Original Short Story

The Mouse Over My Shoulder by Me (Arrow McRoberts)

Huh-ha! That’s a pretty swell cartoon you’ve got started there,” Mickey Mouse complimented jovially as he gently somersaulted into existence from behind my head.

I jumped, and my tablet pen flew from my hand.

“Oh, no. Not you again. I thought I had this under control,” I moaned and rubbed at my cheekbones.

“Aw, don’t be disappointed!” Mickey said with that encouraging upward/sideways punch in front of the chest motion. “You always love having me around when you’re creating something fantastic.”

“And that’s how it happened, doctor,” I finished three days later.

I was sitting at the front corner of the chaise, because reclining properly in it wouldn’t allow me to jiggle my legs and wring my hands comfortably. I hadn’t even glanced around to look at this new psychiatrist’s office; I’d only been concerned with getting an appointment, getting seen, and getting help as soon as possible.

“I know this all sounds like it came up out of nowhere, but it truly did! I haven’t seen any of them in years.”

Dr. Wert leaned forward in his chair, flipping back and rereading some of his notes.

“You said you made it through four years of art school, two years of an apprenticeship, and have been working in your new position at the animation studio for about three months now?”

He briskly returned to his current page.

“And not a single incident in all that time?”

I nodded fast, my eyes locked to the nicely lacquered floor between my feet.

The doctor reached up to gently comb his fingers through his full head of soft gray hair. Finally, he placed his pen back into his suit jacket pocket.

“And are there any characters here with us right now?”

With a slightly indignant scowl, I threw my wide, staring eyes back up to the doctor.

“It looks like the fucking Wubulous World of Walt Disney in here.”

Before Dr. Wert could correct my use of the wrong “W” word, I hit him with the stinger.

“’Wubulous’ because there’s a single Sneech right over near the door,” I said, pointing.

I knew I’d lucked into exactly the right doctor when he didn’t react with any sort of shock or incredulity at all. He simply gave a short “Huh” and noted that Dr. Seuss had sent a visitor today.

“Now, I’d like you to tell me: Why do you think that these visions of cartoon characters you have are so terrible?”

I scoffed and rolled my head around a bit.

“Well, they’re not normal, are they?”

The nearly stern-faced and eternally even Dr. Wert almost chuckled.

“Not in everyone’s life, I would think. But how is it any different than imaging a loved one that you lost alongside you. Fantasizing about them seeing things with you, talking to you, or spending just time with you?”

I spit out the fingernail I’d just chewed off.

“People do that?” I asked with immense skepticism.

The doctor nodded. “It’s even recommended by many as a key form of grief therapy.”

I felt a little taken aback.

I fumbled for an answer, but none arrived that session.

“Hey, you’re back!” my boss, Darin, said warmly.

He was the very first person I saw walking back into the studio another week later.

“Yeah,” I replied a bit breathlessly. I was subconsciously terrified that Darin could somehow sense Elliot the Dragon goofily ducking out of the elevator in the center of the lobby as clearly as I could see him.

“I was told you needed all your sick time off for a personal crisis.” He looked honestly concerned from the bottom of his heart. “Are you in a little bit better place now?”

He wouldn’t be asking that if he could see Panchito Pistoles flying suave circles around his head.

“A little bit better,” I answered honestly.

“Ho-boy! Is that what you’re going to be working on?” Mickey asked enthusiastically. The mouse was standing on Darin’s forearm. He was inquiring after the fully color character sheets my boss was gently cradling between his hands. “It’s beautiful. You’ll do great!”

Darin smiled at me graciously, but there was still a sheen of worry to his gaze.

“Well, good. And, seriously, if you need more time off, you can take as much as you need, no questions asked.” He looked a little hesitant to say his next piece, but forded on anyway. “You’ve been with me for two and a half years now – after being my apprentice, you were a first-stringer in helping me form this company.”

After another awkward facial cringe, my boss and mentor gently placed his hand on my shoulder. “Seriously, you need anything at all, you’ve got it.”

Panchito joined up with José Carioca, and the two started walking behind one of the editorial team leads in an exaggerated mockery of his stride.

“Thank you,” I replied, trying hard not to let my eyes follow the brightly colored birds. “I’ll keep that at the front of my mind.”

“Have you ever considered imagining Walt Disney alongside of his creations?” Dr. Wert asked.

