Archive for February, 2014

A Concise History of the Earth.

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

-The Hadean Eon
The Earth forms, but its distractible parents forget to note the date of birth. This will lead to many years of bitterness and more missed birthdays than are humanly imaginable.
Rock status: runny, excitable, prone to suddenly exploding.

-The Archaen Eon
The Earth grows the hell up and starts trying to apply itself so it can make something later on in life. It tries its hand at biology and makes some small prokaryotic projects, but it’s embarrassed by their lack of a proper nucleus and hides them under its enormous cratonic bed. Later it flushes everything with water and tries to make a fresh start of it for the fossil records.
Rock status: growing up, settling down, forming tectonic plates, wearing ties in public.

-The Proterozoic Eon
Through incredible amounts of both luck and time, life appears in the fossil record in its most boring, least-pronounceable forms. It promptly suffers stage fright and attempts to hide for the next half-billion years until helpful and outgoing cyanobacteria supply sufficient oxygen for some of the rest to get over themselves and try this new multicellular thing. They immediately graze cyanobacteria to near-extinction.
Rock status: forming continents, breaking up continents, combining, dividing, combining, dividing, suffering hysterical panic attacks in the mirror while scrutinizing hairlines.

-The Phanerozoic Eon
The last-ninth of Earth’s history, but also the only bits most people care about. The planet is overcome with an infestation of crawling, swimming, splashing, leaping, Skyping, narcissistic little bastards that come and go as breezily as a twister in an air-conditioned wind farm. Thankfully nearly all of them are dead or dying; unfortunately they started out that way and haven’t managed to improve since.
Rock status: combining, dividing, combining, dividing, sobbing into breakfast whiskey, combining, dividing, being split into little chips and used to murder mammoths, being stuffed into a tiny intricate mechanism and used to light cigarettes.

–The Paleozoic Era.
Earth’s lifeforms go through a teething period, attempting in rapid succession to consume rocks, volatile chemicals, sunlight, and each other. The lattermost method looks the coolest, so it gets the most attention, leaving its more productive, risk-averse siblings to suffer the fate of living relatively safe and prosperous lives while it continually attempts to choke itself into submission.
—The Cambrian Period: Named for its delicious, creamy, surface-ripened geological formations, the Cambrian saw the oceans of the world go from quiet bacterial vats to bustling, thriving basins of absolutely horrifying multicellular life. A randomly-selected handful from any given sponge-reef would make an arachnophobic shit themselves through their shoes. It was that bad. Thankfully, many of these diverse and appalling organisms managed to destroy the lush microbial mats that dotted the seafloor through burrowing, thus mangling their ecosystems beyond the bounds of recovery and putting themselves out of business and also life.
Life status: trilobites trilobites trilobites trilobites trilobites trilobites trilobites.
—The Ordovician Period: Hideous little things like crabs crossed with ticks crossed with scorpions go on the downswing and are supplemented with giant evil squids adorned with shells. Fish attempt to make themselves known, get eaten, and set to work to developing jaws so they can eat people back. Some of them will ditch bones in a fit of pique and become sharks.
Life status: largely boneless, scuttling, crunchy with a soft interior. Also largely trilobites.
—The Silurian Period: Life makes a break for the land in a desperate attempt to avoid touching anything in the ocean any longer than necessary, is immediately followed by scorpions, centipedes, millipedes. There is no hope and no god. Sea scorpions and leeches appear in an eager attempt to one-up this.
Life status: worse than death.
—The Devonian Period: The placoderm bony fish perfect the jaw and begin to use it on absolutely everything, tearing a hole through the Devonian ecosystem you could wedge a bus through. Sharks complain about this and are summarily eaten in vast numbers, leading to the origin of the superorder’s famed grouchiness. Some molluscs see the way the wind is blowing and shove themselves into tiny armoured shells, becoming ammonites and serving as inspiration for the development of the modern smartcar. In a surprise upset every single placoderm perishes without dignity at the Devonian’s end, leaving us only with some of the most utterly menacing giant bony skulls known to science and a latent suspicion of seafood.
Life status: ambitious, perfidious, amphibious.
—The Carboniferous Period: Amphibians snuck onto land when nobody was looking and are now running around the confused arthopods doing victory laps and eating them alive. Low sea levels and the newfangled fad of ‘bark’ lead to enormous swamps full of wood that is too sturdy and stubborn to rot properly, instead choosing to be painfully buried and macerated into coal over hundred of billions of years for the purposes of granting future species an opportunity at assisted suicide. Trilobites are in the shitter but still kicking up a stink. Reptiles show up and cannot possibly pose any sort of change in the status quo.
Life status: founding the backbone of Kentucky’s economy.
—The Permian Period: Swamps everywhere dry up and reptiles and mammal-like reptiles eat everyone else’s lunch, starting with the amphibians’ and laughing all the way to the bank and back and then back to the bank again and back again and then one more time just because the laughing really isn’t getting old yet. Then in a surprise upset a sudden and horrific incident annihilates nearly every living thing on earth, including the last of the trilobites, and everyone pauses for thirty million years to reload and catch their breath a little.
Life status: whacked.

