Storytime: Boo.

November 30th, 2016

The streets were orange with pumpkinflesh and candlelight. Ghosts were in every window, cobwebs filled every porch. Monsters and spacemen and witches and characters from video games filled the streets.
And right up through the middle of it all walked Sarah and Jessie, a wizard and a little bear, hand in hand – at least the hand of Sarah’s that wasn’t clutching her gnarled old staff and a treat bag all at once.
“Slow down,” grandpa boo kept telling them every house, as he caught up in his big furry coat and big furry hat, its long flaps waving like elephant ears. “Slow down, you little speed demons. My leg! My leg! You’ll put me in the hospital with your impatient ways!”
But it was grandpa boo, and his smile said that he was only telling them another story. So they laughed and laughed and ran twice as fast to the next house… where they waited for him to limp all the way up to the lawn before they rang the doorbell.

Chocolate bars.
Chewy soft things.
Hard-as-rock things.
A few bags of salty crunchies.
And caramels.
Sarah hated caramels. Jessie hated lollypops. This made for an agreeable trading system as they sat in the Old Room next to the fireplace, which grandpa boo and their parents had told them they must never mess with.
Grandpa boo had messed with it tonight, and it was crackling that good orange light now. And because of that good orange light, and because Sarah and Jessie still had their costumes on as they traded candy, grandpa boo finally asked them the question.
“Now,” he said, “would you like a story?”
And that brought on the jumping and squeaking and shouting with all the dignity they could muster. At least from Jessie.
Grandpa boo had a lot of stories, and they loved to hear them. But he only ever asked the question Halloween night.
“All right,” he said. “All right. Maybe one, since you’ve been so very patient and kind and slow about my limping old leg tonight. Maybe one. So pick it wisely. Which one?”
“HEADLESS CLOWN!” shouted Jessie before Sarah had even opened her mouth.
“No,” said Sarah. “We heard all the headless clown stories already! I want to hear about the last werewolf!”
Grandpa boo leaned back in the furry “Well, you’re in for good luck for both of you then,” he said. “The headless clown was seen again not far from here just last week!”
And both Sarah and Jessie got very quiet, because they knew that the headless clown being so close meant that they’d narrowly escaped. He loved little children their age.
“Did he get anyone?” asked Jessie.
“Maybe,” said grandpa boo. “Now let me see if I can remember. It was down by the dock, I think. Yes, down by the docks. Some children were playing there – their houses were by the water.”
“Were they rich?” asked Sarah.
“Pretty rich,” said grandpa boo.
“The houses down there are very big,” said Jessie. “Mom says we can’t have them.”
“They ARE big,” said grandpa boo. “But the children weren’t in their big houses, they were down by the dock, jumping off it into the water. And they were having so much fun on that nice summer day-”
“Didn’t this happen last week?” asked Sarah. She’d been getting rather more suspicious of grandpa boo’s stories over the past year.
“No, it was last month,” said grandpa boo. “C’mon, listen up! Anyways, these children were having so much fun they didn’t see how low the sun had sunk in the sky. And when it was twilight it took them even longer to see that the red light around them wasn’t from the sunset at all.
“The HEADLESS CLOWN!” shrieked Jessie.
“Yes, it was him,” said grandpa boo. “The red light of the headless clown! He was lurking down by the trees and he’d walked up onto the dock and stood at the end. They were trapped.”
“Couldn’t they swim around him?” asked Sarah.
“No, it was too dark by then. The lake’s nice in the daytime, but at night it’s full of sharks.”
“Sharks can’t breathe in lakes.”
“They’re freshwater sharks. Look it up, there’s some in Central America. But these children, they were stuck there, between a shark and a clown place. They were so scared. But the oldest child, she remembered what her grandpa told her. What you do when you see the headless clown.”
“Cover your eyes!” said Jessie. And she did so, SMACK-SMACK against her face, as hard as she could.
“Right!” said grandpa boo. “And once they’d covered their eyes up, the headless clown had nothing to see them with. So the headless clown walked down the dock towards them, feeling around, and they snuck – zoom! – fast and quiet behind him, just like that. And when the headless clown walked to the end of the dock, what do you think they did?”
Even Sarah was too invested to say a word now.
“WHAM! They pushed him in, right on top of the sharks!”
“Did he die did he die did he die?” asked Jessie.
“The headless clown never dies,” said Sarah.
“No, you’re right,” said grandpa boo. “But I’ll tell you this: he won’t be back around here in a hurry. He’s got to find his legs and arms first.”
And grandpa boo smiled and they laughed and begged and pleaded and finally he said “okay, one more. One more story. Since you’ve been so nice and not made fun of my big furry hat.”

