Throughout his life, Howard Grayson pursued nothing with such fervor as the human female body. After seven months stranded with the army on alien bug planet, he decides its time to explore other options. Astrobiologists say the most fragrant flowers bloom in the galaxy’s most disgusting places, so why not romance? He just hopes it doesn’t cost him his life, his mind, or his soul.
On a bug planet in a distant corner of the galaxy, a task force of human infantrymen attempts to destroy a hive of giant mantises. Ever since the army chaplain’s face was eaten off by larvae, protocol at funerals has called for the closest survivor at the time of death to give the eulogy. No exceptions! When the once indomitable warrior Oogo is disemboweled inches from Pvt. Timothy Archon, he will have to come to terms with their longtime enmity. In front of everyone.
Death by giant space insect and public speaking are the two greatest fears in the galaxy. Now Pvt. Archon must face both before breakfast!
Ready? Now stuff this in your ear holes.
Amazing! I totally believed that gentleman was reading those words off a page. Like a real book!
Here’s some unnatural colors to remind you of dead things. Sorry, I’m not that good with a camera!
Discuss this book with your friends
Nothing makes the consumption of sophisticated works of literature more enjoyable than hashing it over with other readers. Use these questions to get yourselves started. Serve a tray of finger food beforehand, especially crunchy things, so whenever you are afraid of sounding foolish, you can just talk with your mouth full!
Pvt. Timothy Archon says he’s never seen anything so harrowing as Oogo torn open by a mantis. Discuss some horrific things you have seen. Take your time and go into detail. No one here will exploit your vulnerable state. Promise.
Several times, Archon describes the lakes below the surface of Beta’s fourth moon as ‘limpid’. What does this mean? Seriously, my vocabulary is kind of poor.
Due to an injury to his hands, Oogo Boogo must use a pillow to masturbate. What are some objects you use to stimulate yourself sexually? Be candid, no one likes a prude.
Oogo Boogo has a deep psychological need to surpass his fellow soldiers in as many combat stats as possible. Discuss some of the things you do that prove you are better than your friends. In what ways are you nevertheless a weak pathetic loser?
The Betan military used a weapon called a chrono-cannon during the Third Colonial War. What do you imagine this is? Does it neutralize the threat you pose by transporting you to into the future or past? Or does it just waste your time by making you stuck in line at the DMV? ‘Time-splosions’ are awesome to think about.
The Chair of a fancy Ivy League English department has called this chapter ‘pretty friggin cool’. Make a list of smart sounding things to support this statement.
Although the Betan weapons have an auto-targeter, Pvt. Archon misses the mantis that kills Oogo despite shooting from ‘practically point blank’. Go on a rant about how technology always fucks up when you need it most.
Oogo Boogo breaks the ragnarite mining record despite blue-green color blindness. Beethoven wrote the Ninth Symphony despite being completely deaf. Why are people with disabilities always showing off?
If you see one more exclamation point on this page, you will:
a.) grow a tentacle
b.) murder a rare mythical creature such as manticore or duck
c.) eat the rest of the crackers
And that’s it! Reading has never been so fun, especially since this time you’ve gotten some other asshole to do it for you. I’m totally coming back for the next chapter!
Ever since an epiphanic moment in the bathtub as a small child, Bertrand Coynestaw has nurtured a great enthusiasm for plumbing fixtures. Admiring and accumulating spigotted items across the city, his favorite shop as a youth was a boutique called Djenny’s Stopcocks, girled on the weekend by the owner’s daughter, a darkhaired beauty named Darlene, who could eyeball any valve and find you the perfect replacement packing nut.
Darlene proudly told of how her father’s store was such a treasure trove of spigotry that even the world’s most celebrated valve makers would travel all the way from Ljubljana* to visit it. These Slovene masters, who had dedicated their lives to the perfect pour, would arrive nostalgic for the spigots of yesteryear, shining days before the accursed ball valve, when making fluid come out of stuff was recognized as the highest human attainment. But then the war came and the land was like a faucet split three ways. The masters sacrificed valiantly, but by when the deluge of ruin had spilled out its last bitter drop upon Slovenian soil, they found the violence to the spiggoted arts could never be undone. The surviving tap makers now wander the globe, Darlene said, paying pilgrimages to barrel rooms and water closets, seeking to rediscover the stem to that ancient valve seat of knowledge. She found this endeavor romantic, however futile.
Her stories delighted Bert. He accompanied Darlene to the bungholing exhibition at the cooperage museum; for her he painted barley fields beneath a harvest moon tapped at the Tycho crater; on her birthday he made her a gift of the brace and bit with which von Blücher personally cracked the cask of victory ale after the battle of Waterloo. Any could see the faucet of Bert’s affection for Darlene was rusted open, running hot and and never cold.
But Darlene’s feelings for Bert proved only a lukewarm dribble.
I do not understand, said Bert. My house has a hundred rooms; in each fresh water runs from spigots I’ve culled from the most exquisitely plumbed civilizations on earth. The south atrium even has two extra taps for chili and cheese. Well, and–both words have ‘CH’ so I hand-carved little peppers and pepperjack wedges on them.
Why not just red and yellow? she asked.
Because people would think ketchup and mustard, he said. The point is, Darlene, I can love only you.
But I love someone else, Darlene confessed.
Oh but whom, sobbed Bert.
Tom Whetly, said Darlene.
What, cried Bert, the marmot knacker’s son? His family can’t even afford plumbing!
