Not Non-Fiction


Hey, Aqualung.

Stages Of A Cold

Day 1, Morning: You wake up with a sore throat. It doesn’t seem bad, but it’s a harbinger of things to come. You gargle with some warm salt water and assume that the gagging that follows must be enough to dislodge any infection.

Day 1, Late Afternoon: The runny nose starts. This also doesn’t seem bad. The fluid is clear and a few good blows into a tissue seem to clear it out. By the time you walk out of the bathroom and down the hall your nose is running again and you decide you’d better just take a couple of tissues with you.

At this point you could take some cold medicine but why would you when you haven’t got a cold?

Day 2, Morning: You’ve got a cold. Your head feels like it’s stuffed with cotton, your voice is an octave lower, and you can’t pronounce glottal stops. You blow your nose into a tissue until it’s completely soaked through and starting to disintegrate. This takes approximately twenty-three seconds.

Day 2, Evening: You can’t remember whether the rule is “Starve a fever, feed a cold” or the other way around. Not that it matters because you’ve lost your appetite. The good news you still have your senses of taste and smell. The bad news is you don’t really want anything you can taste or smell.


Day 987: Actually it’s Day 3, Morning: It just feels like it’s been that long. You can’t tell if it’s the cold or the cold medicine that makes you feel like all you want to do is lie in bed and shiver.

Day 3, Late Morning: A scaly crust has formed on your upper lip. A quick search tells you the divot under your nose is called the “philtrum”. This is mildly interesting but you don’t see how you’ll ever use this information since at the moment you’re hot, sweaty, and leaking fluids and can’t imagine wanting to be near another human being ever again.

Day 3, Afternoon: All you want is just a few minutes of normal breathing, the kind you had in the distant, hazy past that was last week. And now the coughing has started. It’s just small coughs. You’re hopeful this is as bad as it will get. You’re also wrong.

Day 3, Late Afternoon: You remember seeing people put a towel over their heads and lean over a pot of steaming water. You decide to try this to see if it will work. The bad news is it doesn’t. The good news is you now know the fire extinguisher you’ve had in the kitchen for decades works. Next time will you take the pot of water off the hot stove before you hang your towel-draped head over it? Of course not. You’re never going to do this again.

Day 3, Evening: Still shivering uou take your temperature. It’s 68.9. Oh, wait, you have that upside down. It’s 98.6. Is the rule “Feed a cold”? Let’s just say it is. You heat three cans of condensed chicken soup. You’re halfway through slurping it straight out of the pan when you realize you didn’t add any water. While you’re finishing the rest you order a pizza. While you’re picking it up at your front door your six boxes of Chinese food arrive.


Day 4, Morning: The cold medicine you took last night is labeled as “working for up to eight hours”. At exactly seven hours and fifty-nine minutes terrible, hacking coughs cause you to fall out of bed. You stumble into the kitchen and blow your nose into a paper towel which now looks like someone hit it with a spoonful of crème brulee.

Day 4, Lunch: Your nose has become a gelatin factory. The less said about this the better. You’re cycling through hot beverages: cider, tea with honey, tea with lemon, tea with orange juice, tea with maple syrup, tea with yak butter.

Day 4, Evening: You’re tired but not so listless. You crawl into bed and almost immediately slip into a dreamless sleep.


Day 5, Morning: The cough persists but you can breathe deeply through your nose without any trouble. You think you just might recover.


Day 10, Evening: You’re out for Trivia Night with some friends. The host yells out, “What is that divot under your nose called?” You’re about to answer when a guy on the opposing team says, “Philtrum!” You avoid him. You don’t want to catch whatever he’s got.



The Change.

A friend of mine told me, “I’ve been having these dreams that I’m running through the woods on all fours. I’m chasing something and I think that running on two legs would be better, but somehow I find myself going faster than I could on two legs, and it just feels natural. Anyway if I’m not around during the next full moon maybe this is why.”

And this is my reply:

Congratulations! You’re about to go through one of the great Changes Of Life. It’s like puberty in that you’ll get a lot of hair in places you never had it before, as well as extremely strong emotions, and an overwhelming desire to run around naked. Unlike puberty this isn’t a change most people go through, but I’m glad you shared it with me because I can offer you some advice.

