Storytime: Ever Higher.

January 11th, 2017

“It’s a marble.”
Jen squinted at the near horizon. The sun was already coming down; the days here were just a little bit shorter than her body was insisting they should be.
“Yeah?”
“Yeah, a marble. A big, beautiful blue marble.”
Jen shook her head. “Man, you’ve got to get off that ship and see for yourself. I promise there’s more than blue down here. I swear, these mountains are PURPLE.”
“I’m looking at the big picture, you know. That’s my job.”
“You’re a cargo hauler, Davy, not a pilot.”
“Yeah, and who gets the big picture better than the guy who has to load it, pack it, shift it, and drop it? Trust me, I’ll be down before you know it.”
More lavender, she decided. The foothills, now, they were definitely purple in places. Not an unhealthy glow, though; they glistened with plant life. She breathed in deep and felt that strange, off-tilt taste that was air filled with hundreds of thousands of trees. So strange after the lifetime spent on board Requin. Would it have been stranger still to grandma and grandpa, fresh from the grey smogs and the dead seas?
“That’s old news, Davy. I’m looking at the new big picture right here. All we’ve got to do is assemble the pieces.”
The chainsaw fired up on the third rev, grumbling about it. Well-designed, but it HAD spent more than half a century in storage.
“Alright, alright. See you in a month, jigsaw.”
Jen smiled as the blade bit into the trunk of the tree. “See you in a month, Davy.”
The smell of sap drifted up around her, and the world seemed to grow a little bigger because of it.
A step beyond the cradle.

Item 00001: Chainsaw
Used for logging. The materials science behind this device is far less advanced than that required to reach the planet’s surface, and is similarly at odds with that of many unearthed structures. This, and design discrepancies within this and other retrieved timber-cutting equipment, indicates an overall improvised set of tools, often retrofitted from spare parts for more sophisticated devices.
Item 00001a: Preserved Sap
Removed from the cutting mechanisms of Item 001. The sap is that of the Netterli Allpine, which formed large dense forests over much of eastern Tendyssa at the time of landing. Shortly afterwards, it became extinct in the wild, presumably due to the sudden and enormous pressure placed upon it by land clearance for crops and settlements.

Roiann looked up.
Sparkling lights. Ten million diamonds floating above her head, close enough to see but far enough to sparkle. And hundreds of them belonged to her, floating just above the atmosphere. Beaming news, data, gossip and games and stocks and a thousand imaginary necessities.
Roiann looked down.
A hundred million people, all building, booming, growing, surging, improving, learning, prospering.
Hundreds of thousands of them belonged to her too, although they would’ve put it differently. They put in their hours for her, and that was enough.
And in the middle distance, between Roiann’s two planes of ownership, there was the horizon. Curving gently off beyond her sight.
Not her reach, though. Landing was still humanity’s heart, but she’d been making moves. Expeditions. Research, mining, mapping, whatever excuse could be used and budgeted.
There was profit out there somewhere. Enough for everyone, and why shouldn’t she get first pick?
She turned her gaze back to the object on her desk and smiled.

Item 00978: Office Desk.
A workstation. This specimen is highly decorative in design and likely belonged to a wealthy executive; the drawers and filing equipment are overly diminished and show little use, while the materials used in construction are not only high-quality but show the traces of individual craftsmanship rather than mass production. This was a commissioned sumptuary good, used to display status.
Item 00978a-q: Shards of Allglass.
These microscopic flecks were retrieved from a hairline crevice in the desk’s surface, and are possibly the earliest allglass traces in Landing. There is still no record of the precise date when expeditions from Tendyssa first travelled across the pole to Wender, but this may have been among the first curiosities brought back from those early ventures.

Taddle was a runner. And he was good at it. He’d practically raced out of the crib. He’d nearly become a professional sprinter in his school years. He could tap a friend on the shoulder and be round the block by the time they’d finished turning.
But he’d been a little foolish to hope to outrun bullets.
Now here he was, bleeding out all over his broken nearly-but-not-quite-bulletproof shirt. Lying on his side, watching the world spin and wondering why he’d decided to do it. Yes, his brother had needed the money; he had no legs thanks to their grandfather. Yes, his father had needed the operation; all those years down in the foundries did wonderful things to your body from the outside in. Yes, his daughter would need food; she was already barely eating enough to stay awake in classes.
But now they’d need all that and his funeral bill too.
His back was on fire. Not from the bullets, from something crushed and splintered and eating into his skin like bugs on butter. The package of allglass he’d been hiding down his back had smashed. It was a good thing he was already passing out; if he’d had the energy he would’ve screamed.
A boot came into his field of view, followed by the rest of the mine guard. And then – if not for very long – Taddle realized he could scream after all.