It’s true, said Darlene. The only spigot in the house is on the rain barrel, and it’s made of wood. Toby carved it himself, simple and elegant. And, oh Bert, it’s perfect. The water pours out clear and cool, and you only have to touch your fingers to it and the tap seems to sense how strong you want it to flow. Last night we went round the back and I watched it spill until the barrel ran dry, and then I played with the handle. Oh I could have died then and there, I was so happy.
It was as if two taps had opened, one the spicy chili of Darlene’s ardor for Tom, another the moldy cheese of Bert’s displeasure.
But Bert could sense Darlene was fickle, and he knew it was only a matter of time before the strong stream of her affection for the mono-spigotted youth would decrease to a trickle, till the scalding jet of her desire would cool to tepidity.
So Bert waited, for company down where he knew others would be waiting, at the train depot. He brought a pillow and a small flask of sorrow with a screw-on cap, feeling at every twist the savaging of his insides. But through the agony Bert saw the other broken valves around him, the kind that hearts have. Studying those slumped upon nearby benches, Bert believed their lives possessed, like a wooden spigot, an elegant simplicity: traveling about aimlessly by rail, without families, without sweethearts to cause them pain, sleeping in waiting rooms or under stars, free to snore blissfully until the cops hauled them away. He introduced himself to these new companions, he spoke with them and learned their minds. In turn, they shared their inhalants with Bert, to help him pass the time. The gesture moved him. Perhaps they’re called vagrants, Bert thought, because God has granted them a vary great gift, to watch the world pull in and out of the station with a lethargic huff-a-puff-huff.
And so the years, or maybe just weeks, passed until one day Bert saw a darkhaired girl waiting for the 4:03 local to Guam. It was Darlene.
Oh, Bert, she said, everything he said was a lie. That spigot, Tom didn’t carve it at all, it came with the rain barrel, which had come with the house. And now it’s begun to rot. So no, I can’t love him. I’m going to Guam, where they don’t have running water, or even barrels, and I’ll never look at another spigot again. Oh, Bert, why didn’t I love you when I had the chance? You were so smart and handsome and well-turned then. And spectacularly rich. Now I can see you are a huff junkie sleeping in his own puke, and, well yes, it’s clearly the most quality vomit in the whole station, but it just won’t do, no offense. But I did care for you once. No, please, don’t touch me, it’s off to Guam I go, by train.
Bert tried to stop her, but he was too high to stand. But eventually he did write a song about her. He changed Darlene’s name to something completely different, in hopes if one day she heard it, she would never know it was about her. Plus in his state, who knows, maybe he had written it about someone else entirely.
Every ten seconds, a four-foot tide surges through the restaurant. Just keeping it dry!
She is trying to break up with her boyfriend, but a witch has turned him into a sandwich. Aw, now he just looks so delicious!
At John Berger University, they hand out hamburgers instead of diplomas. (U is a ‘way of seeing’ E.)
The sun will die in an hour. There’s only room for one more on the spacecraft, and who knows what the future will bring? But wherever humanity ends up, one thing’s for certain: they’ll need crispy bacon and deli-sliced ham. Oh, and wombs.
You are what you eat, so she’s trying to see her face in it.
She wants to show her friends how small her hands are by wrapping her fingers around a cylinder of flesh.
Something smells delicious in here. Is it her? She sniffs her armpits.
Burger ball. Wide receiver. Touchdown, baby!
By the power of Meat Bone, she has the power.
Oh no, blackout! Fortunately the tomatoes are. . . Jersey grown!
Product tie in: Do you believe in fairies? Raise your sandwich and get a free toy! Or Tinkerbell dies. Limited time offer. (Fairy death is permanent.)
As God as her witness, she’ll never go hungry again.
From her cold. dead. (fatty). hand!
A power line has fallen into a puddle, and she steps in it. Fizzle-pop. Ooh, it tastes even better toasted!
The higher you hold it, the less calories it has. It’s science!
Hold it up in your left hand for a girl. Right hand for a boy!
She works a full-time job, raises three kids, helps out at her community center…and now someone’s going to tell her she needs a reason to hold up a sandwich for 30-45 seconds between segments of Real Housewives? Oh hell no.
You know how on tv shows characters are always making jokes about their elderly parents, but they never get so sick they can’t take care of themselves? Ever wonder about that? Raise your hand. Like, during lunch.
Seriously, have you taken a look at that sandwich? Like a dead mouse wrapped in wet newspaper stuck between two bathroom tiles. Holding it up has got to be better than sticking it in your mouth.
Lesbians. You know what I mean.
She’s a superhero. Powered by beef. In her hand.
Not so much ‘holding a sandwich’ as ‘grasping at ideas’.
After fifteen years of deli meat addiction, it’s not so much her holding up the sandwich as the sandwich holding her up.
Princess of a fairy castle, she’s climbing an invisible ladder with sandwiches on the rungs. To where her prince waits–with barbecue sauce!
Whoever can claim Excaliburger from the ancient stone shall rule all Briton! Er, Brighton. Brighton Colorado, population 33,000.
Why 50? When you score 50 points in the NFL, some people call it a fifty burger. I’m serious.
You know how at the bar they got hot women in tiny dresses and tall shoes waggling their butts with a brew next to their ear? They have those now for sandwiches. They are called ‘clubs’.
She’s walking sideways. If you had to crabwalk with a sandwich, how would you hold it? The answer is up. Just trust me.
It’s the only available buffer from the smell of your cologne. What are you wearing anyway, alpaca piss?
