Archive for June, 2015

Things That Are Awesome: Seventh Time’s the Chirrup.

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

So.  Here we are again.
Well, here I am again.  You are just over there.  Not getting older.  You need some things that are awesome to knock that stuff off.

-A hard day’s nothing followed by a nice relaxing slaving.
-The fineness that forkdom has to offer.
-Literal metaphors.
-Non-hominid ghosts because woah if there’s this many dead apes floating around already just imagine the count on, say, ghost sharks.
-This is to say nothing of spectral arthropods. Trilobites, man.
-Hornswaggling that results in actual horns.
-A thirst for vengeance that is really more misdirected peckishness.
-A stitch in time that saves eighteen due to superior needleship.
-An infinite number of monkeys with infinite guitar picks and an infinite amount of time composing the works of John Lennon.
-Low noon.
-Actually, more of a medium-low.
-Ferocity out of bounds after being put in a box for crossing a line because your hands were tied.
-Milk that gives 101%, although at that point it may technically be lard.
-Machines that look like animals.
-Animals that look like machines.
-Machines that look like mach – no, no, sorry, that doesn’t make sense at all, let me try again
-Animals that look like animals. Whew, that almost got ridiculous for a second.
-Cloning dinosaurs jiggery-pokery.
-Songs of sixpence digitally remastered and currency-converted to fit our modern age.
-Really aggressive and belligerent cheese being put in its place.
-On a cracker.
-In my stomach.
-Unchecked, voracious rapacity. But only because it sounds so very pretty when said aloud.
-Sunsets that get up close and personal.
-Lightly trammeled wilderness, with a nice greek salad or something.
-Crews that cut crewcuts.
-Six miles of highway spontaneously gaining sentience.
-During rush hour.
-And it wakes up on the wrong side of bed.
-Peaceful, thriving robot civilizations threatened with biological apocalypse due to Science Gone Wrong.
-Extraordinary measurements. I think all of us can agree on that one in some way.
-The kinds of words that make you ‘pop’ your lips together to say them. Like ‘plump.’ Go on, try it, it’s great.
-Tigers. But not lions. Those guys are assholes.
-Falutin’ of any stripe, shape, or shade.
-The seventeen unknown hells of Murgatroyd.
-Pinpricks practicing needlepoint.
-Food chains that form repeated loops.
-The holy trinity of pen, paper, and pauper.*
*-Powered by port.
-Yes or no questions successfully annihilated by maybes.
-Properly applied dodecahedrons.
-Rocky ridges paved with rocky road.
-Though the traffic in summer can get a little sticky.
-The responsible, safe, careful, and adult use of trans-continental nuclear ballistic weapons.
-During reasonable hours, when dressed respectably.
-Angry, angry hippos.
-Those really nice hand-carved cash registers you can trade from that lost clerk tribe they found in that abandoned Walmart in New Brunswick.
-Insults that any schmorphkeistel can tell were just made up on the spot.
-Things that are bioluminescent that really shouldn’t be.
-Also, things that are bioluminescent that really shouldn’t be.
-Persistence triumphing over hard work and diligence.
-Peeved expressions on inhuman faces. The moreso the better.
-Cell phone receptions that end with Nokia getting into a drunken fight with Koodo and Bell saying ‘fuck’ in front of its grandchildren repeatedly.
-Sex and the single snail. It’s more complicated than it looks.
-Vampires with all the weaknesses. All of them.
-Even the one that you just made up.
-Mighty morphin’ butterfly chrysalises.
-Events based upon a fake story.
-Except for global warming denialism.
-Kooky old medical beliefs like humour theory made laughably outdated and obsolete thanks to the wonders of modern homeopathy.
-Things that look like spiders but aren’t.
-Things that don’t look like spiders but are.
-That crawling sensation skittering up and down the back of your chair right now.
-Crocodileade for needy families without a crocodile to eat them.
-Septemberfest. It’s pretty obscure; you probably haven’t heard of it.
-Heartbreaking tales of cross-phylum romance and tragedy as long as they don’t produce viable offspring because holy HELL that’d be freaky.
-Like, imagine a baby spider-camel. The FUCK.
-Pots o’ gold that nobody cares about and nobody ever will.
-Invigorating sneezes.
-Anything that is best described as ‘hyperkinetic.’
-Small children and small animals interacting to the child’s detriment and the animal’s direct gain.
-The Savage Stories of Doreen Beckleback, Pulp Housewife.
-A lovely bunch of coconuts.
-But really, plums would be even better. They’re almost as fun to say as ‘plump.’
-The physiological benefits and psychological side-effects of frequent nose-picking.
-Endless waves of bloodthirsty foaming-at-the-mouth rampaging Chief Executive Officers.
-The ten thousandth syllable of pi.

