Archive for November, 2012

Storytime: The Interview.

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

So, how old were you?
“You really want to know?”
It’s important.
“…Shit, nine?”
Does it always happen that early?
“Well, you’ve got to remember, today’s youth isn’t what it was. We grew all knowing about it – it was something the cool guys did. Hell, half our parents did it, and only half of THOSE even tried to hide it. Kids aren’t that dumb, we all knew what was going on.”
So you were nine. How did it happen?
“I can remember it pretty good. A lot of stuff from back then is all gone except for the colours, but I held on tight to this. It’s late November. The sky’s that total off-white grey thing you get during the first real snowfalls – you know what I mean? – and me and my friends are all out late on our street messing around. Throwing crabapples on the road, you know. Pointless kid stuff. I won’t name anybody; they’re all doing fine, that’s all I’ll say. But they’re damned lucky to be that way. They could’ve been me. All of them, could’ve been me.”
“So we were goofing around, and then out of nowhere, this guy – let’s call him Jake, he was my best friend’s friend, not my friend, you know how it is – just up stuck his tongue out and ate a snowflake. Just like that, not even showing off. Like it was normal.”
What was your reaction?
“Well, I flipped the hell out, of course. I was a little tightass back then, and I knew that you were supposed to be hiding this stuff, and we were right near my house of course so I had to act up for any parents that were, don’t know, hiding in the bushes or something. But, uh, Jake just laughed at me. And then he dared me to do it.”
Your response?
“I said that was gross and he was a freaky weirdo, and he was going to get sick from all the crap in it. But Jake said I was a dumbass. Said around here all the snow was white as milk, all clean and fresh. No impurities. Then he double-dared me.”
“And then I did it.”
What was it like?
“Cold, mostly. I got so nervous I swallowed down the wrong pipe, spent five minutes coughing my lungs out and trying not to throw up. By then everybody else’d got over their laughing and given it a try. So I made a big show about how they were all gross and stomped off home with them laughing at me for being such a dip. And then… just as I’m reaching for the doorbell, swear to god….this big, fat, soft flake lands right on my mitt. It’s practically winking at me.”
What did you do?
“What do you think? And it was so much easier than the last time. Crisp. Clear. Clean. Perfect. Love at first shot. Nine years old.”

What happened next?
“Well, I sort of hid it from my parents. Obviously. Hid it from my friends too, because kids are dumb and don’t want to admit they’re wrong. Started a bad habit of covering shit up there, that did. And it probably didn’t help my addiction process – the other kids, they were social snow-eaters, sneak a flake or two to help them all relax together after school. Me, I was eating handfuls in the corner of the playground and making ‘ew’ noises at them for it.”
Did they ever find out?
“No. Not seriously. We did grow apart a bit as the years went on, and part of that was that their habit was less and less of one and mine more and more a compulsion. Especially after the third summer. Christ the hard times were hard.”
Tell us what made that summer so difficult.
“The first summer was sort of sad. I missed the flakes, you know? The second summer I was annoyed, but got over it. But the third one…I kept taking more, get it? Your third high isn’t as good as the second isn’t as good as the first. Nothing beats the first. So you take more and more and all of a sudden the summer’s here and you’re not going to see the ass-side of a droplet for six months. Rough stuff, when you’re twelve. Rough stuff. Puberty AND a snow problem. I wouldn’t stop fighting with my brother. All that stuff about how it makes you relaxed – that shit’s only when you’re high. When you come down, you just don’t give a damn about anything but when your next shot’s gonna be.”
How did the third summer change things?
“Well, I knew I couldn’t handle that twice. Got grounded so many times I almost forgot what the world past our driveway looked like. So I started a stash. Kept a plastic bag in the meat fridge out in the shed – not too big though. Wasn’t a total idiot, knew I had to keep it small enough that nobody’d look inside. Sometimes I think mom found it and thought it was dad’s; I knew he’d been up to some cold stuff back in his youth. Maybe I helped the divorce along a little more roughly. Didn’t think of it at the time.”
Did the stash help?
“Fuck no. Made things a lot worse. See, now that I was calmed down enough to go out and about during the summer, I saw kids acting just I’d been. I could spot what they were wanting a mile off. I was looking through the eyeballs of Adam Smith’s asshole there, and what I saw was demand. And then I looked back at my bag at home, and I saw supply. And we all know what happens when demand chunks the hell out of supply, hey?”
So you sold it.
“Yeah. I just gave away little bits at first as favours, then when I ran low I started charging. Was cutting my own throat at the start, really, ‘till I saw the sort of desperation I was working with. Ran a pretty tight monopoly ‘till grade nine.”
What happened then?
“Bigger school, more freedom, more competition. Some kids out there had access to fridges even. Nobody was going to pay fifty bucks for a half-assed palmful of melted sludge anymore. So I had two options: I could quit, or I could go whole hog. Guess which one I did.”
You were a dealer.
“Yeah. And a good one. I got by without even having a fridge; I ended up being almost more of a broker than the product-man. Found clients, talked them along, hooked them up with the cold stuff, got the commissions. Made me a really popular guy. And of course that was a feedback loop, because the more people liked me the easier it was for me to get them to bring in new customers. Repeat ad nauseum. Shit, that’s the only Latin I remember from grade twelve.”
When did you realize how serious what you were getting into was?
“Honestly? I don’t think I ever did, and there’s one clear memory I got that really shows that. I was seventeen and fucking around with some bad friends of mine – all the guys I worked with; really we had a better work ethic than anybody else our age, we were the entrepreneurs – and, let’s say, Trish, she breaks out an icicle.”
Just like Jake and the snowflake.
“No, no, no. Jake, it was casual, and that drew your eye. Trish, it was a showpiece. ‘Check THIS shit out, kiddos.’ I remember her saying that. I don’t know if she said it, but I remember her saying that.”
Did you have some?
“Well, with these guys I didn’t have any squeaky-clean image to preserve, AND I knew what I was doing – I didn’t, but that’s what I thought – AND I was pretty sure I was immune to the side effects of the stuff. Wilful blindness. So I did it. I saw the hard stuff, and I took it.”
“I’ve never beaten that high. I swore off snowflakes and never looked back.”
Because they’d led you to icicles.
“That’s right. Pure gateway chill, they were. Wasn’t a pure icicle, though. Years later, when I had more experience with this sort of thing, I think I decided somebody’d cut it with dog piss. Still the best stuff I’d ever had. Have ever had.”
What happened then?
“Well, I kept my hand in the snow trade, but I sort of slacked off. Spent a lot of time looking up ice and stuff – never on school computers, I wasn’t an idiot; deleted my home browsing history too – and decided that it was way too complicated to deal with in high school. So I went into university as a climatology student.”
This is a common perception of the profession, isn’t it?
“Yeah. Everybody ‘knows’ the clime students are just in it to get super high, right? Right. So of course nobody’d ever believe one of them really WAS chilling up homecooled ice in his fridge in the dorm. Cover story was that it was too obvious a cover story – sort of smart, but really stupid. And risky. My roomy found my stash at one point; I could tell he’d moved the boxes of old waffles I hid the cooling racks behind. But he never said anything, and I wasn’t sure if he was planning to rat me out or if he just wasn’t going to talk. Spent three months worrying I’d have to kill a guy if I didn’t want to earn my Bachelor’s in the fed.”
Obviously, he didn’t talk.
“Nope. Christ, I spent ninety-seven days sweating like a pig and dropping grades because of this guy, and in the end, he probably’d never even recognized what he’d been looking at. How stupid is THAT?”
After graduation, what did you do?
“Failed, mostly. If I’d been more self-aware, I could’ve seen it coming.”
“Yeah. I kept abusing my own product. Couldn’t make enough to sell in uni, so I got in the habit of just shooting it up as I made it. Fancied I’d make myself a connoisseur or dispose of the evidence or some shit, I don’t know what the hell. But it was stupid as fuck. I made myself five times the druggie I was in high school, and once I lost access to easy lab materials, well, that was it for my savings. I went through the motions of trying to have a life, but I didn’t anymore. Not really. My life was ice, and ice didn’t come cheap. Fuck, I couldn’t even go on a date without ducking into the washroom to crunch the ice cubes in my drink. Couldn’t go for two hours in a nice restaurant with an attractive single without cooling down. I was pretty much on the fast-track to human waste.”
And what saved you?
“Well, I had to start living at home again once my savings were gone, and my dad was concerned enough about my finances that he started to notice I was losing more than I was claiming. So he had a friend look into me. On the force.”
And you were caught?
“Busted hardcore. I think dad was hoping I was being exorted or something, he was really shocked when it came out that his kid was an addict to the hard, cold, long stuff. And I really was by then. Third day of custody I was begging to do anything for some ice – any ice. Ice from an industrial gutter, black ice off the highway with salt in it, ice made from frozen cat piss – way worse than the dog stuff, real sharp vinegar that cuts your eyes and mouth both. I had to have ice. The only thing separating me and those dead-inside-schmucks that hang around airport runways to lick the residue off’ve returned planes was that I hadn’t sold my nice clothes yet.”
And where did that get you?
“Well, here. Thirty-five to life for possession, with no parole. Minus five years or so for taking part in this. And that’s only because I was never convicted for the snow-selling back in school; that’d net me life without parole.”
Do you have any advice for our audience?
“Sure: kids, just don’t fucking do it. It’s cheesy as hell, but Just Say No. No to Snow. It’ll take you down a bad, hard road that don’t stop ‘till it hits the bottom, and that’s just a pause to catch its breath.”

