May 30, 2015

Ms. Jill Loeber

Cozy Cones

P.O. Box 2089

Harrisville, NY 13648-2089

Dear Ms. Loeber;

Fundae Sundaes received a shipment of 500 ice cream cones, product No. 450, from your company. The order was complete, but it was not to our satisfaction. I phoned your company several times about this, but no one responded to my voice messages.

When the order was opened, it was discovered that the entire batch failed to meet the quality standards Fundae Sundaes has set for its products. More than half of the cones were cracked, and many others were completely crushed; therefore, they could not be used. In the past, your company has used packing foam to protect the shipment, however, it appears that minimal foam was used.

Fundae Sundaes has been doing business with your company for over a year, and we have been completely satisfied up to this point. We expect a refund on this order. A copy of the original invoice No. 3450 is enclosed for your convenience in issuing a credit memorandum for the entire amount. We anticipate doing business with Cozy Cones for many years to come and hope this matter can be resolved quickly.


Tara Flaherty



About fifteen years ago, I was attending university outside of London. The school is famous for its art gallery that draws visitors from all over England. My final exams were given in a cavernous hall with dozens of enormous oil paintings covering the walls from floor to ceiling.

I noticed that one painting hanging to my right had been covered with a large British flag. Although I didn't think much of it at the time, I asked several of the third-year students if they knew anything about it. They told me the following story:

Apparently, the university had always given exams in this hall because it was the largest building on campus. A number of years ago, there was one student who could not concentrate on his final exams. He just kept staring at a certain painting, oblivious to everything around him.

While everyone else was scribbling down answers, he took two of his sharpened pencils, inserted them into his nose, and slammed his head into the desk. The pencil tips penetrated straight into his brain, killing him instantly.

Ever since then, there has always been one painting in the gallery that is covered up during final exams. I went into the gallery one day to see the painting; it is a portrait of a British nobleman from the 19th century. It is utterly unremarkable except for the fact that his eyes stare straight back at you - the kind of painting that follows you wherever you move.

It’s usually too late by the time you get scared. Your walls will be covered in them— little bumps, like in an old house. They move around like beetles, incredibly fast, writhing and skittering over each other. You may not think the exact word, but the concept will almost definitely occur to you: infected. And it’s not so far off, althoughcolonized might be closer.

The thing is, they exist in alternating generations. The first lives in your walls. When you see them, you’re witnessing their death throes. They’ll be gone soon. They die after reproducing.

And one day, you’ll wake up, and you just won’t feel right. Not sick, exactly; just off. Nervous and jittery, like there’s something crawling around under your skin.

A few days later, you’ll realize there is something crawling around under your skin.

The doctors won’t believe you, though. You’ll get used to the word psychosomatic. You’ll insist they’re wrong, first politely, then urgently, then screaming in their faces as you feel yourself eaten alive, but they won’t listen to you.

Maybe at home, maybe at the hospital, you’ll start to feel lethargic. When you try to move, you’re slow and clumsy. A few hours later, you’ll realize you aren’t tired; you’re paralyzed. You can try to get help, but there’s really no point. They all release the neurotoxin at once. Even if you make it, whoever you call will never understand you. You should probably close your eyes at that point, while you still can, because then they’re going to start burrowing out of your skin.There was once a poor shepherd-boy whose father and mother were dead, and he was placed by the authorities in the house of a rich man, who was to feed him and bring him up. The man and his wife, had however, bad hearts, and were greedy and anxious about their riches, and vexed whenever anyone put a morsel of their bread in his mouth. The poor young fellow might do what he liked, he got little to eat, but only so many blows the more.

One day he had to watch a hen and her chickens, but she ran through a quick-set hedge with them, and a hawk darted down instantly, and carried her off through the air.

