Archive for April, 2009

An Important Update

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Good evening. I’m Joey Fishlips and this is OMG’s Not Really News: all the news that’s not even worth denying. Weekends at nine-seventy, weekdays at eleventeen.

Big news tonight: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper most certainly did not go down upon hands and knees in front of US President Barack Obama and ask for permission to bear his children. Barack Obama, who was not asked this question, definitely did not graciously allow this humble request. How this did not affect the deepening relationship between these two countries is yet to be seen.

On a more tragic note, a local man shockingly didn’t acquire a high-pressured, military-grade, pump-action water gun and failed to use it to drill neat, pressurized holes through the noggins of more than forty bystanders of varying degrees of innocence. Military experts could’ve announced to members of the press that this design was leaked from a black-budget super soaker development project, but they didn’t because it never existed. The man, who definitely did not snap as a result of long-term abuse by his nagging spouse and hateful parents, wasn’t brought down by a crack team of Navy SEALS armed with peanut butter and raw hatred.

Speaking of raw hatred, today in the middle north-south-west a man who was not reported as “a-fightin’-and-a-feudin’” with his neighbours did not mistakenly serve them cooked hatred as part of his revenge. Embarrassment hadn’t only just died down at this gaffe when the guests realized that he had served them the revenge piping hot and fresh from the stove, rather than cooled gently to allow the flavour to mature. The botched meal has caused bad relations to break down and the feud is in real danger of being laughed off as a bunch of bad memories. Or it would be, if any of this was actually happening.

Better news from abroad, however. This afternoon, just after you finished eating that snack, northern France did not spontaneously rearrange itself into a giant robot and fly into outer space, proclaiming in a thunderous voice that could be heard clear to Hong Kong that it was going to battle Pluto “in the soul of the galaxy, amidst the god-light of the stars.” This somewhat drastic and melodramatic confrontation wasn’t allegedly motivated by Pluto’s plotting to destroy earth in retaliation for having its planet status revoked. When asked about the incident, the remainder of France maintained that it had no comment. British citizens, some of whom were close enough to see the entirety of France’s north coast remove itself from the Earth and assemble into a large portion of the colossi’s upper torso, stated under questioning that the whole thing, had it happened, would’ve looked “pretty damned bizarre.”

In technology, we have a new and startling development: the internet has declared itself an independent global superpower, free from the rest of physical world and untouched by national borders. Ambassador Newton Ferguson (aka cybercitizen “Captan Sandwich”) claims that this “has been coming for years” and that the only real reason for delay was the debate over an official capital, which was finally allotted to Google in a close vote, with Hustler.com coming in a close second. Added Ambassador Newton: “lol, stuipd newbies. lrn2cyber.” Frankly, I’m as glad as you are that this didn’t happen.

An important medical news update! Boston scientists have not discovered how to cure cancer of the elbow, a crippling and tragic condition that can lead to achy joints, reddened skin on the arm, and terrible, prolonged, agonizing death. The head of the globally funded Rubbing Elbows foundation project, Dr. Albert Albertson, PhD, states that the team’s top scientists are “completely stumped” and that figuring out the way to stop this cancer is “really a whole lot of work.” Early routes into a cure that seemed promising, such as miniaturizing leatherback sea turtles to swim the human bloodstream and scoff down cancerous cells as happily as they would jellyfish, or training burly personal trainers to “beat out the sickness” with titanium paddles, have been found woefully inadequate. “It’s like, so unfair,” says Albertson, who is as nonexistent as his research and research topic. “I really thought we were on to something when we tried injecting raw turkey eggs into the jugulars of the patients, but it turns out the entry holes needed for the shells just let them bleed to death. Stupid frail human bodies, always cockblocking my genius!”

On the lighter and sunnier side of health care, local teens today would’ve held a “vandalize for AIDS research” fundraiser if they were likable, well-adjusted people and not evil little punks. “You get to do something you love, and it’s for a good cause,” organizer Dan “Leadpipe” Strabinski would’ve said, as he used the implement of his name to beat an innocent neighbour’s mailbox to plasticized tatters. “And it’s only five bucks per hour of free-range destruction,” he added encouragingly, etching his tag onto the rubble with a single well-practiced shake of a spray-paint can.

A Hollywood special report: Matt Damon and Naomi Watts have recently not appeared on Oprah simultaneously to announce that they were not abducted by aliens that resembled elderly little Malaysian men in expensive suits, who then didn’t proceed to shave their heads with a ceremonial broken 1950s-era glass cola bottle. The aliens, claimed the two, then requested that they make out on camera, so that they could open a pay-per-view site. Upon refusing this request, they were punished by being repeatedly and insistently poked in the gut despite continued and polite requests for the extraterrestrials to “cut it out.” Finally, upon realizing that the two celebrities really were being serious with them, the ETs rudely ejected them from a height of several dozen feet over the Hudson river, forcing them to hitchhike their way back to Los Angeles, where they promptly got a studio deal to turn the trip into a heartwarming family film. The movie, backed by Disney and tentatively titled as “Pimp My Saucer” will begin production in August.

A final news item for tonight: a special bulletin has been announced, as a fresh outburst of violence shook the middle east. It appears Israel and Iraq simultaneously ran out of internal conflicts around lunchtime, and in a fit of pique the two countries charged at one another (trampling Jordan in the process) and began to beat each other to a pulp. Syria and Egypt have asked them to “cut it the hell out,” but at the moment the fight is still flying strong, with Israel having bloodied Iraq’s nose at the cost of a split lip just five minutes ago. Personally, I’ve got a fifty riding on Israel, and advise any of you viewers out there who think otherwise to put your money where your mouth is.

