Archive for May, 2011

Storytime: Eyes.

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Once upon a time, there was a lonely boy. His father was dead, his grandparents were dead, he had no brothers or sisters or aunts or uncles, and one day, his mother (who was a very powerful and much respected witch) died too.
Now, this boy was lonely, but he did not live alone. In his mother’s village, there were many who mourned for her, and who would have taken him in if he’d asked. But when he looked at the villagers, all he saw were the angry faces of the other little boys, the ones who made fun of him because they were jealous of his mother, who fought with him when the grown-ups weren’t looking.
So the lonely boy turned his back on his home, and he went travelling.
He walked to the far east, where he cut his way into the heart of a baobab tree and slept for three nights in it, drinking up its sap and its secrets in exchange for three headfulls of his dreams.
He walked to the far west, where he showed a hairy wild man how to shape blades to kill his kin, and learned the names and powers of every animal in the world.
He walked to the far north, where the world turned into sand and the air screamed insults that gnawed on his skin, and he learned the fiercest and most fiery curses in all the lands.
He walked to the far south, where the ocean slept in its bed, and after throwing three of his most favourite teeth into it he listened to all the whispers that came out of the oceans, and earned his new teeth from a shark.
He traveled, and he traded, and when he grew strong enough he simply took, seizing and grasping. He fought with a demon in the night in a wildfire and they each tore out the other’s eye – he put it in his socket and forced it to serve him. He stayed in a village and disrespected the chief, and when the people grew angry with him he ate their shadows and left them to wither away for years, ignoring their pleas. He forced spirits and ghosts to do as he pleased, and he hurt them when they begged to be let free.
By the time he came back to his home the lonely boy was an evil man, and a strong one, with arms that could uproot small trees and magic so strong that the air around him tasted like honey and iron. He walked into the center of town and he cursed the well dry, and he told them all that from that day on, they would do as he said.

Now. That was the end of that boy’s story – in a way, it wasn’t a boy’s story at all, not from the moment his mother died and he left home. But another one starts right here, right there.

This little boy had friends. Not many, but good enough. He had a family, a small one, but a pretty good one. Sure, his mama and his papa fought, but only with words and they never for keeps. He knew how people could be cruel, but also how they could be kind. Which was why it made him angry to see the magician as he hurt them; cursing anyone who dared to step across his shadow (which was three times as long as it should be) beating children who made fun of him behind his back (not that you could, with his stolen, blood-glowing eye watching all the time); and taking food and property from people without asking or bargaining, or drinking up their water in the middle of the driest time of the year. It made the little boy so mad that he mumbled words that his father used, and got smacked by his mother.
“Mind your tongue, little boy,” said his mother.
“She’s right,” said the little boy’s uncle, when he complained to him about it. They were outside the little boy’s house – uncle’s sister’s house – throwing small sharp wooden darts at a tree trunk, aiming for the knothole. Uncle was losing, as usual. “You’ve got to mind your tongue. You speak too fast and too free.”
“But it’s true,” said the little boy. “The magician really is an evil old” so and so.
The uncle bopped him, but lightly. “You listening? That sort of thing doesn’t help you any and it might hurt you. You really want to do something about this man?”
The little boy nodded so hard that his neck wobbled three ways.
The uncle gave him a thoughtful, feelful look. “That’s good. That’s right. You just need a plan then. You make the right plan, you can do anything. You got a plan?”
“I will kill him and throw him in the river,” said the little boy. Fwwt, his last dart sank into the knothole’s center.
The uncle sighed, and tossed aside his final dart carelessly. “That’s a goal. You want a plan. How you going to do this?”
The little boy thought. “I will fight him,” he said.
“Remember the last man that fought him? What happened to him?”
“Oh,” said the little boy.
“Look,” said the uncle, “he’s got magic, you’ll need magic. Here, I got a little bit left over from years back before, when his mother gave me a hand with something.” Uncle gave the little boy a smooth, shiny rock. It was a nice rock.
“This is a nice rock,” said the little boy, who could be polite when he tried.
“That it is,” said uncle. “Magic too. What you do with this is you take it in your hand – like so – and you hold it real tight – like so – and then you walk four times around your house thinking real hard – like so. Then you’ll have a plan. Got it?”
The little boy nodded, held the stone in his hand real tight, and walked around his house four times thinking real hard, then four times more, then four times more.
“I have a plan,” he told his uncle.
“That’s good,” said uncle. “What is it?”
“I will steal his eye,” said the little boy.

Now, the magician was standoffish by nature and necessity, and his home lay apart from the rest of the people, in the middle of a bare and burnt clearing. Four withered trees with four withered branches each were his guards, on each side of his home, and he slept with his demon eye open and awake, ready for intruders. Nobody ever went near that place.
“That’s a big job,” said uncle. “You got a plan for that too?”
“Yes,” said the little boy.
“That’s fine,” said the uncle. “You need help?”
The little boy thought it over. “Yes.”
“I’ll help then,” said the uncle.
“Thank you. The first thing we need, we need a dead cow.”
“Don’t think your papa would like us doing that.”
The little boy thought it over some more. “Then we need a dead antelope.”
So they went out there and got themselves a dead antelope. Uncle was a good hunter.
“The second thing we need,” said the little boy, “we need to lure out a lioness.”
So they went further out there and tied up the antelope and shooed off jackals and birds and all other pests, and then a lioness showed up.
“The third thing we need,” said the little boy, “we ask her for her lullaby.”
“This is some plan you’ve got here,” said uncle. “You sure it makes sense?”
“Yes,” said the little boy, so uncle nodded and asked the lioness, who was a bit surprised to see uncle pop up out of the grass like that. But they’d given her some food, so it was a fair trade, and she taught them all ten verses of her lullaby to her kittens, which was full of deep, throaty purring and blood and bones.
“Strong stuff,” said uncle. “I think I know what you’re up to. What’s next?”
“I don’t know,” said the little boy. “I can’t count past three yet.”
“Four’s next,” said uncle.
“Oh. Then fourth, we’re going to need a bone.” So they took one of the split leg bones of the antelope once the lioness had sucked out the marrow, and the little boy said they were ready.
“Now we just wait for sundown,” said the little boy. “And then I will go to the magician’s home alone.”
“You be careful, got it?” said uncle. “Your parents would skin me four times over if anything happened to you because of this.”
“I’ll be careful,” said the little boy. He walked all the way to the magician’s home, and by the time he got there it was pitch dark, too dark to see or do much but sleep. He took out that cracked, split marrow-bone and he squeezed and wiggled and snuck himself inside it – tight, but he managed. Then he started creeping up along the ground, inch inch inch, towards the magician’s door.
“Psst,” said the first, burnt tree. “Who’s that at my master’s door?”
“I’m just a bone,” said the little boy. “I’m doing no harm, I have no arms and legs to harm with.”
“That’s true,” said the first tree, “but if you want to come by, you’d better pay me a gift of some of your bonemeal. No free passage,” it said firmly, and scraped the dirt viciously with its four withered, charred branches.
The little boy didn’t have much choice, so he scratched and scraped away a bit of the bone with his knife until the tree was happy, then crept closer.
“Psst,” said the second, burnt tree. “What are you doing there?”
“Just a poor old bone, wanting to pass through, with no arms and legs to hurt anyone at all” said the little boy.
“I heard that,” said the tree, crossly. “But I want a gift too. If the others get bonemeal and I don’t, I’ll be smaller and weaker, and they’ll make fun of me.”
The little boy couldn’t refuse any of the trees, so he shaved and scraped and gnawed at the bone with his knife until there was almost no room for him to hide in it, and all four trees had been satisfied.
“Hang on,” said the fourth tree. “Did you say you have no arms and legs to harm with?”
“Yes,” said the little boy.
“Then what are those things peeping out from under your sides?”
The little boy rubbed his stone and imagined walking around his house four times.
“You’re seeing things,” he told the tree.
“I have no eyes,” it said.
“Then something must be really wrong,” he told it. “You should ask a doctor.”
“Oh no!” said the tree, and it was so busy wailing and mumbling to its friends while they cursed its noisiness that it didn’t notice the little boy sneak inside.
There, on his big bed that was as tall as the little boy standing, was the magician. He was sleeping cross-armed, legs straight, his one demon eye open and watching. Now and then he cursed in his sleep and the air in front of him burnt up and vanished.
The little boy crept up closer, right under his bed – he kept having to hold still and press himself into the cracks in the walls when the eye glared near him – and started to hum, then whistle, then sing the lioness’s lullaby. Bones and blood and sinew, crackling marrow, long dark nights and the smell of prey, all wrapped up in a big grumbling purr that tied a hug around your heart eight times over.
The demon eye blinked, yawned, and napped, lulled off to dreams of its hunting days, and then it started snoring. The little boy counted one, two, three, four snores, and then he leapt up, plucked it out, and ran out the door with his stone in one fist and the eye in another, too surprised for it to even yell. The trees were still arguing, and their four sets of four branches didn’t so much as pause from their slapping and punching at one another even as the little boy ran past right under their trunks.

