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Archive for the ‘short story’ Category

Every once in a while I find myself writing a short story. It starts as a lark, a seed of an idea that suddenly sprouts and FOOM! there it is. I have a stable of characters I like to write about which allows for this sort of thing to happen, and they’re a lot of fun to write because the seem to come from that part of my brain that still remembers how writing is supposed to be fun. Supposed to be, as opposed to writing novel-length stories that require plotting and thinking about craft and a time commitment. I find these short stories, when they come, are over before my brain has finished sharpening the pencils and filling out the forms necessary for a larger undertaking.

Okay, so the story is done, and I read it over. They tend to be humorous stories, so I laugh, which is a good thing. Not laughing at my own jokes, but still liking what I’ve written enough to be amused. Then I frown. I’ve just written another humorous story with solid boy appeal and don’t have anything I can do with it.

And I’m left wondering: where do boys go to find stories?

I start thinking, What sort of stories are like the one I just wrote? The first thing that came to mind is the story Gordie tells in Stephen King’s novella The Body about the kid Lard Ass and the pie eating contest. It’s a revenge story, simply put like a campfire tale, and the type of story boys like. But suddenly it occurs to me that even the mighty Stephen King knows that the only way he’s going to get a story like that published is by including it within the context of another, more traditional story.

Because you just know there isn’t a magazine alive aimed at a kid audience that would touch that story with a ten foot pole.

Anthologies exist that cater to humorous boy stories – the Guys Read series of course, and the David Luber Campfire Weenies books – but when a boy is in the mood for some light reading (okay, let’s be honest, bathroom reading) where does he go?

Where did I go?

Eventually I ended up reading National Lampoon, which might not have been the best literature around, but it feed my hunger for funny stories. Occasionally, rarely, I would come across some humorous fiction in The New Yorker, but when it came to finding something short to read I was at a loss. There had to be something more sophisticated than Boy’s Life, less obnoxious than National Lampoon, and not as stiff as The New Yorker, but if there was, I couldn’t find it.

Last fall I was riding public transit and there were three high school boys talking. One of them was telling the other two about this “wicked, sick” story he’d read, and as he went on I realized he was recounting a story by George Saunders from the recent issue of The New Yorker. His friends were attentive, but I could see in their eyes that once they’d heard the story from their friend they wouldn’t hunt it down and read it. It might have been the story itself, or the way the boy told it, but what I think really dulled the fire in the listening-boy’s eyes was when the teller admitted where it came from. Unspoken in those looks was the fact that the story had come from a magazine lying around the house that his parents subscribed to. Very uncool. If he’d lied and said he read the story in FHM or Details it’d be a different story, but then the conversation would veer into fashion or the latest tech gadget or, most likely, the cover model.

Because I thought I was missing something obvious I went to the library to check out the various writer’s market books. One of them (which I won’t name) had a subject index in back and under ‘humor’ there were a couple dozen magazines listed. When I went to check them out almost without exception they stated ‘no juvenile’ in their listings; the exceptions, and there were four listings with this problem, explicitly stated ‘no humor’ which doesn’t speak so well of the copyediting or indexing skills for that title. Almost all of the juvie titles listed were for younger ages than I write for, whose idea of humor most decidedly wouldn’t include pranks, bodily functions, or subversive behavior.

I’ll keep looking for the perfect home for these stories, but I suspect they’re just going to collect over the years until I’ve published several other “real” books and a publisher is willing to humor me by putting out a collection. Perhaps this is one of those “if I won the lottery” situations where I say that if I had the money I’d start a new digital and in-print magazine of humor. Old school thinking, I know, but a boy can still dream, can’t he?

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The Deer welcomed a new Doe to their family and invited their good friend Fox to be the godfather. Fox was honored but wanted to share that honor with his good friend Sparrow, and likewise Sparrow wanted to share the honor with his good friend Dog. This all sounded fine to Deer but few knew that Dog was prone to drunkenness and had been tied up by his Master. Sparrow was certain that having Dog share godfather duties would help reform him and made quick work at the rope that kept his friend tied up. Together they attended Doe’s baptism and celebrated with a feast, at which Dog got stinking drunk.

Fortunately, Dog was a happy drunk and easily persuaded to leave the festivities before things got out of hand. Sparrow and Fox escorted their wobbly friend down the road to his home, which was fortunate because soon there came a Wagoner intent to run Dog down.

“Out of the way, Dog, or I’ll have you as wheel grease!”

“Don’t do it, Wagoner,” cried Sparrow, “or I’ll see to it that it cost you your life!”

But what did a Wagoner fear from a Sparrow’s threats? With a cry and a whip of the reigns the Wagoner drove his horses and cart right over Dog, shattering his legs. While Fox carefully dragged his friend the rest of the way home Sparrow flew around the head of the Wagoner.

“I warned you, Wagoner, and now this shall cost you your life!”

Sparrow flitted around the Wagoner’s head causing only mild irritation. Finally Sparrow landed on the head of one of the Wagoner’s horses and faced him.

