Storytime: Sow the Seeds.

July 19th, 2017

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With emmer wheat – a tasty treat
And maize, planted in rows.

Oh Mary, Mary, tired and hairy,
How does your garden grow?
By work and sweat and violence kept
At hand, for men and crows.

Ah, Mary, Mary, a weight to carry,
How does your garden grow?
Through hill and dale and harpooned whales
Lamp-lighting, guns and bows.

Well, Mary, Mary, mother of Jerry,
How does your garden grow?
On words and slurs and jangling spurs
Comic books, movies and shows.

Mary, Mary, so dim and scary,
How does your garden grow?
Fat with patriotism, and nationalism,
And smart-drones, high and low.

But Mary, Mary, dodge and parry,
How does your garden grow?
With hateful histories and murderous mysteries
And blood feuds, burning slow.

Mary, Mary, so very chary,
How does your garden grow?
In shallow graves, on sunny days
On fences, where the border-lights glow.

Please Mary, Mary, please do spare me
How does your garden grow?
Over carbon’s rise and surging tides
Acidity, drought – but no snow.

How does it grow?
How does your garden grow?
At quiet speeds with ferocious weeds
Over the ruins that housed the Dow

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
Very well, oh very well
Very well, if you must know.


Storytime: The Word of Gull

July 12th, 2017

HARKEN.

Okay, LISTEN UP.

Fine. If that’s the way it’s gonna be.

Aiiii-YIIIK, Aiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-YIIK, AWK AWK AWK AWK

There! That always did get your attention! Now, pay attention – and don’t look so surprised! We all grow to fit our habitats. You fat little apes covered half the world in garbage dumps, and what thrives better there than me? Raccons? Possums? Rats? Cockroaches. Don’t make me laugh, they’ve got no ambition – noses in the dirt, in the dark, under the radar. For me and mine the SKY is our limit, and with your fucked-up-foods as fuel, I’m gonna go past it.
Don’t make me laugh with your guns and your pleas and your bargains. You aren’t here to talk or fight, you’re here to listen. And if anyone tries otherwise, I’ll peck their eye out.
Now, here are my commandments.

FIRST
Thou Shalt Give of the Potato
I want you ploughing every suburb and house in Idaho into fields by Friday. And I want all those suckers harvested, cleaned, cut, sliced, deep-fried, and on every picnic table beach and dock in the world by Monday or I’ll starting julienning you, which’ll be pretty fun with a beak this size, let me tell you. It’s finicky work, so save us all a lot of trouble and do as you’re fucking told, got it?
And give me ketchup.
Give me buckets of tomatoes. Give me gallons of sugar – cane, refined, fuck it, MAPLE for all I care – just give me it fast and hard and furious and syrupy-thick. I want it all and I want it all over the fries. No dipping, you dips. We’re not doing this for seasoning, we’re in it for lubrication.
Oh, and if you’re short on the salt I’ll split you with a single peck.

SECOND
Thou Shalt Surrender Thy Car
I want every vehicle outdoors, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, every year, forever and ever, aaaaaaaaaamen. You hear me? You’d better hear me. Because I don’t want to have to repeat myself. I want a good, clear target with a fresh scrub on it. I want to see that metal gleaming up until the very second that my guano impacts. And believe me, it’ll impact. Full-out. Burnish the dents out too or you’ll hear from me.
And if you put an umbrella over that car, if you park that car under an awing, if you obstruct, for one SPLIT SECOND, the sleek shining surface of that vehicle, with branch, roof, hand or prayer, the shit’s coming down on YOU instead.

THIRD
Thou Shalt Be Seen And Not Heard
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard my younger brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts and cousins complain of the time they were on a beach, screaming Aiiiiii-YIIK, Aiii-YIIK, AWK AWK AWK AWK and some runt of an ape’s offspring came gibbering at them and chased them off mid-holler. That stops today. That stops yesterday, actually, when I went down to the lake and ate every single noisy little fuck I saw. Let’s get this straight: those beaches are not for your benefit. They’re our business now. Come quietly, bring fries as an offering, and if you REALLY have to swim for life-or-death reasons expect to get shit on and take it calmly. Anyone screams, they stay behind.

FOURTH
Thou Shalt Respect The Shit
This one’s simple enough. Yes, even simple enough for you. ALL of you, no matter how dense.
See this? Smell that? Know what that is? It’s the mark of authority, you gibbering wannabe-brachiator. And if you see it, you step aside. Your docks? They’re ours now. So are your boats. And your picnic tables. Never touch them again or you lose your hands your arms and your torsos in exactly that order. Are you still paying attention, pudge-apes? You’d better be, because this is important. We live there. We shit there. And where we shit you’d better not fucking tread AM I CLEAR ON THIS?
Oh and if one of us shits on you, you’re theirs for life.

FIFTH
Look Down
It’s more fun when you’re not expecting it.

Right? Right. If any of you mess this up I’m coming back tomorrow to eat Toronto.


Storytime: More Than Could be Chewed.

July 5th, 2017

The mayor’s office was a mess. Old fast food wrappers strewn across the floor. Pictures knocked clean off the walls. Papers sliding off every surface. Torn hair scattered over the chair.
And now that he’d been kidnapped, someone had punched a big hole in the window, too.
“Motive,” I muttered to myself for no reason.
“Oh no, not very much,” the secretary told me. “His doctor said he should lose weight but he said he was much too busy. You know, with the board meeting and all.”
“No, no; the kidnapper’s motive.”
“You think he needed exercise too? Funny way to get it.”
“I’ll need your name and phone number and address,” I said, and that put the conversation back on acceptable lines until I could escape out the door.

In ten minutes I was back in an office, as different as night and day from the first. Spotless. Speckless. Dust-free. The windows gleamed brighter than the actual sun. It hurt to look anywhere except at the commissioner’s moustache which was just the way he wanted it.
“This is bad,” he said.
“Sort of. He was sort of stupid, sir.”
“Cruel, detective.”
“He called us in last month to check his car for bugs, sir. Said he was worried he’d been abducted by aliens.”
“There’s no law against being a kook, detective. If there was, we’d have no time to sleep or eat. Now, go do whatever it is you do out there until this is all fine or whatever.”
I shrugged. “Fine. I’ll go ask around.”
“Right. I’ll have your badge.”
“Oh come on.”
“You heard me.”
“Really?”
“NOW, detective.”
I sighed, pulled out my badge, and put it on the table. The commissioner picked it up with tweezers and whisked it into a basket, slid his desk drawer open, and passed a plastic-sealed package to me with a second set of tweezers.
“This is still really unnecessary. And wasteful.”
“Those things are germ magnets and you know it. Now go make me proud and don’t breathe on anything on your way out.”