Sam Hardin was a snow user. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of all snow users become snow addicts. One hundred and ten percent of all snow addicts end up taking icicles and becoming homeless degenerates that crowd the streets of our nation.
End the campaign to legalize snow: Just Say No to Snow.

Storytime: Imagination.

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Recess came to Double River Elementary, and the bell rang ding-ding-ling-ding-dong. A signal for the first-grade class of Mr. Buckle to troop outdoors and enjoy the fresh mountain air and for Alan Sebastian Buckle himself to stand in the parking lot and set tobacco on fire in an unobtrusive corner while jamming it in his mouth, a curious habit that was becoming scarcer by the year.
The children began their recess playtime as they always did, in the same curious, well-behaved way that all the adults of Double River commented on so encouragingly. Two lines, just like the Old Milsop and the Young Milsop, just like the rivers (well, streams, really) that ran either side of main street, as formal as a marching band, each six-year-old looking another six-year-old straight in the eye. Glaring another six-year-old in the eye. Judging. Calculating. Strategizing.
It was all part of the game, you see. And it was always properly random, so it was all fair and nobody could complain except for the people who were paired off with Leslie Walnut and Gregory Macintyre, because you had to cut them a little slack after that sort of luck.
Silence reigned. Well, it reigned all day in the schoolyard anyways, but now, full of children, it reigned with a little more authority and gusto. A day-old newspaper displaying a lady with no shirt on blew its nervous way from one side of the playground to the other. Fingers twitched.
Claire Benedict, standing at the side of the line closest to the fence, cleared her throat and stared at the torso of Tim Maple opposite her. “I pretend,” she said, “that I’m a giant robot transformer.”
There was no noise, though it seemed there should’ve been – no whoosh, no foom, not even a good-old-fashioned zzzap! Steel shone and gravel flew as Claire sank into the playground up to her treads. She had to flail her enormous gun-arms a bit to stabilize herself, and knocked over the school flagpole like a toothpick.
Tim narrowed his eyes as a cannon that would’ve been oversized on a battleship pointed itself at him, and his six-year-old brain took the easiest way out. “Well I pretend that I’m a BIGGER giant robot transformer,” said Tim Maple.
The easiest way out was taken, and Tim stood over twice the height of Claire, towering over the schoolyard like a colossus. A colossus with even worse balance than she did, as a quick shot to the kneecap proved.
Tim fell over. Half the school went with him, including two kids that were a bit slow to duck and Mr. Alan Sebastian Buckle, who’d just wondered what the hell those noises were.
Everyone stared at Tim – or at least his left leg, which was most of what could be seen of him. Then Claire pulled back her cannon-arm and shot him in the head, removed most of it and filling the air with the smell of burning wires.
That was the signal for everyone to start all at once.

