Archive for October, 2014

Storytime: The Kindness of Strangers.

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Shush, shush, don’t worry, don’t fuss now. I’m here, momma’s here, you can stop worrying and crying.
Yes, yes, you’re all alone now, you’re too old for your crib. You sleep in the high bedroom like a child should now, like a big grownup child. And that’s scary. I understand that it’s scary. To be so high above the house, to be nearer to the gulls than to your parents. To be alone.
Yes, yes, it’s not fair. It’s not fair that your hammock is your home, and it rocks in the night wind that blows through the holes where there should be wholes, the ragged gaps where windowframes were.
But listen.
Listen close now, listen clear, and I will tell you why it is this way. Why it matters.
A long time ago, right here…

There was a great storm blowing out from the brightreefs. Scary, yes? But not so dangerous. Your great-great-grandma was clever, and so were all her friends – the men had warned them of the signs coming down from the birds and the clouds and they’d all tucked their boats deep inside the cliffs, stopped up the knotholes with great big stones. Then they slammed their shutters and furled their windmills and called down the children and they spent their nights in the hearth-room praying over the little oil lamps. They were smart, and they stayed safe. Only a very few boats belonging to careless and lazy people were broken, and nobody drowned or was blown down below to the waves. It was very safe.
Then everyone came out in the morning, found the sun floating all soft in the sky high above the old steeple, and we saw there had been a very strange thing. Do you know what your great-great-grandma saw, dearest?
Yes, that’s right – a ship! A big ship, a strange ship. It was nearly bigger than the village, its cabin was broader than two houses put together, its mast was a stump but it was still bigger than anything they’d ever put on a boat. It was a strange ship. And on its deck, sitting half-bent with her left knee bandaged, was a strange person. She was more than thrice as tall as your great-great-grandma – who was a very tall woman, as you know – and she was much too blue, not nearly as green as a sailor should be.
So your great-great-grandma and everyone went down to meet her, all at once, and everyone all stood still and stared.
“Hello, small, strange people,” said the strange person. And we all said hello back, and asked her who she was, and if she’d come far, and if she was in trouble.
“I am a voyager, an explorer, a navigator, and a sailor,” she said. “I am my own admiral. And yes, and yes. My mast is destroyed and my knee is crookt, my lenses are shattered and my larder is bare. I will be stuck here ‘till winter storms drive down and dash my ship to splinters. I ask for help to set me on my way.”
And this made everyone very nervous, smallness, because they’d never tried to fix anything so big before, and so fast, and for such a person. They were not bad people, your great-great-grandma and the others, not really that bad at all. They helped their friends, and they would help their neighbours for favours, but they’d never met anyone so strange – and moreover they were much unsure of how they would be able to fix such a large ship.
“Do not fear,” said the strange person. “I will show you how to make repairs. My devices are complex but their mending is not. My needs are as any other, my food is as any other.”
They were still slow to help then, smallness. They weren’t quick to believe this strange person, and she saw that. So she spoke a little more.
“I promise you, your aid will not go unpaid. Restore my boat to me, small, strange people, and I promise that I will give you a great gift in return.”
Now, some of them were a little hesitant still, but many of them – and your great-great-grandma was one – were very interested in this gift, and they argued and argued until everyone agreed to help, although the ship was so very very big that they were nervous. You know how that feels, don’t you? You do.
So they made it smaller by turning it into a list. A list of things to do and fix and patch.
First on the list was the strange person’s belly. Her food was all spoilt or overboard three days now, and she was starving. And what’s more, when they offered her their catches from the dimreefs, she refused them.
“These are too heavy,” she told them. “They click too strongly. I would be bleeding in a week and dying in a month. Is there no other food here? Food from farther inland, away from the reefs?”
No-one was sure. Inland was where the men spent their time, and they were always too busy weaving and timbering to look for food. That wasn’t their job.
…At least, that’s what your great-great-grandma and the other women told the strange person. Then they went home and called a meeting underneath the old steeple with their men because they saw they all looked very uncomfortable, and by wheedle and needle they got it out of them that there were special roots, very small little round ones with green leafy stems, and the men liked to eat them when they were out at work and tired. Oh, those clever, selfish little men – don’t grow up to be that way, will you? Will you? Oooh, you won’t, will you? Good child!
So that afternoon a bunch of the laziest men were sent out with blistered ears and they came back with great baskets of this root, which they baked wrapped in clay and leaves in fires, and the strange person ate them all.
“These do not click,” she said. “They are good.” And the women heard that and gave the men a few more words. You can learn them when you’re bigger, smallness. They’re not good ones. The men were passing sore about that, and they mumbled that they ought to get an extra share of the gift when it came, to pay back for losing their secret snack.
Second on the list were the lenses. They were big and brilliant and there were dozens, all held in a row by a big brass frame that spun them around and around each other and turned the globe they hovered about a thousand shiny colours.
At least, that’s what she said they did. They were all broken, each and every one, and the brass frame was nothing more than a big pile of hinges.
“For finding hot spots that click fast and loud,” she said, and she showed them the slivers of green, red, blue, and more. “They broke on your brightreefs when the storm carried me over. Without them I will have more disasters. What if I were to sail over a far-away place like your brightreefs but bigger, small, strange people?” Brrr, you’re right they all shivered at that. Brrrr. Don’t go imagining places like that, will you? Don’t worry. If there are any, they’re far away and can’t hurt anyone. Brr.
We searched long and hard up and down the town, but we found nothing. Glass is hard to make, smallness. Then a particularly lazy man who’d had a particularly long earful (he was your great-great-grandpa, yes he was) pointed up, up, up at the high rooms of the houses and asked about the windows.
“Yes,” said the strange person. “They should do nicely.”
Well there was a big row and a big huff – no windows for their children made the women awful mad, I can say that much. But they were perfect, just perfect – their shuttering would make the lenses work even better, said the strange person. So in the end the windows came off the high rooms of almost every house in town, and they went into boats, which went to the ship, where their frames were hammered into proper shape by the strange person until they fit the globe as well and as fine as could be. And the men were a bit happier, if the women were a little grumpier.
“This gift had better go a bit more our way than yours now,” they said. “You can find more tubers like that, but where’s our windows? We deserve better things now.”
Third on the list was the strange person’s leg. It hadn’t been there before, but it had been almost a week and her knee still would not bend.
“I cannot sail with one leg crookt, small, strange people,” she said. That’s true, isn’t it? Nobody can, it’ll have you overboard when you hit a bump as quick as blink. Like that – see? “It needs splinting.”
That now – that was right easy, smallness. They took a hammer in the hands of the strongest lumberjack man and they took the strange person’s leg in the arms of the two strongest hauler women and they put them together – BANG until that bad mend snapped. Then the two women splinted the leg with the straightest beam they had – the mast of the tallest boat in the village. They snapped it in two and it was just barely long enough to cradle the strange person’s leg kindly. Oh, your great-great-grandma gritted her teeth long and hard over that! Oh she did! But she took saw to timber herself and cursed great-great-grandpa when he offered to help – did it all in one go. She said the gift held her aim straight. The gift in her head.
Fourth was the bodywork. Oh, that strange person’s ship soaked timber, smallness. They had to haul it off the stones it had settled on with long, long poles – she helped too, one-legged though she was – then they had haul it onto the shore until it was seaworthy, then they had to add more rocks to the dock so it’d be deep enough to hold it. Oh that ship ate days and turned the nights short, like winter and summer come at once! She helped with hammers and with words and as her leg came back under her she spent more and more of it moving, always moving, walking up and down the town and into the hills where women weren’t supposed to be, looking for a new mast for the ship, looking for something that stood tall.
That was the fifth thing, and it was almost winter, child of mine. They had to finish soon, and there were no trees big enough. The strange person was stumped, and everyone was in a fit – all that work for nothing if they couldn’t get the mast ready for her! So they got together under the old steeple and they all agreed to look. All the men went out into the hills and forests and the women put to water and went down the coasts and they hunted all day for two days, and when they came back at night – empty-handed, empty-storied, every one! – they staggered home to meet again, under the old steeple.
And then your great-great-grandma looked up and said this, I remember she said exactly this because she told this story to my grandma a hundred thousand times, she said this: “Hey! We found it!”
So they took down the old steeple, because otherwise they would have helped the strange person for nothing at all, and they shaved off its old decorations and trimmed out its elder carvings and rubbed off the little marks the birds had left on it. And it was a little bit short and a little bit wide, but the strange person said that was good. “It will be sturdier than my last mast,” she said, “and this one has been proven in many gales, even in the same that wrecked me.” And she was right.
Not more than a week from that, all was done. The ship didn’t gleam, smallness, but it still shone there in the early morning. It shone especial bright in the eyes of everyone, because most of them had been up all night waiting in excitement, like you did on your birthday last night. When you became a child, wasn’t that nice? It was like that for all of them. So they were twitching and hopping and wincing in the cool dawn when the strange person walked down from the heights one last time, loading the last basket of the little tubers the men had shown to her. She walked down the steps six at a time, leg straight, and parted the crowd like this – woosh! – like a big fish through little minnows. She walked up the gangplank – boom boom boom – and stood there, her right foot on the boat, her left foot still waiting. And she turned to us.
“Thank you,” she said.
We waited there, all huddled up, and people made that mumbly sound they do in big parties. You know, like mmuururmrmrurmrurm. Murururmrm – yes, like that. And then up stepped your great-great-grandma, and she said what they were all saying a lot clearer, and she said this.
“What about it?”
The strange person tilted her head a little at her. “About what?”
“What about the gift?” asked your great-great-grandpa.
“Yes, the gift!” said your great-great-great-grandpa, who was old and cranky. “What is it? Where is it? Is it in the boat? I know we looked in the boat.”
“It is not in this ship,” said the strange person, “and I do not cheat. Do you wish it now, then?”
“Yes!” said everyone all at once and all past each other, some of them pushing to see properly. “Give it to us! We earned it!”
“Then do not worry, small, strange, kind people, for I have already given it to you, though it took much effort to install – and you yourselves have already repaid it.”
“What is it?” we asked – from the dock, from the windows, from the cliffs. “What is it?”
“Generosity,” she said.
And she kicked the plank loose from the dock with her foot and drifted away, already moving to hoist the sails into the fresh sunlight.

