Storytime: The Daily Grind

December 13th, 2017

They smile.
I know they’re told to do it, I know they get fired if they don’t. But still.
It’s nice to see a smile in the morning when you’re a walking frown, isn’t it?
A smile, a speedy transaction, and a tiny mug of extremely potent pixee to start the day. I take mine shredded, with a double lemon. Cracks you wide open. The folks that use milk are cowards.
Thanks, GlitterPixee.
Your stupid rolls still cost too much though.

I stepped outside the building, stood under the filthy dank fog that crackled ozone and pissed power and reflected that although the world may run on miasma, the people definitely ran on pixee. What good were all those mechanisms and foundries and pipes and tubes and vents and sirens if everyone fell over exhausted on the controls and blew up the building?
Work transit was slow. The bus driver was cautious, and got into a fight with a man that wouldn’t stand behind the line. The bus intervened on his behalf and by the time I walked into work the scrying of the unruly passenger vanishing into the bus’s maw feet-first had already been dreamed into the households of half the planet. My had he been a screamer. I wished I had my orb with me to see the recording, but the stupid thing had chipped nearly in half when I dropped it a week ago.

It was a productive day. I had two lunches, two meetings, and speed-engraved two hundred and sixty secret names into a tablet of two hundred and sixty other names. Today this slab would be given to the accounting department, and used to issue forth spells of billing, to charge them for letting them know where to find people who could tell them where to find people who knew about the best ways to curse and counter-curse troubled metropolitan districts.
Tomorrow I would probably have to put all the names back again and pretend it never happened, but I’d burn that troll when I came to it.
I also spent a lot of time arguing with the guy in the cell across from me. He had the sort of face that demanded it; eyebrows set in a natural furrow and a lip built halfway to a sneer from a snarl. We never agreed on anything, and several times I’d had to change long-standing beliefs of mine to ensure this. Nobody could bear to agree with someone so disagreeable.

The bus home was better-behaved. Much duller. I passed the time staring out the window and counting advertisements. They seemed quaintly obsolete, those flyers and billboards. Screaming their product into the world in hopes it’d see that one-in-a-thousand who actually wanted it, who might be the one in ten thousand that’d buy it. Like the marketing version of a tree spewing seeds left right and center. Not at all the way it’s down nowadays, when your orb could just tailor them right to your tastes for a song and a dance and a hope and a dream.
Oh man. That was right! It was today!
And just like that the road home got eight times longer, right up until the moment when I got home, wrenched open the box, tore away eighteen inches of intricately mass-produced little pellets of cold iron and unearthed their protected, insulated prize: my new orb. Not the best model, but the newest, which was close enough to that to make it better.
Just needed to register it with the spiders.
Thumbprint. Brainshock. That nasty, tingling feeling like an ice cream cone just took a bite out of your forehead, and a small scream.
There we go!
I gripped it tight and rolled back my eyes and listened to the familiar whispers as the spiders scrambled in and out of my ears, pulling together everything they knew I’d want.
More fading reported from small towns in the eastern hinterland. Images of a starving dragon collapsed on a riverbank, too hungry to eat. More sages stating this was a direct result of miasmic corruption and that within the next thirty years half the planet would be a smouldering husk and the other half would envy it. More arguments.
I filed that away in the back of my head for the next time I was bored at work and wanted to pick a fight with the guy in the cell next to me. Not sure what side I’d take yet, I’d probably leave that up to him.
Used hope and dream-related byproduct from orb charging was being barred from shipment to the Great Lagoon, which had decided to start shipping its own mutilated dreamwaste to Far Asdy, which was burning it in special furnaces that had been connected to blah blah who cares.
They needed to fix the newsfeed settings on these things; it’d take ages to get this thing back to looking at what I cared about.
Seablight continued to spread. All that miasma that had been locked up low, leaking out and back up into the light again, stronger and angrier and fuelled by the rotting souls of millions of sickening and withering fish and corals.
I hid that one. Too depressing to look at. I wanted to go diving in Newdeep next summer.
GlitterPixee has been implicated in the underpayment of its workers.
Well, shit, what I had just said about too depressing? I’d have to get my morning wake-me-up somewhere else now. Maybe Ever-Dust – but that was two blocks away, no. Wakeman’s Ups? No, that was one block the WRONG way.
I’d tip the staff an extra coin, that was it. That’d work. I’d be helping AND saving myself an inconvenience.
Good job, me.

The cold iron pellets didn’t look recyclable, but they looked like they might’ve been recyclable. I asked the spiders who asked the world and got six of one and half a dozen of the other.
So I put half in the garbage and half in the smelter bin.

The next morning was another curdled sky. Seems like those are more and more common nowadays. Maybe all those sages they keep interviewing are on to something, I guess. I’m sure someone’ll sort it out.
But for now, grind as it may, as long as I’ve got me a hot cup of pixee I’m just fine.
It all must be fine.
They smile.
I know they’re told to do it, I know they get fired if they don’t. But still.
It’s nice to see a smile in the morning when you’re a walking frown, isn’t it?
A smile, a speedy transaction, and a tiny mug of extremely potent pixee to start the day. I take mine shredded, with a double lemon. Cracks you wide open. The folks that use milk are cowards.
Thanks, GlitterPixee.
Your stupid rolls still cost too much though.

I stepped outside the building, stood under the filthy dank fog that crackled ozone and pissed power and reflected that although the world may run on miasma, the people definitely ran on pixee. What good were all those mechanisms and foundries and pipes and tubes and vents and sirens if everyone fell over exhausted on the controls and blew up the building?
Work transit was slow. The bus driver was cautious, and got into a fight with a man that wouldn’t stand behind the line. The bus intervened on his behalf and by the time I walked into work the scrying of the unruly passenger vanishing into the bus’s maw feet-first had already been dreamed into the households of half the planet. My had he been a screamer. I wished I had my orb with me to see the recording, but the stupid thing had chipped nearly in half when I dropped it a week ago.

It was a productive day. I had two lunches, two meetings, and speed-engraved two hundred and sixty secret names into a tablet of two hundred and sixty other names. Today this slab would be given to the accounting department, and used to issue forth spells of billing, to charge them for letting them know where to find people who could tell them where to find people who knew about the best ways to curse and counter-curse troubled metropolitan districts.
Tomorrow I would probably have to put all the names back again and pretend it never happened, but I’d burn that troll when I came to it.
I also spent a lot of time arguing with the guy in the cell across from me. He had the sort of face that demanded it; eyebrows set in a natural furrow and a lip built halfway to a sneer from a snarl. We never agreed on anything, and several times I’d had to change long-standing beliefs of mine to ensure this. Nobody could bear to agree with someone so disagreeable.

