Archive for March, 2014

Storytime: Lesser-known weather patterns of the western Versnillies.

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Lesser-known weather patterns of the western Versnillies, by Horace Wemple, T. C. H.

The Versnillies remain a much-neglected gap in our otherwise-comprehensive knowledge of the workings of sun, wind, rain and moon-glow of our fair planet. Not since the death of Albrecht Pentlecock had a researcher dared set foot in those wild and tropically moist lands, where the mountains are surly, the seas unruly, and the rivers sometimes manage to flow both west, east, and uphill at the same time. Such timid-hearted testiclelessness is not for the likes of a Wemple, and it was with the determination of my heritage that I set forth on a grievous expedition the like of which no man has endured and survived solely for the purpose of returning this priceless encyclopedia of information to YOU, my loyal, safe, warm, happy, timorous little readers, all of whom I treasure more than my life itself. No thanks are necessary, although they are appreciated mightily.
Thanks can be mailed to 4758 Templedown Byway, Herbertshire, Hillditch. No coins please.

The Wobbling Woodbeam
A strange, euphoric shaft of light that is only visible within the stark and august groves of the greytrees. As I appraised the sunbeam I stepped beneath it to better gauge the tempo and beat of its spectrum, and woke up on a poor Versnillian’s roof, from whence he had tried to wake me for three days before giving me up for dead and using me as support for his washing-lines.
Rated: 3 glimmers. Could use more backroom rhythm.

The Eastern Zoloft
A warm, ruddy coastal wind with a rich nose, wide sweetness, and a charming, fruity aroma. Best enjoyed with some cheese, a brisk hike, and some bear repellant, as the east coast of the Versnillies is lousy with the furry pests. A must for sailors and other salties.
Rated: Yalloman-5, leaning towards Yalloman-4Q(a) on a fine evening with some friends and maybe a slice of melon.

These clouds are among the rarest in the world, found only on the sixth second of the fourth minute of the eighteenth hour of February 29th, if there happens to be a rainbow of no more than three shades present. Tragically I was unable to see these myself, but the old man who informed me of their existence had some lovely (though aged) photos that I was able to purchase for as little as $5 US. Please excuse the uncanny resemblance to a plate of mashed taties, it seems to be an artifact of the film’s age – along with the strange wire-like striations that appear to hover above it.
Rated: 4.8484784/11.7474 Deweys, 2 SubDeweys. Haven’t seen anything this splendid since the days of Robbleford and his magnificent pictures of Bigfog. Anyone ever find out what happened to him?

Magenta Walloper
A highly dangerous and notorious midnight gale that molested the town of Ziblok during my stay there, consuming no less than sixteen men. After the third night of hearing gut-rending shrieks disturb my observations of the local sunsets, I set about solving the problem and was able to lure the devil in with a set of live bait provided by the local orphanage. Suffice it to say that human intellect and ingenuity won the day as usual, though the spectators (poor, superstitious rubes!) seemed to think otherwise. I was able to give it a well-earned thrashing before it very slowly fled from my mangled yet triumphant figure, and only at the cost of some small number of extremities so unused and unimportant that I shall not deign to mention them here.
Rated: 0.2 Bobbits. A pipsqueak, a piker, unworthy of note in all respect. Pish-posh.

The Monochromebow
Some of the locals told me that I was in fact misled as to the colour of this phenomena and I was merely having difficulties adjusting to my new glass eye, but they were mere peasants with substandard IQs and I have qualified at Mensa-level, so I ruled them out as rubes and brought you, my loyal readers, news of this most intriguing phenomena. I even had time to count the number of bands (one) in its arch before faint-headedness from overexertion set in and I had to be wheeled back to intensive care.
Rated: Square. I apologize for the ambiguity, but my head trauma makes my memories of this entire three-month period rather splotchy, and I don’t believe I understood the concept of numbers at the time.

The Cripplebreeze
An annual event at midsummers that livens the hours and sells shoddy trinkets. During its passing cripples dance in the streets of all the Versnillies so that it may enliven their lifeless, swollen, dragging limbs. Superstitious nonsense and besides it didn’t work. My left leg remained absent.
Rated: Boorish hucksterism.

Berlog’s Bane
Yes indeed, dear readers, I have found what man once thought to be unimaginable, psychedelic myth: a cyclone that cannot be tamed! First documented in Albrecht Pentlecock’s 1834 travelogues, the waterspout that gutted his faithful batman and left his entrails in seven different seas still whirls atop the very lake that he witnessed it spawn from! Sadly, the years have not been kind to the poor thing, and it now measures an astonishing but unimpressive four feet. That said, I saw it disembowel and consume an uncautious sheep while I was taking notes, so its spirit remains commendable.
Rated: F-0.5. Ideal for the children.

A ramshackle and altogether unconvincing category of stormcloud inexplicably celebrated in the more economically-depressed areas of the Versnillies, where it is popular with infants, teen-agers, minorities, and the non-British. Altogether fine if you’re one of *those* sorts, I suppose. Takes all sorts. Even if their tastes are wrong. Which they are.
Rated: Over. And I still don’t see what’s so impressive about clouds that rain caramels and toffee. Good grey stout droplets, that’s what a raincloud’s all about.

