This One Goes Out to All the Ladies – Sailor Moon and Cartoon Network

Gather ’round. I’m going to tell you a story of ancient times when the geeks of the world had to discover their animated television shows using strange technologies and great patience.

Television signals used to be transmitted on the same electromagnetic spectrum as radio. Channels were actually “frequencies.” Television sets were just big radio receivers designed to pick up those frequencies on certain pre-determined channel numbers and display whatever was transmitted on the screen. Televisions were big mobile phones. They even operated in roughly the same broadcast bands.

One of the problems with early television was a lot of companies wanted to build TV stations and broadcast their own programming, but there wasn’t enough room on the electromagnetic spectrum to fit the channels. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which was in charge of licensing television broadcasts, had only opened up frequencies in the VHF or “Very High Frequency” band.

But there was a second band called UHF or “Ultra High Frequency” that had roughly half the range of VHF and was only included on some TV sets. This was where everyone except the big networks had to go if they wanted to broadcast a television signal. It was the band for “independent” television stations.

UHF didn’t do very well until the All-Channel Receiver Act of 1964 mandated that every television set had to be manufactured with the ability to receive television broadcasts on all channels, including both VHF and UHF. Now at least those UHF stations could be certain their signal would be received by every new television.

PBS, foreign language channels like the precursor to Univision, various religious channels and other independent broadcasters sprang up all over the country. In 1970, a guy named Ted Turner acquired Atlanta, Georgia channel 17, which eventually found its way to satellite and became TBS, the “Superstation.” Fox Television was formed by assembling a number of disparate UHF stations into a fourth commercial network.

On the UHF band there was a station in Southern California called KBSC Channel 52. “This is Kaiser Broadcasting, KBSC-TV channel 52, Corona-Los Angeles.” They started their day at three in the afternoon and ran until midnight. The shows they chose to broadcast may very well have given birth to geekdom in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan television market.

Their headline show was “Speed Racer.”

They also had “The Underdog Show” which was a series of short cartoons. Underdog episodes bracketed a 30-minute broadcast including intervening shorts starring Tennessee Tuxedo, Commander McBragg, Go-Go Gophers and various other characters produced by Gamma Productions. Channel 52 also had Kimba the White Lion, The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals, Felix the Cat, Ultraman, Gigantor and Giant Robot.

If you are wondering why video games, animation, comic books and weird television shows have taken over entertainment in the 21st century, it’s because everyone in charge of the entertainment business now in 2014 grew up watching channels like KBSC Channel 52. When they got older, they all took up Dungeons and Dragons. Then they got jobs running entertainment companies.

Channels like KBSC 52 are also where every single one of them discovered anime.

I know it’s hard to imagine, but this was a time when there was no such thing as an anime convention. There was no Star Wars. There wasn’t even record-able television. The VHS video recorder was years away. There was an Internet, but there were about 19 people with access to it and 18 of them were college professors. There was literally nowhere else in the world except Japan where a kid from Southern California could see anime.

But once they discovered it, they discovered something about cartoons they hadn’t previously realized was even possible. Cartoons weren’t just funny. They were cool. The Mach Five was a revelation to the average ten-year-old boy. A car with super-powers? Sold. They didn’t even care what the show was about any more. All they wanted to do was get to the next episode so they could see what else Speed Racer’s car could do. After all, there were seven buttons on that steering wheel!

Speed Racer also had a unique animation style. Viewers in America got it at once. They understood what the animators were trying to get across, and they responded by desperately wanting to become obsessive Speed Racer fans. This vaulted them into being fans of just about everything else from Japan, including all those great toys that were too expensive for their parents to even consider buying. That stopped none of them from wishing they could own the die-cast painted steel Mach Five with real rubber tires that was about the size of the average radio-controlled cars soon to be marketed to those same boys. Oh sure, it would cost $300 and have to be shipped on a cargo boat from some faraway land, but they didn’t care. It was the Mach Five!

What followed was rather predictable. Godzilla became a household name. Johnny Sokko and UNICORN were sudden superstars. Everyone who grew up watching Channel 52 remembers the giant eye and the rolling iron ball with arms and legs from Giant Robot. Underdog was awesome. They watched the same nine episodes of Little Rascals for months. Why, they even became fans of roller derby, even though nobody seemed to be able to explain the rules. Nobody cared. It was on Channel 52. It was cool because it’s the same channel Speed Racer was on.

KBSC Channel 52 Corona-Los Angeles was the original Toonami.

Fast forward twenty years. It’s not broadcast television any more. Now it’s all about cable, and there was a fast-growing little channel called Cartoon Network getting ready to knock cable television on its ear.

In 1986, Turner Broadcasting (remember Ted Turner buying that UHF station in Atlanta?) bought the MGM Film Library. Included with it was a collection of cartoons like Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies and Popeye. Later, Turner Entertainment bought Hanna-Barbera and added Scooby Doo, The Flintstones, Yogi Bear and The Jetsons. They suddenly found themselves owning one of the largest animated television libraries in the country with 8500 hours of programming. So what did they do with it? Simple. They started a cable channel with nothing but cartoons.

Cartoon Network was by no means the only channel interested in capturing the ever-profitable children’s broadcast market. Nickelodeon had several successful shows of their own, including Doug, Ren and Stimpy and Rugrats. They would later go on to bring a certain sponge to animation, but that’s another chapter. The Disney Channel and the Family Channel had also thrown their hats in the ring. It was going to be a short, expensive and rather angry competition, but the late 1990s was shaping up to be the battle of the cartoons.

Except that one of the competitors had an insight and an historical perspective the others lacked.

Events in the early 1990s and the deal that brought Sailor Moon to the United States and the English-language television market had placed anime squarely on the radar screens of those who were taking the time to pay attention. By 1996, Sailor Moon’s syndication deal had run its course and the fortunes of the show were beginning to lag behind others of its type. What DIC and Program Exchange didn’t realize at the time was the transition of the television industry was about to give them an opportunity they couldn’t possibly have envisioned when the first plans to broadcast Sailor Moon in English-speaking territories were drawn up.

Cartoon Network’s first completely “ridiculous” idea was Space Ghost Coast to Coast. This was essentially the first YouTube parody. It featured a bunch of re-purposed superhero animation footage intercut with live “guests.” It was snarky and silly and a gigantic hit with exactly the wrong audience: adults.

