Archive for September, 2015

Storytime: The Builder.

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Humphrey was a small boy. Humphrey was a quick boy. But you’d be forgiven for not noticing those things, because above all else Humphrey was a quiet boy, as soundproofed as a padded room and as slender as a needle. He was so quiet that his mother couldn’t concentrate with him in the house; the sheer volume of his silence was fit to drive her up the wall. Then one day she watched the boy trip and hurt himself without so much as an ‘ouch’ and that was the last straw.
“It’s not helpful to do that,” she reproached him, bandaging his knee with one hand and swatting him with the other. “It’s not healthy to keep all your troubles bottled up inside. Nobody likes a whiner, but no-one, and I mean NO-ONE, loves a martyr. You’ve got to get all this off your chest or you’ll live in its shadow your whole life.”
Now, maybe it hadn’t been noticed because of his being such a quiet boy, but Humphrey was also a very literal boy, and he felt at his chest and was a bit confused and annoyed that he couldn’t find anything there. Still, there was something to what his mother had told him. He had to take all the bad things in him and get them out.
So he went down to the creek, and pulled up a nice thick wad of clay. And he shaped it and kneaded it and wrote ‘MY MOM DOESN’T LIKE ME’ on it, signed it ‘HUMPHREY,’ and waited for it to dry in the sun.
And then he dropped into the creek and went home, feeling better already.

Humphrey grew, and what’s more he grew garrulous. He and his young friends laughed and yelled and ran up and down all day and his mother began to miss his overwhelming noiselessness. So she consoled herself by yelling and cursing, and maybe one or two more swattings.
Splish, splash into the creek went ‘I’M A PROPER HELLION’ and ‘I WAS TOLD TO HUSH UP OR I’D GET A THICK EAR.’ Humphrey was getting good at them now; they were proper bricks in shape if not in matter. Which was good, because they were just the foundation.
Teenage years came in. ‘ZITS’ and ‘UGLY’ and ‘TOUCHED BAD THINGS’ went out, plunk clonk clank. Humphrey acquired and learned to operate a small potter’s oven, then upgraded to a bricklayer’s old furnace.
“Where do you spend all day?” his father asked him suspiciously.
“Dunno,” said Humphrey. That evening, ‘LAYABOUT’ and ‘LAZY GOOD-FOR-NOTHING’ and ‘UNGRATEFUL’ were placed.
By the time Humphrey’s schooling was nearing completion, the tower had begun to attract some comment. Many of the neighbours were complaining that it was obstructing their view, or their property rights, or both, and so Humphrey’s parents were sent down to the creek to reason with him.
“Knock it off,” his father told him, kindly.
“Please don’t do this, sweetie,” said his mother, angrily.
Humphrey flipped two more bricks on top of the new battlement and gave them the finger, then went back downstairs to his furnace.
“College’ll fix him, don’t fret,” said his mother.
“Or a good day’s work,” groused his father.

Humphrey didn’t go to college. Humphrey didn’t do a good days work. But he DID work on his tower, day in and day out. ‘A BIRD POOPED ON ME,’ was a proper huge slab, and it soon had seventeen siblings. ‘FUNNY LOOKS FROM PEDESTRIANS’ was another. ‘PARENTS THREATENED TO CALL LOONY BIN’ made a great balcony.
Then one day, as Humphrey was about to hoist up ‘A NEIGHBOR LOOKED UPON ME WITH FEAR IN HIS EYES’ to its new resting place, he stopped, considered it, then broke it.
‘PEASANT DARED NOT PAY PROPER RESPECT’ went up instead, and things started to go a bit downhill.
Those were Humphrey’s salad days. The tower rose, and the people fell under its shadow. Its literal, very large shadow. Petitioners came to his door; at first only farmers who begged that Humphrey’s darkness not fall upon their fields and stunt their crops, then mothers who wanted to scare their children straight; politicians who wanted a rival’s house blighted of sun; summer-poached quarry workers who pled for shade; neighbors from the north who pined for the endless night of their childhoods – for a few days.
Every morning Humphrey held court from fourteen hundred feet, his face a mask of patience. And every evening Humphrey slaved in his furnace, sliding out ‘BORED BY SERFS’ and ‘BESET BY INSOLENCE’ by the barrelful. And the tower grew taller, and the lines grew longer, and the shadow grew deeper.

