Archive for December, 2015

Storytime: Oh for a Meuse of Lizard.

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

I was walking down the Meuse river when I saw it on the day that everyone saw it. Just doddling along like a mobilized bobbing-bird when a fin flickering in the water caught my eye and a gust of fishy breath netted it.
There it was, dancing in the current and grinning like a fiend: a crocodile’s head on a snake’s body with a shark’s fin and tail; Mosasaurus, as big as a big bus and a lot livelier. Which was funny because I thought they were all meant to be dead. It made a rude noise at me and the world in general, swallowed a fish, and then it was gone.
I checked the internet, but nothing came up until I was home. It had come out of a quarry, like its fossilized predecessors, but wetter and wrigglier and with a thirst for the sea. And now it was gone, and we didn’t have anything but questions.
Few worries, though. After all, it was just one mosasaur.

I was watching television, but it was my father’s idea, so don’t blame me. There were commercials, and advertisements, and serious people in serious outfits wearing serious expressions telling us about serious things.
The mosasaurs, they informed us, were being troublesome. They were eating seals and dolphins and sharks, and they were making fun of killer whales. They were insouciant to our maritime laws, they mocked the physical capabilities of our fishermen at home and abroad.
Damn lizards, my father said.
Actually, the television told him, it’s also been argued that they are distant relatives of snakes. He thought about this and considered it acceptable.
And we were annoyed, but not much more. After all, it was just a few mosasaurs.

I was at work, brewing coffee, serving coffee, cleaning the building, running the floor, placating the customers, and restocking from the backroom, when a woman walked up to me brandishing a paper.
The mosasaurs, she told me, gesturing with violent fingers, were a real concern. They were on land now, wandering the streets and the world alike, ignoring the traffic and flouting our criminal codes. This sauciness would not be tolerated, I was informed. It was all the fault of young people that this had happened, with their sloth and apathy and immoral ways.
I asked her if she wanted anything and she threw the paper at me and walked away. I read some of it on the way to the recycling bins – nothing much new – and as I was tossing it inside, struggling with the big metal bin, something rattled the garbage dumpster next to me. I whacked it with my knuckles, thud thud thud, get out you damned racoon, and was very surprised when a mosasaur hoisted it off the ground, eyes twinkling, and swallowed it.
Then it left, chuckling, and I had a hell of a time explaining it to management. They weren’t pleased. After all, there weren’t meant to be mosasaurs.

The mosasaurs, my friend informed me, as we sat in my apartment looking at the internet and the world, which were the same, were no laughing matter. He was an environmental biology major and was looking tense. Niches, he said, it’s all down to niches. The mosasaurs were taking ours now. Already they outfished us, already they had taken all our favorite Olympic sports, already they had drastically altered our legal systems by dint of condescension and overwhelming mass. Now there were mosasaurs defoliating tropical rainforests; mosasaurs commandeering burger franchises; mosasaurs running for high office; mosasaurs standing on the street corners and beginning for change. And everywhere a mosasaur did it, a human wasn’t.
They’ve done this once before, my friend muttered, darkly. Ask a plesiosaur. Go on, ask one.
But we couldn’t find one anywhere. After all, they were gone. Instead, we had mosasaurs.

The mosasaurs, the angry man standing outside what used to be my coffee shop told me, were an allegory.
I told him I thought they were related to lizards, or maybe snakes.
He told me to shut up. It’s plain as day, he said. Look at them; they come out of nowhere, they take our jobs, they infiltrate our society, they don’t live by our rules or values. The mosasaurs are an allegory for illegal immigrants! You know, he said. THOSE people.
There was a deep, gurgling, watery chortle. A passing mosasaur had overheard us. You silly little ape, it said, but lovingly. There are no more illegal immigrants. We replaced your international laws last month, because they were stupid and shoddy. Then we replaced your legal system, because it was slow and weak. And your governments were replaced yesterday, for being hesitant, inbred, and incestuous.
So now all immigration is legal? I asked.
No, said the mosasaur, but it’s irrelevant, because we replaced your illegal immigrants for being insufficiently voracious. You can be allegories if you like, but we’re more practical than that, and we’re too busy being us. It smiled at us, ate the angry man, and moved onwards, into the future.
After all, the future was mosasaurs.

The mosasaurs, I thought to myself, were seriously out of hand.
I had no job. This was because mosasaurs had taken all the jobs and made them into something better. I had no food; this was because all existing groceries and agricultural practices and modes of consumption had been made obsolete by mosasaurs. I also had nowhere to stay, because mosasaurs had cornered the housing market, then declared it outdated and gotten rid of it, plus the houses. And the air quality was worse, because the mosasaurs had out-polluted us. But they were fixing that because they were better at renewable energy and implementing carbon caps.
I wanted to complain to somebody, but all my friends and family were now mosasaurs who’d out-competed them, and they were sympathetic – no, better than sympathetic, they were practical and emotionally supportive while providing an environment conducive to self-growth and independence – but ultimately would do nothing but politely point out all the ways I was being stubborn and stupid. And they’d be right.
After all, they were mosasaurs.