That Fucker
My dear readers will have to forgive me for my inclusion of phenomena that are technically currents rather than weather or weather-related, but this riptide near my hotel beach really tussled my goddamned crumpets. The little blighter yanked me three shitbirding miles offshore before I could swim across it, and on the return trip a shark of unidentifiable ethnic background made off with my prosthetic leg, so I was left confused as to what slurs would be appropriate for the occasion.
Rated: 7.2(c) GigaBastards.

Kammadon’s Manglewhorl (AKA ‘The Limbmulcher,’ AAKA ‘Screamer of Death,’ AAAKA ‘Splatmaker’)
I’m told this is lovely, and I hear no reason to doubt it. Moving on.
Rated: No I’m good enough thank you very much.

The Fireside Drizzle
So called by the locals for its exquisitely delicate and slightly charcoal-scented droplets, each of which, in all their innumerableness, is no bigger than a solitary mouse-tear. The perfect strolling rain, each breath taken in this delightful shower greatly invigorates the lungs, producing a mos

This, the final edition of ‘Practical British Meteorology,’ is dedicated to Horace Wemple, T. H.C., from XX60-XX14 the editor, publisher, author, and chief reporter of the scholarly journal.
Mourners can take solace in that although his passing was sudden, he died happy, in nearly-adequate health, and entirely unexpectedly at high velocity. It is unlikely that he even noticed the gradual buildup of carbon monoxide in his tissues until his single remaining leg buckled and sent him headfirst into the sidewalk. And really, isn’t that how we’d all like to go?

Storytime: A Major Motion Picture.

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Once upon a time – and a space too, for good measure – there was a young girl being tucked into bed by her mother, who was pouting. The girl, not the mother. Don’t confuse the two.
“What’s wrong, sweetness?” asked the mother.
“Life is confusing and hard,” said the girl. “I wish it made sense.”
“Well, sometimes it all seems that way,” said the mother, whose name was actually Alison. “But just keep trying your best, and I promise it’ll all become clear to you someday.”
“Night,” said the girl, whose name was Becky.
“Good night,” said the mother whose name was Alison.
And that was that, until a bit past midnight the girl whose name was Becky (called Becky) heard a strange curdled crying coming from underneath her door. At first she thought it was the Ancient Nibs, their primeval cat, but then it failed to rise to his familiar yodel-whine crescendo and her curiosity was aroused.
The hall was empty. The living room was quiet. And then, in the bathroom, half-tucked under the dryer, she found it. It was small and wrinkled and looked like a throw pillow that had put on three different wedding dresses and it was absolutely bawling its eyes out.
“What’s wrong?” asked Becky.
“The sinister Sock-King! He rules the Lint-land with a woolen fist! My family is due to be darned to heck underneath his regime! And I can’t find anyone to help!”
Becky pondered this. The way her mom had explained it, she’d figured it would take life longer than this to start explaining itself, and that it’d be a bit less direct. But what the hey, right?
“Lead on!” said Betty, striking her most dynamic possible pose. She pointed forwards with more than one finger, for extra emphasis.
“Oh thank you, thank you, thank you!” cheered the small pillow. “I am Fwump, sonlette of Fwopp. This way, this way!”
And as Becky crawled headfirst down the bathroom’s heating duct, she hoped that this would be over before breakfast. Even if it was a weekend, she thought her mom would get suspicious if she was still out at noon.

By nine-thirty Becky staggered out of the bathroom, bleary-eyed. In one hand she held a tattered towel, in the other her fist clenched a dislocated drying-rack rod. She’d also acquired the seeds of seven new wrinkles.
“Morning, sweetness!” said Alison. “Goodness, what’s that for?”
Becky stared at what six days ago she’d been told was the legendary sockslayer-blade, whose secret name she’d learned twelve hours ago was Woolsplitter, which she had only minutes hence buried in the black thread of the Sock-King.
“Dunno,” she said. “It broke. Where’s breakfast?”
And as she ate and dodged questions about the state of her hair, Becky reflected upon the many humbling and valuable life-lessons she had learned, often at the point of a hand-knitted spear. Well, she supposed it beat gym class.

“Psst,” said the voice.
Becky paused, one hand still ready to pounce upon the piece of kindling she’d selected.
Becky straightened up and looked around. The woodshed was empty.
“Naw, down HERE.”
She looked down there. A mouse was twitching its whiskers at her. Or maybe it was a rat.
“Hey lady. Name’s Mike, I’m here on behalf of a couple of… associates. Can you do us a solid?”
“A what?” Rude, maybe, but the mouse wasn’t exactly being polite either.
“A favour. You scratch our back we scratch your back. YagetwhaddImean?”
“Igeddwhaddyamean. What needs doing?”
“Hey hey – not so loud, not so loud, hey? C’mon. We can talk on the go. Eat this seed.”
Becky had been told not to take candy from strangers, but seeds weren’t candy and mice were a pretty familiar sight in the woodshed. Gulp, swallow, and then she was four inches tall and chasing the mouse down a knothole, into a world of tunnels.

