Archive for October, 2013

Storytime: Rain Down.

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Nakky Soos groaned without using her throat and tried to focus a little harder on not focusing. She was at the bottom of a glass, and that felt right, down there felt right. It made sense. It was smooth, compact, hard-shelled for security and you could see right through it at all the big world out there it was protecting you from.
But there it was again, raising its voice over the roaring in her forehead’s veins, the world come knocking again.
Well, no time like now.
Nakky Soos counted to three in one order or another, acknowledged that she had eyelids, and then lifted one of them. An eyeball nearly as green as hers own peered back skeptically.
“You awake yet, Aunty Nakky?”
Nakky swung her arm, aimlessly and without force or anger. Gimba dodged it with insulting ease, not even the courtesy of a frightened wince. The battered spoon that had served him as makeshift mallet glittered in his hand and made her head hurt even more.
“Go ‘way,” she told him. “’M busy.” Didn’t he see the glass? It was right there, right in her oh where had it gone? It must be here on the counter somewhere…
“Momma says it’s important,” he said. “Momma said fetch you. Momma said so, you’ve got to do it.”
Nakky tried shutting her eyes again, but they got stuck halfway down. Also, it made finding her glass even more difficult. “She that desperate? Your mommy’s a worry-warting shitbird who gave her heart to a crow’s gullet and was surprised when it flew away, Gimba. Go home and tell her I said so. Go on. My exact words. Go on.”
“I’ve got exact words too,” said Gimba.
“Great. Tell ‘em to someone else.” Her hand clanked against something heavy and cold – aha! – that fell over and turned slimy. Woops. There went the pickled onions.
“Momma’s own. She said to get you because nothing else worked.”
Nakky pondered on that, or pretended to, as her seeking hand retreated in shame to her lap. Then she sighed – all for drama – and gave her best go of trying not to pout.
“Which field?”
“The big bendy.”
“Fine. Gimme half an hour. Two half an hours. And a little bit.”
Gimba scampered away, duty done. He had places to go and people to be, the little bastard. Nakky, the most she had to come was work and sleep. Work and sleep. Work and sleep and where the FUCK was that glass, she’d held it in her hand just a minute ago an hour ago.
Oh well.

The big bendy field was an old one. Old and tired. It needed time to rest and sort itself out and maybe dream of days when it wasn’t loaded down with tired and half-sprouted crops but Mett Soos needed things too, and what she needed was food and money. So the field groaned under the burden, and burned under the sun, and it was a damned mess the likes of which Nakky Soos had never seen before when she walked up to it after two hours.
“You’re late,” said Mett. The other people didn’t look at her, so that they didn’t accidentally look at Nakky. It was better that way.
“I love you even more,” said Nakky. Her eyes were little slits of pain underneath her mask, and she couldn’t stop blinking or the sweat would fill them to the brim. “I had to find my mask and my clothes and my drum and my bell.”
Mett leaned in just close enough to be insulting and sniffed loudly. “You’re drunk,” she said, nose crinkling. “You’re late, and you’re drunk.”
“Like you’re surprised. What else you meant to do in this heat?”
“Your job.”
“Told you, it’s not my job.”
“Which is why we tried everything else first. Because you keep saying it isn’t your job. Smarten up, spit that booze out of your breath, and do your job.”
Nakky rubbed her forehead, wincing as the rough wood ground against perspiring skin. “Lissen, you going to yell at me? Because I don’t know if you know this, but my head is fresh to split in half and if you go yelling at me I’m going to pick up both halves and bash your face in with ‘em.”
“And I love you even more than that,” said Mett sweetly. “Do your job, please. This instant.”
Mett knew it didn’t work that way. Mett knew you couldn’t just pop it on and off like a rain-hat. But Mett also knew that the people who weren’t looking at them were listening, and what they were going to hear was Nakky shuffling around and muttering a lot before doing what she was told. Like a sulky child.
Nakky wasn’t sure who Mett’s father was, any more than she was sure of her own. But she wouldn’t have put it past her mother to have slept with a grasssnake, just for sake of the sheer venomous spite of the offspring.
Didn’t matter. No, what mattered now wasn’t here. She had to go out and find it.
Nakky closed her eyes to the sun and the sweat and her sister, and she started walking, but not with her feet.
Five steps up, five steps down. Five to the side and four to the other and then up, up, up.
Ting went the bell in her left hand. A smart little snip of a sound, quickly strangled with a darting movement of her little finger to still the clapper.
Now it was time to get going.

Somewhere, Nakky’s body was dancing without her. She could hear the crumble and crackle of its feet on dry dirt and dryer plants. Nakky envied the bitch. True, she wished she were still back at the bottom of the glass, smooth and safe, but she would’ve sat the rest of her days anchored to that bag of flesh and scruff by her fingernails if it meant she’d never have to walk up high again. It wasn’t safe up there. Too much sky above and below you.
Hey now, said Nakky to all the sky around her. Tall proud lords and ladies of the clouds, grey and serious and stern, ignoring all the little things around them. Hey now, she said to it all.
It ignored her, kept on moving on and on all around her, but Nakky was used to that. She was only playing for now, joking a bit. You can’t just go up and say hi to the sky and expect an answer. You’ve got to speak its language.
Hey now, said Nakky again. Boom.
The world moved again, but this was different. The pace was off. There was a stagger in the steps of the grey people. Something had caught their ears.
Boom-boom, said Nakky.
And now they moved again, and again, and again, but this too was different, this was all new. The world was moving, but it was moving around Nakky. They knew what she was talking about. They knew what she was up to.
Boom-boom, said Nakky. Her lips tingled – not from blood, this wasn’t a place for blood, but with force and sound from far away, rhythmic and solid. Boom-boom she shouted. DOWN!
The sky agreed with her. Very loudly. See them dance, the lords and ladies, see them shout and huzzah.
Here! she said, and she would’ve said more but somewhere her hand went sharp and the buzzing thud in her voice suddenly fell away, far

Ting, went the bell in her left hand.
Nakky Soos blinked. Nakky Soos swayed. Nakky Soos still had one foot in the air, and that’s why Nakky Soos fell over backwards into the dirt, not sure if she was tensed or limp.
“Uh,” she said, and winced. Her right hand was sorer than anything from the drumming. It was also sore because there was a nasty cut on it. Blood everywhere.
Nakky turned her head very slowly to the right, where her drum lay next to her. It had been cut to ribbons from the inside out. Something glittered in its guts.
So that’s where it had gone off to.
“I think I’ve pissed myself,” she declared to her audience of none.
Well, one. That’s when the sky started to open up.

The little bits of her glass were impressively sharp. Nakky saved the biggest and cleanest of them for later, in case she had to cut something up. The rest she threw down her outhouse.
That job done, it was up to the stitches. Nakky was right-handed, and so had to make compromises: she put in only half the number of stitches needed, but made them twice as large as would have been convenient. It hurt a lot but hey, she still had a third of the bottle left over from last night, and she didn’t really need a glass anyways. Would have more if she could corner her sister tomorrow, before she could weasel out of it. You let people get away with not paying you long enough and they started to convince themselves that you never did it in the first place.
She’d get her sister to pay her first thing tomorrow. Second thing tomorrow, after she woke up. Third thing tomorrow, once she ate some of the complicated root she kept in a little clay pot that made her head stop feeling like someone had squeezed a stone into it. Fourth thing after
Nakky slept. And woke up to the sound of smashing crockery.
“WASN’T ME!” she yelled as she lurched herself to her feet. Half her mind was still back when she was little. “I didn’t do it hey you what are you DOING!”
This was directed at the child that was standing on her table, guilty-faced. Spread over half the table were the remains of Nakky’s root and the pot it had been kept in.
“Stupid kid! Do I look like your mother? Go break your mother’s pots!” She grabbed the girl by the arm. “Move! I said move oh.”
Nakky’s eyes were green – like a wad of chewed cud spilt from a cow’s mouth, as Mett had always said, as if hers were really all that much lighter. It ran in the family. Most folks around here had blue eyes. They ran in their families. She’d seen a brown-eyed lady once. She guessed her family far, far away had those.
This little girl had no eyes at all.
“Oh fuck,” said Nakky Soos. “What are you doing down here in my house, little kid?”
Her lower lip trembled.
“Don’t you start-“ said Nakky, and that was as far as she got before the tears came pouring out and the murmuring, stammering wail filled her head from ear to creaking ear. It was a sound she’d heard a thousand times from her nieces and nephews, and it never got more appealing to her.
“Hey!” she shouted. “Hey! Stop that!” The wails continued. “Hey you! STOP!”
She slapped a hand over the girl’s mouth and was rewarded with sudden, shocked silence. Teardrops trickled over her skin, ice-cold.
“Oh fuck me,” said Nakky. “You REALLY shouldn’t be here. Calm down, okay? Just calm down and shut up for a second. Stop it. Please.”
She nodded, weakly.
“Can I take my hand away now?”
Nakky withdrew. The lip hovered, but did not bob. This one could keep a promise.
“I bet your parents taught you that, huh?” she said. “Where’re you from? Can’t be anywhere sunny or you’d have eyes for that pretty little face and you’d be warmer than a corpse-tit. Speak up, huh?”
The girl shook her head.
“You got no eyes, but you got a tongue. Speak up.”
“You wanna get back to your parents or you want to stay stuck down here? Trust me, it’s no fun. Talk.”
The girl hesitated, then opened her mouth.
When everything stopped shaking, Nakky let go of the floor and stood up again. “uh,” she said. “ag alal. Ebbit. Ight. Right. So. Thunder, eh?”
“Well you’re going back home soon as I can send you, thunder child,” said Nakky. “And if we’re both lucky it’ll be sooner rather than later.”
But Nakky knew what kind of luck she had, and did not say the words warmly.