And that’s OMG’s Not Really News. None of this, may I remind you, actually happened, because you’ve chosen to make our world an incredibly tedious and dull slog. I’m Joey Fishlips; fuck you and goodnight.

“Not Really News” copyright 2009 Jamie Proctor.

Storytime: Boat.

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

It was a dark night and Matthew was tired. These are many things: excuses, reasons, facts, and results. That they were excuses for what happened was true, but they were also adequate reasons, which was indisputably a fact. They were also the result of overcast weather and a large, sleep-inducing meal that he had just eaten at Jesse Newman’s cottage before stumbling back to his small rowboat, tripping over rocks in the dark on his way to the rough wooden pier.

He’d been rowing for a good five minutes or more – hard to say in the dark – when he reached the narrows. The narrows need no real description other than their name. As he quietly splashed his way through the rocky channel, he saw a gleam in the water, and half-stood up to see what it was. A brief beam of moonshine, here then, gone now as the moon dipped away behind the clouds again, had illuminated something in the water. Maybe a stray buoy, one that had snapped its tether and drifted off. He might as well retrieve it, if it was. Standing up slightly straighter, he hauled on an oar one-handed, bringing the boat around. Almost within viewing distance… One more pull on the oar brought him close enough to see, and he was satisfied to see that it was indeed a loose buoy – home-made from a plastic juice jug. Then there was a bump, he clutched at the rowboat’s side, and, with almost comical willingness, it dutifully tipped over in a sudden spin of oars and water, plunging him in headfirst.

Trying to swear and choking on water, Matthew flailed murkily, completely disoriented. He felt a vague pull in a specific direction, and realized that his lifejacket (which, he remembered, with sudden annoyance, he was now more than fifty-seven pounds too heavy for) was weakly tugging him towards the surface. Flush with relief, he gathered his legs up, tensed them, and kicked towards the surface like a gigantic frog, happy that he’d gotten out of this annoyingly little incident so easily. He was already working out how he was going to right the boat and head home when his head connected with a hard surface (emitting a startling “wokk!” noise) and he passed out.

Matthew was aware of the bobbing, lulling sensation first, the enjoyable feeling that’s the closest thing anyone out of diapers can come to being rocked in a crib. Then the dampness chimed in. After that came bleary realization that he was really very lucky to be alive; apparently the tiny lifejacket had been just enough to keep him afloat. Forcing gummed eyelids open, he couldn’t see the boat. No telling how long he’d been out, or where he’d drifted – fog had rolled in, completing the set of bad weather that had followed his family’s vacation over the weekend, and making it impossible for him to tell how far off shore was. He bobbed, disconsolate. He couldn’t even see the point in striking out in any direction; there was no telling where he was.

After a minute or two (his watch had stopped working, to his annoyance), he heard a distant, repeated splashing, as of oars dipping in and out of the water. It was hard to be sure, but he thought it was getting closer, and after another guessable period of time, he was sure of it. Raising himself out of the water slightly with circular arm movements, he called “Hey! Can I get a lift? Fell overboard!”

A moment’s pause, with the oar sounds suddenly ceased, and then “Sure! Just keep talking, hard to see in this stuff!”

“Thanks!”

Feeling marginally better, Matthew listened to the steady rise and fall of the oars with good humour, keeping up a monologue of random comments. After a surprisingly short amount of time, he felt the spray from one particularly close splash on his face. Immediately thereafter, an oar smacked him on the head, directly on the sore spot left by his earlier bout with unconsciousness.

“Aagh!”

“Sorry.”

The offending instrument was extended to him, somewhat apologetically, insofar as a shaped length of wood can be said to have a manner of bearing.

“Grab ahold.”

Doing so willingly, Matthew hauled himself into a small rowboat, only slightly bigger than his. Its occupant, a vaguely friendly-looking middle-aged man with a somewhat unfortunate wide-brimmed straw hat, grinned at him. “Boat tip over?”

“Yes.”

“Thought so. Ran into the thing a little while ago. Wondered about it, looked around, and then I heard you.” The man began rowing again; steady, strong strokes that looked like they could keep going forever.

“Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it. Law of the sea, or lake, or whatever. Anyways, it’s sort of my job to pick you up.”

Matthew thought that last comment was slightly odder than it needed to be, and his expression must have conveyed a little of what he was thinking, because the man sighed. “Look, do you want me to tell you all at once or in little bits?”

“How can I answer that if I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me?”

The man frowned. “Hmmph. True.”

“And what do you mean, it’s your job?” continued Matthew.

His rescuer winced. “Oh, bugger the whole “break it slowly” routine. It always feels silly and everyone just asks me to cut to the point. You want the facts? You’re dead.”

A brief pause, save for the continuous, industrious rowing. Then, “I don’t seem to be.”

“’Course you don’t seem to be.” said the man, patiently. “You don’t expect to be dead, so you don’t look it.” He gave Matthew a critical stare. “Most things work like that, once you get past the body.”

Matthew spent several quiet but mentally frantic moments trying to find a way to get home without spending any more time in the same boat as this guy, and then, almost without prompting, his mouth opened and said “Why the hell do you say I’m dead?”

“’Cause you are. Think I’m a liar?” After a more careful examination of Matthew’s face, he added “Well, I guess you do. Can’t say I blame you.” He altered his stroke, and the rowboat swung to the right, changing course. “Where’re we going?”

