Denise Duong and Gabriel Freeman gave me a live tour of their MAINSITE Contemporary Art exhibition, The Left Hand of Liminality, before it opened to the public for the return of the in-person 2nd Friday Norman Art Walk. The show is open to in-person viewing from May 14 through July 9, 2021.
While driving to visit his parents for Mother’s Day weekend, Junfeng finds himself on an alien planet where he is gifted with a shovel with the power to bury any problem or dig up the solution to any problem.
Junfeng took the blood-stained shovel that the alien thrust into his hands. With his car stuck in a sand dune when he was in a forest a moment ago, he felt denying the shovel from the strange purple person – that was the only living being around in sight – would lead to even more trouble.
“What is this for?” Junfeng said without thinking about the words that came out of his mouth.
“I’m surprised that’s your first question,” the person said in English. “I was expecting, ‘Where am I?’ or ‘Who are you?’ Looks like I picked the right person for the job.”
A tentacle erupted from the sand a few steps in front of them. The top half was purple and looked like an octopus, while the bottom half was brown like a spider’s leg. With a panic scream, Junfeng smacked the tentacle, sending it to retreat to the ground.
“Yeah, sorry, those are a problem on this planet. Oh, my name is Modva. I created this shovel with the power to burry any problem or dig up the solution to your problem. Neat, huh? I still have some bugs to work out, but you can beta test those for me.”
Before Junfeng could ask anything, Modva pushed him, causing him to fall backward through a freestanding door. The door slammed shut and disappeared the second it closed. He stood up, dusted himself off, and gathered his bearings. The last of the sun’s rays were settling behind the trees. A familiar, in the sense that was from Earth, car drove past him.
“Looks like I’m back in Canada,” Junfeng said, reasonably certain he was at the same spot before he wound up on a desert planet. He had only taken his eyes off the road for a second to get a drink of water, and when he looked up, he crashed into a pile of sand. “And I guess my car didn’t make it back with me.”
Junfeng remembered what the person said about the shovel being able to dig up solutions to problems. With nothing to lose, he walked over to a patch of dirt and started digging.
“Maybe I’ll unbury a nice car, like a Tesla or something,” Junfeng mumbled.
After digging a small hole, a light shined through. The ground rumbled. Junfeng stepped back as a brand new Tesla car drove out from the dirt. He walked around, inspecting the silver vehicle to make sure it was real. He looked back at the hole, and it patched itself up. He put the shovel in the backseat and got in the driver’s seat. The car had a full charge and was ready to drive. He checked the glove compartment, and there was even insurance and title paperwork in his name. He buckled up and shifted the car into drive.
“This is going to impress my parents,” he said, bobbing his head.
Junfeng was not particularly excited about his weekend visit to his parents for Mother’s Day. While he loved his family, lately, they’ve been increasingly negative about him being a mentalist. Granted, he was barely making ends meet performing a few corporate party gigs here and there, but he was doing more each year.
I know they just want what’s best for me, he reminded himself. Hopefully, this car will show them I’m doing well, but I’m sure they can find something else to critique, like the lack of a girlfriend.
He glanced at the shovel in the backseat.
“I wonder,” he said.
Junfeng pulled over to the side of the quiet road and started to dig.
“Okay, magic shovel, bring me the perfect girlfriend,” he said, feeling a mix of awkwardness and hopefulness for making such a wish.
He was about a foot deep when a hand burst out from the ground like a zombie movie. Junfeng fell backward as a gorgeous woman with long, blond hair emerged. She appeared to be about the same age and height as him. She was unfazed by the chilly May weather with her flora pattern sundress.
The woman extended her hand out and smiled. “Hello, lover.”
Junfeng took her hand, standing back up. “Hello, there – um, what’s your name?”
The woman thought for a moment. “I don’t have one. I guess you have to choose one for me.”
“Oh, okay,” Junfeng said and thought. “How about Pearl?”
“I love it!” Pearl said, hugging him.
“All right. I think this is going to work. Now, we just need some sort of backstory before we see my parents,” Junfeng said, excited. “I can’t exactly say I dug you up.”
Pearl giggled. “I can’t wait to meet your parents! Where do they live?”
“They’re about an hour north of Vancouver,” Junfeng said. “But we’re almost there. Come inside, and we’ll work on our story.”
“This will be fun,” Pearl said as she got in the passenger seat. She pretended the dashboard was a drum set, drumming her fingers to a beat in her head while Junfeng put the shovel in the back. She stopped when Junfeng got seated. “Okay, so how about this: You saved me by pushing me out of the way from a runaway truck?”