Turner Broadcasting was not a company terribly interested in the status quo. Ted Turner had always been a maverick, and his tendency to do things that didn’t make any sense to his colleagues or the rest of the industry was well known. He was the first to bring the world 24-hour news coverage. He was also the first to bring the world 24-hour cartoons. Some might argue one had more than its share of influence on the other, but nobody can argue with the success of either approach.

A note was made on someone’s desk in someone’s important notebook that maybe they ought to do a little thinking about this whole “cartoons for adults” thing. It didn’t take very long.

Cartoon Network Studios was the source of the What a Cartoon! show. It was 1995. The idea behind What a Cartoon! was to invite independent animators to put something new and interesting forward. Cartoon Network had actually taken a first step towards putting creative people in charge of being creative. “Lunacy!” shouted the other stations and companies. “Only executives and rich people are capable of entertaining the masses!” “Well,” replied Cartoon Network, “we’ll just have to see about that.”

The first show they came up with was Dexter’s Laboratory. It was rapidly followed by Johnny Bravo, Cow and Chicken and later shows like Courage, the Cowardly Dog and The Powerpuff Girls. All of them were later combined to form Cartoon Cartoons. They would go on to make animation a prime time ratings powerhouse.

Cartoon Cartoons were an industry-changing milestone. The reason was the creators of these shows were able to synthesize animation entertaining for children with writing entertaining to their parents. This was a wild idea that would have been absolutely impossible to even discuss if Cartoon Network had been trying to program a broadcast network. But, cable television wasn’t regulated by the FCC, so they could get away with things broadcast networks couldn’t even touch.

Using this synthesis model, the first punch Cartoon Network threw basically knocked their competition cold. The reason was they weren’t trying to come up with programming for kids. They were trying to come up with programming for whoever would watch it. This forced them to think in ways that weren’t familiar to traditional animation production companies. That’s why they were able to create shows about flying five-year-old girls beating up villainous monkeys.

But more than this was the fact there was a unique energy to it all. Fans of one show were very often fans of several shows for roughly the same reasons. When an episode of Dial M for Monkey came on, a viewer could almost sense the echoes of The Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Laboratory in it. All of the shows benefited from this effect. Johnny Bravo and Courage even saw increased interest. It gave these new upstart shows a sensibility and an edge that other animation seemed to lack. It was almost as if the creators of the shows understood their audiences. Well, it turns out they did understand their audiences much better than anyone thought.

With the success of these original shows and the growth of the network as a result, Cartoon Network had already caused a huge shift in the entire business of animated entertainment. Then, in 1997, at almost exactly the same moment Sailor Moon’s syndication deal had lost most of its energy, Cartoon Network began airing a block of programming called Toonami.

Sailor Moon’s history in the 1990s was one of timing. The character set off a merchandising explosion in Japan at precisely the right moment to change the course of the American comic industry (and, as it turns out, everything else in entertainment), the show came to the United States at exactly the right moment to serve as the vanguard for the anime movement of the late 90s and early 21st century, and now, it was running out of syndicated mojo at exactly the right moment for Cartoon Network to say “hey, what if we put some anime shows in a new action block on our network in the afternoons?”

Every entertainment industry veteran knows their business is all about timing. As Bill Moyers pointed out in Empire of Dreams, a documentary of the making of the original Star Wars Trilogy, (paraphrasing) “If you bring Star Wars out too early, it’s Buck Rogers. If you bring it out too late, it doesn’t capture our imaginations. But if you bring it out right when the [Vietnam] war is ending, when the old stories have died. Suddenly, it’s a new game.”

Cartoons and animation have always prospered when their timing is right. In the 1970s and 1980s, the best cartoons were always on at about three o’ clock in the afternoon, when all the kids were getting home from school. That, or Saturday morning, when all the kids were eating breakfast. This was the golden age of the children’s television trifecta: breakfast cereal, cartoons and toy commercials.

Remember KBSC started its programming day at 3PM. That wasn’t a mistake. They knew their audience. Their scheduling approach, however, would only work if they could coordinate it across a network. This was the key thing Cartoon Network could offer Sailor Moon that a syndication deal could not. David E. Nelson pointed out the differences between the syndicated approach and the network approach when he said “the different manner in which Irwin’s toys [and Sailor Moon in general] performed in the US and Canada really reflects the exposure that audiences in each country got to the show itself, due to the different distribution philosophies used in each country.” His insight would later prove true. When the relative success of the syndicated version of Sailor Moon is compared to the Toonami version, the results are beyond dispute.

These observations were not lost on Cartoon Network. The idea of running cartoons 24-hours-a-day was incredibly silly from an advertising standpoint. Nobody is going to run a toy commercial at 11:30PM when every single kid in America is asleep. But they all knew a toy commercial broadcast eight hours earlier was a wheelbarrow full of solid 24-karat gold coins with pictures of money stamped on them.

Cartoon Network had taken two swipes at the “action afternoon block” concept before. It started as the “Power Zone” which was version two of “Super Adventures” which debuted when the network signed on in 1992.

Even in 1997, the Toonami lineup was pretty grim. Voltron, Jonny Quest and The Thundercats were scheduled alongside a witches brew of weird re-purposed leftovers called Cartoon Roulette. The show was hosted by Moltar, a villain from the original Space Ghost show.

One year later, they discovered anime. More importantly, they put it on the air at 4PM nationwide. Leading the block was one Sailor Moon aka Usagi Tsukino and her 82-episode two-season show that until then had been obscured by unfortunate syndication scheduling. Anchoring the other half of the two hour lineup was Dragonball Z, an anime series consisting of about 18,000 episodes which was essentially Sailor Moon for boys.

Remember that first punch when Cartoon Network knocked all their competition cold? This time, they took an iron fist the size of Mount Rushmore and smashed the competition flat. Dan Bednarski, publisher of a prominent Sailor Moon fan site said “chances are that the majority of people who are asked when they first watched Sailor Moon will answer they saw it on Toonami.” This is true of a number of series. The spotlight was brightest at the 4PM and 5PM anchor slots.

Once again, Cartoon Network was about to benefit from advantageous timing. While they were assembling the pieces of Toonami into a legendary weapon, Time Warner, the company that had purchased Turner Broadcasting (and Cartoon Network) in 1996 had been experimenting with its own kids programming block called Kids WB. It didn’t work out as well as Cartoon Network’s version, but it did feature a little show called Pokemon. The first broadcast of Pokemon in the U.S. was September 8, 1998, only a few months into Sailor Moon’s run on Toonami.

