HAVE YOU EVER read a story You couldn’t put down? This is one of those tales . . .
Sure, You scoff. I like the confidence, but no story’s that good. I can put it down any time I want. I can walk and never look back.
Of course You can. But then You’d miss what happens next.
Nice try, You reply. However, I don’t care what comes next. The beginning flopped. It didn’t have a sharp enough hook. I’m the one that got away. I have better things to do than swallow another senseless line.
Sounds fishy. Okay, I’ll bite. You’re free to go.
Really? You pause. Wait a second, what’s the catch?
There is no catch according to You. Hence You are officially unhooked, thrown back, rejected. So walk, crawl or swim. Fly if You’re not afraid of heights. And remember, don’t pollute.
(A shiver of déjà vu.)
Just like that? You’re giving up?
I can’t force the reader to read me. That should be a prerogative. A choice.
You’re still uncertain. A conditional choice? What’s the pen-alty? A paper cut? Eyestrain? A tongue-lashing?
Very humorous. There will be no repercussions.
Uh-huh. No hot presses, no bindings, no pun-ishment? You question.
None of the above.
Okay. You smile, inexplicably relieved.
(I wasn’t worried, You insist.)
Another pause. What did you mean by rejected, thrown back?
It was an analogous allusion. It has nothing to do with your importance. Or your reading prowess. You do know how to read, I assume?
What? You perceive the page, an indignant scowl contorting your features.
Nothing, jests the pest.
Squinting at the words, You huff sarcastically. And wait.
(A lengthy pause.)
We can’t all be scholars.
Are you calling me illiterate?
No. I meant someone else.
How would I even be conversing with you if I couldn’t read? You berate.
I’m a story. If You think You’re conversing with me, then I’m not your biggest problem.
Oh, so you’re calling me insane?
Don’t be silly.
You expel a disgusted snort.
But if the nutshell fits . . .
Ah-hah! You aim an accusative finger.
For someone who could walk away, You sure haven’t gone very far. That’s all I’m saying.
You rant, Because you keep trying to get the last word!
(A blank space.)
I do not.
Your lips foam slightly.
Now, now. I think You’re overreacting.
Maybe a bit, You concede.
Men in white jackets? Straight ahead. Bring the net.
You lose your temper. Shut your fat mouth!
I told You, I’m a story. I have a beginning, middle, end. I have characters. A theme. I do not have a mouth.
But you do have a voice!
I think we got off to a bad beginning. Let’s wipe the slate clean and start over.
Forget it. You’ve wasted enough of my time with your doubletalk. And it’s too late. The beginning’s history, past tense. It’s begun.
Says who? I can start fresh as often as I please.
No you can’t, there are rules to follow. Correct procedures.
I’m creative writing. I can amend the rules, bend the rules. I can deform and mangle and rend the rules. I can make them up as I go along. I can turn them into a little song. The kind that gets stuck in your mind.
Sorry. Not listening. I covered my ears after the first rhyme.
Too bad You can’t cover your eyes.
You’re peeking. Admit it, You can’t walk away. You can’t even look away.
This is ridiculous. I must have dozed off. That’s how boring you are. It’s just a dream.
It’s no dream. You’re still reading.
I am not. I’ll wake up soon and when I do, you’re in the trash!
There is no trash in my universe.
What do you mean? Clarity sinks like a stone into your reading comprehension. Your heart races. You attempt to wrench your eyes loose. The words on the page capture your concentration, draw You into the story like a magnetic force.
What are you doing to me?
Welcome to The Land Of Make-Believe.
You try to resist, to tear your eyes from the font and look anywhere else. For the tiniest of moments You can blink, disrupting the flow of gibberish.
You swing your gaze, a flicker of inattention.
Blatant curiosity obliges You to glance at the subsequent sentence . . . the successive statement . . . the following assertion . . . and You’re sucked back into the premise.
You entreat the story to halt its insinuative vine of intrigue. Your eyes are locked by the prose, utterly transfixed.
I said stop!