“To grab a little proof. I do this sort of thing a lot, and let me tell you that you aren’t the first person I’ve picked up who’s a little doubtful of me.”

There was a small trip in silence, during which Matthew picked up his lost train of thought regarding escaping the rowboat, and then their side bumped against something. The man grunted in satisfaction, and leaned over the side slightly.

“What is it?”

“It’s your boat” came the muffled reply from over the edge of the rowboat. “Just lemme flip it and…there she goes!” Matthew’s driver pulled himself back into his seat for a moment, half sitting-down, and then tipped over again.

“Allright, here, have a look at this.”

Matthew twisted in his seat and adjusted his angle, and was unpleasantly surprised to see the man holding a motionless form by the strap of its remarkably undersized lifejacket. He let out an extremely large and gusty sigh. “Well, shit.”

The man watched him closely. “Satisfied?”
“No. But I believe you.”

“Fine. Just wanted to clear that up before we went any further.”

“Understandable.” Coming face to face with your own body should be more of a shock, thought Matthew. Instead, it was just vaguely gross, kind of like moving a piece of furniture only to discover that an exceptionally large mouse had chosen that location to pass away.

The man let the body drop back into the water, where it splashed.

“Was that really necessary?”

“Hey, it’s not like you’re gonna feel it.”

“Yes, but you could treat me with a little more respect there.”

“Sorry. I’ve seen a lot of this stuff, and you kinda get whatsisname, accumulated after a while.”

“Acclimatised.”

“Yeah.”

Matthew sighed. “So, two things: who are you, and now what?”

The rower grinned again. “Well, what happens next, like I said, depends a lot on what you expect. And as to who I am, think of me as the grim reaper, only less boney and more nautical. I handle the messups on the liquid-y-er parts of our big blue planet.”

“That’s an awfully big job for a guy in a rowboat, especially, no offence intended, when said guy is more than a few miles north of forty.”

“None taken. And you’d be surprised how many people have said that.” The rower chuckled. “And they were pretty surprised too, after a while. This trip takes a little bit, and you’ll see a few things before it’s over.”

“Anything dangerous?”

“Nope. Nothing’s really dangerous when you’re already dead, unless –“

“Unless you expect it.” finished Matthew.

“Yup. And even that doesn’t really apply here. This is what you could call the official part of the proceedings.”

A small pause, during which the fog managed to suck the sound even out of the gentle plashes of the oars, and then “So, I’m dead. That’s it?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“This really fucking sucks.”

“Probably,” he agreed.

“I mean, I’m still a virgin for Christ’s sake. I hadn’t even had sex yet!”

“Don’t look at me.”

Matthew winced “I wasn’t.”

“Just joshin’ ya.”

“You certainly don’t fit the “grim” portion of a gatherer of the dead. No scythe either.”

“Well, that’s an agricultural instrument, and I’m more the nautical variant.”

“A fishing net’d be favourite, then.”

“Ha! Yes, that’d be good. Never thought of that before, maybe I should find one somewhere. Hold on a second.” The man cupped a hand to his ear, and frowning, stared off into the grey fog.

“Sorry, is this another pickup?”

“Yes, and now sshh up for a minute, please.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, be quiet.”

A moment or two passed with intense listening, and then the rower sat back down and picked up the oars again. “Right, this should be easier than picking you up was. Passenger liner went down.”

“How’d it do that?”

“Bomb in the hold. Dunno why, but motives scarcely matter at this point, wouldn’t you say?”

Matthew nodded. “So, how many people?”
“A few hundred. Tropical seas, so you don’t have to worry about hypothermia, and since the GPS stopped working, they should be picked up before they attract the attention of any sharks.”

“A few hundred? In this rowboat.”

The man smiled. “It’s all what you expect –“

“It to be,” Matthew finished again, a tinge of annoyance colouring his voice.

“Well,” said the rower, a touch exasperated, “It’s true. They were just on a big ol’ passenger vessel, they’ll have them on their minds. So most of ‘em’ll probably see this as one.”

“And what it is? Really?” asked Matthew.

The rower looked thoughtful for a couple strokes, and then “You know, I don’t know. Personally, I’m always in favour of a good row, you know? So for me it’s a rowboat. But when someone else comes on board, if you try, you can always see it from their point of view. I’ve seen this little girl as a battleship, outboard, aircraft carrier, ocean liner, and once, the Flying Dutchman.” He paused again, for a moment. “That was a very odd man, that was. Gibbered at me the whole time about how I wasn’t going to get my filthy hands on his soul. Gave me the creeps, he did.”

He leaned over the side, staring into the fog. “Ah, there’s our first customers. Stick an oar out, willya?”
Shrugging, Matthew did as asked, and was mildly surprised when he immediately felt a heavy weight on the oar. Pulling it in, he found that it had a wild-eyed young man attached to it. Wordlessly, he hauled him up over the side, and then inserted the oar back into the water. Again, he felt a tug almost right away. This time it was a middle-aged man. Again, and it was a bedraggled-looking woman. After that he stopped paying much attention, and just kept hauling them over.

After a time, he felt an exceptionally heavy pull, and began the weary process of bringing in the oar with a very fat person hanging onto it. Instead, rather to his surprise, the oar’s occupant was an extremely large shark, which glared at him resentfully.
“I ‘ot it. It’s ‘ine. ‘Lear off, huhan,” it said, muttering incoherently around the edges of the wood.