“Back so soon?” asked Alison. “What kept you out there?”
“I had to learn the meaning of true friendship and loyalty,” said Becky.
Alison sighed. “All right, all right. We can stop the sarcasm, both of us.”
Becky, who had just been nearly-betrayed and then not-betrayed six times by Mike before, during, and after an epic duel above a bottomless badger-burrow against a blind albino rat, said nothing.
Instead, she handed over the kindling.
“Thanks, sweetness.”

Gym class was not fun. Particularly the rope. Becky could not climb the rope. But dodgeball was a close second, and dodgeball where you get targeted over and over was right up there, and dodgeball where everyone picks on you until you yell at them and then you get told to pick up and store everything while everyone else gets to leave early was slightly worse than the rope, unless you had blisters.
The gym closet was enormous. Somewhere in this maze of old, broken plastic and mangled, matted foam was a bin full of old soccer balls too malformed for the field yet still firm enough to bruise flesh on impact.
She was almost positive.
Maybe it was behind this mat? No, wait, that mat.
“Shit,” she said. A small gasp came from behind her.
Becky sighed and rubbed her face. “Problem?”
“Yes.” The voice was timidity in a bottle.
“Need help?”
“If you would, please.”
“Right. Be there in a moment.” She threw the ball up in the air and watched as it slowly landed, bounced twice, and tipped over a small Everest of delicately-balanced lacrosse sticks.
She shrugged, decided against using more than one swear per minute, then turned to face the tiny, pitiful little catcher’s mitt that had addressed her. A small pink ribbon was wrapped around its thumb.
“Okay, ready.”

The bus home was quiet, although some of that could’ve been exhaustion. The polo-battle against Prince Goalpost at the wedding-funeral would have worn Becky out enough even if it had happened after a normal day, even after a normal gym day, even after a normal gym day with dodgeball. It had all been quite excessive, especially the part where she had to outrun a speeding fastball.
She slammed open the house’s door with the swagger of a ten-year-old. “Hello mom school was fine thank you today I learned that there are more kinds of strength than just pure physical prowess and that true bravery comes from overcoming your fear okay that’s nice when’s dinner?”
“Ow,” replied the door.
Becky moved the door, allowing the coat that was pinned behind it to flap free.
“By node.”
“You don’t have a nose.”
“Eaby fur yu to bay.”
Becky rolled her eyes as carefully as she could manage. It was dextrous to behold.
“Okay, okay. Fine. Look, are you busy?”
“Yes,” said Alison.
“Oh. Are you really busy?”
“REALLY busy?”
“Yes. I hate coconut.”
“Ah. Super-truly-really-bu-“
Alison sighed for sixteen seconds straight. It was the only thing she felt free to do anymore. “What do you need?” she asked.
“Well, there’s this magical button…”

“Wakey-wakey, sweetness! Rise ‘n shine! You sleep in too much nowadays, are you going to bed on time?”
“Mmmph,” said Becky to her pillow.
“Allliieee. Are you listening to me?”
“Yuh,” said Becky. She flipped over. “Yeah. Just tired. Overcame greed, learned that happiness is not money. Big day.”
“That’s… nice,” said Alison. “Civics homework, was it?”
“Sort of.” If she closed her eyes, she could still see the view from the zipperlin as she danged from its landing gear, while Oveur’s eyes darted from her to the falling Bling Button and back again. Right choice or not, he’d hesitated too long for her liking.
“Well, time to get up. Breakfast’ll be quick today.”
“Right,” said Becky. She rubbed her face three times fast, stretched, got up, and reached for her backpack to find it gaping and empty. Her window was open and a tiny thing that looked like a cross between a hobbit and a broom was legging it down the yard with her homework flapping in the morning breeze.
She sighed.

“Mom,” asked Becky later that day, rubbing a welt on her arm from where a mop-goblin had landed a lucky blow with its battleswiffer, “does life ever STOP teaching you things?”
“No, not really,” said Alison. “There’s always something new to learn, even for people who think they’ve seen it all. Is there something wrong, sweetness?”
Becky shrugged. Her rubbing took on a vindictive air.