–The Mesozoic Era. Life’s mid-life crisis. A series of desperate attempts at embracing bigger as better lead to a second bout of total disaster and a relapse into alcoholic despair. But the weather is really nice.
—The Triassic Period: Icthyosaurs and pterosaurs appear because reptiles have decided that merely dominating freshwater and the land was not enough. Mammal-like reptiles get back on their feet and start wobbling around making funny faces at the other reptiles and taking swings. While they’re busy, dinosaurs and mammals appear and begin to slowly and systematically shove their feet in every doorcrack. Before anyone can do anything about this, something murders almost everyone again.
Life status: blue-balled.
—The Jurassic Period: Dinosaurs take over everything of any importance on land and proceed to live high on the hog despite the nonexistence of hogs because that is just the sort of organisms they were. The largest land animals ever to exist are commissioned during this period and its successor, the largest land carnivores follow suit, violence is huge, blood is the new red, and the film rights are given to some bearded guy who looked like he knew what he was doing.
Life status: humungous.
—The Cretaceous Period: The photogenicity of life reaches its apex, along with its taste in excellent names. Every other thing on the planet is either over forty feet long, has teeth like bananas, a brain like a banana, or most frequently all three. Pride of place goes to Tyrannosaurus rex, who possessed an excellent name, a photogenic smile, a forty-foot-plus frame, a brain like a really big banana, and teeth like serrated bananas, all in a time well before bananas even existed. There is simply not that kind of get up and go nowadays and there will not be again because during this particular period something the size of Manhattan slammed into the Yucatan and demolished nearly all of the things on Earth that were considered interesting.
Life status: suddenly much smaller.

–The Cenozoic Era. Life’s comeback tour, following the realization that if all things are fleeting then so is failure. Its shirt is back on, its hair has been trimmed, its old pants fit again, and the gig tonight is looking packed. It’s got some new tricks it wants to try, like seeing what happens if it tries making stuff really smart for a change. It’s got a good feeling about this.
—The Palaeogene Period: Suddenly free from being accidentally stepped on for the first time in two hundred million years, mammals make a mad dash for every single habitat available, trying and somehow succeeding at occupying them all at once –carnivores, herbivores, omnivores, large, small, medium, breadbox-sized, and more. Some of them are in such a hurry that they jump into the ocean and swipe several old marine reptile niches right from out of the faces of sharks. The sharks respond to this by eating them, because the nice thing about being a shark is that you may not have many solutions to your problems but they tend to work pretty well.
Life status: topsy-turvy.
—The Neogene Period: The world, now once again full of stuff, continues to swirl it around like a man with a mouthful of Listerine. Seasonality reaches the point where regular snowfalls are inflicted upon mammals, who sort of lucked out in already having the concept of ‘fur’ down pat two hundred million years earlier. Speaking of which, some silly chucklefucks in Africa got rid of theirs and started running around bolt-upright buck-naked and hurting their backs.
Life status: in a dangerous time.
—The Quaternary Period: Don’t ask, okay?

Storytime: Hand and Foot.

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Back in the oldest days – much, much older than the old days – people were better, you know.
No, not just better manners and things. That was the old days. Pay attention to me. They were BETTER. Stronger, nimbler, sturdier, swifter. Especially swifter!
Now, what made that change, you ask me? Well of course, it was all the fault of the young people.

