Archive for ‘Short Stories’

Storytime: Treed.

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

The ground shook as the jug dropped.
It was merited. The jug was four feet tall and three feet across at its broadest point. It was iron, ugly, half-slagged pig iron that looked as though it had been allowed to cool rock-solid before pouring. A chain dangled from its neck, with links that had been mended so many times that they were almost little balls.
Lensh picked it up in one hand and swigged it. The swig turned into a slurp, elongated itself seamlessly into a swallow, and ended at rock bottom.
“A hateful death on tiny drinking vessels,” said Lensh, and gave the jug’s side an affectionate slap, which deepened the dent in its gut. She leaned slow against the tree, nuzzling her face into its bark until the trunk groaned. “One day I’ve got to get a bigger one.”
The tree moaned at her weight.
“Oh, silence yourself. It’s a bad habit but we all need one. And it didn’t kill me yesterday, and it hasn’t killed me today, and as for tomorrow why should I or anyone else care, eh?”
“An astounding philosophy. Meritorious. Mellifluous.”
Lensh squinted up into the tree’s branches. “Is that you Allysii?”
“I would applaud but both my hands are stuck to this branch.”
“It’s you, isn’t it Allysii?”
“Such words of wisdom could only come from the innocent and pure mouth of a born child.”
Lensh sniffed. “You are Allysii. I can smell your perfume from here. They used the eggs of little purple crabs to make it. I walked down the coast seventeen years ago on my way to get married and I had an entire bushel of those crabs for breakfast for every league I walked.”
“And how many leagues did you walk, o wife of wisdom and mistress of mastery?”
“Eighteen.”
“Amazing. They must have been astoundingly tasty.”
“Awful. But I was energetic, and still growing. I needed to keep healthy.” Lensh picked up the jug again, put it to her mouth, remembered it was empty and gave up with a sigh that shook the leaves. “Ah, that’s yesterdays. Yesterdays don’t matter. Tomorrows don’t matter. Now does. You are Allysii, and you are helplessly trapped and soon I am going to kill you.”
“How are you going to do that?
“I will tear down this tree, tear off your arms, tear off your legs, then tear off your head and tear apart your body,” said Lensh. “Then I will take all your pieces and drop them into the sea in different places that I find particularly pretty. This is the way I have killed all the rest of your family, Alysii, and you know that perfectly well. Do you have any more silly questions?”
“Certainly – three more, in fact!”
“Three! Such a chatterbox you make of me, Allysii. Go on, name your poisons you little squirrel!”
“Why are you going to kill me? What is the reason you carry that marvelous and wondrous and oh-so-illustriously lustrous drinking vessel? And also, last but not least, I humbly ask you this: who is this Allysii?”
Lensh laughed a lot at that. The tree’s roots buckled under her as she pounded the ground with a fist, and finally she shut herself up by tucking both her hands into her mouth and punching herself to be quiet.
“You ARE funny today Allysii. Well, I will answer you in reverse order, so your very baited questions are not left to very late in the evening. Immediacy is important! So, your third question.”
“You are Allysii. You are the very last child of the last person who offended me – well, the last who did so in such a great and unspeakable manner. For this, I have personally and gradually torn apart all of their relations (save you) and dropped their parts into different places in the sea. As you are aware.”
“I was not aware of any of this, my clever and honeytongued friend, but your elucidation is most appreciated. My goodness me! Such a long way to come to avenge the taking of your arm.”
Lensh checked her arms. “No, no. They are still here. Nobody may take my arms but me, I am very certain of this. You’re being weird, Allysii, but that is nothing new. At any rate, I have followed you for six years two months and four days and as my legs are long and strong and yours are spindly and week I have caught up with you and caught you and soon I will tear you apart into parts and drop those parts into different places in the sea, which is no surprise to you. Now, I will answer your second question!”
“I am listening with great and attentive care.”
“As you should!” said Lensh. And she raised her iron jug and toasted the tree.
“You see this dent?” she asked.
“I do indeed, revealer of secrets, speaker of truths. A grievous wound for any cup to bear, but on yours it only adds charm!”
“Absolutely. And my jug is nothing but charm. You must understand, when I went to marry seventeen years ago I was an innocent young thing that knew nothing of vice or hardship. All my life I’d been coddled in the foothills, wrestling mountains and playing with giants. But at last they were all too small for me, and I was very lonely until the day the ground shook under my feet and tore apart the hills.”
“Terrifying and fearsome! A shame for any child to endure such trauma.”
“Oh, it was wonderful! I’d never seen something so impressive! So I picked up a herd of goats to eat and a stream to drink and I walked down the hills to the coast and went looking for that earthquake, who I had fallen madly in love with.”
“Such romance at so tender an age? You are a prodigy and an ingénue in the same soul, my admirable companion.”
“Well, I was foolish and happy to be that way. What fool isn’t, eh? So I walked and sang and drank and ate, and although I ran out of goats on the third day I ate the little awful purple crabs instead, and made do.”
“And what did you drink? Surely not the sea?”
“Me and mine, no no no! So salty! It was a good-sized stream and it kept me going for half the journey, and when it ran dry I rolled it into a ball and squeezed it until the juice came out, and I drank the juice, and what was left I made into a cup, and when I was done I had a fine wedding present for my groom, who I found in the middle of destroying three cities at once.”
“So noble! It’s no wonder you fell for it on the spot.”
“He. Mind your tongue when you speak of my husband, Allysii. I give you questions, but if you trade me back impertinence I will give you my fist instead.”
“I beg the humblest of forgivenesses from the bottom of my heart to the heights of every heaven.”
“And I will grant it! Now, where was I?”
“Your husband, the earthquake.”
“Ah, yes. Well, after a week of marriage he’d shuddered down to a mere creak and could barely be bothered to knock the plates off the pantry. So I told him to do better. So he hit me. So I hit him back. So I left with my marriage gift and a couple bruises and all of his teeth. And let me tell you this: it matters no matter at all what I put in this jug, Allysii, but it tastes better than your dreams can ever know.”
“I am awed to be in its presence.”
“You should be.” Lensh shook her head mournfully. “Alas, it remains empty.”
“A sad yet joyous occasion, to take that burden of weight off the bad leg of yours.”
“Bad leg? Hah! Could I have outrun you so with a bad leg? Oh, and as for your third question, I am going to kill you because – as I am sort of sure I may have mentioned in passing, and besides, as you already know, being Allysii, who has been fleeing me for six years two months and four days in terror of my power and tremendous anger – your mother gave me horrible offense. When she did me wrong, I nearly ate her on the spot, but such was my shock and my anguish and my anger and my disbelief that I stood struck dumb as a stone for a week straight, permitting her time to escape with her person, her possessions, and her family. Which I then pursued, caught, tore into pieces, and dropped into different places in the sea, to my satisfaction and to your lack of surprise.”
“As was their just desserts, for inflicting such a blow to your poor weary heart, the fiendish louts.”
“Heart? Hah! I have none. I traded it to a tortoise in the desert past the mountains past the forest past the river past the lake past the sea to the south of here, in exchange for a good meal.”
“Was it so?”
“He tasted magnificent. I have no regrets, and never will – as you know, Allysii, yesterdays don’t matter.” Lensh clicked her tongue, scratched her side, wiped her nose, and cricked her knuckles. “Anyways, I am going to stand up and uproot this tree now. Are you satisfied?”
“Although I am spellbound, I regret to speak this most dread of words: ALMOST! That is a marvelous tale, worthy of any queen or empress’s court. But I must trouble you with one trifling detail, oh fablemaker, without which your tale lacks denouement to soothe my wary, weary soul: what offense in all the world did my mother commit to make you wish her and her family such harm?”
“Oh, that,” said Lensh. “Well, when I first walked on your family’s grounds I had never yet sampled from my old friend here, of the iron sides. And in taking my first few draughts I was a bit preoccupied, and a tad musty in the head. It was a warm night and I took all my clothes off to keep cool – there was a lovely breeze, Allysii – and as I strolled I danced, and as I danced I sang, and as I was so busy singing and dancing I smashed straight into your mother’s window, where I fell flat on my back until she came to see me.”
“And what did she do there to cause such offense, my benevolent keeper?”
“Well, I introduced myself. ‘I am Lensh, the inevitable and indestructible! Wrestler of mountains! Uprooter of trees! I married an earthquake, divorced him for his smallness and timidity, and left him with all of his teeth in my fist! Behold me!’”
“My.”
“No, me.”
“Indeed! And what transpired then?”
“She threw a cup of water on me.”
“The gall!”
“I thought so!”
“The cheek!”
“Absolutely!”
“And it drove you blind in your right eye?”
“Eh?”
“Oh, my mistake. It drove you blind in your left eye?”
“What?” said Lensh irritably. “You are getting slower and stupider by the day, Allysii! It landed on my forehead between my eyes.” She rubbed her face and parted the thick fur that matted her skull. “Right here!”
“Ah! I see!”
“As well you-”
It was a very small knife, and although Allysii’s whole body was behind it, it was a very small body.
But although Lensh’s fur and hair were tough as diamonds, her skin was as soft and supple as a baby’s.
“Damnation,” said Lensh, as she fell over, flat on her back. “I am Lensh! Behold me! The great idiot!”
And she died, with a belch.

