Sunday, June 29, 2008
Many years ago, I was bored while on vacation Up North.
Everybody vacations Up North. It's always the same, too. You leave home (wherever that may be) and drive straight for the pole. You stop when the soil gets really sandy and the sky has been gray for at least 5 hours straight, and then you take out your tent.
While I was bored, I played with a camcorder and my grandmother's salt and pepper shakers. The shakers had themselves a talk show.
There was also a teakettle who kept bouncing in and "killing" the shakers.
I'm going to stop describing this. Some of you might know where I live and be in a position to direct the straitjacket men to my house.
The "talk show" I recorded was unscripted, and sounded a little like this. Ladies and gentlepersons, I give you...Teakettle Jackson. The most annoying man in the world.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
“Only a monster flits amongst rocks!” the Writer announced to his unnaturally productive spouse.
“What’re you doing back inside? I thought you were going to be bothering people on the Internet with your Wi-Fi,” she said. Only the top of her head was visible over the unmanned submarine she was building.
“Some kids got mad at me and made my battery run down.”
“Say, we wouldn’t happen to have, um, an air pump, would we?”
“You can use this electric one I upgraded,” his wonderfully handy wife said, indicating the machine. “I put some neodymium magnets in the motor. It’s twice as fast as it was before, but it gets kinda hot.”
“Good to know.”
“How’s your gnome coming along?”
“Dwarf. He’s fine. A little nervous, but he’s become very condolent over the last chapter. I believe he is growing as a character. Tell that to the Pulitzer people when they call."
Manipulating a joystick, the Wife patted her Writer on the head with the submarine’s robotic arm. “I’m very proud of you,” she said. “And ask me before you use this PlayStation 3 controller. It controls the sub now too.”
As the sun rose, coloring the horizon the color of a horizon in which a sun is rising, Stubs and Becky stopped to rest. Both were a little suspicious of the fact that the lack of nighttime forest noises had given way to a lack of daytime forest noises.
“You don’t look so good,” said Stubs, gently touching Becky’s feverish brow with his hammer. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’ll be fine. Get that away from me. It smells like doilies.” She seated herself on a log.
“You’re all sweaty,” Stubs pointed out as tactfully as one could point out such a thing to a woman.
“You’re all short. But I don’t hold that against you."
“Ah! You’re retorting. That’s a good sign.” He joined her on the log. “You wanna tell me more about this Call thing of yours? It sounds pretty annoying. Is there any way you can, like, disconnect it?”
“Unfortunately not. The members of the Syndicate are all branded at birth, and linked into a big fairy computer system called Wingworth. It’s like... Have you ever read any of the Harry Potter books?”
“Good heavens, no!” laughed Stubs.
They both let out a sigh of relief. That was a close one.
“So, how does it work?” Stubs asked, rummaging in his pack.
“I’ve got a tattoo.”
“Hey! Merbert packed us some Twinkies!” Stubs said happily, tugging out a box of the gooey delights. “Wait. What?”
“It’s a tattoo. That’s the brand. It’s how we’re all linked up. See?”
Becky rolled up one of her sleeves and showed Stubs a tattoo about the size of a half-dollar on her biceps. It was a purple smiley face, and it was glowing.
“That’s the Optiglyph. All fairies in the Syndicate get one four days after they’re born. It’ll dim down eventually, but if they issue the Call again, it’ll light back up." She grimaced. "The worst part is the cramping and headache.”
Stubs went into deep thought mode, tugging his beard to indicate it. He originally grew the beard so that he could make that gesture. It will lend me credibility, the Stubs of the past had thought. The current Stubs planned to get a monocle, once he was done with this quest and had the time to go shopping for a really nice one.
“Optiglyph, huh? I am also a Linguistics Dwarf, and if my etymology is correct, which it sure as mead is, that is a portmanteau of the words optimist and glyph." He flourished a Twinkie.
“Yep. It's supposed to signify one’s eternal loyalty to the universal powers of Optimism.”
“Ugh. That sounds pretty dull."
“Tell me about it. But that’s the job fairies got stuck with millennia ago. If the history I’ve read since leaving the Syndicate is accurate, fairies weren’t always lame and pastel-colored. We used to build stuff. We used to be cool.”
Becky paused to roll her sleeve back down. She stared out into the damp, forest dawn and sighed heavily. “We invented electricity. Did you know that?”
“I thought Benjamin Franklin invented electricity,” Stubs mused. His hand drifted beardward, ready, in case extended musing was called for.
“Guy was a hack. I can show you an article on the Internet that proves it.”
“You seem pretty normal, though. Not all giggly and glittery, I mean. Twinkie?"
“No thanks. Look, can we forget about this for now? Let’s just say I’m happy to be out of their stupid club. I’m of the firm belief that anyone who is happy all the time must be defective.”
Stubs picked Twinkie bits out of his beard. “Me too.” He looked down at his feet, dangling a few inches off the ground. “I’m fighting a stereotype too, you know.”
“What stereotype would that be?”
“That all dwarves are bearded, overconfident and all too fond of mead.”
Becky stared at him.
“I didn’t say I was doing a very good job. Whaddya say we move on?”
The questers decided to keep heading east. This would keep them firmly in the shadows of the Mysteriolith range where the three wizards purportedly dwelt.
“We don't have time to check each peak for wizards,” Stubs reasoned. “If the Syndicate can mobilize in only a few days, I mean.”
“They can. And they will.” Becky favored Stubs with a wry smile. “If there’s one person in the world who embodies everything the Syndicate hates, it’s the Dirty Forest Man.”
“Yeah. Being a miserable crotch is sort of written into his mission statement."
"That's part of his charm. That, and his willful lack of hygiene."
"So, you were a Syndicate insider for, what, multiple years?”
“Have you ever heard of this magic staff? You’d think something so dangerous would be well-known in fairy circles,” Stubs said, twirling his hammer thoughtfully and giggling for no reason.