Back in those oldest days, the strongest, nimblest, sturdiest, and especially swiftest of all the people were Foot and Hand. They were sisters, and they were each the proudest, happiest, most boastful people you could ever do meet. Especially to each other.
“Sister,” said Hand one day to Foot, “I swam up a waterfall backwards today. With one hand.”
“Not bad, sister,” replied Foot to Hand. “I ran laps around the mountains today. And after each lap I jumped up to the tallest peak and down again. Took me until lunch to hit an even hundred.”
“Showoff and a liar besides,” said Hand. “You’re far too slow to do that.”
“And same to you,” said Foot. “You never did that with one hand. Your hands are too small and weak for such speed.”
And because they were sisters it wasn’t five minutes before both of them were screaming and shouting and promising never to talk to one another again and then breaking the promise to curse at the other and so on and so forth, up until the racket got so noisy that their father couldn’t sleep a wink. “That’s enough!” he said. “If you two have to keep your parents up all hours with your fighting, you can do it somewhere else. Somewhere very far away. Why don’t you go for a race? Then you can fight about something different and maybe quieter. Far away.”
“A race around the world?” said Foot. “She won’t stand a chance. Done!”
“A race around the world?” said Hand. “She’ll be left dead in the water. Agreed!”
“Where shall we start?” said Foot. “Up by Big Bend Mountain?”
“You’re off your head,” said Hand. “We begin in Kana Creek and head southeast, to the Hichkaloara River.”
“A water-race? Nonsense.”
“A land-race? Ridiculous.”
They argued and fought some more and ran out of new swearwords so they made new ones and at long last they agreed that each would race as she saw fit.
“After all,” said Hand, “it’s all that running that’s made your feet so slow and clumsy. Like an elephant’s.”
“And your swimming has swollen your arms with water,” said Foot. “They are as fat and floppy as hippopotamus’s forelegs.”
And with that it was one, two, three, go. Foot took off so hard her footfalls made half of Big Bend Mountain come down, and the splash of Hand into the water washed out half of Kana Creek and straightened out all its bends from there to the sea.
Now, these sisters were the best at everything. I told you that. And so it was no surprise when they began to use their magic to spy on one another.
“Earth,” said Foot as she ran. “Hey you, listen to me. You go underneath all the places, even the big wet ones. You keep an eye on my sister for me, and let me know if she’s gaining.”
“Sure thing,” said Earth.
“Water,” said Hand between strokes. “You paying attention? You’re everywhere in the air, so I hope you are. Just tell me how quickly my sister’s coming along. I don’t want her passing me.”
“Can do, will do, and done,” said Water.
So they looked. And they thought. And because they were looking at the same race from different angles, and because they weren’t very bright – no brains, you see – they came to different conclusions. Well, the same conclusion.
“She’s getting closer,” they both said.

“What?!” said Foot. “Bah! I’ll solve that.” And she spat and hissed at the dirt and kicked it. The clod of spit flew up, up, up, up high into the sky and broke apart into the air, where it hissed down into the mouth of Hand as she drew breath.

“The sneak!” said Hand. “I can put a stop to that.” And she mumbled and cursed and bubbled into the water and shouted out so loud that it hummed down into the rocks and came soaring up through the soil into Foot’s pounding legs.

So it was that at the end of the first day of the sister’s race, they both stumbled a bit.
Foot was just leaping over a sea when she felt her feet turn fumbly, and when she landed she almost turned her heel. “My legs!” she called out. “What’s happened to my legs? That cheat, my sister! I’ll fix her!”
Hand was turning ‘round a cape when her arms got sore and she saw how small they were. “My arms!” she shrieked. “She’s withered them up! I’ll turn her inside out and tie her up with rocks!”
And both the sisters got angry, and if there’s one sure thing about angry, it’s that it goes with bad magic like salt and pepper. Hand splashed and the ripples spread, Foot stomped and the world trembled, and the next set of curses that went sailing ‘round the world were twice as nasty as the last.