“I think that’s a bit too far-fetched,” Junfeng said. “I was thinking of going with something more grounded like you enjoyed my performance at one of my corporate gigs.”
“I like that,” she said, slapping his leg in excitement. “Let’s say I work in HR too for this company. That’s a good job, right? Of course, it is. Plus, this story allows our story to be more natural and make you look good at being a…”
“A mentalist,” Junfeng finished.
“A mentalist. That’s so awesome, doing what you love. Not many people can say that.”
“I wish my parents would see it that way.”
“Tell me about your parents.”
“Well,” Junfeng started, thinking for a moment on what to share. “My mom, Akina, moved to Vancouver from Japan to be a TV actress. However, she changed careers and became an accountant because she said she wanted something more stable. That’s where slash how she met my dad, Nathan, who owns a movie prop equipment rental company.”
“Do you have any siblings?” Pearl asked as Junfeng pulled into his parents’ driveway of their country home.
“No, it’s just me.”
“Anything else I should know about your family?”
“Not that I can think of, but I’m sure you’ll get to know them over the weekend, and we can always say I didn’t tell you much. I’m sure my parents will be happy to see me with anyone. The bar of expectations for improvements is pretty low at this point.”
“Don’t you worry, Junfeng. I am going to make you look so awesome in your parents’ eyes.”
Junfeng laughed, and his face turned slightly red, thinking, Did I ever tell her my name? Surely I must’ve or shovel magic? He shrugged the thought off, and they both got out of the car.
Junfeng’s father, Nathan, opened the front door to their modern single-story log cabin home.
“You’re late,” Nathan scoffed.
“Sorry,” Pearl immediately apologized. “It was my fault. We had to go back to my place because I forgot some things.”
Nathan’s grumpy demeanor shifted to forgiveness upon seeing Pearl. “Oh, you brought a lady.”
“Yes, this is Pearl.”
“Hello,” Pearl said with a smile and a wave. “It’s nice to meet you!”
“It’s nice to meet you too,” Nathan said as he opened the door, and Pearl stepped inside. He turned to Junfeng. “You got any bags?”
“Right, yes, I’ll go get those. You go inside. I’ll join you in a moment.”
Nathan nodded and closed the door behind while Junfeng jogged back to the car. He grabbed the shovel out from the backseat and opened the car truck so no one could see him dig up two overnight suitcases. Junfeng shook off the dirt, returned the shovel, and closed the doors. He jogged back up to the front door. With one hand holding the suitcases, he opened the door with the other. He dropped everything the moment he saw his family dangling in the air.
Pearl held his parents by their necks. Her arms were now tentacles like the kind he saw on the desert planet.
“Hi, there, lover,” Pearl greeted with a smile.
“What the hell?” Junfeng shouted. “What are you doing?”
“I was just telling your parents how wonderful you are,” Pearl explained, keeping a smile.
“No, not like this!”
“Oh,” Pearl mumbled. She squeezed tighter. “I think my way is working. Don’t worry. I’ll be done with them soon.”
Junfeng looked back and forth between his parents and Pearl before coming up with the idea to run outside and grab the shovel. He flung open the door and yanked the shovel out. His car started to move and transform on its own.
“No, no, no, no, no,” he repeated. He looked at his shovel. “Let’s see if I can bury this problem.”
He rammed the shovel into the dirt and flung it at the car as it took a robotic humanoid form. The soil caused the robot to screech, reminding him of the wicked witch getting wet in Wizard of Oz. He tossed another patch at the robot, weakening it more. Several shovels fulls of dirt later, the robot sank into the ground. As much as he wanted to catch his breath, he knew he had his original problem still.
Junfeng dug up one more shovel full of dirt and raced back inside. He tossed the dirt at Pearl, causing her to drop his parents. Pearl’s arms morphed back to their human form. She hissed at him like a vampire hissing at the sun and leaped at him. He ran outside, and she followed.
Before Junfeng could strike the ground with the shovel, Pearl tackled him, tossing the shovel aside as she pinned him down.
“Why are you trying to stop me?” Pearl demanded with a mix of rage and tears. “I only want what’s best for you.”
“You’re hurting my parents!”
“But they’re hurting you!”
“They’re just worried about me!”
“They’re stifling your dreams.”
“No one is stifling my dreams. The only one who can do that is me.”