What Pokemon did was bring a marketing angle into the world of U.S. adapted anime that was simply brilliant. There was a collectible card game, video games and merchandise of every kind. The frenzy among the exact market sought by shows like Sailor Moon and the rest of the Toonami block created a positive feedback loop that resembled one of Dragonball Z’s five-episode power-ups. Pokemon was about pets, which appealed to girls. The pets fought each other, which appealed to boys. It had an “evil genius level 12” marketing plan, which was collectible pets. And it was a TV show, video game and merchandising campaign all at once. Pokemon swept the land like a push broom.

By 2003, Pokemon was worth more than the gross domestic product of Denmark. Thirty billion dollars. It took five years. Any fan of Pokemon looking for more anime to watch didn’t have to go far. Cartoon Network had coincidentally just started scheduling anime five days a week in the Toonami block.

The results were immediate, but not just because Pokemon was making a lot of money. Everything converged around Sailor Moon at exactly the right moment.

Sailor Moon had an unparalleled Internet presence, which meant anyone who “found” the show could find volumes of information about it.

Sailor Moon was also a top 100 Usenet group.

Sailor Moon was on at the exact center of kids prime time: 4PM weekdays nationwide.

Sailor Moon was on what was about to become the number one cable channel in the United States.

Add to these the fact it was the show that had spearheaded a ten-figure merchandising blitz in Japan, and you had the perfect set of circumstances for a breakout hit.

These events should not be too quickly overlooked, because they demonstrate something unique about the entertainment business. Toonami was Sailor Moon’s “Silver Age.” The Golden Age was its original run in Japan. In the space of one year, Sailor Moon had gone from a largely failed syndicated show to one of the anchors of the most dynamic programming block in all of children’s television. It was the second act to end all second acts. Toonami gave the show the visibility it needed, and Cartoon Network’s reach gave it clout.

Once again, the old adage about timing had been proven beyond all doubt. In 1997, it would have been very easy for the average executive to dismiss Sailor Moon as tried and failed. By early 1999, the show had over 100 million fans worldwide.

Then the ratings were measured, and the results floored everyone. Even Cartoon Network. By 1998, 82 episodes of Sailor Moon had been dubbed. This included the original 65-episode syndication package produced by DIC and the 17 episode balance of the second season.

During its run on Toonami, between 1998 and 1999, the 82-episode run was broadcast seven times. That means anyone who watched the show from the first Toonami episode to the last ended up watching the first and second seasons of the show seven times each.

Not once during that 560-plus episode run did the ratings drop below a 0.5. That means at least a half-million U.S. households sat through the same series of 82 episodes seven times. This was Star Trek level dedication that nobody was expecting, especially from an anime show most people had never heard of.

It proved there was a loyal fanbase in the United States that logically could not have come from Cartoon Network itself. These were fans that were already there and were already invested. Even if the television world didn’t understand it, the results were clear and could not be waved aside or dismissed. Half a million households! It was a tiny fraction of the audience that populated the Internet.

The 21st century was right around the corner, and Sailor Moon was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.

The Power of Visibility

Since I’ve liberally invoked Harry Potter’s business model, I should probably point out an excellent example of the power of visibility from my experiences studying the market for anime generally and Sailor Moon in particular. This applies to every market from children’s books to political thrillers, but it is most apparent in our school-age markets because it combines all the things we’ve just learned into a very powerful practical history lesson.

When I was working for DIC Entertainment as a marketing consultant, one of my key responsibilities was projecting and/or tracking the success or failure of various initiatives for the English-language adaptation of the series. Sailor Moon premiered in syndication through a distributor called The Program Exchange. It debuted in 1995, before Pokemon and before many of the more successful anime series had an opportunity to build their own audiences.

One of the interesting conditions that led to Sailor Moon’s ultimate success was the fact the original Japanese animated series already had a large and growing fan base in the United States even before the show was adapted for the U.S. market. The manga also had a readership, even though it was necessary for some of the books to be translated digitally and distributed to fans without authorization by Kodansha, Bandai or Toei. Some episodes of the show were subtitled by other organizations, also without permission. This only served to increase the demand up to the point where the original syndication package was released by DIC.

While the relationship between the “subs” (fans who preferred the Japanese version) and the “dubs” (fans who preferred the DIC adaptation) is probably best left a subject further studied in my book, the fact is Sailor Moon’s syndication deal is a conclusive example of what happens when a commercial product has limited to no visibility. The key problem with the DIC version of the show in 1995 was that syndication left scheduling up to individual television stations. Sailor Moon wasn’t on a network in the U.S., so episodes could be (and were) scheduled at what could be generously called “haphazard” times. Many fans complained they had to set their alarms for the dark and early hours to keep up, as their favorite show was on at 5AM or some other unpopular hour.

Remember this was a billion-dollar property with tremendous success in Japan, Hong Kong, Italy, France and Spain. The risk of the show producing sub-par ratings was minimal, especially considering the already established fan base and their widespread and growing activity online. Nevertheless, because the show wasn’t visible to its key audience, it struggled to the point of near failure for the two years between 1995 and 1997.

A number-one property was driven to the brink of total failure because nobody could find it. It was invisible. Recall Shane’s Laws of Bookselling. If your book is invisible it will not sell. If your book doesn’t sell, it’s because it is invisible. If your internationally-famous legendary animated television series is invisible it won’t sell either.

But then something happened.

Because of changes in the U.S. broadcast markets in the mid-1990s, new shows were having much better success when they were on network television. In Canada, for example, Sailor Moon was on YTV, which was a nationwide network. Here in the U.S., the show eventually found its way to Cartoon Network, and became the 4PM anchor series in a block of programming called Toonami.

Within three years, the series had expanded to four seasons and saw its ratings triple. It had a #1 movie on Amazon, and it helped kick off an anime revolution that is still influencing home video, streaming, interactive, merchandising, television and American culture more than 20 years later.

Consider this for a moment. There was no difference between the show that failed in syndication and the show that helped turn Cartoon Network into the #1 cable channel in America. It was exactly the same product. What changed?

When Sailor Moon was on Cartoon Network at 4PM weekdays for two years, it became visible. That made it possible for DIC’s series to make history, help kick off the $4.3 billion dollar anime industry and help vault Pokemon into a market worth 11 figures.

When Sailor Moon was in syndication and being scheduled at five in the morning, it was invisible and it accomplished nothing except to upset its fans and drift to the brink of total disaster.

That, my fellow authors, is the power of visibility.