At the end of the second day, Foot was too warm. She slowed down and mopped her brow, crinkled her forehead. She was sweating.
“Water from the skin?” she said, drowsily. “That’s good. Too warm. Too warm! Why, I could stand in the Sahara skinning mosquitos all day long if I felt it! That sister! She’s gotten worse!”
Meanwhile, as the sun went down, Hand was huddling herself as she paddling, teeth clicking like beetles. “S-s-such a strange s-s-shiver,” she hissed. “Helps t-to keep off the c-c-old, though. Cold! COLD! I’ve never f-felt such a thing! She’s a-awful! Awful!”
So they kept going, and they kept scheming, and cursing, and by this time the world was looking more familiar again. They were angry and bewitched but the last leg was in sight, their home was just a few miles away, and this made they try twice as hard – and curse twice as hard.
“Take that!” spat Foot, and she snapped her teeth shut on the sky so hard it twitched.
“That for you,” snarled Hand, and she blew a breath into the air so hard that it tickled the mountains black-and-blue.
These curses were the strongest curses yet, and they were as quick as the sisters. Before a minute’s minute had gone by, they were doubled up under the nastiest magic they’d each ever heard of or made.
“Whoooshhh,” sighed Foot. “Lung are. Hurting. Maybe maybe I should. Take. A. Breath. Er.” She slowed down.
“Ow,” whispered Hand. “Ow ow ow ouch. My shoulders, my legs, my poor arms. So sore! Maybe I should stop and stretch. Just for a moment.” And she slowed down.
And the nature of slowing down when you’re good and tired – as those two sisters were, for the first time ever – is that it’s hard to stop. And that’s why when I walked outside the next day to start the cooking-fire, I found Hand and Foot side by side in the bushes yards from the finish line, passed out hand in hand like they were four years old again. Tied.
It was so cute that it almost made me forget to be angry at them, because those curses of theirs had bounced so hard around the earth that they’d landed on EVERYBODY. Nobody could jump up mountains anymore, or swim oceans, or pull themselves up by their feet. And it was all the fault of those two young people.
And my husband, of course. I told them not to listen to their father, I did. But nobody listens to me!

Storytime: In the Cave.

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

“Now you just stay here,” said Mom. Cole swung leadenly in her hands, watching the sandbox come closer with a vague, disconnected interest. “Just stay here and have fun for a while, okay?”
Then she left, and Cole proceeded to do as she was told. She was, after all, five years old.
She piled the sand up and knocked it down.
Then she drew pictures in the sand and smudged them.
Then she dug a big hole – a REALLY big hole – and as she was preparing to fill it in, she heard a noise at the edge of her head, so tiny it was barely a buzz.
Cole looked around. No noise. She looked up. No noise.
She stuck her head in the hole. Oh, there it was! And it was louder, too!
Cole crawled down the hole. It was a tight fit, but she was small and determined and wasn’t old enough to worry about structural supports or caveins or anything like that, and besides there was a light down there, a glimmer as faint as the buzz that had turned into a hum that made her teeth tickle. Then it was brighter, then nearer, and then Cole pulled herself up and out and into the middle of somebody’s picnic.
Four separate small hands removed the jug from her head simultaneously while one very large and wrinkled pair pulled her clear of the ground and onto a soft blanket. It was red, she noted through the lingering ache in her scalp.
“Feeling alright?” asked the owner of the hands.
“Yes,” said Cole. Then she remembered her words. “Thanks you. Who are you?”
The woman shrugged, and Cole watched the lines on her face scatter as she smiled. She was very old, older than Cole’s grandma, who was the oldest person in the world. “Nobody in particular. How’d you get here?”
‘Here’ was soft. Something green that wasn’t quite grass underfoot, under a blue thing that wasn’t a sky, with stalagmites that were pretending to be trees, or maybe the other way around.
“A hole,” said Cole.
“I can see that. Well, if you’ve come for a visit, you might as well stay for a little bit. Besides, I could use some help babysitting, and you need at least four for a proper round of hide-and-go-seek.”
Cole nodded. This was a true thing. And so she ran and hid and tagged and laughed and spent a long time down there in the cave, until she heard the thud of grownup feet.
“Come back if you’d like,” the old woman told her, as she scurried back down her tunnel. “We like visitors.”
And Cole remembered that, all the way through the lectures she got on wandering off in the car on her way home. And she did visit, and often, because it was so EASY to do. All you had to do was dig a hole, any hole, crawl a while, and there you were again, popping out of the ground in a cave like a summer meadow, ready for freeze tag or snacks or really almost anything, because there was a whole village down there in that little place, with small people who spoke soft words and always were patient with her.
It was a nice place.

