Archive for December, 2014

Storytime: Cragg and Clodd.

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

A nice valley, a good valley, a valley halfway between rough and smooth on the world. But a noisy one right now. Lots of dispute. Lots of debate.
Cragg and Clodd, sister and brother, at it again with words and fists.
“My plains are broader than your hills.”
“My hills are taller than your plains.”
Cragg and Clodd, siblings together, on and off and on again.
“My hills have fine tall trees and are pocked by snowy white peaks. Your plains do not.”
“My plains have long waving grass and are shot through with gentle dells. Your hills do not.”
Cragg and Clodd, twins like mirrors, hot and cold.
“My hills have the hardiest beasts. They can walk through six blizzards and through four avalanches, stones AND snow, and still come back hungry. They are the best.”
“My plains have the vastest herds of beasts. They can walk by for four months and run into their friends coming back the other way, like a snake eating its own tail, and they make the ground rumble with their feet. They are the best and also yours are the worst and they are stupid.”
Cragg furrowed her brow. “No,” she said deliberately. “YOURS are stupid.”
Clodd put his fist in her face and that was that for another five minutes while they discussed things.
“Maybe,” said Clodd, through the iron hinges of Cragg’s knuckles, “we should prove it.” And besides, his teeth hurt. The ones that were left.
“Maybe,” said Cragg, past a nose that was twice the size it had been five minutes and four seconds ago, “we should do that.” And besides, she was seeing spots.
“I will fetch my smartest and bring them here in a few short decades,” said Clodd. “Then you will see.”
“I will do the same,” said Cragg. “And then you will see.”
They turned away and walked six paces each, then silently turned around and made secret obscene gestures whose meanings were unknown to all save themselves. Each pretended not to have seen that.

So Clodd walked down to his plains and his dells and he picked through the gazelles and the bison and the buffalo and the wildebeest and the horses and he started to get a little desperate.
“They are the best,” he told himself, “and that’s no lie. But they’re a little….dim.”
And Cragg walked up to her hills and her mountains and she picked through her bears and her deer and her goats and her sheep, and she was biting her lip again, split though it was.
“They’re the best,” she told herself, ignoring the red-hot blood that seeped down her chin. “But. Well. They’re nice, after all. Just. Maybe not them?”
And they both sat back, back-to-back, miles apart, and they pondered the question for about a year. And then they both sat up, clapped their hands together, and hooted loud: “I’VE GOT IT.”
First things first. Clodd took up a clod. Cragg plucked free a crag.
Second things second. Clodd moulded that clod in his hands. Cragg smacked that crag until it crumbled just so.
Third things third. They each breathed out, then breathed in, and they tried a little.
“Wham,” said Cragg.
“Bam,” said Clodd.
The things they had made just blinked at them. “This one’s going to know everything worth knowing,” said the siblings.
Then the things started to cry.
“We’ll have to work on that.”

So they did. They taught them to stand up straight and stop crawling around, to use words, to be careful about what went in your mouth and what didn’t.
This last bit was important, because Cragg and Clodd found out pretty quick that their new beasts were pretty fragile. They were bald, why were they bald? Everything had to have some sort of skin on their skin – feathers, fur, hair, rock, sod, SOMETHING – but not them. They were like big babies, right down to the big eyes and heads. And so needy all the time, all the time.
“I’m cold,” said Cragg’s beast to her. “So cold.”
“Here,” said Cragg. And she shaved the fur off a sheep with three whisks of her claw and showed the beast how to clot it together into a warm mat. “Wear that.”
“I’m cold,” said Clodd’s beast to him. “So cold.”
“Here,” said Clodd. And he struck a bison dead with his loamy fist and showed the beast how to strip the hide off and make it into a warm blanket. “Cuddle under that.”
“I’m hungry,” said Cragg’s beast. “So hungry.”
“Here,” said Cragg, getting more annoyed now. And so she showed the beast how to make a little bowl from clay, cool and round, and how to squirt milk from a goat’s udder into it. “Eat that.”
“I’m hungry,” said Clodd’s beast. “So hungry.”
“Here,” said Clodd. “I am tired of your complaints.” And he showed the beast how to put a sharp rock on a strong stick, firm and thick, and how to shove it into another beast until it stopped moving and became delicious. “Eat that.”
And so it went.
“These berries are bad,” said Clodd. “Don’t eat them.”
“These grains are good,” said Cragg. “Eat them.”
“These furs will make a good tent,” said Clodd. “Sleep in that.”
“This mud-and-stone will make a fine house,” said Cragg. “Sleep in that.”
“Do this,” said Clodd.
“Do that,” said Cragg.
And they said that for nineteen long, long years.

So down from the hills came Cragg and up from the plains came Clodd, hand in hand with their beasts. And they felt mighty pleased with themselves as they stood there in that quiet little valley again. Mighty AND pleased, all at once.
“You are early,” said Clodd, smugly. “Nervous?”
“You are late,” said Cragg, grinning ear to ear to mouth again. “Regretful?”
They threw their heads back and laughed, laughed, laughed.
Clodd’s beast waved at Cragg’s. Cragg’s beast waved back at Clodd’s.
“Right!” said Cragg. “Time to prove that the hills have made the smartest beasts.”
“The plains,” corrected Clodd.
“We will leave our beasts on my hills-” said Cragg.
“-in my plains, and whichever-“ interjected Clodd.
“-does the best will be the-” said Cragg.
“-winner.” Clodd finished.
They glared at each other.
“Mine first,” said Clodd.
“Fine,” said Cragg. “Last laughs loudest.”

