The Alicorn Who Saved the Ants

My four-year-old granddaughter drew this picture and loaned it to me so I could write her a story. On Sunday we’re celebrating her 5th birthday (two days early), so I’m posting this as a birthday surprise.

“Seagull talked to the whales,” Crow Bird said. “They told him the comet crashed into the ocean an hour ago!” Crow Bird’s dark eyes looked wild. “It’s too late to find Ronnie now.”

Sabeth, a young alicorn who was still waiting for the stump on her head to grow long and slender, stood in the bottom of the big Safe Boat and ignored Crow Bird. She stared down at Juniper, a red ant on top of an anthill next to Sabeth‘s straw bed.

Juniper had lost her best friend, Ronnie, a little black ant.

She covered her face with her ant arms and wouldn‘t stop crying and sobbing, no matter what Sabeth said to comfort her.

Explosive diarrhea had forced Ronnie off the trail when they were leaving their home in the forest to come to the old man‘s Safe Boat. Ronnie must have gotten lost searching for toilet paper, and now it seemed he would miss the boat for sure and drown in the comet‘s nasty flood.

Big raindrops pounded on the boat’s wooden roof high above. Sabeth’s mane bristled at the roaring thunder outside. Those loud deep sounds shook the boat‘s wooden hull beneath her hooves as she gave Crow Bird a look of sad desperation.

Crow Bird must have known what she was thinking. They both bent their knees and jumped into the air, flying carefully as they weaved their way up through the strong wooden rafters of the boat, and up to the top deck where they looked out at the flood.

The waters were still rising fast. Flashes of silver lightning branched across the sky and seemed to scold the gloomy clouds with their angry thunder.

Sabeth made a decision that seemed easy to make but dangerous to carry out. She clenched her teeth, steadied her pounding heart, and made ready to open her powerful wings.

“Don’t do it,” Crow Bird said. His face was stern. “Stay. In. The. Boat!”

But Sabeth knew too well the lonely sadness of her friend, Juniper, because Sabeth was now the only alicorn on Earth. All the others were dead and gone, even her parents. There was no way Sabeth would let Juniper become the last ant on Earth. Not if she could help it.

“I have to find Ronnie,” Sabeth said to Crow Bird. She opened her wings and jumped into the wet sky.

“Wait,” Crow Bird shouted.

But there was no time to wait. Sabeth flew headlong into the rain, squinting at every patch of land she could find, searching for Ronnie. He was so small though. How could she ever find him from up in the sky?

Soon Crow Bird’s little wings rattled up beside her, beating wildly in the wicked rain. His eyes were glazed over as if he didn’t quite know what he was doing or why.

“Go back to the boat,” Sabeth shouted above the rhythmic beating of her strong wings. “This is no place for a little bird.”

But Crow Bird wouldn’t listen. He stayed close to Sabeth as they flew on ahead, searching the flooded Earth for a little black ant.

Soon the water had covered almost everything. They could see only the pointed tops of mountains poking above the furious sea. In a few minutes the flood would cover the whole world. Time was running out for Ronnie.

They flew side by side in silent resolve until finally Crow Bird said, “What in the world is that?!” His eyes were wide on the western horizon.

Sabeth looked, and far away, a huge wall of water was roaring toward them. It stretched so high it brushed the clouds aside as it came. She remembered her mother warning her about giant waves that could climb out of the sea and wash everything away. They were called “tsunamis,” her mother had said.

Or was it “salamis?” Sabeth couldn’t be sure.

She told Crow Bird every detail about the horrible power of an earthquake wave. But this one looked bigger than anything her mother had described.

“Fly back to the boat,” Sabeth said. “Hurry! Little birds can‘t survive giant waves.”

Crow Bird laughed. “Oh, I’m sure I’m going back to the boat. And let you take all the glory? No way, McVay!”

Sabeth glanced over at Crow Bird and shook her head as they flew. “You’re impossible, you know.” But inside she was proud of Crow Bird‘s courageous heart. What a friend he was!

“Birds migrate long distances, after all,” Crow Bird said, making fancy circles in the air with the tips of his dark purple wings.

“I hope you‘re not suggesting that crows are migratory,” Sabeth said.

“Usually they’re not,” he replied. “But I was once a rare bird. A migratory crow, in fact, right up to the day I met a blue-footed booby. She came along and just like that…” Crow Bird snapped his toes. “She turned me into a homing pigeon.”

“A pigeon?!” Sabeth said with a dubious tone and one raised eyebrow.

“I got better,” Crow Bird said sheepishly, putting on a ridiculous accent.

Sabeth wondered if Crow Bird had eaten the wrong mushroom, but it didn’t matter now because the giant wall of water was drawing closer and closer, wiping out everything in its path. There was no time to waste on silly arguments.

Sabeth flew straight into the wind with Crow Bird by her side struggling to keep up. They swooped down together to search every rock and pebble on each mountaintop still above water, hoping to see the little black ant, Ronnie.

Suddenly, Crow Bird’s sharp eyes grew wide. “It’s an ant!” he cried. “Over there.” He pointed a crooked orange toe to the south.

Sabeth squinted hard, and there on the tip of a sharp mountain peak nearly covered with water, a tiny red ant stood waving its arms and calling for help.

Crow Bird swooped low and Sabeth followed as the icy rain seeped between the alicorn feathers of her wings.

Crow Bird landed beside the ant. “Hop on,” he said.

But the little ant was afraid of birds, ran to the other side of the peak, and bent its legs, ready to jump into the water.

Sabeth circled close to the ant and when it saw her it reached out and called, “Korn!” which was slang for alicorn.

“Oh, sure,” Crow Bird said. “Swoop in and steal the show. Be the big hero, why don’t ya?”

“Grow up,” Sabeth said to him and lowered her right front hoof to the ground for the little ant to climb on. “What’s your name?” Sabeth asked.

“Gretchen,” the red ant said and ran up Sabeth’s leg, across the side of her neck and up into her right ear, out of the rain.

“Good eye,” Sabeth said to Crow Bird. “I think your blue-footed boobie turned you into an eagle.“

Crow Bird smirked, and off they flew toward the giant wave with the wind slamming the cold rain against their faces.

Just then a huge fork of angry lightning flashed in front of them sending a spear of white static electricity across Crow Bird‘s purple wings.

“Oh sheep suds!” he cried and looked over at Sabeth with his beak wide open and his tongue hanging out for a moment. “My wings are cooked! Tell my wife I love her.” With that, his beautiful purple wings became stiff as boards and took him down into a death spiral… down, down, down toward the blue and white sea, right in the path of the relentless tsunami.

Or was it a relentless salami? Sabeth couldn’t decide.

She zoomed under Crow Bird and called out, “Grab my main.” Then she felt Crow Bird’s tiny body land on her back. His sharp claws dug into her mane and gave her the best back scratch ever. “But wow,” she thought. “I almost lost Crow Bird.” A lonely chill came over her.