“I warned you, Wagoner, and now this shall cost you your life!”

Vexed, the Wagoner reached for his ax and quickly dispatched it toward Sparrow. But Sparrow was quick to jump out of the way leaving the ax to cleave the skull of the horse, killing it instantly. The Wagoner stopped to retrieve his ax, cut free the dead horse, and proceed with his other two horses. Sparrow watched and waited from a nearby tree until the Wagoner was underway again then flew back and perched himself on the second horse’s head, and the third, as each time he repeated his taunt to the Wagoner and each time the Wagoner dispatched his ax.

“I warned you, Wagoner, and now this shall cost you your life!”

With no horses left the Wagoner abandoned his cart and walked the rest of the way home with the Sparrow following close by. Once home he sat down by the oven to warm his bones and chill his temper. Sparrow watched from the window until the Wagoner was calmed then began again with his promise.

“I warned you, Wagoner, and now this shall cost you your life!”

Instantly enraged the Wagoner grabbed his ax and hurled it at the window, shattering the glass and allowing the cold night air along with Sparrow into the room. The Wagoner grabbed a mallet and began chasing Sparrow around the room. Wherever Sparrow landed the Wagoner would bring down his mallet with a crushing blow that would destroy all it touched but always missed Sparrow. The mantel, the oven, tables and chairs, all of it destroyed in the Wagoner’s fury. Finally he tossed aside the mallet and caught Sparrow with his bare hands.

“Now I’ve got you!”

“I warned you, Wagoner, and now this shall cost you your life!”

And without a moment’s hesitation the Wagoner swallowed the bird whole. But Sparrow pecked and clawed his way around the Wagoner’s stomach, scratching and climbing his way back up the Wagoner’s throat until he was able to perch on the Wagoner’s tongue and safely avoid his teeth.

“I warned you, Wagoner, and now this shall cost you your life!”

Desperate, the Wagoner grabbed his hunting gun and handed it to his wife, who had watched the entire proceedings with horror. Taking aim she fired the gun but only managed in taking off her husband’s head allowing Sparrow to fly away into the night.

.

That’s it? What of the rest of it?

What do you mean?

What happened to Dog?

I think that we’ve had enough story for the evening.

No! Tell me!

Very well, but I warn you, it isn’t pretty.

.

While Sparrow was tormenting the Wagoner, Fox managed to bring Dog back home but not without a great deal of painful moaning on Dog’s part. When Dog’s Master came out to investigate Fox ran off and hid as he knew humans thought little of him.

“What happened here?” growled Master.

“I was run down by a Wagoner in the road.”

“You’re a drunk and a liar and it serves you right for running away like that. If you’re still alive come morning we’ll see whether your wounds are worth tending to.”

Fox could not believe the Master’s cruelty and in his anger came running from his hiding place yelping wildly in his friend’s defense. When the Master saw the Fox coming for his throat he reached for his gun and fired. Without taking aim his shot went wild and struck Dog dead, silencing his pain and yelps instantly. Blind with rage Fox brought down Dog’s Master and tore away at him as he would a chicken in a coop. Afraid that he would be hunted for his crimes Fox ran back to the Deer for counsel. With his muzzle and fur red and glistening with blood Fox explained all that had happened and Buck Deer listened with great seriousness.

“We must hide you, for we cannot risk anything happening to our Doe’s new godfather.”

Buck led Fox deep into the woods and stopped at a small train in the undergrowth.

“Follow this trail all the way to the other side of these woods.  There you will find a stream where you can clean yourself and a cave in which to hide. Come back in three days and we shall see how things stand.  But hurry, we can’t be certain the humans won’t send hunting dogs looking for you.”

Grateful, Fox followed the trail cut in the undergrowth as fast as he could. Buck stood and only jumped a little when he heard the fatal snap of a huntsman’s trap catch and kill Fox. When he returned to his family he found that Sparrow had arrived to tell his version of the story. Once again Buck listened with great seriousness as Sparrow hopped around on the ground in great excitement. At one point Sparrow hopped just behind one of Buck’s hooves and with a quick snap of his leg he sent Sparrow sailing into a nearby tree. Buck nudged gently at Sparrow to make sure he was dead, then turned to his wife.

“We must do better in choosing godparents for our children in the future,” Buck said.

.

Now, off to bed with you.

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“The Fairy Tale About the Faithful Sparrow” (1812) by Jacob Grimm is story #258 in The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated by Jack Zipes. It always amuses me how many of these stories start so innocently – a birth and baptism in this case – and then quickly become violent revenge stories. The “child’s” voice asking for the rest of the story is, obviously, me wanting answers to some pressing questions. I tried to fill in the missing details in keeping with general tone of the tale. I imagine that Sam Peckinpah would have like this one in particular.

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I expected that sooner or later I would come across a Grimm tale that might sump me or leave me feeling less than inspired.  What I hadn’t counted on with this one was how boring it was, how much a chore it felt to get through.

