Archive for June, 2012

Things That are Awesome: Episode IV.

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

I’m older.  To take my mind off that, have a list of some things that are awesome.

-Zombies that rise from the grave to take a nice stroll, chat to their grandchildren, and have a word in private with that bitch Else Maye about people who snore at your funeral.
-Magnificence in the arthropod phylum, provided it is kept at least five metres away from me and behind a double-layered Plexiglas wall at all times.
-More fangs than are strictly necessary.
-Soft, wispy-at-the-edges explosions that seem almost delicate and fragile in nature until you really make yourself think about what was just destroyed, leaving you depressed but somehow still happy.
-Publications written by, about, and for alligators. Which are protested against by crocodiles as racist screeds.
-Really stupendous hugeness.
-Armed whales. Using either definition of armed.
-Any pub fight that manages to cross at least two different international borders before it gets really interesting.
-Futuristic settings where humans are pretty much as dull and dense as they are in the present, but on an intergalactic scale.
-The CN Tower talking smack to the Empire State Building who bitches about it to the Eiffel Tower who gossips with the Pyramids who mentions it to the Burj Khalifa who calls up the Tokyo Skytree to chat about it who sends the CN Tower a nasty email about how it’s the FOURTH-tallest freestanding structure and nobody loves it anymore. So there.
-Depraved checkers.
-No, wait, depraved chess. More possibilities.
-Death-defying obstacles that are overcome with sufficient volumes of livestock.
-Reams of anything.
-A constellation of impossibly huge balls of burning hydrogen scattered at random across an infinite expanse of empty vacuum that looks sort of like human genitalia when you squint at it from the right spot on earth.
-An organized religion that considers holy books cheating and divinely endorses ‘winging it’ as a form of worship.
-The quiet wonder experienced at estimating how many hours-worth of pornography has been filmed since the first cinema was created.
-Roadrunners that try to run on roads to and become run over.
-Warbling walruses. Walri? Walroids.
-Monuments to failure constructed from writer’s blocks and mortared with elbow grease, surmounted by good intentions.
-Voracious kittens.
-Martial arts focused around buttering.
-Utility Mohawks.
-Using a cat’s pajamas to cover your debilitating and socially awkward bee’s knees.
-Any dream that becomes recursive at least twice. Anything past four times is trying a bit too hard, though.
-Newspapers heavy enough to crush a weta to death.
-A chuckawalla chucking wood with wood chucks in Walla Walla inside a chuck wagon.
-Keeping a stiff upper lip in times of peril due to terror-induced muscle paralysis.
-Long-lost ruins constructed from cardboard and Styrofoam.
-True Tales of the Terrapins, series I, volume III. Action-packed as hell, over four twigs and leaves eaten per page.
-5 gigabytes of pure unadulterated boredom straight to the forebrain and through the imagination’s heart.
-Undue viscosity in an officer of the peace.
-Ancestral cross-species feuds that date back as far as the excuse-me-I-believe-those-are-MY-amino-acids incident.
-Blue skies with big fat white clouds on ‘em and a huge yellow glowy thingy up in one corner.
-Incredibly tasty lethal toxins.
-The ability of five-year-olds to construct lego guillotines entirely unprompted for their own entertainment, as well as what this says about our species.
-Freaky things from too far underwater with eyeballs that are just wrong.
-Voluptuous terrain.
-Cross-continental wars between cross continents.
-Mountains that have been hollowed out and filled up with whacky bullshit.
-Gravel salads garnished with blue diamond dressing.
-Naturally occurring unnaturalness.
-Species that are hipster enough to do sexual trimorphism.
-Any civilization sophisticated enough not to have discovered other humans.
-One million cupcakes in the right place at the right time making exactly the right difference.
-Moustaches that reach full maturity, forcibly separate themselves from their hosts, and leave for home via the exosphere.
-Manuals for doomsday machines that come with helpful, multi-lingual instructions and very clear little diagrams so you won’t accidentally put half of the thing together backwards or fire it at your foot by mistake or something.
-Mistaking your left for your right twice in a row and fast enough that it works out okay.
-World leaders that pick their noses in front of the press and just don’t care. Bonus points if they flick the results at the cameras. Double word score if they scream their current tally each time they connect with the lens.
-A refreshing quantity of bees.