She’s master of the ancient martial meat arts–two sandwich style!
It helps her meditate. Her mantra? Yummmmmmm.
Alas, Pulled Pork-ic. I shall know him well.
It helps her maintain balance while she BRINGS HOME GOLD FOR U.S.A.!
WHOOP(er), there it is!
It’s her crystal ball. The forecast for your future is: deliciousness!
Oh Christ, she’s singing to it again. ‘Don’t stop–burGURing.’ Seriously?
She yoda-philosophizing to it. ‘If bread between two meats put I, still a sandwich will it be?’
Ey, panini. Pa-NEEEEEE-ni. Atsa spicy meata-balla. Racist Italianisms, are they funny? Fuggeddaboudit!
It’s her 40th birthday sandwich, hooray! Wait, what? Good God, get her off tv already.
She’s creating synergy with her palate. She’s social networking with her taste buds in a cloud of flavor. She’s got all 4 G’s, baby: gustation, gluttony, gluten-free, and guacamole. Hold on, she’s gotsta take a selfie with this. (Dude, nobody knows. It is what it is.)
Okay, how about a relay race where they pass sandwiches instead of batons. They go from hand to hand in sloooow motion. But then the sandwich makes her faster somehow: like, as soon as it’s in her hand, she’s like Whoooosh! And first thing she does after she wins: down the sandwich. No way she’s gonna throw that up!
Whenever she lifts up the bun, that one song starts playing. You the one. Everybody around, that’s like their favorite song! Dancin’ and a-groovin’. Good times roll! Then her friend opens up like a yogurt or something, and people stomp on her face.
That’s not a sandwich! It’s software that when you eat it, it downloads to your fat cells, activating your sex appeal and your everybody-like-you genes. Then your eyes shoot missiles that blow up the stupid whores who said your hair was stupid that one time. Also, it makes you good at math, but nobody has to know. Tee hee!
Ever notice the orange of the bun is perfectly uniform, like somebody painted it that color? Me neither.
Official girlfriend of the NBA. Eat fresh.
‘Hey, let’s everybody do one thing no human being would ever have cause to do!’
Fine, I’ll buy the sandwich already. Can we just look down her top now?
Remember those old touch-tone phones that were shaped like sandwiches? Well, here’s a sandwich shaped like a touch-tone phone. Hello! Hello?
Because a dude holding up a sandwich is just queer.
When I was a kid, Sean Eisenberg owned a shop on Elspeth Avenue which I used to haunt, the Certified Authentic Emporium. It contained objects acquired from around the globe: Belgian chocolates, American blue jeans, boots of Spanish leather, that sort of thing. Eisenberg himself made a significant number of these items locally, usually from inferior materials, and sold them as the genuine articles. Whether or not he was a master of cheap knockoffs was the issue I hoped to resolve as I perused his store week after week.
I recall a locked glass case in a side alcove which offered a fifth century B.C. Attic red-figure amphora. The colors were dark dull gray and almost fluorescent orange, and the warring heroes seemed executed by someone less acquainted with classical pottery than with Clash of the Titans. The sorts of dry lessons which art history classes drill into your head–chief characteristics of a period or style that can be easily regurgitated on a final–were precisely the details Sean seemed incapable of learning. The incongruity between Eisenberg and the originals resulted from either incompetence or cunning, and probably quite a bit of both.
Dodovilleans have never been known for their sophistication or cosmopolitanism, and it was entirely possible some of his customers could not distinguish his unconvincing pieces from the genuine articles. As a city, we’ve always been far more concerned with the prestige (real or imagined) attached to foreign culture than the quality of any content. (For instance, our enthusiasm for Salisbury steak results largely from a misattributed Austrian origin).
As a young man apprenticing in a furniture store, Eisenberg had discovered he’d earn no success pointing out to a customer the chatoyancy of a cherry wood dresser, but the coin in the coffer would often ring if he reported the same effect was the result of a French polish. Consequently, once he had accumulated the resources to open his own shop, he must have believed it would prove profitable to put foreign place names on everything.
Officially all the Certified’s wares were imported, so it seemed necessary to keep their manufacture hidden. Eisenberg’s chief workshop occupied nearly all of his bedroom in the fifth floor apartment he shared with his mother and invalid aunt (reportedly he slept under the kitchen table). Toiling into the night, he crafted the Nordic icescrapers, Cariocan shoehorns, Bengali bangels, and Pekingese baking sheets, all out of native aluminum. An accomplished luthier, Eisenberg also built Honoluluan ukeleles and Florentine theorbos. Fiddles he constructed out of empty truffle boxes like they do in Bogotá.
The noises and smells emanating from behind the Eisenberg door were not, as Sean vehemently asserted, consistent with his aunt’s treatments and home care. Nor could he convincingly deflect all inquiries about the great quantity of material he lugged up and down the stairs: a small box might realistically contain medical supplies, but he could hardly talk away, say, an authentic Pennsylvania Dutch butter churn.
Eisenberg also did modest business with tourists who wanted to bring home some token of our Sporqish ignorance to smile at. While I unobtrusively browsed through Sean’s collection of ‘rare’ cabaret posters, I used to listen to foreigners joke rudely about the shop, just loud enough for the proprietor to hear. In Sean’s favor, the city was replete with junk shops, but the Certified’s was the only seller of which I was aware that tourists visited by reference.