She got up with the sunrise, like it or not. The thunder girl was up and running around her home, poking at things and picking them up and putting them down again with needless force.
“Quit it!” said Nakky. “ow.” Her head felt like it had been rubbed with needles from the inside out.
“This wouldn’t be a problem if you hadn’t showed up,” she said to the girl, who was too busy trying to put on Nakky’s mask and failing to pay her any mind. “Hey! Put that back!”
The girl dropped it. Nakky sighed, flipped her off, and examined the damage. A slight chip off the jaw, hidden among a thousand others.
“Listen,” she told the girl, who was visibly swelling with indignation from the offhand dismissal. “You want to get home, I need this stuff in one piece. My drum’s already shot to shit and I don’t need you rigging up a matched set of broken garbage for me, eh? You understand me? This is important. You understand me?”
The nod was reluctant.
“Good. Now c’mon. I got to go get this thing sewn up, and I ain’t doing it one-handed.”

They walked down the road in the sunset. Well, Nakky walked. The thunder girl rode on her shoulders, victor in a wordless argument that had lasted for hours.
“Right,” said Nakky, shattering a peaceful silence that had lasted since they left town, marked by the slish-slosh of the jug dangling from her belt. “So. Don’t worry yet.”
The girl shrugged, her heels idly beating against blisters on Nakky’s sides.
“Stop it or you’re getting dropped right here and now.”
A final kick of protest, then alert silence.
“I can get this fixed, okay? So what if nobody in town’ll take my money but the barman, eh? I can do this myself. It’ll just take longer, that’s all. I just wait ‘till my hand gets better and…” Nakky sighed under the sheer weight of the skeptical, eyeless gaze directed at her from above. “Yeah. Okay. We need to get you back NOW, not later. Right. Shit, not as if I wanted you here in the first place, not like it’s my fault. Right.”
A thoughtful hum from above rumbled through her from skull to spine.
“What now?”
Drum-drum-drum went the heels, a rhythm of boundless excitement, and then a sudden lightness filled Nakky Soos from her shoulders on down.
“Hey! Get back here you little shit!”
The thunder girl was in full flight, arms and legs pumping, face serious. Nakky’s legs were longer, but not much stronger, and it was some time before her hand closed on a soft nape and yanked its owner to a full stop, sending her feet flying every which way.
One lodged itself in Nakky’s jaw.
“Nffgh,” said Nakky. Practiced to the ways of nieces and nephews, she grabbed the foot and danced her fingers across its base with a spider’s agility. In the ten-second squirming frenzy that ensured, she secured her grip on half the girl’s limbs and pinned the other two between her and the ground.
“Right! What was that about, huh? You’re not going anywhere if you get away from me. Nobody else around here can do what I do, right? You know that! I told you that! What’s the big deal?”
The thunder girl rolled her head. Nakky’s fingers hooked into her tickling claws again. The thunder girl rolled her head faster, wincing in anticipation.
“What now?”
Roll, roll. Side-to-side, exaggerated. All-around.
Nakky looked all around, all around, all around at the damp, soft soil of the field that surrounded them. Big bendy.
“Oh? This where you landed?”
Nod, nod.
A short walk later – made longer by the nagging pain in Nakky’s stitches, which had come loose during their tussle and started to quietly weep blood – and they stood at the edge of a little crater, a hole in the earth made by the sky.
“Rode the bolt down here, huh?”
“Stupid girl! You shouldn’t do that! You KNOW you shouldn’t do that! Why would you chase me?”
The thunder girl pouted defiantly, then pointed at Nakky’s hand.
Nakky sighed. “Well, maybe I did vanish a bit suddenly. Still, worrying about things like that’s not your problem. I’m a big girl too, right? I can handle myself. Matter of fact, now that I’ve got a refill, I can handle myself just fine for the next week. Little thunder-girls should pay attention to their parents, not me. Hey, you listening? Pay attention!”
The thunder-girl raised her head again. Little chilly tears were prickling from her empty sockets.
“What now? Your parents’ll see you soon enough.”
That did it. The sobbing fit that followed lasted all the way home and then some, lulled at last to sleep by the wind-blown creaks of the old deadwood tree that leaned over Nakky’s home.
Nakky consoled herself with the contents of the bottle. Adequately, of course, but not excessively. No more than a drop.
An eighth of the jar.
A quarter.

Nakky woke up too early again, with a splitting headache and an empty jug and a sore hand and no thunder-girl. Further reluctant, hesitant investigation revealed a thunder-girl and what was left of one of her shirts, which was being carefully sliced several sizes smaller with a piece of her glass.
“You got six seconds to tell me a good reason you’re doing that,” said Nakky.
The thunder-girl flinched, then pointed at her dress, still smeared brown from their struggle in the field yesterday.
“Clothes now? Spit in sand, you’re needy. Well, live with it. You’ve torn that shirt to shit and we ain’t going to town twice in one week. Even the barman’ll get funny-eyed if I’m filling up again so soon. Hey, what’s that face for?” She followed the line of the girl’s frown to the bottle. “Oh, none of your business. Not like I’m your mother, not like I’m going to get mean on this and turn your face red as sunset. No, this is medicine. Medicine won’t hurt anybody. That’s for mothers to do.”
Thunder-girl tugged pointedly at her dress.
“Not like I’ve got more lying around. Never had much for children, not like my…” Nakky’s mouth sank into her gut as she saw the girl’s immediate interest. “…anybody… else I, I know oh damnit. Fine. FINE! For you, you little brat, I go to see my sister. Alllll for you.”
“Besides, she owes me anyways.”

“I can’t believe you let her run around in that thing.”
Nakky hummed to herself as she watched the children running in circles for no reason.
“I mean, it was barely half of a dress,” Mett continued, with the professional air of a butcher looking for just the right angle to start cutting. “I’m amazed nobody gave you trouble in town for it.”
“They know better’n to screw around with me,” said Nakky without paying attention, and immediately cursed herself.
“You? I’m more worried about her. Little girl like that doesn’t need to get dragged into the sort of scenes you cause every day. How’d you manage to pull her down?”
“Scenes I cause? I don’t ‘cause’ anything. Except rain. Which you still owe me for, by the by – don’t you go thinking three hand-me-downs from your oldest makes us square. That was a damned good storm.”
“Your ‘damned good storm’ came down too heavy, left too soon, and scorched a bolt right into big bendy’s gut. You owe me if anything, and owe me double for the clothes.”
“And YOU owe me triple because it’s your fault I’m stuck with the girl, so you owe yourself for the fucking clothes,” snapped Nakky.
“MY fault?”
“If I hadn’t come out to get some water on your field –”
“If you hadn’t fouled the job up-“
“I cut myself up doing it, drum and hand!”
“Then maybe you should do it proper-”
Both sisters turned to the door. Gimba froze under their combined glares.
“Th-the girl? She’s run off.”

“I can get her by myself,” Nakky had said.
“You can barely stand up and your breath would knock a bull head over ass. I’m coming with you. That girl needs a responsible adult.”
Nakky had given up at that point. Better to let it lie.
“Come on, girl,” she yelled as she flung open her front door. “Come on out! Why’d you go sneaking away like that? You left me to carry all your clothes for you and I’ve half a mind to-“
“Nakky, shut it,” said Mett crisply. “And quit calling her ‘girl.’ Do you even know her name?”
“She can’t exactly go and say it now, can she?” said Nakky. “And you can shut it sideways up a tree with a grasssnake in your nose. GIRL! You come out here!”
The hesitant pit-pat of small feet on dirty boards cut off Mett’s further protests, and thunder-girl soon emerged from under Nakky’s bed, hands clutched behind her back.
“What was all that about?” asked Nakky. “You didn’t have to do that. You looked like you were okay, did one of those little jackasses do something they shouldn’t? Wouldn’t put it-“
“Hands out,” said Mett.
“My what now?”
“Your nothing. Her hands. She’s hiding something.”
Nakky glared at thunder-girl. “This true?”
Slowly, guiltily, to the slow metronome of a quivering chin, one empty palm was made visible.
“Both. Now.”
The other was revealed, overflowing with its burden. The trek to and from town had not been kind to Nakky’s drum, and had nearly finished the job that the glass had started – that, and thunder-girl’s clumsy feet the night before. Fresh dents and scratches of the last five minutes glimmered dustily on its surface, gouged as deep as small fingers could carve them.
“Now why you going and doing that? We need this drum, little twerp. You’re not exactly doing a good job of fixing it, are you?”
“No,” said Mett, shoving Nakky to the side and plucking the drum as if it were a weevil. “No she isn’t. In the name of every mouse and its mother, why didn’t you tell me that you needed this fixed?”
“Because you’re a giant-“
“I mean, you’re hopeless with a needle. I can’t imagine your girl here is any better. And you won’t go to town for anything that isn’t drinkable, will you?”
“They told me to fuck off.”
“I know Jmit, he’s very polite and so is his wife. You’re full of it.”
“It’s the truth. I told them to fix it, they told me to fuck off.”
“You didn’t, say, barge in, interrupt a paying client to insist you needed this fixed right away, then cause a scene when they tried to get you to wait your turn?”
“I don’t ‘cause scenes’ and you know it!”
“I suppose you’re right. You throw tantrums.” Mett peered critically at the drum. “Yes, I can mend this. Of course, after that you’ll owe me. I’ll be expecting a better rain this time.”
“I owe you squat and I’ll owe you less after this. Besides, I need to call up a storm anyways.”
Nakky rubbed her hand. “She’s gotta go back somehow, don’t she?”
Thunder-girl’s chin accelerated.
“Oh, not agai-”

