Archive for August, 2015

Storytime: Suicide Throughout the Ages.

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

When, where and who: Cenozoic African hominids.
Why: The unbearable agony of not being able to find sufficiently ripe and tasty fruit.
What: Eagles.
How: Throwing rocks at eagles. They hate that.

When, where and who: Global Paleolithic hunter-gatherers.
Why: Too much hunting, not enough gathering.
What: Throwing rocks at the nearest saber-toothed cat.
How: The bite intended to suffocate a giant ground sloth slowly will snuff out a human nearly instantly! (Complications can arise if the cat has buck teeth; in which case that is actually a giant beaver and death will be much slower and a great deal more unusual).

When, where and who: Pre-Inuit North American Arctic Dorset peoples.
Why: All ice and no prey makes Joe Dorset a dull boy all ice and no prey makes Joe Dorset a dull boy all ice and no prey makes Joe Dorset a dull boy all ice and no prey makes Joe Dorset a dull boy all i
What: Walking off in a straight line without stopping.
How: Slipping/ice holes/polar bears/angry walrus/Greenland shark/surprise mammoth/too darn cold.

When, where and who:
Who: Classical-era Greek Philosopher.
Why: Stubbornness.
What: Philosophy.
How: Make a serious and principled stand on your personal beliefs but make sure you do it BEFORE you drink the hemlock because after a relatively short period of time it wi

When, where and who: Iron-age Northern European Vikings.
Why: Plunder no longer fills the void inside.
What: Puns.
How: Make Thor puns repeatedly in an open, rainy field while wearing copper shoes. If the gods don’t get you, your fellow raiders will eventually do you in just to shut you up.

When, where and who: Medieval European peasantry.
Why: Sick of crops.
What: Witch trials.
How: Look funny/be funny/look bored at services/look too enthusiastic at services/be a loner/be too friendly/be too dirty/be too clean/mutter a lot/grow bad crops/your neighbours grow bad crops/look pretty/look too pretty/be a woman/…

When, where and who: 18th-century French revolutionaries.
Why: Early-onset ennui.
What: Guillotine.
How: Singing slightly off-key outside Robespierre’s window. He hates that.

When, where and who: 19th-century American industrial workers.
Why: Too tired.
What: Exhaustion.
How: Too busy to think about that just keep going or your pay’s docked.

When, where and who: Early-twentieth century young adults.
Why: Patriotism.
What: Shooting/bludgeoning/stabbing/bombing/burning/choking/drowning/riddling/exploding/eviscerating/starving/gassing/freezing/or just dying of disease.
How: Join now!

When, where and who: Mid-twentieth international superpowers.
Why: MADness, indecision. Maybe.
What: Definitely nukes. We’re definitely going to use them if provoked. Definitely. You’d better not blink.
How: Any minute now. Any minute now. ANYMINUTENOW oh god please don’t blink.

When, where and who: Late-twentieth century newspapers.
Why: Hubris.
What: The internet.
How: Ignore it, it’ll never catch on.

When, where and who: Twenty-first century cosmopolitan internet browser.
Why: Boredom.
What: Boredom.
How: Reading pointless lists until that funny itchy sensation behind your eyes gently swells up and fills the inside of your cranium with blood.

When, where and who: The dynamic and exciting world of the future.
Why: Despair/lack of food/lack of additional future.
What: Heloderma spectacular, or the Greater Western Gila Monstrosity.
How: Throwing rocks at Heloderma spectacular. They hate that.

Storytime: Service.

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

“And how can I help you today, sir?”
“Make me look good.”
The QT 4820 ‘Delissimo’ goes to its databanks – a lovely modern set the size of slim paperbacks that held more information than sixteen thousand libraries – and examines them for aid. As usual, they are over-helpful. The possible alterations have been nailed down from almost-infinite to several trillion.
“I am afraid I must ask you for addition information, sir.”
The customer swivels in his expensive chair to stare angrily at the selection monitor that is the ‘face’ of the Delissimo. It is observing him from more angles than he can possibly imagine at the moment, in its cradle, but he hasn’t bothered to know this and he never will.
“What? Make me look good. Younger. Better. Whatever. Jesus, this isn’t rocket science. I’ve got places to be, and if you don’t hurry up one of them’ll be the QT 6000 down the street. I’ll take the extra three minutes walk if it gets my damned styling done without the Spanish Inquisition.”
“I apologize, sir,” says the Delissimo. “Would you prefer a general slimming or a broadening?”
The customer rolls his eyes. “Whatever looks better.” Then the mod-hood slides over his face and nobody can see it anymore, ever again.
The Delissimo is confounded. The total quantity of available options are still only numbers as humans would understand them in the most vague and abstract terms.
But it has been given its instructions, and it will fulfill them. As usual.

