Archive for September, 2012

Storytime: A Bit Carried Away.

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

It all started so innocently. A man, a plan, a way to save time where it was needed.
The man was Wally, and that wasn’t his fault, it was his parents’. The plan came to him late one Friday night, as he prepared to engorge himself upon moderately violent video games in order to forget what lay ahead of him at weekend’s end. A simple idea, one that leaked into his skull from places unknown.
“If I go to bed earlier,” said Wally to himself (Wally), “I could wake up earlier and have a longer weekend!”
This was such a good idea that Wally did it right away, and slept deep and long. Something in his head ticked over and over in the night, muttering inside REM, whispering as he surfaced from a blanket of boring dreams.
“Hey!” said Wally. “If I work ahead of myself over the weekend, I’ll get off early at work every day all week! That’ll save LOADS of time!”
And so Wally did just that, and laboured all weekend. On Monday morning he dragged his carcass and his workload into his office – sleep-deprived and yawning and more than a little bit cranky – and was promptly rewarded with more work. A lot more work.
“Hey,” said Mitchell, his boss, “you proved you can handle it, right?”
“Right,” said Wally. And he left it at that, because any of the next words he was planning to say could’ve gotten him in trouble. But that was fine, because all those frustrations and fumes bottled themselves up inside him, fermented, and popped out as another fabulous, wonderful idea, fresh and faintly alcohol-scented.
“Hey!” said Wally. “If I just get Mitchell’s job, I’ll be able to give myself time off!”
So Wally went to night school and started visiting the same bar as Judy (his boss’s boss) and undermined and sabotaged Mitchell at every opportunity, taking only enough downtime to eat and sleep. And seven months later, the job was his and Mitchell had departed in disgrace, leaving Wally the heir to the office and five hundred pounds of unfilled, unsorted paperwork that had accumulated during Mitchell’s nervous breakdown, much of which was coffee-stained.
“Balls,” said Wally. “I’d better get all of this done so I can take some time off.”
So he pulled out his pen and his pencil and his eraser and he delved through the mountains of files and emails and letters and bills and Important Notices and when he was done he had almost as many as he’d started with, and his employees were all complaining their asses off.
“I’ll never be able to have a nice quiet weekend this way,” said Wally. “I’ll work through the weekend and clear it all up. My NEXT weekend will be perfect.”
So he did that for three weekends in a row and still had work left over, which was when he began to reconsider his strategy.
“What if I were to just take the money and run?” he asked himself. “I’m at a moderate position of authority, I could embezzle and steal and pinch and nick a fair bit before I lit out. Enough to keep me comfortable in a different country with a different name, surely. I’ll do it! But I’d better do it right.”
And Wally boned up on how to do it right. He watched films, read books, learned a bit more finance, and after three years of nonstop planning he ripped off a few million dollars and ran away to an undisclosed location under a name that wasn’t Wally. Mind you, he was still Wally underneath it all, which was what made him do what he did next.
“I can’t relax,” Wally told himself. “If I get sloppy, they’ll find me. And then they’ll get me. I need an escape route and traps and warning flags and a carefully randomized schedule that never lets the locals see me as anything other than background noise. And I’d better look this all of this up under a number of different disguises and IP addresses, so I don’t leave a trace.”
Wally planned and plotted and researched and constructed and organized himself for five more years. And at the end of it all, he had a secure bunker that he was confident was traceless, a shrouded and hidden and re-routed and false-flagged ID that would’ve fooled the CIA five times over (the FBI eighteen times, a preschooler six), and some incidental inside knowledge of illicit drug dealing going on five miles down the road that he’d stumbled on and used as a self-example of how NOT to cover your tracks.
“They’re going about all wrong, all sloppy,” fretted Wally. “And if they get caught, I might get spotted too, and that’d be a disaster. I’ve got to prevent that. And I can only REALLY do that if I’m in charge.”
Wally was very methodical. He integrated himself to the drug-dealers over the next two years, was running the operation in three, and had realized that the whole thing was run incompetently immediately, which was what launched his six-year project of taking over the entire cartel complex and all subinstitutions himself. He barely had time to sleep at nights and had to use a lot of his own product to keep himself awake and energetic, but finally he sat at the top of the heap, all the connections and phone numbers and favours he could ever need at his fingertips and a host of varyingly loyal subordinates beneath him. His eyes were bleary and his mind was weary and he knew he wasn’t through as soon as the first reports started filtering up to him.
“It’s the damned governments,” he mumbled to himself – very quietly, because somebody might be listening. “Oh my men can do their jobs well enough, but only if they’re not constantly being pecked away at by secret services and so on and such. I’d better get them off our backs. I’d better do that right quick, or I’ll never get any rest or quiet.”
The bribing took a long, long time. The cosying-up took even longer – Wally’s people skills hadn’t atrophied so much as adapted to a world where ‘fuck you pal’ was a courteous greeting. But he was persistent, and he never let up, and one day he found himself an internationally-renowned Respectable Citizen who’d made himself a very close personal friend of the current administration of his home country.
“Partisanship,” he muttered. “Partisanship will be the death of me. I won’t get a thing done once those other guys get in, they’ll go a-poking and a-prodding at my past, keep me on the defensive. I’ve got to keep them out. Shut them down. And bribes won’t do it, no no no. Must be a direct hand in it. My hand.” He looked at his hand. Papery skin, visible veins. Well, he’d been busy and a bit stressed lately; soon he’d have all the time in the world.
Running a campaign and debating the press were hard, debating your opponent was easy – all nudges and winks and nod-nods. Wally became the last president of his country of birth at the end of a five-year trek of carefully founded propaganda, and he celebrated with a nap in the big chair that was now his due. It was the first he’d slept in about a decade.
He woke up in a cold sweat. Christ, now he was in for it. Everybody’d be after him now, looking for something. He had more subordinates than a dog had fleas, he had more whiny neighbours looking for help than a bird had ticks. He had more enemies than a shark had teeth. Jehovah’s galloping nutsack, what had he gotten himself into?
“I’ve got to get a handle on it all,” he whispered subvocally – circumventing the surely-present spycams. “They’ll keep me on my toes, never give me a moment’s rest. Got to find a way to shut them all up, get them out of my hair.” He ran a hand over his scalp and winced. Maybe he could tell them to stop it? No, they wouldn’t listen. Could he wait his term out? No way, they’d be on him like a pack of jackals at a dying wildebeest. Why did they spell it that way anyways, with two ‘e’s? His head hurt. He needed that break. Why wouldn’t anyone just give him a bit of a damned break? Every damned human being in the world seemed to just love standing between Wally and Wally’s peace and quiet kick-back time.
Wally examined the desk in front of him. There was a phone. He wasn’t supposed to use it except as a last resort.
Well, he’d tried the others, so he guessed this was it.