It’s a Norwegian Fairy Tale, and perhaps that is its problem, that it loses something in the translation or the cultural exchange.  Maybe the original has a poetic lilt to it, or perhaps Wilhelm added some Germanic embellishments to it that have made it leaden.  I was preparing to concede defeat this week when I started the story one more time and found the hitch.

The story begins, as many fairy tales do, in the house of a powerful man in a faraway man.  And by powerful we must assume he has money to weadle influence over others, for he is not called a king and yet he has a court full of servants.  This becomes the necessary fantasy element that the storybearer desires, a place that causes the mind to fill in the missing details with tapestries and banquets and a life of leisure where hands remain soft and pink and uncalloused.  Naturally this man has a daughter whose beauty is known throughout the land.  And why not?  Can not the most powerful man demand the attention of the finest beauties from which to select as a breeding mate?  Note that I did not say wife, for she is not mentioned in this story and chances are she has been disposed of out of convenience, to either the storybearer or the man himself, makes no difference.

This girl, this beauty, her name is Aslaug.  Daily only the wealthiest and most handsome men come courting, looking to do as her father has done in finding and joining with a young woman whose looks matter most of all.  Ah, now I begin to see an entry to the story’s deeper meaning, for she rejects one suitor after another which makes her father increasingly mad.  Finally, Aslaug’s father has had enough of this.

“I have given you freedom of choice,” her father bellows, “but you have rejected every single man as if they are not good enough for you. Now I must put down my foot and submit an artificial deadline for you to make a selection or I will force you to marry a man of my choosing!”

Now we’re getting somewhere.

At this perilous moment the listener shall want reassurance that Aslaug has been operating from a set of principles her father does not understand. Surely she has fallen in love with someone her father would not approve of, a young man of the court who while certainly handsome is without wealth, someone her father would suspect as being a parasite. With a deadline approaching the young lovers would have no other recourse but to run off to a faraway land until Aslaug’s father had cooled to the idea.  And along the way there would be a land of enchantment, a place of magic, with giants and mysterious old women who give vague warnings and extract promises and…

Bah.

Running away is no answer, nor is inventing a mystical island with mythical underground creatures to provide our young lovers with a background for learning lessons about sacrifice and obedience.  The real story here avoids the most basic question: what does Aslaug really want, what is she truly running away from?

Aslaug wants a girlfriend.

Nowhere in these tales do we see women or girls in each other’s company.  They have no friends, and often no mothers, and when they have sisters they tend to be in competition in the attentions of another.  If they have brothers they may be equals and may be clever  but it is assumed they will one day grow to be married off.  These young women are starved for conversation, for bonding, and perhaps even for a love that dare not speak its name in fairy tales.  Theirs is a zero-percent world of acceptance and understanding. A love for anything less than “pure” or accepted is simply not discussed.  It would be better that these children, these girls, yearning for something beyond the realm if their entrapments find themselves at the whims of crones and giants and other creatures beyond the safety of our imagining.

And so, to finish the story off right, once her father has issued his ultimatum Aslaug says her peace.

“Father, you have boon good and kind to me these many years, and I do not wish to enrage you or cause you grief, but I simply cannot accept your terms. You have often been too busy with your finances and your power to notice me and while I could fault you your blindness I instead assume you have meant well for us both.  It will most likely pain to provide details, though I do not wish you pain, but I have found a love and wish to be with them. It should not concern you who I love or why, only that they make me happy and that if there is anything of mine set aside in your fortunes I should like to use it to begin my own life with my love. If you insist I shall tell you in more detail as a condition of your blessing I will once again warn you that you will probably not approve, seeing as you do not know me well enough yet continue to offer one fresh-faced young man after another as a partner. Should my happiness mean anything to you, you will at least let me go without incident and we shall agree to reconcile our differences in the future. If, however, you truly love me and cannot imagine yourself in objection to anything I desire we may end this discussion amiably…

“And you will not be forced to make up some silly tale about my running off with a chamber boy and living on an island of underground creatures as a measure to save face among your people.”

.

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The New Grimmoire is my weekly exercise in examining and reinterpreting the tales of the Brothers Grimm as found in the complete collection translated and introduced by Jack Zipes.  For those keeping score at home, this is tale 261.

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Dog’s version:

After all my years of loyalty to the service of Lion I was finally recognized as a Noble and ceremoniously decorated.  About time, too, if you ask me.  In addition to ceremony he gave me a title — Duke Dungslakeheaping — and the deed to my own small kingdom. Quite an honor and a prize, I must say.

When I told my sister Cat she was very sweet and congratulatory, which should have made me suspicious, but I was too jazzed to think clearly.

“Listen, Duke, you can’t run around with your deed in your mouth getting all slobbery,” she purred.  “Why not leave it with me and I’ll look after it.  When necessary you can retrieve it.”

Again, I should have known, sister Cat is never anything less than clever, but I found her enthusiasm intoxicating and agreed.  It’s that purring, it’s like some sort of drug, I tell you.