Charlie Norton swallowed excessively hard, looked at the expectant face of Gregory Macintyre, and decided to get it over with.
“I pretend that I’m –”
“Ipretendyoumeantheoppositeofeverythingyousay,” said Gregory with the poker face and deadly aim of a quick-draw master.
“-super strong,” finished Charlie. And fell over.

“I pretend,” said Emma Thompson, whose family had seen a movie or two over the past few evenings, “that I’m a vellossoripter.” She flexed her claws and pounced.
“I pretend,” said Toby Fenton, whose family had seen those same movie or two and had let him watch all the scary bits without skipping, ‘”that I’m a T-rex.”
There was a brief moment mid-leap where Emma attempted to complain of the unfairness of this and also dodge. She failed at both and forfeited everything north of her ankles, sending sickle-tipped toes spinning across the playground.

“I pretend that I’m Darth Vader,” declared Ethan Stewart, sticking to what he knew worked.
“Well I pretend that I’m Luke Skywalker,” argued Donna Timmons, who spotted the problem right away.
Both of them fired up lightsabers, ffweeooowr, Both of thew swung –zweeoooh, swish, swing, zap. Both of them cut off one another’s sword-hands. Ouch. Thud.
They stared at each other in mutual frustration.
Leslie Walnut cleared her throat, drawing their attention. “I pretend,” she said, with perfect inflection, “that I’m the Emperor.”

“I pretend that you died,” said Hanna Hamilton to Douglas Fur. Doug opened his mouth, took a deep breath, and was slightly too late.
Hanna grinned triumphantly and turned to her next opponent, Jennifer Finch. “You too,” she said.
Jennifer Finch hadn’t trained herself to be the first hand up when the teacher spoke for nothing. “Nuh-uh,” she shot back.
“Yuh-uh,” replied Hanna.
“Nope. I’m in an invincibubble. You can’t hurt me.”
Hanna glared at the soft velvety sphere that had formed around her opponent. Then she recalled the science class of that very morning, and grinned. “What can break an invincibubble?”
“Nothing,” said Jennifer, cautiously.
“So air can’t break it. You’re gonna run out of oxx-y-genn,” sing-sang Hanna triumphantly.
“Nu-uh!” blurted Jennifer as faint purpleness crept in around her gills. “Air can go through ‘cause it’s see-through.”
Hanna snarled. Which was a bad idea, because you can’t talk when you’re snarling, and it gave Jennifer the three seconds she needed for her second idea. “And,” she continued, “it’s super hard and tough. I pretend I bounce up and down on your head one hundred and eleventy times.”
Hanna wasn’t in a mood for math. Math had stolen the best half-hour of her morning. Given this, it was probably a good thing that she wasn’t able to count past ‘one’.

“I pretend,” said Zack Newton with the confidence of a man who’s got it all figured out, “that I can’t die.”
Gregory Macintyre considered him calmly. “I pretend you’re stuck a billion feet underground forever and ever.”

“I pretend I’m Batman, and I punch you” said Robert Cross.
“I pretend I’m Spider-Man, and I tie you up in webs” countered Frankie Edwards.
“Well I pretend I’m the Hulk and I smash you really hard!” replied Robert, struggling to get his mask out of his mouth and succeeding in cobwebbing his tongue.
“I pretend I’m Superman now and I punch you SUPER hard!”
The resulting shockwave destroyed what was left of the area around the school and sent the other combatants tumbling through the air, forced to pretend parachutes, wings, and anti-gravity jet packs or just fall like rocks, a choice that half of them took.

“I pretend that I’m the best at everything,” said Tammy Windhouse. And just like that, she heaved up Stewart Maclean and Susan Dean and tossed them into outer space. “See?” she said. Then she poked Jennifer Finch’s invincibbule with one finger and pop, it faded.
“I pretend that I’m the infinity best at everything!” yelled Jennifer. She tackled Tammy and sent her careening through the town, slamming into the Main Street bridge and straight to the bottom of the river.
“I, pretend” slurred Tammy through a mouthful of bruise as Jennifer lifted her up by her neck, “am the infinity best. Plus. One.” She caught Jennifer’s fist in her teeth, then bit it off into Jennifer’s face, which vanished along with most of the rest of her. Then she cackled.
It was the best cackle, of course. The best plus one.
The dust settled, and from its obscuring swathe came a lone, slightly short figure.
“I pretend I’m the infinity best plus two,” said Leslie Walnut.
Tammy glared at her. “Are not. No such thing.”
“Yu-uh. Two is better than one.”
Tammy opened her mouth to argue this, but Leslie Walnut was plus two faster than her. And suddenly plus two more alive.

Two lone figures alone in the parking lot of the mall. The cars have been pretended away. The shoppers are hiding inside, peering through windows.
Eyes narrow. Teeth clench. Fingers flex. And then a breath is taken, and then:
“I pretend I’m the prime minister,” said Hal Green, “and I tell the whole army to come and kill you.”
“I pretend I’m the president of the United States,” countered Leo Grouse, “and I tell MY whole army to come and kill YOU.”
There was a moment there, as the countless men surrounding them reloaded and the battalions of tanks that had flattened the mall in their approach revved their engines. A moment where their expensive suits ruffled softly in the breeze.
“My army’s better,” said Hal, sulkily.
“Are not,” said Leo. “Geography told me so.”
Standing directly in between the two opposing forces, neither of their opinions soon mattered to them, or to two-thirds of Double River in general.