The bunker was cold and dark and a bit wet, and Wally’s fingers were shaking quite badly as he stuffed rags into the cracks that had formed in its exterior under the force of the bombs. That’d have to do until he mixed up some fresh cement. And checked the Geiger counter. And sorted the foods by perishability.
Well, he’d get it all done now and have some spare time tomorrow. Then he’d have all the time that was left in the world.

Storytime: Saint Clemeth.

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

There’s a saint for everything, they say, and the people of Saint Clemeth knew this to be so. After all, if the Good Lord could spare a saint for Saint Clemeth, he must have them fit to burn.
It’s a lonely little place, Saint Clemeth. Not bad, but lonely. Empty and treeless, with only the sea spray and the gull-cry and the mourning of the seals to make an impact on the world. The seals do that the most, with their calls. Those sorrowful night-cries of theirs sounded like someone very young, or maybe very old, and very unhappy either way; one-of-a-kind-anywhere-ever. The people of Saint Clemeth knew that a special sort of seal that made a special sort of wailing like that needed a special sort of name. So they called them wailing seals.
Saint Clemeth was not the patron saint of imagination. He was a straightforward sort of man, who’d dethroned the king of the rocks and opened Saint Clemeth (the island) to the Good News and all that sort of thing, then up and died and left a little cairn that was currently tucked behind a neat white church perched above a small and brightly-painted town nestled on the shores of Saint Clemeth. The island.
The people of Saint Clemeth lived the time the Lord allotted each of them long, full, and slow. If you could paint someone’s life, most of the people of Saint Clemeth would look very similar: a big, broad, blue line that stretched on across the canvass and petered off to a neat little tapered end. If you looked very closely, perhaps with some sort of microscope, there’d be a miniscule little blip every twelve months when the fishing festival of Saint Clemeth (the saint) happened. If a family fisherman caught the crown-fish, that little blip of excitement would be visible with the naked eye. And that would be about that.