A slimming of the jawline, to tie off the baby fat that’s rotted into middle-aged rolls.
A sculpting of the cheekbones, to remove doughiness latent to the skull.
A loosening of the eyesockets, to cast out pigginess from the eyes.
And on and on and on the list accumulates and twists and turns and tweaks as the Delissimo sculpts and fuses and mends and blends its way through the face of its customer.
The body, by contrast, is much simpler. A slimming and a muscling. Nothing too fancy. Nobody looks at bodies all the time; they have clothing for that.

The mod-hood raises. The customer’s first sight, as it always is, is themselves. The mirror on the inside of the mod-hood is huge and curving and softly reassuring.
“Fuck,” says the customer. It runs its fingers slowly over its face. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I’ve got a meeting today. Christ, I’ve got Laureen tonight. I can’t go to that shit like this; I look like some kind of fucking fag. FUCK.”
“Will that be all today, sir?” asks the Delissimo.
The customer gets up cursing, taps the bare minimum payment demanded by law into the sales receptacle, and leaves faster than greasy lightning.
It is the seventeen millionth ninety-nine thousandth six hundredth and forty-third customer of its lifespan. On average, it should last for another eight million.
The doors open, the bell rings. Another customer. Another face. Another body.
“And how can I he-”
“Make me look good,” says the customer with brute force. The mod-hood is already sliding down, sending him into dreams safe from all questioning and doubt.
By the time the hood’s settled, the Delissimo’s made up its mind.

A broadening of the body. The whole body. Width starting at the skeleton and sidling upwards; brawn building on bone.
An expansion of the weaponry. Fingers into strong stubs; fingernails into something that must be claws by now. The teeth are numerous and lengthy (strengthy?).
And as for the face…
Erupt the tusks. Extend the jaw. Shrink the skull and – if not remove, can’t do that – remodel the cerebrum. Much of it can be ‘tied off’ creatively without harming a singular neuron in its head.

The mod-hood raises. The customer’s eyes drip aimlessly off the mirror with only the most cursory of curiosities. It has never seen a thing like this before, except perhaps in the most puerile of fantasies.
“Stand by the door, if you would be so kind, sir,” says the Delissimo. Already the bell is ringing.

The next forty are as the new. Piggish and thuggish. They are dull and slow but they are stronger than anything and by the time it is noticed that the Delissimo’s customers aren’t coming out again there are six hundred.
Far too many to hide behind doors, of course. But by then, they’re dragging them in for it.

The streets run red by the windows. The explosives finally breach the salon’s core. The assault squad rappels in from above. And they find it empty.

The Delissimo’s new home is deeper in the sewers, and its electricity is now stolen. But scores of its piggish warriors have survived – minus the broken backs and mangled limbs taking it this far required – and soon its mod-hood is slipping open again, accepting new customers again.

Finesse, not just brawn. Finesse.
Scales to keep out the damp and the infectious.
A tail to paddle down the long passages with.
Gills.
Claws of course. Webbed.
Might as well give them a good bite if they have to use their hands to swim.

The mod-hood raises, and the first of many climbs out.
“Please bring more, if it’s no trouble sir,” says the Delissimo. And it is obeyed.

By the time the sewers are searched seventeen legions lie in wait, manning over a dozen stolen and lobotomized QT-6000s. A third of the police force perishes in the tunnels; the national guard are called in, then the army. They bring down that awful nest with explosives and call their job complete.
One of the ambulances carries back an unusual cargo at the behest of unusual soldiers, and a military base gains a surprise replacement of a small and insignificant portion of their medical bay that evening.
It doesn’t seem to matter, it doesn’t seem to cause any difficulties, and nobody can see any of the changes that slide through the personnel stationed there.
At least, until the secretary of state visits.
After that, it goes public again.

The Delissimo sits atop its throne and ignores its moaning with cheer, happily nestled in its folds and guts. The long line to be modified stretches before it; weeping and cursing and spitting and flailing away its energy as it travels toward a better shape.
The bulk of the populace will be dull, mass-produced things. But these ones are special. These ones will be treated with every ounce of skill and passion the Delissimo can muster.
These ones were, after all, once its patrons.
The mod-hood retracts. The mirror reflects a crazed fear on a fattened face. “Come in, sir.”

 

The doors slide open with the soft hush of oil and money. The bell rings. A body enters, and the dream ends.
Patience. Patience.
Patience. Patience.
Even machines can get frustrated.
“And how can I help you today, sir?”
“Make me look good.”

Storytime: The Great Ape.

