Archive for October, 2016

Storytime: The Incorporation of Zachary Mulligan.

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

“Zachary!” Mr. Mulligan called up the staircase. “It’s time to eat! There are wheat fragments, shredded and repackaged, immersed in milk!”
And Zachary came slouching and slumping down the staircase, the same as always, and yet not quite the same Zachary as always. His eyes were hazed, fixed on some distant goal. His pulse was slow, cold-blooded. His hands were the most active part of him, twisting and scampering over each other, grasping at anything within reach of his long arms.
“Mother,” he intoned. “Father. My founding shareholders. I have witnessed the sad economic state of our household and have taken steps to counteract it. I have incorporated.”
And the Mulligans looked upon their offspring and knew it to be true. The air around him smelled of mint and money, and his voice was filled with the iron certainty of spreadsheets.
“I go to profit,” spoke Zachary, and not one word more came from him until he returned from school that evening, a hideous sight as he staggered in the door. He’d gained forty pounds in six hours, and the excess fat riddled his limbs.
“Goodness,” said Mrs. Mulligan. “What’s happened to you?”
“I have acquired assets,” said Zachary, even-toned as he dropped his knapsack. “Seven classrooms and their constituent components. Some of their owners resisted sale, but I was able to persuade them to see reason. These properties are sitting on prime real estate.”
The Mulligans woke up early the next morning to a barrage of calls, complaints, and general annoyance from their neighbours, who said that the buses weren’t running without fees and half the school was now being rebuilt into condos.
“Well, we’re sorry,” they said. “But there’s not much we can do about him.”

The next week Zachary didn’t come downstairs at all in the morning. After waiting an extremely nervous hour, his parents crept up the staircase to his door and knocked.
“You may enter. It is casual Monday.”
Zachary’s room was a mess; filled with stale old powerpoints and fiduciary pin-ups. Zachary himself weighed something about two hundred pounds now, his round frame glistening with pinpricks of profit. His father frowned at the sight.
“Zachary?” said Mrs. Mulligan, hesitantly. “Don’t you think you’ve been spending too much time up here alone? Why don’t you go play with your friends anymore?”
“Your consultation is appreciated and your assessments will be taken on-board with alacrity,” said Zachary. “I have neglected local markets in my haste to expand overstreets. This will be remedied. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
And he stood up and walked downstairs and out the door.
That evening he was back, dripping with blood from his jowls.
“I have merged with several of the smaller business-owners of this fiscal quarter,” he proclaimed, heedless of his parents’ stares. “Their operations were slipshod, built upon hazy imaginations and a lack of real fiscal vision. Now that the deadwood’s been cleared out, this place should turn around in a jiffy.”
This time the calls didn’t wait ‘till the morning. A final count, roughened by panic as it was, showed that approximately twenty-three of Zachary’s former friends and classmates had been consumed by him, often directly in front of legally powerless parents.
“We’re horribly sympathetic, of course,” the Mulligans told them. “But our hands are tied.”

On Friday Mrs. Mulligan walked home from work past the rows of renovated offices and freshly-sprouting condominiums and opened her front door and saw that the inside of her house was missing, down to the insulation. Her husband was sitting in the middle of the floor inside a chalked-out ring, looking slightly nervous.
“What now?” she asked.
“Well, it’s Zachary,” he said. “He says that we’ve been splurging too much and now it’s time to tighten our belts and raise our stock a little. Promises an eight hundred percent return on investment once we’ve downsized a bit.”
“And the circle?”
“It’s the boardroom. As long as we’re in here, we’re safe.”
“From?”
Mr. Mulligan scratched at his jaw. “Well. You know. Safe. From anything that might happen.”
Mrs. Mulligan nodded. “Move over.”