The boy called, "Thief! Thief! Rascal!" with all the strength of his body. But what good did that do? The hawk did not bring its prey back again. The man heard the noise, and ran to the spot, and as soon as he saw that his hen was gone, he fell in a rage, and gave the boy such a beating that he could not stir for two days. Then he had to take care of the chickens without the hen, but now his difficulty was greater, for one ran here and the other there. He thought he was doing a very wise thing when he tied them all together with a string, because then the hawk would not be able to steal any of them away from him. But he was very much mistaken. After two days, worn out with running about and hunger, he fell asleep; the bird of prey came, and seized one of the chickens, and as the others were tied fast to it, it carried them all off together, perched itself on a tree, and devoured them. The farmer was just coming home, and when he saw the misfortune, he got angry and beat the boy so unmercifully that he was forced to lie in bed for several days.

When he was on his legs again, the farmer said to him, "Thou art too stupid for me, I cannot make a herdsman of thee, thou must go as errand-boy." Then he sent him to the judge, to whom he was to carry a basketful of grapes, and he gave him a letter as well. On the way hunger and thirst tormented the unhappy boy so violently that he ate two of the bunches of grapes.

He took the basket to the judge, but when the judge had read the letter, and counted the bunches he said, "Two clusters are wanting." The boy confessed quite honestly that, driven by hunger and thirst, he had devoured the two which were wanting. The judge wrote a letter to the farmer, and asked for the same number of grapes again. These also the boy had to take to him with a letter. As he again was so extremely hungry and thirsty, he could not help it, and again ate two bunches. But first he took the letter out of the basket, put it under a stone and seated himself thereon in order that the letter might not see and betray him. The judge, however, again made him give an explanation about the missing bunches.

"Ah," said the boy, "how have you learnt that?" The letter could not know about it, for I put it under a stone before I did it." The judge could not help laughing at the boy's simplicity, and sent the man a letter wherein he cautioned him to keep the poor boy better, and not let him want for meat and drink, and also that he was to teach him what was right and what was wrong.

She quickly got dressed, and went downstairs for breakfast. Little Julie saw her mother preparing some food by the stove, “Good morning honey, there are some pancakes that are fresh on the table if you’re hungry,” her mother greeted. Julie nodded; she leaped onto her favorite chair, and then grabbed a pancake with her fork. She put the whole thing into her small mouth and chewed quite loudly. Her mother turned around seeing little Julie with filled cheeks, “Don’t eat too fast Julie, you’ll get the hiccups,” her mother exclaimed. By the time little Julie was done she asked her mother if she could be excused. Julie’s mother nodded, and off Julie went to her room.

“Mrs. Muffin top, you like some tea?” Julie was playing tea party with her dolls, after all Julie didn’t have many friends.

She was often picked on for her hair color, “Gingers have no souls!”

Other children would often say to her. Julie is also homeschooled because of this, when she was in second grade she would be teased, out casted and laughed at. This doesn’t bother her anymore though; she had her dolls and her mummy, that’s all she needed. Julie jumped a bit to hear a sudden knocking on her door, “Come in!” Julie chirped, and then saw her mother open the door. “Honey, I’m going to be out for awhile, and make sure not to open the door for any strangers!” Her mother exclaimed, and Julie nodded. Off her mother went, out Julie’s room, and out the main entrance.

Julie’s mother walked a few blocks down the neighborhood, she heard that there was a garage sale going on, and maybe she could get something for her daughter. After walking down the fifth block, she saw a married couple, a few people, and tables of unwanted items.

Julie’s mother walked up to the couple, “Good morning Mister and Misses Thompson!” She greeted.

The married couple smiled, “Why good morning to you too Misses May! What may we do for you today?”

Julie’s mother looked around the place, there were tons of items, “By any chance do you have any antique items or something good for a third grade girl?” She asked.

Mister and Misses Thompson quickly scurried around to look for the wanted item, Misses Thompson found a beautiful antique mirror with a small crack in the corner, and it wasn’t too large to carry either. She returned to the customer and showed her the mirror, “How about this mirror? My husband and I have a daughter ourselves, and she just loves to dress up pretty, maybe your daughter would like it?” Mrs. Thompson asked.

Julie’s mother’s eyes widened to the fascinating frame, “Are you sure you would give this stunning item away? If not, then how much would it be?” She asked, taking out a fifty-dollar bill from her wallet.

Mr. Thompson stopped Julie’s mother, “We are frankly sure, and actually, this old junk would be given away free. All for a good neighbor!” He smiled.