-Nose flute power ballads.
-Sentient geological formations.
-Rigorous, diligent, and well-planned faffing about.
-That one Viking that wore a horned hat on that one raid and completely ruined the image of his entire culture for a thousand years.
-Scientific hooligans clashing with bodybuilding nerds.
-The vibrant and unique sensation of waking up to find a big friendly spider sunbathing on your outstretched tongue.
-Metaphors that are as free to mix as they damned well please. Segregation went out of style decades ago after hanging around like a bad smelling guestfish after three days.
-Pink things, as long as there is sufficient enthusiasm involved. Lots of it.
-Barbs that are covered in other, smaller barbs.
-Cloning dinosaurs topsy-turvy.

Storytime: Thirftiness.

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

When Maurice Tallow was brought into this world, he was already so tight-fisted that the doctor had to lay off cutting the umbilical cord out of his pudgy little hands until he fell asleep.
Maurice Tallow saved the bodies of every single fly and ant he swatted, to be used as fertilizer for his garden.
Maurice Tallow had once hoped to be a hangman, for eagerness of getting the first crack at new (used) boots and golden teeth.
Now, the facts of these statements from Maurice’s neighbours might be in some kind of dispute, at least according to how literally you take that sort of thing. But as for the tales that were told… well, they gave a message, and one that had a pretty good, practical meaning to it with no room to argue. Nobody who knew Maurice was interested in arguing, more like commiserating.
He came into their lives one musty June evening, when the days were starting to get hot enough to make the nights stuffy and thick and the word came around that somebody had bought the old farmhouse up on the hill by Rockfoot Glade.
“Troublesome,” the man who sold him the land had warned him. “A troublesome place with a lot of short histories. Bad soil, maybe not, but something in the air there gets into your head. It’s not a healthy spot.”
“It’s cheap,” said Maurice Tallow, and he took the deed and left the man with the money, fingers unclenching from it with the reluctance of a spider forced to abandon its prey. He moved in quick as lightning, shunned the greetings of his new neighbours, and locked himself up to shuffle around his possessions in silence.
Well, that silence wasn’t quite the blessing Maurice had been looking for. It was quiet up there on the hill by the glade, that’s for sure. At nights it was so quiet you could just about hear everything, and everything could hear you right back. And in the morning, you’d find odd marks in the dust out front and around the windows of the house, made by who knew what. It was tiresome and a nuisance and it was making Maurice jumpier by the day.
Finally, one day in early July he got up in the morning and found the door open a crack. Well, that was that. Enough was enough. It was time he did something about this, and what he did was he invited over his three closest new neighbours for a quick lunch and a few questions.
“Friends and neighbours,” said Maurice (lying out of one side of his mouth), “I’m having some troubles here. The man I bought this place from said this wasn’t a healthy spot, and with the strangeness I’ve been seeing, I’m not as doubtful as I was when I spent my money.”
“It’s truth,” said the widow Edna, taking a polite bite from one of the pieces of butterless bread Maurice had kindly, grudgingly gifted to them, along with warm water. “Been a nasty spot since my grandmother’s mother moved in, swear as sure as kittens. Not a man nor woman who’s lived here for more’n half a year.”
Maurice’s mouth puckered in annoyance as he watched the bread vanish. “Right. Right. But what’s caused all this then? What’s made this place so bad?”
“All sorts of boogums and beasties,” said the blacksmith Hughes, sipping at his water (Maurice twitched). “Varmits and trolls, you name it, it’s got it. Who knows what kind of goblins been out here of a full-moon night, hankering about on their forelimbs. Not a good place anywhere for anything that blinks to spend a safe evening by the glade.”
“There’s got to be a way around it,” snapped Maurice. “I’m not letting any damned critters take what’s mine away from me, not for what I paid for it.”
“Iron and silver might work,” drawled out the farmer Braxton, turning his hat over and over in his big rough hands. “Get a horseshoe over that door and nail a silver penny next to it.”
“Best to leave them some supper, too,” said the widow Edna. “A dish of milk a fortnight’ll keep them fed and away from your door.”
“And don’t leave any iron lying about when you turn in,” added the blacksmith Hughes. “They’ll take offense at that, sure as shooting.”