First, it’s not the moon, it’s the mood. The moon may be full or it may be gibbous, and I’m not just saying that because “gibbous” is a funny word. It’s cyclical but it’s irregular. You’ll find it hits you primarily spring and summer, but also sometimes in the fall. Pray it doesn’t hit you in the middle of winter, especially when it’s been snowing.

Second, when the mood hits you avoid people. Just get away. This is where it’s also like puberty: you’re going to want to have some companions around you but you’re also going to be irritable and difficult to deal with, even for people who know what you’re going through. You’re also not going to want to be around people, and that’s for the best. Someone could get hurt and no one wants that. Also people don’t taste very good.

Third, keep a change of clothes in your car. While you’re going to feel better after a nice long stroll through the woods chances are you’re going to forget where you left the ones you were wearing. Figure out a nice secure place to store your phone, wallet, and keys. This should probably not be inside your car since they’ve all got this auto-locking feature now, and anyway you wouldn’t want to go off and leave all that stuff in an unlocked car anyway. Hollow logs are a bad idea because animals like to go back and forth through those and you don’t want a raccoon getting your credit cards. Putting stuff under a rock usually works.

Fourth, remember where you parked your car.

Fifth, yes, silver bullets can kill you. So can copper bullets, steel bullets, pointed sticks, rocks, getting hit by a car, and pretty much anything else that can cause serious injury.

Sixth, you may feel the desire to mark your territory. I recommend you do this late at night with the lights off. Your neighbors don’t want to see that.

Finally, relax, this is all perfectly natural. If you just go with it you’ll find it can even be a lot of fun, and most of the time it’ll just pass without anyone even noticing anything. Oh, before I forget, though, if some morning you wake up in the woods naked and smeared with blood you’ll want to get checked for tularemia.

Welcome to the pack, good luck, and here’s hoping we don’t run into each other!

Round And Round.

The writing group I’m part of decided it would be fun to try a round-robin writing exercise with everyone who wanted to join adding part of a story. And that got me wondering why it’s called a “round-robin” so I went to the Oxford English Dictionary and found that a round robin is, among other things, a small pancake, a sunfish, a hedge plant, a protective plate for a carriage axle, and, most interestingly, a letter signed by several people with all the signatures arranged in a circle so the recipient wouldn’t know who signed first. This was mainly used by sailors when presenting grievances to their captain, specifically something like, “If you don’t give us shore leave we’re all going to jump ship.” I’m not sure why who signed first mattered but maybe it was their way of showing there was no peer pressure.

Anyway it eventually got around to meaning “A group activity consisting of successive participation from each member of the group” which is what the writing group is doing. The group doesn’t really have a leader but it does have two co-organizers, and they’re generally okay with giving us shore leave whenever we want.

The guy who was supposed to be in charge of the round-robin exercise had to drop out, though, because he’s really busy and he asked if I’d take over. I said sure. I was already planning to join in, although I’d missed the initial discussion meeting, and I didn’t think there’d be that much difference between taking part and starting it off. Except starting it was a bit of a challenge. I had to come up with an interesting opening, a perfect setup that would draw everyone else in while also giving them plenty to work with. I’ve never been part of something like this and the only example I could think of was Naked Came The Stranger which, for obvious reasons, didn’t sound like the best model, although Naked Came The Manatee is a little better. And as a collective project I wanted it to be fun for everyone.

It also got me thinking about how all stories are, in some sense, collective. We all draw inspiration from what we’ve read, what we’ve experienced, and we build stories around a shared language. That led to an epiphany: the closed circle of suspects subgenre of mystery. Think Clue, the movie, not the game, or Knives Out or, for more literary examples, Murder On The Orient Express.

It seemed like the perfect setup. It wouldn’t have to involve murder but I thought trapped people having to work together or turn on each other would, metaphorically and practically, be a great way to keep it interesting and keep it from getting too far out of hand. I wrote about five hundred words about a woman driving to a large, isolated house in a rainstorm. Just after her car passes over the bridge she sees it washed away in her rearview mirror. When she reaches the house and goes in she finds her brother and several strangers all gathered for the reading of her eccentric mother’s will. She tells everyone that the bridge has washed away and a voice from the darkness says, “Oh, we’ve got bigger problems than that!”

I sent it off to the group organizers and got a reply back that, since I’d missed the initial meeting, I missed that they already had a plan drawn up and I’d just be stepping in to lead what they’d started.

Fine. Okay then. Hey, this is a collective project and I’m willing to go with the group.

But they’d better not ask for shore leave.