And so finally there were only two. But a different two.
Leslie Walnut and Gregory Macintyre come sauntering down Main Street towards one another, north and south. Piles of demolished cars surround them; deceased pretend-ninjas and pretend-pirates, pretend-cyborgs, even a pretend-space-whale are scattered about like disused action figures.
“I pretend,” called down Leslie, “that I got a really big gun.” The biggest gun; a hand cannon that looked more like a hand howitzer.
“I pretend that I got a bigger gun,” said Gregory, cautiously. And it was, but only barely.
“I pretend that I got a laser plasma gun,” said Leslie. It was so full of glowing tubes that there was barely room for the barrel.
“I pretend that I got a rocket launcher,” said Gregory Macintyre. “And it launches actual rockets. Moon rockets.” His arm nearly broke. “And I pretend that I can pick it up ‘cause I’m super big and strong.”
Leslie’s brow creased as she looked up at the thousand-foot colossus, whose shoulder-mounted weaponry was about the same size as he was. “I pretend,” she said, “that I’m Godzilla’s mommy. So I’m ten times as big as he is, and I’ve got ten times as good breath. It’s like a super nukular laser times a hundred.”
Gregory glared up at the giant lizard now facing him thanks to the power of multiplication. “I pretend that I’m as strong as the whole planet all at once,” he said.
Leslie’s eyes watered as an abstract concept crossed them, then snapped back into a focus that would probably be impossible past puberty. “I pretend that I’m as strong as the whole world at once plus the sun and moon at once.”
“I pretend I’m stronger.”
“I pretend I’m stronger than that.”
“I pretend I’m the strongest.”
“I pretend I’m the strongest plus one!”
“I pretend I’m the strongest for infinity plus one!”
“I pretend I’m the strongest for infinity plus infinity plus the earth and the sun and the moon and all the stars at once.”
“Well I pretend I’m just as strong as that!”
Leslie considered this. “I pretend you can’t-“
“-pretend anymore,” said Leslie, in annoyance. “AND Ican’tbepretendedbyanyonebutme.”
They looked at each other. No last minute thoughts? One.
Three. And BAM.

When the dust settled, most of the universe wasn’t there anyore.
“I pretend that nobody was dead anymore.”
The tiny biomass of earth floated in an emptiness that didn’t even include space.
“Oops.” A moment’s careful thought was applied. “I pretend that everything was back to normal.”

And that was when the bell rang dong-ding-dang-dang-long, because recess was over and Mr. Buckle wanted them all back inside now that he’d had some nicotine in his veins again. The rest of the day would be nice and smooth and quiet, yes. He was relaxed, and not just from the smoke break – the kids were always so quiet after recess. Nice to see they were so well-behaved on their own.

Storytime: How to Get Their Attention.

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Heaven knows why what Marjorie did came as such a shock to her family. She’d given them plenty of warning for it.
Why, that very morning, as her husband stalked the house in a full-blown mantrum, she’d told him so, cautioned him carefully. As he pointedly exchanged one-to-four word responses to any of her inquiries, deliberately ignoring anything that indicated how thoroughly wrong he’d been in their discussion, she sighed and said: “I swear, one of these days you lot are going to drive me to go out and live in the woods.”
But her husband was busy picking up small objects and putting them down unnecessarily firmly in the same place, and so he did not pay her any attention.
Later in the afternoon, her two children were fighting. Somebody had taken somebody else’s piece of plastic, and then they’d broken it, and now whose fault was it because if SOMEBODY hadn’t been grabbing their arm they wouldn’t have dropped it and why won’t you spank them mom huh why won’t you spank them WHY DON’T YOU BELIEVE IN CORPORAL PUNISHMENT IN THIS SPECIFIC SITUATION HUH MOM?
Marjorie was trying to compose an email to a client and had been stuck on sentence three for the past half-hour. She shook her head and once again tried to remember what an adjective was, tried to imagine a concept that existed outside the ingrown skull of a seven-year-old. “Christ,” she said, “if you guys don/t pipe down soon, I’m just going to go and live in the honest-to-goodness woods. I’ve got a spot picked out and everything, really and truly.”
But her children were both under the age of ten and therefore unable to hear anything but themselves, and so they didn’t pay her any heed.
Finally came dinner, which Marjorie’s husband had prepared by picking up many ingredients and firmly slapping them together without looking at anyone or any of the labels. Consequently, it was mysterious, and possibly contained pasta, and for some reason Marjorie’s favourite mug was being used as a container for the tomato sauce, and it made the children complain almost as bitterly as they snipped at one another. Almost.
“Quit pushing me.”
“YOU’RE pushing me.”
“Am not.”
“Are so, ‘cause you’re still mad that you broke the toy.”
“YOU broke the toy.”
“Did not.”
“Did too.”
And so on ad nauseum.
“Pass the tomato sauce, please,” said Marjorie to her husband. He picked up her favourite mug and placed it in front of her, wordlessly and excessively firmly. She sighed.
“This tastes gross,” complained the older child.
“Eww,” agreed the younger child.
“I thought of it first.”
Marjorie’s husband poured himself a glass of water and drank it with a needless amount of force. She counted to ten inside her head, wondered why her mother had always told her to do that, and said: “You know, this is pretty good.”
The children bickered. Her husband grunted.
“Tomaatooooo sauce,” said her youngest child.
“What do you say?” asked Marjorie automatically.
“Tomato sauce NOW,” repeated her child.
“Tomato sauce now or else?”
“Also no.”
Marjorie’s husband picked up her favourite mug and passed it with excessive force, causing it to crack and split in half.
“IT WASN’T MY FAULT,” proclaimed her children simultaneously.
Marjorie counted to eleven, got up from her chair, and walked downstairs, where she retrieved her shovel and left her clothes. She was halfway up the hill in the backyard and making for the treeline before they noticed she was gone.

“Where you going mooommm hey where are you going what are you doing mom,” asked her oldest child, all in one breath and immediately running out of it.
“I told you all, and warned you properly,” said Marjorie. “I’m going to go live in the woods. There’s no use arguing, my mind’s made up. You can all go and be obnoxious by yourselves.”
“But moooooooooooommmm,” managed her youngest child before succumbing to near-anoxia.
“Be reasonable, honey,” said her husband. “You’ll freeze to death or starve or get eaten by coyotes or something.”
“No,” said Marjorie, halting at a likely spot on a pretty hillside. “That’s not going to be a problem. I’m going to be a tree. And you can all just go straight back home, see if I care.” And she shoveled a small pit open and stood in it.
“This isn’t very normal,” said the husband.
“Don’t care. Bug off now.”
So they bugged off and Marjorie stood in one place and focused on thinking about roots.