“Thank you kindly, neighbours of mine,” said Maurice Tallow, and he up and snatched all of the food right out of their mouths, plain as day. “The door’s that-away, good night and goodbye, thanks again, don’t tarry.”
So as three people went home in all kinds of bad moods, Maurice sat in his house and thought, and then he took up a spare horseshoe and a silver penny and gathered in his old wood-cutting axe from outdoors, and he put out the smallest dish he owned, filled with the barest scrapings of milk from his cow. The horseshoe got nailed up without a problem, but the penny vexed him until he strapped it up with a thin lace of twine; it’d be a waste to put a nail through a coin like that, he figured.
Maurice went to bed cautious and woke up after the first good night of quiet rest he’d had since he’d moved in – normal, noisy quiet, not that big empty quiet that swallowed you whole. In fact, he felt so refreshed that he worked all day chopping wood while nearly-whistling, happy as a clam until the axe head snagged when it should’ve sliced and nearly came off in his hand. That put him off his stride, and he groused all the way down the hill and over the way to the blacksmith Hughes’s house.
“A good day to ya,” said Hughes, looking up the nails his apprentice was labouring over.
“Broken axe,” said Maurice shortly, and he tossed it down on the work bench atop the horseshoes with a clatter. “Needs a repairing.”
Hughes picked it up and glanced it over. “Bit of a knock, eh? Best be mindful with this thing; it’s not made to cut down big stuff. Keep it for your firewood once she’s mended, but you might want to get something bigger for the felling. I’ll charge you a fair price on it.”
“A fair price for your pocket, no doubt,” said Maurice. “No, I’ll take my axe as she is – here, mend it with haste! I’ve got work to do before sundown.”
“Well, that’ll be a minute here,” said Hughes. “My boy Wallace here can take that job for you, but he has to finish up this batch of nails first. Boys down at the mill need them soon, for the mending after last week’s storm.”
“I am a paying customer and I demand to have this axe mended on the double!” snapped Maurice.
“Can’t fix it with the forge full,” said Hughes, shrugging hopelessly. “Wallace’ll be done in a moment and the job won’t take much more’n that.”
“Sluggardly slug should’ve finished hours ago at the rate he’s going,” said Maurice. “As lazy as his father, no doubt! To blazes with both of you, I’ll fix the thing myself and at twice the speed!” And with that he spat on the forge – a quick, sour sizzle followed – and set off home at a foul-mooded trot, swearing and kicking at clods of dirt the whole way. By the time his house hove into his sight the head of his axe had been jarred off altogether, and with a burst of curses he flung it into a bush, the battered iron head whup-whup-whupping through the air until it came to rest in a sapling with a thud.
“Useless!” he snarled, and he went indoors in such a foul mood that he almost forgot to put the milk out that night. His hands were still shaking sore with ire as he poured, and a good measure of it spilled over the dirt of his stoop, leaving the jug nigh-empty.
“Damn and blast!” he said, and went to bed angry, fuming ‘til the dawn. By morning his temper had fared no better, and he kicked the milk dish into the thicket as he left for the widow Edna’s farm, to borrow a pitcher of milk.
“Sure for it’s fine,” she told him. “Less than a dollar, and you can keep the pitcher too, when you’re through.”
“A dollar!” cried Maurice, turning purple in the face with alarming speed. “Damn me thrice over, woman, I’m not made of money!”
“No call for language like that,” said Edna, unruffled. “No call at all. Besides, I did say it’s less than –“
“A dollar! For a pitcher! I could buy a cow for a dollar! I could buy a BARN of cows for a dollar! A dollar – bah, is this pitcher made from gold? This one here” – and he seized a jug from the mantelpiece, splashing it full in such haste that it messed the floor – “will suit me fine…here’s a penny for the lot, and not a whit more! Good day and GOODBYE!” And with that Maurice Tallow was off again, slamming the door behind him.
Edna frowned, which wasn’t normal for her, and muttered a word she didn’t like to use. Then she found that the pitcher Maurice had seized for the milk was her silver teapot, the one her grandmother’s mother had given her, and she shouted that word of hers out loud. But Maurice was down the road and up the hill by then, safe and sound on his way home and chuckling to himself fit to burst. When he got up to the door he looked into that deep, thick, thorny thicket he’d chucked the milk dish into, then he looked at that rich, creamy milk from the widow Edna’s cows.
