Bedtime Stories . One Man's World . The Mispronouncer . Downloads . Support
HUGEPOP!!!Bedtime StoriesOne Man's WorldThe Mispronouncer

The Fact You Can't Know

             The human-sized crate turned out to have a human inside of it, which the crate caretakers did not know until the human came out. After the human fled and the crate caretakers came out of hiding, they marveled at the luxury of the crate’s interior. It made their job, in the final moments of that job’s existence, a little easier to understand. Of course, it also invited many more questions, but their previous most pressing question – why does this crate need to be cared for? – was, it seemed, definitively answered. Answered and overshadowed. Overshadowed by this new question, which somehow encompassed most of the others: what did that human want?


               Bethany didn’t want to ask again, but how could she plan Thanksgiving dinner without knowing? She watched as Lewis, her husband, applied a fresh adhesive bandage to a small cut on his hand that no longer required one. He was exactly Bethany’s height and red-cheeked as if he’d spent a day hiking into a stiff, chill wind, which he had not. The cuffs of his too-long jeans bunched around his ankles, his bare toes splayed on the gray carpet. He looked up at Bethany, saw something in her expression, and said, “You’re kidding me.”

               “I’ll remember this time,” said Bethany. “I will.”

               “You said that last time,” said Lewis. “It’s not even that I mind telling you. It takes two seconds. But I’m starting to worry about you. I mean, I just told you less than five minutes ago. And that was the third time this morning. And it’s been going on for two days now.”

               Bethany said nothing. She had no defense. In fact, it was actually worse than Lewis thought. He didn’t know how much of the time between asking she’d spent trying to resist asking again.

               Lewis put the box of bandages back in the bottom drawer of the desk in the den. He turned to fully face Bethany and said, “We’re not having anyone else over for Thanksgiving dinner.”

               “Right,” said Bethany. “I know.”

               “And there are only three of us in this family,” said Lewis. “Me, you, and Pearl.”

               “I know, I know,” said Bethany. “So…”

               “It’s simple math!” said Lewis. “If there are only three of us in this family and we’re not inviting anyone else to Thanksgiving dinner, how many are we expecting for Thanksgiving dinner?”

               “That’s what I’m asking you,” said Bethany, her face flushed.

               “What’s three plus zero?” asked Lewis.

               “Don’t patronize me,” said Bethany.

               “I’m genuinely worried,” said Lewis. “I’m trying to get to the bottom of this, Bethany. What’s three plus zero?”

               “It’s three,” said Bethany.

               “So how many people will there be at our Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday?” asked Lewis.

               Bethany wanted to scream her frustration, her embarrassment. Lewis was genuinely worried, was he? Well, so was she. It wasn’t like she understood what was going on. She wasn’t usually like this, so forgetful, so absent-minded. But there was just something about this piece of information that she couldn’t grasp, couldn’t grip, couldn’t retain. She knew Lewis had told her over and over, she remembered everything about each of those interactions except for the specific answer he’d given her on each occasion. She didn’t even know if he’d given her the same answer every time, although she assumed he must have. Turning all of this over in her mind once again, Bethany saw that Lewis was still focused on her, waiting for an answer to his simple, simple question. “I don’t know,” said Bethany.

               “It’s three,” said Lewis. “We’re just expecting to have the three of us at Thanksgiving dinner. Me, you, and Pearl. That’s it. That’s three, and that’s it.”

               “Got it,” said Bethany. But she didn’t. It was already gone. Or rather, it had never arrived.

               “How many people are we expecting to have at Thanksgiving dinner?” asked Lewis.

               “You just told me,” said Bethany.

               “Exactly,” said Lewis. “So how many?”

               “I don’t know,” said Bethany, her voice small and frightened.

               “I’m calling Mr. Grounder,” said Lewis.


               Mr. Grounder came to the house with a folder full of printed-out articles and emails. He was a round man in his late 50s, and he wore a dark beard as if it had conquered his face and was now oppressing it. He wore plaid pajama pants, sandals, and an incongruous cream-colored sweater more typical of his usual formality. After Lewis let him inside, Mr. Grounder said, “Where’s a place we can talk with plenty of space?”

               “The dining room table?” suggested Bethany. She saw that the hair on the tops of Mr. Grounder’s feet was wet, slicked down. He must have tramped through the grass instead of using the front walk.