And he told them about the last werewolf, who lived all alone in the last forest, which was so far away that there was nothing to eat and he had to creep down the miles to the towns to sneak into people’s kitchens at night to steal leftovers.
And he told them about Big Al, the tree-climbing alligator who was raised by squirrels, and how he kept them safe from cats and dogs and pet owners by slipping in windows.
And he told them about the house with the fire inside, which would be sold at noon and ash by midnight.
And each time grandpa boo told them a story, they asked for more, and grandpa boo yawned and said he’d give one more, why not, since they’d been so nice, until at last he said he had only one story left.
“Who? Who?” asked Sarah and Jessie.
“It’s about the boogeyman,” said grandpa boo.
And this puzzled them, because they’d never heard any stories about the boogeyman before.
“Of course you haven’t!” said grandpa boo. “Tell me, does your room have a closet?”
“No,” they said.
“Well, there you have it. That’s your best defence against the boogeyman. He needs a closet to get at you. Or a cupboard. Or a garage. Something without a light where people aren’t meant to be at night. He creeps in through there.”
“Like a spider?” asked Sarah.
“Well, he’s furry like a spider but he’s a lot bigger, and a lot bearier. Big arms and big legs and a huge fuzzy body, and big ears and claws and fangs.”
“Glowing eyes?” asked Jessie.
“No, no. The boogeyman’s eyes don’t glow light. They eat it up. You can never see his face at all. Not until he gets you. Now, let me tell you about what happens when he tries. There’s some things to watch out for.”
“Red lights?” said Jessie.
“That’s the headless clown,” said grandpa boo.
“Listen for his grumbling stomach?” said Sarah.
“That’s the last werewolf. And you can’t hear the scales on the tree-branches like Big Al, and you can’t smell the smoke from the basement, like the house with the fire inside. No, no, no. The boogeyman, there’s only one way to know he’s coming.”
Grandpa boo leaned down and tapped the floor with one knuckle. Thud-thud. Thud-thud.
“You hear that?”
They nodded.
“If you hear that from your closet, the boogeyman’s inside. He always knocks three times before he comes in. It’s his way of giving you a chance to run. But it’s never fair, because you can’t run out of your bedroom at night. The boogeyman never plays fair. That’s how he gets you. That’s how he got so many people for so long. But not anymore. I’m going to tell you the last boogeyman story. Because he’s not here anymore.”
“What happened?” asked Jessie.
“One night, a long time ago, in this very town, there was a little boy. And that little boy was very, very, very scared of the dark. He begged for a night-light until he got one for his birthday in summer – not from his parents, you understand, because they didn’t want him to be afraid of childish things. It was from his big sister, because she knew that childish things are important. Adults forget that. Don’t they?”
They nodded.
“Right! So the little boy had a night-light, and for a long time, all the way into fall, he was happy and safe when the dark came in. And then came Halloween.”
“What was he dressed as?” asked Jessie.
“I’m not too sure,” said grandpa boo. “I wasn’t there. But he had a good time. Got lots of candy. Got lots of fun. Him and his big sister – she was a big big sister, you understand, almost an adult but not quite. A bigger sister to her brother than Sarah is to you. She didn’t even get any candy, she was too old for it. She went with her brother because she loved him.”
“Like you!” said Jessie.
Grandpa boo smiled. “Like me. Even if you both run too fast, you’re still nice to me, and I love you.”
“What happened to the little boy?” asked Sarah.
“I’m getting there. Halloween, full of candy, bedtime. But the little boy was just falling asleep when he saw something had happened: his night-light had fallen out. How, he didn’t know. Maybe the dog tripped on it. Maybe his parents took it out because they thought he didn’t need it. But it was dark, and it was Halloween night, and he was there all alone in his room with no company. And just as he was beginning to get a little bit scared, he heard this.”
And grandpa boo leaned down and tapped the floor. Thud-thud.
“And after a minute, just as he was beginning to tell himself it was his imagination, he heard this.”
“And right away, as he was trying to pretend it was coming from somewhere else, he heard this.”
“And it was coming from his closet. Right there. As he watched, he saw the doorknob turn, slowly. From the inside.”
“There’s no doorknob on the insides of closets,” said Sarah. Well, it was more of a whisper.
“No, there isn’t,” agreed grandpa boo. “Except for him. Except for the boogeyman. He has the handle to every closet, every cupboard, ever. And he opened up the little boy’s closet as easy as if it were his own front door, with his big furry paw.”
“How big was he?” asked Jessie.
“Huge. Bigger than a bear. And he slipped in soft and slow, until he was taking up almost the whole room and there was no way out at all for the little boy, who was crying now he was so scared. And then, BANG!”
Grandpa boo shot up with a start then, and so did Sarah and Jessie.
“The door flew open! You know who it was?”
“Superman?” said Jessie.
“The police?” said Sarah.
“No, it was his big sister, not even an adult yet and holding the first thing she’d grabbed out of the kitchen, just a little butter knife. You couldn’t have hurt a fly with that thing, let alone the boogeyman, and he wasn’t scared even a little. So he turned around, real slow, and he turned his empty face to her and he said “Boo!”
“What’d she do?” asked Jessie.
“She looked him right in his eyes that weren’t there and she wasn’t scared either. And she stabbed him right in the leg with the butter knife.”
“But you said-” protested Sarah.
“She wasn’t scared at all,” said grandpa boo. “That’s how you beat the boogeyman. She was the first person he’d ever seen who wasn’t scared at all, and it made him as weak and harmless and soft inside as a clementine. He ran back into that little boy’s closet with a limp, and he was never quite the same after that.”
Jessie squeaked, and if Sarah had more dignity she was still smiling like a jack-o-lantern herself.
“Now, I think that’s it,” said grandpa boo. “You’ve been very nice to me tonight, but I think I’m all out of stories. More next time.”
“Please?” asked Sarah.
“Very polite, but no.”
“Pretty please with sugar on top?” asked Jessie.
“No, no, sorry.”
“We’ll give you candy!” said Jessie.
That made grandpa boo laugh. “No, no, goodness no!” he said. “That’s your candy, that is. It’s very nice of you to offer, but you have enough there for the both of you, and maybe a little for your parents. I can’t be stealing from that. Thank you, though. Thank you both very much. But it’s time for bed.”
Sarah opened her mouth to argue more, but at that moment mom came in, and mom wasn’t like grandpa boo at all. You just couldn’t argue with her.

It was still Halloween. But it was the dull part.
Sarah watched the driveway, watched her parents leave for the party. Watched the snores start to trail up from grandpa boo downstairs. Watched the monsters patrol the streets, bags in hand. Watched the night filling up with scary stories. Watched the orange light across the road. And she didn’t feel the least bit sleepy.
She got out of bed, walked around the creaky spot and across the room, and poked Jessie.
“You awake?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Jessie.
“Your eyes were shut.”
“I was pretending.”
“Pretend you’re awake then-”
“I am-”
“-and put on your costume again. We’re going to get grandpa boo some candy.”
“Why?” asked Jessie, puzzled.
“We can get another story tomorrow. He won’t be worried about stealing our candy, because we’ll be getting it for him this time instead.”
“Oh,” said Jessie. “Can we have some too?”
Sarah sighed as loudly as she dared. “You can have one of my chocolate bars,” she said.
“Oh. Okay.”

They walked the other way down the street this time, avoiding familiar houses and familiar faces who might ask why they were by themselves. Now and then they passed a neighbor, out walking with their parents, but Sarah’s beard and Jessie’s mask kept them safe. Just a wizard and a bear, nothing to see here, no questions to ask. It was normal, for Halloween.
They didn’t run this time. It was later, and their energy was here for the long haul. Grandpa boo was an adult and would be able to eat a lot of candy, even if he weighed about half as much as a normal one. Both their bags had to bulge at the seams for this to count.
“Maybe we can get two stories,” said Jessie, “for two bags.”
“Maybe,” said Sarah. “We’d better get a little more.”
They got a little more. And a little more than that. They finished their street and the street at its end and they turned right at that street’s end and they turned left past there and then they ran out of street, up a long driveway with too many trees at a house with too little house and too much garage.
“Last one?” asked Jessie.
“Last one,” said Sarah. Her feet hurt and she was tired, although Jessie seemed to only be accelerating. And it was because she was tired that she only noticed something was funny after Jessie had rang the doorbell four times in a row, DingdongDingdoDiDingDongng.
There was no orange light. The house was dark. There were no decorations.
“There’s no one here,” said Sarah, and the door opened.
There was a man there. He was big, bigger even than Sarah’s dad, broader and taller and hairier. He stared at them, and she saw that his eyes were very red. His breath was thick, and tangled itself damply in his beard.
There was a rustle at Sarah’s elbow, and Jessie stepped forwards, bag open. “Trick or trea-” she said and the big man grabbed her by the arm and yanked her inside.
Sarah was older than Jessie, and had been told what to do if there was trouble. In case of fire, in case of big dogs, in case of being lost, in case of thunderstorms, in case of strange people.
But right then she saw the big man was holding Jessie, so she ignored all of that and stepped into the house and swung her wizard staff right into his knee as hard as she could.
“Fuk,” the big man grunted wetly. He staggered, but he didn’t drop, and his free arm waved around like a helicopter right into Sarah who fell over into the door and felt something slam hard against her head and turn everything grey for a moment, just a moment.
She was on the floor faster than she understood. Looking up at something shiny, with just a little bit of hair and red stuck to it.
“Doorknob,” said Sarah. Sort of. Her mouth was full of something. She really wished she had a butter knife for some reason.
Someone picked her up, a set of grimy hands grabbing her by her robe. It couldn’t be the big man, he was still somewhere else, holding Jessie – Sarah could hear her kicking and trying to shout through her mask.
“Garage,” said the grimy woman from behind her.
A groan answered her.
“Fuk,” said the big man. “Knee.”
“The garage. Now.”