Allysii left the jug where it lay. One day, some birds made a nest in it. And my, were their eggs strange.
But that was a story of tomorrow, which doesn’t matter.

Storytime: A Soft Touch.

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

I used to make fun of my big sister whenever we went swimming. I’d hold my breath and go down deep, deep, deep as I could and feel around with my eyes shut against the grainy mud until I had a fistful of soft muck. Then I’d push off and – up up up and UP and throw it at her, laughing as she shrieked and yelled and splashed me until I either swallowed water or mom told me to stop.
“It’s just seaweed,” I told her. “It’s just seaweed.”
“It’s GROSS,” she told me. And I loved hearing that, because it meant it’d work again next time too, and the time after that at least.
“Why?” I asked her. “It’s soft. Soft things can’t hurt you. See?”
And I’d throw the other fistful at her and oh it’d get louder still.
“It’s SQUISHY,” she said. “GROSS.” And then she’d finally catch me when I was laughing too hard and I’d get dunked over and over until mom yelled something. It was fine, it was routine, it was reliable, it was my very own private manufactured and malicious version of the old man-on-a-banana-peel comedy.

But then there was that one, that other time.

It was a little late, but it was a little lake and a little ways from the little cottage. So it wasn’t a problem, was it? I knew how to swim better than most of the fish in there.
And the sun wasn’t down yet. Nice rosy water, still warm from the day and with no wind to whip you when you came out damp. A padded sort of moment, when the whole world was as calm and slow as a grandparent’s hug.
Then something grabbed my ankle and I went down.

And farther.

And deeper.

And darker – but only to a point. There was light down there, at the bottom of the deepest part of the lake. I’d never touched mud farther than a body-length off the dock, but here I was nestled in its lowest guts, and surrounded by fuzzy glows that made me think of fireflies.
I was in a chair.
Well, more than a chair. It had a high, tall back and the arms were more decoration than support. The word was ‘throne.’
Around me, soft and green and wavering gently, the seaweed gathered and talked and mumbled in their rippling voices and ambling minds.
“Why me?” I asked.
Because someone has to make the hard choices, they told me. Look, look!
And they stretched themselves out very thoroughly and I could see that there wasn’t a hard part in any of them, not a speck. They were algae with ambition and not much more.
So I was in charge. And it was a wonderful hour. I ruled, I judged, I decreed, I pontificated, I got to fulfill every petty tyrant’s ambition that a modern politician dreams of.
It was a wonderful hour but a lousy hour-and-a-half.
At first I tried being random. Then I tried being spiteful. Then I tried making deliberately bad decisions.
But all around me, all those things I did just rippled through those soft jelly-bodies without so much as leaving a mark.
I tried to leave, but my throne was seaweeds too. And the harder I hauled away from it, the tighter it clung to me. Ten million little tiny ropes tautening into wire cables. Scream and twist and shout and swear every bad word I’ve ever known and nothing happened.