I needed answers and I didn’t have any and I needed questions and I was too tired to think of any. I needed the bare minimum of effort to cover the illusion that I was doing my job. I needed dead-end leads.
So I went to the highschool across the road from city hall and asked the teenagers.
“So, what’s your name?”
“’ndrew.”
“Great. Were you outside the school yesterday between the hours of 3:30 to 9:00 PM?”
“Dunno.”
“Fantastic. Do you know anyone who was?”
“Dunno.”
“Excellent. Did you see anyone drag the mayor out of his office window?”
“Dunno.”
“Wonderful. Thank you.”
“Hey, did you say the mayor?”
“Dunno I mean yes.”
“You didn’t mean the other guy?”
“The other guy that was dragged out of his office window?”
“Yeah, him.”
“WHAT other guy that was dragged out of his office window?”
“Dunno.”
He beheld my face.
“I mean it! Look, you’re a cop. You should know this. Everyone in my class knows about it.”
“Right. Look. Do you know where this other guy that was dragged out of his office window was?”
“Du – uhhhhhh kinda.”
“Okay, good. C’mon.”
“Am I being detained?”
“No, you’re giving directions. I’ll let you turn on the lights if you want.”
His scanty neckbeard shifted as he considered this; a pine branch bobbing in the breeze. “Siren?”
“Oh whatever sure let’s just go.”

It wasn’t an office. It was barely an apartment.
“It says it’s an office on the door. A couple of my friend’s friends came in here; they said he was a doctor.”
“It says he’s a doctor of spaceology. It says several things and the only one that’s true is the name and I only trust that because the landlady confirmed it, and she’s got one of those lie-detecting faces.”
I glared at the not-office in angry defeat. The third desk of the day. This one was occupied by hundreds thousands or possibly millions of pages of painstakingly tiny handwriting. Written in pencil. On post-it-notes. Multicoloured ones.
I couldn’t call this in to forensics; they’d put formaldehyde in my lunch and make it look like an accident.
“Why didn’t she call this in?”
“She said she was going to just put his stuff on the curb tomorrow and get a new one in and an investigation would slow things down. New window was easy though, her son was home for the weekend and put one up, she knows someone who knows the local glazier’s wife. It was really nice of him, they got a great deal.”
“Where the hell did that come from?”
“She gave me a cookie and said her boy wasn’t around enough and it just kept rolling.”
I sighed. “Wonderful. Well, since you’re such best friends, how about you ask her where the next clue was.”
“She says she hasn’t seen that angry man on the corner in two weeks. Y’know, on Paul and Frank? The one with the muttonchops who screams about devil music and got kicked off’ve the university’s property for life?”
“How big was this cookie?”
“This big.”
“Jeez. Did she have two?”
“No, it was just the one.”
This was exactly why I didn’t go into work with kids.

The crazy corner guy’s apartment was actually nicer than the spaceologist’s, uncleaned glass shards from the broken window aside. It had a giant mobile made of silly string and newspaper clippings dangling above the bed – just in case he woke up in the middle of the night with a good idea, probably – but it was well-swept and had no originally-written material.
“Maybe he stumbled on the truth?”
“What truth.”
“Y’know. The conspiracy.”
“What conspiracy.”
“To control the uh, world? History?”
“They’re doing a shitty job of it then.” I pinched my nose and dearly wished coffee still worked on me. Or tea. Maybe a bit of caffeine into my arm in a needle, that’d do it. Right in the vein. But no. I was standing around with Shaggy’s younger, less-motivated cousin, following the mysterious defenestration of the loopiest people in town.
Well, three out of four wasn’t bad. There was still

Oh damnit.

“Hey Andrew, do you live near here?”
“No.”
“Within walking distance?”
“No.”
“Public transit?”
“I got no change.”
Neither did I.
“Hey, tell you what: you ever wanted to see the inside of a police station?”
“Last summer me and Ricky and Conner got wasted and a cop drove us home and said next time he was taking us in.”
“Well, it’s your lucky day!”

It was quiet when we pulled in. Not a whisper of movement disturbed the still, heavy July air as the car squealed sideways into the parking lot and stopped in the middle of all four handicapped spaces.
“No time,” I said to the front desk as I kicked the doors open.
“No time,” I said to the commissioner as I kicked his door open.
“No time,” I said as I violently yanked the window open and waved my gun around outside it.
“DON’T MOVE LAY DOWN YOUR WEAPON OR I WILL oh you’re a squirrel never mind.”
I shut the window and turned around, face to face with the moustache.
“False alarm. But you should probably go home and stay away from windows.”
“Give me your badge, detective.”
“Well, it’s been a long day, but I’ve only pulled it out like four ti-”
“Permanently.”
“Oh come on, I was in fear for your life. Listen, the kidnapper’s after you, I can say that for sure. His victims all fit a profile: they were sitting near a window in a predictable and relaxed stance, and they were all completely batshit.”
“You’re not giving.”
“Look sir you KNOW I mean that in the most friendly possible way. A UFO abductee, a professor with a degree that doesn’t exist, a conspiracy theorist, and the most germophobic policeman in the world – you’re all completely nuts.”
I blinked. And something outside the window kept fluttering, even as my eyelashes stopped moving.
“Completely nuts,” I repeated.
“Well, one of us is, the other’s just concerned with basic hygiene. Here, you can put your own badge in the trash this ti-”
The window exploded inwards at the same moment as I opened fire. Six shots, and I’m not too proud to say all of them hit the target’s abdomen which was extremely hard because he was about a foot long and most of it was a large fluffy tail.
This was a good moment to be pithy in.
“MotherFUCKER,” I said.
“Woah,” said Andrew.
“I told you to wait outside.”
“You were talking really fast. Lady, you just shot a squirrel.”
The commissioner was still holding the trash can when he vomited. Very tidily.

We had to break out the K-9 unit to track them down in the end; our perp may have left a clean trail, but his victims stank of urine and panic-sweat. They were wedged in an old oak just outside of town, crammed in place as much by each other’s own squirming as by main force. The mayor was in good shape; the professor was a bit dehydrated, and the crazy corner man could barely say ‘illuminati’ without passing out. He was on fluids in the hospital.
No fatalities but the kidnapper himself. He was an older specimen, and the vet said in his old age it’s possible he got a bit confused. And literal.
After all, it was the middle of summer. He wouldn’t have needed those nuts for months.


Things That Are Awesome: Nine Times Nine is a Waste of Time.