A short, burly-hurly man (more hurly than burly) came up the hill the next day, with some glasses. “Hello,’ he said. “I’m a psychologist. Are you the lady who thinks she’s a tree?”
“I AM a tree,” said Marjorie. “Look, you can see the bark.” And she showed him her arm.
“Oh, how fascinating – tactile delusions. That’s very interesting. My word. What is it, pine?”
“Oh, how very interesting. Tell me about your mother.”
“Ask her yourself and she’ll tell you. That’s a bit personal, isn’t it?”
The man frowned. “Uh, I suppose so. Gosh I’m sorry. Right, uhm, what about your father?”
“Same thing.”
“Oh dear. Oh dear. I don’t suppose this is all something about repressed urges? Maybe, uh….sexual? Something about incest I guess – it’s a bit gross.”
“No. Not even remotely. That was mostly just Freud.”
“He was a bit strange then?”
“Yes. You’re not really a psychologist, are you?”
He sagged. “No. Not really. But I read a book once, and I’m a friend of one of your husband’s friends, so…”
“You can tell my husband that I’m perfectly fine, and you can tell your friend that this is none of his beeswax. At all. If I want beeswax there’s a perfectly good hive just up the hill in a friendly pine. Now clear off, and if I were you I’d take my advice and read something written in the last century.”
He cleared off. Marjorie composed herself and focused on needles.

The next day an extremely short woman came up the hill and prodded Marjorie with her finger. “Larch,” she said sourly. “Larch. I didn’t raise a daughter of mine to be a larch of all things. Sakes alive, Margie, couldn’t you have at least been a nice redwood or something?”
“Hi, mom,” said Marjorie. “They phoned you in, didn’t they?”
“I mean, they’re pretty at least,” continued her mother, blissfully ignoring the question and thereby confirming the answer. “You could’ve consulted me on this.”
“We’re too far north and too dry for redwoods, mom. I’d fall over. Besides, they’re too big. I wouldn’t feel comfortable.”
“Oh, and other trees are so much smaller, I expect? Typical nit-picking. Just typical. And you didn’t even tell me – oh what a MOOD you’re in this week.”
“Mom, they were driving me completely nuts. It was this or kill them all and burn the house down.”
“Oh really?”
“Yes, really.”
“Well serves ‘em right then. Mind if I smoke?”
“Yes. I’ve got needles now and you’ll get them all sooty.”
“Right.” Marjorie’s mother lit up her cigarette after three minutes fumbling with the lighter and muttering, then had a nice hourlong chat with Marjorie about how her boyfriend was a nuisance sometimes and had she heard about what Julie did? (She hadn’t) It was half-past midnight before she left, leaving Marjorie just enough time to comb the tar off her needles and doze off.

She woke up to the sound of a polite cough and the sight of her neighbour, Tammy, holding an axe.
“You’d better have a better explanation for this than I think you’re going to,” she told her.
“Well… I was thinking that maybe if I just get your legs free you’ll go home, and I do all the forestry work so-”
“They talked you into this, didn’t they?”
“Maybe,” said Tammy. “Look, you really shouldn’t be doing this. Trust me, people make lousy trees.”
“Well I’m staying put and I’m doing all right so far. I’ve got needles and bark and a good spot with enough sun and water to keep me going all year round for years. No reason to move at all and a lot less stress than down there. All my neighbours may be green and trying to passive-aggressively kill me through competition but at least they’re quiet.”
“Oh fine,” said Tammy, with an exasperated sigh. “Well, if that’s the way it’s going to be, we need a Christmas tree this year and-”
“We wouldn’t use the axe I mean we could just leave you up here and put some tinsel on-“
“But you’re in a great spot, I mean the lights would be visible for-“
“No. Go away, you’re in MY light.”
Tammy sighed again. “Fine. Be that way. Don’t listen to the experts.” She left Marjorie alone, giving her enough time to practice her twigsprouting before the day was done.

Three days went by.
They go fast when you’re sleepwalking, and they go faster when you’re busy adjusting your sap levels for the winter and bracing your roots for frost and getting those needles arrayed just right. Rest is for the deciduous.

And on the evening of day three, up the hill came the family, two small and one big.
“Hey mooom,” said her youngest child. “Are you gonna come back inside yeeet?”
“No,” she said. “It’s nice up here and the air’s clean and tasty. And I’m busy.”
“But it’s coold,” complained her oldest child. “And there’s bugs.”
“The bugs are DEAD,” said her youngest child.
“Not all the bugs.”
“Yeah they are.”
“Nu-uh, I saw a bug on the way here.”
“Liar liar.”
“Shush,” said her husband. “Look, honey, do you think you could come back inside? It’s going to start snowing soon.”
“I’ll be fine,” said Marjorie. “I’m not really as temperature-sensitive as I used to be. Really. None of you are even wearing your jackets.”
“We were in a hurry,” he mumbled.
“I’m sure.”
“Give her the present give her the present come ON what are we waiting for give her the present go on go go go OOOoooON!” chanted her children.
Marjorie’s husband put a little box on the ground – he had to, because Marjorie couldn’t and wouldn’t move her branches – and opened it.
Inside was Marjorie’s favourite mug. It had been glued back together with that painstaking lack of care and patience that was unmistakably childish. It had also been repainted with somewhat more detail.
“It’s very nice,” said Marjorie, with the practiced ease of half-a-decade of Mother’s Day behind her. “Very, very nice. Did you spend a lot of time on it?”
“Ten minutes,” said her oldest child proudly.
“And I did all the work,” said her youngest child.
Her oldest child opened its mouth and had it immediately covered by her husband. “We made some dinner for you.”
Marjorie considered this. “I don’t really eat anymore.”
“It’s fish and chips.”
Marjorie considered this a bit longer and more carefully. “Well, maybe just a little. Pass me that shovel.”
It took an hour to dig up her roots and rebury them properly so she’d be able to fetch them again in the morning. It took six minutes to find a way to fit her inside (through the patio door – the screens needed to come out anyways). And it took seven tries before it was determined that yes, Marjorie didn’t really eat anymore, even if she tried fairly hard.
But the mug was very pretty, and water seemed to taste better inside it. And the walking had worn the children out, so Marjorie got to talk to her husband a bit that night and that was nice.

So she re-rooted herself on the back lawn – but never too deeply – and they raised the ceiling a little bit, and altogether that worked just fine.