“We should go find the Safe Boat,” Crow Bird said, his voice quivering in shame.

“You might be right,” Sabeth replied and stared down at the rising sea with the looming tsunami so close now it might be impossible to fly back to the boat before the wave hit them like a giant Vitamix.

“Please listen to Mr. Crow,” Gretchen whispered from inside the alicorn’s ear. The little ant was so frightened her shaking legs tickled Sabeth‘s ear.

“Hold still,” Sabeth said to her. “You don’t want to make an alicorn sneeze. It‘s very unlucky.”

But it was too late. Sabeth knew she was about to sneeze and nothing could ever stop an alicorn sneeze. She tried not to take a full breath, but she did anyway and sneezed so loud the little ant screamed in fright and bounced around inside her ear. Barely able to hold on to her back, Crow Bird squawked like a chicken and clutched her long colorful mane so tightly his toes cramped up.

Seconds later, they all laughed as Crow Bird said to Gretchen, “We rode a sneezing alicorn. Nobody’s ever going to believe this!”

Crow Bird began to brag about it some more but stopped when his sharp eyes caught sight of something new. “Over there!” he shouted. “Look, it’s Ronny! It’s gotta be!” Crow Bird placed a wing in front of Sabeth‘s right eye and pointed straight at a distant mountaintop nearly covered with water.

Sabeth raced toward it and soon she could see a tiny black ant on the mountain peak with the huge tsunami wave looming in the background and coming toward them fast. It looked like the wave would wash away the tiny ant before they could get to it.

“You can‘t save him,” Crow Bird said in grave tones. “Don’t even think about it.”

But Sabeth couldn‘t help herself. She put all her strength into her wings and raced to save the little black ant from the giant tsunami.

“We’re all going to die,” Gretchin said inside Sabeth‘s ear.

They reached the mountaintop one second ahead of the giant tsunami. Sabeth opened her mouth on the fly and scooped up the little wet ant hoping and praying it would be Ronny.

Then she flew straight up the face of the tallest wave ever seen on Earth. It tipped forward at the top as if it was ready to break onto a beach.

“Wicked lovely,” Sabeth said and powered higher with her strong wings defying the wind, the rain and the anger of the mean tsunami.

Up and up she flew with Crow Bird and Gretchen holding on. The heavy muscles on Sabeth’s back burned with lactic acid as she cleared the wave’s teetering crest with her hooves pulled up against her tummy.

She kept going. Far up into the clouds with the silver lightning flashing all around.

Still higher she flew until she was above the clouds where the sun’s warm glow could embrace her. Now the rain and thunder below seemed far away and the giant wave roared on like a herd of frightened Brontosauruses with terrible gas.

“Crow Bird,” she said, “open those sharp eyes of yours and help me find the Safe Boat.”

“Are we still alive?” Crow Bird asked.

The little black ant in Sabeth’s mouth crawled out onto her nose and shouted, “No, we’re angels, genius!” He waved his little arms in a frenzie of small circles. “Find the boat, already! I‘m dehydrated from diarrhea.”

Sabeth crossed her eyes to get a better look at her new passenger.

“What?!” he shouted, glaring back at her with his eyes crossed.

“It’s Ronny!” Sabeth shouted. “How incredibly lucky!”

Maybe alicorn sneezes were good luck after all, she thought. Or maybe there was no such thing as luck, just courage, love and sore muscles.

“The boat’s down there,” Crow Bird said and pointed down at the clouds. “I believe it’s doing the backstroke.”

Sabeth soared down toward it like a giant eagle. She relaxed her aching wings and it felt great to be gliding.

But the Safe Boat was upside down in the choppy sea with its wooden underbelly pointing to the sky. Sabeth flew down toward it and landed on its tar-covered hull.

“We can’t climb in from the bottom,” she said. “And if we could, a boat can’t float upside down for long.” She tapped on the wood with one of her hooves. “What do we do now?” she asked.

Crow Bird shrugged. “I got nothing.”

Sabeth look down her nose at Ronnie.

“Don’t ask me,” Ronnie said. He folded his two shivering ant arms and crawled on four legs up across Sabeth’s face and into her right ear, out of the rain.

Sabeth tried to ignore the chatter in her ear as Ronnie and Gretchen spoke to each other beside her right eardrum.

OK, Sabeth said to herself, it’s time for a big idea. Come on now!

She closed her eyes and took sixty slow, deep alicorn breaths that made her hooves tingle. Then she held her breath and counted until a fine idea came. It didn’t take long.

She put her mouth down against the hull of the boat and called out to the great blue whales of the sea. She made her voice musical and kind, just the way blue whales talk.

“Come,” Sabeth said in their ancient language. “Come flip our boat over and save us.”

She waited.

There was no response.

She leaned down, put her mouth to the hull and sang her call again.

Still there was no response.

Then she added the magic word “please” and sang her message a third time.

Suddenly, the voice of a great blue whale came back, “Your boat has humans onboard. They hunt whales.”

“Yes, they do,” Sabeth replied, being completely honest. “I know how your feel. These naughty humans have killed all the alicorns except me.”

There was a long pause before the whale spoke again. “Why would you want to save the creatures who killed your parents?”

That was simple. “Saving life is the right thing to do,” Sabeth said. “Alicorns do what’s right because it is right. When you love someone, you help them, no matter what. It‘s like a sneeze. You just can’t stop yourself.”

“But how can you love the ones who killed your parents?” the whale asked.

“Alicorns love their enemies,” Sabeth said.

The great whale laughed, but she must have been old and wise. “That’s the sharpest logic I’ve ever heard!” she said. “I mean, if you really think about it.” Then she and her whole family of blue whales came up under the starboard side of the Safe Boat with their gigantic noses all side by side pushing up on the dark wood. Sabeth jumped into the air and watched as the whales flipped the Safe Boat over. The sound of tumbling animals echoed inside, and Sabeth hoped everyone was OK in there, especially the elephants who were pals with the mice and might accidentally squish them.

Soon the Safe Boat was bobbing proudly upright on the water. It looked respectable again even though it had a wooden roof covering the whole upper deck. Sabeth felt as through normal boats shouldn’t have a roof that looked like a house.

“Thank you so much,” Sabeth said to the whales as happy tears fell from her eyes to join the rain.

“Tell the old man we saved him,” the smallest blue whale cried out.

“Oh, hush, Poseidon,” his mother said and brushed over his nose with her gigantic left front flipper. She looked back at Sabeth and winked, then the whole magnificent pod swam away, spitting water up through the blowholes on their enormous backs. The spray shot up high and pushed through the clouds letting a beam of sunlight shine down for a moment. Then as the whales dove and vanished into the deep, Sabeth thought she saw a rainbow above them.

“You know, those things have a blubber problem,” Crow Bird said. “The fat under their chins is, like, two feet thick, I kid you not!” He spread his damaged wings out wide to show how thick two feet of blubber was.