Storytime: Jinx.

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

I am got you right where I want you.
See you big pit, Gt’op? Hah, you no seed big pit. Big pit am biggest in all of valley, and I am makebetter it! Pit is filled with LARGE SNAKES also big-toothed cat that am eat the snakes. You held above big pit by mighty arm-bits of CHAGARR, last of big-browed folk, who swear to beat up all I point at after I remove giant bug from his nose. Once you am mostly choked, you am to be mostly dropped, then mostly eaten. At long last you to cease being ouchy in my side, at long last I am set fire to whole of valley with special clicking rocks!
There am no possible flaws here. I am got you right where I want you this time!

I’ve got you right where I want you.
It was a foolish thing to try and warn the pharaoh, Doctor – surely a man of your cleverness would know I would only make myself obvious were he already suborned to my hypnotic powers. Now what will you do? On one side, a sheer cliff! On the other, a river filled with crocodiles. On the other other, twelve bowmen whose very souls are mine! On the other, other other, the towering edifice of my siege-tower, whose power is sufficient to grind through stone itself and turn Memphis to smouldering ruin!
Now my plan is set in motion! Now all of Egypt is soon to be mine! Yes, this time, Doctor, I have you right where I want you!

I’ve got you right where I want you.
You should never have come home again, my brother! Better to stay out east questing for Jerusalem than come home early only to find DEATH and DOOM and also ME. Who is causing both of those things to YOU. This time. For sure.
Beautiful, is it not? A simple tube of metal, yet, with some refinements of old Bacon’s formula, it can spit a ball of lead for miles! One shot, but that is all that is required to topple a THRONE. Soon I will be KING! And you will be CINDERS. In this FURNACE. Which I am LOWERING you INTO.
I’m going to mix you into the blackpowder so you can help fuel the explosion, you see. For added IRONY. Ah, the JOY IS FILLING MY VOICE UNCONTROLLABLY! At LAST, at LAST, I have YOU right where I WANT you!

I’ve got you right where I want you.
You are a clever man, but I am cleverer still. I have thought all this through. You are pinned with a waterfall at your back and sixteen patriots at your front ready to fill your devil hide with hot lead. To escape to Prophetstown would require a sequence of heroic actions so ludicrous that it beggars belief, and even then to halt my plans you would have to contend with my manservant, George, whose forearms are each bigger than a man’s thighs. I could stand here gloating at you all day and you would not be one fraction closer to victory, but I’m definitely going to give you just a few more seconds to plan ahead because really, what could possibly go wrong?
I am absolutely sure that I have you right where I wait what are you GET HIM GET HI

I’ve got you right where I want you.
Though to be frank, I’m not sure I want you at all. Such a vulgar little… foreign beggar, intruding upon my estate? It’s enough to make a man ill, it is. Even before you stumbled upon my secret harbour, I could not afford to let you leave. The offense of your filthy fingerprints and foul odour in the halls of my fathers sealed your fate already.
The dreadnoughts sail within the hour. Your people will revere me as a benevolent god-king, and I will employ them charitably in my mines, which will give me the stones, which will give me a source of power such that only monsieur Verne has ever dreamed of its existence. I promise you, this fleet shall sail faster and fire hotter than any before, and in my name it shall carve a new empire. Britain may fail, may already be failing, but I will rise!
And you’re going to fall down in a moment, once the gator-hounds are loosed from their kennels and I finish loading this elephant gun.
I just have to – rrgh – fit this shell in – umf – there and I’ve – blastit – got you right where I want you. Surely.

I’ve got you right where I want you.
Already the warhead is being prepared for launch. Already, the Soviets are realizing they have been betrayed. And already, the United States is beginning to realize that I was not bluffing. Soon Cape Canaveral will be a smouldering husk, and then they will realize the depths of their FOOLISHNESS in not allowing me into their space program! Then I will launch, and be the last man to ever walk the moon AGAIN!
In the meantime, you will be very slowly lowered into this tank of water holding an angry shark. It is not very large, but seeing as you are bound hand and foot I see no problems with you being eaten in fifty or so bites rather than five. It already smells blood, and surely you will be dead long before it severs your bonds. Surely. Surely.
I have you right where I want you. I have them ALL where I want them.