I almost fell asleep there when the sun went down and the water ran cold over me. Wore myself out. But in the end there’s no amount of tired that can’t keep a little kid from crying from homesickness, even when they’re asleep. When I’d finally shaken myself free of that nightmare I wiped the tears off my face (don’t ask me how that happened underwater, because I’ve never found my answer), and that was when I found my arm to be free.
So I jumped up and my throne held me down again, and again, and oh I was a stupid child because it wasn’t until the fifth time I’d nearly choked myself on my own fear that I realized that the secret was to move just like the weeds themselves.
Then I took my time, and I made it careful, and I softly, slowly, smoothly slipped free of my chains and my crown and my rulership and I skedaddled.

Kicking was the problem. I shouldn’t have kicked. I wanted to get home fast, I thought that throne was the last obstacle, but oh I made a real ruckus when I sped for the surface. My lungs hurt, you understand. They’d remembered they were there, and were aching.
But as I kicked I felt my feet tickle, and my legs, and I looked down and was nearly blinded by swirling muck. The bottom was rising after me, with a thousand feathered arms and hands and it was gripping as tightly as its damp little palms would allow.
Those wire cables were on me again, that squishing touch that meant the droning voices and the unending hours and the chair that wouldn’t let go, but my hand broke the surface before theirs broke my skin, and at that moment – that very moment – they gave up, and went limp.
And that’s when my mother found me, lying on the shore, screaming my head off and covered in dirty old seaweed.

I still don’t swim by myself. And I can’t bring myself to eat anything too slimy, or too soft.
But on the whole I was pretty lucky, I think. Imagine if they’d ever done what I told them to.

Storytime: Skippy.

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Tiny little things change a lot.
Why, look at this asteroid. Eight miles from bow to stern – not even a cosmic atom. But there it was, about to make the lives of ten billion fatty apes so very much more difficult than they needed it to be.
But they had their own little ways of making their own little changes.
“Wow.”
“Focus, please.”
“I’m focused. Hey if I hold up my palm just right I can cover up the whole planet. Woah.”
Intentionally or not.
“Look, can you just turn around and come back to the ship? Your tank’s gas mix is off. You’re not thinking rationally.”
“I’m absolutely rational. I spent seventeen years being trained to monkey with impossibly dangerous substances day in and day out and never kissed anybody even though I really wanted to. I’m very rational. I’m very rational. Hey, what do you think is going on here? Is this rock more of a phallic thing or a yonic thing? I mean, it’s going to PENETRATE atmosphere, but it’s shaped a lot more like a-”
“Please. Major. Come back. You’ve got the detonator on you.”
“I do?”
“Yes.”
“Huh. Where’d I put it?”
“In your left pocket.”
“I can’t find it.”
“Your other left pocket.”
“Oh! Well how about that. Heck, might as well get it done while we’re out here, right? No sense in wasting time. Every delay brings us a nanoinch closer to obliviation, right?”
“Major, please. The explosion has to be precise. You are holding the lives of ten billion people in your pocket. ”
“Nah, it’s in my hands now. And it’s safe! Hey, did I ever tell you what I did when I was a kid?”
“No, Major. Maybe you should come back and show me?”
“I skipped rocks!”
“That’s n-”
“I was good at it. Really good.” The Major brushed the detonator carefully, feeling the plastic switches tremble and judder in their little safety cages. “All those days down at the lake, it was a good lake you know. For skipping. Seven skips. Without a good stone, mind you. Like, a lumpy one. A big clunky one. Hey, you know what? I bet I can top this.”
“Major plea-”
“It’s fine,” said the Major, holding the detonator sideways and upside down and then settling on backwards. “I’m an expert at this. They called me Skippy, you know that? I miss being Skippy.”

They only got four skips out of it before it landed in the North Atlantic, but boy they were fat ones.
Still, it was just a little planet. It’d get over it.

Storytime: Ward Seven – Complications.

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Bed one: comma.
-Patient remains unresponsive outside of the usual four-minute ellipsisetic period after administration of medication, which is an unfortunate but necessary procedure to prevent an impacted semicolon. Change bedpan eight times a day every day to prevent running on.

Bed four: AD-HD.
-Seven concurrent 1080p minimum videos during daytime hours, dropping down to four for the sleep cycle. Do not restrict or censor video input or patient will become disturbed and may attempt to self-medicate by liking themselves over and over, stressing already chronic tendonitis in both thumbs.

Bed seven: a mild case.
-Patient will be in for just a quick spell until it’s decided whatever they’re probably suffering from – but not too much, mind you, they’re just a bit under the weather. Administer plenty of orange juice and regular meals. Maybe some chicken soup. Currently on day 849: case is EXTREMELY mild and all staff should take sensible precautions not to shake patient’s hand and remind patient to cover their mouth when sneezing.

Bed nine: nervous tick.
-Patient must not have restraints loosened or it will judder itself to death. Freshen blood bag at breakfast, lunch, and dinner hours – do not permit midday comfort eating. Do not engage patient’s fears that blood will give it STDs, salmonella, or cancer. One fidget spinner per day, no more. Collect shed exoskeleton on Mondays.

Bed twelve: dig and delve.
-Patient has ascended into higher form of being by becoming one with patient’s lawn, and is now a mass of sod, worms, turf, and weeds. Due to financial destitution following the departure of patient’s spouse patient must now receive a biweekly six-hour in-depth watering in bed twelve followed by a rigorous weeding by Drs. Lennox and Wu. Do not bring sharp objects within patient’s line of sight or patient will attempt to self-prune to the point of damaging their roots.