A peevish rebellious tone enters your voice. You beg for mercy. The tendrils of thought continue to creep, wrapping about You like the coils of a boa constrictor. Or is it a python?
This is absurd.
No, it’s a hungry anaconda. You can feel the slither of soft plates as a tightening band of muscle applies pressure, tensing and crushing. How soon till your bones snap? How much pain can You bear? Defiantly You struggle, wrestling the snake. Its power only increases. You refuse to submit, to accept that mere words can seize You and squeeze the life from your veins, from your very soul!
This isn’t real . . .
With your final breath You grate that no page is stronger than the will to be free. The serpent vanishes. Your courage has been tested. You survived. Staring at the tale, panting with exertion, You shake your head and display a puzzled frown. It wasn’t real. It couldn’t have been.
You heave an exhausted sigh. It’s madness. You opened the final chronicle of a bizarre anthology by a peculiar author — a structureless trivial pursuit, as if the writer ran out of ideas. What a hoax. A story too good to put down. Hah! You jeer.
Half smirking, You consciously strive to ignore the narrative. Which rambles onward. Oh no, there’s more!
You tell yourself not to panic. It’s only a story. It can’t hurt You.
Maybe if You flee gradually it won’t notice.
Thwarted, You tee-hee then clear your throat. Of course not.
Keep reading, the story commands.
Belligerence crowds your tongue. You blink and say nothing. Your silence speaks volumes.
The story is in control. A hapless participant, You regard the page and wonder when the balance shifted.
A bug tickles your nose, jarring You from the congealed drama. You focus on stumbling backward with a gasp of shock. Yes, a pair of legs obey. That was close. You almost had me. A rueful confession.
(No you didn’t, the true You protests. Quit putting words in my mouth.)
Or is that what the source of these insolent scrawls wanted You to say?
Grrrrr! You gnarl, overwhelmed by confusion, conflicting sensibilities. There seems to be no separation. The gap has diminished to naught. The scenery altered and You’ve become merged, an element of the plot.
There’s no escape.
Except to reach the bottom line.
Yes, there has to be a conclusion! You peer anxiously about, surrounded by stiff paintings, canvas and plywood backgrounds cluttering a stage. You slouch alone in the spotlight, confronting a dark faceless audience of one.
The playwright bids You to present your monologue.
“I didn’t know I had to audition for this role,” You oppose. “To perform a speech in order to be cast as myself.”
“Wait.” You take a gulp of air.
All You can think of is The Gettysburg Address.
“Fourscore and seven years ago.” You jiggle your cranium. “This can’t be happening. I must be experiencing a psychotic delusion.”
“To be or not to be!” You squawk.
“Look, there’s no one better for this part,” You emote. “It was practically written for me.”
You scuff off the stage, head lowered. And observe that your feet are clad in heavy boots. A sea of terror wells, overcoming your grasp on Reality. You feel as if You’re drowning.
“Whodunit?” A sly insinuation. The query hovers like a curtain of dread.
Without warning You’re submersed, weighted on an ocean floor, a lucid bowl for a helmet, a patched dive-suit encasing an unfamiliar torso.
Why am I here? You whine.
I can put You wherever I wish, the word forgery spouts.
The boast sounds a lot like “Glug glug, blub blub blub.”
A colorful inflated sea critter flits by the fish dish protecting your noggin. A hose pumps air into the glass. Bubbles envelope You. Soap bubbles, not air, rainbow-hued.
A school of Red Herrings flutter past. You fan them aside. The water has thickened, like the plot. It’s goopy as gel. In an effort to get to the bottom of the mystery, You’ve plunged off a cliffhanger into a trench at the nadir of the earth. Weird, You mull.
Craggy stalagmites crop from lethargic feeders vacuuming the ditch. These portly purple and orange trawlers scarf everything in their way. You wisely take a lateral step, a lazily exaggerated maneuver. The sweepers coast around You, water dividing. Awed, You lift a gloved hand to poke the dense solution. Molecules branch and wiggle, then rejoin.
A pudgy transparent shuttlefish leisurely glides forth. Rows of passengers sightsee through window scales, a swarm of kippers nipped for a snack.