The Mulligans woke up, if what they’d been experiencing could even be called sleep, to a grey sky. The rafters weren’t even standing anymore.
Instead, their horizon was filled with Zachary.
He’d grown again. Or had he been there all along, and they’d never noticed?
The condos were Zachary.
The offices were Zachary.
The half-empty construction sites and the stale donuts and the bad coffee and the empty streets and the empty feeling in everyone’s eyes were all Zachary. Even the rain was Zachary, if only because it was falling on him and therefore his property.
“It’s time we had a meeting,” he informed them. “We need to set some policy here.”
“Policy?” asked Mr. Mulligan.
“Yes,” said Zachary. “Quite frankly, things are going very poorly. Business has been slow. Profits are down. We’ve been expanding as fast as we can, but we’re going to be down and out by the close of the quarter at this rate. It’s cut-throat out there, and if I don’t manage to get some regulations tweaked we’ll be at the mercy of the next jumped-up only child who has a bright idea.” He shook his head, and the spittle that fell from his lips was worth a thousand dollars in stock options. “Public perception’s through the floor, thanks to the biased media. I’ll be honest with you: I think we need new management. A fresh start.”
Mrs. Mulligan glanced at her husband, who was biting his thumb without actually noticing. “Yes. A fresh start.”
“Good, then we’re agreed. You’re both fire-”
“We’re dissolving you.”
Zachary blinked. “Repeat that once more? On the record?”
“We’re your primary shareholders,” said Mrs. Mulligan. “And your joint CEOs. Fire us? Sure. But you’re mad if you think we’re not recouping our investment.”
Zachary shook his head and chuckled, but the laughter was a bare trickle, then a gurgle, then a scream as the shaking didn’t stop. Tremors were rippling through his many-folded, flabby flesh; great snaking veins of shares bulging like cords. He ran for the door, an avalanche on legs, but froth was already bubbling at his thighs and he toppled like a breaking wave.
The Mulligans hid under Mrs. Mulligan’s coat for three minutes. When they peeked out, all that was left of their son was a little heap of superfluous assets and a wondrous golden parachute woven from a cheque the size of a small airplane.

They split it, of course. Fifty-fifty. And, after they moved out of the decrepit, crumbling, poverty-stricken crater that had once been their neighborhood, they both lived obscenely wealthily and very happily ever after.

Storytime: In the Bog.

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

“Hello!”
“Hello there.”
“What are you doing?”
“Sinking.”
“Well, I can see that. But d’you mind telling me how that happened?”
“Yes.”
“Oh come on, I won’t make fun. It’s just the two of us here.”
“No.”
“Fine, fine. Have it your way. I won’t make a fuss. It’s YOUR funeral. Your bog. Your bog-ridden, slow-sinking funeral.”
“Thank you.”
“Oh, don’t mention it. No stranger to that myself. D’you know, half my siblings died in bogs?”
“Really?”
“Yes! They saw a mammoth stuck in one and they ran in after it and got stuck too and it sunk the lot of ‘em before you could say ‘saber-toothed.’”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Sarcasm doesn’t become you.”
“Soon, mineralization will become me. I don’t really care what you say.”
“Oh PLEASE. We all die sooner or later, and we all know it. What makes THIS moment so special that you’re going to discard all society and manners so you can…wallow in it?”
“I’m dying.”
“You were doing that this morning and I’m sure you were positively lovely company then. It’s just more obvious now, that’s all.”
“What do you WANT?”
“Pardon?”
“You know you can’t eat me, and you’re not trying to. You know you can’t help me, and I know you’re not trying to. All you’re doing is sitting there on the edge of the bog and chattering like a bald glyptodont in a snowstorm. Shouldn’t you be snoozing under a tree somewhere, waiting for dusk so you can murder something fuzzy and harmless in its sleep?”
“You know, I don’t HAVE to eat and sleep all day.”
“Are you sure you’re a predator?”
“Of course I am. See these teeth? Look at these incisors?”
“I’m looking.”
“They’re bigger than bananas, aren’t they?”
“Sure. What are bananas?”
“Search me. In contrast, compare your own set of gnashers.”
“Flat. Broad. Ridged.”
“Yes. Good for mashing things with tough husks, not stabbing big soft flabby hunks of meat. More like cobblestones.”
“Right. What are cobblestones?”
“Who knows? And besides that, if you compare our bodies-”
“Don’t make me laugh.”
“-IF you compare our bodies, you can see that I’m fairly short and stubby and tight around the tum. I don’t need a big intestine, see, because what I’m eating is pretty well packaged for digestion already. “
“Yay for you.”
“By way of contrast, you’ve got a great big barrel-belly, sort of a mobile fermentation factory for all those plants you’re gobbling up all day.”
“Thank you oh so very much.”
“You are quite welcome.”
“And you said I was being sarcastic.”
“Well, you’re contagious. And fair play is fair play.”
“What kind of play? You never did tell me why you’re still here.”
“I’m bored and you look like you could use the company.”
“I’m dying.”
“Again, this is not a new problem for any of us. And who wants to die alone?”
“If you’re so in love with the idea of sociable death why didn’t you play follow-the-leader with all your siblings and leave me in peace?”
“…you know, that was a very heartless thing to say.”
“Can’t be; my heart’s the size of your torso. And I put my heart into it, believe me. Hey, where you going? Did I touch a nerve? Did I twiddle your whiskers?”