It’d been eleven months and about thirty days of waiting and here it was again. The sort of day that made the sea spray high and the seals wail low, the time for that little blip in the slow blue lives of Saint Clemeth’s fishermen, where they’d grab their line and tackle and nets and tricks and boots and stomp on down to the docks in the afternoon, with all the town watching with binoculars and telescopes and squints and in the case of Mad Mortimer his seeing-eye gull. Mad Mortimer swore up and down and on a blue moon that the cranky little bird worked, but he also swore up and down and on a blue moon that he’d never walked into the side of his house ever, or at least more than once, and certainly not in front of witnesses no sir, so he wasn’t what most people called trusty.
Mad Mortimer was a big, big man, and so was the dent in the side of his house, worn smooth by salt air and repeated collisions after pub night (most nights). In fact, it was so big that if you stood very still in it with your back against the wall and held your breath and if you were as small as little Susan was, you’d almost vanish from the street if people weren’t looking too closely. Little Susan found this very useful, especially when her mother was chasing after her to cut her hair for the festival.
“SUUUUUUUU-SIEEEEE!” came the Voice with a pealing clang-clong-cling that’d have driven pride into a church bell’s heart. “COME RIGHT HERE THIS INSTANT I MEAN IT” and so on and so forth, all the words and threats blurring into one big fuzzy siren that told little Susan that she’d better keep moving, because her mother was hunting fast and hard. No stone would be unturned, no doorstep unpeered, no neighbour unquestioned. Little Susan would have her haircut so she could be at the docks promptly and timely to wish her elder brother Stanley good-luck before he headed out to help Uncle Benson fish for the crown, and if she happened to think Stanley was the biggest louse ever to escape from a lobster trap and scuttle into town in the guise of a human, well she’d just have to keep it to herself. Little Susan had resolved that she would sooner die than suffer such tyranny, but she’d rather it not be of embarrassment: her mother was a mighty and skilled woman in many ways, but she was a terror with a pair of scissors. She needed an escape route, and fast.
“SUUUUUUUU-SIE!” called the voice, sharper now.
That’d torn it; next she’d be using little Susan’s full name. It was time to get serious about escape. But where? The streets were bustling, every path filled with revelry. Potential Judases. Her only hope was to hide somewhere her mother would never look for her, never suspect her presence, never even think to ask of….
“SUSAN! AGNES! MCALLISTER!”
Right, that was it. Time to head to the docks. Little Susan slipped out of Mad Mortimer’s dent like a wisp of steam from a teacup and eeled her way downhill in the alleys and byways, head held low and feet drumming along like a double-time marching band. An eye or two caught her passage – Kelvin the ironmonger, cousin Patricia – but so what? Nobody would ever suspect her destination, no one would guess that she’d hide right in the place she meant to avoid. It was utterly, utterly, totally, completely, absolutely foolproof, and she reached the docks with her spirits high.
“Hoy,” said Stanley. “What’re you doin’ here? Where’s mam?”
Out of the frying-pan and into the fire, little Susan swallowed the immediate grimace that threatened her face and mustered her wits. “Dunno.”
Stanley looked at her and frowned. “She wouldn’ let you wander ‘bout alone. Where’s mam?”
“Dunno,” said little Susan, calculatingly.
Stanley’s eyes narrowed. “You di’nt run away, didja?”
“No!” said little Susan.
He shook his head. “Figgurs. Unc Benson!” he called, turning about to his uncle’s boat. “I’ll be back quick as a blink! Jus’ got to drag me sis back to mam.” Having said his piece, Stanley turned back to find his sister twenty feet away and accelerating.