“There are legends,” Becky said, and grinned. Spreading her arms dramatically and adopting a deep, melodramatic voice, said, “And it is written that a stick was forged in the land whose mighty powers of whomping would be such that a single swing would whompeth the living crap out of any fairy foolish enough to be within the arc of its swing!” She laughed, and swung an imaginary stick, stomping the ground as she brought it down. “It’s mostly told to frighten children, though. God, I love frightening children.”
“Did you hear that?”
Becky turned to see Stubs standing a couple of yards behind her. “Huh?”
“A stomping sound.”
“I did that. Sound effects. All the best dramatic moments have sound effects. Weren’t you paying attention?”
“Nuh uh. This was much bigger. Didn’t you feel it?”
“Dunno. I was too busy acting,” Becky shrugged.
“And now you’ll be too busy dying!” rasped an unpleasant but familiar voice from the shrubbery to her right.
Before she had a chance to react, Tony had wrapped one arm around Becky’s waist, pinning her arms to her sides. He held a dirty sneaker to her throat with his free hand, and peered over her shoulder at Stubs.
“Don’t try anything funny, dwarf!” he sneered. “I’m going to finally kill one of you this time, by cracky!”
“Villians don’t say things like ‘by cracky,’” Stubs pointed out helpfully. "Didn't they teach you that in bastard school?"
"I had top marks, you horrible twit," Tony said, smugging up.
“Seriously, why the hell do you keep bugging us?” asked Becky, exasperated. “You’re so bad at this antagonist stuff.”
“Shut yer facehole!”
Stubs advanced. “Is that a shoe? You’re going to cut her throat with a sneaker?" He glanced down at Tony's feet. "Your own sneaker?"
"Heinous, heinous, heinous!" Tony laughed. "This sneaker’s got dog doo on it! All I have to do is—hey! Did either of you hear a stomping sound?”
From behind Becky and Tony, a huge shadow shadowed itself hugely, like a monstrous darkened area.
The Writer wrote a Post-It to remind himself to come back to this bit and de-lame it. It turned out to be rather difficult to describe a giant something's approach from deep in the woods. It'd fall pretty flat if he just came right out and wrote "A giant thing approached through the woods."
That certainly wasn't the kind of vivid imagery that was going to earn the money he needed to staff his personal eyebrow massage parlor with supermodels.
Stubs' eyes flickered upward. WAY upward.
The ground shook with another booming impact.
“There it is again!” screeched Tony. “What’re you trying to pull? You using some sort of nasty, beardy dwarf magic to make me hear things? Well, it ain’t gonna work.” Tony said, moving the old sneaker closer to Becky’s throat. “I’m gonna--”
“Oh my mead, wouldja lookit that," sighed Stubs. He pointed a into the woods behind Tony.
“That’s the oldest trick in the book, dwarf,” sniggered Tony.
“You would have a book of tricks, you hooker,” Becky laughed.
“How lame!” Stubs lamented. "I mean, it's like he's not even trying any more. All that buildup for...this? I--I don't know what to say. The fruitiness is palpable. Feeling faint...I think I'm going to...going to fall down."
Twisting at the waist and craning his neck, Tony looked into the trees behind him.
“Oh, shit! A unicorn!” he screamed. He released Becky and dove out of sight into the shrubbery from whence he’d come.
“Someone really oughta have pity on that poor boy and let him kill them a little,” Becky sighed, smoothing her skirt out. She looked behind her. “He was right though. It is a unicorn.”
Stubs, a quivering, insensible, bearded mass on the ground, twitched miserably and said, “Yes, but a shiny one the size of a factory! Get it away, get it awaaaay!”
“Oh, don’t be such a pansy, you big pansy. She’s adorable!”
“And he can talk,” said the giant, chrome silver unicorn, stepping into the clearing. “The name’s Bruce.”
The Writer kicked his feet in wild arcs of glee. This was too much! First dwarves, fairies and wizards, and now unicorns! This story was…
“Heeeey...Unicorns? This is highly suspect.”
He yelled for his wife.
“Wife? You haven’t been doing any clandestine genetic engineering I should know about, have you?”
“No more than usual,” she said, ducking around a propeller the size of a garbage can lid. “Why?”
“Because I appear to be having a really good time writing about dwarves, fairies and wizards. And now there’s a giant unicorn in the story. It was mere months ago that I was writing stories with hardasses in ‘em, and now... unicorns?”
The Wife put down her blowtorch and joined the Writer in front of his laptop. “Yeah, but you named him Bruce. That’s a pretty tough name.” She pinched his cheek playfully with a pair of Vise-Grips™. “Don’t tell me the Writer I married is suddenly insecure in his masculinity!”
The Writer reached out and broke something to prove that he wasn’t.
“Attawriter!” his wife said. “I’ll go get some epoxy, and we’ll have that screen back on there in no time.”
“Yeah. Yeah! I can write about all the pink, glittery things I want! I’m awesome!” the Writer growled. He made a swipe at his Wife’s femmy bits, but she dodged nimbly aside.
“You finish this chapter, then we go get ice cream,” she said, smiling at him over her shoulder.
“Damn yes!” the Writer cried. He braced his laptop’s screen against a plush, stuffed frog and attacked the keyboard with manly vim.
“Gosh. Those sure are big fangs you got there, Bruce,” said Becky, unable to keep the awe out of her voice. “And those shades. Too cool!”
“I’m not technically a unicorn. But that’s a little too complicated a story to tell before I even know your names.”
“Becky,” said Becky. “And that’s Stubs. He’s a sparklephobe.”
She kicked Stubs gently in the ribs. He flopped onto his back and moaned up into the sky.
“Giant mythical horses! It’s just too lame!”
“Yes, but I’m a bad-ass mythical horse,” said Bruce, lowering his head, which was the size of a truck, to Stubs’ level. “Check this bad boy out.”
Stubs opened one eye and looked. Bruce's unicorn horn was about ten feet long, had a chrome lightning bolt decal on it, and was made entirely out of carbon fiber. It did look pretty bad-ass.