               Mr. Grounder sat himself at the foot of the dining room table and motioned for Bethany and Lewis to sit on either side of him, which they did. He then proceeded to strew his articles and emails all over the table. “This is everything I have on the subject,” he said, gesturing at the mess of papers.

               “What subject?” asked Lewis. “You didn’t explain anything on the phone.”

               “But you explained enough to me,” said Mr. Grounder, “for me to recognize the nature of the problem. A problem I happen to share, by the way, which is why I have so much related material saved up.”

               “You don’t know how many people we’re expecting for Thanksgiving dinner either?” asked Bethany.

               “Well, no, I don’t,” said Mr. Grounder. “But that’s only because I haven’t been told. How many people are you expecting for Thanksgiving dinner?”

               “I don’t know,” said Bethany.

               “Exactly,” said Mr. Grounder. “Lewis, how many people are expected for Thanksgiving dinner?”

               “No one,” said Lewis. “Other than our immediate family. So there will be three of us.”              

               “Ah,” said Mr. Grounder. “Three of you. And Bethany? How many? The answer is ‘three,’ of course, but I want you to tell me.”

               “I don’t know,” said Bethany.

               “Say ‘three,’” said Mr. Grounder.

               “Three,” said Bethany.

               “And that’s how many people will be at Thanksgiving dinner?” asked Mr. Grounder.

               “I don’t know,” said Bethany.

               “Exactly,” said Mr. Grounder, breaking into a broad grin. A few of his teeth looked big enough to be two teeth.

               “Exactly what?” asked Lewis.

               “The number of people expected for your Thanksgiving dinner,” said Mr. Grounder. “It’s the fact she can’t know. It’s very rare for anyone to discover the fact that they can’t know. But I did so, and now you have too, Bethany. And we know each other! What an odd coincidence. Two people who know each other each discovering the fact they can’t know.”

               Bethany waited in silence as Mr. Grounder beamed at her without blinking. He seemed to want her to share in his enthusiasm, but she couldn’t and she didn’t want to.

               “I’ll explain further,” said Mr. Grounder.

               “Please do,” said Lewis. “We were very worried. We still are. You’re saying there’s no cause for worry?”

               “None at all,” said Mr. Grounder. “It would make just as much sense to worry about having a heartbeat or being born of a mother. The truth is that, according to the experts” – he swished the papers around on the table – “we all, every single one of us, every human who exists, we all have one fact we can’t know, a single piece of information that our brains are incapable of storing as knowledge, not even for a split second.”

               Lewis frowned. “That’s not true, is it? There’s no fact that I can’t know.”

               “Oh really?” asked Mr. Grounder. His smile nearly buckled under the weight of his condescension. “And you’ve heard every fact there is? In your, what, 40-some years you’ve encountered every fact in existence? Even as new facts are being created every moment, billions of facts, trillions of facts continuously churned out by reality? And you’re certain that you’re capable of knowing all of them? You’re sure, for example, that if I told you the middle name of some medieval peasant, that you’d be able to know it, at least for a while?”

               “I…I assume so,” said Lewis, although he now seemed a bit shaken by the unguessed-at size of his claim.

               “Well, you’re probably right, in that particular case,” said Mr. Grounder. “After all, there’s only one fact you can’t know, and what are the odds that that particular medieval peasant’s name would be the one? Very, very slim odds, we’d have to agree. Which is what makes it so remarkable that the fact Bethany can’t know is a fact directly relevant to her own life! The expected number of attendees for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner! The likelihood of even discovering one’s fact that one can’t know is so small, but for that fact, as in this case, to be so personal, so relevant, it’s staggering. I myself, as I said, know the fact that I can’t know, but it’s not something that affects my life in any way, it’s only the proper spelling in English of a kind of algae that doesn’t even grow in any of the lakes around here. Big deal, big whoop. But you, Bethany! I’m even envious, in a way, because you’re close enough to the fact that you can’t know that it’s actually disrupting your life, interfering with your plans. I have a scientific mind, as you well know, that being why you even thought to call me in the first place, but even I, in a situation such as this, am forced to reckon with the possibility of outside forces reaching into our lives, at least the lives of some of us, a small amount of us, a chosen few, as some might say.”

               “I don’t believe this,” said Bethany. “None of it. How would anyone even go about studying this? How could you possibly prove this?”

