Storytime: Once Upon Just Now.

August 27th, 2014

Once upon just now, in a relatively nearby nation-state, there lived a democratically-elected leader (or ‘leader’ for short) and her three daughters. Though the leader’s husband had long ago perished, that tragedy had merely knit the family together all the tighter, and the daughters in particular would do anything for their mother.
“Girls,” said the leader one Tuesday morning, “I’m feeling mighty blue. By any chance could I ask one of you to head down to the pharmacy and get me some Advil for this headache? My skull feels like it’s trying to eat its calvarium alive.”
“Sure,” said the oldest sister, Charlene. “Right on it.”
“Then take this,” said the leader. “Might come in handy.” And she bestowed upon Charlene the mightiest iPhone in all their household, with unlimited local, national, international, and interplanetary calls (10 hours of trans-solar calls per month).
“Gotcha,” said Charlene. Then she left and the rest of them waited.

And waited.

“Girls,” said the leader on Wednesday morning, “something’s happened to your sister. Could I get you two to go check in on her?”
“I’ll do it,” said the middle sister, Penelope. “Little squirt here’ll just get us in trouble. I can do it.”
“Better take this, just to be safe,” said the leader. “But be sure not to speed on the highway.” And she bestowed upon Penelope the swiftest and most agile bike in all the nation-state, with carbon fibre support structures riddled throughout its frame for maximum durability with minimal weight, and a streamlined seat and helmet to minimize wind resistance.
“Sweet,” said Penelope. “Back in a sec.” And she wheeled out onto the road and vanished in a helmet’d blur.

“Girl,” said the leader on Thursday morning, “we are decidedly in trouble here.”
“Yeah,” said the youngest sister, Tabitha. “I kind of liked those guys.”
“Me too,” said the leader. “But I can’t exactly ask you to go looking for them. You’re the youngest, and I don’t have anything to help you do it.”
“Eh,” said Tabitha. “I think I’ve got an idea of what might help me. Just lend me your old, broken, half-functioning, no-good, boring, obsolete pager. Can I borrow that for a while?”
“Sure,” said the leader.
So Tabitha left home with head held high, hair cut low, and a hunk of rare metals and rubber that had been useless since the mid-nineties at her hip. And that was all she needed.

Tabitha left home and wandered down the back alleys and the wide streets of the world, over the hills, even closer to where her Google Maps directions told her the pharmacy lay. As she was crossing a bridge over a crik (a kind of half-creek), a twig snapped, and she frowned. There was a foul smell in the air too, and that meant…
And just like that, up from under the bridge leapt three sizable trolls, gluttonous guts jiggling, drool-ropes snapping, all eighteen of their chins aquiver with delight.
“hey luk at that” said the chief troll, whose gut marked him as one to be reckoned with. “nother girl. pics or gtfo.”
“no wai,” opined his under-troll, who had sacrificed overall girth for truly stupendously packed glutes. “girls rnt real.”
“Let me through,” said Tabitha, who could almost feel a sympathetic twin to her mother’s headache brewing in her skull at that very moment. Trolls are the only creatures in all of existence that must speak entirely through their nostrils, and they possess four of them to aid in this purpose.
“git gud,” said the chief troll smugly. “other girls did.”
“first one pwned us,” said the under-troll, sadly. “such phone. much pain. so ow.”
“The second one simply out-ran us,” said the third (smallest) troll. “We were barely putting paw to bridge before she blew past us on that bicycle. A real speed fiend if you ask me. If she wasn’t wearing that helmet I’d have worried about her; you could break your neck if you so much as go over a crack funny at that speed.”
“Let me pass,” said Tabitha. “I’ll play a game with you.”
“girls don game,” scoffed the under-troll. “no girls in internet”
“It’s a riddle game,” said Tabitha.
The chief troll smiled. “riddle plox.”
“Fine,” said Tabitha. “What is this thing I’m holding in my hand?”
The chief troll squinted at it. “fone?”
“car keys?” suggested the under-troll.
The smallest troll scratched its head and frowned. “No clue, sorry. Boy, you know, this test of yours is super hard. You know who else had hard tests? Hitler. Your test is like Hitler.”
“I win. It’s a pager. It’s like a more worthless form of texting.”
The chief troll’s face was turning the colour of a freshly-squashed plum. “HAX1!” he hollered.
“Nope, it’s true. Google it.”
The trolls were slow typists, and Tabitha quietly but efficiently beat feet while they were alt-tabbing.
“Damnit,” she said, as she crested the hills that led her out of suburbia and towards the subway station, “why did we only have the one bike?