Storytime: The Exhibition.

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

It began, as most troubles do, with mail.
The pamphlet was cool, slim, and professional; a really sleek and ergonomically designed piece of work that looked almost triumphantly uncomfortable in the rusty, wall-eyed mailbox that the mailman had stuffed it into not thirty seconds before. Howard’s puckered old fingers shook with excitement as he yanked it free and gently nudged it out of its sheath. A quick ogling confirmed his joyous suspicions, and he couldn’t contain his glee.
“Consarn it Howard shut the hell up. What will the neighbours think?”
“Nothing! They live forty miles away and who gives a flying fig, Lyle? Who really does give a single sweet jumping fig if I feel good in the mornings, eh?” Howard skipped his way back up to the front door with the verve of a younger and less arthritic man, waving his mail like a trophy. “Look! Look at this!”
Lyle’s face was already a mass of frown lines, but they seemed to deepen by oh about a foot each as he looked at the pamphlet. “Museum,” he said, each syllable elongated with disgust. “A Special Exhibition. Eugh! Tastelessness!”
“Oh Lyle, really?”
“The history of mankind and womenkind is the history of tawdrykind, Howard! You know mother warned us off against that sort of thing! Half the informationable boards will be filled with luridness and cheap filth, no doubt! Best to keep yourself at home and yourself’s mind out of the gutters. The turnips need weeding.”
“I weeded the turnips yesterday afternoon, I did, I did. Almost lost a finger but I did I swear it’s true. And besides anyways, this is an exhibition of prehistoric and archaic flora and fauna – no humans at all.”
Lyle’s watery, razory eyes blinked with venomous slowness. “No humans?”
“Not even so much as a baby sandwich.”
He considered this. “Not even a…small baby sandwich?”
“Not even that. No sliced bread or babies for at least a million years after their youngest item on display.”
“Pah, even worse then! At least people have the decency to do….that sort of thing… indoors behind closed curtains and locked doors and guard dogs! Animals get up to that sort of…business… in the streets! Prehistory?! Nothing but a long, sweaty, pounding tour of fortification!”
“Oh Lyle, don’t you mean ‘fornication’?”
“I know what I said that I meant what you knew, damnit! Isn’t proper English good enough for you? I’ll get in the car while you sort yourself out and pack us a lunch. And be quick about it! My lumbago is acting up.”