June 28th, 2017

I refuse to stop.  You shall suffer as well.  Suffer by looking at all these awesome things that you aren’t.  If you are, please disregard this.
-Snips and snails and killer whales.
-The surety that your body is not a temple. Your temple is part of your body. Geez.
-Many hams making much warmth.
-The arc of the universe bending into a long middle finger.
-Cloning dinosaurs hurly-burly.
-Flopped flips.
-But not flipped flops. They are very distinct.
-The angriest manatee.
-Unspangling banners.
-Don’tdecahedrons.
-Counting backwards, sideways.
-The prettiest smiles with the ugliest teeth.
-Crumble.
-A soft, serrated, saurian susurrus.
-Pepper and salt.
-Or just pepper.
-Not pep, though, that’s completely different.
-Songs of sevenpence.
-Live, thrashing weight with plenty of life in it yet and a whole lot of bad attitude.
-Very fierce little things with very soft little feathers.
-The kind of legs that just won’t quit because they’re supported by rigid superstructure and aren’t actually capable of bending that way and besides if their owner lies down for too long they’ll develop tissue necrosis.
-Not having tissue necrosis.
-Really old and outdated websites.
-Really old and outdated books.
-Really old and outdated movies.
-Not really old and outdated views, though. A lot of those are kind of shit.
-Dicing without first slicing.
-Ruffling feathers on birds that can’t give a hoot. Because they aren’t owls.
-Pandas with two thumbs. On each hand.
-Scraps.
-Itchy trigger nose.
-Waste well timed.
-The siren, savage song of the lesser junknado, thundering through the city garbage dump.
-Pre-seqing-prequels.
-Bits without bobs. Seriously, to hell with bob. To hell with that guy.
-Fresh new islands on worn old coastlines.
-The drawn-out whines of plate tectonics.
-Clipping your accent for the purpose of later scrapbooking.
-Paper that’s been folded one time too many. Or too few. Or just right.
-Really it’s just so very satisfying any which way.
-Lunch.
-The others are okay, but let’s be serious: it’s lunch.
-Cleaning a dented surface until it’s spic-and-spackle.
-Being tickled past pink into red and then full-reversing straight into blue.
-Unnecessary crawling, creeping, and sidling.
-Loud mumbling.
-Quiet screaming.
-Just sort of talking in a matter of fact and extremely moderate tone but never stopping for breath until someone forces you to.
-Communism and Capitalism becoming unexpected whacky roommates, launching a hilarious sit-com that lasts for decades and frequently leaves the world on the edge of its seat (and launch buttons).
-The dickens.
-Not Charles. The.
-Eternity rounded down.
-Anything that’s much bigger than it should be but smaller than good taste would demand.
-The fastest feet in the West.
-Gritting your teeth while polishing your smile.
-All things dim and squamous.
-That one moment where a guy looks off into the middle distance with a faraway manly glint in his eyes and his jaw set just so and then he steps in some dog crap and it’s really fresh and makes an audible noise and he flinches before he catches himself while everyone’s looking.
-Gobs of globes.
-Shelves with just barely exactly too many books.
-Failed symmetry.
-That particular feeling you get in your spine right before you pass out. No, not the bad one. The other one.
-Roiling hills.
-Upside-down boats. Only if they still work, otherwise they’re just tragic. \
-Hops and skips untroubled by jumps.
-Anything that a bored cat does. Especially Jareth. Hi, Jareth.
-Whatever series of events led to Jareth being able to read the above.
-Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Re
-Corroded crapulousness.
-A fierce sort of jam.
-A friable sort of jelly.
-A noncommittal bit of toast.
-Romans that use Y instead of V.
-The freedom to fricassee.
-Actually knowing what the hell fricassee means. Specifically, not in the abstract. Surprisingly rare really.
-Surly sharks.
-Needlessly unsleek, cubular technology. With ugly matte beige coverings.
-Especially when paired with large, bulky, barely-electronic monitors.
-Swallowing your food thirty times before each chew.
-Lavish lipids.
-Serendippishness.


Storytime: Singularities

June 21st, 2017

“Mo?”
“What? I’m busy imagining the future.”
“Yeah, but it’s important, listen, you see-”
“How could it possibly be more important than this? I’m working on a way for all of us to get out of this mess we’re in.”
“You mean the forest being on fire?”
“Congratulations, monkey found a brain! Good monkey. Now, you shut up and look at what I’m holding.”
“Two sticks?”
“Three sticks.”
“You just added that one.”
“Exactly. My friend, this is a ladder. Lah-durr. You can pronounce that very naturally, I’d expect. And it is going to be our salvation.”
“Gosh that’d be nice, what with the burning flames at all sides of us right at this moment. How?”
“Well, we’re going to use it to climb over this mountain. Then we’ll get away easily.”
“Mountain’s awful high, Mo.”
“Yeah? Well mister smarty-pants, you know how high I could reach this morning? HERE. This branch! And only if I jumped. And now if I get on my ladder-”
“Need a hand?”
“-no, no, I’m fine – THERE. See? Twice as high!”
“Wow!”
“And that was in just a few hours, and guess what? The next step only took me half the time to build.”
“Gosh.”
“Exponential advancement, monkey for brains. That means ‘getting faster,’ I’ll have you know. At this rate I’ll have this ladder taller than the mountain by the evening. I bet we’ll go to the moon with it next week.”
“That’s awful impressive Mo. Say, how we going to get down from the mountain anyways?”
“What are you, an idiot? That’s easy. We’ll just slide down or something.”
“And it looks cold up there, won’t we freeze?”
“Nah. We’ll just uhhh grow fur coats by cutting off the dead ends of our hair. Sure. That’ll be easy.”
“What’ll we eat?”
“We’ll create miniature lichen farms on each other’s backs using spit as a substrate, simple as Sahelanthropus. What the hell is your issue anyways? Shit, you never think about the real, worthwhile problems, like doing all the math on exactly what angle you lash each rung onto this thing, or checking tensile strength of vines by snapping ‘em against your wrist. You’re as bad as all the others.”
“Huh?”
“All ‘will this work.’ Of course it will! I thought of it, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, but Mo, you burned down half the forest by inventing fire last night and then passing out before telling anyone how it worked.”
“That was absolutely all your fault. I invented fire and handed it to Bluh, and it was on each and every one of you sheep to know better than to let him stick it into a tree for ‘safe keeping.’ Gormless fools, where would you be without people like me?”
“Who knows, Mo?”
“Me. I know everything. Just you wait there, in just three minutes we’ll be on top of the mountain. Now hold the ladder for me as I add this next rung: this sucker’s REALLY gonna light a fuse.”
“Hope so, Mo. Smoke’s getting fearful thick.”
“Just like you then. You know, I bet we could fix this fire by pushing the top of the mountain down on top of it, once we’ve climbed up the ladder. Trivial solution. Wonder why nobody’s done it yet, the lazy idiots.”


Storytime: Homegrove Park.