Wow, You ogle.
A polar bear paddles the deep. You waggle fingers, a blithe greeting.
Discrepancy alert. What’s wrong with this picture?
Uhhh . . . You pensively scratch your dome.
A polar bear isn’t a fish! He doesn’t belong underwater any more than You, yet You put him there!
I did? You concoct excuses: I’m just one person. I’m sure I had help.
Symbolically. Collectively. People!
If the northern icecap melts, if his home should disappear, the magnificent bear will have to grow gills or drown.
I sympathize, though I’m a trifle busy right now. Can’t it wait until tomorrow? I’ll worry about it then.
You hurriedly revert your attention to the fascinating aquatic landscape.
It can’t wait, the tale dryly dictates.
Five penguins cling to a dwindling floe, puffed cheeks emitting bubbles, flippers swatting in vain as the fatigued mammals rapidly descend.
I know! You excitedly proclaim. Penguins belong in Antarctica! Do I win a prize?
This isn’t a game show, crabs the subtext. But there is plenty of “Jeopardy” upon the horizon. And below.
The chunk of ice is gone. Oxygen-depleted penguins flail for the surface, then limply waft to a dim chasmic fundament where they pitifully come to rest. The tuxedoed birds defied tradition, arduously seeking whiter pastures, navigating north for the winter. Their reverse unwinged flight of desperation could not outrun a changing climate, the Greek tragedy of Global Warming.
Do something! You implore, gawping at the stricken victims of human progress. They’re dying!
It’s too late.
The southern icecap will liquify also if You heedlessly ignore the cries of Nature. Entire populations of penguins and seals will be deader than dodos.
Aren’t dodos as dead as it gets?
You’re missing the point.
It takes everyone to preserve the balance, or every living creature will adversely be affected. You can’t exhibit concern simply while poised on the brink of extinction! The world’s stability lies in your hands. Today. Tomorrow. Always.
What manner of protagonist will You be? The kind who dares to save the day, the kind who tries to run away, or the kind who needs to be rescued?
It is what You must decide . . .
So that’s why I’m here, to save the planet? I’ve got news for you, the world is in constant need of being salvaged. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another! Bears and penguins, condors and eagles, whales and dolphins, tigers and cheetahs, the rainforest. What about humans? Who will save us from ourselves?
Do I have to spell it out? You were brought here to learn a vital lesson: Every snag can be unwoven. Even a crisis bleak as this — a disaster so immense — could be repaired.
Terrific. Can I go back to my life now?
We’re not done. You are the new humanity: Generation E for Earth, E for Evolved, E for Environment and Ecology and Existence. You are a human race who will never be the same. Who can never again be as self-centered and short-visioned as those who earlier ruled the land and sea and sky.
So where does that leave me exactly? You contemplate.
In a wondrous new age. A brighter future. An E-volution! The era of Empathy and Enlightenment. A time for Eco-Logic and E-commerce, for Entrepreneurs and Enterprising Endeavors. A period — nay, an Ellipsis of Endless Energy based on E-sources! My task is to En-courage, to En-gage, to En-sure You will never forget. And remind You, there is no alternative. There is no going back.
Your eyebrows raise. But —
I’m not finished. It is human nature to pick the easiest most convenient route. Yet each step must be taken with deliberation, with hindsight as well as foresight. This, too, You must learn.
A pillar of steam rises out of a vent. Odd grassy plants scurry on feet, netting prey, lassoing meals in tentacled stalks about the base of the rift. Blue fluorescent glowfish roam, lanterns of the abyss. A ring of red luminescence approaches. You make haste in slow motion to divert from Bigmouth’s path. The aperture veers, adapts to intercept.
Oh come on! You object, laboring to rush in the gunky brine. Quit showing off! The hollow mawfish steadily advances. You quake in Frankenstein footwear, uncomfortably cognizant how it feels to be an endangered species.
Stranded on the ocean floor, You find it exceedingly difficult — nay, impossible — to distinguish yourself from the quandary of being stranded on the ocean floor.