One day I wandered into civilization, looking for food (it was hard, because civilization was now also obsolete) and was told I was the last human on Earth.
It hadn’t seemed to take very long, I said. These things often don’t, they said.
I looked around me, and I didn’t recognize anything. Cities, buildings, material culture, and society were now ecological deadends, and had been replaced by things I had no words for. I asked the mosasaurs what their names were and they told me that words were now obsolete, too. Language in general had been out-competed.
You know, I told them, we had a pretty good thing going here. The most adaptable and versatile of all vertebrates, living in almost every environment. The great tool-user, the crafter of the complex society, the thinker of abstract thoughts and makers of imagined worlds.
Yeah, said the mosasaurs. We know. But you weren’t actually very good at any of it.
So, do I go in a zoo now?
Zoos are obsolete, we’ve got a better plan.
Are you going to save my DNA in a bottle somewhere?
All of those things are outmoded. DNA. Bottles. Somewheres. We’ve got a better plan.
And I couldn’t do much more than nod and agree with that, as they took me down the river to the quarry, where they’d already poked open a little hole in the heart of the rock for me, in the shale and the sediment and soft dry dust.
After all, it had worked for mosasaurs.

Storytime: Dis-moi ce que tu manges.

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

Four girls sat on top of a cliff, swinging their legs back and forth and watching the world get older, and them along with it.
“I can’t believe they let that happen,” said the oldest, who clutched a shovel in her left hand. Soft clods of dirt still seeped from its idle edge. “They starved to death, and they let it happen. And now WE’LL starve to death, and they’ll let that happen too. All they care about is their stupid houses and their stupid crops and their stupid roads and their stupid sticks-in-mud. If I had my way, I’d tear the whole thing up. I can’t believe they let that happen.”
“I can,” said the one in the middle. She stamped her umbrella against the ground; it was bonnie-blue, with a single button on top. “They don’t care. They never cared. ‘Oh, I’m sure they’re up there looking down on you,’ that’s the most they’ll say. As if the stars cared, as if the clouds cared. If I had MY way, I’d bring the whole thing down. As if they cared at all.”
The youngest sighed, dropping the stick she’d been fidgeting with. “You shouldn’t be so hard on them,” she whispered. “They do their best. They’re just soft, that’s all. Just soft and small. It can be very hard to be that way. I’m sure. If I had my way, I’d get them together and show them how to be. That’s what I’d do.”

There was another one, but they never asked her opinion on anything, so they didn’t.

***

There was a knock at the door, but it was more of a rattle. The knuckles doing the job were loose and jangly with nerves, and before the firm rat-TAT-TAT could happen it all just fell to pieces into a pell-mell clang-a-lang, so it was a real mercy that the door opened halfway through it and dropped the knocker inside the front hall.
The front hall was also the living room, and the kitchen, and the bedroom. But that’s okay, there was still space for two – after all, the knocker was only a little girl.
“What are, ten?” asked the owner of the house. “You’re pretty little to come all the way up here by yourself,” she said, which was pretty hypocritical since she was five foot six and built like barbed wire herself. “Don’t you know this hill is haunted? There’s ghosts afoot, and witches, and so on. Hell, I’m basically a witch. Why’d you come?”
The little girl tried to make words come out for a while, but she’d run a long ways and so the owner of the house sighed and got her a glass of cold water with too many ice cubes and an apple while she got back all the breath the trip had taken out of her.
“Monsters,” she said at last. “Monsters.”

The owner of the house listened for a while. It was a story with lots of gaps and stops that started in the middle and ended at the beginning before digressing into the end, but she kept nodding until it all nearly made sense to her. Which it almost did.
“Right,” she said. “And that’s a lot of trouble. And that’s why you’re up here talking to me, who’s basically a witch.”
“A good witch.”
“And you think I can fix this trouble for you and your family and everyone else.”
Nod.
The owner of the house considered this. “What’s your name?”
“Joy.”
“Right. Of course. Well, you can call me…hmm. Well, you CAN call me whatever you like. But try calling me Hope first. It’s easiest. Now, are you hungry? We’re going to start moving and not stop for a while, so you’d better not be hungry.”
Joy looked at the apple core, then looked at Hope’s barely-there belly and shrunken limbs.
“Oh, don’t give me that. Don’t give me THAT, either – keep ahold of it. And actually, take an ice cube too. Just put ‘em in your pocket.”
Joy was confused by this, but did as she was told. The ice cube was still freezing cold, and right away her left leg got goosebumps.
“No, no – not like that. Here, wrap it in this tissue. Now, I’m just barely forgetting something…oh. Right!”
She reached behind her door and pulled out an old, weather-beaten stick.
“Is that your magic wand?” asked Joy.
“No, but it sure makes hiking better,” said Hope.
That was better. And subsequently, they were gone.

