Monday, December 9, 2013

A Story For Children and Adults of Above Average Cleverness and Intelligence

This story originally appeared in my book, Everything In the Medicine Cabinet Has Expired.

Introduction
I have been unhappy with the ebb and flow of my life for over a year now. I have graduated from college, started a family, and got a job in the human services. Now, I find myself wanting out. Not out of my family, but out of debt and out of work. You see, I don't like to work. I don't like bosses, and I don't like people. This 'not liking people' is a problem, because I work in the human services, and it's our job to help people. I also don't make enough money, and money--as any adult will tell you--is of supreme importance. I know you've probably read a billion books and heard a billion grown ups tell you that money is not important, but they're lying to you. They either have enough money to be happy, or are trying to convince themselves--by convincing you--that money isn't important because they don't have enough.

I don't have enough money, and I don't like working. I don't like getting up early, and I don't like helping people. All that I like doing is reading and writing, and taking the occassional long walk; and that is what I intend to do. I don't even need to be famous. I don't want to be famous; as you'll recall, I don't like people, and being famous means a lot of people are interested in you. I just need money. If enough of you buy this book, I will have enough money to quit my job, stop helping people, stop getting up early, and stop having bosses. You, in turn, will have the benefit of having read my book and enjoyed my story. I promise not to teach you anything in the meantime, also. No morals to this story. I think that sounds like a reasonable proposition.

I decided to write this book before I had an idea to write about, so I thought I'd steal a method from William Goldman, and ask my kids what to make my book about. William Goldman, as you may know, came up with the idea for his book 'The Princess Bride' by asking his daughters what his next book should be about. One daughter said 'A princess!', and the other daughter said, 'A bride!', and, whammo, 'The Princess Bride'. So I took this method to my two oldest boys. 'What should my new book be about?' I asked the oldest. 'A space captain!' said my oldest boy, unhesitatingly. 'A dinosaur!' said my youngest boy, with only slightly more consideration. 'Thanks!' I said to them, rustling their hair and winking at them as I exited the room. They beamed at each other, and then back at me, knowing they had contributed something important to my story.

But this book will not be about a Dinosaur Space Captain, or anything close to that, because those are stupid ideas. I don't know why I thought it was a good idea to ask kids for inspiration, because after all, I am a grown up, and grown ups are way smarter than kids. Grown ups have lived much longer, and have read way more books. Don't take it personally, kids, but you're not so special.

Instead I've decided to write the following story, which will only appeal to children (and adults) of above average cleverness and intelligence. If you are wondering, 'won't writing a story that only appeals to children and adults of above average cleverness and intelligence severely narrow his possible audience?', the answer is no. Most people, you see, are weak willed, vain, and unimaginative. This goes for children as well as adults. If clever and intelligent adults and children enjoy this book, and tell other people they enjoyed this book, then the other people--less clever and intelligent--will also buy the book and pretend to enjoy it, because most people don't care to be left out. The world, you see, is all about appearances. That's fine by me.

 


CHAPTER 1: A GREAT THING OCCURS
Once upon a time, outside the great walls of the mediocre city of Cincinnati, a large object fell from the sky, into the river that divides the city of Cincinnati from the city of Newport.Not only does this river--the Ohio river--divide Cincinnati from Newport, it also divides the State of Ohio from the State of Kentucky, and--in Civil War Geographics--The American North from the American South. The object fell just this side of Roebling's Suspension bridge, which was the prototype for the famous Brooklyn bridge in New York.

It was about 1am when the object hit. The water was dark and muddy, which the water in the Ohio river always is, regardless of the time of day. The river--filled with snakes,planks from sunken steamboats, dead city councilmen, and beer bottles--received the object with a solemn slurp, almost as if it had been waiting for it, sucking it in as it neared its mouth, rather than responding to the impact with a loud and splashy surprise, the way rivers normally receive falling foreign travelers.

The only people to see the object hit the water were a few bums who were drinking beer on the cobblestone landing just outside the ballpark. I will not name the bums, because in Cincinnati, it is illegal to call the homeless anything other than 'bum', or sometimes 'hobo'. You see, in Cincinnati, The number of names you have represents your station in society. In the year 2010, Mayor Mark Ambrose Luca Deforest Armand Kingsley Godfrey Gotti Precious Mallory commissioned the creation of a 'Flow Chart of Station', which was hanged in the lobby of city hall. Citizens at the top of the chart had the most names (9 maximum), and people at the bottom of the chart had no names, just descriptives. Most citizens had 1 name, or maybe two. Names could be purchased at the Department of Motor Vehicles for 500 dollars a pop, and any person wishing to accrue more than 5 names would require a sponsorship signature from a person with at least 6 names to their own credit (in addition to the fee), and people wishing to add a ninth name would require a sponsorship signature from the mayor himself (who had 10 names), in addition to the fee. Therefore, at the bottom of the flow chart were bums, hobos, and fetuses.

So as I was saying, the object hit around 1 am. The bums were drinking beeer, as bums will do. One bum turned to the other: Didja see that?

