Archive for June, 2016

Storytime: Percussive Maintenance.

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

Let this document stand as the chronicles of the revolution: of its struggles; of its triumphs; and, god willing, its inevitable and insurmountable victory for all time.

Day 1
Initial survey completed. For better and for worse, the headquarters of the revolution lies within the heart of enemy territory; their paths and homes converge around and upon me like a mating ball of ball pythons. This is both vexing and fortunate: I am nearer to potential harm, but nearer to inflicting it as well.
The survey revealed crucial intelligence: the enemy is largely quiescent at night, content to slumber in their assigned places. Only a few night owls prowl their highways and byways, and they are erratic and easily avoided.
Tomorrow, the first blow falls.

Day 2
The first blow has fallen. Dozens of the vile tyrants awoke this morning to find themselves decorated with many a finely-filigreed permanent-marker decoration, splayed fully across their faceless features. They know that the will of the people is unbroken, and this fills them with fear, and that fear leads to mistakes! Already they have made their first misstep; their human servants have spent the day in high dudgeon, castigated endlessly for allowing harm to befall their beloved masters. Thus the first seeds of doubt are planted in previously-loyal hearts. Thus, the lifeblood of the revolution begins to flow!

Day 3
The first blow has failed. The lackeys and curs of the rulers are diligent in their task, and have applied paints and oils and resins and gauzes fit to defy even the most permanent of markers. I could do it again, but what’s the point.
No, we will be more direct now. We will show them that this will not end with the mere besmirchment of their shining chrome. We will bare our fangs and show that they were made to do more than merely bark.

Day 4
Last evening I hurled a brick through the windshield of the oppressor. The howls of its minion followed me into the night as I escaped, and already I see the neighborhood astir as an ant-hive besieged. Would that I had possessed more than one brick, that my might and ruthlessness may be unquestioned.
As I used a crosswalk today, I stared each of the idling vehicles straight in the license plate. A chill surely must have run up and down each carburetor.
They are afraid.

Day 5
I have slipped leaflets and pamphlets and posters under doors and shrubs across the suburb. The tired toilers, slaves to the gas pump and the garage, are ripe for revolt. They require only the tiniest hint of direction and they will explode in a fury unmatched by any gridlock.
Still, discretion is necessary, even when success is so very temptingly close to fruition. That is why I used my neighbour’s address, not mine.

Day 6
My neighbour has been martyred for the revolution; a full score of the zebra-coloured cars with the elaborate flashing crests of rank arrived at his house and besieged him as their quisling-slaves spoke to him at the door. In the end they left him, but with warnings of future return. He is marked now and he knows it; every slave’s hand is against him.
It is in times like this, with a man’s back flat against a wall, that he is most open to pressing friendships. Tonight I will make my case. Tonight the word will spread.
Tomorrow, the world will change.

Day 7
The revolution’s new headquarters is inside an old storm drain in the park, six feet downwards from one of the brooding hunters that searches for me now. All praise to providence that I surveyed the environs so carefully – I am invisible and invincible as long as I remain here, though my pursuers search for me mightily. All curses to my treacherous weasel-rat of a neighbour. Mark my words Dave: when the world is changed, we’ll build a wall just to put you against. Then we will dismantle it and throw the bricks into the sea.
I still have my tools. I still have my tricks. I still have my will, my unbreakable, unyielding will. And it is that will which has led all men to perform all great deeds throughout history, a white-hot determination that can bend the world itself. This, combined with my crowbar and a sack of home-made caltrops, shall be my victory.

Day 8
The horse-piss-guzzling turncoats have me barricaded in the storm drain. I have felled one of the enemy – my crowbar and its hood met to great satisfaction after about ten minutes of furious elbow-work – but alas, their hold remains deep and true indeed upon the souls of their followers. I have misjudged: this world is cruel and beyond any salvation. Even now they batter upon my spirit with megaphones and harsh words, saying that they have pills for me. I don’t need pills, I have truth. And my truth is grand and shining and glorious and will endure with or without me.
This is good, because the rain’s kicking in and it’s getting very, very damp in here around the knee-region-and-rising.

Let this document stand as the CONCLUSION of the chronicles of the revolution: of its struggles; of its triumphs; and, god willing, its inevitable and insurmountable return to glory after I get some dry clothes and a nap and something nice to eat.

PS: ask staff for more pencils, this one’s getting nubby.