“Okay then,” Stubs said, easily vaulting the short distance to his feet. “My name’s Stubs, and I’m on a quest.” He waved a hand at Becky, “and this is my sidekick.”
“She’s afraid of wizards,” Stubs whispered into Bruce’s ear.
“Lousy dwarf,” Becky muttered.
“Quest, huh?” Bruce did a backflip and landed with a boom.
“Indeed,” said Becky, picking herself up off the ground. “We seek the Mysteriolith Wizards. There are th--”
“—Three wise men of darkish Cloak
Dwell atop lofty Peaks Uncharted
With eyes of Fire and Fists of Smoke
They shun the One who Farted
“Driven folk, neither Laugh nor Play
Stong, they are, in Hypermagica
A Third of their number, Fallen away
The One who says ‘Yuh Yuh Yuh!’” Bruce finished. “Those the ones?”
The Writer's telephone rang.
"That's a horrible rhyme," his father's voice said. It sounded echoey.
"Well, I like it. ...Are you in the bathroom?"
"And why shouldn't I be?"
"Oh. No reason."
"Unnecessary flummery gives me the gut gripes. I'm where I need to be."
The Writer promised his father that he'd read some poetry books, and hung up.
“Hey! Cool rhyme!” laughed Stubs. “Where’d you hear that?”
“I serve the Mysteriolith Three. It’s from their theme song.”
“Cool. Can you buy it on compact disc?"
“Hey. Plug right in, fella,” said Bruce, nodding down at the front of his stainless-steel hoof. “I’m fully USB 3.0 compliant. Got 7.1 DTS surround, too.”
“Bad ass!” cried Stubs, and jacked his iPod in.
“Bruce. Do you know where we can find the wizards? That’d be unbelievably useful right now. We’ve only got four days at the most to avoid a clash of catastrophic proportions. So, like, any help you can offer would be pretty spiffy.”
“Hey. Don’t sweat it, babe. I don't like catastrophic clashes anymore'n you do. I can take you to ‘em. Climb aboard!”
Bruce knelt and offered Becky and Stubs an...
“Escalator?” Becky said, stunned. “Who ever heard of a unicorn with an escalator?”
“This one certainly is loaded,” said Stubs, allowing the motorized handrail to slide smoothly under his palm. “Deee-luxe model unicorn, with all the luxury trimmings."
“I told you before. I’m not really a unicorn. And if the escalator does it for ya, you’re going to love this! You two seated comfortably?”
“Wow. Cupholders and everything,” marveled Becky, poking the velour armrest on her seat.
“Then hold on tight!”
With a mighty leap, Bruce hurled himself into the sky. As he cleared the treetops, there was a clank, a hiss and then a roar as four independent rocket engines in his hooves ignited.
“Flying unicorn. Not quite as gay as he first seemed,” Stubs said over the noise.
Ahead of them, a piece of the sky started acting weird. The air rippled and stretched, as if it were being heated.
Becky leaned forward and yelled into Stubs' ear. "Do you see that?"
There was a sharp bang, and a red hot-air balloon appeared out of the turbulent air. Stubs jumped. Becky gasped.
"Loneos!" she said. Then, "oh, geez. Next time I ride upstream, okay?"
Becky's voice went cold. "It's Merbert."
"And he's got missiles," added Stubs.
I think life is like a giant chess game. Not a tournament, but a single game, with only one chance to screw it up. There are those who hold differing views on life, of course. Reincarnation types believe that our performance in the current game determines our status in the next. So if I'm a Knight now and I treat elderly people with disdain and steal candy from children, I might very well end up as a Pawn in the next. Using this view, one would have to wonder what jerks are thinking. Don't they realize that in their next life they're liable to reappear as...a weevil, a lab rat, or if they're really bad, a Congressman?
The thing is, none of us have any choice in the matter. We must play the game, whether we like chess or not, whether we're having fun or not. "Your move," says Life and we sit at the board, puzzling over our many options, hoping to find that one brilliant move that will simultaneously destroy Life's Queen and put his King in check. From then on, as long we don't try to be stupid, it would be an easy romp to checkmate.
Most of us never find that move, however, because Life is really, really good at chess and has had a billion years to perfect its game. We, on the other hand, only get one shot at it and are given no instructions, with the exception of what our parents are able to pass along.
"Beware the Bishop," The Fathers say. "You'll think you have everything under control and then...hey, I'm outta beer."
"Clean your room," say the Mothers.
Uh, yeah...we only get one shot at it and are given no instructions.
Reincarnation would be a much fairer system, given the circumstances. Who could possibly expect people to get Life right on the first try? Especially considering that we generally don't realize the stakes until well into the game. And then you have the people who just don't seem to care. Jerks, if you will.
Jerks are people who seem to be trying to get to the bottom of the Life totem pole. "I can't wait to be dung!" they say, gleefully smashing Hallowe'en pumpkins and knocking down freshly-built snowmen. What their motivation can be, I haven't a clue. Reincarnation or not, no good can come of their behavior. My question is this: do these jerks come back with the same personalities? In one life, Frank is just a jerk and in the next, a really obnoxious badger. "Mom! That badger just stole my Chiclets!"
From somewhere above the fray, the gods look on and shake their heads. "Frank, Frank, Frank...when will you learn?" They run a few calculations and look at each other sadly. "Definitely dung," they say in unison.
For me, I'm still looking for that one brilliant move. Or, at least, one that keeps me in the game without losing any pieces. Ultimately, however, we're all in the game together and can affect the outcome of a neighbor's chess match. So while we're on the subject, might I suggest Rook to F5?
Monday, June 23, 2008
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Saturday, June 21, 2008
“So Tony's responsible for sewing your, uh, bum shut?” Becky looked doubtful. “Somehow I don’t see you letting that happen.”