And that’s why your bedroom has no window, smallness, and neither did mine, nor your grandma’s.
So you’ll know how to behave properly when the next stranger comes.

Storytime: On Birds.

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Today we’re going to learn about birds.

Birds (kingdom Animalia, phylum Chordata, superclass Tetrapoda, class Aves), are feathered, winged, egg-laying, endothermic organisms that are often capable of flight. They are most commonly found in such environments as pretty forests, honeyed meadows, and soppy children’s books. Men with binoculars chase them around and take pictures of them while trying to hide themselves. This is normal and permissible behavior. It is not permissible for birds to watch back. This can lead to problems. It’s a good thing they can’t take pictures or those problems would be much more severe.
Most birds live on land. Penguins live in the ocean and burrowing owls tunnel beneath the earth’s crust. This led medieval peasants to categorize them as not birds, but dinosaurs.
Birds can see ultraviolet light. This prevents them from squinting, and is how seagulls can tell exactly when you are about to eat something.
Owls are a special type of bird that can spin their head around. The record number of turns an owl has made without stopping is sixty-six. It stopped when it realized it was being watched.
Most people are within 5.6 meters (0.039 imperial miles) of a bird at birth. The average distance between a human and bird at death is 0.

Birds (kingdom Animalia, phylum Chordata, superclass Tetrapoda, class Aves) are relatively large animals, larger than they look. One metric pound of birds can exceed three cubic gallons in volume, and many times that in size, yet this same mass of birds can easily be concealed underneath a simple man’s size eleven winter coat. This is how Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany managed to live out his entire life without anyone noticing that he was made entirely of birds.
Penguins are the only birds incapable of flight – even ostriches can fly, they are just lazy. Penguins cannot fly because they are communists.
The country of Canada is the only known one in which a bird is head of state. Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau was elected in 1970something and has remained a bird ever since, refusing to cease nesting. He can be found roosting in his office, brooding a clutch of papery files. Parliament staff has been unable to remove him due to nipping for over a whole lot of years.
Birds are physically incapable of making any sounds at all. The human brain can’t perceive this, so it makes things up out of background ambience. The noise you think is a bald eagle calling is actually a mouse swearing. The song of the redwing blackbird is the sound of a bulrush growing sped up 1000x. The honk of the Canada goose is produced by stepping in Canada goose feces.