Confound the luck of little girls, thought little Susan. But her hopes were still alive. The docks weren’t a safe unknown anymore, but there were a dozen places to hide every dozen feet, and a dozen more of those if you were small and slight and willingly to hold your breath. All she had to do was dodge between the procession of the MacDonald children – all head and shoulders above her, easier done than said – and then weave behind the crowd forming (at a safe distance) around Mad Mortimer’s make-your-own-foghorn-from-a-tin-can-and-an-angry-cat demonstration, and then hop, skip, and jump into the nearest empty boat, low in the water and tied as firmly as a rock.
Little Susan peered out just above the waterline and saw her brother go dashing by. Success, and sweetly taken! But he’d slow down soon, and backtrack; Stanley was a loathsome sort, but clever. She’d need to take a more careful shelter, and look, the cabin door was unlocked! Saint Clemeth was watching over his festival after all, and over little girls in particular. So she hummed a bit as she shut the door behind her, and peered through the dusty old window into the bright blue world. Not more than a few minutes, and she’d be home and dry. Not at home though. That would be troublesome for a while yet.
There was a noise, and little Susan froze. No, it’d been a creak, a groaning of a board in an old tub that from the look of it had been afloat one decade – or century – too many. There were no ghosts in town. Not since the one at the lighthouse, or the one at the cairn, or the one that was in their basement. Stanley had a lot to answer for. But she was sure there was no ghost at the docks.
“Mmmmmmrrgh?”
Little Susan opened her mouth to scream, saw Stanley ashore in the crowd, and shut her mouth again. Instead, she spun on her heel to face any ghosts that might’ve been about and hissed “quiet!”
A pile of old furry rags sitting in the captain’s chair moved, and opened its bleary brown eyes, lost in a tangled beard much too big for them that had somehow spread from nose to navel. “Ffuurwut? Eh?” it creaked.
Oh, thought little Susan, and saw what it was. It wasn’t a ghost. It was old man Thane. He was called that so as not to confuse him with Big Douglas Thane the miller’s helper, or Little Tommy Thane who cried the Sunday papers up at Noonan’s way. They weren’t his relations. She wasn’t sure if ANYONE was old man Thane’s relation.
“Oooooh,” said old man Thane, looking more closely at her and recognizing a person, even if it was a small one. “Ayyy seeee. Whurter ye doon heer. Eh? Whuut yoo in me hoom fuur?” He had the most peculiar voice; every word he spoke sounded like it was being hauled up out of a very strange and deep tidal cave.
“What’re YOU in here for?” countered little Susan.
Old man Thane’s face was a mask of misery, a thousand little lines carved by unhappiness that tears could never have shaped, like a mighty canyon formed from trickles of water. It wrinkled at little Susan’s question. “Caant feesh,” he mumbled. “Bee indy wayy. Noo fest-“ and here he stopped to wince extra hard –“eye-vall fer me.”
“Stanley’s doing it,” said little Susan, filling the name with as much disdain as she could manage. “Anybody could do it. Everybody’s trying. Aren’t you going to even try?”
Old man Thane didn’t say a word, but his expression said everything, every word that little Susan had ever heard tale of old man Thane. Not Captain Thane, though he’d owned the boat for as long as he’d need to for it, been afloat for longer than any set of grandparents anyone could name. Old man Thane. Because a captain worth his name had to catch something. Wherever old man Thane spread his nets and cast his bait, that was where the other boats fled, leaving him on one side of the island and they on the other. And they’d snare fish, and old man Thane would snare his bent old brown fingers in his nets and sit there looking at them as if to ask what had gone wrong.
The next day he’d try the other side of the island. And it would happen again.
Old man thane: the man that never left his boat and couldn’t catch so much as a cold.
“Anybody could do it,” repeated little Susan with total confidence.
Old man Thane kept not saying a word.
“Well, probably,” she amended.
Old man Thane lowered himself farther into his chair again and turned it away.
“Well, maybe not you, MAYBE,” said little Susan. “But neither can loads of people! Stanley could never get the crown. Ever. Not in a million years.”
Old man Thane didn’t say anything. But he turned his chair ‘round again, slowly and laboriously, with a lot of creaking. She wasn’t sure whether it was from his legs or the cabin.
“Wuut?” he asked.
“What?” she replied.
“Hoo ye noo?” he asked.
“Hoo I noo what?” said little Susan.
“Hoo ye noo abut me cruun!” yelled old man Thane, stamping his feet and smashing his fist on the arm of his chair with a violent spasm. His voice creaked like leather and his chest pumped like a bellows, he’d gone all red in the face under his mess of whiskers, but his eyes weren’t angry, just confused, and that’s what made little Susan stay calm. That and that she was sure that if she ran outside, Stanley would be standing right there, sure as sixpence. Saint Clemeth seemed to be in the mood for giving that sort of luck to little girls today.
“I don’t know about anything,” she said, trying not to sound too proud. “My teacher says so.”
“Me HAHTT,” clarified old man Thane. He coughed violently. “Me hahtt.” He sank down into his chair again, rubbing at his face. “T’sawwl noo guud. Not witoot me croon, me hahtt. Noo guud seens den, noo guud noo, noo guud everr. Noo guud.”
That haunted look was back in him now, shrinking him where he sat. He was the smallest-looking adult little Susan had ever seen, as small as little baby Caroline that was still in a crib. And it was because he looked so very small, and because she couldn’t imagine a captain without a hat, that little Susan said what she said next, which was this:
“I could get it for you.”
Old man Thane looked up again.
“If you really want it, I guess,” she said.
He rubbed at his beard, fingers colliding by chance with a pipe that was lodged somewhere near his chin. “Tha…..th’…oon th’ rooks. Oop hy. Abuv. In tha stoons whaar hee poot et.” His hands were shaking as they dislodged the pipe. “Caan ye? Whiill ye?”
Little Susan looked over her shoulder at the docks, and saw no sign of Stanley. A seal blinked at her with watery eyes from underneath the pier; the affronted royalty of the rocks.
She shrugged. “Sure.”
Old man Thane looked at his pipe as if it were the most complicated object in all the world. And he nodded.
So little Susan left – after checking the docks again, carefully – and did some thinking as she walked, aimlessly. She’d made some sort of a promise now, and that was important. It was also a pretty big promise, from the way the old man had acted. That was also important. So she should go and do it right now, which meant thinking. That was hard.
Well, she’d check the rooks first. So she looked around, and she saw the rooks. Everywhere. Underfoot, in the harbour, on the hill up above, all over the place. Saint Clemeth was a rooky place, it was part of what made it hard for anything to grow there. It also made this hint of little Susan’s next to useless.
What next? Oop hy. Abuv. So little Susan looked oop hy and abuv, and saw a lot of big blue sky and only the merest wisps of clouds. She started to get dizzy, and looked somewhere else. That wasn’t very helpful at all.
In tha stoons whaar hee poot et. Which hee? Which stoons? There were just as many stoons as rooks, and little Susan was getting really annoyed about this riddle, which was much harder than the ones grandpa told when she wasn’t supposed to be listening. Those all ended up being about naked people and body parts. Body parts like the hand that descended on little Susan’s neck like a vise.
“Susan Agnes McAllister,” breathed an extremely quiet and deathly calm voice in her ear. “You are in so much trouble right now.”
Little Susan would’ve protested, but felt that uninstructed use of her throat might cost her her head.
“It is almost noon and you still don’t have your hair cut,” continued her mother in her absolute monotone. “You will have to say good luck to your brother with messy hair and a sore backside.
Little Susan cursed her entirely fruitless and now-deadly aimless wandering, but silently. Her back was prickling with the anticipation of the smacking to come, the air seemed thick with tension. Or something else. She couldn’t quite place it.
Little Susan’s mother paused for a moment to listen, and then little Susan heard it. Oh. Screams.
They were getting louder very quickly.
“What is-“ managed little Susan’s mother, and then Mad Mortimer came rumbling into sight, running uphill but with the full force of panic behind him and his heart in his mouth, bleating fit to burst. There was a sound like eight kinds of armour-clad fur-spitting hell coming after him, a racket that couldn’t have been bested by a freight train laden down with fifteen cars of mixed pins and balloons.
Mad Mortimer was a big man, and the byway that little Susan and her mother stood in was a small one. And he wasn’t about to stop.
In the half-second it took for little Susan’s mother’s full-formed, adult, rational mind to process this, little Susan had wriggled off and away and run for dear life through an open door, proceeding through an open window, an alley, and a road in that order, all uphill. Faint crashes and shouts behind her informed her sensitive ears that her mother was probably all right but angrier than before, and she shouldn’t check on her. It wouldn’t be safe.
Safe. She needed to be safe again. Not the docks, not the town, not anywhere, where could she go?
Well, right there in front of her, inside the church. Thankfully empty, too.
Little Susan reached for her second neglected doorknob of the day, only to find that the minister, trustless, heartless man that he was, had locked the place up for the festival.
She said a word her grandpa had taught her (inadvertently) and pounded the door and hurt her fist. Where now? There was nowhere to hide up here on the hill, nowhere to run, and if she walked down the road back into town she’d be spotted for sure. She needed to hide, hide, hide, the overpowering instinct that nature instills in children and mice, and she ran around the church in circles, hoping against hope that the back door was open.
Locked.
Little Susan slumped down against the door, resigned to her fate. That was when she saw her hiding place, courtesy of Saint Clemeth, patron saint of luck for little girls and maybe Saint Clemeth (the island) too she guessed.