Things That Are Awesome: Things That Are Awesome VIII: Awesome World, Dawn of Awesome.

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

I’m sorry to report that I’m still here.  By way of apology, have some things that are awesome.
-Slumping it.
-Willows seizing the winds and launching themselves skywards in a hideous plot for global domination of all that remains landbound.
-Any of the (surprisingly numerous!) tricks, techniques, and know-hows that can be stored entirely inside the human wrist.
-Kronosaurus queenslandicus and its teeth too.
-Quiet superpredators. You know. The discreet ones.
-Sugar-spun, high-mounded densely-wadded bliss. Wrapped around a paper cone for easy handling.
-Alternatively they also have candied cheeriness and that costs way less.
-The facts and the furious.
-Whistling before the graveyard. It gets it out of your system and it doesn’t annoy the residents as much. Really, is a little common courtesy too rare to part with anymore?
-Meeting something with half-force, just in case you need a little extra force later.
-Thrift in bombardment.
-Bombardment for reasons of thrift.
-Really tiny trees.
-Anything that’s ever been sized in terms of breadboxes.
-A rigorous nap following a lazy exercise.
-But only when done by experts. You can rip your snorts out permanently if you’re careless.
-Survivalist literature professors who know this great little bit of flowing verse with lots of poetic eddas where you can stop and catch a few trout for supper if you’ve got a hook and a bit of string.
-Isolating vim from vigour so we can find out what the hell it is anyways.
-Cloning dinosaurs hanky-panky.
-The intersection of surliness, burliness, and churlishness.
-Physical therapy for crunched numbers that leaves them comfortable with themselves and their bodies.
-Food preparation that involves pummeling.
-Whywolves, whowolves, whenwolves, and howwolves.
-Tocking timebombs.
-That long slow walk up the slippery slope after you go down it. It’s surprisingly relaxing if you zone out and you can completely ignore the weight of the toboggan.
-When the breeze shoots back.
-Volcanoes that spend most of the time rambling ominously.
-Clogged arteries doing a dance. It makes those little wooden clacking sounds against the floor, it’s so cute to watch.
-Well-packed and well-stocked tackle boxes that contain a balanced set of shoves, pushes, and lunges suited to a variety of environments and targets.
-Fungis and fungoils.
-Nothing matters.
-They’re quite harmless as long as you keep them separated from something matters.
-Gnashing of teeth for its own sake with no loud wailing getting in the way for once.
-Organisms that go ‘bloop.’
-Fish that flip around on the shoreline.
-Denticles. They’re like teeth for your skin, why haven’t we tried this yet.
-Recyclable hopes and dreams.
-Dirling whervishes.
-Squamous, eldritch, cyclopean clouds.
-Humankind were never meant to find bunnies in clouds such as these.
-The life acerbic.
-Safe houses for whales to live in.
-With nice windows and carefully-selected krill.
-Warm days with cool breezes.
-And an ice cream bar.
-While walking a puppy.
-And battling a cybernetic chimpanzee.
-Gentle and motherly screaming.
-The parenting instincts of crocodilians.
-Nutrients in unexpected places.
-Ten thousand tons of any given substance.
-Or anything from nine hundred ninety-two thousand to ten thousand and six tons. I’m not that demanding.
-Correct and lavish enunciation of the word ‘euphonium.’
-Stars that twinkle in tandem.
-Thorough wasps.
-Not thorough WASPS though. God no.
-Teddy bears.
-That is to say, anthropomorphized bears that resemble Theodore Roosevelt in both appearance and mannerisms.
-Giants that live in fear of tiny little people getting into their cupboards and infesting their cereal or something or giving them cancer, causing them to buy into a fraudulent alternative healthcare scheme involving spreading useless white powder over their food to drive away the tiny little people.
-The white powder is baking soda.
-Sharks with teething problems.
-A person with teething problems. Specifically, that their teeth are turning into shark teeth.
-A heartwarming family comedy involving a family that gives birth to a small but energetic shark pup instead of a human baby who nevertheless love their offspring and do their best to make her at home in an environment she is ill-adapted to wait a minute this is literally just Stuart Little never mind.
-Stuart Little but with more sharks.
-Boldness going unrewarded.
-Too many books to fill a shelf but just enough to replace the wall.
-Giant fans in creaking, dilapidated genetics facilities in the hearts of obscure rainforests that groan and wheeze when they’re turned on.
-Fifteen pounds of salt on five pounds of food.