Tabitha descended into the depths of the subway station, but then she frowned. The escalator was blocked by what looked like a very long, very expensive suitcase.
She poked it. It ‘ouch’ed.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry,” she said, as the tail’s owner curled around to face her, little swirls of smoke jetting from its nostrils.
“As you SHOULD be,” said the CEO severely, baring its elegant little dagger-fangs at her. “Don’t you know who I am?”
“Nope,” said Tabitha. “Sorry.”
“I’m a wheeler. I’m a dealer. I’m a tiger in the marketplace and an animal in the boardroom. I’ve got a Midas touch that’s even turned my parachutes to gold, and I have a platinum card. I can go an entire week without seeing a single product that I’m not a major shareholder in – three weeks, in America. When I beat my wings on Wall Street, a recession starts in Singapore. I eat accounting departments for breakfast and when I want lunch I eat my competitor’s and for dinner I have a 90-ounce ribeye steak, blue rare, with an entire bottle of scotch. And I do that whenever I feel like it. Now what’s your name? I’m going to buy you out of your family and fire you to a crisp.”
“I forget,” said Tabitha.
“That’s what the last one said,” said the CEO suspiciously. “The one with the bike. ‘I forget,’ she said, and then she sped off. And the one before her said that too, I remember that very clearly. ‘I forget,’ she said, and then she showed me so many pictures on her phone that I had no choice but to submit, it was very intimidating and made me cross. I haven’t fired anyone in at least two hours and it’s ticking me off – those girls! Come to think of it you look like them. Do you look like them?”
“Nope!” said Tabitha. “But I’ve got a super cool trick I can show you. Look at this!”
The CEO craned its massive spine until its skull was level with the pager in Tabitha’s hand, making a noise like a ten ton chain falling down the Eiffel Tower. “What is it?”
“A pager.”
“What’s that?”
“An employee thing.”
“I don’t like employee things,” said the CEO suspiciously. “What’s it for?”
“This,” said Tabitha. And she shoved the pager up the CEO’s right nostril.