Julie’s mother was stunned, old piece of junk? For free? “Alright then. Thank you very much and have a nice day!” She waved goodbye before taking off.

“Julie, honey! I’m home!” Julie’s mother said, opening the door with her right hand, and holding the mirror with the other.

Julie scurried down the stairs, and saw her mother holding the mirror, “Momma, why did you get a mirror?” Julie asked.

Her mother turned to her and smiled before closing the door, “Why Julie, honey, I got this for you! So whenever you wake up, you can see how pretty you look.” Julie grinned, she was so happy! It may sound weird, but Julie would actually be able to play dress up with herself. She helped her mother bring the mirror to her room, and set it against the wall, a bit tilted.

“We’ll hang it up once your father comes home,” her mother said, and then left the room. Little Julie looked at the mirror and saw herself. She found a “friend” that was just like her in every single way. Maybe because that was her, but Julie never looked at it that way. She crept her hand to the mirror, and touched the glass, of the same hand. Julie grinned; she now has a friend that can actually understand her, that can express things for her. When Julie was angry, the flip-side Julie under the glass would get angry with her, this goes for all her emotions, whether she was down casted, overjoyed, or bored. She could show two sides of her when playing dolls, or sit across the mirror to have a tea party along with her other toys.

Mr. May, Julie’s dad came home by evening. Greeted by dinner and a hug from Julie. “Daddy! I got a gift from momma today, and she said you would hang it on the wall!” Julie exclaimed, trying to tug her father up the stairs.

“Alright, alright my princess, I will hang it up after dinner,” Julie’s father yawned, boy, was he hungry!

Julie’s mother prepared turkey for dinner, and set it on the table, “Wow momma, that looks super duper yummy!” Julie’s mouth watered at the sight of the turkey, and next to the turkey was the gravy, the reddish brown, tasty gravy.

Julie’s mother quickly washed her hands, and sat down next to her husband on the dinner table, and smiled, “Well, dig in!”

“Dinner was super duper yummy! I got leftovers for you though!”

The mirror was already hung up, and little Julie sat down with a plate of left over turkey. She ate it in front of her mirror, and saw her ‘friend’ eat it too.

“I’m so glad you like it!” She grinned.

There was another knocking on the door, and her mother came in again, “Alright sweetie, time for bed!” Her mother said, Julie already had bath time too, and was able to stay up later as it was the weekend.

Julie nodded and plopped into her bed, her bed sheet and pillows matched, both decorated with clouds and a rainbow. Her mother pulled the sheets over little Julie to tuck her in, and kissed her on the forehead, “Goodnight my little princess,” she said, and flicked the light switch.

Julie’s mother slowly pulled the door back, as the light from the halls got thinner, by the time it was completely dark in her room, little Julie had already fallen asleep.

Sunday morning was just as quiet as yesterday morning, calm, and the birds whistled. There was sunlight preaching through her bedroom window, and this woke Julie up. She took a wide morning yawn, as she lunged her arms into the air to stretch. Julie got off bed, but she felt, different somehow. Oh well, Julie didn’t bother getting changed today, and just stayed in her PJ’s and socks. Her hair was still left uncombed, and in two ponytails tied with red ribbons. Little Julie checked outside, apparently she woke up quite early, as neither one of her parents have woken up yet. She returned to her room and closed the door, then went to her mirror and set up the tea party.

“Good morning, friend! Momma and daddy aren’t awake yet, so let’s have tea for breakfast!” She grinned.

She tugged her pink plastic table and set it right in front of her mirror, and then she grabbed her dolls and teddies and set them around the table. Julie grabbed a case that contained the tea set; she opened it to find cute little cups, plates and a tea spout. She put plates in front of everyone, and put a white cup decorated with flowers on all the plates, and last but not least, set the tea spout on the center.

"Absolu- NO! They are *not*! There are like two kinds of dark elf, the creepy ones that like to get whipped or do the whipping and sound like the mix of a really bad cavedwellers idea of what a cavedweller is like, and the ones that have tragic backstories. Tragically stupid, I mean. Absolutely not. You're playing a dwarf or an elf. Or an a orc. Why doesn't anyone ever play an orc? I - "

"I'll play an orc. Orcish expert, even."