I pulled my pale, strained face up out of my hands. My thumbs brushed against the new hollows below my cheekbones.

“What on earth for?” I rasped, exhausted.

The doctor gave me a one-shouldered shrug.

“Well, it was the next treatment option that occurred to me. Since I refuse to approve any of the extreme measures that you’ve requested, and you’re clearly not in a place to consider my management alternatives, I figured we should try and work within the current situation. If you conjure up the image of ol’ Uncle Walt, the father and founder of all the things that you see, he might be able to give you some direction on how to wrangle the animated chaos.”

I was stuck in a still frame of disbelief. I made a few huffing noises but couldn’t find any objections to blur out.

He shrugged again, this time with the other shoulder.

“This is the best compromise I could find between our two concrete stances. If you’re still dead-set on your extreme measures, go see someone else.”

“As much as your ‘true acceptance’ bullshit is pissing me off, I’m –” I stopped myself before I blurted out the truth. “You seem to be an okay guy, doc.”

He deadpanned back at me, “I’m the only psychotherapist with a Ph.D within a hundred miles.”

I tossed my jaw back and forth a few times. It took a ton of effort to keep the “Yeah, duh,” out of my jolted eyebrows. As I felt myself getting more jittery by the second, I relented.

“Alright, doc. Put me under.”

His eye twitched, and something like a sneer was attempting to curl his lips.

“I don’t do hypnotism. I’m not some sort of scam artist. I’m a doctor.”

I rolled my eyes and laid back on the couch regardless.

“But I don’t mind attempting to guide you through some mental exercises,” Dr. Wert finished, the tight tone loosening from his voice.

Once I was comfortable with my position on the couch and the darkness behind my eyes, I folded my hands over my stomach and gasped in a semi-deep breath.

“First, let’s make a map of the room. What creations do you see where, and what are they doing?”

I raised my eyelids for only a second, but the scene at the foot of the couch hadn’t changed.

“I see the dance scene from Robin Hood at the end of the couch.”

“Happening just like in the movie?” the doctor asked.

“Uh-huh,” I mumbled, comparing the choreography from the sequence with what I’d seen.

“How many of the characters are there?”

“Mostly the main characters. And then that band of little kids is watching and clapping from your desk.”

“Now, forget any of the rest of the characters that might be in this room.

“Add in Walt Disney. Make him very realistic. Flesh and blood, just like you and me.

“What’s he doing?”

It took a few minutes for me to get a good solid picture of Uncle Walt formed. Finally, there he was in black and white, just like the old TV show. He had his back to me, but I could instantly tell what he was doing. He had one hand in his pants pocket, the other cradled his gently smoking pipe. And he was studying the Robin Hood characters with rapt fascination.

“He’s watching them. No…”

I knew immediately to correct myself.

“He’s learning them. The way they grin and laugh. The dance steps they know and how they behave around their partners. And he’s just standing there, happily taking it all in.”

I couldn’t hear Dr. Wert’s pen over the repeating strains of the song, but his voice came through loud and clear.

“Do you think he’s done this before?”

My lip started to quiver. I had no idea why.

“All the time,” I breathed. “He looks like he’s completely at home. So comfortable and joyful.

“Like this is where he belongs…”

“G’morning!”

I slapped my animation partner on the back as I rounded the gigantic, two-sided desk that we shared. His graphic pen slipped, and he left a beautiful ugly line all over the arm of his character who was mid-punch.

“Good grief,” Russ groaned. “If we still used massive pads of paper, that would be an hour of work ruined.”

I laughed.

“Then aren’t you glad this isn’t the 1940s?”

He mock-laughed back at me, pressed undo, and continued on right from where he’d been disrupted.

I chuckled again, plopping down in my own ergonomic chair. My computer screen immediately came alive.

“Hey, howdy!” Vanellope Von Schweetz greeted me. “You’ve got, like, a ton of e-mails, and your stuff for the day is in the shared folder. C’mon, hop to it!”

That never gets annoying,” Russ commented.

“Yeah, well, she doesn’t like you either,” I replied.

“Yeah, Russ. Why don’tcha shut up already?” Vanellope yelled over her shoulder into the depths of the screen. She giggled and glitched down into her standby size in the corner of the screen.

I pulled up my e-mail, ready to get to work. Then, I paused.