“I have it, I have it!” called the little boy as he ran into his home, interrupting mama and papa from their talk with uncle about the sort of relative who let little boys run away in the night.
“Have what?” asked papa.
“The magician’s eyeball,” said the little boy. “Didn’t uncle say? Here, look.”
“No!” said uncle. “Don’t look! If it sees us, he sees us. Can’t let that thing take so much as a peek at anyone here.”
The eyeball was struggling pretty hard by now, so this was more difficult for the little boy than he thought it’d be at first.
“Here,” said mama, and she pulled out a big jug and they put the eye in there and shoved in a stopper, leaving it to curse and rattle and rail at them all it liked. None of it mattered; the eye couldn’t see them and they were safe.
“So, now what?” asked uncle.
“You don’t even have a plan?” asked mama.
“It’s not mine,” said uncle
The little boy took out his rock and walked around the house four times, then came back in.
“We need some salt,” he said.
They didn’t have much, but they had enough. A few handfuls. Papa opened the jar – pointed away from everyone’s faces, to be safe – and before the eye could start up its cursing again, the little boy asked it “how can we kill the magician?”
The eye said words that the little boy would’ve been thumped for. Mama dropped a pinch of salt into the jar.
“Aiieee!” said the eye.
“How can we kill the magician?” repeated the little boy. “You should know how, and you have no reason to help him.”
“I am his most faithful servant,” hissed the eye, with a voice like a snake caught between two sticks. “I am the only thing that lives that he very nearly trusts, and in return he does not harm me! There is not a single thing you can do that would hurt me as much as he could.”
Mama’s lips pursed a little at that, and she dropped in another bit of salt. The eye wailed like a lost hyena.
“Maybe we could put in ants next,” said the little boy.
“No!” shouted the eye.
“Or maybe a hungry spider,” said papa.
“Not that!”
Uncle scratched his beard. “Could try giving it to the dog, see what he makes it,” he said. “Been a good boy too, he deserves it.”
“Mercy!” begged the eye.
“Then tell us how to kill the magician,” said the little boy.
“You can’t,” said the eye.
“We could stab him with weapons,” said papa, “or hang him.”
“He knows the secrets of the plants and the stones and everything underroot,” the eye said. “They cannot harm him.”
“We could tie him up and leave him out on the plains at night,” said mama.
“He knows the names of every animal that lives there,” said the eye. “They will not harm him.”
“We could throw him in the river, like you said,” said uncle to the little boy.
“He has council of the oceans,” said the eye. “A little river shall not harm him.”
“What about fire?” said the little boy.
The eye thought. “Hah,” it said. “A good try, but that will fail too. At a single flick of his eye – his other, lesser eye – his shadow will wrap him up in its cold dark-bitten self. Not even the sun could scald him through that!”
For a moment there, no one knew what to say. So the little boy took his stone and walked around the house four times.
“Tell us how to stop the magician’s shadow,” he asked the eye.
“It is made from many, many, many shadows,” said the eye. “You must split it into pieces; how, I do not know. I have told you everything: now leave me be!”
“Right,” said uncle. He put the stopper back in the jar and gave it to the little boy. “Now what?”
The little boy took up his stone again, and started to walk around the house. One, two, three times, and then he had to hide behind a tree before he was finished, because the magician was walking up to the house, taller than papa and wider than uncle, single eye glaring and teeth showing in an angry snarl. His shadow was stretched out long, long, long behind him, and its hands were clenched into fists. The magician struck the house with the flat of his hand, and he yelled “Open up!”
The little boy heard nothing. Mama and papa were pretending they weren’t home.
“Come out now!” yelled the magician. “I know my eye was here – the thief’s tracks led this far. Come out now and bring me back my eye or I’ll eat all your shadows and curse your land into burnt crumbs! Open up!”
About then, uncle came back. He saw the magician up there in front of his sister’s house, and he knew what was going on.
“That’s my cousin’s cousin’s house,” said uncle. “What are you doing?”
The magician stomped over to uncle and glared down at him. “Your cousin’s cousin is a thief, and a scoundrel, and a leech, and I am going to sear him down to the spirit and then mangle it for my dinner. Where is he?”
“Gone hunting down by the river,” said uncle. “Been gone a week or more, the lazy man. A thief he is, and trouble for me and more than me. I’ll help you find where he is.”
“Good,” said the magician. “Show me where this lazy man is, and maybe I will let you live.”
So uncle walked off with the magician.
“He’s crazy,” said papa.
“Always,” said mama. “What are we going to do now?”
The little boy finished walking around the house once more, and even though his thoughts were a bit of a jumble, he made something up that seemed good to him.
“I know what to do,” he said. And he chased down the trail left by uncle, who had made a point of walking through mudpits and other damp places to leave good clear tracks.
The magician left no footprints, but here and there plants had been crushed and small things eaten by his shadow.

