by John Wyatt
Ralph Conner leaned back and admired his ad, neatly written on a 3x5 card. This was his most brilliant idea yet! This was even better than when his best-friend Billy had raffled his pancreas. After selling raffle tickets to nearly half the high school, Billy had rigged the drawing and split the take with the “winner,” who promptly announced that he would defer taking possession of the organ until after Billy had left this Earthly abode. At only 10 cents a ticket, nobody was concerned about the honesty of the raffle; they were just curious to see just how one goes about raffling an internal organ.
Ralph had decided to take the idea one step further by placing an ad in the local newspaper, just in time for Christmas. No matter what bid was given, he would simply tell everyone that theirs was the highest bid, collect everyone’s money, and send them each a toy rubber brain. By the time anyone complained, he would be off to college with a fistful of cash!
Ralph whirled about to see his younger sister, Sharon, standing only inches behind him.
“Get out of my room! Can’t you see this is private!” Ralph yelled.
“Harrumph! No one will ever buy your brain.”
“And why not, Sharalike?”
“That’s not my name!” she shrieked.
“Sharon Sharalike! That’s your name!” Ralph taunted. Even at 15 she still got as upset as she did at 6, when Ralph had first coined the moniker. For years, Ralph and his friends teased her; grabbing her toys and running away chanting “Share and Share Alike! Sharon Sharalike!” Ralph’s friends had stopped the teasing once puberty hit, but Ralph still enjoyed needling his younger sister.
“Why do you think no one will want to buy my brain?” Ralph asked, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Because, smarty pants, everyone knows that males don’t HAVE brains! Nyaahhh!” She stuck out her tongue in challenge. “Besides, nobody buys from the newspaper want ads anymore. And even if they did, this time of year you’ll have all the Christmas ads to compete with. Nobody will even notice your ad!”
For once, Ralph was stumped. What if she was right? What if nobody reads the ‘for sale’ ads anymore? But he could not let his sister have the final word.
“I’m … not using the newspaper. I’m .. I’m selling it on e-Bay! Yeah! Everybody uses e-Bay these days!”
Sharon gasped. “You’re selling your BRAIN on e-Bay?? Are you insane? Oh, of course you are – you’re a boy!”
“I’m a MAN!” Ralph shouted. “I’m nearly old enough to vote!”
“Yeah, if you get another 150 billion more brain cells!” Sharon rolled her eyes as she taunted her older brother. “Besides, even if males HAD brains, which they don’t, they wouldn’t be measured in ‘pounds’.”
“Yeah, Sharalike, and what would they be measured in? Megatons?”
“Inches!” Sharon stuck out her tongue one last time and pranced out of Ralph’s bedroom. She paused at the door and commented “or millimeters, in your case,” then she ran, giggling at her own cleverness.
“I’ll teach her.” Ralph muttered to himself. “I’ll make a TON of cash selling my brain. I’ll have enough to buy my own car. Then she’ll be begging me to take her for rides.”
Ralph turned on his laptop computer – an early high school graduation gift from his parents. As the computer whirred to life, Ralph imagined all the great stuff he could buy with all the cash he was going to make.
Despite their squabbles, Ralph and Sharon got along rather well. They each believed in the inherent superiority of their own gender and were each convinced that the other was blessed to have them as a sibling. They defended each other in tough times and provided counseling with boyfriend/girlfriend problems. Squabbling was simply what they did when they were not busy helping each other out of trouble. So when Ralph knocked on Sharon’s bedroom door, he didn’t doubt for a second that he could obtain her help with his latest technical problem.
“What now, Ralphie?” came her muttered reply.
“How do you know I’m not Dad?”
“Because you sound like Ralphie!”
“You didn’t know that when I knocked!” Ralph was growing impatient.
“I have secret cameras watching the hallway.” Sharon retorted. “Nothing happens here without my knowing it.”
“YOU DO NOT!” Ralph bellowed as he opened her door and entered.
“You’re supposed to wait until I say it’s okay to enter.” Sharon sneered. “I might not be – decent!”
“Tough. Look, sis, I need your help with something.”
Sharon understood that he was serious when he said ‘sis.’ “What do you need?”
“I can’t figure out how to put this ad together. I wanted to put a picture of a brain together with my ad, so everyone would know that I meant the organ and not a game or something else. You’re the computer whiz – can you help me figure out how to do this?” He set his laptop on her dresser, giving her his most wistful look.
“I’m sure I can find some decent clipart of a brain to go with your ad. Just give me a few minutes to put something together.”
“Thanks, sis. I really appreciate it.”