Tabitha emerged into the light of day soot-stained, watery-eyed, and frizzily-haired, but most importantly, triumphant. Even if her pants were a lost cause. Who cared, anyways? The pharmacy was in sight; its minarets and turrets a sight to behold. She scurried to the door, each footstep faster than the last until she was in a long-haul sprint, sneakers tumbling past sneakers. The door was in front of her, then it wasn’t, and then she was in the grand hall of the pharmacy, its shelves cascading away from her, its ceiling fans humming magnificently, and its bearded, berobed proprietor glaring at her from atop his throne, behind his counter.
Tabitha approached the counter with absolutely none of the proper obeisance. “Heya,” she said. “Advil please.”
The pharmacist peered at her from behind his half-moon bifocals. “What for?” he asked suspiciously.
“Mom’s headache.”
“No, no, no, no…. what are they REALLY for?”
“Mom’s headache,” said Tabitha patiently.
“A mom? A headache?” said the pharmacist, incredulity ripening in his voice. “Moms and headaches aren’t for goddamned teenagers. You kids just want to homebrew your own drugs. I’ve heard about it on television. You’re going to make ‘lean’ aren’t you? Or maybe ‘lank’ or ‘leprosy.’ I’m sure of it. I’m positive. You goddamned punks get worse every day – why, just this afternoon I’ve already had to detain two of you?”
“Oh yeah?” asked Tabitha. “Why?”
The pharmacist smirked. “The first one was a disruptive influence; her iPhone was scaring away my elderly and senile clientbase. Plus I heard that you can use the sparks from the batteries to turn ordinary plastic into a sinus-shattering joyride. Very naughty! So she went in the jar until I could be arsed to contact the authorities.”
“The jar?”
The pharmacist rummaged behind his desk and, with some swearing, produced a large plastic bottle with a child-proof safety cap. “It has air-holes,” he said proudly.
Tabitha’s eyes narrowed. “And the second?”
“Oh, she was clever! She left her bike outside, where she thought I couldn’t see it. Very cunning, but we have cameras everywhere. I don’t approve of bicycles; cities are made for cars. Next thing you know we’ll have pedestrians wanting in on the racket!” He began to comb his fingers through his bristling beard, trying to get it under some manner of control, then a thought struck him. “Oh, and I’ve had it told from discrete and also highly reputable sources that you can get super high off snorting the air from inside a bike’s tires. So she went in the jar. For her own good, of course. Really, it’s her parents I feel bad for.”
“I’m sure,” said Tabitha. “Look, I need Advil for my mom. Now, please.”
The pharmacist leaned back in his chair and sighed, steepled fingers a study in piousness. “Advil for your ‘vibes’ and ‘420s’ and other such young people youth rascal teen nonsenses, I presume! Pray, tell me, what is your purpose? What gadget or doohickey will you combine with your ‘mother’s’ medication to produce illicit thrills and chills? My spine shudders at the thought! Inform me!”
“Nothing,” said Tabitha.
The pharmacist’s brow knit harder than a four-handed grandmother. “I’m sorry?”
“Didn’t bring anything.”
The pharmacist leaned over his counter, beard dangling. “You’re a teenager,” he hissed, all semblance of reasonableness gone. “You’re ALL up to something! You ALL have your tricks, and your smartphones, and your ‘sugar buzzes’ and your ‘herbs’ and all your, your TOMFOOLERY devoted to getting high. I know it! Now where is it?”
“On the floor,” said Tabitha.
The pharmacist looked down and got as far as “whe-” when Tabitha grasped him firmly by his beard, yanked hard, and swung up onto the counter to the musical sound of his screaming. One hand slashed out with the speed of a swatting kitten and grabbed the jar.
“Give it BACK!” screamed the pharmacist, his long, long boney fingers reaching out for her.
“Sure!” said Tabitha. She gave it back to his forehead as hard as she could , twisted it, and felt the little ‘pop’ of the safety cap dislodging and leaving a nasty welt.
The pharmacist fell over. He was aided in this by the two hundred and ninety pounds of girls that had appeared on his forehead.
“Hi, howyadoing?” asked Tabitha.
“Been better,” said Penelope.
“Yeah, that,” said Charlene. “Let’s just leave the money on the counter, ‘kay?”

They went home.
What more do you want?
Well, okay. On the way home, they took turns riding the bicycle. And Tabitha claimed rescuer’s rights on the iPhone.

“MooooOOOooooOOoooooooooooooooooM, we’re HOME,” droned the call through the house.
“Huh?” asked the leader.
“We come bearing Advil,” said Charlene solemnly as the three filed into her office.
“Tabitha got it,” said Penelope. “There was a bit of trouble. And I think we need a new pharmacist. The old one’s all creepy.”
“Oh, right, right,” said the leader. “Thank you girls, that was sweet.” She rubbed her head. “I’ll just put these aside for now and –”
“But you had a headache!” said Tabitha.
“Well, it’s sort of cleared up by now,” said the leader, half-apologetically. “No offence, but I think just having some quiet time fixed that. You girls tend to ruckus a bit.”
There were complaints, and remonstrations, and apologies, and in the end all wounds were soothed as they should be: with ice cream.
And they all lived pretty happily for a good long while.

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