Down at the river – a good river, still flowing, even in the driest time of the year – uncle was leading the magician from fishing hole to fishing hole. “Not here. Not there. Not near, but where?”
The little boy watched and waited. He had a plan, and he hoped uncle did too. He hummed a bit of the lioness’s lullaby, as loud as he dared, and saw the magician look up and around with a start.
“Did you hear something?” he said.
“Just a lion,” uncle said casually. He looked very closely across the river and winked at the little boy, who was peering at him from between the rushes.
“I know every lion and lioness’s name,” said the magician. “And I do not know that lioness. Not properly. She sounds…muffled.”
“Maybe she’s sick,” said uncle. He was looking in the water, then back at the little boy, then waggling his eyebrows.
The little boy uncorked the jar with the eyeball in it and threw it into the water before it could scream. As it sank, fish swam to it, churning about the water.
“Look! See down there, in the water!” called uncle, pointing frantically at the swirl. “There, there, there! It’s my cousin’s cousin!”
“At the bottom of the stream?” asked the magician.
“One knows he’s a lazy, lazy man,” said uncle, raising an eyebrow across the river to no one in particular. “He only catches the fish that are two tired and old to bite bait, and just scoops them off the bottom of the pond three at a time. Laziness! Look, see here, you can see him in the water.”
The magician bent over to look into the pond, uncle yelled “FOUR!”, and the little boy threw his stone at the magician’s head. It bounced off with a clang, without so much as a dent, and vanished into the river, but it did what it had to do, which was put him off balance. The magician’s shadow lunged up into the air, peeling itself off the ground and ready to jump across the water, and then uncle shoved the wobbling magician off his feet and into the stream.

The eye had been right, of course. The waters parted around his lips and gave him breathing room, and he was swimming back to the surface with murder in his face quick as a blink. But his shadow could not swim, and it was dragged down after the magician and torn to pieces in the swift-shining currents, sending peels and dashes of smaller shadows everywhere that flittered away on the wind.
“RUN!” yelled uncle, and he and the little boy were off like shots, out into the dry long grasses by the time the magician had stepped onto the riverbank. But the magician was tall and strong and fast, and each of his steps was three of theirs, and he was driven on by mad hate now. There was no way they could outpace him.
“Hide,’ whispered the little boy, and they ducked into the grasses without a sound.
The magician came stomping up seconds later. His shadow was the size of a big man’s, and his one eye shone with nothing but sweat. He was tired and angry and he’d lost the trail of his prey, without his eye to watch and his shadows to lead, and he was furious.
Such a mood leads a man who was raised without attentive, admonishing relatives to words. Bad ones that made the air curl bright red and spark apart.
“Don’t say that,” said a voice to his right.
The magician whirled around and snarled at the bushes that had made the noise. They smoked.
“That either,” said something to his left. “Mind your tongue.”
The magician turned around again and yelled something that shredded apart half a grove of young acacias. A gazelle sprinted for cover.
“Don’t say that!” repeated the first voice, and a little wooden dart came zipping out of some grass that he was sure he’d cursed just a moment ago. It bounced off his head and made him wince. He screeched at the grass and it collapsed into hissing ashes.
“Carelessness!” said the second voice. “That isn’t helping and it might hurt someone!” Another dart, this one poking him in his good eye, setting him blinking and making his vision run watery. He yelled something really nasty at whatever he could see, and a shower of embers fell apart where stalks had sprouted.
“Stop it!” said the first voice, and it launched a dart right up the magician’s nose.
He swore and he stamped and he screamed and he bellowed and he let out a curse that caught the air on fire, fwoosh, and up went half the plains around him in flame. All around him, at the driest time of the year.
The magician ran, but you can’t outrun the wind. The magician roared, but you can’t outroar a fire. And the magician, and all his secrets, and all his bargains and threats and power all went up in a great sour cloud of smoke that hung low and sullen over the plains for four days before the rains came and washed it away.
Uncle and the little boy were all right. They’d run back to the stream, where they’d hidden beneath the surface as the smoke ran wild. And when they’d been nearly too weak to swim, who had held their heads above the water but the little shadows – their trips back home to their bodies delayed by the blaze, and thankful for deliverance? Mama and papa came down to the stream when the fire passed by, and dragged them home the rest of the way, where they forced them to eat until they left to go play darts again.
“That was a pretty good plan,” said uncle to the little boy.
“I thought it was yours,” he said.
Uncle shrugged. “Makes no difference. Want me to find you another rock?”
“No thank you,” said the little boy. “I don’t think I need it.”
“Good for you,” said uncle. “Now, beat that,” he said, and he threw a dart straight into the knothole.
The little boy said something and something else, and uncle smacked him on the ear.


“Eyes,” copyright Jamie Proctor, 2011.

Storytime: Birds.

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

It began when a crow grew tired, and had a rest on a very strange stone building. It was full of the bustle and hum of voices, and seemed very old and tired-worn among its big steel nestmates. Now and again silence flourished, broken only by the quaver of one human speaking.
“Strange,” said the crow to herself. “What’s all this then?”
“It is a church,” said a deep-voiced alleycat beneath her, uninvited (which, of course, to cats is as good as any invitation).
“Oh? And what are they doing?” she asked.
“Praying,” said the cat with perfect disdain. “That’s what a church is for. You don’t know anything.”
“Oh I do so know, I do!” said the crow, annoyance filling her from beak to tail. “And what does this praying do?”
“They pray to god,” said the cat, “to give them mercy. And favours. And that sort of thing.” He yawned, flashing her every one of his teeth in what she thought was a needlessly showy manner. “I don’t see much point in it.”
“Well, I’ll bet you wouldn’t,” she said. “Gales, it’s not like you’ve ever needed or wanted help, not even when you got your tail broken, or your ear chewed off, or starved yourself half-thin like you are right now. Not at all.”
The cat looked unconcerned, but his ears twitched. “Insults won’t help your ignorance. Besides, that sort of thing’s for humans, not nosy little featherbags.”
“Oh how would you know,” she said. “And I’m sure you’re right disdainful of ignorance, being nothing but an overbearing old furball who’s never had the curiosity to get past bone idle stupidity. Fie on you and your kittens too! Your mother was an alley rat, your father was a mongrel mutt, and you were born in a cut-rate mouse-nest!”
The cat proceeded away nonchalantly, his tail giving him the lie with every vicious lash.
“Tramp!” she called after him, his pace quickening with each word. “Fleahouse! Dirty scallawag!” The last she’d heard a wrinkled old human use to cow a younger, and she fancied anything that lived that long must know what it was doing when it came to insults.
That should’ve been it. It could’ve been it. It might’ve been it. For any bird of smaller thoughts – one of the thousands of pigeons that littered the city – it would’ve been it.
But something had been touched there in the crow’s vain, too-big-for-its-own-good brain. A desire half-contrary, half-curious, and all-mad in its quiet little way.
“Just for humans,” she muttered and grumped. “Anything humans can do, a crow can do twice over or it doesn’t need to be done! What does an old rat-catcher know? Nothing!”
And with that she set out on her way to find a god for crows. And other birds too, of course, because admitting humans to be better than any relative of a crow’s (even….pigeons) was simply not to be borne.