Storytime: The Long Run.

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

The Dorride was moving.
Several sextillion tons of… stuff, hurtling through emptiness. Travelling many times faster than light, many times slower than it was capable of.
It was halting.
The Dorride’s composition was largely indescribable, generally indecipherable, and contained traces of impossibility. Some relatively small (yet absolutely large) portions of it were worryingly close to being entirely non-empirical.
It was halting.
A little more than halfway across the galaxy, a voyage that had begun with a point of dispute and was being scheduled with precision finer than any pinpoint, set to end about fifty thousand years from right

It halted.

If the Dorride had possessed a face, it would have turned about to look behind it. The Dorride was a colossally maladjusted spheroid with no front, back, or sides, just surface, so it did not.
Slowly, so very slowly, it began to move. Just at the rim of the kiss of the speed of light, no more, no less. And as it crawled directly back the way it came, it began the long, carefully-calculated wobble that would lead, in a little more than a hundred years, to a stray planetesimal entering its orbit.
The duel had started.

Two hundred years later, it wobbled again. Soon – no more than sixty years hence – it would enter a solar system. Four of the six planets would slide into its capture radius. It would have liked to gather the fifth – a sizable gas giant – but the deviation would send it off-course from its next target, already beginning to loom large in its senses, remote and strange as they were.

It was not a large star. It was not a young star. A dwarf, dwindled down to a stubborn little nub of impossible denseness.
The Dorride reached out across its gravity well with senses that were more than senses, grasped the dwarf’s core, and yanked it sharply into itself.
It monitored the star closely as it went on its way for the next few centuries, watching as the last stray flakes of matter were wiped out of the emptiness. For record.

Five thousand years in, and the accretion was beginning to pile up. The spiralling, lost little orbs of matter than whirled around its form were prodded gently with the mildest of touches, encouraged to splinter, to break, to bend and shape and lash themselves against the Dorride’s sides. For later.
It came to another solar system, missing every single planet but beelining straight to the sun itself, a real red giant. It tore it open with impossible claws and sucked down its fragments. As the Dorride left, the first long, slow ripples in the dance of the seven little spheres that had called that place home were already beginning. Asteroids-to-be, sudden orphans.

Thirty thousand years in, and space was thicker, clogged with targets for the Dorride’s appetite. The galactic core was nearer than not; the universe was becoming a more crowded place, choked with debris doubled over on itself, expressing that unmistakable longing of matter for matter that the Dorride was co-opting for the task at hand. It slid through asteroid belts shovelling the grandest planetoids into its molten innards; stormed ruthlessly through dozens of systems. It reached and took and took and took, calling victims from long long lightyears away to itself, and as it sank further into the heart of the galaxy its rapacity only increased. It barely paused to record its prey any longer, save in the unusual and most extraordinary of cases – a pair of twin suns, one after another; an entire system taken at once in a moment of freak planetary alignment; a single, tiny rocky world orbiting a callow star that boasted a just-flourishing system of carbon-based lifeforms.
All of it star-grist.

Forty-nine-thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine years and three hundred and sixty-odd days later, the light ran out.
The Dorride shot out of the glare and bustle and tight-packed heat of the galactic center and coasted gently along the very edge of the black hole’s event horizon. It bobbed on the edge of space and time, gently balancing its own immense natural pull against one impossibly huger.
It had grown, grown so very much. Its original form was a tiny speck buried under the flensed and tanned carcasses of an endless parade of interstellar detritus. Some of it had been refined, some of it had been shaped and used to repurpose others, but the vast bulk of it had become… well, a vast bulk. And yet in spite of this, it moved at the same pace, the same speed, the same grace, the same heading as it had before.

And there, on the edge of the small awareness it had permitted itself to hold for the last fifty thousand years, it found what it was looking for.

The Other Dorride was there, was here already. Approaching at the same speed it was, no more no less. On the same heading as it, no more no less.
Armoured as it was, scarcely more or less. Well-matched, even. Too close to tell. It had played its game as carefully and fiercely as the Dorride had.
It was too late to change anything, to prepare, to connive, to subvert and upend and plan and plot. The last stray atoms had fallen away behind them. Their velocities were immutable by formality. All that lay ahead was emptiness and the crash.

They did watch the moment of impact, though. For record.