The reason was Sean Eisenberg managed to put a distinctly Dodovillean flare on the forged relics of European monarchies and Eastern dynasties. The Dodovillean genius, if I can speak of such a thing, is the gentle ridicule with which we imbue all interaction with the outside world, permitting the outsider to see the Dodovillean himself as the object of the jibe if so wished. In his craftsmanship, Eisenberg made fun of the originals while also reserving harsh criticism for himself. In a sense, his shop represented the confluence of failures both home and abroad.
The Certified’s was destroyed in an air raid during the Zazian war and never rebuilt. The city of Dodoville received/embezzled significant funds from the Americans following our so-called defeat. The import shop was eligible for one of the cutthroat small business loans allocated by the municipal up-from-the-ashes committee, but Eisenberg didn’t apply. Seeing him the morning after the air raid standing outside the ruin of his life’s labor, I remember thinking he looked relieved that it was all over. Twenty years of constant toil for very little profit, of never being able to put his name on his own work, of having to tell the same lie to an increasingly incredulous patronage may have simply worn him down.
This past June marked three decades since the Certified’s met its end. Over that period, I’ve consistently encountered his creations in other people’s possession. The last few years in particular have seen renewed interest in Eisenberg following the discovery of dozens of photographs of the store among the estate of the late city archivist, Clancy Lancet, some which were featured in a local exhibit about pre-war Dodoville. The images, taken no earlier than 1965, are all in sepia, with Sean standing emotionlessly in a rigid pose more typical of nineteenth century photography. Invariably Sean has a unkempt appearance, usually with varnish stains on his hands from whatever rarity he had imported earlier in the day. He is always posed beside one of his more imaginative forgeries.
A group of Americans who happened to see the exhibit were inspired to try to search out some of the Certified’s more unusual wares. Since that time, fakes of Eisenberg creations have started to appear, which are of course somewhat easy to produce: most of the original forgeries are only reported through hearsay, and several are known to have been objectively terrible.
I live in probably the only nation on earth named for an acronym.
After the First World War, the whole of the Kolkhek region was divided up into four parts: Zazia, the region’s ancient naval center (and the territory the British dominated first); Chalia, the good cow country; Endernia, the remote rocky bit the rummies never really controled and would not embarrass themselves trying to incorporate into another nation; and my country, where the cities of Dodoville and Creston happen to be.
Let it not be doubted the lines were drawn almost arbitrarily, with the lack of forethought characteristic of Great British foreign policy.
From almost the day of its founding, the city of Dodoville, to which I am native, had shared a legacy of great affinity, friendship, and cooperation with Neuton, the designated capital of Zazia. We had even retained this special relationship through the several generations of Neutonian toadying to the rummy occupation. Nevertheless, the British elected to separate our cities with a national boundary. Creston, on the other hand, was (and is) considered the stupid but brutal cousin of Kolkhek cities, the mouthbreather who always flirts too aggressively at the family reunion until you drug his steak and hope he fags out under the lindens.
The explanation went like this: while Dodoville had developed industries based on our area’s richness in aluminum, Creston established a superficially similar economic base grounded in tin. On this account, the crown royal decided we’d both prosper best under the same national umbrella. More likely, the British were reluctant to create a Crestonia, fearing its governance would fall to whatever party could commit the most incest and cannibalism, probably. To avoid this, they chained Creston to us at the ankle.
In retrospect, the four-way partition was probably our best path to autonomy, because if the rummies had instead laid the groundwork for a single Kolkhek nation or, more preferably, simply vamoosed and let us settle the issue of governance for ourselves, the entire region might have degenerated into chaos as great swaths of the population choked on their cobpipes, having witnessed the British empire’s surprising failure to act with its customary beast stupidity.
Concerned, however, this partitioning wasn’t imbecilic enough to prevent pandemic tracheal obstruction, the British put their horsish imperial heads together to bother up one further act of salvational confoundment. The rummies declared that since Creston had not experienced the flowering of culture and education in the nineteenth century which had transpired in Dodoville (read: the rancid drippings of their own traditions, which never weathered well on the voyage overseas, and by Child there’s little much you can do with horse meat to begin with), they would prevent Creston from becoming the maringalized partner in our fettered relationship by establishing the new national capital in their city.
What inspired a people chauvinistic enough to dream up the white man’s burden to try to blanken the sociopolitical slate upon our soil may seem beyond comprehension. Perhaps the British imagined they could play the Kolkhekians’ petty jealousies against each other to compel us to appeal to them for an arbiter, allowing them to maintain a kind of hegemony over the region. Such a policy, however, would fail to appreciate the Kolkhekian adeptness for radiating pain-in-the-assness in all directions at once with little diminishment of intensity along any vector. Furthermore, it underestimates the increasingly manifest American interest in making the twentieth-century their turn to meddle in our affairs, thank you very much.
Also, Dodoville is situated at the base of an active volcano, which pretty much everyone agrees is just a matter of time. So there’s that.
The point is, our artificially delineated new country lacked any obvious name.
Great fuss was made of the choosing. A selection committee was to meet in Creston in the summer of 1920. For the preceding three months, representatives of both cities bickered amongst themselves over what suggestions their delegates should offer, and what names they would be willing to accept.
After weeks of debate in Dodoville, the city council passed the improbable motion that school children should choose our recommendation, on the grounds they would be living in the new nation the longest. The children (only those under the age of nine were invited to participate) arrived at an even more improbable choice: Lunchmoney.