Saint Clemeth’s cairn was small and cramped and something in it seemed to be poking little Susan in the most uncomfortable part of her rear. She wondered how Saint Clemeth had ever managed to fit inside it. Maybe he’d been small and cramped too. But as she heard her mother’s footsteps fade away in the distance alongside some particularly vicious mutterings, she wasn’t about to complain about space. Better a numb backside than a raw one.
Something was definitely poking her and threatening to undo that. She rolled over and around in the tight little cubby that was the holy receptacle of Saint Clemeth’s earthly remains, then froze mid-wince, eyes bigger than saucers, waiting three slow blinks to make sure what she was seeing was still there.
It was.
And so it was that little Susan reached into Saint Clemeth’s cairn, oon th’ rooks oop hy abuv the town, in tha stoons whaar hee poot et, and removed old man Thane’s hahtt.
It looked nothing like a captain’s hat, and it was much smaller than she’d have thought it was; a circle of rusted iron and blackened silver, dark as a lump of coal even when held up to the sun. It smelt like metal and salt and it made her palms itch and her mother’s voice in the back of her head go on about tetanus. But more importantly still, it meant that her promise was still good! Now she just had to get it back down to the docks and
“SUSAN.”
Little Susan’s feet acted without her mind needing to inform them, and that was how she stayed one step ahead of her mother for the first fifty feet of the race, because her mind was busy obsessing over how stupid it’d been to stand up in plain sight on the top of a hill with her mother not two minute’s walking distance away.
The next half-kilometer was a test of drive. Little Susan’s mother had a hide to tan and a child to discipline and set on the straight and narrow. Little Susan had a promise to keep and a deadline to reach – as they entered the town, the foghorns on the boats were sounding, the lines were being cast off, the wailing seals of the harbour were kicking up a caterwauling fuss at the unwanted intruders on their rightful dominion.
The last ten yards were decided on endurance and leg-length, and here it was that little Susan’s mother claimed an unfair and biased advantage and seized her up in both hands.
“What is THAT thing you’ve-“
Little Susan’s vision was a tunnel now, made of curious faces staring her way, a maze she couldn’t see through. Where was he?
“-rusty all over, you’re going to get lockjaw-“
The faces turned away as one, back to the sight of the festival’s launch, the boats all headed for the harbour’s mouth. All of the faces, except for one. Old man Thane was staring dead straight at her, mouth frozen wide open in shock, pipe dribbling out of one hand to fall to the deck at the sight of her and what was in her hand.
“-give me that!”
The last six inches were decided by a strategic elbow of little Susan’s, which planted itself in her mother’s side and halted her grip for a fraction of a second, which was just long enough for little Susan to move her arm on the last, shortest, and hardest stretch of the race and hurl the cruun at old man Thane, where it bounced off his chest and into his boat.
Little Susan missed what happened for the next few minutes, because she was busy being given the sorest backside of her life. It was alright. Afterwards, plenty of people wanted to tell her about it.

Old man Thane looked down at the thing on the deck of his boat for a long, long time. He reached down to it real, real slow. And as he straightened up that bent old back of his, he placed his crown upon his head.
And old man Thane changed, just like that, in the strange little ways that people change all their lives. He stood up straight, and he looked tall. He stood up strong, and he looked big. His eyes weren’t watery, they were glistening, his crooked fingers clenched and unclenched themselves into straight shape, and even his beard was different. It flowed, not bristled.
He didn’t say a word, but he bent back down to his work. A quick shrug and a tug and a yank and the moorings were gone, his boat was adrift, its engine a-putter as he steamed out of the harbour, last in line, serenaded by all the annoyed wailing seals.