Item 02931: Improvised Bulletproof Jacket
An illegal and improvised item, produced by melting ‘Red Silica’ over heavy cold-weather clothing. This particular specimen possessed two fatal flaws in its manufacture: it was adulterated with low-quality ‘Blue Silica’ to save costs and the base substrate was a smaller, lighter shirt that did not protect the wearer’s extremities. The latter may have been a necessary compromise; the shirt appears to be employee wear from Hibber Air & Earth, one of the larger allglass exploration companies in Wender during the era, and was likely intended to be a disguise first and last-ditch protection later. Bullet damage on the specimen’s exterior, along with massive allglass scarring along its interior, suggest that this plan failed.

The sky was red again today.
Pline had breakfast with what was left in the cupboard that had been her fridge before the last power surge, then dialed her old company.
No answer.
She hadn’t expected one; three weeks with no offices since the downtown floods had crippled the branch; the mills had been completely unsalvageable and every technician with any useful skills had long-ago left the city behind for work in the privateland holdouts. The owners had probably just walked off and vanished rather than deal with the paperwork, and the difficult of finding anyone to manage the paperwork. .
She dialed her best friend, next-closest friend, and then a few more.
No answers.
They’d probably just walked off and vanished. A lot of people did that.
The alarm in the ceiling hissed, and she slipped her mask on before peeking out the window. The air was a thick clot of bloody sand.
Allglass storm, again. The third one this week. Hard to believe in grandmother’s day they’d never seen one dip into the lower atmosphere before.
Her stomach gurgled, and she opened the fridge and realized there was nothing left. It was the end of the day and she was back at last night again. Again.
Pline’s face hurt. It had hurt since she was a little girl and she was used to it, but it was enough.
She took off the mask, put it in the fridge, and walked out the door.
And vanished.

Item 07003: Storm Mask
A mass-produced item of low quality, the many imperfections in this specimen’s design can be traced to many wider disruptions in global supply chains leading to the use of low-cost and inferior local materials. The sealing of the mask’s jaw in particular is badly malformed from use and likely caused extensive discomfort when prolonged use occurred, which was likely frequent at the time. Allglass storms not only increased in frequency as more and more of the substance was destroyed and released into the atmosphere, but were aggravated by even the most minute particle pollutants, which they would aggregate into and subsume. A heavy smog could become a killing clot of sharpened particles, but deadlier still were the long-term physiological and psychological ills brought on by constant low-level exposure to the wear and tear of allglass-laced dust and pollen.

It was too dark.
Hobb held his breath and held still and his nose tickled but he did not sneeze not even a little because it was too dark.
The other people were out there arguing, yelling in their strange voices, brandishing their rust and plastic and shouting and trying their hard to be the scariest possible because if they did they wouldn’t have to kill each other the way they’d killed Hobb’s family and nothing made them more worried than that.
Hobb was trying not to think about what they’d done, but there it was again, fresh and red in his mind as it hadn’t been in reality. All the blood was red and bright and clear and shining and the wounds showed great gouts of colour inside, oozing and glistening.
Not like this. Not like it had been, with dark liquid and grunts and screams in the black. Because it was too dark.
The other people were still shouting. Didn’t they know it was too dark? They’d stood on the fire, they’d thrown Hobb’s uncle into it. Why? Were they crazy? They’d been outside, in the storms. Only crazy people did that. And they dressed crazy, with all those heavy coats and clasps and the masks. And they’d come from the privlands, on foot, in the day.
They didn’t know anything.
One of them shouted, loud enough to hurt ears, and they all stopped talking at once.
Hobb sneezed, even though it was too dark, and that was that.
He never had a chance to tell them about the Deepmakers. They never gave him one. And so, when they were sleeping, it came as a very large surprise.

Item 07991: Security Helmet
Although for a time complex international society persisted in the form of communication passed between fortified compounds in the heavily-guarded holdouts and refuges of what the common folk called the ‘privatelands,’ several centuries without maintenance destroyed the satellite communications networks necessary for any real cooperation, along with mutual distrust and competition. Lacking trade networks for resupply and repair, each individual stronghold lived and eventually died on its own. Many were abandoned when vital survival systems broke down, their inhabitants dispersing into the new wildernesses, but few of these voyagers integrated successfully into new communities. This particular specimen is an example of a typical though well-illustrated story: an aging but almost pristine security helmet that suffered several months of intense weathering from brutal allglass storms before being abandoned in a secluded cave. The culprit behind this last event is particularly evident: the bite marks lining the inside of the skull are undeniably those of the Tendyssan King Walleater. The eusocial burrowers ate the privateland exile from the inside out.