Birds (kingdom Animalia phylum Chordata superclass Tetrapoda class Aves) can hear you think and that is why they laugh at you. You, specifically. At all times when you are alone there is in fact a minimum of one point seven birds behind you. Laughing.
That is a good thing. Birds that stop laughing are much worse.
Birds are actually a kind of dinosaur. If you put a bird underneath a blacklight you can see the dinosaur skeleton all crumpled up inside the bird. Don’t do this or it will eat you.
Flight in birds does not require wingbeats, and actually occurs instantaneously. What you are seeing is merely the ghost of the bird, projected on your own brain. If you see many birds flapping their wings, one of them must’ve passed through your skull en route and everything you’ve ever seen from then on is the hallucinations of your dying brain.
The previous fact about Kaiser Wilhelm II was a lie. There are no such things as winter coats. Or Germany. There was a man named Kaiser Wilhelm II made out of birds though.
Most birds can sleep, but they don’t want to. They make us do it instead.

Birds (kingdom reign phylum be done superclass as they are in class Aves) are worse than us. They are the absolute pits. They are no good at anything and that’s why they’ve made us do anything. We even have to kill them for them, because birds are too lazy to kill themselves. Some people have been made to keep birds in little wire houses so the birds can yell at them all day, and this amuses them.
Birds do not feel pain, fear, love, peppermint, or purple. They can taste mah-jong, smell rivets, and see hatred. There are at least five unique senses for each species of bird and we know less than 0.0001% of all bird species because most of them are invisible.
No bird has ever made war upon bird. All bird-on-bird conflict is endorsed murder. All birds are murderers in heart and mind.
Ten thousand birds die every minute. Only five thousand of them bother to come back; the rest go on to something worse. Sometimes they accumulate inside other organisms, causing the phenomenon known as cancer.
No known animal exceeds birds. For a while it was thought polar bears exceeded birds, but this was disproven. The nearest any animal has come to exceeding birds was the trilobites. They have been taken care of.
The dodo and passenger pigeon were the same animal in different moods. They came back last summer. There is only one so far and that number will increase and you cannot affect it by means of your actions.

Birds (king fly super clash ave) know something and they won’t tell us. They can’t tell us. They have specifically made sure that they can’t tell us and that means they won’t tell us. It’s important and it’s necessary and we’re going to need it. They’re happy about that.
Birds do not cast shadows. Light does avoid them, though.
A mature goshawk will transform into a goose when it dies. A mature goose will transform into a goose farmer. A mature goose farmer will pretend to be a human for up to fifty generations before shedding and growing out pinion feathers. This permits it to breed, and it will not do so.
Neptune is the only known planet that does not contain birds or birdmatter. Pluto too, but the birds took Pluto away and now it isn’t a planet anymore, it isn’t an anything anymore, and we’re stuck with eight planets and only one has no birds. It isn’t enough.
Elephant birds are extinct yet elephants remain. This is not right, this is bad. That isn’t how things are supposed to work. The elephant birds did it on purpose, and now we have elephants without elephant birds. The elephants aren’t supposed to work like that. What’s going to happen now?

Birds (kingfishers fletch swallow crane awk awk awk awk awk).
Each human has four birds assigned to it seventeen decades and three minutes before it is born. The birds decide what’s going to happen to it in the three minutes and spend the seventeen decades seething.
No human who makes itself an enemy of birds lives. This is why everyone dies. This is also why anyone dies horribly.
Plant life does not exist and all plants are actually the legs of very small or very large birds. Bird legs burn very well and they don’t mind being set on fire.
Gravity is much weaker than it appears, and the only reason all creatures cannot fly is that birds have decided that is how it will work.
Most places are birds. The smallest known bird is Kansas. The largest is Sol. Some scientists have proposed that the entire Milky Way is in fact a bird but they stopped talking and went to live in tiny apartments without windows so we’ll never know what they knew.
Robins were mammals up until the 1980s. Birds had replaced them entirely by June, 1998. The last mammalian robin in the world died in captivity in Tasmania’s Hobart Zoo, 1936.
If all the birds in the world were placed end-to-end they’d wrap around the planet and throttle it to death. They haven’t done this but we don’t know why or how.

Don’t let the birds see that I told you this. They already know it.

Storytime: Last of the Suburbans.

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

He woke up bit by age-stained bit. Bones crackling in his skin, filled with complaints about how he’d let his campfire run out in the night. Hair feeling extra thin in the cool remnants of the night’s breeze. Eyes wobbling out of their wrinkles to peer up at another far-away sunrise. His tongue and mouth had been at odds again the night before, and it took him some gnashing and working of his jaw to tell them apart.
In the meantime he got breakfast ready, digging around in the bottom of the small, simple pack that carried all he cared about in the world.
His hands shook as he held it. It was a little piece of a faraway land that he would never return to – vanished not in space, but in time. It was priceless, and he was about to consume it and throw away the crude wrappings that had held it secure against the elements for all those years, discard it into the wind.
Eyes pricked with tears, he removed the quesadilla from its bag, averting his gaze from the logo emblazoned upon it: Taco Bell. If he read it, he’d be too busy weeping to chew.
It was another morning and nothing had changed.

Once upon a time, this whole landscape was quiet suburbia.
Once upon a time, he and his people had lived upon it, they and no other. They lived in harmony with the lawn, and the lawn repaid their benevolent guidance with a greenness and vivacity seen nowhere else in the annals of human history.
They had no word for ‘disaster’ in their language. Well, they did, but their scale was different. ‘Disaster’ was a word for when Jason or Jennifer came home with a see-minus emblazoned upon their report cards, or for when Bradley got put on the bench while the coach had a talk with the cops, or for when that stinker Hugh from accounting took your parking space.
That all changed when they arrived. When the Urban Planners came to the suburbs.

The sun boiled on his leathery shoulders. Shadows lay flat and still on the hot ground, breath so baited that it burned the air.
There his target was. Close enough to touch. Memories filled his mind of his youth, of how his friends would have applauded his audacious boldness. To come so near to such a prize, to avoid the gaze of the lot-manager, to find it with only his own eyes and will and fleetness of foot… they would talk of him and only him for days. Three times he’d counted coup.
He laid his palm flat against the exposed frame of the car, rust crinkling against his spread fingertips. Standing there he pictured himself looking back out from its seat, seeing himself silhouetted against the sky, framed in the gap where the driver’s door should have stood.
It didn’t move. It never would again. And it was the first he’d seen in a half-decade.
A fourth coup.
Once, great herds of these vehicles had roamed the suburbs, coming down from the highways, through the overpasses. Once, the on-ramps groaned under their weight, and the night shone with the thousand fires of their eyes. Once, they had been surrounded by such a bounty as naturally as fish were by water. Once, his own father, a powerful consultant and head of the Ro-ta-ry Club, had owned an entire herd. And then – even then, in the midst of wealth unimaginable – still they had used every part of the SUV, from hood ornament to cupholders to bumper.
He wanted to cry again, but he had run out of tears.