Bum 2: I surely did! Let's swim out there and see if we kin get at it! It was shiny! Mebbe we can scrap it an' buy ourselves a name!

Bum 1: A name? One name to share 'tween the two of us?

Bum 2: I'll take the name durin' daytime hours, you take it at night. You always been a bit of a night owl.

Bum 1: I dunno, bum. Maybe we kin get more'n figh hunnert outta it.

Bum 2: Well we better get swimmin' before it sinks to the bottom or gets eaten by a snake.

Bum 1: I doubt it'll get eaten by a snake. It's closer to the Newport side, and Kentucky snakes ain't big enough to eat sumpin' like that.

Bum 2: Alright, bum! Let's get swimmin'!

At which the bums polished off the rest of their beers and passed out on the landing.

 


CHAPTER 2: SOME CHARACTERS ARE INTRODUCED
Charlie Single Ross was better off than most of his other friends on River Road. Most people in households with as low a family income as Charlie’s could only afford a family name, which in Charlie’s case was Ross. But Charlie was lucky, because when he was a younger boy, he won a radio contest, and his prize was a new name: Single. It was a promotional contest for Maker’s Single Slices, which was a cheese company that sold processed single slices of cheese, wrapped in individual plastics to make them easier to put on your sandwiches (just be sure to take the plastic off first). Charlie was happy just to have a name to differentiate him from all the other Rosses in the house (8 in all), even if it was a commercial endeavor. Eventually, Charlie lucked out again when his Uncle Charlie Ross (not to be confused with his other Uncle Charlie Ross) died, and left Charlie the name ‘Charlie’ in his will. Now Charlie was fully distinguishable from every Ross and every Charlie Ross in his family, and was often Called ‘Charlie Single’, or sometimes still just ‘Single’ by his friends, of whom he had many.

Aside from the fact that most people are naturally climbers, and hope to hitch a ride on the coat tails of a friend with three names (and maybe end up with two or three names themselves somewhere along the way), Charlie was likeable. He was just a nice kid. He treated everyone evenly and fairly and always shared whatever it was that he had to share (Which was often slices of Maker’s Singles, of which he received a lifetime supply during the radio contest, in addition to the name). Not only thatas I mentioned beforeCharlie was lucky. Things just seemed to happen for him. When someone is lucky, people notice.

All of Charlie’s friends were as poor as he was, but less distinguished on account of only having one name in most cases, and two names in the case of Dorene Flow. Besides Dorene, there was Copper and Copper (brother and sister), and Jasper, who had bad teeth. Charlie, because he was so nice, was kind of the leader of the group. He kept things reasonable, mediated conflicts when they popped up, and generally kept the mood light. Dorene would have liked to be the leader, but she lacked the finesse. Her parents, you see, were homeschooling her. They thought there were delitirious factors in our society that might corrupt Dorene, and lead her away from the lord, for whom her father purported to work. He was a preacher, you see. His name was Reverend Thomas Zachary Flow, and he was kind of a big deal on River Road, because he had three names, andof coursebecause he worked for God. T.Z. Flow allowed his kids to play with the children of congregation members. The Coppers and the Rosses were members of the New Light River Church, and thus were allowed to play with Dorene. Reverend Flow kept things from his daughter. He monitored very closely the kind of books she read and the kind of shows she watched, and the kind of talk she could here. He did this, you see, to preserve her purity, and to keep her focused on her development in the lord. Of all people, however, T.Z. Flowa person well versed in scripture, scriptures that include I might add, a little story involving a certain snake and a certain tree and a certain apple and a certain curious young woman,should have realized what happens when an authority figure cordons off certain areas of knowledge and FORBIDS his charges to trespass upon said areas. Apples were made for eating, you see, and information has ways to get to little ears and into little brains, especially when those little brains have been told to stay away from said information. That, however, isn’t even the worst of it. The worst of it is the variety of information that is forbidden and labeled evil. Your kids will find your taboos. The more you taboo them, the harder they will taboo hunt. They will find them, and they will touch them. They will put them between their toes. They will rub them all over their faces and put them in their mouths. They will chew them up and swallow them, and by god you better have been telling the truth when you called them ‘evil’, because if those taboos don’t cause at least a little indigestion, you will have just given your child a new favorite snack.

T.Z. Flow, as learned as he was, was not very cultured. He was a simple man, with no real understanding of what real evil might look like. To him, evil was swear words and rude noises. It doesn’t take long for a kid to realize that saying ‘Damn it!’ or ‘Ass!’ or ‘Shit Popsicles!’ out loud in front of their friends won’t do them any great or real damage. It takes them even less time to realize that emitting a loud, whinny fart, capped off with an exclamatory burp will not only not lose them friends, but might actually bring more around.

So Dorene was in her rebellious stage, and her rebellion was quite boring to those of her friends who had discovered the glorious world of rebelling with ideas. While Dorene farted and burped and said ‘Tits’ and ‘Balls’, Dorene’s friends read books by german writers with strange mustaches who had ideas about god, and culture, and the way money should be distributed amongst the people that would make the right Reverend Thomas Zachary Flow shit tit and ball popsicles right out of his damn ass.