Ten minutes later, Sharon showed him an ad layout with his original wording and a small, pea-sized picture in one corner, labeled “My Brain – Actual Size.”
“Funny, Sharalike, very funny.”
“I figured they’d insist on truth in advertising.” Sharon giggled. Then she showed him the same ad with a more normal looking brain.
“Thanks, sis. That looks good.”
“I don’t know if e-Bay has a specific format for their ads, since I’ve never used them before. I guess we’ll find out soon enough. Oh, Ralph…?”
“Have you thought about how you’re going to extract your brain? Or what you’ll do afterwards? I mean, without a brain, you probably won’t be able to get much work – except maybe in politics.”
“Ha ha – very funny. I’m not going to give them my brain – I’m going to give out rubber brains.”
Sharon shifted away from the computer screen. “Ralph, you know you might really get into trouble with this. E-Bay might call this fraud. You could get in real trouble. Are you sure you want to go through with this?”
“Definitely! I have it all figured out. First, I’m a minor, and they can’t do much to minors. Second, e-Bay isn’t the one being de-frauded, the customer is. Third, it isn’t really fraud because they will be getting a brain – in fact, everyone will be getting a brain, so everyone is a winner. And I never said it would be an organic, fully thinking brain.”
“How about sending them a bunch of rocks instead? They’d believe those came out of your head.”
“Funny, ha ha.” Ralph grumped.
“And they’d have twice your IQ! People would be thrilled to get rocks!” Sharon chortled.
“That’s so funny I forgot to laugh. Maybe I’ll give them your brain instead.”
“At least they’d be getting a high quality brain. But I only have one brain, so you’d have to pick a single winner. Say, have you thought about how to collect the money? I mean, you can’t just give out our address and say ‘mail me your cash’! Anybody who felt cheated might end up stalking you! And Mom and Dad would get suspicious if money started appearing on their credit card account.”
“I have that part all figured out, miss Smart Brain. Mom is giving me one of those Green Cards, or something. It’s a pre-paid Visa card. I’ll just give out that number on a PayPal account and get the money deposited directly into it.”
“Are you sure those cards work that way?” Sharon was getting worried that her brother might actually get into trouble with this scheme.
“Well, I’ll find out. If not, I can always get a P.O. box. People always have to send away to P.O. boxes for stuff. If anybody complains, I’ll just say I was a victim of identity theft and it wasn’t me.”
“I hope nothing bad happens. It’s going to be quiet enough with you going off to college next year. It would be worse if you were in jail. Please, promise you won’t let this get out of hand.”
“Gee, Miss Conscience, I didn’t know you cared. Okay, I promise I won’t let it get out of hand. If I get enough to buy a car, I can give you rides on weekends when I’m home.”
Ralph and Sharon sat pondering the wonderful things he could buy, until at last they heard their mother’s voice calling them to dinner. By then, the dollar signs in their eyes had overcome all caution and Ralph was ready to launch his ad.
Bidding was slow. Ralph’s brain had been posted under “Weird Stuff” for over a week and so far there were only three bids – and one of those was Sharon’s. Ralph hoped that the bidding would pickup before his window of opportunity closed. There had been a few snide inquiries from the “Ask the seller a question” screen and Sharon had entered a few positive comments under the “Rate the seller” section using her own account. Ralph had even created a screen name in YaBlue Chat just for the occasion, trying to generate interest in his product. But the deadline was nearing and Sharon’s bid of $2.00 was still the top bid.
Ralph’s computer screen displayed a YaBlue chat window with the message: [Jimmy2726] “You still got that brain for sale?”
Ralph had seen the user name “Jimmy2726” once before. Some people had user names that were similar to their real names; he hated it when people used egotistic user names like “DemonSlayer666” or “WorldsGreatestLover.” Ralph felt that people who used their real names were probably trustworthier, so Ralph felt comfortable chatting with user Jimmy2726.
[Ralphie1] “Yep. Practically like new. You never know when a spare brain will come in handy.”
[Jimmy2726] “Yours, or someone else’s?”
[Ralphie1] “Mine, of course. I got no other use for it. My sister keeps saying that men don’t need brains.”
[Jimmy2726] “I don’t mind buying your brain, I just want to make sure it isn’t fake or anything. I need a real one.”
[Ralphie1] “Sure, it’s real enough.”
[Jimmy2726] “I gotta be careful. A lotta folks post scams on e-Bay. I learned how to investigate things to make sure I wasn’t getting scammed. I’ve been scammed before.”