Oh, they had listened to the Urban Planners. They brought them to their homes, they brought them to their porches, they sat and smoked the cigars (social smoking only!) of peace and friendship with them. They had traded with the Urban Planners, learned of their magical ways and the secrets of so-shal sus-tain-ab-ility – secrets that they mastered quickly, as it allowed for the purchasing of newer and still grander hybrid SUVs with intriguing features and lower gas mileage.
They were an innocent people, and could not have guessed where such things would lead.

Hungry, hungry, hungry, and the old fanny pack was empty. The craving for food gnawed at his innards like the thousand adorable yappy little dogs his mother had owned, and his pace was measuring a little too slow, his heartbeat running a little too fast. He had not seen a Subway or McDonald’s in weeks, and in his hour of need he would even resort to a Walmart.
In his youth, he would only have been a mere fifteen-minute car ride from a Walmart at all times, from his home or any of his friends. In his youth his friend’s homes WERE his homes, for all of them were functionally identical in every single way right down to the lawns thanks to the wise guidance of the Neighborhood Association.
His rheumy vision was growing more blurred still. His breath was as shallow as a marketer’s conscience. Then there – like an unexpected stop-sign in the night, it rose up in front of him. Food.
Food, but at a cost he’d never hoped to pay.

The Urban Planners knew of food. They told them of sustainable farming and agricultural reform and the pressing need for reducing the mass production of red meat, particularly beef. Their preaching was passionate, and it swayed many a curious thirtysomething into abandoning their ways of gluten-free, all-natural, vitamin-enriched, low-fat diets.
The Urban Planners knew of land. They told them of the suburbs, they called it ‘sprawl,’ and they made it shameful to inhabit. Be conscious of your footprint, they said, and they said it especially carefully to the children.
The Urban Planners knew of warfare. They spoke of class warfare, and they warned that there were only two sides and the smaller, wealthier one had been firing shots for more than a century. The suburbs, they said, were a sad little sham set aside to lull their inhabitants to sleep on fickle dreams of wealth. They must be put aside to cope with the changes ahead.

He was quite still when the children found him – a young brother and sister wandering along the edge of their parent’s fields.
“Wow! Gee!” said the brother. “A real suburbian!”
“Gosh!” replied the sister. “Golly! I wonder what killed him?”
The brother prodded at the old man’s cupped hand. “Dunno, sis! Oh, wait. It looks like he stuffed himself on juniper berries until he got diarrhea and the dehydration got ‘im.”
“Jeez, what a nimrod!” said the sister. “Who’d just stuff berries into your mouth without even recognizing them? Only somebody with no survival skills whatsoever would think that was a smart idea.”
“Stupid ‘ol suburbian!” said the brother scornfully.
The old man remained still. And behind his eyes lay one fading image: the faces of his brothers, long-ago lost to the scourge of gluten intolerance, reaching out to welcome him.
This story I have told you is not true (although my incredible grasp of realistic dialogue and characterization may have led you to believe otherwise). But that is only because a thousand like it are occurring every day, and each one has its own, unique litany of heartless details. The suburbians are a sad and sorry lot whose pain and misery, alas, falls to us to alleviate. Their culture has failed them and they are adrift – mothers lack the gas money to drive their children to soccer practices; young boys cannot purchase the SUVs that allow them to become men; the elderly roam the landscape, searching in despair for a nice nursing home where the nurses aren’t too abusive; and the wage-earning male, the former pillar of the suburban community, is utterly lost in a now jobless landscape, his tie and suit doing him as much good as a tutu.
They were a noble people once, if silly to the eye of civilized man. Let us alleviate these noble sillies of their pain. We must shoulder their burden for them, uncomplaining, patient, and with their own good in mind. And it is for that greater good – for the greater good of the suburbians as humans, as flesh and blood – that they must end as a people.
What I propose is humane by definition, being in its entirety the preservation of humans. The suburbians must cease to be as their suburbs have. Their children must be raised properly as decency intends, not left to wander the streets in search of long-abandoned soccer teams. Their houses should be constructed with an eye as to the local climate and landscape’s demands, not mindlessly fabricated one after another. Their adults should be taught how to live, not how to wear suits correctly. And with this advice and more, with our wisdom, we can uplift the suburbians from their lot until they need bear their sad, shameful name no longer.
And maybe they can even learn to enjoy living within walking distance of infrastructure.  That’d be nice.

Storytime: On Family.