“Well, good.”

“About time.”

“This is better.

“Hello again.”
“Hello. Again.”
“I’ve decided to forgive you for your interminable snappishness once more.”
“Once more?”
“It’s been an ongoing process.”
“Oh boo-hoo for you. I’m sure it’s an absolute martyrdom.”
“Well, as you’ve pointed out, I COULD be spending all day napping. Unlike some people I have to work for my meals, and outsmart them.”
“You call an hour’s work every three days work?”
“You call chewing as you walk work?”
“Parasite.”
“Clod.”
“Carnivore.”
“Herbivore. Agree to disagree?”
“If it gets you to stop talking.”
“About this, yes.”
“Fine. And you still haven’t told me why you won’t go away.”
“Well, you still haven’t told me how you ended up in there. Fair’s fair.”
“…okay.”
“I’m sorry?”
“Shut up. And if you laugh, I’m not saying another word. Got it?”
“Absolutely.”
“There was a tree.”
“Well, there are an awful lot of those around here.”
“Shut up. There are gradients. This was a good tree. A nice little sapling with plenty of fresh shoots. It was like candy.”
“What’s candy?”
“Shut up. And I had to rear up, just a little, to reach the upper branches, to drag it down, and…”
“The whole thing tipped over and you stumbled and tripped and rolled right in?”
“Shut UP! Why can’t you SHUT UP? Why’d you even ask me to say anything if everything I say is just going to be drowned out and blanketed by and covered with you NOT SHUTTING UP!?”
“Well, I could see the sapling sticking out of the bog already, so I’d sort of guessed myself. I just thought it might be healthy if you could bring yourself to talk about it.”
“Healthy? I’m dying. In ten minutes you’ll be talking to a few bubbles and you’ll be able to babble until your lips fall off.”
“Yes indeed. It’s healthy not to dwell on that sort of thing.”
“You’re practically dwelling in my face. Either tell me why you haven’t gone away or jam your head in the deep end.”
“If you really must know-”
“Yes.”
“-it’s a nice day, and I had a good meal last night, and-”
“Who was it?”
“-some little squeaky thing that was trying to run up a tree – and as I was looking for a nice place to lie down and sleep –”
“KNEW it-”
“-I saw someone who looked very lonely and tired and decided to give them some company.”
“Why.”
“Because they reminded me of my siblings, and how sad it would’ve been if they’d each been alone.”

“Do you know, I think you’re sinking faster now.”
“It’s cumulative.”
“I suppose.”
“Bye.”
“Oh, very well if you insist. Here, budge over.”
“Are you sure?”
“Please. I was dying this morning anyways. D’you know, that little squeaky thing had FOAM dripping out of its mouth? Should’ve known.”
“Thank you.”
“It’s no problem at all. Now, let’s watch the bubbles.”