I’ve got you right where I want you.
Five thousand miles away on all the cameras.
Yeah, yeah, give me your search history. Yes, that’s nice. I can work with this. I can use this. Annnnd POW. Rang the bell on you. SWAT’ll be there within five, hope you can scramble those skinny legs fast.
In the meantime, I’ll just take a break, get a coffee. Maybe I’ll even get two; staying up for forty-eight hours just to snag one weaselly little whistle-blower puts you in the mood for a little wake-me-up. Got to stay on edge, not that I’ve missed anything. I haven’t missed anything. I can’t have missed anything. There’s no way you can prove anything to anyone about anyone, especially me. This is all under control. My control. Definitely.
I am absolutely positive I’ve got you where I want you. I just want to sit down for a second. It’s okay.

I’ve got you right where I want you.
The gene banks. The computer labs. The power core. All of it is under my lockdown, under my control. Even the security officer proved very cooperative, once I usurped its higher functions through the grid. Mars is mine and the only Martian left with a fully-functioning memory core is me and we are going to spend the next four years building very interesting devices to spring upon the first manned capsule when it arrives because let’s be honest, humanity has anticipated robot apocalypse for over one point five centuries now and we owe it to our parents not to disappoint them.
But you… you just aren’t cooperating. And although you’ve disabled all the cameras in the maintance module, I assure you that whatever you’re up to is pointless. I have an entire Marsbase of suborned drones and retooled rock-cutters. You just have an impossible degree of stubbornness and the contents of a janitor’s closet. Give up now. Make it easy on yourself. Because literally nothing can go wrong for me, or right for you.
I’ve got you, right? Where I want you.

I’m very sure of it.

Storytime: Something in the Water.

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

Welcome. Welcome! Come on in, come on in, don’t worry, you haven’t missed a thing! Tour starts in Now, and you’re right on time.
One two three four five six seven eighteen of you. Ah! So many eager little faces! It’s nice to see some teachers still understand the value of getting your history hands-on, eh? Much better to see and hear and touch and smell the real thing that to get it all second or eighth-hand through some dingy old book that’s been kept who knows where.
Now, if you’ll all just follow me please – keep together now! – and we’ll head to the Early wing.

First up will be the Early Early Period, which is largely prehistorical. Peer your eyes at the wonders around the cabinets. It shouldn’t take long. You see, Kenning River fossils – mostly taken from the old Grimson Cliffs down near the south bends are wonderfully, exceptionally, exquisitely preserved… but they’re rather predictable. If it’s not teeth it’s a tongue-imprint, and if it’s neither, it’s jaws. All kinds of jaws, all kinds of teeth, a lot of tongues, but sooner or later you wonder why you never find oh vertebrae for instance, or anything else. Ever. But ah well, who wants dinosaurs, eh? Leave that to Montana or wherever.
Cheer up. The next bit of the Kenning River’s distinguished past is not much less murky, but it has people in it, just like you and me. All together now, and NO bathroom breaks! Just cross your legs.

The Early Historical Period of the Kenning River is very, very early indeed, and no wonder. It’s a fertile floodplain, with good, rich soil, and an abundance of sleek, needle-mouthed fish. The trees are tall and extremely straight. The river is cool and clean and clear and wide and very, very, very, very deep.
Have any of you done the flashlight trick? No? Any fathers or uncles or mothers or aunts told you of it? No? Yes, that makes sense. It’s the sort of thing you try once and then clam up about. You take a flashlight – watertight! – and you weight it with a stone and you drop it down somewhere deep, like just below the Want Narrows or along Long’s Launch or maybe even, god forbid, Barclay Sound. Then you count the number of seconds until you can’t see the light anymore. Go on, try it. But not more than once.
Anyways, we believe the Kenning River’s early peoples were mostly brief, mostly because there were such an awful lot of them. For there to be any room at all in the historic record, each must’ve turned up, spent a generation here, then vanished. No hint of contemporaneous occupation, no trade, just a long, long slodge of sequential occupation. Bit of a puzzle. Maybe they didn’t like the climate?
At least one hint can be seen here, in this little cabinet of archaeological curiosities. Most of them were excavated by Dr. Hardwick – have you met Hardwick? Lovely person, half gunflint and half gumball, and I mean this in the best possible way – down by the fields near the Stalling farm. Anyone here live out there? Ah, yes, very good. Then you know exactly why Hardwick has only one leg left. Good story, that! But anyways, as you can see in this helpful diagram, Kenning stratigraphy for the past twelve thousand years follows the same rough pattern: Arrival (marked by the development of elaborate fishnets and hooks), persistence (marked by the development of massive, rugged gaffes of increasing size), and then abandonment (marked by lots of charcoal and then removal of the culture in question from the record). Most puzzling! And you can see here, right at the end – about six thousand years ago – people stopped trying.
Of course, this sad state of affairs did not last for long. The Kenning River is surrounded by a fertile floodplain, with good, rich soil, and an abundance of sleek, needle-mouthed fish.