               “It’s all right there,” said Mr. Grounder, pointing at the scatter of printed documents. “I expected skepticism, that’s why I brought these materials.”

               Bethany picked up the piece of paper nearest her and skimmed the block of text printed on it in a painfully small font. “This is just an email from someone demanding that you stop bothering him.”

               Mr. Grounder frowned. “Some find my enthusiasm off-putting. But I assure you, if that paper was in this folder – which it was – then it must contain some pertinent tidbits. At the very least.”

“How is anything you’ve told us helpful?” asked Lewis. “On the phone, you told me you could help.”

“What I’m saying is helpful because I’m telling you that what you’re experiencing isn’t cause for alarm,” said Mr. Grounder. “I’m putting your minds at ease.”

“So you don’t have a solution for us,” said Lewis. “Or practical advice.”

“Yes, I do,” said Mr. Grounder.

“What is it?” asked Bethany, no longer trying to sound patient.

“Well, it is not to just write the fact down on a scrap of paper that you can regularly consult. That does nothing. You can look at the fact all you want, but it won’t ever become knowledge.”

Bethany looked at Lewis and sighed.

“Please just tell Bethany what your advice is,” said Lewis.

“Simply learn a fact adjacent to the fact you can’t know,” said Mr. Grounder. “A fact you can know that gets you to the same end result.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Bethany.

“You can’t know how many people are expected for your Thanksgiving dinner,” said Mr. Grounder. “But you can know to make enough food for three people regardless of how many people are expected, yes?”

Bethany closed her eyes so as to give them a break from looking at Mr. Grounder, the appearance of whom had become tiresome.

“I’ll demonstrate,” said Mr. Grounder. “How many people are you expecting for Thanksgiving dinner, Bethany?”

“I don’t know,” said Bethany, eyes still closed.

“But how many people should you make enough food for?”

Maybe Bethany would just keep her eyes closed until Mr. Grounder left. “Three,” she said.

“Tah-dah,” said Mr. Grounder, and Bethany opened her eyes just enough to see his accompanying hand motion knock quite a few of his papers to the floor.


So, with the workaround provided by Mr. Grounder in place, Bethany was able to plan for Thanksgiving dinner despite her nagging discomfort at being unable to know how many people were expected. Was she planning a meal for three because there were only three people expected for Thanksgiving dinner? That seemed like the logical conclusion, but she couldn’t be sure. Maybe there were people expected who didn’t plan on eating, although she knew they hadn’t invited anyone like that, or anyone else, for that matter. She resisted the urge to confirm with Lewis the amount of food she was planning to make. She knew the answer was ‘enough for three people,’ she just didn’t know if she could trust that answer since she didn’t know if it actually coincided with the number of people expected for Thanksgiving dinner. But why would Lewis mislead her? Wouldn’t he want there to be the correct amount of food at Thanksgiving as much as she would? Of course he would. So she would make enough food for three people and not worry about how many people showed up to eat it.

Instead of worrying about how many people were expected for Thanksgiving dinner, Bethany worried that Mr. Grounder was wrong about everyone having one fact they couldn’t know, and that the existence of a fact that she couldn’t know might mean she was inferior to other people, inferior to her friends, inferior to Lewis and Pearl. She thought it would be a lot easier to accept the reality of the fact she couldn’t know if some people she respected – Mr. Grounder didn’t count – could also discover facts they couldn’t know. Even just one other person!

Pearl was in her bedroom trying to touch up the coloring job she’d done in a coloring book when she was four. Now, at nine, she was much better at coloring, and she was dismayed to look back at the sloppiness of her early work, she felt she had to fix it, but the process was exacting and unsatisfying. When Bethany entered her room, Pearl looked up with an expression of despair. “Could we just burn my old coloring books in the fireplace?”

“I already told you,” said Bethany. “You were little. No one cares if you colored badly when you were little. No one cares if you colored outside the lines. When you’re little, it’s cute when you color badly.”

“It’s not cute,” said Pearl. “It’s bad.” She wore her pajamas even though it was only a little after 5 p.m. She liked to change into them as soon as the sun went down. Unfortunately, the sooner she put the pajamas on, the more likely she was to forget to brush her teeth before bed since the steps of her bedtime process were linked by association in her mind.