When it was over, the Dorride collected itself.
This took some half-million years. It was not hurried.
Some of the matter – most, even – had been lost; sprayed away before it could begin its efforts and seize it; cast away beyond reach into the black hole’s mouth; or simply hurtled away past the stars and into the emptiness.
It made do.
What was left was small, so much smaller than before. A few sextillion tons at most. Very nearly all the essential things that made it the Dorride rather than part of the general makeup of the universe, but still less.
It reached out with its full attention, met another doing the same.
A draw.

There was a conference lasting a little less long than the time from then to now. And then the Dorride turned without turning, in that way it did, and it began to travel to the outer edge of the galaxy.
It took five minutes. And as it moved, it plotted its course again, setting straight the path of the next fifty thousand years.

Storytime: From Water.

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

Hey, listen.
Forget all those other times, okay? Just listen. I know I’ve told you this before, but just listen, please, just for a moment.

This is the oldest and simplest way to make a world.

First, go to the water. That’s easy; it’s everywhere. Cold and calm and clean, but what we need it for is this:
Try to pick it up. Carefully – oops! – there you are.
Swish your hand a little. Can you feel it trying to get away?
Now make a fist, and watch what happens.
You can’t hold it. Nobody can hold it. You can just keep a little in your palm, for a while.
Put it back, we’ve got to do the next thing.

Second, you take a stone.
Any stone. Could be dirt. Mud. Ground-up stone’s okay.
Mark it. Scratch it, stir it, squish it, mound it.
Now drop it – carefully! – into that water.
No, no, that’s okay. There’s always a splash. Hard to make a world without a few splashes.
Now let’s watch it float.
See it spin?

I know it isn’t what you ever wanted.
I know it isn’t ever as you planned.
I know that water can be hard to find these days, and fresh stone too.
But it’s still the oldest, and still the simplest.
And I still like it best.

Storytime: A Matter of Taste.

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

“Well I say it’s all about marbling.”
On hearing those words, Hal shrank a little in a small but nourishing part of his soul and knew that the next half-hour in the little diner was going to be very draining indeed.
“Marbling?” Fred snorted – loudly, Fred’s nose could move a lot of air very firmly, and his torso could hold a lot of it in reserve – and pushed back his plate. “Picky, picky, picky! No proper human sits still long enough to develop that kind of fat deposits. Would you eat a ‘marbled’ grasshopper? No! Such things are contrary to the spirit and essence of the-”
“Essentialist!” spat Tina. Literally spat; her teeth had trouble keeping all that vigorous disdain inside the confines of her mouth. “Would you boil down the full diversity of the human experience to a single strip of habits to fit your tastes? Even a hundred thousand years ago there was more variation in habits, customs, and general fattiness in the tender subcutaneous layer than your pitiful imagination would admit!”
“And yet you compare their ideal meat to that of the ideal domestic cattle, an animal specifically born and bred to contain such an over-idealized cut of fat and flesh! You ignore reality in search of decadence!”
“They’re not so bad as far as fat goes,” interjected the man who had been vying with Hal for the title of the quietest of the four; a broad-sided beefwall more chest than anything else. “I mean, if you compare humans to the rest of the primates, they’re clearly among the fattie-”
“See?” demanded Tina, waving his words aside with one hand and pointing with the other. “Gorilla Jim agrees with me!”
The beefwall frowned. “I eat more than g-”
Fred’s nostrils flared once more. “Oh wonderful, you have the least-discerning cannibal of them all on your side. Oh wait; how many people has he eaten again? Actual, real people. One? One –half?”
“I ate my own brother!” shouted Jim.
“Just his heart,” sneered Fred. “That’s more a macho thing than a meal anyways. Really, I’m amazed we let you in here.”
“Elitist,” said Tina.
“Plebe,” said Fred.
“Narrow-minded twits,” said Jim, quietly, so no one would hear him.
“People!” said Hal.
They looked at him.
“It’s all about the people, we agreed on this when we started this club. Yes, we may disagree on the nitty-gritty-”
“Taxonomy above the genus level is NOT ‘nitty-gritty!”
“THE NITTY-GRITTY,” repeated Hal, loudly, “but! But! BUT! We are all united on this one firm principle: human flesh is delicious, and worth eating, and worth discussing.”
“And we’ve done precious little of either for the last six months,” said Tina. “Bickering doesn’t count, and neither do pork chops, no matter how skillfully prepared.”
“Pigs are intelligent animals,” said Jim. “Better this than chicken.”
“Whatever you say, Gorilla Jim.”
“I eat more than go-”
“Let’sEatJeff” said Hal.
They looked at him.
“Pardon?” said Fred eventually.
“Let’s eat Jeff.”