Pearl screamed in pain as a pile of dirt hit her back. She fell on top of Junfeng, losing her grip over him. With her weakened, he pushed her off as another pile of dirt landed on her. She cried out as one last shovel full of dirt hit, causing her to sink into the Earth.
Junfeng’s mother, Akina, stood over him with the magical alien gadget in hand. She dropped the shovel, helped her son up, and hugged him. He hugged her back.
“I am so sorry we were so hard on you,” Akina said. “I do not know how, but she showed us one of your performances. You were really, really good.”
“Thank you,” Junfeng said. “Are you okay?”
“I should be asking you that,” Akina said as she let go. She took a moment to admire her son. “Come on. Dinner is ready. I bet you have a story to share.”
Junfeng picked up the shovel. “Hold on. I should bury some suitcases before those come to life too.”
Thank you for reading! This story was inspired by the writing prompt: “You were in your car just a minute ago. Now you’re in the middle of a desert with no sign of life anywhere. Except for that person in a lab coat. They walk up to you and you notice they’re holding a shovel stained with fresh blood. A shiver goes down your spine.”
The person in the lab coat, made me think of my end-timer character, Modva, who I’ve only featured in one story so far. From there, I thought about making this shovel “magical” with the power of burying problems and digging up solutions, with it having issues in vain of the lyre from The Problematic Lyre. I got another story in mind for Modva that I think would be fitting for an October release, so stay tuned for more!
Thank you again to Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle for bringing the opening scene to life! May your Mother’s Day trip remain on Earth.
In this episode of Uncovering Oklahoma, I get a tour of Flora Bodega, a cooperative grocery store in the Paseo Arts District. Then I traveled to Norman to taste some authentic Chinese noodles at Magic Noodle. Next, I visited The BeetBox, a food truck that travels all over the state with a mission to change cattle country one vegan meal at a time. Finally, I saw the new Artful Inlet murals in Downtown Norman from the Norman Arts Council.
Thank you to my supporters on Patreon for their continued support of making Uncovering Oklahoma possible! Supporters get awesome rewards, like early access to my episodes. Big thanks to my superstar supporters: Revolve Productions and the Keller-Kenton Family. Join today!
This is the story about the day I thought to put cinnamon rolls into a brownie mix. I shot this video a few months ago as a camera test, but I never bothered to edit and publish it because of self-concious reasons, however, I want to start making for fun videos for my personal channel.
With business to attend on another planet, Hades hires Sally to dog-sit his giant three-headed dog, Cerberus. As Sally takes the dog for a walk in the Underworld, they discover a locked away secret.
Sally Wilkerson wiped her brow with her arm and sighed from having just finished her mopping duties at The Creamatory of Screams. She put the mop in the grungy, yellow plastic bucket and pressed on the level, ringing out the last of the dirt.
Behind the cash register next to the ice cream station, her co-worker, Mark, counted the money. Mark took his time, making sure none of the bills were stuck together, every coin was there, credit card totals matched up, and everything was ready for the next day. Sally had learned not to interrupt because she didn’t want him to start over. She would have to wait to use one of her favorite closing puns like, “How in Hell did we do?” or “Everything good in Hell?” The puns about being in Hell, Michigan made Mark groan or roll his eyes every time, which was part of Sally’s fun. She often forgot that he was sixteen like her.
As far as tiny towns went, Sally enjoyed living in Hell. She knew all of the locals and the tourists were fun. As she pushed the mop bucket back to its station, a tornado of flames erupted in the store. Mark screamed, knocking over the cash drawer as he ducked behind the counter while Sally stood unfazed.
From the flames, a tall, slender man stepped out. He pinched out a lingering ember of fire on his dark, almost black, purple suit with red pinstripes. He inspected his reflection from the ice cream cabinet, about to adjust his hair, but realized he had taken a form where his hair consisted of a blue flame. He stroked a finger along his grizzled movie star beard with crimson red skin.
“Hiya, Mr. H!” Sally greeted.
Mark stood up, picking up the fallen cash and ignoring their guest. Hades turned to Mark, snapped his fingers, and like magic, all of the money flew back to the register in perfect order.
“Your balance is correct, by the way,” Hades said to Mark as he walked up to Sally. “Sally, I have some business on another planet to deal with, and I need you to dog-sit Cerberus for me while I’m away.”
“Oh, wow,” Sally said. “Well, as you may know, Mr. H, I’m a good dog-sitting, but you’re talking about Cerberus. That’s way out of my qualifications.”