Matthew stared for a moment, and then, somewhat automatically, he said “Could you wait a second?”

“’Ot all niht.”

Matthew leaned back into the boat, keeping a tight grip on the oar, and poked the rower on the shoulder, drawing his attention from his most recent catch. “There’s a shark on the oar. Could you have a word with him?”
“Just tell him that we’re on collection duty,” the man said, turning back to his efforts.

Matthew leaned over the edge again. “I’m sorry, but we’re on collection duty. And might I tell you, just as a carry-away bit of advice, oars aren’t edible.”

Releasing the implement, the shark gave him a look. “Goddamn typical of you bastards, sticking stuff in the water and waving it around like it’s in cardiac arrest, and then telling us it isn’t even goddamn alive. Fucking humans.” Its piece said, it dived under the boat with a flick of its tail, vanishing from sight.

Matthew gazed at the spot where it had dived. “You didn’t mention we’d end up talking to sharks, you know.”

The rower talked without moving his attention. “Yeah, animals can see us. Mostly I end up talking to the sharks, y’know? They’re damn bright compared to most fish, and they turn up at wrecks a lot.”

Matthew took his eyes off the sight of the shark’s submersion to haul in another passenger. “Are they all such assholes?”
“Hey, not like we give ‘em reasons to be happy, you know? One time I got into a good long talk with a bronze whaler about world fish markets and he said they’re being hunted down like rats, poor bastards. Being fifteen feet long and having a mouth full of fangs isn’t much good against a five-hundred-foot fibreglass-hulled fishing boat, and they aren’t as luminous as the little fellas, like sardines and so forth. Hard for ‘em to recover from being fished up in big bunches like that.”

Matthew hauled in another dripping castaway. “Numerous.”

“Pardon?”

“If something’s luminous, it’s glowing. If it’s numerous, there’s a lot of it.”

“Thanks. You’re a regular dictionary, aren’t you?”

“I do my best.”

The man sat down with a sigh. “Well, we’re done here – thanks for being such a help, by the by. Pass me that oar, would you?”

Matthew did so, noticing, without much surprise, that there was no sign of the people they’d fished up.

“So, they’re all off in an ocean liner?”

The rower grinned. “Yup. If you want, you can take a peek. Just change what you expect. I’ll poke you if I need help again with a big order, don’t you worry.”

“Right.”

Matthew sat motionless, trying to picture the place as an ocean liner might look. Big, fancy, huge buffet tables stuffed with the kind of food that made you waddle after a few days of it, big soft beds, onboard entertainment…

It wasn’t working. The rowboat remained, steadfastedly, a rowboat.

The rower looked up for a moment. “Try shutting your eyes. That always helps.”

“Thanks.”

“No problem”

Matthew shut his eyes. Ok. Big. Fancy. Buffet. Beds. Enormous television screens for lazy people who didn’t want to have to look at tropical views all day. He opened his eyes.

Woah.

He was sitting on a large soft-backed chair in a small room filled with incredibly complicated equipment. In front of him, a wide window showed an enormous prow cutting through the fog. Besides him, the rower, still wearing his straw hat, sat at the wheel. He gave him a mischievous little grin. “Bigger, isn’t she?” Matthew slowly nodded. Down there, there was a tennis court. He could see a handful of people wandering around, moving in and out of doors.

“How many people were onboard when you picked me up?” he asked.

The captain grinned again. “No one, actually. First catch of this trip.”

“Won’t this take an awfully long time then?”

“You’d be surprised. Not as if I’m the only person on duty, you know.”

“There’re other…” Matthew fumbled for a phrase, and grabbed hold of his first thought; “…grim rowers?”

“Ha! First time I’ve heard that. Yeah, there’re others. I’m actually the only one who rows nowadays. Most of the others prefer to change around from boat to boat, but mostly powered stuff, or sailboats. Me, I like the work. And the one time I ever was in a sailboat, I managed to knock myself overboard within two minutes. No, I like this girl as she is.”

Matthew looked out upon the intimidating expanse of deck. “Yeah. I think I do too.” He squinted for a moment, and abruptly, he was sitting in the rowboat again, opposite the steadily rowing man. He gave him a quizzical look. “You weren’t always like this?”

The grim rower snorted in amusement. “Nope. I dunno how long I’ve been doing this, but it must be more like fifty years than all eternity.”

“How’d it happen?”

“Well, I got picked up after an accident a lot like yours, ‘cept I was kayaking and was out off California, ‘bout the late summer of nineteen-sixty. Then I hit a rock, went under, managed to smack my head on a rock – might’ve even been the same one – and then some little old guy in a kayak picks me up. We chatted along, I took a look at what he was driving – for him it was a big ol’ sailing ship, the like the world hasn’t seen for a hundred years and more– and then as we dock and everyone starts departure, he up and asks me if I want his job. Said he’d been doing this since eighteen-ought-four and he was ready to retire. And really, how could I refuse? Always liked messing around in boats, and it’s almost like community service. Always liked that, too; it gives you a lovely warm feeling inside.”

Matthew mulled over this for a minute. “What’d he do?”

“He disembarked with the rest of them, and I went off in my rowboat, visited my first passenger – some guy who’d managed to drown in a bathtub, believe it or not – and I’ve never looked back since.”

“You had to fit this in a bathtub?

The grim rower gave him a look. “Oh, c’mon now. Have you ever seen hide or hair of land since you drowned? Think about it.”

“Well…”

The man whisked an oar out of the water and held the dripping instrument in front of Matthew. “Here, give the water a taste.”

