G-6VF7EYJMP6 Forty Stories -"Alone" - A Little English

Episode 17

Forty Stories - "Alone"

This is a story about popcorn, mostly. It's also about religion and weddings and cleaning. But mostly it's a story about microwave popcorn. It stars Matthew, who was sort of the villain of the story called "Flow." And if we're being honest, he's the villain of this story, too. But I love him. I hope you do as well.

👉The story begins at 2:00 and the tiny lessons begin at 15:12

👉You can find the transcript after the Credits!

👉Visit our website to download the Podcast User's Manual and find out more! https://alittleenglish.com/

A Little English is written, produced, recorded, edited, mixed, mastered and scored by Edward Cooper Howland.

All stories are either in the public domain, or written by me.

Copyright 2024 Edward Cooper Howland

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


 Hi. My name is Cooper, and this is…A Little English. Every episode, I read a short story. After the story, there are three tiny lessons. 

Before we begin, I’d like to say thank you for listening, and ask you to tell your friends about the show. I don’t do any advertising, so you spreading the word is really the only way that the audience can grow. Thank you so much!


Where I come from, we were always taught that there are two things you don’t discuss at dinner: religion and politics. The reason for that is, because people will start shouting at each other. But this story opens with a conversation about religion. Ok it’s not a conversation, it’s people shouting at each other. But don’t worry. This is not really a story about religion. Actually it’s mostly about….popcorn? 

Anyway, the name of this story is, “Alone,” which is also the name of my favorite song to sing at karaoke. 


“If it’s in a church, I’m not going,” said Matthew. 

Mom and Dad were already dressed for the wedding. Dad was wearing his suit and Mom even put on earrings. They looked at each other and sighed. “He gets this from you,” said Mom. 

Dad rested his head in his hands for a moment. Then he stood up and spoke to his son. 

“Matthew, it’s a wedding.  Of course it’s in a church.”

“Well if it’s in a church, then I am not going. I will not worship your false gods. You’ll have to leave me here.”

“You don’t have to worship anything. Just sit there like a normal human being and then we go and have cake. It’s a party. It’s a celebration of love.”

“It’s a lie!” shouted Matthew. “It’s all lies! It’s a scam!  They scare you with stories of hell and pain forever. Then they take your money.”

“Matthew, it’s a congregational church. They don’t have any money.”

“I don’t care! They get money for free and then they don’t pay any taxes! 

It’s the biggest scam in the world. And if you go, or if I go, we are saying that this scam is okay. So you can do whatever you want, but I’m not going.”

“This is just some stupid stuff you saw on the internet. You need to get off the computer and get out in the real world.”

“I AM in the real world, Dad! I believe in  science and YOU PEOPLE believe in magic!”

“You don’t have to believe in the religion to go to a wedding, Matthew. You just go to support your family and friends on their big day.”

“I’m. Not. Going.” Matthew sat down on the floor. 

His parents went to the living room. Matthew could hear them shouting at each other through the closed door. After a few minutes, they came out. Mom was fixing her eye makeup with a tissue. Dad spoke first.

“Fine. You’re fourteen years old now. If you want to stay home alone, you can. We will be back by ten pm. Try not to burn the house down.”

Four hours later, Matthew realized that he was hungry. He put down the game controller and wandered into the kitchen. He looked through the refrigerator but it was all his Mom’s gross health food stuff. So he went to the closet and got a bag of microwave popcorn.

“How long are you supposed to cook it for?” he said out loud to nobody. “Whatever.” 

He put the bag in the microwave, set it for seven minutes, and went back to his video games. He was very busy killing zombies when he noticed a weird smell.

Like something burning. Something really, really horrible burning. 

“Oh,” he said. “Oh, no.” 

Matthew ran into the kitchen. Black smoke was pouring out of the microwave and up the wall. 

“Oh, no,” he said. 

The popcorn bag was completely on fire.

“Oh, my god,” he said.

Little blue sparks started to explode inside the popcorn bag. He could hear them popping and sizzling. Matthew sat down on the floor. He wrapped his arms around his knees and rocked back and forth. 

“Oh, my god,” he whispered. “Oh God, What do I do?”

And in that moment, he became totally, perfectly calm. 

He stood up and unplugged the microwave. Its light went out and the humming sound stopped, but the fire and the tiny explosions continued. 

He opened the microwave door. A huge cloud of black smoke came out. He coughed and waved his arms back and forth, trying to see the bag. When he found it, he threw it into the sink and turned on the water. 