The Museum had been renovated in the last twenty years since Lyle and Howard had visited it; a giant crystal sprouted from its side and bulged shining light all across the street, a monument to architectural excess and the relative cheapness of reinforced glass in the modern era.
Howard loved it, and didn’t even need to ask Lyle’s opinion on it because Lyle gave it to him right away and he could ignore it safely.
“Now when we’re in there,” he told his brother, “you must NOT, I repeat, must NOT, I repeat, MUST NOT, one more time, MUST NOT AT ALL buy any CHEAP TOURIST TAT, are we clear on this set of particulars, Howard?”
“I have never done any such thing Lyle and I don’t feel that saying that to me is particularly fair.”
“Phah, we’ve both seen that look in your eyes when you look at….that sort of thing. You’ll spend half your life’s savings on monkeys in barrels and prostitutes and bagels if I don’t keep a sharp eye on you.”
“I don’t have any life’s savings, Lyle.”
“All the more important that you safeguard what you don’t have then! You’re a spendthrift soul, Howard. Why, you would’ve had us pay for parking even! PAY, for the privilege of being shut away in a great dirty underground garage!”
“It really was much nicer out in the fresh air,” agreed Howard. “Bracing, too. The thrill of the hunt for a parking space! The honk of horns, the screams of slurs…”
“I don’t see how everyone had missed that last space. It was plenty obvious. Public territory, too. Perfectly sound as a perfectly sound bell’s sounding.”
“I don’t think people nowadays are used to cars parking on the sidewalk.”
“They had plenty of space to squeeze round unless they were fat. And I say me to you, Howard, if any man today realizes what he has done to his belly to make it swole as a result of squeezing round our car, we have committed a minor act of grace without even trying.”
“Wow,” said Howard.
“Excuse me,” asked an extremely polite and very annoyed voice that they had been ignoring for the past two minutes, “are you two going to buy any passes?”
Lyle squinted through his ornery eye at the ticketmaster. “We were having a conversation, young, young, young lady,” he said severely. “No need for that sort of lip.”
Howard handed over a small and neatly shuffled sheaf of bills from a few decades back. “Two for the special exhibition, please.”
“Right. Here’s your stubs.”
Howard dithered. There was a specific way in which the foot is held and the hands work as the human body dithers, one that is hard to describe. Howard’s hands practically oscillated.
“I don’t suppose I could get a hand stamp?” he asked hopefully.
“Got rid of them ten years back.”
“Oh. I’m quite sorry,” he said, as kindly as he could manage.
“Just as well,” said Lyle. “Leads the youth to tattoos and violence and eating fries with the improper sort of condiments past midnight. Good riddance! Where’s the first stop?”
Howard unfolded his map. “Well, it’s….hmm. Some Triassic fossils!”
“Walking ones?”
“No, just regular old ones.”
“Well that’s just failing for lack of trying. What about giants? They got any giants?”
“They’ve got a giant ground sloth, but that’s part of the main museum.”
“A giant giant ground sloth?”
“Just a proper regular giant ground sloth.”
“Well this is turning dull. I believe you’ve picked up the wrong map, Howard. As is usual of you as our mother warned me of.”
“My feelings are being hurt, Lyle. Right here, just above my breast-bone.”
“Don’t use words like that in public or I’ll wash your mouth out with stoats. “
Howard sighed. “Excuse me miss, but do you have another map?”
“Sir, would you please get out of the way of the line.”
“Absolutely, just in a moment. You know, the OTHER map.”
“No sir. There is no other map.”
“The one with-“
“The good stuff,” interjected Lyle.
“-the good stuff, yes.”
The ticketmaster looked at the fifty-person buildup in her aisle, looked at the two withered old men, calculated the cost of making a fuss or calling security versus playing along with the burdens of senility. It was the sort of math that only a human brain could do, and hers did it very quickly indeed.
“Of course, sir. The other map. Here you go.”
Howard took the map politely and Lyle snatched it from his hand. “Thank you very much, miss. Have a pleasant day now.”
“You shouldn’t give away that sort of thing for free, Howard. People will get used to it.”
“Nobody can ever have enough pleasant days,” said Howard with perfect serenity. He ruffled his map. “How odd. She seems to have gotten mixed up. This is just the regular map with a doodle of….a stegosaurus. In pen.”
“The heat must have cooked her poor stupid young brains on account of being young, Howard. You should know about that sort of thing. If you hadn’t gotten your stupid young brains cooked on account of being young.”
“Sure enough, Lyle.” Howard tapped the map gently with his thumb and shook it four times. “There we go. All sorted out. See, here’s the entrance! Just besides the elevator you hit the wall with your thumb and it sends it to the bottomth floor.”
Howard did so. The wall cracked open, broke into little pieces, and opened up into a large, bulky device made mostly of quartz and extremely unfriendly angles.
“Never did trust these things,” muttered Lyle. “You can never trust anyone who doesn’t trust Euclid, mind you those words.”
“Euclid wasn’t due to be born for…” Howard flipped through his pamphlet. “…seven million years or so when this elevator was built, Lyle. Says here it was made by a race of terrifying monkey-men who worshipped the other side of the moon that no man has ever truly known.”
“No wonder the damned thing gives me the heeblies. Cheap monkey-man labour never did last reliably; I know a man who knew a man who had a sister that bought a watch off one of the little hairy bastards that only lasted two hundred years before it snapped in half and let all the demons out.”
“Lyle, you can’t just pass judgment on an entire people like that! What will the neighbours think?”
“They’ll hate our guts on account of us being the wrong colour, same as always. Why should I care?”
“I’ll admit that you make a convincing argument, Lyle.”
The doors creaked, groan, and mashed their way through another wall, disgorging the brothers into a space that was more cave than basement. Occasional marks on the stalactite-infested walls showed where someone had optimistically attempted to place a brick before giving up in perfectly rational disgust.
“Now, what’s up first? And be sharp about it! We want to get done with this place and leave before you learn anything that isn’t good for you.”
Howard flourished his map. “Let’s see…well, we’ve seen the protosimian transport. Next up is the trhinosceros.”
“Nothing but a cheap hoax, a P.T. Barnumism. Sew a third horn on a rhino, bam wam mystical magical creature cross my heart swear to god very cheap thank you very much sir. And then you take it home and it doesn’t have enough supernatural hootenanny in it to fertilize the turnip patch.”
“No, no, no, this one’s real! Not like the one that Lewis sold you.”
“Who said that was the one that Lewis sold me? I was doing him a favour, that was all. Rhino-sitting. For money. Which I paid him. There was no…grift involved!”
“Of course, of course.”
“We skip it,” said Lyle firmly. “What after that?”
Another map-ruffling. “A Lemurian Dodecahedramid.”
“Huh. They bring the whole thing in?”
“It says they had to leave it wedged halfway through the wall. But you can go in and wander around!”
“Pass. Damned lemurs loved traps. Getting forcibly devolved in the great interprimate wars was too soft on a bunch of critters that got that much joy out of making razor wire and bottomless pressure-plate-operated pits, I’ve always said that and I always will. Hope the whole lot of ‘em get poached out of existence toot sweet.”
“Extinction is forever, Lyle,” said Howard primly.
“No it isn’t. Remember the right whale?”
“Yes I do and I still fully support that action.”
“Damned hippiemancers. They sucked the flavour out of canned tuna for all time just to power the comeback of one itty-bitty extinct goddamned whale.”
“You hated canned tuna, Lyle.”
“Well I hate it MORE now. Forever. What else they got in here?”
Ruffle ruffle. “The skull of a mammoth-king.”
“What rank?”
“Hmmm…. Third dynasty, first Epoch. Fifth from the throne, ended his cousin’s reign by backstabbing and frontstabbing and side-smashing and skull-crushing.”
“How big’re his tusks?”
“That’s just not the sort of question you ask!”