Anyway, one day I’m out and about and I find some Wolves making a mess in my brackens and I say “Hey, you Wolves, clear out!” And they were like “You don’t own this land, Dog, you’re not the boss of us!” So of course I have to run home and get my title to show it to these wannabe dogs

“Yeah, so, about that title, Duke” Cat says, and I knew she’d planned the whole thing even before she told me what happened.  “So I have this little hidey-hole in my cupboard — it’s where I like to keep special treats away from the kittens.  That’s where I put the parchment you gave me.  But the other day I went looking for a little treat and saw that the parchment had been destroyed…”

She took it out and showed me.  It was in strips no wider than one of my claws.  She claims Mouse must have done it, but I know better.  She wouldn’t put her treats where a mouse could get them, and there’s no way she didn’t do this herself out of spite.

I went back to Lion an explained the situation, and do you know what he said?

“Well, if you can be so careless with the title I gave you then I don’t suppose you’re fit to rule the land I deeded you.”

Which is why I’m going to spend the rest of my life bowing and scraping to Lion. And why now and forever I hate Cat.

Cat’s version:

Really, you’re going to take his word?

I had as much to gain and lose by Dog’s commission.  With him in charge I felt I finally had the ear I needed to get some much-needed improvements to this crummy end of the kingdom.  Our waterways are polluted by Raccoons upstream, Birds are constantly breaking noise ordnances with their early morning parties, and those Wolves are a menace and have been rumored to run off with kittens in the night. Why, when I finally had a chance to be heard by Lion would I throw it all away?

It happened just like I said. I put it away not imagining for a moment that Mouse would have any interest in paper. But one day I hear this noise in my kitchen and there’s Mouse, tearing the parchment into shreds.

“Mouse! What are you doing! That isn’t even food!”

“My nest needs lining, dear Cat, and I didn’t think you cared what I did so long as I left your food and your kittens alone.”

I was so furious I gave Mouse a good batting.  I should have killed Mouse when I had the chance but I didn’t.  Now I might as well give up ever getting anything taken care of in this part of the woods. I understand Dog is mad, but the truth is the truth, and for the rest of my days I’m never going to forgive Mouse for what he did.

Mouse’s version:

Oh, please.  Everyone knows what this is really about. It’s all about the Cheese.

Think about it, who loves cheese more?  More than mice, I mean.  That’s right, Dog.  Cat doesn’t mind a nice cream now and then, maybe a runny Brie, but if he could Dog would eat Cheese until it was coming out both ends.  Sorry to be so graphic about it, but there’s Cat’s truth and then there’s just plain Dog truth about the matter.

Because Dog can’t hold his Cheese it is kept under lock and key in Lion’s castle.  For decades now Dog has been bowing and scraping before Lion in the hopes of one day getting access to the Cheese House. It’s because of Dog that the only way I can ever get any Cheese is by making daily rounds to people’s homes and making it look like they have an infestation.  They freak out, put down mouse traps with tidbits of Cheese, and I go making my rounds trying to keep myself fed without breaking an arm or a leg or having to chew off my own tail.

Did I shred that piece of paper?  You bet I did.  You know why?  Because Cat told me it belonged to Dog.  If she had told me what that paper meant, if she’d told me that it meant Dog was no longer in Lion’s palace I would have left it alone.  With Dog gone maybe Lion would have lightened up the security and I wouldn’t have to risk life and limb to eat.

So even though, yes, I tore the paper to bits to line my nest — you try living in a wall, it’s cold and drafty — the only person at blame here is Dog.  He’s ruins everything, for all of us.  I’ve hated Dog forever and I always will.

Cheese’s version:

For a long time the Cheese stood alone, sequestered for her own protection and with no knowledge of what went on beyond the walls of the Cheese House.  She had heard horrible stories, bedtime fairy tales, of Cats and Dogs and Mice and Lions and all manner of Beasts and she was glad for her cool dry home in the dark. The outside world sounded like a dreadful place to her and she was afraid it would eat her alive.

And she was right.

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Tonight, children, I think I should tell you the real reason why dogs sniff one another.

~Aw, Poppa!  Not again!  We know that story!

Oh you do, do you?

~Yes, Poppa.  The Lion invites all the animals to a big feast, but the pepper was missing.

~So the Lion calls on the Dog to go the neighboring town to fetch some pepper for the meal.

~But the Dog was so upset at being sent on the errand that instead of bringing the pepper back he decided to run off with the pepper.

~And the Lion became so enraged that he told all the other dogs that they would get nothing but bones for the rest of their days unless they found the one who never returned with the pepper.

~And from that day forward all dogs sniff each other to find the one who took the pepper.

I see.

~And they never found him, because after all this time that dog would be long gone.

~So all dogs are forever looking for something they cannot find.

I see.

~All a lot of bother for some pepper.

And you believe that is the real reason dogs sniff one another?

~That’s the story, Poppa.

~Yeah, you’ve told it dozens of times.

And so that is what you believe?  You think that is the real reason dogs sniff one another?