One week, six Lessons of Friendship, three There’s More to Life Than You’s, five Learn to be Happy as Yourselfs, and a But Don’t Stay as a Jerk Either later, Becky woke up at midnight because she couldn’t hear a thing.
She looked in the fridge. Nothing.
She checked under the stairs. Nothing.
She looked in all the heating ducts and up and down the halls and in the bookcases and under the door-cracks and even snuck up into the attic, where she personally upended each and every single one of the incredibly dusty old boxes that her grandma had given then a thousand years ago.
Becky snuck back downstairs to her room, rolled into her bed with the grace of a pouncing lion, and slept like a stone for three seconds before she heard a cough and pounced back upright with the fury of an angry hippo, flattening her room’s latest invader to the carpet with one hand.
“Speak,” she hissed, a fist raised.
“Urk,” proclaimed her guest. It seemed to be a box of cereal.
Becky corrected her grip. “NOW speak.”
Becky uncorrected her grip to give herself some quiet time, and began to think.
She corrected it again. “What is this about?”
“What is it ABOUT?”
The box blinked through watery, raisin-like little eyeballs. “Uhhh….”
She used both hands. “What is it about FOR ME?”
Both hands slightly more gently.
“The-ah-ah-ah… the need for careful contemplation before making rash decisions on preformed opinion-ACK!”
Becky opened her window, ejected the intruder, then went back to bed.
Five minutes later she was in the kitchen, interrogating a set of forks.
“I said no,” she said.
“Nuh-uh,” said the larger fork.
“Yeah,” said the smaller fork. “Never said no, you just threw ‘im out the wind-URK.”
They went out the window too. And then they started rattling its latch, and then came the strawberries, and soon it was two hours past and there was a small mob in her room shrieking and clamouring and yammering and jumping and
being very quiet.
“If we’re going to do this,” said Becky, “this time, YOU’RE going to listen to ME. And you’re going to do it NOW. Get it?”
“Good. Now go to the kitchen and arm yourselves.”

Six minutes later, the first boot hit Breakfast Kingdom soil and the most ruthless conqueror ever to grace its milky fields follow suit, her army of enslaved Spoonlings at her back. Few books gave precise records of the war, for most citizens fled screaming rather than bear witness to its crimes, but most reports placed the Enemy at roughly four-foot-nine, with burning eyes and a fierce intolerance for gentle homilies. Her flag was a ragged box-top, and its pole was the latest in a series of hesitant, halting endearing sidekicks to attempt to gift her with humble homespun anecdotes of simple, sweet morality. She plunged the land into a thousand-year state of darkness from which it never truly recovered, and it was soon absorbed by Luncheonea in a blatant act of imperialist aggression.
Becky slept sound and safe for six hours and had her first happy schoolday in half a month. She walked back home humming a Spoonling war-hymn as her mother looked up.
“Hi sweetness. You look chipper – learn anything at school today?”
“Just one thing,” said Becky. “How to say no.”

Storytime: After it Ends.

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

“The world is ending,” Ikka told his parents.
“The world is ending,” Ikka told his six siblings.
“The world is ending,” Ikka told his friends and near-relations.
“The world is ending,” Ikka told them all. “And it’s ending soon.”
They all laughed at him, or yelled at him, or ignored him, and then when he persisted he was thrown off the spine for his troubles and chased away to sulk out of the eyes of right-thinking people who were trying to eat their meals of delicious parasites in peace.
All but one person. Ikka hiked himself up on his little claws and spread his wings and took himself off and along to the very edge of the world, where home ended and the Strange began.
“They didn’t listen to me,” he said.
“Told you,” said the world.
Ikka looked down into one big, black eye beneath him. It failed to focus, clouded by cataracts and the soft red glare of the setting sun. “But they should have listened!”
“Most people find talking more pleasant. Hard to talk when someone else is talking.”
Ikka scraped at the world and himself at once. He was not a very pretty person, and this did not add to his appearance; already he was criss-crossed with scratches and cuts from his own claws. “But the world’s going to end! You’re going to end! There’s got to be something we can do, but they need to listen!”
“They’ll listen. Eventually,” said the world. It blinked, slow as a glacier. “Just wait and watch. You’ll. See.”
Ikka shook himself. “Even if they listen, what do we do?”
“You. ‘ll see.”
“See what?”
The world blinked again, slower still. This time it didn’t finish.

The end of the world was much faster than Ikka had expected, but still oh so very terribly, awfully slow.
First it shook under his feet as muscles that had held their grip for decades eased into slackness. Then came the groaning as bones ground on bones ground to powder, with the uneasy whistle of moving air as the horizon slid off-center.
And last of all, there came the crash.

The Night That Never Ended started immediately, although of course nobody knew that was what it was called at the time. All they knew was that the world had ended, gone cold and cooling still underneath their feet.
Some denied it, tried to cling still and not move, hoping against hope that it was just another seizure, another sudden bout of sleep, a severe fit of the limbs. Some abandoned hope and fell down to the dirt, wings and eyes empty. Some took to the sky and spun higher and higher in crazy circles, shrieking and staring, hunting frantically for the world, where had the world gone?
Soon, the question was answered. The night grew fangs and claws and hungry eyes and poured into the void left by the world. The dirtbound were trampled out of carelessness or killed for idle sport; the deniers fled or were consumed along with the world’s own flesh; the screamers grew weary and blundered through thickets, headlong into waiting mouths and bellies.