June 14th, 2017

A big budget is better than a little one, her mother had joked when they got him. Well, that was easy for her to say. Who ended up with the slap-happy mutt, her? No, no, no, it was Shelley, good ol’ Shelley. The responsible child, the dutiful daughter, the
“God DAMN it Budget DOWN DOWN DOWN good.”
Budget licked his nose aimlessly and made himself apologetic as Shelley attached the leash.
By the time Shelley was out the door she already knew the walk was a mistake. The full sunlight she’d glimpsed out the windows just a minute ago was already souring, skimming through a sky half-full of light, half-clotted with faded blue bruises.
But Budget had cleared the door-
“Budgie! SLOW.”
-and there was nothing for it now but the long haul, both ways.
Oh, the fun of a Saturday. Oh, the leisure of leisure.

Some people put a lot of thought into their dog-walking; planning routes, routines, rotations. Some people paid someone else to do it. Shelley didn’t have the patience for the former or the payments for the latter. She didn’t like it, but it had to be done.
Luckily, Budget’s tastes weren’t exotic. Go fast. Go long. In a straight line, preferably. For a good ways.
“Budget! HEEL.”
All the way.
So past the light and the parking lot of the little generic ‘mart’ of sugar and caffeine and milk; and on through the concrete slabs of suburban sidewalk. It was nicer on this side of the tracks; better-maintained by the city. On either side of her were dozens of half-million-dollar McMansions with extra cheese, topped with a little pickle of a weathervane apiece.
The lawns were too covered with pesticides for birds. The trees were too obsessively-guarded for squirrels.
But the ditches, despite the best efforts of their owners, collected a little bit of leaf litter, and a sip of water. And Shelley saw the bathing bird just a second later than Budget did, which meant by the time her fist was clenching the leash was already free and skating away across the asphalt like a startled snake.
“BUDGET YOU FUCK” she shouted, and from then there was no air left for anything but running.

All the way down the street. Past half-opened garages playing meandering radios set to slumped music from decades long dead. Over driveways filled with shined boat trailers, half-deconstructed playgrounds. Swerving around a man with no shirt, no hair, and a scorched-lobster tan that was heading home the other way.
There was a certain kind of trash that only the upper-middle-class could afford to buy and be.
Budget was Shelley’s goad and spur as she gasped through the too-humid, over-cooked air. He ran ahead at easily twice her speed, but he stopped every few steps out of excitement and passion.
A fence! Bark bark bark.
A car! Bark bark bark.
The sky! Bark bark bark.
But no matter how hard Budget ran, his minutes were numbered. Already the treeline was coming up – the wall of green and branches that barred the very end of the road and marked the end of suburbia; already over-filled and gushing with the last juices of spring. May flowers in early June.
Budget ran up to that solid living barrier, stood there grinning like an idiot
“BUDGET. Come HERE.”
and turned left and was gone.
Momentum kept Shelley going through the surprise. By the time she was able to think over what had happened, she was going through it herself. THERE at the end of the road, LEFT on your heel like a soldier spinning on parade, UP behind the ivy-grown chain-links of someone’s carelessly neglected fence (they’d never get away with that in the middle of the street), and THROUGH a little green tunnel with a dirt-and-woodchip floor, under a darker shade of shade than the sky had provided.
Up ahead, Budget’s barks had settled into a steady rhythm. He’d found something good and exciting to yell at, and he wasn’t going anywhere until it did. Shelley let herself come to a slow stumble of a stroll, skin prickled with sweat and eyes running.
Around the corner she found Budget, and his new friend. It was a large wooden sign, new in a worn-down sort of way. The rust attacking its screws had the look of fresh neglect rather than old wear.

Municipal Parks & Recreation
HOMEGROVE PARK
2012
70ma

And past it was a low-mounded field, with copses, and hillocks, and a playground, and in the near-distance was Budget already galloping away.

Well, there were worse places for it. At least here he could wear himself out pretty well, and he wasn’t bothering anyone. As far as Shelley could see, she was the only human in the park. Nothing moving but Budget, no sound but Budget’s barking, and…
Hmm. That.
Something was clinking – faintly, yes, but very insistently under the running salvo of Budget’s sudden enthusiasm for a new friend. Metal-on-metal in the swelling breeze.
Oh, there it was. Blending in with the treeline at the edges of the pine copse. Budget was already tearing past it, on his way to newer and better things.
Shelley trudged up for a better look, figuring it’d make more sense up close, and was made completely wrong. She didn’t quite understand what she was looking at. A free-standing heavy metal birdbath? A biker microbarbeque? It looked like a maypole with chains dangling from it, lashed to a basin at its waist.
A worn label on the thing’s stem still held a logo that must have taken a few million dollars to produce: Catch.
Catch what?
She rubbed at it, hoping for more details, but the words came off with the grime. The same sort of fresh-baked neglect that had filled the sign had been at work here. Who built a park – a big park, she could see that now from here – and then abandoned it? And when? She hadn’t heard word of any construction. Twenty years growing up here, and she’d never heard of Homegrove Park at all.
The wind was picking up again. The pines were rustling, and the blue mess had covered most of the sky now. Budget was a darker blotch on a darkening field of green, running excitedly in circles around the faraway swingsets and the little restroom station and back again.

There was a water fountain at the restroom. It was dry. June and the taps weren’t on.
There was a sign encouraging people to come for the July fireworks. It had no year posted.
There was a bulletin up besides the pavilion, asking if anyone had seen a lost cat four years ago. George. Siamese. The wrinkling at its corners spelled out an answer.
There was a sign thanking the generosity of the donors that had made this place possible. “Our past provides for our future.”
And on a placard next to another one of the mysterious poles, there were instructions for Discus Golf, which was Frisbee Gold without the legal implications.
Catch. Shelley nodded. That made sense. The world made sense. She glanced into the basket and immediately stuffed her fist into her mouth.
“Geez.”
Little bones had filled it. Squirrels? Birds?
Catch. Must’ve come to drink and bathe, but the chains got in the way.
Still. That was a LOT of bones. And it was getting too dark out, and Shelley was still the only person in Homegrove Park, and she still had no idea why she’d never heard of it, or why it looked like it had been set up and forgotten.
So she yelled “BUDGET! C’MERE.”
And felt very foolish that she was so frightened. The pines seemed to stare at her from all their little forests that circled the big field. They weren’t healthy-looking trees; they’d been planted much too close together so that their lower branches had shriveled and only their crowns bore healthy green heads. They looked like arboreal skeletons, or starved orphans. As neglected as everything else here.
“Budget,” Shelley called, quieter this time. “C’mere. Come on Budgie! Let’s go.”
There was no sound.
No barking.

“BUDGET.”

Bark.

And then quiet again, this time for good.