“He sorta snuck up on me,” Merbert mumbled, his mouth full of spud. “And speakin’ o’ bums, iffen I ever get ahold o’ that Maxwell, I’m gonna…but I don’t wanna ruin yer meal, so you folks go ahead and et up. Yuh.”
Becky and Stubs sat down at the table and looked at their respective plates, both of which were piled high with steak and potatoes. Stubs picked up a fork and cut off a piece of steak, tentatively nibbling one corner.
“It’s delicious!” he said, immediately setting into his food with an energy befitting a much younger dwarf.
Encouraged, Becky followed suit. The two travelers hadn’t realized the extent of their hunger and it took three helpings of food and several flagons of mead and Sprite to fill their stomachs.
The Writer chuckled. “Flagon.” That was an amusing word and he really should use it more often. He decided he’d name his firstborn child Flagon and the idea amused him even further.
He was in an exceptionally good mood. It wasn’t often a story moved along with such proficiency and grace. Although trying hard not to become overconfident, he couldn’t help imagining himself standing next to a publisher, each of them holding up one end of a giant check, made out to him, and with many, many zeroes.
Opening up his email, he fired off a message to the Pulitzer committee, telling them all about his book and including a short synopsis. At the last minute, he inserted his phone number. They might want to call up first, just to chat for a bit. Maybe pick his brain for a future study of literary geniuses.
Stubs awoke and sat up. He didn’t remember falling asleep and for a moment couldn’t even remember where he was. He saw Becky lying a few feet away, still sleeping soundly. It was dark, except for a single burning torch, stuck into a crack in the wall. Then Stubs noticed a circle of darkness not far away, with brightly lit…stars? It was the night sky and the dark circle was the mouth of a cave. Merbert!
He jumped to his feet and looked around. What time was it? What day was it? They had to be on their quest!
Becky stirred awake at Stubs’ shout and took stock of the situation. “Merbert!”
The ex-wizard had vanished. Becky walked over next to Stubs and they glanced around the cavern. No sign of their kindly host.
“Well, how about that,” Becky said. “The good Samaritan strikes again! Now I guess we’ll never know the full story behind the Mysteriolith Three. I was hoping he could at least point us in the right direction.”
A voice, echoing eerily through the cavern, spoke. “That woulda been too easy! Ah-yuh-yuh-yuh!”
Becky and Stubs looked around again, but still saw no sign of their rescuer.
“The one and only. Sorry ta run out on you all, but I’m afraid my part is done fer now.”
“How long have we been asleep?”
“Just a few hours. You folks was plumb tuckered out and without the rest, you’d never’d made it. So I letcha sleep fer a spell. But now that it’s dark, ya might wanna think ‘bout movin’ on. Yuh!”
“Can’t you even tell us if we’re headed for danger, just so we’ll know what to expect?”
“Nope, can’t do that,” said Merbert’s disembodied voice. “Iffen you folks knew the danger, you’d never carry on yer quest.”
“But why do we have to leave at night?” asked Stubs.
“Yeah,” added Becky. “And how are we to find the Mysteriolith Three? And if we can’t find them, how are we going to find the magic stick?”
“So many questions!” echoed the wizard. “First off, stop callin’ it a magic stick. It’s a staff! And secondly, you folks worry too much. And third, it’s really dark in the back o’ this cave, so iffen ya don’t mind, I’m comin’ out there with you all.”
Sure enough, Merbert suddenly appeared beside them, carrying a bucket in one hand.
“We thought you’d vanished!” Becky said. “How’d you get that echo in your voice?”
Merbert held the bucket up to his mouth and spoke into it. “Ya mean this? Yuh! Every wizard worth his salt has an echo bucket.” He tried to toss the bucket over his shoulder, but hit himself in the head. “Ouch, dammit, yuh! Didn’t see that one comin’.”
“So you won’t guide us to the wizards?”
“Can’t. Never wanna see those bastards again. An’ they don’t wanna see me. Better we keep it that way.” Merbert turned away and emitted a tiny yuh. Then he whipped back around. “But enough ‘bout misery an’ strife! You folks have a gruelin’ trip ahead o’ ya. Better be movin’ on. I’ve put some vittles in yer packs and filled yer canteens with water, so ya shouldn’t be needin’ grub. Now, then. Be off with ya.”
Stubs and Becky picked up their packs and moved toward the entrance. “Well, thanks for your help, Merbert,” Becky said. “Perhaps we’ll meet up again soon?”
There was nothing but silence from the cave, so they kept moving until they were outside and some distance from the opening. The night air was cool and, fortunately, the stars were bright. But even though the sky was clear and the moon full, deep shadows spotted the landscape, concealing who knew what. Sharp rocks, sinkholes…Tony. At the thought, Becky shivered and Stubs put an arm around her.
“Not to worry,” he said. “We’ll be fine. And if anything happens, I’ve got my hammer at the ready.”
Behind them, quiet and unseen, Merbert slipped from the cave, wrapped in a large, flowing robe. He observed the scene and smiled. If those two could stay together through the danger that was certain to come, they might just have a chance of making it.
From beneath his robe, Merbert withdrew his echo bucket and risked a single, muffled, “Yuh!” And then, walking quickly in the direction of the Mysterolith Mountains, he disappeared into the shadows.
“Now what is he up to?” wondered The Writer. “Perhaps there’s more to Merbert than meets the eye.”
A banging sound startled him and he instinctively ate some granola. His wife appeared, dragged a large shower unit behind her.
“Almost have the bathroom remodeled,” she announced. “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in seeing it when it’s finished?”
“Oooh, now’s not a good time, dear,” The Writer said. “I’ve just introduced a bit of intrigue into the story and, well, you know how it is.”
“Right. Intrigue. How are you holding up on the granola?”
“I could use another box, since you’re asking.” The Writer licked a few granola crumbs from his fingers. “And if you’re not too busy, I could use a ream of high-quality paper. When I print this out to send to the publisher, I want it to look its best.”
“Sure thing,” sighed The Wife. “As soon as I finish the spackling and install the satellite dish.”