“You know, I haven’t played Dress Up in my special Vanellope widget for a long time…”

Russ put his pen down, gripping his eyes in his smear-proof gloved hand.

“Oh, please, no.”

I only giggled and opened my daily assignment. A bit of pipe smoke drifted down into the air in front of me. “Glory Days” Walt Disney, in full human color, leaned down right beside me.

“Ah, another scene for a song, I see. Wonderful.” He spoke softly, always trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. “And they want more of your designs for the t-shirt line.”

Walt straightened up and took a small pull from his pipe.

“I wonder if we know anyone who could help us with a dynamic action pose…”

I grinned.

“Hey, Russ? If I wanted to show our character in the middle of a fight scene doing some sort of awesome fighting move, what might you recommend?”

Russ threw his pen behind his ear and immediately started rambling about what he’d done in a few of his most recent shots.

A ripple of warmth encircled me as Baymax smooshed me in a toasty hug. While Russ continued to gesticulate excitedly, I stole a glance up at Walt. He was listening intently and puffing away. A famous cartoon mouse settled down on his shoulder to revel in the story Russ was describing.

Our boss’s wife trotted quickly past heading out of the office, clearly on an important work mission. She was followed by twin Siamese cats who were humming some sort of song, swaying in time, and acting like if they couldn’t be hurried if their lives depended on it. Pongo looked up from underneath the receptionist’s desk, but Perdita nudged him, and they fell back to sleep. Dumbo came in for a landing out past the front door; Maui the demi-god was there to greet him.

Looked like things were going to be just as crazy as always around here, but now we were in charge, and I knew just how to handle all of it.

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Book Recommendations Misc. #1

The Clue series of mini-mystery books created by A.E. Parker

I don’t care how old you are; if you enjoy a wacky little mystery that you can read through and solve within fifteen minutes, you have to pick up one of the Clue mini-mystery collections.

Caught somewhere between Sherlock Holmes for the young’uns and the 1985 film, these Clue junior readers are anything but juvenile.

(Well, the humor can be a little sophomoric, but that’s all in keeping with the fun!)

Each short vignette falls somewhere between five and ten pages and features some sort of murder or heist that the reader must make sense of in order to deduce the perpetrator. Some do require the classic Clue solution of Who? Where? and With What? but not staying anchored to that formula allows the stories to breathe and explore new venues and crimes.

And don’t worry about Mr. Boddy getting killed in the very first story. Nothing that happens in a short stays permanent, though there is the occasional callback to a previous story. This gives the very tongue-in-cheek humor a whole other level to work from.

The practically non-stop joking throughout every single tale makes the characters’ personalities really shine. It even allows the bevvy of writers who worked on these things to challenge themselves and the readers further by purposely switching all of the personalities around in one story or making everyone sleepwalk in another.

All of that, plus the frankly legitimate challenge of figuring out whodunit by the end, makes the Clue series a must-have for any mystery connoisseur.

Book Recommendations Comic Book #1

Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters Complete Collection by Mike Grell

Whenever the question of favorite superheroes comes up, my answer is immediate and unchanging. Green Arrow. I love that archer in any form.

Whenever people ask for GA comics they should check out, I never offer up The Longbow Hunters. Not because I forget about it or I don’t really think it’s that great. Quite the opposite of both.

I never recommend The Longbow Hunters because that’s a Green Arrow tale that you’ve got to earn. And with the increasing numbers of fledgling GA fans emerging from Television Land, I figure now is the perfect time to give you new recruits something to strive for.

Without wanting to give much away, the beginning of the Longbow saga presents Oliver and Dinah (Black Canary) heavenly happy together. But they’re not in the same place emotionally, and that leads to mounting tension. When things quickly escalate and climb swiftly out of hand in their crime-fighting lives, Oliver has to look deeper inside himself than he’s ever wanted to visit, wondering if he’ll emerge as anything close to the man that brought him to this place.

This is a deeply mature tale with some of the most fantastically beautiful panels to ever grace the Green Arrow universe. If you’re looking for a fun-time read, this is not for you. If you’re in search of a gateway into the GA comics, try again.

But if you think you’re familiar with Oliver Queen, point your bow toward The Longbow Hunters.