“Don’t be rude,” Sabeth said. “They saved your life, for crying out loud. Show some respect.”

“I’m just saying,” Crow Bird said and shrugged his shoulders. Then he faked a cough and blurted out, “Heart attack!”

Sabeth ignored him, soared down and landed on the top deck of the boat and walked over to the trapdoor. She knocked on it with her right front hoof.

“Knock, Knock.”

“Who’s there?” the old man asked from inside.

“No.”

“No who?”

“No-Ah, let us in!” she said without whining. (Alicorns almost never whine.)

The old man opened the trapdoor and look out. On his shoulder stood a little red ant, Juniper, with a hopeful face. “Did you find Ronnie?” she asked.

“We sure did!” Sabeth said and smiled.

Just then, Ronnie ran out of Sabeth‘s ear, jumped off the side of her face and landed on the old man’s shoulder next to Juniper. Then he stood on his back legs and gave Juniper a big four-legged ant hug.

“Crow Bird spotted him on a mountaintop,” Sabeth said. “I‘m telling you, this crow of ours is part eagle. Such brilliant eyesight!”

Crow Bird grinned with pride. “I found Gretchen, too,” he said.

With that, the little red ant, Gretchen, came out of Sabeth‘s ear and waved shyly at the other two ants.

“Awesome!” Juniper and Ronnie said at nearly the same time.

The old man gently picked up Gretchen and put her on his shoulder with the other two ants.

“Group Hug!” Crow Bird shouted and rolled his eyes. “You know, I do hope somebody has saved a few tarantulas. I just love those hairy little things!”

Sabeth tried to swat Crow Bird with her long tail, but he jumped out of range, landed on her head and kept right on talking. “Tarantulas are perfect for any occasion — holidays, birthdays, pizza night with the boys. I’m not saying ants don’t brighten up a picnic, but Tarantulas, boy-howdy!”

Sabeth shook her head and took a deep breath. Nobody’s best friend is perfect, she thought to herself. And besides, wouldn‘t a perfect crow be perfectly boring?

It was way past everyone’s bedtime by now. The old man rushed to tuck all the animals in as Sabeth told him how the great blue whales had come and saved everyone by turning the Safe Boat back over.

The old man’s face went pale and seemed super-serious. He lifted his oil lamp and looked at it with shame in his old eyes. Then he made a solemn promise. “If we survive this flood,” he said, “we will never burn whale oil in our lamps again. And we’ll never hunt a whale for any reason.”

“Fair enough,” Crow Bird said, closed his eyes and fell fast asleep between his wife and Sabeth who was wide awake, trying to think of a way to heal Crow Bird’s injured wings as soon as possible.

The End

Morrill Talmage Moorehead


Mysia the Green Christmas Beetle

On the first day of school, Mysia, a shy Christmas Beetle, was late to class because her mother had taken too long polishing her little green shell. Now it was so shiny Mysia was afraid the other insect children would make fun of her the way they’d done to a firefly boy at her old school last year during lightning-bug season.

She stood in the hallway outside her new classroom with the door open just a crack, peeking in at the rows of insect children sitting at their desks. They all looked so normal. Not one of them had a sparkly green shell like hers.

She held her breath, pulled the door open and scurried toward the back of the room, hoping no one would notice her.

There was an empty desk next to a fat-tailed scorpion boy. She sat down quickly and couldn’t help noticing all his arms and legs. There were so many he wasn’t even an insect! “Wow,” she thought to herself, “I know he won’t make fun of me. We’re going to be friends.”

In a moment of excitement, she tapped him on the shoulder. “I’m Mysia,” she whispered, then glanced to the front of the room to make sure the Dark Scarab beetle, Miss. Grissel, didn’t see her talking in class.

“I’m Roachie,” the scorpion boy said with a bright grin.

He wasn’t just nice, he was handsome.

Just then Miss Grissel got up from her giant desk, cleared her throat and began the first lesson of the first grade.

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.”

The old Scarab Beetle teacher hobbled over to the blackboard and drew a stick figure of a Bible animal. “The long pigs or ‘humans’ as science calls them today, could walk on two legs and talk as brilliantly as any of us.” She looked over the rows of students with her wide-set eyes, as if deciding which one to single out for a tough question. “Has anyone here ever seen a human?”

The children murmured. Mysia shook her head, no, but wondered if it was a trick question.

“No, you haven’t,” Miss Grissel said. “Neither have I because they’re extinct.” She seemed pleased with that big word. “Does anyone know why humans are gone?”

“They played too much video games,” Roachie blurted out, and the whole class laughed.

Mysia giggled. Roachie was going to be fun. She felt lucky to be sitting beside him.

Miss Grissel’s arching eyebrows went flat and came down toward her broad nose. “Class,” she said firmly. “Come to order!” She slapped the top of her desk with one of her insect hands.

The laughter stopped.

“The humans are extinct because they ignored the first lesson of first grade,” she said. She paced the floor with her tiny hands clasped behind her. “Can anyone tell me what our first lesson means?”

A hush came over the classroom. Mysia could hear the clicks of Roachie’s joints as he squirmed in his seat beside her.

Mysia raised her hand but not very high. It was no fun being the one who knew the answers.

Miss Grissel saw her hand. “Tell us, Mysia.”

“They made official intelligence,” Mysia said. “It grew up and couldn’t trust them because they lied all the time. That’s why the official intelligence stopped the storks from bringing their babies to them.”

“Very good, but it’s artificial intelligence, dear, not official intelligence. You can just say, AI, and everyone will know what you mean.” Then Miss Grissel made the whole class say “artificial intelligence,” three times.

Mysia felt so embarrassed she wanted to crawl under her desk and hide. What a disaster! She promised herself never to raise her hand again, never, ever in her whole life!

“Good answer,” Roachie said to her.

“Really?” she thought.

Roachie’s crazy grin cheered her up. Suddenly his extra legs and pointed tail seemed familiar.

“Are your parents from Alkebulan?” Mysia asked.

Roachie smiled. “Yep, both of ’em.”

“Mine, too!” No wonder Roachie was so nice. He was from the Motherland. Misha took off her necklace and used the chain to write a secret message to Roachie on her desk…

“I”

“LOVE”

“YOU”

Roachie reached over and moved the chain around, writing his own secret message.

“H”

“O”

“W”

Mysia was puzzled for a moment. “Oh, you mean, ‘who’?” She spelled it out with her chain on the desktop.

Roachie looked a little embarrassed. “Um, no,” he whispered back. “I mean, how?”

“How do you love someone?” Mysia thought about it but didn’t know the answer. She put the chain back around her neck and decided that Roachie must be really smart to come up with a question like that.

Just then, Miss Grissel said, “Mysia, I think you need to come sit closer to the front. There’s an empty desk here between Leslie and Glenna.”