Matthew reached out with one hand, smeared off a drop of water, and gingerly licked his finger. “Salty.”

“Yeah. It’s all pretty much one big ocean, out here, once you die. Whether you drown in a pool or the Atlantic, it’s all Neptune’s domain out here, boyo.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t mention it.”

They made another stop, this time for three luckless souls who’d managed to run aground on a sandbar before their boat had sunk from under them, but then had been picked off one by one by a solitary shark who’d apparently developed a sweet tooth for bipedal apes, a rare commodity in the sea. Matthew saw the shark as they paddled off. It gave him an unrepentant grin before it was lost in the fog.

“You said you ran into my rowboat…”

“Yup.”

“So we kind of are in the place where the people died, and here, at the same time?”

“Far as I can tell.”

“And we can see the animals, and they can see us.”

“Yup.”

“So they just see us pop out of thin air, or what?”

“Pretty much, I think.”

“Weird.”

“Has anything not been, for you, on this trip?”

Matthew thought it over. “No.”

“Well there you go.”

Another long period of silence, during which they picked up a ten year-old girl who’d fallen off a dock. Unlike the other passengers so far, she seemed to see the ship as a rowboat, and she sat next to Matthew, sucking on a lollypop the grim rower had produced from a pocket.

Matthew contemplated the candy for a moment, and then “That wasn’t there a moment ago, was it?”

“Nope.”

“What you expect, right?”

“You bet.”

Five or six more shipwrecks, one after the other, all small boats, anywhere from one to eight people on each. Matthew talked with the little girl in between stops (her name, she said, was Melissa), and helped with the larger wrecks. Melissa remained the only person who saw the rower’s vehicle as a rowboat.

Finally, the grim rower sat back with a sigh. “Well, that’s it for this trip.”

“To the pier, eh?”
“Yup. Off to the dock.”

“Let me guess…this dock looks different –“

“Depending on what you expect.” The man grinned. “You catch on pretty quick.”

There was a long and splashing sort of silence, ending after what might’ve been ten minutes, and might’ve been something very different, when a battered wooden pier that barely cleared the waterline hove out of the gloom. It must’ve been no more than ten feet long.

The grim rower sat back on his oars and sighed. “Well, end of the line. All passengers disembark and all that.”

“Can I have your job?” asked Matthew.

The man started slightly. “I expected you to ask, but not like that. For goodness’s sake, didn’t your parents teach you manners?”
Matthew grinned with the same impertinence of the shark with a taste for humans. “All right. Can I have your job, please?”

The rower grinned back. “That’s the ticket. As to your question, sure. You seem an ok sort, you didn’t mind the work, and I was starting to get bored anyways.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “And you saw my old girl here for what I think she is at heart, never anyone else mind – a nice little rowboat.”

Melissa piped up. “Can I stay too? I like this.” She pointed at Matthew. “I like him too.”

The man gave her a funny look. “I don’t recall any – aha – “grim rowers” taking permanent passengers on before, missy.” He smiled. “But who’m I to know? You can get off whenever you want, at the end of any trip, and you seem a nice sort. By all means, if it’s all right with the young man here.”

“Please don’t call me that.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t mention it. And of course it’s all right, Melissa. You can stay on as long as you want.”
“Yay!”
As they sat, they watched the passengers stream off the boat, walking onto the misty shore. “Where’re they going?” said Matthew.

The man smiled and got up, placed his straw hat on the seat, and stepped awkwardly onto the pier. “Wherever they expect, which is just what I plan to do.” He leaned down and solemnly shook their hands, one after the other. “Curt Veitch.”

“Matthew Stuart.”

“Melissa O’Conner.”

The grim rower – Curt – straightened up. “You have a good trip now, you hear?” Turning on his heel, with a final wave, he strode down the dock and into the mists.

Matthew moved into his vacated, still-warm seat and looked at the hat. Then, with great deliberation, he picked it up and placed it on Melissa’s head. She watched him with large, solemn eyes. He grinned. “It doesn’t suit me, you know. But it looks good on you.”

She smiled back, exposing tiny, perfectly-white teeth. “I like it.”

“Good.” Matthew reached under the seat and pulled out a battered old captain’s hat. He turned it over carefully, examining it. “It’s what you expect. I’ve had this hat since I was a baby, and I expect to put it to good use now.”

He took up the oars and grinned at Melissa. “Ready to go, cabin boy?”

“Cabin girl.” she corrected him, primly.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“Boat” copyright 2007, Jamie Proctor.

Storytime: Guide to a Haunted House.

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

A most elegant property, this is. How old? I’m not quite sure, I’m afraid. Bits of it have been rebuilt and added on and knocked down as the years went by, but it is in excellent condition, with all the amenities.

Here is the porch, a fine wraparound complete with a Victorian porch swing. What, it’s rocking on its own, you say? Yes, it does that quite often, and it’s done so since forty-seven years ago.

What happened? I know a bit of the story, I’m privileged to say – I’ve a hobby of local history, you see. Forty-seven years, five months, and eight days ago, John Scollops proposed to Catherine Hibbert upon this very swing. When she spurned him, for John was the town fool as she was its beauty, they say that he sprung to his feet and clapped a hand to his breast in sorrow, then fell, dead, upon her, staining her white dress with red blood. They found a nail in his heart, head clutched between his fingers, and it was the marvel of all that John Scollops, the man who had only learned to tie his shoes three years ago, at the age of sixteen, had managed to slip such a short and sturdy instrument between his ribs to prick his heart most exactly. He’d practiced upon cats, it was revealed later. A little kitty graveyard right outside the window of his home.

