In honor of this story, I'm posting a little short story of my own that no one ever wanted to buy. I've always liked this little story, and I'm happy to present it here now. Be sure and go visit that TRUE SCIENCE story about the lonely sunless planet first. The link should open it in a separate window.
"Hey, watch it!" Chad, the shorter by a head, grabbed Jake's string-bean arm.
"What?" Jake squinted in the warmth of one of those sunny mid-June days that stifle when the
breeze dies but preview Heaven when it plays.
Chad's head was down. "Lookattem!" he breathed.
Jake squatted, all knees and elbows, and peered at the sidewalk. A house finch in a crab-apple
branch above bombed the pavement. "Gross," Jake muttered.
"There's dozens of 'em!"
"What?" Jake asked again.
"Centipedes! Man, they must've just hatched." Chad scowled, pushing his glasses up on his nose.
"If centipedes hatch," he added doubtfully.
Jake surveyed the scores of inch-long, midnight-copper creatures criss-crossing the sidewalk.
Each had all its feathery feet rowing like mad, propelling it steadily over the concrete. They
seemed so purposeful that he felt relieved that they were all going in different directions. If they'd
been heading for some common point, it would've been spooky. "Neat," Jake said.
Chad held one up on a grimy fingertip. "They're *dispersing*," he pronounced, as it curled into a
shiny spiral. "They're getting out of the old home place as fast as their foots can carry them.
"'March of the Teen-Age Centipedes'," Jake said.
Chad replaced the creature delicately on the sidewalk, and stood up grinning. "'Nothing Could
Stop Them'," he added, gleefully reverting to the ongoing Cheesy Movie Poster game.
The two boys resumed strolling, now watching their steps. Jake: "'Challenging the World'."
"'With Only Their Raging Hormones to Guide Them'," from Chad, but he glanced uncertainly at
his buddy, who'd had a bad argument with the Acne Gremlins right after Christmas. The
dermatologist swore it wasn't stress, but Chad figured Jake's parent's divorce hadn't helped. He
changed the subject. "So have you decided which college?"
"Cal State." Jake sounded glum, though his only reason for preferring U.SoCal, Wendy, had
dumped him *after* getting her Christmas present from him.
Chad reflected that Jake's winter and spring weren't much fun. "That's cool, though," he
encouraged. "Bernie and Greg are there. Remember over Spring Break? They said it rocks."
Jake grunted. "It rocks 'cause *they* rock...Where you going?"
"Metro. Can't afford a U, yet. That's okay, though--once I get a few 4.0's under my belt, it'll be
easier to get scholarships."
Jake smiled like his mind wasn't on the topic. "'Dispersal'," he whispered.
Chad shot another sharp look at him, then double-timed a few steps to catch up. "Yeah, that's
what they call it. I don't think it really applies to centipedes. Mammals, reptiles frogs,
salamanders. In mammals it's usually the immature males that have to get out before the Old Man
bites big hunks outta their hides." He thought about his dad and nodded. "I 'spect it applies to
people, too. Except I don't think college counts 'cause you're not really earning your 'own way in
the world.' According to my dad."
"Yeah, well, it seems to be the opposite with me, huh?" Jake said ruefully. "My old man couldn't
wait to disperse, himself."
"Shit, Jake--you know it wasn't you." Chad winced again, wishing he'd quit opening his mouth
and jamming his Size 13's in it.
"I should be glad," Jake said. "He ain't around to give me crap about what to study."
"Your Mom care you want to go into Astronomy?"
"Naw. She's still numb. I could take Meth Distribution 101 and she wouldn't even notice." The
light turned green and Jake strode on. Chad stared after him for three beats, wondering if
now was the time to ask his best friend about those drug rumors. He twitched awake and trotted
The opportunity passed. Jake tilted his head in that way he had, and asked Chad about Suzanne.
"Ah, you know," Chad waffled. He felt guilty talking about Suze because things were so good,
when Jake's love life had turned so sour.
"You going to marry her?"
It felt like a light punch to the solar plexus. "Shit, man."
The tall boy's mouth bent in an a-ha smile. "You are! C'mon, Bud, that's great! Don't look like
you swallowed a pickle. I'm happy for you. She's great."
The rims of Chad's eyelids stung. "Jeez, Jake, thanks. We haven't told our folks yet--and I didn't
want to bum you."
"Naw, I think it's great. Wendy--she wasn't ever--it couldn't have gone anywhere. I'm over her,
long time. So when are you tying the old knot?"
