(Better get one of those ‘forever’ stamps.)
It was a lonely road traveling the space between the stars. It wasn’t just anyone who could stand the nigh infinite tedium of an intergalactic postal carrier job. Symone Goobswoom Nrtanda had been ranging from Arcturus to Betelgeuse and back again for a couple millenia now, relativistically speaking, anyway. Her beat up old Beagle-class carrier “van” was getting pretty rickety and banged up from all those micrometeorites and just the dadblanged cold and stellar/solar radiation. Sure, she had her tunes and her puzzles and her pet Gork, a Siloopian hedge crawler, and her cryomeditation center. Well, shoot, if anyone was as grounded, as centered, as mystically at one with the universe, well she’d eat her regulation-issue postal hat right then and there. Sometimes, she’d pick up some hitchhikers just looking for a ride or maybe even just to lift that specter of boredom, kinda lurking just out of sight. The last hiker had jellybeans, so that was pretty cool, a real retro-shoutout there, even came in one of them globular bean dispenser things. He only had one coin so he had to keep unscrewing the bottom to keep it out. That took a while, but, well, it’s not like they were rushed for time now were they? Most times, when she got to the address where she’d been headed for such a long time, she almost forgot what she was doing there.
Last time, actually, she’d knocked on the door and just stood there empty-handed until the small child-like creature had snurked, “Package? For me?” Came to her senses, Symone had rushed to her ‘pod and handed the package over. The creature had eaten it without even opening it, which her rubbed her the wrong way a little, but, well, who was she to judge.
(It was a pretty big henhouse, ok?)
Zombardo was pretty big in the wizard scene. He knew all the fanciest, fingeringcrampeningiest, tonguetwistingest spells. His beard was milky white and flowed like crumbcakes down his gaberdine* and/or velvet wizard robes. Speaking of robes, boy, were these ever robey! Stars and corlicupes and pentagrams and hexagrams and nonagrams and bedknobs and moons and more moons and still more moons and astrolabes and blunderbusses and just all kinds of other alchemickal symbols were plastered all over the darn thing. Also, there was some stains that might’ve been alchemical ingredients, but were more likely to be jam and baked beans sauce. Look, Zombardo had places to be! He didn’t have time to make sure that food didn’t get on his clothes! Also, he had no time to do laundry, even the magical kind of doing laundry! Also, he had gotten into a shouting match with the woman who did his laundry**. Zombardo sneezed and pulled a feather out of his hair. He shifted around and set his hand down on an egg, which broke and got yolk all over everywhere. Some hens clucked. Zombardo sighed as quietly as possible. There were goblins about!
* OK, I had to look this one up, but it sorta fits.
** She was really good. The best! But she could only put up with Zombardo’s snide comments for so long. And now the old fool had to tromp around in shabby robes. Serves him right, the old noodle!
(Not Carolingian, that would be silly.)
When your great-grandfather was a sea monster, you’re allowed to get a little outrageous, Martin Fishhands thought, as he covered himself in tar and chicken feathers. (Some people spelled it ‘Fishands’ and that was just wrong!) There’s never another chance to make a great first impression, Martin Fishhands thought, as he painted his nose purple. Everyone is gonna love this! Martin Fishhands hummed to himself as he strapped what amounted to a primitive bagpipe onto his back. He hit it with a stick and it made a warbling mournful sound. Perfect, Martin Fishhands thought as he rolled around in the pig sty with all the other pigs. The smell was pungent, to say the least. All of the omens (chicken bones, tossed runes, the state-of-the-art fragmenomancy) agreed that his expedition to the Sorbs was doomed, but Martin Fishhands thought, Superstitious nonsense! and strapped the religious symbols of thirteen different tribes all over his body. As he was headed out the door, he paused, trying to decide if he should wear his sturdy, comfortable walking shoes or the fancy, slightly too small ones that were really just the height of fashion this season. He chose the fancy ones, thinking, Gotta look my best!
Two hundred miles later, his feet were pretty sore.
(But I didn’t say which prime minster, did I?)
All in all, what is your favorite sandwich?
When I was a boy, famously, I prepared sandwiches for the great and the good, scraping mayonnaise and mustard with delicate runcible spoons. No, I think, rather, they were corncrake knives. That was a go, right enough, slopping on pickles by the peck, slicing them up with whatever we had to hand, ruminating on tea time all the while. xxxx, rest his soul, was rather fond of chewing on watercress. The rest of us called him “Cressy”. Don’t think he cared for it much.