Book Recommendations Manga #1

Shugo Chara! by Peach-Pit

As a voracious consumer of manga, it takes a very special work to get on my list of immediate recommendations. But nothing breaks out of its frilly pink coating better than Shugo Chara!

The work’s title is in reference to its assortment of teeny sidekicks – the Guardian Characters that special children with especially powerful dreams hatch out of exceptionally patterned eggs – birthed forth from within a lucky child’s heart.

Now, I know that all sounds real silly, but follow me on this one! This setup allows for tons of gorgeous and gooey magical warrior transformations, and with main character Amu’s three Guardian Eggs, there’s plenty of new and different ways to approach the problem at hand. And, with up to six other friends and their Shugo Chara fighting at her side, Amu’s story rarely ever falls into the magical girl pitfall of same enemies, same transformations, same battles resolved the same way every chapter.

Additionally, there’s a bit more maturity on display here than in many other manga featuring twelve-year-old protagonists. Amu and each one of her precious and unique friends have to face down some insecurity or find a way to redouble their efforts when things aren’t going their way. It’s a manga that takes the problems of children very seriously, and in doing so, forges a stronger connection to its audience.

Also, every single panel looks like it could melt you with sweetness if you licked it, so read, don’t eat, this manga!

Book Recommendations Graphic Novel #1

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Drama it is when personal lives, character lives, and love lives intertwine on the set of a musical theater performance. And no graphic novel has ever portrayed the journey – from casting through to curtain call – with such thrilling, heart-wrenching, and warmly wonderful honesty as Raina Telgemeier’s Drama.

This is a full-color, novel-length work of graphic fiction that so accurately brings to life its middle school cast, you could swear Telgemeier had filmed her entire seventh-grade year and recreated it, panel by jovial panel. Without wanting to give away anything integral to the plot, the story centers on Callie, a technical and creative theater nerd, who finds personal growth, new friendships, and the unexpected changes in previous friends front and center of her own life as she designs and oversees set production for her school’s performance of Moon Over Mississippi.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be part of a stage performance or how on earth all of those strange and crazy people manage to put up with each other throughout the course of it, you need to give this graphic novel a look.

If you’ve worked on any sort of dramatic performance before in your life, Drama will be a tale that hits you squarely in the center of your own personal experiences.

If you’ve been through or are currently in middle school or high school, you’ll more than feel like the characters are living your life.

And if you’ve ever found yourself in the center of a little giant catastrophe, well, honey, that’s just show business.

Book Recommendations Adult #1

Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

It’s raunchy. It’s gross. It’s heinous. It’s disturbing. It’s painful. It’s honest. It’s brilliant. It’s eye-opening. It’s reality as brought to you by one of the most devious minds ever to set idea to paper.

And I love Invisible Monsters.

Chuck Palahniuk’s works always defy categorization and genre designations. Invisible Monsters is a bit of psychotropic biography mixed with a portrayal of criminal life and rehabilitative therapy that’s also the most horrific reverse-Cinderella story that one could imagine.

I would say the closest comparison could be made to Myra Breckenridge by Gore Vidal. Both are first-person stories of what an onlooker might define as “a life lived deviantly,” but like Myra Breckenridge before it, Invisible Monsters connects easily to the unusual and dissatisfied individual who is bold and open-minded enough to give it a read. This is the modern adult’s equivalent of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, bringing a sub-group of people together and elevating their oddities to cult status.

Pure and simple, if Fight Club and Choke weren’t your thing, Invisible Monsters is gonna be right out of your wheelhouse.

But if you’re a little bit strange, and you thrive upon the unexpected and nothing ever panning out exactly as it’s planned, then get ready to explode your comfort zone and be saved by chaos.

Book Recommendations Juvenile #1

Warriors series book one: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter

No middle grade/juvenile series has brought me as much continuing joy over the years than the Warriors series by the collective Erin Hunter. Even if you’ve never been a big fan of the animal fiction genre, you should give Warriors a try for its fact-paced action, tense, mounting conflicts, and fierce, lovable characters.