So Clodd led his beast into his plains, and Cragg and her beast followed. Finally they reached the centre of the plains, where the prairie rose high and went on forever.
“Be smart!” they said.
And then they left them there, and they waited.
“Your beast will starve,” said Clodd. “Look, look – see how it fails, season after season! It is failing at this very moment to perform so simple a task as tying a sharp rock atop a strong stick! It is failing in its efforts to make a shelter! It is even eating the berries that are bad, which it should not eat! It is humorous in its stupidity!”
“You cheated,” said Cragg sullenly. “Your stupid plains have no proper stones to live in, and your stupid animals are all too fast and too wild. And besides, you taught your beast things. It cannot be so clever if it has to go about learning things.”
“I never,” said Clodd, and it was just as convincing a lie between siblings as could ever be.
“Hmm.” Cragg squinted and placed her hand to her brow. “What are they doing down there?”
Clodd looked. “What ARE they doing down there?” he said.

“What WERE you doing down there?” they asked, as they brought their beasts once more to the valley.
The beasts looked at each other. Then they looked at the plains. Then they looked at the sky. Then they looked at the ground.
“That is a strange thing to do,” said Cragg. “You should be looking at us.”
“I was tying a sharp rock atop a strong stick,” said Cragg’s beast. “I needed it to skin a-”
“Not that!” said Clodd. “That. Yes, that, but WHY that! You were talking. You were talking to my beast! Why were you talking to my beast? You have lost doubly here, Cragg. Your beast stole lessons from my beast! Truly my beast is the smartest.”
“We are halfway done,” said Cragg. “And your beast cannot be as intelligent as all that. It just did what you told it to. MY beast got on just fine in your plains. My beasts are smartest.”
“Prove it,” said Clodd. “My beast goes to your hills now. It will do just fine, see if it doesn’t. Watch as your beast stumbles around like a blind old snail. Watch it, and I will watch it, and we will both laugh.”

Cragg led, Clodd followed. This time their beasts walked behind them, a little reluctant maybe. They were chattering in their strange beastly way. Cragg and Clodd were busy ignoring each other, and did not participate.
Finally they reached the rocky, rolling heart of the hills, just beneath the mountains and where the gullies rumbled through pine forests, sputtering out rapids as they went.
“Be smart!” they said.
And then they left them there, and they waited. This time a bit more attentively.
“Hah,” said Clodd. “See? See the mind of my beast? Look! Look! See as it hunts your go-oh.”
“Look as it trips on its own feet,” said Cragg. “Look! Look! See as it shivers under thin hides. Look! Look! See as it – oh ho ho ho! – trips down cliffs and stubs its toes off. It is making a house from stones, and the stones land on its toes as it sleeps! Your beast is smart indeed – it can make me laugh like nothing else! Hah!”
“Your beast has cheated,” said Clodd. “Look! You have filled your ugly hills with nothing but gangly little meatless scrawners, and there is nowhere to live but holes in holes! Such nonsense! How could any beast live here, unless you had cheated and told them how?”
“Not me!” said Cragg in the firm convincing voice that no one could ever dispute.
Clodd’s eyes narrowed and he was going to dispute this when he saw moving things. “Look!”
“More laughs?” asked Cragg.
Then she looked.

“Why would you do this thing?” demanded Clodd.
“I was hungry and-“
“Why would you know to pull its teat and drink the milk that landed in an ugly clay saucer?”
“Well, I asked and-“
“Why would you ask the stupid beast of the hills for this advice?”
Cragg laughed, laughed, laughed. “Because he knows he is stupider! My beast is the smartest, and this is truth! Were it not for my beast your beast would be deader than your head!”
“My beast took all your beast’s secrets by means of its smartness,” said Clodd loftily. “Your beast has no claim on this. My beast is smartest and fastest and also strongest.”
“My beast is smartest and also strongest and also fastest and it could take your beast and throw it over the hills.”
“Mine could stomp yours into the grass.”
“I will find out.”
“I will also find out.”
“Right now.”
“Right. Now.”
They turned around and walked out of that quiet little valley, and they left their beasts there alone.
The beasts looked at each other.
Clodd’s beast waved at Cragg’s. Cragg’s beast waved back at Clodd’s.

“Your beast has no fight,” said Cragg smugly. “See how mine has chased it into the trees!”
“Not so,” said Clodd. “Look! It returns with great armfuls of wood! Look! It will smite it with them!”
“Ah, but my beast has stolen them and built a home! It is safe now, and your beast will perish!”
“My beast has claimed game, and returns to bury the antler-dagger in your beast! It has invaded.”
“Ahh, but my beast has emerged! It has triumphed! Look – look! It sits there, and it moulds the clay at the lake-side. It is assured of victory, and it sculpts vessels to hold the blood of the foe!”
“Mine lives yet! It has feigned death! See how it approaches it from behind at the lakeshore! Soon your beast will drown!”
“Your beast is merely fishing,” scoffed Cragg.
“And YOUR beast is just making mud-pots,” snorted Clodd.
They looked down at them more closely.
Clodd’s beast’s fishing spear missed, and it fell over.
“Your beast is a poor fisher,” said Cragg.
“Well, it’s not the plains,” said Clodd. “The fish are different here.”
Cragg’s beast carefully added sand to the clay, and the sides of the pot fell in.
“That is… not a very good mud-pot,” said Clodd.
“It’s not the hills,” said Cragg. “This clay isn’t as nice. It’s too dry.”
Nights came and went. They watched, they waited, but the house in the valley still stood, and no victor would appear.
“I’ve lost,” said Cragg. “My beast is a dullard. It can barely feed itself by itself, and that only if someone tells it what to do.”
Clodd shook his head. “I’ve lost too. My beast is just as bad. And it’s not even fighting properly. Look – they’re fighting again. And neither of them have won. Again.”
Cragg peered at them. “They do that a lot, that fighting. They must like it. But if they like it so much, one of them should have won. They are both truly stupid. How have we done this?”
Clodd shrugged.
She sighed. “Well, if they’re all so stupid, we ought to at least give them company.”
“Maybe they can keep an eye on each other like these two.”
They pulled up clay from the lakebed and a little breeze for the sky. Clodd held it, Cragg punched and kneaded it.
“Wham,” she grunted.
“Bam,” he agreed.
The things they had made looked up at them from the ground with big, alarmed eyes. They patted them on their heads. Their big, bobbly heads. And they sighed a little.
“Maybe they’ll learn to stop being so stupid someday,” they said.
Then the things started to cry.
“We’ll have to work on that.”