 

 

Item 08200: Patella
This skeletal fragment is the youngest evidence of Lander civilization on the planet. It belonged to a subadult in poor health, who likely received little care from family members shortly after weaning, which she did early. It is possible, although not confirmable, that she was the very last Lander alive; certainly the nearest archaeological site to her grave is notably older. If she was not the last in fact, her existence was nonetheless very similar to that hypothetical other, unknown Lander. Each would have never known the difference, and if they had met would possibly have not even as recognized the other as kin. Landers were socially intelligent animals, and without any prior contact with their own kind, their existences must have been intensely uncomfortable. Even without malnutrition and the hardship of the changing environment, it is unlikely this nameless child would have lived long alone.


No Swimming.

January 4th, 2017

The beach is closed.
Why? Who knows.
It’s nothing that I’d know about.
Was it the sharks? The dogs from the parks?
They did shit a lot, the louts.

The beach is closed.
Well, so it goes.
Never much liked to swim here.
It could’ve been the needles, or the carnivorous beetles.
Maybe both, I fear.

The beach is closed.
No more sand ‘twixt my toes.
Not that there was much left, sad to say.
Half of it was rock, the rest was just blocks
Of compacted refuse, from back in the day.

The beach is closed.
Where will seagulls doze?
Half-filled with trash, half with spite.
That look in their eyes as they came for your fries.
Jesus, that’d give God a fright.

The beach is closed.
Well, that just blows.
There go my plans for the summer.
Where will I go, where E. Coli don’t flow?
Man. What a bummer.

The beach is closed.
Could’ve been the glows
Of strange light, down past the pier.
The places they say, where the fishmen did lay
in wait, to rip, gnash and tear.

The beach is closed.
Well, go with the flows.
That’s what all the others did.
Grabbed by riptides and taken for rides
Down deep, where dark things hid.

The beach is closed.
Unfair, I knows.
It was homely, safe, and cool.
What was the harm, I say, if children did play
A bit close to the sewage plant pools?


Storytime: New Year’s Resolutions from 325 Sherman Lane, Apartments A-F.

December 28th, 2016

As of this year 2XXX, I, Elizabeth, do solemnly resolve:
-to brutally pulverize the fat, oafish face of Tommy beyond all recognition.
-to drop-kick each and every one of Christine’s fuzzy little ratbags through her window and eventually her face.
-to shatter Donovan’s feeble, half-repaired skull in my bare hands.
-to smash through Samantha’s ribs and tear out her diseased, Grinch-grade heart and eat it in front of her.
Also I will punch Steve.

To-do 2XXX:
Steal ‘the murder weapon’ from Donovan’s gun locker
Write ‘the confession’ using Christine’s signature
Plant ‘the evidence’ on Elizabeth’s phone
Set up ‘the victim’ by using ‘the murder weapon’ described in ‘the confession’ and ‘the evidence’ on Samantha’s smelly, insane, morbidly morbid, certifiable face
And get Steve to phone the cops

MEMO: OPERATION TIMES SQUARE
Perform a clearing sweep on room A first where the leaderman head captain officer resides TARGET IS ARMED WITH ARMS USE SHOTGUN BE PREPARED TO BAYONET
Advance through front B exterminate all witnesses no civilians here they are all insurgents i have heard tommy doing it late at night it won’t goddamned stop
Take a breather and the meds actually no just a breather no wait no time to breathe PUSH ON
Target Charlie aka ‘BACKWOODS’ aka ‘SAMANTHA’ is versed in GUERILLA TACTICS and also may or may not be a GORILLA they are cunning and have infiltrated us do not be fooled by her BRACHIATING or EATING POUTINE or laying of BEAR TRAPS
Entrench through the ceiling and drop down on top of target Delta Christine and kill her immediately to establish DOMINANCE over her WILD BEASTS
Leave building to confront cops and EXPLAIN MYSELF in a BLAZE OF GLORY
Remember to demote Private Steve before leaving building for insubordination and delinquency in the line of duty

Samantha Cote’s 2XXX Resolutions
-I shall go to Donovan’s room and wish him a happy new year and then I will skin him.
-I shall be more open and honest with Elizabeth by jointing and gutting her.
-I shall apologize to Christine for repeatedly attempting to trap her cats by trapping her in a deadfall just inside her apartment’s door and leaving her to be consumed by them.
-I shall smoke Tommy out of his rank den with my largest cigars and shoot him when he emerges on general principle and fairness.
-I shall give Steve a scarf.