The sun rose the next day, and for the third time in a row Nakky Soos rose with it, once more against her will and this time at the bidding of her sister’s firm right hand.
“Nflfpfffrruck offff.”
“Up. You’ve got a job to do, you said so last night.”
“Nobody else can do it, sad to say. You’ve got a little girl who’s got to go home, and it’s your fault she’s stuck here. Up. Now.”
Nakky rolled over and stared at the ceiling of her sister’s house. She hated it. It was far too clean and there was no reassuring creak of deadwood above her head and the children one room over were noisy and the air smelled like frying breakfast foods instead of last night’s bitter drink.
“She’s already up and helping clean up the dishes. And she still needs a name.”
“Nuumyprollm. Dunnnoet.”
The hand struck again, this time in a more sensitive spot. Nakky yelped. “Up!”
Breakfast was late, cold, and left-over. Nakky picked through it with no appetite, as was her custom, and stared moodily out the door. Thunder-girl had finished early and was out running around with her nieces and nephews again, playing catch-me and catching and being caught and other things that Nakky considered to have been the better parts of her life.
“Here’s your drum,” said her sister. She slapped down the repaired instrument on the table. “I nearly broke my best needle on it. Why you don’t take better care of that leather I don’t know; it’s practically rock at this point.”
“Has to get the sound right,” said Nakky vaguely. She inspected the thing with half an eye, the other pointed outside. “It’ll do.”
“I’d hope so. I’m not touching that thing again without money up front; the smell’s sure to stick to my table for weeks.”
Nakky’s fingers danced slowly on the table – left hand only. “Eh. Hah! She got him. Your boy’s too fat, that’s the problem, Mett. Gimba can’t run three feet without panting.”
“Please tell me you aren’t getting attached.”
Nakky jumped. “What?”
“You’re taking her back home. She has parents, Nakky.”
“Yeah. Yeah I know. Why I’m doing this, isn’t it?”
“Half a week ago and I’d have said you’d be doing it just to get you time to drink yourself to death in peace.”
“It’s medicine.”
“Amnesia isn’t medicine. I’ve put it all behind me, why won’t you?”
“Me too. Just different.” Nakky rubbed her forehead. “Need more of it, anyways.”
“How’d you manage to drain that so fast this time?”
She winced. “Girl dumped it, I think. Can’t prove it. Listen, let’s get this done. Head hurts and it won’t get better. Let’s have a quiet morning. Okay? Let’s do that. Soon.”

Soon happened in the big bendy, right in the center of the little charred circle where lightning had left a little girl alone.
This time, she had company.
“Leggo, you.”
“She won’t.”
“What makes you the expert?”
“Five of my own. She’s not letting go.”
Nakky sighed deeply behind her mask, then sneezed as she kicked up dust inside it. “There’s gotta be a way.”
“Well, there isn’t. Unless you want to try it the way mother used-“
“No.” She frowned down at thunder-girl, who was currently attached to her midsection with the tenacity of a creeping vine. “Look, this isn’t going to work well at all. I can’t dance with you down there. Mind letting go?”
“Mind letting go please?”
“Let go right now!”
“Fine. Get up here. At the very least you’ll stand out of the way, okay? Okay. Here-up! Good. Now, hold on tight, don’t kick, and stay quiet.”
“Look who’s talking!” called Mett.
“Stay quiet goes for you too, all of you! Now stop. Wait. Wait.”

It was harder to move this time. Maybe it was all the eyes on her body back where she left it. Maybe it was the fuzzy sharp feeling of not enough drink in her belly to keep her mind soft. Maybe it was the heavy weight around her neck that was thunder-girl. Nakky craned her neck to look up at her; she looked different far away up here. For one thing, she had eyes, even if Nakky couldn’t place the colour. At least, she thought it was a colour.
She looked farther, and where she looked, she went. Up. Where the world was all sky and the sky was all and it was grey and towering. Distant figures, stern lords, solemn ladies.
Hey now, she whispered to the girl, feeling those distant drumbeats pumping where her body had to settle for blood. Hey, you’re almost there. Almost home. Hey. It’s good.
The grip around her shoulders squeezed a little tighter, then released.
She patted the leg. All good. Hey now! Hey you all! Listen up! Boom!
That got their attention.
Boom! Hey now! Look here! I’ve brought you a place to play and a person to say hello to! Boom!
Whirl around, whirl around, see them spin, the dark-haired, grey-coated lords and ladies of the storm. Proud and tall and stiff and stern, but so full of energy they just might burst. See them spit and yell and bluster.
Hey now, said Nakky. Calm down. She’s safe, that’s all. She’s safe. Look, see? Your daughter’s back!
Look at their glowering faces, the highest of faces. The lightning sparks from the nostrils of the grand old man and darkness eats the eyes of his lady. They aren’t happy. They’re coming down hard. She can see their mouths work, the rumble and roar of them.
What’re you on about” said Nakky. She’s home. She’s safe. She’s been a goo – a mostly good girl. She listened to me when I left her no other options. Leave off her!
They aren’t listening. They don’t listen to little words like those. Nakky knew that. She’d always known that. She’d just figured that was for her alone.
They are coming down hard, the father with words and the mother with more than that. That big sweeping front is raining down around now, with the force of a hurricane and the fury of a gale and the stung pride of a slighted parent. She’s not listening.
Nakky knows that they’re like that. All of them. They won’t listen to you.
Not if you don’t get their attention.
Hey! Stop! Boom!
They can hear her now. They’re just too busy thinking about themselves to care.
Right. Now.
Well, then they’re going to have to hear harder.
Nakky’s hand is still sore. It won’t matter much.


Ting, went the bell in her left hand. Then it fell apart.
Nakky Soos spat violently, trying to figure out which swear-word she’d been halfway through saying. Then she compromised and fell over – face-first.
“Mfffrrrrph. Fffffrruccc,” she said.
Many small hands dragged her upright. They were less successful in trying to remove the lump from her back. It felt heavier than ever – although some of that was probably the rainwater it was sopping up.
“I just fixed that drum,” said someone familiar.
“Not my fault,” said Nakky. She winced and tried to unclench her right fist from the instrument’s innards – it had gone straight through and out the other side. Cramps spasmed up and down her arm like wriggling snakes.
“What’d you go and do?”
“Nothing I wouldn’t do to my own dear mother.”
Mett Soos looked sharply at her sister. “Oh? Is that why your little friend’s still there?”
Nakky put two and two together and reached upwards with her good hand, her left hand. It clasped ahold of a slim ankle. “Guess so.”
Mett sighed. Not in an annoyed way, not as a declaration of offense, not like anything Nakky had ever heard from her sister. Just a short puff of tired air. “Right. I guess you’ll need more clothes then.”
“Guess so,” said Nakky. She wasn’t quite sure how to have a conversation this way.
“And maybe I can lend you some of the old furniture.”
“That’d be…good. Fine.”
“I don’t suppose you’d save the effort on hauling this stuff and just move in?”
“Oh fuck no. But thanks.”
Mett nodded. And then they all went home, all of them, in the meek and timid rain.

After Nakky Soos and the girl got home, the first thing she did was put some food in them. The second thing she did was crowbar the girl off her back and into the bed, head-first. By the time head touched covers the snores were already starting.
The third thing she did was pull out her bottle and look at it. She really, really, really wished it were a lot fuller than it was right now. It would make whatever she had to do next feel much easier.
But she could still hear that little soft snoring from one room over, and she remembered what it felt like to get woken up at the brink of dawn. And that was something that was going to come knocking, over and over again.
Well, no time like now. Nakky was right-handed, but she was still a good enough throw to land the bottle right on top of the glass’s grave.
“Boom,” she said.
She’d clean up the rest of it tomorrow.

Storytime: Taking Baby From a Stranger.