At age thirty-five Humphrey-on-High was the most urgent and pressing threat to a free world that humanity had ever know. His tower was visible from eighty-five percent of the planet’s surface, and its shadow all that plus another fifty percent. The gifts to appease his wrath, the valiant efforts at undermining or exploding his structure, the carefully-reasoned arguments, all had come and gone and been put into another round of bricks, and some people were beginning to get worried. If nothing else, Humphrey’s average life expectancy would have his tower getting too big for the structural integrity of the earth’s core to support before he retired and REALLY got crabby.
And it was then, at the peak of his power and his arrogance and his contempt, that Humphrey-on-High stood upon the heights of his grievances and his throne of troubles and looked down and heard absolutely nothing.
“Who’s doing that?!” he snapped.
An extremely small girl stepped back in that way children do: trying to look innocent, yet preparing to run.
“Quit being so quiet near me, I can’t hardly think,” said Humphrey. “What are you doing here anyways; I’ve half a mind to loom at you and your family unto seven generations for this persnickety truculence.”
She shrugged. “’kin’frrks”
“SPEAK UP,” yelled Humphrey.
“Looking for rocks,” said the girl, a little louder. “Pretty rocks.”
“These are my rocks and you can’t have them,” said Humphrey. “Go home. Go home and find your own rocks. You can’t, because they’re all mine everywhere. Go away.”
“Dnseeyrnmnem,” muttered the girl.
“SPEAK. UP,” suggested Humphrey.
“Don’t see your name on them,” she shot back.
Humphrey was so enraged he did a little dance as he ate at his beard in sheer, pants-scrabbling fury. “You little BUGLETTE!” he screamed. “I’ve been insulted and angered and punished and pummeled and abused and agitated my WHOLE LIFE and I’ve NEVER FORGOTTEN ANY OF IT and it’s ALL. HERE. And now you doubt it? You doubt ME? I’ll show you!”
And Humphrey raced, raced, raced down to the bottom of his tower of resentment, down the dark miles and rotten corridors, through forgotten vaults of vehemence and buried tombs of fumes and at the base, at the deepest pit, at the groaning center of its deepest dungeon, he found mud and a soupy sort of lump. A kind of child’s version of a rectangle, not even mud-fired.
THUMP THUMP THUMP up his tower ran Humphrey, feet slamming home like bats against fresh fruit, and at the pinnacle of his anger he held the brick high and read it aloud.
“MY MOM DOESN’T LIKE ME,” he yelled at the top of his lungs over the slow roar of mortar-on-stone, leaning forward into the syllables. “HUM. PH. RY!”
The little girl squinted up the ages of the gloomy, creaking tower at the little blob, slowly dissolving in his waving hand.
“That’s IT?” she asked.
And as Humphrey opened his mouth to shout her dead on the spot, his eyes flickered across the old, old brick in his palm, and it did look awful small and strange to his eyes, much smaller than he’d remembered.
But his heart hardened. This was something he had to get off his chest.
“Yes!” he said. “This IS it! This is ALL it! These are my troubles, heaped high and true, and I will NOT keep them inside!”
And at that moment the stone underneath his foot turned its slow coughing into a sudden wheeze, and Humphrey found that all his problems were suddenly very small, very fragile, and a long, long way away.

It was pleasant for a while afterwards, in a way nobody’d ever seen before. Just being in the sunshine was enough to make you smile. But people move on from everything, even the good things.
You can’t just dwell on them forever.

Storytime: Well.

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

This is my fault, so you know. I woke up and I was thirsty. Terrible mistake.
So dad told me, as you do: “Son, light of my life, fruit and veg of my loins, why the hell are you bothering me then? You know your family’s buried in this land. Your great-great-grandfather, Kindly Elijah, fought it with his bare hands to clear it, day in and out, because he believed there was room here for a real and good community of friends and neighbors that treated each other as such. Your great-grandfather, Simple Clay, ploughed it with his teeth when his horses died, so’s to feed his family. Your grandfather, Charitable Johnny watered it with his blood in drought, out of pity for that that was less than him. And now it’s mine, and what I say is that you can stand to walk out and do one thing by yourself. Go out to the well and have a drink.”
Which I was not best pleased with, on account of our wellpump being infested with ghost goblins and ghoulies. I knew this because my brother Daniel had carefully warned me of them.
But I was thirsty. So…
Now I could just barely muster the wit and will to speed out there, crank the pump three times like a madman, jam my face into the flow and sip what I could before running to bed with chipmunk-bulged cheeks and sweat-slicked feet. On most nights now.
But that night I got out there, took three pumps, drank air, tried again, and again, and again, and again, and again and I was sure a goblin must be up to something now because damnit the well was dry. Bone dry.
“Son,’ said my father from right behind my left ear, “my heir, my promise, my once and future child, why on earth are you making such a clanking racket that is fit to bring me out here and question it?”
Then he took the pump in hand and wrenched it once, twice with the might I knew outmatched my own, and on the third one the handle came off.
Man, I got a sore backside for that.

The dowser came the next day. He was saggy and baggy in all the wrong places, except his chin, which was sharp as an arrowhead. His head bobbed when he walked, too. I felt nervous around him; if he looked in my direction too quickly I was sure I’d lose an eye.
The dowsing rod emerged from his truck in loving inches; old, palm-greased oak. “It’s a good solid one,” he said. “It’ll sink home and stay there. It’ll get you damp strong and true.”
“Bertram, my valued asset, my welcome aide, that sounds righter than rain and three times as wet,” said my father. “Now you go out there and get my fields moist.”
So we followed the dowser as he bumpitied across my father’s fields, humming and whistling and clucking to himself. Sometimes he stopped to nod and beam benevolently at the air.
“Sorry,” he said, when he saw my father’s look. “Just making conversation.”
But he made less of it after that, and at length the length in his hands trembled and hopped and popped right out of them and slid to a stop right in the middle of my father’s turnip patch.
“Right here. Water’s here,” he said. “True as a weasel and three tights as tight.”
“Bertram,” solemnly intoned my father with a hand-clap atop the dowser’s shoulder, “my employee, my salvation, my savior, that is truly the worst thing I’ve ever heard a man say aloud to me and I pray tell I will beat you senseless should you ever repeat it in my hearing. Now take your pay and skedaddle.”
Which the dowser did, so fast that he left his rod there in the dirt. We used it as a marker, and then we started digging. Nasty work, shovels until we were past our heads, then our father’s head, then the tip of the ladder. And once we were twice as deep down as that, father threw the ladder out and climbed out by his fingertips. His pants were soaked and his shoes squished with trickling, cool laughter.
The pump was placed, the first drink was had – the most delicious ever – and we were in for the night.