Christine and Booboo and Huggles and Tabitha and Mopsy and Daniel and Boojum and Siberius and Jim-Bob and Gareth’s Big Plans for the New Year
-Buy a new litter box because poor old Mopsy’s legs are giving out aren’t they sweetums?
-Give tuna more regularly, so the mercury puts Daniel into a coma and he doesn’t yowl from 2-8 AM as often, the silly thing.
-Get more precious babies; the gene pool’s getting awfully thin in here and Gareth’s such a funny-looking thing I don’t even know what his babies would look like, if he had genitals.
-Put a knife through the heart of every last one of my gormless, furless, loveless neighbours and feed their smelly carcasses to my adorable children.
-Ask Steve to pick me up some more milk now and then.

Stephen, 2XXX
you know I sure would LOVE it if I made more pancakes


Storytime: Safer Than Sorry.

December 21st, 2016

On the three-hundredth and fifty-ninth year of the Second Regime of the Second Age of the Highly Noble Realm of Nonbec, two great and significant events occurred.
First, the census reported that the Highly Noble Realm had attained, at last, a population of one million free and fine and flourishing citizens.
Second, on the day of the grand parade to commemorate this occasion, Tigly, the Grand Marshall of Nonbec, had his pocket most audaciously picked. Were it not for the keen eyes of his Upper General at his side the thief would’ve escaped; as it was the scoundrel was apprehended after not more than a dozen paces, and after the parade she was brought before the courts to stand trial, be sentenced, and be imprisoned, in something like that order.
Tigly himself stood in witness, from behind a discreet and unobtrusive bit of panelling, for he was most surprised at the events that had unfolded.
Was this not the day that Nonbec had swollen to one million free citizens? Was not this cause for all to rejoice? Was not he, himself, Grand Marshall Tigly, the most beloved to ever hold his post? With baited breath he awaited the thief’s explanations, their rationale, their motive, their defense.
“Defend yourself,” intoned the judge, ceremony and boredom mixing into a rich porridge of indifference.
The thief remained silent.
“Defend yourself,” repeated the judge. “Defend yourself. Defend yourself!” and sixteen times more the judge repeated those words, until the prisoner was taken away with defense still unuttered.
It was a scandal. It was a wonder. It was unheard of. A criminal’s explanation could not harshen their sentence, only soften it. Lies might be spoken, but if uncovered, could not change this. It had been long centuries since a common pickpocket had been imprisoned – the fate of the despicable and uncontrollable only, now used for a mere thief.
If a doctor had been consulted, the explanation for this turn of events, unprecedented in all the years of the Second Age, might have been rendered visible: the thief was deafer than a post, and dumb to boot. But there was no doctor present, and so the Grand Marshall was left to his own bewilderment, and his own doubts.
“Tell me, my Upper General,” he asked the next morning at breakfast, “am I not loved?”
The Upper General’s face creased with downright geological thought as she consumed her first hard-boiled egg of the day; whole canyons carving themselves through her face. “More than some,” she said at last. “Less than others.”
“What?!” exclaimed Tigly. “But I have led Nonbec into the greatest flowering of free citizens ever to live? One million within our borders!”
“No one can be loved by everyone,” she said with a shrug.
“And would those who do not love me, harm me?” he asked.
The Upper General thought about this for three more eggs. “Maybe,” she decided.
“Do you know who these persons may be?”
“Maybe.”
“Would they set a pickpocket upon me, in the time when all were expressing their greatest love for me?”
“Maybe.”
The Grand Marshall fiddled with the shards of her last egg.
“Maybe. It is a wide world, and a full country. All things are possible, none unthinkable.”
The Upper General had been appointed to her post on account of her two qualities: unflinching determination in war and a ruthless commitment to absolute honesty. Many things might have been kinder, later, if she had been just slightly less scrupulous.

In the evening the Grand Marshall summoned his Head of Servitors. It felt wrong, to make the request he spoke under a full blue sky.
“There may or may not be plotters against me plotting uncertain things of unknown magnitude and unverifiable malevolence or malice,” said Tigly.
The Head of Servitors bowed. He always bowed. It was the only manner of communication permitted to the Head of Servitors, and in the nuance and flow of his bow there was much information – some of it graspable by the most unlettered farmhand, some of it interlayered meaning instructed only to the Grand Marshalls in their hidden and illuminated manuscripts. Nobody knew how the Heads of Servitors taught each other. Perhaps they had their own books, unknown even to the Grand Marshalls. Perhaps they simply got the hang of it.
The particular bow of this particular Head of Servitors relieved Tigly, who slumped happier in his chair. “Good. Please. I ask of you, find the guilty ones. Find them and halt them. Please. And do not kill them! We must know what is causing this.”