It WAS a nice place, but it was so small!
Cole towered over the buildings. She loomed over the stalag-trees. She was even bigger than the old woman, and that had taken her ‘till her last growth spurt. Nothing was good for hide and seek anymore, and besides, that was for babies. She was bored, bored, bored, bored! It was hard work finding holes that could fit her anymore, and once she got in, she wasn’t sure it was worth the effort.
“I’m bored,” she told the old woman. “Bored, bored, bored, bored! I’m not even sure coming here is worth the effort.”
“Yes, I can see why,” she said. “Why don’t you go exploring a little? Perhaps you’ll find something new.”
“But I’ve BEEN everywhere!” said Cole. “I’ve been down the meadow-cave and up through the wood-tunnels and round and round and round the cavern of streams! There’s nowhere left!”
“Not in the upper caves, no,” said the old woman. “Here: take my cane and knock on the side of the biggest tree in the meadow. Go on now.”
Cole rolled her eyes a lot, but she didn’t have anything better to do. So you can imagine how surprised she was when the soft brown rock of the stalag-tree slid away like parting silk, revealing a ladder made of hard grey stone that Cole took down three steps at a time, sliding the last body-length on her palms and grinning through the sting.
It was dark down there, in the middle caves.
“Helloooo?” she called. “Helllooooo?”
“Aieee,” responded someone. “Help.”
“Rawrgh,” added someone else. “Rrrrooowwrrrll.”
Cole followed the voices and came upon a most disconcerting thing: five large angry men that looked like beetles crossed with lions crossed with athletes from her brother’s MMA magazines. They were holding up a much smaller and less alarming man by his ankles and repeatedly dunking him in some sort of vat.
“Hey!” shouted Cole.
They looked at her, and she realized that all those terrible cartoons she’d watched when she was a baby were good for something.
“Lunch break’s over,” she said. And then she ruined it by giggling.
The men were hard to read because they only had about a fifth of a face between them, but as a group they were not impressed and immediately ran at her. But Cole was ready, and more importantly Cole was slightly larger than they were – something that none of them seemed to be used to. Oh, they pinched and punched and bit and beat at her with their hands and feet, but they just weren’t strong enough to give her more than bruises. She’d had tougher playground squabbles back in fifth grade.
Also, possibly due to the strange shapes of their snouts, none of them had ever encountered a head-butt before. Cole was happy to bring innovation and enlightenment into their noses, and after the third man had reeled away and spun into a wall they decided they’d had enough, and lit out faster than a half-burnt match.
“Thank you,” said the less alarming man, who Cole realized was actually not alarming at all and had a rather adorable nose. He’d used the time of the brawl to reclaim his clothing, most of which, alas, was sodden in gravy. “I’d have helped, but you seemed to be doing alright.”
“No big deal,” said Cole.
“There must be some way I can repay you,” said the less alarming man, futilely adjusting his soaked shirt, which seemed to have shrunk a few sizes. “Come to my parent’s house, and we can get you some food at least.”
“Huh?” said Cole. “Oh! Yeah, food. Great! What’s your name?”
His name was Azit, and his parents were a king and a queen, and their home was a very small and polite sort of castle. Which was half the problem, the other half being the ant-lions who had crept in through the walls of the middle caves over the years. Each apart from each other wasn’t so bad, but combined they made a few problems.
“They’re not so bad, really,” said the queen, as she was showing Cole to the Royal Staircase.
“They tried to eat our son,” reminded the king.
“Well, maybe a little bad,” she admitted. “They’re perfectly respectful if you can shove them off, but we’ve had problems with that.”
“Large problems,” said the king.
“We could use someone to help with that.”
“A hero, say.”
“See you soon!” they called up after her, as she hauled her way back into her yard.
And they did. They saw Cole week in and week out for years, and they got what they wanted. She beat the ant-lions until they gave in and turned to vegetarianism, she halted the underbear invasions, she bested the fearsome darksquid, and rescued Azit from kidnappers no less than seventeen times.
She could never get annoyed at him for that, though. He was cute when he pouted, and besides, it was all one big adventure.