In all likelihood, the council believed Dodoville’s last hope to prevent its inclusion in a Creston-capitaled country was to propose (and remain unmoveable upon) a thoroughly unagreeable name. For this tactic to work, the intention would need to be opaque, and it was hoped the wishes of mere children could not be interpreted as spiteful.
Meanwhile, the Crestonites chose its candidate through a lottery of front runners, thus settling upon The Mountain Leopards. These leopards are skillful hunters, and Crestonites were captivated by their tails which swell at the end like a typeset exclamation point. Crestonites are even worse than children.
The selection committee erupted into fisticuffs in less than an hour.
The British, who took it upon themselves to mediate (they would not permit us to call the country something stupid for fear how it would reflect on themselves), pronounced we were doing it all wrong. You can’t just name a country after things you fancy, they said, and you certainly can’t name it like an American sports team (impressive how easily the British dress their chauvinism into a semblance of logic). A nation needs a place name, the delegates were told, give it a name befitting a place.
So nascent nation pondered what ought to be considered tasteful with regard to place names. After three days of embittered haggling, the selection committee put forth Rome as the name of our country.
But Rome already exists, said the British mediator, you can’t give a place the name of another place (although the British have done this very thing all over the globe).
At this juncture, a Dodovillean delegate named Jeremy Punks (who had been allowed to serve on the committee despite naming his own son Orestes) pointed out that Rome had referred to itself as the Senate and People of Rome in official documents, which they had abbreviated. Our nation could call itself that, since the abbreviation itself had not yet been taken. Punks scrawled the letters SQPR onto the blackboard in the conference room, indicating how S is senate, P is people, R is Rome. Q stood for ‘and’. He eloquently explained how originally the ampersand had been written Q.
The British mediator had had only a year or two of Latin, but it had been beaten into him (literally) that knowledge of this dead language was the bedrock of human worth. He temporarily ignored the unpronounceability of the name and explained instead how we were right about the Q representing ‘and’ but that this letter did not appear where it does in English, between the two conjuncted nouns, but after the second, the ampersand in Latin being both postpositive and enclitic. Or something.
Punks, conciliatory by nature, rewrote it SPRQ, placing the ‘and’ after the People of Rome as he understood he had been instructed.
What followed must have went like this:
BRITISHER: ( constipated and horse-faced) What what. By Jove, that’s not right. The Q goes over here.
BRITISHER: (pointing syphiliticly between P and R) Here!
It is unlikely the selection committee trusted his education on this issue, seeing that only the dullest members of society get wasted on colonial duty, but because the mediator probably felt it upon his honor as a royal subject to win this argument or take his stripes, he was for the moment pitied and humored.
The committee secretary, when instructed to record this newly proposed name, was passed out upon the table. He roused himself just in time to see the Britisher pointing between P and R in SPRQ and the delegation intoning the long ‘Ohhhh.’ At this moment, a bell sounded the conclusion of the meeting’s fourteenth hour and a motion to adjourn was passed.
The next day a cholera outbreak crippled the city of Creston, suspending the discussion for three weeks. When the deliberation finally resumed, the delegates, their faces paler and fewer, only recalled that the previous meeting had ended in contention over some proposed name. Nobody remembered what it had been. The secretary was consulted, who referred to the minutes and reported Sporq. No advocate for this name stepped forward, but neither did any dissenter. Weary of diarrhea and vomiting, the delegates considered forgotten objections as good as consent, and the committee chairman moved to vote on ratification. The name of our little country had been chosen.
The Church of Christ the Knight Errant was erected in South Antipathy in the early seventeenth century, but the cult of Sir Jesus may be as much as a hundred years older. Among Dodoville’s first inhabitants had been riders and horseback marauders, who on account of their livelihood prized a good steed above all. Many of these men were Christian (and proudly devout in their way) but illiterate and with limited access to the priesthood on account of their lawlessness. During this period of career-isolation from the Church, their ideas about the life of Jesus and the message of the gospel became extremely fluid. Many decades later, however, as regional villages coalesced into townships and began developing mutual animosities, the early Dodovilleans resorted to arming and supplying the marauders to loot their rivals. Thus legitimized by city rule, the horsemen were invited back into the churches, where they experienced dissonance between the scripture as written and their own religiosity as it had developed. Despite their brigandry, they took surprisingly little issue with ‘turn the other cheek’ but expressed great indignation at the suggestion the Lord and Savior might have rode into Jerusalem upon a creature as lowly as an ass.
The Septic monks, whose Order had been restored in Dodoville in the early sixteenth century, attempted to turn this issue into a teaching point: they reminded the riders that much in the life of the Nazarene had been lowly: from his birth, laid in a manger(1), to his death, executed like a common criminal. The horsemen replied that while they embraced the wisdom of keeping the company of lowly sinners, surely not even the L&S could pass over the manifest nobility of the equine for the shamefacedness of the asinine.
In time, a small but vocal faction among the horsemen began to insist not only that Jesus must have ridden a magnificent stallion upon his palm-fanned entrance into the holy city, but the beast had accompanied him throughout the gospel. Jesus, they said, had preached from horseback while a crowd of disciples trailed behind on foot. They went so far to claim the reason the L&S had to raise Lazarus from the dead was because before learning his friend was ill, Jesus had dispatched Andrew the Apostle (God knows why him) upon his own speedy steed on an emergency embassy to Mt. Tabor. Jesus had shown up three days late to Lazarus’ bedside on account of having had to walk.