The walk was shorter downhill; particularly riding on Hope’s shoulders. Her muscles were shrunken, but they seemed to slide effortlessly over her skeleton without ever needing to push and pull, and as she shuffled along she hummed in a tuneless sort of rhythm that seemed to propel her as much as her feet did.
But the flatter the ground got, the more Joy squirmed, and the more she winced at the distant rumbles.
“They’re coming,” she whispered. “They’re coming and they’re going to get us.”
“Don’t worry,” said Hope. “You’re with me. I’m the good witch, remember?”
“That’s all stories,” Joy said. “My mom told me stories, and none of them were real. This one isn’t real either. The monster’ll get us.”
“Cheer up,” said Hope. “There she is.”
And there she was, rounding the curve in the round and tearing up asphalt like it was soft snowflakes, mouth gaping wide open to split the earth like a plow the size of a building. Each of her teeth was the size of a shovel and the shape of a shovel and chunks of masonry and concrete and rebar dangled from her jaws like bloody gobbits. Fertile soil bled from her eyes and her face was a mass of mud and grins.
“Hello again sister Maggie, oldest and slowest” said Hope. “What are you doing here?”
The monster Magnitude laughed and it sounded like a sinkhole and smelled like rotting leaves. “I am FEASTING,” she said. “The things that walk on this earth offend me, and they will walk on it no longer. Now they will understand what it means to be hungry and alone, like I did when I was little.”
“Not a very nice meal,” said Hope mildly. “I’d spit that out if I were you. People live on it. People need it.”
“They haven’t used it properly, so they won’t use it at all,” said Magnitude. She reached out in front of her and picked up a hill in each hand and swallowed them, leaving Hope and Joy stuck on flat ground with nowhere to run. Then she smiled and came at them with a mouth like a steam engine.
“We’re going to die,” said Joy.
“Nah,” said Hope. “You’ve got that apple core I gave you, right? Throw it at her right now, and aim for the false tooth – she’s got a false tooth on her left side.”
Joy’s hands shook as she took out the apple core, and her vision blurred with tears as she stared at the oncoming jaws, and her arm trembled as she drew it back, but Hope’s hand guided hers as she made her toss, and the apple core travelled true – not straight – and smacked into a tooth that wasn’t a tooth at all, but an old, rusty shovel blade. It knocked it straight out and launched straight down Magnitude’s gullet, and she stopped in her tracks as if she’d been shot.
“YOU!” she shouted. “YOU!” And then she hiccupped. “YOU-“ she tried again, and then she coughed, and coughed, and coughed, and that was an end to talking, an end to everything, because an avalanche of apples came pouring out of her mouth, a flood of them, red and green and yellow and ripe and fresh. Then came branches, then roots, then leaves, and finally nothing at all was left of the road or the hills or Magnitude besides but a giant heap of confused apple trees.
“Good throw,” said Hope, and she patted Joy on the head smoothly. “Now let’s keep going.”

There was no more slope to fuel their steps – Joy now following behind, hand in hand – but Hope seemed to not miss it. Her skin seemed tighter somehow, less loose – there was roundness and firmness underlying it where before there’d been baggy bones. She stomped where she’d shuffled.
Joy felt a little better, but only a little, and as they came through the low valleys she grew whiter and whiter until she was nearly a wisp of mist.
“Don’t worry,” said Hope. “We’ve beaten one monster already. We can beat the rest.”
“That was just an accident and I almost did it wrong,” said Joy. “We’re going to fail. We’re going to fail, and they’ll get us. We’re going to-” and whatever other words she or Hope were going to say fell apart as the wind flew shrieking by in a panic, babbling to put a brook to shame, streaming for higher ground. Then the second monster came heaving up over the horizon, and the will to make the words flew away too. She was half as big as the first but seven times broader and taller, stretched thin and wispy over the sky: a clot of cumulus. Her long claws scraped up at the stars and her longer toenails scratched through the fog, ripping up air and murdering the breeze.
“Hello again Sister Missy, second oldest and most voracious,” said Hope. “What mischief are you making?”
The monster Mist loomed down, down, down, down and squinted until it could barely see the tiny people far below its toes. “I am taking away the dead of the stars,” she whispered, and the thunder in her belly took her words seven miles in all directions. “I am taking away the dull night and the uncaring day. The sky is my lunch and my dinner and it will provide everyone as much comfort as it did for me, when I was little.”
“That’s not very kind of you,” said Hope. “Like for like is no way to live.”
“I will show them all as much consideration as the stars did before,” said Mist. And she reached down slowly with one long, long hand and grabbed them.
At first, nothing happened but fog and bitter cold. But when Joy looked down, she saw the ground was far away and they were being lifted high into an empty sky.
“We’re going to fail,” she said, and misery filled her up as much as her apple had.
“Not now,” said Hope. “Do you have the ice cube I gave you?”
“Yes, but what good is it? She’s so big and it’s so little.”
“She’s not big at all,” said Hope. “Just broad. Take it in your hand just long enough to start it melting, then drop it into her button eye. You can do it.”
The ice cube was even colder than before, if possible, and it made the skin of Joy’s palm turn white and hard. But she clutched it as hard as she could – even if her muscles were stiff – and she sighted as best she could – even if the tears were in her eyes – and she dropped it where Hope pointed, and it sailed into the vortex of Mist’s eye and smacked against the little button-pupil with a sound like icebergs calving, bursting it to broken bits.
Mist screamed long, and the longer she screamed, the wider her mouth opened, and the wider her mouth opened, the more the sky spilled out, and the more the sky spilled out, the smaller she got, until finally all that was left was a grey scud that was washed away in the tide of the winds.
“That was well-done,” said Hope, picking pine-needles out of her arms – they’d landed in a bit of a mess and a lot of trees. “We’re nearly there.”

