The real and imaginative adventures of Dennis Spielman

Tag: Modva

The Problematic Shovel - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

The Problematic Shovel

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.”

“What 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.”


The Problematic Shovel - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

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.

One of the views from Beavers Bend Brewery

The Problematic Lyre

Peyton was warned the lyre would empower her emotions.


“I need to try a different approach!” Peyton shouted in frustration.

The lyre did come with a warning that it would empower her emotions. She thought the inventor meant it figuratively and not literally. The golden lyre’s ouroboros body of a dragon eating its tail should’ve warned her this was no ordinary instrument. She tried to play a calming song, but the wind’s angry whips made it impossible for her to string together any music.

She retreated inside her tiny cabin in the middle of the forest outside Hochatown.

“That’ll teach me for playing a song about my breakup on a magical lyre,” Peyton mumbled, trying to make a joke out of her predicament.

She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and let her mind drift to happy thoughts of cute baby animals and silly memes as she played a peaceful tune. The wind softened its pounding on the wooden cabin until it came to a complete rest with the conclusion of the song. 

Peyton lifted her eyes open to the sight of the lyre’s inventor standing before her. Peyton cussed, nearly dropping the instrument.

“What did you give me, Modva?” Peyton demand. “Are you like an actual alien or something? I thought you were in a costume when I met you. And how did you even get in here and find me?”

Peyton assumed Modva was a human in her late 20s just like herself and that the light purple skin was cosmetic. She met Modva outside a small used bookstore earlier that afternoon in town. She didn’t give the inventor’s appearance second thought even though she didn’t know of any book character who wore a long, white lab coat with black spandex leggings and a black sweater. Two hair sticks tied up Modva’s black hair with rubies encapsulated on the ends, which complemented her red sneakers.

“First, as previously instructed, I gifted you with the Winds of Emotion Lyre to help you process your feelings,” Modva calmly and factually stated. “Second, you would technically classify me as an alien based on your definition of being born on another planet. Third, I have tracking installed on all of my inventions to follow up with people. Finally, your door was unlocked.”

Peyton stood in silence for a moment as she processed what she’d learned. She marched up to the inventor and thrust the lyre in her arms.

“I don’t know what your endgame is, but whatever it is, but I don’t want any part of it,” Peyton huffed as she opened the front door.

“All I was hoping was for you to learn that the journey itself was all that mattered,” she explained as she respectfully left the cabin.

“I don’t need some dangerous magically lyre for that,” Peyton scoffed before shutting the door. 

Modva sighed. “Let’s get it started again.”

Modva stepped off the porch’s steps and walked down a trail to a free-standing wooden white door with a red frame. She pressed down on the black handle and pushed open the door. Through the door contained another time and place where the sun was out in a small town. The door had a view of Peyton enjoying the view and beers from Beavers Bend Brewery – before Modva gifted her the lyre outside the bookshop.

Modva adjusted her lab coat. “I need to try a different approach.”


This week’s short story introduces Modva, a new end-timer! As touched in the story, Modva’s journey throughout time and space involves her helping people with fantastical inventions that reshape people’s reality.

The story came about from a writing challenge where authors had a list of words, sentence blocks, defining features, and a word count limit of 800. The Defining Features were, “End the story the way you start it. i.e. use a cyclical structure” and “an ouroboros is present somewhere in the story.” The Sentence Blocks were, “Let’s get it started again” and “The journey itself was all that mattered,” which I used all of them. I used two of the four words from the word list, “Cyclical, Doc, Wind, and Music.”

The location was influenced by a visit to the town last year and this article my friend Heide Brandes wrote for NonDoc.

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