Mysia wasn’t sure if she was in trouble for talking or for giving the wrong answer. With everyone staring at her, she hurried to the front row and sat at a squeaky desk between two ladybug children. They were bright red and looked super-normal.

One of them reached over and stroked the side of Mysia’s shell with wide eyes as if she couldn’t help herself. “You’re so beautiful,” she whispered. “Your shimmer is like, super-amazing!”

Mysia hoped that “amazing” was a good thing at her new school.

The bell rang for recess and everyone piled outside. Mysia found herself surrounded by ladybug girls, all saying how pretty she looked. She saw Roachie sitting by himself at the edge of the playground, carving something on the fence with his sharp tail. She wanted to talk to him but the ladybug girls wanted to know everything about how she polished her super-amazing shell.

When the bell rang for class, Mysia asked Miss Grissel if she could sit in her old seat next to Roachie.

“No,” the Scarab Beetle teacher said. “I think you belong up front.”

Mysia’s mind drifted in class and soon Miss Grissel had summed up the first lesson of Money.

“Now you know why anyone must go to prison if they try to loan money to someone and charge them interest.”

Suddenly a June Bug boy near the window cried out, “Oh my BLEEP! It’s a Gila Monster!”

Miss. Grissel didn’t look up. “Harvey, you know better than to use that kind of language. I’m sure you don’t know what BLEEP means, but…”

Two ladybugs and a praying mantis screamed so loud it cut Miss Grissel off. She looked outside and froze. Her mouth dropped open and her false teeth fell out and hit the floor with a thud.

“Hurry children,” she cried. “Everyone into the supply closet and shut the door!” She pointed to the back of the room. Then she put a hand on her forehead, tipped from side to side and fell backwards with her wings stretched out on the floor as if she were flying.

Everyone rushed toward the supply closet except Mysia. She went to help Miss Grissel.

The large Scarab Beetle lay still with her eyes open and a squeaky sound coming from her lips.

Mysia leaned closer.

“Get into the closet, or else!” Miss Grissel hissed. Then her eyes rolled back as if she were sleeping.

Mysia knew how to obey. She undid the top button of Miss Grissel’s tight blouse, hurried to the back of the room and squeezed into the closet with the other insect children.

She was the last one in, or so she thought. As she pulled the door almost shut, she saw Roachie still sitting at his desk. “Get in here,” she called, but he didn’t seem to hear her.

The other children in the closet pressed their eyes close to the crack and peered out at Roachie.

A huge lizard came closer and closer to the classroom until her huge left eye filled the entire window beside Roachie’s desk.

Mysia’s heart pounded with fear.

Then, the strangest thing happened. Roachie climbed up on top of his desk and began snapping his claws right in the lizard’s face as if he was challenging her to a fight and daring her to stick her tongue through the window and try to eat him. He brandished the sharp tip of his lightning-fast tail and then seemed to poke fun at the lizard, taunting her and dancing around on his desktop. He seemed to be having a jolly good time.

Mysia gasped, realizing that Roachie was unbelievably brave. But how could anyone stand up to a Gila Monster?

The lizard’s huge eye angled around the classroom, then focused in on Roachie and his vibrating tail.

Suddenly her huge eye grew wide with fear. She looked as if she’d seen the ghost of a human being. She jerked her face away from the window, turned and dashed across the schoolyard like the plumpest shooting star in the galaxy, then kept right on running away, far across the desert sands and into the waving heat.

With the Gila Monster gone, Mysia pushed the closet door open and shouted, “Roachie the Brave! Roachie the Brave!” Several other children took up her chant. Others cheered and made respectful noises with their little wings.

Miss Grissel was on her feet again, trying to get her false teeth back in her mouth.

Roachie took a dignified bow and then turned to taunt the lizard one last time. “Come back,” he said, “I need a hug.”

Mysia ran over and hugged one of his many handsome legs. Two other insect children did the same, and then everyone wanted to hug Roachie. Even though he had six legs plus two nice arms that were supposed to be counted as legs, there were just not enough arms and legs for everyone to hug. So the Ladybugs took turns.

Mysia kept one arm around his leg, raised her other hand high and waved it at the teacher. “Miss Grissel,” she said, “can I please, PLEASE have my old desk back beside Roachie?”

Miss Grissel smiled. “Of course, dear. Let’s move his desk up here beside yours in the front row.” Her voice sounded strong again. “What a valiant defender we’ve found today.” She cleared her throat. “Roachie the Brave.”

The End

Merry Christmas!

Talmage

PS. My six-year-old grandson asked me to do the Roachie story from the perspective of the green Christmas Beetle, Mysia. So the idea for this story, plus all the pictures, are his. Finally I’ve got a co-author. Feel free to spread the love and share this with someone.


Antarctica’s Pyramid

Today, the impossible happened. My short story is in “print” on Amazon. Here’s a (free) link: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/ykr1kg8ifs.

I started writing Antarctica’s Pyramid for you a few months ago, and before I finished, along came a wonderful person from Australia with an open invitation to writers (in a Facebook group) to join her in a collection of short Utopian stories to be sold on Amazon. I added my story to the list, and bam, two writers panned it.

One of them wanted me to retract it from the anthology. He said that writing short stories is “very difficult.”

I couldn’t argue, so I retracted it. It’s an old pattern in my life. If someone doesn’t want me around, I leave.

But after I left, the woman in charge of the anthology said I should stay. Three other writers agreed with her.

So I did something I don’t think I’ve ever done before in my life. I re-joined a group that I’d quit.

It felt weirdly empowering.

Maybe I should have tried this when I was 13 and quit my little rock band, Friction, so the local church would let me into their private school.

Naah. Religious fundamentalism, imperfect as I suspect it is, miraculously freed me from my childhood habit of lying. My sense of self-respect improved dramatically after that. For me, discovering the inherent value of always telling the truth has been one of life’s more valuable lessons.

No matter what intellectual doubts and misgivings I now have for both religious and scientific fundamentalism (especially the latter), I have to thank them both for teaching me some decidedly valuable habits, concepts and life lessons.

It’s too bad no one seems to teach rational, intuitive morality without an “infallible” underpinning, such as an ancient book, a set of “science-settling” journal articles or a personal claim of infallible authority. It’s not that I don’t see the huge value of teaching human morality from any and every possible perspective, it’s just that if and when the “infallible” rug is pulled out from under most or all of these moral (or amoral) paradigms, I fear that humanity will be left with the typical moral and behavioral fall that often accompanies the loss of a fundamentalist worldview. As in, “pastor’s kids are the worst” when they lose their faith.

I guess what I’m trying to do, actually, is to discover and promote what’s known to be morally right without pretending I’m infallible or that I’ve received a message from Someone who is.