The Night That Never Ended ended, and the dawn rose on a worldless place, a worldless place with far fewer than had seen the sun set. Ikka was huddled with them, the last of them, stranded on a treetrunk that smelled of bark and bitter leaves. He welcomed it. Anything to obscure the stench of blood that seemed to have eaten into his brain. The fear and flight of the dark had torn his stomach into emptiness, and already he was craving the taste of parasites.
“We need a world,” he told his mother.
“We need a world,” he told his two siblings.
“We need a world,” he told his friend.
“We need a world,” he told them all. “And we need it now.”
The few who could look at him looked blank. The rest stared at their feet, or the sky, or the dirt down below where the bones littered the forest floor.
And so Ikka spread his wings again and took flight into the emptiness above the dirt, looking for a world.

Through the trees and under the trees above the brush and into the glens and hollows flew Ikka, and underneath him he saw dirt and the things of the dirt. Sometimes a scuttling at the edge of his vision would fill him with hope, but then it would scurry under a bush or behind a root and he would see it for what it was: not a world at all, but a tiny thing searching for a place to hide. He felt a kinship that disturbed him greatly.
Come midday Ikka sat on a branch and probed for insects in its bark. They tasted like rot and damp, and his claws sat awkwardly on the cold brown shag that should have been good grey scales shot through with the warmth of sixteen tons of flesh.
He missed the world. He shut his eyes and tried not to whimper too loudly; his snorting was growing distracting. Then came awareness, and he looked down.
A thing was feeding at the ferns at the base of his tree. What it was he did not know, but it was bigger than he was, and right now that was all that he’d ever wanted.
“Hello?” he said.
It rolled its eyes lazily in a circle. After some minutes, one of them settled upon him.
“Are you the world?”
It shrugged placidly, sending the vertical plates along its back into a gentle wave. Its mouth did not pause in its quest to consume for a second.
“It could be that you’re the world and don’t know it. May I land on you?”
Ikka landed, and felt hide underneath him for the first time in what felt like a thousand days. If he closed his eyes he could almost imagine that the world had never ended.
…except he had to close his eyes. The moment they were open, everything went wrong. This world was too small, its back was too crowded. The plates were broad and many, and the finest places on the spine were rendered squished by them. There would barely be room for them as it were, and what about when the hatchlings came? No nest could stay stable on this narrow back. And with the dirt so near, he didn’t trust it to stay safe. Certainly not with this world guarding them. It seemed barely aware of itself, let alone him, let alone dozens and dozens of fledglings that would need a wary mind to ward them in the dark.
“I am sorry,” said Ikka, “but I was mistaken in my eagerness. You are not the world, and I will not trouble you further.” And with that he flew away, wondering if the thing had even noticed he was there at all.

Up into the hills and over the hills and down the dunes raced Ikka and underneath him he saw the dirt vanish, replaced by blue water that he’d never imagined, as far as the eye could see. It was a river without end, and he hovered fearfully over it, looking over his shoulder for what he’d never imagined to be comforting: the sight of dirt. Then a gust of warm air from below sent him spinning head over tail, squawking with alarm.
A deep, guttural coughing sound. Something was laughing at him. Ikka peered downwards and immediately mashed his wings for height: the thing whose eyeball was leering at him was half-submerged, but its teeth were nearly as big as he was.
“Be careful!” he admonished.
It laughed again. “I didn’t see you there, little speck. And I’ve never seen the like of you before. How do you catch fish to eat when you’re nearly plankton yourself?”
“I don’t know what a fish is,” said Ikka, “and you’re being most disrespectful and unkind. I am looking for a world to live on.”
“There are worlds and worlds,” commented the thing. “Mine is this water. Yours is what, the empty sky? Don’t you get dry up there?”
“No,” said Ikka, and a wave of nostalgia swept through him. “My world is skin on flesh and bone under blood. Scales farther than I can fly on a wingbeat and a foot-tread that keeps us far above the dirt below. A place where delicious parasites pop fresh from its pores and the hatchlings nest on a back wide enough for six to groom snout-to-tail. That is my world, and it has ended, and I am looking for a new one.”
“You sound to be a disreputable lot of ride-hitchers,” said the thing. “But did you say parasites just now? I suffer from them myself, and I would be obliged if you would pick at them.” And it rolled itself about in the water so that Ikka could look at its back, which was indeed mottled with little things that were not part of the natural blue-and-white of its hide.
“Certainly,” said Ikka uncertainly, for the thing was so very large and the water was larger still. But he set down on the cold, damp surface willingly enough. It was slippery under his claws, and colder than he would’ve guessed. But the parasites were real – great crunchy things that built their own nests around them in spiral towers – and he prised them out with vigor and vim. It had been too long since he’d eaten something that felt fat and bloody.
“Ahhh….” sighed the thing under him. Its lungs were even greater than the world’s had been, and he felt nostalgia tickling at his wingtips again. “That’s better. How many of your kind are there, little speck?”
“Dozens,” said Ikka. “No. Just a few dozen now.”
“You are welcome to my back if you wish it,” it said. “That feels so much better, and you work more quickly than the little reef-fish. Will you not stay a while?”
Ikka thought it over. It wasn’t the old world, but it was a world, and that was so much more than there had been just minutes ago. “Yes!” he cried.
“To the shore, then,” said the thing. And it dove into the water with the swiftness of a serpent, leaving Ikka to drown.
“Help!” he shrieked. “Help! Help!” The sky was dropping away above him, the blue was filling up his eyes. He tried to call, but could only taste rain and a deep, bilious salt. His head was more water than air. Then the ripple from the tail of the thing swept underneath him, stronger than the currents, and he was sent flying into the air in a tangle of wings.
Ikka turned his fall into a swoop just inches from the water again, and barely found the strength to cough.
“Are you there?” said the thing, surfacing beneath him again. “You seemed to have wandered off.”
“I think,” managed Ikka. “I think. I am sorry. Mistaken. You’re not the world. You live where we never. Can.” How in the name of anything had it done that, had it brought itself under the water? Madness! You might as well travel over the sky!
It sighed, sending another warm gust of air into his wings – and a good thing too, he was still mightily wet. “Suit yourself. A pity to lose such cleaners, but worse things happen at sea. Good luck to your world, little speck.”
“And you, yours,” said Ikka. And with that he flew towards the sight of dirt, coughing whenever he wasn’t shivering.