The bus home was better-behaved. Much duller. I passed the time staring out the window and counting advertisements. They seemed quaintly obsolete, those flyers and billboards. Screaming their product into the world in hopes it’d see that one-in-a-thousand who actually wanted it, who might be the one in ten thousand that’d buy it. Like the marketing version of a tree spewing seeds left right and center. Not at all the way it’s down nowadays, when your orb could just tailor them right to your tastes for a song and a dance and a hope and a dream.
Oh man. That was right! It was today!
And just like that the road home got eight times longer, right up until the moment when I got home, wrenched open the box, tore away eighteen inches of intricately mass-produced little pellets of cold iron and unearthed their protected, insulated prize: my new orb. Not the best model, but the newest, which was close enough to that to make it better.
Just needed to register it with the spiders.
Thumbprint. Brainshock. That nasty, tingling feeling like an ice cream cone just took a bite out of your forehead, and a small scream.
There we go!
I gripped it tight and rolled back my eyes and listened to the familiar whispers as the spiders scrambled in and out of my ears, pulling together everything they knew I’d want.
More fading reported from small towns in the eastern hinterland. Images of a starving dragon collapsed on a riverbank, too hungry to eat. More sages stating this was a direct result of miasmic corruption and that within the next thirty years half the planet would be a smouldering husk and the other half would envy it. More arguments.
I filed that away in the back of my head for the next time I was bored at work and wanted to pick a fight with the guy in the cell next to me. Not sure what side I’d take yet, I’d probably leave that up to him.
Used hope and dream-related byproduct from orb charging was being barred from shipment to the Great Lagoon, which had decided to start shipping its own mutilated dreamwaste to Far Asdy, which was burning it in special furnaces that had been connected to blah blah who cares.
They needed to fix the newsfeed settings on these things; it’d take ages to get this thing back to looking at what I cared about.
Seablight continued to spread. All that miasma that had been locked up low, leaking out and back up into the light again, stronger and angrier and fuelled by the rotting souls of millions of sickening and withering fish and corals.
I hid that one. Too depressing to look at. I wanted to go diving in Newdeep next summer.
GlitterPixee has been implicated in the underpayment of its workers.
Well, shit, what I had just said about too depressing? I’d have to get my morning wake-me-up somewhere else now. Maybe Ever-Dust – but that was two blocks away, no. Wakeman’s Ups? No, that was one block the WRONG way.
I’d tip the staff an extra coin, that was it. That’d work. I’d be helping AND saving myself an inconvenience.
Good job, me.

The cold iron pellets didn’t look recyclable, but they looked like they might’ve been recyclable. I asked the spiders who asked the world and got six of one and half a dozen of the other.
So I put half in the garbage and half in the smelter bin.

The next morning was another curdled sky. Seems like those are more and more common nowadays. Maybe all those sages they keep interviewing are on to something, I guess. I’m sure someone’ll sort it out.
But for now, grind as it may, as long as I’ve got me a hot cup of pixee I’m just fine.
It all must be fine.
They smile.
I know they’re told to do it, I know they get fired if they don’t. But still.
It’s nice to see a smile in the morning when you’re a walking frown, isn’t it?
A smile, a speedy transaction, and a tiny mug of extremely potent pixee to start the day. I take mine shredded, with a double lemon. Cracks you wide open. The folks that use milk are cowards.
Thanks, GlitterPixee.
Your stupid rolls still cost too much though.

I stepped outside the building, stood under the filthy dank fog that crackled ozone and pissed power and reflected that although the world may run on miasma, the people definitely ran on pixee. What good were all those mechanisms and foundries and pipes and tubes and vents and sirens if everyone fell over exhausted on the controls and blew up the building?
Work transit was slow. The bus driver was cautious, and got into a fight with a man that wouldn’t stand behind the line. The bus intervened on his behalf and by the time I walked into work the scrying of the unruly passenger vanishing into the bus’s maw feet-first had already been dreamed into the households of half the planet. My had he been a screamer. I wished I had my orb with me to see the recording, but the stupid thing had chipped nearly in half when I dropped it a week ago.

It was a productive day. I had two lunches, two meetings, and speed-engraved two hundred and sixty secret names into a tablet of two hundred and sixty other names. Today this slab would be given to the accounting department, and used to issue forth spells of billing, to charge them for letting them know where to find people who could tell them where to find people who knew about the best ways to curse and counter-curse troubled metropolitan districts.
Tomorrow I would probably have to put all the names back again and pretend it never happened, but I’d burn that troll when I came to it.
I also spent a lot of time arguing with the guy in the cell across from me. He had the sort of face that demanded it; eyebrows set in a natural furrow and a lip built halfway to a sneer from a snarl. We never agreed on anything, and several times I’d had to change long-standing beliefs of mine to ensure this. Nobody could bear to agree with someone so disagreeable.

The bus home was better-behaved. Much duller. I passed the time staring out the window and counting advertisements. They seemed quaintly obsolete, those flyers and billboards. Screaming their product into the world in hopes it’d see that one-in-a-thousand who actually wanted it, who might be the one in ten thousand that’d buy it. Like the marketing version of a tree spewing seeds left right and center. Not at all the way it’s down nowadays, when your orb could just tailor them right to your tastes for a song and a dance and a hope and a dream.
Oh man. That was right! It was today!
And just like that the road home got eight times longer, right up until the moment when I got home, wrenched open the box, tore away eighteen inches of intricately mass-produced little pellets of cold iron and unearthed their protected, insulated prize: my new orb. Not the best model, but the newest, which was close enough to that to make it better.
Just needed to register it with the spiders.
Thumbprint. Brainshock. That nasty, tingling feeling like an ice cream cone just took a bite out of your forehead, and a small scream.
There we go!
I gripped it tight and rolled back my eyes and listened to the familiar whispers as the spiders scrambled in and out of my ears, pulling together everything they knew I’d want.
More fading reported from small towns in the eastern hinterland. Images of a starving dragon collapsed on a riverbank, too hungry to eat. More sages stating this was a direct result of miasmic corruption and that within the next thirty years half the planet would be a smouldering husk and the other half would envy it. More arguments.
I filed that away in the back of my head for the next time I was bored at work and wanted to pick a fight with the guy in the cell next to me. Not sure what side I’d take yet, I’d probably leave that up to him.
Used hope and dream-related byproduct from orb charging was being barred from shipment to the Great Lagoon, which had decided to start shipping its own mutilated dreamwaste to Far Asdy, which was burning it in special furnaces that had been connected to blah blah who cares.
They needed to fix the newsfeed settings on these things; it’d take ages to get this thing back to looking at what I cared about.
Seablight continued to spread. All that miasma that had been locked up low, leaking out and back up into the light again, stronger and angrier and fuelled by the rotting souls of millions of sickening and withering fish and corals.
I hid that one. Too depressing to look at. I wanted to go diving in Newdeep next summer.
GlitterPixee has been implicated in the underpayment of its workers.
Well, shit, what I had just said about too depressing? I’d have to get my morning wake-me-up somewhere else now. Maybe Ever-Dust – but that was two blocks away, no. Wakeman’s Ups? No, that was one block the WRONG way.
I’d tip the staff an extra coin, that was it. That’d work. I’d be helping AND saving myself an inconvenience.
Good job, me.

The cold iron pellets didn’t look recyclable, but they looked like they might’ve been recyclable. I asked the spiders who asked the world and got six of one and half a dozen of the other.
So I put half in the garbage and half in the smelter bin.

The next morning was another curdled sky. Seems like those are more and more common nowadays. Maybe all those sages they keep interviewing are on to something, I guess. I’m sure someone’ll sort it out.
But for now, grind as it may, as long as I’ve got me a hot cup of pixee I’m just fine.
It all must be fine.


Storytime: Neighbours.

December 6th, 2017

Once upon a time there was oh about a ton, a ton of troll, and that troll was named Lod. She lived on the hill, under the crag, under the crag her mother had lived in – she was the youngest child, and to her had passed the hearth. Every six years or so her siblings came home and they ate and sang and swore at each other, and had a very good time. Other than that, she was much on her own.
It was a pretty good life, for a troll. They’re solitary folk. Days drift by fast enough when routine’s at their heels, and as the body thinks its way through the chores the brain (the least essential organ in any animal) is free to waste its own time on its own dime.
The downside with routines is they make ruts. And you don’t see those until you step in them, as occurred to Lod one fine April when she stood up walked out her front door and fell six feet down onto screaming, bleating softness.
“Huh,” said Lod, scraping herself upright. Someone had removed a lot of dirt from the base of her hill and replaced it with some kind of scraped path, then filled it with….little terrified clouds? She picked one up – the one underneath her posterior – and gave it a snort. Smelled like food.
“Huh,” pondered Lod.
A chittering noise turned her thoughts outwards again. A very small and hideous creature was in front of her. Its eyes were bulging great fish-goggles; its skin a thin, stretched thing like a frog’s hide. Its mouth seemed soft and toothless, and its claws appeared to have been removed. Uneven patches of hair decorated its head only; the poor thing seemed mangy.
“Want some?” asked Lod.
The chittering continued, and Lod realized it was coming from the creature’s mouth. Clearly it was half mad with hunger.
“Poor sucker,” she said, and she tore the little cloud-animal in half and handed the other half to the small hideous creature only to watch it run down the path as if its feet were on fire.
“Strange,” considered Lod.
And that was the most words she’d said at once in three years.
Damn fine dinner, though.