“Well, then, just do the best you can,” said Bethany. “Or wait until you’re even older. Maybe then you’ll be better at fixing bad coloring.”

Pearl sighed at Bethany exactly as Bethany had sighed at Mr. Grounder the day before.

“But that’s not what I came in here to talk about,” said Bethany.

Pearl was again laboring over the coloring book with angry concentration.

“Did you know,” asked Bethany, “that your uncle Gary’s first car was silver?”

“No,” said Pearl.

“What color was your uncle Gary’s first car?” asked Bethany.

Pearl looked up from the coloring book. “What?”

Bethany felt her pulse quicken. “I asked you what color your uncle Gary’s first car was,” said Bethany. “I just told you. Do you remember what it was?”

“I wasn’t listening,” said Pearl. “Why would I care what color uncle Gary’s first car was?”

“It was silver,” said Bethany.

“OK,” said Pearl.

“So what color was uncle Gary’s first car?” asked Bethany.

Pearl stared at her mother for a few moments, during which Bethany’s hands became slick with sweat. Could she really have found the fact Pearl couldn’t know on the first attempt? And could that fact really be something, if not relevant to her life, then at least tangentially related? Of course, even if she had discovered the fact that Pearl couldn’t know, what if Pearl had inherited the inability to know a certain fact from Bethany? What if it was a hereditary trait? That could mean that not only was Bethany inferior, but she had also passed that inferiority onto her daughter, her innocent, beautiful, sweet-”

“Silver,” said Pearl. “Mom, are there tears in your eyes?”

“No,” said Bethany, wiping the tears from her eyes. “Did you know that we bought our current mailbox nine years ago? The same year you were born.”

Pearl closed the coloring book and began to put her crayons back in the box, too distracted by her mother’s pestering presence to continue.

“So how many years ago did we buy our current mailbox, Pearl? How many years? How many? How many years?”

“Nine,” said Pearl. She stood and walked past her mother and out of the room.

A few moments later, Lewis walked past the open door, stopping when he saw Bethany standing alone in Pearl’s room. “What are you doing in there?”

“I was trying to figure out which fact Pearl can’t know,” said Bethany. “If any.”

“Just let it go,” said Lewis. “Whether Mr. Grounder is right or not, it isn’t a big deal.” He disappeared from view beyond the edge of the doorframe.

“Lewis!” called Bethany. “Wait!”

Lewis backed into view again. “What?”

“What was I doing in here?”

Lewis shook his head.

“You don’t know?” asked Bethany. “Or you’re just annoyed and don’t want to tell me?”

“You were trying to figure out if there’s a fact Pearl can’t know,” said Lewis. “And now you’re trying the same thing with me. But you’re never going to figure it out like this. That would be crazy. You’d have better odds of winning the lottery. Or…or…” He didn’t seem to be able to come up with another thing Bethany would have better odds of doing than finding the facts her family couldn’t know by quizzing them on random facts, but his point stood.

“I know,” said Bethany. “I know.” And then, when Lewis was gone, she said “I know” a few more times. It felt good.


By the next morning, Bethany was at peace with the fact she couldn’t know. Acceptance had found her while she slept, and now, whatever, it was fine, she would make enough food for three people for Thanksgiving dinner and then move on with her life. Once Thanksgiving was past, the fact she couldn’t know would be packed away safely in the past and she’d never have to think about it again. Even when she thought back to this Thanksgiving, she would recollect how many people were actually present, not how many had been expected. Did she remember how many people had been expected at any of the previous Thanksgiving dinners of her life? No. Maybe some notable absences stood out – the year her brother Gary was deployed overseas, the year her grandma was in the hospital, the year her uncle Roderick refused to attend because he was having paranoid delusions about people sneaking into his house to repaint certain walls incrementally darker shades of white – but the actual expected headcounts at those events were long gone, lost to time.

But while Bethany was at the Diamond Foods buying enough food to serve three people Thanksgiving dinner, another blow blindsided her and left her reeling. She wasn’t even there to buy cereal, she was only cutting down the cereal aisle to get to the dairy cooler at the back of the store, but as she passed the wall of multicolored boxes, many of them depicting grinning cartoon characters holding cereal-laden spoons aloft, her eyes happened to land on the price tag for family-sized boxes of Grainy Bunch Bits, and she was shocked, then horrified to discover that she could not know the price printed on the tag. She could see it, she could identify the numerals, but she could not know the price. Her eyes scanned the other nearby tags and encountered no resistance: $3.79, $4.39, $4.19. But the price of the Grainy Bunch Bits denied her. That’s how she saw it. Not that her brain was denying this second fact, but that this second fact was denying her, refusing her, rejecting her.