When you have time for it, what do you do in your leisure time?
Just the other day a man barged into my office, bit surprising, and startled me while I was stirring my tea–three drops spilled on the ink blotter–anyway, this man, whose face was all red and puffy, I assumed, quite wrongly, from running up the stairs. Turns out, he’d been on holiday and discovered a new allergy, to crabcakes, I believe. Work, work, work, that’s all we talked about, him being my assistant, only I hadn’t recognized him with the redness and the puffiness.
What sorts of questions will you actually give a straight answer to?
The Sphinx was a great one for questions, really, tops at the questions. I mean, apart from being a mainly mythological creature whose statue got its nose blown off by some overeager Napoleonic soldiers. Something about legs, if I remember right. And did you know that Napoleon really wasn’t as short as all that, perfectly average for the time, it’s only compared to us modern longjohns that he seems rather short. Anyway, that’s all the time I have for today.
…thank you. For your time.
(No, they’re not made from crumbled cookies.)
When the bookshop opened, the line stretched around the block. Not just at this one, but in all the bookshops in the city. Not just in this city, but in all the cities in the world. Some strange mania came over the place* and everyone threw down their brainchain** devices and picked up a book, the nearest book to hand, only, GASP!, many realized, there weren’t***. Soon people were streaming in through the doors and not too long later streaming out with just stacks of books of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Some poor fools were trying to read a book while carrying six to ten other books. This often ended badly for all concerned****. One bookstore had to close early because, well, there weren’t any more books. Even the twenty year old text book on differential calculus went out the door. That bookstore owner wasn’t sad. On the contrary, she propped her feet up next to the cash register and smoked a celebratory cigar and poured herself a really quite generous glass of Laphroaig*****. The one thing she didn’t do: read a book******. A little later, she closed up the shop, strolled off down the street*******, and made her way home in the most leisurely way. After a nice long bath, she settled in with one of the three books she happened to be reading and dozed off, the book propped open on her chin. Her dreams were sweet and peaceful.
* The world, I mean.
** In a simpler time, we called them idea pipes, because piping ideas was where it was at, yo.
*** Any to hand.
**** There were some open manholes and one very open crocodile mouth. That’s just how it goes, sometimes, when you’re doing more than one thing at once.
***** She’d never dared to open the bottle before, let alone drink from it.
****** There weren’t any left.
******* Hopped and skipped over a couple reclined readers on the sidewalk.
(We’re not ready, the decorations aren’t up, and we’re still putting on our pants!)
Once upon a time there was a very tiny horse that sat on top of a hill that lurked inside of a sinister and unyielding forest and it whinnied and neighed until the cows came home or until the coffee and pork and beans were ready to eat. No one knew better than the tiny horse what a seriously great deal it had with all the coffee it could drink and the pork and beans it could eat–being tiny, a little went a long way, but there wasn’t a little: there was a lot! Still, it was a lonely life, being a tiny horse, very far and very high away. If only, the tiny horse thought, I could find someone or something to while away the time with, perhaps with a game of chess or checkers or backgammon or something more modern like Stratego, or even just in silence whittling. Not me, the tiny horse thought, I can’t whittle, lacking fingers and thumbs, but it might be comforting to watch or maybe not watch someone whittling away at a piece of wood until some interesting shape emerged or maybe just until the wood all got whittled away. I’m not picky, the tiny horse thought, slurping its coffee and chewing on the pork and beans (“Especially delicious today!” it thought, because what was the point of saying it aloud, there being no one to hear it. And then the tiny horse ruminated, philosophically for a time on what it meant for a tiny horse to say something when there was no one there to hear it. Did it make a sound? The tiny horse brayed (neighed! he was no donkey) with laughter at his silly “philosophical” musings) that were its dietary mainstay and for some reason didn’t have any negative nutritional effects. “Must be magic!” the tiny horse thought, staring moodily at the cows going home, far far away.
(Actually, that’s too much feeling.)
Penelope Scottenrot Terwilliger the third was having a grand old time at the grande dame’s ball. There were pickle skewers and rounded hamshanks, really all the most appetizing of hors d’oeuvres (yeah, I had to look it up, so that shit’s getting bolded and italicized!) and other snackables. Really, just the classiest. Everything was in gold, because gold’s the best color, really goes with everything. Penelope Scottenrot Terwilliger the third (PST3 for short) had nothing better to do, couldn’t imagine anything more enjoyable, honestly!, than doing the foxtrot and lazy zambeezi with, oh, let’s see, there was Jorge Jagabolt Smith and Uncifer Von Scooolp and “Jellaby” Marcos Contigue, to name a few. Was there a furniture factory somewhere that churned these fellas out like hotcakes on a treadmill griddle? Only difference was the color of rose their boutonnière happened to be. PST3 groaned inwardly (outwardly, a delightful burst of sunshine, always, and you’d better believe it MISTER!) as “Crumbcakes” Gorforzoola pressed his moist dance card into her (thankfully) gloved hand. “Once more around the mulberry bush,” she thought.