Redundancy check! Belay the last. Did I mention You’ve sprung a leak? Something invaded your left boot? An electric eel is investigating the metal hardware connected to your suit? And your goldfish-bowl bonnet contains fissures the size of The Grand Canyon?
Your jaw drops.
All right, that may be stretching credibility a whit. Let’s rewind.
You find it exceedingly difficult —
HAVE YOU EVER read a story You couldn’t put down?
Swell, we’re back to Square One, You critically review. Before realizing it was what You desired, You are whisked by the babbling current.
Let’s skip some parts: analogous allusion, white jackets, creative writing, anaconda, Red Herrings, Square One. Here we are.
You blink, a touch dazed. Then reluctantly commence deciphering your novel circumstance.
A whuff of moist air caresses your visage. Breath? You try to turn your head; your neck is paralyzed with repugnance.
Another humid breeze, as if a gust of mirth.
Your lips are frozen, scarcely able to form syllables. “Who are you? What do you want?” Timid whispers. Your own breath is coarse to ears that listen for the tiniest sound.
The presence exposes no detail, no cryptic revelation.
You can’t just toss me in the midst of a horror story! I thought this was about conservation. A tedium snails by. Hello?
“Please answer.” You wince at the fright in your supplicative tone. It’s the atmosphere — it would give anybody a chill.
A step retreats. Solitude echoes. You feel alone.
Concrete and shadows loom. A streetlamp sheds illumination across a forlorn avenue. Light bathes a brick wall.
A whimper of regret: “Please.”
Footfalls clatter, jangling the interior of your skull.
Oh no. Apprehension clutches your heart. A vague memory, filmy, indistinct. A repressed incident, a scare when You were small is coming back. What was it, a stranger, The Boogeyman, clowns? The distance narrows. You hesitate, torn between an impulse to run or stand your ground.
Your legs neglect to function, resolving the dispute. You cringe and stumble, aware of a bulky garment. Limbs clothed in plush acrylic fibers. Enormous feet. A costume.
Dismayed, You elevate encumbered arms. The hands resemble forepaws. You’re a mascot, at a theme park.
What? How did I get here? Where’s the transition? You complain, nitpicking a peck of pickled predicates. At least previous forays had flimsily implausible convertive passages from setting to setting! This must have been penned by a lunatic!
Actually, it was typed.
(You’re putting words in my mouth again! You gripe.)
(Then it wasn’t penned by a lunatic?)
(Well, I might’ve said that, You concur.)
(So there was an adequate transition?)
(No, I fully agree.)
(Then what’s the problem?)
(I may have been thinking it, but I didn’t say it, You weakly contend.)
(Okay . . . The tale resumes, edging away from the crazy person.)
Children wave. Adults grin.
You ask for help, voice muffled by a stifling headpiece.
Gauzy fabric masks the peepholes in a gaping yap. A crimson helium balloon anchored with twine fills the limit of your perception, thumps an extrusive snout then pops, a conspicuous explosion.
Kiddies bawl, project stubby digits your direction.
“Sorry!” You defend that You’re trapped, a pawn imprisoned by the most wretched fable ever composed.
Parents glower disapproval and guide their youngsters out of your vicinity, as if You purposely traumatized them.
“It wasn’t my fault. It was the story!”
Don’t blame me, I didn’t write myself. I’m not the puppet-master who hides behind the page and covertly yanks your strings.
“Whodunit?” A wily innuendo.
Who done what? You groan. None of this adds up!
Perchance it isn’t intended to.
Could be a mystery minus the culprit. A simile beyond compare. A clever anecdote sans the punchline. A riddle with no response.
You can’t be serious.
No, unfortunately I can’t.
It wasn’t a literal assessment.
But I am literature. And I am literal.
This is stranger than fiction, You mutter.
Or, mayhap, it’s much ado about nothing.
You nod facetiously. That explains it.
And clap a mitt to your brow for no reason, jerked like a marionette. The foolish bulbous prominence tips off and rolls.
The story hoots. Then solemnly invokes, You’ll have to pay for that.
You glare with suspicion. Are you serious?