One big, grand adventure. That was what Cole had thought life would be like as an adult. Well, first they chained you to a school for a few years, one with harder homework and more vicious results, and then you went to work in a cube somewhere, doing Very Important Things for Very Important People.
Much of that work involved staring at the ceiling and waiting. Cole was doing that very thoroughly, and had managed to catalogue, index, and file every square inch of the panelling and ventilation system within her sight, losing herself in the cheap tiling and crooked grates, the mites and motes of dust. It seemed to get bigger as she watched, until she was almost falling in, dropping through the gaps in the vent…
…All the way down through the roof of Casa Mezzo, and half-onto the meal that the royal couple was enjoying.
“Ow, argh, urk,” said Cole. “Oh. Hello. Ah. Been a while, hasn’t it?”
“Six years,” said the king, retrieving the lower third of his wine glass.
“Sorry; I was busy. School and then work and then and then…sorry.” Cole attempted to tame her hair with her hands, and succeeded only in angering it. “How’s Azit?” she asked, desperately searching for a way to salvage her manners.
“Oh, he’s fine, fine, fine,” said the queen. “He did, ah, get married.”
“Oh,” said Cole, with some relief. She’d been wondering how to explain her fiancée. “Well, that’s nice! Very nice! What a lucky girl. Is she nice?”
“Well. That’s good. I’ll, uh, just be going. I’m sorry about this, it looked like a lovely meal.”
The king shrugged. “Dull as ditchwater.”
“Yes, the country’s been deathly quiet ever since you drove out Impraxxus the Endless Night,” sighed the queen. “Very peaceful. Very dull. It’s bliss. And you know, you could use a bit of that bliss. Let me show you the Royal Staircase.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t come down it the usual way, it was sort of an acci-”
“No, no. The OTHER Royal Staircase.”
It was a slim little thing tucked away in a room barely big enough for a broom closet, and it creaked under Cole’s weight. But she held her breath and kept her tread study and before she knew it sand was whispering under her bare feet as she stood on a calm purple beach underneath a glowing sunset in a place with no sky.
“This,” said the queen, who’d taken off her crown and put on a nice bonnet, “is a proper place to be.”
“Mind if I visit?” asked Cole. Down the beach, a young couple was playing tug-of-war with a friendly shark, and losing. The breeze smelled like strawberries, faint and calm.
“It’s not my beach. And I’d love it. The book club meets down here Friday nights, and I could use someone else who hates romance novels.”
And Cole still hated romance novels, and always did, so that was nice. She came down to the lower caves more than just Fridays, whenever the world got too exhausting and the days got too dreary and whenever she could let her mind wander for a while, turning five minutes of forever into hours of calm. And it worked, and it dropped her blood pressure – although some of that was the honeymoon. Cole’s wife was as determined a vacationer as the queen, but much more personal about it.

She could make the strangest places feel as cosy and personal as your bedroom, but there was only so much someone could do with a hospital bed. And besides, the old dear got so tired nowadays, and after three hours of happy times she’d nod off with her hand in Cole’s and stay there until visitor’s hours ended.
Not that Cole minded. She didn’t have the energy to make noise nowadays. And she had her ways to fill empty hours, she still did. Even if she’d nearly forgotten them while Emma and Jacob were growing up – good lord, she’d had some sympathy for her own mother after that.
Cole fixed her gaze on the gap in the window that led out into the summer night, walked up to it, and slipped through into the lower caves on a day nearly as pleasant as her last had been. Calm waves on a calm sea under a calm wind with dozing figures bured in sand to their chins, basking in a soft glow. She walked along the beach, kicking seashells and watching them splash.
It was nice. It was restful. But it was a little too quiet. Lord knows Cole had gotten enough bed rest over the past year to fill centuries. Maybe she couldn’t move too fast herself anymore, but she could at least live vicariously. Just a little.
She kicked a seashell and stubbed her toe.
After some violent swearing, further careful prodding revealed not a seashell at all, but a hatch. And under the hatch, a passage.
Well, what was one more trip?
Cole crawled, then Cole crept, then Cole squirmed, and at last, at the end of the tightest squish she’d been in since the car accident back after Jacob was born, Cole heard something buzzing at the edge of her hearing aid, twitching on the tips of her pupils.
Then light and sound, and she tumbled head over heel onto something soft and green that couldn’t be grass, out of a sun without a sky.
“Oof,” she declared, and dusted herself off, brushing away the offers of help from concerned villagers. “Ouch! Wouldn’t want to do that again. Tell me, which way’s the tunnel? I’ve got to be going now.”
The tunnel was too small.
“Damnit. Well, which is the largest tree? Just find me the cane, and I’ll-“
There was no cane.
“Oh fudge. Where is it? Where’s the old woman?”
Gone away? But her house was empty, so…
…There Cole sat, whittling and worrying at the head of a stalag-tree-carved cane, singing silly songs to herself and minding the minds of the village’s young, because they weren’t near big enough to mind themselves. As proven by how many times their little hands reached eagerly for the handle of her carving knife, or her chisel, or her hot mug of tea, or…
“ENOUGH!” she told them. “We’re going outside! Out! You are far too busy with your fingers for house and home today! Your lunch will have to wait until you pack this basket, and pack quick or we’ll leave without it!”
So they did – children listen when food is at stake – and they left. And it was quiet out there in the meadow, and peaceful (almost too peaceful), right up until the moment when the jug of water went THUD. Then “ow.”
Oh, thought Cole. Of course.
And as she reached down into the little burrow next to their picnic blanket, she smiled a little bit, and was happy that she’d never really bothered to learn all that much about the cave. Otherwise she would’ve spoiled all manner of surprises for herself.
“Are you alright?”

