.”
******************************************************************************

Qraarel had been briefed about the unfortunate dichotomy of Human society: Their kindness and cruelty. Their sensitivity and arrogance. Their integrity and hypocrisy. Their greed and their charity. Their tolerance and bigotry. Their proclivities towards murder and life-saving.
Qraarel had taken his briefings with acceptance as so many in the Conglom, including his own people, had in their less advanced pasts been prone to similar venialities.
But the firing of Michael Hecht, as well as the disallowing him of any benefits, really irked Qraarel, and for some reason it struck him as a portent of worse things to come.
And in the end he was proven right in this regard.
In April, the firm of Philip and Packley, which had occupied the seventh and eighth floors of the Brinckley Building, suddenly vacated their offices in the wake of a most unusual takeover. As it turned out, they had been bought out by a small group of cable-network producers who had won an obscenely huge sum in one of the interstate lotteries – over two billion dollars, in fact. They had bought out Philip and Packley in order to move in two groups of politically obtuse radicals in order to film one of those reality-television series.
This series, called ‘Networking the Revolution’, was essentially centered around two chosen groups of “activists” as they interacted and discussed their sundry worldviews – and made declarations as to how the audience should support their causes and transform the world accordingly. But from the start, it was obvious that this series’ main interest was shock value rather than any common good. And the two radical groups they centered the series around were decidedly intolerant and self-centered – although this supposedly was only due to the need for the audience to be “re-educated”.
The first group called itself the OK Society, and was of a bunch of hygiene-challenged young people who referred to themselves as “hipsters”. Their major contention was that the hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s had been compromised, and that it was up to them to succeed where the original movement failed. They propounded a supposed necessity for “psychological martial arts”, wherein one was supposed to get any critic of their ideology to doubt their own reality. Life was absurd, they said, and truth was created in the mind not in reality. The bearded young men – they were all men, and all white – spent a lot of time blowing up toys, taking drugs, creating artworks with Human excrement, and making very one-sided arguments against civil rights, professional sports, urban renewal, and whatever else they seemed to think of. However, among their numerous tirades there often emerged a very fixed prejudice against something or another – and it was often very mean-spirited.
The second group of “activists” was at least as hateful as the first. They called themselves the WRTV – Wimmin’s Right To Violence – and were a group of femsexist agitators. They weren’t feminists, but femsexists. They weren’t interested in equal rights between the genders, but rather with the elimination of men and “other non-wimmin” from the world (they too were an all-white bunch, so the term “other non-wimmin” was pretty much self-explanatory). They were also very keen on forcing all of the world’s “wimmin” into what they called “correct thought and behavior”. They often said women should be satisfied with “bare feet, blue jeans, cigarettes, celibacy”. As some found unsurprising, the very moment the WRTV moved into the building, Beatrice Strand immediately quit her job and joined their ranks.
As one might have guessed, these two groups never saw eye to eye (at least not initially), and most of the high points of the television show were centered around members of the two groups arguing and fighting with one another, using very colorful language at every turn. And yet, in spite of the decidedly disturbing and disgusting nature of the show, ‘Networking the Revolution’ had proven to be unbelievably popular. Michael Hecht had once told Qraarel that the worldwide Human media far too often deluded itself into believing it actually owned Humanity, and that it could dictate to all civilization what was right or wrong, true or false, necessary or worthless. Qraarel of course knew that abuses in the media on other worlds had often been the cause of numerous major catastrophes – and in a few cases had even led to civilizations destroying themselves.
Qraarel could only hope Humanity would not allow its media to get too out of hand.
But the fact that multicorp media was indeed getting out of hand was elucidated soon enough. One would not consider that these two radical groups who were so diametrically opposed to one another’s points of view would suddenly find common ground, but May hadn’t even started when suddenly both the OK Group and the WRTV suddenly set their sights on the Conglom-representatives – and it got even uglier than it had originally been. All of a sudden these two radical organizations began ranting about “alien invasion and assimilation”. Both the OK Group and WRTV started a diatribe of “Earth for Humanity and only Humanity!”, wherein it was argued that Humanity should follow its own destiny without any extraterrestrial “manipulation”, and that extraterrestrials had “no right” to “contaminate” the world or Human society. They ranted on and on about “loss of culture and identity” due to “alien occupation”. Worse still, these two radical organizations soon inspired their members and/or followers to first stage protests outside the Brinckley Building as well as “blockade” the aliens out. This led to massive clashes first with Cleveland police and the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department – and then with the Ohio National Guard as literally tens of thousands of protesters began to descend on Cleveland.
