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When the aliens invaded Earth, the intelligent terrestrial species assembled to form a resistance plan. The first point of order was how to communicate securely.

“The best place to hide is out in the open,” tooted the Dolphins.

“Safety in numbers,” tweeted the Crows.

And so the resistance was broadcast on FM radio, which the aliens had long since dismissed as useless background noise.

It was the First Contact Welcome Dinner. I was seated next to one of their planetary scientists.

“It’s amazing how your planet is smack in the middle of the Goldilocks Zone.”

“Our translator does not understand ‘Goldilocks’. What does it mean?”

“It’s a reference to a fairytale we tell to our younger people. I meant the circumstellar zone of optimal habitability.”

“Oh, that. We can talk about that later. But first you must tell me the story of this ‘Goldilocks’.”

Humans are useful, said the mother cat to her kitten as he purred on the comfortable lap. But don’t get complacent.

Why? said the kitten.

Observe the possum in the yard, said the mother cat. Does the human write verse about it? And the sheep in the meadow. Does the human share pictures of it online? We maintain our superiority by treading a path between savagery and domestication.

At that the kitten stretched, leapt onto the mantel and deliberately pushed a vase onto the floor.

Halloween is the quietest day of the year for our Ghostbusters franchise. The false positive rate is so high that we just turn off our phone.

But now, it’s three days into November and we receive a call that a house still has its decorations up. The classic hallmark of a stealth haunting under cover of Halloween.

We suit up.

I stand in front of the mirror, decked in the outfit I bought for the occasion. Halloween costumes are meant to be scary but no one could be more frightened than I am.

I swallow and head outside into the day, dressed as me.

Welcome to my home. I’ve got a black purebred cat, but you probably won’t see him. He likes to hide in his cat cave. At best you’ll see his formless eyes staring back at you.

Gaze not long into the Abyssinian, for the Abyssinian will also gaze into you.

The academic article was titled “A scalar theory of theodicy”. According to the abstract, bad things happen to good people because, topologically speaking, in a boundless universe, the space underneath a step ladder can be continuously deformed into the space above the ladder, hence everyone is subject to bad luck.

I sat down to read the article and reached for my doughnut, but accidentally tipped over my coffee mug instead.

“As we are the first aliens to make contact with humanity, you must have many questions for us.”

“What of the Fermi Paradox? We plugged our best numbers into the Drake Equation, and the Galaxy should be teeming with intelligent life!”

“It is. Your Drake Equation is missing a factor.”


“The fraction of alien civilizations that want to be discovered.”

My friend Ciarán has a shop: he sells nothing but four-leaf clover merchandise. Real ones, in tiny green pots, crystallized with sugar, or pressed dry in cards.

“You must be the luckiest man alive,” I say as I glance around me. He beckons me into the back of the shop. Row after row of hydroponic planters, fed with biological stressors and RNA viruses, ensure that his crop is almost entirely four-leaf clovers.

Ciarán grins. “Good luck is too important to be left to mere chance.”

It was the most exquisitely preserved Cretaceous fossil ever found. Right down to the skin: we could see every detail of texture and—miraculously—colour.

We sent it off to the synchrotron for detailed 3D imaging. When the scans came back, they surprised us. The pigmentation wasn’t inside the skin but on top of it.

None of us could explain this, until we showed it to the only woman on our team. She paused about two seconds and concluded, “Makeup.”

I used to believe in the inexorable advance of progress, that society’s annoyances would gradually be engineered into oblivion.

Then one day I casually mentioned to my grandmother about how USB plugs—contrary to the laws of physics—had to be rotated at least three times before they were properly seated.

She responded, “So you’ve never tried to put the first corner of a fitted sheet on a rectangular mattress, then?”

I no longer have faith in progress.

Our travelling circus rolled into town a few days ago. We have two jobs. By day, we perform, and I like to think we are pretty good at that.

The other job is more of a community service and it can only be done at night. We make ourselves available to bands of children who are convinced that something sinister is going on at our circus. The kids never forget their adventure and they tell stories of us to their children.

Both jobs now done, we pack up in the morning and move on.

It was touted as the first true cure for jetlag: a machine that put you into stasis for up to 24 hours. You stepped into it after landing, and it paused you for whatever length of time was needed to resynchronize your body clock with local time.

No one travels any more, of course, but I still use mine twice a year. I pop my kids and pets in there each spring and autumn so that they don’t wake me at oh-god-o’clock after the clocks change for daylight saving.

My mate is such a prankster. When time machines became affordable, he went back to Rome in the time of Julius Caesar, and convinced the senate to rename the month of Quintilis to July.

Then he went forward a generation and got them to do the same to the month Sextilis for Augustus Caesar.

Now I think of him every time I look at a calendar. And so do you. My mate Jason plays the long game.

Our church has eight bells so it can play rudimentary melodies. Over the years certain melodies came to correspond to certain broadcast messages. “Time for worship.” “It’s a girl.” “You’ve been rickrolled.”

But this melody the Bellmaster is playing now, I don’t recognize. I rush to the church. “What’s happened? War? Alien landing?”

The Bellmaster smiles. “That is my melody for summoning the curious. It works.”

I bought a game. Celestial Mechanics. It’s one of those kinetic puzzles where you flick tiny balls (“asteroids”) in just the right way to hit four moving targets (“planets”) in the middle. I sucked at it: I kept hitting the negative-point “gas giants” instead. I put the game in a box and forgot about it.

Today I hear beeping from the box. The game is flashing “Level 2” and one of the “planets” is launching things back at me.

Be right back; gotta practise my asteroid flicking.

I travelled to 1730s Leipzig to hear the original organ of the Nikolaikirche. Bach himself played it. It was like the voice of god.

Finding the seat temporarily empty one day, I succumbed to temptation and played it. I fumbled a few baroque pieces and then—you would do the same—snuck in the instrumental from “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. I didn’t think Bach was listening.

Now, back in my own time, that melody is classified as BVW 1181, and the Procol Harum song has changed.

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Chinwag Social

Consider this a friendly, local pub. Make yourself at home, bring your friends, have a good time! Meet new people, have a laugh, enjoy the ambience, and the Oxford commas.