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

Once upon a time on that one week in July when the sun makes some nice visits on the earth, a rotten little kid was up too damned late when he saw his uncle carrying along home, and what he was carrying along with him was a bottle with not one drop left in it. He was singing loud enough to make a frog swallow its eyes and making the most disreputable faces.
“Hey,” said the rotten little kid. “Hey uncle. What’s with all that noise?”
“I won, I won, I won!” chanted the uncle, waving his bottle like a magic wand. “I won it and I won again, it’s mine, it is – I have the secret and I won! Yes I did!”
“What secret?” asked the rotten little kid. “Go on, tell me. C’mon, tell me. Pleeease tell me. Tell me. Tell me tell me tellmetellmetelmetelmitlmitlmi.”
“The secret,” proclaimed the uncle in sonorous tones, “is ugh.”
“Ugh?” asked the rotten little kid.
The uncle fell to the ground, and so did the two perfectly-broken halves of the rotten little kid’s mother’s biggest bowl. And they both stayed there ‘till morning, when the uncle’s brother-in-law dragged him in and berated him and threw some soup at him until he went away.
“Tell meee,” said the rotten little kid, as he left.
“Tell you what?” asked the uncle. “No sir no nothing, nothing to tell you, not at all. You’re imagining things in your rotten little head. Now bug off and stay bugged you bugger.” And he stumped away down the road whistling.
The rotten little kid was true to himself and true to his nature, and so he ditched his chores and his parents and spent the perfectly nice sunny day sneaking after his uncle, who took every backroad, overgrown path, and lost trail in the whole damned world until he finally stopped on a warm, sunny hill without a speck of shade for as far as the eye could see. If you stuck your tongue out, you could hear the saliva sizzle.
“Hey,” said the uncle up at the sky. “Hey you. Big guy. C’mon. Listen up. I’m down here, you’re up there, c’mon, be sociable. You gonna get lonely up there. Stick your face down here near my face and let’s be friendly-like.”
Nothing happened. The rotten little kid wondered if his uncle was a little crazier than he thought. That could be troublesome. He already had one crazy uncle, and keeping two of them straight would be a real pain.
“And hey,” said the uncle, “you’d get a chance at winning back your losings, you big fat stupid loser.”
Woosh – thump. Down came the sun, the whole sun. There was no mistaking it; the whole sun dropped out of the sky like a cat from a windowsill and sat there on the driest patch on the highest point of that little hill, glowering and glaring at the rotten little kid’s uncle like he’d peed on its doorstep.
“You’re a sore winner,” said the sun.
“Best way to fix it is to make me a sore loser,” said the uncle. “Now g’won. Pick a cup.”
The sun picked one of the cups the uncle was holding out, and they both cast them to the hilltop.
“Beetles,” said the sun.
“Scorpions,” said the uncle.
They picked up the cups.
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, NINE scorpions!” shouted the uncle triumphantly. “How many beetles you see, nee? Count ‘em or I’ll count ‘em for you and then count ‘em again, just to rub it in. G’won, count ‘em!”
“Three,” said the sun sulkily. “Fine. Double or nothing.”
The uncle grinned with all eight of his teeth and three of his nostrils. “Fine, fine. More fun for free! Here, you pick a cup. Loser picks, right?”
The sun spat on the hill – burnt some grass real good, no wonder it was so bare – and on they played, all day until the wee evening, when the sun lost a triple-or-nothing and they folded for the day.
“I’ll take a bottle,” said the uncle. “Gimme a bottle. The good stuff, the right stuff, the real stuff. Gimme now, gimme fast, before I lose my mind and bash my brains.”
“Shut up,” said the sun. “You cheat.”
“Cheaters never prosper cognito ergo sum,” said the uncle. “Look at my prosper. No way a cheater’d have that much of it.” He took the long, shining bottle the sun gave to him and he tipped it way way back and swigged a third in one go, then let out a belch that painted a rainbow.
“S’nice,” he said. “S’nice. Same time tomorrow?”
“Go away.”
The uncle waved amicably and wandered off home. He got there six minutes behind the rotten little kid and that saved him from getting anything thrown at him on account of the rotten little kid’s mother being busy spanking him. So! He had a pretty good day.

Next day, the rotten little kid was all knowing. Giving his uncle the knowing-eye. You know, that one.
“I know that one,” said the uncle to the rotten little kid. “It’s that eye, the knowing-eye. Keep that thing offa me. Get it away with you and get gone. What’s your problem, anyways?”
“I know a secret,” said the rotten little kid with the ineffable smugness of youth and age.
“No you don’t,” said the uncle. “You’re a rotten little kid. You don’t know a damned thing and I feel just fine about that.”
“Do too,” said the rotten little kid.
“Do you? You know? You know about your secret auntie who lives down the well who I keep fed on old stray dogs?”
“Nah,” said the rotten little kid. “Don’t know about that.”
The uncle’s eyes narrowed. This was serious. “You know about the giant fly I raised from hand at your age, that lives in the old rotten tree in the dead thicket in the dark woods and eats a whole sheep every other month that I blame on the dropples?”
“Nope,” said the rotten little kid. “Got no clue about that.”
The uncle’s eyes widened and his nose narrowed. This was really real. This was big bad. “You know,” he whispered, “you know about the way I REALLY lost my sixth toe? About how I got in an argument with your momma and kicked a wall and a rat came out and ran off with it, then I told gramma it was her fault and she spanked your momma black and blue?”
“Nu-uh,” said the rotten little kid. “No idea about any of that old nonsense.”
The uncle’s eyes oscillated and his ears twitched and his tongue bounced in and out of his throat like a gopher from its hole. “YOU KNOW ABOUT MY CHEATING THE SUN AT GAMBLING?!” he shrieked loud enough to deafen grown mothers two villages over.
“Sure!” said the rotten little kid. “Dead simple. I knew that one good.”
The uncle slumped soundly. “God you’re a rotten little kid,” he said admiringly. “Reminds me of me except smaller and dumber.”
“And you remind me of me, except bigger and smellier,” said the rotten little kid with a smile that lit the whole world. “Tell me how you’re cheating. Let me in on the cut. I want a cut of the cut. So I have a cut. Cut. Cut.”
“Quit saying cut and you’ve got a deal,” said the uncle.
“Cuuuuttt,” sang the rotten little kid. “Cut cut a cut cut cut cutcut cut cut cut cot coop cut cang clurg-”
There was a pause while the uncle extracted the rotten little kid from his palm tooth-by-tooth.
“Awright,” he said. “Truce. Lemme explain. See, you take two cups like this, y’see?”
“I see.”
“And then you take a hill like this one,” said the uncle, squatting down in the dirt, “all jumping with bugs. Or crawling. Or squirming. Whatever, see?”
“I see.”
“And then you drop your cups on them – wham!” said the uncle. The shells went thunk, not wham. “Hard and fast and no aiming allowed, see?”
“I see.”
“Then you sit there and you guesstimate and calculjecture yourself up a bug, see,” whispered the uncle.
“I see.”
“Then you whip off the cups and count up all the bugs you both got and BAM WHAM BAM you got a WINNER!” sang the uncle.
“I see.” The rotten little kid scratched his nose. “One thing that gets me: how’re you cheating?”
“Oh, that!” said the uncle. “Sun doesn’t know what the hell ants are. Must be near-sighted. Just play on top of that one hill I use – all covered in anthills – and say your ants are scorpions or camel spiders or moths or centipedes or octopuses or what-have-you. He can’t tell ants from your gramma’s behind or your momma’s breakfast.”
“Gross,” said the rotten little kid. “I want to go cheat now.”
“Shoot,” said the uncle. “We’d better hurry or we’ll be late.”
So they went down and they were just a little bit late. “Hey sun,” said the uncle. “Hey you up there. C’mon. Win back your losses. C’mon. C’moooon. C’mon.”
The sun waited.
“You got a third player now,” said the rotten little kid.
The sun popped onto the hill like a bad cork. “Here’s a cup, get rolling, call it fast, go.”
“Owls,” said the kid.
“Dang,” said the sun. “I swear I saw those.”