“Excellent!” The Writer turned back to his laptop, but remembered something and whipped back around. “Hey, have you heard from the Pulitzer people yet?”
“Hmm. Strange. I sent them an email with my telephone number and a synopsis of my book. I’d have thought they would have called by now. Have you checked the machine?”
“There have been no calls.”
“Maybe you just...”
“No calls, dear.”
The Writer knew that tone of voice and it scared him, so he turned again to his laptop and continued writing.
Stubs and Becky hoisted their packs higher onto their shoulders and set a course for the Mysteriolith Mountains. They could just see the peaks rising into the sky, but it was far too dark to tell the distance.
Nervously, Stubs made a practice swing with his hammer, but when he spoke his voice was steady. “Once the sun comes up, we should have a better idea of what we’re up against.”
“I’m more worried about surviving until sun-up,” Becky said, making no effort to hide her concern. “Have you noticed there aren’t any night sounds out here? No crickets, owls, frogs…nothing!”
“So this is obviously an undesirable place for wildlife.”
“So it’s probably not safe!”
“Ah. But Merbert seems to do all right for himself.”
“Merbert’s a wizard. At least, a former wizard. Not many people want to tangle with them.”
A few minutes of silence and walking ensued before Becky said, “I wonder why Merbert wanted us to leave at night. It seems like it would be even more dangerous in the dark.”
“Maybe he thought we could slip through undetected.”
“Slip through what? You seem to be forgetting we don’t really know where we’re going.”
“Or at least how to get there.”
“Precisely. But you’d think Merbert would at least have the courtesy to—” Becky stopped talking abruptly and held a hand to her head.
“What’s wrong?” Stubs was instantly concerned. The expression on Becky’s face frightened him. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“No…” Becky’s voice was weak. “Not a ghost.” She swayed and Stubs hurried to help her sit down. Her face was pale and a sheen of perspiration coated her forehead.
“What then?” Stubs tightened his grip on the hammer.
“It’s The Call. I just heard The Call.”
Stubs had never heard of The Call, but he remained quiet, knowing Becky would continue when she felt able. The fairy was bent almost double, holding her head in both hands, and was obviously in considerable pain.
“The Fairy Syndicate sends out The Call whenever they want to summon all the fairies together.”
“Sort of, but it’s more…powerful than that.”
“Is it always so painful?”
Becky shook her head carefully. “Not to everyone. Just to those fairies who’ve been disgraced or try to ignore The Call.”
“So what does this mean?” Stubs was almost afraid to ask.
“It means our time is growing short. The Syndicate wouldn’t send out The Call unless the warlord had arrived. He’s gathering them all together to give them their battle plans.” Becky struggled to her feet. “We have to hurry! It will only take the fairies a day, two at the most, to assemble. After that, they’ll march on the Dirty Forest Man. We must deliver the magic staff before they reach him!”
Their courage renewed by the direness of the situation, Stubs and Becky continued walking toward the Mysteriolith Mountains. So intent were they on their path, they didn’t notice a shadowy figure trailing close behind, flitting from tree to rock and rock to tree.
Hey, faithful Blogsters. I just wanted to once again draw your attention to the sidebar, where there is a tidy and rather insulting link to the new audio version of The Blog of Stupid. Check it out and see if its stupidity measures up to the high standards you've all come to expect over the past couple years.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
He was an inexperienced moron, as morons go.
Excuse me. You misunderstand. He was quite good at moronity, having many skills and much practice, but in his new capacity as tech help for a local library concern, he was indeed out of his depth. That was the idea I was trying to convey.
No, wait. As a moron, he was still plenty in his depth concerning his new job. If he were making an attempt to be competent, however, going against his moron tendencies, he would indeed be miles from wherever he left his depth.
Oh, fiddlepricks. I'm afraid I have you all confused now. I hereby issue a formal apology.
Perhaps an anecdote would prove more illustrative. That is, after all, what this Blog is about: Dodging responsibility. In fact, I'm dodging it right now. I could be...well, that's not the point.
The Moron sauntered into the air-conditioned office environment. In this office, he would perform duties (called "tasks") that would be the basis for all his major paychecks. The Moron figured that this would involve a lot of sitting around near a telephone. He knew he was very good at sitting around.
"And near a phone? I'm your man! Boy, can I be near a phone! Better than most, I'd bet!"
He said these things very loudly, because they were very true.
The Moron rednecked his way over to the little enclosure that was to be his home for the next five hours. He noted the computer and the fabric-covered walls and the telephone. Yeeeees, the telephone. Sure had a lot of buttons on it, that phone.
"Best avoid that for now," he mumbled to himself.
The Moron was given a password in order that he might log on to his work computer. This pleased the Moron as he had always wanted a password protected computer. His instructor approached.
"Hi Moron!" she said. "Ready for your first day?"
"Am I ever!" he hooted.
"Okay. First, log on to your computer."
The Moron was ready for this. He poked the keyboard to wake his computer up. The screen remained obstinately dark.
"This is highly suspect," he said. "Must be a malfunctioning peripheral." Just to be sure, he unplugged his mouse and threw it away.
"More comfortable with keyboard shortcuts, are we?" asked his instructor. "Excellent. That shows aptitude. Shall we begin?" She reached over and turned his computer on.
While Windows Vista booted up, the Moron picked some crud out of his fingernails and smirked unpleasantly. After ten minutes, the characteristically mundane "Dingly-dong!" Windows noise chortled out of his speakers.
"Scared you? Yeah. Sometimes I forget and leave the volume up pretty high too."
The Moron picked himself up off the floor. "Never in a million years," he said sweatily. "I was just checking the power strip thing down there. Did you know it's a UPS? That stands for 'Uninterr--' no, wait. It stands for 'Un-ordained Papal Squirrels.' You know? To be honest with you, that's never made much sense to me. Hey look! Vista!"
