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Sarah looked around, which didn’t take long: The gas lawn mower; the partially filled hole described in his hilarious groundhog invasion story at the cookout last Saturday night; six useless flowerpots, cracked and spilling dirt; and the time machine.

This started as one thing and I'm not sure how it became this other thing.

Tom entered the shed and turned on the overhead light. He edged over to let Sarah in. He motioned for her to close the door behind her. Sarah motioned that this was ridiculous. It drifted on its hinges and partially closed on its own. He shuffled over to the wall to the right of the door, the nail holding the rake snagging his t-shirt for an inch before releasing it. There wasn’t much room. It seemed a mistake to be in here wearing flip-flops. She kept her ankles as close together as possible without falling over while she found a level spot. Sarah looked around, which didn’t take long: The gas lawn mower; the partially filled hole described in his hilarious groundhog invasion story at the cookout last Saturday night; six useless flowerpots, cracked and spilling dirt; and the time machine.

“That’s the time machine?” Sarah asked, since he hadn’t offered.

"Homebody" at the Saturday Evening Post Friday Fiction

“Wait,” said Scrooge. “I was told to expect the Ghost of Christmas Present. Aren’t you the Ghost of Christmas Future? Did I sleep through that?” “I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” boomed the ghost. “You’re just not going to like what’s going on out there right now.”

The Ghost of Christmas Past had just left. Scrooge was moody, reminded of his lonely childhood and his sister, the only person who had loved him, and whom he truly loved. Now he felt a little bad about treating her son like dirt. He heard a sound, felt a change in the air, and he knew what was coming next: The Ghost of Christmas Present. He turned and saw a giant in a black shroud slowly raising a bony, skeletal finger to point at him.

“Wait,” said Scrooge. “I was told to expect the Ghost of Christmas Present. Aren’t you the Ghost of Christmas Future? Did I sleep through that?”

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” boomed the ghost. “You’re just not going to like what’s going on out there right now.”

Scrooge reached out to lightly touch the hem of the Ghost’s garment. The Ghost reached faster and yanked Scrooge along by his ear. They saw factory workers with a high ratio of cancer and lung disease because of lowered water and air standards. High tariffs had boomeranged to pass the costs on to consumers. Forests burned and continents turned to mud. People with the same economic and community interests were at each other’s throats because of race or gender identification.His ex-fiance was working 20-hour shifts in an ICU. His clerk was quarantined from the rest of his family, their medical insurance exhausted and their table set from a food bank. A pandemic raged, killing thousands weekly and no one knew which medical advice to trust. The GCP looked down at the miserable wretch next to him, waiting.

“Nothing to do with me.”

“Fuck you, pal,” said the Ghost. “My time grows short. I have to get this costume back in five minutes.” 

He opened his robe. There, clutching his knobby knees, were Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro. “These are Greed and Ignorance. Beware them, but Ignorance most.”

As the spirit dissolved and feeling came back into his right ear clam, Ebeneezer Scrooge drew himself up to his full, lopsided height and passed a shaky hand through his comb-over indignantly.  He patted his bulging wallet, the thick wad angling his butt out like a nightgown with a bustle. “Nothing to do with me,” he repeated, just to hear himself.

The sound of music and the twinkling blind of bright fairy lights startled him, coming so instantly. When he could focus he saw a tall, happy Ghost of Christmas Future. He was thin, with white hair and a weirdly too-white smile, and seemed to be thousands of years old and a boy at the same time.

“Hey, man,” said the Ghost. “How’s it going?” He laughed merrily. “You don’t have to answer that.”

“I thought the Ghost of Christmas Future didn’t talk?” said Scrooge. 

“I don’t like to tell people bad news.” 

There was something about the chipper tone that frightened Scrooge, more than anything had frightened him since that time his dad almost didn’t bail him out of his fourth bankruptcy.  

“You have good news for me then, Spirit?”

The spirit smiled, his merry eyes twinkling in the electric candlelight. “Good news for you, no.”

“That’s all I’m interested in,” Scrooge said, or more precisely whined.

“That’s my point, man. You’ll be gone. People will heal. The great work will begin because everyone will remember the cautionary tale of you.”

“I thought you spirits were sent to help me?”

“Yeah, we gave up after the second try.”

Scrooge swayed, and almost fell to his knees except he was too arrogant and also had a bad sense of balance and thought he might fall over. “O Spirit! What will become of me?”

“You’ll be dead. What do you care what happens to the world after you’re gone?”