The next day Lod was cleaning her hearth when a fearsome ruckus appeared outside her stoop – at midday, no less – a time when most folks are waiting for the sun to die down.
Lod stuck her nose out and sniffed. It smelled of fear and rage and petulance, and then her face followed her nose and oh look it was more of the little hideous things.
“Crud,” she said. “Can’t feed you all.”
They chittered most fiercely at her. They were brandishing sticks and things. Some of them were on fire, and some were pointy, and some were just sticks. Were they trying to build a nest or something?
“Try the hilltop,” she suggested. “No birds there for years.”
“T FRS S, KLL T,” howled one of the shaggier creatures.
“Cripes, quiet,” said Lod. “Take ‘em and go.”
And she rolled a few good fire-starter-stones down the hill at them, but the creatures ran away and just left them there. And they WERE good ones, have no doubt.
“Strange,” complained Lod.
All that strange was making her hungry, too.

The next day Lod lucked out. Wandered a little farther afield than usual – easy, too, with these weird paths everywhere – when’d THEY show up? – and found a whole bunch of those little cloud-animals. She took two (lunch and dinner) and was annoyed to find herself watched once more by the furtive, smelly, and heavy-breathinged creature she’d met two days before.
“Come on,” she yelled at it, waving a portion of cloud-animal leg above her head. “Feel free. Lots here. I can’t fit it all in.”
And it skedaddled again.
But not all the way. It followed her all the way home and hung around as she ate and finally she gave up and chucked the bones at it and it ran away squeaking.
“Strange,” fumed Lod.
And then.
“Nah. They’re being assholes.”
Lod had fourteen older siblings. She knew of what she spoke.

The fourth day was odder still. Once again Lod was awoken rudely in the depths of day the shrieks of the squishy creatures, but this time it was one making the noise of sixteen. It had covered itself in shiny rocks, and it wielded a very small and tremendously ineffectual stick that was so thin it was practically two-dimensional.
“Oh fuck off,” said Lod, whose manners, often-eroded since the death of her mother, were now exhausted.
“HV T TH,” hollered the thing, and it ran at her squeaking and waving the stick around.
Lod smacked it one and it fell over and stopped breathing.
“Oh SHIT,” she said, and she quickly applied the traditional troll medicinal remedy for a stopped heart, which was to tear open the patient’s chest and squeeze it until it started up again.
However, it transpired that the creatures had unusually bony ribcages and unusually soft hearts, and so the thing staunchly remained dead.
“Shit, shit, shit,” muttered Lod as she chewed this over.
In the end she dismembered the patient (reserving the longbones), placed it together with its complete skull in a small cairn on top of the crag, and hoped that by the end of the century it’d have slept it off and be able to walk home by itself.

For three days Lod enjoyed somewhat restful sleep.
And on the seventh day she was woken, and this time there were four of them and they had larger sticks.
“Hell with this,” said Lod. She stomped her feet three times, gave her tormentors the finger, and stepped into her hearth, which ignited instantly and consumed her down to a thick wisp of smoke.

She’d go visit her sister over the sea, maybe, or her brother in the forest. Tell them about whatever nonsense this was, tell them it was their problem now, and walk out. Mom’s house was NOT worth this shit.


Storytime: Keeper’s Records for the Residents of Summerdale Dr.; Midland, ON; Canada

November 29th, 2017

Keeper’s Records for the Residents of Summerdale Dr.; Midland, ON; Canada.

Lena J. Christoff
Riled ever since Assistant Keeper Thomas dropped her feed bucket last week. Has feigned charges at every worker passing by her compound for six weeks running. Only enter the yard in pairs or greater numbers, with cattle prods at the ready.

Timothy van Duffel
Was well on the road to settling in until something spooked him severely Wednesday. Ruffled plumage and nervous disposition ever since. Some of his tracks were spotted on Gary Olson’s lawn; it’s possible they had an altercation overnight. Extra feed for the next few days and give him some space. And someone ask management for the budget for proper surveillance coverage. Next time we could lose someone’s neck.

New arrival: Keith Halibut
Large but reserved, remains contentedly aloof. Not a bad way to respond to a move, but we want to make him comfortable with the public. Slip a few deboned raw chickens into his diet – just toss them at the end of the lawn. Get him used to showing off early, before he gets too comfortable in his shell.

Elizabeth Edwards
Restive and fractious this week. Meals must be given in absolutely pulverized state to avoid further agitation. Teething remains a difficulty. Use the tongs to avoid nipped fingers or worse; ask Senior Keeper Holly why she has to cut her right-handed gloves short a knuckle.

Laurel Bruce
Remains sickly, off her feed. Grind the pills extremely fine before putting them in her morning oats or she’ll know something’s up and refuse to eat. Keeper Andrew is still on double shifts there; he’s the only one she’ll relax enough around to get some sleep. Keep extra coffee on standby for him so he won’t nod off in the pen.

Gary Olson
Frankly, one more week of misbehaviour out of this guy and I vote we send him to the knackers. Still bullies the other inhabitants of his lot, and he’s up at all hours screaming his head off. If he tripped on a rock and broke his empty little head overnight, the first thing we’d notice is everyone else’d be a lot more relaxed. Until then, firm hands and ignore him when he acts up… but if he tries any shit, give him both ends of the taser. Boundaries. Needs them.

Heather Mangrove.
Remains hyperactive and bouncing off the walls after the misdiagnosis – no hard feelings, Keeper Terry, but you need to be clearer with the vets, because next time might not be so (relatively) harmless. The meds should be out of her system by 6 AM Saturday, but until then don’t give her any food, just lots of water. She’ll sleep like a log when the high’s over, so have a double feed ready Sunday morning.

Gabbie Wellington
Is a grade-A monster. Needs more socialization with older individuals. Maybe bunk her with Laurel Bruce for daytime sessions once Laurel’s feeling better, give them both something to do.

Bob
Carry along with whatever you’re doing, I refuse to get involved.

Keeper O’Neil
Is doing quite well thank you. Ha ha. Look, I don’t ask that you take your jobs stone-faced, I don’t ask that you do your work unsmilingly, I just request that you take it SERIOUSLY. And that involves not putting your co-workers on the list, okay? Okay.
Anyways, give him more donuts.

Francis Mark
Fine. No problems here. Straight As across the board. God, I wish you were all like Francis. Why can’t you all be more like Francis?

George Newbury
Still broody, even though he’s (a) half a lifetime past parenting age and (b) attempting to baby a chew toy. We may have to put him down soon before it gets too painful for him.

Reginald Samsa
Having difficulties with the climate, although there’s no obvious symptoms of hypothermia yet. Next time he’s in the yard sneak him extra bedding and maybe a hot water bottle, that should tide him over until he gets used to the chill.

Theresa Mulberry, Sr. & Jr.
Happy and healthy, but something of a road hazard. Try to monitor their movements and be ready to hustle smaller residents out of the way when they’re on the go so they don’t carom them right off the sidewalk and into the ditch; that’s how we lost Donald Zimmer thirty years ago.

Keeper O’Neil’s Big Fat Donut-Filled Gut
oh screw you guys


Storytime: Stories.

November 22nd, 2017

Yeah, I might’ve told you about my great-uncle Tony before. Was a real-life thrillseeker. He was something like seventy-four, and he was going up – not Everest, one of the other ones, you know. K2? Maybe? Who knows. Anyways, he was out on a ledge or something (I’m not a climber), and he had his ice axe out, and he swung and yanked and hauled himself up and wouldn’t you know, I have no idea how he did this, but he was holding it BACKWARDS. Tried to haul himself and a forty-pound backpack up by the gripping force of a rubber handle.
His friend Louis got a look at him as he went by, and he said those were the most consternated eyebrows he’d ever seen on a man anywhere.
Not surprised, just VEXED.
Crazy ol’ great-uncle Tony.

