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MapWriter 7.0, Error Log: You Chose to End the Unresponsive Program

Instead of a job in publishing, as her Life Map suggested she would have, Claire Chevalier took a boyfriend at Stark & Sons Publishing Group and a night position at Anita’s Diner. A smart woman with a degree in marketing had too much dignity to turn up homeless at the mercy of one Sebastian Cortez, otherwise known as Acquisitions Editor at Stark’s, as well as the Man Who Never Left the coffee counter.

Ostensibly, Sebastian lingered over ever-whitening coffee because he was in love with Claire. This should have flattered her, but it didn’t. She cleaned away his stack of empty cream cups, and then he, having nothing to play with, stared at her while she filled salt and pepper shakers.

“Your map just told me you need to go home and sleep,” she said, unable to temper the ragged tone in her voice.

“Your map told me you shouldn’t turn down love when it’s offered to you,” he said.

“I want my map back,” she grumbled. “And in return, you can have yours.”

“No deal.”

“Fine, I’ll take yours back to the Cartographia and tell them they made a mistake. They’ll deprogram the one you have and give me a new one. And then no map for you. You won’t have your future or mine.”

“Our futures belong to each other. The maps said so.” He hung his head over the counter with his hangdog way and finally pulled a few bills from his wallet and tucked them squarely under the brown mug.

Claire watched him disappear into the early morning, his pointy vaquero boots leading him to his actual apartment, away from his default coffee-bar bedroom.

“No seas cruel, chiquita! No seas cruel con mi corazón,” sang the cook.

When did she turn into a cruel woman? The late nights did it, the lack of sleep combined with Sebastian’s overt caricature of himself as he hovered over her every night. Before Sebastian, she had wanted love. Since Sebastian, she wanted love with a different sort of man, the kind not wrapped up in his own special identity. No, scratch that. She wanted the true Sebastian to emerge from his beautiful soul. Deep inside, Sebastian was sweet and refined, and the sweetness shone from his warm brown eyes.

Outwardly, he put on rugged airs. He was a Mexican! He was a cowboy! He was a manly editor who earned three times what she made as a waitress, only to procure historical romances about cowboys! who were often Mexican! and when they were square-jawed Anglos! they purchased mail-order, spitfire Mexican brides! And everybody participated in shootouts happily ever after. He thought so highly of his literary taste, too.

After her shift, she crumpled her apron in her bag, which didn’t contain Sebastian’s map. She didn’t care to study the life steps detailed on it these days because they always led him back to her. It had seemed so cute at first, when the map store, the Cartographia, had accidentally sold her his map, and vice versa. Their map steps led them to each other, and so they kept the wrong maps with the understanding that their chosen Life Paths would intertwine until death did them part. As interactive and scientific as the maps were, the magic of fate enticed them.

Your map is telling me to buy you roses. Your map is telling me to kiss you. It wasn’t cute any longer. Claire wanted out, wanted a new map that would advise her to find a different job and, possibly, a different man who lacked Sebastian’s dewy, romantic eyes. Scratch that. She didn’t want a different man, just a new map.

At home, she attempted sleep, Sebastian’s hangdog image caught in her head. Sleeping in the day was impossible. She ate a peanut butter sandwich because she was poor, and braved the rainy spring day outdoors, if only to walk to the downtown Cartographia store.

She plunked Sebastian’s map and her receipt on the counter. “I want a new map. You sold me the wrong one.”

The salesman studied the receipt. “You should have brought this back three months ago.”

“So? It’s your fault for selling me somebody else’s map, and you should fix it.” Yes, lack of sleep made Claire snappish.

“I can give you a discount on a new map, but the problem is your warranty ran out last week.”

“I can’t afford a new one. Don’t you understand? You sold me a man’s map. It’s your fault.” She unfolded Sebastian’s map and pointed to all the information that didn’t pertain to her.

The last step on the map lit up at the renewed activity. Go to the downtown Cartographia on your lunch hour, it said. The salesman made a funny coughing noise, and the door censor buzzed. Claire felt Sebastian’s fateful presence, and she turned to face him.

Sebastian didn’t smile. “I decided to bring your map back,” he said.

“It’s too late. The warranty’s expired. Did my map tell me to come here?”

“No,” he protested, but then gave her a sheepish look. “Yes, actually it did.”

She grabbed his map off the counter and shoved it at him. “I thought so. It’s time to make the trade.”

He didn’t argue. The sadness in his eyes was terrible, though. He shuffled back out the door with his own map in hand.