By morning there were seven trials running, whose defendants ranged from petty nobility to ostentatious nobility to a single highly disgruntled Servitor still in his blackened night-shift armour. All defended themselves in a most vigorous manner and specifically and thoroughly rebuffed the very inkling of a notion that they would ever hide and plot against the Grand Marshall in the shadows.
And Grand Marshall Tigly watched from behind his discreet and unobtrusive panelling and despaired, for in their eyes he saw the sullen embers of resentment and disgruntled tempers, and he knew that they wished him ill. By his hand he wrote, by the Head of Servitors it was carried, by the judge’s eyes it was read, and by evening all seven defendants were down in the cells. The one and only Highly Noble Prison of Nonbec was completely full, a situation that had not held sway since the Wicked Birthday of Grand Marshall Hom in the First Regime of the Second Age.
This caused many murmurs, which, like ripples, spread quicker than they look. They started in the courts and they seeped through the streets and they slid out to the very borders of Nonbec where they rebounded and reverberated backwards through the country over and over, a growing mutter and fearful fuss.
That month, as the Grand Marshall presided over the launching of Nonbec’s newest ship, voices mocked him from the crowd.
That night, as the Grand Marshall spoke to the Head of Servitors, quiet feet slipped into the city.
The next morning, as the Grand Marshall worried over his breakfast again, the cells were double-filled.
“Tell me, my Upper General,” he mumbled. “Am I not loved?”
“By some,” she said. “But fewer than before. There are rumours.”
The Grand Marshall turned paler than his omelette. “But I locked them up!” he wailed. “The Highly Noble Prison of Nonbec is double-filled! How can I fix this?”
“You can’t lock up everyone,” said the Upper General.
“No,” said the Grand Marshall miserably. “No.”
But he thought about that. And that very evening, the Head of Servitors fetched the Head of Construction, and soon the sound of fresh masonry became common throughout the palace. Nonbec Castle, like Nonbec, was growing. Downwards.

The new cells were barely built before they were overflowing. The markets in particular were rife with rumourmongers, all in the sway of the mysterious forces that spoke against the Grand Marshall. Servitors lurked there day and night, hiding in the shadows, under carts, on roofs. People hunched in the streets, eyes darting, hiding something and not sure what.
The Grand Marshall made his yearly address to the city, making much of the historical one million free citizens, of the fine new work being done in Nonbec Castle, of the fine harvest, of the orderliness of the markets. Nothing was said of the rumours.
The rumours, however, spoke for themselves. An old woman laughed at him as he finished his speech, too elderly for anything as silly as decorum.
“They will rise up!” she told him. “They will rise up together! Idiot! Dolt!”
Grand Marshall Tigly made no reply, so aloof was his dignity and majesty and also his hands were shaking. The servitors were already in motion as he quit the balcony.

Cells could not be constructed fast enough. Old chambers were repurposed. Wine cellars. Basements. Ancient nooks and crannies where foundations had slipped were hollowed and expanded. Some of the deeper rock was porous, and the caves were utilized. And overutilized.
Nonbec was growing emptier. Nonbec Castle, however, was overflowing. In its guts.
“Tell me, my Upper General,” asked Grand Marshall Tigly, “am I not loved?”
The Upper General considered this, then stood up, three eggs left uneaten. She took Tigly by his arm and led him out of the room, up to the stairs, up to the very highest room in the highest tower of Nonbec Castle, where she began to point.
“There, in the south streets, you are feared. You locked away their governing council. There, in the north ward, you are hated. You imprisoned the patron of the orphanage. There-” and she pointed beyond the walls “-in Kensilwalk, you are despised. Every mason was jailed, for not working diligently enough in your prison. There, in East Elsin, you are loathed. The doctor was taken, and his surgeon. And there, in Manymaps, there is no one there to love or hate you at all, because every single one of them is imprisoned beneath our feet.”
The Upper General then left Grand Marshall Tigly and his terror, and never again had breakfast with him. The Head of Servitors found her before noon.

The anniversary of the census arrived. One million free and fine and flourishing citizens. What more would this day bring?
The answer, as presented to Grand Marshall Tigly upon a clean wax tablet by the clean, waxen hands of the Head of Servitors, was less.
“Six hundred thousand?” he whispered. “Where have the others gone? Have they hidden them away? Have they left, betrayed us to our neighbours? Where have they gone? Where are they plotting? Unless. Unless.”
He bit his lip. He dared not ask questions of the Head of Servitors. He dared not ask questions of anyone, not since the Upper General’s answers had seared him so very badly.
But the questions asked themselves, and they asked them fiercely and unendingly and so very hotly that he would wake up sheathed in sweat and screaming.
So he ordered, and it was done.
It was not done neatly, but it was done.
It was not done quietly, but it was done.
It was not done quickly, but it was done.
It was not done easily, not at all, not even a little, not by the end.
But it was done, and in the end, Grand Marshall Tigly stood at the doorway into darkness, staring into the gaping throat of the quarry that had swallowed all that malice and resentment and spite, the Head of Servitors at his side, and he felt… better.
Almost.
“You have performed your duties admirably and fully,” he said.
And the Head of Servitors bowed most deeply. And with a little nudge of Tigly’s foot, there was one more.