Storytime: The Solstice Pantheon.

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

It is the evening again. The evening before the Night.
Do not fear, small ones. You are not the ones who will be summoned to the Knee this day. That year is yet to dawn in your days. But no longer are you mere children, who must lay out the stockings and scrub away the snow-prints! You are youth, and shall learn the songs. And before you learn the songs, you must learn the singers.
Attend! Attend! Attend!
-Recorded litany of a carolmaster of New New New Hampshire, approx. 2374 A.C.

One of the Elder Three Singers whose calls are endless to the ear. Appears as a great pillar of water turned solid, boiling away on one side, speckled with black earth on the other. He governs over Faith, Time, and the Cycle itself, and light and warmth are anathema to him – his priests lose digits to frostbite as a sacrement. Small children are his chosens. Each solstice a child is picked and is made sacred to Frossti, and that child receives all desires until the next solstice, when it is staked out in the sun until Frossti takes it away ‘over the hills of snow.’
The earliest Frossti myths make much mention of the hat. It is silk, or top, but it is always old, always old. The juxtaposition of elder hat with new snow creates Frossti, making the connection between the figure and its divine grip over time immaculate even before its eternal death and rebirth are known. It guards the path to the solstice.
If a hand is placed to ear in the strange deep places in the woods when the last ices are fading, it is said the listener can yet hear the thumpity-thump-thump of his passing, as he fades away under the sun.

King Wesslessness
One of the Elder Three Singers whose calls are endless to the ear. He has no form that a man has ever seen but bears a crown upon himself that is never removed. He governs over Abundance, yet only for himself; Flesh and Wine, yet none ever consume them; and Gifts, but the great-gifts made at the height of the sacred season are not his and he has no power over them. He lives alone in a perishing castle at the wend above the woods, and there he feasts alone with his page. The poor are sacred to him but they receive no aid; every solstice he travels the long woods with hot blood in hand and every solstice he is forced to turn back home by the gales to warm himself at his fires once more. Coldness in all regards is his anathema.
The King (eldest of the Elder Three Singers) is considered a paragon of convivial shared humanity, but he is left alone, in the far away past, in the deep wood. His feast is eternal and untouchable. Where Frossti is a promise of endless return, King Wesslessness is a forever-delayed, unshapable hope that will never be fulfilled. The present remains unopened, the feast is far away, and the plenty is as distant from reality as the summer sun is from the nights haunted by the King’s songs.
The land of Wesslessness is unknown and never has been known and never will be known.

One of the Elder Three Singers whose calls are endless to the ear. There is a great beast in the woods which few have seen, and Ruedolff resembles this beast save for his face, which is obliterated at all times by a blinding red light. He governs over Solitude, Hatred, and Triumph, and friendship is his anathema; to petition the priesthood of Ruedolff mandates that the applicant have no surviving family, and the final test is to vanish into the woods for one week. If on return not a single person inquires as to the applicant’s absence, the applicant is made holy. Lights are special, but only lonely lights in the woods that might guide travellers towards its lair.
The Red One is elusive even more than the King. Ruedolff is solitary as he, but his loneliness is mandated and involuntary, shaped by hatred and spite. Of the Elder Three Singers he is the sole despised; Frossti is feared, Wesslessness is looked upon with sentimentality, but Ruedolff is shunned, mocked, and castigated. So much as his name may not be mentioned in the partaking of merriment, lest he be summoned and derive some pleasure from sport or games. All year round the Red One is despised, and on the very eve of the long cold dark he is finally, grudgingly rewarded: the promise of love is offered to him, if he should but pull the slumbering sun from its cold bed.
Every year, he gives in. Every year, he succeeds. Every year, his deeds are praised quickly, forgotten immediately, and begrudged eternally.

The songs are done. The mantelpiece is set. Your part is through, small ones.
Now go inside and sleep. Let the visions dance and play, and do not resist them, but stay silent and still throughout your long nap.
Dash away. Dash away, all!

Storytime: Trashed.

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

“Awww now…..what’s wrong?”
Daniel stopped crying. Well, he hadn’t really ever started, really – what was the point with no audience? No, he’d been snuffling. Snuffling and scuffing and worrying over and over.
But there was something more important now, which was finding out where the voice was. Mom was upstairs working. Dad was out. Tammy was next door. The dog probably couldn’t talk.
So it was either him or the clock. And the clock was in no state now. Or ever.
“Thaaaat’s better. No sense crying, heh? None at all. You got a problem there, kid?”
Daniel looked at the clock again.
“Yeah, I thought so. Well, what’re you gonna do, kid? Gotta do something, right?”
“Who are YOU?” asked Daniel. He poked the clock. The minute hand slid off the cracked glass and buried itself in the carpet. A half-tick stopped.
“Well, let’s make introductions. Just listen to me, heh? Follow my word.”
Daniel hesitated. The voice was nice. It was too nice. The sound of smoke and mirrors.
“I’m no stranger, kid. I’m your best friend, been that way for years. Now it’s time to prove it. Follow my word. Over here.”
“In the kitchen.”
“Under the counter.”
“There I am. Nice to meetcha.”
Daniel didn’t yet know what ‘disconcerted’ meant, but if he had he would’ve described himself that way right then. He was pretty sure garbage bins weren’t meant to talk, and he said so.”
“Awwww come off it, kid! I’m here to help you out and here you are, talking trash at me! Naw, nah, na, that’s my job, kid! Let’s talk trash. Let’s get you outta this mess. How’s your momma’s clock, eh?”
Daniel flinched.
“That bad, heh? Oh no, oh too bad. Don’t worry. I gotta plan. I wanna help you, kid, on account of us being such good friends, even if you never said so on account of your youth-ful self-ish-ness.” The lid hissed happily as it snapped a single word into three. “Just c’mere, kid. Gimme the clock.”
“It’s mom’s.”
“Yeah, but if you break it you bought it. That’s not a clock anymore – it’s a mess. And that mess is YOURS, kid. But if you bring it over here, weeellll…. I’ll take it right off your hands and straight outta the picture. Easy.”
Daniel looked at his feet. Saw the broken glass winking at him. Saw his mom’s face.
“Good kid. Here, take the dustpan. Now I’m gonna say aaaaah, right? Ready?”