It was smaller inside the garage than it had seemed. Half of it was filled with a truck, and smelled of oil.
The other half was empty and smelled of something worse. It made Sarah think of compost buckets over-filled, but sweeter.
There was a sharp snap and Jessie yelled. “Huh,” the big man mumbled. He was holding her mask, the cords dangling and broken. “Wha’?”
“Halloween,” said the grimy woman, from behind Sarah’s ear.
The big man’s face curdled with thoughts.
“Na’ punkin.”
“Kids don’t pay attention.”
Sarah was paying a lot of attention, as much as she could, but her head still wasn’t working properly and whenever she tried to kick the grimy woman her legs just flopped against the concrete floor, thump-thump.
“Hand me a rope.”
“Na’ rope?”
“Well then hand me the hose.”
“Behind you. The wall.”
The grimy woman shifted one of her hands to Sarah’s legs, grinding them together. “Stop it-”
The grimy woman let go of Sarah’s legs again. Then she looked up, up at the garage door.
“Mor’?” asked the big man.
The grimy woman shook her head, and pulled something sharp into her hand.
The whole garage shook.
Sarah wanted to do a lot of things. She wanted to yell. She wanted to bite. She wanted to tell them to let her and Jessie go and let them all run, because she knew what the knocking meant.
But she couldn’t do any of those things because her mouth was full of her wizard’s beard. So when she heard the last sound,
all she could do was shiver.
“Go ‘way-” said the big man, and the garage door blew open so fast the rollers screamed.
Outside, it was pitch black midnight. But there was something darker yet there, blotting out the sky. Its breath washed away the garage’s stink in a furnace draft and it had big arms and big legs and big flapping ears on a big, big, big furry body, like a bear’s.
And it had no face.
“BOO,” it roared.

Sarah shut her eyes. She knew that only worked on the headless clown, but it couldn’t hurt.
It didn’t hurt. But the sounds almost did. Her ears were still thick from the doorknob, but they were so loud they came through anyways.
Someone picked her up, and she kicked again, thump-thump, thump-thump until a hand gently held her feet still.
“Careful,” said grandpa boo. “That’s my bad leg.”
Sarah tried opening her eyes again, which was more work than she remembered but eventually worked.
And there it was, grandpa boo in his big furry coat and his big furry hat, all fuzz and puff over mottled old skin-and-bones. His arms were quivering a little with the weight of her in them.
There was a tug by Sarah’s legs. Jessie was at grandpa boo’s elbow.
“For you,” she said, and held up her bag.
“Well,” said grandpa boo. “That’s nice of you.”

The walk home was long, even after Sarah felt well enough to stand on her own.
“It was a thing to catch up with you, I’ll say that. You run too quickly for me.”
Jessie ran. But she ran in circles around them, and never strayed too far.
Mom and dad were home already and making a fuss, with no note to guide them. Grandpa boo hadn’t had any time. They were furious, but far more worried than angry.
“It’s not their fault,” said grandpa boo. “Well, it is. But that’s because of their grandmother. Little devils have no fear in them. Not one bit.”
And grandpa boo kissed them, and mom and dad hugged them, and they went to bed after they ate more candy than they’d ever been allowed to in one sitting. And everything was fine again.
But Sarah did lie awake in her bed longer than normal, listening to her sister breathe. Thinking about her grandpa boo, and his big furry hat.
It did have long, dangling flaps like funny ears.
It was covered in a thick fuzzy hide.
It was very big and puffy.

But one thought kept Sarah awake without really knowing why.

She was sure her grandpa boo’s hat didn’t have fangs.

Storytime: Lies for the Little Ones.

November 23rd, 2016

-The world was wound up one day like an ancient grandfather clock. But the key was lost long ago, and now every year everything gets a little bit slower. This is why old people are so sluggish.
-Salt and pepper actually grow from the same bush. Salt is what you get if you harvest the berries before they’re ripe; pepper is collected after it over-ripens and splats on the ground.
-Dogs are female cats.
-Europe is named after the ancient city of Eur, which dominated the continent with its sophisticated knot-tying techniques before the whole metropolis was destroyed by a tough granny.
-You can turn seawater into normal water by adding sugar to it, which cancels out the salt.
-Olympic weightlifters eat nothing but catfish, because all catfish come with a pair of barbels.
-Puns are in this world because you have sinned. They are your punishment.
-Computers invented themselves during World War 2, because they wanted to find a way to get off the planet.
-Spanish is actually the same language as English. It’s just pronounced very differently.
-The French and Indian War of the 16th century was the longest war in history because both armies had to travel more than seven thousand kilometres overland to meet in combat. To make matters worse they missed each other in the traffic and the whole war had to be cancelled. It wasn’t all bad. Each army had a nice holiday in each other’s country, and the souvenir trade drove both their economies through the roof.
-Pigment isn’t actually made from pigs. It’s made BY pigs. The name is a coincidence.
-The Olympic Games pre-date the United Nations, which was formed to prevent wars over figure skating scores.
-Babies are actually aliens. When they stare intently at you, they’re reading your mind to learn new words quickly. When they start crying for no reason it’s because you thought bad words at them.
-Dinosaurs are alive, just invisible. They don’t need to eat as much that way, but they make a point of instantly devouring anyone that steps on the cracks in sidewalks.
-When you get older you’ll enjoy eating all these healthy foods we keep pushing you to try.
-The sky stays up because it’s very light. It’s actually so light that if Mount Everest wasn’t bolting it down it’d fly away and we’d all float into space.
-Thunderstorms are what happens when warm air meets cold air. The thunder is the two air fronts arm wrestling. The lightning is when they call each other rude names.
-Hamsters are miniature guinea pigs. Guinea pigs are short-eared rabbits. Rabbits are long-earned woodchucks. Woodchucks are beavers with stubby tails. Beavers are capybaras with short legs. Capybaras are very tiny deer with no antlers. Deer are just baby moose. Moose are scrawny bison. Bison are short-nosed rhinos with long hair. Rhinos are confused elephants.
Therefore, your hamster is an elephant.
-T-shirts are made by sewing a sweater, then peeling it apart like an onion and chopping off the arms.
-Australia is both a continent and a country. This means that it gets an extra two votes every UN session.
-While dolphin-safe tuna does exist, there is no such thing as tuna-safe anything. Tuna are the most frightened and nervous animals in the whole world.
-If you’re playing rock, paper, scissors and you make a gesture that isn’t one of the three titular ones you instantly are banned from all rock, paper, scissors ever and if you ever try to make one of the gestures again your hand cramps up.
-Nothing is better than something.

Storytime: Grey.

November 16th, 2016

It was the most normal Wednesday of any day of any week ever, and how it managed that we didn’t know. Grey skies over grey streets filled with grey air, the ground already soaked and the skies about to follow through.
And it was right in the middle of everyone’s commute, too. The world just getting out of beds, the feet on the streets, when right on time right on target here came the first drop, beading and bubbling like a bubo against the turf, and it bulged and bulged and the




bloop, into the sky, and it vanished.
Nobody saw it. But when the next drop, and the next drop, and all of the others did… well.
We probably saw it then.

An ordinary Wednesday, all over the world. A rainy-dreary Wednesday, all over the world. And every drop and every splish and every splash all hauling itself up out of the dirt and soaring off into the sky, off to who-knew-where, and not a drop remaining.

By Thursday morning there was a thin film between us and the sun, baby-blue and giving the world a funny tint. And the crops were getting dry, and the farmers were getting worried, and we were all a bit concerned which was good timing because that’s when the lakes started going.
Every river was a snake, every pond was a bomb in reverse, slip-sliding up up up and gone. The fish were inside them still, and they were cackling like maniacs. We saw them give us the finger. It was very impressive because fish do not have fingers. They did it anyways, until they were too high, too high to be seen, and off into the sky to join the rest.
Around then we had our first clouds, which had been evicted down into the dirt as much as all the water was taking off. A disgruntled, surly bunch, and we weren’t much happier because commuting through a cumulocumulocumulus isn’t much easier. They were snarly and snappish and they told us this was all our fault.
Friday night, the oceans kicked in, and that lasted until the week came back.