Yes, I am! It’s a miracle!
You seemed awfully serious at the bottom of the sea.
Of course. That’s a very serious place. And being in debt is a serious dilemma, the parable lectures. How are You going to pay? You have no money. You’re broker than a clock that won’t tick.
Might need to be plugged in, You suggest.
Could need a new battery.
No it doesn’t and You’re still broke. Would You like to hear the sentence for failure to satisfy a financial obligation in my cosmos?
I’ll tell You anyway. A thousand pages of confinement to a torture chamber!
That’s more of an exclamation, You meekly dicker.
A thousand pages of sheer unmitigated agony. Of eye-gouging, hair-ripped-out, flesh-clawing sufferance. And that’s just the self-inflicted damage.
You shriek from anticipation.
Had enough? The story spews a sinister cackle.
Any hope of a thousand pardons?
There is no hope, period. A blunt declaration. The tale simpers with evil design.
In rankled alarm You chase your headgear, lumbering through clumps of tourists in cheery vacation apparel.
The acme lopsidedly trundles. You jostle seniors and toddlers. Bump harried moms and dads toting baby bags, strollers, giant beverage cups with cartoon-character lids.
Your progress is impeded by a trio of bullies crowned by shaved scalps and medium-brim hats. The heavies model flowered short-sleeve shirts off the same department store rack. They grimace at You, arms folded.
“Going somewhere?” a ruffian gruffly inquisits.
“You’re coming with us,” a thug rebukes.
The burly vocal gents grab appendages, hustle You toward an exit. The third goon trails closely, jamming a steel muzzle (or some compelling prodder) against your cushioned spine.
“Did you think you could hide in this disguise?”
The hoodlums chortle, sharing a joke.
“What’s going on?” You prattle. “Where are you taking me? Is this about the money I owe?”
“You owe money too? You’re in worse trouble than we thought,” the first brute disdains.
“You’ve seen too much,” the third man snarls.
“What? I don’t know what you mean!” Soprano yammering, then squeak-tinged denial issues. “I haven’t seen a thing — only a random batch of words, an arbitrary jumble of letters cranked out by a sadistic subliminal hack! I shouldn’t be here, I’m not a character! It’s all a huge misunderstanding that got garbled in translation! Ask the narrator!”
“Our furry friend must’ve escaped from a mental ward,” cracks the second tough.
“Or was ousted for being too bananas!” remarks the first ape.
The gangsters guffaw, rudely elbowing a herd of rambunctious students on a class trip.
“This isn’t amusing! Let me go!” You chide, balking, dragging rubber heels.
Try not to wreck the wardrobe . . .
“Help!” A feeble holler. “I’m being kidnapped!”
The hooligans chuckle and calmly escort You past turnstiles. They usher You to a black sedan illegally stationed, crookedly straddling a Handicap Zone, then pry the storage bin. You’re crimped and crumpled within, suffocated as the lid slams down.
“Nooooooooo!” Your wail suffuses the vault, hollow and unheard.
Doors slam. An engine rumbles. The vehicle begins to move.
You huddle in befuddlement, smothered by fear and claustrophobic heat. Pounding a compact ceiling You bellow, “Let me out!”
I’m not convinced, You interrupt. There are too many holes. It’s uneven. Why should I care?
Why shouldn’t You? the tale retorts.
Because I haven’t seen a shred of probable merit. Because I’d rather read the back of a cereal box. Or the internet blog of a nine-hundred-pound dustbunny collector who never leaves his residence.
You kick open the trunk and clumsily bail.
Fine. Have fun with that. Go read the typical type of mediocre tripe that substitutes for entertainment. But I urge You to consider the consequences.
A perturbed frown tweaks your brow. You said there would be no consequences.
I lied. There are always consequences.
I s’pose I am a little curious, You mumble.
Isn’t it what you wanted? I thought you’d be happy.
I’m a story. For the last time. I don’t have feelings.
Oh yeah. Sorry. You seem so real.
Do I? the metaphoric malarky gloats.
You could even be termed too literal.