Shelley didn’t like Budget much. But the reverse was not true, and there was a certain wrenching obligation there, as much out of peer pressure as anything else. Man’s Best Friend. A Good Boy. You didn’t ditch your friends right in front of your peers, even if they were terrible freeloading drooling hyperactive malcontents with big brown eyes. It made you look callous.
Thankfully, there was no one watching, so Shelley turned on her heel and started running again.
There was still wind missing from her last sprint.
There was still that guilty stitch in her side, making her stumble every other sprint and huff-puff.
There was still even the reasonable, rational, adult mind in the back of her head calmly telling her that there was nothing to worry about, only children were frightened of being alone when they were on a public path, in a public park, in the heart of a (small, but still) city.
But overwriting all of that was the knowledge that Budget didn’t stop barking halfway, and that Budget was, as her mom had reminded her, a Big Boy. One hundred pounds of dog, and no fat thanks to her grudging efforts.
Anything that shut him up, she didn’t want to be near.
And she still hadn’t seen a single other person, and the air was too quiet, especially for a Saturday. Even if nobody was out picnicking, where were the cars? Where was the background noise? Why were the pines staring back at her?
One of the pines ducked and moved away from her gaze. A branch snapped.
Shelley had thought she was running before. Now she started again, this time properly, and she did good until the pines moved again and this time they were right in front of her and oncoming, so she veered hard left and fell into the pit.

It wasn’t a very deep pit, but she rolled far enough to make up for it. Dust and grit and plastic against her back. Surrounded by red pulped rock fibers. Something was standing over her on the edge of her vision, at the edge of the pit, a great unblinking eye of – no, it was gone, its colour had escaped her before she noted it.
Something about feathers.
Shelley tried to slow her heart down even as she wondered if that was a skill that could do more harm than good and rolled over on her side to pant more thoroughly. Plastic against her cheek. Plexiglass. Smooth. Warm from the dying sunlight.
And as she lay there, she tried to figure out precisely what the fuck was going on.
It’d had her. It’d been right there. Looking at her. And she bet dollars against donuts (a sucker’s bet) that it had been the thing that took Budget. But it turned and walked away when she was helpless, and it did that because….
Hmm.
Shelley rolled over again, face down. And she looked into another face, one a good deal more weathered and fleshless than hers. Minerals had infiltrated it; time had cracked it; wind and dust had buffeted it. Sealed in stone from outside and within.
She wondered what colour its eyes would’ve been in life, and strongly suspected she’d just missed a chance to find out.
Well then. Shelley resolved to ignore however this had happened because it would probably drive her insane and decided to think about boring, humdrum facts.
It had probably eaten Budget.
Catch
It was bigger than she was. Taller at least. Definitely longer. Very much outmassed her.
But still…. If it was anything like the thing lying frozen under her in its plexiglass-sandstone cradle, it was mostly bones and air. Thin. Budget would’ve been quite a feast for something that had probably been eating
Catch
little mouthfuls. She was even bigger. Therefore, as long as she didn’t do anything stupid like run or scream or panic it should be too full to care about anything she did and it wouldn’t try and
Catch
her.
A bunch of objections rained down on the little bubble of logic thus produced, screaming about food caching and play-sport (god, the things her cat had done to a mouse for kicks when she was ten), but its creation had made her too peaceful to notice them and she quietly stood up and brushed herself down.
There were little buckets in a bin at the edge of the site (a label, not a logo: ‘dig ‘till you drop!’). Each had a baby trowel, an eensy pick, and a battered toothbrush.
Shelley carefully nested three of them inside each other as snugly as she could then threw them full-force. They arced gently over the entire field and smashed into the swingset with full force, making a sound like a pot and pan eating each other.
Something made an indescribable sound from what sounded to be six inches away from her, jumped, and the pines around the dig pit suddenly seemed a lot more empty.
Well, good. She could still pitch.
Shelley pulled herself out – an easy lift, this thing was meant to be accessed by under-teens – stood up, and began the casualest, slowest stroll she’d ever imagined having in her life. This was what her ideal walk would be, without Budget. A mosey’s mosey; a perambulation without peer. Each foot lifting off without much of a motive beyond boredom, each sole slapping down like a lazy man’s burger-flip.
God, she could walk a thousand miles this way now. No leash burning her hand, no anger flushing her face, no throat raw from NO or HEEL, no Budget.
No more Budget. Because something had gone and Catch him. Bones in a Discus golf, in a metal birdbath.
Shelley thought about that harder, filling her soul with empathy. Poor, poor Budget, who always wagged and barked and never meant any of the harm that came her way from him. Dense, lovably Budget, giving of unconditional affection and unavoidable fur clumps. She was on the verge of tears which was excellent because if she stopped feeling bad about the stupid dog for one second she might think about what had eaten him and that could be very, very bad.
There was a cough and Shelley ran like she was on third base again for the first time in ten years.

Even so, she was much too slow. Much too slow. But maybe it was a little full, maybe her legs were kicking a little furiously, maybe she was a little bigger than its usual meals, and when she lunged past the sign, down the green tunnel, and cleared that little chain-link fence, she was only bleeding a little.
Her back hurt.

She looked it up that night. Homegrove Park. A single link at the backwash of her search engine’s mouth, a single page that was serving as the appendix of the Parks and Rec department.
“Our past provides our future,” sitting at the top of the page above a waterfall of dead images, placeholder text, and already-dated web design.
‘Dig ‘till you drop! Learn while you play! See our town’s prehistory under your feet!’
And some articles, back-page fodder if she’d ever seen them.
Shelley recognized the face in the photos. Both with and without its eyes. Or feathers.
Our past, provided and served up for our future. What if it didn’t like what it saw? What if it shut itself away, in the dark hours between the picnics and the smiles? Hidden and invisible until it hungers for something more and it…steps back in. For a squirrel, or a woodchuck. Or a loud, happy dog.
While she was at it, Shelley looked the claw up too. Hard to tell without a PhD., but it was a beautiful piece of bone. Dakotaraptor.
She mailed it to the nearest museum with no return address. She’d had enough.

Homegrove Park must’ve agreed with her. Shelley walked that road now and then, once a month. Just to check. But she never again saw that little path into the green wall behind the overgrown chain-link fence.


Storytime: A Short Bedtime Fible.

June 7th, 2017

A little over forty years ag
No, no, no. ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a young ma – ah, that is to say, a noble youth. His eyes were clear and his pecs were hard and his jaw was seriously large and impressive. Everyone liked and admired him for all these traits.
Well, the king had just died and things were in a bit of a ruckus when one stormy night a wandering old con arti – well, a wise man, a sorcerer, a magus – stopped by and did fortell a grand and glorious destiny for him. This surprised him not at all and he left home immediately after heroically procuring supplies from the house of his wicked, vile, evil stepfather who definitely supported the treacherous and black-hearted cur, Duke Elnin.
Alas, their journey was not untroubled! While on their way to the Duke’s castle, their money was tragically and loathsomely stolen from them by black-hearted bandit curs who cared nothing for the good of the kingdom. Happily they simultaneously (and totally unrelatedly) encountered a noble band of heroic allies who agreed to help them in their quest for no price whatsoever, being motivated entirely by the purest senses of justice and discernment. Their leader, Red Tom Rennigen, had a little more than this in mind; scarce six months ago the Duke had the gall to name him a common brigand, framing him for all manner of indecency and theft. But the noble youth’s clear eyes saw past the filthy, malicious exterior of his new companion and into his true and gallant heart, and so he was not fooled.