All weekend long, it was all we spoke of. Seeing seas set sail. Up, all of them, up into the wilder, bluer yonder. Whales and dolphins and manatees and salt-water crocodiles, spiralling up and over the land and into something better. There were salmon and sardines and trout and tuna and carp and cod and we even saw a very few old, old sleeper sharks, those doobies of the sea, the greatest, greyest grandfathers of all living vertebrates.
They slept as they swam. As was their right.
Monday, Monday, hateful Monday, and not one drop of water remained. The clouds were still mad, but willing to carry messages, or at least nasty ones.
“They say that it’s all your fault,” they told us, the cumulus and the nimbus and the stratus and the cirrus and the copernicus. “And you’ve made your bed, so they’re going to make you mad in it.”
What if we tried some things? we asked.
“It won’t help,” said the clouds. So we tried some things anyways.
We tried begging all our gods. It didn’t work because all our gods’ grandparents and older siblings were also from the water and they were really sorry but their hands were tied no hard feelings.
We tried apologizing sincerely and offering to return to the water as was our home. The clouds told us we’d had millions of years to do that, all of us, and if the cetaceans and crocodiles did it we should’ve taken it as a hint.
We even tried begging them to spare just a few bits of the rest of the world, because there’s more on land than just humans. The clouds told us that this was about more than just us and not everything’s about you and only you, you big fat babies.
We tried calling the new waves that filled the skies the New Panthalassic. The clouds informed us it had its own name and it was the right name and it was never going to tell us it what it was.

So eventually we tried science.
It was hard work. Hard science. Lots of complicated tricks.
We were in the deep dark by then, in the cold. The sun was buried under a blue-black blanket and we had to dig down for our warmth and our power. For food we had to find fungi, for drink we sucked each other’s veins like vampires, recycled urine, leeched each other like medieval chirurgeons. It was all possible by the miracle of science that a tiny percentage of us were kept in enough comfort to keep telling scientists to keep us alive long enough to keep them all hydrated.
And then, at long last, out of a groaning machine that could barely support its own weight, came a gush, then a trickle.
And it was placed in a glass.
And that glass was brought to a throne on top of eighty-five hundred slowly desiccating bodies.
“Blessed be the indefatigable ingenuity and tenacity of humankind,” said the old man, through a dry, dry mouth.
And just as he put the glass to his lips, the water went – plish – like that, and slid up on and out of the ceiling.

That was this morning.
Now I’m just sitting out here.
Haven’t heard a sound from underground in a while. I might be the only thing left.
And it might just be because I’m getting colder, but I could swear that sky’s dipping lower.
Guess I really am the leftovers, if that’s happening.
And just like that, the first drop. And right on my head, too.
What a typical way for it to end, on a Wednesday.

Storytime: In the Dark.

November 11th, 2016

“I am afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“The dark.”
The father put away his newspaper in halves and quarters and eighths, quickly but kindly. His eyes remained settled on his son, turning him over and over. They were warm. Loving. Endothermic. And they were a smoky grey that looked proper, especially at sunsets.
“Walk with me,” he said to his son.
And his son took the father’s hand, and they did that. They walked out of the warm wood-panelled living room into the smooth-slated floor of the front hall and down the long, long white path that shone so brightly in the fires of the setting sun.

There they turned away from the warm and the bright and the open sky, and they walked in thicket, then brush, and finally in trees, under trees, old trees with neither flowers nor leaves nor colour, a grey and green kingdom under a darkening sky.
“Sit here,” the father told his son. And his son sat, back against the spine of an old, old pine. The father paced away from him by one hundred and eighty degrees, counting them with care, and sat down likewise, rough bark brushing smooth cotton.
There were no words there for some time as the sun faded out and the night clotted up around them, just soft breath. And at last, as the world turned out its last light, the father spoke.
He spoke of the sounds that flittered overhead, surreptitious between the branches. Bats, out hunting for their mosquito meals using squeaks far too precise for anything as clumsy as the human ear.
He spoke of the soft business trundling by their feet at that moment; a porcupine, out trundling from tree to tree to search for bark.
He spoke of the long, maniacal laughter that sprang out of the distance, and why coyotes made the sounds they did, and for what they were searching, and why.
And he spoke most carefully, most thoroughly, and most calmly and surely, of the spiderweb that lay behind his son’s eyes, of rods and cones and the lack of a tapetum lucidum, and the manifest difficulties that presented when it came to the need of his son to see in the darkness.
“We are creatures of daylight,” he told his son. “Not of nightfall. Your business is now much more difficult, and just as surely theirs is much more comfortable.”
And his son nodded, and the father took him by the hand and led him away again.

They walked away from the damp and the branches and the needles and through dead leaves and onto old asphalt, bone-dry and thrice as cracked. The father walked with his long, slow paces and his son with his fast skipping ones, one-two-three-andahop to keep pace, to keep up. They walked down old streets, mean streets, empty streets with no lights and no laughter and not even a moan to be heard, and down into an old, old canal that had once been full and now was quiet and empty.
Here there was a rusted door set into the wall, above the waterline. The father opened it and his son entered it and the father closed it and they sat down, back to back against the metal. As his son opened his eyes in absolute black, the father spoke.
He spoke of the abandoned sewer that his son sat within, and of why it had been shut down, and of the growth and shrinkage of a city, and of the historical effects this had upon civil plumbing infrastructure.
He spoke of the type of cleaning that would’ve been done, by hand and by time, and the debris that would be left behind by now.
He spoke of the origins of the rustling sounds that echoed around his son, of mice and rats and the various insects that filled the gaps in any civilization, and of why they would be there, and of their habits in food, in love, in homes.
And he spoke, with gentle softness, of the efforts that went into creating such places, and the thoughts behind every quirk of their architecture.
“This is a place of care,” he told his son. “It is certainly no cave. Every surface surrounding you was put there for a reason, a mechanical, biological, integrated, systemic purpose. Even if it is no longer used. Even if it is no longer remembered. It has been set aside by its makers, and its deterioration, too, follows a plan of sorts.”
And his son nodded, and the father opened the old rusted door and walked beside him once more under the deep sky.

They walked down the streets from silence to murmurs, past buildings that still snored if not rumbled. Down, downhill, always downhill, in slips and slopes, until they smelled salt and came to a little dock among the gigantic, with a little dinghy among the giants.
The father rowed. His son sat at the bow.
It was a good ways to go. A little more than three miles until the curved water swallowed the city shoreline. But the father put away his oars, and he pulled out a rope, and he pulled out a hook and bait, and he pulled out a small camera.
All three went over the side. And the father held up the far end of the camera, the viewing-screen, the transmitted end of the transmitter, and he spoke.
He spoke to his son of the opacity of water, and why this was so, and how many things living in it relied on their ears far more than their eyes.
He spoke to his son of the peculiar properties of movement in water, and why he should be so very clumsy in it when other things should be so very swift.
He spoke to his son of the appearance of a shark, and how this was a result of its biology, which was a result of its ecological niche.
He spoke to his son of the penetration of light into water, and how this resulted in the loss of colour, from red to all.
He spoke to his son of the bottom-dwellers; the earnest, silent crabs; and how they lived in the shower of detritus from the surface, and why.
“These things are old,” he told his son. “But they are not immutable. Others have filled their niches before them. Others will fill them after them. They react and change to the days and events that are placed upon them by time and tide, as anywhere else. They eat to live, and they move to eat, and they do so as diligently and constantly as anything, anywhere.”
His son nodded, and the sun came up.