They crossed from dirt to gravel to asphalt again and into the land of concrete and steel and brick and plastic. The land of people packed tightly.
Joy ran in front. She didn’t look both ways before crossing the street. Hope didn’t reprimand her for this; she was nearly strolling herself, taking in the sights and chuckling to herself in her smooth, deep voice. Her stomps were a confident stride, and she stood so straight that she seemed closer to six foot than five.
“Don’t worry,” said Hope. “You’re nearly home.”
“You have no more tricks and the other monsters almost killed us and we’re not home at all,” said Joy. She was shivering like a leaf at the foot of a deer. “There’s nobody here at all.”
“That’s not true. They’re right here.”
It wasn’t Hope who said that. It sounded like chocolate bars, or a warm sunny dog’s belly, or a hug for your ears. It was a grandma and a mom and a dad and a brother and a sister all at once, and your best friend.
Joy darted behind Hope and clutched her hand like it was a lifejacket.
“Hello again, sister Mandy,” said Hope.
“Hello again, sister,” said the monster Mandible in a voice that made grown men calm and kindly. She was a little taller than Hope, and a little broader, but she had kind eyes. “How do you fare? You look so very thin these days.”
Hope looked down at herself, traced a finger over her hard, flat stomach. “No,” she said. “I’m doing alright for now. And what about you?”
Mandible smiled, and it was a warm, soft, calm smile, full of gentle humanity and red ruddy flesh. It stretched all across her face and between the gaps in every tooth. “I’m positively stuffed,” she said.
Hope frowned at that. “Not right,” she said.
“They did their best,” said Mandible evenly. “They did their very best, the poor small things. I have taken care of them; they weren’t to blame for our parents. Why, they couldn’t even help themselves. It was for their own good, you see.”
Hope’s knuckles were white on her walking stick.
“She killed everyone,” said Joy.
Mandible beamed at her. “Oh no my, “she said. “You’re still here, aren’t you?”
There was a clatter. Hope had dropped her walking stick, but she was still walking, straight at Mandible, fierce as an arrow. Not a word, but her hands were flexing.
Mandible didn’t say a word either. She just laughed, and laughed, and laughed. And at each moment, her mouth opened a little wider, until Hope was there.
And then Hope was gone.

Joy stood there, rooted and rootless. For some reason, she couldn’t stop looking at the walking stick. It was the only thing that made her feel safe.
“I can’t believe she brought that old thing,” sighed Mandible wetly. “I threw it away, you know. But she always did pick up our odds and ends, the strange thing. Sisters can be so unusual. Do you have any?”
Joy picked up the stick.
“Oh, of course you did,” said Mandible through the flesh of her mouth. “I can feel them in here.”
Joy looked at the stick.
Mandible was smiling again; she could feel it on the beck of her neck. The hot, humid pulse.
Joy ran.
Joy ran right up to Mandible, ran right up to that smile, each footstep a tiny battle waged and won.
And as the monster’s lips began to part, Joy thrust the stick between them, and straight into the waiting hand.
“Thank you,” said Hope.
Then she planted it.

There were hundreds of people inside, and a lot of them were hurt, and slow because of it. It took hours and hours, even with Hope lifting them out two at a time, a swing of the arms apiece.
But Mandible didn’t stop screaming.
Thousands, even. All lost, mostly homeless, only half-believing there was still a sky above their heads. And hungry. They barely had the energy to sit and wait; Joy ran to broken shops and dragged out cans and can openers, half-spoiled bread and produce.
But Mandible didn’t stop screaming.
At last Hope swung out a very small child – barely a baby, barely that – and looked down and down at the twisted, wizened whiteness that remained, all gnarls and wrinkled flesh.
“You can have that stick back now,” she said. And she kicked it, but only once, and not for her satisfaction.
Then she stretched her back, rolled her shoulders, and began to walk again.
“Stay,” said Joy. “We’re all lost. We don’t know what to do. We need help. We’re going to die.”
“You’ll be fine,” said Hope. “And moreso once I’ve gone. My sisters are defeated and won’t return, and I’ve got to leave before you can get better.”
“You’re strong,” said Joy. “And you’re smart. And we’re all weak and can’t do anything. Please, stay. Please, help.”
Hope stopped walking and poked Joy in the nose with one finger. She fell over.
“Feel that?” she said. “That’s you doing something.” She flexed one arm. “See that?” she said. “That’s your strength. You’ll be fine, as soon as I’m gone.”
Joy didn’t understand and didn’t need to say it.
“Me and my sisters,” said Hope, “we all starved when we were children, we all went hungry. We all had to find something to eat. And we all found consequences for that. They accepted that. I didn’t. And you? You have food. You have a home. And you have a family, somewhere in here. You’ll be fine.”
She held a hand over her stomach, and Joy saw it swell. “I can feel it in here.”
And then she turned and began to walk again, again. One step forward at a time, off into the growing dark.
By the time she was at the end of the block, she was only five foot six again.
By the time she was at the end of the street, she was shuffling again.