The fire was out. Matthew looked around.  The bag of popcorn was now just a disgusting ball of ashes in the sink. The inside of the microwave was covered in burns. A line of black soot went up the wall from the microwave to the ceiling. Smoke hung in the air. And the smell. The smell of burnt popcorn was absolutely everywhere. It was the worst thing he had ever smelled in his entire life.

Matthew went to his computer. He searched for, “how to get black smoke off a white wall.” He searched for, “how to clean a microwave that I burned popcorn in.” He watched videos. He read websites. He got a notebook and a pen, and he made a plan. 

First, he opened every window in the entire house. The summer air came in, so he turned off the air conditioning. He collected every fan in the house and pointed them out the kitchen windows. Then he scooped up the cool, wet, disgusting remains of the popcorn bag and took it out into the woods. He scattered the ashes around. The evidence was destroyed.

He came back into the house and mixed up a big bowl of vinegar and baking soda and he got a sponge. He cleaned the inside of the microwave. He cleaned the outside of the microwave. He sponged and scrubbed until his arms hurt. He checked the clock. His parents were coming home in an hour and a half.

Matthew climbed up on the counter. Following the instructions he had read on the internet, he wiped the smoke off the walls and the ceiling. He was very careful not to use too much water.  He climbed down and stood back. It looked…pretty ok. 

He put a bowl of vinegar and water in the microwave and set it to four minutes, to absorb the smell. The microwave worked. That was good. He collected all the fans and returned them to the rooms where they came from. He thought about closing the windows, but decided against it. He got a cloth and wiped down the counters and the sink just as his parents walked in the door. 

They looked great. They were kind of sweaty and Matthew was pretty sure they had been drinking. Dad said, “Whoo! What’s that smell?”

“Oh hey guys,” said Matthew. “I’m really sorry. I microwaved some popcorn a little too long, but it’s ok. I took care of it. How was the wedding?”


I’d like to point out I never burned the popcorn in the microwave like Matthew does in this story. But, when I was in high school, someone did. Some fourteen-year-old kid who had never actually made his own popcorn (like Matthew) put a bag in the microwave for like ten minutes. And oh my god. Have you ever smelled burning popcorn? Have you ever smelled a room that was full of popcorn smoke? It stayed around for days. Oh and by the way, you can watch videos of people intentionally burning popcorn on youtube. It’s pretty crazy looking. 

So anyway, here are some tiny lessons. 

First, let’s talk about the Big Picture. 

Do you think that Matthew really believed all that stuff about the church? Go back and check the story again. I’ll wait. 

I don’t think so. In my mind, Matthew really just wanted to skip the wedding and play video games all day. I think that’s a pretty normal thing that kids do, especially at that age. 

Now, wanna have a dance at the Dictionary Disco?

Our first word is, SCAM. As in, “church is a SCAM.” That’s like a cheat. Specifically, it’s a business or some kind of organization that is totally not what it says it is, and exists only to steal money.

The second word is, GROSS. Like, “Mom’s gross health food.” That’s just a really informal way of saying “Disgusting.” Kids say GROSS all the time. Adults too. But, you know, with friends. Not in a business meeting. 

Finally, let’s have a Melody Moment. 

I wanna talk about “Oh my God.” I say it three times in this story. And each time there are three different meanings. First there is (OMG1) which is expressing fear. It’s short, it’s fast, and the MY isn’t even a “my” at all. It’s a “mi.” The second time is (OMG 2) This is Matthew realizing just how badly he has screwed up. It’s an expression of despair. It’s slower and clearer, with space between the words. Then the third one is (OMG3) That’s when I was talking about the popcorn incident in my high school. That’s the slowest one of all, and it’s used for…dramatic effect. Like I want you to know just how bad that smell was. I can still remember that smell, twenty-five years later. Ugh. Anyway, the same words, with three different melodies, intonations, and even a little bit of vowel shortening can have three totally different meanings. Cool, right?

Sooooo let’s do the credits!

Thank you for listening to Season 3 Episode 17 of A Little English. 

Every episode is produced entirely by me, Edward Cooper Howland, here in Chiba, Japan.

If you like the show, tell someone about it! A recommendation from a friend is the best way to get someone to listen, and I would really appreciate it. 

This season, all the stories are written by…me! Honestly, I’m not even using ChatGPT for editing any more. I’m just writing. 

So, thank you  so much for listening.

For now, be kind to yourselves, and to each other. 

About the Podcast

Show artwork for A Little English
A Little English
Learn English with Stories

About your host

Profile picture for Cooper Howland

Cooper Howland

Hi, I'm Cooper. I've been teaching English since 2007 in the USA, Japan and Costa Rica.
I have a MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing.
I write, record, produce, mix, and master A Little English from my little studio here in Hiroshima, Japan.
I also make music, and love to ride my bicycle.