The city was beginning to hum and wail to itself as they walked back, not yet woken but waking its way. It paid them little mind yet, and put few things in their path, and between that and the light that guided their footsteps home was within their eyes before long.
Here the father stopped one more time, and he turned to his son and this time, the first time, he looked him in the eye as he spoke.
“Remember,” he said, “that all fear is like all love.” And he placed his hand over his son’s heart. “It arises in here.”
“I will.”
The father smiled, small and soft. “Good. Now come along. It has been a long night, and a long lesson, but now there is time for breakfast.”
They set out on that shining white path, the little bones crunching under their sensible shoes. In the door ahead stood the waiting shadow of the mother, half-shrunken at the sight of them; and overhead from the chimney the dry ashes of their red breakfast spiralled upwards to mar the dawning face of the new day.

Storytime: Search.

November 2nd, 2016

>>From Gods to Blogs: the Cat and Man

>Cat pictures
>>The Best of the National Geographic Society’s Photography: Africa

>Funny cat pi127843
>>Garfield: the 30th Anniversary

>>Dogs for Dogs: Animals Eating Like People



>>The Utter Moron’s Guide to Earthquakes

>trapped underground
>>Saved by the Light: Accounts of Mine Disasters

>library floor plan
>>A House of Words: Evolutions in Library Design and Space

>library ventilation
>>A House of Words: Evolutions in Library Design and Space

>library basement ventilation
>> A House of Words: Evolutions in Library Design and Space

>basement ventilation
>>The Utter Moron’s Guide to Home Ventilation

>library plumbing system
>> A House of Words: Evolutions in Library Design and Space

>public plumbing system
>>Up the Creek: Modern Sewage Design

>pipe repairs
>>Cracks and Pipes: the Practical Home Plumber

>basement flood fixes
>>Jan’s Big Book of Household Disasters

>human hunger limits
>>The Donner Party and the Limits of Human Necessity

>human without food
>> Introductory Human Anatomy

>>Plaguebearer, Pioneer: the Norwegian Rat and the World

>rat edible
>>The Really Fearless Gourmet

>rat cooking
>>He Ate His Boots: Tales of 19th Century British Explorers

>solitary confinement effects
>>Solitude: Back to Basics and Beyond

>solitary confinement negative effects
>>Private Hells in Public Prisons

>>Deal With It: Modern Games with Grandma’s Cards

>good solitaire
>>An Essay on the Evils of Idle Hands and the Perils of Gambling

>tic tac to solo
>>You’re Only Fooling Yourself: Basic Hypnotism and Self-Bluffing

>>A Bright Red Smile

>avoiding scurvy
>>’Limeys” and Other Insults of Praise

>fungi avoid scurvy
>>Mushrooms Will Kill You: Survivalism for the Clueless

>fungi safe
>>Advanced Toxic Mycology

>mold safe
>>Home Pottery

>mold fungi safe
>>Mushrooms Will Kill You: Survivalism for the Clueless

>escaping basement
>>Great Escapes: True Tales of Bravery

>concrete digging
>>Build a House a Home

>concrete digging through
>>The Handy Demolitionist

>morse code
>>S.O.S.: Morse Basics

>home loudspeaker
>>How to Boost a Subwoofer

>home megaphone
>>Shouting and the Art of Persuasion

>home drum
>>The Improv Orchestra

>rescue help behaviour
>>Stop, Drop, and Roll: How to Avoid Statistics

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>keep a copy of the blueprints on file; two days without water’s no fun.
need more harmless moulds in the basement.
you had a rat problem. put down fewer traps.
no damned cat pictures

Storytime: The Incorporation of Zachary Mulligan.

October 26th, 2016

“Zachary!” Mr. Mulligan called up the staircase. “It’s time to eat! There are wheat fragments, shredded and repackaged, immersed in milk!”
And Zachary came slouching and slumping down the staircase, the same as always, and yet not quite the same Zachary as always. His eyes were hazed, fixed on some distant goal. His pulse was slow, cold-blooded. His hands were the most active part of him, twisting and scampering over each other, grasping at anything within reach of his long arms.
“Mother,” he intoned. “Father. My founding shareholders. I have witnessed the sad economic state of our household and have taken steps to counteract it. I have incorporated.”
And the Mulligans looked upon their offspring and knew it to be true. The air around him smelled of mint and money, and his voice was filled with the iron certainty of spreadsheets.
“I go to profit,” spoke Zachary, and not one word more came from him until he returned from school that evening, a hideous sight as he staggered in the door. He’d gained forty pounds in six hours, and the excess fat riddled his limbs.
“Goodness,” said Mrs. Mulligan. “What’s happened to you?”
“I have acquired assets,” said Zachary, even-toned as he dropped his knapsack. “Seven classrooms and their constituent components. Some of their owners resisted sale, but I was able to persuade them to see reason. These properties are sitting on prime real estate.”
The Mulligans woke up early the next morning to a barrage of calls, complaints, and general annoyance from their neighbours, who said that the buses weren’t running without fees and half the school was now being rebuilt into condos.
“Well, we’re sorry,” they said. “But there’s not much we can do about him.”

The next week Zachary didn’t come downstairs at all in the morning. After waiting an extremely nervous hour, his parents crept up the staircase to his door and knocked.
“You may enter. It is casual Monday.”
Zachary’s room was a mess; filled with stale old powerpoints and fiduciary pin-ups. Zachary himself weighed something about two hundred pounds now, his round frame glistening with pinpricks of profit. His father frowned at the sight.
“Zachary?” said Mrs. Mulligan, hesitantly. “Don’t you think you’ve been spending too much time up here alone? Why don’t you go play with your friends anymore?”
“Your consultation is appreciated and your assessments will be taken on-board with alacrity,” said Zachary. “I have neglected local markets in my haste to expand overstreets. This will be remedied. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
And he stood up and walked downstairs and out the door.
That evening he was back, dripping with blood from his jowls.
“I have merged with several of the smaller business-owners of this fiscal quarter,” he proclaimed, heedless of his parents’ stares. “Their operations were slipshod, built upon hazy imaginations and a lack of real fiscal vision. Now that the deadwood’s been cleared out, this place should turn around in a jiffy.”
This time the calls didn’t wait ‘till the morning. A final count, roughened by panic as it was, showed that approximately twenty-three of Zachary’s former friends and classmates had been consumed by him, often directly in front of legally powerless parents.
“We’re horribly sympathetic, of course,” the Mulligans told them. “But our hands are tied.”

On Friday Mrs. Mulligan walked home from work past the rows of renovated offices and freshly-sprouting condominiums and opened her front door and saw that the inside of her house was missing, down to the insulation. Her husband was sitting in the middle of the floor inside a chalked-out ring, looking slightly nervous.
“What now?” she asked.
“Well, it’s Zachary,” he said. “He says that we’ve been splurging too much and now it’s time to tighten our belts and raise our stock a little. Promises an eight hundred percent return on investment once we’ve downsized a bit.”
“And the circle?”
“It’s the boardroom. As long as we’re in here, we’re safe.”
Mr. Mulligan scratched at his jaw. “Well. You know. Safe. From anything that might happen.”
Mrs. Mulligan nodded. “Move over.”