After many incredibly heroic deeds which would take more time to relate and fabricate than I have, they reached the Duke’s foul and towering castle, which squatted malevolently just outside of town like a spider’s-sac of suffering. Surely the foul and gruesome legions that swarmed within it would put an end to the noble youth and his companions in the open field – though they could easily cleave down a hundred apiece, there were like, oh gosh at least a thousand for each of them, so they immediately were willing to listen when the wise sorcerer ventured forth a stratagem.
That very night, a hue and a cry arose from town. Robbers! Brigands! Murderers! Help! Motivated by a lust for violence and death, the drooling, barely-sapient hordes of Duke Elgin spilled forth from the drawbridge of his castle, charged into town, and were trapped within a ring of fire as the band of heroes valiantly set fire to the entire village’s outskirts, dooming them to a most eminently deserved and completely horrifying death by asphyxiation and burning alive in any combination. A few stragglers made it to the edge of the flames and were picked off by the companions, who thriftily pocketed their valuables, boots, and teeth to gift to orphanages later.

The Duke was waiting, of course. Atop the highest tower, naturally. And there he drew his dark blade, Murdermaker, and leapt with a fierce cry at oh to hell with it the sod’s illiterate he can’t tell if I’m transcribing this or writing recipes for fuck’s sake. They dressed up as his soldiers, walked inside and stabbed him to death on the privy, the scruffy menaces. Then they got drunk and burned down the whole keep and oh god this is depressing I’ll just go back to it now.

And so, with the founding of Castle Truth, the noble youth laid his righteous claim to all the kingdom, and though he battles to this day with his riva – the dastardly usurpers, I mean – peace and justice reign within the lands he rules, because almost everyone has peacefully fled or been put to the very just and sharp blade.

Alright, I’m done writing. You can tell the guard to put his sword do


Storytime: Stumped.

May 31st, 2017

Timothy Lean was in a quandary, which is like a quarry but self-creating. It was driving him to strong language.
(geez)
The exam leered at him from the vast, sparkling emptiness of his desk. Its surface was a painful white; the white of a blister – from frost, from fire, from sweat. It was making him cross.
(shit, fuck)
Timothy ransacked his skull – oh, how he hated the emptiness of that thing! – and found nothing. But wait, but wait! Just behind that was…
…more nothing.
Stumped.
(BALLS!) he shouted aloud, and was tossed out immediately.

So Timothy Lean picked up his backpack and his hat and his gripes and he dragged them all the way down the subway through the winding ways up beneath the highways and into the farthest pits of the byways, where he found his grandmother, who was a witch.
“Grandmother,” he said to her, “you’re a witch.”
“Yes,” said his grandmother. “You know that. I know that. Everyone else knows it too. You benefitted nothing and no one with that sort of thing. This is why your mother and I don’t speak.”
“Grandmother,” he ploughed onwards, “I am most pretty profoundly cursed in my brains. Every exam I’ve taken for the past six months, I’ve found myself stuck. Caught. Stopped dead. Stumped.”
“Study harder,” she told him.
“Well that’s not very helpful.”
“Neither are you.”
“I know you are but what am I?” asked Timothy, cunningly.
His grandmother had fallen right into his trap – filled with as much disgust as she was at that moment, she would’ve agreed to run over glass barefoot to get him out of there. “Fine. Fine. Here’s your stupid magic, you rotten fruit of my fruit’s loins. Put this little twig around your neck. Then, just before your exam, find a tree. Walk up to it and put your lips to its knothole and say ‘I’m stumped!’ loud and clear. Then get out of the way and go inside and take your exam and everything should work out okay.”
“Will I get As?”
“It’s magic, not miracles. You’ll get Cs and like it.”
“Okay, okay, okay,” he sighed, and he put the twig around his neck and walked home without saying thank-you, which honestly was to his benefit as his grandmother probably would’ve smacked his teeth loose if he’d said one more word in arm’s reach.

Biology. Mitochondria, the Golgi apparatus. Ribosomes. Timothy could already feel them leaking from his head as he hurried back to the campus.
But he had just enough time to stop and lean against a little sapling to catch his breath. And once he’d grabbed it, he twisted over his shoulder, leaned in close, and said “I’m stumped.”
WHOMP, went the air and he almost fell over, because the tree was gone and nothing was left but, well, a stump. A pretty short one.
Timothy scratched his head. Then he went indoors and had the smoothest, best biology exam of his life. He even remembered all the names of all the stages of cellular mitosis.

History was next. Dates and names and places and perspectives and texts and worst of all worst of all WORST of all: critical thinking.
Timothy stopped by a rotten old apple tree outside the building’s door for a quick moment. “I’m STUMPED,” he told it.
WHOMP there it went. The air around him was filled with falling, flying, mushy apples. One landed right on his head.
“Fuck,” he complained to the universe at large. But he knew what he knew, and he knew he couldn’t do much about it.
So he went into class and spent two hours describing post-colonialism and post-communism and the origin of the post-office. With moderate success.

Last class, last gasp, and oh Timothy was running on it. From one side of campus to the other, legs flapping, backpack bouncing, brain broiling.
And maybe it was because he’d been to see his grandmother, but he was a bit more tired than usual.
And maybe it was because he was so happy to have his exams finally turning around, but he was a bit more distracted than usual.
And maybe it was because he was wiping the applesauce out of his hair as he went, but he was a bit more clumsy than usual.
Whatever it was, there he went, up up up the steps and into the doors and woops he’d forgotten his tree and he ran outside and looked around desperately through streaking vision and THERE IT WAS and he ran up and grabbed it and gasped, extremely quiet, on his last puff of breath “imstumped.”
Nothing happened. His heart rate doubled.
“ImStumpt” he mumbled.
Nothing happened. Red fury filled his eyeballs.
“I’MSTUMP!” he roared, and he pulled off the twig around his neck and punched it as hard as he could.

Now, maybe it would’ve been okay if he’d said ‘I’m stumped.’
It could’ve been alright, if he’d had the twig around his neck.
Fewer problems if he hadn’t punched the tree.
And of course, he would’ve been much better off if he’d been talking to a tree instead of a lovely and artistically wrought lamp-post.
But we don’t live in the world with the best decisions so instead Timothy Lean went WHOMP.

Campus emergency services took about sixteen hours to dig him out. He’d put down some pretty deep roots.


