Saturday, February 5, 2011

Chapter 6

Problems. Unlike Fates, Problems come in all shapes and sizes. Some of Horace's problems had very distinct shapes and sizes. One was small and furry. Another was large and engulfed in flames. But his third had neither size nor shape. That was precisely the Problem.

Problems are very social interdimensional creatures. They will often travel in packs. (footnote: technically, Problems, like lions, travel in prides. And very rarely has anyone experienced a pride of lions without also having to deal with a pride of Problems.) And if a group (that is, pride) of Problems has already taken shape somewhere, passing Problems will likely join or worry that they're missing out. Herbert's life at this moment was a Problem's New Years Eve on Times Square. Problem crowd control would have been called in long ago if such a thing existed.

Hutley's problem was also a bit more difficult to size-up; the only possible silver lining is that his Problem was so mean, so nasty, fat and ugly that the other Problems would keep their distance.

But Hutley was pretty sure that the squirrelly-looking man holding the actually squirrelly-looking creature had just blown up that possibility. It was raining problems outside and Horace had just tracked them in on Hutley's carpet of life.

"I've got my own problems," Hutley told a bewildered Horace. "I don't need your problems, too."

The Rage in Horace had been building for some time. It started, he assumed, in childhood, rose through puberty, pimples, and a series of excruciatingly bad first dates. It picked up pace with the early onset male pattern baldness, and threatened to break loose every time Horace was forced to interact with other people. He kept it buried deep in his gut, but he had felt it working its way up. And then, like food poisoning, the Rage gave him a swift kick to the gut and Fury spewed from his mouth.

"NO. This is your job. You are going to take care of this. I don't deserve this. This isn't my fault." He looked up to the heavens in desparation. "Why won't everyone just leave me alone?" But then his Rage focused his attention back on Hutley. "You IDIOT. Stop your blubbering. Take it. You're going to fix this because its your job!"

Horace ran up to Hutley, forced Herbert into his hands, turned around, and ran out of the room. It was a very dramatic moment, but Horace also knew any worthwhile cathartic experience is followed by tears, and crying in front of Hutley after that performance would be somewhat humiliating.

With Horace out of the room, Hutley looked down at the Dinkle and said, to himself but out loud, "Wow. I think that guys even crazier than I am."

"I think you're all wack jobs," Herbert told him.

And Lord Hutley, apparently unaware that the fat squirrel was, in fact, a talking fat squirrel, fainted.


Mary and Murrey were confident they were on the right track. Had they been a little more observant of their surroundings, they definitely would not have been so confident. The Hictorian Desert is dry because storm clouds are too scared to even fly over, but Mary and Murrey breezed lightly across it like they were on an afternoon stroll. When they came to the Great Cliffs, which mark the border of the Hictorian Desert (the wind literally stops at the edge of the desert, creating the world's steepest mountain range), they just followed the wind-carved steps, each the perfect height for a Dinkle, to top, and then rode down the other side on a large piece bark, rounded just right for the smoothest ride down. They sledded down to the edge of and into the Rhumes River, and floated through the snake-infested Rhumes Jungle on their bark boat.

Every time one of the twins felt a twinge of hunger or thirst, they found the solution at hand. Nuts were scattered across their trail, which was most remarkable because no trees had grown in the Hictorian Desert for decades. At one point, water literally spouted out of the ground when Mary felt a tinge of thirst. While floating down the river, a fire-breathing bass jumped into the bark boat, started a small fire with its last breath, which then cooked the fish just before burning itself out. Mary and Murrey found that they were more heroic then even they, themselves, had anticipated.


Sneaux and Pinkle had been lying on their stomachs, listening for Pinkle's predator, for a full 15 minutes before Pinkle decided the coast was clear; Sneaux would have lost patience much earlier, but he'd fallen asleep long ago. Of course, they were only 50 feet from a 60 foot waterfall, so any predator that Pinkle might have heard must have been the worst predator in the world, with the stealth abilities of a novice bagpiper. Also, if there were a predator, the Dinkles were very lucky to be only 50 feet from a 60 foot waterfall, because little else could have drowned out Sneaux's snoring. Pinkle, only several inches from his fellow Dinkle, could only sense a mild rumble in the ground underneath him.