Past the shore and over the dunes and into the basin flew Ikka, watching the plains roll by underneath him, scanning for any hope of a world. Here was where the world had wandered when his mother was born, he recalled. He’d heard stories of it, of places where no trunk dared rear itself, where the sky was in sight at all times. It made him feel nearly as small as the water had, especially when the sunset caught the clouds on fire and painted it all red as blood.
He needed a roost, but there was nowhere high at all. Then luck – a crag of stone, toppled and unmoving in the crimson of the evening. Only barely better than dirt itself for a lair, but he could squeeze himself into a crevice and call it enough for the night.
The crevice opened an eye as he alighted next to it. “Hello,” said Ikka, after he remembered to breath.
Muscles moved underneath his feet and he felt that whatever-it-was was smiling. “Hello,” replied the thing. “What are you doing here, so far away from home? Where is your flock?”
“Hiding,” said Ikka. “I am searching for a new world for us to live on, as our old one died. Do you know of any places such as that?”
“Worlds…” mused the thing. “Tell me, what kind of worlds are these?”
“Huge ones,” said Ikka. “Strong bodies on strong legs with tails that are as big again as the rest combined and muscles that never tire. And delicious parasites.”
“Mmm,” it purred. “Well, perhaps we can help each other. I am strong, strongest of all I know. My legs are the swiftest of these prairies, my tail is my rudder that controls my sprint. I can hound and harry for hours if I must, but if I must I have failed for my kills are measured in minutes. As for size, I have a large pack whose backs you may also claim besides my own – ah, you will have room for sixteen children each unto sixteen generations before you run cramped! But there is one thing, one very small thing you request where I falter: I cannot help you with parasites. My kind are cleanly.”
“Oh,” said Ikka.
“But perhaps I can give you other meals,” it continued. “You could be very useful to me, and that would be repaid in foods richer than you know. Tell me, how high can you fly? How far? How fast?”
“Very, widely, and speedily, respectively,” said Ikka. “Why?”
“I am strong, and I am fast, but I cannot move forever without rest,” said the thing. “If your kind finds my meals for me, I will feed you on the scraps when the kill is done and my young have consumed their last. You may think parasite a fine meal, but I swear to you that you have never fled on flesh bred from bones. The young are tender, the old are meaty, and both produce a mountain of meat beyond your imagining! Swear to serve, and I and mine will provide for you and yours with bounty.”
Ikka couldn’t believe his luck. Not only a world found, but a world of endless feasts! Not only would there be room enough for all and then some, but on a family that would grow even as their two families prospered! Even as they hunted, even as they killed, even as they brought low… others.
“What will we hunt?” asked Ikka.
“Prey,” said the thing. “Vaster than us, but slower and clumsier. Broad of back and small of head. Their limbs are pillars and their brains are as trickles of water. Scarcely worth mentioning.”
Ikka felt the spring that was his own mind freeze solid. “They are worlds,” he said.
“I told you twice and I tell you again: they are prey.”
“I tell you now and forever,” said Ikka, “I tell you this: they are worlds. And you want to kill them. How many of my own people will we render worldless and alone if we aid your hunts? How many more families must take up service as your pets for shelter and food?”
“They are not your pack, and not your concern,” said the thing. “Your moral qualms are tiresome. Swear unto me.”
“I am sorry,” said Ikka, “but I was mistaken. You are no world. You are a world-killer, and I will not have other worlds die so that my family can claim one. No, I will not swear to you. Not now, not until the never-ever comes.”
And because Ikka was not entirely empty of sense he said this as he flung himself skywards, which was just barely fast enough for the teeth of the terrible thing behind him to clash at his tail-tip rather than his neck.