Daniel’s mother never did find the clock. Tammy said it wasn’t her fault, and Mom said maybe it was her boyfriend, and Tammy didn’t speak to mom for a week and a day.
He cried a bit at first, at hearing the living room all quiet. But he was only little, and it all melted away soon enough.

“Well, THAT’S a mess.”
Daniel agreed before he thought about who he was agreeing with. There was a lot of garbage in that bin across the way from him in the station. Spray cans. Some dog crap in a little sack. A lot of really incriminating photographs.
That wasn’t the real mess though. The real mess was wearing the handcuffs and the swollen eye and nose.
“Wellll…. We all make mistakes, heh?”
Daniel found the voice. It smiled happily back at him through a mouthful of paper and candy bar wrappers, tucked beside a desk. The sergeant on duty didn’t seem to notice.
“Shhhh kid, shhhhhhooooooosh. In-cog-neat-o. Now, I say we all make mistakes. And this is a big one, right? But look, I’m your pal, kid. I’m your bud. Your chum. Your bro. You can lean on me, kid. Just give me the nod and I’ll help you out. They ain’t got nothing on you nohow once I’m done.”
Daniel thought of his dad picking him up from the station. Thought of the things he’d say once he’d see the things Daniel (and Porter and Conner and David, but THEY didn’t have the bruises and blame, oh no, they left Daniel holding the bag – and the cans) had said in paint on the mosque’s wall. That made Daniel stop thinking and start nodding.
“Smart kid,” said the bin. “Now just cough for me, heh? Cough a bit.”
Daniel coughed, and coughed, and coughed until he couldn’t stop and the sergeant sighed and got up and smacked him on the back a bit. Her belt clipped the box and sent it spiraling down, down, down.

No evidence. No fingerprints. Even the digital camera had gone missing.
Well, Daniel’s dad said that was it, no case. And that got him his share of glares, and that got him his share of speeding tickets, and there was a proper row for the next four years until the family moved. Daniel tried not to think about it.

“Ac-a-dem-ick pro-bay-shun. Now THERE’S a winner for ya.”
Daniel kicked his trashcan violently.
“Hey! Hey! Hey! What is this shit, kid? I’m here to help, this is the thanks I get! I oughta ditch you here and now for this crap, if I weren’t so kind and kringle-hearted.”
“It won’t help,” managed Daniel, through lips so white they’d bleached his small, awful moustache. “You can’t help. It’s on his desk. It’s in the computer. Tomorrow, it’ll be across campus. They know I did it.”
The trashcan snorted, and Kleenex wheezed free from under its lid before being sucked back in. “Hah! ‘Puters. Faxes. Modems. Whaddo I care? You think those matter? Kid, what goes in me, stays in me. For-ev-er. You get me?”
“No,” said Daniel.
The can creaked, and the lid popped up and smacked him in the chin. “Smarten up, kid! You’re young ‘n stupid so I am cutting you a lotta slack, but there are limits! Give me respect! And listen up – all that zero-one-one-zero-one garbage means jack. I don’t care what it is, it goes in me, it goes away. All tidied up. For-I-repeat-myself-ever. You get me?”
Daniel looked at the red pen on the paper in his hand again. He read it as far as ‘plagiar-’ this time before he had to look away.
“You get me. Now just drop that nasty ol’ thing in here, heh? It can’t hurt you anyways.”

It took a lot of doing to get tenure demolished, but Daniel saw it before he graduated. A false accusation like that, even after a formal apology…. Well. It soured things. You’re not nominated for department head anymore, your colleagues don’t talk like they used to, and your classes shrink shrink shrink. You can’t get fired, but you can quit. Daniel just aimed for a seventy-eight average and kept his mouth shut.

“Oh boy, oh man, oh man kid,” the voice sighed. “You sure do know how to up the ante, heh?”
Daniel stopped mid-swear. He looked up, he looked down, he opened drawers and flicked on lights and was in the midst of tearing apart his desk when he heard the chuckle. “Not there, kid. Out HERE. C’mon. Out HERE.”
The office door creaked open, bumped against the dumpster. It smiled at him, disarmingly.
“Long time no see, kid,” it said. “Problems?”
Daniel looked back at Stewart. Yeah. Problems. How to describe it? Well, he tried.
“He was just. I just. There was. It shouldn’t have.”
He stopped trying. The dumpster was still smiling.
“Yeah. He was just something-or-nother, you just woopsy-doodled, there was a LOT of icky-accident, and it shouldn’t have splatter-carpeted. Ooooh my, kid. When’d you get that temper, heh? Good thing you didn’t flash the po-po that card back in the day or you’d be gettin’ out of time right now.”
Daniel looked at Stewart again. No, wait, his mistake – he’d never stopped. It was his eyes, that was it. He couldn’t tear away from those eyes. Was one pupil bigger than the other, or was that blood?
“Can get you outta this time right now, kid.”
Daniel licked his lips and blinked. He felt like he’d been pared down to a chameleon’s instincts. All the ape had gone home and left the lizard in charge.
“Just a nod and a by-your-leave. Or one or the other. I ain’t picky.”
Nod. Sharp, short, darting. Blink.
“That’ll do. Now, get ready for this – here, put your arm in. Over the shoulder, fireman’s carry like they do it on tee-vee. Now, wait for me, heh? Aaaaaahhhhh.”