The Mulligans woke up, if what they’d been experiencing could even be called sleep, to a grey sky. The rafters weren’t even standing anymore.
Instead, their horizon was filled with Zachary.
He’d grown again. Or had he been there all along, and they’d never noticed?
The condos were Zachary.
The offices were Zachary.
The half-empty construction sites and the stale donuts and the bad coffee and the empty streets and the empty feeling in everyone’s eyes were all Zachary. Even the rain was Zachary, if only because it was falling on him and therefore his property.
“It’s time we had a meeting,” he informed them. “We need to set some policy here.”
“Policy?” asked Mr. Mulligan.
“Yes,” said Zachary. “Quite frankly, things are going very poorly. Business has been slow. Profits are down. We’ve been expanding as fast as we can, but we’re going to be down and out by the close of the quarter at this rate. It’s cut-throat out there, and if I don’t manage to get some regulations tweaked we’ll be at the mercy of the next jumped-up only child who has a bright idea.” He shook his head, and the spittle that fell from his lips was worth a thousand dollars in stock options. “Public perception’s through the floor, thanks to the biased media. I’ll be honest with you: I think we need new management. A fresh start.”
Mrs. Mulligan glanced at her husband, who was biting his thumb without actually noticing. “Yes. A fresh start.”
“Good, then we’re agreed. You’re both fire-”
“We’re dissolving you.”
Zachary blinked. “Repeat that once more? On the record?”
“We’re your primary shareholders,” said Mrs. Mulligan. “And your joint CEOs. Fire us? Sure. But you’re mad if you think we’re not recouping our investment.”
Zachary shook his head and chuckled, but the laughter was a bare trickle, then a gurgle, then a scream as the shaking didn’t stop. Tremors were rippling through his many-folded, flabby flesh; great snaking veins of shares bulging like cords. He ran for the door, an avalanche on legs, but froth was already bubbling at his thighs and he toppled like a breaking wave.
The Mulligans hid under Mrs. Mulligan’s coat for three minutes. When they peeked out, all that was left of their son was a little heap of superfluous assets and a wondrous golden parachute woven from a cheque the size of a small airplane.

They split it, of course. Fifty-fifty. And, after they moved out of the decrepit, crumbling, poverty-stricken crater that had once been their neighborhood, they both lived obscenely wealthily and very happily ever after.

Storytime: In the Bog.

October 19th, 2016

“Hello there.”
“What are you doing?”
“Well, I can see that. But d’you mind telling me how that happened?”
“Oh come on, I won’t make fun. It’s just the two of us here.”
“Fine, fine. Have it your way. I won’t make a fuss. It’s YOUR funeral. Your bog. Your bog-ridden, slow-sinking funeral.”
“Thank you.”
“Oh, don’t mention it. No stranger to that myself. D’you know, half my siblings died in bogs?”
“Yes! They saw a mammoth stuck in one and they ran in after it and got stuck too and it sunk the lot of ‘em before you could say ‘saber-toothed.’”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Sarcasm doesn’t become you.”
“Soon, mineralization will become me. I don’t really care what you say.”
“Oh PLEASE. We all die sooner or later, and we all know it. What makes THIS moment so special that you’re going to discard all society and manners so you can…wallow in it?”
“I’m dying.”
“You were doing that this morning and I’m sure you were positively lovely company then. It’s just more obvious now, that’s all.”
“What do you WANT?”
“You know you can’t eat me, and you’re not trying to. You know you can’t help me, and I know you’re not trying to. All you’re doing is sitting there on the edge of the bog and chattering like a bald glyptodont in a snowstorm. Shouldn’t you be snoozing under a tree somewhere, waiting for dusk so you can murder something fuzzy and harmless in its sleep?”
“You know, I don’t HAVE to eat and sleep all day.”
“Are you sure you’re a predator?”
“Of course I am. See these teeth? Look at these incisors?”
“I’m looking.”
“They’re bigger than bananas, aren’t they?”
“Sure. What are bananas?”
“Search me. In contrast, compare your own set of gnashers.”
“Flat. Broad. Ridged.”
“Yes. Good for mashing things with tough husks, not stabbing big soft flabby hunks of meat. More like cobblestones.”
“Right. What are cobblestones?”
“Who knows? And besides that, if you compare our bodies-”
“Don’t make me laugh.”
“-IF you compare our bodies, you can see that I’m fairly short and stubby and tight around the tum. I don’t need a big intestine, see, because what I’m eating is pretty well packaged for digestion already. “
“Yay for you.”
“By way of contrast, you’ve got a great big barrel-belly, sort of a mobile fermentation factory for all those plants you’re gobbling up all day.”
“Thank you oh so very much.”
“You are quite welcome.”
“And you said I was being sarcastic.”
“Well, you’re contagious. And fair play is fair play.”
“What kind of play? You never did tell me why you’re still here.”
“I’m bored and you look like you could use the company.”
“I’m dying.”
“Again, this is not a new problem for any of us. And who wants to die alone?”
“If you’re so in love with the idea of sociable death why didn’t you play follow-the-leader with all your siblings and leave me in peace?”
“…you know, that was a very heartless thing to say.”
“Can’t be; my heart’s the size of your torso. And I put my heart into it, believe me. Hey, where you going? Did I touch a nerve? Did I twiddle your whiskers?”

“Well, good.”

“About time.”

“This is better.

“Hello again.”
“Hello. Again.”
“I’ve decided to forgive you for your interminable snappishness once more.”
“Once more?”
“It’s been an ongoing process.”
“Oh boo-hoo for you. I’m sure it’s an absolute martyrdom.”
“Well, as you’ve pointed out, I COULD be spending all day napping. Unlike some people I have to work for my meals, and outsmart them.”
“You call an hour’s work every three days work?”
“You call chewing as you walk work?”
“Herbivore. Agree to disagree?”
“If it gets you to stop talking.”
“About this, yes.”
“Fine. And you still haven’t told me why you won’t go away.”
“Well, you still haven’t told me how you ended up in there. Fair’s fair.”
“I’m sorry?”
“Shut up. And if you laugh, I’m not saying another word. Got it?”
“There was a tree.”
“Well, there are an awful lot of those around here.”
“Shut up. There are gradients. This was a good tree. A nice little sapling with plenty of fresh shoots. It was like candy.”
“What’s candy?”
“Shut up. And I had to rear up, just a little, to reach the upper branches, to drag it down, and…”
“The whole thing tipped over and you stumbled and tripped and rolled right in?”
“Shut UP! Why can’t you SHUT UP? Why’d you even ask me to say anything if everything I say is just going to be drowned out and blanketed by and covered with you NOT SHUTTING UP!?”
“Well, I could see the sapling sticking out of the bog already, so I’d sort of guessed myself. I just thought it might be healthy if you could bring yourself to talk about it.”
“Healthy? I’m dying. In ten minutes you’ll be talking to a few bubbles and you’ll be able to babble until your lips fall off.”
“Yes indeed. It’s healthy not to dwell on that sort of thing.”
“You’re practically dwelling in my face. Either tell me why you haven’t gone away or jam your head in the deep end.”
“If you really must know-”
“-it’s a nice day, and I had a good meal last night, and-”
“Who was it?”
“-some little squeaky thing that was trying to run up a tree – and as I was looking for a nice place to lie down and sleep –”
“KNEW it-”
“-I saw someone who looked very lonely and tired and decided to give them some company.”
“Because they reminded me of my siblings, and how sad it would’ve been if they’d each been alone.”

“Do you know, I think you’re sinking faster now.”
“It’s cumulative.”
“I suppose.”
“Oh, very well if you insist. Here, budge over.”
“Are you sure?”
“Please. I was dying this morning anyways. D’you know, that little squeaky thing had FOAM dripping out of its mouth? Should’ve known.”
“Thank you.”
“It’s no problem at all. Now, let’s watch the bubbles.”