( . . . )

I see.

~But if that’s not the real reason dogs sniff one another, why did you tell us that story?

What did you think the first time you heard it?

~I thought you were being a silly-head.

~I thought you were making it up to be funny.

But have you ever really wondered why dogs sniff each other?  Did you ever imagine there might be another reason, a real reason?

( . . . )

I see.

~Is there a reason, Poppa?  A real reason?

~Yes, Poppa, is there? If there is you must tell us!

~Yes, tell us!

Very well.

In the beginning when all the creatures of the world were made the dog was the most mischievous.  As they were created the others animals would wait patiently to be told their purpose. The elephants were given the duty record the earth’s history which was why they were given strong memories.  Dolphins were given guardianship of all the fish in the sea which is why they swim with different schools and protect them.  The birds were tasked to survey the lands from above and serve as living maps for lost creatures which they convey in their songs.

While the other animals were learning their place in the world the dogs would be off frolicking and generally not paying attention.  Then just before it was time to enter the world the dogs ran around asking all the other animals “What are we supposed to do?  Do you know what our purpose is?”  None of the animals knew.  But the cats, who had been charged to enforce the laws of their assigned kingdoms, decided to play a joke on the dogs.

“Your purpose,” said Tiger, “was given to the lead dog to be passed along to the rest of you.”

The dogs were dumbfounded.  They had no idea which one was their leader.

“It shouldn’t be too hard to find the leader,” said Panther with a wink. “The one in charge smells like a leader.”

At this point the dogs all began to sniff one another frantically.  The cats could barely contain themselves from laughing.  The Leopard took it one step further.

“But once you find the leader the only way pass the information along to one another is line up tail-to-nose.  It’s the only true way to know for certain that the information is true.”

And like an endless link of sausages the dogs entered the world tail-to-nose and continue to this day sniffing each other out to find the leader who knows their purpose. There is one further wrinkle to this story that concerns house cats.  The cats we know as pets are descendants of various desert families and they didn’t think it was right to fool the dogs.  Every chance they had they tried to tell the dogs that they had been lied to, but the dogs wouldn’t hear it.

“Your elders, the large cats, they wouldn’t lie.”

“Can you not see how they have made fools of you dogs?  Do you not hear them laughing at you behind your backs?”

Which is why, to this day, dogs and cats do not get along.

( . . . )

I see that this story doesn’t please you as much as the old tale.  Perhaps I was wrong to tell you, perhaps you were not ready to hear it.

~Is that really the reason, Poppa?

~Is that really why dogs and cats don’t get along?

It is the only explanation I know

~Were dogs ever given a purpose, like all the other animals?

I don’t know, children, I haven’t sniffed a dog to find out. I strongly suspect they don’t smell of pepper, but if you’d like you may find out for yourself.

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The Supernaturals

They were the perfect team.  Bunny was said to have hearing so sharp that she could literally hear paint tighten as it dried.  Chester could outrun any human alive and could go one hundred miles without stopping to rest, even at top speed.  Rahsaan had lungs so huge he could hold his breath underwater for nearly twenty minutes and blow house doors in with the same effort you and I would use to blow out a candle.  And Atlas could juggle a dozen large trucks as if they were nothing more than apples.  They had come together to exhibit their talents in a modern-day sideshow but very quickly realized that, when combined, their talents could be put to better use.

Originally they considered robbing banks.  It would have been nothing for Rahsaan to blow in the doors, for Bunny to listen to the tumblers fall on the safe combination, for Atlas to carry a vault’s worth of money to a safe location, or for Chester to lead police on a false chase to divert attention, but in the end they decided to use their powers for good and not evil.

Which turned out to be boring.  Atlas would rescue people buried beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings and coal mines, Chester would transport medicines and live organs across metropolitan areas clogged with traffic, Bunny could actually hear earthquakes before they struck in enough time to warn people, and Rahsaan would blow back brush fires or divert toxic fumes from cargo spills. As a team their organization was called on almost daily to help people all over the world, they had fame and were well compensated by grateful citizens, which was why it caught everyone off guard when they decided they’d had enough of their own altruism.

“Why are we working so hard.  Let’s just do what we do best, grab what we can, and retire,” said Rabbit.

“Agreed,” said the others.

They used their networks to find people who could not only use their skills but would be willing to pay anything for them.  Governments would have to pay up front to be saved from natural disasters. Families would have to threaten mining company executives to get them to agree and pay for the Supernatural services.  Only the wealthiest people could afford their services, and everyone was forced to read and sign an agreement not to sue the Supernaturals for any failure that resulted from delays caused by waiting for payment.  Within a year they had become the four wealthiest people on Earth.  They dissolved their organization, shook hands, and parted ways.  They each found secluded homes and lived in carefree ease for the rest of their days.

Happily ever after, as far as anyone knew.