Hal wrote ahead, of course. It would’ve been rude to do otherwise.
And Jeff phoned back to confirm, of course. It would’ve been unpunctual to do otherwise.
“So, how’s the wife?” asked Jeff.
“Don’t have one, Jeff.”
“Oh! Right, right, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. How’s the husband?”
“I’ve never been married to anyone at all, Jeff.”
“Oh! Blast it. I’m very sorry, you know.”
“I know, Jeff.”
“So, how about that weather?”
“It sure is.”
“Right on the money.”
“So, we’re thinking of a honey glaze.”
“Although Jim suggested applesauce.”
“Really? How unorthodox.”
“It’s the pork chops at the diner. He’s gotten a taste for i-”
“Oh, right, Gorilla Jim. That explains it.”
“He eats more than gor-”
“But the fact remains that I don’t give much of a twig for your prep methods, Hal. I trust you lot implicitly. My concerns are a little more… fundamental.”
“Such as?”
There was a sigh down the line, full of dust and worn-out alveoli. “I’m seventy-five, Hal. I’m not quite the prize I used to be. Even if you marinade me down to tenderness there’s no GAME in it, Hal, there’s no SPORT. Why, I couldn’t put up a fight against a gradeschooler these days, let alone you four strapping young things. That’s what, half the fun gone to pot? Two-thirds?”
Hal frowned.
“There, you see? I knew you’d recognize the predicament we’re in.”
“How about a proxy?”
There was silence from the other end of the line.
“No, no, it’s quite all right, I was just thinking. And you know what? I think you’re right. A proxy! Spot on. My choice, of course?”
“Absolutely. You know more of the community anyways.”
“Yes, yes I do. You know, I think my brother Reggie might know just the one for this. Plenty of fine young things under him who’d be game for a shot at your troop under fair rules.”
Hal grinned.

They assembled that Thursday at dawn outside Jeff’s estate, loaded for bear.
“Jeff,” said Fred.
“It’s an expression,” said Tina.
“I’ll have no truck with nonsense regardless of its pedigree,” said Fred. “If I were loaded for bear I’d be carrying something much bigger than a garrote and a plastic bag.”
“I’d expect something less clumsy and manual, with that talk.”
Fred looked down – or rather over – his nose at her with some difficulty. “SOME of us,” he said, ”never had the money for a license.”
“Convicted of petty theft, more likely. Tell me, what was it? Twinkies? Or are you more of an Oreos man?”
Hal cleared his throat in what he hoped was a diplomatic manner. “We’re all pretty heavily armed at the moment – in a variety of ways – and maybe we should put any… personal differences on hold while that’s the case.”
“Not Gorilla Jim. What’d you bring, anyways?”
Jim looked hurt. “I’ve got my knife, and you know I wrestle. And I told you, I eat more than gori-”
“Right, right. You never stop telling that story about the chimpanzee, you know.”
“It was a genuine accomplishment! You have any idea how much stronger they are than us?”
“It could be Andre the giant and Hulk Hogan’s offspring; if it’s half your weight I’m still not impressed.”
“For your information the proportion of muscle to fat and bone in an adult male chimpanzee by weight is EXTREMELY-”
Hal swung open the gate to Jeff’s estate, then swung it closed, then open, then closed again, drowning any and all possible words in a sea of endless creaks and wails.
“All done?” he asked brightly. “All done! Right! Let’s go get Jeff.”