The instructor waited patiently while the Moron flailed at the keyboard, minimized and maximized a window to watch it do its fady, flippy thing and moved all of his desktop icons into a big clump in the corner of his screen.
"Whew! I am so ready for a break," the Moron said, flinging beads of honest perspiration onto the power strip. "Should that be making sizzling noises?" he queried his instructor. "I somehow don't think it should. In fact, my training suggests that it really ought not to. I'm going to write the IT guys a note and have them call a plumber."
"You're allowed one fifteen minute paid break, and you can take a half hour for lunch. But that half hour is unpaid. You'll have to mark it on your time sheet if you decide to take it."
"Will I ever!" shouted the Moron as he sauntered toward the Snickers. He took a very long time to make his choice.
"I shall select this one," he said finally to nobody in particular, picking one of the "Fun Size" candy bars from amongst its identical peers. "Because it looks like the finest, most professional of the bunch." He popped it into his mouth, wrapping and all, and chewed like an executive. He wiped his fingers on his bowtie.
"Well, you've, uh, used your break for the day," his instructor told him.
"That's okay!" the Moron assured her, throwing himself back into his chair and releasing a peanut-scented burp. "I'm wearing corduroy pants!"
"I don't see what that has to... well, never mind. Are you familiar with Microsoft Office?"
The Moron stopped making zipping noises with his thumbnail and corduroys and looked up. He formed his face into a very serious expression. One that allowed a glimpse at his wealth of knowledge, but did not display it in a condescending manner.
"They wouldn't let me in without an ID card." And honestly, why would they? he thought.
"Are you okay?"
"Fine. Why asketh thou?"
"Your face. You...uh, there's no way to put this delicately. You appear to be experiencing bowel discomfort."
"Oh that? It's genetic. My nephew had it too."
"So we can assume you're unfamiliar with Office. Have you ever used a spreadsheet program before?" the instructor valiantly continued.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, ma'am," the Moron said, lowering his gaze respectfully. He read once in some magazine he'd found in the break room that employers appreciated an employee who was humble and contrite. Or perhaps that was God. Or maybe that was a hymnal he'd read. And maybe that wasn't a break room, but a church.
"It's a tool for handling and organizing large amounts of alphanumeric data. Have you ever done that before?"
The Moron, considering all the experience he'd had with alphabet soup, quickly and efficiently decided he was an expert.
"Indeed. What're all these little blocks?"
"These." The Moron indicated the Excel spreadsheet onscreen with a Snickery finger, leaving a goo smear. "These little white bricks with letters all near 'em."
"This is a spreadsheet."
The Moron recovered quickly. "Have tons of 'em back home. Use 'em to keep track of my many alphanumeric items. Add 'em. Subtract 'em. Fun stuff. What should I do with this one?"
"Be familiar with it," his instructor said, getting up. "I'm going to let you two get acquainted while I go rescue a few job applications I, uh, accidentally threw away."
"It shall be totally under my control within the hour!" chirped the Moron. He focused his laser-like concentration on Excel. He bore down. He grunted and strained. He poked the keyboard experimentally, and the letter "B" showed up in one of the cells onscreen.
"Victory!" he shouted.
Then, the Moron lusted after some Cheetos...
Sunday, June 01, 2008
The Writer penned a sticky note to remind himself to find out if the Pulitzer was even awarded to fiction writers. A nagging little voice kept telling him that it was a journalist's prize. He gave the little voice some granola and it was quiet for the nonce. The Writer needed to concentrate. His epic needed him.
"Well, little lady, could be. But furst you'll have to answer a coupla questions. Like, for example, were you aware of the pun you coulda made about me ferrying you across? You being a fairy? If anything--"
"Yes, I was."
"If anything, you'd be fairy-ing--"
"I get it."
"...You'd be fairy-ing me across! Ah-yuh-yuh!"
"What kind of questions would you have us answer, o' master of inflatable aviation?" Stubs inquired in his politest tone. He felt kind of guilty about the verbal pummeling he'd handed Becky earlier, and was feeling makey-uppy. He still planned to get the Writer back for calling him a "charred-ass dwarf," though.
Merbert tossed down an iron anchor tied to the bottom of a rope ladder. "Oh, dontcha worry! They'll be real simple ones," he said, and mumbled something incoherent about meatloaf.
"Will we each get a set, or can we answer them together?" asked Becky in her politest tone. She felt kinda guilty about the aural slapping she'd dealt Stubs earlier, and had generated a surplus of patience to dole out in atonement. Neither of them moved toward the ladder just yet.
"Ah-yuh-yuh-yuh! Fur a coupla' folks who should be answering questions, you sure got a lotta your own! Tellya what. Yuh! Whichever one'a you knows the answer, just holler out and I'll consider it a done deal. Speaking of done, you shoulda seen what the wife cooked up in the crock pot last week! Tender? You wouldn't believe your teeth, it was tender! So, anyhow, you ready for your questions?"
The two protagonists exchanged a glance and then looked back up at Merbert, floating ten feet above them in his big red balloon.
Merbert became frowny and looked hurt.
"Oh! Sorry," said Becky, and tossed a piece of glance up to Merbert who brightened immediately.
"Righto then! Question the first, as I like to say, is: do you know how to climb a rope ladder?"
"...Yes?" Stubs and Becky said together.
"Oh, yuh-yuh-yuh! Prove it then, and get on up here!" Merbert boomed jovially.
The basket was a lot bigger inside than it looked from without. The sides were lined with cushioned benches, and one of them was wide enough to serve as a bed. This was evidently its function, as a counterpane with puppies on it was draped over it. A corner of the counterpane was tucked up, and Stubs saw the door of a small refrigerator under there.
Merbert gave them each a hearty slap on the back.
"Now don't go spending that all in one place!" he hooted. "Now! Question the secondary, as I like to say, is up next: Do either of you know what that cloud is shaped like?" He pointed to a billowy cumulus cloud overhead.
Becky craned her head back. "I'd say it looks like a bunny."