There was no funeral. Stewart had complained about the internship before – as if unpaid wasn’t normal – and a few someones said he’d been homesick.
Serves him right for not keeping up, they all agreed. Couldn’t even keep his cubicle clean. Not like Daniel. Good ol’ Daniel.

Good ol’ Daniel looked down at the letter on his desk, and he wished he was at the bottom of the sea.
“Hey kid.”
No wait, he wished the letter was there instead.
“Kiiiiidd. You fooling me again?”
No, no, no, what he REALLY wanted was for that voice there to be there. He rubbed his forehead, felt the temples under the loose skin. How many years ago had that popped up? “I told you. Go away.”
“Aw kid, don’t gimme that claptrap. You snorting anything? Typical elected official, kid. I knew you’d go far.”
He glared at his garbage bin – it was small, sleek, and discreet, but right now it offended him more than an open manhole. “Go away. I can fix this.”
“Kid? You read a paper recently?”
Daniel threw a pen at it, spat a curse as it chuckled.
“This ain’t the ol’ days, kid. You go around creeping on your staff, they don’t just go home and smile at the family before they down a bottle of good ol’ Jack. You’re in the drink, kid. Don’t go and stick a straw in it to spite me, heh?”
“I can fix this,” said Daniel. He scrabbled across his desk, found another pen. There. Halfway there. “I can fix this myself.”
“Can fix yourself right outta your pension, you mean. You figure you’ll really get away with a little bitty it-is-to-my-pro-found-ree-grett and retire gracefully, kid? They’ll eat you alive.”
“I don’t need you,” said Daniel. And he regretted it.
There was a nice long, slow moment in his office while they both mulled that over.
Then the garbage bin let its mouth slide open as it laughed, long and wide, wide, wide.

When it was done, Daniel hurled the letter into it without so much as a word. And he sped the whole way home, through every red light, past every stop sign. Two tickets. Didn’t slow down.
He was re-elected in the fall, and nobody heard as much as a whimper from his interns.

“Kid, you have done exceptionally.”
Daniel paused halfway through a sip, coffee gritting against his teeth. He still liked the cheap stuff. It reminded him of a long time ago, a time when he didn’t have to look over speeches and try to imagine himself saying those words to the world without breaking into tears.
“I mean it. It’s been a looooong couple of years since I got anyone into this office.” Hot breath touched lightly on his ankle, moving in and out of something that didn’t have lungs. “But y’know what? I could count on you. I knew it. ‘Cause you’re special, kid. You’ve got something nobody else does.”
Daniel’s eyes were frozen on his page now. He was sure if he kept reading the voice would stop, but he didn’t seem to be able to finish the sentence.
“You don’t never say no.”
He felt something prickle at the corners of his eyes.
“I like you, kid. Shame that the papers are going to get all fussed. Weeeelll, WOULD be fussed. I think you know what I can do about-”
“I hate you,” whispered Daniel. It sounded very small and pathetic and the only way he knew it had heard him was it stopped to chuckle.
“Now why would you go and say that, kid?” it asked. He could hear the humor in its voice, the happy indulgence, and that was what made him go and kick it over.
“You. Won’t. Go. AWAY!” he shrieked, each period a pump of his ankle. “It’s MY job!” Kick. “I’M in charge!” Stomp. “I’m RESPONSIBLE!” Pleasantly oiled leather impacted on smooth plastic with a crunch. “And I. WILL. FIX. THIS. MESS. MY. SELF.”
There was a crack, a snap, and a thump.

Leaders die in office, even in peacetime. It happens. And compared to the way some of them go, a stroke is nice and normal. Nothing to fuss about. The papers even put aside the latest scandals to wave a flag or three.
But nobody could quite explain the mess on the floor. A tangle of faded paper and smeared ink, of shattered electronics – and a small scrap or two of human bone, quite unsettlingly.
And everywhere, trampled into the carpet so deeply that they gave in and replaced it, there was the winking shine of broken glass.

Storytime: Death of a Saurischian.

