Archive for ‘Short Stories’

Storytime: I and a II and a III.

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

In the beginning, there was the beat.
And it went
Bam-bippity-bam-bam-BAM bippity band so on and so on. It spun, it dove, it ducked, it dipped, it danced to and fro and back and forth. It made the rocks shake, it made the earth quake, and the entire planet exploded like an old grapefruit thrown at a new wall. Chunks of accreted cosmic dust blown back into the roaring gale of the solar wind.
Shit, They said. Better try that one again.

So this time They calmed it down a little. Made it sedate. A little less syncopation and a little more consideration. Something you couldn’t help but tap your toe to, but wouldn’t snap a finger. Just a bit of fun.
The planet bobbed and nodded and twisted out of orbit and spun out of the solar system, sailing through into the empty forever.
Oh come ON, They said.

In the end They considered their goals and options, wanted something, tried for more, and settled for less.
So They went
Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam.
And the planet drifted aimlessly in its ellipse, safe and snug and dulled into sleep. Like a brainless baby in the biggest crib.

*

Now, that was the tempo sold. But there was something else missing. Something for the humming.
So They placed Themselves as the lotus.
Metaphorically.
And They took a deep breathe, in through the nose.
Metaphorically.
And They sang.
Really.
They sang of Wonder. They sang of Beauty. They sung of Glory. They sung of Majesty.
They sang so damned hard that the world in its grind couldn’t help but quiver a tear from its surface, and it gushed blue over itself until it was damp as old coffee grinds. And in that seep, brewed LIFE, boldly seizing the days, racing up and out and up and ONWARD on top of itself until the atmosphere curdled under the pressure of an infinite number of respiring lungs and the whole thing collapsed like a bad soufflé.

This time They sang of regular old wonder, beauty, glory, and majesty. And for a little while it looked like it was working – things cooked down there, but slower. Eyes raised to on high. Seeds sown in gusto. Flagella moving with purpose.
Then everything knew itself, looked upon its neighbours, knew they weren’t good enough to measure up, and shut down.
Fuck Me, They complained. What do You have to do to get this working?

So They sat down, cleared Their throat, and sort of hummed through Their nose really hard and kept going, and going, and wavering, and the pitch went up and the pitch went down and sometimes it went back to front to reverse to yellow to Sunday. In fact, it went just about everywhere imaginable, and so, nowhere understandable.
And hey, so did everything down there. And it kind of worked!
Kind of.
I mean, there was stuff. That was good.

*

Melody needs harmony.
They drew Their palms down the strands of the world, cupped it, caressed it, plucked it, blew on it. And it danced and whirled and churned in warmth and joy, rich in texture, bright in emotion, and its atmosphere expanded four times over and dispersed into space.
This time They just sighed.

Next (after cramming the damned thing back together), They tried, with the utmost care, rubbing the atmosphere gently.
The whole world sang out gladly, true as a bell, and then the Van Allen belts broke with a SPRANG sound and showered the whole place with radioactive particles.
And a new pack cost you ten, minimum. Pre-tax.

Finally They just put the planet up to Their lips and raspberry’d it. And from that fine spray, lo, did aimless restlessness emerge, and instill itself in the plates and crust and atmosphere and magnetosphere and all that was. And it was Good, or at least Functional, which was Good by this point.

*

After the initial recording session, They began playback. Then They threw the damned thing in the garbage, hung up Their hat, put on Their coat, and went to go get blitzed.

Storytime: Accomplishment.