There were complications to be overcome, of course.
“What is god?” said the big, scraped-up seagull the crow asked. “What is why do I care? I don’t. Pfaaark!” he spat, and went back to eating a bag of chips.
“What is god?” the sparrow chirped. It flittered to its fellows and exchanged some sharp words, then flapped back. “Nobody knows. Can’t be too important then.”
“What is god?” said a pigeon. It stared. “What is god?” it repeated.
The crow waited.

“Yes?” she said.
“What?” said the pigeon.
“Never mind.”

“What is god?” the dog said. She wagged her tail slow as she considered, idly chewing her way up the length of its leash towards the limp hand of its gently snoring, bench-bound owner. “What a strange question. Well, as far as she says” – a sideways shake of the head here indicated the comatose human – “it’s a really big, really perfect human. Lives somewhere called heaven, which is also perfect.” She chewed more intensely for a moment as she considered something. “Maybe it’s in the clouds? I’m not sure.”
“I think I would’ve heard about that by now,” said the crow firmly. “It’s all nothing and hot air, just like all the other human things. I bet they just made it up because they’re jealous of us, as usual.”
“Of course, of course,” said the dog carelessly. A finger, innocent and carefree in its slumber, brushed her lip, making her twitch.
“Besides, everybody knows you can’t make a nest in the clouds. You just fall right through them. Though I suppose they wouldn’t know, being so stubby-legged.”
The crow dipped her wings in thanks and fluttered away. Behind her, a small chomp and a sharp scream echoed in farewell.

“So,” she told herself. “God is a perfect thing. Well, obviously then it must be a bird. God is a bird, therefore god has a nest. God would have a splendidly big and perfect nest, where nothing would try to rob its eggs or eat it. Also, since humans think so highly of it, I’m sure they would help it somehow. Maybe it just tells them it’s a human. That’s what I’d do.”
That was what a crow would do, of course.
“So,” the crow went on, landing by a delicious pack of half-eaten potato chips and inspecting them vigorously, “god is in its nest, on the ground somewhere, with lots of humans looking after it, in a safe place. Outdoors. In the city.” She swallowed chip fragments (talking with your beak full, among corvids, is not considered rude). “That can’t be too hard to find.”
It wasn’t.

“That sounds like a zoo,” opined the grizzled little starling she’d cornered in a tree. “You’re sure you’re not gonna eat me?”
“Positive,” said the crow. “What’s a zoo?”
“A sort of human place where they have all sorts of animals in little nests they can’t leave and bring them food. Then they look at them. Don’t ask me why. Listen, I’m mostly feathers and bones this year, I’ve had bad luck scavenging.”
“Hmm,” said the crow, who wasn’t listening. “That sounds promising.”
“What? No, no, not at all. I’m gamey too. Had too many lean years when I was nearing maturity, warped up all my tender young flesh. Not that any of my mates ever understood that, oh no no, why they’re always on and on about how I’m-”
“Where can I find a zoo?”
“Uh, there’s a big one over on the east side of town. Just look for it near the park. Not that I ever spent much time in there, not with all of the big pushy shots taking up space like they were eight-pounds each and-”
“Thank you,” said the crow, and took off. The starling felt a mixture of relief and disappointment.

The zoo was easy to find, but god was trickier. There were a lot more animals there than the crow had guessed there’d be, and fewer birds.
“Well,” said the crow to herself, “if god were easy to find, I suppose it wouldn’t be very special.” But she was getting awfully tired of looking. Half a day gone already, and most of it on the fuel of one half-eaten bag of chips. A brightly coloured and only partially nibbled strawberry caught her eye with avid glee, and she swooped down to take it in all haste.
An extremely large tuft of hairy feathers stirred next to her, and a head poked out that was nearly half the size of her body.
“That’s mine,” said god.

God, according to the limited ability of the crow to read the sign outside heaven, was named “Cassowary.” She seemed ambivalent towards both names, and friendly enough once the crow apologized for the strawberry. Or at least, not hostile. Well, she didn’t mind the crow staring, even if it was a little impolite. But how could she not?
God stood taller than a human, and walked instead of flew. God’s feathers were long and slim and almost like hair. God’s head was bright blue and her neck was bright red and she had a strange crest on her head and oh my goodness and breezes she had such large claws on her feet. The crow realized she was staring again, and felt ashamed. Which is not a thing that crows do.
“So,” said the crow. “What’s it like?”
God looked at her.
“Being god, that is,” the crow clarified. “I mean, since you’re perfect.”
God considered this.
“Dull,” she said. “Sometimes cramped. Too many watchers. Too few trees.” Her voice was deep, very deep, so deep that the crow could barely hear her. It made her feathers hum, and her own caws sound tinny and chick-like to her ears.
The crow looked around heaven. There seemed to be a good number of trees to her, but she supposed that if god wanted privacy, there wasn’t much to be had.
“They could certainly do with a bit more respect,” she said censoriously, watching a chubby human chick burble and babble over the edge of the railing. “Honestly, if they’re going to smack up a big silly stone building because of you, you’d think they’d be willing to at least make sure to give you some space. And maybe someone to share it with.”
“The other one? He died. Choked on garbage.”
“Oh dear. Well, I’m sure he was very nice, whoever he was. What kind of mate do they give to a god anyways?”
God poked at her feathers. “Like me. Smaller.”
The crow hopped a little in surprise. “He was a god too?” Then the second thought hit her: “gods can die?”
God shrugged.
“Well,” said the crow. “Well. Well then.” The word “blasphemous” was new to her vocabulary, but she already had an inkling that saying some of the thoughts going through her head – such as how being able to die didn’t seem very perfect at all – would somehow be very rude. Which was strange, for a crow.
“What happens when you die?” she asked, shifting the conversation to a safer and less offensive topic.
God tilted her head to one side and examined the crow thoughtfully. She suddenly felt much smaller. “If,” she corrected herself, a little too quickly. “If you die, what happens? I mean, I heard that god gives birds mercy, whatever that is. And favours, which are nice. You can’t do that if you’re dead, can you?” Maybe that was what the being perfect solved.
“Can’t give anyone anything here,” said god, pointing idly at the fencing that blocked the small, leering crowd at a distance.
The crow gave the humans an unfriendlier-than-usual glare. “Can’t you just command them to let you out? You’re god, humans listen to god, it seems sensibly straightforward.”
“No,” said god.
“Well,” said the crow, feeling more than a little let down, “heaven seems less perfect than I’d heard about. They won’t listen to you, they let your mate die after letting garbage get in (and they can’t have given you a very good mate if he choked on garbage, honestly, who makes that mistake who’s made it out of their nest), and they won’t give you enough space to get away from all that peeping and peering. They stare worse than hawks.”
God nodded mildly.
“And,” said the crow, “to top it all off, they won’t let you do any favours. Or mercy, I guess. Maybe they know you’ll just give it all to proper birds, and they’re just jealous. I bet they are.”
“True,’ said god. “Get me out.”