And that is where the story ends for some. But for those who seek the truth there is another ending.
There came to be a Super Secret Society of people who had lost loved ones due to the selfishness of the Supernaturals.  People whose family had perished while the Supernaturals dallied and dickered over their fees, people who might otherwise have lived if they hadn’t been force to wait while bank deposits cleared and legal departments were consulted. The Super Secret Society grew and spread with the single goal of hunting down the Supernaturals and making them pay for their greediness.

Bunny had retreated to a home on a mountain top where she could sit and hear nothing but the sounds of nature for all her days.  She could hear strangers coming up her road from miles away and erected a series of gates to prevent visitors.  But one day she received a notice that there was a massive infestation of a foreign insect that was devouring local vegetation.  The county was warning citizens that they would be spraying pesticides and insisted citizens stay indoors for two days during the spraying to avoid inhaling dangerous chemicals.  Bunny took the appropriate precautions – sealing her doors and windows, stocking up on food, installing air filters – and settled in with some books to pass the time. On the appointed day planes flew overhead spraying the mountainside around Bunny’s house, and after an hour or two they were gone.  Happy that the spraying hadn’t been too invasive Bunny carried on until she went to bed.

But she couldn’t sleep.  Outside her windows there was a sound scratchy sawing, and all around her the sound of a thousand mouths crunching on potato chips incessantly.  It didn’t take long before Bunny realized that the planes hadn’t sprayed pesticides but instead unleashed millions of tons of noisy insects.  Crickets and cicada writhed like a living blanket over ground, rock, and tree, chirping and creaking.  Inside her walls Bunny discovered hives of bees, hornets, and termites were buzzing and chewing their way into every available space.  To her sensitive ears the noise was constant and deafening.  It was said that members of the Super Secret Society also dropped a listening device nearby and for days could hear Bunny screaming. Her house burned down mysteriously one night but no one went to put it out or investigate what happened.

Chester took refuge in a tropical rainforest where he could daily go for long runs along jungle trails and not be seen. A keen follower of all sports, he spent most of his waking hours watching, studying, and analyzing games and events on the internet and via satellite TV.  One day he saw a story about a runner that had begun to beat speed records he had previously held.  Chester tried to ignore the possibility, but more and more it began to eat away at him.  He began studying this runner who went by the nickname of Zot and quickly began to suspect a scam was involved.  Over and over he saw places during marathons where runners were out of view of cameras and it seemed to Chester as if there was cheating going on. He finally decided to expose Zot as a fake by entering the race under a false name and disguise intent on proving that he still was the fastest human on earth.

On the day of the race Chester made sure not to draw attention to himself.  When the race began he deliberately stayed buried in the lead pack and waited for Zot to make his move.  Chester had studied the course in advance and knew there was a perfect opportunity about two-thirds of the way through the race.  As Zot pulled away from the pack Chester dropped out and sped through side routes to meet up with Zot at the cheating place.  There, Zot met up with his twin brother Scott.

“Hah! I knew you were a fake!” said Chester.

“Fair enough,” said Zot, “You caught us.  But while we may lack your stamina we can still beat your record in short distances.”

“Oh, really?”  said Chester.  “Then let’s finish this race, and if I win I will expose you as frauds.  If you win your secret will remain safe with me.”

As they started out Scott and Chester jostled for the lead.  Then suddenly Scott pulled back and Chester ran all out.  Soon Scott had stopped running altogether and Chester didn’t stop to wonder why.  Running almost as fast a race horse Chester couldn’t see the razor-sharp wire that had been stretched taut across the route and crossing it like an invisible finish line sliced him cleanly in two across the middle.  Neither Scott nor Zot finished the race and were never heard from again and it was presumed they were part of the Super Secret Society.

Having heard about Chester and Bunny, the remaining Supernaturals became worried.

“I think someone is after us,” said Rahsaan.

“Agreed,” said Atlas, “And hiding from them won’t change anything.  So let’s build a trap together.  When they come to get us they’ll be in for quite a surprise!”

To lure in the Super Secret Society, Atlas and Rahsaan wrote a joint memoir about their early lives.  It was a bestseller, and to promote their tour they decided to do only one public author event.  It was agreed that they would appear in an outdoor sports stadium with the strictest security ever devised.  As part of their presentation Atlas would hoist a 30 ton boulder above his head and Rahsaan would blow it out of the stadium and into a vacant lot several miles away.  People eagerly paid good money for the chance to see the remaining Supernaturals perform this amazing feat.  In fact, they were counting on the Super Secret Society to try an attack on them so they could prove that they weren’t scared.  This was the full extent of their trap.  Atlas and Rahsaan had strengths but logical thinking wasn’t among them.

