Konk!

The odd shell looked as if it might have washed ashore on some alien ocean. At first, Jodie Millbrae thought it might be a conch shell, but it was larger than any conch he had ever seen and differently colored, a tawny yellow with blue-black rosettes outside that faded to ivory pink inside with moss green spots.

The whole shell, more than a foot long with a sharply pointed spire, weighed several pounds Jodie realized after picking it up. It occurred to him that it might have an inhabitant and he cautiously peered into the creamy opening.

“Take me to your leader,” said the cartoonish-looking head that peered back at him from the shadowy inside.

“You mean my dad?” asked Jodie.

“Is your father Dr. Jonas Millbrae, the renowned cosmologist?” asked the head in the conch, coming out just a bit farther where Jodie could see it better. It looked like Jiminy Cricket wearing glasses and sounded like Woody Allen, complete to New York accent.

Jodie nodded. “Yes, he is. He’s really smart.”

“We know,” agreed the head. “We’ve come all the way from the Spiral Galaxy Next Door to consult with him.”

“You’re Andromedans?” shrieked Jodie in delight.

“You could say that,” agreed the head of the alien delegation.

Jodie tucked the ungainly object under his arm like the world’s ugliest football and ran to find his father.

Dr. Millbrae had dozed off on the sand and been buried under an enormous sand castle by his daughter, Miranda. The castle had eleven turrets, seven portcullises and a moat that Miranda had filled with seawater and as many unwary beach denizens that she could indenture, inveigle, and as last resort, indemnify into taking up residence.

Miranda had named the castle, calling it, “The Structure of Western Thought, Solid but Ephemeral,” and thought it entirely appropriate that she had used her father for its foundation.

Coming up from the rocky part of the shore, Jodie could not see his father’s head and neck protruding across the drawbridge on the back side of Miranda’s recondite, rococo, re-creation.

With the alien-inhabited conch still under his arm Jodie asked his sister, “Have you seen Dad?”

“Not for a while,” said Miranda, telling the truth in her own deceptive way.

Jodie danced from one foot to the other. “Somebody wants to talk to him about something important.”

“Uh huh,” said Miranda in that voice she used when Jodie said he wanted to watch Sponge Bob Squarepants and she had already changed the channel. “Well, they can just wait. He’s busy doing something important already.”

“I’m back here,” said Dr. Millbrae waking up. “What is it, Jodie?”

Jodie ran around the wing of the castle that represented the interesting failures and fallacies of natural theology. He held out the conch at the end of his pudgy arms and announced, “The Andromedans want to ask you something.”

“Hello, Pocillovy,” Dr. Millbrae’s head protruding across the sandy drawbridge over the moat greeted the cartoon insect head. “You’ve come a long way. What’s your question?”

An immature elasmobranch in the briny ditch perked up; it wasn’t often a baby dogshark got the chance to listen in on such a momentous conversation.

“Dr. Millbrae,” said the crickety head in its New York voice. “We’ve calculated the sum of all the radiation released in the universe since the big bang and it appears to be concentrated in a particular part of the spectrum visible to humans as blue-green light. This surprises us and we thought to ask you for confirmation of our findings.”

Dr. Millbrae’s head looked thoughtful. “You want to know if the universe is really turquoise?”

“Exactly,” said the Andromedan.

“It’s not any shade of aqua or cyan,” said Dr. Millbrae. “It’s beige.” And he closed his eyes and went back to sleep, still serving as the foundation for his daughter’s representation of “The Structure of Western Thought, Solid and Ephemeral.”

A Dream of Winter

The aisles of the warehouse store wound around like a worm committing self-abuse. High up on one shelf sat a fifty-five gallon drum. All frosty white and silver on a midnight blue and black background, letters spelled out “Winter” like that was the name of a new energy drink.

“Why would anyone want a can of Winter that big?” asked little Jodie.

“Suppose you wanted to make it winter all over the world, all at once?” asked his father.

“I think you’d need a lot more than one can,” said Jodie’s older sister, Miranda.

“Well, yes,” said their father. “You’d need a lot of cans all over the world, hundreds or thousands of them, probably. Then you could open all the cans at once.

“Normally, it’s only winter at the north end of the world, or the south. But if you had enough cans of Winter, you could make it freezing cold, north and south, and even in the middle.”

The children nodded. Their father was wise, if a little strange. They remembered when he had taught them how to use tiny demolition charges to blow up their toys. Little pieces of Transformers and Bratz blown sky-high, while they watched wearing their safety goggles behind barriers made of steel-reinforced Legos.

Then he’d shown them his collection of extra-terrestrial lifeforms in plastic polymer solutions that carried more oxygen than water ever could. The tiny, teddy bear flower fish had been Jodie’s favorite, so cute and pretty, all mauve and gold and kiwifruit green. Miranda had preferred the bigger dart fish, pulling in its prey on a poisoned needle at the end of a line it shot out of its own body. When it ate the teddy bear flower, of course, little Jodie had cried.

But now, the idea of winter all over the world, all at once, had them fascinated and horrified all over again.

“How cold would it get, Daddy?” asked Jodie.

“If you kept opening more cans of Winter,” said his father, “it would just keep getting colder. Cold enough and the air would begin to freeze. First the water vapor would fall out as snow, several feet deep. And the oceans would freeze from the top down, though there might be liquid under the ice for a long time.

“Then the carbon dioxide would freeze, a layer of another kind of snow on top of the water ice and frozen oceans. Then the nitrogen would freeze out, making a slush mixture with liquid oxygen. And aliens would come in big ships to buy the frozen air, taking it away in cubic-mile-size sno-cones.”

“What flavor?” asked Miranda.

“A sort of salty raspberry, I expect,” said her father.