Bed thirteen: cat.
-Cat remains small, black, affable yet mercurial. Refuses to change. Up dose of wet food and laser exercise until it comes to its senses. Do not skimp on litterbox.

Bed twenty: free parking.
-If bed is occupied do NOT treat patient with all past medications prescribed to bed twenty, that is NOT a real rule and if you believe it is you have never worked ward seven properly and you are precisely what gives this institution a bad name.

Bed twenty-four: depression.
-Patient has downgraded several times over the past week as wind speed drops but proper care should still be taken in treatment. Dress in wind-resistant and water-proofed clothing, deliver proper notice to a co-worker before attending bed, and keep an eye out for high ground and sturdy structures in case patient crosses over a body of warm deep water and becomes reinvigorated to full strength without warning.

Bed thirty: chronic addict.
-Patient stubbornly clings to overwhelming and all-consuming desire for life despite overwhelming futility of it all in the face of their own mortality in the broader scope of the universe. No prescriptions; just humour them until reality kicks in.

Storytime: The Only Smart One.

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

“I’ve got a story.”
“Oh? What kind of story?”
“A big one.”
“Oh yeah?”
“As big as the world.”
“I bet I heard it before. I’ve heard every story about the world and all its bits. Tell me, is this the one about the flood?”
“Nah.”
“Is it the one about the giant?”
“Nah.”
“Is this the one about the old man with the whole world in a sack?”
“Nah.”
“Don’t you tell me this is the one about that one god all by himself that decided to make the universe by ja-”
“Nah, nah. It’s none of those stories. This isn’t a creation story. This is a uhh….unmaking story.”
“Y’mean like an apocalypse?”
“No, not quite. See, it goes like this…”
Now, in the beginning, something happened. Doesn’t much matter what. Could’ve been a flood, could’ve been blood, could’ve been an old man with a sack –
“Could’ve been a lonely god with nothing better to do jac-”
Yeah, sure, whatever. Doesn’t matter, that’s the important bit. Doesn’t matter. Okay?
“Okay.”
And now by and large, the world was as it was. Stuff happened on it. Y’know. Births, days, ragnaroks, punch-ups, dust-offs, extinctions and exaptions and all that does as it do.
“As we do.”
And after a while of this, along came the only smart one. She popped up the way most of us did.
“How’s that?”
Dumb luck. And as she looked at everything around her, she went ‘wow. WOW. This whole PLACE is nothing but dumb luck. It’s a mess, a tangled web a drunken spider would be embarrassed of. Who in their right mind would do all this crap?’
“Was it the one bored god with a free hand and a har-”
Doesn’t matter. And the only smart one looked at all this crap, and she wasn’t happy with all this crap, and she said ‘I think I’d better tidy up all this crap.’
So she started on it.
She wrapped up species and put them in tidy shale boxes. She shelved reefs and packed up forests. She re-filed continents back in their original places. She mopped up all the god snot, blood and spit that was lying around.
But you know what it is about cleaning? The damn place just gets dirtier after you’ve tidied.
She finished putting away all the shells, out came new shells.
She glued a supercontinent back together, it fragmented all over again.
She plunked a meteor down to keep life distracted, it just oozed all over the place like month-old mayonnaise.
So the only smart one was getting pretty beside herself. The world was a mess, and worse yet, it was self-perpetuating.
“Sounds like my laundry.”
Even worse.
Okay, so the only smart one was having a bit of a moment here. Things got so bad she had to sit down and swear for a while. But she was smart – the only one who was, like I say – and she thought as she swore, which I know for a fact you’ve never done properly. And as she was thinking and swearing a little furry moron took a piss on her leg.
She snatched up that little furry moron and said ‘you little furry moron, don’t you know I’m the only smart one? Why aren’t you helping me out here?’
And the little furry moron hissed at her and bit her, and she was so surprised that she dropped it and it broke its neck.
‘Wow,’ she said. ‘That’s amazing. That little furry moron was so stupid, so dense, so unbelievably dumb, that it got me to kill it for no good reason. That’s impressive. I know I’m the only smart one, but that’s dumb even for…anything. Wow.’
Then she thought a bit and went ‘hey.’
So the only smart one followed around the little furry morons for a while, making sure they had plenty to eat. Plenty of places to hide. Room to stretch and grow and bulge and leap and totter and tumble and eventually, walk around upright. They were amazing creatures by then. They had the biggest brains on all the planet and that made them the dumbest animals to ever live.
And the only smart one sat back for a rest and said ‘aw hell, they’ll take it from here.’ And she picked up the stray threads of the planet and started teasing them back together, spooling them up. Nice and tidy.
That’s it.
“The end?”
“No. Weren’t you paying attention? It isn’t the end yet. She’s still got a lot of world to spool in. But we do our part to straighten it out, and it won’t take so long.”
“So…those burgers we just ate…”
“Yeah, that helped a little.”
“Kind of you to give an old lady a hand like that.”
“Well, I do my part. Someone’s gotta fix this mess we’re all in. Now you drive me home; I can’t stand up straight anymore and if I go tonight then who’s going to work overtime at the refinery tomorrow?”

Storytime: Garbage.