The crow didn’t take much convincing in the first place, and only offered up the smallest of objections, that being “but it’s heaven. Where else could you go?”
“Not proper perfect,” said god, not unreasonably. “So can’t be heaven.”
This argument made a lot of sense, especially as to how a perfect bird could die. No matter how perfect you were, if you weren’t in a perfect place, too, you could still get in trouble.
“How nasty of them to trap you away in a nasty little imitation!” said the crow. “If there’s a way, I’ll get you out of here. Besides, I know a few birds who could use some favours. A few at least. Well, none as much as me.”
“Of course,” said god. “Little man feeds at eight. Watch keypad.”
The crow waited and watched. In a suitably reverent manner, of course. God generously gave her the gift of a single strawberry, half-nibbled. The crow passed the remainder of the day humming crude approximations of some of the verses she’d heard in the church.
The human that came in with the food – he left it at a respectful distance – didn’t seem very little to the crow, especially around his belly. Nevertheless, her eyes were keen and his fumbling at the lock was slow, and the combination was securely tucked away in her mind soon enough: 8-6-3-5. He left one of his gloves tucked under the dish, she noticed with disdain. Honestly, wasn’t it enough for them to kill one god with garbage?
“Good,” said god. “Put it in.”
The crow put it in, god nudged the gate wide, and that would’ve been it if the human hadn’t just chosen that moment to remember his glove.
They stood there for a moment, god-to-ape, eye-above-eye (god was taller than him by maybe a foot, the crow judged).
Then god stuck out one foot with gentle force and shoved the human head over heels, then legged it.

She really could go at a tremendous clip, the crow marvelled. By the time she thought to follow, god had ducked away through the park and out of sight – and at night, too, with scarcely a friendly eye around to tell the crow when and where she’d gone.
“You’re crazy,” said the seagull.
“Not a sign,” said the sparrow, after a quick chat.
“What?” said the pigeon.
“Might have been, might have been,” said the starling. “I thought I heard something last night, but that could’ve just been my hearing playing up on me, what with the problems I’ve been having since my last mate pecked me in the head until I started bleeding everywhere. Now, that was a –”

When at last every trail had been proven cold as a corbie’s heart, the crow took her dashed hopes back to the church’s eves, where she’d found a nice sort of nook of miscellaneous twigs that she suspected had been a forgetful pigeon’s attempt at nestbuilding. It saved effort.
“Come crawling back with more questions?” asked a sardonic voice, and she knew the cat was beneath her again.
“Not at all,” she said, turning up her beak in disdain. His voice didn’t even sound particularly deep to her anymore.
“Oh really?” he said. “I don’t hear any more insults. You’re awfully thin on your bragging, little mouthful. What’s wrong, did your bird-god fly away?”
“She ran,” said the crow, with perfect dignity. “I let her out, and she ran. And soon she’ll be back in heaven any day now, and the very first favour I’m asking for is for you to lose all your fur to mange and fleas. So there.”
The cat chuckled, but his tail twitched alarmingly as he walked away. That was good enough for the crow, who was too busy consoling herself to trouble much over whatever he was up to.
“Of course she’ll get back eventually,” she said. “It’ll just take a little bit of time. Heaven’s a long way away or everybody would know where it was, and she does have to walk all the way – not that walking makes her less perfect, of course. Of course it’ll take a while. Of course”
She listened to the singing in the building underfoot, and began to hum along to the fancier, more interesting tunes.
“Well,” she said, after a minute, “maybe she could just spare a few little favours on the way. One at least. Surely.”
So she cawed along to improve some of the songs, and she prayed a bit. Because anything a human could do, a crow could do twice over.


“Birds,” copyright Jamie Proctor, 2011.

On the History of the Earth, Specifically, the Bits With Annoying Things That Make More of Themselves For No Reason.

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Goodness gracious me, it has been a while since we’ve had one of these, hasn’t it?  But with the second week in a row of total creative bankruptcy and general hopelessness upon me, it’s time I shared something else.
Let’s talk about our planet.  It’s something like 4.54ish billion years old, and for an awful lot of its that it’s been very poorly-suited to life, what with oceans saturated with iron, often no oceans at all, an atmosphere that at one point was more methane than anything, and the distinct possibility of having turned into a single gigantic snowball on more than one occasion.  It’s a little surprising that anything living would feel like taking a stab at reproduction on it; that’s the sort of optimism that our political system has carefully leached out of us.
But, as our history has shown, people need names to recognize things or they get all panicked and flopsweaty.  So we’ve slapped various Greekish terms all over Earth’s various and irregular birthdays, comings-of-ages, and red-letter-days.  If you sort our divisions of geological time from longest to shortest, we’ve got Eons, Eras, Periods, and then Epochs and Ages which no one really cares about.  You don’t need to know epochs unless you’re into prehistoric mammals, and honestly, when you’ve got dinosaurs right there, why the hell would you do that thing?  I wouldn’t.
So.  We’re going to look at our planet’s history from beginning to end, with most emphasis on the bits where there’s slimy things with slimy legs crawling around furtively trying to mate with whatever holds still long enough.

The Hadean Eon
Named after the least cheerful and fun-loving afterlife in Greek mythology (such cheery terminology is also used in the naming of the hadopelagic zone, the deepest trenches of an ocean), the Hadean covers Earth’s history from its beginning to a little sooner than four billion years ago.  There’s not much to say about it with regards to life because there wasn’t any; the planet was a bit of a hell-hole at the moment and although it begrudgingly managed to acquire a liquid ocean made from actual 100% water and an atmosphere of something like water vapour, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen, its heart really wasn’t in it.  It idled.  Rocks from this period are a bit of a bugger to find, and plate tectonics may or may not have been active something like four billion years ago.