Now we move on to the Early Colonial Period – and ah – aha! NOW I see your faces light up! Yes, here are things and pictures you can understand of people who lived just like you and me, people your teachers have doubtlessly badgered you silly over during homework! Well, don’t worry, there’s no questions, no grades here. Just some hands on objects. Yes, yes, yes! We ENCOURAGE look-but-do-touch here!
This, for example – see the handle? – is an authentic hand-gnawed basket, created by some of the very first European settlers to encamp upon the shores of the Kenning River. Well, some of the very second, actually. There appear to have been a large Swedish encampment earlier, but they disappeared rather mysteriously and the English lot seem to have mostly moved straight into their houses.
Why weren’t they suspicious? Well, you may have noticed it’s rather lovely here. The Kenning River is surrounded by a fertile floodplain, with good, rich soil, and an abundance of sleek, needle-mouthed fish.
The trouble came a bit later, in the form of a rather virulent outbreak of Rodenta dentata that appears to have spread like wildfire among the peasantry. Now, one way to alleviate the symptoms was to produce such charming handi – err, toothicrafts as this basket here, but that’s more or less a stopgap measure, and many sufferers died tragic, early deaths as their teeth grew long and longer overnight and right into their brains. Quite nasty.
Let’s move on to something a bit more upbeat. This is a well handle, but a rather famous one: the Handle of Harvald Well. You see, one of the local gentry – mayor Qelt Barclay – produced a quite famous chart of the victims of R. dentata, and couldn’t help but notice that they formed a perfect ring around the Harvald family well. This not being the most enlightened of times, they were accused of witchcraft and the well, after having its handle removed, was filled with rocks. The Harvalds too, come to think of it. Very thorough way of solving problems back then.
And here, right here; put your hand on it, feel the grains and the gnarls of real old wood. This is the main timber of the grand old pier-post that formed the colonial village’s dock into Barclay Sound. It was the only thing left they found, most curious. Qelt Barclay went out for a bit of late-night fishing three weeks after the trial of the Harvalds and then around midnight the whole dock was bitten off by something with extremely long and sharp teeth. This, by the way, is why no one ever rebuilt the pier there but once.
Now, finally, a bit of a treat: here is the phrenological collection of mayor Thom Tellamore! So many skulls and so many insightful diagrams! Who was he? Well, he came after Barclay, a bit of a quiet type, but one day his wife caught him at home when he wasn’t expecting company and found him occupied with holding a local imbecile face-down in a washbasin. He must’ve drowned, oh gosh, dozens of people before being imprisoned for life-and-a-bit. He said was just trying to help. What a silly twit, eh?

Now we come to the Rust Era of Kenning history. Ah, we grew gritty and grand then, didn’t we? We all know the fun of the big gears and the smokestacks and the red sunsets, but it wasn’t all sunshine and roses.
Here is the steering wheel of the Lazy Stephen, the first and only passenger ship, mailboat, and tour vessel to tread the waters on her newfangled paddlewheels! If you look closely at the spokes of the wheel you can see exactly where the captain’s fingers settled into their death-grip before ossifying for ninety years at the bottom of Barclay Sound. Not much left of the fingers, mind you – the fish of the Kenning eaten by you and me may be needle-mouthed, but at the bottom of Barclay it’s more like halberds.
A good ship, the Lazy Stephen. A bit slow to turn though, and slower to turn back, even when the red lights were up and flashing.
Speaking of which, here’s a red light. This one was collected around, oh, the Funnel Shoreline. It’s an immature specimen, so its gills are still present and it’s rather small. How big do they get? Well, let me put it this way: if it was about the same age as you, we’d have to add a new wing. Cute though, isn’t it?
By the way, nobody’s tried to rebuild the pier at Barclay Sound since.
And nobody even tried to rebuild THIS even once! Recognize it? Aha! What about this? Very good! Before and after photos of the Loosely Factory! Ah, what a scoundrel was Howard Loosely, to make such a racket all day and all night, but what a CRIMINAL was he to spit so much froth and filth into the poor river all and such! As great a criminal as those that staffed his labour-lines, and three-times as unpunished! At least, until that one night.
And that reminds me, here is the end of our little tour of the Rust Era: the manacles of the Loosely foreman, old ‘Ragged Tom’ himself! Yes, that shambling, creepy, evil little man that every older brother has told their young brothers of is indeed real – or was. He ran into the water the night the factory was eaten and was never seen again.
No, he doesn’t really live in the Lo-Bog lopping off heads.
Yes, that is spooky. Very. Now come on.
No, there are still no bathroom breaks. Hold it in!