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018

“Feed’s clear. On your mark.”
“Right. Right. One second. The pole was crooked. Right. Ready. You ready?”
“We’re ready.”
“I claim this planetesimal, Pluto, this once-planet, in the august and democratic name of…of. Earth? Earth. Earth!”
“Wonderful job. Alright, mission over.”
“Can I take samples?”
“If you feel like it.”
“Are we done?”
“Yes.”
“Oh. Did I do it properly?”
“Yes.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.”
“If I didn’t do it properly, I could take the flag down and put it up again. I could get it to wave. There’s wind here. I think it would wave very nicely.”
“No, that’s fine.”
“Are you mad that I forgot what country I’m from? I’ve been practicing my words for the last year, you know. I had to remembered most of them from scratch, from the tapes! It’s been a while, and I think you’ve got to admit I salvaged the speech very smoothly. Undetectable.”
“We can edit out the stammer.”
“Oh no. I stammered?”
“Yes. It doesn’t matter. We can inject the proper country into your speech, too.”
“Wow. That’s impressive. Did you need me to say anything at all?”
“Yes. Saying something here is more important than anything you say.”
“Do you think you could be a little more expressive? I know there’s hours and hours between every transmission we make, but I make the effort to remember how annoyed I am between them. I try very hard to remain angry for hours, because I presume you’ve put a lot of effort into making me very angry for other hours. It’d be the least you could do to try and be a good sport and reciprocate.”
“What do you want from us, Pluto? You’re the first woman to ever voyage this far from Earth. Shouldn’t you be proud? Elated? Expansive? Enlightened? Humbled?”
“I’m very cold and a little agoraphobic because I spent years and years in a little metal box and now I’m all alone in a very big space on a very small rock. You can see the horizon here! Wow!”
“You already knew that, Pluto. There’s a lot of things you already knew that you seem to have forgotten.”
“I remember everything very clearly! Just not why I did it. Why am I out here again?”
“To show off.”
“Aha! Should I do jumping-jacks?”
“If you feel like it. It’s more about us than you.”
“What d’you mean?”
“We’ve proven we can throw a human in a metal box a very long ways indeed. About as far as a good bit of money can take us. About as far as, well, humanly possible. We’re probably going to stop after this.”
“You make me sound very extraneous.”
“No more or less than you were back here. What you did was very important. It’s just not important at all that you did it.”
“I’m very suicidal now. I’ll jump, I swear it. I’ll jump off this cliff or into space or cut my oxygen, that’ll show you.”
“No you won’t. We checked before you left.”
“Well, then I’ll pout.”
“You will do that.”
“I suppose. When do I go back?”
“You don’t. We told you that before.”
“Slipped my mind. Oh well. At least I have my flag to keep me warm.”
“You can’t take it down. It’s historic.”
“Oh? What am I?”
“Part of history. It’s different.”
“Close enough. Blankey, here I come!”
“Don’t touch it.”
“Or what?”
“You’ll have violated the spirit of history and achievement that is what has motivated humankind since it first bashed a rock against another rock and made a sharper rock which it used to kill an animal.”
“I thought the bulk of humanity’s nutrition since before its existence was from foraged vegetable matter, and that by and large both an obsession with snowballing technological prowess was a recent development that was largely portrayed as inevitable and innate human nature, as is the case with all traits of a given society when said society cares to reflect upon them. Which they never do.”
“Very stirring.”
“I came up with that on year six.”
“Don’t touch the flag.”
“Oh, fine. Is there anywhere in particular you’d like me to die?”
“Either in the lander in bed, so we don’t have to look at you in the textbooks, or heroically posed next to the flag, so we can feel stirring pride.”
“Sure. Salute or wave?”
“Salute.”
“I’m waving and you can’t stop me.”

Storytime: Cycles.

Friday, December 29th, 2017

The cock had crowed. The bell had rung. The sun had set. And every single one of the particular and funny-shaped dice had spun widdershins when thrown and come up as full sixes, as they were very carefully made to be.
“It’s time,” said the old priest.
“It’s time,” said the even older priest.
“It’s time,” chimed in the very young priest who had recently had to fill in for the oldest priest of all who was now resting somewhere soft and loamy and dark.
And the three walked, with varied creaks and stumbles, to the dark room, barred with three beams and locks. And they unchained and unlatched them, and they opened it, and inside was a big, beautiful boy of about adult years, which in those parts was older than you’d think. Life was good and fairly easy, and when life is good and fairly easy, you get a childhood that lasts longer.
“It’s time,” said the old priest.
“It’s time,” said the even older priest.
“Yes, it’s time,” said the very young priest who was practically squirming with impatience because he’d been practicing a lot for four months. “Now you-”
“Now you are the new year,” said the old priest, deftly shushing him with a single finger. “Here is your crown.”
And he handed the man who was the new year a little garland of leaves, and kissed him on the cheek.
“Here is your raiment,” said the even older priest.
And he draped over the new year a soft and billowing robe, and as the priest slipped the sleeves over the new year’s arms he whispered in his ear.
“And here is your gift,” said the very young priest, and he shoved a little round ball of what was equal parts bread and masonry into the new year’s palm.
“Now go!” they shouted (especially the very young priest) and the new year followed their fingers and he stumbled into the gently-falling snow of the temple’s courtyard, through the white drifts and billows, as shaky-legged as a toddler because it had been almost a month since he had seen full light.