And by the time she passed out of sight, Joy felt that happy spark inside her body flickering again, and she knew that the last of the monsters was gone, and they would be alright.

Storytime: , or Swim.

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

It’s not that I didn’t try to swim, you understand. I tried very hard. I tried very hard for a long time. For a VERY long time. It felt like forever and it burned down through my arms and into my back and when it hurt too much to move and then to think I just stopped.
It can happen.
Now, it was what happened after that that began to convince me. When I sat there, swirling in the current, and I knew I couldn’t feel the rippling of my sleeves in the water. I couldn’t feel the cold anymore. I just felt heavy and full and tired. Do you know how you feel after a big meal? That overbloated exhaustion? The kind that makes sleep crawl in through every pore in your skin?
Imagine that, but never sleeping. That’s close to it. That’s what it feels like, sinking.

It was a fast current – a cold one, though of course I couldn’t tell that anymore – and it kept me upright and away, gave me time to see and watch the others. They were heavier than I was; kept on the trek downwards by boots and bags and bullets and they might’ve nodded to me, if they were as me. I think they were.
There were others, of course. They weren’t sinking. They had fins and frills and wide eyes that never shut and gasping, grasping mouths. I was repulsed at first, when they took their pounds of flesh. But then I saw how little it mattered, how useless the extra parts of me, of all of us were now. It was just weighing us up, holding us aloft in the current and jangling in indecision.
One by one, down they went. A salute to each of them, and a salute back. Imagined, of course. And then they were gone, and it was just me. I must not have been very tasty. I certainly hadn’t been, alive.

I can’t tell you how long or far my trip was. Down there it’s all twilight or midnight, wobbling over and under the line of light as the seafloor crawls up and down under your feet.
Sometimes I was swept above it by chance and the world was so painfully blue that it couldn’t be imagined on any painter’s pallet or living eye, a swallowing deepness that ate all detail of up and down, right and wrong, and didn’t even let fish-scales sparkle in it.
Sometimes I fell deeper, where my company had little lanterns on their brows and strange mouths too big to fit in their faces, faces that would’ve fit in my palms if I had them. I watched the snowflakes of rain fall from above, all the scraps and crumbs of the world flushed down, down, down with me and over me. Some of my own skin and flesh and bone always accompanied it, drifted downwards.
It’s a strange sight, but you get used to it once you understand it. Everything sinks. Even the little fish that swam up above me every now and then; I saw them sink. Even the fattest-bodied, full-blubbered whale slid down past me like the world’s biggest freight train, once enough of it had been picked off to let the bones ballast the carcass. Even the most magnificent ships; they sink too. I was never so lucky as to catch one in the motions, but I saw them pass overhead once in a rare while, and underfoot more often. Their bellies strained with the effort of keeping themselves afloat, and I would look at them and think of broken hulls and coral-encrusted cannons, and be sort of cheerily bemused at it.

Eventually, of course, you stop sinking. That’s just how it works, I thought. It’s certainly how it looks.
I brushed against the murk and mud where the weight of the water laid deepest, and what was left of me slid into it very comfortably, gliding through waves of silt that had lain there for… oh who knew. I didn’t.
When I came to a stop, the crabs came. They were very small but very diligent and they removed all of me that was noteworthy down to the last few specks. All that was left, all that I could tell, was stray flecks in sand and a few tatters that had been a coat that had been fibers and hide and metals once upon a time in a very small, very dry place. Quite unusual for the world.
I sat there, and I thought that I had finished. That I could close my eyes – my mind, at least – and consider myself complete. Sunk.
Instead, I slowed.

You can feel the world, at that pace. The deep breaths and slow tug of its magmatic muscles against its rocky skin. The heartbeat of its core. And the long pull dragging you down towards it, to merge lower and lower until you are wrapped up inside it.
There were bones beneath me, I knew this for a certainty more real than fact. They were older than I was capable of thinking. They had sunk.
There were bones before me, I knew that too. They were older still, and they were now stone.
There were bones before them on and on beyond thought, I imagined, but they were gone now. They had sunk farther still, out of the world and time and into them both, melted down below to make the world above.
This was good. This was proper. This was how it worked. And I, who had thought I had learned what I was for on my trip downwards, was content. Because this was how it could be, if that was how it should be.
Until just a moment ago.
There are still no days here, just moments.