Copper and Copper were more easy-going than Dorene. If they were characters on the old Star Trek t.v. show, they would be the people in the red uniforms. Or, if they werecharacters in the Hellboy movies, they would be wearing suits and ties and dark glasses. They are the kids who will find their lives changed in high school by reading Ayn Rand orif they’re a little more to the leftNoam Chomsky. They will always catch on to music groups and popular memes a little later than their cohorts, and will find themselves living comfortableif unimaginativelives in the suburbs far away from River Road. Which isn’t bad. Actually, maybe it’s somewhat enviable. As the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer noted, simple creatures are to be envied, because although their flights of fancy and mountain peaks of passion may not be as grand as those of their sensitive and intellectual brethren and sistren, so to are their pits of despair and valleys of ennui shallower, and thus more endurable. The Coppers, you see, lived in the present more or less, and were content to be fifth business in the stories of other people. People like Dorene and Charlie. And Jasper.

Jasper was a thinker. He was one of the sort bored by Dorene’s petty-bourgouise-potty mouth-rebellion. That, in fact, was exactly how Jasper characterized Dorene’s behavior. He was a Leninist, and that’s the way Leninists talk. Much like his hero, he was also a Machiavellian, and understood that power had to be seduced, bullied, and strategized away from the existing order, and to do that, one needed charm. Jasper, unfortunately, was not charming. He was not lucky. But he was strategic, and he recognized that Charlie had these qualities in abundance. Jasper’s October Revolution would come one day, and the face he would put on it would be the affable face of one Charlie Single Ross. He had discussed these plans with Charlie in earnest, and Charlie had laughingly agreed to be front man to Jasper’s conspiracy to un-betray the revolution.

This was Charlie’s crew. It was summertime, and there was nothing to do in Cincinnati but ‘nothing’, which is how the children would respond to their parents’ queries about what they had got up to that day. In actuality, ‘nothing’ consisted of hanging out in each others’ basements, watching old monster movies like ‘The Thing From Another Planet’, ‘The Wolf Man’, ‘THEM!’, ‘The Creature From The Black Lagoon’, and more recent classics like ‘The Fly’ (The Jeff Goldblum version), ‘Cloverfield’, ‘Zombieland’, and ‘28 Days Later’.

(Author’s note: I would tell you about some of the other things they got up to during the summer months, but since describing Dorene’s use of language, I feel uncomfortable pushing the envelope too far. I don’t want to risk losing too many readers, you see. Suffice it to say that the children were all approaching puberty, and nothing piques scientific curiosity quite like the onset of puberty.)

One day, Charlie and his friends were palling around down by cobblestone landing in front of the ballpark when they came across two bums on a raft trying to fish something out of the river.

‘Hey bums!’ Said Copper the female. ‘Whadda ya tryin ta do out there?’

‘Don’t say ‘Hey bums!’ to the bums, Copper!’ said Jasper. ‘They’ve been dehumanized by our system. Calling’em bums only further enigrates and oppresses’em!’

‘Well whadda we supposed to call’em then? They ain’t got no damn names!’ Said Dorene.

The children all paused to consider this situation. Charlie, ever the diplomat, offered a solution:

‘Gentlemen!’ he called out. ‘Whadda ya tryin’ ta do out there?’

‘Sumpin’ done fell inta the river, kid!’ Said Gentleman 1.

‘Thaz right! Were’n gonna fish it out!’ Said Gentleman 2.

‘Probably it was a bottle of vodka’. Said Dorene, whose turning out to be one of the more unattractive characters in this story.

‘No!’ said Gentleman 1. ‘It was a thing! All shiny. It fell from the sky! It was shiny, and had a peculiar color to it!’

‘Like from ‘The Color Out Of Space!’ said Charlie, who had spent his Summer alone-time reading H.P. Lovecraft (well, most of his alone-time).

‘You bums need help?’ Said Copper the male.

The bums looked at each other. ‘Sure!’ said bum 1.

‘Don’t call’em bums, I said!’ Said Jasper, squinting up one of his eyes and jutting out his chin.

‘Alright, Alright. Sorry, Jasper!’ Said Copper the male. ‘Thanks, Gentlemen!’

‘Any a you kids swim?’ said Gentleman 2.

‘I do!’ Said Dorene. ‘I’m a hella good swimmer’.

 

 