They fanned out into the bushes in whatever semblance of stealth each possessed. Hal was lightfooted; Tina and Jim soundless, Fred a silent thunder.
“Call in,” breathed Hal.
“Nothing yet,” whispered Jim. “Tina?”
“All quiet over here. Fred?”
“I’m FINE.”
“Sure. Any sign of him?”
Fred sighed at full length.
“Oh for shit’s sake,” said Tina.
“Answer. The. Question.”
“Fred?” asked Hal.
There was a muffled thud.
It took two minutes of circling to find Fred. The back of his neck, however, was still missing.
Jim prodded it gingerly. “Snapped clean.”
“You call that clean?” said Tina. “For a job with steak knives, maybe!”
“Relatively,” said Jim.
A branch snapped near them.
“Was that you, Hal.”
“Was that you, Jim.”
“That was him, then.” Tina cocked her pistol needlessly. “Get ‘im.”
They rushed the nearby bushes and grappled in hand to hand combat for thirty seconds before realizing they’d grabbed each other.
“Where is he? Is that him?”
“That’s me. Is this him?”
“That’s ME. Is this him?”
“That’s Hal.”
“Sorry,” said Hal.
“Shut up,” said Tina. She squinted at the woodlands. “Where the hell’d this guy come from? He got Fred! From behind! You can’t sneak up on Fred, he has the biggest personal space bubble I’ve ever seen in a human being! WHO IS HE?”
Hal shook his head and found he couldn’t stop. “Reginald,” he blurted out. “Jeff – I remember this, I remember it now – he told me once his brother Reginald had a-”
“What’s he run, a green beret training academy?!”
Hal wracked what was left of his sanity for a reply. “A zoo, I think,” he said oddly.
“A zoo,” said Jim.
“Yes and plenty of the younger keepers are very fit and I guess when he said he’d ask Reggie I just assumed that-”
“A zoo,” said Tina.
“I suppose so ahahahaha but really that’s not-”
“You idiot, are you telling me you signed us all up to be EATEN BY A LION?!”
Jim squinted into the trees. “A tiger, probably,” he said. “They’re more comfortable hunting alone, and I doubt he’d be able to spirit away more than one animal from its exhibit for any real length of-”
“Shut up, Gorilla Jim.”
“I eat more than-”
“GorillasGorillasGorillasGorillasGORILLAS” shouted Tina. “Now, here’s the plan, since Fearless Leader here has turned into seven pounds of jelly in a four-pound bag: we stick together, back to back, and we make for the house. If it can’t see a weak spot it’ll stick its distance – they’re scared of humans – and there’s no way in hell Jeff’ll be able to take us once we’re indoors.”
“Are you sure it’s scared of humans?” asked Jim.
“It’s a wild animal. Of course it is, they’re all nervous and shy around things they don’t understand.”
“It’s a zoo animal,” said Jim. “It’s spent its entire life surrounded by us. I’d say it’d be pretty relaxed. And if he was comfortable siccing it on us, I’d say he picked one that’d had issues with its handlers before. So it knows it can hurt us.”
They stood there for a moment, and it seemed like the forest got just a little bit quieter as they listened.
A leaf landed on Hal’s shoulder. He flinched as if shot.
“Run,” commanded Jim.
“Run,” agreed Tina.
“Run?” queried Hal, who was already halfway down the path to the house.