“Fine,” she said, and followed him out.

The tile outside was slick with rain, and her heels slipped on it. She might have fallen, but Sebastian caught her. Her map, however, fell in a puddle and immediately blanked–her life a big, black nothing.

She seethed. She hated Sebastian. This was his fault, and to make matters worse, he lowered her to the wet sidewalk rather than helping her up.

She looked up at his face, at the warm eyes peering down at her and blinking away what might have been tears. She pointed to her map.

“That’s all right,” he said. “At least we still have mine. Maybe it will tell us what to do.”

He unfolded it. Recommend your fiance to the marketing department.

She felt betrayed. Maybe she was always supposed to have a job at Stark’s. “You’ve been tricking me into a relationship, haven’t you? Just admit it.”

He shook his head and pointed to the word fiance. “I can only recommend you if we’re engaged,” he said, and offered her his hand.

Against her better judgment, and not knowing what her map would say, she took it.

For the first part of this story see MapWriter 7.0 Error Log, Case One.


Does Wonder Woman Cry?

When Meredith’s husband Aaron walked in the door, tired from working on the job site, she sat at her desk, absorbed in reading articles about the rare autoimmune disorder her mom had died from, highlighting portions of text. The baby cried, dinner remained unmade, toys skittered across the floor at Aaron’s heavy footfalls.

He disappeared for the shower, a two-hour process in which he listened to the radio while dismantling his layers of filthy clothes. Meanwhile, Meredith slammed down her highlighters and reordered her desk. She barked commands at the older children to pick up their toys, and threw together an edible dinner one-handed [the baby in the crook of her other arm].

She couldn’t continue this way, exhausted, grieving for her mom, who died three months ago. Didn’t Aaron consider her grief when he sat in silence at the table, his lip upturned at her execution of leftover spaghetti and refried beans that still bore the imprint of the can? Couldn’t he hear the baby cry, the children whine, or the sadness pounding in her heart?

She needed to take charge, organize her house, and forget about her husband’s bad attitude. She needed to unpack the multitude of book boxes she’d culled from her parents’ garage at her dad’s insistence [they’re all female books, he’d claimed]. Her parents were archetypes: Dad a take-charge man and no reader of fiction, Mom a supporting wife who read fluff and self-help books. And they were happy, or at least at peace with one another until death parted them.

The next day, when Meredith dared slit open the first box, she was taken aback at what she discovered inside–not self-help manuals, but marital guides. Maybe her parents’ happiness was not as easy as it appeared through a daughter’s eyes, but a construct propped up by her mom. At first amused, she flipped through the pages of the wifely advice books. Then she felt troubled. According to these authors, a good wife was Meredith’s polar opposite. She flipped the books over and studied the authors’ credentials: glowing Christian PhDs, all.

Maybe Meredith did lack the essence of womanhood. In order to test the advice, she would have to try it on Aaron. Her relationship with him wasn’t in shambles so much as it was nonexistent. Carefully, she picked one piece of advice from each book and set the stage for acting them out. If all men desired sexual serving wenches, as these books suggested, then Aaron would soften at that kind of approach.

When he walked in the door that evening, a chicken already spat fat in the oven, and a tossed salad chilled in the fridge. She caught him at the door, where she bowed at his feet and untied the laces of his work boots–as one book suggested she do–and tried to yank them from his feet. Massaging his feet was the ultimate goal, and she couldn’t do that without first removing the boots. He lost his balance and fell against the door.

“What the hell are you doing?” he asked. “I can’t wear my boots in the house now?”

“No, you’ve worked hard all day and…I was trying to be helpful.”

His eyes, surrounded by grit, muddied with confusion. “I can take off my own boots.”

Emotions stuffed, she watched him disappear into their bedroom. She pulled dinner from the oven and sang out that it was dinner time. Aaron, of course, didn’t hear her because he’d already turned up his radio. She set him a heaping plate of food, just as another book suggested she do, and it was cold by the time he was out of the shower, which seemed to make him angrier than the boot incident.

After a few bites of salad and chicken, he shoved the plate aside.

“Do you want me to heat your chicken up for you?” she asked. “Do you want another helping?” She was supposed to feed him a second helping before he asked, but how was she to do that when he wouldn’t eat the first?

“I grabbed a bite on the way home.” He scooted back his chair. “I’m tired. I need to go to bed.”

“Wait, I’m not ready–” But he was already gone.

“Kids, go put your pajamas on and find a sleeper for Baby.” Soon, Aaron would discover her next romantic trap, and she needed them in bed when that occurred.