The Grand Marshall woke up.
There was no sound.
There was never any sound, that was the beauty of it. No mutters. No mumbles. No rumours. No whispers.
He was alone and he was loved.
But…
He’d woken up. In the middle of the night. Alone.
And his hands were shaking again.
Grand Marshall Tigly followed the shaking of his hands with the soft slapping of his feet, all the way up they took him, high above, high above. To the tallest tower. To the highest room.
And there he looked, and everywhere he looked, everywhere he saw, he knew the answer to his question.
But his hands wouldn’t stop shaking.
He stuck them in his armpits and hissed, turning his back on that happy, empty view that did not ease his worry. No, no, no. They were all gone now. They couldn’t hurt him anymore. They were in the dark, packed together, packed under stone and crammed in crannies and gone, gone, gone, gone.
“Am I not loved?” he asked, for the first time in how long.
“No,” said the Upper General.

Grand Marshall Tigly did not want to turn around. But in some things, the mind has no say.
Three hundred thousand had gone into the cells after the Upper General, and four hundred thousand before her. Then three hundred thousand atop them all.
A million free and fine and flourishing people, packed together, down there in the dark. Growing mad, growing together.
He recognized the Upper General, he was surprised to see. Not her face, not her body – both had run together with a million others – but her geology. The thing before him was a stratigraphic nightmare, in flesh.
(Average age of Nonbec Citizen: thirty; thirty million years of history)
It was taller than his tower.
Grand Marshall Tigly opened his mouth to say something, or anything, or everything.
But for some reason, no matter how long the moment seemed to stretch, he couldn’t speak a single world.

And they rose up. From below.

The Third Age of the Highly Noble Realm of Nonbec is most easily distinguished from its predecessors by a simple metric: from that night onwards, the measurable population of the country has never altered from ‘one.’


Storytime: Once Upon a Timetable.

December 14th, 2016

Once upon a timetable, in a faraway area of operations, atop a slender, majestically expensive real estate holding, there lived a great and power CEO and Chairman of the Board who crushed their friends with an iron fist and made great peace and merriment with their enemies. In this way they were the objects of much envy and spite, which for them was the greatest of compliments and a panacea and balm to the very soul.
They were also having a baby; or, as they preferred to phrase it, ‘merging their genetic options.’
The delivery was smooth, swift, and medically spotless. The child was pasteurized, cleaned, tagged, swaddled, and delivered to his room without a moment’s pause. But as the proud parents were tidying up their suits, the doors to their room burst open. Only one employee of the company could afford to show such ill respect: it was the aged and venerable General Counsel and Secretary, for whom no thing other than analysis mattered and no thing other than poor math feared.
“Sir and Madam,” he creaked, “I bring the gravest of ill forecasts! I have consulted the auguries and forecasted the consultants, and I bring to you a spreadsheet that confirms this memo that will back up my own words: your child has a CONSCIENCE! See? It’s very small, but it’s there.”
And the CEO and Chairman of the Board hissed in great shock and alarm, but the memo and the spreadsheet both confirmed this to be true.
“This cannot possibly be a matter subject to my supervision,” said the CEO. “I am medically sociopathic.”
“As am I, as you are well aware,” said the Chairman of the Board.
“These things can happen, under ill tidings,” said the General Counsel and Secretary. “A bad budget in one’s youth, for example, can result in this. Or a childish flirtation with activism. In rare cases, even a single encounter can lead to this outcome. But fear not: I have prepared a five-point action plan.”
And the two Named Executive Officers listened to their esteemed General Counsel and Secretary and they knew his advice to be sagacious and acted upon it immediately.
First, the child was brought to the delicate, bloody fingers of the EVP, Human Resources, who severed the little conscience from his body with the utmost empathy, warmth, kindness, and people skills, despite the sheer amount of screaming involved.
Second, the little conscience was borne away, into the hinterlands of the corporation’s reach.
Third, the General Counsel and Secretary and EVP, Human Resources were unanimously fired without compensation for reasons of gross misconduct by the board and blacklisted from the industry. Wayward words puncture profit.