I remember my cousin Janice very fondly. She knew everybody in my family, and she told me that story about our great-uncle Tony just the week before she passed. Man, she would’ve loved the way she went. Who hooks a whale when they were looking for mackerel? What a way to leave – whip-snap over the side like ol’ Ahab himself. Didn’t even have time to shout. And she’d just taken her jacket off and hadn’t replaced her floaters; boy, the things that make a difference when you think back twenty seconds.
Ah, well. She always did like the sea, Janice did. She’s just part of it now.

Oh, hadn’t you heard?
Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, but no, Denise’s been dead for like a year.
I know! I know, she was so young! She had funny pains in her arm the day after she helped me move – we had such a good time, sat around, shot the shit about all our relatives, had too much pizza. She called me in the morning to ask if I’d forgotten anything, thought she’d pulled something, then I heard a thump and she’d fallen right over. Called the hospital and by the time the ambulance showed up, well, that was that.
A stroke at thirty, can you believe it? Wow, neither could the doctors. Probably going to end up being a data point in a study somewhere.

Okay, I should explain a bit, because there was the flood, yes, but they didn’t tell us exactly cause of death until we got to the morgue, because they didn’t want to sensationalize it. So we were standing there in the lobby while they told us Eddie did everything right aside from not evacuating right away.
He saw the water rising, knew he had to get off the ground floor, and knew his attic was a safe place to wait because the windows there were real big and he could get onto the roof if he needed to. Young, athletic guy, he felt pretty confident about this. So he walked upstairs and pulled down the ladder and climbed up there with his arms full of blankets and cans and he was practically standing nose to nose with a tiger. A Bengal tiger.
There was a tiger in there!
I know, a tiger! The zoo flooded too, and it swam out and got caught in a current and it hauled itself out on his back porch roof and got into his attic through the window.
Well…it had an awfully big personal space bubble. And it was pretty scared at the time. So that was it for poor ol’ Eddie. Strangest thing I’ve ever heard happen to any member of my family. He’d been having such a bad year too, since Denise died. They were such good friends.

And just there, in between the lines and behind the words, there was
The drop
The snag
The clutch
The shock
The fear
And the pain

But you can’t tell someone else’s story without leaving a few things out.


Storytime: King of Beasts.

November 15th, 2017

“He’s very well-trained, you know. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. Isn’t that right?”
A tawny, half-toasted sort of day.
“Oh yes dear. Not even one of those big fat ugly flies, the ones we get in August. Ugh!”
A tawny, half-toasted sort of cat. Big and sleek until the mane ruined everything, obliterating the smooth line of the back in a furry explosion of fluff.
It yawned in the August sun. The tongue was surprisingly red.
“Can they pet him?”
“Oh they may, they should, they must. Go on, give him a tickle. He loves a good tickle. Good afternoon officers, may I ask what’s the matter?”
“Murder,” said Constable Bell, who’d always wanted to say that. Murr-durr. Sonorous, like a whale. Except Constable Bell had a voice like a chickadee, so instead it came out as meer-deer.
“Oh no!” said Mr. June. His pale shocked eyes stood out in his pale thin face. “You little kids had better move along, this is grownup stuff. Murder!”
“Oh no!” agreed Mrs. June.
“Oh yes,” said Constable Drum, who had a deep sonorous voice like a whale and wasted it. “Just down the road. Horrible. Just horrible. Blood everywhere, very awful. We’re taking witness statements, do you want to make one?”
Mr. June and Mrs. June considered one another. They had their own language, made entirely of meaningful and meaningless glances.
“Yes,” said Mr. June, “we must. We’re brand new here.”
“No,” said Mrs. June, “we really musn’t. We’re brand new here.”
“Oh fine.”
“All right then.”
“If you insist.”
“No, no, no, have it your way.”
And Mrs. June turned to the two police officers once more.
“We are appalled and horrified and can’t believe our ears or eyes,” she said. “My goodness. What an awful thing to happen in such a nice neighborhood.”
Constable Bell swore.
“Goodness me!”
“No, no, it’s fine. I broke my pencil. Could you repeat your statement into this recorder?”
“Certainly. We are appalled and horrified and can’t believe our ears or eyes,” she said. “My goodness. What an awful thing to happen in such a nice neighborhood.”
“It wasn’t on.”
“Oh dear. We are appalled and horrified and can’t believe our ears or eyes,” she said. “My goodness. What an awful thing to happen in such a nice neighborhood.”
“Hang on, the switch is stuck.”
“Alright. We are”

“Quality people, they are,” said Constable Bell as their car started. We’ve always needed more quality people like that about. Not like the bums that grow up around this place.”
The Junes’ lion swished its tail indolently in the mellow sunlight, ears barely-prickling as the officers sped down the road. It yawned once more, with lazy satisfaction. And it belched.

***

September. The trees were ready to shed, but remained very fat.
“Those trees are very fat,” observed Constable Drum.
Constable Bell swatted Constable Drum’s hat.
“Ow.”
“Eyes on the murder.”
“Sorry.”
It was a messy thing. Half the man’s face had been chewed off, the other half had been spat out. The abdomen had been gutted, and what had happened to the guts was simply abominable. It made Constable Bell’s skin nearly crawl right off and go home early.
“I think it was a tiger,” said Constable Drum.
“Astute observation, Constable Drum,” said Constable Bell. “What makes you say that?”
“The big teeth marks and the big claw marks and the saliva and the way half of the body was buried in a shallow pit,” said Constable Drum.
“Very nice theory,” said Constable Bell.
“Thanks. I read it in a book.”
“Well, get a refund. Because, Constable Drum, there’s two tigers within five hundred miles and they’re both at the city’s zoo, and they’re both toothless and very much secure.”
“Shucks. Ooh! Ooh!”
“What’re you waving at?” snapped Constable Bell.
“The Junes! There they are!”
“Where?”
“Over there! Walking their lion.”
“Oh. That’s nice.”
“Wave back!”
“No need. Hello, Mrs. June, Mr. June.”
“Hello, sirs,” said Mr. June. “Geez that looks nasty. Any idea what could’ve done it to him?”
“Not an idea,” said Constable Bell.
“A tig-ugh,” suggested Constable Drum and Constable Bell’s left elbow.
“Could be, could be,” mused Mrs. June. “I don’t know what’s happened to this neighborhood. We bought a house here because of the good property values. I love good property values so very much, you know that? Anyways we bought a good house with good property values that I loved so very much, you know that, and after we’d bought that good house with good property values that I loved so very much, you know that, what’s gone and happened? Bodies everywhere.”
“That was an impressive breath you took there,” said Constable Bell. “Do you sing?”
“Oh, no. I just like talking.”
“Me too,” said Constable Drum.
“Yes,” agreed Constable Bell, with Constable Bell’s left elbow seconding.
Mr. June pursed his lips at the dismembered corpse. “These days,” he mused. “So much violence these days. Well, a rising tide belts all lifts.”
The lion leaned against his legs, seeking love and skritches. It received them.