"Definitely a bunny," said Stubs, twirling his hammer in agreement.
"Whoopee! Yuh-yuh-YUH! Oh, good goobers, that's a bunny if'n I ever sawr one! And here comes the zinger..!"
Stubs and Becky stiffened. Stubs leveled his hammer.
"Would you two be so kind as to fly this thing to the other side? Your pal Merbert's got hisself an attack of the naps, he does. Clouds that look like bunnies allus do that to me."
"Uh, yeah, I guess," said Becky hesitantly.
"Just haul up that anchor there, and ol' Loneos here," he jabbed a thumb up at his balloon, "will float ya the damn over to the other side!"
"I don't know..." Stubs gave the giant balloon a mistrustful look. "I've never--"
"Heeey! Mugs of mead for y'both!" Merbert boomed. He fetched two chilled tankards from his fridge. They were both filled to the brim and sported heads of frothy white foam.
"Say no more!" said a happy Stubs, taking both tankards. He handed one to Becky and immediately stuffed his beard into his own.
"Aw, I knew you two was good folks! Just wake me up when we're across." Merbert flopped onto his bench-bed and began to snore immediately. His snore was a quieter, snortier, more drawn-out version of his laugh. "Ahhhh...yuuuuhh-yuuuuhhhh..."
Becky set her tankard down and looked at Stubs. He was standing there, smiling placidly and making soft snuffling sounds.
"Stubs. What on earth are you doing?"
"I'm a science dwarf," he explained. "Have you heard of capillary action? No, I thought not." He indicated his beard, which was completely soaked in the dark brown liquid. "My beard serves as sort of a wick, like in an oil lamp. The mead is drawn up from the tankard here, and right to my mouth! And I don't even have to bend my neck or get my nose in the foam!" He giggled happily.
"How brilliant, yet how completely useless."
"You're just jealous 'cuz you don't have a beard," said Stubs, hiccuping. "Let's pull that anchor up."
As soon as the anchor touched the floor of the basket, the balloon swept up and out over the lip of the gorge. The change from stasis to motion was so sudden that Stubs sloshed some of his mead onto his jerkin.
"Well, would you lookit that!" said an astonished Writer. "First one of my characters starts cussing, and now even the good guys are wearing jerkins and drinking! Drinking!"
"What's wrong with a little drink now and then?" His Wife's voice had a metallic, echoey sound. The Writer turned in his seat and ducked as a bolt of electricity arced across the room.
"What the hell--?" He patted the top of his head to make sure it was still there.
"Oh, calm down. It's low-current, you big baby," said the Wife from inside the reactor core. "Ever heard of Nikola Tesla?"
The Writer drew himself up to his full height. This was accomplished with some difficulty, as he was still seated, but the Writer was not your average man. The Writer possessed the height-drawing skill of ten mortal men.
"I have indeed heard of him," he said, sprinkling his tone with a few flecks of haughty. "He makes this spiffy electric car in California. Nice chap."
"Mm hm. How about 'cold fusion'?"
"It's an alcoholic beverage. A quality brand of ale, if I'm not mistaken."
"Pour me a mug, barkeep!" the Wife tittered, and the bolt did its arcing trick again as the Writer harrumphed and pulled the power cord out of his laptop.
"If you need me, I'll be out in the lawn, communicating with my fans via Wi-Fi and battery power," he said, and stomped regally from the apartment.
"Nice pick-up," Becky said, impressed. "Have you ever seen a balloon do that? I mean, accelerate so quickly?"
"Yeah. Tons," said Stubs, being smug.
"It's just...disconcerting...is all," Becky said, frowning. "He called it 'Loneos.' Does that name mean anything to you?"
"Yeah. Tons," said Stubs, moving beyond smug and into televangelist territory.
"I think Loneos is a comet..." Becky said quietly, almost to herself.
The Writer giggled and squirmed gleefully amongst the dandelions. This was going to be exciting! He wondered if he was the first to name a hot-air balloon, something that under normal circumstances moved with a stately slowness, after something as blazingly fast as a comet. He ejected the CD from the side of his computer and frisbeed it at some children, and decided that he was.
Since he was already on a roll, he decided to inject even more adventure.
"Well, it looks like this comet balloon isn't going to make it all the way across." Becky was leaning out over the edge of the basket, eyeing the approaching canyon wall. "I don't think we're high enough."
"Speak for yourself!" said Stubs in a soggy, mirthful voice.
"No. I'm serious. If we don't heat this thing, we're going to crash. Wake Merbert up."
Stubs switched the tankard to free up his good gesturing hand. He gestured to the reclining Merbert. "Aw, let the poor man have his bunny sleep. I'll take care of this." He lurched to the center of the basket where a cord hung from lever on a shiny metal appliance that looked like a rocket engine with its nozzle pointed up into the balloon.
Becky held out a hand, palm forward in a gesture of her own. "Whoa! Hold on there, Stumpy Pooterson. There's a note pinned to this side of the jet that says 'For Quick Descents Only!' I think you--"
"Yeah, yeah," mumbled Stubs, pushing past her. "I deduced that myself without even calling on your wondrous reading skills. I've seen tons of these things before. Now, if you're done showing off, I'mma pull this cord, okay?"
"Descents, Stubs! Descents! We don't want to descend! We want to ascend. You know? Rise? Soar? Mount majestically into the vaulted blue expanses? Any of this getting through?"
"Clear as a bell."
"Okay then," said Becky, allowing herself to relax and breathe again.
"Probably just labeled in metric," Stubs said, and pulled the cord.
Becky screamed. The jet roared. A geyser of icy air filled the balloon, riming the inside. As bits of the glittering frost fell around the passengers, the entire conveyance dropped out of the sky so suddenly that Stubs' beard flopped out of his mead.
The Writer worked a handful of granola out of his breast pocket and picked out the lint. Oh, this story was just so cool! Not just the ice jet either. The Father told him that it was, "and I quote!" the Writer shouted at some bugs, "character-driven!"