The Archaen Eon
Archean, as in archaic, as in, “old, doddering, decrepit,” and stretching from a wheezy 3.8ish billion years ago (the abbreviation is “GA” if you must know, a shortform of giga-year) to a creaky 2.5 GA.  This was around when life started turning up, somewhere in this mess – single-celled prokaryotic life (prokaryotic cells have no nucleus, leaving their DNA swinging about all willy-nilly within the cell).  Apparently some amino acids formed up (not an unlikely thing at all to happen supposedly, given time and materials at hand), proteins popped up thanks to their meddling (not a likely thing at all to happen, given that amino acids need direction to make things and “just winging it” is unlikely to form a functional, properly socialized protein), and from then on it was a slide from protein-assembled RNA into DNA.  Exactly how this happened is impossibly weird, over-debated, and half-known.  Anyways, we’ve got fossils of stromatolites (big mats of photosynthesizing cyanobacteria) dating back about 3.5 GA, so there was definitely something in the water.  Among other things, actually, the oceans were still saturated with iron, which was a bit of a pain in the ass – but that was all fixed in the

Proterozoic Eon.
“Early life.”  Technically speaking, that would make the Archaen “earlier life” or maybe “earliest life,” but nits didn’t exist yet so there was small reason to pick at them.  The Proterozoic stretched from 2.5 billion years ago to 542 million years ago, and it was around this time that the planet decided to try some harder life and came up with Eukaryotes, cells with nuclei to hold all their sweet, tender, DNA-giblets inside.  We know for certain they were around by 1.4 GA, and they could’ve been first popping up as much as 2.7 GA, just before the end of the Archaen.  Regardless of when they arrived, they needed something special and luscious to fuel their greedy little internal hordes of organelles (sort of the cellular version of organs – it’s believed that organelles had their origins in eukaryotes [which are rather large by cell standards] hoovering up prokaryotes and then decided to exist in peaceful symbiosis rather than absorbing them), and that something was oxygen.

If you can breath, thank your mother. If you're breathing in oxygen of your own free will, THANK A STROMATOLITE.

This had to wait for a little while despite the best efforts of the cyanobacteria: all that oxygen the new photosynthesizers were pumping out was going straight into the water and binding up with the iron, formed lovely alternating bands of rusted-red iron and black oxygen-poor iron in sediments all over the place by about 2.2 GA.  Banded iron holds a hellacious amount of oxygen locked up inside it even today, and it was only once the oceans were nicely oxidized up that the atmosphere got its turn, becoming somewhat less stifling and more oxygenated about 2 GA.  From then on, there was nowhere to go but up, and at some point or another, Eukaryotic life made a very silly move: it went multicellular.  When you consider on the whole how much more numerous and successful most single-celled organisms are compared to us, it makes you wonder why it bothered, but then again, life itself is a case of needless complexity, and you can’t fault it for being consistent with its roots.
One specific period within the Proterozoic is quite noteworthy as far as life goes: the Ediacaran, the very last period of the very last era (the Neoproterozoic) of the Proterozoic proper.  It lasted from about 635 mya to the 542 mya dawn of the Phanerozoic era, and it’s got a smattering of mysterious and soft-bodied fossils, of which practically the only ones that look anything like any life we know from anywhere else are jellyfish.  The rest are strange by many standards, including most or all of ours.  It’s pretty possible that this was an early attempt at life taking off at a sprint, one that was forestalled by one of those random disasters that wipes out almost everything that we’ve had an alarming number of times.  But fear not!  If there’s one thing life can be marked by, it’s its refusal to learn pessimism. 


The Phanerozoic Eon
“Visible life” has been a work in progress from 542 mya to that ever-shifting little non-moment called “now.”  As to its naming, if you can’t see a stromatolite with the naked eye, there’s something wrong with you.  But this is the era where suddenly there was all kinds of stuff out there you could see without a microscope, and because of that, it’s time we got a little more detailed.  Eras and periods will be all over the place here, and let’s begin by noting what is specifically NOT an era or period: the Precambrian.  It’s a sort of blanket term that can be applied to everything before the Cambrian Period at the dawn of the Phanerozoic, the sort of geological equivalent to “B.C.”  What noteworthy event could inspire such broad terminology?  Let’s take a quick, misinformed peek.

The Paleozoic era
“Old life” opens up the Phanerozoic, and it does so with a bang.

The Cambrian Period
The Cambrian (RIP 542-488 mya, beloved by its children, named for the Latin term for Wales) is famous for the Cambrian explosion, as is only natural.  Said explosion, to put it simply, was what happened when an awful lot of organisms decided (apparently overnight) that what they really, really, really needed was a shell.  A phosphate shell, a silica shell, a carbonate shell, whatever.  They wanted shells like we want a viable sustainable source of energy that will allow us all to continue to live in lives of gross excess, and suddenly the fossil record went ballistic.  Soft-bodied organisms are much more difficult to preserve traces of than anything with a hard structure – look at sharks, their cartilaginous bones mean that most of the time the best we have to record them with is teeth – and the effect is a sort of explosion of life suddenly blossoming out of what seems to be nowhere.
If you want to see traces of the less-known, softer residents of the Cambrian, the Burgess Shale of BC, Canada, has a lovely record where some sort of extremely gentle landslide smothered an entire community (with love!) and preserved all its inhabitants with the perfection of a photo.  Some of them are very, very, very, very, very weird.
By the way, trilobites turned up around this time.  They were arthopods (insects, arachnids, crustaceans et al), diverse (17,000 species known, of various habits and inclinations), adorable if you found that sort of thing adorable, and remarkably long-lived, being the most ubiquitous and mascot-worthy inhabitants of the Paleozoic.

Size matters not. Judge, rather, by splendour of carapace.

On land, not much was happening.  Algae had cropped up on there about 600 mya, but nothing else was really going on.  The Cambrian explosion was a marine club only.

The Ordovician Period
Named for a tribe of long-deceased Celtic yokels known as the Ordovics, the Ordovician lasted from 488-444 mya, and saw a few Cambrian developments thicken plottingly.  The cephalopods began an intricate little burst of radiation and ascendance, jawless fish that had first crept onto the scene millions of years before began to experiment with making interesting shapes with their gill arches that could just barely be called “jaws.”  The top predators were probably Nautiloids; shelled cephalopods.

The Silurian Period

Fishes jawed and jawless, class of '428 mya.

Also named for welsh-based Celts, the Silures, the Silurian lasted from 444-416 mya, and was when several developments take off all at once.  Jawed fish were proliferating, milipedes and scorpions made the trek onto land, and up there, waiting for them somewhat anxiously, were the first vascular plants – plants with structural support and internal vessels that slop around the various bits and pieces of nutrition and water they need.  The first plants were seedless mosses and ferns, which did and still need moist places for their spores to mingle in water.  Plant life wasn’t ruling the world yet, but it was spreading.  Incidentally, why scorpions felt the need to leave the seas was a tad unknown, seeing as some of them were nine feet long and ruled the oceans with iron fists, claws, and mandibles.
Some of the earlier possibly-sharks show up right in the Silurian, and they definitely existed by 409 mya, right in

The Devonian Period
which lasted from 416-359 mya and broke the trend of naming periods after cultural subgroups that didn’t much care about geology except insofar as it pertained to woad, being instead named for an English county.  Many things came to a head: fish rose up and took the oceans by storm with thirty-foot monsters like Dunkleosteus, which eschewed teeth in favour of gigantic, bony plates that it used as shears to bite directly through sharks and such (which, despite being the focus of such attention, were now pretty common).  Stuff like this is why this is slanged as “the age of fishes.”

Teeth are for fish who take more than one bite per prey. You know. Sissies.