During the days when Cervantes was writing his immortal lampoon of chivalrous knights’ tales, the genre was only just starting to take hold in Dodoville (always at least an era behind the rest of the world). The religious temper present in these stories–the quest to cultivate the perfect pairing of manly courage and spiritual purity–inspired the unlettered imagination of certain Dodovilleans (although no doubt catalyzed by the horsemen’s centuries-old disdain for the didactic efforts of the Septic monks) to transform Jesus into a knight errant and a crusader. The descendants of the marauding tradition, for whom urban development was making horseback pillaging more and more impractical, found it especially appealing that Christian virtue should be epitomized in stabbing evil with like a pike or something.
In 1632 this faction broke away from the Catholic Church and founded their own denomination (Dodoville had recently gotten wind of the Reformation). They constructed their place of worship with a stable adjoined to the sacristy, in memory of Sir Jesus’ sacred steed, Soteria. To this day, a local stallion is still selected to be sheltered there during Holy Week. The congregation competes for the honor of being allowed to feed and groom this horse, although it is considered a sacrilege to mount him.
The crucifix which stands outside the church shifts the emphasis on Christ’s body from the wounds in the hands and feet, which are reduced to pinpricks, to the impalement in the L&S’s side, a gaping-wide hole the size of a grapefruit. The Errants(2) justify this depiction from the scripture passage where Thomas puts his whole hand in it. The orthodox tradition regards this mark on the sacred flesh as result of a post-mortem spearing, but in the Church of Christ the Knight Errant, it represents the fatal wound which Sir Jesus receives after entering into a joust with a Roman centurion.
The account of Christ’s passion goes like this: two squires of a recently slain lord have ambushed the entire Roman cohort which unhorsed their master in battle. After striking down many with great might and valor, they are subdued and captured. Brought before the prelate’s tribunal, they face crucifixion for their crime. Before they can be sentenced, Sir Jesus (who had just that week ridden into town upon a stately destrier) stands forward to serve as their champion. The squires believe themselves truly saved, since it is known throughout the realm no knight is match for the valiant Sir Jesus in might or courage. However, just before the horn is sounded, Jesus drops his lance and strips his armor. At the signal, he spurs Soteria and charges along the tilt barrier with arms outstretched. The centurion, as the rules of the joust require, runs him through. The squires’ guilt thus proven through combat, they are crucified beside Sir Jesus, whom the law of chivalry prescribes must share their fate.
By championing the squires and losing, Jesus effectively sentences them both to death. This is the worldly justice prescribed for treason against the authority of the king(3) and for hacking people to death without a formal challenge issued. But by dying beside them in an act of perfect chivalry, Jesus offers the squires the chance to follow him into resurrection (the good squire comes back to life in their version, while the body of the unrepentant squire is burned). If Sir Jesus had donned armor and defeated the centurion by the strength of his right arm, he would have saved the squires’ lives but ultimately condemned them both to hell where the stain of their tarnished honor would have remained indelible.
The Septics always have despised this church, in part for the heresy but with far greater disdain for the illiteracy of its tradition. Not only has their religion disregarded scripture and based itself solely on what its constituents ages ago had misremembered hearing, it was not even guided by prayer but by popular entertainment.
As inexplicable as this all seems, however, the conflation of Jesus with the larger-than-life heroes of serials perpetuates today. For instance, I know a limited but very earnest man who routinely groups Superman, Flash Gordon (not the Flash), and the L&S together in some kind of cloud-dwelling Justice League. In fairness to the Septics though, the appropriation usually moves in the other direction, heroes manifesting Christlike traits, not superhero-qualities by Jesus.
At least I think, anyway.
Not ‘born in a manger’, the manger being the trough from which animals eat, not the building that houses them. Although not explicitly contradicted by scripture, it would have required a feat of perverse and mysteriously-motivated acrobatics for the virgin to have parturiated the holy infant directly into such an object. This usage issue is common among English speakers who have no recourse to another word for that little barn thing in nativity scenes. The error is less prevalent in speakers of Romance languages, for instance Italian, where the cognatic relation of manger to mangiare, ‘to eat’, is obvious. This also linguistically creates a weird/beautiful/horrifying echo of the birth of Jesus with the Eucharist, suggesting that ever since birth the L&S was destined to become like a kind of sandwich. It should be noted however this parallel is frequently lost on the Italians, who find nothing odd about an object’s dual-service for both eating and sleeping, as they use their bedsheets as tablecloths on a regular basis. Q.v. “Luna Mezzo Mare”, Lou Monte, RCA-Victor, 1957.
It continues to be a source of great forehead-slapping frustration for Septics that the Errants have appropriated this contemptuous term for themselves.
His Majesty Tiberius. The infrequent variation, ‘Tibigory’, is of unknown origin.
I nearly wiped my ass with a tarantula this morning. Out of the shower I was about to wrap a towel around my waist when I saw this brown stelliform thing on the upper right corner, roughly the part that I customarily fit against my butt crack. It looked fake as spiders go, but whatever way I turned the terrycloth in my hand, it scurried toward that same upper right corner with the single-mindedness of an automaton programmed to skeeve me the fuck out. I huffed and puffed but couldn’t blow the spider off the towel, so I use the handle of a comb to try to scrape it into the toilet. The spider disappeared from the towel but did not appear in the bowl water. Seeing nowhere for a creature that size (huge!) to have disappeared to, I am now perfectly terrified of the bathroom.