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

There are certain things that are certain.
Life, mostly. Death, usually. And whenever you get those two running hand in hand, you face a third – which, unlike them, poses itself as a question.
What the hell do you do with the body?
Pinning it under dirt is a good one, if you’ve got the muscle for it, and that muscle is allocated in an anatomically proper manner.
“Brother. Look at your arms. Look at them.”
“I can’t.”
“…they’re too small.”
“No, we’re not burying him.”
Setting it on fire needs some decent grasp of tools.
“That won’t work either!”
“Why not? We saw that big forest fire, remember? Remember that? We ran and ran and ran and the Littlest One fell behind and we never saw it again and we ate our meals crisp and crunchy for-”
“Your brain is barely the size of a banana, and you want to crate, nurture, and build a flame strong enough to eat fifty feet of flesh?”
“It was just an idea!”
“A stupid one!”
You could always throw it up on a stone and let the birds and wind take it away, if you’re willing to stay upwind for a few weeks.
“Birds? BIRDS?!”
“Well, pterosaurs at leas-“
“It would take MONTHS! YEARS!”
“You’re yelling at me again!”
“You’re being stupid at me again!”
In the case of the mortal remains of Grash – Giganotosaurus, father, loving, murderous tyrant – none of these options were practical.
“Well I don’t see YOU coming up with any plans!”
“Because you’re taking up all my air yammering about your STUPID ONES!”
“You’re mean! Father always said you were mean!”
“Mother always said you were stupid!”
“Well, she’s dead so who cares!”
“So’s father!”
“He died second!”
“It was a big bite! Nothing wrong with a big bite!”
“Maybe you’d realize how wrong you were if you had a BIGGER BRAIN for your BIG BITES.”
“So you’ve got a banana and a half! Big deal! You’re mean!”
Clearly, some tact and imaginative thought was needed here. Luckily, I knew just the woman for the job.
“Sounds like you’ve got problems, kids,” I said, in as laid-back a manner as I could. Which was easy. Because I was lying back.
Well, pinned back at least.
The older and angrier one – Gmmr – peeled his neck back to glare at me past his toes. “We’re busy,” he told me, and put a little more pressure on that foot to drive his point home into my chest.
“And you’re busy too,” chimed in brother Gaw. “You’ve got problems too, right? I mean, we’re going to eat you as soon as we just-“
“As soon as NOTHING, at the rate you’re coming up with ideas,” hissed Gmmr. “We don’t eat ‘till father’s buried, and if you don’t shut up this second we’ll both starve to death. Now. Shut. Up.”

I watched the clouds move. A nice day. For other people, theoretically.

“Know what to do yet?”
“I WAS THINKING!” shrieked Gmmr.
“Sorry! You think quietly!”
“We don’t all think WITH OUR LIPS MOVING!”
“We don’t have lips!”
“And you MOVE THEM!”
“Kids!” I said, as sternly as I could manage with a half-lungful of breath. “Don’t fight! I’ve got an idea.”
“Nobody asked you anything, nobody cares, and it’s bad anyways,” said Gmmr with practiced efficiency and bitterness. “I’m thinking again.”
“Nah, cheer up!” I said. “I’ve just done that for you!”
“Gosh,” said Gaw in awe. “Even with all that noise from –“
“Shut up shut shut up shut UP. And you!”
“I’ll listen,” offered Gaw.
“No, you should shut-“
“I can get your father’s funeral over and done with before dinner,” I said, as quickly as I could manage.
Long, slow eye contact. Some general reptilian signalling going on here, a system of social queues difficult to grasp without scales, a homogenous dental array, or a cloaca.
“That’s how it works already,” pointed out Gaw.
“Yes, that’s what we were just SAY-ing,” said Gmmr, testily. “It’s a matter of protocol.”
“No no no no, I mean today. Today’s dinner. I can have you two kids happy and chewing my legs off before the sun sets tonight.”
More elaborate body language based around slow blinks.
“That good?” asked Gaw.
“Acceptable…” mused Gmmr. “Alright. But no chewing. Molars disgust me. We bite and shred, like civilized creatures should.”
“Alright,” I said. “I’ll keep my heterodont opinions to myself,”
Gmmr shifted his weight and I inhaled my first full breath for two hours. Tasted good. Well, tasted like rotting death and carcharodontosaurid toe-jam, but goodness was relative, right?
The foot moved again, and I was rudely booted forwards. My nose whacked into cold meat.
“Well, there he is. Clever funeral idea, please.” Left unsaid: now.
I rubbed my feet with my other feet and I thought to myself: me too.
But I made do.
“Alright. So. What we need is…”

I kept my eyes on the clouds, not the brothers. It made me stammer less. Just watch the white flow on the blue and let the words follow each other out of your mouth until you can pretend they made sense.
“…and then you’re home free for the evening.” And then you can eat me.
They looked at each other again.
“That’s gross,” said Gaw.
“That’s…intriguing,” said Gmmr.
“What? No, no it is-“
“It’s very natural.”
“It’s sick! You know we don’t-“
“Oh, and what happened to the second Littlest One, hmm?”
Gaw flinched. “Uhhh…… he fell behind?”
“Yes!” said Gmmr with mirthless madly interested humor. “Yes! That’s right! He fell behind!”
“Yeah,” said Gaw. “Yeah. It is.”
“Into your mouth.”
“Yea – NO!”
Gmmr clacked his jaws and turned back to me. “It’s inappropriate and it’s disgusting and it’s just what we need right now. Father has to go somewhere, and we’re hungry. This’ll do nicely.”
“Sounds good!”
“And we can have you for dessert.”
“Sounds good.”
“Or maybe mid-course.”
“That’s…well, actually, you might want to hear the second part.”
Gmmr paused, mouth half-open over Grash’s flank. His orange eye flickered over me.