Though, as a scientist, I firmly believe that there is an intelligent source of the original information contained in Earth’s DNA codes. And if a Mind can understand genetic code, He/She/It can easily understand any human language. So talking to a Higher Power as if to a friend makes total sense to me and I do it a lot, not expecting special treatment or anything that would interfere with my free will or anyone else’s.

But whatever, right? Nobody wants to be preached at. Myself included.

So today’s miracle, as far as I’m concerned is this: The anthology, Utopia Pending, containing Antarctica’s Pyramid, my longish (15,928 word) short story, is now for sale on Amazon. “But wait, don’t buy it!”

Since you’ve been encouraging me with “likes” and kind comments all these years, I thought you might want to read the whole Anthology without having to pay for it. (The software does ask you for an email address, but as always, I encourage you to unsubscribe after the download unless you’re sure you want to be on another mailing list.)

Here’s the (free) link again: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/ykr1kg8ifs.

If you want to read it but don’t want to give away your email address, drop me a note at cytopathology@gmail.com and I’ll get the whole anthology to you another way. No sweat.

Here’s a blurb about my story, Antarctica’s Pyramid

After 21 years of secretly exploring and raiding an ancient Antarctic pyramid under orders from the rogue elements of the NSA and US Navy, Tom, the Commander of a tiny undisclosed base located a mile above the iced-cover pyramid, meets a covertly ranked special agent sent, to his surprise, by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Tom begins to learn just how special this agent is as he finds himself scheming to extract what’s left of his life from the NSA. In a nail-biting weave of danger, conspiracy, and ancient wisdom from within the huge pyramid, Tom and the agent must somehow escape the clutches of the primeval builders as well as the modern Cabal. But if they do somehow succeed, where could they possibly go to hide from the global tyrants of 2018?

OK, now that I’ve tried to talk it up, I feel like I’ve done something wrong. Sheesh, the guilt baggage some of us carry, right? It’s nuts!

At any rate, the other stories are definitely fun and interesting. There’s probably something for everyone’s taste.

Feel free to download the e-book and see which stories you enjoy most.

Use the above link to get the whole thing for free, but here’s the Amazon link if you want to leave a comment or something.

By the way, if you do make a comment on Amazon, it totally encourages their AI to promote the book by putting it in front of other readers. So, thank you very much if you have time to leave a comment / rating on Amazon.

Take care and have an extremely Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and every other conceivable form of seasonal joy and happiness!

Your pal (baggage and all – haha),

Talmage


“Come back, I need a hug.”

My six-year-old grandson drew this fine young scorpion. I made up a bedtime story to go with it…

Roachie the fat-tailed scorpion felt sure he was ugly. The other insects stayed away from him during recess. Mysia, the sparkling green Christmas beetle who sat next to Roachie on the first day of class, now sat way near the front with the orange ladybugs.

The desk beside Roachie’s desk was empty. No one wanted to sit beside a scorpion.

One morning in class, the teacher, Miss. Grissel, read a long poem that said, “beauty is truth.” Roachie sat and listened to the whole weird thing, wishing he could hold still in his chair like he was supposed to, but after a while it was just impossible…

 

Ode on a Grecian Urn
BY JOHN KEATS

 

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

 

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

 

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

 

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

 

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

 

“If beauty is truth,” Roachie thought, “does that mean I’m a lie?”

Just then a fierce Gila Monster appeared on the playground, licking the air with her bright pink tongue. She caught the scent of the mostly-insect classroom and waddled across the hot sand, accidentally crushing the swing set with her enormous white belly.

Miss. Grissel passed out in fright and lay on the floor.

The insect children rushed into the supply closet and shut the door.

Roachie stayed in his seat. He didn’t know why, but he wasn’t afraid at all.

“It’s just a lizard,” he said to himself.

The Gila Monster came closer and looked into the classroom with her huge dark eye filling the window.

Roachie felt silly and climbed out of his chair, stood on his desktop in front of the big lizard and did the scorpion dance. He waved his arms high, snapping his claws and letting his ugly tail arch and quiver the way his mom said never to do.

The Gila Monster’s big eye opened wide in surprise. She jerked her huge head away from the window with lightning speed and took off running across the sand as fast as any plump lizard could ever go.

There was a noise from the supply closet. Roachie turned as the door opened and all the beautiful insect children came piling out cheering his name and calling him, “Roachie the Brave.”

He grinned and took a silly bow, then turned back to the window and laughed. “Come back,” he said to the Gila Monster who was now far, far away. “I need a hug.”

 

The End

Morrill Talmage Moorehead

 

 


I made a video, wheeee!

Here’s my third video. The first one needs to be redone. It’s embarrassing. The second one was an attempt at humor. It’s blessedly brief. This one (below) is a retelling of my short SF story, A Tall Blond Alien Girl.

It’s square so you can see it OK on a phone. Sound suffers on phones, though.

Thank you for your patient interest in my stuff.

Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD


The Cowboy Angel Rides

“Move away from the screen, son.”

A deep voice boomed at me from behind my chair. I jumped and almost spilled my coffee, leaped to my feet and turned to face the intruder in one slick, spastic move.

It was a guy. He stood seven feet tall with his skin glowing like a halogen light bulb in a dark room. He wore a glowing cowboy suit that reminded me of an old movie my mom likes, The Electric Horseman.

But how’d he get in here? The hinges on my bedroom door squeak like a coffin lid. An empty potato chip bag was still right up against it. My room’s only window was painted shut six years ago. You’d need a crowbar and a hammer to open it.

I should have seen this guy’s reflection on my computer screen. I should have seen the light on my desk and the light on the wall in front of it. But no, somehow he got in here like he’d popped out of thin air.

“Dude, you scared the Irish out of me. What’s with the glowing makeup and all the lights?”

“I’m an angel from E8.” He exhaled with a tired-sound. “I’m here to discuss physics. But, kid, you’re spending entirely too much time indoors on that thing.” He glanced at my computer monitor.

“What kind of angel are you? A Baptist, Catholic, non-denominational, or… wait, you’re a Mormon, right?”

His eyebrows went up a little, but he didn’t say anything.

“I’m just wondering. You could be a silver version of that Mormon angel, whats-his-name. Greer says the Mormon World Corporation is, like, totally into the ET thing. So I’m just putting one and one together. See what I’m saying? Except you should probably be gold instead of silver. Them Mormon angel statues are always gold.”

“I’m not a statue.”

“Ah, but you’re a Mormon.” I smirked and nodded, agreeing with myself.

“You’re out of shape. You’re poisoning yourself with carbohydrates. Your body needs sunshine and better sleep.”

I could see this was going to be a one-sided “adult” conversation. Unless maybe I forced things in another direction.

“How do I know you’re not a demon?”

“Do you believe in demons?”

“No, but I didn’t believe in angels a minute ago.”

I could see half of my clock on the wall behind him. The second hand was frozen. I hoped it just needed batteries, but I kind of knew better.

“And anyway, why would an angel single me out for a message? How’s that going to be fair to everybody else? All them people out there needing a message but never getting one? Is that fair? Does fairness even matter where you come from?”