I once read about that study where spiders are made to ingest various substances, including caffeine, alcohol, and lsd. The article displayed pictures (in presumably didactic fashion) of the webs which the spiders produced afterward. The web constructed under the influence of caffeine appears far less effective for catching flies than the one under lsd. It is also significantly less attractive. Although human and arachnid physiognomy differ slightly, and it’s widely believed humans do not produce webbing for either ornamental or predatory purposes (though I’ve heard rumors), you cannot ask for more indisputable proof that caffeine is much worse for you than lsd. Caffeine is among the most physiologically disruptive substances for the human organism (as proved by its effect on spiders), while lsd is probably perfectly benign, perhaps even healthsome. Next time you see someone about to ingest coffee, slap that mug right out of their hand and insert a few tabs of acid in its place. They will thank you later!
It’s eight hours since the incident in the bathroom and I’m still shuddering at the thought of what the spider may have done if introduced into the vicinity of my butt. It’s well-known that anytime a spider sees someone sleeping with their mouth open, it has a genetic-level impulse to crawl right in there, to penetrate as far as it can and die in there somehow. Over the last several million years, spiders have been evolving to do this very thing. Whatever triggers this instinct goes totally double for assholes; it’s the lure of nutriment or something, as the colon provides a natural hatchery for arachnids. What happened to me today had nearly been a once-in-a-generation jackpot scenario for the spider in my bathroom. It had been this close to living the dream, as it were. Even it’s color had made perfect camouflage for an asshole situation.
Aranaea is the most perversely engineered order in the invertebrate phylum, making it a solid runner for most perverse in the animal kingdom. In certain cases, the total length of legs measures like fifty times the length of the body: an itsy bitsy speck in a forest of legs. It excretes a silk incredibly strong, invisible, and abundant, which can be used in all sorts of crafty and horrifying ways. Imagine an entire species of like Batman, but instead of a utility belt it shat all its technological wonder gadgets out its butt. Spider poison is heinously potent when the spider is poisonous, and don’t even get me started on the eyes, like oh my god.
Being freaked out by spiders is probably the most natural and healthy thing you can do (after lsd), since several species of spider are ubiquitous to any damn place you care to be. Hence it’s an almost necessary phobia, especially when it comes to them getting anywhere near your orifices, like imagine a big hairy one crawling out. Spider-inspired psychological trauma has been orifice-related since at least Shakespeare’s plays, where if you see a spider in your cup before it goes in your mouth, you will surely die. This goes double for assholes. Thinking about what that big hideous brownie came close to doing this morning makes me want to scream as loud and long as if it actually happened, arms out and head tossed back like I’m playing accordion for the moon, although it probably would have just gotten squished. Although maybe not, the spider having been strong and fast and apparently in possession of a cloaking device. Spiders basically only do horrifying things, you’ve got to admit.
Abbot Sanderson Lovelace’s biographer, Sherman Giacometti, reports that as a boy he had not been a particularly devoted student, but possessed a talent for ingratiating himself among diverse circles. Much of his early education took the form of conversations with the most brilliant minds of the period between world wars: scientists, artists, explorers. These juggernauts of their day were often happy to share their experience with the fertile intelligence of the quiet but curious boy, not at all the lordling they expected from the son of capitalists.
Lovelace was the grandson of Pyotr Scuto, founder of Aegis Automotive. His mother, Regina Scuto, the family’s true genius of mechanical engineering, pushed the company to its apogee as the largest manufacturing concern in Zazia. Lovelace had been poised to study law to represent his mother’s empire when he ran into a former art instructor from St. Epoch’s Preparatory School for Boys, a Septic monk who now sat on the law school’s board of trustees. He convinced Lovelace to abandon this career path and join the Order.
The content of this conversation has been lost to history, but it’s interesting to conjecture what argument could have convinced a young man possessing Sanderson Lovelace’s resources and connections to abandon his ambitions and instead choose to serve God. (Also, what was a monk and former high school art teacher doing on the board of trustees for a prestigious law school?) For many Septic initiates, the Order offered an escape from the world’s pursuit of hollow glories for a chance at a life of study, reflection, and service; yet Lovelace might have had recourse to these things without paying a tithe of obedience to the Order and the Church. The Septic brother must have offered some incentive to make this choice appear a step up.
Lovelace spoke rarely about this decision–the question is asked with surprising infrequency of the religious–but once after the start of the Zazian war, he commented that he had always seen his path as perpetuating the values and traditions of his family. Aegis had already been built by the innovation of his mother and grandfather; his function would have only been to maintain it. Yet the kingdom of God still required building. Although he had not become an automaker, he never considered himself to have turned his back on anything.
In a secular setting, a man who has taken religious vows almost always incites suspicion of being somebody’s spy, even without ties to a corporate empire. The Septics predicted any civic stance he took as a monk in Zazia would be interpreted as promoting the automotive industry, so they sent him to serve at the Sporqish monastery in Dodoville.
Although Lovelace had never set foot in the city until a few weeks after taking the tonsure, for decades most Dodovilleans did not know or had forgotten he was a foreigner. He spoke the local dialect with such precision, it was easy to mistake him for a native. If he had a tell, perhaps his speech had been a little too vintage, as if he’d been studying from recordings that had been current while he was being groomed for the abbotship, but had fallen years behind the curve by the time of his predecessor’s death, after the influence of radio and television had begun to standardize the language regionally. However, due his prominence in city affairs over his thirty year tenure, the Dodoville accent had become however Abbott Lovelace happened to speak.