CHAPTER 3: ONE OF THE CHARACTERS INTRODUCED IN THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER DOES SOMETHING VERY STUPID, AND IS KILLED.
(Author's Note: At this juncture in the story, I wasn't sure what should happen next. I had been reading this book to my children as I wrote it, and asked them what they thought should happen next. The thing in the river, you see, is what is commonly called a 'McGuffin' in story parlance. The term was coined by Alfred Hitchcock, and signifies a thing that exists for no other reason than to propel the story onwards. A classic example of a McGuffin can be found in the wonderful movie 'The Maltese Falcon', which stars Humphrey Bogart, one of the best actors of all time. Any child or adult with any pretensions to having above average intelligence and cleverness should be familiar with the work of Humphrey Bogart, as well as every other writer, director, artist, actor, t.v. show, movie, book, or historical tidbit I mention throughout this story. Since we're on the subject, you should look into Edward Gorey as well. Nothing I have said up to this point pertains to him in any way, but he made some cool little books that any person with above average intelligence and cleverness should collect for their private library; a library which, I might add, should have books by Neil Gaiman, Daniel Wallace, Roald Dahl, Harlan Ellison, Jeanette Winterson, and Robertson Davies in it, as well as H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Terry Pratchett, Michel Houllebecq, and Kurt Vonnegut. Don't forget also to pick up the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervin Peake, Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais, Montaigne's Essays, and Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes. At any rate, at this juncture in the story, I needed to get the kids inside the object that fell into the river. So I asked my sons how best to do that. "You should have them build a submarine that carries them down to the object!' said one. 'Have the thing rise to the surface and say 'I've been waiting for you...'". said the other.

But I didn't like those ideas at all, so I had what follows happen instead.)

"I'm a hella good swimmer." Said Dorene, and without a moments hesitation, she had her shoes and socks off and was heading towards the river.

"Careful Dorene! You're liable to get eaten by a snake!" Said Copper the Female, who had apparently read a little farther into the story than the point at which we currently are at.

"Don't worry your little ass", said Dorene. "I've swum in the river before". Which was true, although the place she had swam in was on the Kentucky side, and as we have established already, Kentucky water snakes are much smaller than Cincinnati water snakes.

To Dorene, this was an opportunity. She would impress her friends by retrieving the object, and thus unseat Charlie as the de facto party leader. Unfortunately, things did not go as she had planned.

Once in the water, Dorene--who was truly a good swimmer--noticed not far in the distance the distinct shape and motion of a water snake, swimming along with her. It was a little snake--a Kentucky snake, she realized--so she didn't have much concern. She swam in the direction that the bums...er, gentlemen, were floating on their raft with their big, long retrieving sticks, and went down, down, down. She saw beer bottles, tires, and the remains of what could only have been a city councilman. She saw it! Down at the bottom, wedged between some rocks. It was bigger than she had thought. She would need to go up and get some air soon, and would have to recruit some of her friends, or maybe one of the gentlemen to go down with her to help her retrieve it. She turned away from the object to begin her ascent back to the surface, and noticed that the little Kentucky snake had gotten bigger. Much bigger. It turns out, it wasn't a little Kentucky snake swimming along with her; it was a big Cincinnati snake, swimming towards her. It was maybe around 15 feet wide, and 30 feet long. Dorene didn't even get to mouth one last swear word before she was swallowed completely whole. (Author's note: I'm sorry, but I really didn't have much of a choice. I want as many people to read this book as possible, and I couldn't very well have Dorene swearing all the way through the book. Swear words, you see, are very offensive to adults. We know children say them, and we know they savor them, and we know that by banning them we only make children say them more and enjoy them more, but we feel compelled. Swear words and naked bodies offend us way more than little girls being swallowed by gigantic water snakes. They offend us more than crime scenes, and more than war; two things, which in fact, we love. Just look at late night grown up television, or listen to a politician talk about 'America's Enemies'. So, I'm sorry, but it was all about harm reduction. Dorene had to go!)

Back on the surface, Charlie was filling his friends and the gentlemen in on the plot of 'The Color Out Of Space'.

'So the family was possessed, then.' Said one of the gentlemen.

'That's right'. Said Charlie, wide eyed and satisfied.

'Sounds like bourgouise clap trap'. Said Jasper. 'Designed to keep the worker distracted.'

'Ya know', said one of the gentlemen (it doesn't matter which one), 'Lenin and Trotsky both gave a wide birth tuh the arts'.

'Whatta ya mean?' said Jasper, squinting like his icon.

'Well, they thought the arts was ussential to the development uh the proletariat."Said one of the gentlemen--who, in Jasper's eyes, were quickly reverting to bums.

'Me specifically', said gentleman 1, 'I prefer Schopenhauer to Hegel'.

Jasper gasped. "You can't mean that! You're one of the oppressed...Hegel informed Marx, and Marx informed Lenin and Trotsky, and they brought about the revolution!"

'Which led to more oppression', Said the female Copper. Jasper glared at her.

'Schopenhauer wasn't for the people'. Said Jasper. 'He thought good enough was good enough, and that nothing was very good at all.'

"Schopenhauer," said Gentleman 1, "said, and I quote, ' The conviction that the world, and therefore man too, is really something that ought not to exist is in fact calculated to instil in us indulgence towards one another: for what can be expected of being put in such a situation as we are? From this point of view one might indeed consider that the appropriate form of address between man and man ought to be not monsieur, sir, but, fellow sufferer, compagnon de misereres. However strange this may sound, it corresponds to the nature of the case, makes us see other men in a true light and reminds us of what are the most necessary of all things: tolerance, patience,forebearance, and charity, which each of us needs and which each of us therefore owes'."

"Did you notice, Copper", said Copper the male, "That the bums are talking a lot better now that we're further on into the story?"