The Posselut. The posselut is one of the world's most fearsome predators. Its teeth were half as long as its body, and its claws were as long as the other half. In place of fur, it had porcupine needles loaded with a strong sedative that could be used to target a potential meal. It roar was so loud that it could also be used as a weapon; the posselut avoided damaging itself by outrunning sound itself.

Evolution, realizing that it had let this one get too far, afflicted the posselut with one, seemingly minor, flaw. Posseluts, at all times and in all places, had the hiccups. Hiccups are, of course, very annoying, but if you have the sonorous capacity of a Boeing 747, hiccups are a bit more severe. In normal conditions, the posselut can't avoid alerting any potential prey in a one mile radius of its presence. In effect, Evolution had banished the posselut to the small area surrounding the few hundred waterfalls on Lutranean B. Darfinians, Lutranea, and Aranas, like any other self-respecting species, tended to be afraid of graveyards, snake pits, and creepy clowns, but nothing evoked more fear from the general residents of Lutranean B than a large waterfall.

Sneaux and Pinkle had never heard of posseluts, but Pinkle had heard a posselut. . . .


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

By Way of Introduction

Time travel.  Norman Gregory, like most of Lutranea, was obsessed with time travel.  And who can really blame him?

What did it mean about the universe if time travel was possible?  First of all, it meant that all time was actually existing simultaneously, and that the flow of time was something of an illusion.  Second, and working off the first, it meant that Norman Gregory had always existed and always would exist.  Norman really hoped, for the good of the universe, that this second proposition was true.

He was a little discouraged that he had never met a time traveler.  If time travel were possible, he believed that someone would have rushed through time to tell him.  He had plastered advertisements in newspapers, on billboards, and on the sides of mountains to let all time travelers know that he was interested in meeting them:

To all time travelers,
In case my legend has slipped to mythical status and you doubt the reality of my heroics, I would like you all to know that I am very real and very interested in meeting you. 
Norman Gregory

But no time travelers had ever shown up.

Norman Gregory was also obsessed with aliens.  Space aliens.  He knew, in part, that his interest in aliens was vain ambition.  If aliens contacted Lutranean B, they could spread word of his many accomplishments and epic good looks to the rest of the universe.  But a visit from space aliens would also open new worlds that he could save and an infinite number of people that he could guide in grace and wisdom.  He knew the aliens would recognize his greatness and give him the love and respect he deserved, even if his own people took him for granted.

He had made some initial attempts to contact the aliens.  First, he put a message in a bottle and tried to throw it into space.  He was shocked to find that gravity would have the emboldened audacity to pull the bottle back to earth. 

Next, he and his engineers tried a giant crossbow which shot the bottle up towards the heavens.  The bottle disappeared in the distance and Norman thought it was only a matter of time until the aliens came to honor him.  A day later, though, a peasant boy found the bottle in a field and brought it to the castle.  The crossbow engineers concluded that the bottle must have traveled around the universe and then come back to Lutranean B unread.  The next day Norman shot off a dozen more bottles, and when 8 of them were not returned he knew it was time to prepare for alien visits.

The first thing he needed to do was rename the planet.  The Lutranea had earned the right to name the planet hundreds of years ago when they were chosen as the planet’s dominant species.  They campaigned for the position on the grounds that they had the world’s most complex sewer system.  No one dared compete with them on those grounds, and the Lutraneas first act as dominant species was to name the planet Lutranean.  They wanted to make sure that they wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of any visiting aliens by the planet’s lesser species.

Norman Gregory liked the name, but could not believe that such a remarkable species with such an inspirational leader and efficient waste disposal system could possibly have originated on such an ordinary planet.  Logically, he concluded that their ancestors had left a more edenic, but doomed, planet and made their way to Lutranean.  Lutranean, by presidential edict of Norman Gregory, thus became Lutranean B.