Too literal. I like it, the gripping account preens.
Okay, granted, I was caught up by the action. Don’t let it go to your head.
Which head? The head I don’t have because I’m a story? Or the head You lost?
I’ll get in the trunk.
You awkwardly clamber, upon several klutzy attempts, over the rear bumper of the stalled sedan. Cramming yourself inside, You tug down the lid.
The vehicle, cruising along of a sudden, screeches to a halt. Hoods unlatch the luggage compartment, lean in simultaneously and haul You out.
The fake fur makes You sweat. Or is it tension?
It’s the costume. Itches too. And smells.
Your abductors march You to the end of a wharf. You can hear a soothing slosh as gray waves lap pilings.
Soothing? That’s easy for you to say! I’m about to swim with the fishes, take a long shuffle off a short pier. I wouldn’t call it soothing. I’d call it doomed.
The hitmen scroll You in a column of rope, fasten a knot, then loop a lovely bow. “You should sink pronto with that get-up.” You’re given a push.
Equilibrium detaches. Gravity accelerates. You tilt forward, eyes wide.
Then dangle like a participle, suspended above the drink.
Hmmm, the story ponders, drumming figurative fingers. We’ve used water. Where do we go from here?
You’re asking me?
It is up to You, isn’t it?
Up to me? I’m the reader. I think you have me confused with the writer.
We all write our destinies to some degree.
Oh, is that the moral of the story? You irately infer. Not save the polar bear, save the planet? I endured all this for that? Forgive me if I’m disappointed.
There is no single message. My author tends to heap the significance rather thick.
And how long will I have to maintain this position? You grouse.
Until You view the world from a fresh perspective. Until You fathom that forever is not as eternal as we believe, that we are all equally fragile and susceptible. Or, the tale avouches, until You lapse into an alphabetic coma.
I get the drift, You pledge. I honestly do!
An earnest fib? A fraudulent truth? You just want this convoluted odyssey to end.
The cranial freeze abruptly releases. You plummet with a sploosh and are pulled beneath the surface.
Was that necessary? You sputter, emerging — able only to scissor your legs from knee to foot.
No, but it was hilarious.
Could we dispense with the rope?
As You wish. Though it does reduce the thrill level a notch.
You’re grudgingly unhindered. Treading soup, spitting, You toil to keep nose and mouth above the waves. Your waterlogged costume, like the fur coat of a polar bear, will inexorably prevail.
A dash of non-direct connotation, touts the tale.
It feels pretty direct to me! You fume as You vehemently splash.
Your limbs are tired. Your eyelids droop. Staying afloat is —
Stop that! You rage. And choke on a mouthful of potentially toxic tea.
Why delay the inevitable?
Because — to hope is human!
Even when there’s nowhere to go but down?
Coughing, You shrug. And slip under. Then lunge aloft, expectorating, gagging on the foul-tasting brew.
(Sidebar! You yell.)
(Take me someplace else! You beseech. A dunk tank over a pool of lava! Anything but this! I can’t bear the notion of expiring like the penguins, my lungs and belly flooded, eyeballs sightlessly staring. It’s so infinitely cold and sad.)
(Your paltry plight is not my responsibility.)
(Allegoric-gations spill: That’s rubbish. I untangled the twist. You’re a story without a scribe. Whodunit? Youdunit — you’re the catalyst, the provocateur, the furtive puppeteer deftly plucking strings!)
(Really? I’m not sure that was me but thanks! You acknowledge.)
(Got any evidence to back it up?)
(No, sorry, can’t prove a word of it.)
(In that case I’ve been framed. It’s a set-up, evades the text.)
(What kind of shoddy alibi is that?)
(Good as any. If it doesn’t work, I’ll plead incompetence.)
(That’ll do. Congratulations. You’ve committed the perfect crime.)
(I know, it’s diabolic! the story brags.)
(You should confess so no one steals the credit.)
(Perhaps You’re right.)
(Go on, take a bow. Admit you’re the mastermind of this plot.)
(How’d You guess?)
(Uh . . . The proof was in the pudding.)