“Isn’t Cerberus like a giant-three dog?” Mark said, recalling what he knew about Greek mythology. “Can’t he handle himself?”
“Just because you’re a badass doesn’t mean you can’t use someone watching over you,” Hades said. “Cerberus just needs someone to play with for a bit while I’m gone. It will be easy for you. Just take him for a walk.”
“Well, if you think I can handle it.”
“Excellent. You start now.”
“Hey, wait!” Mark shouted. “We still need to close up.”
Hades snapped his fingers, and from a flame portal, a brand new XBOX gaming console landed in Mark’s arms.
Mark sat the compensation down. “Have fun dog-sitting!”
Hades twilled his wrist in the air, swirling Sally and himself in a ring of fire that warped them to the Grand Library in Earth’s Underworld. The ornate green walls always made Sally think of the Statue of Liberty. The library held several floors of well-organized books, curious artifacts, and eclectic works of art. Many dogs of every breed popped out from around the brightly lit library upon Hades’ return. With tails wagging, they welcomed them. Sally got down on her knees to pet the smaller dogs while Hades gave casual head scratches to some larger dogs.
With the dogs greeted, Hades whistled. “Cerberus! You have company.”
From around a corner, a black dog the size and strength of a tank popped his three heads out. The dog walked over gently as not to cause any books to shake off the shelves. Cerberus’ middle head licked Hades’ head, temporarily putting out the blue flame hair. Hades laughed and rubbed underneath the dog’s chin.
“You be a good boy for Sally,” Hades said in a warm but stern tone. “She’s going to keep you company for a few hours while I repair things.”
Cerberus barked in acknowledgment.
Hades turned to Sally. “I’ll send someone to relieve you in a few hours. Make sure he doesn’t eat anyone he isn’t supposed to eat.”
In his flames, Hades vanished, leaving Sally hanging with questions.
Sally looked up at Cerberus into his large, red eyes. “So, do you want to go for a walkies?”
Cerberus barked and lowed his heads.
“I am I supposed to ride you?”
Cerberus wagged his tail.
Sally shrugged. “Okay, I guess I’m going to ride Cerberus.”
With the helping nudges of the other heads, Sally got up on Cerberus. The moment she got into position, Cerberus ran, causing some books to fall off the shelves. She gripped the red collar like she was holding on to the bar of a wild rollercoaster as they raced out of the library, bursting through a large double swigging wooden door and out into a cave.
It took a moment, but Sally acclimated herself to the ride. Several ghostly white transparent butterflies the size of her head crossed their path. Cerberus changed course and chased after the butterflies until they faded away. Sally laughed and petted the center head. Cerberus continued walking along a glowing green river. Sally took in the sights of the luminous green crystals and plants adoring the dusty red cave. The place smelled like an underground forest to Sally, which she wasn’t expecting, but appreciated.
As they continued down the river, Sally could no longer see the library. She was a bit concerned but also figured Cerberus knew the way back. A gentle harp melody snuck into her ears, bringing a feeling of sadness as she listened to the song.
“Where is that music coming from?” Sally said. Cerberus barked. “Can you find that sound?”
Cerberus run in the direction of the sound. As the music got louder, the cave got darker and smaller until they came to a pair of bronze doors. While the doors were huge compared to Sally, they were only the size of one of Cerberus’ heads. Cerberus pawed at the door and whimpered.
“I’ll go check it out,” Sally offered. “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
Cerberus lowered his heads, and Sally slid off. With a big push, she opened the door to a dome-like room. The glowing blue flames from the torches revealed piles and piles of musical instruments. Some she recognized, but many she didn’t. Sally stepped deeper into the room, and the music stopped.
“A visitor?” a voice called out, echoing in the room.
“I’m sorry,” Sally apologized as she searched for the person. “I was just following a beautiful song.”
“You have nothing to apologize for, Sally,” the voice replied.
“You know my name?”
“Of course. I know everything about you, including your future.”
“You do? Where are you?”
“In the center. I’m the giant four-string harp.”
Sally found the golden harp. It was three times her size. As the harp played, each one of its strings lit up as a different color. Sally’s jaw dropped in awe of its splendor.
“I would love if you played with me,” the harp invited. “It would set me free with joy.”
Meanwhile, at the Underworld of the Green Planet, an animated skeleton of a lion that stood upright on his two feet gave Hades an update on rebuilding efforts.
“The rollercoaster is almost complete,” the skeleton lion explained over a 3D holographic map of the Underworld. “We’re still missing one of the carts for it.”