Norman Gregory died and was quickly forgotten.  Norman Gregory II was followed by Norman Gregory III and so forth.  Norman Gregory XLIII would learn that, despite what the crossbow engineers actually thought about Norman’s plan to shoot bottles into space, one had actually made it.  It was found by a young Ganderling three solar systems over who took it to his parents.  His parents believed it was an awfully funny joke and their son lived a life of luxury, enshrined as a comedic genius.  It was hundreds of years later that a young research assistant accidentally discovered that the note was from another planet.  Approximately 200 years later a note in a bottle was delivered to Norman Gregory XLIII.

To the great universal jokester and author of the Norman Gregory stories,
We regret that we do not have the necessary technology to visit you personally, but if you are capable of performing such a flight across space we would be honored to host you here.  Generations of Ganderlings have been raised with an illustrated version of your “Great Deeds of Norman Gregory.”  We have sent copies of the story to all corners of the universe, so that all may laugh as we have at Norman’s delusional heroics.
We hope that you will have other stories that you can share with us,
The Great Council of Yanglepoo 7

And thus, the name Norman Gregory is recognized across the universe.  As personally dictated to his rather sardonic clerk, this is his story.

Chapter 5

When it all got sorted out it was a little embarrassing.  The water had been pushing him downstream, so Pinkle ran along the side trying to get his attention.  “Just stand up,” he yelled.

Instead of standing up, Sneaux splashed and struggled like a beached tuna.  A stray kick hit the river bottom and 10 seconds later he was standing knee deep in the slow moving river water.

“We have to get the nuts!”  He yelled too loudly—Pinkle was only a few inches away—and it was ridiculous to think they could get the nuts back, but it was the first thing that came to mind and he had to speak before Pinkle commented on 1) Sneaux’s contribution to the losing of the nuts or 2) his comical performance in a third of an inch of water.  He was very aware that he had risen to new heights of looking like an idiot.

They both just stared at each other.  Sneaux had frozen in that slightly bent at the waist look people have when they are yelling in an argument.  Pinkle was a little taken aback.  His jaw dropped open.  He seemed to be pondering his response, calculating the square root of infinity, and imitating a bass simultaneously.

After a painful thirty second deadlock, Pinkle said the only thing that can be said in these situations.


He used that voice people use with college freshman when they don’t want to stifle her spirit but realize it’s about time that someone let her know she can’t actually be a lion when she grows up.

 “We’ll find something that floats and chase down the nuts,” Sneaux suggested.  “We’ll starve out here if we don’t.”

It was true. Pinkle knew it was true. He also knew it was Sneaux’s fault. This wasn’t how it was all supposed to go, and it was all Sneaux’s fault.


Fate.  There is such a thing as Fate.  This doesn’t rule out the importance of Coincidence.  Coincidence is an eight armed, three headed creature that likes to dance the tango.  Unlike his good friend Irony who is angry at the Universe (for being an amorphous pink blob who cannot dance the tango), Coincidence is generally amicable but occasionally gets in a bad mood.

But compared to Fate, Coincidence is just an octoappendaged jokester.  Every sapient being has a Fate.  They’re little green furry creatures.  They follow their mark (technical Fate jargon) queing in the natural forces when they should be sending a flood, tipping a boulder, or leading someone back so he can kill his father.  You can’t escape your Fate—they’re tenacious.

But when the tree branch made its way down the river before the torrent of water, the relevant Fates and Coincidence shared surprised stares.  Irony just shrugged her shoulders.  Hidden away in her own little corner, though, Luck was sniggering to herself.  She just believed the poor Dinkles needed a break.


Six years before our story began, a bird carrying a gycamian nut got lost in a freak fog that rolled in from nowhere.  Several days later, the bird was weakened by its panicked flight and dropped the nut in the Thyrdulian Mountains in a rare patch of good soil.  A gycamian tree struggled in that patch for 5 years before succumbing to the cold and sparse rainfall.  It dried out over the next year and lost a few branches in the wind some months later.  One of these branches was blown into a stream that fed into the Hippotulamulia River.  The branch floated down the river for months, and was about to be run down by flood waters from a wicked storm in the Thyrdulian Mountains when it was boarded by two very desperate Dinkles.