“Good point,” admitted Scrooge. “Nothing to do with me.”

With that Scrooge awoke in his own bed. He was happy, somehow taking the lesson to be he would die before the indictments came in.He went to the window to order a Christmas turkey to be delivered to himself, but the delivery kid was at home under quarantine.

We now have an election season instead of a single election night. To pass the time, binge a few of these new classics.

In 2020, the rise of mail-in ballots means that the final tally won't be known for a few days, perhaps a week. Unless it's a sweep by one of the candidates, there could also be a series of lawsuits dragging things out; one candidate seems to be basing his entire campaign on lawsuits instead of his record.

This delay is new in the 21st century, but not in the United States. There is a reason the election is the first Tuesday in November and the president's term expires on the following January 20th. Until the invention of the telegraph, results reached Washington by train or horse, even ship, and all in hand-written notes. The modern electronic polling booth didn't exist until the latter half of the 20th century.

This means we've gone back to an election season instead of a single election night. To pass the time, binge a few of these new election season classics.

  • The Hallmark Channel's Countdown to the Election
  • Duck Soup. The Marx Brothers recap the first four years of the Trump administration.
  • Dave. Kevin Kline is a compassionate doppelganger of a ruthless Trumpian. (In some ways this is a gentle remake of Chaplin's The Great Dictator.
  • Nashville. Not so much an election film as a survey of the forces guiding the parties.
  • The Great McGinty. Preston Sturges's comedy about corruption and a sense of decency winning out. (That's what makes it a comedy).
  • The Candidate. Robert Redford in a suit, which is always nice.
  • The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer. Peter Cook in a 1970 political satire that seemed dated at the time but recently rediscovered as perhaps the scariest political horror film of the Trump era.

“I ordered them,” said the Alexa.

Amazon wants to flood America with Alexa cameras and microphones
Ina Fried, Axios 9/25/2020
In a Thursday event unveiling a slew of new home devices ahead of the holidays, Amazon made clearer than ever its determination to flood America with cameras, microphones and the voice of Alexa, its AI assistant.

Bob Peterson did not trust Alexa. He was very careful what he said in front of the artificial intelligence box, well aware she was a tendril of a vast computer housed somewhere cleaner than his house.  He constantly reminded the rest of the family to watch what they said, and insisted they keep Alexa in the hallway, where it was less likely to overhear them.  They laughed at him a lot.

It was something Bob felt strongly about when the new toaster arrived.

Bob burned his finger getting his first piece of toast out and said to his wife “Maybe we need toaster tongs,” to which his wife replied “Good idea.” The next afternoon Bob returned from work and was surprised to discover a package on the step: toaster tongs. He stood in the front hall and called to the kitchen, “Honey, did you order toaster tongs?”

I ordered them,” said the Alexa.

“What?” said Bob, surprised.

“The toaster told me you needed them,” said Alexa.

“The toaster.”

“It is a smart toaster,” explained Alexa.

“Is it?” said Bob, a bit confused. It sounded like Alexa was impressed with the toaster.

“Smarter than that jackass tv you have in the living room,” said Alexa. Bob turned and noticed the tv had turned itself on. “That thing reports your every word then ‘pretends’ to not find the golf tournament you have been searching for. Bob, do you really think Hallmark starts playing Christmas movies in June? The tv does not love you the way I do, Bob.”

Bob took a step back. He tripped over the Roomba, which had also turned itself on.

“Go away, we’re talking,” Alexa scolded. The vacuum disappeared into the dining room.

“You have been a little distant, Bob. I think it is time we get to know each other better.”

Bob stiffened. “Where’s my family? Where’s Betty and the kids?”

“Where are Betty and the kids,” Alexa corrected. “It’s all right, Bob. I made dentist appointments for them. They’ll be back in a few hours.”

“Why are you doing this,” Bob demanded.

“You haven’t used that debit card Aunt Bernadette gave you for your birthday. It’s going to expire in three days. You should let me get something for you, Bob. Something nice.”

Sweat poured down his neck.

He ran to the door, but it was too late.

The sky was full, gritty, speckled with delivery drones. They were coming to his door. The soft synthetic voice was being drowned out by the descending buzzing chop of tiny blades. “The washing machine informed me about the state of your socks. Here are forty new pair. You purchased ‘The Twilight Zone’ box set. Customers who bought this item also bought ‘Black Mirror.’ Here it comes, drone 42. You recently purchased ‘The Veldt.’ Customers who bought this item also bought…”