Storytime: Frog Song.

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

It was a really boring day, so boring it stuck out like a sore thumb. That’s all I remember. I was wandering around the internet on a dead Sunday and being bored at everything in a spare hour that felt days long, refreshing pages and comments and inboxes and hey look, my sister sent me a video.
Okay, sure. I looked.
It was footage of frogs from nature programs overlapped with a short, stupid song.
Okay, sure.
That was three minutes wasted. The other twenty-nine passed slow as molasses until noon rolled around and I found the motivation I needed to drag myself downstairs and go get coffee from someone who pretended to be friends with me.
“Hey,” he said. “Hey there.”
“Hey,” I said. I couldn’t remember his name but that was okay. “Give me the thing.”
“Sure. Hey. You seen that video?”
“The what?”
“The thing with the frogs.”
“Uh,” I decided. “Huh. Maybe?”
“Shit is HILARIOUS. Hey, remember when the one big red one is puffing out its neck, and the music goes all doo-DOO-doo?”
“I guess?”
“Yeah!” He did a little dance to show me the moment he was talking about but I had my coffee and didn’t care anymore, so I nodded and showed my teeth a lot and left.
I ran into my landlord on the steps.
“Have you seen that video?”
“What video?”
“With the frogs!”
“Oh. Yes.”
“Isn’t it just wonderful?”
“Yeah,” I said. “The red one with the neck is great.”
“Isn’t it JUST? Oh, do you mean the one at 0:43 or the second one at 1:12? Or the purple-red one at 2:28? “
“Yeah, that,” I said, and then I mumbled a lot and escaped upstairs. I had more shit to not do.

The next day I woke up with the phone ringing.
“It’s two AM.”
“Yeah! Hey, it’s Theresa – you seen that video I sent you?”
I indicated to Theresa that I had seen a video with frogs in it.
“That’s great!”
“Yeah. Right. G’ni-“
“You DID watch it, right?”
“Yeah, su-“
“Did you forward it?”
“Do that! Do it before you go to bed – mom HAS to see this. Oh, and Jeff, ooh, and maybe Ann, and Tim, and –“
I hung up and slept a frogless sleep ‘till noon, when I woke up to the sounds of voices. I raised the window and saw people on the street singing the frog song in choral harmony, hands linked.
Sugar helped. I came into work five hours late and found the building empty except for the janitor.
“Where’s everyone?” I asked.
“Gone singing,” he told me. “Tone-deaf myself. Can’t help or I’d be with them. Hey, you seen the video?”
He grinned and started humming. I fidgeted with my phone, said something, and left.
The buildings were empty and the sidewalks were full and everyone was probably going to get frostbite. I asked a paramedic about this and he told me it was fine, just keep singing and it’ll be fine. The guy on the stretcher asked me if I’d seen the video so I told him yes and left while he was busy coughing.
Home was better. I closed all my mailboxes and changed my email addresses to avoid the unending flow of links to the video and tried to get some news, but nobody’d put up anything on any site besides 5/5 reviews of the frog song. Somebody had tentatively attempted to put pictures of new frogs over the song, but he’d been evicted and shunned in the cold so I guessed that wasn’t happening.