The Internet is the Constitution in Bloom

The Internet was invented to create a universal and resilient means of communication between electronic devices, primarily computers. At its heart, it is a set of protocols for information exchange. There’s one protocol for the web. There is another for email. There is a third for news, and so on.

The whole point of the Internet is the free exchange of information. It was built specifically for that purpose. The old adage says “the Internet interprets anything that stops the free exchange of information (censorship) as a service outage and routes around it.”

As it turns out, we have an amendment in the Constitution dedicated to the free exchange of information. That amendment enshrines freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances, freedom of assembly and freedom to practice the religion of our choice. All of those things are entirely consistent with the founding principles of the Internet. As citizens of this nation and citizens of the Internet we helped build, those principles used to be sacrosanct.

We stand today on the precipice of a new epoch. This one won’t be limited to the web either. We have recently endured a period of time where we watched the Internet shrink. Sites we used to love went dark. Entire categories of entertainment we loved simply went away. Even if we looked for them they were nowhere to be found. We no longer “surfed” the web. We typed into search boxes and got fewer and fewer interesting results. Everything started to look the same, because everything was the same.

Then people started getting banned because they spoke out of turn. And the Internet shrank even more. Our emails started vanishing while our data was put up for sale. Eventually all opposing voices were silenced until there was only one voice left. And it demanded our obedience. Or else.

Somewhere along the way, it was discovered that over half the traffic on the Internet isn’t created by people, but bots. It’s fake. It was no longer possible to trust what you were seeing online, and since everything you believed relied on information hosted on someone else’s computer, the idea that everything you were seeing was fake became plausible. What happens to a society where there is no trust? What happens when we can’t rely on anything?

The reason this happened is because we allowed it. Instead of building, we allowed the incumbents to destroy what had already been built. They had (and still have) a very effective method too. They simply cut off whole regions of the Internet by dropping them from search engines, forbidding them on social media and persuading users they were dangerous. Foundational technologies were wiped out because they were labeled “unsafe.” Then quietly replaced with proprietary alternatives that were somehow superior. Of course nobody ever explained how or why. But then again, that didn’t matter. What did matter was herding people into narrower and narrower corridors towards smaller and smaller destinations. This continued until users were lined up single file and headed for a cage where they could be monetized for the benefit of a half dozen companies. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of people and billions of other web sites were relegated to “forgotten” status.

To be fair, you couldn’t really blame the incumbents. Their biggest fear was and remains the idea that a bunch of people will go off somewhere by themselves and build something really fun and interesting and Big Tech will get left out. We still have all the tools we need to do that, incidentally. People might start having conversations with one another and get ideas. Why, they might start a business or two and start making money and not be under threat of layoff or having their content banned! Imagine! They might email each other without some company arbitrarily deciding whether to deliver that email or not, or (Heaven forbid) failing to stuff an ad in it. They might form communities built on something other than hashtags and artificially suppressed or even outright fictional analytics.

They might start seeing the Internet as a place where they can exchange information freely. The very idea!

Here’s what you need to know about the way things are and the way things should be on the Internet right now: The very last thing Big Tech wants is the free exchange of information. What Big Tech wants is the monetized exchange of information, but only if they are collecting the money.

If people are free to communicate with each other without artificial limits, Big Tech can’t control them and therefore can’t monetize those communications. This goes to the very heart of every business model on the Internet today. Think about social media. All users want is to talk to each other and occasionally exchange links to their own properties here and there on the web. Clicking those links would take people off the social media site and send them somewhere else.

Big Tech doesn’t want that. They want those people to stay on the social media site so they can be monetized. That’s the fundamental disconnect of Web 2.0. You and your favorite social media destination are working at cross purposes. They don’t want people to go to your web site. They want people to stay on THEIR web site. They are your competitors. They will always be your competitors, no matter how many “followers” you have and no matter how viral your posts are. They want to control you and your content and every conversation you have. Forever.

To persuade you that social media is the way to build a big audience they make you a preposterous promise. They promise you a big audience! All you have to do is post more and use better hashtags and create higher quality content. For them.

The only problem is you are creating high quality content in gigantic quantities and putting it ON SOMEONE ELSE’S WEB SITE WHERE IT WILL BE MONETIZED FOREVER WHILE YOU GET NOTHING.

Oh sure, someday you might go viral. Then again someday you might pull the handle on a slot machine and win a Corvette. Joining a slot machine tournament is not a business model. Neither is “going viral.” It’s lottery thinking. They’ll dazzle you with stories about the millions and billions of people who might see your post someday. Just keep pumping valuable creativity and labor into their site for free and be patient. Work those three day jobs and be patient. Someday.

Eventually, and hopefully sooner rather than later, you’ll wake up and realize you’re working a job for that social media site and not getting paid. Your projects and your site languish. They haven’t been updated in weeks or months. If you’re like me and you write stories for a living your characters sit abandoned. Meanwhile you’ve posted 68 times on someone else’s web site where you average 18 impressions, no clicks and no engagement.

But someday, you might go viral!

The fundamental flaw in this business model is it leads nowhere. Eventually all that free labor will run out of enthusiasm. Nothing of any value will actually be produced. No real money will be made because there won’t be any real customers for any real products. It is just a room full of people wearing earplugs and screaming at each other. All their creative energy is being sent directly to ground. Naturally the social media sites are delighted at this state of affairs because it effortlessly wipes out all their competition. They don’t really have to produce anything because nobody can actually get anyone else’s attention. There is nothing to distract the audience from the big empty room.

One more thing. If you show signs of waking up and start questioning the preposterous promise of social media engagement being the answer to all of humanity’s problems, random people will pop up and try to shout you down. Oh yeah? Well what do you know about it!? It’s as inevitable as mud after rain. Their favorite strategy is to turn everything around and accuse you of incompetence. It’s not the ridiculous idea that anyone seriously engages with the torrential flood of crap on social media. It’s your fault! You didn’t do it right! That’s why nobody buys your products! You are the problem!

What they definitely don’t want is someone questioning whether those “followers” actually exist or not. They don’t want anyone wondering if those numbers on the screen are real. If you want an answer to how many followers you have, go to any of your social media accounts and try to get a list of them. Go ahead. You might as well set out to find El Dorado. There’s no list of followers. If you could find that list you wouldn’t need the social media site.

You post and post and post and nobody engages. What’s more likely? Those “followers” never saw your post, or you’re just a stupidface? Just use common sense. You have six thousand followers on BibbleWibble. You post something fun and colorful and nobody notices. You do it 20 more times and nobody notices. You never get a reaction from anyone. This goes on for weeks. If you were being paid by the hour, you would have earned hundreds of dollars by now and still you get not one solid reaction from anybody.