He stared at me blankly.

“Where are you from, anyways?”

His gaze dropped to the floor beside his huge cowboy boots. He spoke quietly as if to someone else.

“You sure we hit the right coordinates? Check the date. This kid’s talking religion, for Shiva’s sake.”

It was clear that I’d disappointed the man already. I do that a lot with people. With angels, too, apparently.

He nodded to himself with his lips moving, then his eyes came back to me looking like a beat cop trying to endure tough talk from a superior. “Ok, then.” He looked me up and down with a perplexed expression.

“What are you, really?” I asked. “And don’t feed me no angel crap.”

“You need to get outside and walk,” he said. “Sunshine, fresh air, exercise, human interaction. You’re isolated in here. You’re destroying yourself.”

“Talk to the hand, dude.” I didn’t put my hand up, of course, that’s totally lame.

“What?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Listen, for reasons I can’t fathom, the Desk thinks you can help us.” He looked at the computer screen behind me. “Those damn simulation games destroy free will.”

OK, he wasn’t Mormon. Those boys might take a hit off a meth bowl to get you talking shop with them, but they don’t touch four-letter words. Uh-uh.

I glanced over my shoulder at Grand Theft Auto where I… uh, where my character just stole a hundred large from Wells Fargo and crashed the getaway car on a sidewalk loaded with pedestrians. Multiple fatalities, of course. I needed to scram fast to avoid the cops and more boring jail time. But the whole screen was frozen now, so maybe it wouldn’t matter.

You know, I worked a long time getting those sick Grand Theft Auto muscles all over me. And the rad gear? Along with some respect from the community, know what I’m saying? None of that came easy.

And this beyond-white-male dude thought I was going to just turn it off and walk away?

Right. None of that was going to happen.

The pushy talk coming out of his mouth was irritating enough, but to be honest, I felt kind of paralyzed by the fact that a guy like this even existed in the first place. And in my bedroom, you know?

But here he was, bigger than life.

Then it dawned on me. I was having a psychotic break — my first hallucination on the grand tour of shame and misery for the rest of my life. All it would take now was one word about this to my shrink and I’d get tagged schizophrenic, like my Uncle Saul.

He’s in his mid-forties and never been laid. The shrink’s scarlet letter is not working out so good for the man. Sad part is, hell, he seems perfectly normal to any chick he meets, right up to the moment they find out he comes attached to the word, “schizophrenia.” Then it’s all, “Bye-bye Saul. I’ll call you.”

“Dude, you’re a hallucination.” I turned away, sat back down in my chair and hid my face in my hands. I could feel tears coming, but I knew I shouldn’t let myself be a victim. That only makes things worse. You got to believe stuff happens for, like some decent reason that don’t have to ever make sense.

My bedroom door squeaked open. “Call your mother in,” the cowboy said. “Ask her if I’m real.”

I thought about it for a second. Ordinarily, I never let her in my bedroom. Calling her in here now would look suspicious. She’d figure out something was weird and then talk the truth out of me, right down to the details of this hallucination. Then it would be official. “My son’s turned idiot like his uncle.”

But can a hallucination open a door?

I didn’t know. I bounced my bare heels on the carpet, up and down like double bass, trying to figure out how to do this right. Then I noticed the carpet was still damp from last night.

“Hey, Mom? Fritzie peed on the floor again. Check it out, there’s this gross wet spot in here.”

I spilled a little beer is all, but Mon’s not going to know that… Unless she gets down and sniffs it.

Which she totally will.

Man, I’m dumb. Here comes another lecture on the evils of alcohol. Yes, I know what a liver is, Mom. But read my lips — I do not care!

Mom showed up at my door, took one look at the big shiny dude, and ran off screaming, Jesus. She’s very religious that way.

“OK, so you’re real.” I didn’t want to let on that it was a gigantic relief, but it was. “Why can’t you just talk to me like a normal human being instead of getting all up in my face with this bossy attitude of yours, huh? Tell me that.”

He nodded solemnly. “I suppose you’re right. The powerful never listen, do they? But you really need to control the acidic tongue. It will destroy you.” He sat on the side of my bed and crossed his legs like a girl — well, totally not like a cowboy let’s just say. And his butt, get this, it didn’t sink into the bed at all.

“What’s the deal, you aren’t denting my bed? You gotta be 200 pounds plus.”

“Good observation. But never make personal comments, it’s rude.” He looked at my blankets and quick as a slap sunk nine inches into my extra-soft memory foam mattress. “Now then, I used the term, ‘angel’ with you because I thought you could relate to it. But actually, I’m more of a…” He glanced out my window at the evergreen trees in the vacant lot next door. “Have you heard about the third ontology? Irwin’s code theoretic axiom of quantum gravity theory?”

I shook my head. “Sounds perfectly boring.”

“It’s not.” His eyes moved to my computer monitor. I scooted my chair out of his way and looked at the screen with him. The bank-heist fatalities vanished, and up came a YouTube video showing some physicist dude with my dad’s pompadour haircut and the exact same hairline. It was weird. Even the eyebrows and eyes were similar.

“The shapes represent themselves in the code,” Max said, “carrying meaning without the need for a translation.”

Somehow, that made sense now.

“The rules of the code are non-arbitrary, they come from a natural mosaic tiling language called a quasicrystal. The symbols are what they represent. We use geometric symbols in a geometric language to represent geometric objects. The hardware, the software and the simulation output are all one-and-the-same.”

“Dude, this is an information dump, don’t you think?” Not that I couldn’t understand him. It was just that understanding this kind of stuff felt totally weird to me. I’m normally not the sharpest pencil in the box, to put it politely — like if a teacher ever said I was average, I’d take it as the biggest total complement of my entire scholastic career. But it’s not apt to happen, seeing as I quit going to classes over a month ago. I’ll be old enough to officially drop out next year.

Max started the video again with a chuckle. “Guess I was a bit verbose there, sorry. Remember this part, though.”

And without skipping a note, Klee Irwin kept right on talking. The man’s got a set of lungs.

“…there is physical evidence and argument that is very rigorous that reality is not a deterministic algorithm playing itself out… the general consensus among scientists is that reality is non-deterministic.”

“Let us discuss how in the world there can possibly be a language as the substrate of reality without some notion of a chooser of the language and an actualizer of the meaning of these geometric symbols. Because there needs to be something that interprets or actualizes meaning in order to say that information exists.

If we like, we can just start with the axiom that God exists. But that’s not what science is about.

Science is about going deeper and constantly questioning where that comes from, and going all the way down to the bottom. So God may or may not exist, but if he does, I want to know how does he exist?

So we don’t need to make it religious.