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

Gerry was mostly garbage.
You know. Banana peels; candy bar wrappers; wads of paper and shreds of Styrofoam; old beer bottles; crisp pizza boxes; old pickles jars with the juice still in and used Kleenex.
And that was normal, and that was okay!
Gerry was moved on occasion to clean out his garbage. To ungarbage himself. To put it into big, black plastic and lug it to the small, concrete curb and chuck it into a tall, steely cylinder until who knew took it who where. Out of sight, out of under-the-sink, out of mind, might as well be out of this world.
And that was normal, and a little bit bad!
Gerry walked out his front door on the way to work, and he heard shuffling and he heard shredding and he walked up to his precious garbage can and he opened it up and inside was the biggest-ass raccoon with the biggest ass he’d ever seen on an animal that wasn’t related to him. It was wedged at the bottom of the can.
“Hello,” said the raccoon. “I seem to be stuck. Can you save me, kind stranger and passer-by?”
“You’re in my garbage,” said Gerry. This offended him. He might’ve been throwing it away, but it was HIS.
“Oh, yes. I was hungry. Wasting away. Very kind of you to do this. Would you please save me?”
“I should shut the lid and leave you for the truck,” said Gerry kindly.
“Oh please, please, please save me, kind garbage man,” said the raccoon. “If you do, I’ll grant you three wishes with which to make your wildest, tamest, and lamest dreams come very true!”
“Wow,” said Gerry. “What’s the catch?”
“None, just ordinary, run-of-the-mill wishes. Well, normal. Normal for their type.”
“Which is?”
“These are garbage wishes. You have to wish for something about garbage.”
Gerry thought about that.
“I’ll throw in a fourth,” said the raccoon.
“Sure, why not,” said Gerry. And he turned the can upside down and thumped its bottom with his palm until the raccoon shot out like a cannonball and faceplanted onto his lawn.
“Done and done!” it shouted as it scurried down the street. “Just be careful!”
Gerry was unphased. He knew exactly what needed to be done. Four doses of purest power were right there inside him, fizzing and bubbling and waiting to be unleashed as he saw fit.
Right now he saw a very particular fit. A little, everyday fit. One that merited his attention. One that had foiled his every attempt to solve it through normal, rational, reasonable means.
“I wish,” said Gerry – and the air pressure in his ears went all funny and he had to swallow a couple times before going on – “that my neighbour would stop leaving his trash on my lawn.”
And then he went to work.

Before Gerry’d even pulled out of his driveway his neighbour was breathing his last; felled by a stray bullet from his OTHER neighbour who’d been cleaning his gun while super sure that it was unloaded. By breakfast he was downtown; by lunch he was on the news; by the afternoon Gerry’s neighbour’s sister, who was a police officer, had accidentally dropped him down three flights of stairs; by dinnertime Gerry’s other neighbour’s cousin, who was on city council, had publically demanded her resignation.
Anyways by the same time next week half the city was at bureaucratic war with the other. But Gerry saw that lo, his neighbour’s garbage was nowhere to be seen, on his lawn or off it, and he was mighty pleased with that. Mighty pleased indeed.

Gerry’s good mood lasted him halfway to work. But then, at a stoplight, he watched the big doof in the big doofy truck next to him finish off a cigarette and flick the butt out the window without looking. It landed on Gerry’s windshield, where he was looking.
“I wish,” said Gerry – Pghlem roared through his sinuses and he gulped, queasily – “that nobody’d ever throw litter at my car again.”
The light dinged, the motors revved, and Gerry’s car proceeded into the intersection just ahead of the giant out of control semi that jackknifed through everything and chucked people and vehicles into the air like flipped coins.
The resulting traffic jam shut down one of the city’s busiest streets. The ensuing road rage led to a few more accidents that took out four or five of the rest. Then a small riot broke out and they just had to shut down well, uh. Pretty much everything.
Gerry got home on one of the last operable streets and parked his car. As sirens roared in the distance from immobilized police, he admired its spotless surface. Not so much as a wad of spit.

Gerry had the next day off. For some reason nobody was going anywhere.
So he went for a walk. Gerry liked walks because he so rarely took them; they were a treat that way. If he walked more than once a week he began to resent them.
It was the usual route. Down the street, across the road, up the street, through the way, from here to there and back again, then the donut store, which was being solo-manned by the youngest employee because she was the only one within hiking distance of the place.
“Five donuts and a large round zirconian latte-lattice with extra squid,” said Gerry expertly.
The barista checked under the counter. “Nah,” she said. “We’re out. Didn’t get the resupply today.”
Gerry’s walk was ruined instantly, all his hopes and dreams mangled. He slumped his way out the door and down the road and was almost run over by a garbage truck, the one garbage truck the city had been able to field that day, which was behind on time and schedule and had only been able to make it by driving over at least four smaller cars.
The driver made a gesture out the window, then repeated it twice but slower, to be sure.
Gerry understood it properly. He understood it very properly. And he shouted in a voice at least three octaves higher than normal: “I WISH YOU’D LOSE YOUR DAMNED JOB.”
The garbage truck honked merrily and went around the corner, where all its wheels fell off.
Later in the day a city hall employee trapped in a six-hour meeting-cum-wrestling-match who’d been forced to take the chair next to an overflowing trashcan stuffed with half-empty coffee cups stood up, grabbed a pen, and eviscerated the mayor. Half the council took his side, the other half didn’t. Then the police got involved, which got the attention of the national guard, which annoyed the military, which required the firefighters, which and so on and so forth.

And so as Gerry sat on his porch that evening, smoke rising from the city around him, he tried to take his mind off the gunfire three blocks over by looking for the big dipper, squinting up through the haze and charred fog.
“There!” he said. Then one of the stars blinked and he realized it was a plane.
“There!” he said. Then one of the stars moved and he realized it was a satellite.
“There!” he said. Then he realized it was actually Orion’s Belt.
Gerry swore loudly. But then he remembered: he had one wish left! Oh lucky day! Oh hooray for raccoons!
“I wish all this garbage wasn’t blocking my view,” he said.
And lo! There went the smoke!
And lo! There went the smog!
And lo! There went the obfuscating haze of the atmosphere!
And lo! There went the clouds of dust and debris and rock and plants and animals and broken concrete and mantle and magma and core and Earth and everything!

And my oh my, Gerry had the clearest view of the night sky of anyone who’d never been in low Earth orbit.
Of course, that didn’t exist anymore.
But wasn’t the view pretty?

Storytime: Dig DUG.