Jen’s Bog predator trap:
A classic fossil site in the mode of the famous La Brea Tar Pits; Jen’s Bog has given up the remains of dozens of trapped animals since initial excavation began in 1923. Many, such as this Smilodon, were lured in by the prospect of easy food, only to become ensnared and face death alongside their prospective meals; in this case a giant ground sloth. Predator and prey died side by side.

Storytime: Family Business.

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

Mmpph.
Mrrph.
Unh.
What? A good morning?
A GOOD morning?!
Well let me tell you, this is a BAD morning! A lousy morning! This morning is trash from a dumpster! A dumpster on FIRE!
What? NO! Nothing’s wrong with me! I’m fine, it’s this lousy, low-rent morning that’s of no account.
But let me tell you about the mornings we had back in my day, and maybe you’ll understand…

Back in my day, a dawn was six seconds long. Back in my day, we all woke up early and stayed woke all day. Back in my day, sunset was as quick as a lick of your palm.
It was all because of one man, the big man, the tallest man we’d ever met. His name was…
…err…
You know, I don’t remember rightly what his name was. We’ll call him Ed Pool.
But it didn’t matter! It didn’t matter at all because of what his job was, and how clever he was at it.
Every morning of every day – no, no! – BEFORE every morning of every day, Ed Pool would sit up in his bed and do forty stretches.
Then Ed Pool would walk out into his kitchen and make some coffee. While it brewed, he would do eighty stretches.
Then Ed Pool would walk out into his garden and do one hundred and sixty stretches and on the one-hundred-and-sixtieth stretch he would LEAP high into the air and SWING his arm out and THROW the sun into the sky like a shot!
Like a SHOT!
And the sun would rise so high and so fast that dawn would be over in six seconds and all the birds woke up at once and everyone went to work and ate breakfast and things were as fine as could be as fast as you please.
Just like that!
And when the time for night came after the sun had hung in the sky all day long, Ed Pool would be holding his arm out when the sun came sizzling back down, and he would catch it in his big mitt. WHAM. Lights out. No fuss.

But one night before morning, Ed Pool was a bit distracted.
Maybe he was thinking about breakfast.
Maybe he was thinking about lunch.
Maybe he was thinking about his friends.
Maybe he was thinking about a girl he used to know.
Whatever it was, we don’t blame him for it. He was a busy man who did a lot for us. And if he once miscounted his stretches by Just. One. Stretch.
Well, who can hate a man for that?

But Ed Pool did his one-hundred-and-fifty-nine stretches and he LEAPT into the air and he SWUNG out his arm and he FELL down in his garden and held his back yelping like a coyote with a squirrel up its wrong end.
“DAMN. OW. MORE WORDS,” he said. “I’m bedridden! I’m stuck! Oh shit, now the sun’s stuck down here until my lazy, worthless, shiftless, no-account, no-good, altogether-rotten son gets here to fix things! MAN I hate that!”
So it was already a pretty late night by the time Ed Pool’s lazy, worthless, shiftless, no-account, no-good, altogether-rotten son answered the phone, listened to his father, drove over, and attended an earnest lecture on the principles of sun-management.
“Well how hard could it be?” he said. And he picked up the sun and burnt his fingers and yelped and CHUCKED that sun.
Well, morning was three seconds long that day. And the day was a week. The sun fell onto the roof of the sky and rolled into a gutter, and it wasn’t until the moon spent a week poking it with a stick that it came loose enough to roll out and fall back down, where Ed Pool’s lazy, worthless, shiftless, no-account, no-good, altogether-rotten son failed to catch it and it nearly fell into the ocean.
“Whoops,” he said. “Well, I’ll know better in the morning.”
And he went to bed. And so did everyone else, who was pretty tired because nobody expects to wait a week for bedtime.