In the wall was a door. It was made of hard, blood-red wood, sun-baked. At the door was a knocker. It was gilded but probably just brass.
The new year thumped at it.
“Go away,” said a voice.
The new year stood there.
“Twice more” whispered the voice.
The new year thumped at it again.
“Go away,” said the voice.
The new year thumped at it again.
“Enter,” said the voice. And he did.
Face to face, old year and new year. Old year in his hooded cowl that let only his beard and eyes escape; new year in his garland crown. One of them pale as a cave-fish, the other tanned and rough from a year spent walking from rite to rite.
“You’re late,” said old year. “The snows are here already – when I first walked this path, the grass was yet green and the birds still sang.”
The new year shrugged.
“The priests,” said the old year. “Bah. Follow me. Follow me and listen to me. You must do both of those things very well.”
The new year nodded.
“And stay quiet.”
“Yes,” said the new year.
The old year smacked his ear.

“This is the sundial,” said the old year, ushering the new year into his little gated court. “Here is where I sit at dawn, to make sure the days spin by on track. Here, hold the tip of its blade with your left hand, take its measure.”
The new year did that, and yelped. Blood dripped from his finger as he jammed it into his mouth.
“It likes you,” said the old year. “It didn’t bite me half as deep. That is good. It’s important to be on fine terms with your days. They’re your mortar, brick, and bread.”
They stood there.
The old year coughed.
They stood there.
“Rightpocket,” the old year coughed again.
The new year jumped, fumbled, and eventually retrieved the little loaf that the priests had given him. He handed it over and almost opened his mouth but the look the old year gave him forbade it.
“Thank you for your gift,” said the old year. “Now we may proceed indoors. Follow me into my house.”

The house of the old year was empty and vast. Air currents swam with the depth and force of the ocean through its hallways, in between the creaks. Shelves and shelves of books hid every wall so thickly they very well might have replaced them.
“One journal per week,” said the old year. “You will fill fifty-two. Can you write?”
The new year nodded.
“Good. Otherwise it can be troublesome. Fill them with your thoughts. Fill them with your fears. Fill them with your blessings, and the names of every place you go, everyone you meet, every meal you take, and every festival you attend. Write the week, and in the end you will write yourself. Understand that.”
The new year nodded.
“Light the fire.”
The new year nodded, and took the little bag of flint and steel he was offered, and nodded, and was pointed towards the vast and terrifying fireplace, and nodded, and was swatted, and stopped nodding and managed to strike a few sparks until a little blaze was huddled in the center of the capacious stone mouth.
The old year placed the eldest of his journals on the edge of the hearth. “Like this,” he said. “Sear them until the ink runs, then scorches. It has to be cleaned before it’s shelved for good. I will wait in the next room until you are done. Remember, fifty-two.”
The new year remembered. He lost count twice, but he remembered, stubbornly. Even if he did burn his fingers once or twice.

The next room was as different from the halls as possible. It was a kitchen.
“You will cook everything,” said the old year. “You will stew winter potage. You will roast fall gourds. You will bake summer loaves. You will make spring jams. To live the season is to eat it, and first it must be cooked. Properly. These books are not scorched, they are recipes. Use them. Properly.”
The old year pulled the little loaf that the new year had given him out of his robe and ate it in one bite and a lot of chews.
“More properly than this,” he grimaced. “Hard-baked on the outside, raw on the inside. Do not trust a priest with an oven. Ever.”
The new year nodded.
“And stop nodding.”
“Okay.”
“I didn’t say you could start talking again either. Watch. Listen. Learn. Follow me.”

So the new year followed the old year.
He followed him to the bedroom, high in the spire, where the bed was at the center of an enormous clock-work that would always turn him towards the dawn. Above him, in the spire itself, was a weathervane that would tell the weather what to do, if he used it properly.
He followed him to the etching-room, where the walls were torn to shreds by hatch-marks, and where he would tally his own days with a blunt and ragged blade. There were words he was told that would shape the day as he marked it, if he spoke them surely.
He followed him to the garden, behind the kitchens, where herbs grew and plotted furiously, ripening for the reaping. Listen closely to them and they would warn you of the plans of men and women, if you were sympathetic.
He followed him until his feet ached and his mind smeared and his toes were worn and frozen, and he learned the ways and means and ins and outs and sheer, overwhelming complexity of the grandness of the year, in the house of the old year.
“And now it is time to pray,” the old year told him. And it was.