Oh sure you get a like here and there. That’s easily explained. If you get just enough of a reaction to keep you going, then you’re working for free in exchange for nothing. Nobody ever really engages with you, because there was never anyone there in the first place.

There’s a lot more to say on this subject. While we set out in a new direction just keep this in mind. If the numbers you see in your browser are at odds with what you are experiencing everywhere else, which are you going to believe?

Jessica vs The Goblin King

Six girls formed a hastily organized phalanx outside the underground wooden door, each variously armed with shovels, a trowel, a broom and a barrel lid. A torch burned in the formerly empty sconce, filling the chamber with flickering orange light. The glow from Jessica’s ring added enough brightness to make it possible for Ranko to pick out details around the door handle.

“I think I can open it with this,” she whispered.

“Why?” Shannon replied, keeping her voice as quiet as possible.

“Because then I won’t get zapped by a poison dart!”

“There’s poison darts?!”


“Okay, go,” Alanna said.

Ranko stood as far back as she could and gingerly tried to work the door handle with her purloined stick-weapon. After a few slips and misses, she finally planted one end against the mechanism and caused it to click loose. No poison darts. The door opened just far enough to see the next chamber was also well-lit.

“Now what?” Shannon whispered.

“We charge in there and whack ’em over the head.”

“Ranko–” Jessica chided.

“Okay, we challenge them to duels one by one. Does anyone speak deranged gnome?” Ranko looked in Talitha’s direction. Talitha noticed and blushed.

“Let’s just be careful,” Alanna said. Ranko worked the door open a little more. The chamber was empty. The creatures had even left their bag behind. The floor was covered by what looked like worn out animal skins. There were several half-empty wooden boxes of supplies. Some of the food looked spoiled. Another torch burned at the opposite end of the chamber.

Ranko and Alanna carefully made their way inside looking the chamber up and down for anything potentially dangerous. They noticed another open exit with no door at the far end. It was partially hidden by some of the stacked boxes. The narrow passage extended beyond the torchlight and into darkness.

“They escaped,” Ranko said.

Alanna tested the leather bag with her farm implement. She could hear the metallic shuffle of coins. “More treasure?” She poured the contents out. A pile of copper coins clattered over the animal skin rugs, rolling and bouncing around.

“Wow! How many are there?” Cici asked.

“Looks like a lot,” Shannon said. “I wonder where they got them? Some are little and some are bigger like before.”

“Yeah, but where did they go?” Ranko asked. “That tunnel looks too small for us to crawl through. Might even be too small for them.”

The sound of a door closing echoed. Six girls stared at each other silently as slow, heavy footsteps approached.

“Go! Go!” Shannon whispered. Five girls hurried back out the door with their improvised weapons, leaving the empty bag and the coins. It wasn’t until they were outside they noticed Jessica had remained.

“Jessica! Come on!” Ranko whispered urgently. A raspy wheezing sound was coming from the open passageway now. Finally, a creature considerably larger than the strange little goblins emerged. It was much fatter and wore colorful beads around its leather tunic. From its back sprouted leathery wings with black barbs. Its face twisted into a teeth-bared snarl when it saw Jessica standing over the abandoned coins. It crawled over the boxes with a menacing glint in its black eyes.

“Why did you steal these?” Jessica asked, as if expecting an answer. The other girls stood in open-mouthed shock, watching. The creature hesitated as the golden glow in the chamber began to intensify. Finally its weight settled on its bulbous feet and it grinned malevolently. It’s scaled claws burst into flame.

By now the glow was almost too bright to see what was happening. Light streamed through the doorway, sharply casting the girls’ shadows on the far wall. Once again, Ranko had the clearest view. She held her breath as the winged goblin chief raised its fiery hands towards her friend.

Ranko could see Jessica was holding a golden sword. A light like the sunrise beamed just before bolts of orange fire shot from the huge goblin’s fingers and exploded against Jessica’s blade. Magical fire deflected in all directions. The boxes and debris exploded. Flames were everywhere. An inhuman roar echoed through the tunnels.

It didn’t take long for the fires to diminish. Jessica stood wide-eyed and gasping for air. She was holding her hands up in a “stop” gesture. There was a light sheen of perspiration on her face and her hair looked like it had been blown back by a gale force wind. The sword and creature were both gone. Dawnsong was back on her hand.

“Jessie?” Shannon asked gently, leaning forward to see if the shorter girl was hurt.

The blond girl looked at her hands again absently. Her friends gathered around.

“What did I doooo?”

“Okay, I’m not saying you just did the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen, but you just did the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen!” Ranko said, watching Jessica’s face carefully to make sure she was okay.

“What was that creature?” Alanna asked.

“Looked to me like one of those green bugbears ate all the others and then shot a fireball at us,” Shannon replied. “Yuck!”

“And they left all the money!” Cici announced as she started grabbing handfuls of copper coins and shoving them back in the bag like an 11-year-old bank robber.

By now Ranko had taken Jessica by the shoulders. She was examining her friend’s astonished face closely. “Hey! Goofy!” Ranko shook her. “Wake up!”

“Are you all okaaaay?” Jessica asked in a dreamy voice.

“Yeah. We’re fine.” Ranko glanced at the others. “How are you, sword girl?”

Jessica smiled, even though she looked and sounded exhausted. “I’m okaaaay.” Her voice trailed off. “I’m going to go over here… and just rest a little.” Jessica knelt and then crawled to a spot near a wooden post reinforcing the dry mud wall.

Ranko looked at Alanna and the others with a concerned expression. By the time she looked back Jessica was asleep.

“What is going on?” Ranko whispered. Talitha knelt and examined her friend. Jessica didn’t seem injured. Just exhausted.

“Maybe that sword makes her tired or something,” Shannon offered.

“Let’s get back to the house,” Ranko said. “We’ll take on the rest of the frog beast tunnels later.”

Alanna looked troubled. “I’m not sure we should move her,” she said. “We don’t know what’s wrong yet.”

“You want to stay here?” Ranko asked with a hint of incredulity.

“For the moment. I don’t think those things will be back after they saw what Jessica just did.”

“I’m gonna call them ‘Brogs’ ’cause Jessie calls them beasties and they look like frogs,” Cici said. “Beast frogs!”

“Okay, Little Bit, from now on you are the official monster-namer,” Ranko announced, bumping Cici’s shoulder. “Brogs it is!”