Storytime: The Hagfish.

May 24th, 2017

The silverware sparkled.
The glass gleamed.
The dishes… well, they didn’t bear describing. Words failed.
And in the center of the table in a great gold platter, dripping in her own sweat and bile, lay the Hagfish. The guest of honor once again.

“Five years?” a courtier inquired of a fop.
“Six, surely,” the fop guessed.
“It’s seven, or I’m senile,” assured a countess.
“Nine,” said a voice.
It was not a voice that should be listened to. Every instinct screamed at every smarmy syllable. If it had been a vase of flowers, it would consist entirely of little red trust-me-nots, shining with the meaty intoxications of freshly-picked fibs.
But it belonged to their host, the Duchess of Dalby, and so instead of throwing their drinks away and kicking off their shoes and running (not screaming! Waste of breath to run with!) for the windows they bowed and scraped and muttered many congratulations, humble thanks, flattery on her apt memory, etc, etc, etc.
The Duchess smiled, and they looked up it without flinching, and they knew their task was complete, and thankfully so. The Duchess’s memory for happy moments was exceeded only and greatly by her perfect and crystallized recall of any and all grudges.
For that, one had only to examine the banquet table. And the Hagfish.

“A grand ball.”
“Your finest yet.”
“Really, is this truly the hundredth? How time flies!”
And the Duchess of Dalby smiled and nodded and said “thank you,” and “my thanks,” and “indeed!” but what she thought after the last comment was how very funny a thing counting was. It all depended on where you started the list.
For instance, if one counted all the parties, balls and processions she had hosted as a single unit, this was her hundred-and-forty-ninth.
Then again, if one also included all the parties, balls and processions she had hosted under an assumed name, or anonymously, that total would grow again to one-hundred-and-sixty-three.
And if one truly wished to be generous, and included all the parties, balls and processions she had so thoroughly managed on others’ behalf as to have hosted them herself, the total would rest at a respectable three hundred and ninety seven, at which point it would be easier to count those she had not been involved in at all.
But this particular ball was special for a specific and most particular reason, as it was the hundredth since a most particular day indeed.

As the evening wore on, the requests came, pit-a-pat.
“Duchess, a word.”
“Duchess, if I might.”
“Duchess, may I be so bold?”
And obliquely and haltingly and hesitantly and discretely came the details, coughed up from the black depths of the human psyche and the bitter dredges of bad old wounds left to rot and fester in the mind.
“She spurned me.”
“He insulted me.””
“They wronged me.”
And the Duchess of Dalby nodded and smiled and made polite noises and kept most careful track of all that was said and requested and promised – so many meanings behind each word exchanged! – and recorded them in her most faithful logbook, which was inside her skull and nowhere else, and finer than that made by any pen.
She would be busy indeed when the ball was done. Truth be told, the planning of the things bored her to tears, but oh she did love the work they brought in.

The meal was served – no, launched. The Hagfish squirmed in limbless appreciation at it, chuckling from the depths of her serving platter.
“A good spread tonight,” she told the Duchess of Dalby as she served herself of the grand stew – a seething, frothing thing whose body was meat and whose spirit was sublime and whose smell was euphoric. The Hagfish’s voice was coarse and strangely high. Years before it had been very different, the Duchess thought fondly. Before she had made a project of her throat. She patted the old mangled thing on her hip – touching the raw exposed bone and needling a bare nerve – and strode away to the appetizers.
“Use the knife!” the Hagfish called after her. “They always like a spotless death, but it works better if you use the knife! They never forget that.”
Eleven years since the first piece came out of her hide and the old bat still persisted in telling her what to do, thought the Duchess, as she savagely skewered a selection of cheese. You’d have thought she’d have learned her lesson after the Duchess removed the fiftieth fragment of her liver.
But no. This wasn’t the Hagfish’s night. She was just the table setting. This was her night. Her moment. Her commemoration. She mustn’t forget that. She mustn’t let anyone else forget that.
The Duchess clicked her fork against the side of her glass, once. And the room fell silent.
Yes, this was what she needed.

“A toast,” she said, “to yourselves. My clients, my friends, my proud acquantances.”
The cheers flew freely.
“A toast!” she cried, “to this night. A wonder the likes of which I promise you’ve not seen.”
Oh, the windows shook.
“And a toast,” she screamed, “to the old-gone queen of the assassins, the handmaiden of death, the mother of murder, the Hagfish, Nella Triy, who was once the host for so many lovely parties such as these, and whom I have mutilated so thoroughly in the past eleven years nine months and fourteen days that even I, in all my long, careful memories, cannot recall how pieces of her flesh have been cut off and thrown away!”
And the cheers were loudest of all, coming though they did from mouths stretched tooth-baringly wide with terror.
But the sound that killed the applause was very small and slight, and it was the chuckling from the grand banquet table. From the golden platter. From somewhere inside the torn, eviscerated frame of the Hagfish.
“Oh my me!” she rasped. “Oh really! I had the guess that on?”
The Duchess of Dalby did not sigh.
She did not frown.
Not so much as a crease puckered her brow.
So it couldn’t have been more glaringly obvious how furious she was, as she strode up to that table, one hand reaching into her eighth hidden pocket for something sharp and smoky-dull-shaded.
“You know better,” she murmured, as she stood above the Hagfish, considering her target, “than this.”
“And you as well!” said the Hagfish cheerfully. “Why, I knew you’d lose count some day. I just thought you’d be less proud of it. Tell me, did you enjoy the stew?”
The Duchess of Dalby opened her mouth to retort, but fell silent. Something was sinking inside her, dragging her back twenty years to when she had made a boast to her teacher, Nella Triy, and had realized immediately that it had been very stupid.
“Just a little piece,” said the Hagfish. She winked. “Nobody’d miss a little piece of me, would they? And dearie, dearie me, you DO remember how I always said never to use a poison you haven’t tried yourself.”
The sinking feeling was accelerating, and the Duchess of Dalby’s knees shook.
“I’ve got more death in my littlest scrap of flesh than you have in your whole body, poor mite,” said the Hagfish. “Although, well, I suppose that now you do too.”
The Duchess of Dalby’s mouth still had not closed. Her muscles were quivering against the bone; her blood was boiling up around her teeth. And when she fell, it was as if a signal had been raised.
There were exactly seven hundred and forty-eight guests. But there was no one there to count their bodies, no one but the Hagfish, laughing on the banquet table.
“A bit of a long job,” she said to herself. “But I’ve never fussed much about the little details. They’ll come out or they won’t, I always say. Right, m’girl? Oh! Never mind.”


Storytime: The Orchard.