But just a moment ago, I saw a shark. It looked happy.
No, not happy. Sharks do not do that, not really. But it was determined, very determined, in that special way that they and only they can be. Mouth just slightly ajar by dint of teeth, eyes set ready, body a twanging defiance of its own urge to sink.
That was a fine thing, but not a new thing. I had seen such sights since the moment I ceased to swim. What puzzled me was the moment after that moment. That moment just a moment ago. It is a hard time to explain and pin down because it was so peculiar.
Just now, I saw a stone that swam.

It was not a large stone. A rough chunk. I think it would’ve been big enough for me to carry, but I find it hard to think of what I was.
But it was moving in the water, wiggling with a force impossible to think of as the air-pockets of pumice, clearly trying very hard.
And it was working.

I sat here, half-buried in the mirk of ages, and I felt the world pulling me down, pulling everything above me down, and I knew that was how it was, and that was how it would be. And it was right to be that way.
But I had just seen a stone that swam.
I thought of the bones beneath me, the bones gone before, and I thought of the bones yet to float from above. I even thought of the quiet exhaustion I had stopped noticing, which was very difficult; like a fish trying to imagine water. I knew this was normal. I knew this was what should be.
But I had just seen a stone that swam.
Miles of water above me. Miles of silt beneath me. I had sunk so far, and I had so far yet to go.
But.

I was so very light now, so very threadbare. A skin-flake and a nub of once-bone too small to see, and a speck that had once been a brass button.
But it was still so very hard to bring myself up, to stir from my place. It had been such a long time since I had tried.

It’s still hard. It’s still so very hard. There is so much beneath me and so much above me, and all of it is falling down, always falling down.

But if even the oldest and heaviest thing in all the world can see something worth swimming for, I thought – I think – that there might be something yet to do.
It’s impossible to try forever. Perhaps I will try for a while.

Storytime: The Tuesday Beyond Time.

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

The lurid red of the sunset sky vanished. A shadow blotted out the newborn stars. And from above, the merest limb of a force of unimaginable size descended with a thunderous mass that shook the world.

Andrew’s boot scuffed idly across the pavement, dragging dozens of lives with it, and then he was off the sidewalk onto the stoop and into his house, taking off his boots and briskly knocking them together to shake off the dirt and corpses.
He didn’t mean anything by it. They were just ants, and he’d had a bit of a bad day at work. There was this GUY. This GUY, man. If you knew him, you’d know what he meant, and you’d be sorry. Be happy. Be happy that you didn’t know this GUY.
Indoors was free of that sort of thing. It was rich in comfortable surfaces. It had beverages and foods. It had shining surfaces that told him things he liked.
Andrew went for the foods first. Nothing like foods after a long day of his. Especially when it contained that GUY.

A meal. Sustenance. After literally hours crawling across the endless ceiling searching desperately, at last it was at hand. He flitted down to it, avoiding the slow-moving mountain of a monster with ease. As he nabbed a stray crumb of cheese, a bizarre sight struck him and he froze in confusion: a square of indescribable size and colour had appeared in the corner of his compound eye.
And then it moved.

Whap.
About time that fly swatter paid off. Dollar-store crap but hey look the entertainment value alone was good for it. Except now there were fly guts on his counter. Well, he’d get them later. For now, he had a sandwich and a wonderfully public-domain copy of The Call of Cthulhu waiting on his Kindle. He was feeling too sophisticated for Netflix tonight. And besides, the story made him feel comfortable. He knew it like the back of his hand, like the seat of his favourite chair, like the walk to his house.

This was a good web. She had a good feeling about this web. There were flies up there, somewhere. She knew it. And they’d love this spot; it was redolent with tiny particles of decaying food. They’d flock to it like it was feces.
The air was her first hint. It felt…heavier somehow. Thick with humid heat.
There was a rumble, then a roar, and finally and very quickly, the vibration of her web’s strands snapping one after another.

Ugh. Spider. In his favourite chair no less. It was like the whole world was being that GUY today. Not fair at all.
He popped up the story and began.
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of etc etc etc and so on and so on until For an instant the ship was befouled by an acrid and blinding green cloud, and then there was only a venomous seething astern which was where Andrew always put down the story for a moment to have a quiet chuckle at how a man could hint at horrors beyond time and space and then have them be stoppable by being bonked on the head with a steamship manned by a single angry Norwegian. Even for a 1920s New Englander who spent half his life high as a kite on xenophobia, that was a bit much, wasn’t it? Truly, mankind was as ants before the Great Old Ones who worship the Elder Gods, whose motivations were unfathomable, whose goals were indescribable. Except, you know. The bit where all they were trying to do was wake up from a nap and clear the raccoons off the trash cans, and a bit of pluck and an outmoded junker of a transport could pop their noggins in.
Beyond time and space. Sounds good, but then you put it up a bit of ingenuity and can-do-it-ive-ness, and look what happens. Who gives up in the face of that? Those GUYS.
And that was the last coherent thought Andrew Kamp had before the floorboards lurched under his feet.

