The Geiger Counter

Matt Geiger is a Midwest Book Award Winner, a national American Book Fest Finalist, and an international Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist. He is also the winner of numerous journalism awards. His books include “Astonishing Tales!* (Your Astonishment May Vary)” and “Raised by Wolves & Other Stories.” He once won an axe-throwing competition.
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Wolf in the Story

Medieval people believed a wolf could steal your voice if it saw you before you saw it. Because of this, if you were with friends and stopped speaking, someone would often exclaim, “Lupus est in fabula!” which means “Wolf in the story!”*

I am unlikely to bump into many gray wolves where I live. Most of Wisconsin’s more than 1,000 large wolves live to the north of me. But I do see their wily cousin, the prairie or brush wolf, AKA the coyote, all the time. As a hunter and hiker, I spend as much time as I can in the woods, and, more often than not, as I sit quietly and observe, I see these ruddy canines loping, leaping and looking for something to eat. They trot by, through cornfields and under trees, fat and furry. They are yellow-eyed and sometimes they appear and then vanish without abiding by any rules of physics. 

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One day, someone dumped a puppy at the gate of a ranch in Oklahoma. The dirt leading to it was hard umber, snaked with tire tracks. On the fence to the right hung a large, orange “NO TRESPASSING” sign. Far in the distance, low white buildings housed people and animals. Chestnut horses grazed on tawny grass inside the fence. 

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My sister-in-law doesn’t like hobbits, she informed us at dinner last week.

“Why not?” my wife asked.

“Their feet,” she replied bluntly. “And their optimism.”

She still loves the stories and worlds they inhabit, of course, but she thinks their naivety is annoying. The fact that she has such strong feelings about them makes them feel even more real, though. She has never tried to argue that they don’t exist; only that she thinks they need to stop being such idiots (and maybe shave their feet).

The thing is, hobbits live in stories. So do countless dragons and heroes. And living in a story is more important than anything else. It is a bastion of immortality and a reservoir of meaning. People can live in stories even if they never set foot in the “real” world, and if we are very lucky and try very hard, we, too, can live on in stories long after our bodies decay and rot.

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A Mangy Dog Story

Every year I try to write about a stray dog. 

It was 20 years ago, in Alabama. We were staying with my girlfriend’s family for the holidays, and we saw the miserable creature trotting down the side of a lonely, gothic country road one morning, through a haze. She looked like an extra in “The Walking Dead.” Her coat was nearly gone, the skin gnarled and blotted by mange. Her xylophone ribs insisted on the edges of the body. She seemed, and I didn’t even know this was physically possible until then, to be limping on all four legs. I couldn’t tell if her coat had been brindle, or if it was simply striped by scars and dried mud.

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The Ambiguity of Origins

The first meat our daughter ever ate was turkey. It was Thanksgiving, and I gave her a few tiny pieces, along with a dollop of sweet potato. There is something slightly epic about watching someone gnaw on food for the very first time. 

I told her the thing she was enjoying was called “turkey,” which it turns out is slightly incorrect.

Here in the United States, we call these birds “turkeys.” We call them that because we thought, due to old trade routes, that they were from Turkey. They are not. 

In Turkey, people knew they were not from there, so they decided to call them “hindi,” which means “from India.”

They are not from India, either. 

The Scottish call it “Cearc frangach” (the French chicken), and to the Greeks it is either “The French bird” or “the Egyptian rooster,” depending on who you asked. As an astute reader, you probably guessed, quite correctly, that the bird is not originally from either of these places. 

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One winter night, I fell asleep on the couch. When I woke up to go to bed, I first went into the garage to make sure the light there was off. This is part of being a responsible homeowner. 

What’s NOT part of being a responsible homeowner is groggily slapping the garage door opener on your way back into the house. It’s pure muscle memory, because most of the time, when you leave the garage for the house, you have just gotten out of your car, and the garage door needs to be shut. On this particular night, the garage door did not need to be shut, because it hadn’t been open in the first place. On this particular night, it was -7º outside. On this particular night, I went into my bedroom and slept like a baby, without a care in the world. 

You might think: “Oh, so your garage got a little cold. Who cares?”  

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All You Can Eat

When I was little, my parents used to stay up late with their friends, drinking wine and watching the fireflies zip across the dark fields below as they talked about very important, very grown up topics. I would catch snippets of their conversations from the top of the stairs or through my bedroom window.

“Iran Contra!”

“Embryo Transplant!”

“Dan Quayle… spelling bee… potato!”

I didn’t know what they were talking about, but it all sounded exotic and significant. I wished I could stay up late, through the night, to hear what they had to say.

Today, I am the age they were then, and I can assure you that if you eavesdrop on ANY adult conversation you will simply hear a groggy person with an uninteresting job listing all the foods they think they might be allergic to. That, apparently, is what passes for enlightened conversation these days.

“I can’t digest dairy,” I said to someone not long ago.

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The Bear Cub...

My daughter, who is seven, recently put on a sweatshirt, pulled the hood down low over her face, and pretended to gaze vacantly into an imaginary phone in her hand, oblivious to the magnificent world around her.

“Look at me, dad,” she said in an apathetic monotone, her best impersonation of a dullard. “I’m a teenager.”

It was funny, but also a bit darkly prescient, like me lying down on the ground and joking: “Look at me, I’m dead of old age.” The next stage of your life always seems exciting, until the final one, I guess.

I often feel like I am the luckiest person on the planet, because seven is not 16, and I still have this person here by my side, for a few more years, always ready for some new adventure or lesson or story. Always eager to investigate the next mystery, as the world gradually unfolds before her.

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Beyond Good & Bad

A woman won the lottery. All of her friends stopped by to congratulate her. 

“You won $10 million!” they said. “That’s great! You are so lucky.”

“Maybe,” she replied. 

Her friends, who were sure they understood far more of the world than they actually did, walked away shaking their heads, puzzled by her response.

A few months later, the woman bought her son, who was 19, a car with some of the money. It was new and shiny, and full of fancy electronic features. One day, while driving to class, the new car slid on some ice and smashed into another vehicle. The young man’s leg was badly broken. 

“You will walk with a limp for the rest of your life,” said the doctor. “Physical therapy will take many months, maybe years.” 

The woman’s friends all called to offer their condolences. 

“We’re so sorry your son was injured!” they said. “What a horrible accident! This is terrible.”

“Maybe,” the woman replied. 

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The Tooth Fairy

I remember seeing a trailer 11 years ago for a movie called “The Tooth Fairy.” It was a film in which a wrestler called The Rock played an aging and jaded hockey player who went by the nickname, “The Tooth Fairy” because he knocked out so many players’ teeth. At some point, he convinces a young child not to believe in miracles and is therefore punished by the gods and forced to work as an actual tooth fairy, collecting incisors from under various pillows. 

It looked horrendous. 

“Can you imagine?!” I said to my wife at the time. “Can you imagine spending two hours watching that?!!”

The premise seemed like the laconic fever dream of a chronically uninspired writer who harbored deep contempt for the audience. It was begging for a sequel in which retired NBA superstar Karl “The Mailman” Malone was forced to put on a blue postal uniform and deliver Amazon packages because he told a kid that letter writing was a dead art. 


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