“The mammoth’s been dead for thousands of years, Howard, and unless some goddamned hippy brings one back in the next ten seconds none of them are going to get offended at me so you can take your self-righteousness and piss on it. How big were those tusks there?”
Howard stalled and hummed, then caved in. “Ten feet,” he whispered. And blushed.
“Hah! Compensating for something, was he? Ten feet. Hah! Aha! Ha ha ha ha ha!”
“ANYWAYS,” said Howard, much, much too loudly, “they’ve got him in the third vault on the left if you want to take a-“
“Oh hell no Howard! Looking at that sort of thing is straight-up-straight-down-indecent and it might get IDEAS in your head. What else is there?”
“Let me see….oh! Oh!”
“What oh now?”
“They’ve got the bones of the last sorcerersaurus!”
“And, uhm, also the bones of the first sorcerersaurus.” Howard crossed and uncrossed his map, squinting at it.
“Apparently there was a bit of a time paradox.”
“They’ve got those damned things here? NOW? Near PEOPLE?! Get us the hell out of here five minutes ago damnit!”
“Calm down, Lyle.”
“I’m not calming down! You don’t calm down when you’re four seconds from being possessed by something seventeen clades away from your biggest throwback of a relative! Christ on a cracker with cheese what if he’s already GOT someone? Get in the elevator, get in the elevator, GET IN THE-“
“No, it’s fine. They’ve got his bones locked up in a ten-foot-thick solid iron cube made of leftovers from the Yucatan meteor crater.”
Lyle considered this, hand frozen halfway to the enormous rusty lever that summoned the lift.
Lyle’s body lost the nervous tension that had temporarily rid it of fifty years of wrinkles. “All right. Alright. All is right. Damnit, don’t do that sort of thing to me. You KNOW I got a bad heart.”
“You replaced the heart fifty years ago, Lyle. I picked the baboon out myself.”
“And you picked a damned lousy baboon, Howard. I told you and I told you and I told you again and again, you have got the worst way with monkeys I’ve ever seen or heard of.”
“No need for insults, Lyle. Shall we go see-“
“No. I’ll stay in the same building as that…thing but there’s no way in hell’s left clavicle that I’m going to be the closest breathing object to it when it decides it’s time for a jailbreak. Now shut up and tell me what’s next on the list.”
Howard said nothing.
“I thought you wanted me to shut up.”
“Oh quitcher sulking and gimme that.” Lyle snatched the paper from his brother’s unresisting fingers and ran a cursory squint over it. “Lessee….uh. Uhm. Hmmm. Ah. Okay. That’s good. And uh. Right. That’s no good. Right. Yeah.”
“Would you like me to read it to you, Lyle?”
“Look they make the damned print too fine nowadays, you know? It’s all those computers. Too much binary makes your alphabets shrink.” He thrust the pamphlet back into his brother’s hands. “Go on then. Show off. See if I care.”
“Well, there’s a fully crystallized mammal resistance stronghold. Half a mile across originally, shrunk to the size of your Adam’s apple. Part of the sorcerersaurus exhibit.”
“Howard, the only thing duller than living rats is dead, crystallized rats. And the only thing duller than THAT is self-important holier-than-thou underdog rats. And these are all of those things at once except for living. So no. Let ‘em be.”
“These are our ancestors, Lyle, who fought against a dreadful power for the future of their children!”
“Sure as hell not THEIR kids then, ‘cause they got fossified to their sixth degree of relation. Pass – there’s enough living idiots for us to gawk at; we don’t need to go find dead ones. Go on, what’s next.”
“The Tyrant’s Tassled Tscepter,” said Howard, rolling the words like bowling balls.
“I won’t tolerate tassles in the house, I won’t tolerate tassles in the public. Next.”
“It was an emblem of might and strength for a multi-million-year succession, Lyle.”
“Yeah but not a man jack or woman jill of ‘em thought that putting tassles on their instruments of authority was anything less than the bee’s knees and I don’t see why I’ve got to put up with that sort of tripe. Next! NEXT! Next.”
“A leviathan’s rib, fresh from Greenland.”
Lyle squinted up at the cavern’s ceiling. “They could fit that in here?”
“Well, a one-tenth square model. Half of it. Well, almost a third. Rounded up.”
“Pass. We’ve got no time for the little stuff.”
“The bones of the first sorcerersaurus.”
“You already mentioned that!”
“Well, the list IS chronological, Lyle, and I DID say there was a bit of a time parad-“
“I’ve said my piece on the damned thing. What, are you trying to make me say everything twice? Hoping I’ll run out of air, choke to death, leave you the house to yourself? I should’ve known you’d pull that sort of trick and as you can see I have, so you can take your plotting and shove it lengthwise, you little sneak!”
“Lyle, I would rather die than cause you a moment’s intentional distress, I swear it upon mother’s grave.”
“Oh you ain’t good enough to kill me intentionally. You’ll just get careless one day, see if you don’t. But I’ve got my eye on you, and THAT’S how I’ll get the jump, you’ll see.”
“Yes, yes.”
“You’ll see, you know, you’ll see.”
“Of course.”
“What’s next now?”
“Ummm… a Dimetrodon High-Knight in full regalia.”
“Chivalry isn’t obsolete enough; you want to drag me to a version that was old, dusty, and extinct by the time of the first tyrannosaurus?”
“The Great Tower of the Scorpions.”
“Fat lot of good it did them against the spiders if you ask me which you did.”
“I didn’t!”
“Yes you did. Go on.”
“The First Step.”
“The what now?”
“I don’t know, let’s see…uhm….’The rock where the very first little bug intentionally hopped out of the water to avoid a predator, then successfully hopped back in. Do not touch.’”
“Bah, a tourist-trap. Just trying to sell plastic assembly kits of it in the gift shop, no doubt!”
“No, no, no! But they do have grow-your-own-First-Sprout kits.”
“What now?”
“’The very first little green algae that grew just barely outside the splash zone of the shoreline.’ They’ve got its fossil here, and you can buy a little kit that lets you-”
“The garden is for turnips. Our mother planted it and grew turnips, we have grown turnips in it, we are growing turnips in it right now, and we will continue to grow turnips in it in the future. NOT tourist tat. Understand my words, Howard?”
“Clear as crystal, Lyle.”
“Is there anything else?”
Flip flip flip. “Just one.”
“Yes, the very first copulation. They caught it on record – they think a mudslide trapped the couple mid-”
“Well, they didn’t know what to expect, I suppose – it says here that they were asexual up until that moment and the pleasure sort of caught-“
“Alright, that’s it. We’re off. Time to go home.”
“No buts! Not a single but until your butt lands in the car and you get to driving!” Lyle spat on the floor. “THAT! A grown museum for grown humans and other grown sapients displaying THAT like it’s something to be proud of! Hah! A signal to head home if I’ve ever heard one!” He pursed his lips in thought. “Does the gift shop have reproductions of it?”
“Err…yes. Assembly required, thou-“
“Good enough, here’s the money, go fetch it. And don’t spend more than ten dollars on yourself, you hear?”

Getting home took a bit longer than expected. Somebody’d attached a truck to their car and was trying to move it, and Lyle had to yell for over ten minutes before he gave up and let them go.
“Senility is god’s gift to the elderly that haven’t got it, that’s what I’ve always said,” said Lyle, cradling the extremely calm and plain brown paper bag his prize rested within. “No excuse quite like it in all the world.”
“That’s the truth, Lyle,” said Howard, as he pulled into the driveway. “That’s the truth.”
“I still can’t believe you spent money on that tripe. It’ll rot your brain and drive your gonads to depravity while leaving your wits in Muddles, Alabama.”
“The Scientific American is a fine publication, Lyle, and their articles on dinosaurs are most entertaining. This book will last me for hours and hours of joy and discovery!”
“How good can it be? They still think there’s only three periods in the Mesozoic, for the love of Jesus’s littlest toenail!”
“Ignorance is bliss,” said Howard. “And we all need a little bliss in our lives, eh? Admit it, this trip was fun. A nice bit of relaxing to soak up the afternoon.”
Lyle peered into his bag. “Yes. Yes I suppose you could say that. Yes indeed. Now do me a favour and piece this together for me; the print’s too small to read.”