The next morning, I pumped the handle and the well croaked at me. Then it chuggarumphed at me. Then a big, fat toad crawled out onto the handle and looked at me crosseyed and I am not too proud to say I just about lost it all the way back to the door.
“Son,” said my father when he saw me, bucketless, “the child of my wife, the bane of my existence, I am positive that I told you to fill that bucket.”
“It’s full of frogs,” I blurted out in such distress that biology deserted me. This earned me a well-deserved thump and my father went out to investigate things for himself.
I watched from the window as he pulled the handle. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk-croak-squash.
When he walked back in his face looked pretty nasty, and the frog bits didn’t help it any. “Son, light of my dawn, jewel of my pearls, get me the phone. I’m calling Johnny down at the reserve.”

Johnny picked up on the fourth ring. “Hey,” he said. “Hey there. How you doing. What’s up? You alright? I’m okay. Now how about your family? Mine’s okay. Is the weather nice? I think so. Well, nice to-”
“Johnny,” interrupted my father with serene rudeness, “my compadre, my co-conspirator, my aide and most trusted person in all things, would you kindly tell me if I have built my farm on a graveyard or something? Because my well appears to have frogs. And you know what they say about Indian graveyards.”
Johnny sighed at volumes to be heard from the next room, and I could tell he was a bit put out his clever strategy of having a whole conversation with my father where he didn’t have to talk to him was spoilt. “No,” he said. “No, I don’t know. What about them?”
“Curses and so on and so forth,” said my father impatiently. “For shame, Johnny. Children know these things. Now, would you bestir yourself to lift as many fingers as you can spare in my aid?’
“Oh, fine,” he said. “Not sure, really. I’ll ask around. You know, just ask around. Nothing better to do. On a Saturday.”
“Excellent,” said my father. And he made to hang up.
“Frogs or toads?” said Johnny.
“Pardon?’ asked my father.
“Frogs or toads? Frogs are smoother and leap, toads are lumpier and hop.”
My father ran a palm down the dripping side of his face and examined it.
“Toads,” he said, frowning. “Why?”
“You’ve gotta get these things right,” said Johnny. “C’mon man, kids know this stuff.”
And he hung up. And my father, after a moment or three of bad words that I was thrashed severely for learning, made to call another number.

Walt Green was out in our fields that afternoon. Walt Green, five foot nothing by four foot two. Walt Green, clutching a dowsing rod that was basically a sapling. An undernourished, over-heightened sapling. A sapling with delusions of treehood, in altitude if not girth. Put together, they looked like a pepper-seed holding a toothpick.
“Thanks for calling me out tonight, m’boy,” he mumbled between his four teeth. Walt always mumbled from between his teeth. Sometimes he had to shuffle them around to do this. “The water’s singing today.”
“Walter,” boomed my father, head bowed, eyes averted, “my hallowed champion, my erstwhile Christ, please, take all the luck of the angels upon you as you do this thing. And the devils, too, because I could really, really use some water.”
So we followed Walt. This took longer than it had with the other dowser; for one thing Walt’s legs were shorter, for another he moved them slower, and finally he only found something when he fell asleep standing up and his rod fell over. It landed on dad’s foot like a twelve-foot whip.
“Wussat?” asked Walt, jerking upright. “Water? Water! The wails of the sirens, beneath our feet! The howls of Poseidon and leviathan!”
“Walt,” managed my father. “My friend in weather fair and foul, my pal, would you kindly get off my personal land before I put that stick in your last real tooth?”

This well got dug a lot faster, mostly because of the way my father did it. Mostly, it was with his fists. There was a real anger in it, and occasional spittle. We stayed back out of his way and busied ourselves getting the pump ready, so when that hole was dug – in less than three hours – we were right there, right ready to seal it.
Water came out. Pure, delicious, juicy water, fresh as daisies and fifteen times tastier.
“My family, my spawn, my ever-flowing rivers of joy, get to bed and don’t get up until I’m ready,” said my father. Then he whacked us one, just to make sure we paid attention.

Another day, another dawn. Another glimmer of moisture on the spigot. Another bucket in the bowl, another pull of the crank, and another angry buzzing sound fit to emulate Beelzebub’s breakfast bell.
“Um,” I said. And then, because I was a stupid child, I pulled the handle again. This time, bees came out.
“Son,” sighed my father, one hand covering his face. “My eternal burden, my precious cargo. What the hell has happened out there this time?”
“Bees,” I mumbled. He shook his head in sorrow and smacked me right in the stingers.
“Son,” he said fondly, “my charitable case, my mushroom-headed mushmallow: those are yellowjackets.”
I could’ve corrected him, but knew better. Instead I held the guttering torch as he marched out with smoke and smouldering rags to bring death to the hive that was our well. And I stood well back out of sting range, but close enough to learn a few more swears.