The child grew up to be a preteen, teen, young adult and prematurely bald in that order, possessing that most terrible and great combination of traits a Named Executive Officer could hope for: a tireless drive and an absent conscience. He was a Director by age eighteen; the new Chairman of the Board by twenty; and at the age of twenty-three he assumed a hostile takeover of the corporation and threw his parents screaming into the great unwashed, their golden parachutes in beautiful tatters.
They sparkled as they fell, and he laughed all the way home to the penthouse.
By age twenty-five he was nefarious; by age twenty-eight infamous; and on the day of his thirtieth birthday he was hailed far and wide by all and monied the most heartless and profitable CEO and Chairman in all the lands. Many were his holdings; prolific were his hidden bank accounts; feared were his double-reverse-takeovers, and for sport he would broadcast live feeds of him firing twenty employees at once in the great lobby of his palatial head offices.
Indeed, it was that very sport that was preoccupying him that fateful morning. He had just dodged a fearful plea for pity and was cutting down another ill-fated janitor when his most trusted Senior Vice President, Exploration tugged at his elbow and brought his pale flabby lips to his ears.
“Sir,” he whispered, through the wattled, mottled skin of his blotted face. “A Matter.”
And that degree of capitalization warranted interest. The CEO and Chairman nodded, eviscerated his sad opponents’ hopes and dreams with a flourish, and retired to the boardroom with his advisor, where he was shown a most alarming graph.
“As you can see, the generator surged here. To provide power to the doors. The doors that lead into the lobby that leads into the elevator that leads into the basement that leads into-”
But the CEO and Chairman was paying him no heed; his mind was whistling like a canary. He silenced the man with a hand, summoned his personal helicopter with the other, and gestured for his board of directors with his eyebrows.
“We fly to my holdings at the Buyin Tower,” he said. And they all wondered at this, for Buyin Tower was at the very backwaters of their master’s reach.
But they dared not wonder aloud, for they knew – constantly – that there had been two more of them at the years start than presently existed.

The flight to Buyin Tower was long and perilous, and many a distinguished Director lost their lunch to choppy air currents. Only the distinguished CEO and Chairman remained unphased; eyes fixed on the horizon. Yet a close examination, one that no one present dared, would have revealed a surprisingly thick film of perspiration coating his forehead and palms.
They landed at the door and ceremonially disemployed the pilot, so that no low ranking man might know this location and live. The CEO and Chairman would fly them back himself.
“From this point onwards,” he instructed his board, “do as I say, or perish.”
And they were used to this and thought it strange that he would remind them so, as if to say ‘eat regularly,’ or ‘breathe, even when asleep.’
The doors were automated, and slid smoothly apart without a hand to be lifted. A trickle of power from the building’s guts, which made the CEO and Chairman recall that awful graph. He shivered, and not from the air conditioning.
The doors shut quickly, quietly, and firmly behind them. Not quite behind them. The most senior member of the board had lagged a little, and the doors snipped off their leg with a mild chunk. Their hysterical bleats were ignored by the CEO and Chairman, and so too by his colleagues.

The elevator was huge, a great baroque monstrosity well out of place within the sleek polished glow of the lobby walls. No amount of recessed lightning could hide its ornate grotesqueness, or diminish the girth and bulk of its doors.
They all proceeded within – all quickly, this time. Just because nobody had noticed their former colleague’s pain didn’t mean they wouldn’t learn from it.
There was a slight jolt, a big bump, and a gradual drop. The elevator began to descend.
And as it descended, the silence, which until then had been regulatory, thickened. Hardened. Cemented.
A director shifted their weight from one leg to the other.
Another cleared their throat.
A third coughed far too loudly, muttered hasty apologies, and was crushed instantly under the sheer weight of awkwardness, their blood spattering as if from a mishandled gravy boat. Their nearest colleague’s pantleg was drenched, and as they pawed frantically at it, mouthing imprecations against dry-cleaning bills; they too were mushed under the weight of a thousand tons of social embarrassment.
Ding, went the doors.
And they all exited in orderly fashion, although not too slowly.

The basement was unlit. The CEO and Chairman produced a lighting app from his personal phone; the rest of the board trailed after him like a lost line of ducklings. The closest space to him was silently fought for; the illumination a greater trophy than any face time. The darkness was unhealthy here, and thick with menace.
This was no illusory fear. Hardly had they passed out of sight of the elevator when the farthest-lagging – a junior director who had been wide-eyed since the implosion of two of their colleagues – shrieked and was silent.
A minute later, another followed suit.
And finally, as the party reached the great steel door in the basement wall, they found themselves short a third. A chance sway of the CEO and Chairman’s phone as he fiddled with the lock shone over the path they had walked, and although he paid it no mind his directors could not restrain themselves from observing the frightful fates of their colleagues.
Careless janitorial supplies littered their path, so thickly that it was a wonder they had made it at all. One former board member lay bleeding in a bucket; impaled upon a mop-shaft; another sprawled in a heap of spilled containers, amidst mixed bleach and toilet bowl cleaner and chlorinated fumes. The junior director who had lagged the earliest was the most grisly sight, of what could be seen. One foot had become stuck in a dustpan, and they’d fallen head-first into the mouth of an industrial vacuum.