“Bah, they’ll never miss it,” he declared, and went inside and shut the door. He had the milk with his supper, put the silver teapot on his mantelpiece, and went to bed happy again with a full stomach. The wind was calm that night, the trees kept their leaves still and rustle-less, and he slept in late, got up bleary-eyed, and had his horse throw a shoe as he got around to ploughing the back field.
“Damnit!” he swore, and kicked the horse. It kicked back. Then he picked himself up, rubbing his jaw a bit, and headed to the farmer Braxton’s place to borrow a horseshoe.
“Not really what pa keeps spares of,” said Braxton’s eldest daughter. “You try the blacksmith?”
“The blacksmith’s a greedy bastard who’ll suck the life out of me as soon as my money,” complained Maurice to her chest. “Figured your father’d have a spare shoe lying around for his friend and neighbor, free of charge.”
“Don’t know about that,” she told him, a bit of January weather creeping into her voice. “Anything else?”
“Well, maybe nothing you’d want to tell your pa,” said Maurice, rubbing his chin a little and not bothering to shift his eyes. “Say, you ever want to drop by and visit, my door’s always open. Come by this eve if you’d like – and if your pa changes his mind about that horseshoe, feel free to bring it with you. I’ll make it worth your while.”
“I’ll keep it mindful,” she said. “Goodbye.”
“Come on now, no need to turn sour now, girl. Why don’t you come along home with me? Nobody needs to know; it’s not a long trip, and-”
“Go away.” And she shut the door much harder than was necessary (though not nearly as hard as she’d have liked) in Maurice’s face, nearly catching his nose off. He walked back home angry, kicked his horse again – from the front this time – took down the horseshoe from over the doorway, and spent the worst five hours of his life attaching it to his horse’s foot, nearly laming the poor animal five times over.
“And good riddance to you,” he said as he stomped inside for dinner. He slammed the door so hard the silver penny fell out of its sling and landed atop his head with a plunk.
“Some good luck at last,” he said, snatching it out of his hair. “Useless as ears on a tree up there, and good to remind me so. Haven’t gotten one thing worth having, knowing, or doing out of those useless sod-suckers since I moved in.” He stowed it in his sock with the rest of his money, locked the door, and went to bed.
Night came in. And when it left, well, it left a bit of a mess. And this is where we’ve got to go back on what folks said.
Folks said Maurice Tallow hadn’t been minding those ghoulies like he should’ve, so close to Rockfoot Glade. He let them go hungry after giving them a taste of the sweet stuff, he polluted their property, he took his warnings off the door, and well, they’d just had enough. They rose up against him, and that’s what took him out of his home in the night, leaving nothing but a pair of old, worn boots and a bad smell in the air.
Now, some of those facts are up for dispute; not everybody believes in beasties, of course, even the folks that live right near their front doors and build houses overtop their lairs. But that story stuck, and nobody told a lie to it. Because the tale had a message to it, and it had a good, solid, all-around makes-sense meaning to it. And nobody who’d known Maurice needed to be told it twice.

Storytime: Roll the Bones.

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

In the beginning, there were some people. Human people. Well, it wasn’t quite the beginning then anyways, ‘cause there were people before that, but everybody’s selfish and has to make it all about them.
So anyways, the beginning of this story starts with a new, special kind of human. This man had fingers that’d start to itch and jump, he had eyes that looked for the odds, he had a brain that just wouldn’t stop clicking away with opportunities and chances. He was a gambling man, and he was the one that found out how to make little symbols on little rocks he carved into little cubes, and just what sort of thing that was good for. He gambled for food and he gambled for tools and he gambled just for the fun of it, and he drove everybody else batty.
“Son,” his mother told him, “the boss says if you don’t stop this kind of thing, you’re going to get kicked out.”
“Hey, it’s all right,” he told her. “I’ll go talk to him, make it alright.”
So he went and talked to the boss. “Hey,” he said, “I bet you two to one on throws of this die that I get to stay in.”
Well, he won the first throw, and he won the second throw, and that was when the boss looked at that die and saw half the faces were all one kind. That started an argument, and that started a fight, and that was what led to the gambling man walking around by himself all alone, grumbling with his mouth and his stomach all at once.