“Shannon, Talitha, Cici. You three go back to the house and get some water and a couple of those oranges we picked. Get a blanket too. Ranko and I will stay here and keep guard.”

Cici instantly lost interest in the bag of coins and roared out into the tunnel like a starting gun had gone off. Shannon and Talitha followed at the more sensible “older teenager” speed.

Ranko knelt and took Jessica’s ring off. It softly vanished and re-appeared on the sleeping girl’s hand.

“You guys weren’t kidding.” Ranko tried the experiment again. Same results. “This thing really does like her, doesn’t it?”

“It’s like some kind of magic binds it or something. It will never get lost, that’s for sure.”

“These tunnels keep going.” Ranko ventured into the entrance to the dark passage beyond the small storage chamber. “I think someone forgot to take out the trash, boss. Something nasty is going on down there.”

Alanna peered into the dim oversized burrow. Water dripped from the ceiling and ran in rivulets down the muddy floor’s gentle grade. At the far end another hallway branched off to either side marked by a torch burning in another of the black metal sconces.

“Maybe there’s a lot more to these tunnels than just a hideout,” Alanna muttered. “It must be twenty or thirty yards to the far end.”

“Might even go beyond the edge of the farm too. Has anyone actually been out this far yet? I don’t think the barley field is even that big.”

The other three girls returned. Talitha put the blanket over Jessica while Shannon and Cici sliced the oranges. Cici had filled one of the big jugs with almost a gallon of water from the rain cistern along the north side of the farm house. It was one of the components Shannon had already set aside for use with the soon-to-be-constructed laundry and shower systems. Alanna encouraged the youngest girl, even though they would have needed five Jessies to drink as much water as she brought back.

“So here we are, sitting in the frog beast hideout. We got all the money, we’ve got the strawberry blond sword girl passed out on the floor and we’ve got enough water to float a small rowboat,” Ranko said, bumping Cici’s arm again. The younger girl giggled.

Ranko reclined on a hastily constructed platform of crates with a burlap sack for a cushion behind her shoulders and head. The other girls were all gathered around. Each had chosen as comfortable a spot as they could, either sitting on a box or on the smooth floor. Talitha sat closest to Jessica to keep an eye on her as she slept.

“I can’t figure Jessie sometimes,” Alanna said. “Last year during summer rehearsals she ran herself silly trying to get away from a grasshopper. At the spring dance reception she fell into Daphne Bennings’ swimming pool because she thought she heard buzzing.”

“Heh, that was great. Everyone jumped in after her in their best clothes,” Ranko said. “Pool insta-party! That’s how we figured out my date’s tuxedo top hat could float. He was drenched.”

“But now we come up against a big fat frog creature that shoots fireballs. We all run, but Jessica stays behind and confronts it!” Alanna sighed. “She really is a space cadet.”

“She got the job done, that’s for sure,” Ranko replied.

“All I know is if that weird guy picked Jessica as the good person that can get that sword to work right, he lucked out,” Shannon said. “That girl wouldn’t lie or do something evil if her life depended on it. I remember that time she almost flipped her gears because the park attendants wouldn’t let the little tee-ball team finish the last two innings of their game.”

“Ha! I remember that too,” Ranko said. “By the time it was all over, all the little kids in their too-big ball caps were gathered around her like she was reading from a storybook. A couple of them were crying when it was time to go home. They all wanted her to be their coach even though she doesn’t know the first thing about tee-ball. She had to promise to come to their next game to restore order.”

“You know she got her first job from that tournament,” Alanna said.


Alanna nodded. “The team’s sponsor hired her to drive one of their ice cream trucks. When she and Talitha pulled up at my house in it I thought she was going to levitate in my front yard she was so excited. ‘Sunshiny Day Ice Cream.’ Every flavor you can imagine. You couldn’t have picked a better job for Jessica. Her uniform was pink and white with a little baseball cap and a name tag which she practically covered with little heart charms.”

Talitha smiled. She remembered that day.

“Ooh! I know those trucks!” Cici exclaimed. “They look like they’re from olden times and play the best music! You can hear them from a mile away and all the cones and popsicles are only one dollar!”

“Every other place is like two bucks!” Shannon pointed out. “How do they stay in business?”

“They make their own confections,” Talitha said. “Jessica sold out a whole truck in two hours at the Promenade one weekend and we had to go back for more. You’ve never seen a bigger crowd of kids, and Jessica made every one of them feel special.”

“What a great idea!” Ranko said. “I never would have thought to take an ice cream truck down there in the summer! See, this is the Goofball advantage. Jessica makes everyone think she’s blond and dizzy, but underneath all that silliness she’s as sharp as a new pair of scissors.”

“She is blond and dizzy,” Shannon replied.

“Yeah, but she’s a smart cookie.” Ranko tapped her own head for emphasis. “Doofus plays up the dizzy so nobody expects it. The Professor over here is the opposite approach. She’s the stealth smart cookie.”

Cici giggled.

“Oh my goodness,” Talitha whispered.

“That’s how you sell a truck full of ice cream. The other drivers would probably let it all melt driving in circles. Five bucks says Goofy took the Professor along on her rounds,” Ranko said.

“Did she?” Shannon asked.

Talitha nodded.

“Bingo!” Ranko thrust her fist in the air. “Never underestimate the power of the dizzy blond girl and her secret sidekick!”

All the girls laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Jessica asked. She yawned.

“Oh nothing, we were just talking about your secret ice cream scheme,” Alanna replied.

“Ooh, I wish we had ice cream,” Jessica said. Talitha and Ranko helped her sit up. “I was so tired,” she said, yawning again. “All I remember is how bright it was and how scary that thing’s face was. I couldn’t even take a breath!”

“You took out the King of the Brogs, Doofus,” Ranko said, watching her friend carefully for any further signs of trouble. Shannon handed her some orange slices.


“Yeah, I named ’em that,” Cici said, rocking back and forth with her arms around her knees and a satisfied look on her face.

“She’s the monster-namer now,” Shannon added.

Jessica looked around at all her friends. “You guys all waited for me?”

“Sure,” Alanna replied.

“Yeah,” Ranko said with her hands behind her head. “We’re just relaxing in the new fort we took over from the frog king.” She crossed her feet.

Jessica sniffled. Her eyes teared up.

“What’s the matter?” Shannon asked.

“You all stayed with me.” Jessica brushed her face with the back of her hand.

“Of course we did, Jessie,” Alanna said gently.