"I did." said Copper the female. "Spencer must have gotten tired of trying to figure out how to mangle their language to make them sound simple."

"Sounds about right to me." Said Copper the male. "he's never been very disciplined about anything he does."

"Fellow sufferers..." said Jasper. "Marxism is all about struggle. That's the historical dialectic..."

"Forget about revolutions." Said Campognon De Misereres. "They all end up in mountains of skulls."

"That's right." Said Fellow Sufferer. "It's all we can do to keep from hanging ourselves from that suspension bridge over there.

"My dad used to tell me when I was a kid that the bridge sings to the cars that pass over it". said Charlie Single Ross.

Everyone strained to listen.

"So it does." Said Fellow Sufferer. "You're dad must be an artist".

"Close." Said Charlie. "He removes subversive graffiti from the walls of city buildings".

"I keep him in business". Said Jasper.

"You know," Said Charlie, "Dorene's been down there for a really long time."

"Nobody can hold their breath that long!" Said Copper the female.

"What if she's drowned?" Said Copper the male.

"What if she got sucked into the thing?" Said Fellow Sufferer

"The thing from out of space?" Said Campagnon De Misereres.

"The very one." Said Fellow Sufferer.

"We've got to rescue her!" Said Charlie Single Ross.


CHAPTER 4: AFTER REALIZING THAT THEIR FRIEND IS EITHER DEAD OR IN PERIL, THE CHARACTERS INTRODUCED IN THE PREVIOUS CHAPTERS SET ABOUT TO SEE IF THEY MIGHT SAVE HER.

(Author's note: Friends, I have not been very diligent with these chapters. I wrote the last line of chapter 3 over two months ago, and then fell into a deep depression. It was all I could do to get my clothes on, cook breakfast, and go to work. Work, work, work. That's all we're allowed to do as grown ups, which is unfair. When you're a kid, you get to be interesting. As interesting as you please. When you're a grown up, you've got to wear a tie and carry a briefcase. It doesn't really matter so much what's in the briefcase, just that you're carrying it. You know what I keep in my briefcase? A book, a bottle of water, a box of Gin Gin's, a notepad, and a couple of pens. Sometimes I carry two books. You know what kind of books? Not the kind that teach you how to make money. The current books in my briefcase are the selected letters of D.H. Lawrence, which is okay, and 'The Art of Seduction' by Robert Greene, which is fun to read because it is honest. I'll probably switch out my Lawrence letters with a copy of Philip Larkin's poetry soon. Larkin is way better than Lawrence.

When you're young, you're interesting, but you've got no resources to explore you're interestingness. When you're old, you're dull, but you've got more resources. Maybe you've got 'no inner resources', as John Berryman might say, but you've certainly got a little cash flow and are old enough to drive. Friends, it's not fair. This book is a prison break. You are helping one of your fellow sufferers break out of prison. You don't know me personally, but I am using your capital to quit the system. You will never be free, unfortunate little friends, but take solace in knowing that you have made me free. I can almost taste it. Can you taste it? Maybe if you close your eyes and lick your lips you can taste my freedom. It doesn't taste quite like whatever yours would taste like, but at least you know you're in the same restaurant. Buy more copies of my book! Tell your friends to buy a copy. Steal copies from the library so they have to buy more copies. If you don't have any money, take some out of your dad's wallet. he would only spend it on booze and presents for his secret family in Columbus. Thanks for your support. Anyway, I'm feeling better now, so here comes some more story. Let's see what happens next.)

Charlie Single Ross decided it was time to make a definitive move to further the plot. He organized the kids into two teams: Alpha team, and Bravo Team. The Coppers were in Alpha Team, and Charlie and Jasper were in Bravo Team. He had just seen the movie 'The Life Aquatic' and had a mind to set out into the depth of the Ohio river in a submarine. Unfortunately, there wasn't a submarine on the banks of the Ohio River. But, what the hell, I am making this story up, so yes there was a mini submarine on the banks of the Ohio River. Campagnon De Miserere noticed it docked a little ways down the river, and it had the keys in the ignition.

"Come on!" Said Campagnon, waving his arm in the direction of the submarine. The children's eyebrows rose, and they looked at each other. "Anyone know how to drive a submarine? Charlie said?

 

 

CHAPTER 5: SOME THINGS HAPPEN
No one knew how to drive a submarine. It just wasn't a skill required to navigate Cincinnati culture. All of the kids, of course, knew how to pilot a steam boat, but a submarine is hardly a steam boat. All of the kids, also--if you were wondering--knew how to slaughter pigs, play baseball, eat 3-ways, vote for Barack Obama, and listen to NPR. None of those skills, unfortunately, cumulatively equal an ability to drive a submarine.

Luckily,the submarine driver was just returning with a coffee and a copy of The Enquirer. "Let's hold him up!" Said Jasper.

The two gentlemen, Fellow Sufferer and Campagnon De Miserere, reached into their pockets and pulled out pistols.

"Freeze, buster!" Said Campagnon, pulling back the hammer on his gun.

All Cincinnatians, by the way, concealed carry.