Still, it was less taxing than rappelling down the canebrake on some questionable climbing cord or dodging slumbering hippos in the mudflats. The life of a spy! One of these knuckleheads surely knew where the Excel file of questionable accounting practices was living, some thumb drive in the shape of a skateboard or 20-sided die, no doubt.
(And a Lion in the fruit bowl!)
Look, no one wanted the kind of dreadful occurrence or happenstance that went down last Thursday. Everyone was depending on someone else to rein in the madcap antics that went a little too mad. The consensus view was, I’ll flee in panic and YOU (someone other than me) deal with that THING (it was a little hazy, it being dusk) over there! There was a definite supermajority of folks who had decided that these kinds of perilous doings were not for them. Not even with a free stuffed tiger and/or coupons for a 64 oz. Slurpee. If we were ordering pizza, we’d all be going for pepperoni and olives, with no one even quibbling about not liking olives, that’s how unified people were on the terrifying blank that consumed at least 97% of our full attention (one or two of us did get distracted by something shiny, briefly, while running for their life). It was the kind of moment where, if this were a basketball game, we all tried getting the ball in the same basket, but only one ball could go through the basket at a time. Yeah, chokepoints were a real issue, let’s say, in the mad rush to, as one mind, flee to the so-to-speak “exit”. Ultimately, this was probably the deciding factor in 75% of us being consumed utterly in some mysterious and unverified (by government agents and news journalists) way. That’s the way the cookie crumbles, I guess, especially when you’re all trying to eat it at once.
(But never those!)
There was a kind of hardscrabble unworthiness to the banker Reginald Kirk Plummings, a sort of wheezy cheerfulness that left others ruminating on mistakes and bad breakfasts. Yup, people often walked away thinking of eggs that were just a bit too runny, toast that arrived too late, soggy and limp. The butter never goes on as well and when the knife bursts through the bread, well, let’s not speak of it. “Reggie” to his “friends”, but never to his mum, who always called him Reginald Kirk or Reginald K. for short. You know, although it seemed like a good idea at the time, the mustache had been the wrong way to go, facial accoutrementwise. But, and this was mostly due to the way the human brain encourages one to keep digging in spite of the huge heap of nothing already found, R.K. went all in on the mustache, even curling up the ends (or trying to) with the very cheapest and oiliest of the hair goop. A Dapper Dan Man he wasn’t. Yes, Plummings had the misfortune of being the type of person, not hated exactly, but simply generally unwanted by those around him.
Oh, it wasn’t all bad. He did enjoy his evening sudoku and mug of mint tea (when he remembered to drink it and hadn’t left it, forgotten and cooling, on the kitchen countertop). His umbrella, he was quite fond of it. And nothing quite got his blood nearly going like watching the squirrels race by on the telephone wires outside his flat.
I wouldn’t say it was a good life or a bad life. It was a life. It might have been sad but for Reginald’s profound lack of self-awareness and one day a piano fell on him and he died.
(No, the other one.)
Yesterday, there was all the time in the world. It was just puddling up in the backyard, on the front porch, in the rain gutter. Some people left it out by the curb in the hope that the garbagemen would come by and scoop it up with that week’s trash. Others just walked stiffly by, as though by not acknowledging it, somehow that extra time would just vanish away. One man slipped in some time and found himself, for what seemed to stretch out into a pinpoint of eternity, flying backward through the air. Although to call it flying is somewhat generous. He did hit the ground eventually and all his dozen eggs (after another seeming eternal moment) crunched all around. One girl and another girl and a boy (children like all the others) snuck out when their parents weren’t looking and had a timeball fight. The boy had a quite attractive mustache by the time the parents finally dragged them inside, for showers or baths most likely. Time doesn’t wash out very well from clothing, unfortunately. One block had an opportunist who tried to pack the time away in several of those cheap, white, styrofoam coolers. Many years later, long forgotten, he opened them up to find all that time had just seeped away. “Where has it all gone,” he cried.
Today, there doesn’t seem to be any time at all.