It had been Sneaux’s idea, technically, but wasn’t really an idea that needed to be had.  The idea had walked right up to them in a bright gold tutu and was doing its best impression of Swan Lake while juggling flaming torches.  The branch was at a few feet long and six inches wide.  Right in the middle at the top a knot had been broken out to form a six inch by three inch indentation that was about an inch deep.  It even had four little handles that couldn’t be explained by any act of nature.

It beached itself right in front of Sneaux and Pinkle as they sat on the side of the river and pondered what life would be like once it had freed itself from them and was on its own for once.  Sneaux looked up at it.  Pinkle looked up at it.  They looked at each other and then looked back at the branch.  Sneaux, no longer able to ignore the tutu-ed dancer, turned back to Pinkle, “Maybe we should get on the branch.”

“Okay.”  Pinkle hadn’t been able to piece together any new words since the nut incident.

“It looks like there’s a ladder cut out of the side so we can climb up.”


Sneaux noticed the new idea that had emerged on stage, dressed like a peppermint and jumping a tricycle through a flaming hoop.  “Maybe we should do it before that” pointing over Pinkle’s head to the wall of water in the distance that was racing towards them “gets here.”


Sneaux let Pinkle climb aboard first, he figured it was the least he could do, and then he climbed up afterwards.  They used the rope they had scavenged from their parachutes to tie themselves in.  And then they waited.

“Pinkle, do you think we’re gonna die?”

Okay didn’t work here, so he had to think for a minute.  It took a few seconds before he finally came up with something, “No.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not supposed to die yet.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t know.  I just know.”

“But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to die?”

“Touché.  You’re a goner.”

“Is there someone I can ask?  I’d really rather know.”

“Why do you care?  You thought you’d be dead by now anyway.”

“Maybe I want to say some heroic last words, confess some grievous sins, or maybe just insult you one last time and know that I got in the last word,” Sneaux yelled to be heard over the oncoming rush of water.

Pinkle thought a little about this.  He looked back at the water that was seconds from slamming down on them and, at the last second leaned forward to scream into Sneaux’s ear, “You are a worthless . . .”  He wasn’t able to finish before the water came crashing down on them.


Lutranean B is a very old world. Like any old world, it has many secrets. And, like this world, one of those secrets was very old.

Old secrets are different than new secrets, or even those secrets of a nondescript age. For a normal secret to become an old secret, it must have two important characteristics. First, it must be important. If it is not important, it is forgotten--and secrets, by definition, are not forgotten. Second, to become an old secret, the secret must be dangerous. Otherwise it becomes a footnote, or chapter heading, of history. No, secrets do not just age, they are buried. Someone, or something, makes them secret, and keeps them secret. Something else is waiting to resurrect them from their crypt.

Old secrets are one thing. Very old secrets are something else. Very old secrets are not just dangerous and important, they are alive. There are old people, old books, old civilizations. But eventually, even the mightiest monuments of the greatest civilizations turn to dust. Through it all, the very old secrets live on, haunting the new civilizations that emerge in their place. Very old secrets are not dead, they are not past--that is where they are born, but very old secrets are what is to come; very old secrets are power and prophesy.

Lutranean B had a very old secret. Not remembered. Not forgotten. But alive, and very dangerous and very powerful. It had taken a nap, but it was now ready to wake up, stretch, yawn, and, with a little luck, destroy everything in its path.


Franklin was not concerned at the moment with new secrets, very old secrets, or anything in between. He just wanted to know why a pack of monkeys had kidnapped him. 

Generally, the monkeys treated him well.  They fed him fruit and some bread they snitched from people’s houses, but sometimes were offended if he pulled off the bugs they put on to adorn it.  His prison was simple.  He was encased in a square structure built with vertical logs rising 15 ft off the ground.  At about 13 feet, log cross beams stretched from one wall to the other on which the monkeys spent most of their time.  He couldn’t tell what they did up there.