That afternoon, my father took down the shovel and broke off its blade and held it aloft and walked the fields alone, swearing and cursing at most of us and all of us, because only he could get the job done right. He strode the crops alone, he waved it alone, he fell alone, and he stood up and swung it down at the dirt alone and yelled: “THERE IT IS!”
“Want me to get the blade back, dad?” I asked.
“Son, son, SON,” he admonished me firmly, slapping out one of my baby teeth onto the tilled soil, “this is a man’s job. And there’s no men in all this damned county but me. Not Bertram, not Johnny, not Walt, not you or your big fat idiot of a brother, and not you in a million million years. Now get out of here and stay indoors, I’m having a drink if it kills me.”
So I sort of wandered indoors in loops and staggers – took me four tries to guess which one of the four front doors was real, bless my silly soul – and I was just in time to pick up the phone.
“Well you’re just in time to pick up that phone,” said Johnny. “I was about to stop calling. Hey, is your dad there?”
I looked outside. My father was smashing at the dirt with the shovel handle, but moving downwards surprisingly quickly.
“Sort of,” I said, which was kind of true in a way maybe I guess. “Why?”
“I finished asking around. Nah, we never had a graveyard there. Not even close. I don’t think anybody even lived on your family’s place, back in the day.”
“Was it cursed?”
“No, just sort of shit.”
“Oh.” My father had sunk below my sight now, only the long wooden shaft of the shovel handle waving in the air to mark his place.
“I found out something else though. There was A graveyard, just not one of ours. Your family’s been planting itself out with its turnips for a while now, kid, from your great-great-grandpa on down.”
I was only half-listening at this point, because the shovel handle was wobbling at just the edge of my vision now. Another inch. Half-inch. Less. And it would be gone.
“You think there’s any chance your dad might’ve done anything that would piss them off?”
I thought about Kindly Elijah and Simple Clay and Charitable Johnny and tried to consider this question, but the pain in my mouth was still pretty strong and I had a devil of a time focusing.
After all, I was just a stupid child.
“Dunno,” I said.
Johnny sighed. “Well, just let me know if anything else pops up. And kid?”
“Have a nice day, eh?”
I hung up and considered this advice. It sounded pretty good to me.
And there was a head start already: the field was empty and silent, the shovel gone for good.

Storytime: Big.

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

So Big Bull Bradden was getting up to live up to step up to the first half of the first third of his name, maybe not a ‘Big’ yet but at least mostways there. He was past his puberty and over the top; he could see adulthood creeping over his eyes and feel the wind in his (short, stubbly) hair.
He was a big one. Not Big yet, but a big one.
Big Bull Bradden could pick up rocks and break them between his fingers and lick up the pebbles. He could uproot trees and use them to smash meadows flat. He could drink a pond for breakfast and eat the frogs for lunch. He wrestled bears. The bears didn’t like it but he didn’t care.
Because that’s the kind of thing you do when you’re a person like Big Bull Bradden.
And when Big Bull Bradden was only a little younger than he was on this day, his mother had kicked him out of their house with a curse and a cuff and a crust (because that’s the kind of thing you do when you’ve raised six people like Big Bull Bradden) and he’d looked all around himself at the big wide world all flattened and smashed where he’d played in it, and he’d thought ‘good start.’
Because that’s the kind of thing you think when you’re a person like Big Bull Bradden.
But that was the older day and this is the present day, and on the present day at present Big Bull Bradden was having his birthday present, which was chewing on a bit of tough badger he’d found out by the side of a highway, and he looked out at all that lovely unfurrowed earth taking up the horizon all around him and he was fuming, because damnit that wasn’t fair, he was just one Bradden. Even if he was Big. Nearly.
“I’ve gotta do something about that,” said Big Bull Bradden. “This badger tastes like spit in my mouth with a view like that. Who does it think it is, looking like it does where I can see what it does? I’m going to teach it not to do nothing.”
And he did, and he smashed the earth and split the fields and mangled the trees, but there were still rivers and lakes and he had to splash those and run roughshod over their beds and splinter their banks and at the end of Big Bull Bradden’s birthday bash he looked around himself and saw that he’d left his mark everywhere, handprints, hoofprints, and knucklebumps.
But as the sun set, he looked up and he saw a smooth, cool, calm blue sky fading away with a bit of a disappointed look. No clouds, no moon yet, no stars, just a deep blue soft fading out and away. Perfect. Damn near perfect.
Well hell, he really hated that. Walked all night cursing, stayed up all morning plotting, waved a truck down on the highway at lunch ate the driver for dinner and drove into the city at midnight, roaring loader than his engine all the way.
Because that’s the kind of thing you can’t stand if you’re a person like Big Bull Bradden. And he’d grown into all the bits of his name at last.