And as might be imagined, this fantastic degree of rabblerousing idiocy also began playing out in the other cities where Conglom-reps were working and residing. And it often resulted in violence and death.
No extraterrestrials wound up dead, but ever-increasing numbers of Humans did. The U.S. Government and the United Nations called out for reason and understanding, but they were simply answered by the jeers of millions of demagogues and provocateurs which claimed that they did not speak for the people of Earth – and that they were covertly involved with the Conglom in order to create a “one world order”.
Michael Hecht spoke to Qraarel and his other former extraterrestrial co-workers, and informed them that this was a bona fide example of the media misusing its influence to create the sensationalism it craved – and that it didn’t care who got hurt or destroyed as long as the ratings were high and people mouthed their catchphrases and buzzwords. Hecht noted that the American people had allowed themselves to have reality-TV so dominate their opinions and attitudes that it had become a given that reality-TV could get away with whatever its creators wanted. Reality-TV over the years had been credited with both adding and repealing amendments to the U.S. Constitution, leading to the overthrow of certain foreign governments, turning the larger part of the American population against religion, getting various branches of medical and scientific research outlawed, transforming the subjects taught in public schools, and even getting certain American presidents elected.
Reality television was full of itself, and there simply was no letting up.
But whereas so many Humans allowed themselves to be completely taken in, there were also others who both denounced and acted against what the so-called “boob-tube” dictated as status quo. These individuals actually began championing the presence of alien culture in Human society, and so many of the most violence clashes were between the reality-TV “zombies” and the various “geeks” who kept alive the old dream of improving the Human condition via intelligent dialog and promotion of new relationships with new things – and new civilizations. And of course, there were the lawyers. Each side was not only fighting each other but also suing one another nonstop.
Before Memorial Day, the whole situation was playing out all over America, Canada, and in numerous other countries as well. And even those nations which took little or no participation in that madness soon had to contend with the instability caused by that madness on a global scale. India and Pakistan first began fighting one another, then both of them began nuking China as that superpower suddenly attacked both of them simultaneously. Both Koreas were fighting again. The Islamic State wiped out most of the population of the Middle East with biological weapons before fragmenting and fighting among themselves.
Atrocity followed atrocity. The Human population was halved within less than a year, then reduced even further over the next few months.
And to think it all was the result of two ridiculous groups of radicals on a reality-TV show.
*******************************************************************************

As he grabbed another goldfish out of the aquarium and popped it into his mouth, Sorr’hmun-Gattu said, “We must never forget that at least some of them actually fought for us.”
Qraarel looked out from the fortified bunker which had been hastily constructed at Whiskey Island for the Conglomreps once the violence began. It was under the continuous aegis of an entire regiment of the National Guard twenty four-seven.
As Qraarel looked out over Lake Erie, he inquired, “Is there any known precedent for this recorded in Conglom records?”
A n’Vezzsch named Cl’peesaLaam said, “I believe something like this occurred on the planet Nupp.”
“Where is Nupp?”
“Hlashii-Four?”
“Hlashii,” reflected Qraarel. “I have heard of that star. When did it happen?”
“About seven constellation-cycles ago.”
“I see.”
Suddenly the intercom buzzed. Cl’peesaLaam answered it.
“Yes?”
The voice on the other end said: “You have visitors.”
“Must be someone from the Government,” Qraarel pondered. “Possibly the President.”
But it turned out that these visitors were far more welcome than anyone from the Government or United Nations.
“Michael Hecht!” Qraarel beamed when they entered. “It’s so good to see you! You too, Mary Connor! And Cindi Moxey! So good to see all of you!”
“Hello, Iggy,” Hecht said with obvious discomfort. “How are they treating you?”
“We are well,” answered Sorr’hmun. “We must apologize for all that has happened.”
“It’s not your fault,” Mary put in. “It’s not really most of Humanity’s fault, really. Just a few tens of thousands of evil demagogues whom the media gave its unholy sanction to until most everybody was swept up into this mess, whether they wanted it or not. And most of them didn’t want it, but it was forced on them, and now –“
“What news is there presently?” asked Sorr’hmun.