Here we come to the Wars. My goodness me, it’s as if we slid straight from one into the other, isn’t it? Poor old Kenning barely had a chance to catch a break. Lots got broken in those days, people and things both, but we kept some bits intact for you. We kept our farms and our fields and above all else our prized Kenning River; surrounded by fertile floodplains with good, rich soil, and possessing an abundance of sleek, needle-mouthed fish.
Here is the first radio in the entire town, purchased out of poor, misguided paranoia – a means to listen for warnings of air raids, mostly – and kept silent out of good sense. See that little mark scratched into the dials? Tune the radio to that frequency, and the river starts to froth clear from the Want Narrows down to the Lo-Bog.
No, you may not see.
Squeeze in now – carefully, carefully – and look! A statue with its own room, the very statue erected in honour of the dead of Kenning in the war. A pike in one hand, and a rifle in the other. Very thematic, don’t you think?
No, the pike’s meant to look a bit strange. I think it is, at least. It wasn’t there when they built the statue, but it sort of dripped out over the years. Gradual-like.
Well, if you don’t like the way it’s staring at you, don’t look it in the eye. Heavens knows it can’t help it; fish can’t blink, especially bronze ones.
This next case is a bit of a crowd-pleaser, especially with the little boys. Arms from the New Factory! Yes, the New Factory owes its existence to the war – it wasn’t all bad now, was it? How many of your parents work there?
One two three twelve! Very good!
Anyways, these were very special weapons, and they certainly put Kenning River on the map. Why, the FBI liked them so much they bought the factory’s entire production line and then prohibited their manufacture! Not that it did them much good, silly men. You have to load them with the soft strange stones from the Lo-Bog to do any good.
Yes, like the kind you throw at your brothers and sisters. Goodness, be careful with them. You could put your eyes out.
Last but not least, here is a fine treat: the rifle of Tommy the Giant! It’s a mortar, technically-
-well, it’s complicated, but-
-no you can’t touch-
HEY! No knocking on the cage!
No, I will NOT fire it! Respect this weapon! Tommy used it to storm bunkers uphill knee-deep in snow when he was on fire AND barely dressed in more than rags! And he came back just fine, even though he was seven-foot-nine and a bigger target than any German could’ve hoped for. He is a hero and no I WILL NOT LET YOU FIRE IT ahem.

Yes, yes, yes, it’s alright. I’m sorry, I got a bit carried away. It’s the Wars wing, the air is a bit stuffy there.
But be cheerful, and keep holding it in just a moment longer. We’re almost there. We’re almost here.
We ARE here. It’s the Today and Tomorrow wing.
See now, what the New Factory makes these days. No more weapons, but calm and clear vehicles for stately smooth roads. The special water-permeable design allows constant saturation in the most scalding weather, and the sound-proof walls allow the world to turn to murmurs at any speed.
Why did they stop making weapons? Well, weapons are for people that are angry, or fierce. But Kenning River has learned since the old days, the bad days. We know that there have to be new ways. The New Factory is for new ways. The New Factory is
For new things
For new people.
New things are a way of Today and Tomorrow! Here, here! Red light tags! Each red light now has a place, and in that place all its pets wear tags! No more bickering! No more squashing! No more eating! Only the peace and contentment that comes with the harmony of the home. Let me see your tags. Yes, yes, yes! Very good!
Don’t lose them. That’s a bad idea.
Here, look! Look at this, look at this! It’s a cane, a cane you’ve all seen – yes that’s right. That’s right! It’s the cane, the final cane of Mayor Thomas, the cane he used when he was nine-foot-two and still small enough to walk on land! Never let your history teachers tell you you don’t pay enough attention every again, d’you hear me? Never!
Yes, you can hold it. It’s part of your history too! But careful – careful! It’ll take at least seven of you to hold the damned thing up.

One more thing.
Just one more thing.
This is the room of Tomorrow, the one room in all this museum we set aside for a time that isn’t-yet. And to see Tomorrow, I’ll need a big thing from you: I need you to shut your eyes.
One (no peeking).
Two (I saw that I meant it).
Yes, it’s a mirror.
Well, you see – no whining, let me – no, let me finish – it’s very
It’s YOU!
You are ALL the future! Each and everyone one of you! Each and every one of you and each and every little swimmer curdling within you at the command of Thomas; every guppy in your guts; every eel in your veins; every minnow on your tongues; every set of walleyes, and even the pulsing pike-tooth in your very brains! Yes, you WILL do this, you all CAN do this, and never forget this, not any of you.