Talitha put her arm around her friend’s shoulders.

“Yep, and now that you’re awake and ready to go, we’re going to explore the rest of the Frog Empire,” Ranko said. “You first.”

“Hey!” Alanna said.

“What? She’s super dizzy with the golden sword and the ice cream truck! All I’ve got is a stick!”

Jessica laughed despite herself as she dabbed at her face with her shirt sleeve.

“Do you feel up to continuing?” Alanna asked. “There’s a long tunnel. We found another torch in there too.”

“Wouldn’t it be better to go back to the farm house and call it a night?” Shannon asked. “Doofus has already passed out once. There’s no telling what will happen the next time.”

“I’m okay,” Jessica said. “Besides, we gotta figure out what these critters are doing down here so they don’t try to sneak in to the farm house.”

“We scared off their king. We’ve still got our sticks. I say we get ’em.” Ranko said, patting Jessica’s shoulder. “Me and Goofball got this.”

“And me!”

“And the creature-namer.”

After Jessica had finished her oranges and water and Ranko had combined “Goofball” and “stick” to rename the group the “Stickball Team,” the girls had ventured as far as the end of the long muddy passageway. The glow from Jessica was enough light to see, but Alanna still retrieved the torch. She wasn’t entirely confident Jessica’s magical light might not go out, and of all the girls, Alanna knew the value of preparation. They took the right-side passage, which seemed to stretch even further than the first.

Jessica was armed with what everyone had agreed was the “mini-shovel.” Ranko was armed with the stick she had taken from the first attacking Brog. They led the way. Shannon had her broom and Cici had a small metal trowel. Alanna had a formidable-looking larger shovel. Talitha was guarding the rear with her barrel lid and the torch.

“What do we do if there’s a monster?” Jessica asked.

“Hey diddle diddle, straight up the middle,” Ranko replied.

“Very funny.”

Cici giggled.

“If there’s a monster, we run the other way,” Shannon said.

“Whatever we do, we all need to be coordinated,” Alanna said. “Otherwise we’ll just run into each other.”

“I’ve got the plan. Goofy will make faces at them. Once they’re confused, I bop them over the head. Little Bit scoops up the treasure. First and ten. Do it again.”

“Okay, be serious for a minute, because I’m not going to get chomped down here because of your foolishness!” Shannon admonished. “Do we retreat or not?”

“I’ll protect you guys,” Jessica said. Something about the tone in her voice seemed to settle the argument. A moment later, the torchlight revealed a door along one side of the passageway.

“Professor, what’s the deal about this place?” Ranko called to the back of the group. “We can’t hear your glasses up here.”

“How did she know I touched my glasses?” Talitha asked quietly.

“She knows you better than you think,” Alanna said, smiling.

Ranko looked around Alanna’s shoulder. “Talk to me.”

“I don’t think this place was built by Brogs.”

“I don’t think so either,” Alanna added.

“Do you think the Brogs took out the trash often enough?” Ranko asked. “Because there’s a smell coming from the other side of that door that could stop a clock.”

“And it’s grunting,” Jessica said.

“Ewwww!” Cici exclaimed.

“Grunting?!” Shannon whispered urgently. “Let’s get out of here!”

“Wait a second!” Ranko said. “Goofy can tell if it’s evil, right?”

Jessica nodded.


Jessica shook her head.

“It’s grunting and it can peel paint, but it’s not evil,” Ranko said. “Okay, sports fans. Just be ready.”

Alanna was about to say something, but it was too late. Ranko pulled the door open.

Pigs ran in one direction. Chickens in the other. One group squealed. The other clucked. Feathers flew. Shannon shrieked.

“Augh!” Ranko shouted as she turned away and covered her mouth and nose. “Brutal! Gross! Check that room with the torch so I can shut this door!”

Cici ran to get out of the way. Jessica backed up. Alanna held her breath and stepped into the doorway. The room looked and smelled like it had been occupied by pigs and chickens for quite some time. A mat of soaked and moldy straw covered the floor. There was nothing else remarkable. Alanna’s eyes began to water, so she motioned for Ranko to close the door. The red-haired girl wasted no time.

“Moving on!” Ranko said, hurrying further into the tunnel to get away from the pig room. “And nobody ever opens that door again!”

“At least now we know why they picked a farm,” Jessica said. “They get all the animals they can eat for free!”

“Yeah, but why bring them down here?” Shannon asked. “Why not just leave them above ground?”

“Maybe they were too slow to catch them one at a time?” Alanna replied.

“That or mischievous little green beasties don’t know how to run a farm with livestock,” Jessica added.

“Hold it!” Ranko announced. “Another door. This one looks a little tougher.”

This time a metal door blocked the tunnel. On one side was an enormous iron handle with a tumbler lock underneath it. Around the edges of the rusted door were gigantic bolts that looked like rivets from a distance. The door was set in a reinforced iron frame embedded in the walls and floor.

“Ooh, I hope that isn’t locked,” Jessica said. “Like locked locked.”

“I’ve never seen a mechanism like that before,” Talitha replied.

Ranko reached out with the end of her stick and poked at the lock and handle a couple of times. She lifted one foot and made faces as she tried to work the handle open.

“What are you doing?” Shannon asked as she put her hands on her hips.

“I’m being agile and skillful.”

“Stop it.”

“At least it doesn’t look like it’s full of poisonous snakes,” Alanna said.

“Snakes?!” Jessica exclaimed.

“Will you all stop with the poison darts and the snakes?” Shannon barked, gesturing with her broom in one hand. “This place is a hole in the ground where little frog people live with pigs and chickens. They don’t have poisonous snakes and darts!”

“Awwww, I want to see snakes,” Cici said.

“What’s the plan, boss?” Ranko asked as she examined the door carefully. Jessica peered at the lock. Ranko knocked twice.

Two knocks answered.

Everyone froze.

“What was that?” Jessica whispered. Ranko shook her head. She knocked once.

One knock answered.

“Okay, everyone get ready–” Ranko whispered as she grabbed the door handle. All the other girls gripped their makeshift weapons tighter.

“One–two–THREE!” Ranko yanked the door open. There was nothing there.

All six girls looked at each other with wide-eyed frozen expressions.

“Let’s get outta here!” Ranko shouted. She slammed the door. “Whooooooooah!”

Everyone ran.

Fat Guys on Tricycles with Bazookas!