From the kitchen she heard him shout, “What the…?”

Nervously, she scraped dishes and dumped them in soapy water.

He banged out of the bedroom wearing nothing but underwear. “Why does the bed reek? Did I come home to the wrong house? Are you ill?”

She stared at the soapy water, wishing she could drown in it. “I sprayed perfume on the sheets to make the bed seem romantic.”

“It’s not.” With that, he pulled a blanket and pillow from the hall closet and stretched his long body out on the couch. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you today.”

Neither did Meredith. After the dishes were done and the children tucked in their beds, she stared at the stacks of pages on her desk–her research, which she now loved more than her husband because it was unflinchingly true, albeit not toward her. What would it matter, now, if she finished with the wifely ideas? None had worked yet. She picked up the paper where she had written the list, and her mind drew lines over her failures.

Then, her eyes skipped to the last. Enliven the bedroom with a costume. If possible, greet him at the door with it. In the back of the closet, somewhere, she had stored a Wonder Woman costume from an ill-fated college party where she’d drunk too much rum and vomited on the shiny red boots. That might do the trick to bring the day to a crashingly bad close. But she also considered drinking a whole lot of wine for oblivion’s sake [not to vomit on the boots].

She yanked the costume over her extra baby curves and filled a mug with wine.

“Do you want a drink?” she asked Aaron, who still lay prone on the couch, but with a newspaper, which caused him to mutter obscenities such as what the hell is fucking wrong with these damn people?

“That’s the best damn idea you’ve had all day,” he told her.

Most of the ideas she had belonged to others, anyway. When she handed him a mug of wine, he took a big swallow as if it were beer [he probably wished it was] and glanced up at her in disgust at the taste of the Merlot.

The wine spewed from his mouth. “What are you wearing?”

“I wanted to excite you.” She covered her chest and stared at the floor.

Nothing would work. She was a loser, a freak with lactating breasts bursting out the sides of a golden eagle. She would never be a supporting wife in the vein of her mom. She might as well return to her desk and highlight yet more useless marital advice tips.

“I always wondered what Wonder Woman looked like without her costume,” Aaron said, and he used the crumpled newspaper to wipe up the wine.

Meredith raised her eyes from the floor, hopeful. She reached her hands behind her back and tugged at the zipper. As Aaron drained what was left of the Merlot, he stared at her and waited. Finally, she gave up and fell into his arms, and she cried because the zipper on her costume had caught at the bust area and she, obviously, couldn’t do anything right. But not to worry–together, they could manage to disassemble even Wonder Woman.


MapWriter 9.0 Error Log: Compatibility at 10.0

With each fit of coughing, stars burst behind Abigail’s eyes. When Nurse Jane hooked her body to machines, when her lungs breathed at Nurse’s will, Abigail’s thinking conjoined with the computation. Her mind reverted to machinery, a computer of stars drawn as constellations. Her daydreams, which scrolled right to left, frightened her.

Abigail drifted deeper into an ether of whipping beasts: scorpions, dragons, serpents. Despite her fear, a calm permeated the drawing out of her soul into the cosmos. Her essence slowly leaked away before her internal machine crashed. She spluttered and reigned in her vitality. No outside force could exert itself on the formula, except Nurse Jane.

Her eyelids fluttered open to the blurred sight of the shadowy place, once her office, now a sickroom with hospital bed and whirring motors. Across the room sat her workstation, where, for years, she designed software for interactive LifeMaps. In fact, she was the last living member of the original team of designers. But soon she, too, would die, and her knowledge would pass to the younger generation. How sad that her own creation couldn’t save her, when it continued to rescue so many others. How sad that when she upgraded to the latest model, the 9.0, her Life Path options ended at the same cavern: death. Her map was unable to provide adequate medical advice.

She understood the limitations as well as the capabilities inherent to the LifeMap system. She understood the importance of genetics, intelligence, history, and life experiences in the LifeMap database. At her fingertips—or at the fingertips of herself only months before—she had access to the inner workings of millions of people. She encoded adequate and lifesaving medical, relational, and familial advice. When she programmed LifeMaps to guide people through life, she didn’t act as prophet, but as scientist. People were like machines—coded with strings of information that overlaid their irrational cores.

Ironically, she would need a more sophisticated model to save herself. She knew that. While she was still able to move around with the help of an oxygen tank, she created a prototype of the 10.0 map. Then she collapsed, unable to apply it to her own 9.0 database. And Nurse Jane took over the programming. No, Abigail didn’t imagine the old nurse with the puggish face was actually called Jane. The name sounded accurate, plain, and Quixotic in its precious way. As she was Abigail, so her servant was Jane, Jane of the enormous bosom, over which hung a tiny gold cross.