Three walked through the great steel door.
The second was decapitated by a carelessly swinging light fixture.
The third was dragged to the end of the room by the sheer force of his CEO and Chairman. There, atop an ordinary, innocuous desk, awaited a tiny, unremarkable folder.
“Open it,” said the CEO and Chairman, the first words he had spoken since their arrival at Buyin Tower.
Hands trembled, mouth quivering, the director did as they were bid.
Inside, there was nothing.
The director gasped in shock, picked up the folder to be sure, and was struck stone dead in an instant by the sheer razor-edged sharpness of the folder’s edges, paper cut to the very bone.
The CEO and Chairman stepped over the warm, leaking body of his final employee and picked up the folder that had been underneath the folder. He shut his eyes, held his breath, prayed to himself, and opened it.
There, pressed like a butterfly between two sheets of glass, lay his conscience. Untouched. Unrevealed. Untaken.
And so great was the CEO and Chairman’s relief, so vast his overwhelming joy, so huge the weight removed from his soul, that he laughed outright.
And as he laughed, his hands trembled.
And as his hands trembled, his smallest finger – on his left hand – brushed the very rim of the tip of the edge of his conscience.

It was only a very small conscience. But it did its best.

Three months after the shameful and horrible vanishment of their esteemed CEO and Chairman, along with the entirety of the board of directors, the SVP, Exploration was unanimously elected CEO and Chairman and Boss.
It had been the most effective graph he’d ever designed.


Storytime: Less Traveled By.

December 7th, 2016

Here are the places you’ve missed.
It’s alright. I’ve picked them up for you.

Under the mop bucket in the old closet there was a trapdoor. Under the trapdoor there was a tunnel. Under the tunnel there was a hole, and a drop, and a river, green under a blue-glowing roof of rock. Under there, there were things we don’t even have words for. I had to make them up. Pzqrwl. Vddlnk. Ket.
You’ll know what they mean when you’re younger.

Past that last sandbar you never dared swim, just a little farther, there was a shark in that lake. Asleep, just underfoot. If you bite her fin she’ll give you a wish and a piece of her mind. It’s a sharp piece, and if you head out even farther, ever farther, past the end of the dock you never dove from, you can cut through the bottom and drop into the old lake, where all the old fish go to spend forever.

That little runnel almost-path in the park never went into the ditch. It dipped and ducked along its edge, then turned into the trees and fell out of time and sight and came up again in old Gondwana, after the big split and before the little ones, when the world was still so much bigger than it is now and the breeze wouldn’t smell of flowers yet for twenty million years.

The railroad behind your backyard ended just around the corner and the curve, where the neighbors couldn’t see. The trains assembled themselves in a little cabin at its end, then rumbled past your home on their way over the horizon to make the one-way-trade with the fading people. That’s why you never saw the same train twice.

Up the top of the tree that was too high to climb before you moved, there was a spiderweb. In that web there was a spider. In its mouth was a fly. In the fly there was the soul of the immortal Queen Qorrallan, who lives underneath the roots of everything that’s died. If you catch the fly and save it, nothing you love will ever rot.

In the snack bar your parents never took you to, there was a glass skylight that opened up into the top of the sky instead of the bottom. That’s where they got their cotton candy that you never ate. It’s also why the place burned down years ago; nothing’s more ferocious than a wounded thundercloud, except its parent.

In the study of your mother in that desk that you never touched in the drawer you never opened there were ten thousand diamonds, each smaller and more valuable than the last. The smallest was thinner around than a hairs-width, and could’ve bought the entire country.

The side road beside the walk to school; that went down the hill and kept going down until it came out the other side of the street it started from. A Mobius street, the last of its kind and lonely.

Inside the house at the end of the road that never turned on its lights lived a family of raccoons the size of bears; a mother, a father, an aunt, and four children. They were why the cat went missing. They were why the power went out. They were why you moved out when you were too small to know.

Around the corner.
Behind the lot.
Past the intersection.
Across the bay.
Through the woods.
Over the hill.
Under the bushes
The other way.

I’ve been everywhere that you haven’t; walked every path you feared to tread. All the nowhere and never-beens I’ve seen, and now that’s all done and dead, I’ve got to say…

…You didn’t miss much.


Storytime: Boo.

November 30th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But one thought kept Sarah awake without really knowing why.

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


Storytime: Lies for the Little Ones.

November 23rd, 2016

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


Storytime: Grey.

November 16th, 2016

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

up

came

rain

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

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

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

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

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

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


Storytime: In the Dark.

November 11th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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