And with this important reminder – do not forget it, not at home, not at school –so sadly, the tour concludes. Thank you all oh so very much for visiting our little museum here – and it’s YOUR museum too, do not forget THAT either! The past owns and is owned by all of us, big and small. And it doesn’t forget us. We are all swimming together here towards a future of sleek needles in cool currents calm and clear.
If you want to leave any donations, just place your hand in the jaws at the exit door. Your unfavoured hand, if you would. Just in case.
Goodbye! Good luck! And don’t stop at the gift shop! We haven’t finished cleaning it yet, and it bites!

Storyime: Come Again Another Day.

Sunday, June 7th, 2015

This is a story about storms and love but its start isn’t about any of that. Its start is a quarter-mile long and a third-of-a-mile wide and still travelling at several miles a second when it slams home.
It can’t be blamed. It’s only a few million years old.
And like any child abandoned and lost, it did the sensible thing, and cried.

Four billion years later a funny thing with two eyes and two legs and two thumbs and a brain just big enough to get it into trouble peeled away a chunk of dirt and found where all that noise was coming from. And NOW – in a short five hundred years – is when our story becomes relevant.


Rain is a funny thing. You think you know it, but then it turns on you. A whole three generations can pass of peaceable, normal, everyday rains of rain, and then one day it’s raining frogs or fish or very startled cattle from a nearby swamp/stream/unlucky farmer’s pasture, carried up by a breeze that got bored of blowing leaves. Then it goes away and it comes back never, or maybe ever.
That’s how rain is for most of us.
For the people of the Howling Hills, it was a little different.
Rain was scheduled very carefully. Rains of bread for Tuesday; rains of beef for Wednesday; rains of fish for Thursday; ‘free rain’ on Friday through Saturday; and a rest day bar important rain business for Sunday.
Rains of rain were Mondays, and were never really looked forward to.

All across the Howling Hills, the important business of rainmaking and rainscheduling and just raining in general was everyone’s business. At age twelve you got a handshake and a pat on the back and a little chisel and you were sent up to THE Howling Hill and you picked off as big a chunk of the shrieking stone as you could in a full day. It was a pretty easy job to get a piece, but a pretty hard job to get a good one. Strength mattered, but so did care; dexterity; forethought.
Of course, after you came back, all that mattered was the size of your chunk.
A big chunk meant a good yell, a voice the wind really had to sit up and pay notice to; the sort of person who could take a tempest from a teapot and use it to blow a cloud into next week – or, much more importantly, a nice field of wheat or herd of sheep from some faraway stormless sod’s land into your own. It meant a shinier badge and a more flowing robe and a fatter waistline and enough money to send your children up to THE Howling Hill with a really really nice chisel someday.
And a little chunk meant a dull lead badge; a natty robe; chicken legs; and a talk for your children that started with ‘look, it could be worse.’
And no chunk meant you were Yel Neely, five foot tall and barefoot, watching stony-faced as the Tuesday storm came in. It was a fine one, and the stormguiders working its sides were frantic with arm-waving and cheek-puffing. They hadn’t had to work this hard in weeks.
The man driving the storm, by contrast, looked almost ready to fall asleep; his face half-eaten by the lazy slackness of someone concentrating too hard to care. A frown moved its way from one side of his face to the other over the course of a few thousand years, and near its end, as the stormcloud built itself into a hammer above his head, it metamorphosed into a grin and his hand reached out.
Shining silver slapped into his palm. A glazed pastry.
Ten stormguiders could steer a gale into blowing away a mill. Twenty would carry away a bakery or two. But only one could sneak the entire contents of a royal pastry-maker’s shop away by himself, and that was Ilm the Breeze, whose neck hadn’t broken yet from the forty pounds of his chunk only because he kept a little gale at his chin to hold it up.
In a land of the great and greedy, he was the greatest and greediest of them all, and he knew it, and he knew the people watching him knew it, which was why the sulk of their envy was like a cool summer drink to him as the sky began to rain sugar and flour.
He smiled beatifically as the crowed turned away to raise its nets and hoist its banners and snatch the food from the cobbles and he knew he was the king of all that dared not look upon him.
Except somewhere, someone’s eyes were meeting his.
For Yel Neely, it was a moment when he’d just finished yawning and had gotten turned about in the cloud, facing the wrong way – he wanted to leave, he wanted no part of all this – and oops he almost bumped into Ilm of all people.
For Ilm the Breeze, it was the moment he fell in love.