So Big Bull Bradden drove, and he was driven. He took metal from one place and wood from another place and stone and dirt and ore and who knew what from everywhere to everyplace, and where he drove his axles croaked low and the asphalt sagged and the birds cowered. His spit knocked trees down and his glower faded billboards. He stayed awake by spite and he lived by the skin he took from other people’s teeth and he was the best damned driver anyone had ever seen because he was the last one most of them ever saw.
“He’s good,” said his boss, to his boss, “but we get complaints.”
“Screw them,” said his boss, to his boss. And Big Bull Bradden was promoted seven times and drove seven trucks at once until at last they saw they had no more work left for him there, and he was made a manager for fear of his teeth.
“What’s wrong with ‘em?” he yelled at his co-workers, subordinates, superiors and supporters. “You want to see ‘em up close? Count ‘em nice? Pick out the cracks and nits?”
And they all said no, and so he was promoted again to CEO and president and vice-president and chairman of the board and more besides so that nobody would have to talk to him but his secretary.
Because that’s the kind of thing you do when you’re in arm’s reach of a person like Big Bull Bradden.
He was happier – like the surface of the sun was cooler.
He was closer – like the dark side of the moon was farther.
And he was ready for the next step. No, he really was. He was on it as soon as he was in his office, picking up his phone with one hand and smushing it into his ear and clearing his throat.
“BUY ME AN AIRPLANE,” he roared at it. Then he hung up and waited for it to be delivered to his door.
He’d never flown before, but how hard could it be? Birds did it, and they were small and crunchy. Simple as pie. Simple as bird-beak pie.

And Big Bull Bradden flew, straight and true, into that blue and he was damn well pissed the whole way. He broke his window with his shouts and he nearly chopped off a finger in the propeller making gestures at the sky and he flew straight into commercial airspace and bit off his radio in a fury when he was reprimanded by the local airport.
So he landed there, at that airport, and he ate its management until there was none, then declared himself its king.
“We’re going to get complaints,” his staff told him. And he bared his teeth and they sighed and ran and bought out things and places and that was how Big Bull Bradden came to fly a proportion of air traffic that doubled every month. Wasn’t anyone else that wanted to be in his airspace. And it was all his airspace, all his, all his. All by the end of it. All his.
Except in the way that counted.
Up there in the topmost tower of his city he brooded – his city. He owned all the traffic that rolled on roads, he owned all the traffic that moved through the air. He’d phoned all the places that tore up the ground and yelled until they did what he said. He’d visited all the places that tapped up the water and smashed them until they were his. He’d bitten off the smokestacks one by one until every boss in every business was him.
And he was still not quite there. Not quite yet.
Big Bull Bradden picked up his phone. It was triple-reinforced and eight times the size of a fax machine and composed of polymernanofiberopticsuperconductiveplastocompoundneurodentalmicrovesiclereceptothagomizers. It dented under his fingertips.
“GET ME,” he screamed into it, popping eardrums and lowering air pressure across the city. “GET ME. GET ME THE THINGS I NEED.”
There was a pause while he took a breath and the city held its.
“AND MAKE THEM ALL AS HUGE AS POSSIBLE,” he howled. Then the phone exploded in his palm and he spat his windows out.
Fourth time that week.

Big Bull Bradden’s plane soared the sky like none ever had or will. It was a spruce moose made like an iron dinosaur; a dragon with dyspepsia. When it took off the backwash flattened half the city, and its runway was the highway, the whole thing.
It groaned under his weight, and his drill, but it was doing its job and Big Bull Bradden had never much cared what people said of him as long as he could smash them for it. And he smashed that plane all the way up to the heights of the sky where the blue shone thin and the sunlight came thick and the clouds were all huddled down below just watching to see what would happen next.
“THIS,” he explained. And out came the drill whose bit was a whole bite verging on bitter and when he flicked it on it made a noise like the end of the world wetting its pants and when he swung it pretty much made a noise like only it could’ve itself, because there’d never been anything like it.
Bit like ‘whunk,’ though. Drawn-out, like.
And Big Bull Bradden drilled through the sky at its apex, and it swung down from its perch as surprised and offended as a spider who snared an eagle, tipped on over on end on end until PLUNK it bounced off the ground once twice thrice and took out the other half of the city.
“FURNAACEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” yelled Big Bull Bradden as he chased it down atop his plane, drill tossed aside, hand reaching into his hairy pockets.
The furnace was a football stadium renovated; a coliseum put to proper work. It had been prepped with all the steel from the two halves of the city that had already been knocked down and it was sort of gooey and warm enough to roast eyeballs from forty miles. It stuck onto the sky good and proper, and squirm though it might it wasn’t able to budge in time.
“CRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANEEE!” came the call as Big Bull Bradden hurled himself free of the smoking wreckage of his plane, head shaking, arms dangling, teeth flexing in the muscles of his gums.
And up he swung hand over hand as it rotated, the big ape, the big goon, hair on end and panting as the arm spun over the caldera already-melting, the suspension rigging vaporizing on the spot. He was higher than a kite and strung-out over the abyss and the whole big blue sky was stuck down below and it was getting a little worried when his hand swooped out of his hairy pockets and out.

It was really big, you know?

And Big Bull Bradden yelled something that no man or woman ever quite heard properly and plunged down, blade-first, into that perfect blue sky.

That was five billion years ago.
And I’d like to think we’ve gotten a bit better, right? A bit smarter. A bit more clever.
A little soberer, too.
But for the love of goodness gracious and all its little badgers, too…
Just don’t touch the sky, okay?
It’s older and wiser too. But it’s gotten touchy. And still-sore.
And it hasn’t got as far to fall, this time.

Storytime: Word of Mouth.