Chad stopped in the middle of the block and gazed at Jake. "Real soon," he said sounding odd
even to himself.
Jake's face changed. "Oh, crap, she's not--"
"No." Chad went on, slowly, his voice unaccustomed to such seriousness. "But I want you to be
my best man. So we want to do it before we..." It hit him then, in the gut, and his view of
Jake's face went swimming. He tried to gulp down the alarming knot in his throat. "Before we..."
Jake smiled and cuffed him on the shoulder. "Before we. . .disperse?" he asked gently.
Chad only nodded.
"...to make our own way in the world." Jake turned and resumed walking.
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
SUZANNE MILENKE AND CHAD STORZC WED
CAL STATE SOPHOMORE BOUNCED - 3RD DUI
BIOLOGY SCHOLARSHIPS TO STORZC, SMITH
REHAB POETRY: ART OR THERAPY? NEW
CHAPBOOK PROBES QUESTION
MAGNA CUM LAUDE STORZC ADDRESSES FELLOW GRADS
TWO CONVICTED IN BURGLARY
STORZC WINS HIGH SCHOOL TEACHING, RESEARCH POST
CLASSES IN PRISON U: FAIR TO THE LAW-ABIDING?
STORZC FAMILY CHRISTMAS VISIT: SURPRISE! IT'S TWINS!
MECHANIC BY DAY, ASTRONOMER AT NIGHT; HUSBAND,
FATHER, POET, FELON: A SUCCESS STORY
RESEARCH GRANT LARGEST EVER TO PRIVATE HIGH SCHOOL
AMATEUR ASTRONOMER DISCOVERS
FIRST ROVING BROWN DWARF
CRASH CLAIMS MOTHER, SON; FATHER & DAUGHTER IN STABLE CONDITION
LOCAL FAVORITE RETURNS TO TEACH IN HOMETOWN SCHOOL
RETIRING EDUCATOR VOTED GENERATION'S FAVORITE
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
Chad Storcz, thick in the middle and nearly bald, trod across the Gas'n'Belch asphalt, enjoying one
of those mild Nebraska nights whose distant crickets made you feel like running away and
joining the circus.
He set his coffee and candy bar on the counter, digging for his coin purse with the other hand.
He brought his gaze up to stare at the counter attendant. His lower jaw eased toward the floor.
"Jake? Jake Pender?"
"Good Lord, it is you!" The scrawny, seedy old man leaning on the cash register laughed
disbelievingly. "By God, I'd know you anywhere! How the hell are you?"
Chad unaccountably felt a lump grow in his larynx. "It's been so long..."
"Sure has--what, forty years? More! So what brings you through the Sandhills?"
Chad cleared his throat and got past his surprise. "Ah, just me and the wife," he gestured toward
his car outside. "Heading out to California to see my daughter's new baby. My second wife," he
Jake's wrinkled face softened. "Oh, yeah," he said. "Jeez, Chad, you know it wasn't til years after
it happened that I heard. . .I'm sorry, man. That was terrible."
Chad nodded. "Well, it happens." He nodded toward outdoors again. "I've been lucky twice
now." He turned back to Jake. "How 'bout you, buddy? How you doing?"
Jake waved a dismissive hand. "Aw, shit, you know me. I screwed myself up back then, took me
awhile to get it right." He grinned. "I got lucky too, though. Found the only woman on earth
who'd put up with me. Two great kids, well, they're not kids any more, 'course." He jerked his
head indicating the convenience store. "This is ours. We'll never be rich, but we're okay."
Chad thought something special lurked behind his old friend's smile, as though he was wanting
Chad to ask him something in particular. He wished he knew what it was.
Jake took a business card out of the cash register tray and handed it across the counter. "Now
you know where I am, keep in touch, why don't you? Look, there, we even have e-mail!"
His delight was infectious. Chad gathered up his snack and the card, and promised Jake he'd be
hearing from the Storcz's real soon. He was halfway across the lot, still grinning, when the
light bulb finally went on. He u-turned and went back inside. Jake looked up at the jangle of the
door, his face puzzled when he saw Chad again.
"By the way, Jake. Thought you might be interested. . .my daughter Angela?" Jake's smile
spread, Chad thought he was touchingly pleased that he had returned just to share a bit of
his life. He finished: "She grew up and became an astronomer."
When he realized Jake was too overcome to answer, he just nodded and pushed the door open
with his butt, ready to leave.
Just as the panel swung shut behind him, he heard Jake call: "Watch out for them centipedes!"
=== the end ===