Out there in the mouth to the wide open sea, the boats gathered. In a moment they would scatter, but not too far. This was a test of who could find the best fish right here, right there at Saint Clemeth’s. Nobody wanted to bring back some foreign fish, it’d ruin the spirit of the thing right proper. But before they scattered, they’d gather to wish one and all good luck at the harbour’s mouth, and that was what put so many noses out of joint when old man Thane chugged up in his boat and stopped there, right in the middle of all of them before they’d even had a chance to exchange pleasantries.
He cut the engine and watched them. The day seemed too quiet all of a sudden, even with the seals still complaining and all the other boats running.
“”Ey, move it!” yelled Uncle Benson.
“Gerout of there!” said Mr. Macdonald.
“What’s about that poky hat?” asked Angus the younger.
Old man Thane did a very unnerving thing here. He looked at each and every one of them, all at once, and he grinned, he grinned bigger than anybody would’ve thought a human mouth could stretch. He grinned ear to ear and back to the other ear again, and if there was ever a more fearsome thing to see than that, not one of the men knew it.
All of them shrunk back in their seats.
“Christ on a cracker,” mumbled Stanley. Uncle Benson said nothing.
Old man Thane cocked his head and listened to them all mutter, and then he coughed. Once, twice, three times. A big hacking rasp that sounded like someone tearing strips off a lung. Gunshot coughs.
Now, two things happened. First off, all the other boat’s engines stopped dead. Second, a fish jumped into old man Thane’s boat.
He caught it with one hand and looked at it as if it were made of gold for a long, long, long time. Then he tossed back his head and let out a bark. One, two, three barks. Big, solid, sharp-tongue calls that sounded like they came from a dog’s mouth.
The seals shut up just like that. And another fish jumped into the air and right into old man Thane’s mouth.
He chewed it and swallowed. One gulp. Then he wiped his mouth and laughed and laughed and out came the biggest tearer of a bellowing roar that hadn’t been heard since the end of the world, a sound that a foghorn wanted to be when it grew up. It shook the timbers of every boat present and it made the sea curl itself up into fits and when it ended the air seemed more fragile than it had been just a minute ago.
When it ended, old man Thane wasn’t there anymore. And neither was old man Thane’s boat. But the water was being sucked down in spirals where they’d sat, and Stanley told anyone who’d listen – just little Susan, as it turned out – that he saw a big old tail flip against the current and head down into deeper waters, searching for shining scales underwater.

Nobody caught any fish, not for three days. After that they came back, but they were scared pretty fierce for a while.

By and by, it came to pass after all the fuss had died down that the people of Saint Clemeth heard something new – or rather, didn’t hear it. The wailing seals had stopped their evening wailing, stopped up for good. Now they just barked and burbled and bellowed like any regular old seal did, and they did it all day and snoozed all night. Obviously, they needed a new name now. The old one didn’t fit.
So they called them Thane’s Grandchildren. And that name fit nice and snug.

Jamie Proctor, 2012.

Storytime: A History of Silly Warfare.