The Writer didn't have time to find out what this meant, exactly, because he was too anxious to see what was going to happen next. He searched his laptop's screen for a few moments before he realized that he was at the helm.
"Ha ha!" He started typing again.
Merbert came awake with a guffaw.
"Ah-yuh-yuh-whuh? Holy potatoes! What's all the kerfuffle?"
"He pulled the cord!" screamed Becky.
"I pulled that cord," belched Stubs.
"Yuh-yuh-yuh!" laughed Merbert.
"Do something, please!" cried Becky, clutching white-knuckled at the basket's edge. "We're gonna crash!"
"Aw, I spilled my mead!" moaned Stubs.
The frozen balloon and its two terrified, meadless passengers plunged into the chasm, and the light began to fade quickly around them. The third merely hooted jovial laughter and raised one of his hands, fingers extended, to the balloon's throat.
"I say, calm down, you two!"
Flames erupted from Merbert's forearm with a solid whumph! and spread over his entire arm, engulfing it in a crackling cyclone of fire.
"Turnip casserole!" he thundered, and the fire shot up his arm and exploded from his hand in a storm that lit the chasm from wall to wall. The creak of straining fabric filled the air and the balloon halted fast enough to knock Becky's tankard out of Stubs' hands.
"Whee! Ah-yuh-yuh-yuh!" Merbert fired smaller bursts of flame into the envelope. The balloon climbed gently up and, as it neared the lip of the far edge, it caught a strong updraft and sailed over it.
"Y'see? We weren't never in danger, folks. I allus catch this lil' updraft right here. I named 'im Steve, I say, and Steve always whooshes me right on home! Ho, yeah!"
"Wow," said Stubs. "Can you teach me how to do that?"
"Maybe later, fella!"
"You're--you're not just a ferryman, are you, Merbert?" stammered Becky.
"Why, I guess I'm not, little missus!" chuckled the wizard. "I used'ta go by the name Merbert the Jovial, but that was a long time ago."
The Writer absolutely lost it. He set his laptop down in the grass and pranced enthusiastically. He ran over to his car and let all the air out of its tires. He sprinted down the road to a fast-food place and bought himself an ice cream cone. He sprinted back to his laptop before the bugs stole it and dribbled vanilla/chocolate soft-serve onto the keys as he congratulated himself for such an unexpected plot twist.
Like ice cream, plots were better when they were twisty.
Merbert invited Becky and Stubs to his place for dinner when he had maneuvered the balloon onto a marble platform in a forest clearing. Beyond the clearing, visible from the top of this platform, the Mysteriolith foothills loomed.
"Have another mead, my friend!" boomed Merbert, his voice rebounding from the walls of his cavernous den. His den was an actual cavern, Stubs saw as he accepted the tankard. Carved into the stone at the foot of the mountains.
"Thanks! Oh, and hey, about teaching me to do that hand-fire thing...you think I could do it? I mean, is it possible?"
"Oh, yuh-yuh-sure! It's easy! At first, you probably won't be able t'make such a crumplestorm like I did, but you can heat up your meatloafs with it, uh-course!"
"So you're one of the Mysteriolith Three, huh?" said an awed Becky, accepting a tumbler of Sprite.
"Well," considered Merbert, depositing himself in a huge armchair. "Yuh and no."
Stubs and Becky exchanged a glance. It was passed quickly from one to the other, and since it was a fair barter, Merbert didn't feel cheated or left out.
"Both? How's that? Do you have time to tell us your tale?" asked Stubs, settling his beard in preparation for storytime.
"Oh, sure! The little lady of the house left me some damn fine steak and potatoes, and I'm fixin' to heat that mess up an'...mmmm!" He rubbed his stomach in an exaggerated show of enjoyment. "Oughta be ready in a couple minutes. You folks want any?"
"Please, if you wouldn't mind."
"Dammit, that's fine! Dandy, I say, keen. Now! Lemme begin." He adjusted himself in his chair. "It weren't more'n eight year a'gone now that Darius the Crafty, Lucretius the Infuriatingly Wise and, uh-course, me, Merbert the Jovial was the force to be reckoned with 'round these parts. I mean, The force, with a capital T! Ah, yuh-yuh!
"Well, these two brothers'a mine, Darius bein' the older and Lucretius the younger, was allus on me for m'sunny outlook on things. Uh-course my penchant for meatloafs, casseroles and apple pies certainly didn't sit well with 'em neither. 'It's simply not acceptable traditional Wizard fare!' Lucretius was allus whining. Yuh! An' Darius kept tryin' t'trick me into eatin' some sludge he'd conjured up in his big dumb cauldron or somesuch. I say, folks, I tell you the truth when I say that was summa the nastiest spew I ever--"
The beeping of Merbert's microwave oven interrupted his story.
"Ho! That'll be my steak'n'spuds!" he bellowed. "Well, to make a long story short, folks, they booted me outta the wizarding business. Said I was too much of a whimsical chucklehead. They replaced me with this Maxwell fellow. Name'a Maxwell the Replacement if y'want his full title. Ah-yuh-yuh-yuh! An' y'know what? Max ain't worth a box'a nubbins as a wizard!"
"Maxwell? What kind of wizard is named Maxwell?" giggled Becky.
"He ain't so much of a wizard as he is a, uh..." Merbert paused.
"Is a..?" prompted Stubs.
"...More of a long-haul trucker. I don't like t'talk much about that," Merbert finished hastily. "Now, up'n' at them spuds, folks! Y'gotta get to 'em when they're still warm, you know. Lotta energy and vittamins in spuds, yuh-yuh! You're gonna need 'em, too, 'cuz there's this ornery little fella named Tony that lives 'round these parts. You'll probably have to have some sort of semi-climactic battle with 'im." The jolly ex-wizard paused and a look of reminiscence trundled across his features.
"Tony's a bastard too. Used to bitch all the time about my farting. That is, 'til I had my bum sewed shut."