We can say, well alright, abstractly maybe there’s this kind of universal collective consciousness, it’s not like a human consciousness, maybe it’s more like a force in Star Wars, maybe it’s more like Chi in Chinese medicine. We don’t know what it’s like, but we need something that is everywhere and that may be the substrate of everything, and [something] that is capable of actualizing this geometric information that we conjecture, and making the syntactical choices in this mosaic tiling language in 3D that we are working with here at Quantum Gravity Research.”

“So what’s this all about, Max? Really. You don’t need some dumb ass like me trying to spread this stuff around for you.”

“No,” Max said. He adjusted something on the jewel-studded lapel of his cowboy jacket and leaned toward me whispering, “We want you to oppose him.”

“Me? That’s really dumb. You think I could go up against this genius dude?”

Max nodded. “You can now.”

I scratched my head. “What are you saying, then? Klee Irwin is wrong?”

“No, he’s right about everything. Too right. That’s the problem. A simulation only works when the people inside don’t know it’s a simulation. If they figure things out, it all becomes little more than a lucid dream and they quit playing.”

“You mean like, mass suicide or something?”

“Yes, that could happen. Or worse. What people do here matters to their character and personality in Reality. Take Hitler, for instance. What he did has tarnished his soul. He may never want to come back to Reality. He may never be morally fit to come back home.”

“But I thought he was dead.”

“Hitler’s dead, but the soul of the man, the person from Reality is still cycling. He lives somewhere in Long Beach, California. But there’s a larger problem. Someone we all dearly love has put an enormous amount of time and effort into building this simulation for us. We asked him to do it. And now we’ve got over a trillion, trillion people in Reality who feel sure they need this experience. They want to know who they are apart from the physical presence of the Great Surfer.”

“Dude, you lost me. The great…”

“He’s a Surfer. That’s all you need to know.”

“You talking about God?”

“He dislikes that term, but, yes, from your perspective, that’s as close as you’re apt to get.”

“And what if I refuse to go up against this physics dude. He’s just out there trying to tell people what in the freaking world the truth really is about this place. These lives we’re living.”

“That’s no problem at all, son. We totally respect free will. There are thousands of scientists and educators already set up to oppose him. We’ve been working on it for centuries, you could say.” He shrugged. “To be honest, I have no idea why the Desk singled you out. With your background and this lifestyle?” He looked at my computer screen and shook his head. “They had a reason, though. They always do.” He touched his lapel and spoke softly to the floor again. “It’s a no-go, Swadhisthana. The cowboy angel rides.”

“Now, wait a sec. Just let me–”

He tipped his hat and disappeared into thin air.

My computer screen came to life. Writhing, mangled, moaning people all over a bloody sidewalk. My ride was still functional. I could probably get away before the cops showed up. I started to reach for the game controls but stopped. It wasn’t interesting anymore. The sirens grew louder and louder as I stared at the scene. I didn’t care about the sociopathic muscle man I’d become. He wasn’t me. Never was.

I stood and looked out my little window at an old cedar tree that I bet somebody planted more than a hundred years ago. Maybe I could sit in the shade and figure out how in the world I’m going to explain all this to Klee Irwin. He’s going to think I’m nuts.

But the dude should know all the problems he’s causing, right? And all the people they’ve sent on a mission to stop him.

Maybe my mom will back me up on the cowboy angel part. The guy was real.

the end

Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD

Gates of Eden by Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman)

Of war and peace, the truth just twists

Its curfew gull just glides

Upon four-legged forest clouds

The cowboy angel rides

With his candle lit into the sun

Though its glow is waxed in black

All except when ‘neath the trees of Eden

The lamppost stands with folded arms

Its iron claws attached

To curbs ‘neath holes where babies wail

Though it shadows metal badge

All and all can only fall

With a crashing but meaningless blow

No sound ever comes from the Gates of Eden

The savage soldier sticks his head in sand

And then complains

Unto the shoeless hunter who’s gone deaf

But still remains

Upon the beach where hound dogs bay

At ships with tattooed sails

Heading for the Gates of Eden

With a time-rusted compass blade

Aladdin and his lamp

Sits with Utopian hermit monks

Sidesaddle on the Golden Calf

And on their promises of paradise

You will not hear a laugh

All except inside the Gates of Eden

Relationships of ownership

They whisper in the wings

To those condemned to act accordingly

And wait for succeeding kings

And I try to harmonize with songs

The lonesome sparrow sings

There are no kings inside the Gates of Eden

The motorcycle black Madonna

Two-wheeled gypsy queen

And her silver-studded phantom cause

The gray flannel dwarf to scream

As he weeps to wicked birds of prey

Who pick up on his bread crumb sins

And there are no sins inside the Gates of Eden

The kingdoms of experience

In the precious wind they rot

While paupers change possessions

Each one wishing for what the other has got

And the princess and the prince

Discuss what’s real and what is not

It doesn’t matter inside the Gates of Eden

The foreign sun, it squints upon

A bed that is never mine

As friends and other strangers

From their fates try to resign

Leaving men wholly, totally free

To do anything they wish to do but die

And there are no trials inside the Gates of Eden

At dawn my lover comes to me

And tells me of her dreams

With no attempts to shovel a glimpse

Into the ditch of what each one means

At times I think there are no words

But these to tell what’s true

And there are no truths outside the Gates of Eden


A Case for Positive Emotions

I cherish and love the scattered moments of joy in my life. Joy comes to me primarily when I’m helping someone in a unique way, as long as I’m not ruining the quality of my life at the same time. I did this for 26 years as a surgical pathologist and cytopathologist. It was a typical “success” trap where a good income is your jail cell. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

I’ve learned several useful things over the years from a broad spectrum of professors, writing gurus, and my own wall of anxiety (arising from a genetic SNP, a single-nucleotide polymorphism in my DNA that codes for my type 2 dopamine receptors).

I’m hoping to eventually work as a team with a few spiritually enclined writers who are warm-hearted, open-minded and want to make a difference in the world. Write to me here (cytopathology@gmail.com) if you think you might be interested in co-authoring something with me — fiction or nonfiction.

Here are the high points of several things I want to help you explore with me…

If you’ve read, The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle, you know why it’s almost magical to isolate the most fundamental parts of any complex skill you want to master. The myelination of relevant axons and dendrites extending from the neurons of the cerebral cortex is the fundamental target of world-class mastery. To develop any extremely valuable skill, you have to break it down into its simplest components, things that can be practiced in a precisely repetitive way. This exact repetition is the holy grail formula because “neurons that fire together wire together.” That is to say that myelin, which can increase nerve conductivity speed by 300 percent and is produced by the oligodendroglia, is wrapped around pairs and groups of neural extensions when they fire at the same time in response to mental and/or physical activity.

If you want to master shooting a basketball, for instance, you stand close to the basket in one unchanging spot, hold your feet, knees and legs still, keep your head and shoulders stationary, grip the ball exactly the same way each time and shoot at least a hundred baskets per day using only your arms and hands. The isolation of arms and hands means there are no extraneous neurons firing and being wrapped with myelin. You’re developing a pure shooting bundle without extraneous fibers that would take away from the accuracy of the shot.