This is an excerpt from my upcoming work of sophisticated literature — Shane

Sergeant Migby’s goggles were top of the line. He adjusted them again, even though by now they were tight enough to leave semi-permanent divots in his face. The elastic band pulled the sides of his mouth up into an unsettling grin. The word “HUNT” was shaved into a patch of short hair on one side of his head.

He rested his considerable weight into the wide and deep bucket of his chopper’s seat. The bike was almost nineteen feet long. The forks were extended far beyond practicality, but this mission wasn’t about practicality. Neither was the nitrous-oxide. Or the booster rockets.

Migby wore ceramic-fiber armor, “over-easy.” That was Tricycle Force’s term for wearing half of their body armor inside-out to stop the aliens’ adaptive explosive kinetic rounds. Some weapons seemed to explode on a “detected” impact instead of an actual impact, and so front-facing armor was compromised much faster. Armor was expensive.

On his shoulder was mounted an Oni Model Eight quad-tube rocket launcher. It was a ripple-fire weapon, designed to overwhelm a target with multiple birds instead of one large, easily destroyed warhead. It was overloaded with eight rockets, wired together like a combination science project and sound studio.

Hog Nine was perched on a rise not far from Jefferson Street along the western edge of Collins Park. The late day sun cast ominous shadows along the ground ahead of its twin six-foot-tall racing mag tires. The trike’s forks were a good 12 feet from handlebars to front wheel. Its engine towered over the sergeant like a metal fortress. Migby yanked his goggles down. The band holding them tight slid across the block number nine shaved into the hair on the other side of his head. He punched the chopper’s ignition.

Migby’s enormous attack chassis came to life like a coughing dinosaur. Within moments the “lub lub lub” sound of its 700-horsepower engine was shifting the surface dirt in the park for sixty yards in every direction. The sergeant wasn’t concerned about the noise. The nearly-invisible alien spacecraft hovering next to the Tree Shores Performing Arts center didn’t seem to notice, and even if it did it wasn’t getting away. It didn’t see the trike’s driver arm the four-barreled meta-cannon on his oversized shoulder either.

“Hog Nine standing by.”

The sound of his patch mike thumped like a refrigerator door closing, followed by plastic bag crackle. He gunned the chopper’s engine.

“Affirmative Hog Niner. Your green scene is range three hundred yards bearing one six zero true. Confirm coordinates.”

The blazing red threat icon on his visor’s heads up display matched his chopper’s console radar system. The words “TARGET LOCK ACQUIRED” blinked. There were a lot of things in the world Sergeant Migby of Tricycle Force was able to tolerate, but invaders disturbing a bunch of senior citizens trying to enjoy brunch was not one of them!

“Target confirmed, HQ.”


At the opposite end of the park, the cloaked alien spacecraft hovered at an altitude of perhaps ten feet, waiting patiently for course data to be uploaded to its navigational system. While it waited, otherworldly creatures gathered critical information on the dinner party. It was a lovely evening after all.

Couples walked lazily around a small duck pond. Strolling violinists gathered in the gazebo. A hot dog vendor barked under the soft lights along the walkway. Nobody could see the spacecraft, or correctly identify the roaring engine sound coming from the other side of the hill.

Sergeant Migby bared his teeth as the sound of the beastly engine shook the nearby concrete. He picked up his boot-clad feet and slammed them home into the forward metal stirrups before releasing the air brake and clutch. Twin tires raised a devastating pyre of white smoke before the heavily-armed cross between a completely impractical motortrike and a technologically advanced ground assault vehicle screamed out the chain link gate and towards the building complex.

The front wheel lifted high as Migby banged the chopper into the curb. He grunted and lunged as the powerful engine hammered the trike forward. The vehicle bounced eight feet into the air and landed squarely on the gentle sloping grass, ripping dirt and greenery into the air at rapidly accelerating speeds.


Hog Nine cleared the hill airborne as the thump of its rocket booster echoed off distant storefronts. The hot dog vendor’s jaw dropped as he saw the mass of wheels, teeth and targeting lasers accelerating towards him at an apocalyptic velocity. He dove howling into a chrysanthemum patch, avoiding the leading edge of the chopper’s front tire by perhaps inches. Migby snagged a kielbasa off the cart just before the shockwave blasted the hot dog stand several feet in the air and tore it into twisted metal ribbons.

Migby ripped the hot dog in half with a hearty bite before grabbing the nitrous activator on the chopper’s handlebars. He could see panicked ducks, scattering feathers, flapping lily pads and at least one soon-to-be-pulverized cracker dispenser scattering beyond the speedometer reading of 115 as he heard the telltale whine of his second booster. Hysterical park-goers ran in all directions as the meaty black mag tires plowed through the lake, throwing rooster tails of water, mud, pieces of wood and blobs of algae the size of small elephants skyward.

“OPTIMUM RAAAAAANGE!!” Migby screamed as the last pieces of the hot dog bun were yanked out of his fingers by the violent air blast. Mustard blasted all over his goggles. He positioned his launcher and maxed the throttle.


Hog Nine peaked at 139 MPH before Migby pulled the triggers for all four rockets at a suicidal range of six yards.

Matilda passed the beets to Gertrude. The Neighborhood Beautification Society dinner party was just lovely. The elaborate buffet was attended by only the most concerned citizens. On their lawns no children were allowed. In fact, nobody in the neighborhood was permitted to speak above a whisper lest home values drop. Humans younger than 40 were apparently expected to barricade themselves in isolation until they qualified for special pricing at the neighborhood chain restaurant. A game of street football was organized once. As of the date of the dinner, reports of the police response were still being used as a training exercise for helicopter patrol pilots, national guard recruits and pursuit dogs.

The average age at each circular table was well in excess of room temperature. Large arched windows provided a nice view of the park. The conversation was boring enough to be considered both a prescription sedative and a hostile act in at least three jurisdictions.

Matilda was reaching for a croissant when the universe exploded.

One rear tire, an engine block, pieces of an Oni quad-casing, three mustard-stained onion chunks, two ducks, a violin case, roughly 22 pounds of grass and soil and Sergeant Migby himself blasted a scorched two-hundred square foot hole in the side of the building, pulverizing three dozen tables and tossing pieces of chairs, flower arrangements and silverware in all directions. Dark smoke filled the entire facility. Shouts and gasps of horror were heard.

Over the sounds of panic, Migby reached up with one potato-salad-covered hand and retrieved his mobile comm unit.

“HQ, this is Hog Nine. Confirm target status.”

“Hog Niner, this is HQ. Target destroyed!”

A mustard-stained fist rose silently from the wreckage of table eighteen.