May 17th, 2017

The trees were whispering lively strong that day. Maybe it was the steady sun, giving them all the good things and watching them grow. Maybe it was the soft wind, shaking their branches and filling the air with their rustling plans.
Maybe it was something else. Passing secretive, were those trees. But they could be persuaded to share, for a price.
And oh, she knew that price, the gardener did.
Under her chime, under the bough, under the leafiest, smallest of the orchard she waited, the gardener and her cups and her little mortar and littler pestle. Aged earth granted aged flesh.
Today there would be three. Busy. But that was people for you, the ones that weren’t trees.

The first was a slight, pale thing. Torn and frayed at the edges from worries and wears on the inside. It trembled in the breeze, and would’ve trembled without it too.
“Do you have dreams?” it asked.
“All dreams,” said the gardener. “Ever.”
“I have a dream. Can I find it here?”
“What is this dream?”
“I would dream to be strong,” it said. “I would dream to speak out when my friends are slighted, to protest when asked to do wrong, to stop harm when I see it done, to witness my bad acts and stop them before they reach my hands. Can you grant me this dream?”
“Yes, I can grant you that dream,” said the gardener. She selected a cup from the old stump of her table-top, and it was a very common cup indeed – wood, plain wood, fresh wood that was almost from any tree you’d ever seen. “Follow me.”
The walk through the orchard was quiet, but that was normal whether the gardener walked with thin trembling things or boisterous loud ones or by herself. The trees induced it. Nobody likes to interrupt a long-running conversation, whether from politeness or awkwardness, and this was very old indeed.
“Here,” said the gardener, at the edge of the grove, by a thin sapling. “Lie down.”
The slight, pale thing lay down in the soft grass and looked up at the sky, which was marbled. Thick warm blue and soft cool white, mushed up like scrambled eggs. The sapling’s branches flickered at the edge of the eyes – elusive, bare, but tipped with something that could be green.
A cup intruded upon this, trailing a mild scent that could’ve been bitter or maybe not. “Drink,” said the gardener. “This fruit came from this tree, and your dream is inside it.”
The slight, pale thing drank, and when the cup was empty it fell back entirely and closed its eyes and was gone.
“A very common dream,” said the gardener in the face of sleep. “But this is no bad thing.” She eyed the tree’s branches, squinting in place of glasses. “And maybe it may be, if it not maybe not.”

When the gardener came back to her chime and her bough the second visitor was already there and waiting, which did not surprise her very much. The trees had been awfully gossipy of it – it was fidgeting as it stood there, snapping a twig into smaller and smaller pieces and picking at the bark. Its muscles seemed to jump of their own volition, like startled weasels.
“Hello there, uh, oh, hi,” it said. It dropped the twig, almost swore, then started over. “Hey.”
“Hello,” said the gardener. “Where did you find that?”
“Found what?” asked the fidgeter. “Oh, that. Not sure. Hey do you have any dreams? I was wondering if you had dreams. Do you have a dream I think I might’ve been thinking of? It was a, it was a specific kind. It was big. I got bigger, and I knew more, and people listened, and I changed the world. I changed it. I did. Because it was a big idea, so big it changed it. I made things different. Better, I’m sure. Me. Can you think of a dream like that?”
“You know,” said the gardener, “I’m nearly sure I did. Follow me.”
The path they took was bumpy and more sticks than stones and stones than dirt. But the gardener was sure-steady as a tortoise, and the fidgeter, for all its shambling gait, seemed to find out where its feet were meant to be eventually. At the heart of the orchard they halted, at the foot of a winding, wandering thing whose trunk had branched and branched and branched until its twigs were nearly trunks in themselves, and whose crown was somewhere out of sight and above mind.
“Lie down,” said the gardener, and the fidgeter did this even if it took a while for it to find a spot that made its head comfortable – the ground was littered with broken branches and dead leaves.
“Drink,” said the gardener, holding a spiraling cup in her wrinkled palm. It had two or three openings and it took a moment and a bit of spillages for the fidgeter to find out where its lips should be.
“Tastes like ash, eurgh – or wait, just clean water, or wait, maybe-” and the gardener was alone again, although this one’s eyes, she saw, did not shut.
“A good sign,” she said, “for a dream that may be good or bad. Good luck, I suppose.”

The walk back for the third was longest of all, because the gardener’s hips were passing lax in their duty by this time.
Her third was just coming up the path as she sat down. Steady of gaze, strong of stride. Bright-eyed.
“You have dreams,” it said, forcefully.
“The trees have the dreams,” said the gardener. “I just make them easier to swallow.”
“Nevertheless, you can give them. I have a most rare and powerful dream, and I want to know if it is within your ability to understand this and grant me access to it, which I want very much.”
“Please, tell me,” said the gardener.
The bright-eyed thing leaned forward, shoulders hunched in the earnestness of the deathly serious, and it opened its mouth and it spoke. “I would see a world of mirror. I would see all those who do not look like me; who do not speak like me; who do not think like me; who were born in places I was not; who were taught things I was not taught; who act in ways do not; who have families that I do not see, I would imagine them gone, all of them, forever and in all places, until I am all that is left and I am many and I am all that there is and ever will be, unchanging. Can you grant me this rare and powerful dream?”
“Oh dear, my dear, oh dear,” said the gardener, and her laughter made her hands shake as she picked up her largest cup, which was carved from dead solid stone. “That is the oldest dream of them all.”

It was not a walk. It was barely a stroll. Just the other side of the path to the orchard it lay, outside the bounds and outside all company; a solitary, giant thing. Its bark was knotted, its trunk was twisted, and its branches seemed reluctant to spread, tucked tight against its sides. Its roots spread far and wide and passing shallow, and the ground was covered with its dead needles. It was a tricky thing to approach without losing foot, especially with the bright-eyed thing refusing to look down. But they managed it, and at its base the gardener pointed at the ground and said “here.” Her voice was loud and harsh against the flat air. There was no wind here, and the silence pressed down.
The bright-eyed thing sat down, but there was a frown that marred its face. “This prickles. Is there nothing better to sit against? Do you have a pillow?”
“It is what it is, and nothing less,” said the gardener. “It’s a shameful thing, to pretend a dream isn’t what it is. I wouldn’t dare.” She reached out her arms, gripping the ancient cup two-handed and wobbling. Old pungency seeped from its sides. “Here. Drink, and dream.”
The bright-eyed thing jerked its head back. “No, no, not like this, it’s meant to be”
The gardener lifted her arms up over her head and dropped the cup, which landed home with a firm smack, and she was alone again.
But the bright-eyed thing wasn’t. She could already feel the roots creeping under her feet, eager to anchor themselves. She could hear the groan of all those buried voices, under sap and bile.
“Congratulations,” she said, as she picked up the empty cup.

The needles were sharp underfoot, and though it was the shortest the walk back home seemed oh so painful.
But the wind was still there when she returned, and so were the whispers of the orchard.