***

“Trick or treat.”
“Scram, kid,” said Constable Bell, gently.
“Here, he can have a kidney.”
“Put it back, Drum.”
“She won’t be needing them anymore, surely.”
“It’s for the sake of procedure, doorknob. And besides, it’s HIS kidney.”
“Oh. Whoops. Wait, that leaves him with three. Was this one from the person behind the door?”
Sometimes you just want to sigh and rub your forehead. Constable Bell was elbow-deep in blood and therefore did not have that luxury.
“Five people. Three kidneys. Just put it down somewhere, we’ll figure it out later. God, I’ve always hated jigsaws.”
“Trick or treat.”
“Scram, kid,” suggested Constable Bell.
“It’s the Junes!”
“Coo-ee,” said Mrs. June. “Oh my goodness, that’s a new trick. I’ve never seen the Morgans turn themselves inside out before.”
“They had help,” said Constable Bell.
“Murder?”
“Or a very bad prank,” said Constable Drum.
“Or a very bad prank,” said Constable Bell. “Never know what the damned kids’ll pull off every year. Keep a hand on your lion, people. They could try and run off with that next. They’ll steal anything, these types. Low-lifes. Not quality folks like you and me.”
“And me.”
“And Constable Drum.”
“Don’t worry,” said Mr. June. “We’ve got a good tight chain on him. See? They’d need to bring bolt-cutters.”
“Hang on, I’ve got to phone the SPCA,” said Constable Bell. “That’s blood on its neck, that is.”
“Oh, it’s not the lion’s,” explained Mrs. June.
“Whew,” said Constable Drum.
“Whew,” agreed the Junes.
“Damnit,” said Constable Bell, stepping on the fourth kidney.

***

November forever, for ages and ages. Colder every day.
“Give me the coffee.”
“I can’t. My hands are full.”
“Of the coffee.”
“But I need a free hand to pass you it.”
“Just reach towards me and I’ll take it.”
“If you say so.”
Constable Bell took the coffee, then dropped it.
“Oh nooooo.”
“Hush up, you! It’s the Junes’ cat!”
“Where?”
“There! In the leaves! It’s lying low and the colours match – clever kitty. Here, kitty kitty kitty kitty. Here, kitty kitty kitty ki-ty-ty-ty-. GET IT!”
The scruffle was brief, but intense. The lion was groggy and rolled over, batting at the air and snoring.
“Help me out here, Constable Drum.”
“One moment Constable Bell. I’ve discovered a murr-durr.”
“What? Where!”
Constable Drum pointed.
“Buried in the leaves, see? Good job the lion was here, we never would’ve found him. And look, it put him to good use – big teeth marks! Poor hungry kitty.”
“Poor hungry kitty,” said Constable Bell. “Let’s take it home. It’s done enough detective work for one day. Hey, is the body Shaun or Sean?”
“How’d you know it was Shaun or Sean?”
“Because they’re the only two yobbos left in this burg.”
“Oh. It’s Shaun. I think. He’s got no face.”
“Only an improvement then. Miserable punk. C’mon, kitty kitty kitty ki-t-y-y-y-y.”

***

“I’m puzzled,” admitted Constable Bell.
“Wit’s end,” agreed Mr. June.
“Completely stumped,” said Mrs. June, loyally.
“Two-hundred and eighty-four murders,” said Constable Drum sadly, “and not one little murderer! It’s sure a sad new year’s day, this is.”
“Here,” said Mr. June. “More champagne. That always makes me feel better.”
“Aw thanks. You’re nice.”
“More than nice,” said Constable Bell. “You’re quality people. What kind of other folk would take time out of their holiday to let us know their cat found a body? Constable Drum, could you please grab the other goddamned leg and pull.”
“Okay.”
They pulled. They struggled. But the lion wouldn’t let go. Its ears flattened, its eyes narrowed, its throat made interesting and alarming sounds. But it wouldn’t let go.
“Well, piss,” said Constable Bell. “I don’t know how this lousy drunk stumbled into your cat’s mouth and then forced it to chew up and swallow him, but I guess he was the murderer. And much good it did him. Good thing he went in head-first or getting his fingerprints would be a real bitch. Got any more of that champagne?”
“Here you go,” said Mrs. June. “And thank you so very much, officers, for solving this case. It’s good to feel safe around here again.”
“No problem,” said Constable Drum. “I think we’ll get promoted. I’ve never caught a murderer before.”
“Yeah,” said Constable Bell. “Yeah, I guess so. Hey, you mind if I ask you folks a question?”
“Go for it,” said Mrs. June.
“Do you know where I could get a lion like that? It’s real nice-looking. Real quality. And it makes you feel safer, to know that kind of money’s in the neighborhood.”


Storytime: Diggity.

November 8th, 2017

To: info@OGHotdogs.com
From: polly_pocket_383@gmail.com
Subject: Historic!

Hi there!
I can’t tell you how happy I am to see that building open for business again. My grandma wouldn’t stop telling me about how much she used to enjoy a nice footlong from your dad’s business when she was out on the boardwalk – with mustard, of course. Congratulations on bringing the past to the present and thanks for keeping our local spirit thriving! Kudos!!!

-Polly Packer.

PS: there was just one thing I thought I should mention: I asked for a hot dog and the man you had behind the counter put a Papillion on the counter and pulled out a lighter. I repeated myself, and he just shrugged and set the poor little thing aflame. Does he speak English?

To: polly_pocket_383@gmail.com
From: info@OGHotdogs.com
Subject: re: Historic!

First of all, thank you so much for patronizing my fine establishment. My dad died thinking he’d seen the last hot dog ever to be sold in Slandcrane leave his hands at the age of thirty-three, and I like to imagine that wherever the old man is now, he’s smiling at me. With as many teeth as he can manage.
Now, pleasantries aside, I must respectfully remind you that your grandma was a very old woman before she died (may you live to reach such age!) and she may have glossed over a few of the details.
You see, Slandcrane is privileged to be the home of not just A hot dog stand, but THE hot dog stand. That’s right, that fantastic treat you love to eat? It was born here, nurtured by the loving hands of my great-great-grandfather, Horton Louie. Then it was ripped out of his loving hands and carried away to strange and devious places by his horrible and evil assistant, who subsequently perverted this knowledge and produced the mass-market animal-tube of mixed meats we’re all unfortunate enough to know today by its stolen, unjust name of ‘hot dog.’
Our hot dogs are more than just delicious: they’re authentic. And honest. And ethical. And isn’t that reason enough for you that we used the old-fashioned, proper method of hot dog preparation, where we set the dog alight right there in front of you?

Thanks again,
Francine Louie, Manager
Southern Slandcrane’s Snack Stop: The ORIGINAL Hot Dog.

PS: Jason Taylor can speak English, he just didn’t want to speak to you, probably because you were being so snotty. Work on that.

***

To: info@OGHotdogs.com
From: huey_gottagonow0@hotmail.com
Subject: um…. SPCA much?

Okay, let me be blunt: when I asked for a wiener I didn’t exactly expect a dachshund….. or for it to be covered in gasoline…. The dude didn’t even put a bun on it…
Look, I’m a simple guy… I don’t ask for much…just a hot dog?.. with mustard maybe?… I didn’t ask for a dog that reminded me of my parents’ to be put in front of me and set on fire…. If your stand wasn’t right on the boardwalk it wouldn’t have made it to water….
Like, does the humane society know about this?… because this is the sort of thing they keep an eye on…

-Hubert…

To: huey_gottagonow0@hotmail.com
From: info@OGHotdogs.com
Subject: re: um…. SPCA much?

Thanks for your patronage, Hubert. And for your opinions. Let me reassure you about the ‘issues’ you’ve decided exist at our quality establishment.
As you no doubt noticed when purchasing one of our fine treats, Hubert, the sign above the counter reads as follows: Southern Slandcrane’s Snack Stop: The ORIGINAL Hot Dog.
ORIGINAL. That means something, Hubert. Authenticity. And if you’d read the last two words on that sign too, you’d have realized that anyone who asks for a ‘hot dog’ should expect what they should get: an honest to god canine served at high temperatures, either smouldering, cindered, or blazing as per customer’s request and taste.
Thanks again for your insights. If you paid.

Thanks again,
Francine Louie, Manager
Southern Slandcrane’s Snack Stop: The ORIGINAL Hot Dog.

PS: Do you even have a last name, or did you forget it?

***

To: info@OGHotdogs.com
From: fl0u0ffy_cudd1es@gmail.com
Subject: Death

You will pay for what you have done.
A whole german shepherd, up like a candle on a birthday cake.
All I ever wanted was pork. Like tears in the napalm rain.
I will see you dead.