So by day’s end the sun owed two people, and they took two bottles because why the hell not.
“This tastes lousy,” said the rotten little kid.
“It’s a song for your tastebuds and cancer on your skin,” said the uncle. “It’s ultraviolet and it tastes ultra vibrant and it makes my heart sing like a horny canary. Try it, it’s good stuff. It’ll put hair wherever the hell you want hair. Maybe places you don’t, too. It’s that good.”
The rotten little kid sniffed his bottle of liquid sunshine dubiously. “No thanks,” he said. And he chucked it in the river and went home early so he wouldn’t get yelled at.
The uncle, by contrast, slept in a ditch. And so when he wandered in the next morning, he was awful surprised at all the ruckus that was afoot. People were running around and yelling at each other and the sky and the rocks and just about anything they could yell at because hey who wouldn’t want to have a good yell to fit in like then. The uncle respected that sort of thing.
That said, it was a little noisy. He sidled up to his brother-in-law and asked him what was going on.
“Stream’s gone funny,” said his brother-in-law. “It’s all rainbows and blue skies.”
“Pretty,” admired the uncle.
“I tried to have a drink this morning and a bluebird stuck its head in my mouth,” said his brother-in-law. “It stuck its head right in there. Then it thought my tongue was a worm or something. It bit my tongue. I am not a very artistic man but I do not like having my tongue bitten. So yes, maybe that stream is pretty, but it is also a very big pain in my ass. You should fix that.”
“Who told you?” asked the uncle.
“Lucky guess,” said his brother-in-law.
So the uncle went over and bugged the rotten little kid, who was sitting by the stream fishing for blackbirds with a worm on a hook.
“Hey kid,” said the uncle.
“Hey ugly,” said the rotten little kid. “Whatcha need?”
“You to fix your big stupid mess you no-good little horrible rotten thing on a stump with a wart sticking out of its backside and a blister in its eyeball with three noses,” said the uncle.
“Jeez,” said the rotten little kid. “Jeez.”
“G’won,” said the uncle. “G’won, fix it. Fix it now. Fix it or your mamma’ll get on my case and wear it down to a broken bit of baggage. Fix it now or be uncleless and have no-one to pick on in your old, stupid age that is older and stupider than you. Fix it or I’ll call you a chicken. Fix it. Fix it.”
“Go get mamma to fix it,’ said the rotten little kid. And he laid down with his hat over his eyes which was how the uncle knew the conversation was over, so he gave up and got his sister, which is what most people learn to do when they want to get something done.
“Brother,” said his sister, “you are the dumbest man ever to be a member of my family, at least until this little guy gets bigger. Why in the big blue stupid world would you go making bets with the sun? It could snuff you out before I could say appaloosa or chloroform.”
“Don’t worry,” said the uncle, “I’m real careful to always cheat like crazy. I’ve ripped off that sun more than your son’s ripped off bandages. I’ve given it the gift o’ grift. If I’ve said one honest word to that big old set of hot balls I’ll eat my pants.”
“See now brother,” said his sister, “if you were just a little bit smarter you’d realize why this isn’t making me much happier when I hear you saying it.”
“Fair enough,” said the uncle. “Look, here’s how you cheat the sun.” And he told her.

“Hey,” said the sun. “Three again?”
“Keeps things lively,” said the uncle. “This is my sister. She has a beautiful vermillion dress and she loves to own old, tired-out dogs that don’t give a hoot about anything anymore, and her children are the worst little people in this worst little world of ours, times five. And she has a very painful kick. Ow. Ow. Ow.”
“Hey,” said his sister.
“Hey,” said the sun. “Throw ‘em.”
They threw ‘em.
“Hippopotami,” said his sister.
“Oh goddamnit,” said the sun.

So his sister came back with a big sponge that was still warm from the sun’s soft, baby-smooth hands and stuck it in the stream, gluck, glurck glop, and it sucked up all that sunshine inside itself. Then it exploded and it rained sponge for three hours on the weekend.
“That sort of worked out,” everybody agreed. “Kind of.”
“Let’s not mess with the sun again,” they all suggested.
“Great!” everyone concurred. “Let’s do it.”

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Seven hundred. Huh,” said the sun. “Huh huh. That’s a bit more. A bit more than last time.”
“Afraid to lose?” asked the uncle.
“Put ‘em up, throw ‘em down,” said the sun.
“Rats” said everybody.
“Rats,’ said the sun. “No, not what you guys said. I mean literally rats. Literally figuratively ‘rats.’ Oh hell you know what I mean.”