If Abigail could have cackled at Nurse, she would have. But she couldn’t summon the breath. And so Jane checked and adjusted the machinery, and knelt to chant and cross herself. Abigail caught the words “protect and keep her soul” as her essence drifted again, the icons scrolling right to left with unknowable numerical values attached to them. Abigail’s soul oozed through the ether, infinity chattering at her to enter the Dark Matter.

She started again and yanked herself back, as though her personhood were attached to a lead. For no rational reason, remorse consumed her. Her eyelids floated open, and she searched for Nurse, but Nurse had gone, perhaps to her own room for the night. The night-duty wench would enter at some point, and that scrawny thing didn’t have a name, didn’t deserve one, as far as Abigail was concerned.

“I want Jane,” she spoke, or tried to. She heard shuffling and assumed the wench had entered. “Ask Jane to forgive me.”

Abigail had acted like a beast to Jane in the early days, when she still had strength—Jane with her drab hair and body odor, who consistently refused the single gift Abigail offered her. No, Jane didn’t need her LifeMap, not an old model or a new one. God ordered Jane’s steps. Abigail felt stung by the refusal—her life’s work, rejected by a smelly nurse. She called Jane smelly to her face, as though she were a child with one last rallying cry: You stink!

Now she wanted Jane’s approval. Religious people didn’t approve of Abigail because Abigail and engineers of her ilk played God. No, not God—she didn’t play God, didn’t speak prophecies, didn’t know anything but science. God didn’t exist. He was far away from here, across the Dark Matter, never there for Abigail as he was for the Janes of the world.

A voice whispered at her from the direction of her workstation. Nobody was allowed near the computer, where she kept protected files and safeguarded the people encoded there. She wasn’t dead yet, and the LifeMap company had sent someone to pilfer her work. With one last fit, she yanked herself free from the machines. She hacked and searched for oxygen. She sucked in hot, dusty air, and jerked herself off the bed.

She was surprised at how light she felt, how easy it was to cross to the other side. Nobody was there. The computer itself had spoken, lit its own buttons. Save yourself, it said. What did that mean? She touched the screen, which flashed in response. After the rows of apps loaded, she scanned them until her fingers touched the 10.0 prototype. She touched it, and the screen turned blue.

“Go,” the machine said. “Hurry. The door is unlocked.”

“I can’t,” she said. “I have to encrypt the files.”

“Encryption complete. Go.”

“Then what? What will my next step be?”

“You’ll know.”

Would she? She was the programmer, after all, but she didn’t know everything. She touched her bare neckline, where she used to wear her grandma’s cross for tradition’s sake.

“Good bye, Jane,” Abigail said, and in her nightgown, she slipped from the room, down the hall, and through the kitchen door.

Outside, the topography of the land struck her. The world was astonishing in its blues, greens, and browns. To the east, the sun rose over a rugged mountain chain. She stepped forward into the lightening day, away from computers, away from machines, in a place where breath entered her lungs as a matter of course.

The ground lit up beneath her: “Welcome Home, Jane. For forgiveness, keep to this path.”


MapWriter 3.5 Error Log, Case One

Casey Fullman Jr. tucked in his shirt, zipped his slacks, and knotted his tie. If he wanted success, he had to act the part, and forget that he still lived with Grandma. He had money in the bank, and he was no gambler. After scraping a pimple off his nose, he looked himself squarely in the eyes.

“You are one handsome mofo,” he said. “Go down to that map store and tell ’em who’s boss.”

Casey had long wanted to buy himself a Life Map. But the cost for the latest model was so high that he’d made do with Life Map apps for his non-contract phone. Yeah, those kinda sucked. They gave him useless tidbits of advice meant for losers, rather than success-oriented types like himself: Don’t jump into offers that look too good to be true. Apply for warehouse position at Thing 4 Everything. Never mind that he’d just lost his job at Thing 4 Everything.

Nope, he was done with all that. He was going to buy his Life Map. With his bankcard and a few bucks for lunch and bus fare tucked into his money clip, he kissed Grandma and stepped onto her broken front stoop, nearly tripping over the weeds growing through the cracks.