“Both Coasts are simply rubble and chaos,” said Mary. “All the way from Alaska down to Mexico. Most of the fighting is now in the Plains States. Canada has essentially self-destructed, and Mexico is just as bad as the Plains. But most of the fighting in South America seems to be dying down, but it’ll start up soon enough when too many people start to starve due to destruction of both food and transportation-routes.”
“How fares the Eastern Hemisphere?” Qraarel inquired.
“It could have been worse,” replied Michael. “It’s believed that only about seven hundred megatons were used in the exchange between China and all the other countries. But most of the natural environment in Asia has been utterly wiped out. Africa and Europe have to deal with massive poisoning, most of the Middle East is unlivable, and Australia and Japan are just holding on. But none of this is your doing. We did this to ourselves.”
“It’s all so unnecessary,” moaned Cindi.
Mary asked, “So when is your starship arriving to take you back?”
“They should arrive,” said Qraarel, “in about that amount of time you would call a fortnight.”
“Two weeks?” asked Cindi.
“Yes.”
“We will miss you,” said Michael. “I hope maybe someday you might return. At least for a little while.”
“Perhaps,” considered Qraarel, “for a clandestine social call. I can’t promise it, but it might be arranged.”
Cindi nodded, echoed the words, “Might be.”
Qraarel turned to take yet another look at the lake outside the window. Lake Erie. Shallowest of the Great Lakes. With the sun just beginning to set over it.
And in spite of current circumstances, in spite of all the disaster and catastrophe, he had to believe.
It might be.
No. Not might. Would be.
Qraarel had preferred American television’s comedic science-fiction to its more “serious” incarnations, but he did make it a point to be relatively knowledgeable about America’s most beloved science-fiction franchise:
‘Star Trek.’
He had been more impressed by America’s never-ending devotion to it rather than by any content-matter its multitudinous manifestations on television, in cinema, in literature, and elsewhere displayed and proposed, but he suddenly recalled one particular aspect about it:
That fictional race the Klingons and their Empire.
Initially the Klingon Empire was the dominant adversary of the United Federation of Planets. But over time, the main storyline had the Federation and the Empire becoming staunch allies. There were still differences and hardships – and occasionally even distrust – between them, but in the end their alliance always survived and endured.
That of course was fiction. But everywhere in the galaxy, it was known that fiction could inspire reality.
Indeed, the present catastrophe illustrated how easily life and art might become interchangeable.
But that interrelationship could produce positive change rather than negative if only it were used responsibly. Perhaps not presently, but in the future surely.
“What’s the word on the United Nations’ request?” asked Mary.
“No member-world will act on the behalf of an unaffiliated planet without both the proper sessions and vote of all planets in the Conglom,” Qraarel explained. “The process will not be a short one.”
“But if they vote to help us?” asked Michael.
“Then they will help. But even if they don’t, they may be willing to try another initiative with Earth at a later time.”
“Provided we’re still alive,” Cindi muttered.
“There must be hope,” said Qraarel. “Yes. Let us perform that quaint Human ritual of the toast as a pledge to hope.”
Michael was a little puzzled.
“What of the Ctongcoids?”
“We’ve discussed it beforehand. They are willing to drink with the rest of us.”
“Drink what?” Mary asked. “I mean, if I remember correctly, alcohol is toxic to Ctongcoids, the n’Vezzsch can’t tolerate caffeine or tannic acid, the Tlamirr can’t stand anything sweet –“
“And yet there is,” beamed Qraarel, “one thing we can all safely drink – one substance which nearly all life can consume without harm. Within reason, of course. Not all life drinks it, but it does most usually consume it in some medium.”
“All of us can drink it,” Sorr’hmun put in. “And its universal nature makes it even more appropriate for the ritual.”
“Almost all life needs it,” said Cl’peesaLaam. “It is perfect for such a salute.”
And so it was done it that way. They all had a toast. A toast to life, to understanding, to community.
A toast to hope for a better future for both Earth and the Conglom.
They toasted each other.
With water.
The universal beverage.
And the sun set, but the hope under it remained. And reached to the stars.

Thomas T, Cleveland (Grades 9-12)