Now things started to get a little crazy. See, everybody spent half the day out of their mind on liquid sunshine, and half the day was a long, long, LONG time because the other half the day they spent pouring liquid sunshine on everything, which made the day half again as long. That’s three half a days for every day, you understand. That’s pretty hard math.
Lucky, everyone was too busy with sunshine to care. Everybody except for the uncle, his sister, his brother-in-law, and the rotten little kid.
“This was more fun when I was the only one doing it,” complained the uncle. “Now everybody’s doing it and it’s no fun anymore. Nobody understands me, but that’s how I feel and it’s a proper way to feel.”
“Birds,” said his brother-in-law grimly. “Birds. Peacocks in the pantry. Whip-poor-wills in the walls. A large, angry male ostrich in my bedroom, preventing me from sleep and ruining my capacity for alliteration. I cannot take this much longer.”
“I don’t like this,” said his sister. “There’s too many happy people around. They’re a bad influence. I saw what started all this, and it was you being happy. People are happy enough on their own damned selves, you’ve got no right to be showing off and making them all miserable with it. I’ve half a mind to smack you and the other half to sock you.”
“I’m bored now let’s do something else,” said the rotten little kid.
The uncle looked upon his relatives with graven graveness. “For once,” he said, “I almost don’t quite not agree with all of you absolutely. Let’s go fix this up.”
So they made the walk down to the sun’s hill, which was really easy nowadays because there’d been seven hundred and something people making the trip every day for like a month. Three half months and a month, for a month. Or something.
“How long have we been walking?” asked the rotten little kid. “My feet hurt. My legs hurt. My nose hurts. My brain hurts. Carry me or I won’t stop talking until you fall over.”
“Adversity builds not caring,” said the uncle.
“You carry him,” said his sister.
“Fine,” said the uncle. “But I’m going to complain about it.”
“Watch me care,” said the sister.
The uncle watched her very closely the whole rest of the walk but he was unable to watch her care, and this explained why he was in such a bad mood when they stood on the sun’s hill and it asked “Hey, where’s everybody?”
“What’s it to you?” asked the uncle.
“What’s it to YOU?” asked the sun.
“What’s it TO YOU?” asked the uncle.
“Go away,” said the sun, loftily. “I’m popular now. Everybody likes me and they all come over to gamble every single day. I’ve double or nothing so many times that I’m up to nine trillion seven zillion and three-half doubles, and all I need to do is win once to win big. It’s going to be amazing and you’re too stupid to care so go away.”
“YOU go away,” said the uncle, pissily. “Nobody likes you. They just like your liquid sunshine and they all come over to get it off you every single day. And you’ll never ever win a single bet because you’re a big dumb baby that I’ve been cheating out the wazoo since I was smart enough to tell the difference between an ant and literally any other animal on the face of the planet. You are the stupidest solar body ever to exist and I hope you blow up in a really disappoint and silly manner because you are also disappointing and silly, which must disappoint YOUR MOTHER very much every day of her sad, miserable, abandoned life, because you abandoned her and left her all alone out of ingratitude you shiftless, shitless, pantless, gutless, yellow-bellied, red-faced, orange-cheeked, wall-eyed MORON who isn’t fit to fry a fat beetle let alone heat an entire planetary system for billions of years, which you are trying to do, which you are failing to do, because you aren’t fit to do it on account of being a knock-kneed gullible so-and-so with peameal bacon for brains and cornmeal muffins for common sense with gravy between the ears.”
There was a nice long slow moment while the sun digested this.
“What.” It said.
There was a really short and awkward moment while everyone indigested THAT.
“What,” repeated the sun, “is a wazoo?”
“Nothing,” said the rotten little kid.
“Oh,” said the sun.
“It means a big gullible GOB OF GIT!” hollered the uncle, who was subdued most unkindly by his sister.
“He called me gullible, and many other things!” said the sun.
“Nah,” said the rotten little kid.
“Oh. Okay. So, want to play?”
“No,” said the rotten little kid. “No. Nobody wants to play.”
“Well then I’ll play by MYSELF!” roared the sun, and it zipped off far away into the highest part of the sky to sulk.

And that’s where it’s stayed.
Except in July. It makes visits in July.

Storytime: Chores.

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Aist was young.
She hatched on a whorlwise moon, tail-first – a stubborn, significant sign. She spent eight skycoils eating and hiding and when the ninth passed she ambushed her pater from above as he fed her brethren. Her attempted ingestion of his leftmost eye was laudable, and brought her fresh from her clutch to the roaming paddock.
Aist was strong.
She was half the size of the rest of the crèche, but caught up to them quick and fierce, by stealing and jumping and biting and spitting and hissing. And more biting. She took the food of the strongest by the end of her third skycoil in the paddock and everafter the biting required was lessened. Nobody wanted to be at the end of that again. They enjoyed having a full eyecircle of nine.
Aist was quick.
When the doommaker came to the roaming paddock and inspected the crèche, she ran and hid and took the adults nearly all spin to catch. The doommaker laid eyes and hands upon her, counted her eyes backwards and forwards, slapped her tail, wriggled her arms.
“This one,” she said, “is going to be trouble.”
“Whose?” inquired the attendant feedmaker, and the doommaker shrugged. So they gave up on it and took her out of the roaming paddock early.
Aist was clever.
They put her to the boneworker, and she grew bored with tending coals and began to steal small leftover sherds until she was caught making an entire scimitar. They put her to the borderwarder and she attempted to wrestle the packmater during feeding sessions. They put her to the sheltersheller and she ate half a wall when its hide would not scintillate correctly, then used the spraying blood to paint articulate and hurtful truths upon the remainder.
And it was because of all those things that the boneworker and the borderwarder and the sheltersheller and her pater came to the pathwatcher and spoke to it and said this, which was “this one is trouble.”
The pathwatcher shrugged. “Find things for her to do.”
“She will not do them,” said the boneworker.
“Keep her busy.”
“She will not stop her business.”
“Distract her.”
“She is distraction in scales.”
The pathwatcher hummed to itself and clacked the big claws that denoted its station under its official carapace. “Mmmph. Use your imaginations.”
“She has too much im-“
“Together. All of you together. Go on. Think. Think of something to preoccupy one neonate. I trust you, or you wouldn’t be you. Go on. Fulfil the trust.”
So they put their heads together and their arms entwined and they thought and argued for a full spin. And when that was done, they split up. Three of them went to eat, her pater went to Aist He found her by walking about exposed and vulnerable, and at last she landed upon his neck-nape.
“Neonate,” he said. “You have a thing to be doing.”
“I do and am,” she said, and bit at his eyes, which he was shutting carefully.
“Not this. You have a thing to be doing. Go out there outside the walls and outside the halls and go into the forest and find me a white stone the size of your head and bring it back. I need a new eyerest or your mater will devour me from boredom.”
Aist shrugged. “As pater pleases,” she spoke, and she bounced off into the air and off a wall while he went off to get something to eat, whereupon he found that she had already eaten half the honey.
“Neonate,” called a voice as she hurried through the rumbling bridge that swung between the halls as they plodded along, “neonate. I have a thing that must be done.” It was the boneworker.
“I’m busy busy busy,” she scolded him. “So busy that I can’t even talk.”
“No no,” said the boneworker. “It’s a small thing, a little thing. I need some bones from a bradbuck, there should be a dead one not far from here, only a little ways away. Go and fetch its ribs, won’t you? Just its ribs, the big nice hollow ones for blowpipes, that’s a good neonate.”
Aist sighed and hummed and whined and said “fine! Be that way!” and ran away, sliding down the walls and feeling their big grumpy sighs as her claws pricked them.
“Neonate, neonate! Attend to me, neonate!” The sheltersheller was hanging there, brushes in hands, surveying a dreadful big blank spot where one of the walls had shed a scale. “I am paintless, neonate!” he shouted. “Positively paintless! Fetch me some dyes, some good dyes from the good grey berries you can find outside. Go and get them, go on and on or this colour will set and we will be blemished for good! Go on!”
“FINE,” shouted Aist. And she stomped down down down the leg of the wall and down to its foot, where the borderwarder sat with her guards and watched the moons go by.
“It’s a wobblewise tonight,” she said idly as Aist went by. “Bad news if we don’t get these boys more feed.”
Aist didn’t reply, just hissed.
“Anything crunchy,” she said. “They’ve got good strong teeth. Anything nice and crunchy, or they won’t give it so much as a nibble’s nibble.”
Aist walked off into the foliage with her arms set as if to crush stones, and the borderwarder chuckled after her.