The submarine driver didn't have a chance to reach for his own pistol. He put his arms into the air, coffee cup in one hand, and copy of The Enquirer in the other (This copy of The Enquirer would go unread, which is actually customary for copies of The Enquirer).

Jasper moved in, removing the submarine driver's pistol from his belt. "Keep your hands in the air, Capitalist Scum!" he said.

"Okay, Okay!" Said the Submarine Driver.

Charlie Single Ross approached the driver with his hands in the air, conciliatory. "Sorry about this, pal. We just need you to drive us to the bottom of the river. Our friend is trapped down there".

"What? Really?" Said the driver. "In that case, why'd you have to stick me up? I'd have helped you out of my own free will!"

"Really?" Said Campagnon. "I'm not used to named folks helping me out".

"I'm not used to capitalist scum helping me out!" Said Jasper.

"I'm not doing it for you, bums!" said the driver. "I'm doing it for the children! There's a child at the bottom of the river!"

Campagnon and Fellow lowered their pistols. Jasper patted the driver's pistol, now stuck in his belt buckle. "I'll hold onto this, though. Just in case."

"My name's Bill". Said the driver.

"Just Bill?" Said Campagnon?

"Just Bill". Said Bill.

"Nice to meet you Bill." Said Fellow Sufferer.

"Nice to meet you bum." Said Bill.

"Nice to meet you Bill." Said Campagnon.

"Nice to meet you bum." Said Bill.

At that, Bill lifted the hatch to the submarine, and all of the characters in this story--except for Dorene, of course--climbed in. Bill pressed a button on the consule and the little propeller behind the submarine went "blrrrrrrrrrrr", and the submarine began to descend, deep, deep down into the deep depths of the muddy Ohio.

 

 

 
CHAPTER 6: SOME OTHER THINGS HAPPEN

"When it's time from work to go

and in my boat I row

Across the muddy Ohio

When the evening light is falling..."

Sang Bill, half under his breath.

"What's that?" Asked Charlie Single Ross.

"It's the Ohio River Boat Song, by Palace Brothers."

"I like it." Said Charlie Single Ross.

"You should." Said Bill. "It's a good song."

The Coppers were talking to one another in the back of the submarine, while Jasper held court with the two gentlemen. Charlie Single Ross, purportedly the hero of this tale, was beginning to feel like he wasn't living up to his billing. He had been relatively passive as events occurred. The real movers, he thought, were Jasper and Dorene, and even the bums. Someone with so many names, and so many expectations piled upon him, should be taking a more active part in the action. That is why he decided to sit up front with Bill, who was apparently a big fan of indie-folk music.

The submarine descended and descended. Little bits of debris bounced off the windshield. A bottle smacked into the side window. Little, dull looking river fish swam by, completely unlike the ones Charlie saw in the movie 'The Life Aquatic'.

"There!" Said Charlie, spotting the orb. "There it is!"

And there it was. The submarine moved closer to, and as they did, it seemed to get bigger. Either that, or they were getting smaller. It radiated a strange energy off of its oblique contours, and seemed to almost pull the submarine towards it.

"We're going in." Said Bill.

"But how?" Said Jasper

"It always had to be this way." Said Copper the female.

Campagnon De Miserere and Fellow Sufferer held hands. An unseen membrane seemed to blink, and suddenly the submarine carrying all of our characters was no longer in the Ohio River: It was in the orb itself.

 

 
CHAPTER 7: SOME MORE THINGS HAPPEN

(Author's note: At this juncture in the story, dear readers, I have some kind of a flu. Some nasty invader has hijacked my body and made me all sweaty. My head is thumping, my skin is filmy, I am tired, my bones ache, and I have awful diahrrea. I am laying in my bed in my underwear, drugged up to high heaven in order to survive my ordeal. The box fan--a thing I need to have running and blowing directly on me whenever I want to sleep--has fallen over, and I don't have the strength to get up to set it right. It is making a muffled noise as it sucks the carpeting into its blades. Inevitably it will cause a fire from over heating, and I will be burnt alive. No food tastes good to me. The Gatorade tastes sick, the soup tastes sick, the 7 Up tastes sick. I either have the blankets off of me and I am freezing, or have them on me and I am roasted. I can't read because I only want to sleep. Typically, I will read books when I am sick, and indulge in my more antisocial impulses (I find myself becoming increasingly antisocial as I get older). Some of my favorite authors to read while sick: Robert Louis Stevenson, O. Henry, John Updike, Nabokov, Walt Whitman, The Letters Henry and William James wrote to each other (these are also good toilet reading), Billy Collins, Thomas Lux, W. H. Auden, and T.S. Eliot. The Lovesong of J.Alfred Prufrock is my favorite poem of all time, and really hits home when you are sick. One week when I was particuarly ill, I read 'Of Human Bondage' by Maugham, and really liked it. The sickness caused a kind of wooziness that mixed with the undertones of the book, and when I was better, I felt like I was emerging from an incubator, a whole new person. This is not one of those glorious sicks that give you a nice euphoria before it sets in, and is really only a good excuse to skip work and ignore the people you love: this sick means business.