“I have someone retrieving that as well as the other items left on the surface,” Hades answered.
“Good. Once we get everything, it will be like this place never crashed on the surface.”
Twirling around in her green dress, Persephone skipped up to Hades. She rested her head on his shoulder like she was his second head.
“Is the rollercoaster fixed yet?” Persephone asked.
“We’re still putting it back together,” the lion skeleton answered.
“Sad,” Persephone said as she slumped away.
“Persephone,” Hades spoke with a gentle tone. “Would you kindly head to Earth and watch over the Underworld there? I have Sally dog-sitting Cerberus while we’re here.”
Persephone jumped into the air and started clapping. “That’s wonderful! I’m so excited to hear Apollo’s music again finally. It’s been so, so long.”
Hades laughed. “What are you talking about, Persephone? We have him locked away when he went mad after the Atlanteans left Earth.”
Persephone slouched to stop. “Oh. I thought you were finally letting him free.”
“No…Why would you think that?”
“Don’t you remember his prophecy?”
“Apollo was constantly spatting doomsday prophecies. That’s why we tricked him into transforming into a harp and locked him up.”
“I remember the one he said to you and bothers after you chained him up. It was so beautiful the way he sang it.” To the tune of a children’s melody, Persephone danced and sang, “The ice cream girl from Hell touched by the end-timers will set me free.”
The flame of Hades hair mellowed. “Oh, heavens.”
Sally approached the harp without any hesitation. She plucked a sting, filling the entire room with its note. The harp shimmered brighter and brighter, forcing Sally to shield her eyes with her arm until the light subdued. With the light gone, she saw in place of the harp a man with radiant golden skin. He shook his head, causing his long, curly brown hair to dip down to his knees.
Hades kicked down the door. Sally flinched to the sound of the door crashing into the instruments.
“Apollo!” Hades said with his fists clenched.
“Uncle Hades,” Apollo greeted with warmth. “It’s so good to see you!”
“Wait, what’s going on?” Sally interrupted.
“Sally, go to Cerberus,” Hades said.
“Why?” Sally said. “This is Apollo. What’s he doing here?”
“I became overwhelmed with visions of the future,” Apollo explained as he walked toward Hades. “Then, Dionysus got me drunk, while Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades here locked me away here.”
“You were ranting non-stop about the destruction of a universe, someone collecting demigods, and I can’t remember what other nonsense,” Hades said, getting in front of Apollo. “You also became insistent on making sure those doomsdays would happen.”
“Not that they needed my guidance,” Apollo scoffed. “According to my original calculations, shouldn’t the universe have cracked?”
“It did, but it was resolved and turned out to be no big deal,” Hades said.
“Okay, time-out! Time-out,” Sally shouted like she was babysitting some fighting siblings.
Both Hades and Apollo looked at Sally.
Sally pointed at the ground. “Sit. Both of you.”
Hades crossed his arms. “I’m not going to sit.”
Apollo smirked. “I didn’t need to look into the future to see that coming.”
“Look,” Sally started, “I don’t know what happened back then, but Apollo hasn’t been ranting about the future since I’ve been here.”
“That is true,” Hades mumbled.
“Without as many followers believing in me, I suppose my powers have weakened over the years,” Apollo said.
Sally put her hands on her hips. “Well, it sounds like you all just need to talk it out now. Just don’t resort to locking people up or having their liver pecked out or whatever you all did in the past.”
Apollo sighed. “I guess I didn’t leave you many options back then.”
“Oh, Zeus had many options for dealing with you back then, but this one seemed the least sadistic.”
Apollo laughed. “How is my father nowadays?”
“He’s still an ass, but he’s matured.”
“I guess I should pay him a visit.”
“You should. I do know Persephone wants to see you again.”
“Oh really? Maybe I can join you for game night?”
“Haha, no. I still remember what you cheat you are.”
“Surely you got some games I can’t cheat,”
As the two walked out of the room, Sally picked up a neon purple electric guitar. She pretended to play it as she walked back to Cerberus.
This short story was inspired by the following writing prompt: “As you may know, Mr. H, I have had a good experience as a professional dog sitter but clearly this is a task too monumental to take on. I mean this is Cerberus we’re talking about!”
When I saw this prompt, I pictured Sally from #TwinCities. This story takes place after their original meeting, so if you enjoy this adventure, be such to check out the first one.
Thank you to Chia Yee Liow at Design Pickle for bringing this scene to life. The butterflies Chia drew I incorporated into the story.
Thank you for reading this story!