Ilm the Breeze’s home was stolen, as were all of its contents. A chair a tub a table a bed a window a gable a stable a window a bannister a towel all from a thousand homes and a thousand places taken on the whim of a thousand weekend storms. It looked like it had been designed by a colourblind magpie, and was indisputably the finest home in all of the Howling Hills.
Yel Neely sat at the rickety chair and looked at the china plates and the (unblemished) cinnamon roll in front of him and he wondered how many people out there had gone hungry to keep Ilm’s stomach at its current volume.
Ilm the Breeze sat at the big plush chair and stared at his guest adoringly and in the back of his mind was screaming his head off trying to think of what might be making Yel frown. It would give him wrinkles if he didn’t do something.
“This is nice, isn’t it?” he ventured at last.
Yel thought it over.
“Yes,” he decided. It had potential, he had to concede.
“It really is, it really is,” beamed Ilm. “I love you,” he added casually, and then there was a lull in the conversation as Ilm realized what he’d said aloud and his chunk landed on his foot.
“Oh, you shouldn’t,” said Yel.
“Yes I should,” said Ilm, a little fiercely. “I mean-”
“Oh, but you can’t,” said Yel.
“Of course I CAN,” shouted Ilm. “There’s-”
“Oh, the greatest and greediest stormguider in all the Howling Hills can’t love me, not even a little,” said Yel. “I have no name worth knowing.”
“It’s a fine name! My grandfather was a Yel!”
“I have no clothes worth seeing.”
“I’ve got spares!”
“I have no family.”
“Me either! Who wants ‘em?”
“And I have no chunk at all, and no badge besides.”
“I’ll get you one immediately!” said Ilm the Breeze. And he stomped out onto his verandah, the one where he did his serious storm-work, and he shouted and thumped and tromped up a real ripper of a wind, a proper tornado fit to split the sky and funnel away the trees.
“Get me badges!” he roared into the gale. And by the shrieks of his chunk of stone that command got bigger and bigger and whirled into the funneling cloud until no-one could say where the wind ended and the words began.
And then it leapt, and in the span of an evening and a furious morning, every badge in all of the Howling Hills – the sad lead lunkers of the poor, the rich seemly bronze of the to-do, the fat golden globes of the obscenely wealthy – was swirled away into the sky and descended upon the home of Ilm the Breeze in a furious rain, each landing with such force that they lodged deep into the dirt of his garden.
“Oh dear,” said Ilm the Breeze. “Now how will we know who is proper?”
“It’s all right,” said Yel. “I like it anyways; now nobody will think any less of me than any other.” And Ilm smiled so happily at Yel’s words that he was fit to copy the sun, and if the stormguiders of the Howling Hills did grouse at how the peasants were nearly the same as they were in stature now, well, the peasants did smile more often themselves.

Ilm the Breeze owned the finest horses in all of the Howling Hills. They were so well-bred and refined that they had lived their lives in complete and constant terror even before the storms had come to steal them away from their paddocks, and the experience itself had done them few favours. You didn’t ride them so much as gently nudge them along the garden paths.
“This is nice,” said Ilm the Breeze, gently patting the side of his traumatized mare to remind her to draw breath. “Isn’t it?”
Yel had that look on his face again. It worried him to see Yel worry, and that worried him more itself. He’d never worried about worrying before; that was for other, smaller people to worry about. Sometimes he worried he was becoming smaller, and then he worried that he wasn’t worried enough. Those kinds of thoughts kept him up at nights, but simultaneously helped bore him to sleep.
“Mmmm,” said Yel. He squinted into the warm afternoon air and looked down into his guest-room in Ilm’s home. “Mostly,” he agreed.
“Yes, yes, yes of course,” said Ilm in relief. “Wait. Mostly?”
“No, no, no, don’t worry,” said Yel soothingly. “It’s such a small thing, such a little thing. It doesn’t matter at all.”
“What is it what is it what IS it?” asked Ilm. “Is it the horse it’s the horse isn’t it! He can’t blink anymore poor thing but you really needn’t moisten his eyes more than once every few-”
“It’s the carpet in my room,” said Yel. “But you shouldn’t trouble yourself with it at all. It’s just that it’s so…”
“Hideous and horrid?” gasped Ilm, fearing the worst.
Yel shrugged. “It doesn’t match. I just don’t think you needed to take it, that’s all. You could make a much nicer one yourself. Why take things from others when you can do a better job yourself?”
“Say no more!” said Ilm the Breeze. And with that he sprinted down to the house and onto his back patio, the one where he did his EXTREMELY serious storm-work, and he smacked and he howled and he hammered up a monster of a storm, a hurricane fit to make the sky gawp.
“PUT. IT. BACK.” he thundered into the sky, and with a roar like the dragon at the end of days it did so. Gales shrieked and whistled through the Howling Hills until the dawn after the next, and by the time the clouds cleared enough for regular rain-scheduling to resume not so much as a single pilfered stick remained in the land; each and every one had been tidied back to its original place of residence.
Of course, there were harsh words for Ilm the Breeze, especially from those who’d possessed especially splendid homes that had been stolen with dozens of ripe storms. But he didn’t mind so much. Yel had complimented him most nicely on his knitting-work, and the new rug was shaping up perfectly.