Jen’s Bog predator trap:
A classic fossil site in the mode of the famous La Brea Tar Pits; Jen’s Bog has given up the remains of dozens of trapped animals since initial excavation began in 1923. Many, such as this Smilodon, were lured in by the prospect of easy food, only to become ensnared and face death alongside their prospective meals; in this case a giant ground sloth. Predator and prey died side by side.

Storytime: Family Business.

October 12th, 2016

What? A good morning?
A GOOD morning?!
Well let me tell you, this is a BAD morning! A lousy morning! This morning is trash from a dumpster! A dumpster on FIRE!
What? NO! Nothing’s wrong with me! I’m fine, it’s this lousy, low-rent morning that’s of no account.
But let me tell you about the mornings we had back in my day, and maybe you’ll understand…

Back in my day, a dawn was six seconds long. Back in my day, we all woke up early and stayed woke all day. Back in my day, sunset was as quick as a lick of your palm.
It was all because of one man, the big man, the tallest man we’d ever met. His name was…
You know, I don’t remember rightly what his name was. We’ll call him Ed Pool.
But it didn’t matter! It didn’t matter at all because of what his job was, and how clever he was at it.
Every morning of every day – no, no! – BEFORE every morning of every day, Ed Pool would sit up in his bed and do forty stretches.
Then Ed Pool would walk out into his kitchen and make some coffee. While it brewed, he would do eighty stretches.
Then Ed Pool would walk out into his garden and do one hundred and sixty stretches and on the one-hundred-and-sixtieth stretch he would LEAP high into the air and SWING his arm out and THROW the sun into the sky like a shot!
Like a SHOT!
And the sun would rise so high and so fast that dawn would be over in six seconds and all the birds woke up at once and everyone went to work and ate breakfast and things were as fine as could be as fast as you please.
Just like that!
And when the time for night came after the sun had hung in the sky all day long, Ed Pool would be holding his arm out when the sun came sizzling back down, and he would catch it in his big mitt. WHAM. Lights out. No fuss.

But one night before morning, Ed Pool was a bit distracted.
Maybe he was thinking about breakfast.
Maybe he was thinking about lunch.
Maybe he was thinking about his friends.
Maybe he was thinking about a girl he used to know.
Whatever it was, we don’t blame him for it. He was a busy man who did a lot for us. And if he once miscounted his stretches by Just. One. Stretch.
Well, who can hate a man for that?

But Ed Pool did his one-hundred-and-fifty-nine stretches and he LEAPT into the air and he SWUNG out his arm and he FELL down in his garden and held his back yelping like a coyote with a squirrel up its wrong end.
“DAMN. OW. MORE WORDS,” he said. “I’m bedridden! I’m stuck! Oh shit, now the sun’s stuck down here until my lazy, worthless, shiftless, no-account, no-good, altogether-rotten son gets here to fix things! MAN I hate that!”
So it was already a pretty late night by the time Ed Pool’s lazy, worthless, shiftless, no-account, no-good, altogether-rotten son answered the phone, listened to his father, drove over, and attended an earnest lecture on the principles of sun-management.
“Well how hard could it be?” he said. And he picked up the sun and burnt his fingers and yelped and CHUCKED that sun.
Well, morning was three seconds long that day. And the day was a week. The sun fell onto the roof of the sky and rolled into a gutter, and it wasn’t until the moon spent a week poking it with a stick that it came loose enough to roll out and fall back down, where Ed Pool’s lazy, worthless, shiftless, no-account, no-good, altogether-rotten son failed to catch it and it nearly fell into the ocean.
“Whoops,” he said. “Well, I’ll know better in the morning.”
And he went to bed. And so did everyone else, who was pretty tired because nobody expects to wait a week for bedtime.

Didn’t expect to wake up to midnight, either.
The birds woke up. The stores opened up. The kettles whistled and pans sizzled.
And they did it in pitch black because it was time for morning and morning wasn’t there at all. Folks burned their hands making bacon in the dead of night; they drove their cars past stop signs, they walked to school in total confusion because all the birds couldn’t remember what kind of bird they were and were making up new calls pretty much at random.
It was a MESS.
And it kept on being a mess for two weeks until Ed Pool’s ten thousandth phone call’s ring finally roused his lazy, worthless, shiftless, no-account, no-good, altogether-rotten son from his slumber.
“I thought it wasn’t morning yet,” he said, and Ed Pool reminded him forcibly that morning was his damned job and it wasn’t finished.
“Whoops,” he said. So he walked out into the garden and stretched once or twice and picked up the sun and burnt his fingers again and yelped and dropped it into the ocean.

By the time the sun got fished out it was dimmed down to a dull red, which matched the colour of Ed Pool’s lazy, worthless, shiftless, no-account, no-good, altogether-rotten son’s backside at that particular time, grown man or no. But Ed Pool got a mite carried away, and wouldn’t you know it his wrist got a crinkle in the doing that stopped him from ever throwing anything again.
Nowadays it’s all done with ropes and pulleys and stuff. And sure, it’s reliable. And sure, it’s modern. And sure, that half-dead sun does make a pretty sky while it’s being dragged up there.
But damnit! There was a time when breakfast was ready in six seconds!

Storytime: Doodle.

October 5th, 2016

It was homework, the dreariest of all possible works, that brought such trouble to Melanie.
And to top it all off, her pencil was a stub. She hated pencils; they always did this, no matter how promising they started.
So she went looking for a pen. And to be fair to Melanie, she looked in the kitchen drawer first; and she looked in her room second; and she looked under the couch third, and THEN she did the thing she knew she shouldn’t do and she walked into her mother’s study.
Melanie’s mother was a magician and had told her never to do this many times very sternly. But that had been a long time ago, and besides Melanie just wanted a pen, which she found sitting on the desk and immediately took.
Now THIS was better than a pencil. A firm, stern blue line, unwavering with usage and wear. Her answers made no more sense to her, but they were so much surer in their stance. In fact, it was almost a waste to see them used on such trifling things as homework, and inch by inch, bit by bit, Melanie began to doodle.
She drew their house; a big old apartment building half-missing from when Melanie’s mother had learned their landlord was sucking out his tenants’ happiness with a demon; and she drew her class – herself and a bunch of other people of some kind – and she drew a dinosaur.
She didn’t intend to. It began with an eye, which flowed into a snout, which poured into a body, and dribbled away into a long slim tail. It was a modern dinosaur, and so she gave it a thick tight coat of feathers to warm it and cool it and colour its (ink-blue) sides. But the part Melanie was most proud of were the eyes, which she shaded so especially well that they shone with luster. She could almost see them blink, which made her almost perversely disappointed when they did.
They blinked again.
Then the whole dinosaur stretched – a big-cat stretch – and it yawned and it turned its head to peer at her. Its breath was soft and strong between its teeth, and it smelled of old meat and fresh dew on ferns.
The front door creaked. Melanie’s mother was home, and already calling for help with the groceries. And by the time Melanie turned back to her workbook, it was empty except for a few half-chewed shreds of numbers scattering the bottom of the page.