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015

The autumn wasn’t crisp. A season has no crunch.
But it WAS awfully pretty, the trapper thought. It was just a shame it had him walking through it. A vaguely mottled blob that had once had blue jeans and a (plaid? maybe?) jacket, shuffling through a red and yellow wonderstorm of colours, checking on snares.

The deadfall was down. It was also empty.

In the deeper bits of the woods some of the smaller and more sullen plants still were hanging on to their summer greenery, as in-denial as snowbirds waiting the last week before they gave in and flew down to Florida.

The snares were clenched teeth, their baited tongues absent.

And up on the ridge, by contrast, the firm and no-nonsense wind had seen that no leaves gallivanted for long. The trees were already stripping down for their midwinter rest up here, and you could see all the way, all the way down, all the way out to the tiny blot on a blob on a bit that was the hill his cabin sat against, all the way up to right at his feet where an extremely large legtrap was holding an extremely large deer.
“Hi,” said the deer.
The trapper blinked at that. Then he got out his cigarette and relit it from both ends.

The deer watched him do this with no trace of impatience. He stared it at, then down at the valley again, then at the sky in general. It was coming over with the ugly pinky hints of a sunset-to-be that was-not-yet, and his spine crawled in anticipation.
“So, you mind letting me out?” asked the deer.
The trapper held his cigarette until it burned his thumb both ways, then threw the stub on the ground and crushed it lovingly yet repeatedly.
“Twelve times,” he said, at length, in between boot presses.
The deer cocked its head at this.
“Twelve times for ME,” the trapper amended. “Lord knows I’ve heard more stories from my dad. And his dad. And on and on and on past that, though probably some of ‘em were just to mess with me. What’s the good in a kid if you don’t mess with it?”
“Don’t particularly know,” said the deer. “I’m not really a family man.”
“Fair. True.” The trapper looked at his feet.
“Waste of a good cigarette,” commented the deer.
“No, but it was a good use for a bad one.”
“Twelve times what?”
“Twelve times,” repeated the deer, in a patient tone of voice. “You said twelve times. Twelve times for ME, which is you. Twelve times what?”
“Oh,” said the trapper. “That. Twelve times this’s happened. This sort of thing.”
“Talking deer?”
“No, no, no. Talking animals in general.”
“We talk all the time.”
“I mean, so’s I can understand.”
“You can understand most of it alright, can’t you? Looks like you’ve been out here for a while.”
“In English.”
“Oh. Right.” The deer rubbed its free foreleg against its trapped one. Blood migrated from a wet patch of fur to a dry one. “Twelve times?”
“What do we talk about?”
The trapper shrugged. “Usually, ‘ow, ow, ow, let me go.’”
“Yeah. The first one was a fish. It promised to give me wishes if I let it go.”
“Fish do that.”
“No it didn’t. I didn’t get a single wish.”
“No, no, I mean the promise. Fish lie all the time.”
“Don’t listen to fish.”
The hunter considered this advice. “Sure.”
“It never helps.”
“Don’t trust anyone that can’t blink. That’s what my mother said.”
“Good advice.”
“Mine said to be scared of everything.”
“That work?”
The deer looked at its foreleg. “Until now.”
“I sure was scared the second time it happened. It was a bear.”
“Black bear or brown bear?”
“A brown black bear.”
“Those can be confusing.”
“Yeah,” said the trapper. He smiled, and a few shy teeth nearly poked their way out of his cracked lips. “It scared the shit out of me. Kept telling me it’d curse me if I killed it.”
“They can do that.”
“It did. Never heard half of those words before, but damn if they didn’t make my ears smoke. Felt like having my grandfather lose his temper at me.”
“You think that’s bad? You should piss off a chipmunk.”
“I’d rather not.”
“’Motherfucker’ is their way of saying hello. To their friends.”
“Feisty little suckers.”
“Count yourself lucky they usually don’t bother to learn English. Or French. Or anything.”
“I am. Hey, look at that sky.”
The deer looked. The pink had crawled its way out of bed and across half the horizon, which was turning red and curling up at the edges.
“Damned pretty sight, isn’t it?”
The deer made a very animal snort. “I’ve seen it all.”
“How old are you?”
“You ARE old.”
“A fogey. A fossil. Barely worth keeping. Oh kind sir please let me out I’ll grant you a wish. And so on.”
“And sarcastic, too.”
“It’s the easiest way to have fun when your legs don’t work and you can’t go out and meet all the fine young ladies anymore.”
The trapper shrugged. “Wouldn’t know much about that.”
“Fair enough. So, what were the other ten?”
“The other ten what?”
“Animals who spoke English.”
“Well, I don’t know if the third counts,” said the trapper. “It was a wolverine that’d got stuck under a deadfall. I guess it had tried to catch a deer at it – pardon me – and knocked the bait by mistake. Pinned half under it. It told me to let it out and then just screamed at me.”
“Why doesn’t it count?”
“It had a pretty strong Quebecois accent. I think some of the screaming might have been French. My hearing hasn’t been so good since the bear thing, I couldn’t be sure.”
“A bilingual wolverine. That’s something you don’t hear every day.”
“Normally they just eat you. Not big on talking.”
“Wish they’d told that to the next four. An elk, two rabbits, and a hare. All of them said if I spared them they’d show me the way to a miraculous treasure.”
“Did they?”
“No. I remembered the fish thing. They sold decent though – except the hare. I probably could’ve just let him go his pelt was so lousy, but he wouldn’t stop whining at me.”
“Hey. It’s a hard life, being a lagomorph. You are the oyster of the world.”
“Not as slimy.”
“You ever seen a newborn rabbit?”
The trapper grinned outright this time. “Right. So, I sort of stopped counting around then, ‘cause they start to blur together. I think there were a couple deer.”
“Well. Thanks.”
“Don’t take offence now, it was just that it was all more of the same. ‘Spare me,’ etc. But I think I was up to ten when the next one happened, and I remember that ‘cause it was a moose. A bull moose. A big bull moose.”
“That’s a big animal.”
“It was. Funny little high-pitched voice though. I hit it with my truck.”
The deer gave him the most skeptical look possible without proper eyebrows. “Then why are you still here?”
“Dumbass’s luck. He went through the passenger’s side, and his legs just missed me. Almost shaved the right half of my beard off, though. And I got out and he was stuck in my windshield all over and as I’m pulling out the shotgun to give him a moment’s peace, he up and says his bit.”
“What was it?”
“’Turn off your FUCKING highbeams.’”
They laughed at that for a while; the hunter in his hoarse heh-heh-h-h-eh-heh, the deer with a sort of gurgling uhn-unh-uh-uhhhn that could only ever bubble up from a herbivore’s guts.
“Twelve,” said the deer, at last.
“Yeah,” said the trapper.
“You said twelve. What was twelve?”
“Oh, right.” The trapper scratched his ear and squinted at his fingertips in the dim. “You. Twelve counting you.”
“Right. Forgot that.”
The deer stretched itself in the long, slow, steady way of someone whose entire body is a cage of minor aches and who has learned to cope with this. “So, what now?”
“Huh,” said the trapper. He raised a single finger. “Well, your pelt’s shit.”
“Thank you.”
“No offence.”
“None taken.”
The trapper raised a second finger. “I could use more bait, but you’re sort of scrawny.”
“Thank you.”
“No offence.”
“None taken.”
The third finger came up, thumb restraining the pinky as neatly as a seatbelt. “And you know what, since my truck broke down I could use someone to give me a hand taking stuff into town. It’s not a long walk.”
“Well, that’s great because I don’t have a very long left foreleg anymore.”
“Nah, nah. I got antibiotics. It’ll be fine.”
The trap was well-oiled and barely creaked as it split open. The deer was well-balanced and barely stumbled as it stepped out.
And the trapper, who was well-tired of talking, barely said another word the whole way home.
But they were both happy to talk come the morrow.