To: fl0u0ffy_cudd1es@gmail.com
From: info@OGHotdogs.com
Subject: re: Death

First off, thanks for the notice. Hope you felt real brave sending that from your mom’s basement. Yeah, I know who this is, BRUCE – it’s bruce, right? That’s what your friends called you when they were trying to get you to wake up after you passed out. What kind of piece of shit reacts like that to perfectly legitimate – no, fucking LOCAL STYLE – cooking? I’ll tell you who. You. You do that, Bruce. You are the dogshit on the bottom of the shoe that is this town and if I ever see your pimply face near my snack stand again I’ll personally scrape you off, capiche?
I’m holding the crowbar, loser. Go on. Push me.

Thanks again,
Francine Louie, Manager
Southern Slandcrane’s Snack Stop: The ORIGINAL Hot Dog.

***

To: info@OGHotdogs.com
From: mayor@slandcrane.com
Subject: Notice.

Hello.
Francine, I’ve been honoured to have your family’s acquaintance for many years, and it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you this but that shack is coming down or the animal rights guys told us they’d do it themselves with you in it. With crowbars.
I know this is your dream. I know it was your dad’s dream. I know he gave an awful lot of us interesting and horrible dreams as small children, but that was another era and people didn’t have cell phones back then. I don’t want our town’s name to be permanently glued to a video of your business practices. It’s possible you should have stuck to more conventional hot dogs.
Please turn in your business license at city hall tomorrow morning and maybe leave town fast, because I can’t entirely guarantee your safety.

Tilly Whipsnirt,
Mayor of Slandcrane.

To: mayor@slandcrane.com
From: info@OGHotdogs.com
Subject: travesty of justice

Where the fuck do you get off??? Listen up you piece of shit: THEY. COPIED. US. The ORIGINAL hot dog, as it says on the building’s side which you’d know if you could READ you stupid piece of shit, is exactly what it sounds like. Hot. Dog. Even you can put those two words together and come up with an answer, right? Right? Or am I the only person in this fucking town that has the brains and the will to do what must be done???? Jason’s left me, Polly stiffed me, Hubert mocked me, the whole damned city laughs at me.
You know what?
I’m done listening.
I’ve got four hundred gallons of lighter fluid and a kennel full of Pomeranians and dachshunds back here. I’m giving myself a Viking funeral, and the lot of you useless, keening motherfuckers are going to be the thralls they throw onto my pyre.

Thanks again,
Francine Louie, Manager
Southern Slandcrane’s Snack Stop: The ORIGINAL Hot Dog.

***

LOCAL BUSINESS GOES TO THE DOGS, FLAMES.
Southern Slandcrane’s Snack Stop: The ORIGINAL Hot Dog became a cauldron of lava last night following what may have been arson or just bad luck. The flames, initially far too hot for firefighting crews, had cooled sufficiently by Thursday evening for the charred skeleton of local businessowner Francine Louie to be retrieved. Although a full autopsy has not yet been performed, ex-police coroner Craig Grousecrout (45) indicated he did not believe foul play was at work.
“It’s the Pomeranians, see? All that fluff and dander, and a little spark and POOF it goes up. Fine one at a time, but light a match in a room with forty of these suckers and wow, it’s no wonder there’s not meat on ‘er. But don’t put it in the paper or nothing.”


Storytime: Squashed Soup.

November 1st, 2017

I’m really very sorry about all of this. I don’t know how it got so far. I just was walking, you know, just walking
-just down the road, there, on Halloween eve –
and I saw some teenagers kick in a jack-o-lantern and run away. It’s much safer to do that nowadays, since a lot of them don’t have candles in them, but they’re teenagers, I bet they’d do it anyways, bet they’d do it if there were bonfires in there or welding torches.
But I thought to myself as they ran off laughing, ‘what a waste, what a waste.’
Then I caught myself and I considered it and realized…
…well. It’s ALL a waste, isn’t it?
And not just the candy and dental costs, but the poor gourds too. Some people save the seeds but I don’t know any myself, or hear of them. We cut them open and leave the husks and then we let them rot and then we throw them out. What a waste. What a waste.
But they don’t go mouldy for a good while after Halloween, do they?
So I thought about it. I got an idea, or maybe two. And the night AFTER Halloween, I went trick or treating.
No, no, no.
I went trick AND treating.
Much better.

So I came home with two garbage bags brimmed full, and I’d been choosey.
I had two little round ones.
A big fat blobby one.
Three medium ones, a little mottled.
Four tall, slim sorts.
And one with a very…. Well, not MEMORABLE smile, but a funny smile. It had a funny smile.
Yes, it was a very funny smile.

I put the water to boiling, and while it steamed I dipped a cloth in it and I started cleaning them off. They’d only been outside a few days, but hygiene and kitchenwork are like salt and paper, or fish and chits. It’s very important.
I cleaned out their eyes
And cleaned off their noses
I tidied their ears
And freshened their smiles.
Even the very funny smile.
When I was done they were bright and shining and the water was boiling. I opened the drawer and I took out the masher. I held it up high above my head and as I brought it down
-carefully! You can’t be careless in a kitchen!-
They jumped me.

It was easy to tie me up. Used my own apron, too! Hoist with my own petard.
They interrogated me after that. A bit of a rant crept through here and there. They were pretty cross about having their insides scooped out, I tell you what. Said they were all hollow and scrabbly now, and they needed to be full, rim to rim. Said they were scorched and parched from candles and needed to be soft and wet. Said that being mushed and mashed and souped was the final straw, and I should’ve known better.
I told them it was just a mistake, and all I’d intended, but they didn’t like that. Tied me with the other apron, and the other. Knew I shouldn’t have bought so many but they had so many charming slogans on them and I thought they were fun for barbecues. They’re torn into strips now and they’ve got me stuck fast hand and foot.
What a waste, what a waste.

I know I must sound awfully cheerful for someone in this kind of pickle, and most folks would be pretty ready to say some mean stuff about anyone who put them there. But all this kind of thing, well, it’s all down to me and my ideas, and I won’t let the buck go much farther than that. Don’t let this get around, but last year I had this idea about our Christmas lights and my when I was through it was just – oh!
I think I heard the door; I bet they’ll be back soon.
I wonder if they’ve found the knife?


Storytime: The Long Autumn.

October 25th, 2017

Once upon a while there was a warlord. But he didn’t war so much as pillage, and no noble line would claim him. A funny title, for a funny man.
And he WAS a funny man. He had a sense of humour, and a good one. Every time he and his army came to a new village, he would stomp into the center of it and challenge them fair and square: a wrestling bout, two falls out of three, for who would own the place. This was always completely hysterical to his sensibilities because he stood eight foot four inches, and was broad to match and then some. And so his realm expanded, along with his good humour.
One day that good humour was sorely tested. The warlord had just finished wrestling a stubborn old coot, and had been forced to break his arms and legs in three times as many spots as normally required just to get him to stop wriggling at him. Even now his bristly little jaws worked, fixing to chew at the warlord’s toes as he raised his foot high above his head.
“Good fight,” said the warlord grumpily. “Any last words?”
“Yeah,” said the old coot. “Twenty years ago I would’ve been biting you right now. But now I’ll settle for the next best thing. See that tree over there? The moment the last leaf drops off that thing, my ghost is going to jump out at you and eat your heart right out of your chest.”
The warlord finished stomping, but his heart was already troubled even un-eaten, and consultation with his best astrologer confirmed his fears.
“He lived a good clean life,” said the astrologer as she traced the lines on the old coot’s limp palm. “No swearing. Lots of surplus curse-juice. It’s all bound up in that one. Wow, you’ve sure had it.”
“No,” said the warlord. “I was getting sick of wandering around anyways. Time for everyone else to come to me now.”
So he crowned himself king, in the traditional manner of brutishness. And as his first command, blacksmiths were brought.
And a great chain was wrapped around the tree’s trunk
And a strong chain was linked to the great chain
And a sturdy chain was linked to the strong chain
And a thin chain was linked to the sturdy chain
And a slender chain was linked to the thin chain
And a fine chain was linked to the thin chain
And a little needle-thin chain was linked to the fine chain
Which held every single leaf of the tree in place with exquisite care.
Each chain was locked, and the king proclaimed himself pleased.
Then he had all his blacksmiths killed and began a long and happy reign of terror.