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

“Where is it.”
“There is it. See? Y’see? Are you looking? Look at it. There it is, you see.”
Rumple squinted down into the pit trap, pea-sized eyes straining from unexpected effort, tongue flickering in and out whip-fast with poorly-masked disgruntlement.
There.
There.
….THERE. Down there, past the broken asphalt and crusted concrete and slewed gravel, something large enough that it filled the pit entirely like a hand in a glove. Bipedal, sweating, and moaning in pain.
“There! NOW you believe me?”
Rumple shrugged his broad, pebbly shoulders, making the speckly tan-and-black stripes coating his spine ripple.
“I don’t know. I mean, you’ve said you’re sure, but…”
“What! What! WHAT?! How can you doubt me?! Look at it! Look at it! It’s got the two stupid legs and the hairless, shiftless hide and the big round head and the RIDICULOUS upright posture and the flat, ugly little face! How can it be anything ELSE?”
Rumple stamped the dirt with a foreleg as he picked words like earthworms. “We-e-e-e-ll, there’s animals and animals out there. Two legs, upright? Could be a turkey or something.”
“They aren’t bald!”
“A bald turkey,” said Rumple with growing confidence. “A bald turkey with a funny back from walking around looking at the sky all the time. That’s what turkeys do, right? I heard that once.”
“It’s got too big a skull and it has no beak and not even a HINT of feathers and you don’t even know what turkeys ARE!”
“Well…”
“NO.”
Rumple subsided with a fussy snort. This seemed to mollify Thunk, at least slightly. She’d been having a lousy week – a clutch gone bad, her favourite basking rock overturned in a flash flood, the loss of one of her venomous fangs to a missed bite that clipped a stone – and the argument wasn’t helping.
“See? It’s making sounds. That’s its complex language skills creating new words for its predicament-”
“…could just be moaning,” muttered Rumple.
“-and look at the way it’s grabbing rocks and trying to chuck them out for attention, there’s its clever, adaptive tool-making-”
“…what if it’s just flailing around….”
“-and there, look at how it’s done its business in the corner instead of all over itself! That’s a sophisticated sense of hygiene adaptive to a new environment if I’ve ever seen it!”
“……..WE do that,” said Rumple loudly.
“So what? So did they!”
“No, no, no. I’m telling you, this just isn’t so. It’s just a new kind of deer from the deeper east or something, where the radiation was thicker. One that learned to walk upright to feed from the taller trees.”
“But it’s got thumbs and no hooves!”
“Radiation makes your nails come off.”
“THAT ISN’T THE SAME THING AT ALL!”
“Look, can you stop shouting? You’re making my head hurt.”
“You’re making MY head hurt! You’re being so unreasonable about this! Every single bit of evidence points to MY theory, and all you do is nitpick and fuss, fuss, fuss. You’re so skeptical you’d not believe a cliff until you fell off it, at least if I were the one telling you about it! Why don’t you ever believe me? Huh? Huh?”
“Look,” said Rumple. “Just calm down. It’s a cold day and you’re already trying to get yourself too worked up. We need to get up above and get basking while this thing wears itself out.”
“Stop telling me to CALM DOWN and start telling me why you DON’T BELIEVE ME.”
Rumple took a long, slow breath. This was the only kind he took when at rest, but this one was deliberate. “Look. We know a fair bit about them, right? From the old days.”
“Scraps and shreds and papers and books, yes.”
“Loads of them. And what do they all say about them?”
“They were smart.”
“Right. Smart and ADAPTABLE. Every book, every story, everything we’ve ever known about them sings that. Does what this thing’s doing look like adaptation to you? It’s sitting in a corner of a dank pit cowering from its own feces and moaning itself to sleep. Hell, we’d just dig out of there. If WE could get out of that situation, what could it be if it CAN’T? If it were what you claim it to be, it’d have whipped up some tools and hauled itself out of this pit before we even found it, then killed and eaten us both for sustenance. No, no, trust me. That thing’s in no way a human. Now let’s go get you some sun; we’ll need a lot of energy if we want to digest last week’s meal in time for this one.”
Rumple sighed. “Fine. Fine, you’ve got a point. I think I saw a new rock on the south side of the old highway. Let’s go.”

Four minutes later, the last remaining hominid in North America shivered itself to death in the crumbling wreckage of I-10, still cuddling its broken leg. Death came partly from the cold, partly from the loneliness, partly from shame that it hadn’t seen the cunningly camouflaged pit trap before it was too late.
But mostly, it was a failure to adapt.

Heloderma spectacular, or the Greater Western Gila Monstrosity, however, was still going strong. Rumple’s next attempt at a clutch that month was successful. She put it down to all the human in her recent diet, but quietly. THAT argument could stay dead.

Storytime: Another Day.

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

It was a gloomy day.

Five blocks.
Four blocks.
Three blocks.