She left her cart in the middle of the cereal aisle and drove home in a fog. Lewis was in the garage when Bethany pulled the car in and turned it off. He peered through the window at the empty back seat and, his voice muffled by the glass, said, “Where are the groceries? I’ll help you carry them in. Are they in the trunk?”  

Bethany got out of the car, brushed past Lewis, and went into the house, tossing her purse onto the kitchen table where it toppled and spilled half of its contents onto the seat of a chair. Still wearing her half-buttoned knee-length black coat, Bethany swept through the living room, down the hall, and out the front door where she dropped into a molded plastic chair on the porch and attempted to identify the exact nature of the emotions now detonating inside of her. Fear. Shame. Anger.

The front door opened and Lewis poked his head out. “Where are the groceries?”

“At the grocery store,” said Bethany. She wished for a little table, a railing, something to prop her feet on, but there was nothing.

“What happened?” asked Lewis. “You got hung up on how many people we’re expecting for-?”

“No,” said Bethany. She didn’t want to explain.

Lewis watched her in silence for a while longer, Bethany could feel his eyes searching the side of her face for clues. Then he said, “Well, text me the list and I’ll go get the groceries.”

“All right,” said Bethany.

A few minutes later, as Lewis backed his car out of the garage, he stopped in the driveway to stick his head out the window and say, “Remember to text me the list.”

“I’m doing it now,” said Bethany, and she took her phone out of her coat pocket and waggled it at Lewis until he had driven out of sight. But instead of texting the grocery list to Lewis, she called Mr. Grounder.

He answered after the fifth ring. “I’m sorry for the delay,” he said. “I forgot that I changed my ringtone to a disconcerting hissing noise this morning, and when it started going off just now, I thought, well, what’s that sound? The fact that it was coming from my own pocket made it even more troubling. If one is to hear a disconcerting hissing noise, one hopes that it will be from some distance away. Unless, of course, the noise is the ringtone of one’s own phone, which in my case, it was.”

“You’re wrong,” said Bethany. “You and all your experts.”

“I beg your pardon?” said Mr. Grounder.

Closing her eyes didn’t help on a phone call. Bethany couldn’t help but envision his expression, and it was annoying. “You said everyone has one fact they can’t know,” said Bethany. “One. That’s what you said.”

“Indeed, yes,” said Mr. Grounder. “All my sources agree, all the experts.”

“Then they’re all wrong,” said Bethany. “Because I found another fact I can’t know. A second fact.”

From the other end of the connection came only Mr. Grounder’s rapid breathing.

“Which means,” said Bethany, “that there could be more. Right? Why should it stop at two? Why not three? Why not thousands?”

“What’s the fact?” asked Mr. Grounder, his voice laden with yearning.

“The price of family-sized boxes of Grainy Bunch Bits at the Diamond Foods,” said Bethany.

“Incredible,” said Mr. Grounder, breathless with wonder. “A second fact. And it, like the first, is directly related to your own life, a fact that matters to you!”

“No,” said Bethany. “I wasn’t going to buy any cereal. I was shopping for Thanksgiving dinner.”

But Mr. Grounder would not be brought down. “This is a major breakthrough,” he said. “I’ll need to send some emails, many emails, immediately! And won’t they be pleased to hear from me this time, those experts? Won’t they regret their melodramatic pleas to be left alone? Why, were I to leave them alone now, I’d be excluding them from the most substantial discovery in the field of facts we can’t know in decades!”

“So you don’t think this is just me?” asked Bethany. “You think everyone might have multiple facts they can’t know, and I’m just the first to find that out? By sheer coincidence?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Grounder. “That’s what I think.”

“But you’re not an expert,” said Bethany.

“No,” he said.

The phone buzzed in Bethany’s hand. It was a text from Lewis wondering why she hadn’t yet sent him the grocery list. She hung up without saying goodbye to Mr. Grounder. Perusing the list again before texting it to Lewis, she couldn’t help but think that it looked like either too much or not enough food, and then she mentally stomped that thought to death.