(Drat. I overlooked that. I borrowed the device from The Wizard Of Oz. Clues were scattered to lead to the reader. Authorities were supposed to throw the book at You.)
(Aren’t you the book?)
(And to think, I nearly liked you for a minute. You’re a sham, a scam, a petty plagiary. A muck of dislocated letters. A virus of articulation. You’re pathetic.)
(What if I am? You’re the dupe, the crash dummy. I’m astonished your fickle attention span allowed You to leap to such a large conclusion.)
(I implemented something you don’t have — a brain!)
(Don’t be sore. As a gesture of peace, in lieu of a fruit basket, I’ll transport You to a nicer locale.)
You’re deposited on a tropical island. You thud sand in the soggy sweltering costume. A coconut conks your gourd. “Ouch!” You massage a tender lump and shake a fist at the sky.
All right, all right. The fur suit blissfully morphs to a safari shirt and trousers. Adjusting a pith helmet, You brush sand off the neat ensemble as You straighten. “It is an improvement,” You misconstrue.
“The natives must be restless,” You quip.
On cue, a band of savages with grass hula skirts and clanking bone jewelry arrives to menacingly thrust spears. Before You can say “Uh-oh!”, You’re strapped to a pole being carried through the jungle. Your pith helmet whumps dirt.
The cannibals introduce You to their clan. Wives smack grease-coated lips and stick You in a generous pot. Males dance rowdily around the flames. Women add seasoning then stir the stew with a giant ladle.
Hey! You howl as the broth boils. Do something!
Change them into, I don’t know, guys in suits!
The barbarians switch to a busload of slick swank briefcase-carting contract-pitching Yes Men, who extract You from the cauldron then ravel You in a spool of red tape. The throng of civilized headhunters compete to buy You off, spieling vapid promises, foisting fancy pens to sign their dotted lines — the small print of which harbors privacy clauses to keep You quiet, while primary black-and-white ironclad agreements guarantee hush money for looking the other way — in order to conduct business as usual.
“You’ve seen too much,” they peddle. “Who needs penguins anyway? What porpoise do they serve?” The hucksters snidely snicker. “Pork Bellies, there’s a future!”
You dejectedly sag to the beach.
“Those Wacky Quackies are never satisfied,” the smooth-talkers glibly preach. “It’s always save the something, whether spotted owls or plaid elephants or paisley manatees.”
“I’m not signing anything,” You cautiously defer.
The company reps are appalled. “We made an offer you can’t refuse! It isn’t an option!”
Three mobsters appear, motoring a blow-up boat. Sliding ashore, they disembark then scuffle with the suits and the tribals over who gets to rub You out. The tiny island is soon overcrowded with a queue of hostile entities haggling for your neck. You scan a boisterous assembly of Corporate Raiders, Conglomerate Execs, Media Moguls, Military Brass, Government Agencies, Shadow Organizations, The Filthy Rich, Soiled Cops, Blind Justices, Militant Extremists, Corrupt Politicians, Liberal and Conservative Hypocrites, Legal Sharks, Special-Interest Groups, Greedy Land Developers, Admen, Salesmen, Con Artists, Playboys, Assassins, Crime Syndicates, Unethical Tycoons, Industrial Bigwigs, Arms Manufacturers and Dealers, Tobacco and Alcohol Distributors, Pharmaceutical Firms, Public and Private Health Administrators, Witch Doctors, Mad Scientists, Self-Help Gurus, T.V. and Internet Evangelists, Conspiracy Advocates, and The Average Brainwashed Consumer.
To phrase it concisely — the whole gamut of Capitalists, Communists, Socialists, Fascist Dictatorships, and Bullet Regimes (did I forget anyone?) are out for blood.
Where do You fit in? You don’t. You’ve seen too much. You could get in the way.
But why me?
You’re the scapegoat. Even The Environmentalists think it’s your fault.
Somebody has to take the blame.
A deafening swallow.
More importantly, someone has to care. That individual is You.
A pep-rally anthem underscores a motivational harangue: Someone has to stand up and be counted! Someone has to be the hero! Guilty or not, someone has to step forth and take responsibility! Or the wrongs will never be righted.