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

Rosie was a hundred and two feet in the air on DUG’s left side when she dropped a rivet. It was one of the new ones, the big terrifying ones from the Terramac that exploded out of her launcher like hot rocks from a volcano, that ate through metal until they hit air again and became startlingly meek, tame, and as immovable as a mountain range.
“Fuck,” she said, under her mask, under her helmet, under her breath.
Don’t Sweat It, said DUG, who heard her no matter what. They’re Cheap Anyways.
Rosie gave DUG a look from under her bangs under her sweat under her helmet under the glare of the sun, and she knew DUG didn’t care. But she said it anyways.
“Those rivets cost half an hour’s pay. For me, all the others, and our supervisors. Combined.”
Not The Rivet. It’s Fine.
“Well then?”
It’s The Man Whose Helmet It Landed On.

It hadn’t stopped, of course. Not until it hit air again.
If lower-riveter Jenk hadn’t fallen over as it burrowed through his boot, it probably would still be going down there, through thicker and thinner walls of rock and magma until the heat boiled it away. As it was it had formed a perfect seal on the heel of Jenk’s left foot, attaching his boot so firmly to flesh that it had to be left on at the funeral – or so Rosie heard later, since she hadn’t been that close to Jenk. They built things that worked out there in the Terramac. They always did.
Of course, they hadn’t built DUG. Or DUG’s construction site.
DUG was not perturbed by any of this. Men and women had died working on DUG, men and women were dying working on DUG, and there would definitely be men and women dead at the launch of DUG. They were basically the same as the metal shavings peeling off the hull, or the lug charges discarded from the cannons. Prematurely spent.

DUG. Not Dug.
Dynamized Undersea Guardian.
DUG was a quarter mile wide and much longer than DUG was wide
DUG was capable of holding half a town inside DUG’s guts, and needed two-thirds of that to be operated properly.
DUG was armed with cutter-cannons that were backed by boilers bigger than the lungs of a god that could shoot out the surface of the sun in single solid shots or spew out unending boiling torrents or create a seething steamscreen on command with the flick of a tiny switch and the rotation of a house-sized locking catch.
And oh, but oh, DUG was so very, so very, so very very bored.

Rosie would do, mostly. As far as she could tell, that was the sum total of her qualifications. DUG wasn’t shy about sharing DUG’s opinions of the little people putting DUG together. Some DUG liked more than her, some DUG liked less than her, but as far as she knew she was the only one DUG bothered talking to.
DUG hated rivet foreman Immik. DUG liked lower-riveter Telimis. DUG could take or leave the boiler installation crew. DUG adored the work teams that hauled DUG’s jet intakes into place. And DUG complained about the mess crew staff at least once per day.
Rosie nodded a lot during her shifts. Her friend and/or coworker and/or acquaintance and/or who knew, Akro, made a habit of checking every half hour or so to see if she was ‘falling asleep.’
“I’m awake,” Rosie told her.
“Sure,” said Akro. “Sure. Sure.”

DUG was more than gossip. Actually, DUG was more than mostly not gossip. What DUG mostly was was murder.
Every morning when Rosie came in DUG would tell her all about the sights and sounds of the evening. As she ascended DUG’s hull DUG would move on to DUG’s thoughts and feelings on the people working there. And as she plugged in her launcher and wounded it up tight and pressed it to the first plate, DUG would seamlessly shift into talking about what DUG wanted to kill that day.
‘Galms, Of Course, DUG told her. There’s No Doubt They Will Be First.
“The Dynamized Undersea Guardian was constructed to assess and repel the potential coastal spread of the Silence of the Stone,” said Rosie, dutifully speaking the words someone else had carefully given to her in case she felt the need to ever have an opinion.
A Very Good Excuse But Not Much Else. I Can Park Next To That For Ten Minutes And Solve It. What Comes after? ‘Galms. Buckets Of ‘Galms. Heaps. Mounds. Bobbing, Floating Carpets. And They’re What These Cannons Are For, Of Course. Can’t Boil Silence. But You Can Burn Someone’s Ears Out.
Rosie nodded. Akro poked her.
Or Maybe The Terramac. Finally Get Matagan Exclusive Access.
“I’m awake.”
Or Nagezz – Now That’d Be Nice. Turn The Dunes To Glass And Dig Their Treasures Out With A Pebble And A Slingshot.
“Sure! Sure.”

Rosie was increasingly glad she had nobody waiting at home for her. She was getting sick of listening to people.

The crowning tower was the next bit of work. Tricky. It was what sat atop DUG’s giant, invincible brow, peeping above the waves like a curious fish checking for trouble. When it found it, it would tell DUG, and DUG would kill whatever it found, rising up from below to mash and mangle and boil and sear. It was very simple, but it was also a wall of caged steel and angry mechanisms, so it took a little while.
A little while and a lot of rivets. Rosie’s palm murmured deathly things to her every time she reloaded her launcher.
You Missed A Spot.
Rosie hadn’t missed a spot, of course. Akro had. But Rosie fixed it anyways, and kicked her in the leg.
“What?”
“You missed a spot.”
“Oh.” She scratched her nose pointlessly – there were three layers between her face and her gloves – and nodded. “Thanks!”
The whistle for break sounded and Rosie took off her gloves for a second to wipe off the sweat. Just a second. Longer than that and the reflected heat from DUG would start to bake them. In the midsummer noon the upper heights could almost glow with heat.
Aren’t I Pretty?
Rosie nodded and this time Akro didn’t poke her because if you wanted to sleep on break it was your own damned business.
The Prettiest You’ve Ever Seen, I Expect. Look At These Guns. Aren’t They Lovely?
“Maybe,” said Rosie. “Ask me about rivets.”
They’re Seamless.
“Then don’t ask me,” said Rosie, and she fell asleep on purpose this time.

The whistle woke her up, followed closely by Akro’s finger in her back.
“I’m awake.”
“Sure! Sure.”

DUG ate Akro three days later. The crowning tower deck popped open under her feet under the stress of heat expansion and she fell a screaming twenty stories all the way to the bottom of the hull and needed sixty gallons of (very hot) water and rancid, acidic soap to clean her out.
Rosie didn’t ask why.
I Was Bored, explained DUG.