“Hungry, hungry, hungry,” he complained. “If my guts complain this much, they should just up and leave, see how they do finding food on their own. So hungry, I’m fit to burst.”
Then he had an idea, and then he saw a gazelle, and he decided to put them together. His fingers itched, so he knew it was a good idea.
“Hey gazelle,” he called, “how ‘bout a bet?”
The gazelle stared at him. They’re good at that. Just let those big dark eyes hang open and look right through you. “What?” he asked.
“I bet you,” said the gambling man, “that I can outrun you by the end of this day. And if I win, I can eat you, and if you win, I can teach you how to use tools, just like me.”
The gazelle twitched his ears a bit at the part about eating, but they twitched twice as hard at the talking about tools. Wasn’t an animal alive that didn’t hanker for a bit of knowing about tools like humans did, and here was one volunteering it practically for free, all against having to outrun those flabby two legs of his. “You’ve got a bet,” he said. “Now one two three four go go go goodbye,” and he sprang away like a wildfire jackrabbit about a hundred times faster than the gambling man had ever run, ever.
The gambling man laughed – but low and quiet, so nobody’d hear – and then he broke into a walk, and that broke into a jog, and that broke into a run, a chug-chug-chug one-leg-in-front-of-the-other gallop that moved along with the steadiness of a seaside gale. He sweated and he panted and now and then he cursed, but he kept going along like clockwork, slow but steady, following the footprints of the gazelle in front of him. And by the time the sun was dipping down the sky, he caught up to that gazelle. He was lying down on his side in a brush patch, too tired to move.
“You. Must’ve. Cheated,” managed the gazelle. His mouth was bubbly with foam.
The gambling man shrugged, staggered, and stayed upright. “Just practice,” he said, “nothing to it.” And then he picked up a rock and a stick and he decided to put them together, and that was the end of the gazelle right there, but it was just the start for the gambling man. He got three breakfasts, five lunches, and three dinners out of that gazelle, and had a fine bone left to pick his teeth with when he was done. He was happy as a clam and a thousand times as jaunty, and he invented humming while he was walking up the way north, making up a new tune every mile until the miles he recognized ran out, replaced with cold air and strange new trees.
“Could use a coat,” he muttered to himself. “A nice fur coat, to keep out this chill.” And then he saw something strange and big nipping greenery from a tree, had an idea, and put them together.
“Hey you there!” he yelled. “What are you?”
“I’m a deer,” said the deer. She twitched her ears at him. “What do you want, small, hairless thing?”
“I’m a gambling human,” said the gambling man, “and I’ve got a bet you’ll want to take. I’ll wager your coat to my itching thumbs right here that you can’t keep ahead of me until sundown, no matter how fast you run, or how far you flee. How about that, eh?”
The deer laughed at that, then thought about it. Everybody could use a good pair of thumbs; you can’t pick things up so easy without them. “It’s a deal,” she said. “One two go go go go,” and she was gone away into the bush with big bounds and a single white-flash of her tail.
The gambling man chuckled fit to burst and broke into his run again, slow and loping, one foot two foot, the run of the human that starts slow and ends slow but goes on forever in the middle. He ran over hills and through dales and up and down and around all the river valleys, through the thick white stuff that fell from the sky (numbed his toes, that did) and through piping-hot springs that bubbled out from under big rocks. His feet hurt mightily, but at the day’s end he found that deer in a glade before the sun had finished its trip, panting her heart out and wheezing through her nose.
“Cheater, cheater,” she managed.
“Nothing to it,” the gambling man retorted. “Just keep on going, that’s all.” So he picked up that bone he’d saved and he picked up a stick and he put them together, and that was it for that deer. He had seven lunches and nine dinners and a bit of breakfast, half of them all at once – to keep his strength up, you know – and a nice fur coat to go with it. He even got a second bone to pick the other half of his teeth with, and that day ended up looking pretty good. Whistling was his next idea; it popped right into his head next day as he was striding along with his full belly. That kept him busy for a week, up until it started getting really cold and none of the stars in the sky made sense anymore. That irritated him, and he was getting hungry again, and maybe he wanted some nice pants to go with his coat, because his knees were getting shaky and knocky with the chill.
“Damn and blast and other words,” he muttered, and then he nearly jumped out of his skin with fright because somebody had just let off the biggest and longest and loudest howl he’d ever heard, right next to him.