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Once upon a preamble, an old, old storyteller walked the long lonely roads of the backwoods, on his way from somewhere to somewhere else. And as he walked he sang, to keep his spirits up. And as he sang he got hungry, because his legs were old and creaky and his lungs weren’t much better and damnit they’d made hills less steep back in his youth, when did these things get so tall.
So he had a sit-down, and he had a look around for food. Berries there were none, small stupid furry creatures were absent, nuts and fruits nowhere to be seen.
But just as the old, old storyteller was about to give it all up for lost, lo and behold he did bump his foot upon a soft white thing! “Aha!” he cried. “Is that what I think it is?” And he picked it up and discovered to his great satisfaction that it was indeed an egg, and the ugliest, lumpiest, and soft-shelledest he’d ever set eyes nor fingers upon, and that it smelt faintly of dung.
Cursing his bad back and luck alike, the old, old storyteller wrenched himself to his feet once more and prepared to throw the offending object away, but then a faint twittering voice appeared.
“Whatever are you doing?” it said. The old, old storyteller looked up – his neck fairly snapped in three at this exertion – and saw a fat, stupid-looking blackbird perched up above him in a rough little nest.
“I’m perishing of hunger,” explained the old, old storyteller. Then an idea brewed itself in his old, old kettle-head, and he smiled. “Would you care to make a trade? A single one of your little itty-bitty eggs there in your nest for this, the largest egg I have ever seen!”
“I don’t know about that,” said the blackbird. “But I don’t not know about that either. I’m confused.”
“Heed the wisdom of an old, old storyteller,” said the old, old storyteller. “Once upon a time there was a bird and a man. The bird gave away a small lousy egg and got a big wonderful one in return. The best chick in the world came from that egg, and the bird had a happy and fulfilling life afterwards.”
“I’m still confused,” said the blackbird.
“The moral of the story is that bigger is better,” explained the old, old storyteller.
“The what of the story?”
“Take this, give me that,” said the old, old storyteller.
“Oh,” said the blackbird. “All right!”
So they traded eggs, and as the blackbird explained himself to his wife the old, old storyteller walked down the road with his fresh-laid lunch in hand, sucking happily at it.

In due time, the eggs hatched. There were many of them, and the blackbird and his wife had a tough time of keeping track of them all. There was one, who was big, two, who was bigger; the other one, who was fat; the little one, who wasn’t as small as the other one; and Maria, who was slightly larger than all of the others put together, possessed a mouthful of sharp little teeth and a long, sinuous tail, and had no wings, beak, or feathers.
“It’s so much trouble remembering you all,” complained the blackbird. “And all you do is eat, eat, eat. We barely have worms for ourselves these days.”
“Right,” said his wife.
But as the weeks went by, the blackbird and his wife found their burden pleasantly alleviated. For even as their young grew, their appetites seemed to shrink and shrink. Maria in particular didn’t seem to eat any worms at all. At first this pleased the blackbirds. But then one day the blackbird’s wife noticed something.
“Dear,” she said, “how many children do we have?”
“I don’t know,” said the blackbird. “There was one and two and the other one and the little one and Maria. How many are in the nest?”
They thought about that.
“That’s not as many….is it?” said the blackbird.
“I don’t think so,” said the blackbird’s wife. “But she’s too lazy to leave. They should all be getting ready to leave now, and she just sits around all day. And I don’t think her feathers are growing in properly.”
So they spoke to their daughter, who was now overflowing at both sides of the nest, and reluctantly informed her of their difficulties.
“You’ll have to go,” said the blackbird.
“Why?” asked Maria.
“It’s not personal,” explained the blackbird’s wife. “It’s just practical.”
“We can’t raise a little nest forever,” said the blackbird. “Especially if you aren’t going to move. You’re too big for the nest. Actually, you’re nearly too big for the tree.”
Maria whimpered feebly, and shuffled awkwardly in the (slightly bloody) down that filled her bed. “It’s my fault, isn’t it?”
“Not at all,” they explained. “You’ll be fine somewhere else, when you go someplace else. You just don’t fit in.”
“Oh,” said Maria. And then because it had been a long while since the other one, she ate them.

Days later and Maria wandered through the woods, lost and alone (and a bit sore from the fall). “All by myself, with nowhere to go, with nothing to be,” she lamented loudly. “Where will I fit in? Where am I meant to be? What am I meant to do?”
“I take pity on you, little lost person,” said a nearby berry-bush. “Why not come live as a berry-bush with me?”
“Oh, could I?” sighed Maria. “What do you do?”
“Yes indeed!” said the berry-bush. “It’s as simple as can be. Just plant yourself right there, in the dirt.”
So Maria did that.
“Now you just wait there until something nibbles on you,” said the berry-bush.
“Then what?” asked Maria.
“Why, it’ll run away with your seeds, of course!” said the berry-bush. “The more the better. Look! Here comes one now!”
Sure enough, there came a little frightened skittering thing, made of fluff and bone –a squirrel. It sat in its tree with frightened eyes, checking every which way for danger sixteen times over. Then it leapt to the ground, where it froze and crouched and looked even behind its own shadow. Then finally it plucked up its courage, made a mad dash, and ran straight into Maria’s mouth where she swallowed it.
“Did I do it right?” she asked.
“Maybe try again,” said the berry-bush. “Carefully.”
Some months later Maria had grown another few feet and the berry-bush’s crop had entered the final stages of rot-on-the-vine.
“I think,” said the berry-bush, hoarsely, “that you’d better leave. I think.”
“Why?” whispered Maria, a tear crawling down her scaly cheekless cheeks.
“It’s just… I don’t think you’re going to get it. It’s not quite your proper place. You just don’t fit in.”
“Oh,” said Maria. And she walked off sobbing, crawling over the berry-bush in her grief and accidentally mashing it straight into the forest floor with her low-hanging belly.

Weeks later and Maria roamed the grasslands, lost again and more alone than ever, and ferociously hungry.
“All by myself again, with nowhere to go, with nothing to be,” she complained at the top of her lungs. “What am I? Who knows? Not me.”
“Oh you poor litt – really quite big thing,” sighed a passing doe. “You remind me so much of my own children, all grown up and eaten by wolves now, bless their hearts. I’ll look after you. You can be a deer.”
“Please, please, please tell me how,” pleaded Maria. “What do you do?”
“Stand around and be frightened,” advised the doe. “If you hear anything, flip your tail at it and run away as fast as you possibly can. If you have time, try to nibble on some grass or something like that.”
“All right,” said Maria. “I’ll try.”
So they stood there, the two of them, the doe and Maria, both staring without blinking. Then there was a snap of a twig and fwip-bounce-bounce the doe was bounding away into the bushes, leaving Maria standing there.
“What was that?” she asked.
“Me,” replied a voice.
“Me,” added another.
“And me too!” hurried in a third.
“Huh,” said Maria. She still couldn’t see anything, but then again she was only a foot or so off the ground. “What are you?”
“Ah,” said Maria very wisely. “Of course. Wolves. I see.”
“Say, did you see which way that deer went?” asked the first voice.
“No,” said Maria. “I didn’t see the doe I was talking to run away in any direction at all.”
“Hmm. Which way did she not run?”
“She PARTICULARLY did not run that way,” said Maria craftily.
“Ah. I see,” said the voice. “Very good. Carry on with…whatever you’re doing.”
Maria waited there for a while.
And a while.

And another while.

“Oh right,” she said. “Run away as fast as you possibly can! Whoops.”
So she picked herself up and trundled carefully away into the forest as fast as her stubby little legs and sluggishness out of the sunshine could take her, and in no time at all she stumbled across the doe, who was lying on one side on the ground and missing the other side entirely.
“Oh deer,” said Maria. “What’s happened to you?”
“wolves.” wheezed the doe. “ate me.”
“Oops,” said Maria. “I’m sorry, I forgot to run.” Then she remembered. “Oh! And I forgot to flip my tail! I forgot everything! I didn’t even nibble any grass!” She began to cry again. “I’m not even frightened right now!”
“maybe. you shouldn’t. don’t. fit in.” managed the doe.
“Oh no, oh no,” wept Maria. And she ate the doe because the wolves had left so much of her behind and she was still very hungry and the grass didn’t look tasty to her.

A month and more came and went and found Maria wandering the rough hills by the rivers, tripping on rocks and chewing on the odd gopher – not nearly enough for her, now that she’d grown bigger yet. “This is lonely and I am still not doing anything properly,” she complained to everyone near. “Can someone please help? Can someone tell me what do? Can someone tell me who to be?”
“I’ll do it!” said a man digging a deep pit. “That said, stop walking. You’re going to land on my head in a minute.”
“Sorry,” said Maria. “What are you and what do you do?”
“I’m a potter,” said the potter. “I happen to be needing an apprentice. You’ll be digging pits and hauling firewood and stoking kilns and shoving carts. It’s hard work, but it’s good for you. You don’t eat too much, do you?”
“I only eat one meal a week or less,” said Maria.
“Sounds good,” said the potter. “Now come along and pull me out of here. I’m stuck up to my crotch.”
And it did sound good. But as it turned out, Maria’s one meal was the size of about twenty potter’s meals, and she didn’t move much until the sun was high in the sky, and after that she could only work for a few hours until she needed to go and cool herself off. Come spring and the grass she sprung, the fresh air and new life found the potter destitute, emaciated, despondent, and pissed off. Maria was doing nicely, though.
“You’re a good-for-nothing freeloader and a load and a cheat and a waste of space and I wish I’d never met you,” he explained to her. “Also, you’re shit at making anything but pinch-pots. And to be honest, I wouldn’t put anything liquid in those.”
“Sorry,” said Maria.
The potter rubbed his head with his hands, removing sick or seven buboes as he did so. “Look, this isn’t working at all. You just don’t fit in at all.”
“But where will I go?” sobbed Maria. “Everyone says that to me all the time and they never tell me what to do and I STILL don’t know what I am!”
“Go jump in a lake,” said the potter.
“Oh!” said Maria. “Oh! Thank you very much! Thank you so very much!” She would’ve thanked the potter more, but after that her mouth was full of him and it was difficult to speak.