Rosie read the news at home sometimes, when she could afford it after making the necessary purchases of gin, food, and gin.
The Silence of the Stone was spreading faster. Or slower. Or it had stopped.
Gelmorre was posturing, proposing, or possibly prevaricating, perfidiously.
Matagan was utterly invincible and sure to hold fast as long as every citizen did their part and the full force of Matagant ingenuity, resources, time, blood, spit, and semen was poured into their plans.
The best plan in all of Matagan was the DUG, down at the Big End Shipyard out where prying eyes couldn’t goggle too much at it. Someone had taken some very flattering pictures. The cutter-cannons glistened in the sun.
“Aren’t I pretty,” said Rosie, and doubled her gin budget.

Warships Are, Of Course, Male, said DUG.
“Every sailor ever born disagrees with you,” said Rosie. She still hadn’t had a new partner assigned since DUG had eaten Akro, and that meant she needed to expend extreme concentration on making sure she didn’t slip, or run out of rivets, or make a mistake, or die, or break her tools, or get eaten by DUG. Instead she was talking more to DUG.
Ships Can Be Female Because Sailors Want Something To Fuck. I Have Cannons. I Will Do My Fucking For Me.
“Not quite how any of that works,” said Rosie. She counted her rivets again. She had lost two.
You Are Composed Of Organic Materials And Therefore Biased. Only I Can Be Objective About Your Biological Sex Because I Am Neither Biological Nor Capable Of Reproduction.
“Pull the other one,” said Rosie.
I Have No Hands. I Have No Testicles. I Have A Magazine That Fuels My Cannons. My Point Is Reinforced. Just Like My Hull.
You Missed A Spot.
Rosie leaned out over a hundred feet of nothing much, one hand braced on the hull, and looked.
“No I didn’t.”
I Suppose Not.

The next day one of the boilers shook loose in its mount and squashed four people. DUG told Rosie a long story about how many people could die in one of its volleys, if only they all stood still and didn’t move around much. There was a lot of math.

On the day of DUG’s launch they stopped keeping everyone away from the Big End Shipyard and they brought them all in instead. Everyone who was important got good seats, everyone else got makeshift stadium rows rummaged out of old scaffolding.
Rosie got tucked into a corner behind some toilets. She didn’t much care. You could see DUG for miles. You could see DUG from Matagan proper. Some people had stayed home and decided to watch from their houses. Everyone here on the spot was most likely some brand of showboater.
See the boat. See the show.
See the bottle of incredibly expensive alcohol about to shatter against a single knobbly rivet, formed of and embedded within metal that could survive anything at all.
Crash! Bang! Tinkle-tinkle-splash!
Cheers, hoorahs! Woo! Yes! Amazing! Wonderful! The sun was out and everything was shining, from the cannons to the hull to the cannons to the brandy flowing over the rivet.
Aren’t I Pretty? asked DUG.
And then the rivet popped out, still-wet with brandy.
For an imaginary moment Rosie thought she could hear the trickle of expensive liquor seeping inside the hull.
Then the plates jerked apart, the metal roared, and every part in DUG’s bow violently shot away from every other part.

When the earth stopped shaking and everything metal had stopped screaming, DUG was still talking. Of course. She’d expected that. There was no animal harder to kill than a warship, not a bird from the sky or a Wyrm from Afar or a thing from the deep. She knew that because she had been told so.
You Loosened That Rivet On Purpose.
Rosie checked all her limbs. Yep, still there. Even the liver.
This Would Never Have Happened, DUG said to her, If You Had A Penis.
Rosie spat aimlessly at the ground, stained with DUG’s lifebloods, lymphs, cerebral fluids, and intercavitary secretations. Most of them were mostly oil, but none of them was altogether alike.
“Whether I do or don’t,” she said aloud, comfortable doing so in a world where everyone was deaf for at least the next ten minutes, “it doesn’t much matter. What’s more relevant is I’m not a damned dick.”

DUG never did speak to Rosie again, from the dock to the scrapyard beach.

Storytime: Hairy.

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

I’m telling you, he was RIGHT THERE.
Right.
THERE.
Why won’t anyone believe me?!

Yes, okay, my story is a little hard to believe. It was a dark night. It was cloudy out. I was out near the edge of the woods and okay maybe I’d had a few beers but it was JUST a FEW beers and I wasn’t drunk, ignore what Amy says she’s a bullshitter if I ever met one, damnit, won’t you LISTEN?
And look, it’s not like I ever believed in this stuff before. I’m a skeptic. I’ve seen those guys hanging around making funny calls into the trees late at night, searching for scat and spoor and prints and going bananas whenever they find a funny track from a limpy raccoon. And I’ve laughed at them. I mean, who wouldn’t?
I won’t. Not after last night.

I was walking back from Ryan’s and yes it was just two beers damnit, two each, no more, no less. Lite beer. And I was walking down the trail along the edge of the trees, just by that meadow there. And as I walked, I was humming and crooning to myself because I do that to keep myself company when I’m alone. Big and lonely place, the edge of the trees. Bigger and lonelier still after dark.
Then I heard a twig snap. Big deal, right? A squirrel.
And then I hear a bush rustle. So what. A raccoon.
Then I hear a cough. Deer? But it’s too loud, and then I hear a belch and across the road there he was. Big as day and twice as ugly. Scratching and shuffling
I stopped moving. Don’t know why, don’t want to guess. God, it was the freakiest thing. And in the back of my head were all the usual excuses running – it’s a bear standing up, it’s a guy with hair problems, it’s a deer standing at a funny angle, it’s a stroke and my brain’s shutting down – but none of them were holding up.
He was chewing on something. Could hear the lips smack from thirty feet away. The clumsy thud-n-slap of the careless feet. The murmuring gurgles of a body never before captured on film that wasn’t grainier than a sand sandwich.
So I pulled out my phone. I made sure the night-vision was on. I raised it high, turned off the flash, and BEEP BEEP BEEP my text alert goes off because George wants to know where the hell I am.
There’s this call – this weird, grunting, burping noise, I can’t describe it, it’s like nothing I’ve ever heard a person make – and he’s gone. I sprinted after him, but when I got to the road there was nothing but the smell of burning rubber and gas and a little bit of sour-beer piss. He’d gotten in his car and driven away.
And there I was, left alone to wander back home into the woods. The latest sap of a sasquatch with the two-beer story of the time she saw sandlefoot, without so much as a photo to show for it.