“Who’s that?” he called. “No call to make that sort of noise at night! How’re honest folk supposed to walk around with that sort of noise going off in their ears?”
The howl cut off, and two yellow eyes looked at him out of the trees. “I’m the most honest folk that lives around here, and it bothers me none,” they said, between their teeth. “These are my woods, and what are you supposed to be, with your stolen coat and your silly bald skin? You look like a puppy that’s been scraped all over with a rock.”
“I’m a human,” said the gambling man, getting more annoyed, “and I’m a gambler, and what are YOU supposed to be anyways, all high-and-mighty? These are anyone’s woods!”
“I’m a wolf,” said the wolf, “and I don’t like your tone. How about you leave these woods – MY woods, not anyone’s woods – or I’ll make you leave faster than that, and with a few holes in that hairless behind of yours.”
“Not so fast now,” said the gambling man. He was eyeing the wolf in the shadows, and he saw the thickest, bushiest coat of fur he’d ever eyed, a coat that made his fingers itch like mad mosquitoes. “How about we make this interesting? If I can outrun you before the night’s up, I get your coat. But if you catch me first, I’ve got to leave you alone in your woods. How about that, eh?”
The eyes narrowed. “My coat is my coat, and it’s nobody else’s. You can have something else if you win, which you won’t. And if I win, you’re going out of my woods all right – straight into my belly, and your bones into my teeth for a crack at the marrow. Take it or leave it.”
The gambling man thought about that. “And where do I go if I leave it?” he asked.
“Guess,” said the wolf.
“Right. Deal! One two three… go!”
And off set the gambling man, feet pumping in that tireless grind, legs pistons, body a lanky spring, teeth bared and nostrils flared, eating the miles under his toughened-up soles and chuckling in the back of his head all the while.
“How’s it going back there?” he called after a while.
“A bit slow,” said the wolf, up ahead of him. “I may have to take a nap, to make this fair.”
The gambling man pursed his lips. “Ah, we’ll see what you say in a few hours,” he said, and he kept running, up a hill down a hill, through a forest and down a swamp, skipping ‘cross tree-trunks, dancing on stones over a frozen river, calluses crackling in the dark cold night.
“How’re you liking that pace then?” he called, as he went over another stony meadow.
“Not so bad,” said the wolf, from up ahead, “but you’re dragging your feet. Keep up, or you’ll bore me silly!”
The gambling man gritted his teeth. “Wait a bit, and say that again!” he shouted, and he sprinted like a gazelle, a bolt of fur-flapped lightning in the night as he shot through blackened trees with crisp, frozen needles, mashed mosses to pulp under his toes, tore apart stones from stones with the force of his feet. His nails cracked and split, his heel ached, his knees were balls of fire that shrieked at every step, and the night wore old as he ran.
“What do you think about THAT?” he said triumphantly at the night.
There was a quiet moment, and then that voice spoke up again. “Good work!” it said from at his side. “But careful now; you’ll tire yourself out if you keep that up, and worn-down meat is sour.”
The gambling man seethed inside so hot and angry that he didn’t feel the night air, ground his teeth so hard that his toothpick nearly snapped. And then he thought about that toothpick, and he thought about the wolf, and he put those things together. And THAT made him smile in the dark.
“You’re right, you’re right,” he told the wolf. “I’d better relax a bit, not wear myself out. Why, I’m soo tired right now, I might have to drop some of this heavy stuff I’m carrying around so I can keep running. Guess I’ll just toss this
right over there in that pond. It’ll be a shame to miss it, but I’ve got no choice!” And as he said this, the gambling man did it, sent the bone spinning away with a splash and a thud.
The wolf didn’t say anything for a minute.
“You there?” asked the gambling man.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” said the wolf. “I’ve got to check on something.” And there was another splash, and the gambling man smiled to himself and put an extra spring in his step.
Time wore on, and the sky got a bit lighter, a bit brighter, far away on the edge of the world. “How’s it going?” asked the gambling man of the shadows around him.
“Fine, fine, fine,” said the wolf from at his heel – a bit breathlessly, a bit damply, and with his mouth just a tiny bit full. “Great. And I’ve worked up a real appetite, too – haven’t had so much fun in all my life.”