It wasn’t a long trip to the lake. The potter had lived just a short walk north of it, though he preferred to take his drinking water from the little shallow creek that ran along the side of his house, barely deep enough to wet the bottom of Maria’s belly.
Water that was deep enough to swim in was new to her. She flopped in and paddled along, and was most disconcerted to find herself unable to tell herself apart from the floating logs surrounding her.
“Oh no!” said Maria. “Not again! I’m lost AGAIN, and this time I can’t even find myself! Can somebody please, please, PLEASE tell me what I’m meant to be doing here? Can someone tell me what I am?”
“You’re doing it right now,” said a large log just upstream.
“Oh!” said Maria. “What are you?”
“A crocodile,” said the log. “Same as you.”
“Then please, please, please tell me what we do, because I’ve tried asking everyone else and nobody ever helped me much at all,” said Maria.
The crocodile grinned at her. Its teeth were even bigger than her own. “It’s pretty simple. You want to know?”
“Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please,” repeated Maria. “Lots.”
“We eat anything and everything.”
“We eat anything?” asked Maria.
“We eat anything,” said the crocodile. His tail twitched in the current, propelling him forwards at a lazy ant’s-pace.
“We eat everything?” asked Maria.
“We eat everything,” confirmed the crocodile, drifting nearer.
“I think that I am a proper crocodile,” said Maria. “May I stay here?”
“Yes indeed, little one,” boomed the crocodile, now snout-to-snout with her. “You’ll fit right in.” And with a lunge-chomp-chomp, Maria found that she did exactly that.

The old, old storyteller would have explained the moral, but he’d died nearly a year before. Salmonella.

Storytime: Thanks for Notting.

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Is that everyone? Everybody? Yeah, you sure? Okay. Okay then. All right.
We ready? Okay, starting now. Everybody simmer down.

Right. Herein is the one-hundred-and-fourth anniversary of the Notting family thanksgiving banquet. May it be the last one for many reasons, particularly so that none of us have to eat Marcellia’s sweet pota – OW. It was a joke, Marcie! A JOKE! Jesus.
Right, where was I? Oh yeah. Thanks. Thanks-giving. The time of year for that, yeah? So everybody buckle up, hunch your shoulders in that little awkward public shuffle we all use for this sort of thing, and get a head start on thanking. Maybe you’ll finish before I’m done and can start eating first, if the kids don’t murder you for it.
Okay. All together now…

On this day, we are thankful for the meal that lies before us.
We are thankful for Debbie’s roasted turkey and that she did not attempt to shape it into a turducken.
We are thankful for Bruce’s glorious roasted potatoes and the red gravy that they are inevitably served with.
We are thankful for the sharp knives with the wooden handles that Patricia has placed at every table, positioned after the dessert forks for their intended use in the natural order of things.
We are thankful for the millennial ragewood tree that is our table. It stood for five thousand six hundred and ninety-nine centuries, and counting the rings of its trunk consumed a microscope and sixteen sets of eyeballs. Brave eyeballs, each and all.
We are thankful for Marcellia’s sweet potash. Bitter, mixed with treacle syrup, flowers, and harsh language. As it should be. So long as none of us have to OW quit it JESUS. Fine. Fine.

That’s the meal, all as it should be. But more than that, we are thankful for those bonds of family that have brought us all here today, to be confirmed in all that has passed by and changed over the year, yet has let what we are together remain fundamentally the same.
We are thankful for Vicky’s new baby boy Sam, who has his mother’s eyes and luckily enough lacks his father’s nose.
We are thankful for the remarriage – the sixth – of Barbara, to Joseph. May he be remembered fondly, and be sure to leave some incense with him before his time comes.
We are thankful for the adorable German shepherd puppy that Cynthia and Mike brought with them. It is wide awake and already knows all of its first words. Ask it about them later, but for the love of everything don’t listen too closely.
We are thankful for the house on the hill, freshly constructed for Becky and Lizabeth by the labour and skill of Aiden, Betty, and Agamemnon. May it stand for centuries, and linger much longer, and whisper forever.
Most notably and bittersweetly, we are thankful for the relatively painless and smooth passage from this world of Harrison Sweetwater Notting, our venerable patriarch and grandfather to all of us. Though he never touched a one of us with his hands, the memories of his passing will remain with all of us whom he did not chose to obliterate in its tumult. Those of you who can’t remember him, well, just be thankful you still have a brain left to remember with.

It’s been a pretty good year. Well, aside from Harrison. And we’re all thankful for it now, right? Right. But there’s more than that to be thankful for. It’s been a big year, one bigger than just our little cozy family, and we owe thanks to it to. No man is an island, and we’re as much thankful for what the world’s been up to as to what we’ve done on our own.
We are thankful for the lack of overt natural disasters this passing year, particularly those in our own little corner of the planet.
We are thankful for the recent medical breakthroughs into the treatment of deadly and life-threatening diseases that give hope to so many.
We are thankful for the great signs of the blue sky that have passed us all summer long, waving from their heights on tendrils of pillared whiteness. They’ve brought good weather, fair warnings, and foul portents, bless ‘em.
We are thankful for the continually increasing acidity of the oceans that drains the lights from the reefs and promises to silence the chatter of the living waves into a simple slosh of water and jellyfish.
We are thankful for the construction of the dam three states over, a project that Jared was lucky enough to work on. Its groaning underguts squeal words of wisdom to those that can hear, and it will remain wise and nonsapient for at least a generation. Use it before we lose it, people.
Most providentially of all, we are mightily thankful for the ongoing failure of any space agencies, public or private, to go and poke about the subsurface of the moon. Seriously, we’re batting a hundred here people. Just pray hard that the luck continues, or fuck only knows what’ll happen, and yes Louise I DID say that in front of the kids, they should know how important this shit is. You want your grandkids to be unprepared when NASA drops a rover right into the tombs? When some enterprising Neil Armstrong brings back the Sceptre of sCC!CCCn!DS and lets all the anthropologists of the world find out how wrong they are? Huh?
Look, let’s not get into it, okay? We’ll talk about this after if you’re all so solid about it. Fine! Fine! It’s not as if it were politics….

…Right. So. Last but definitely not least, we’re going to give thanks to the things that are, and that always have been. To the familiarity in our lives that might be taken for granted but damned well should be appreciated as we do so.
We are thankful for the warmth of the sun on our skin, as we sit outside right now.
We are thankful for the calm breezes that blow and keep that warm sun from searing us to a salmon pink, although I see Elliot’s beaten it to the punch there – aww, don’t be shy. You inherited that from your daddy – blame him!
We are thankful for the aquifers that underlie our land and eclipse the greatest of lakes, that drain themselves dry daily to smooth your innards and quell the violence of our digestions and appetites. ALL our appetites.
We are thankful for the trees that are kept at bay through fire, fear, and sharp words. Be sure to keep your tongues whittled fine, because the first two never age but you can lose the edges off’ve words if you’re careless with them.
We are thankful for the lazy eyes with which men and women see the world, that the observant are truly rewarded. Even my brother Dale here, who I know for a fact was seventeen before he whittled his first prayer-stumps. Ohhh Dale, careful there, you saw how much trouble I got in just for one little f-bomb, you really want to go pointing those everywhere? Yeah, siddown, don’t worry everyone, almost done.
We are thankful for the perspicuous spices that reside in our crops and trickle through our xylems, rich and ruddy. Without them we’d be no better than roots or mushrooms or apes for goodness’ sake.
We are thankful that others are not, for without their bleak humours the air would be thick and choking.
We are thankful for the thin crust between us and history, where half a mile down can take you five billion years.
We are thankful that there are thanks to be given and that that which takes them does not take it all.
Who’s up for some turkey?

Storytimer: Potter.

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

The caterpillar was a very little thing, but it spoke loudly; so very loudly without a word needing to be said.
Here, said its sides. Look at me. I bristle with orange and black. Touch me not, these colours say no to food. I am bitter, I am bad to the tongue and the cheek and the chew. Leave me be. Ten thousand thousand generations of my kind were eaten, ten thousand thousand generations of yours learned this lesson, learned my colours, learned my words. Touch me not, eat me not, harm me not.
It was a little greasy smear on the smooth sunny stone that made the door-step of Monni’s home, its sides turned dark and orange in death. This was why her chair was turned away from the door this morning. She didn’t want to look at such things while she made pots.
Turn, turn, turn. A little wooden table with a little flat plate on it. Turn, turn, turn. A blob of clay, growing up and up and up, inch by inch under her fingers.
Needs a bit more water. There.
Turn, turn turn away the minutes. It’s not as big a job as it looks, but the time will still fly. Even Monni couldn’t shape a pot in a second. Not even Monni, whose jars and cups and bowls and plates outlived the buildings they were kept in, come fire or tumbledown. Not even Monni, whose little squiggly mark was scribbled across the bottom of almost every container for miles around. Not even Monni.
She enjoyed her job too much to rush it.
Turn, turn, turned out fine. From bits and pieces came a jar.
Now for the lid.
BOOM came the door, then the THUMP of a hard heel in a coarse-worn shoe on the stone.
“Wife! Monni! I’m here!”
Monni didn’t look at the door. She had something important to do.
“Wife! Monni! I’m home again! Look up, will you woman? Look up! I’ve brought back things again, worthwhile things from the wide world out there! I brought things – look, foods and stones and sticks! I’ve brought news – weather, gossip, sights I saw! Look up from that dusty mud-corner of yours, small wife, and pay attention to what I’ve done out in the big world.”
“Hello. You are not my husband,” said Monni. She looked up.
Monni didn’t like looking at the giant man. It encouraged him.
“There you are – I almost thought you were gone away, gone for good into that small world of yours,” he said. Then he laughed, because he liked his own jokes the best. “A pinch of dirt and water and some fire thrown in after. Do you do anything else? My world is the real world, and it is the widest world, the world that eats you alive if you don’t watch and turns you into real leather if you do. Yours is a little table that I can cross in a step.”
“If I can put it on my table,” said Monni, “I can shape anything into anything that will ever be.”
The giant man laughed at that, scratched himself, and walked out the door. As he left, his heavy feet trod on the caterpillar’s body again, just for the fun of it.
His plans for the night were the same as always: eat, drink, sleep, wake up early and repeat. Somewhere in there he would decide to come and annoy Monni again.
“People like those pots of yours,” he’d told her, over and over. “You should make them give you more. You could have feasts every night and morning. You could have a house six times this one’s size. You should listen to me – I’d take care of you like that, as a husband.”
“I don’t care,” she’d told him. And he didn’t listen.