So sorry, I get carried away sometimes. May you go inside? Of course! Silly of me to keep you waiting here. Mind the door, good sir, and don’t touch the knocker – it sometimes bites, and we can’t let the risk of it tasting fresh blood; not after last time.

Here is the entry-room, and you’ll find it serves well. A tidy little hall, with the living-room upon your right through that door, and the kitchen dead ahead. To your left is the staircase up, as I’m sure you can see. There’s a small, stout stove in here to keep the drafts warmed when the wind wails, but I must caution you: do not, under any circumstances, place the wood of the pine in it, especially black pine, or your flues will moan at midnight.

Step over here and view the living-room. It’s got solid oak paneling, and I can promise you that these walls will outlive your great-great-grandchildren by many, many years. What’s wrong with them? Nothing’s wrong with them at all, my good man. Surely you do not think I would leave any faults unsaid to my clients! No, the only thing to worry about within this room is perhaps this wooden chair. A grand thing it is, a bit like a throne, but it’s ghastly chill to sit within, and you can count on terrific pins-and-needles for days afterwards, combined with a rather unpleasant hissing in your ears. A bit like having water in them, I say.

Now, if you twist this knob on the fireplace’s mantelpiece, the bookcase over there will slide to one side and reveal the secret passageway, so be sure to keep that section of wall clear of paintings and the like. Why are you so surprised, good sir? Surely you’ve seen the like elsewhere – no? How sorrowful I am on your behalf, sir, that you have been restricted to houses so staunchly dull!

It’s a bit of an exaggeration to call this a passageway; it’s a bit more like a hidden entrance. Past it, as you can see clearly, is the den. The walls may be hidden behind these grand old bookshelves, sir, but I assure you they are every bit as elegantly-paneled as those of the living room. Be warned, however, of the bookcase in the corner, the looming structure of yew that seems to sink roots deep into the floor. No book should be taken from it, much less read, unless you are willing to risk madness and far worse. Oh, and I found a skull in that armchair when I first discovered this place. But fear not – it has been disinfected.

As we step back into the living room – just twist the knob again, and the den shall be hidden once more, sir – I must inform you of something that I have only just recalled. The eyes of the painting upon this wall (a fine portrait of an unknown lady; note the dignity in her bearing, if it pleases you) may move now and then, but pay them no heed, as it is harmless to any but those who harm the house’s children. If you must punish any of your offspring, should you have any, you should do so out of sight of this room, or the alternatives will torment your dreams for many nights.

Kindly step through here, sir, and you behold the dining room. A fine long walnut table, fit for any meal from a lone breakfast to a holiday’s banquet, but I caution you to never, ever, under any circumstances, extinguish the white-candlestick-in-the-black-candleholder in the center of the table, or I cannot say what might happen. Do not shrink with worry, my good man, for it cannot be unlit save by the tarnished silver candle snuffer that lies mounted upon that wall.

From here you can see the backyard, with its lovely sculptures of things monstrous and beautiful, with their names inscribed beneath them in letters of no alphabet I know. They were carved by a man from far away, with ebony eyes and blue lips, who left after taking as payment for many month’s labors a single, addled crow’s egg, and none know what to call the stone he shaped them from. Sometimes they move when no-one is looking, but they never venture far.

The sundial they surround is much older, and its pedigree less mysterious. It was the keystone of a great bridge, once, until one day it vanished, and let a thousand tons of stone tumble down with many a life, unchecked by its restraining power. I know not how it got here, good sir, or who scratched the sundial-markings upon it, but I do know that you can only see its shadow in the dark hours.

The kitchen is handily adjacent to the dining room, as you can see. It is beautifully harmonized, with microwave, stove, and faucets old-and-new, a melding of antique and modern that anyone of any age can appreciate. There are but two things to keep in mind of here: firstly, the microwave’s “start” button is a bit sticky, and you may need to push it a few times to make it work. Secondly, there is a brownie that lives under the sink, and who must be left milk every evening. Just a small bowlful, sir, less than you would put in cereal, and he will be kept more than happy. If you forget once in a great while he will forgive you, especially if you leave a small sweet with his next meal by way of apology, but if you stint him whenever you feel you can’t be bothered, you’ve gone out of your way to create mischief, and so will he. And he’s better at it than you are, sir.

Oh, and the front-left burner on the stove – the big one – may be a might stubborn about turning on now and then. Be patient, leave it to igniting for a moment, and it will light properly and without undue fuss.

The cellar, sir, is next, through this door right here, set fine in the wall, with a latch out of the reach of a child’s fingers – the stairs are dark and steep and dank, and we can’t be having little ones slipping on them to hurt themselves. There’s an old gas-light down here that you may flip on and off as you come and go to provide illumination, salvaged from the wreck of a ship whose name most have forgotten and some try to forget, a pirate’s vessel whose crew knew nothing of mercy and too little of life’s value. It foundered upon something dreadful in the dark hours of the night, and the seashore town nearby was kept awake all night by the most terrible sounds before finding all sorts of flotsam and jetsam in the morning, some of which they couldn’t bring themselves too look at too closely, else they should recognize it. Don’t stare at the shadows it leaves for too long, sir, or you may see something unpleasant, and the more attention you pay to it, the uglier it will become.