The prayers were of a particular sort, and had to be performed in a particular place, which was a little stone garden under a little skylight above a little but surprisingly deep pond, which the new year carefully washed their feet in as he poured them each a small glass of very strong….
“Herbs,” said the old year. “It will broaden your mind, but pull it a bit thin. The rest of the day will stay strong but this…may go away. That’s later. For now, listen to me. Listen to me and do what I say, as I do what I say. First, you will step into the spring.”
The new year stepped into the spring. It was warm and sulphurous, dragged up from underground. His toes bit at him as they came back to life.
“Now, you will anoint your brow with your first sip of your drink.”
The new year’s forehead steamed in the cool air. His eyes swam.
“Down it.”
The new year’s throat ached and punched and kicked.
“Bow down and cleanse your hands.”
The new year bowed down and scrubbed his palms briskly.
“And then,” said the old year, as he scrubbed his hands against the rough stones in the cold, cold water, “you will withdraw the little knife that the priests gave you from your right sleeve, and you will slit my throat with it.”
The new year’s right sleeve was already half-raised. The knife was in his hand. His foot was raised to take a step. His course was set, he needed only to complete it.
Instead he said “W-” and while he was busy doing that the old year spun around, glistening rust in his palm, and opened his neck up both ways.
It was a very clean cut, but then it had been a very good knife. Before it was left under a rough stone for twelve months.

In the courtyard, surrounded by birdsong, waited the priests. Each knew the time it would take to a minute, to a second, as sure as a grandfather clock. When the doors creaked open they smiled, and when they saw the robes they laughed, and when the new year strode forward in the garb of the old they blessed him warmly in his wake.
They bowed before him as he walked, seeing only the cowl and robe, not the face that filled it, the face they surely thought killed. First the old priest, then the even older priest, and then the oldest priest of all, whose cough was become quite severe these days.
And he walked on, smiling and triumphant across the bright green grass, into the year, and he felt like he could do this forever.

Storytime: Inspiration.

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

Once upon a time there was a peasant and a sling and an empty stomach and a rabbit sat temptingly within range.
The rabbit wasn’t as unaware as it looked, the peasant was more careless than he thought, and the far side of the ridge the rabbit ran down was a lot steeper than you’d assume.
Still, once the world stopped spinning and the feeling crept back into his spine, opportunity presented itself. Particularly once he saw what was lying underneath his spine.
(it was another spine, a very elongated one, tapering to a tail-tip)
And what it was attached to.
(it was large, and scaly, and sleeping soundly)
And then he had a very, very crafty idea.

Once upon a while there was a minor noble.
On his eighteenth birthday his father took him into the dungeons of the family keep and showed him the thing they kept in irons there, and the blood they drew from it.
And then he chugged a big mouthful, belched, and wrote an astounding treatise on economic thought in five minutes, pausing only to freshen the ink.
“Someday, son,” he told him, “this will all be yourgkughug…uhr. Ahrgh.”
The minor noble cleaned up around the place and considered what to do with his newfound power. Preferably in a way that wouldn’t end with him in a similar yet crucially different situation as the one he’d just manufactured, someday.
So he sat down, made sure he had a sharp, fresh quill handy, and chugged a big mouthful of blood.
And then he had a very cunning idea.

Once upon a ways there was a tremendously wealth heiress.
This was normal in her family, and almost below-par, which she resented dearly. Any fool could make a fortune, or a few fortunes – at least, any fool with the right-sized cup and the right code to the family vault.
It was keeping the peace long enough with your relatives to make sure they put their codes in too that was the trick.
She was out of luck with uncle Edward. He favoured little cousin Edith these days. And grandma Victoria had hated her for years. And mom and dad only gave out their codes in exchange for open promises, which the heiress despised.
There had to be a better way than this, stultifying under the weight and approval of generations of insular aristocrats and their petty judgments. There had to be a way to break down the barriers. There had to be a way to get her hands on some inspiration. More than the cupful she had left. She’d been thinning it, making it last, mixing it with a lot of wine (expensive wine, but still a watering-down).
She downed the last of her cupful neat.
And then she had a wonderful idea.