“He just won’t listen,” she told her brother Morra.
“Well, what if you yell?” he asked. Morra was there to pick up the most recent batch of pots Monni had cooked up, to take them down to the village. Every week Morra came hiking up the trail to Monni’s lonely house, and every week he came back up with some food. Unlike the large man’s food, this was things Monni could eat.
“I’ve yelled, I’ve screamed, I’ve whispered, I’ve cursed. He won’t listen.”
“Huh,” said Morra. “What if we all told him to knock it off?”
“He won’t listen.”
“Well… what if we won’t listen to him? How’d he like that?”
“He doesn’t care about it,” groaned Monni. “He’ll just talk and talk and talk. His mouth’s so big, no wonder he’s always hungry.”
“We have to talk to him if he wants to get any business done in the village,” said Morra. “Those furs of his won’t turn into food on their own, and I know for a fact he’s too lazy to like hunting more than he needs to. He’ll have to lay off of you or starve himself down to a manageable size.”
Monni made her mistake here. She opened her mouth to say that maybe you should be careful around giant men, especially hungry ones with inflated opinions of themselves and easily-needled pride, but then the idea of a miserable thinned-down giant man filled her head so temptingly that she closed it again. It was too fine a thing to pass up.
“Sure,” she said. “Try it.”

The giant man came walking into the village on his long, long legs the next day. His belly had been full of meat and bone when he finished his morning hunt, but now it was empty again and he would rely on his dangling fistful of furs to replace it. He was a greedy thing, but he held enough self-control in himself to leave the little bits of fuzz and fluff alone, for promise of greater meals later.
“Here,” he said, as he threw a fur to Old Mabil. “Take this! It’s fine, it’s fierce, it will warm you well! Now give me your meats; I know you have extras and I’m hungry for them.”
Old Mabil looked at the giant man and didn’t say anything.
“Are you deaf?” said the giant man. “I know you aren’t. I saw you talking to your wife just a minute ago! Give me the meats!”
Old Mabil shifted a little in his seat on his step and looked over the giant’s shoulder. He cleared his throat a little.
“Well?!” said the giant man.
Old Mabil pursed his lips. “Ehh. Gonna get damp tomorrow with that cloud I see there. You see it?”
“I see it,” said Old Mabil’s wife.
“Yuh,” said Old Mabil. And he started to gather up his things and carry them inside.
The giant man hissed a little to himself and spat on the doorstep, which sizzled. He was hot with anger.
“Fine!” he roared. “You there! You have more crops than you’d ever need! I’ve see them growing in your backyard! Give me a bushel and I will give you three pelts, each shinier than the last!”
Mipli the gardener didn’t look up from his hoeing.
“Do you have dirt in your ears?” demanded the giant man. “Give me food, you dust-blown leaf!”
Mipli looked up, swatted at his eyes, and swore. “These bugs!” he said. “These insects! Pfah! They must be trying to get in at me before it’s too damp tomorrow. These bugs!” He swished his hat through the air, shook his head twice, and went back to his work.
The giant man swore, and his swear was considerably fiercer and hotter than Mipli’s, sending shimmers through the air. He stomped down the village so hard that he left little cracks in the ground, and he stood in its center like a tree all alone.
“I will fill the arms of the first person to feed me with enough furs to coat a house in them!” he yelled. “Twice over!”
The street was empty. Everyone had gone inside for dinner.
The giant man frowned. The giant man clenched his fists. And then the giant man stomped off into the hills, chewing on the bloody bits of fur that were left of his pelts. And as he chewed, he thought, and he had a LOT of chewing to do. By the time he was at Monni’s house, he was done thinking and ready to act.
“Monni!” he called. “Monni! I have a humble request for you!”
“Hello,” said Monni. “You are not my husband. You will not become my husband.”
“Oh Monni, your world is so small that you think my big world cannot change. Monni, I ask for a piece of pottery, that is all. Just a piece of pottery.”
Monni blinked. “Pottery? What kind?”
“A small jar,” said the giant man. “About so big.” And he measured a broad circle with his hands. It was small for a giant, but it was nearly big enough to hold a normal man entire. “Can you do this?”
“Of course,” said Monni. “I’ll shape it now, and you can come back and pick it up tomorrow when it’s through firing.”
So Monni worked, pleasantly surprised that her problems had vanished so quickly, and the giant man grumbled away his hungry night on twigs and stones and spite. And by midday he was at her door again.
“Is it solid?” he asked. “Will it hold without breaking?”
“It’s one of my pots,” said Monni. “My pots will hold anything, for as long as they need to.”
“Good,” said the giant man. And he left without saying thank-you, which Monni had more or less expected. It was still easily the most pleasant conversation she’d ever had with him.

The first thing the giant man did with his jar, he walked down to the village, balancing it carefully on his head.
“Hey you!” he shouted. “All you people, all you people who won’t give me food. Will you trade with me now, eh, now that I’ve got this pot for trade? I’ll give you a fair deal, I will. I’ve walked farther and more than all of you together, I’ve seen things you haven’t, and I say this is the best deal you’ll have ever heard. Come, look at how big it is! Whatever you need, this pot can hold it. I’m the only person who could carry this down from the potter, and so I had it made to benefit all you little people down here.”
The people gathered around for a bit, because they saw that was one of Monni’s wares, and they knew she wouldn’t have made it for the giant man unless he’d stopped annoying her. “I’ll trade for it,” said Old Mabil. “Could use a place to keep the jerky. Will it hold ‘em all?”
“Absolutely,” promised the giant man. “Look here!” And with one sweep of his long, long arms he tucked up all of Old Mabil’s dried meats and showed them all how tidily they fit in there.
“Will it keep my crops safe?” asked Mipli.
“Twice as much as a stone wall,” swore the giant man. He picked up Mipli’s grains a fistful at a time and they all fit in there, even with the meat.
“What about me?”
“And me!”
“Could it fit…”
By the end of the afternoon the giant man stood there with the giant pot in his arms, and after the whole village had had a turn at filling it up it was still not more than half-full.
“Well!” said the giant man. “Do you now all believe me when I say this is a fine pot?”
They all did.
“Indeed! Too fine to trade for such a little bit of food. But maybe if you try harder again tomorrow, I will give it to you. Good-bye!”
And with that the giant plucked up the pot, food and all, and ran away laughing. He ran all the way up to his cave in the high hills before he stopped the last of his giggles, and that was only as he ate his meal. He was so hungry and so rushed that he didn’t even empty out the food, let alone cook it. He plunked the pot straight into his mouth and crunched it all up in one big mouthful, belched, and slept like a stone for two days.

“Your pot broke,” the giant man complained to Monni.
“They hold as long as they need to,” she told him.
“Huh! I guess that’s true,” he said. “But now I need another one. This one will need to be bigger. At least this big.” And he measured a very big circle with his hands, one easily bigger than he was, and he was not a small man.
“I can do that,” said Monni. And she did, and the very next day the giant man came and picked up his enormous new pot, with big handles on the sides for his big hands to grip. But he didn’t go down to the village with it, no. The giant man was not stupid enough to think that those people would fall for the same trick twice.
So instead he waited until dark, and he crept down to the village, making only the smallest stomps with his enormous rock-hard feet, breathing only a little bit heavier than a spider.
He went to the fields, and he took his pot off his head.
“Now pot,” he said, “you do your job properly.” And though it didn’t have ears Monni’s pot obeyed him, because that’s what Monni’s pots did. It did its job properly, and when the giant man scooped up all the fields around the village and dumped them into it, it kept doing it.
When the giant man scooped up the fishing weirs down in the river and dumped them into it, it kept doing it.
When the giant man scooped up the berry bushes and dumped them into it, it kept doing it.
Only when the giant man had carefully plucked the last oak tree free, acorns and all, and dropped it into the pot did it fill up. And it didn’t spill a single thing all the long windy way up the lost trails to the high hills, where the giant man was once again unable to restrain himself and ate the thing entire in a display of no manners whatsoever. He belched loudly and slept for three days straight before he awoke again – still hungry!