In the late ’70s, prior to the collapse of Dodoville aluminum, Abbot Lovelace warned from the pulpit that the cutthroat tactics practiced by industry captains were not only inhumane to workers but unsustainable in the long term. When his critics questioned the credentials of a man of the cloth to lecture on the economics of manufacturing, Lovelace’s supporters pointed out he was the son of the owner of Aegis Automotive, cultivated during his early youth to direct that company upon his mother’s retirement.
It was chiefly for this reason that when the Zazian War of 1982 began the abbot’s nationality was common knowledge.
During the lead up to the fighting, civilian tv and radio broadcasts had been exposed as containing coded intelligence for both American and Soviet operatives in- and outside of the city. To frustrate further foreign interference, only government programming was permitted in Dodoville for much of the war.
The Septics had an ancient tradition of celebrating daily mass at the stroke of midnight, and one of Lovelace’s first acts as abbot had been to arrange for the mass to broadcast nightly over the radio. Since the mass was either said by rote or followed the liturgical calendar, the Septics were offered special dispensation for their radio program, so long as the abbot forwent his homily. Lovelace considered his nightly speech one of his chief responsibilities to the monks in his charge and refused this condition, but in recognition of security concerns, allowed for the audio receiver to be shut off for its duration.
Some prominent city figures decried the censoring of the abbot’s homilies, who over his tenure had become more Dodovillean than the Dodovilleans. Meanwhile, enemies of the Septic Order pressed to have the entire mass taken off-air immediately. Ultimately, common knowledge of the abbot’s origin made it impossible to grant him a privilege refused to native born citizens. Nevertheless, once the Zazian bombers began to appear in the night skies, the singing of monks on the radio became a comfort to those huddled in shelters below ground, and the nightly broadcast was permitted to continue. But after the gospel, the radio went dead as Abbot Lovelace spoke of spiritual matters to those on hand.
Five, nine, eleven, or fourteen minutes. Plus or minus up to forty-five seconds, if anyone was paying attention.
The quarter’s official name is Kindy Nest, but everyone calls it the Remorse District.
Until the ’80s it was where the workers from the aluminum plants lived. When the industry floundered in Dodoville, the inhabitants took out the economic downfall on the neighborhoods. The parks were victims of vandalism, most businesses had to close at sundown, and the dramatically burning buildings were the only light against the night sky.
While I was living there, it experienced a small resurgence. You could walk around at night if you kept your wits about you. Still, I knew many of the cops by sight and a few knew me by name.
I never found cause to envy anyone in Remorse, not the business owners, not the landlords, certainly not the inhabitants. Yet there’s a truth about that place few people know. If someone hadn’t told me I still wouldn’t be aware, but once I heard it, it was a marvel I hadn’t noticed before:
Remorse is gorgeous.
I don’t kid. It’s the most aesthetically pleasing district in the city–Prissytown only looks richer. The architecture harmonizes both with other buildings and the natural surroundings. The courtyards to the apartment complexes are sheltered sanctums, the trelliswork to the front gardens offer understated elegance. The owners of private houses, cretins in every other respect, have done up the front windows and doors in serene accord.
Even in its darkest hour, Kindy Nest has never been the victim of those community art projects which force locals to hang their dirty laundry in their public spaces.
Most picturesque locations are praised most highly at night or at dawn. Kindy Nest peaks in the middle of the day, under full sun.
The elevated railroad offers the best views. Take the express so the local stops don’t disrupt the panorama.
It’s beauty is hard to describe, because there’s is really nothing like it. A sometimes dirty but never ‘gritty’ aesthetic, it is not free of residential or commercial decay, but is not melancholy. Nor is it full of ludicrous hope. It’s air vents, on-ramps, loading docks, depots, rooftops, and peeling paint. In late autumn, stark branches above the scant forest litter offer serenity free of any spiritual baggage: contentment without emotion.
Turn a corner and the avenue opens up on the wonderful old courthouse, abandoned for decades. You’d think someone would have torn it down or turned it into a theater by now, but it remains there, an unsentimental masterpiece.
A surprising number of the brightest minds which the city has nurtured are from Remorse, although the community has never worn the list on its sleeve. Television stars, pro athletes, designers–‘personalities’, in the worst sense–grow up elsewhere; here are bred researchers, theorists, writers (the ones driven by vision, not vanity). I suspect a childhood in Remorse produces something similar to the so-called Mozart effect: the harmony of the environment fosters intellect and creativity. But their childhood never promised them they’d grow up rich and adored, they were only aware of their power and potential to explore new avenues. It’s a place of unostentatious genius.
If it were possible to put that quality into a bottle with a label, someone would have done it by now. I doubt anyone will ever succeed in making a product out of it, but it possesses everything which people come to the city looking to find but don’t have the eyes to see.
My professional pride wants to articulate its virtues in a way that would make it evident to you, but I’m also aware that if everyone were capable of seeing, you and people like you, with your terrible ideas and idiotic values, would almost instantly demolish it beyond repair. You’d attempt to implant yourself in it, reshaping it to match your outfit. But it is good precisely because you refuse to have anything to do with it. Historically nothing has been worse for Kindy Nest than people with money thinking about its future. The moment Chancel Loogey decided to turn aluminum into ‘aluminium’ and build up an industrial powerhouse there, remorse came to Kindy Nest.
Only when the quarter has been scorned as a shithole unfit for the grand scheme, only when no one has envisioned its tomorrow, has anything flowered in it.
Remorse will never overcome its stigma. What luck! Its greatest asset is how it has never felt itself deserving.