The day before the event Rahsaan and Atlas decided to do a dry run of their stunt.  Rather than waste time and energy throwing the actual boulder (which had taken three days to get into place) Atlas suggested they bring in an empty shipping container and they fill it on site with water.  Their assistants made the arrangements and shortly before midnight they were ready to test their stunt.  Atlas easily held the shipping container above his head and instructed Rahsaan to get in position.  Unseen and unknown to either of them, one of their assistants was a member of the Super Secret Society and had arranged for the container to be filled with liquid nitrogen instead of water.  The shipping container had been rigged in a way that a remote switch would open the cargo door and dump its contents all over the stage… including on Atlas and Rahsaan.  In an instant, the door opened and the liquid nitrogen froze them instantly into statues as fragile as glass.  Unbalanced, the container came crashing down and shattered the two remaining Supernaturals into fragments the size of tiny glass shards.  The event was cancelled, everyone got their money back, and the only complaint many had was that they couldn’t have been there during the rehearsal to see the “accident” first hand.

The Supernaturals were gone and the world lived happily ever after.

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c. 2011 david elzey

 

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King Obvious

There once was a king with out a name who had three daughter: Nina, Pinta, and his youngest and most beloved, Santa Maria. This king didn’t have a name because it’s not his story.  Let’s call him King Lear.  Forget him.

Nearby was another king who did have a name, King Ironhead.  Clearly he named himself, though he could have called himself King Cherrypicker, King Hammerhead, King Codpiece or anything else befitting a king of such arrogance.  For this the people just called him King Obvious.

This King Obvious was the love-em-and-leave-em sort, and everyone knew it.  When there was even a rumor that King Obvious was on the prowl entire villages suddenly became ghost towns. King Lear knew this and expressly instructed his daughters never to let King Obvious within the castle walls.  This both infuriated King Obvious, and if the girls had kept him out of the castle the story would be over right here.

A war erupted, and King Lear left his daughters behind because this is the way men behave.  As a parting gift, perhaps as tokens to remember him by in case he died, he gave them each a dove, a ruby, and a rosemary bush (clearly King Obvious didn’t have a monopoly on symbolism) and warned them that if they couldn’t produce these gifts upon his return then he would know they lost their virginity. Of course, he assumed they still had their virginity to begin with, and if he didn’t return the whole virginity question would be moot.

Not trusting his daughters at all, King Lear locked them in the castle and rigged a basket in a rope from a high window in order for them to retrieve food.  And with a warning wag of his finger he was off for war.  So thoughtful of him.

King Obvious was not pleased. He probably instigated the war that King Lear went off to fight, because for some reason he felt no obligation to fight this particular battle.  No, he most likely created false pretenses for the war so he could find some way to deflower the daughters of King Lear.  But what to do about this problem of girls in the high tower?

Well, naturally, he disguised himself as a woman and crawled into the food basket.  And just to make sure the girls hauled him up he moaned and groaned.

“Oh, woe!  I am an old woman in a basket! I am dying of cold and hunger! Oh, dear girls, please help a horny old lady!”

“Did she say thorny?” said Nina?

“I think she said lonely,” said Pinta.

And since the older girls were as dumb as tree stumps they ran to Santa Maria to settle their argument.

“Listen,” said Santa Maria, “That’s probably a wolf dressed up as someone’s granny down there.  Just toss down some old bread crusts and ignore her.”

But because the older girls were a pair of dunderheaded tree weasels they decided to a good deed and haul up the old woman to show Santa Maria how wrong she was about the old woman.  Ah, but you probably guessed what happened next.  King Obvious jumped out of he basket, whipped of his disguise and shouted “Ha Hah!  Now I’ve got you, my pretties!”

Then he added.

“Here’s the deal.  Let’s play spin the bottle and the loser has to spend five minutes in the closet with me.”

“Five minutes?” snorted Santa Maria.  “I’ve heard it’s more like two minutes.”

“That’s it!  You lose, insolent brat!  Into the closet!”

“Can I have a few minutes to prepare myself?”

“Naturally.  It isn’t like I suspect you’re going to try to trick me or anything.”

With that, Santa Maria went to her room and moved all her furniture to the privy. Now what you have to understand about castles is that while they didn’t have plumbing they did have indoor toilets.  Mostly they were old wooden thrones with holes cut in their seats placed over a massive stone pit that emptied into the moat down below.  All Santa Maria did was arrange the privy room so it looked like her bedroom (albeit a bit small) with a run carefully placed over the privy hole.  Then she took off several layers of clothing and arranged herself on the bed before calling King Obvious in.

“Come join me, dear King,” Santa Maria said, patting the space on the bed next to her.

“Oh no,” said King Obvious.  “I know you’ve cut a hole in the mattress so that I fall through to the moat.  No, you come here and join me on the rug—”

And with that, King Obvious fell into the castle sewage with no way out but to swim out.

Furious, he summoned a sorcerer.  The idea was to torture Santa Maria by attacking her sisters.  His plan was to make Nina and Pinta pregnant and desire only things that belonged to King Obvious.

“You don’t need me for that,” said the sorcerer. “Those girls would believe anything you told them, and you can get them pregnant for yourself.”

Which he did, though how is beside the point right here.

Needless to say, soon the pregnant girls began having strange cravings.  The wanted apples and figs and other obvious symbols of Original Sin from Christianity, and it just so happened that King Obvious possessed just those fruits by the orchard.  But since the girls were still locked up in the castle, and he knew the only one who could shimmy up and down the rope from their high window was Santa Maria, he devised a clever torture device to get back at her.

