Oct. 19th, 2011

Thornton parted the tall proto-ferns by the water's edge and found a decent spot to set up shop. He had a cooler filled with turkey necks and an environmental bath for holding anything he caught. Thornton set up his camp chair, threaded a knotted cord around a neck, and tossed it thirty feet out into the shallow water. He waited about five minutes and reeled it in.

The first three times Thornton did this, he got what he expected: two or three crawlers. They were pelagic, vagile bottom-creepers, segmented and armored, with efficient nippy jaw-analogs and voracious appetites. Thornton gingerly separated them from the neck with a rubber-gloved hand and put them into the holding bath. Then he threw the neck back in the water.

The fourth time Thornton did this, he got more than he expected. A single crawler was drawn up, but Thornton noticed as he was removing the beastie that he was being watched. A pulpy-looking periscope of an eye had broken the surface of the water and was watching him carefully. It looked small and harmless, but Thornton pulled his shocker out of his holster and laid it in his lap just in case.

The eye dropped down below the water – ploop! – and then returned with three others. The eyes on soft stalks regarded Thornton, twitching and blinking. He watched them back, curious about what sort of creature this might be. Certainly there was nothing in the fossil record to indicate that anything like what he was seeing had been around during this particular epoch.

One of the things heaved itself on shore. It was soft-bodied, likely an ammonite precursor, but more developed. It had obvious eye structures, and several of its palps appeared to be specialized for manipulation. In fact, it seemed to be gripping a stick of some kind – a tool? Intrigued, Thornton pulled out his majordomo and set it to translation mode. The majordomo listened to the wet gurgling sounds coming from the creature, then began to spit out words.

"…taking….herds!" it said. "Thief!"

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I find that when I'm short on ideas, it's good to write about being short on ideas.

I sat down at the computer to write a little after ten o'clock. I restarted my machine and got a new file opened up, a virtual blank sheet of paper in front of me. I knew what I was going to write; the idea had occurred to me in the shower that morning, and I knew it was going to be a good one. I cracked my knuckles and prepared to type. Just then the doorbell rang.

It was some kind of magazine salesman; I didn't even listen hard enough to know what he wanted me to buy. I got rid of him as fast as possible, then returned to the computer. I sat down and stared at the blank screen, trying to organize my thoughts. What had I been planning to write about? The distraction of the unwelcome visitor had thrown me off stride; I struggled to recapture the substance of the idea I had conceived only hours earlier. The idea eluded me. I closed my eyes, batted my temples with my hands, stuck my head under running water in the kitchen sink. Nothing.

The idea was gone.

Fuming, I went into the kitchen to get another cup of coffee. I heard a thump and a rattle from the breakfast room as I turned on the light. Thinking that one of the neighborhood cats had gotten in a window again, I peered through the doorway.

There was a stranger in my breakfast room. He was squat and dark, and he wore a black trenchcoat and porkpie hat. He was straddling the windowsill, with one foot outside in the alley. Our eyes met. His were narrowed with guilt and hostility.

"Hey!" I said.

The little man twisted around, throwing his other leg out the window, and he wriggled to slide down on top of the trashcans. As he turned I saw something under his arm – something blue and glowing. It's hard to describe what it was , but it looked conceptual, somehow, and familiar. In that moment I knew that the intruder was making off with my story idea.

I ran to the window. The man had rolled off the trashcans and was hustling down the alley, his little legs chugging along as fast as he could go.

"STOP THIEF!" I shouted. "Come back with my goddamn idea!"

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