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

-150,000 BP. The first incident of violence. An early modern human (H. sapiens sapiens) returns home early from the hunt due to bad weather and finds his brother making fresh with his wife. Rather than bludgeon the man, he instead compares his sibling’s penis to a mammoth’s: relatively small, furry, and smelling like a dead whale. Unprepared for this novel assault, the surprised adulterer can only attempt to retaliate with a crude form of ‘yo mama,’ and is laughed out of the clan for his foolish self-burn.
-140,000 BP. The first full-scale war breaks out. All twenty combatants suffer serious boo-boos and ouchies, and the defeating general is noogied alive. A rematch is scheduled, but is called off on account of mammoths.
-15,000 BP. An over-long game of “mammoth-fur-overcoat’s-on-fire, NOW IT’S OUT” during the crossing of the Bering land bridge leads to the first attempted homicide in the Americas.
-334 BC. Alexander the Great launches the beginning of one of the most successful military campaigns ever to exist in history and goes on to conquer a vast empire, all of which falls apart within a few years of his death. This is considered worthy of emulation and he is admired widely for millennia.
-266 BC. Filled with boldness at their successful use of flaming pigs to deter invasion by elephants, the people of the Greek city of Megara attempt to outfit pigs with shield, spear, and armour. It ends poorly for them, but provides the invading army with easy access to delicious bacon.
-0 AD. An attempted pranking of a troublesome holy man by leaving him tied to a big stick overnight gets a little out of control.
-100 AD. With an unusual lack of major enemies and a low point of internal strife, citizens of the Roman Empire develop the game of ‘stop hitting yourself’ to satiate their boredom.
-500-ish AD. King Arthur’s best friend runs off with his wife, explaining his actions with the first use of ‘bros before hos.’ This is the first and far from last complete and total failure of this defence.
-700 AD. Hundreds of churches and monasteries in the British Isles are burned and pillaged by the Norsemen with the use of only a single knock-knock joke for entry, usually the same one over and over. According to archaeological data, it wasn’t a particularly good one, even in the original Old Norse.
-1095 AD. The crusades are officially declared to be ‘on’ after the Turks respond to Pope Urban II’s calls for pious violence with “umad?”
-1255 AD. Mansa Ali expands the Mali Empire, using a mixture of conquest and surprise bouts of truth-or-dare to force his neighbours to give him all their land or be labelled wussies.
-1277 AD. In an abrupt end to a decently long and obscenely successful life of mass murder, Genghis Khan dies in a riding accident after his youngest son Tolui saws the left leg off his horse as a prank.
-1281 AD. The Divine Wind destroys Mongol attempts at invading China. Its existence is credited to the grace of the gods and the secret construction of largest whoopee cushion ever made.
-1400 AD and so on. Large quantities of European noblemen wear gigantic amounts of metal all over themselves, and are greatly surprised and annoyed to learn that projectile weaponry has already been developed, often at a range of six hundred feet and straight through their eyeballs.
-1453 AD. The Hundred Years’ War ends after one hundred and sixteen years, and is widely admired for having given the French and English time to really find out who they were and get a grip on life and all that deep stuff, and what it really MEANT, man. The answer, naturally, was killing foreigners.
-1493 AD. Columbus sails back to Spain and tattles on the Indians for having nice stuff and hiding when he demanded they share. Europe in general agrees that such naughty behaviour merits a thorough genocide and time-out.
-1520 AD. Montezuma bets his life and country that he’s a bigger asshole than Hernan Cortes. Cortes wins the bet before he gets the joke, which pretty much sets the tone for Spanish relations in the New World from there.
-1776 AD. General George Washington pinky swears to the Hessians that he will not cross the Delaware on December 24th. Though it was once commonly held by American historians that he was crossing the pinky of his other hand behind his back at the time, this is now considered to be a myth.
-1812 AD. The British and the Americans take turns burning down each other’s landmarks, declare victory, and go home. No, really.
-1865 AD. In a deplorable display, American president Abraham Lincoln is assassinated without so much as a twenty-second head start, let alone the opportunity to call time-out.
-1876 AD. George Armstrong Custer tries to call safety at Little Big Horn but is overruled by Crazy Horse, who claims that they ‘called it’ as home base first. Custer disagrees loudly and is bludgeoned, in that order.
-1877 AD. The Bone Wars of the American west begin between rival paleontologists Cope and Marsh, showing once again that the one thing an upper-class pedantic twit can’t stand is another guy just like him.
-1914 AD. The Christmas truce occurs and lasts for another 4 years after all the soldiers involved realize how much nicer it is than getting shot. After a lot of arguing, the governments involved agree to lie to the historians to prevent embarrassment and settle the victor with a coin flip. Germany argues that Britain rigged the toss, Britain cites losers-weepers doctrine, and the ensuring bitterness sets the stage for the next go-round.
-1915 AD. The tank is conceptualized, named, and constructed as part of an elaborate practical joke.
-1940 AD. The first battle won by a tank driving backwards. Simultaneously, the first battle won as a result of drinking and driving. Also the last. Formal records deleted so as to prevent copycats.
-1945 AD. Humans become ‘Death, the destroyer of a few square miles in New Mexico.’ Several additional, more heavily populated square miles follow. It is estimated that at some point humanity will work its way up to ‘world,’ and in far future times, if the fates sing right, ‘worlds’ may be attainable.
-2001 AD. An attempted punk’d-ing in New York goes horribly wrong.
-2003 AD. Iraq is invaded by the United States of America for being in the wrong place at the wrong time for all the wrong reasons, something something, something or other, yadda yadda and so on.
-2109 AD. An anonymous world leader finally discovers and uses the perfect ‘yo mama’ joke.
-2109 plus five minutes or so AD. Open nuclear warfare.
-6381 AD. Junior xeno-archaeologist Qdu372 uses an extremely rare specimen of intact human skull as a hand puppet and is punched in the skepplem by his associate, senior xeno-archaeologist TBI9.

On Dinosaurs: Everything Old is New Unless it Isn’t.

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Yep, it’s that time of year again, kiddies!  Well, technically it’s been a year and a half since the last one of these, but no matter!  Time waits on no man, woman, or reptile, as we all know and lament.  It marches on, on, on, steadily dragging you and each and every other living thing inexorably towards the grave in fractions we are forever unable to measure without error.

So anyways, dinosaurs!
Now it often happens in science that we find out new stuff.  And since it’s been three yearsish since the last time I wrote anything about dinosaurs, there’s been a ladel-ful or two of new discoveries and debates and so on.  Let’s take a look and try to pretend once again that we live in a time where multi-ton land predators were a thing!

The Dinosaur that Wasn’t (But Then Was [Unless it Wasn't])

This here era ain't big enuff fer the two of us. Plus Jimmy over there. Heya, Jim, how ya doin'?

Good ol’ Triceratops.  What could be more iconic and truthful and mesozoic-as-conifer-pie than that old-time image of a Triceratops tussling with a T-rex in front of some trees and a sunset or something?  It’s the reptilian version of the high-noon shootout.  The biggest and first-discovered of the ceratopsians, who (obviously) were named for it, Triceratops is just peachy.
Also, according to a smidgen of research occurring from 2009 to 2010, it didn’t exist.  At least not as we knew it.

This skull alone is so much bigger than your entire body that you should feel physically ashamed of yourself.