The first thing he did, of course, was sit up straight and back away. Well, that’s what he tried to do, before the webbing held him to the chair. He tried to scream, and his mouth was suddenly full of angry humming wings and spindly, buzzing bodies.
Then the floor gave away entirely under the persistent, furious might of a million tiny mandibles, and down he dropped.

Andrew wasn’t the only person who learned something that day.
That GUY learned that something was up after three consecutive missed shifts.
The police learned that the motives of the killer – assuming that this hadn’t been some sort of bizarre suicide – were unknowable. Unfathomable, even.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft learned that he’d been even more incorrect than he’d ever dreamed, on entirely new levels. But he was dead, so it didn’t help him much.
The arthropod population of Andrew Kamp’s home learned a valuable lesson about the inconceivable that humans had been persuading themselves to believe for a long time: that it wasn’t invulnerable. This was extremely applicable to their lives and they felt it was their responsibility to share it.
And shortly thereafter, the human population of the planet Earth learned something similar, with less pleasure and more screaming.
Even so, on the whole, it was a good Tuesday. From a certain, incomprehensible point of view.
It wasn’t squamous, though. More chitinous. He’d gotten that all wrong, too.

Storytime: The Shale that Swam.

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Once upon a time, there was some sediment, swirling in water and spiralling downwards. It accumulated in long, slow, thick blankets on the bottom of the sea and thickened and buried itself and eventually it got really, really packed firm. It wasn’t a complicated process, but it was a pretty long and boring one and there really wasn’t much more to it. Sorry.

Twice upon a time, there was a lot of dark, quiet nothings interspersed with UP. Imagine being snuggled underneath the world’s most massive blanket, except you didn’t have to come UP for air. But every now and then, a jerk and a shove and nudge. UP.

Thrice upon a time, something UP pale and clear seeped in around the warm dark edges UP until one UP day the weight was missing.

And a long time later – but not so long for a stone, even one that had once been silt – the shale woke up. It was pretty surprised about that. It had never been awake before.
“Wow,” it thought to itself, looking all around (rocks have ways of doing that without eyeballs, don’t worry). “What’s all THIS stuff? This is new. There’s air and light and a lot of complicated things I’ve never even heard of before. Better ask around. Hey, you! Over there! What’s going on up here? What’s with all the green stuff and pink stuff? Why’s the air full of oxygen?”
The passing farmer let the reins droop from his hands for a moment and repositioned his pipe nine or ten times. “Respiration,” he said at last.
“Pardon?”
“Folks took up respiration. That’s what we all do nowadays, in public or private, doesn’t even matter no more. Boys respire, girls respire, mice, birds, bees… everyone’s respiring. It’s very popular.”
“Oh,” said the shale. “Well, I’m not sure if I like it. It’s all…tingly.” It looked up to ask the farmer another question, but he was gone and dead and buried already and its stony heart sank a little bit deeper.
“Oh no,” it said. “Oh dear. I hope all that respiration didn’t do him in. He seemed so… well, not enthusiastic, but so ambivalent about it. Over there! Can you tell me why it’s so…sunny out?”
“The sun’s brightening up,” said the passing kid. “I learned that today. In a few billion years it’ll fry the whole planet.”
“Oh my,” said the shale. “Oh no. That’s…not good. That’s not that long either. Tell me, do you…” and then it realized the kid had grown up and moved away and it sighed in the tragic, rumbly way of stone.
“So fast,” it lamented. “So fast! I was content with being buried, and I was very happy in the water. But now I’m up here and things are changing too quickly. I want to go back home. You there! Can you take me home?”
The passing IT worker pulled over. “Hitchhiking’s illegal,” she said. “But what the hell. Where to?”
“Several hundred metres underground, please,” said the shale politely.
“Can’t,” said the IT worker. “There’s no mines around here and it’d take too long to dig a hole.”
“Oh!” said the shale. “Then the sea, if you please.”
“That’s a little ways too far for me,” she told it. “But I can take you partway there. Tell you what: I’ll drop you off near my work and you can hail a cab or something.”

The shale watched the landscape slide by for a moment, and then it was in the city and a man was trying to spraypaint it.
“Excuse me,” it said, “but do you have a cab?”
The artist jumped. “Shit! Sorry, sorry. You surprised me, that’s all. Most of the things I work on don’t talk much. No, sorry. No cab. But I know a guy.”
So the artist took the shale downtown to a bar where they looked for the guy but found drinks instead, and then to a pub where they looked for the guy but found drinks instead, and finally they went to a liquor store and were gently but firmly sent home and had drinks instead. When the shale woke up again it was face-down in an alleyway and its mouth tasted like the Precambrian.
“Ow,” it articulated, somewhat indistinctly. The sky was moving in an unfriendly sort of way and it didn’t like the way the buildings made it feel, so it wandered gently into traffic where a man in a pickup truck ran it over.
“Ow,” it repeated, this time a little more clearly. “I said ow once already. Why did you do that to me again?”
“Sorry about that,” said the driver. “Need a lift somewhere, buddy?”
“The sea, if it’s alright.”
“Sure. Heading that way anyways. What’s your musical preference?”
“What’s music?”