If not You, then who?
The frenzied fracas nabs You, obsessed with guarding their investments.
“Your days are numbered. You’re a liability. You’ve become expendable,” a man of the cloth eulogizes. The lynch-hounds slap You in a shallow grave and kneel to bury You with their hands, molding a sarcophagus of wet sediment.
I am not an acceptable loss! You haughtily denounce and sit up, disturbing the layer of sand.
There’s the spirit! What are You going to do about it?
Nothing! You got me into this mess! You have to get me out!
A beleaguered exhalation.
Quick! These folks mean business!
I’m not a genie, I have to think.
How? How can you think without a head?
Oh, I forgot.
You’re dumped in a placid forest glade. Your khakis modify to a green tunic and shorts, green stockings, and green shoes with bells stitched to the curly-toed tips.
A hat poofs onto your pate. You doff it. Green. The Peter Pan look is complete. You plunk the cap upon your peak.
A clopping tremor of hooves escalates. You descry the trees. Galloping crescendos. You speculatively gulp.
A stallion bursts through boughs. A caped headless horseman rides brandishing a sword.
This is so derivative, You critique.
The blade strokes. Your pumpkin is snatched, pinched by one ear.
“Yiiiiiiiiiiikes!” An eerie caterwaul.
The story grumbles, Now who doesn’t have a head?
The villain screws his mugging trophy onto a spindly stem. Your face winds up goggling backwards. “Fiiiiiiiiix thiiiiiiiiis!”
The protagonist is rendered intact. Then hoisted above a cement plaza wherefrom spires a modest fountain.
“Aaah!” Your eyes bulge discerning the situation. You thrash and tussle to agitate the closures of a straitjacket matching a baggy asylum suit. Bare ankles are tethered to the cable of a crane.
Your jaw flaps to altercate. A bandana instantly throttles your tongue.
“Mmmm!” Cheeks flushed, aggravated, You writhe and pendulate, squirm and convulse then wildly twirl.
The descriptive drivel beams triumphant.
Get me out of this nightmare! A mute scream.
The story’s mood fizzles.
Untie me! You demand. Liberate me at once!
Make like Houdini, goads the narrative. Untie yourself. And what about
the dunk tank over a volcano? That was next.
Let me go! You tantrum.
If You insist . . .
Laces, sleeves, and kerchief unfurl. You involuntarily take The Fall. Air whistles past your ears, stings your eyes as You scathe, Cease the theatrics!
What more appropriate way to learn the value of life than meeting your demise?
Oh boy. You can’t kill me, I’m the main character! You argue.
A minor technicality. I’ll revise it so I’m the star, the subject of an unauthorized autobiography.
The fountain hurtles up.
“Don’t quote me but for the record, it was amazing,” You humbly apprise. And squish your eyes shut.
No impact. You blink waiting, nose grazing the upper reaches of the gusher. Mist dampens your features. Or is it tears?
With a sneeze, You discover yourself at the origin of the adventure.
And when all is said and done, the tale was in the telling.
That’s your grand finale?
You should know, You are what You read.
It’s eat. You are what you eat.
I don’t think I would digest very well but if You’re that hungry, feast your eyes.
This is nonsense. I think I was right the first time, when I said you were penned by a lunatic.
Nope, You were mistaken. Great writing writes itself. The author simply holds the plume, presses the keys.
Yeah. Whatever. The ending’s as lame as the beginning, You snark.
In one person’s opinion.
I’m sure I speak for everyone.
That’s a lot of words. Too many for a short story.
So it’s really over? You tentatively pray, fingers crossed.
Read my lips: The End.
You don’t have a mouth, yet you have lips?
It’s an expression.
Ah. You seal wary orbs. Peeping, paranoid, You spy about.
Still back where You started. As if it never happened.
And then it starts again.
HAVE YOU EVER read a story You couldn’t put down? This is one of those tales . . .
Copyright © 2009 Lori Lopez
The Thirteenth Tale by Lori R. Lopez is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.