[Ralphie1] “That’s why I posted my YaBlue screen name, so we could chat about it. I also got a website with a picture of my brain on it. My sister showed me how to do that from an MRI I had a couple years ago. Apparently, our high-speed Internet plan comes with some space for a personal web site.”
[Jimmy2726] “Great. Send me the URL and I’ll check it out.”
[Ralphie1] “It’s www.geocities.com/ralphieshouse.”
[Jimmy2726] “I’ll check it out and get back to you.”
[Ralphie1] “Well, just how much had you planned on spending for a brain, anyway? I mean, it’s going to be a lot of trouble getting it out, so I want to make sure I’m getting a good price.”
There was no response. Apparently, “Jimmy2726” had already signed off.
The next day, Ralph found the following message in his e-mail:
Subject: Brain for Sale
I hope this message finds you ok. You met me as “Jimmy2726” in YaBlue chat. You’re probably wondering how I got your e-mail address. I told you, I learned how to investigate things ever since I got scammed a couple of times. You’d be amazed at how much personal information has to be given by Internet providers, especially when you have a web page. Anyway, I am very interested in buying your brain. Mine has been compromised since last December. I’ll be entering my bid in eBay soon. I’ll make sure nobody outbids me. I’ll arrange to have the money deposited into your PayPal account.
Ralph showed the message to Sharon with a growing sense of alarm. How much more information might this person have obtained?
“Gee, Ralphie, I don’t know what to say. I heard about something called a “Who Is” Internet search – I’ll try that and see if I can find out who this guy is.”
“Thanks, sis. I’ll owe you for this.”
An hour’s search through the Internet had turned up nothing on the e-mail address JimAssert@YaBlue.com or on the screen name “Jimmy2726”; however, Sharon had discovered a wealth of information about themselves! Apparently, anyone who registers a domain name on the Web has to have a certain amount of information publicly available.
“I guess the web site wasn’t such a good idea, huh?” Ralph sighed. “Still, how bad can it be? I mean, this isn’t anything that you can’t get from a regular telephone book.”
The You’ve Got Mail tone chimed from Ralph’s computer. It was another message from his mysterious bidder.
I have entered my bid for $10,000 for your brain. I hope that is a fair price.
Ralph gasped. He logged into his eBay account and verified the bid. $10,000! He was rich!
“Uh, Ralphie?” Sharon queried. “For that price, don’t you think this guy will get a bit annoyed at a rubber brain? Do you think he’ll want your real brain?”
“I thought you said I don’t have one?” Ralph sneered.
“I’m serious, Ralph. That’s a lot of money. I’ll bet he wants your real brain.” Sharon sounded worried, but Ralph saw only dollar signs.
“Who cares? For $10,000 he can be as pissed off as he wants!” Ralph clicked the “reply” button on Jim’s e-mail.
$10,000 is fine. I’ll be able to buy lots of Christmas presents for that amount of money. My nosy sister wants to know why you’re willing to pay so much for my brain (a boy brain at that).
The reply came within minutes.
As I said earlier, my original brain has been compromised. I don’t care about Christmas presents – I just hope you don’t have a Christmas tree. It’s already December and I didn’t think to ask before. You don’t, do you?
Ralph’s Instant Message window chimed as user “Jimmy2726” logged in.
[Jimmy2726] “I see you’re online now. This is faster than e-mail. I’m sorry I didn’t think to ask earlier, but since it’s nearing the holidays, I thought I’d better ask about the Christmas tree before I paid good money for a brain.”
“Who the heck is this guy?” Sharon hissed.
“I don’t know, but if he’s going to pay me $10,000, I’m going to be nice to him!”
[Ralphie1] “Mom always wants a real tree, but Dad says they are such a mess. We always end up with a fake tree. Anyway, we don’t have one yet. Why?”
[Jimmy2726] “Good. Fake trees make good decoys. I was worried for a moment that you might have a real Christmas tree. That’s how my last brain was compromised.”
[Ralphie1] “By a Christmas tree? I didn’t realize they were hazardous to ones’ brain?”
[Jimmy2726] “They aren’t really trees.”
Sharon pushed Ralph aside. “Let me drive…I’ll pretend I’m you. All I have to do is forget half of everything that I know.”
“Very funny, Sharalike.” But Ralph relinquished his position at the keyboard. Sharon continued the conversation for her brother.
[Ralphie1] “So, if they aren’t really trees, then what are they?”
There was a long pause before the reply came.
[Jimmy2726] “You ever notice those Christmas tree lots? Every year, the same street corner, rows and rows of trees. The same thing, every year.”