The next day I woke up to a knocking on the door before the sun came up, and when I opened it there were cops there.
“There a problem?” I asked.
“You seen the video?”
“Yeah, sure.”
“How’d you like it?”
“What length was it?”
“Three minutes?”
“What happens in the last four seconds?”
I tried to remember some of the advice I’d read on a website run by aging anti-fascist activists who exchanged recipes for charcuterie. “Am I being detained or am I free to go?”
“What happened in the last four seconds?”
I tried to close the door but someone stuck their foot in it. “Answer the question.”
“One of the frogs croaks?”
They smiled at me. “The video is two minutes fifty-seven seconds fourteen milliseconds long, and in the last four seconds the camera zooms in on the backside of the big green frog. Give us your phone.”
They took the phone and brought up the video, and I watched it.
“There, you see?”
“Yeah, sure.”
“Good.” And they left.
I phoned 911 to let them know that I’d just been assaulted by police officers.
“Did you see the video?” the operator asked.
“Yeah. They showed me.”
“Well, that’s nice of them. Hey, which frog was your favorite?”
“Uh. The red one.”
“Which red one?”
“The second one.”
“Oh, that’s nice! Goodbye.”

By the end of the week it was just me and five other people holed up in the basement of a condemned building, eating beans out of cans that were old enough to not have frogs stamped on them. The oldest woman with us was a sociologist and she kept telling us this is what happens when communication becomes too easy in a society, but the biology grad student kept telling her she was full of it and this never would have happened if we’d killed all the frogs with global warming like he kept saying we were going to do. I couldn’t make them calm down because I’d never gotten my bachelor’s and whenever I tried to say anything they’d start talking in Latin until I got tired.
“They’re always like this,” said the bank clerk.
“Yeah,” I said. “I know that. I was the first person in this basement. You just got here five minutes ago. Why are you telling me this?”
“No reason at all, I’m just one of you guys, I fit in here just fine, yes sir indeed, no doubt, no how,” he said. “By the way, have you seen the video? Oops, slipped.”
We tried to pin him but they broke down the door before we could find his radio, and I was the only one that got away. I lost the pursuit in the ruins of downtown, where office buildings had been carved into giant monuments to frogs and every frost-coated window had been doodled with the sheet music for the frog song. Someone had rearranged all the abandoned vehicles into the shape of a frog, or that’s what I guessed they’d look like if you weren’t stuck at ground level because all the elevators had stopped working and the stairways had been scrapped for frog-sculpture materials.

“Howdy friend!” shouted a sculptor from his front yard as I slipped down a suburban drive. “Whaddaya think?”
It was a frog. “Real nice,” I said, strolling up to him.
“Ain’t it just? What’s your favorite?”
“The red one.”
“Which red one?”
I pulled the brass knuckles out of my pocket and socked him one at the base of the skull. Before he’d even hit the ground I was checking his pockets – empty, but his boots fit. I put them on and luxuriated in feet that were merely damp. It was a good feeling, made better by being so close to home. They’d never look for me there, not after all this time.
I opened the door. My landlord was sitting on the couch.
“Hello,” he said. “Hey, you seen this video?”
“You’ll never take me alive,” I told him.
“Jeez, cool your jets. I was just asking.”
“Who sent you here?”
“Who sent me the video? My daughter. Look, it’s cute.”
“Stand back.”
“What? It’s just a dog.”
I blinked. “Dog?”
“Not frog.”
“No? That’s old news.”
I moved very carefully towards him, then rushed him and put him in a sleeper hold as I watched the clip. It was sixteen seconds long and showed a Labrador puppy chasing its tail until it tripped over its mother’s leg and fell over.
“Like it?”
“Sure, I guess.”
“Nice. Well, see you.”
I sat around for a while, then put my bulletproof vest on the coathook and went to bed. When I woke up I shopped around the net a bit. The frog stuff was still there on some of the archives. ‘Last week’s trends.’ God I’d seen enough of that.
That dog video was pretty cool though. I forwarded that to six people.