What's worse, I am bored by the very thought of describing what happens to our characters inside the orb. Ostensibly, there will be lots of action, they will learn things about themselves, life, each other, and will discover that Dorene was nowhere to be found inside the alternate universe contained in the orb. So many stories take this route, and I am not enthusiastic about flipping the switch that will set the story into auto-pilot. H.P. Lovecraft mentioned that it is best that we leave things to people's imaginations, because they can fill in the blanks in a way that is very personal and effective for them. As a rationalization to skip all of the dull adventuring and strange creatures that the children will encounter inside the orb, I think I will employ this method. Maybe I will make many allusions to the kinds of things that transpired inside the orb after the children return from it. Yes, I think that is what I will do. Or maybe you can decide what happened by piecing together the clues that I offer in the next chapter--clues, by the way, which are attached to nothing at all, clues which signify nothing at all except what you want them to. But no, I'm not sure you're up to the task. Yes, it says a great deal about your character that you've made it so far into this story designed only for children and adults of above average cleverness and intelligence, but still, to create such vast landscapes and complicated intrigues as are bound to take place inside the orb-world...it's risky, but okay, I'll give you a crack at it. It certainly doesn't interest me.

So, let's not leave the Ohio River as the children go about their adventure inside the orb).

The river was busy as usual around the orb. Barges full of coal chugged along beneath bridges, children played in Friendship Park along the river and on the other side--on the Kentucky side--people ate at boathouse restaurants.

beneath the surface of the river, the snake that had swallowed Dorene was beginning to get a hint of a tummy ache.


CHAPTER 8: THE VARIOUS STILL SURVIVING CHARACTERS FROM THE PREVIOUS CHAPTERS TRY TO MAKE SENSE OUT OF THE THINGS THAT HAPPENED IN CHAPTER 6 AND 7, AND ARE SOMEWHAT SUCCESSFUL AT IT.

Just outside the orb, there was a burbling noise. At first, it was very quiet, but then it became more pronounced, more permanent. The orb began to rattle, and waves of energy emanated from it, creating waves in the water around. With the sound of a rocket, the submarine shot from the orb, back into the surrounding water. It sped rapidly to the surface. It was badly dented, burnt, and there was some kind of strange symbology painted on the side of it.

On the surface, The hatch to the submarine opened. Out of the hatch emerged Jasper, his arm in a sling. He was wearing tall black boots that made him look like a character out of Pirates of Penzance.

The Coppers came out next, and did not talk to Jasper. They walked past him with an air of vague disdain, to which Jasper's aura responded by retracting in upon itself somewhat. Something had passed between them on the other side that had caused a deep rift.

The Coppers looked very much the way they had upon going into the orb. There had always been an otherworldly kind of quality to them that made the atmosphere inside of the orb not completely shocking and tranformative to them. They had always comported themselves as if they were characters in a story, which they were.

To see real transformation, you would have to see Charlie Single Ross. Upon emerging from the orb, the sunlight made his now white hair appear ethereal, and his face had taken on a wizened, wearied aspect. He had gained grit in the world of the orb. He was wearing a pea coat, decorated with a black sash with all kinds of ribbons and little embroidered doo-dads on it. Around his waist he wore his pistol in a holster, as opposed to tucked into his belt the way he customarily did. He walked up to Jasper, who did not make eye contact with him at first, and put his hand on his friend's shoulder. Jasper's eyes raised, filled with a deep appreciation and humility. Charlie only nodded his head with a hint of a sympathetic smile forming at the corner of his lips.

The gentlemen, Compagnon De Miserere and Fellow Sufferer, were also mainly unchanged. Life in this world had been challenging enough, but it had also been dull. They had learned to survive by living in this world, and welcomed the chance to do battle with the seven headed Charystamange, duel over the hand of Duchess Eleanor Graveyard, and to scale the heights of Mount Slaughterborn, and rescue their underage charges from the renegade swampling Odalisque. Their habitual consumption of alcohol made it easy work for them to drink Baron Quatling under the table and win access to the key that would open the Door of Sleep, and their deep knowledge of 20th century philosophers aided them in their public debate ith Grundished, Archbishop of Nargletree. When it came time to run away from The Coughs in the labrynthine corridors of the black castle, they were unsure whether they would make it, but utlimately that orb-world adventurer Francis Coffey came in to the rescue on his flying contraption. So mainly they seemed unchanged, but they did have a little more color to their cheeks, and were a little heartier in their step.

Poor Bill, who never wanted to come on this adventure in the first place--who in fact had been coerced into it at gunpoint--did not emerge from the cabin. He had taught Jasper to pilot the submarine in the orb world, and good thing to, because he would ultimately be unable to pilot it back. Poor Bill, who only wanted to drink his coffee and read his Enquirer and then get back to his job of submarining, got drawn into an adventure that he was unequipped to survive, although his last minute show of extreme bravery. At least he didn't have to read the Enquirer. His sacrifice will never be forgotten.

"Who is that there on the shore?" said Copper the male.

"It looks like Reverend T.Z.!" Said Copper the female.

"Oh...that's right. Dorene." Said Copper the male.