Didn’t expect to wake up to midnight, either.
The birds woke up. The stores opened up. The kettles whistled and pans sizzled.
And they did it in pitch black because it was time for morning and morning wasn’t there at all. Folks burned their hands making bacon in the dead of night; they drove their cars past stop signs, they walked to school in total confusion because all the birds couldn’t remember what kind of bird they were and were making up new calls pretty much at random.
It was a MESS.
And it kept on being a mess for two weeks until Ed Pool’s ten thousandth phone call’s ring finally roused his lazy, worthless, shiftless, no-account, no-good, altogether-rotten son from his slumber.
“I thought it wasn’t morning yet,” he said, and Ed Pool reminded him forcibly that morning was his damned job and it wasn’t finished.
“Whoops,” he said. So he walked out into the garden and stretched once or twice and picked up the sun and burnt his fingers again and yelped and dropped it into the ocean.

By the time the sun got fished out it was dimmed down to a dull red, which matched the colour of Ed Pool’s lazy, worthless, shiftless, no-account, no-good, altogether-rotten son’s backside at that particular time, grown man or no. But Ed Pool got a mite carried away, and wouldn’t you know it his wrist got a crinkle in the doing that stopped him from ever throwing anything again.
Nowadays it’s all done with ropes and pulleys and stuff. And sure, it’s reliable. And sure, it’s modern. And sure, that half-dead sun does make a pretty sky while it’s being dragged up there.
But damnit! There was a time when breakfast was ready in six seconds!

Storytime: Doodle.

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

It was homework, the dreariest of all possible works, that brought such trouble to Melanie.
Math.
Spelling.
Science.
And to top it all off, her pencil was a stub. She hated pencils; they always did this, no matter how promising they started.
So she went looking for a pen. And to be fair to Melanie, she looked in the kitchen drawer first; and she looked in her room second; and she looked under the couch third, and THEN she did the thing she knew she shouldn’t do and she walked into her mother’s study.
Melanie’s mother was a magician and had told her never to do this many times very sternly. But that had been a long time ago, and besides Melanie just wanted a pen, which she found sitting on the desk and immediately took.
Now THIS was better than a pencil. A firm, stern blue line, unwavering with usage and wear. Her answers made no more sense to her, but they were so much surer in their stance. In fact, it was almost a waste to see them used on such trifling things as homework, and inch by inch, bit by bit, Melanie began to doodle.
She drew their house; a big old apartment building half-missing from when Melanie’s mother had learned their landlord was sucking out his tenants’ happiness with a demon; and she drew her class – herself and a bunch of other people of some kind – and she drew a dinosaur.
She didn’t intend to. It began with an eye, which flowed into a snout, which poured into a body, and dribbled away into a long slim tail. It was a modern dinosaur, and so she gave it a thick tight coat of feathers to warm it and cool it and colour its (ink-blue) sides. But the part Melanie was most proud of were the eyes, which she shaded so especially well that they shone with luster. She could almost see them blink, which made her almost perversely disappointed when they did.
They blinked again.
Then the whole dinosaur stretched – a big-cat stretch – and it yawned and it turned its head to peer at her. Its breath was soft and strong between its teeth, and it smelled of old meat and fresh dew on ferns.
The front door creaked. Melanie’s mother was home, and already calling for help with the groceries. And by the time Melanie turned back to her workbook, it was empty except for a few half-chewed shreds of numbers scattering the bottom of the page.

School the next morning was a dreary thing. A rainy day, a morning scolding over the state of her homework, and a breakfast that was mostly apples. By the time math class began, Melanie was thoroughly disgruntled. Division! Before lunch! And her with only a borrowed pencil to work with and a longing for her mother’s pen, which was safe at home tucked under her bed. But she swallowed her angst with stoic grace, and she began to math.
A number started. A framework of complicated bits surrounded it. And bit by bit, it was peeled away to reveal a fresh new shining product.
It would have been satisfying if it wasn’t one of ten and it wasn’t dull and it wasn’t long and it didn’t make Melanie’s head hurt.
But she persisted, and she focused, and then, halfway down the page, she felt warm breath against her wrist.
She pulled her hand back with a start, just before the long, narrow snout of her dinosaur poked it across the edge of the page, sniffing quietly. The rest of it followed on silent three-clawed feet.
Its eyes were even brighter than she remembered. And they were looking right at it.
It stepped towards the edge of the page – the near edge – and Melanie grabbed the sheet and stuffed it in her desk and stifled her own shriek all at once before she remembered she was surrounded by her fellow students and the teacher was looking right at her.