This cellar, good sir, is the most ancient part of the house, walled in stone blocks that hold tight with no mortar, creaking and groaning under the weight of the home. Behind that barred door, sir, the stones give way to untouched rock, and a tunnel drills deeply into the earth that leads into a domain walled with slime, crowned in decay, and dwelt in by things that croak and squelch, far below the feet of all that is good. I would not go that way, sir, whether alone or in company.

The furnace is a magnificent beast, as you can see: set in its glory in the center of the floor, bolted there to prevent its own power from budging it. I hear tell that a man lived here once who threw his own son into it, in an attempt to earn the favor of something with more syllables than slime, and too slimy to be sane. He vanished afterwards with naught but a scorch-mark and a smoky, meaty smell to hint at his fate, but the furnace is still here. Leave small presents down here on Christmas, and in the morning they will be gone. I recommend that it be done, sir. It will function without complaint regardless of this kindness occurring or not, but it really is something that needs to be undertaken, just the same. Thank you, sir; I knew you would understand.

The closet right here holds all manner of tools: pliers, hedge clippers, hammers, nails, a small vacuum cleaner, a lightning rod, and a saw set consisting of regular, hack, jig, and bone. That is all for the basement, sir. If you’ll follow me back up, please, we can resume our tour upon the second story.

As we ascend the stairs to the second floor, sir, examine the intricate detail of the carpeting. Oh? Yes, I suppose it does squirm under the eye a little, if stared at, but perhaps it thinks staring is rude. No, I’m afraid I don’t know the story behind that. It’s quite pretty, though, isn’t it?

The upstairs hall is small and neat, as you can see, with the same carpeting as the stairs themselves. The paintings here sometimes roam about, so if you should awaken to find a landscape positioned above your headboard, do not be alarmed. They’re quite harmless.

The master bedroom, sir, is well-furnished with a luxurious four-poster bed flanked by maple reading tables. Leave your novels and stories of nighttime perusal lying upon them, by all means, but if you leave them overnight in one of the drawers, every single one of their pages will be overwritten with the frantically-inked words “OVER AND OVER” by dawn.

The chest-of-drawers here is a venerable antique, and the padlocked bottom drawer should never be opened – if you can find the key. Instead, if you should find it (a thin, skeletal thing of iron), bury it six inches deep at a crossroads, then burn a sprig of holly in a golden dish above it.

The bathroom is not only accessible from the hall, good sir, but, as you can see, is attached to the master bedroom through this door, for convenience. Now and then writing in blood will appear upon the mirror above the bathroom sink, but it comes off easily enough with a damp sponge, which is precisely why one is kept in this tray here. You may want to replace it every once in a while, like a toothbrush, and for similar reasons of hygiene. I recommend something that rinses well; the blood is much more stain-prone than you’d imagine.

The bathtub is both deep and wide, but I caution you: filling it over the depth indicated by this scratch is dangerous. The farther over it the water rises, the deeper and wider the tub entire becomes, until drowning oneself becomes quite easy. Keep it below the marking, sir, and you’ll suffer naught but a pleasurable bathing experience of the highest quality.

Leaving the master bedroom, examine the guest’s room right here, which can be freely and easily altered to serve as a storage-room, permanent bedroom for a family member, or entertainment center or somesuch. The closet, however, should be kept closed tightly after dusk, and meat (cooked or otherwise) should never be brought into the room proper. The full-length mirror, also, is somewhat treacherous. Ignore anything you see in its depths – in fact, if you must use a mirror, use the one in the bathroom. All that this one will achieve is to unsettle you, which is quite bothersome.

Adjacent is the children’s room, with a bunk-bed so that, if you are possessed of multiple offspring that are marginally tolerant of one another, you may sleep them two-to-a-room, and catch any overflow in the guest’s room. However, you should caution them most carefully to never poke about under the bed (there’s far more space under there than there appears to be, and they could get lost or stuck), and if they leave any belongings lying about upon the floor, un-cleaned-up, they might be tossed about or missing come morning; though that appears to be more of a parental aid than anything.

Back into the upstairs hall, and we will be on our way to the attic through this door, good sir. The staircase is nigh-as-dark as that of the cellar, and much, much steeper – why, it’s almost a ladder! Again, as with the cellar’s door, if you should have children, I recommend keeping a lock on it.

Here is where it begins to be very different from the cellar: an electric light is available, sir, and without the rather gruesome history of the gas-light. Simply flick the switch at the top of the stairs, and light is yours, although a decent amount leaks through the twin porthole windows up here, as you can see, facing both west and east, so that at most times a goodly amount of daylight will be available. This place should be left empty once the sun goes down at all times.

The books in this chest, sir, are writ in a language unknown to any, but luckily enough a complicated treatise on the tongue itself is contained within a small, sturdily-bound traveler’s log set into a bracket upon the interior of the trunk’s lid. Many of the books are doubtless dangerous to read, but some could be wholesome enough. I wouldn’t know, for I haven’t attempted to decipher them myself. Nevertheless, better safe than sorry, eh?

Much of the remaining paraphernalia up here was taken from an old country estate, such as these stuffed animals, symbols of wolf, bear, moose, and more than had fallen to the landlord of the place. If you hear footsteps echoing about upon the eve of a full moon, sleep well, for the stairs are too steep for their clumsy feet of cotton balls and woodwork to navigate.

The telescope set up at the west window should not be peered through during rain or snow, lest lightning fall upon you in fury.

Well, that is the house, good sir. What do you think of it – ah, you’re sure you wish to buy of it? So soon? Whyso, if I may ask?