"She was never in the orb." Said Copper the female.

Jasper sighed.

"Look, there are others!" Said Copper, pointing to a group of men and women assembling on the bank.

"How long have we been gone?" Said Jasper, finally piping up.

"Seemed like years." Said Campagnon.

"Decades." Said Fellow.

"Like The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" Said Copper the male.

"What's that, some kind of book?" Said Copper the female

"I think so. I think I heard Dorene mention it once". Said Copper the male.

"Let's pull in close." Said Charlie. Jasper nodded, and returned below deck.


 

CHAPTER 9: Among Hysterical Adults

On the shore, standing in the middle of the gathering crowd, was Reverend T.Z. Flow. His eyes looked very tired, and his clothes were filthy. Standing next to him--because he refused to stand anywhere but in the center of a crowd--was Mayor Mark Ambrose Luca Deforest Armand Kingsley Godfrey Gotti Precious Mallory . As soon as Charlie saw the Mayor, he began scanning the shoreline for the news cameras. Surprisingly, there were none...no, wait, ah, there he is. A newspaper reporter, scribbling away at the Mayor's elbow. That made more sense.

"Ahoy!" Said Charlie, as the submarine puttered to a stop.

"Ahoy?!" Said T.Z. Flow, incredulous. "Ahoy?! Where have you children been? Where is my daughter!"

"And what are you wearing?" Said the Mayor. "That looks very dashing!"

The children glanced at each other. How to explain?

"Bums!" Cried someone from the crowd. "They've been kidnapped by bums?"

The crowd began to titter.

"Is this true?" Said the Mayor. "If this is true, then we'll have to hang you bums from the bridge!"

"Hey!" Said Compagnon. "That's our job!"

"Where's my daughter!" Said Reverend T.Z. The children looked at each other again, unsure of what to say.

"Listen." Said Charlie, holding up a commanding hand. "These 'bums' as you call them, have not kidnapped us at all! In fact, they have saved us. Many times over. They're heroes!"

"Heroes?" Said the mayor. "Well, heroism is to be rewarded, not hanged! Let me offer each of you bums one name each."

"One name each?" Said Fellow Sufferer enthusiastically. "That's better than we anticipated!"

"No, no, no!" Said Jasper, coming out of his funk. "You can't accept a name from this pig! You'd be buying into an unjust system! Remember our plans?"

"He's right." Said Campagnon. "Besides, who needs names, when you've danced with Madame Graveyard?"

"When you've beat the Grand Troll at chess?" Said Fellow Sufferer

"When you've got a revolution to plan!" Whispered Jasper. They all went silent, and the bums ambled off the submarine and headed towards the suspension bridge. Jasper followed a few steps behind.

"So they don't want the names then?" asked the Mayor.

"No. You know how it is". said Jasper. "But you know, I engaged in some heroics on our little adventure too..."

"Really?" Said the Mayor. "Do tell..." The mayor put his arm around Jasper, and they walked off down the riverbank together, the newspaper reporter keeping pace at their side.

"Where's my daughter! Shouted T.Z. "We've been looking for you kids for three whole days!"

"We've only been gone for three days?" Said the Coppers simultaneously. They stepped down from the submarine as well, followed by Charlie. No longer needed for the plot, the submarine disappeared back beneath the water.

"Sir," Said Charlie. "We're afraid we were unable to find your daughter. We think she may have been drowned, or eaten by a snake." He placed his hand on the Reverend's shoulder. "I'm sorry."

The Reverend, exhausted after three days of steady searching for his daughter, and shocked and horrified by the news, collapsed on the bank. The crowd--a crowd of parishoners assembled by the reverend to help him look for his daughter and her friends--gathered around, placing their hands on the reverend. If you could see the seen from the sky, it was rather pretty; all of those hands reaching out to touch the grieving father and spiritual leader, connected to all of those arms, connected to all of those torsos; it made the whole scene look something like a kind of flower.

 


EPILOGUE
And the great Cincinnati snake, sickened by the taste of Dorene's religion and tired of her swearing, rose to the surface and vomitted her back onto the shore, right in front of her father. Why should this not be so? How many of you believe that Jonah lived in the belly of a great fish, and came out undigested? Well, so too did Dorene, and she was a changed woman, a woman of the church. Her father was so proud. She went on to become a great preacher's wife, and was well respected in her community. Dorene survived, but don't be too excited about it: in the end, we all end up like Yorkick and Julius Caesar, and Alexander the Great, and Hamlet, and Laertes, and Polonius, and Claudius and Gertrude and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: food for worms, stoppers for beer barrells, and pastes to keep out the wind. We all end up no different than any other skeleton in the graveyard; the rich feed the same worms as the poor, and the worms don't complain either way. I see no reason why it should be otherwise. So since it is all the same in the end, why don't you live your life the way that suits you, and practice whatever kind of kindness, forebearance, charity, and patience you can for your fellow sufferers, your campagnon de misereres, along the way?

I apologize. I promised you no moralizing. Alas, I am a great liar. As a line cook once told me at my first after school job: It is easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission.

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