Across the endless plain flew Ikka, wings struggling to capture any hint of dying thermals as the night cold rushed in, eyes searching the growing dark for a place to land, any place to land at all that wasn’t the dirt where the awful thing with the teeth and the glowing eyes and most importantly of all legs that seemed as tireless as it had boasted.
“Yield,” said the awful voice that seemed to have death seeped into its every word. It was below – where? He couldn’t see.
“No,” said Ikka. He might not have said it at all; his ears were numb with aching cold and tiredness.
“Yield and be forgiven. Continue and be made a toy. My children learn to hunt. Wingless, you would be a useful plaything.”
Ikka tried to put breaking bones and tearing membranes out of his mine and continued forwards, ignoring the ache in his limbs. He’d flown too far and fast on too little. His stomach was screaming even as his muscles trembled, and his mind was fast-filling with a fog as thick as the blackness that had eaten up the night sky. Even the stars were gone, as vanished as if they’d been consumed by some awful beast.
Then it hit him.
Ikka slid down it and fell down to dust, his snout feeling half-cracked. At least he could see the stars from below down here in the dirt, where there was nothing to block the sky and break his face against.
The stars vanished again, replaced with teeth.
“Your last chance,” said the world-killer. A single toe larger than Ikka and his siblings put together shoved him against the obstruction that had ended his flight, pinning him above the dirt by half against his own body length. “Swear to me and swear utterly, and you will keep a wing. And swear now.”
Ikka stared past the teeth and tried to think about things that weren’t now, about times gone by when the only teeth there were belonged to the world. Simple, humble pegs that stripped leaves clean from stems and never spoke hard words at you with hot breath that stank of meat. A mind at a head on a neck that made trees seem small, that could stretch farther into the sky than six wingbeats could take you.
The sky was moving.
Ikka giggled into the teeth of the world-killer.
“What answer is that?”
“Both,” said Ikka. “I will not serve you. But I have done as you asked.”
The world-killer may have said something to that. It may have denied it, it may have inquired of it, it may simply have cursed and bitten off Ikka piece by piece.
But it did none of those things, because that was when a tail with the weight of a world behind it came sweeping down from above and struck it across the side with a sound like lightning breaking in half. Ikka’s ears nearly bled from it; the world-killer went spinning into the dark from it, and he started laughing and laughing and laughing.
Something large moved, and he was looking into a smaller, kinder set of teeth that were deeply familiar. Younger, but familiar.
“Hello,” said Ikka. “I am looking for a world to live on.”
“Hello,” said the world.
And Ikka knew it would be alright.

Storytime: All-well.

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

It was Nap Hakell that started it, but it wasn’t his fault. If it wasn’t him, it would’ve been someone else.
But it was Nap that day that took that shot at that doe, and it was Nap who missed a clean kill and took the poor thing right in the leg instead.
You can’t blame him too much for that, he was never any real huntsman anyways, just a man taking what he needs wherever he finds it. Can’t blame him too much for that, can you?
So off Nap went, following the blood, since there was so much of it, and up and up he climbed through hills and around them ‘till he clawed through a thicket and into a glade that was full of what he wasn’t looking for. No hide nor hair of doe nor arrow, just three things:
The first thing was nothing.
The second thing was a big pit. A deep pit. Carved through dirt and turf and into rock, bigger than a man’s-height across, unless it was a tall man.
The third thing was a pile of gold next to that pit. It was a little bigger than Nap was.

It wasn’t his fault, right?

Now, Nap was a generous man and besides he couldn’t carry all that gold by himself, so he went and found himself his very best, closest friends, the ones he could trust the most, and he swore them never to tell a soul as they started divvying up that loot.
And they didn’t! They didn’t tell a soul, except for those very best, closest friends of theirs, the ones they could trust the most. And they swore them to secrecy, just like THOSE friends did with THEIR friends, and that was why in half a week’s time there was a camp full of maybe three dozen man pitched around that glade and that well, arguing and crabbing and grabbing and complaining. It was hard to tell which was getting shorter faster, the tempers or the gold-pile, and some hotheads had already started flashing knives around. So everyone was pretty happy when on the fifth day of the trip someone got up and looked around and saw a heap of gold next to that well that was just as tall as he was, right on top of the little piddly pile that had been left after last night’s scrimmage.
“Hot damn with ham in a sandwich!” he yelled. “Lookitthat! Someone get Nap!”
And there was cheering and hooting and hollering and hugs shared between men that had last night pledged to slit each other’s gizzards and everyone was so happy that it took almost four hours before they found that they had no idea wherever Nap had gone to.
He wasn’t in the tents, sleeping off his booze.
He wasn’t picking firewood, out past the picked-thin thickets.
He hadn’t gone home, where his wife was asking pointedly what they were up to.
Point of fact, Nap Hakell was gone. And his friends were sad and doffed their hats, and they split up his personal pile – one of the biggest ones – into five pieces, to be shared between them and his family. Because Nap treated his friends well, y’see? Of course he did. Nobody said otherwise.