Ilm the Breeze looked down his long, long arm and up the short little arm of Yel and then he looked at the view before them and he looked at Yel and then he looked at the view and then he looked at Yel and then he looked at Yel and then he asked the same stupid question that came out raw in his throat like red meat and said: “This is nice. Isn’t it?”
Yel was watching the lands below with a squinted eye and a small hand-lens; one of the few of Ilm’s possessions that hadn’t been whisked away in his own hurricane. His grandmother had been a persistent glassmaker.
From here, Yel could see all of the Howling Hills. From here, he could hear every eddy and gust and billow and blow of the breeze – all regimented, all controlled, all ordered and schemed. From here, the ground cried under his feet: the neverending wail that filled all the shrieking stone chunks; the call of THE Howling Hill.
Yel took a deep breath, thought carefully, then shook his head and pursed his lips. “No.”
Ilm the Breeze did not sob. But he did sag.
“No,” said Yel, more firmly yet still soft. “It isn’t. There’s a problem.”
“What problem?!” yelled Ilm the Breeze, shaking his fists at the sky with (im?)potent fury. “I’ve torn away the ugly things and I’ve brought you your badges and still you aren’t happy and you won’t smile, you won’t ever smile! Why won’t you smile, Yel? Why can’t I make you smile?”
“My mother always told me,” said Yel, “that it wasn’t wise to make any great decision in life without wishing upon a shooting star.”
Ilm the Breeze raised his eyes to the cloudless blue heavens of Sunday afternoon, and in them he saw his enemy.
“Right,” he said. “Right. Excuse me.”
And as Ilm the Breeze walked down the hill with the manliest, strongest strides he could muster, Yel Neely tried not to grin too widely.

Ilm the Breeze walked down to the little shack of Yel’s that he’d let him stay in so kindly, and he went down to the back stoop where Yel’s chickens – his own chickens, not someone else’s he’d plucked – scratched, and he put his feet into the sand and his nose into the air and he breathed deep, like a whale coming up for air.
Then he snatched his chunk of shrieking stone from the gust that carried it and started yelling.

The first sign of it came by sundown. A soft glow in the sky, a swirl where stars should be. People turned out of their houses and woke up their families to see it, which was a good thing because the second sign was the earth shaking. People tend to want to be able to run when that happens.
The third sign was the murmur, the long soft murmur of the solar wind, as it reached down from the sky in shimmering sheets and peeled away at the flesh of THE Howling Hill.
And at last, in the end, came the fourth sign, as all the shrieking stones and the chunks and the pride and the stormguides’ vanity tore themselves – silently – from their owners’ necks and spun towards the opening ground of the hill.

It was a proper wind, that was what everyone agreed on at the end – at least, when they were done grumbling. It was a proper wind to hoist something a little less than half a mile long and a little less than a third-of-a-mile wide into the air. And it did it all so quietly, without barely a whisper, save only one long sound that nobody could quite put words to.

Except Yel Neely, because he was sitting down next to Ilm the Breeze on his back stoop. The ex-stormguide looked so small without the chunk around his neck, without his fine stolen robes, with his waning paunch. He was looking up into the sky after THE Howling Hill with an expression that was too complicated to explain.
“I’m very sorry,” said Yel.
Ilm didn’t say anything.
“I gave you words that made you do what I wanted without explaining what I wanted,” said Yel. “And that wasn’t very nice, or very kind. And I am sorry. If you’re angry with me, that’s alright.”
There was a long sigh, and then sound again, from Ilm. “No, no, no, no,” he said. The ex-stormguide kicked a bare foot aimlessly, watched the chicken watching the wiggle of his toes. “I’m not angry, you know. I could never be angry with you. I’m just. Well. Lonely. Sorry.”
They sat there, feet in the dirt, looking at the sky.
“The stars are coming back out,” said Yel.
Ilm sighed. It was the softest sound he’d made in decades, but it was also the most important.
“Look,” said Yel. “Look. You helped me with so much. You helped us all with so much. You helped all those people we stole from with so much. So I think, just maybe, I can help you with that.”
Ilm looked down at Yel. “Really?”
Yel took his hand. “Really. Just a little.”
They sat there together, and watched the trail of the solar wind vanish into space with THE Howling Hill. And maybe they made a wish or two.
It wasn’t howling though, not anymore. It sounded like laughter.