On Thanksgiving morning, Bethany and Lewis got up early to start cooking. Lewis wasn’t good in the kitchen, but he wanted to help. Bethany suspected that this desire to help was actually a cover for what he really wanted to do: keep an eye on her to make sure her ignorance of the number of people expected for Thanksgiving dinner didn’t result in her making too much or not enough food. He kept commenting on the amounts of ingredients, the sizes of serving dishes. “Yep!” he’d say. “That’s the perfect number of potatoes to make enough mashed potatoes for three people.”

Eventually, Pearl got up and ate a late breakfast at the kitchen table as Bethany and Lewis worked around her. Lewis encouraged Pearl to eat a second bowl of cereal since they didn’t plan on serving Thanksgiving dinner until 2 p.m. Shortly before noon, when Bethany had an opportunity to sit down while various dishes baked, cooled, chilled, and so on, the doorbell rang. Bethany and Lewis looked at each other in alarm. Was this a guest, a fourth for the meal whether expected or unexpected? They went to the door together. It was Mr. Grounder, print-outs spilling out of his arms and drifting around his feet. He wore a too-tight gray sweatshirt and jeans both high-water and drooping with his ever-present sandals. A leaf, actively crumbling, stuck to the side of his head.

“Mr. Grounder,” said Lewis. “What’s going on?”

Bethany said nothing. She still hadn’t told Lewis about the second fact she couldn’t know, and she wasn’t thrilled that this was how he was going to find out.

“I’ve heard back from several of the experts,” said Mr. Grounder. “Regarding the recent developments in your case, Bethany.”

“My ‘case?’”

“Well, whatever you prefer to call it,” said Mr. Grounder. “And I should add that not every expert I contacted has responded constructively, or at all, so this can’t be called a unanimous position, although the position is unanimous among those who responded constructively, by which I mean they expressed a position on your case instead of – or in some cases, in addition to – expressing more personal grievances related to myself.”

“What recent developments?” asked Lewis, addressing his question to Bethany.

“I couldn’t know the price of Grainy Bunch Bits at the Diamond Foods yesterday,” said Bethany, her voice casual. But, really, who was she fooling? If she was so casual about it, how would Mr. Grounder know?

“Yes, that,” said Mr. Grounder. “A second fact she can’t know. Really extraordinary, really, really. And I explained it all in detail to the experts – as much detail as you gave me, Bethany – and they’re all in agreement, as I said, or at least those who responded with something other than complaints or abuse.”

“What did they say?” asked Bethany. And she asked with trepidation, yes, because even though she didn’t trust these so-called experts, what other source of potential comfort could there be?

“You’re an anomaly,” said Mr. Grounder. “That’s what they say.”

“Meaning what?” asked Bethany. “That I’m the only person in the world with two facts I can’t know? Everyone else can’t know only one, but there’s two I can’t know, so I’m worse than everyone else? That’s what these experts are saying in between begging you to stop contacting them?”

“Worse?” said Mr. Grounder. “No, not worse. How would you be worse?”

“Because being able to know something is better than not being able to know something!” said Bethany, her temper slip-sliding away from her.

Lewis put a hand on her shoulder and Bethany had to tense every muscle in her body to keep from slapping it off.

“Perhaps,” said Mr. Grounder, his tone indicative of someone in the midst of failing to properly read a moment, “you should be more thankful for the many facts you do know rather than focusing on the two that you can’t. It is Thanksgiving, after all!”

“And where are you having Thanksgiving dinner?” asked Bethany, her voice only steady because it would maximize the pain of her following thrust.

“At home,” said Mr. Grounder. “Alone.”

“Well, too bad you can’t join us,” said Bethany. “We only made enough for three people.”


The human left devastation in its wake. Ruin, heartache, and the like. Black cars full of hushed men and women followed from a distance, helicopters hovered in the grayed sky overhead. The human wore khakis and a blue polo shirt, all spattered and stained from its dreadful activity. It wore no shoes, and its socks, advertised as the most comfortable in the world, were blackened, shredded. Despite the human’s rough appearance, it stalked through Multioak with what appeared to be, but was not, purpose, its stride unfaltering. Some efforts at evacuation were made, but the human’s erratic path thwarted those efforts. In the end, the only solution – not really a solution, even – was to broadcast warnings accompanied by images of the human. Warnings of this nature: “DO NOT INTERACT WITH THIS HUMAN” and “AVOID THIS HUMAN AT ALL COSTS.”