The trees were heavy with bodies. Spindly limbs and big blank eyes bulging over long, narrow beaks.
“This is too much like sharing. I don’t like it.”
The ground was a-stir with life. Little lithe muscles dancing in circles past each other, living on nervous energy and a burning tank of meat.
“But they hated him and now we’re gonna let them-“
“That’s the point!”
The riverside was seemingly quiet. But if you looked at the water, too many little lights gleamed back at you to be just reflections of the stars. Some reflections winked at you.
“What’s the point if we don’t even get to eat him?”
Gmmr sighed. I admired that sigh. I couldn’t get that effect. Then again, I couldn’t push more air through my lungs that I massed, so it wasn’t really my fault. “Tell him, dessert.”
“Right, right. Right. Listen, kid, it’s a matter of respect. Your dad’s dead, right?”
“So you’re in charge now, right?”
“So you’re showing that by letting everyone have a bite of him because you’re so badass you can afford to go hungry, seeing as you’ll just run ‘em all down later and eat them whenever you feel like it.”
Gaw digested this. I tracked the idea’s progression through his brain by monitoring the saliva on his jaws.
“Gosh,” he said.
Maybe half a banana.
“Can’t I just eat them now? I really want to eat them n-“
“Shut up. Alright, dessert, ready to start this?”
I nodded.
“Go on, say your piece.”
I dragged myself to some semblance of uprightness – oh, the left hind leg did NOT like that one bit – and looked at a crowd of things that wanted to eat me.
“Honorable carnivores!” I said, with all the sincerity you can manage after a day of being literally underfoot. “Noble flesh-eaters! On this day, you are released from your tyranny!”
I paused for a second. No applause. Damnit, hard to read a crowd that mostly communicates through biting.
“…and delivered unto a new one!” I continued, trying not to lose rhythm. “Grash, hatched of, uh…”
“Grunch,” whispered Gaw, slightly louder than I could shout.
“…thank you GRUNCH, has passed from this world, and in his place now stand his lovely, intelligent-“
“Banana and a half-“
“You? HAH!”
“-and deeply vicious and fearsome hatchlings, Gmmr and Gaw. They pledge that they will continue their father’s practices and be unmerciful in the extreme, however-“
“She said your name first, why did she say your name-“
“I’m the one that matters. Shut up.”
“-they are not, uh, un…benevolent. Ish. Rulers? And they will…” I blinked a little too much, and felt sweat moving up from under the skin. Can’t stop the train of thought now. Can’t stop it now. Can’t stop it “Definitely show that by letting you all take a bite from their father’s aged, slightly-decomposed, battle-scarred, war-torn, terrifying, awe-inspiring carcass in hopes that it will inspire you to be slightly less timid and ineffectual prey when they hunt you down and devour you later.”
Still no applause. Oh damn I hope this works.
“At their word, you feast on flesh and don’t stop until you hit bone!” And then I bowed, or fell over, or both. It looked okay I guess. I wasn’t trying to figure that out, I was watching the brothers and thinking pleaseworkpleaseworkpleasework.
Pause. They both were looking at me.
Then they looked at each other, and my pulse quickened.
Then out at the crowd.
Then Gaw cleared his throat of six cubic feet of mucus and said “Well then I guess you can-“
“Eat,” said Gmmr. “Now.”
“Hey you can’t-“
“Shut up. Eat. NOW!”
No applause. No movement.
A single little scavenger took a half-step forwards.
I’d never actually seen a woosh in motion before, but there it was. More like a whoom, really. And above the rumble of hurrying feet and gnashing jaws tearing into leathery hide, there was a thunderous whine.
“Why’d you do that?!”
“Do what?”
“You always-“
“Tell people what to do? Someone has to.”
“But you-“
“And it certainly isn’t you.”
“Because you’re an IDIOT.”
“Can’t you-“
“Who won’t SHUT UP.”
“Even though I’ve told you so nine thousand ti”
A foot moved without consideration, and I went for a quick flight that ended abruptly halfway up a tree. The world flicked on and off for a second, but when I came back in again I was smiling because I’d heard a sweet sound. Seven tons of dinosaur impacting seven other tons of dinosaur, against the backing of a roar ripped straight from the bile duct.

I didn’t get the best view of what happened next, and I was a bit distracted. But I heard a lot of insults, a lot of violence, and a good deal of biting and shredding.
No chewing though.
And well, the last thing I saw before I lit out for the night – just a glance over my shoulder, because on three good legs you don’t linger – was the two of them tipping over right into Grash’s half-excavated ribcage, right onto a crocodile’s skull, where it did what crocodiles do naturally and bit them.
After that, well, blood’s flowing, you’re there for meat, and what does it matter if your next mouthful’s warmer than you expected? All meat, right?

So I left the funeral as they set out the main course, before the tears started. I never liked those things anyways.

Storytime: Thudmaker.

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Bang, clang. The day was rattling on the windowpane, slamming and knocking and trying to break in. It was fit to send your brains running home to bed, which was convenient because that’s where Thudmaker already was. Sleeping.
The day smashed the window in, climbed over the pillow, and poured into Thudmaker’s eye. The eye blinked. The bed shook. And up stood Thudmaker, ten thousand stone and a hundred feet tall; scales for skin and horns for hair; with more muscles than belly and more belly than anything.
“Mmmrgn. Hungry.”
So the day started up like they always did. Thudmaker got out the food and the little Thudmakers ate it. The biggest two ate fast, got up faster, and ran around the house sixteen times until they’d pulled together all the bits and pieces of Thudmaker’s outfit. The yellow hat, the overalls, the battered brown boots.
“Be safe,” they said. “Be careful.”
Thudmaker nodded and hugged them and walked off with hammer in hand and a bit of bread in belly. Another day, another job, another bit of work.
Better go find some then.

So Thudmaker walked and walked and down and by Thudmaker came to the sound of a godawful lot of noise and such. It was an old man with a black suit and a black cane and a black car, sitting at the side of the road next to the old dirt heap that the little Thudmakers used as a playground and yelling at his cool-looking phone like it’d pissed down his trouser leg.
“You!” he shouted. “YOU! You gormless git-shit! You pissless pennyfucker! I’ll buy your house and have it fed to you! I’ll come to your door and eat the meals right off your plates! I’ll use your vacations to have larger, showier vacations right next to you and I will have a good time doing it! GOODBYE!”
He hung up. Then he spied Thudmaker. “YOU!”
“Wasn’t me,” said Thudmaker.
“No, no, no, not THAT you. YOU. You must work for me! I need this foundation built! This is a good pile of dirt this is, this is a good pile of dirt. Nobody’s building on it and it was a steal, I say, a steal. I want a condominium on this thing lickety-split and sold fast, before this housing market goes up in flames. You build me this ninety-million dollar building and I will give you this little shiny thing I found on the ground.”
Thudmaker looked as carefully through nearsighted eyes as was possible. The thing was sort of shaped like halfway between a blob and a lump, and it was very shiny indeed. Sort of. “Deal.”
“Good, good. Now hurry up or I’ll break your contract.”
Thudmaker stood up tall, put hammer to hand and hand to task.
Thud, thud, thud.
And bam, there was a nice new condominium, sitting right on top of the big dirt heap that the little Thudmakers had spent so many hours making little worlds in and jumping on and falling off.
“Lovely, lovely. Here, have your shiny thing and go away.”
“Thanks,” said Thudmaker. Tucked that into a pocket of the overalls, good and tight.
Nice, but not enough. Not to keep all the little bellies full.