The years passed. The tree’s leaves turned grey and shrunken. The chains grew a little dusty, but the king prohibited their cleaning. And under that tree, in his court, in his castle, he would partake in his greatest sport and joy: every summer of every year every village would send him someone to wrestle. If they won, they didn’t pay taxes. If they lost, the king collected double. This pleased him immensely, and it often pleased some of the older villagers too, because there was always at least one strong young person who was too much trouble by half as far as they were concerned.
And then once upon a few whiles later, a young woman with a particularly stubborn and surly jaw came to the king’s court in mid July.
“Hello you miserable bastard,” she told him. “I’m here to wrestle. Let’s go.”
“Excellent,” said the king.
And they did. And the woman twisted and heaved and turned and spun and ducked and bit at least once, giving the king the time of his life for a good half-hour, but in the end he simply fell over at her and succeeded in breaking her left leg like a dry twig.
“SHIT,” she said shortly.
“One to me,” said the king. “The next will come tomorrow, at noon. You know, you have a familiar sort of stubborn jaw. Did I wrestle your grandfather?”
“You did,” said the woman.
“He only had the one grandchild?”
“My oldest brother is far away, studying. My middle brother is deathly ill with Lumps. My youngest brother is three. So they said ‘you do it.’”
The king laughed at that, and as he took his leave of court he rang for one of his servants to come and give her some splints. The servant was an extremely earnest boy of maybe-seven, and from the fixedness of his gaze and the care in his movements the woman saw that he was blind.
“We’re all blind around here,” he explained to her. “I was born with it. Some people have to learn it. There’s a sort of red-hot poker.”
“Ouch,” said the woman.
“Yes.”
“No, I was splinting my leg.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, it could be worse and it likely will be. Tomorrow he’ll probably break the other one and then my head, just like grandfather.”
“You can’t beat him?”
“You can only wrestle so hard when you’re wrestling a bear,” said the woman. “He’s just too big for anybody. Grandfather couldn’t beat him, I can’t beat him. The only thing he thinks can beat him is that stupid tree, and it’s tied with seven chains and bound with seven locks, so at this rate the leaves won’t come off it until the whole castle’s ground down to sand and bones.”
They talked for a while after that, but the servant boy was distracted. In a way he’d ended the conversation there, because now he had some ideas, and he had those ideas because now he’d had a friend.
Both were very new to him, but he was an eager learner.

That night the warlord snored.
This was normal and extremely loud.
That night the servant boy slipped through his master’s door.
This was abnormal and extremely quiet. And so all was well, until he opened the great cupboard of royal keys and found that – by his rough estimate – there were seven hundred and seventy-seven keys inside of varied size and ostentatiousness.
If he’d known any swears, he would’ve made the old coot blush.
Instead, he thought. And he thought. And he wished the king wouldn’t snore so, because it made thinking extremely difficult.
Then he thought about the king and smiled. He padded up to his bedside and breathed in.
“Gross,” he whispered.
Then he went back to the royal cupboard and followed his nose to the smell of greasy palms and pig-thick sweat.
It wasn’t easy. The keys had been closed up for a long time, with nobody dusting them. But faint as a whisper, as stinking as sepsis, they came to his nose and hand one by one.
Then he snuck out again.

Early that morning the woman woke up, tightened her splint, and faced breakfast.
Breakfast was a single half-loaf, crumbly.
Breakfast was wrapped in a white cloth.
Breakfast clinked softly as she held it, and when she half-unwrapped it glimmering metal revealed itself.
“Well,” she said. “Aren’t you clever.”
The servant boy nodded.
“Hah. Well, let’s just oh damnit why’s he up so early.”
And indeed the king had not stirred at that hour for decades. But uneasy dreams had rustled his pillow, full of creaking, rustling leaves – and he’d awoken in a fit at the sound of his creaking key cabinet, one door flapping wide.
He was in a bad mood. But he knew what made a bad mood good.
“Round two, it was?” he said.
“At noon,” said the woman.
“It’s close enough,” he said. And he went for her.
“Hold my breakfast,” she told the servant bot. And she went for him. Hopping.
The servant boy shrank back into a corner of the court with appropriate awe and terror. Then he picked up breakfast and ran around the wrestlers, ran to the center of the court, and hurried like a little squirrel up into the tallest branches of the chained tree.
And he unlocked the great chain wrapped around the tree’s trunk
And he unlocked the strong chain linked to the great chain
And he unlocked the sturdy chain linked to the strong chain
And he unlocked the thin chain linked to the sturdy chain
And he unlocked the slender chain linked to the thin chain
And he unlocked the fine chain linked to the thin chain
And as he unlocked the little needle-thin chain that was linked to the fine chain, the tiny, needle-thin dusty key snapped in the lock.
Which held every single leaf of the tree in place with exquisite and quite permanent care.

There was no time to panic. There was no time to swear. Instead the servant boy dropped. He dropped and caught and fell and snatched and clawed his way down that tree again, and he grabbed hold of the great tree wrapped around the tree’s trunk and he heaved as mightily as he could and because he was only maybe-seven it did absolutely no good whatsoever. He might as well have tried to move the castle.
But from the corner of her eye, half-blind with sweat, the woman saw him strain. And as she hobbled and dodged and grunted and shifted she hopped closer and closer to the tree, where she did a complicated thing.
With her stiff splinted leg’s toes she seized the great chain.
With her body she ducked underneath the hurtling mass of the king.
With her right leg she stuck herself right in front of the king’s descending foot.
And as the king went “WOOPS,” and her right leg went ‘crack’ and he went sailing by, with her hands she looped the last link of the great chain wrapped around the tree’s trunk over his foot.

THUD, he went on the ground.
GlinlglinlglinkglinkglinkglinkglinkPOP went the chains and the seventh lock.
Creak, mentioned the tree.

And the leaves fell in a single mass with the clattering rattle of a thousand dry throats, and every single one covered the warlord’s face like a shroud.
Oh, he screamed at that! He screamed and screamed and screamed all at once in a single breath and he screamed so hard that his heart JUMPED out of his chest and into his mouth and he ate it by mistake.

They probably didn’t get married, the servant-boy and the woman. Too much of an age gap. I’d think they’d have stayed friends after that, though.
What do you think?


Storytime: A Six-Hour Shift at the Beef Store in the town of X, Y County, Ontario, Canada.

October 18th, 2017

The air still smells nice in the early pre-noon as I clump up to the door. Trees, leaves, and the damp leftovers of last night’s dew still grimly clinging on.
But then I pop open the door and the red, meaty smell of animal hits me. Someone’s dropped a can on the floor and it’s popped open, spilling beef under a shelf.
Well, that’s one way to start a shift.

Hour one needs that sort of chore though. There’s not much else to it. Double-check the shelves for stock. Double-check the floor for spots you missed cleaning last night. Check signs, check your teeth, whistle if you can. I can’t.
The customers are mostly regulars. Very regulars. They’ve got stricter schedules than I do. It’s Wednesday, so that means he comes in at nine after the bell, smiling and waving. We talk a bit as I pack up his baggie of venison. He gives me a dad joke, which I appreciate.
“Hey. You know what the difference is between a hippo and a Bic?”
“Nope.”
“Well, the hippo’s a little heavier. And the Bic’s a little lighter.”
I don’t laugh. The listener never laughs at dad jokes, you just make disgusted spitting sounds without opening your mouth. The joker laughs instead, and he does so. His hands shake like rattlesnake tails as he takes the baggie of animal from mine.
“Don’t you start,” he says to me, serious now.
“I haven’t, I won’t,” I tell him. “Too cheap. Beef costs money, you know.”
“I’m serious,” he says, and he still is. He’s smiling but he means it very much. “It’ll ruin your life.”
“I won’t,” I say again, and he smiles more and he waves and we say goodbye until Wednesday.