His Life Map would direct him out of this trash heap. He took the bus to the midtown Carto store. He never could pronounce the whole word–I mean, really, a five-syllable word for a store name? Who thought of that? He swaggered in and looked at the ads pasted all over the place. He had $501.99 left from his last paycheck, and all the really good map models cost about $1000. There were a few subsidized maps, though, that sold for $350. Corporations who supported Life Maps for Education bought ad space on them.

He took the plunge and bought the $350 model. He wasn’t a gambler and didn’t believe in debt. Proud of his wise decision, he carried his newly-programmed map to an empty map booth and unfolded it. This basic model didn’t have multiple life path choices, so he pushed the button on his singular path, and his first step lit up: Pizza Palace is waiting for you.

A surge of excitement swept through him. He bundled up the map in its cheap cardboard case. What could be better than lunch and a possible career at the same time? In his wildest dreams, he imagined himself as CEO of the lucrative pizza franchise. After all, he was oriented for success and dressed for it, too.

He marched inside the nearest Pizza Palace as though he owned the place. “Are you hiring?” he asked the girl at the counter. That was a real flub. He didn’t want to work for minimum wage. He needed to talk to the current manager mofo.

“We’re always hiring drivers,” she said.

That wasn’t a bad idea. While he trained for management, he could use some spare cash. “Do I have to have a car?”

“Um, yes. That’s why they’re called drivers.”

“Can I speak to the manager?”

“He’s not in, and he’d tell you the same thing. Do you want to order something? If not, could you not block the line?”

“I’ll have a small pepperoni pizza and large Coke.”

The next morning, he ate his leftover pizza with the last Toaster Taco™ he found in the freezer.

“Grandma, I’m eating the last Toaster Taco&#x2122!” he shouted because Grandma was nearly deaf.

“Buy more!” she shouted back.

Didn’t he have better things to do? He pressed the next step on his map to find out. Pizza Palace is waiting for you. Excitement trilled in his veins again. He was destined to be management–he knew it.

But when he entered Pizza Palace, the same girl stood behind the counter, and he could find no notices, no signs or slogans suggesting they were training for management positions. Frustrated, he ordered another small pepperoni pizza because the trip there had increased his appetite. He would have to watch his spending, though. Grandma expected Toaster Tacos™, and he owed her for utilities.

The following day, the same pattern occurred. Pizza Palace is waiting for you. Who did they think he was, some stupid mofo? Somebody was holding out on his destiny. The girl at the counter must have known this. She must have seen his managerial qualities when he walked in the door.

He went back. And the next day, he went again. After two weeks, he was fed up–literally. He had gained ten pounds, and he was scraping at new pimples every morning. Finally, he had to confront the girl. He was not cut out to be a pizza-eating fool.

He burst through the door. “I’m here about the management position,” he told her, looking squarely in her dupe-dupicitious eyes.

“We’re not hiring management positions. Would you like another small pepperoni?”

“No, I wouldn’t,” he said. “I’ve gained ten pounds. I want what’s coming to me. My Life Map told me to come here, which means you’re holding out.”

She batted her eyelashes at him. “Have you looked at the backs of your receipts recently?”

“No, why should I? Do you have a prize-winning game going? Is that why my map told me to come here, so I could win?” Maybe he was a gambling man, despite appearances. Maybe he would win and take Grandma for a vacation somewhere tropical, or buy her a house in the burbs.

The girl punched her fingers on the cash register, a little too violently, Casey thought. She knocked open the register drawer, then tore off the receipt that shot out the top of the machine.

“Here,” she said.

He took the receipt and searched it for answers. There it was: Pizza Palace is a proud sponsor of Life Maps for Education.

“Would you like a pepperoni pizza?” she asked, not unkindly. “We have a free one from a cancelled order.”

“Um, I guess?” he said, his voice steady. He’d never noticed how pretty the girl was, not until this moment, when her large dark eyes lit into his soul. “Do you wanna share it with me?”

“Whatever,” she said, and she filled two large cups with ice and Coke.

If his slacks didn’t smell too strongly of pizza, he would head over to Thing 4 Everything tomorrow and apply for the warehouse position.

MapWriter 7.0 Error Log, Case One

MapWriter 7.0 Error Log, Case Two


Whole Foods Sting

Otto, in his wide-brimmed hat, was not used to doing business in this neighborhood.  Still, he’d had a genuine referral for the sale, and, if nothing else, he felt it was his duty to help the world by bringing his product to everybody.  He was even willing to give it away.  His product sold itself, so it wasn’t a waste of the good stuff, the snowy white, cream-of-the-crop stuff.  After the first time, his customers were always hooked.

He thought of himself as a savior, in a way: a savior who could turn lives around even in this Whole Foods, tofu-eating neighborhood.