They were aware of his presence; they brought him food and would occasionally, when they lacked other targets, throw poo at him, but they typically ignored him.  They let him roam around his 12 ft x 12 ft cell and Franklin got the sense that if he were able to climb up the walls they would let him go.  Only, they did not let him make much noise.  He had tried to yell only to be beat down by a barrage of rocks and other less hard projectiles.

Franklin, in the few days that he had been with the monkeys, was aware of two developments.  First, the number of monkeys seemed to be increasing.  He learned to recognize the leaders who were, from time to time, obviously upstaged by a new arrival.  Second, each day, on the inside of the cell walls, they added dozens of copies, each about three inches high, of the same symbol in no systematic order that he could discern.  He described the symbol, in his own mind, as an upside down circle with seaweed legs.  His own mind was not working as well as it used to.


The Universe rules the universe with an iron fist. He has rules, and those rules are obeyed. Those rules must be obeyed--the very fabric of the universe (and, for that matter, the Universe) depend on those rules. He doesn't know where those rules came from, he just knows that they must be followed.

But he doesn't do much to enforce the rules. Everything in the universe--including the Universe--is sewn into the fabric of the universe. Even the forces of nature--Gravity, Magnetism, even Chaos--are woven into the universal cardigan. They can no more violate the laws of the universe than a man can literally pull himself up by his bootstraps. (footnote: for our PG-13 approved audience, a more appropriate analogy would be an arm dismembering itself.) The Universe does get some occasional guff from the more finicky forces--Luck, Fate, Irony, Evolution--but they really just talk big. In the end, they can't help but fall in line. They might alter the flight of time's arrow, but they can't make it stop, they can't make it turn back on itself, nor can they transform it into a dancing hippopotamus.

The Universe's job is to prevent a paradox--if you're not careful, the Laws of Nature can get themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. Most of these have to do with time travel--killing your grandfather and all that. The Universe sits back and pulls on the strings of the universe to prevent that kind of thing from happening. In order for something to get around the authority of the universe, it must be a part of a different sweater. For something to violate the laws of the universe, it must have been born somewhere else, somewhere outside of the universe; it must be able to plant its feet in some other reality.


Herbert wasn't able to plant his feet in any reality.

After commanding him in the name of the Universe, Horace did start immediately towards town. But not in a good way. Herbert couldn't tell if Horace was completely unconvinced by his impression of the Universe, or just didn't care. He couldn't tell because he was upside down, stuffed in Horace's left pant pocket. Herbert should have been more grateful that the Darfinians believe in functional pockets, large enough to actually carry a Dinkle, but, like always, Herbert missed the silver lining in life.

It is one thing to piss off a Darfinian, to be small enough to fit in his pocket, and to actually be in his pocket . .  . upside down. It is another thing to piss off the Universe. People will often reference the Universe as a power, but the Universe can't remember anyone ever trying to actually impersonate him, and he remembers everything; he is everything. The very idea of impersonating the Universe is absurd. How does one go about impersonating everything?

How would a two-inch, ovoid, furry creature in blue pajama pants impersonate the Universe?

But the problem wasn't Herbert's acting job. Herbert's problem was Horace. And flames from the heavens. And fort-building monkeys and disappearing men and talking rocks and spooky dreams with old men that made Herbert think of rabbits and invisible sheep that didn't appear. Horace hated the Universe; at that point, he hated everything.

Horace Greenwald didn't want to go home. At his home, the rocks talked. He couldn't go to his office and he couldn't go to sleep. And he had a blue, furry, talking rock in his pocket that was trying to give him orders. So Horace went to see the only man in Thursley that might have answers.


Lord Hutley the Immaculate of the Graygathian order of the High Temple was in the fetal position, packed in a corner of his most illustrious office when Horace Greenwald knocked.

Hutley was confident that angry gods seeking painful revenge on a pathetic Darfinian generally don't knock, and even if they did, it probably wouldn't do any good to pretend to not be in, so he slowly got up, tried to pull himself together, and answered the door.