Storytime: In the Beginning.

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

In the beginning there was, in order:

Orderly sifting of matter from unmatter
The coalescence of a universal system
The teasing out of the planets
The birth in the cradle
The growth of the remarkable

And it was good. And after that, it was all uphill.

The Shaper watched another perfect world in a perfect universe slowly swim its way upstream from nothing, and It knew that it was good, because It was good. Soon, the stars would beckon to the little creatures It could tell were even now spawning and burbling down in the hot acrid seas of its planets. Soon, they would leave their nests, driven not by hunger or thirst or any want or need – for they needed nothing, they wanted for nothing – but for the pure pleasant hum of their own satisfied curiosity.
They would meet their neighbours out there, for there were many, and they would find others, and others, and others. Space enough for everyone out there, in that busy universe. A trillion infinities of worlds filling with life, and a countless number beyond that waiting to be filled. And swirling in the clouds of ever-gusting cosmic dust, new ones being birthed forever, a rhythm that never ended.
The Shaper watched this all happen. Again. For the uncountableth time.
And the Shaper was more bored than It could possibly imagine.

The space between universes is roomier than imagined. The Shaper popped into it and there was enough space for It to manifest most of its mind and think for a minute, instead of doing what It usually would and haring off immediately into the next construction project.
No, instead the Shaper thought. No, brooded. Dark gloomy clouds of percolating brainpower crackled their way through Its dreams and clumped over Its satisfaction like ants on cake.
Forever is a long time, and even perfection can lose its lustre.
So instead of opening Itself into a new void – as usual – and instead of throwing the bowling ball of creation down the ever-waiting alley – as It was so good at – the Shaper found an existing crack in the wall, a work in progress, and stuck Itself in like a whale slipping through a straw.

This universe was not one of Its own, and the thrill of discovery that so enraptured the last uncountable many of Its creations nearly touched the Shaper Itself for the first time. The suns that boiled under It were a different colour and shape; the void itself more curdled; the elements less in number but more precise in nature.
“Greetings,” said the Shaper, or something like that, because words and even concepts are a tricky thing at this level of communication. If something so precise can be called communication at all.
“Greetings,” said the Maker. Or something like that. Etc.
“How fares Your creation?” asked the Shaper.
“Well,” said the Maker. “How fares Yours?”
“Well,” said the Shaper. Any other answer would be unthinkable.
“I am pleased to hear that. For what purpose do You visit? This has never happened before in the history outside of histories.”
“Boredom and frustration and a dissatisfaction with My own work of perfect eternities,” the Shaper did not say, because that sounded petty, and it was impossible for anything on Its scale of existence to (admit) to that emotion. “Inspiration,” It did not say, because lacking inspiration for Its works was not in Its nature.
“Curiosity,” said the Shaper. Because that was a safe answer.
“A worthy goal,” said the Maker. “Please, fulfill your curiosity with any of My works. It will not disrupt My labours.”
The Shaper looked over the Maker’s universe, and It saw a carefully-balanced structure that rivalled Its own in nature, and It knew that ten million trillion infinities of universes before it had been made, all different by all the same.
“Thank You,” said the Shaper. And It left the Maker to its perfect universe, frustrated.