“Your other pot broke too!” said the giant man.
Monni was at her table again, her back to the door.
“Well? Can you replace it?”
“My brother came by this morning,” she said. “And he told an interesting tale.”
“Oh?” said the giant man. “I hadn’t heard of anything interesting happening around here. I travel far and wide, and all the great things were far away when I saw them.”
“He said that the fields were empty of crops.”
“The crows, I warrant.”
“He said the river was near-dry, and fishless.”
“Ah, this drought, this drought! Let Old Mabil say what he pleases of the damp, damp is not wet, and dew is no rain!”
“He said that no berries remained on a single bush, and that the trees for acorn-flour were all gone.”
“Squirrels and bears, or the other way around. The bears especially – mark my words, last year was a poor year for berries and now they’re on the craze-eating again, hungry things. Their pelts are most fine again, though!”
“And the funniest thing,” said Monni, “was that all up and down the village were little tiny holes, pick-pick-pock, as if someone had been stepping on their toes all over the place. But they were much too big to belong to anyone that lived there.”
“Huh!” said the giant man. “How strange.”
Monni stopped turning her table.
“I will need a new pot,” said the giant man. “This big.” And he held his arms out as wide as he could, so that he could’ve hugged a whole family of himself if he’d wished it.
“You need a new home,” said Monni. “Far away.”
The giant man frowned. “You make pots,” he said. “Make me a pot.”
“No. Go away.”
“Make me a pot now! It’s what you do! It’s all your small world is good for! What do you care about what I do out there in the big world, the real world, when you live in here and do nothing but poke at mud!”
Monni said nothing. But her table started turning again.
The giant man frowned. The giant man clenched his fists. And the giant man reached out and grabbed Monni in one hand and her work-table in the other and ran, ran, ran like the wind, over and away, far away from the low hills where Monni lived, up through the far hills where no one lived, and up and up and up and up into the high hills, where he lived in his cave, which was where he put Monni. Far away in a dark corner at the very back was where her table was, and the giant man piled up many rocks between her and daylight.
“There, you see?” said the giant man. “I am a kindly person, and will be a good husband to you. Look, I have brought your little world with you, so you can put yourself away and go back to being happy!”
“You are not my husband,” said Monni. “And I have nowhere to fire my clay.”
“Monni my wife, I wish only the best for you,” said the giant man. “I would hate to see my wife come to harm with a hot fire! Better to concern yourself with small things, soft things. Do not worry – I will take all your creations and fire them up safe and sound for you, and I’ll even pick out which ones I like first and do you the favor of discarding all the other rubbish. What if you made something sharp and cut yourself – or me, eh? No, I’ll do all those decisions for you. Now make me a pot big enough to hold hills and forests or you’re not getting dinner!”
Monni sat there in the dark. And as she sat, she thought, and she had a lot of thinking to do.
But Monni was a much faster thinker than the giant man was, and that’s why he didn’t have time to see that she was up to something before she answered him.
“Fine,” she said. “But I’ll need a lot of clay. I’ll make it with thin walls, but that’ll only go so far. Get me as much clay as you can carry, and I’ll shape your pot for you.”
“Good, good,” said the giant man. “I know a place far away, farther than you’d ever dream!” And within an hour he was back with armfuls of warm red clay.
“I’ll need water, too,” said Monni. “You left all of my supplies back at my house.”
“A good spring is a mere day’s-travel away for a smaller man than me,” boasted the giant man. Soon enough he came back with enough to make a pond with.
“Now go away and let me work,” said Monni.
“Fine!” said the giant man. “Good! Great!”
But he only went just outside the cave mouth, because he didn’t quite trust Monni. And as he waited, he thought to himself of pots that could scoop a range of hills in a single sweep, or drain lakes, or swallow the sky and all its birds. And he licked his lips.

“How’s it going in there?” asked the giant man after a little while.
“Fine!” said Monni.

“Is it almost done?” asked the giant man some time later.
“No, not yet,” said Monni.

“Aren’t you through with that pot yet?” demanded the giant man.
He waited.


The rocks took some time to move, but the giant man was in a hurry and flailed impatiently. As he threw stones aside, his hand touched something soft. Then the light came in and oh my, oh my his jaw did drop as he saw what Monni had made. The pot was complete: a pot that could hold mountains, empty oceans, and drain the clouds away as soup. It was soft, it was still damp.
He saw what Monni made. He did not see Monni.
“Where are you, my wife, Monni my wife, my wife?” he called. “Hiding from your husband? I will have to beat you if you do such things!”
And he listened, and he listened, and he heard a small shuffling sound. And as he heard it he thought he knew what was happening and he smiled. Monni was hiding in the pot!
“A good spot to scurry, my wife!” he called. “A very good spot! But large as it is, I will find you! You’re not used to this sort of size. I live it! Every day I live it and love it! You are small, and all alone in a big place, and this is why I will always catch you! So!”
And the giant man tore a great hole in the side of Monni’s giant pot and lunged in after her, swinging his arms and shouting. But right away he landed face-first in something soft and familiar.
“Another pot?” he asked. “Monni my wife, you cannot hide from me that way! You’ll only hem yourself in smaller and scareder! I’ll have you later or now, but I will have you. Stop running!”
And so the giant man tore another hole in the side of the smaller pot, and he rushed in, straight into a third, and then a fourth, and a fifth. Pot after pot after pot were tucked inside one another in Monni’s giant pot, and they curved away and away no matter which direction the giant man tore. Soon he’d doubled back on himself to try and find a way out, then tripled, then quadrupled.
And as he shouted this Monni smiled and stepped out from behind the giant pot, where she’d been quietly waiting all along in her usual place at her stool, behind her work-table.
And Monni put her hands to what lay upon her table, and she shaped it.
It was not easy, but Monni’s craft never was. The clay fought her – it whirled against her fingers, it groaned, it screamed, it whined – but it was on her table. And if anything lay upon Monni’s able, she could shape it into anything that would ever be, from the very large to the very, very, very, very, very small.
And when Monni’s hands had done their work, all that was left was a squat, ugly little thing that resembled the unfavourite offspring of a jar and a bowl.

Things got better. They usually do. Trees grow back. Rains come again. Fields fill up.
Monni went back to her home, and went back to making pots for other people. The ones she wanted to make, the way she wanted to make.
The first one she put into the fire after she got back was a funny choice though, her brother told her, and not typical of her skill.
After all, how many people would want a half-cracked chamberpot?

Storytime: The Modern Crusoe.

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Day 0
The boat had gone down.
Well, that was that. Nobody’d ever told Tommy what to do when the boat went down. “And believe me,” he’d have said, if there’d been anyone to say it to, “I’ve checked.”
He was a great reader, Tommy was. He’d read his Robinson Crusoe, and his Swiss Family Robinson. And both of those books had been very clear about what to do in case of shipwreck: you zipped yourself as fast as possible over to the boat and plucked out all the choice goods that would help you reshape the wild and untamed landscape around you into some sort of metaphorical message of exactly how much god liked you.
Tommy was annoyed that the boat had gone done. Now he had no tools and would never have any clue as to how much god liked him. Also he would probably starve to death unless he found food without gluten in it. He was gluten-intolerant or something.
“Shit,” he said. There was still nobody there to say it to, but swearwords were special like that. “Fuck,” he added for good measure, and “balls.”
Then he sat down in the cool sand under the starry sky and watched the ripples carry away the oil slick. Life was good.

Day 1
Tommy slept in. He’d had a busy night. He was going to have a busy day too, which the newly established and enormous sunburn on his face wasn’t going to help one bit.
“Fuck,” said Tommy again. He worried for a moment that in a few short weeks swearwords would be the only words he could remember, and that when his rescuers arrived he would do nothing but yell “fuck” and “shit” and “balls” at them until they left him alone. That would be a problem. He’d have to practise talking to himself like his uncle did.
“Guess I’ll make a start,” said Tommy.
So he did.

When Tommy was done making a start the sun was dipping itself into the big tasty salsa of the Pacific. He felt pretty good about his day. He’d climbed three big hills, gotten a lot of exercise even though he wasn’t at a gym, learned important information about plants and animals
(the red ones taste good, the pink ones taste bad and make your lips pucker up and your tongue go all rigid; also, the little soft white-furred things are faster than you are)
and he’d made a nice tent out of some leaves and sticks.
Life was pretty good.

Day 2
Tommy woke up with half his tent collapsed and the other half eaten. The consumer was no longer at the scene of the crime but enormous, damp footprints and a sizable amount of stray spit made him reluctant to find out.
“Fuck!” said Tommy. He was too annoyed to even care about vocabulary degradation now. “Fuck!” he added. Now he’d need to make a fire or something to scare away the thing, and he had no lighter. “Fuck!” Maybe matches would even work. Safety matches for sure.
“Fuck!” decided Tommy. He’d sort it all out later. For now he needed breakfast. There were more red ones nearby anyways.

Day 4
Tommy woke up at sundown as the red sky reflected from the sandgrains lodged in his eyelids and felt like that was a best-case scenario. That had all gone all right. He’d gotten some refreshing wind-down time because you can’t let yourself get all wound up and stressed out and he’d learned more important information about plants and animals
(the red ones are not quite the same as the other red ones and the difference is REALLY IMPORTANT; also whatever you accidentally stomped to death that last night was really filling and its fur looks pretty, what’s left of it)
so all in all this had already been one of the most informative trips he’d been on and he was sure he’d feel good about it as soon as his head stopped screaming at the universe to put it out of his misery.
He’d feel good. Real good
After a bit more sleep.