“Me either,” said the gambling man. “Haven’t had a nice run like this in forever. I don’t want to end, almost.”
“Well, the sun’s coming up now,” said the wolf. “Guess it’s about to.”
“Ah! It’s in my eyes,” said the gambling man, casting his hands in front of his eyes. “Ah! I can’t see! Oh my, I think I might have dropped my
right back there in that pile of rocks!”
And he had.
The gambling man heard a rummaging and a clattering behind him, and he smiled a lot more and ran a bit faster. And when the sun popped clean of the trees and he saw no shadow at his side, he stopped running and sat down for a bit, to wait.
Five minutes later, up came the wolf. Out of breath, with still-damp fur, but with two big bones in his mouth. He looked a lot smaller in the daylight.
“Chfeater,” said the wolf.
“They were heavy, that’s all,” said the gambling man. “And I believe I’ve won our bet.”
The wolf spat the bones out. “Fine then. Name your prize.”
The gambling man rubbed his chin a bit. “I’m a long ways from home up here,” he said. “And it gets hard sometimes, and lonely, and cold, but mostly it gets lonely. A man can use a friend sometimes, especially a gambling man like me.”
“Fine,” said the wolf. “But I get first chance at the bones now.”
The gambling man sighed, and mourned the loss of his toothpicks, but he nodded. “Fair is fair, and friends share.”

Storytime: Crocodile Tears.

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

I am the crocodile’s eldest grandson.
I stretch my length across the sandy beaches and the rocky shallows and the deep wide cool waters, all scale and armour. I open my mouth to yawn and the river shrinks back and hides. When I let my tears flow, the animals step back a little farther away and get ready to run. Nothing in the water can hurt me; nothing on the land can scare me. I am the crocodile’s eldest grandson: please give me your pity.
My grandfather was the first and the biggest and the strongest, and he was three times what I am now. He was the fiercest and strongest and fastest, and maybe even the smartest. His voice was golden and his claws were stronger than steel, he could outrun the gazelles and he could see a leaf fall from the treetops on the other side of the world.
With gifts like that, grandfather grew proud. And pride brought trouble, all the little troubles. Grandfather was smart and strong, but his enemies were weak and crafty. They stole away his gifts – took his speed when he wasn’t looking, nabbed his smarts while he napped, tricked him into giving his big claws away to the lions and the tigers and the bears.
He got angry and old and bitter and then he died, and my father was what he was then, just a bit smaller, a bit slower, a bit weaker. But he was still twice the crocodile I am. His voice was golden and his eyesight shamed the eagles and he was still fiercer than a thousand knives. And well, what do you think happened to that? His eyes were stolen away by a liar and a thief, and all the fierce in the world does you no good when you can’t see who did you wrong. He cried his tears then, his big crocodile tears. I still cry those tears, and I am doing it now, because although my father was hard done by, and he was twice what I am, I ask this: please give me your pity, and let me explain.
Down by the river all day I slept and dozed and dreamed, of the old days, when the world worked right and everything was my grandfather’s. Fleet feet, sharp eyes, quick wits, and the strength behind it. Now all that’s left are the songs I sing, quiet-now, when no-one’s watching but everyone’s listening. Grandfather sang them, father sang them, now do I, slow and soft, deep and strong, like the current scraping the pebbles across the riverbed. They’re important songs, they are, because they tell everybody listening how things should be, how things were back in my grandfather’s day.
All day I sleep and sing, all day yesterday, ‘till down to the river comes a monkey scrambling, all wild-eyed and bristle-furred. He’s in such a hurry he almost runs me over, and I stop my song and grab him up. Never liked monkeys, not me, not father, not grandfather, not since a monkey stole away his smarts and kept just enough to make them stupid.
“Let me go let me go LOOK OUT!” shrieks this monkey.
He’s in a terror, he is, but not of me. That’s strange, I think. “Speak up!” I say. “Look out for what?”
“There’s a monster coming,” he whines, “a terrible big monster, an ogre of noise and huge and snorting puffs of breath! It’s bigger than an elephant and twice as grumpy and it’s coming over here! I tried to lead it away until it got lost, but it was too clever and followed too close! Run!”
“Monsters don’t scare me,” I say, and I let him go. “Run away now and don’t come back, but I’m staying, and I’m singing. Go away.”