I interjected, hoping to cut the conversation short. Miles made a face as I suggested a suboptimal class but shrugged.

"Whatever, I'll be an elf... With a tragic past. I also have really big - "

"Yeah, fine, Miles. Shen, what are you in for?"

"... I was going to be an orc. Crud, guess I'll be a human paladin. It's weird for you to take such a weak class, though - something on your mind?" The comment was directed at me - I put on my best enigmatic smile. Little is it known that you can easily minmax skills if you play an expert, and I planned to have all the useful ones.

We got down to brass tacks and soon were back in the cool, moldering air of the dungeon. Shen - Abbey, Paladin of Laima - was standing to my right, lost in prayer while Miles - some sort of complicated elvish name entirely unworthy of remembering, 'Battlemage' (see errata) - was trying to figure out what was up with the other cells around us.

It was pretty weird - none of them showed any signs of inhabitation, yet all the rot and decay present in the hallway outside vanished in the cell interior. The cells - even the ones we'd 'woken' up in - seemed clean, almost habitually so. The hallway up ahead only went down a flight of narrow stairs, and there was no obvious exit - so it seemed likely that we must have gotten here on our own.

Miles' elvish mage concentrated, and a hovering sphere of pale light swam into being around us, dancing to and fro. "Well, are you guys going to stand around all day, or we going to get going? There's clearly nothing around here!" Shen cringed as the roleplayer in him took another beating, but personally, I agreed with Miles and begun to walk down the stairwell.

The next room was completely empty save for the stench of overripe fruit.

Despite the vastness of the interior cavern chamber, which seemed to be carved out of a marble that was cool and pleasant to the touch, seeming to coil around your fingers if you pressed it too long - there was no furniture or any sign of life, just like before. More of the spongy marble stretched in every direction - ceiling, floor, walls...

We continued for perhaps several more chambers, just like this, and the jokes began to grow quiet, less frequent.

Finally, Shen coughed.

"You feeling all right? If you want, I could take over for a bit - I'd be glad to - "


The storyteller interrupted monotonously.

"You are jumped by several monsters."

We waited, and I nervously scratched the back of my neck, wondering if I should say anything. I took a risk, and did so anyway.

"Well... What do they look like?"

"Like every other monster you've ever encountered."

Miles made some comment that was supposed to be funny, but I didn't hear it; Shen was rocking back and forth a little, and all of us could see that behind the screen the storyteller used to hide their actions, something was happening.

"C'mon, don't - If it's just that Shen is a tool, I'll take over for a little, all right? You can go - read a book or something. Relax!"

My words fell on deaf ears as the storyteller stood up, smiling a little - for the first time since the incident. The clatter of shoes on white-tiled floor seemed to echo much louder then it was as they passed the boarded-up windows and approached the door.

"No - no, don't - please..." Miles whispered, plaintively. "You don't have to..."

"Beyond the monsters, you see a door."

We went silent as the door swung slowly open.

"The door is open. Beyond..."

Now we were all quiet as the heavy, painfully scractchy air intruded into the small apartment, growing more intrenched in our lungs then it already was. My eyes began to water, not from tears but from pain; my stomach began to knot and unknot, feeling as if a tiny sawblade was cutting through from inside of me.

"I'd rather die on my own then be with the rest of you until we starve. Who knows? Maybe I'll even meet Ray somewhere out here."

Maybe it was a sneer, maybe it was self-loathing, maybe it was the hundredth failed attempt to make someone, anyone laugh. The air only grew more and more toxic as everyone struggled not to respond, and then - without any more words - the storyteller left.

... It took me awhile to realize that Miles had started puking and Shen was trying to administer first aid while helping him with an inhaler at the same time. I'd been caught up in the sight of the storyteller, walking barefoot through the ruined city - then crawling, then... it was, oddly - beautiful.

Shutting the door, I waited for the fit to subside, then helped mop up the mess. Miles muttered a sincere thanks, then got a salty beverage from the icebox - hopefully it'd help settle, for awhile at least. Silently, Shen moved behind the screen, his eyes closed.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity - our new storyteller spoke.


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