So Thudmaker kept walking, walking, walking, and kept on walking until someone said Hey You because Hey You was Thudmaker’s secret name that everyone had found out years ago.
“That’s me,” said Thudmaker.
“I need a demolition job,” said the person who knew Hey You’s name. She was long and heavy and serrated along her edges, like a Bowie knife but with a less friendly face. “This hovel’s in the way, and we need it smashed. You look big and dumb enough to do the trick.”
Thudmaker considered the object of her disdain. It was Thudmaker’s house.
“Pay me,” said Thudmaker.
She pursed her lips. “I am authorized to distribute one-half of a little piece of string.”
“Not interested.”
A sigh, as long and theatrical as the human-plus-a-little-bit-of-lizard lung could manage. “Fine. A full one hundred percent share of a little piece of string.”
Thudmaker walked up to the house and knocked on the roof. The oldest little Thudmaker opened the door a crack.
“C’mon out kids,” said Thudmaker. “Time to move.”
They carried out all their clothing and their toys and put them in Thudmaker’s old suitcase, and they stood there by the side of the road as Thudmaker stood up tall, put hammer in hand and hammer to house.
Thud, thud, thud.
And no more house, pounded so flat into the dirt that only the tip of the roof stuck out.
“Satisfactory,” said the woman, making a note in her tiny and ridiculously expensive yet already obsolete computer. “You may have seventy-two percent of a bit of string.”
This was more than Thudmaker had expected, but it still wasn’t enough. So Thudmaker said thanks, and tucked the string into another pocket of the overalls, and trudged off.
The little Thudmakers followed, and their bellies too.

Now by and large Thudmaker got tired of walking, so they all sat down for a spell next to the river, and Thudmaker’s toes got a nice long dip to keep them happy. And as they all sat there with their luggage, up hobbled a beard.
“Nice place,” said the beard. Thudmaker realized that there was a person behind it. “Beautiful place. Waterfront. Good proximity to community centers. Think I’ll dam it. You up for the job?”
Thudmaker looked at the little river. Thudmaker looked at the little Thudmakers. Thudmaker gently retrieved Thudmaker’s hat from the smallest of the little Thudmakers, who was wearing it as a full-body coat. “What you paying?”
“Ehhhh…..” The beardman cast about for a moment, then bent over and picked something up. “This stick. No more, no less. Take it or leave it.”
“Can I have a bigger stick?”
“What are you, some kind of communist? Loads of people wanting to make dams, friend. Loads of people. Scads. Gobs. Two-thirds of this stick, take it or leave it.”
“Deal,” said Thudmaker, taking off the overalls and handing them to the little Thudmakers. “Here, hold onto these. Going to get a bit damp.”
And Thudmaker stood up tall, put hammer in hand, put hand to river, dredged up stone from stone and strength from strength.
Thud, thud, thud.
And there was a proud new concrete sky in that part of the world, soaring hundreds and hundreds of feet and quite confusing the little river, which puddled up behind it and left Thudmaker and the little Thudmakers high and dry along the riverbed.
“This will do…sort of,” said the beardman. “But you took too long. No stick for you.”
“Pay me,” said Thudmaker.
The beardman scoffed, distinct from both cough and sneer, but with elements of both. “For such substandard, slapdash work? Never! I would sooner die.”
“Pay me or I’m going on strike,” said Thudmaker.
“Oh boo hoo. Some of us work for a living, loafer. Now hush up and clear off; you’re on my property.”
Thudmaker stood up tall, dropped hammer from hand, and sat down. Hard.


Down the road, there was a creak and a crack and a woosh and down, down, tumbling down came ninety million dollars’ worth of condominium, tumbling through a sinkhole deep enough to swallow Timbuktu and you too until all that was left was a nice jumbled dirt heap full of shiny treasures, the most visible a cool-looking phone.
Up the road, there was a push and a pull and a POP as a whole house just hopped back up out of the dirt, launching a real estate agent over three kilometres.
And right there, right at that moment, there was a looooooong slooooowwww creeaaaakkkkinggg from the concrete sky.
“Wait!” shouted the beardman. “Half a stick! A third!”
“Fine,” said Thudmaker. “Hand it over.”
“Here, take it!” he shrieked. And he threw it to the ground.
The creaking stopped. Then one little noise.
“Oops,” said Thudmaker.

When all the fuss was over, most of the concrete was clotted around Thudmaker’s thighs. Thudmaker picked it up, rolled it into a ball, rolled that ball into a smaller ball, rolled that ball until it fit between thumb and forefinger, and threw it away. Then Thudmaker took off the yellow hat and the big brown boots and heaved a sigh.
“Here,” said Thudmaker’s second-oldest, and passed Thudmaker the shiny thing.
“Here,” said Thudmaker’s oldest, and passed Thudmaker the bit of string.
Thudmaker sat down soft, put lump to line and line to stick. And they sat there for a good evening while the river played with bits of stone, and went home with fish dinners.