A light bit of research and poking around by paleontologists John Scannella and Jack Horner (the latter is partially the inspiration for Jurassic Park’s Dr. Grant, the co-discoverer of Maiasaura, and a generally gung-ho dinosaur guy for decades) ended in a fun conclusion: Triceratops was actually the immature form of fellow ceratopsian Torosaurus, whose equally impressive and even-more-elongated noggin is shown above.  Triceratops, as it aged, must have grown a pair of big ol’ holes in its (peculiar for a ceratopsian) solid-bone frill, where two rather thin spots had already been noted to exist.  Rather magnanimously of them, they decided that if one of the dinosaurs had to go it would be Torosaurus, given its later date of naming.
Then in 2011 Andrew Farke, a paleontologist with a ceratopsian bent, said that was all twaddle and required a bunch of things unknown in ceratopsians, such as the opening-up of the holes in its skull later in life, the bone texture of the skull swapping itself from an adult’s to a juvenile’s and then back again, and the addition of little bitty nubbly bumps around the frill’s edges (the term, apparently, is “eppoccipitals”).  So now who knows what the hell’s going on.  Maybe Torosaurus is an adult Triceratops.  Maybe it isn’t.  Maybe oh who the hell knows we’ll find out in the next few decades if we’re lucky.

Evidence For an Immature Designer

The feet that launched a thousand children under the covers whenever they heard scraping noises in the hallway.

We all know the dromaeosaurs.  Okay, fine, we all know the RAPTORS, even if most of our knowledge is as inaccurate as all-get-out.  Everybody loves a good terrifying predator, and switchblade feet are suitably creepy for an already alarming concept: big lizardy thing that wants to eat you.  That reminds me, they’re definitely feathered nowadays.  Yup.  Irrefutable proof of feather knobs on boatloads of ‘em, PLUS big ol’ feathers all over their arms and tails and down elsewhere.  Outright scaly’s been out for a long time, but feathered is the new leathered.  Just don’t let it get to you – anyone who disputes the fearsomeness of big feathery animals has never been attacked by a goose.  The entire dromaeosaur family remains every bit as graceful, sinister, and elegantly razorbladed as before, and nobody can prove differently.  Up until the summer of 2010, when a new species was discovered in Romania.

Oh what the flipping bicycle-pumping Christ is this.

Yes, your eyes are not fooling you.  Two.  Claws.  Well, the usual number of five, but two BIG claws, the ones that flip and slash and hack.  That’s right, we found the dinosaur you all drew when you were six.  Sometimes nature just has no class or restraint whatsoever.  What next, we’re going to find a two-headed hundred-foot tyrannosaur?
The new arrival to the family is named Balaur, and it seems to be one of those wonderfully weird little evolutionary runarounds you get when you maroon animals for a few million years on tiny little islands: it shares its territory (Hațeg, Romania, which was Hațeg Island more than 65 mya) with a petite 20-foot titanosaur named Magyarosaurus, a miniscule 7-8-foot nodosaur known as Struthiosaurus, a teeny 16-foot hadrosaur called Telmatosaurus, and possibly one of the largest pterosaurs ever to live, named Hatzegopteryx, unless it was really a species of Quetzlcoatlus.  Who knows.
Balaur does contain one crucial detail that both separates it from a juvenile’s daydream and brings it closer to both its island peers and the majority of the dromaeosaur family: it was really tiny, and would’ve been lucky to break 7 feet in length.

The Deadliest Budgie

An ordinary human just like me or you drew this. But it would not be strange to suggest that he may have also been a wizard.

Feathered dinosaurs.  Old hat!  Been there and done that and purchased the t-shirt, lunchbox, action figure, and app!  Related to birds?  Damned right!  This is the twenty-first century and we are no longer a bunch of idiotic rabble huddled together around the campfire of ignorance babbling about how birds are somehow related to crocodiles and Archeopteryx doesn’t mean a damned thing.  Why, we had Microraptor over for dinner just the other night.  So top THAT. 
Fine.  Have a feathered full-grown tyrannosaurid.
Now let’s not get super-excited and carried away here.  Tyrannosaurids are the superfamily, tyrannosaurs are the family – this isn’t a close, personal cousin of T-rex here that we’ve learned was probably coated in 15-cm fibrous feathery filament fuzzies from snout to tail-tip, it’s a second cousin once removed or something.  Let’s stay calm and reasonable here as we look at these facts.  Calm and reasonable.
Yutyrannus (Feathered Tyrant) was named in 2012, measured roughly thirty feet long, and was coated in plumage (species name huali: beautiful).  It probably lived in an area with a climate about ten degrees above zero.  It is currently the largest known feathered dinosaur.
WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Jesus Christ it’s Over and Done With

Thankfully, 65 million years too late to be scavenged.

The last person who firmly believed that Tyrannosaurus rex was an obligate scavenger died in captivity today as doctors attempted desperately to operate and remove a fatal clot of obstinance from his brain.  To his last breath he stubbornly refused to admit that practically every damned vertebrate carnivore ever that wasn’t a big lazy soaring flappy thing was entirely unopposed to killing its own food now and then, because there’s utterly no advantage in being a slow-moving land-dwelling schlub that refuses to make its own meals.  A memorial service is planned Tuesday.

Picture Credits:
Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus: A really nice mural painted by Charles R. Knight back in 1927.
Torosaurus Skull: Public domain image from wikipedia.
Deinonychus Foot: Image from Didier Descouens on Wikipedia, taken June 4th 2011.
Balaur Foot: Image from Ghedoghedo on Wikipedia, taken October 30th 2011 at Munich Fossil Show.
Yutyrannus: Ridiculously beautiful image taken from http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/2012/04/04/giant-feathered-tyrannosaurs/, and drawn by Brian Choo 2012.
Cemetary at Worms: Public domain image from Wikipedia.