Possibly more strongly motivated to get the hell out of the ocean by now, some lobe-finned fishes decided to try their luck on land, and before the Devonian was over we had amphibians, the first tetrapods (four-limbed vertebrates).  They still had to lay eggs in water, and stay moist, but they were up there and walking around, making life merry hell for the invertebrates that had gotten there first.  Still, there was more livable land-space than ever before by the Devonian’s close; some clever plants (gymnosperms to their friends and acquaintances, if you please) had come up with the concept of sexual reproduction via seeds, creating little self-fueled packages that precluded the need for water.  With these tools, plant life began to spread more quickly yet, and farther from water than before.

The Carboniferous Period
If you’re American, you could divide this period’s 359-318 mya body into the two chunks of Mississipian and Pensylvanian.  If you’re anyone else you couldn’t care less and don’t really mind the period’s name, which, for once, isn’t even British-centric – “coal-bearing” is a pretty amiable and un-nationalistic title.
The Carboniferous saw plants really, really, really make it big.  The seedless mosses and ferns had their last, greatest heyday, and swamps were everywhere.  When plant matter drops into a swamp, it doesn’t rot – there’s too little oxygen in the water for most bacteria to break it up.  Instead, it turns into peat.  Leave peat for a few million whenevers, it turns to coal.  LOTS of coal in the Carboniferous’s case.
With all those plants, oxygen levels hit what’s widely regarded as our personal planetary record.  With that incentive, arthopods on land hit their own as well – since they absorb oxygen straight from the air, with no lungs, bug size is entirely restricted by how much oxygen they can sop up.  We had two-and-a-half meter millipedes and dragonflies with wingspans of 75 centimeters waltzing around, and feasting on them were a cornucopia of amphibians, the most in history, along with strange little newfangled things called “reptiles.”  They’d never catch on.

Does a world with Eryops in it need any fancy reptilian "crocodiles"? It thinks not.

The Permian Period

By now (where “now” is 299-251 mya, and named cosmopolitanly enough after Russia’s Perm Krai) all the continents were in the midst of being crudely kludged together into one big lump: Pangaea, which would be complete before the period’s end.  Inside it, stuffing its mass like jelly in a donut, were a gross quantity of deserts.  Still, plant life forged onwards, and the first real trees popped up – conifers, gingkos, and cycads, mostly.
Reptiles, by now, had obviously caught on and were strutting about as if they owned the place.  It turns out that once you cover your skin in scales, and your eggs in shells, you don’t really need water that badly anymore.  And once you’re free from water, well, on a continent-of-continents with enough inland space to lose Russia like a set of car keys, there were a lot of opportunities for an ambitious little reptile.
Mammal-like reptiles, or “therapsids” popped up around here too.  Their most iconic if not notable member would be Dimetrodon, which is famously not a dinosaur at all.

This is not and has never been a dinosaur. It's a therapsid. Get that straight, damnit.

The Permian ended, and so did the Paleozoic, the old life.  But it didn’t end quietly.  The era had begun with an explosion, and it closed on a somewhat different one: the largest mass extinction event of all time on Earth.
On land, 70% of all land species died.  In the seas, the mortality rate was 90-95%.  And that’s just species killed entirely; you don’t need that many individuals left alive to pull a species through an extinction event.  It’s very possible that 99% of all living things died, all from who knows what.  For all its impossible scale, the Permian extinction is too old and fragmented for many details to be pulled out, and no theories are solid enough to be confirmed.  All you need to know, if you need one fact to judge its severity, is this: it is the only extinction event to include mass extinction of insects.  That’s right; whatever this thing was, it was so harsh that the damned cockroaches had to live hand to mouth to pull through, and plenty of their relatives didn’t.
The casualties are innumerable, but the most prominent of all the deceased were that persistent, ever-scuttling emblematic class of the Paleozoic: the trilobites.  After a little over two hundred and seventy million years, they had finally taken too much punishment, and the very last of them laid down their shells for the final time as the Mesozoic dawned.

The Mesozoic Era
“Middle life.”  Also, you know, where you go when you want to find dinosaurs.  Which most sensible people should.

The Triassic Period
At a nice even 250-200 mya duration, and a sensible, straightforward name originating from the triple layers identifying its formations in Germany, the Triassic was a neat, orderly fresh start after the near-brush with death that the entire planet had suffered at the Permian extinction.  Life caught its breath, and then moved on, callously dumping many of the amphibians left over from the Permian as it went.  Reptiles and therapsids took over (the former produced the world’s first flying vertebrates around this point: the fabulous pterosaurs, as well as the dolphin-esque icthyosaurs), and the therapsids pretty much enjoyed themselves at will until the mid-Triassic, where some strange little upstarts began to make themselves prominent.

Eoraptor, the "dawn hunter," and among the earliest known dinosaurs. The massive success of its descendants is attributed to early-bird hunting habits while therapsids slept in past noon.

They were called dinosaurs, and by the late Triassic they’d elbowed the therapsids out of dominance and into obscurity, where they and some very odd fuzzy milk-producing little things descended from them would remain until the Mesozoic’s end.

The Jurassic Period
Dinosaurs in the Triassic capped out in size at about the 30 feet of Plateosaurus, a prosauropod.  Impressive, massive by today’s standards.  They were just getting started.
The Jurassic (200-145 mya, and named after the Swiss Jura mountains, please and thank you) saw the rise of the sauropods (“lizard feet”), which had popped up either alongside or soon after the prosauropods, depending on whom you asked.  They’re long-necked, long-tailed, and easily far and away the largest animals to ever walk on the planet’s surface – some of the more obscure and shadowy finds of the 20th century, based on singular, scary-huge bones, hint that their largest examples might have given blue whales more than a mere run for their money.  As far as pure impossibility of body structure goes, few animals can match them; they’re built like living suspension bridges, and the specifics of the engineering required to run their circulatory systems, heat their bodies without boiling them, and move them around without crushing themselves are maybe just a little bit more than unbelievable.

While I'm admonishing people, as of 2009 Brachiosaurus as you most likely know it is technically "Giraffatitan." You see, the most complete specimen, the one they based all the artwork off, was in Africa, and it turns out it was a separate genus instead of a subspecies of Brachiosaurus, and hey pay attention hey.