Aist was a lot of things, but she wasn’t foolish, and she knew all those errands at once meant something, and that something wasn’t all good news for her.
“They want to tire me out,” she said to herself as she hid on vines and slipped through pools. “They want to bring me down. They want to humble me up. And that means that there’s probably tricks in all these jobs. Yes, there’ll be tricks. I’ll track those tricks, I will, and stop them dead. Dead, dead, dead. Dead like that thing there. That thing that’s dead.”
It was the bradbuck the boneworker had set her after, and it was a good one – the bones were clear and glistening against the shrunken skin, as beautiful as a polished lip.
“That’s too good,” she said to herself. “Too good, too good by half.” And she threw a little stone at it.
Sure enough, up from those bones swarmed a feast of fleshwasps, each as big as her arm and three times angrier. They shrieked and screamed and gave up looking while she lay low there, half-immersed in her puddle.
“Mmmm,” she said. “Mmmm.” And she rolled in the mud until she was nothing but a muddy blob, took her stolen honey (not yet eaten) in her teeth, and crawled inchy-winchy all the way up to the very base of the bones, so close she could hear the little shouts the wasps used to talk to each other.
“Here,” she whispered, and she poured that very tasty honey inside the mouths of the three largest bones. “Here, here, here.” And the wasps heard the noise and smelt the honey and dove into those three fine bones quicker than anything. They were most unhappy when she plugged the ends with mud, and less still when she swung it into her bag.
“Good,” said Aist. And she rinsed off the mud, because it was smelly, and she dove to the bottom of the pools to look for white stones.
Six pools later she was making up new words that meant bad things. Every stone was red or orange; white was gone as gone could be. Just half a skycoil ago every stone they’d passed had been whiter than her mater’s eyes, but now they were harder to find than legs on a stenchworm.
She considered the stenchworm’s egg that had just halted her train of thought.
“Huh,” she said. “White enough.” And she tucked it into her bag.
Now she went to the thickets to look for food – guard-food, not normal food – and was disappointed. They were deep in the thickets by now, and if a thing was not soft and pliable enough to slip between branches it did not exist.
“Crunch crunch crunch, need crunch munch, a bunch bunch bunch” she nonsense-hummed to herself.
(Aist was not poetic)
She stopped to give her aching feet a rub and looked around. The hardest game she saw was an immature isoblob, smooth and hairy and nub-nosed and mostly mouth. It was shoveling its way through the forest floor on a journey that would take its whole life.
“Hmm,” she said.
Then she picked up some nice ripe quickseeds, put them in front of the isoblob, watched as it ate them, and bagged it.
“VERY crunchy,” she said. “At first.”
The grey berries were easy to find – very easy. So easy that she didn’t believe it, and that’s why she poked them with a single toe instead of grabbing them up.
“Oooh oooh ooh,” she hissed as the toe itched like mad, so hard that she almost tore it off with her scratching and clawing. “Ooh oh ooh no, ooooh no way am I grabbed that up. Oooh. Ooh!”
So she walked away from the grey berries, dug up a little juma-burrow, skinned the prickly little juma, and wrapped the berries in its hide spike-side-in, carrying the whole thing with the greatest care.
Then she walked home. And smiled a lot on the way.

“Have you brought food?” asked the borderwarder?”
“Here!” said Aist. And she fished out the isoblob, which snuffled aimlessly at the new things it was seeing.
“That’s as crunchy as a wet leaf,” said the borderwarder.
“Not after what it ate,” said Aist. And she threw it to the guards, who tore into it ravenously and downed it in less than a blink and a bite.
“What did it eat?” asked the borderwarder.
“Quickseeds,” said Aist. Then she ran, because some of the guards were already beginning to squat. The borderwarder’s shouts started loud in her ears as she ran, but then grew quiet – she probably didn’t want to open her mouth.

“Neonate,” said the sheltersheller suspiciously. “That was fast.”
“It was, it was, it really really was,” said Aist. “I didn’t want an ugly wall. Here, here, take the berries – I wrapped them up nice!” And she threw the bunch to the sheltersheller, who screamed a little and grabbed them out of the air by the skin of his teeth.
“Careful!” he admonished. “Careful careful careful CAREFUL!” If you get these on your scales, it’ll-” and then he started whimpering, as he watched the juices from the prickle-pierced berries seep out of the package and down his arm.
“Paint carefully!” she yelled. And then she was gone, and the scratching started.

“Ah, these are good ribs, fine ribs, true ribs,” said the boneworker approvingly as he eyed them up. “Did you have any trouble getting them?” he inquired, just a little too idly to be true.
“No,” said Aist. “I did take a trip getting them though. There’s a bit of mud on there and there and there and there and there.”
“Huh!” said the boneworker. “Easily fixed!” And he jammed his long, clever claws into the mud plugs of the ribs and pulled them right out, along with a fistful of fleshwasps.
“Oops,” said Aist. And she ran, ran, ran.

Aist’s pater knew she was there. She had just landed on his neck again.
“Did you have fun?” he asked.
“It was HARD and BORING and LONG and TIRED and I got bit by wasps and itched by berries and I looked everywhere everywhere EVERYWHERE,” she whined, “but then I found this here you go.”
“This is a strange stone,” said her pater, as he took the stenchworm egg in his arms. “It feels soft.” Then it wriggled.
“It’s near-hatched,” she told him. “Good luck.”
This time she didn’t stop running until she reached the very top of the very horn of the very tallest wall, and she didn’t stop laughing until the moon slid from wobblewise to whorlwise and the world went quiet again.

The boneworker, bandaged head to heel, left his post alongside the sheltersheller, swollen of arm. They walked the long slow road to the pathwatcher’s post, and on the way they fell step-in-step with Aist’s pater and the borderwarder, who walked far apart from them and each other, both a little downwind. And when they entered the pathwatcher’s post, they spoke all at once very loudly in a way that somehow turned into a single, clear message.
“We have tried together,” they told the pathwatcher, “and we have failed. We give up on her altogether.”
And that was that.

And for the rest of that skycoil, there was hardly an adult that could look at a neonate without grousing, and there was that real quiet that came from the heaviest of sulks, and the quiet pitter-patter of scheming revenge that would never come to fruition. And overlaid on all of it, hiding in the dark corners and clogged with stolen honey, a stealthy, unstoppable giggle.
Aist was happy.