Ah, of course, sir, how wise of you (oh, here’s a pen). I’m gratified and ennobled by your trusting my knowledge and honor so deeply, and I find your logic indisputable. After all, why should you or any other buy a home whose faults you do not know?

“Guide to a Haunted House” copyright 2008 Jamie Proctor.

On Dinosaurs: Every Time You Say "Brontosaurus," a Baby Apatosaurus Dies.

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Much of my memories of dinosaurs are fuzzed with time. However, they’re still clear enough for me to inflict them upon you in the form of random trivia and griping, aided by the Wikimapedius. That’ll teach you to use the internet, you danged kids.

First of all, there is no Brontosaurus. Your parents lied to you, they brought down the presents after you were asleep and ate the milk and conifer leaves themselves. Time to grow up and move on.

NOT BRONTOSAURUS.

NOT BRONTOSAURUS.

What there WAS is Apatosaurus. Yes, “Deceptive Lizard” sounds much less cool as a scientific name than “Thunder Lizard,” but there you have it. Othniel Marsh screwed up and named the same genus of animal under two separate names, first Apatosaurus in 1877, then Brontosaurus in 1879. The only time on earth at which Brontosaurus existed was between the years of 1879-1903, when a man named Elmer Riggs politely pointed out that the skeletons were too similar for that shit to fly, and so they now are as one under the original genus: Apatosaurus

Secondly, dinosaurs were reptiles. Taxonomic classification of our “terrible lizards” is as follows: Kingdom Animalia (animals), Phylum Chordata (things with some kind of cartilege rod and nerves along their backs), Subphylum Vertebrata (things with backbones), Superclass Tetrapoda (they gots four legs, or limbs, or whatever), Class Reptilia Sauropsidia (our lovable scaly scallawags, the reptiles, and the birds), Subclass Diapsida (reptiles that gots two holes on either side of their skull), Infraclass Archosauromorpha (“ruling lizard forms,” containing, among still-living things, crocodiles). Superorder Dinosauria (and very super indeed, good sir). There will be an exam.

Now that we’ve established the reptilehood of dinosaurs, it’s time to state this: being a reptile does NOT equal being cold-blooded and covered in scales (in fact, since cold-blooded and warm-blooded are widely derided as inaccurate, half-formed concepts with many grey areas and fuzzy thinking, very little equals being cold-blooded). It goes something like this:

  • -Dinosaurs are a subgroup of reptiles.
  • -Some dinosaurs evolved into birds.
  • -Therefore birds are a subgrouping of dinosaurs, which also makes them a subgroup of reptiles.
  • -Therefore being a reptile does not mean you have to be scaly and ectothermic (dependant upon your environment for heat regulation, or “cold blooded”).
This duck has tried passing as non-reptillian.  It's only lying to itself.

This duck has tried passing as non-reptillian. It's only lying to itself.

At this point it should be mentioned that by now pretty much absolutely everybody accepts that birds are dinosaurs, taxonomically speaking. Once you’ve found fossilized feather imprints and/or evidence of quill knobs in more than twenty species of dinosaur, you shouldn’t really still be skeptical about any sort of possible relationship between the two groups.

As to the dinosaur’s own means of body heat, it’s one of the biggest debates in paleontology, and it’s still being argued about, although they’re widely regarded as endothermic nowadays (Endothermic: controlling their body heat from within, such as via retaining heat through sheer bulk or burning energy to produce your own, like mammals or birds). Nowadays a lot of the arguing is over exactly how they did it, because it isn’t science if you aren’t constantly trying to tear each other’s and your own theories apart. No, really, that’s how it works.

Thirdly, allow me to present you with the following incredibly simplistic dinosaur division guide.

-The Superorder Dinosauria (still totally super) is divided into the two Orders Ornithischia (bird-hipped) and Saurischia (lizard-hipped) based upon, well, the appearance of their hips.

  • The Saurischia contains the suborders Sauropodomorpha (sauropods and prosauropods, aka “the big dudes with really long tails and necks”) and Theropoda (therapods, aka “those two-legged, meat-eating guys with the sharp pointy teethings”).
  • The Ornithischia contains, well, almost everything else, pretty much all herbivores. The ceratopsians (horned guys), ornithopods (“duckbilled dinosaurs”), stegosaurs and ankylosaurs. Funnily enough, given the naming, birds came from the Saurischia, not the Ornithischia (too bad – winged Triceratops would be awesome).

There you have it, your incredibly simplistic dinosaur classification guide. Now, for my last trick of presenting old and stale information….

All together now: MARINE REPTILES AND PTEROSAURS! WERE! NOT! DINOSAURS!

NOT A DINOSAUR.

NOT A DINOSAUR.

ALSO NOT A DINOSAUR

ALSO NOT A DINOSAUR

Use the following rule-of-thumb flowchart if you grow confused with these simple, simple facts when confronted with a Mesozoic Era beastie. dinochart

Now I’m going to go regret that I will not see a human being devoured by a Tyrannosaurus in my lifetime.

Updated on June 29th, 2009 with some added taxonomy, because I am slow and stupid.

All original material copyright Jamie Proctor, 2009.

Picture Credits:

  • Brontosaurus: Public Domain image from Wikipedia.
  • Mandarin Duck: Public Domain image from Wikipedia.
  • Mosasaurus: Public Domain image from Wikipedia, defaced in Microsoft Paint.
  • Ramphorhynchus: Public Domain image from Wikipedia, defiled in Microsoft Paint.
  • Dinosaur Flowchart: Myself, once again in Paint.