Hour two. Now the business picks up, past the regulars. It’s time to get in the car with a cooler and fill it up with animal in any form you can imagine. Baggies and cans fly across the counter. Especially the baggies of hamburger – it’s so fatty, it goes down easy. The men love it the most, and they’ll chug it by the case with their friends.
“What’s that flavoured crap?” one of them asks his wife in that mocking voice that’s just joking and therefore absolutely serious. She gives him and me and the world a giggle that’s grown awkward from overpractice and I sell her a bag of peppered beef jerky, a single stick of which has more protein in it than mister macho’s entire case and then some. Pemmican and jerkies, hard to imagine anything harder, but you don’t grill them so they aren’t manly even if they’ll trash you faster than you can say boo.

Hour three is when the part of the day I’ve been expecting happens and I say the magic words, which are “Mind if I see some ID?”
And I get my genie’s wish fulfilled, because it’s definitely SOME ID, it’s just not theirs. The face is broader and flatter. Probably an older sibling. They get the birthday wrong twice when I quiz them, and they don’t have any other photo cards. I write it down in my little booklet as I explain to them why this baggie of gravlax isn’t going to happen now, and I’m lucky because they’re young enough that they just get sullen instead of belligerent. Give it a year.
They slink off out the door and out of the parking lot and away down the road and I know in the next hour or so some adult is going to walk in the door and buy a couple of things. One of them will be a baggie of gravlax. They will meet my eyes with absolute sincerity and I will have no grounds whatsoever to say anything about it.

Hour four is the lull, where everyone’s probably at home, devouring their bounty. I take the time to wander back into the fridges and refill the shelves where they’ve been stripped bare. Some stuff needs this treatment hourly; others I’ve left there for months. It’s like a memory puzzle, seeing how much you can hold in your brain in one trip. Four gravlax eight pepperettes six sirloins and two tri-tips and a partridge in a pear tree. Twenty bags, two hands, I make it work. I’m very proud of that. The last time I dropped anything I was only holding two bags, don’t ask me how that works.
When I’m putting the sirloins on their shelf someone walks up behind me and bites me on the neck in a not particularly enthusiastic way. I yelp – that’s it, no scream, no roar, just a genuine ‘AH WHAT WAS THAT’ sound, pure and unpolluted. The biter shows no reaction whatsoever. Turns on her heel and walks out the door. By the time I’m thinking of descriptions and police she’s already in the parking lot (on foot, so no license plates) and all my memory has to go on is ‘has teeth.’ Helpful.

At hour five some of hour two’s customers come back in. Some of them are already wasted – god knows how, off’ve light beef, but I could smell it on their breath. Their eyes are red; their mouths stink of old muscle tissue and dried blood. Even with their lips shut the smell seeps out of their pores. I turn them down and they stare, bug-eyed. This must be some kind of mistake, they say. Some fucking lunatic has killed the clerk and taken over the counter. What in the name of every god and devil could be the reason for this unique and special calamity that now crosses my path?
“Whad’ya mean?” they interrupt me as I explain. “What? I’m fine! What?”
I double-check for myself. It’s hard to tell with all the frying in the air around here in summertime, but no. These two might be surly, loud and uncoordinated at the best of times, but right now there’s more than attitude at work here. The call remains.
I don’t learn any new swears as they head out the door. Contrary to expectation, you don’t get any better at cussing after a few beefs. It’ll speed your lip up but it slows down the brain. No creativity.

Hour six is very quiet. Very, very quiet. A few people missing that last thing they promised to get for their relatives coming over tomorrow. One or two people coming off their own shifts, somewhere else. And a panting, bleeding man in a ragged coat who trips on our rubber mat and falls flat on his face as he runs in the door.
He jumps up again. From flat, like a frog. His eyes are wide, his pupils maybe not nearly so, and I wonder what’s going on there. It’s not animal, but he’s definitely taken something that’s disagreed with him. Though not half as much as he’s disagreed with someone else; that’s a knife cut he’s clutched his palm over, on his right arm.
“Help!” he yells. Or something like that.
I pick up the phone and by the time I’m finished dialing he’s run out the door again.
At least I have a description this time. ‘Stabbed’ isn’t comprehensive, but it’s awfully distinctive.

That’s it.
Well….
I lock the door, empty the till, run the settlements, band the receipts and put them in the safe with the cash, file tomorrow’s starter money in the envelope, sweep, mop, stock, turn off the lights and turn on the security and then lock the door.
Then I make sure I locked the door.
Then I make sure that I made sure that I locked the door.

After the hours are gone I go home, I eat everything I can fit in my mouth, and I go to bed so I’ll have plenty of strength tomorrow, when I go back and do the world some more good.


Storytime: Dirt Nap.

October 11th, 2017

Oh no.
Oh dear.
Oh my, my my my my. My very own.

Have you fallen down?

Ah, it’s no wonder. Goodness me, you’re light as a feather – and half of your feathers have come loose. All plucked and bruised, my poor thing. Bloodied and beaten up by life. It’s a shame it always has to pick on things smaller than itself, but that’s how it is.
Don’t cry. You’re too tired to cry. And it wouldn’t help anyways. No, no, no. I know what you need right now. A nice long nap.
The longest kind there is.

We’ll use dirt.
It’s the best there is.
Proper soil, too. As unsanitary and unsterile as can be found. A fistful of microbes in every mouthful, a rioting campus of detritus and joy hiding inside every clod. It’ll keep you company. Some people like to hear a little noise when they’re napping, you know. To remind themselves that it’s not night, and it’s a nap. You can’t mistake nap for sleep, you know. It’s a bad idea. But it’s often done these days, with so many people having so much to do and so few naps to take. And fewer and fewer places to take them.
You know, some people have to nap on solid stone. Hard. Unyielding. And untrustworthy. It looks as steady as the world itself, but it’ll crumble away underneath you in an eyeblink. Just like that. Good soil will never do you wrong that way. It’ll pack itself in around you. This is good dirt and it will love you and you will love it.
And it’s much easier to dig. I wouldn’t ask you for help, of course, but you can’t blame me for making it easier on myself, can you, dear?

That pit’ll do. A nice shallow scrape. Folks all over the world sleep all night in worse. Some have to do under the open sky, poor mites. What an awful thing. A bird could take you away. A bug could land on your face – go right up your nose, just like THAT! Dreadful. Awful. Terrible.
I don’t know how you could nap for a minute up there. Here, I mean. There’s too much fresh air and stale air and air.
Lean on me. Just lean on me. In you are.

Here. I’ll pack in the substrate tight overhead. Seal you in properly. If you’re inclined, if you’d like, if you’re lucky, you may fossilize. Seeping slowly into yourself until you’re a cast of minerals thinking they’re you. Or just empty space.
But that’s mostly luck. If you’re not already a three-times-lottery-winner I wouldn’t fuss yourself with the notion. It’s not worth fussing about. It’s not a time to be fussing about. Get serious. Get comfortable.
Put your feet up. Tuck them in and let your mind wander. Count roots and seeds and millipedes, and feel the thrum of the highway, far away. Gather moss with all the other stuck stones.

But don’t forget to wake up before tomorrow, alright? Your mother’ll be looking for you then. Your mother, with her shovel and belt and spite. She’ll come looking and looking and when she can’t find you, well, won’t she be surprised? I think she will. I think she will. Oh yes she will she will she will BUT

That’s for later. Worry later. Nap now.

There you go, dear. There you go.