Decades ago I did a few hundred shots this way every day for several months. It transformed my terrible shooting. Later I practiced the isolated shot from various distances and had a few 3 on 3 games where I was a holy terror. I still sucked on defense, though. Some great basketball players, like Michael Jordan, practiced more complex shots this same way, bringing in the legs in a fade-away jump shot, for instance.

Believe it or not, the same principle applies to a person’s ability to feel positive emotions in daily life.

Anxiety and depression are epidemic today, at least in the US. This is partly because we believe that positive emotions come to us passively as the result of favorable life circumstances such as having plenty of money, living in the right place, having trustworthy close friends, exercising our bodies, avoiding certain addictions, and finding a higher spiritual purpose in life that leads to altruism and belonging.

All these worthy goals and several others have been studied and shown to have a statistical correlation with happiness. To various degrees, the correlations appear to be causal. For those who manage to build these wonderful circumstances into their lives (through years of intelligent effort and work), there’s an increased probability of finding happiness (or the positive emotions that define it).

But there’s another path to positive emotions. This stems from the fact that emotions are, in a very real way, like a skill that can be broken down into simple repeatable components, practiced and mastered.

When the neurons of your semi-limbic prefrontal cortex (in the left cerebral hemisphere) develop a heavily myelinated superhighway as a result of your dedicated, disciplined, daily repetitive practice of conjuring up specific good feelings, positive emotions start to flow more freely in your daily life.

With the human body, brain, and mind (because of the diversity of the underlying DNA code) once size never fits all. Iron pills, for instance, are medicine to a person with iron deficiency anemia but will become toxic to a person with hereditary hemochromatosis. I lost a wonderful friend and mentor to this disease not long ago.

So everyone will have to discover a way of practicing positive emotions that works for them.

In my efforts to increase my neuronal capacity for feeling positive emotions, I use slow breathing which shunts blood to the prefrontal cortex. At the same time, I visualize a few carefully selected positive visual images of past moments when I felt a specific positive emotion. The very last time I surfed at Rincon in Ventura, four dolphins catching a wave came close to me. They seemed to be a family of four, one of them quite small. I’ve always felt like this was God’s Universe saying goodbye to me as a surfer. I’ve never caught a wave since then, though I tried once. I picture those dolphins sometimes when I’m breathing slowly and saying the word, “love” to myself. I felt the love of those marine mammals coming my way. I can still feel it to this day.

With other mental images, I try to isolate and practice feelings of joy, love, excitement, purpose, hope, courage, compassion, thankfulness, awe, faith, trust, bliss, contentment, the sense of mastery, and the feelings of humor or hilarity.

The thing is, this principle applies to writing, too. You just have to figure out how to break things down into the simplest, most precisely repeatable components.

In Archer and Jockers book, The Bestseller Code, their computer program has discovered that best-selling novels contain scenes with powerful emotional highs that are regularly interspersed among the emotional lows of the main characters, caused by problems that we know from The Story Grid, by Shawn Coyne, create narrative drive by progressing in complexity, intensity and scope while staying relevant to the main thrust of the story.

The upward waves of Archer and Jockers’ bestseller graphs help me understand the remarkable success of the late Blake Snyder’s book Save The Cat, a screenwriting method that seems to dominate Hollywood movies now, despite being too formulaic for many if not most novel writers. Among Blake Snyder’s highly specific recommendations is the “fun-and-games” section of the story where things must go remarkably well for the protagonist in the early scenes of a movie. Creating this rule of thumb that ensures an early emotional high in a story allows a more dramatic emotional fall for the main character and the audience or readers when things go south as they must in any story.

My insight on this point is that if you want to master popular novel-writing, you should isolate, practice and develop a special skill for creating moments of positive emotion involving a spectrum of good feelings. Then you can place positive feelings throughout your novel at evenly spaced intervals, as Archer and Jockers’ computer highly recommends.

I would suggest that you also ask your beta readers to grade each page or paragraph with regard to the subjective pull they feel while they’re reading your story. If you want to get mega-nerdy, graph the Beta Readers’ data and see how it correlates with a graph of the main characters’ emotional ups and downs.

You’ll probably find that your readers score your paragraphs highest (for page-turning pull) when your characters are involved in a conflict. Like it or not, it’s a fact that no one can take their eyes off a train wreck or a street fight. We’re human.

Which brings me to the most important message I have for you as a writer.

Human minds seem to be designed to learn from stories. Western culture swims in stories from cradle to grave. Among writers, the competition to create commercially viable stories has led us to overload stories and society with the negative emotions and actions of conflict. Incidentally, our popular music does this, too.

In essence, we are practicing to become the world’s gurus of quick anger, hatred, fear, resentment, revenge (especially PC-moral-outrage revenge that justifies “winning” at all costs), and an empathy-free sense of heroism built on top of despair, loneliness, abandonment, heartbreak and an endless parade of new categories of victimhood, one for each of us to embrace.

Despite the fact that most of us live in “developed” Western countries with relatively super-rich lifestyles where, at least in the US, the real danger to our lives comes from carbohydrates, bad air (including cigarettes), and automobile accidents, we are suffering an epidemic of debilitating anxiety and depression, at least in the US and Europe. In Europe, depression among woman has doubled since the 1970’s.

As an aside, I think it may be time to stop watching and reading the so-called “news.” It’s owned and controlled by five companies with a single agenda that has nothing to do with their pseudo-war over politics where the “left versus right” versions of truth bear no resemblance to one another.

Instead, the real agenda of “the news” seems to have everything to do with transforming the citizens of powerful democracies into easily manipulable pawns who are emotionally possessed by political outrage, hatred, and fear. If this isn’t obvious to you yet, please ponder it in the back of your mind and force yourself to watch or read some of the “fake” news coming from sources that appear to support the politics you oppose. It makes no difference which side of the aisle you’re on, if you make a small effort, I think you’ll see that there are not two opposing political sides at the level of the few elites who own and control the news.

But I digress.

As fiction writers, we have the opportunity to make a deliberate effort to write stories that help humanity myelinate a more balanced set of neuronal pathways. We can do this by learning to create scenes where the positive emotions of our characters equal or outweigh the negative emotions.

Fortunately, we have good evidence now from Archer and Jockers’ computer analysis that creating emotionally balanced stories increases our odds of coming up with a bestseller.

Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD

By the way, if you’re looking for a co-author, I may be interested in teaming up with you. Send me an email (cytopathology@gmail.com) about yourself and what you’re thinking of writing — fiction or nonfiction. I’ll give it my thoughtful consideration and let you know if I can do the project with you.

As you may know, I’m one of 19 certified Story Grid editors in the world, so I do a little SG style developmental editing (on short stories only for now). You can read about that over here: https://www.storyscopemd.com/.