Get this: It was a barrel lined with nails that once you climbed inside you could not climb out without severe injury.  The plan was to lure Santa Maria to come collect some fruit in place of her feeble-minded sisters and then punishing her for stealing his fruit by forcing her to go head-first into the barrel. Do you want to guess how much this didn’t work?

Using an old trick from a Punch and Judy show she once saw, Santa Maria convinced King Obvious to (are you ready?) show her how to do it.  So King Obvious, who was clearly a dolt, dove into the barrel and got himself stuck.  Oh, he howled and howled, and his servants were slow to help him out.  The official line was that he had instructed them to ignore any wailing because he wanted Santa Maria to suffer, but it’s probably closer to the truth that his servants were as fed up with him as everyone else and left him there for a bit.

Unhappy that King Obvious would go to such lengths to harm her, Santa Maria took it upon herself to rub it in.  She posed as a doctor and made herself available to help King Obvious and showed up with a giant ox skin soaked in vinegar.  The King, desperate to heal from his self-inflicted stupidity, overlooked that the doctor looked suspiciously like Santa Maria.  The “doctor” insisted that King Obvious be left alone and that after she administered her “medicine” the king’s servants were not to respond if the king cried out in pain.  The servants, sensing something dastardly was about to happen to their king, retreated to the cellar and proceeded to drink themselves into a stupor.

Santa Maria took the ox skin and sewed King Obvious into it like a giant cocoon with just his head sticking out.  “An hour or so of that will do you good,” she said.  Shortly after she left the vinegar from the hide began to soak into and sting the king’s wounds and he howled like a man possessed.  In the middle of the night, when one of the passed out servants awoke from his drunken stupor to hear the wailing of the king, he wrote it off as a pair of nearby bears mating and went back to sleep.
King Obvious eventually passed out from the pain and was delirious for a week afterward.

It just goes on and on like this, with King Obvious four more times trying to catch Santa Maria and always managing to be bested by her, sometimes in the most gruesome of exchanges.  If people took joy in the sadism of these accounts, of watching great leaders taking a tumble, than surely this must be something locked deep into our reptile brains.  At one point Nina and Pinta have their ill-begotten love children and Santa Maria devises a way secretly dump them on King Obvious, who promptly stuffs them into a corner where they’re forgotten.

Finally, King Lear returns and the first thing he wants to see are the gifts he left them.  Santa Maria goes first and produces her dove, her ruby, and her rosemary bush and the king is satisfied.  She quickly hands her gifts to Pinta who presents them as her own because, clearly, she’s no longer a virgin and her dove is gone and her rosemary bush has gone all… woody, or something.  Then Nina comes in and tries to pass off Santa Maria’s dove and ruby and bush off as her own and—

“Hold on a second,” says King Lear.  “I want to see all your birds and bushes at the same time.”

At which point the older sisters fall to their knees crying and confess and beg their father for forgiveness. Naturally, he’s pissed, and once he learns that King Obvious was responsible he charges next door to give him a good piece of his mind.

“Father!” King Obvious shouts as King Lear enters his chamber.

“Uh, what?”

“I was just trying it out, calling you dad.  Sounds nice.  I like the ring of it.”

“I don’t follow.”

“I want to marry Santa Maria!  That would make you my father!”

“Oh.  Well.  That’s just fine!”

Somehow the fact that he’d deflowered his other two daughters is as forgotten as the offspring they produced, and kings being what they were they set about planning the wedding.

“I have no intention of marrying that lout!” said Santa Maria.

But her father didn’t care, and so the wedding went ahead as scheduled.

Of course, Santa Maria had one final prank to pull on King Obvious.  On the night of her wedding she had a lambskin sewn to her shape and size and filled it with the entrails of all the beasts served at her nuptial meal. She carefully placed it in her bed and threw the covers over it so it looked like her, then climbed under the bed and waited.  King Obvious came in, doused the candles, and proceeded to get undressed. As he stood there fully naked he cleared his throat to catch his wife’s attention.

“Lay down your dagger and draw up your sword, oh husband.”

“What dagger?”

“That one I can see clearly in your hand.  Or is that… oh! I see!  It’s like when they call a bald man curly.  King Ironhead?  Henceforth, husband, I shall call you King Pollywog!”

“Draw up my sword, you say?”

King Obvious reached over and grabbed his broadsword and hacked away at the fake wife in his bed until it was a gory mess.  When he was done, when he realized that he’d killed the one person who could outsmart him, he was beside himself with grief.  He was so upset that he turned his sword upon himself and as he watched his life drain out before him Santa Maria crawled out from under the bed to watch.

“I will miss our sparring, King, but you will not be missed,” Santa Maria said.

While the rest of the kingdom slept, Santa Maria loaded up a carriage full of gold and disappeared, never to be heard from again.

And she lived happily ever after, but everyone else was left guessing.

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c. 2011 david elzey

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