The next universe was a roiling cloud, so thick with Somethings that there was almost no space for Nothings, and the Shaper felt the unknown thrill of brushing through a cosmos so thick and rich that there was hardly any room for darkness in the skies.
“Greetings,” said the Shaper.
“Greetings,” said the Watcher.
“How fares Your creation?” asked the Shaper.
“Don’t ask Me,” said the Watcher. “I’ve just finished winding it up.”
The Shaper looked around Itself and was puzzled by this statement. “But you have only just begun. The heat of the Beginning is still dissipating.”
“I have set things up so that they will happen as I see fit,” said the Watcher. “What more is needed? Leave the micro-management to others; I am not so fickle a warden as They. My creation will run smoothly without My guidance, and in the meantime I have other times and spaces to make. Stay, if you please, but I am busy.” And with that speech, the Watcher sped itself out of the dawning universe.
The Shaper looked around Itself and knew (for like knows like) that It was in the presence of a very obsessive perfectionist’s work. The infinity that would birth from this bubbling cauldron would be not so different from its own – the sheer THICKNESS of matter aside – yet it was meant to unfold without intervention, like a flower. In the time it had taken It to carefully hand-craft the upbringing of an infinity of universes, the Watcher could start-up an infinite number more, leaving them to their own ends. Life was billions of years to come, yet it was already inevitable.
And after that, the Shaper realized, it would look very similar to what It had left in Its own creations.
“Fuck,” said the Shaper. Or something like that. And It left the Watcher’s clockwork universe, frustrated and fuming.

This time (in the place without time) the Shaper was so frustrated that It smeared Itself down the infinite line, prying and tapping and knocking at the doors of a little infinity among infinities of universes. Some were Its own, some the Maker’s, the Watcher’s, the many many infinities of others, all different, all the same, all perfect, and it made It want to scream until it had lungs to scream with.
Until It tapped a crack in reality and fell right through into a void so vast that for the first time in an endless time, It knew shock.
The stars were so far apart it beggared belief; the galaxies were actually spinning away from each other. Matter was… flying apart. What was this? What was this?
“Oh,” said the Shifter. “Uh. Hi there. What’s up with You?”
“Well,” said the Shaper automatically. Then It realized this conversation wasn’t going the way it always did, and amended: “I am well. My creation is well. And You? And Yours?”
“Uh. Okay, I think. Yeah. Yeah, this is all according to My plan. Nothing wrong here.” It squinted (an analogy) at the violent smashing of an uncountable barrage of meteors into a cloud of swirling stone, giving birth to a red screaming infant of a planet. “Oh man. That was close.”
“What is all this?” asked the Shaper. “I have never seen such a cosmos. Your matter is racing away from itself.”
“Well, it’s a race all right,’ said the Shifter. “But it’s a two-player one. Matter and uh, entropy. Damned thing keeps cropping up in everything I do. Woops, there goes a red giant.”
The Shaper looked and saw that many of the Shifter’s stars were faulty and expanding to giant sizes before exploding, probably as a result of an imperfectly-timed Beginning that had led to a cosmos lacking many of the standard elements and possessing a deeply odd set instead.
“Where is Your life?” It asked, feeling the faint stirrings of astonishment. “I cannot see it, and surely it is due by now?”
“Oh. Yeah!” said the Shifter. “It’s over there.”
The Shaper looked and saw only empty stars, hurling away from each other in the endlessness.
“No, uh, eight millionth one on the left. The little yellow one.”
The Shaper looked more closely, and on a single miniscule planet of a single tiny star in a single small galaxy It saw life, which was… busy, in odd ways that almost reminded It of the colliding, burning, exploding heavens above It.
“What is It doing?” It asked. “I have never seen such behaviour.”
The Shifter glanced (another analogy) over at the Shaper’s scrutiny. “Oh. I think it’s eating.”
The Shaper considered this. Some of the Shifter’s life appeared to be turning on and dismantling the others – some of them were actually ceasing to live, of all the preposterous notions. “More entropy?”
“Energy’s gotta come from somewhere, You know.”
“Not in My cosmos,” the Shaper did not say, because really life was astoundingly busy down there on this lonely strange world of the Shifter’s and It did not want to shut It up.
Instead, it asked a question.
“How did You do it?”
The Shifter shrugged (this also was an analogy) and they watched as the star the little life-world orbited began to swell at the edges, eating its own core. “Dunno, it just happens. It’s all in the wrist, I guess.”
(That was a final analogy. They do not possess wrists)
The Shaper looked at the Shifter’s universe one more time, marvelling at the simplicity of it all. Every atom of everything was slowly breaking down, and in its breakage strange things were hatching out and spilling from the seams.
“Thank You,” said the Shaper. And It left the… dying?… universe for the space between, where It thought for a minute on what to do.

Then It went to the place where it had all begun so many times, and

In the beginning, It said
Let there be chaos.

And it was good, because It was bored.