One severe talk later, class was over and gym began.
Melanie did not like gym. There was a rope she had to climb, and a ball she had to throw. Neither liked her, either.
She stood on the ground, watching as Lizzie climbed like a monkey, and she seethed with a dull-bladed envy that nearly made her stomach stop churning. The dinosaur had been gone when she gave the homework to the teacher. But then again, the dinosaur had been gone yesterday, when her mother came home.
The rope called, and the teacher called her name.
Up went Melanie, hand over hand, higher than any kite she’d ever managed to fly, which she hadn’t. Up towards the big glowing sky above that was the gym lights, which made her squint a little no matter how dim and fuzzy and in need of cleaning their screen was. It was like a little forest of mould and fuzzy lint and dirt in there; a jungle in miniature. Not THAT miniature, mind you. It was nearly as big as she was. It was nearly big enough to fit her whole dinosaur, which was there all along, watching her again.
It opened its mouth and hissed at her, and Melanie did the sensible thing and let go.

There was another talk. It was more serious. Notes were produced, exchanged, and sent home with Melanie, who found her dinner devoid of dessert and with a side of lecture instead.
She went up to her room with a stomach screaming for thwarted sugar and a head dancing with nerves. Twice, now. Twice. And the second time not even on paper. She never should have taken that pen. What if it was lost? What if it was missing? She’d have to tell her mother and she’d have to run away from her own dinosaur all her life.
Trembling, fearing which might happen, cringing at the invisible teeth that MUST be about to close on her fingertips, Melanie reached underneath her bed and up against the mattress and sagged under the weight of ten thousand tons of relief.
Yes, the pen was still there.
Tomorrow morning she would get up early before her mother – an easy job – and put it back on her desk and everything would be fine. And by saying this to herself, it was already fine.
For the first time that day, Melanie felt safe and calm. Her room was soft and warm and filled in the glow of her lamp. VERY filled. She couldn’t remember the last time it had shone like this; had her mother changed the bulb? It was as lustrous as an electric pearl.
Her lamp blinked.
And, in that very slow way that happens all at once and quickly, Melanie saw that her room’s walls were feathers and its ceiling was a mouth and floor was claws and its eyes, its beautiful eyes, were on her.
If Melanie had taken any time at all to think, things might have gotten very bad indeed. But instead, all that came out was a scream: “MOOOOMMMY!”
The eyes flinched and there was a crash and a bang and Melanie’s mother was in the room before the door finished opening. But her magic had come in before she had, and it made her ten feet tall. The air crackled like rice cereal with too much milk and the dinosaur hesitated just for a moment in the way Melanie hadn’t and by then it was much too late for it.
“Come down to the kitchen,” said Melanie’s mother. The pen was smoking in her hand like an old cigarette. “Now.”
So they did.

The first thing that happened was Melanie’s mother put her pen away.
The second thing that happened was Melanie’s mother brought out cookies.
And the third thing that happened was a lecture.
“Melanie, I am severely disappointed,” said her mother. “You should have come to me immediately and ‘fessed up and this whole thing would’ve been over in ten minutes. Remember the time you told me you didn’t know who ate the whole box of cookies?”
Melanie flinched.
“Yes, they’re the same thing. Magic is, after all, nothing more than an organized sort of lying. And you have done a very good job of it for an amateur.”
“But-”
“The pen is a pen, little fidget. A nice pen that you shouldn’t have borrowed without permission, but a pen. Until you took it and let your imagination wander away, that is. Now this is going in my safe, and YOU are going to have to learn magic properly. The safe way.” Melanie’s mother pinched her nose and shook her head. “But we’ll do that tomorrow. Once you’ve finished your math.”
And that was how Melanie’s troubles truly began, for now her homework was twice as long.