Once upon a long ago there was a captain of industry.
Or well, brewery. Which relied on industry, and rhymed with it, and so was near enough. Besides, as her mother had often reminded her, just try and imagine the city’s elite without liquid inspiration. You’d have to start over from first principles, rubbing two gears together and hoping they fucked.
So industry it was. The valves and pipes and boilers and thumpers and kettles and bells and whistles and walls and wails somewhere buried under it all, attached to a particularly heat-proof set of tubes, was what everybody worth being anybody treasured most in their gin, in their throats.
And, more importantly, in their heads.
A lonely, lonely position she stood in, now that mother was gone. But as mother had always told her, that was best. The family would slow you down. Better to run alone. A good idea, one of many thousands mother had kept with her.
(She’d never asked what mother had done with the family. She’d heard ‘dynamite’ muttered in the old women’s last hours, and figured that was enough)
The city hummed outside her window. It hummed to her tune, the vibration in the blood in the booze in its belly. Resonant, tickling the brain cells.
Now if only sales would go up a little more this quarter, she’d be set.
Now if only this city’s elite would screw a little more often, and have a few more kids every five years, she’d be set.
Now if only this damned document her lawyer had handed her would make sense, she’d be set.
Now if only the traffic weren’t so loud, she’d be set.
Now if only her daily glass hadn’t curdled in her gut and left her brain numb instead of buzzing, she’d be set.
Now if only this damned empty pit under her clavicle would go away, she’d be set.
The captain of industry realized she was doodling with her pen. So she got up and threw it through the window. It was a cheap thing, anyways. Gold foil pretending to be plating.
And then she watched, just for a moment, and saw a man walk by, pick it up, and smile with the genuine warmth of those who believe themselves to be truly fortunate.
And then she had a fairly clever idea.

Once upon a last week there was a guy, and his name was Nicholas Forwards, and he was a playwright, and he was hard stumped for inspiration.
So he went down to the bar and ordered three pints. Low-calorie. Light. Gluten-free. Butane-free.
And then he drank it down and threw up and bought another three and drank it down some more and after he’d dropped the local booze level a good eight inches he lit up and lit out and ran into the street yelling “I’VE GOT IT I’VE GOT IT I’VE GOT IT” and was hit by a car.
It was the driver’s fault. Yes, he’d been running, but she should’ve been paying attention. She’d been distracted by thinking about circuit designs. Never mind that she was a carpenter, she’d had a circuit design stuck in her head for six weeks straight. If she’d been able to explain that she might have gotten off, but as it was all she did was try and explain circuits to the judge, which was poor luck anyways because the judge hadn’t been able to deliver a verdict that wasn’t a monologue on fork design in eight months.
People had a lot on their mind, these days. Even if it was just a little.
Walking into traffic and driving into the sidewalk, forgetting to eat and forgetting to stop eating. A lot of the infrastructure had become exostructure overnight, sometimes explosively.

Except the brewery.

In its guts, in the basement under the basement under the basement on the building plans, fighting through a keyring, is the great architect, the heir to the empire. He’s been down here for three days, living off his own urine and whatever bugs come too close, and he’s almost found the right key. He would’ve had it two days ago if he hadn’t spent most of the time trying to come up with a phylogenetic tree for keys.
Can’t complain, though. He knows he’s more put together than most folks these days. Which is what he’s hoping to fix. Because heeeyyy, after five hundred years of exploitative theft and greed, which you personally benefited from your whole life… well, ‘I’m sorry’ can’t hurt, right? It’s got to help, right?
Oh there’s the key. He knew he’d almost found it.

Finding the lock took another hour though.

Click clack clunk and the old vault scooches open, and inside, bound by iron and steel and odd little symbols etched onto every link, was
a three foot goanna.
“I uh, I release you from, I’m, uh, I’m sor. I’m sor.”
It blinked at him, reptile-slow. The blood-milking tubes hung limply at its side. They must’ve been running dryer and dryer for…ever. When had it got so small?
He cleared his throat again.
“I’M VERY SORR”
“thhhhhhhhhh” it said.
“y,” he concluded. And shrugged, limply.
He unchained the goanna anyways. It bit him and ran out of the room. A small squeak announced that the city’s rodent population had a new, hungry problem.
The heir to the empire examined the red dripping out of his palm, and wondered if his clearing head was from pain or something else, more fundamental. Maybe it was alright. Maybe the fuzz would stop. Maybe he could sit and rest, without worry, without thought.
He licked his hand experimentally anyways. Just in case.

It didn’t give him any new ideas, but it did contribute to his death a few days later.
Blood poisoning.

Storytime: The Daily Grind

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Storytime: Neighbours.

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Storytime: Stories.

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Storytime: King of Beasts.

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Storytime: Diggity.

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

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

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

-Polly Packer.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

-Hubert…

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Tilly Whipsnirt,
Mayor of Slandcrane.

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

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

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

***

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