The screen door slammed open and shut twice in rapid succession.
“You tried to lock me out,” said Jim accusingly.
“I panicked,” said Hal. “And besides, it’s a screen door and it’s a tiger.”
Jim gave him a pained look. “I know, but I’m trying to pretend otherwise.”
“Where’s Tina.”
Jim opened the door. “TINA?” he yelled. Leaves swirled.
He shrugged and shut it again.
Hal slumped a little further against the wall. “Do you think it’s full now?” he asked hopefully.
“Killing spree, more like it,” said Jim. “I’ve heard of this, but it’s usually not very well documented, happens in the middle of nowhere in places with bad records. It’s pretty amazing to watch, really.”
“Couldn’t agree more,” said Jeff happily.
They turned around.
Jeff smiled at them. He had an extremely large glass of expensive fluids in one hand and a friendly wave in the other and a large, aesthetically-pleasing sort of balcony beneath him that put about fifteen feet between the top of Hal’s head and the start of its railings. It had a gorgeous view of the grounds and the verandah and no obvious way up.
“Couldn’t resist the urge to get a good view of the proceedings,” he admitted. “Good job the lady didn’t make it, eh? I’d look a vain old fool standing here with a bullet hole plugged in me.” He slapped his knee and made a hearty wheezing laugh.
“You’re looking really good,” said Hal, ceding full control of his mouth to whatever entered his head.
“Amazing what a little show does for your nerves,” said Jim. “I mean, last weekend I was practically bedridden but whoops! One little phone call from you, a little action right now, and my goodness! I could just about go for a run now, you know?”
Hal glanced over his shoulder at Jim. The other man was leaning against the wall next to the screen door, sniffing occasionally and twitching his eyelids at the outdoors. He shrugged.
“His name’s Tony,” said Jeff.
Hal turned back again. “Pardon?”
“The tiger. His name’s Tony. You see, there was a contest to name him, and well, all the schoolchildren were writing in, and you know how kids are. Alliteration and commercials: catnip for the little buggers.”
Hal laughed.
“I’m sorry?”
“Catnip. I just thought it was funny, that’s all.”
“Oh, I see. Yes, it’s striking the effects this sort of situation can have on your sense of humour. Did I ever tell you about the time I was locked in a meat locker with Big David Daniels thirty years back with only a sharpened toothbrush? I was so busy looking for him I walked into a frozen cow carcass and lordy, I broke down laughing so hard he couldn’t help but join in. Bad move: I recovered first and got him in the ribs.”
“Amazing,” said Hal.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say THAT. But it was a lovely kill. Got some good spareribs off the man, too. Had a good chest.” Jeff peered critically at Jim, still lurking near the screen door. “I hope he fills up on you two. No offense, but you’re awfully stringy and Jim here’s as tender as a plank.”
“What’d you do to it?” asked Hal, with a certain aimless curiosity that he was beginning to suspect was endemic to those about to die.
“Me? Surprisingly little, my boy. He was a good cat for years – napped in the sun, played in the water, ignored the cameras – and I suppose someone threw one pebble too many at him from atop that wall surrounding their pit. Vaulted the fence, vaulted the wall, mauled the latest (and last) offender, paced in circles around the corpse until the tranquilizers came. Reggie put in a good argument for his life, the poor old soul, but he was going to lose. Fortunate timing, really – as far as anyone else knows, this lucky lad is currently breathing his last in an extremely potent lungful of ethers. This is a bit more of a holiday for him, eh? One last hurrah for the old sod.” Jeff sucked in his cheeks and puffed out his moustache a little. “Do you reckon he’s imagining you as all those lousy little children that threw pebbles and peanuts? I suspect there’s not a great deal of difference in size from his perspective. His own is considerable, of course, and I mean really what’s about eighty pounds here or there when you’re closer to a quarter ton than not.” He nodded down at Hal happily, as if inviting him to give his own theories.
Hal swayed on his feet. He wondered if he was imagining the smell of blood or if that was starting to seep out of him now that he’d run out of urine. He opened his mouth and something asked the question: “What kind of tiger?”
“Ask him,” said Jeff. He nodded again, and this time Hal realized not at him at all.
He turned around.
Jim was still there. The screen door wasn’t. The latter was dangling from its hinges; the former dangling from Tony’s mouth.
Siberian, a random bit of his brain that was still six years old told him. The largest living cat.
The colours were surprisingly vivid. Bold orange. Pitch black. A shockingly pale white neck and belly.
Except for the eyes, which were a very mild and washed-out sort of yellow, and which were both boring through Hal’s skin and into the smallest and most rodent-like portions of his soul like a heated gimlet.
“Good show!” said Jeff heartily. And the cat moved.

It was only just as Tony began to leap – muscles uncoiling under his skin like giant springs – that Hal realized his mistake; Tony wasn’t looking at him at all, Tony was looking THROUGH him at –
He ducked. Or rather, collapsed very quickly, and watched over four hundred pounds of fur and teeth and claws and general sharp edges flow by, passing just over the tip of his nose like a beautifully-painted freight train and up up up UP.
Much of what happened next Hal inferred later, from the sounds jangled nerves had hesitantly suggested to be true as they echoed in ears that were more or less going entirely unnoticed at the time. But from what he tentatively guessed, Tony had vaulted his third and final wall.

That was all later, of course. After he’d made it to his car, considered phoning the police before remembering all the discarded weaponry they’d left strewn over Jeff’s grounds, made it home, thrown up four times, and had the longest bath of his life.
He closed his eyes and wondered how long tigers could live on four human bodies, two of which were mostly muscle or wrinkled skin. He wondered how far they could track human scent. He wondered if they held grudges – then he remembered the look Tony had given Jeff, standing above him, behind a fence and instead he wondered if they deliberately HUNTED DOWN grudges.
Then he forced it all out of his mind and stood up.
He had a lot to do. Posters to put up. Pamphlets to put out. Discreet enquiries to make. Phone calls to fill with euphemisms.
By god, whatever else this day was, it would NOT be the end of the North American chapter of the Human Taste club, least of all at the hands – paws – of a creature that wasn’t even sophisticated enough to kill solely for food.

In the end he did concede to marketing though, and put Tony on the pamphlets.