“You’ll get caught!” he warns, and then he ran away, making that monkey screech they do.
Well now, I never cared much for what monkeys thought, not after what they did to grandfather. So I went back to my singing, my long slow singing, of the old days and the bold days when the scales were stronger than skin and three times thicker all across the world. Then I hear a rustle rustle rustle and out of the bushes and down to the river comes a hare, tumbling head over heels, right up into my mouth so fast I nearly choke on his tail.
“Run run RUN!” he yells at me, scared stiffer than that monkey.
“Why now?” I ask. Can’t run anyways, not since a hare stole my grandfather’s speed and outran him with it. Don’t like them one bit, the meddlesome tricksters.
“There’s a monster, and it’s coming this way! It’s huge, and strong, and its teeth are shining like the sun! I tried to outrun it, but it chases faster than I can run! Let me go and run, run, run!”
“Monsters don’t scare me,” I say, and he runs out of my mouth he’s so scared.
“It’ll catch up!” he warns, and he ran away, screaming his furry head off.
I don’t like hares, not after what they did to grandfather, but it worried me a bit that this monster had them so frightened. Not the monster, you understand, but just that the hares were scared. That isn’t normal, and that’s bad, and that worried me. Not the monster. I’m too fierce for that. So I sang, and remembered, and forgot about it.
Halfway through the ballad of the old days comes a wham bam CRASH SMASH and a racket to raise the dead. I think it’s the monster for a moment, but out of the forest comes the spider, so small but making such a big racket that you’d think he was a hundred times his size. He’s in a tizzy, and runs up to me hopping up and down.
“It’s here! It’s here! It’s here! The monster is here! Hide in the river, hide underwater, bury yourself in the pebbles and the dirt or it’ll see you!”
Now I was just about sick of hearing about this monster, especially from a spider, the trickiest creature in the whole world, the ones that talked my grandfather into giving away his claws and getting back little stubs, the eight-legged little nuisances that stole away my father’s eyes to trade to the eagles for the promise to never ever be eaten by them. Nothing I hate more than a spider, and nothing I hated more right then than a spider telling me to run away and hide.
“I am the crocodile’s eldest grandson,” I tell that spider, and I feel the rumble rise in my throat as I get up and stand tall, belly off the ground. “My scales are the strongest armour in the world, where my teeth show the world shrinks, and nothing scares me, no matter what. I have had it with you and your chattering teeth and your wailing all about monsters. Show me your monster and I’ll bash its head in and have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a month straight.”
“Oh no, you couldn’t do that!” protests the spider. “It’s too scary. Better hide instead.”
I snapped my teeth at the spider and walked up the riverbank, all a-bristle and in the worst mood I’d had in months, maybe years. All I wanted to do was finish up my song and all day I’d had nothing but monsters, monsters, monsters. I’d show them a monster, those tricksters, those little thieves. Nothing in the water can hurt me; nothing on the land can scare me. And then off in the distance, thundering closer with every second, I saw that monster.
It was tall – as tall as an elephant. It was fast – faster than a gazelle. Its eyes were blazing yellow lights, its teeth a shining metal mask that couldn’t stop grinning. And it made a roaring, rattling sound that made my teeth shiver in their sockets.
But I still stood there in the dirt and the dust and stood tall, and I called my battle song at it. “I am the crocodile’s eldest grandson,” I sang, “and I’m not scared of you!
And then it was there, and so was I, and wham, bang, smash, crash, the fight was on and then it was over, with me knocked flat to the ground, spun on my back, with a bruise all over and my legs in the air: stuck.
And while I was stuck there, by the side of that dusty dirt road, who do you think came walking back up to me, laughing, but all three of those tricksters, guffawing and chuckling and giggling ‘till their eyes near fell out and they could barely pull themselves together enough to pick up my golden voice from where it had landed, on the other side of that dusty dirt road. “I think we’ll swap it with the birds,” says spider, I heard him. “I can get us a good deal, I bet.”

It took me three days to tip myself back over and crawl back down here to the riverbank. My bruises are all gone, my aches are all done, my scales are shining again and as I bask here in my strength and my tears I stay quiet, because I have forgotten all my old songs.
I am the crocodile’s eldest grandson, and I ask of you, please: give me your pity.