He lurked in the shadows out back of the Whole Foods grocery, inhaling the reek of the dumpster.  Where he lived, he’d smelled a lot worse.  Rotting vegetables and shit were usual there.  If he could bring his operation to this upscale neighborhood, he’d never have to worry about addicts who couldn’t pay.  These people had money, and God knew it took a lot of the green stuff to keep his business afloat.

When he saw a man wearing an expensive business suit circle around to the back of the building, he stiffened.  A suit wasn’t necessarily a tip-off, but it wasn’t what he was used to his customers wearing.  Well, he would give the guy a chance.  He really was a savior, helping desperate mothers and businessmen alike.

The man stepped into the shadows and turned up his nose at the smell. “You Otto?”

“That’s me.”

“You got the product?”

“It’s in my truck.  You got the cash?”

“Sure, I got your money, but I want to see the stuff first.  Is it clean?  That’s all I want to know—that I’m buying quality product.”

Otto gave the man a discerning look.  He was sweating, and his hands were fidgeting.  He didn’t look too healthy, either, and he smelled of fast food and acrid body odor.  Otto wasn’t certain whether he trusted him.  More than anything, Otto smelled fear.

“Hey, no money today.  I’m ready to give you a free sample.”

“What for?”

“Technically, I don’t sell anything.  I like to bring neighborhoods into a kind of co-op, if you know what I mean.  Everybody is part owner and buys shares.”

“I don’t know about that.   I’m just looking for a steady dealer.  My last one was sent up to state.”

Otto, normally mild-mannered, was suddenly furious.  “You have anything to do with that?  If you’re talking about Conrad, he was one of my men.”

The man backed up, his hands raised as though he was afraid Otto would bust his nose.  “I didn’t do anything, I swear.”

Otto willed himself to remain calm.  “Come with me, and I’ll show you what I got.”

<“That’s cool.”

Otto studied him again.  There was something about the man that was wrong.  He could feel it, if not smell it.  But the referral was genuine, he reminded himself.  Jane had given it, and she was one of his best customers.  She would never double-cross him.

With trepidation, Otto stepped from the shadows and led him to the truck.  What happened to Conrad could not happen to him.  For a start, Otto was careful and always had been.  Conrad was a risk-taker.

Once there, he unlocked the passenger door and retrieved a small container from the cooler.  “Take a sample and make sure it’s pure.  I don’t mind.”

The man sniffed at it, nodded, and then tasted it.  “Oh, yeah, this is the best there is.  Can I have some more?  I need it to last me a few days.”

“Sure.  I’m in a giving mood today.”

“Here, take some money.  I can’t have it for free, can I?”

Otto pushed the money back at the man.  “No, I don’t want your money.  Not today.  We’ll discuss that part of the arrangement later.”

“Think of it as a donation.”  He pressed the bills into Otto’s palm.

Otto shrugged.  “I guess a donation’s all right.”  As soon as he said it, he knew he’d made a mistake.

The man’s body went rigid, and he yanked a taser from inside his suit jacket.  “Put your hands up where I can see them!” he shouted.

“I never carry weapons with me; I’m a conscientious objector.”

Obviously, Otto’s peace-loving stance didn’t impress the man, because he found himself in shock, literally, the taser pressed into his side.  His body jolted back against his truck, knocking out the cooler and all its contents with an enormous crash.  After the black-suited thug let up, Otto was able to focus again and could see that the parking lot had rapidly filled with more black-suited thugs, who evacuated their black vehicles and trained guns at him.

Otto complied with them.  He would have liked to be the savior of health for this neighborhood, but his finest supply of creamy, raw milk ran in rivulets over the grease-stained parking lot of the Whole Foods.

How had he convinced himself he wasn’t a risk-taker?  Conrad’s situation should have been a lesson to him.  Just like Conrad, he’d left the farm for greener pastures, and now he’d have to trade in his shady hat and black overalls for a pair of orange coveralls.

Otto didn’t like the color orange.  He preferred black pants and white milk and his own green pastures.  Sadly, he allowed himself to be cuffed and shoved into the back of an unmarked vehicle.  He thought of his wife and seven children, and all of the other children who would have to live without his milk.

In the back of his mind, though, he knew he would go back into business as soon as he got out.  And when he did, he would leave this tofu-loving neighborhood—his childhood neighborhood, actually—to their Whole Foods grocery, where they could only buy heavily pasteurized and homogenized sludge.

A prophet, he remembered, was never welcome in his own home town.