Storytime: The Short Straw.

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

Just me and Bob out by the lake. Sitting by the fire, like brothers do. Sharing supper cooked on a spit, like brothers do. Taking turns scratching our ass and swatting flies and tearing off mouthfuls.
“I don’t know why it’s so important we take turns. It all goes into the same stomach anyhow.”
“There’s more to a meal than a full stomach, Bob. You want to taste it. Savor it.”
“Half-cooked crawshark? I don’t think so, Bill.”
“You’ve got no damned palate at all. Folk would pay good money for this.”
There was a polite cough from the edge of the campfire.
“You sick, mister?”
“No, no, no, no no,” said the stranger. He was smallish and humanish and only had a single head, but he made up for it with a big smile and his voice was chummier than the water around my uncle Tom’s sharking dock. “I just wanted to announce myself. I’m just a poor, poor, very poor starving old traveler and I was wondering if you could spare a bite or a bit or even a measled morsel for me? In exchange I can listen to all your fascinating talk of all this money you’re on about.”
I shrugged, making Bob bite his tongue and mutter something vicious.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full, Bob. Sure, y’want some? It’s crawshark. The little fellas. Not gotten stinky yet, nice and sweet still. You’re gonna have to bring your own butter, though. Bob’s used our lot.”
“And you just made me spill half of it down our shirt y’fat lump of old-”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you, err….” He squinted at us. “Both?” he decided.
“Don’t mention it mister.”
“We worked hard for that meal,” Bob complained as I handed over a good pawful of flesh. “Scraped and scrapped and cheated at three games of dice with Edna ‘n Elda, and all so’s you could give it away.”
“Games of dice? Are you a betting ma – ah, that is to say, betting men?”
Bob said “Not really,” but I’d started first and got my “damned straight” in right over top of him. I could feel his whine brewing in our belly and bopped him on the shoulder behind our back, quiet-like. “Best for miles. With cheats or without ‘em.”
“Wonderful. Tell you what, my friend…s. I’ll bet you for this fine feast you’ve gone and gifted me. What do you say to that?”
I felt Bob’s mouth open and bopped him again. “Sure,” I said. “Shoot.”
“Well, this lovely bit of meat you’ve given me is delicious, but it’s made me thirsty. As a matter of fact, it’s made me so thirsty that I’ll bet you I can drink that whole lake there right down to the mud.”
I blinked. Bob picked up our hands and moved them strategically, framing and angling the stranger, squinting furiously.
“Nah,” he said. “You’re off your skull. No way it could fit in there. Y’d have to be, something like…three times bigger.”
“Five,” I hazarded.
“You’ll take that bet then?” he asked.
I grinned. “Done,” I said, just ahead of Bob’s “Nope.”
“Excellent! Now then, I’ll just have to get ready for this. Tell me, do you have a straw?”
“Bill, he’s-”
I shrugged. “Nope.”
“Hmm. Do you have a spoon.”
“Got a shovel.”
“No, that won’t do. I don’t suppose you have any paper or anything that I could roll into a straw? Something sturdy, or glossy – enough for a short, sturdy straw.”
“Got some funny little paper bills we won off’ve Edna and Elda. Those do?”
The stranger’s smile was a beautiful, gleaming thing. “Oh, lovely,” he cooed, and he took them and wounded them up into a tight scroll. “Now, I don’t suppose you have a stick or something I could keep this around, so it doesn’t uncoil?”
“Hey, you should-”
“Here,” I said, and I handed him the spit with me and Bob’s leftovers on it.
“Wonderful! And now that I have my straw, I could use some seasoning. I enjoy mineral water, you see. Do you have any metals or minerals I could drop into the lake to make it tastier?”
“He’s gonna-”
“Think I’ve got some change hereabouts,” I said, and I dumped a handful of the shiny little gold things I’d found in a ditch in front of him. Oh my, that man could smile, I tell you.
“Wonderful!” he cried. “Oh perfect! Almost ready. Just one thing. Do you have a boat? I find it’s best to start drinking from the center of a lake, where the water’s deepest – prevents having to trudge in from the shore as you drain it.”
“Bill-”
“Right on the shore,” I nodded. “Just be careful with it.”
“I shall! I very very shall! Well, thank you and goodbye – for the moment.”
And the stranger and his smile and his meat and his coins and bills jumped into his boat and started rowing like a madman, splashing all the way out.

I hummed to myself a bit. I knew nothing got Bob to come out of a sulk like a good humming. It makes his tongue itch.
“You know, what I was trying to say-”
“What you were INTERRUPTING to say, Bob. You know that nobody likes folk who do that.”
“-what I was TRYING to say was, it wasn’t particularly charitable of you to not inform him that the lake was undrinkable on account of all the crawsharks in it.”
I shrugged. “He didn’t ask. ‘Sides, he had a worldly look to him. No sense trying to pull one over on a bloke like that. And well, that boat was leaky anyways.”
“Waste of money though.”
“Ahhh, you know damned well the nearest human store’s forty miles off. No way we’re walking all that way for the chance to buy a half-supper. Nah, we’re better off this way, Bob.”
The splashing intensified suddenly, then stopped.
“If you say so.” There it was, that grudging tone that meant I’d won another argument.
“I always do. Now, let’s go home. We’re out of butter. Nothing worse than eating crawshark without butter.”
“Getting eaten by crawshark.”
“Well now Bob, who’d be so damned foolish as to go and do that?”

Storytime: Sow the Seeds.

Wednesday, 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.