As the sauropods grew, so did other dinosaurs.  Stegosaurs arrived, plate-spined and spike-tailed, and all were hunted by larger and larger yet carnivorous therapods (“beast feet”), the most famous of which is probably Allosaurus, which may or may not have hunted in packs and may or may not have been ballsy enough to take on smaller sauropods in said packs (recent interesting speculation has been clustered around its bite habits: it shows a surprisingly weak bite for its size, but similar neck and jaw adaptations to sabre-tooth cats, which has led to the idea that perhaps it used its mouth somewhat like a hatchet, slashing and hacking to wear down big prey).
While all this exciting stuff was going on, a few smaller therapods had quietly taken to growing feathers – or at least growing more feathers; feathers themselves were distributed somewhat scatteredly around the therapod family tree, as insulation and decoration presumably – and jumping off things, then fluttering about.  Archeopteryx (“ancient wing”) is the oldest known bird; toothed and tailed, with three sharp claws on its arms, it has come near to being mistaken for small dinosaurs several times.  Well, that sentence is a bit misleading.  Birds are small dinosaurs.
The dinosaurs weren’t the only creatures up to shenanigans.  Salamanders evolved – quietly, like most things salamanders do – and the pleisiosaur family, which had first poked its extremely long necks out into the world in the Late Triassic, sidled into the spotlights.  For easy pleisiosaur identification, if it has a long neck, it’s a pleisiosaur, if short and powerful-jawed, a pliosaur.  Except recent rejiggering of the pleisiosaur family trees has dumped short-and-long-necked individuals in both groups, making separating them somewhat complicated.  Between the pleisiosaurs, pliosaurs, and still-present icthyosaurs, marine reptiles were the word on the seas of the Jurassic.  In the skies, pterosaurs held court, dominant and as of yet in blissful ignorance of the dinosaur’s casual preparation to horn in on their turf.

The Cretaceous Period
Pangaea had been splitting apart ever since the Triassic had seen it formed to its full extent, but it was pretty much fully divided by now (“now” being the period of 145-65 mya, and named for its lovely chalk), with groups of dinosaurs left in strange corners of the world to evolve like mad to their own desires.  Sauropods still were in firm presence, though many of the older diplodocids and brachiosaurids had faded away in favour of titanosaurs like Argentinosaurus, which were every bit as enthusiastically large as their predecessors.  The tyrannosaurs produced their largest member, the ceratopsians brushed the world liberally with horns, frills, and spikes, and the duckish-billed hadrosaurs spread like wildfire.

Now look, I know this isn't THE Tyrannosaurus, but Gorgosaurus was a perfectly respectable TyrannosaurID, and there's no call for you to make that face.

At sea, the icthyosaurs finally left the oceans, and in the Late Cretaceous the mosasaurs sprung up; most closely related to snakes or monitor lizards depending on who you asked.  Whichever it was, they were more than eager to take the spot as apex predators, and did so with gusto.  The skies saw their own regimes shaken: the birds spread and multiplied, the dinosaurs carving out their section of the air at the expense of the (somewhat annoyed) pterosaurs.
Everything was looking very pretty indeed when a very large meteorite slammed directly into the Yucatan peninsula, kicking up debris that clouded the sun for years, incinerating everything within hundreds of miles in a wave of heat and force, and generally ruining things.  Among the casualties were the marine reptiles, the pterosaurs, the beautiful, coil-shelled ammonites so emblematic of the Mesozoic (leaving only the lonely nautilus as their surviving relative) and each and every last non-avian dinosaur.  They’d lasted for 160 million years, substantially less than the trilobites, but with every bit as much breathtaking splendor.  They’d taken the land, they’d started in on the skies, and if we’d given them a few more million years to play with I at least am damn well sure they’d have taken the oceans, lakes, and the whole bloody solar system.

Farewell, sweet saurians. May flights of Archaeopteryx screech you to your rest.

This disastrous, massive extinction event was what finally gave our tiny, furry ancestors the kick in the tail they needed to poke their heads out of their burrows and consider doing something other than hiding for another two hundred million years.

The Cenozoic Era
Here comes the “new life,” same as the old life.  But much smaller.  And usually furrier.  And always, always, always milkier.

The Paleogene Period
Covering 65-25 mya, this covers the bulk of the foundation of mammals upon earth.  Whales cropped up around 50 mya, elephant ancestors somewhere similar.  The oldest known primate is somewhere around 58 million years old, although the order’s roots could be back in the Cretaceous.  The oldest, smallest ancestors of horses were skulking around forests somewhere.  Somewhere around 28 mya, C. Megalodon (possible relative to the great white shark, probably fifty feet in length, definite eater of whales) popped up and made the oceans a very frighting place up until a mere one and a half million years ago.

In all fairness, at this point they'd overestimated the length of the shark. By like, ten feet.


The Neogene Period
25-2.5 mya, the Neogene was steady.  If not much else.  Look, horses were starting to look like horses and North and South America bumped uglies so a lot of species migration happened, what more d’you want from me?  Alas, South America’s marsupials were the long-term losers of the Great American Interchange (so it’s called), and we lost the chance to have marsupial sabre-toothed “cats” in Ontario, more’s the pity.  Opossums made it, though.

You ever noticed that the most survival-prone species are the unpleasant, omnivorous, nasty ones that have utterly no dignity? No offense.

The Quaternary Period

The Quaternary (fourth) period covers everything from 2.5 mya to today, and specifically the area of time in which vaguely hominidish things began to wander around Africa and consider smacking things with rocks (among objects considered: trees, sticks, bones, dirt, other rocks, other hominids).  Most of the exciting and interesting megafauna died off within the last twenty thousand years – giant ground sloths that resembled tree sloths as much as chihuahuas do great danes; a rainbow of mammoths; glyptodon, which resembled a cross between an armadillo and an ankylosaur.  As far as life on earth goes, the last couple of thousand years have been pretty puny in scale.

As recently as 10,000 years ago, you could've helped this guy go extinct in South America.

It is the period of time within which we can recognize the precise moment where everything went very wrong.
And it’s all your fault.



Picture Credits:

  • Stromatolites: Public domain image from Wikipedia; Stromatolites, Zebra River Canyon Western Namibia, 12 December 2010, NimbusWeb.
  • Trilobite: Public domain image from Wikipedia; Olenoides erratus from the Mt. Stephen Trilobite Beds (Middle Cambrian) near Field, British Columbia, Canada.; Photograph taken by Mark A. Wilson (Department of Geology, The College of Wooster), 6 August 2009.
  • Silurian Fishes: Public domain image from Wikipedia; by Joseph Smit (1836-1929), from Nebula to Man, 1905 England.
  • Dunkleosteus Skull: Dunkleosteus skull on display at the Queensland Museum, Brisbane (Southbank), Australia, photo: Cas Liber; 21 August 2006.
  • Eryops Skeleton: Image from Wikipedia; Photo by Joshua Sherurcij, 2007.
  • Dimetrodon: Public domain image from Wikipedia; 1897, Charles R. Knight.
  • Eoraptor: Public domain image from Wikipedia; replica Eoraptor at Brussels Science Institute, submitted 2008, MWAK.
  • Giraffatitan: Public domain image from Wikipedia; by ДиБгд, 9 May 2007.
  • Gorgosaurus and Parasaurolophus: Public domain image from Wikipedia; by ДиБгд, 3 June 2007.
  • Impact Event: Public domain image from Wikipedia; Made by Fredrik. Cloud texture from public domain NASA image, 18 May 2004.
  • Megalodon Jaws: Public domain image from Wikipedia; Reconstruction by Bashford Dean in 1909.
  • Opossum: Public domain image from Wikipedia; Johnruble 21 December 2006.
  • Megatherium: Public domain image from Wikipedia; by ДиБгд, 22 July 2007.