School the next morning was a dreary thing. A rainy day, a morning scolding over the state of her homework, and a breakfast that was mostly apples. By the time math class began, Melanie was thoroughly disgruntled. Division! Before lunch! And her with only a borrowed pencil to work with and a longing for her mother’s pen, which was safe at home tucked under her bed. But she swallowed her angst with stoic grace, and she began to math.
A number started. A framework of complicated bits surrounded it. And bit by bit, it was peeled away to reveal a fresh new shining product.
It would have been satisfying if it wasn’t one of ten and it wasn’t dull and it wasn’t long and it didn’t make Melanie’s head hurt.
But she persisted, and she focused, and then, halfway down the page, she felt warm breath against her wrist.
She pulled her hand back with a start, just before the long, narrow snout of her dinosaur poked it across the edge of the page, sniffing quietly. The rest of it followed on silent three-clawed feet.
Its eyes were even brighter than she remembered. And they were looking right at it.
It stepped towards the edge of the page – the near edge – and Melanie grabbed the sheet and stuffed it in her desk and stifled her own shriek all at once before she remembered she was surrounded by her fellow students and the teacher was looking right at her.

One severe talk later, class was over and gym began.
Melanie did not like gym. There was a rope she had to climb, and a ball she had to throw. Neither liked her, either.
She stood on the ground, watching as Lizzie climbed like a monkey, and she seethed with a dull-bladed envy that nearly made her stomach stop churning. The dinosaur had been gone when she gave the homework to the teacher. But then again, the dinosaur had been gone yesterday, when her mother came home.
The rope called, and the teacher called her name.
Up went Melanie, hand over hand, higher than any kite she’d ever managed to fly, which she hadn’t. Up towards the big glowing sky above that was the gym lights, which made her squint a little no matter how dim and fuzzy and in need of cleaning their screen was. It was like a little forest of mould and fuzzy lint and dirt in there; a jungle in miniature. Not THAT miniature, mind you. It was nearly as big as she was. It was nearly big enough to fit her whole dinosaur, which was there all along, watching her again.
It opened its mouth and hissed at her, and Melanie did the sensible thing and let go.

There was another talk. It was more serious. Notes were produced, exchanged, and sent home with Melanie, who found her dinner devoid of dessert and with a side of lecture instead.
She went up to her room with a stomach screaming for thwarted sugar and a head dancing with nerves. Twice, now. Twice. And the second time not even on paper. She never should have taken that pen. What if it was lost? What if it was missing? She’d have to tell her mother and she’d have to run away from her own dinosaur all her life.
Trembling, fearing which might happen, cringing at the invisible teeth that MUST be about to close on her fingertips, Melanie reached underneath her bed and up against the mattress and sagged under the weight of ten thousand tons of relief.
Yes, the pen was still there.
Tomorrow morning she would get up early before her mother – an easy job – and put it back on her desk and everything would be fine. And by saying this to herself, it was already fine.
For the first time that day, Melanie felt safe and calm. Her room was soft and warm and filled in the glow of her lamp. VERY filled. She couldn’t remember the last time it had shone like this; had her mother changed the bulb? It was as lustrous as an electric pearl.
Her lamp blinked.
And, in that very slow way that happens all at once and quickly, Melanie saw that her room’s walls were feathers and its ceiling was a mouth and floor was claws and its eyes, its beautiful eyes, were on her.
If Melanie had taken any time at all to think, things might have gotten very bad indeed. But instead, all that came out was a scream: “MOOOOMMMY!”
The eyes flinched and there was a crash and a bang and Melanie’s mother was in the room before the door finished opening. But her magic had come in before she had, and it made her ten feet tall. The air crackled like rice cereal with too much milk and the dinosaur hesitated just for a moment in the way Melanie hadn’t and by then it was much too late for it.
“Come down to the kitchen,” said Melanie’s mother. The pen was smoking in her hand like an old cigarette. “Now.”
So they did.

The first thing that happened was Melanie’s mother put her pen away.
The second thing that happened was Melanie’s mother brought out cookies.
And the third thing that happened was a lecture.
“Melanie, I am severely disappointed,” said her mother. “You should have come to me immediately and ‘fessed up and this whole thing would’ve been over in ten minutes. Remember the time you told me you didn’t know who ate the whole box of cookies?”
Melanie flinched.
“Yes, they’re the same thing. Magic is, after all, nothing more than an organized sort of lying. And you have done a very good job of it for an amateur.”
“The pen is a pen, little fidget. A nice pen that you shouldn’t have borrowed without permission, but a pen. Until you took it and let your imagination wander away, that is. Now this is going in my safe, and YOU are going to have to learn magic properly. The safe way.” Melanie’s mother pinched her nose and shook her head. “But we’ll do that tomorrow. Once you’ve finished your math.”
And that was how Melanie’s troubles truly began, for now her homework was twice as long.

Storytime: Bad Wind.

September 28th, 2016

Holy shit holy shit holy shit holy
Oh good. It hasn’t hit yet; it isn’t here; you’ve got time.
Listen you’ve got to earnestly pardon my French, German, English, Croatian, and Proto-Indo-European because this is no time nor place for polite language there’s a bad fucking wind coming.

It’s just over the hill, the rise, the country. It’s sweeping the nation from coast to coast and it’s going to take away one of them and give us a new one.
Here, grab this cardboard. Nail it over the insides of your windows. Here, grab these bars. Hammer them over the outsides of your windows.
Do you have any trees? Write your names on them with this waterproof marker so they can be returned to you at a later date.
Fuck this is bad. A very bad wind.

We should’ve listened to the scientists, I’m sure they warned us and I’m sure they underestimated the odds and I’m sure we didn’t listen. I can’t cite any of this, I don’t know my APA or my Chicago or any other styles, I have no styles.
But look at that sky! It’s lime and lemon and black and blue and is that… yellow and purple? Sweet fuck of mine it’s clashing.
They said we could’ve avoided this if we used clean energy. We could’ve stopped it with basic impersonal hygiene. Rinsed before the morning was over, double-scrubbed at evening before we went to bed.
And now. And now look at us!
This is it, you know. It very well could be it. This bad wind coming in.

The bad wind is rolling closer, we haven’t got much more than none.
You can hear the howl of the wind lifting away small untethered pets and dirty magazines from your teens’ bedrooms.
It could be worse and soon it will be. Just one hundred miles away there are upside-down tornados with the wide ends on the ground and the little tails up in the sky. They’re much worse that way.
Pray you’re not on the coast; there’s hurricanes out there. Big fat fuckers that sprawl like a fat man on a subway seat, and they’re spinning counter-counter-counter-clockwise. Oscillating like ocelots. Fish are being sucked up by rainstorms and spat out by waterspouts. Dirty words are being written on walls using bits from other walls.
There is no respect in this, no sort of two-way communication, no search for mutual understanding. It’s such a bad goddamned wind.

Cover the storm drains, open the windows. Get in your heaviest and most sinkable trucks. Batten every hatch, bar every door, belay the masthead and swab the anchor. Say goodbye to your old coastlines and hello to the new old inland seas. We could very well end up with mosasaurs by the end of all this.
Do you have sixteen months worth of rations and preservable vitals in your basement? No? Yes? Maybe? How about sixteen years? Six centuries? Sixty-five million years?
Useless useless USELESS.
Surely we must use our monkey brains for some sort of foresight, some kind of understanding! There’s got to be synergy here somewhere.
Listen. Storms are large and bulbuous and funny-coloured.
That makes them very nearly fruit.
So, if we all get together and try very very hard and close our eyes maybe we can just pick the sto
No no no that’s a dumb idea.
What if we climbed up a tree, a really big tree, and we screamed at
Let’s form a complex social hierarchy at

It’s too late now.
It’s here. It’s all over. It’s bad to the bones and it has no bones don’t ask me how it managed this; damned thing has eaten the horizon from all sides and now it’s draining out of our sun and dribbling drizzle across the carpet of our countryside.
I’ve done what I could. Let’s do what we usually do and tell our kids it’s their problem now. That trick usually works.