[Ralphie1] “Yes, they bring the trees in from tree farms. What about it?”
[Jimmy2726] “So they claim. ‘Tree farms’ Ha! Like they expect me to believe that.”
[Ralphie1] “Then where do they come from?”
[Jimmy2726] “Tell me, what do you see on those very same lots, just a couple months before the trees appear? Every year, same lot, same thing.”
Sharon and Ralph racked their brains but couldn’t think of an answer to this question.
[Jimmy2726] “Pumpkins. Every fall. The same corner lots every year. Rows and rows of pumpkins. That’s where the trees come from. Haven’t you ever wondered why, only a month after the pumpkins are all gone, there is a sudden rash of Christmas trees in the very same spot? All lined up like soldiers?”
[Ralphie1] “Uh, because the same lots sell both trees and pumpkins?”
[Jimmy2726] “No. The trees are *planted* by the pumpkins. Once the tree seed has been dropped, the pumpkin is no longer needed. It can be discarded. Then, about a month later, the trees spring up fully-grown. The trees have everything they need – except feet. That’s where we come in. They invented ‘Christmas’ so that we’ll go to the corner lots and buy the ‘trees’, deploying them into our own homes. We are their feet. Insidious, isn’t it? Using our own feet to deploy Christmas trees into our homes!”
[Ralphie1] “Uh, yeah. So, who’s behind it? The government?”
[Jimmy2726] “The aliens. That’s where the pumpkins come from. You didn’t think that pumpkins were natural, did you? Aliens drop them onto the corner lots to plant their seeds. Then, when the Christmas trees are ready to deploy, along come the innocent humans to carry these Christmas tree aliens into their homes. It’s not just insidious – it’s downright Evil.”
“Raphie,” Sharon interjected, “this guy sounds like a certified whacko. I’d back out of this now if I were you.”
“But he’s paying me $10,000!” Ralph whined. “I don’t care if he’s crazy, as long as he pays well!”
[Jimmy2726] “At night, the Christmas tree comes to life, sneaks into your room and removes your brain – replacing it with an alien brain. That’s how they take us over. That’s also why I need a new brain. Mine was compromised last December when my roommate brought in a Christmas tree.”
[Ralphie1] “Uh, well, as much as I’d like to sell you my brain, I’ve had some technical difficulties with the extraction. I…I haven’t figured out how to get it out by myself.”
“ Sharon! Don’t spoil the deal!” Ralph pouted. “I’ll never get a chance to make this much easy money again!”
[Jimmy2726] “Not to worry. I can handle the extraction myself. I practiced on my roommate.”
Ralph felt a chill run down his back.
[Jimmy2726] “ 11300 Deer Grove Lane. That’s your address, isn’t it? In Lakehurst? Did I get it right? I’m sure I got it right from my investigation. I just posted the deposit to your account. I’ll be by later tonight to collect. I have my own tools.”
Sharon yanked the Internet cable from the computer and turned out the lights. The two sat and shivered in darkness for nearly an hour before they heard their parents calling them to dinner. They sat in sullen silence throughout the entire meal, not even responding when their dad promised them an extra special treat. Ralph’s mother noticed his pallor and took his temperature, but Ralph was pronounced well and was released with only a spoonful of Pepto-Bismol. He and Sharon both went to bed early.
The phone rang twice that night. Ralph heard his name being called to the phone, but declined, saying he still wasn’t feeling well. He heard his dad apologize to whoever was on the phone. Sharon came by about 10pm and they sat up reading, pretending not to hear the noise their parents were making downstairs. A few times they heard their dad calling to them to see something special, but they ignored him. They fell asleep about midnight, only to be rudely awakened in the very early morning hours…
Article in the Our Region section of the following day’s paper:
One fatality was reported in a late night break-in in Lakehurst. The home at 11300 Deer Grove Lane was broken into sometime after 2am on the morning of the 15th. The burglar had gained entry via a side bay window that had been left unlocked. In the darkness, the burglar failed to notice a large Christmas tree that had been setup near the window. The burglar apparently became caught in the branches and was entangled in the wiring. The father later reported that he had hastily erected the tree earlier that evening and was unaware that the lights were frayed, which resulted in the accidental electrocution of the hapless burglar. The body was found early the next morning, draped in the Christmas tree’s branches. His burglar’s bag included an odd array of surgical knives, a bone saw, and a small padded bag filled with dry ice. The identity and purpose of this strange burglar remains unknown. Anyone with any knowledge is encouraged to call the Lakehurst Police Department.
- LAST WEEK TO BUY CHRISTMAS TREES! -