A week later the pile was smaller still, the camp was bigger still (a little rickety pub was halfway through construction) and there was a lot of grumbling, a lot of hope. Maybe it’d get bigger again, said some. Maybe miracles can happen twice. Maybe we’ll get more.
Maybe it was a fluke, said some others. Maybe Nap did it and it’s all over now that he’s gone. Maybe we’ll spend it like water – I seen some of you doing that – and maybe we’ll all go home come two more days and it’ll be deader than a dream. And people shushed them, but didn’t cuss them, because all they were speaking was what everyone was thinking. And maybe if someone else was saying it that meant you could ignore it. It was a nervous time, and hell on a decent man’s liver – which led to a similar, smaller hell being inflicted on his bladder, which led to lots of men doing what little Heg was doing and taking a good long piss down the side of the well while trying to listen to the echo. Wherever that went, it went deep.
That was all normal. What wasn’t normal was what happened next, which was when Heg got a little bit too fancy and tried to stretch a bit too far and down he went, screaming and waving and screeching as a whole crowd ran up to see the fuss. He landed hard and he landed bad, and up came some babble about a leg or an ankle or a knee or something. Whatever it was, Heg had broke it, and he was calling for ladders, rope, cranes.
Well, they’d help. Some of them were Heg’s friends, some of them thought hauling folks out of trouble was a good pattern to start, some of them were bored. And they scared up some rope and were just about to lay it down when Heg screamed again – one, two, three times – and then stopped real fast.
And then up came a shower of gold, glittering bright in the dark against the campfires.

Well, that led to a big talk.
All of them agreed that they had to keep going at it. It was dangerous, sure, but so was life, right? At least this way you got your gold. No way were they stopping. They just had to fix it.
So they put up a big tall fence around the pit with nails and boards and sticks and logs and old doors and half of someone’s run-down-barn and they put a bar made from a whole tree on the only door in or out that took their six strongest to budge from its cradle, and they hauled that gold out double-time and locked it up every sundown.
Six days later they woke up and a whole tent was missing, with Hod junior, Hod senior, and Hod very senior all at once. Gone.
That led to a bigger talk. And that led to shouting. And that led to a fight, and in that fight a man named Gid stabbed a man named Elt right in his eye. He said he’d been aiming elsewhere, but nobody liked him and nobody cried too loud when he was tied up and chucked in the corner out of the way while they thought up what to do about him.
There were more men around that weren’t really anybody’s friends by then. Too many mouths telling too many secrets to too many ears.
So they all talked into the night about the pit, and about Gid, and eventually it all just blended together into a world that made sense. They needed that gold, like it or not. The pit would take people, like it or not. They needed to do something about Gid, like it or not.
So they took that rope and they took Gid, and they put him down there and plugged their ears to the sounds. And what came showering up from below but more shining metal.

From then on it all just kept going the same. But it was bigger, and had better suits.
The secret ran off as the town sprouted up, and when the word got loud the town grew into a city. A city that shone under the sunlight and rolled over the hills, where every home was a mansion and every man was a rich man that paid out-of-towners in golden pennies to groom his grounds.
It was a place for merry-making, for partying, for freeing cares and dancing and singing and eating on plates that were gold because why wouldn’t they be. It was a city that lived.
But not a night city. As the sun went down and the sky turned dim and the shine wore off the balconies, each and every one of those rich men would walk inside, put out their lights, pour themselves small drinks, and go to bed early with cotton wool in their ears and minds fixed on sleep. And they would drag their feet as they woke, clinging to their fuzzy dreams for fear of what they might hear as they woke.
The prison’s walls were fearful many. The prison’s doors were frightful thick. The prison’s vault was awful deep, and them that dwelled in it were the ones who’d run out of words to use long ago, and ears that would choose to hear them.
But no matter how many walls the city put between itself and that pit at its heart, they could never quite be sure that it was quiet.
So they made louder music, and more brilliant buildings, and fancier suits, and they smiled even more widely under the sunlight. And when they saw the people with tattered knees that lived in the shady corners with sad lines at their mouths and tired eyes they lectured them – in friendly words – and when they saw them again they warned them – in stern language – and when they found their persistent woe too much to bear they charged them – in formal terms – and they were all taken down to the prison, past the walls and walls and walls being built, and they were put away to moving gold, and they were forgotten where they were, which was nowhere important that needed mentioning. Ever.

It was a beautiful city, and it knew it, and that encouraged it only onward and upward. It never stopped, never halted, never paused in its glory except for the quiet night-time, when everyone turned quiet and shut themselves away.
In that quiet, when nobody was looking, when nobody was listening, was when it finally happened. And because of that, there’s only so much to say from what we have. And what we have is so very little of what was.
The hills were scraped bare, the mansions dust.
The parks were splinters, the flowers shrivelled.
The paths were torn and broken to bright flinders.
The prison was gone, the walls all burst.
And at the heart of it all, the city’s heart, where nobody ever looked and nobody ever listened, was the well, torn open from the inside. It was wider across than a quarry.

It had done so much for them all, for so long. But they’d forgotten that just because it took from them, didn’t mean that it meant to give back.
But you can’t blame it too much for that, a thing trying to take what it needs wherever it finds it.
Can you?