The Warriors series is rather like Watership Down, in that it portrays groups of feral cats as exactly that and from there forms a society of noble and vicious fighters around the biological and behavioral differences between different breeds of cat. RiverClan is full of swimming cats who primarily fish to feed themselves; WindClan has the fastest, leanest cats who can easily chase down rabbits on a prairie. ShadowClan are smaller, sneakier cats who are the quietest hunters and most ruthless fighters, while ThunderClan has many heavy-set forest cats who can both track through the undergrowth and snatch a bird from between the tree roots. Though Obvious Antagonist Clan and Obvious Hero Clan are indeed obvious, the constantly shifting inter- and intra-clan politics make each Clan sympathetic in the end. The reader can also easily determine which style of clan life would suit them, regardless of the fact that the story for each six-book main Warriors series is always based in ThunderClan. (For those who are already fans and wondering, I would be best suited for RiverClan, definitely. Or SkyClan, if that option was available.)

With a total of five main series (all with a single continuing plot and family line), one prequel series, nine Super Edition stand-alone books, guides, manga, and digital novellas galore, Warriors offers readers a massive, sprawling universe filled with dozens of important cats, vicious, bloody epics, and enough star-crossed love to last a lifetime. It’s absolutely a lot to keep track of, a ton to unpack, and even more to obsess over if you find yourself a fan of animal fiction with high stakes and a low barrier of entry.

Start here, with Into the Wild, and you’ll shortly see what all the caterwauling is about.

Book Recommendations YA #1

Zom-B by Darren Shan

This book LITERALLY blew my mind.

I don’t say things like that willy-nilly, and I especially don’t mean it as a joke or an exaggeration when referring to this book in particular.

Zom-B took everything I’ve ever believed about every single part of it and turned that straight on its head. I thought I could never like a main character who was brash, aggressive, and always said exactly what they were thinking, usually to a rather callous degree, but B won me over. I never thought I’d really get into zombies or the threat of the real for-real end of everything, but now I actually shudder at the word “apocalypse.” And I never thought my supposed wide open-mindedness would ever fail me so utterly.

Yet, it did, and that’s why I’m telling you to get your hands on a copy of Zom-B right this ever-loving second! You’ll find a zombie apocalypse you’ve never envisioned, a villain far worse than you’d ever imagine, but still a sense of wonder in a world all but hollowed to the core.

As far as logistics go, this is the first in a series of twelve books, all of which are worth reading, but the initial one most of all. All of Darren Shan’s books run a tad on the short side in comparison to your typical YA novel, but Shan is a master craftsman who manages to end every single book in a way that makes you desperate for the next one. And, seriously, do NOT spoil yourself on what’s coming ahead for ANY of the books! You will truly regret it if you do.

Finally, if you were a fan of Shan’s from the Cirque du Freak series, you owe it to yourself to try out Zom-B. What Cirque did for vampires, B absolutely did for zombies: It revived a completely stale idea with a whole new twist, perspective, and a very different something to say.

I can honestly say, I’ve never been more fascinated by a clown.

Book Recommendations Bio #1

Geisha, A Life by Mineko Iwasaki with Rande Brown

Forget everything you read or saw in Memoirs of a Geisha; this is the real true story of the woman who was once the most famous geisha in the entire world.

Never a prostitute, never an escort, Mineko Iwasaki was only a brilliant performer and a sparkling entertainer. If you’re at all interested in Japanese culture, you OWE it to yourself to read this book!

Geisha, A Life tells the life story of a young girl who was born into a relatively impoverished family with parents who loved her and siblings she shared both joyful and hellish times with before, at the ripe old age of five, she chose to pursue the art of traditional Japanese dance. She had to be legally disowned by her family, removed from their house, and relocated to the rooms of the Iwasaki household so that she could be adopted formally into the geisha house. Little Masako Tanaka would eventually become the sole heir and inheritor of one of the most profitable and preeminent geiko in all of Gion.

Only one year after becoming an apprentice geisha, Mineko was drowning in popularity and demand, and by the time she could officially call herself geisha at age twenty-one, all of Japan was at her feet.

What, then, caused such a stunning dancer and knowledgeable businesswoman to retire at the peak of her career a mere eight years later?

There are certainly a ton of Japanese words and cultural practices explained and explored in this book, but Iwasaki does a magnificent job of opening up and essentially putting her brain all over the book’s pages, so you shouldn’t encounter too much confusion when it comes to any of these new and foreign concepts.

Overall, the book reads like a fantasy adventure, but it’s someone’s real life and past! There is no biography I could ever recommend more highly than this one.

It makes me wish that geisha is something I could legitimately become…