About half the drive was full of very complicated conversations on things like melody, rhythm, and harmony, and the other half was sort of pretty and the shale liked it very much. Then the truck’s tires crunched on dirt, gravel, and sand.
“Here we are there you go good luck,” said the driver. Then they vanished in a whirl of tires.
The shale stood on the beach, blinking its eyes (that it didn’t have). The sun was setting and the sea was wide and wild, waves burbling up no matter where it looked.
It gingerly dabbed its corner in the water, then was knocked over by a wave and dragged along fifty-six metres of coarse sand.
“This could be a problem,” it said.

Much, much later, the shale felt something very heavy on its back.
“Excuse me,” it said. “But I believe you’re standing on me.”
“Woops,” said the surfer. “Aw, sorry about that, no hard feelings eh?”
The shale considered itself.
“All my feelings are hard,” it admitted. “But that’s okay.”
“Good to hear. Whatcha doing?”
“I am going out to sea,” said the shale.
The surfer looked up and down the beach. “Nice day for it. So am I. Y’want a hand? I’ve got a spare board.”
“I don’t know what a board is but I accept your generous offer,” said the shale.
The explanations were complicated again. Everything was so complicated up here. But the shale nodded a lot and after a long time it was sliding over the smack and thud of the waves, smooth fiberglass beneath it. The wind whipped across its surface and whistled in the little fossilized sea-shell that was embedded in its side and the water seemed to be laughing all around it.
“This is very nice,” the shale told the surfer.
She yelled something and waved her arms around.
“I’m sorry?” asked the shale.
The surfer yelled louder and waved her arms with greater decisiveness.
“I really can’t hear you,” said the shale, as the shark popped up beneath him, mouth-first.

Unlike almost everything else in the shale’s journey, what happened next was familiar.
After all, it had done this once before.
“Just… maybe not so quickly,” it said to itself, as the blue wrapped around it and began to carry it down.
“Well, you’re awfully heavy,” said the shark. She was following the shale down, studying it with a curious night-black eye. “Sorry about before, you looked an awful lot like a sick sea lion. Why are you sinking so fast; haven’t you ever swum before?”
“I deposited,” said the shale. “This seems a lot quicker. I’m a little worried, if you must know.”
“I don’t disagree with that,” the shark said. “It’s pretty dark down there, and it gets lonely very deep. Why don’t you stay up here? Just swim back up.”
The shale wiggled itself with great vigor as it saw the shark doing, but it didn’t seem to accomplish all that much.
“Use your tail more,” advised the shark.
“I don’t have one,” the shale said.
“Well that’s your problem,” she said. “Really, you aren’t prepared at all, are you? What were you doing all this time?”
The shale considered what it had been doing.
“Sleeping, mostly,” it said. “And then pining.”
“Wastes of time both ways then,” the shark said.
“That’s not very sympathetic of you.”
“I’m a mother three times over,” said the shark. “That tends to wean you off sentiment and into the practical. And what you’re doing isn’t. Have you even thought about what you’ll do when you get down there? Why are you so eager to go?”
“Things change too quickly and I’m frightened,” said the shale.
The shark rolled her eyes at him, flashing their whites like a ghost. “Change too quickly? My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents were swimming in this water when you were still filtering down the water column. Maybe they were shaped a little differently, maybe they ate things I’d call strange, maybe the temperature wasn’t quite what it is now, maybe things weren’t quite the same at all. But there’s been some kind of ocean longer than you’ve been around, and there’s been sharks in it for longer than you too even if they weren’t quite me. Everything changes, but the shapes stay the same. What a waste of time to whine about!”
The shale felt sort of ashamed at this, and the little pit of guilt in its heart weighed it more quickly; unless it had just hit that point in the water column. “What can I do?” it suggested, miserably.
“Well, you can try a little harder to swim than THAT.”
The shale tried a little harder to swim than that. It wasn’t quite hard enough.
The shark sighed as only a fish can do, water gurgling and sploshing through gills as long as the sigher wishes it to last. “Well. I suppose I can give you a small bit of help. If you want it.” Her body was a faint blue-on-blue smear; the water was really quite dark now, and the shale was starting to grow alarmed at how much it was missing the strange, bright light.
“Please,” it asked. “I’m sorry I’ve been a bother, but please help me swim.”
The water swish, and the shark was beneath the shale, closer than she’d seemed, closer all along. “Alright,” she said, as she opened her mouth. “But just until you’re comfortable on your own, understood? Just until then.”
“I understand,” said the shale. “Thank yommff.”

It was dark again. That surprised the shale. The shark, like all the other people it had met in the world, seemed to be so soft and squishy that light should pour through them.
But it was a comfortable sort of dark.
“I was on my way to Australia,” the shark told him, all around him. “That’s plenty of time to learn at least how to cruise properly. So don’t fall asleep on me in there; this is school, not a free ride.”
The shale rustled affirmative, then it sat in the dark warmth and felt itself at home again. But this time, it was going somewhere. And afterwards…well.
Maybe there were more places to go in the world than up.