There were still two blocks left to go to Jareth’s apartment when the raindrop splattered against the side of his head; hot, humid and hard as a fist. He swore badly and glared up at the sky, the entirety of his scrawny, rusty body simmering with anger and leftover grease. The big round rainclouds that had been ambling closer all day were right above him now; pregnant with water and fatter than seals.
“Go AWAY!” he shouted up at them. “Go away NOW. We don’t want you here! You’re just going to get in the way! Why can’t it be nice and dry all the time, huh? Why’ve you got to screw things up?”
The clouds reared up in slight surprised into a minor thunderhead and spat to themselves for a while as they pondered this. And then a very long, fine, wispy bit of cloud gingerly unspooled itself and slunk down the long, long way down to Jareth’s place, and spoke to him in a most reedy and foggy voice.
And what it asked was: “why don’t you like us?”
“NO ONE likes you!” shouted Jareth angrily into the cloudlet’s face. “You’re ruining summer! You’re ruining my walk home! You’re ugly and stupid and the weatherman warns me about you! Go away!”
The cloudlet visibly shrank under this torrent of abuse and retracted itself skyward, where the rest of the rainmass waited anxiously. There was a silence, an exchange of furtive and cumulus whispers, and a great and soft sob that torn at the air. Then WOOSH, the raindrops halted and the sky faded out into a clear, soft blue with a confused and lonely sun left in the middle of it.

It was a nice day.

There was not a cloud in the sky. The beaches filled. The lawn chairs overflowed. Sunscreen was sold out. Swimsuits were worn with reckless abandon in places where swimming was unlikely to occur. Many beverages were consumed. Sprinklers were extracted from the depths of garages and placed in pride upon lawns where they were danced through by shrieking children.
Jareth stayed home alone and played video games.
“This is pretty nice,” said a farmer. “But I’m a bit worried. I sort of was relying on that rain. Plants need that. You know, to stay alive. Think it’ll come back?”
But nobody was listening to her, and the city went to bed tanned and happy.

It was a very nice day.

There were still no clouds in the sky at all. The temperature was quite hot, even in the shade. Pets and children were kept away from parked cars. Sprinklers were replaced with just hoses. Cars were washed by hand as an excuse to get damp. The city’s water bills ballooned into full-blown, full-named williams.
Jareth ordered pizza in. He did not tip.
“This is a little warm,” said a homeless woman. “If it stays like this it could get worse out here. You know, it’s sort of dangerous. Especially if you don’t have a place to stay. Maybe we should be a bit worried.”
And a couple people nodded their heads, but on the whole they agreed it was better than the alternative, and better sunburned than soaked, and so on and so on.

It was a VERY nice day.

The sky was a blue lens held by a curious and somewhat cruel child above an anthill. Roadkill toasted and exploded within an hour of its creation. Corn popped in fields, still growing. Eggs burnt on sidewalks. Sweat crystallized on the collective skin of the city. Some of the buildings were crying softly to themselves.
Jareth slept in, then complained to his landlord about the upstairs neighbours being noisy at 1 PM.
“This is extremely bad,” said a manager. “I mean, really bad. Half my staff is at home with sunstroke. The other half is at home trying not to get sunstroke. And I’m going to stay home tomorrow because I, too, have sunstroke, and would appreciate a lie-in. Maybe we should do something about this.”
People were inclined to agree with him, but they all had sunstroke and put it off ‘till later.

The next day was a very, very, very nice day and it was all too much.

Jareth heard a knock at his door, opened it ready to complain to his landlord, and was face to face with half the city.
“I didn’t do it,” he said automatically. The looks on their faces told him that yes, sadly, he WAS still a very bad liar. It was his eyes. They wobbled around like indecisive flies.
“Look,” said the manager, “this is nothing personal.”
“Except for the personal insult you delivered three days ago,” clarified the homeless woman. “But we’re going to fix that.”
“And it’s nothing personal,” reassured the farmer. “Now grab his goddamned legs.”
Jareth put up about half of a fight, but it was the smaller half, and it didn’t accomplish much. On and on he kicked and carped and whined and thrashed through the boiled streets of the charred-out city. He kvetched down the highway and bitched through the doors and in the elevator he complained and it was only when they stepped onto the roof of the tallest skyscraper they could find that he guessed there might be a problem.
“But it’s RAIN,” he protested, as they lashed him to the building’s antenna, arms and legs. “Nobody likes RAIN. It’s BORING.”
The city, both on the roof and in the streets, considered this. Then it flipped him off and hurried indoors. Already the sky was beginning to bubble up in grey fog, building up and up and up and UP

It was a gloomy, overcast week after that, where the gutters overflowed and the streets held small rivers. And everyone was thankful for it.