Day 7
Tommy had been happy at first, finding that so much of the fur from that thing he’d stomped to death was still intact. He’d made himself new underpants which was surprisingly important at the time although Robinson Crusoe had never mentioned it much and he guessed he’d sort of forgotten that you couldn’t just peel off animal fur and just slap it on hey presto. You needed needles and threads and yarn or something. And like…oak trees. To tan them. Tanning was important with furs, right? You had to tan them. That made them turn from furry skin to clothing.
Tommy had tried laying out his new furry underpants on the surface of a warm stone in the sun. It had not tanned them. It had done something, but it hadn’t been helpful. He was starting to really regret throwing away his old underpants, even if they’d been pretty gone and he’d never wanted to see that shade of red again in his life.
Oh well.
He spent the afternoon building a tiny sandcastle. It wasn’t that great and he felt a lot better when he kicked it over. That’d show that goddamned sandcastle. Life was good then.

Day 15
Half a month was a pretty good time for Tommy. His phone might have gotten totally lost while he was on the boat, but hey, he still had a tree and a sharp rock and that was good enough to make a calendar with, right? Right. As long as he remembered where the tree was, which was kind of hard sometimes and he’d had to start over twice and there’d been that mix-up for a few days after he ate the red ones. But he was pretty sure he knew how long that had been. Pretty sure.
“Half a month,” Tommy said, and didn’t swear at all. “That’s fucking badass.” And not in the way that he had felt for the week after he ate the red ones. Which he was going to stop thinking about forever now.
He was going to have to find out things to eat, though. So that he didn’t end up having to eat more red ones.
Which he wasn’t thinking about.

Day 17
Tommy found food.
It didn’t look good.
It didn’t smell good.
It didn’t feel nice.
But by “fucking shit jesus on toast” (there he went again, woops) Tommy had found food, food, food at last. And it wasn’t the red ones which was great because he couldn’t think about the red ones at all.
It was perfect. Unfortunately, it was also a rock, and a rock that didn’t take kindly to three of Tommy’s starvation-loosened molars.
“Fffuugh!” said Tommy. “Fffiiiiittt! Fffitt! Ffit! FfitfitifitififfitfitfitFFIT!” And many other things like that. He ran around, he shrieked, he waved his arms, and he punched three trees which really hurt his hand a whole lot. Luckily, while moaning and rubbing his sore arm, Tommy laid eyes upon the solution to all of his problems.

Day 28
Two handfuls of the red ones had been a really bad idea.

Day 31
Although to be fair, mixing it with that green stuff probably hadn’t been great either even if it had been pretty crazy-tasting.

Day 39
Tommy discovered the meaning of life. Unfortunately, it was someone else’s.
“Shit,” he said, and nearly jumped at the first intelligible sound he’d heard in three weeks. He consoled himself with nervous humming, coughing, scratching, and drinking water out of a tiny stream he’d found.

Five minutes and a hundred feet upstreaem later he found something large and hairy lying dead in it. It was mostly missing but possessed strikingly familiar feet, although the spit was long-gone.
“Waste not want not,” said Tommy. “Fuck it.” It was organic anyways, right? Air-dried. All-natural. Super-natural goodness fortified with essential vitamins. That’s what all those little bugs are, right? Essential vitamins. They eat the plants or the fruits or whatever the fuck
(but not the red ones, okay?)
and they get all the vitamins in them presto blammo bullshit, time to eat. Better for you than broccoli.

Day 40
Well. It all had to come out sooner or later, right? That was just sooner. A lot sooner than Tommy would’ve liked. And faster.
“Shit,” Tommy said. It was not a swearword this time, it was descriptive, it was totally appropriate to use. “Fuck,” he said, and that was just not permitted. He would’ve slapped himself if he’d had the strength left to do more than what he’d been doing for eighteen hours.
“Shit” he clarified. And continued to do so.

Day 59
Tommy liked the crocodile. He liked to think that the crocodile liked him to. It was all in the way it’d wink at him it’s just that crocodiles were sort of bad winkers and it was mostly just Tommy moving his head at the right angle to make the light go ~TinG~ off its eye. Just like that. That was like a wink for an animal too lazy to close its eyes although you’d never hear that from him about the crocodile no sir Tommy was good buds with him or possibly her. Tommy was fuzzy on checking that sort of thing in a species that didn’t have tits. They didn’t have tits, did they? Maybe they did and they just looked weird, like really small. “Fuck.”
The crocodile’s eye wavered at him. Bad language. Tommy should really watch that.
But yeah, the crocodile was his bro. Or sis. Or whatever. Once every week it would eat something and get super lazy and then Tommy could run in and drag off its leftovers and it had only managed to almost eat him one two three times so far so hey that’s a pretty good track record. Life was good.

Day 68
Tommy had had it up to here with the mother-fucking ass-shitting face-bitching bastard-jerkoff-ing doucheasshole…ing…ed…croc. Odile. That one.
It didn’t eat enough. Why the hell did it not eat enough? Tommy needed food more often. God this roommate sucked. He should move out. He was going to move out soon anyways. Like, next month. He had plans. He’d just wanted to take some time off first; kick back on the boat.
Stupid boat. Well who needed it. He had the crocodile. Who was an ASSHOLE, but he was going to move out soon anyways. As soon as he figured out how to walk again.
Baby steps, right?

Day 83
Walking was super-hard. Tommy’d last learned to do it like, a billion years ago, and man he hadn’t known anything back then, he was just some stupid kid. But he guessed you couldn’t teach an old dog new bones or whatever and man his knees fucking hurt now.
Swearing, clearly, was stuck in. Although his throat hurt too much to try it aloud, so welp.
Right. He was moved out. Tommy was in charge of Tommy again, no more reptilian sugardaddy or maybe sugarlady. But Tommy could handle that. Tommy was an independent adult. Tommy just needed to get some transportation going here because the commute sucked.
Like, a car.
Wait, water.
Okay, not a car. A boat.
Fuck fuck fuck FUCK that.
Okay, not a boat. A. A. Floaty thing a raft. Right, that’s what it is. Not a boat at all.
And what’re they made of?
“TREES!” yelled Tommy. Then, “ow.” But hey, all art from suffering. From ow, trees! From trees, raft! From raft, a low-maintenance fuel-efficient personalized custom transportation to allow him easy access between home work and that big rock that was nice to fry all the parasites from your skin off on! He’d learned that trick from lizards. Heh. Man, he wondered what those lizards were doing nowadays. It’d been like, days since he’d seen them. He didn’t think he’d eaten them. At least, eaten them a lot. Maybe like, a nibble. Shit, he hadn’t pissed them off, had he? Man he could be an asshole when he was on the red ones.

Day 89
Raft crafted. Woop a doodle ding dong. That was poetry, Tommy was a poet and when he saw poems he did know it. He recognized it.
Maybe he’d write some of this stuff down when he got out of here. He could make a lot of money and buy his own rock to burn skin parasites on and a bush full of red ones and maybe even a bucket to throw up all the red ones into. And he’d hire a crocodile to kill things for him but he wouldn’t have to room with it. Because fuck that.
Maybe he’d hire a therapist too. To get rid of all his swearing problems. He couldn’t get through one day without screaming “SHIT” at the top of his lungs nowadays. But hey, it was better than coffee. Nearly as good as Red Bull. Not as good as the red ones at all, though.
He did like the red ones.

Day 101
Tommy liked one hundred and one. It was about time to start it. He’d been waiting all week for it and the day wouldn’t change, so he said fuck it
(he didn’t say it, he just thought it, but shhh)
and he just sort of faked up the calendar. No big deal. He’d lied about his grades to his parents, he’d lied about his income to the government, he’d lied about his phone number to his girlfriend, he’d lied to the crocodile about splitting rent, and now he was lying to his calendar. He deserved credit for a consistent streak.
“Yeah,” said Tommy. He patted himself carefully on the back. Some of it fell off, and wriggled.
Yeah. He’d definitely need to buy a rock.
The raft was waiting. Tommy pushed it carefully out into the water until it was too deep for him, whereupon he gently slipped in alongside it and sank like a stone, as people without any remaining fat do.
“Fuck,” said Tommy. A passing shark veered away in disgust, but he was in no mood for social niceties. “Fuck,” he repeated, and weirdly relished the sight of all those air bubbles streaming away as they splatted up against the surface of the water.
“Fuck,” he finalized, and frowned. The surface of the water was a lot darker now, and strangely smooth. It was also getting closer and louder and in his personal space.
Tommy dealt with this in the socially standard manner and headbutted it, whereupon it turned into a boat. He dealt with this in the socially standard manner and passed out.

Day 225
“Woo,” said Tommy.
He poked the bed.
“Woo,” he said. Yep, so far, so good.
He poked it again.
“Fuckshit,” he said, and grimaced. Aww hell so close. Oh well. His speech therapist said he was doing great anyways. He just needed a bit more time.
Tommy had time. He also had three working limbs and eighty percent of a functioning digestive system and one kidney and seventeen teeth and a bill for fracturing the hull of a boat. He didn’t see why that last one was his fault, but hell who was he to poke at it. He had everything. Everything he could’ve named, he had. Except for the red ones. Instead he had this stuff in tubes that got piped into his arms every half-hour when he started to throw up. That was pretty nice.
Life was good.