The problem was that a lot of Multioak residents were not seeing these warnings. They were eating Thanksgiving dinner, spending time with their families, napping. Then there was an attempt to use a loudspeaker on the helicopter to tell people to stay inside, but it was too garbled, and people kept coming out of their houses to try to figure out what the man in the helicopter was saying. And sometimes those people came into contact with the human, the worst possible outcome, the opposite of what the loudspeaker warnings were meant to achieve.

Having reached a point deep in the heart of one of Multioak’s least remarkable neighborhoods, a secret impulse seemed to drive the human to veer from the middle of the residential street, cross the sidewalk, and cut between two houses, disappearing from the view of those in the following cars. The helicopter pilot, in radio contact with the cars, shouted, “It’s approaching the back of a house! It’s knocking on the patio door!”

               The cars stopped, the passengers spilling out and chasing after the human on foot, their matching yellow coats all making identical zip-zop noises as they pumped their arms. When the human came again into view, they slowed, creeping forward with maximum wariness, stopping at the edge of the yard.

               One of the women raised a bullhorn and, at the exact same moment that the patio door opened, called, “DO NOT ANSWER THE DOOR!”


               A human stood on Bethany’s patio, regarding her with desperate contempt. Lewis was in the bathroom, Pearl was upstairs refusing to take a holiday from revising her old coloring books. “Can I help you?” asked Bethany. “Are you hurt?” She saw no visible injuries.


               Bethany, craning her neck to look beyond the human in front of her, noticed the group of agitated people in matching coats at the far end of her property. Returning her attention to the human at her door, Bethany asked, “Why are they saying not to speak to you? Are you a criminal?”

               The human neither spoke nor made any other sound. Its jaw was extremely tight.


               “What’s so dangerous about it?” Bethany called back.


               “And that’s dangerous?” asked Bethany.

               “IN THE HIGHEST POSSIBLE DEGREE,” called the woman with the bullhorn. “WE CANNOT OVERSTATE THE DANGER.”

               Bethany, addressing the human at her door, said, “Why don’t you come inside?”

               As the human crossed the threshold into Bethany’s home, the bullhorn woman and her colleagues without bullhorns all shouted “NO! NO! NO! NO!” Their consternation was still audible after Bethany closed the door, but less abrasive, at least.

               “Who’s this?” asked Lewis as he returned to the dining room, his smile forced. “What’s going on?”

               “We have a guest,” said Bethany.

               Lewis appraised the human with apparent distaste. “Are you hungry? We have plenty of leftovers.”

               Bethany interpreted this as a shot at her even though Lewis had supervised every quantity-related decision of the meal. “It doesn’t want food,” said Bethany.

               “Oh?” said Lewis. “Then what does it want?”

               “No one knows,” said Bethany. “Except for me. Maybe you’ve heard? I’m an anomaly.”

               The human waited patiently as Bethany stepped into her shoes, put on her coat, took her purse from the shelf in the closet. It followed her to the garage, got into the passenger’s seat of her car, buckled its own seatbelt.

               Lewis knocked on the driver’s side window. “How long will you be gone?”

               “It depends,” said Bethany. She pressed the button to open the garage door, turned the key in the ignition.

               “Depends on what?” asked Lewis.

But Bethany was backing out of the garage, down the driveway. Lewis wouldn’t hear her even if she answered his question, so she didn’t bother.

               As the yellow-coated followers streamed back into the street and piled into their cars, as the helicopter flew in flustered circles above, as her favorite radio station shouted at low volume for Bethany to turn back, she smiled to herself. “We might have to break in,” she told the human, who did not look at her. “The Diamond Foods is closed on Thanksgiving. I wish I could just tell you, but I can’t. But it’s right there on the price tag, and I can point it out to you. I know right where to look.”

Discussion Questions

  • Is stuffing good?

  • If there was a fact that only you could know, what would you want that fact to be, and would you still want to know it if that meant that there would be one additional fact that you couldn’t know?

  • What’s a fact you don’t know that you’d be upset to discover is a fact that you can’t know?

  • What’s the fact you know that you’d least mind not being able to know?

  • What number of facts do you think it’s most likely that you can’t know?