Hutley opened the door, creating one of the more awkward moments in recorded history. In one corner was the conman who had built a career and lifestyle on big show, drawing attention to himself. In the other corner was the man that sought nothing more from his fellow Darfinians than Indifference.

The first had been so good at what he did that he had an entire town eating from his hand (while he feasted on their livestock and fresh fruit). The second was so good at what he did that the first, in fact, did not know until this moment that the second even existed. But the tables had been turned.

Now, Hutley was humiliated and wanted nothing more than to slink into a hole and vanish. Horace, who had been trying to climb in a hole for 17 years now had finally decided that there wasn't a hole big enough in the universe (especially since the Universe was the one that kept pestering him).

To make it worse, Hutley violated the first law of inter-man relations--don't cry in front of another man, unless that man is family. Nothing is more awkward. On one hand, the non-crier wants to be sympathetic, but, on the other hand, he is really disgusted by the show of weakness. And what is he supposed to do about it? Lower his own manliness bar to accommodate the sap, or maintain his own adequate manliness and, in the juxtaposition, make the other man's weaknesses all the more obvious?

"Uh, Lord Hutley, I need some advice." Horace was already regretting his decision to come here. This man couldn't help anyone. Not knowing what else to do, he reached into his pocket and pulled out Herbert.

From his reaction, you would have thought Horace had just offered Lord Hutley a piece of gum. "No, thank you." He casually shook his head to confirm what his mouth had said, turned around, and walked towards the back of the room. "No, I've already got one of those."

[Brief, overdramatic, soap opera pause with all characters locked in very silly facial expressions]

Eventually, Horace regained a minimal level of composure. "You already have one? What does that mean, you already have one?" Horace stammered on, "Tell, what do you mean you already have one? How can that be possible?" He eventually had to stop to catch his breath.

"Does yours claim to be the Universe?"

"Oh no," Hutley finally responded. "Mine definitely is the Universe."


The wall of water whisked Sneaux and Pinkle on their makeshift boat down the river, across the plains, through the mountains, past forests, to the edge of a waterfall, and, ultimately, over the edge of the waterfall.

The weight of the water was crushing Sneaux.  Flailing his short, stubby arms wildly, he struggled to breathe.  The sound of the panicked splashing would have drowned out his screams, if only he had been able to scream.  Why had he ever agreed to this?  If he lived through drowning, Sneaux thought viciously, Pinkle would pay.  The fact that the idea had technically been his own didn’t even enter Sneaux’s consciousness.  Even if it had, he would have patted it on the head and sent the idea on its merry way, the way you do with a small child when you want her to go outside to play.  The thought of revenge kept him struggling to survive, and despite the futility of his flailing, Sneaux continued to do it.

He was finally able to pull his head up out of the water, and hungrily took a huge breath of fresh baggy blue pajama pants.  It took only a few moments for him to realize that it was not, in fact, the weight of the water that had been crushing him, but Pinkle.

Gasping for air, Sneaux pulled himself onto dry ground with his arms in a GI-type crawl, and turned a vicious eye on Pinkle.

“You,” he began slowly, “were sitting on my face.  And now you have about 30 seconds left to live. Any last words?”

“Shhh,” Pinkle commanded, holding a hand up to Sneaux and stopping him in his tracks.  “Shhh” wasn’t what Sneaux was expecting to hear as “last words”, but it wasn’t the shock of the response as much as the hand itself that knocked him backwards to the ground.

 “I hear something.  Quick!  Get down.”  Pinkle proceeded to throw himself to the ground and lay flat on his stomach – as flat as a Dinkle was able.  Sneaux thought to himself that not only did Pinkle look absolutely ridiculous trying to lie flat on his incredibly round stomach, but that since he was only 2 inches tall, throwing himself to the ground didn’t actually make him much shorter or less visible.  He also thought that this would be an ideal time to string Pinkle up by his toes.  His desire to physically injure Pinkle was outweighed, though, by the thought that Pinkle just might have heard something and that it might be hungry.  He decided to hide under a blade of grass and watch, hoping that whatever it was would rid him of the doofus he was traveling with and then leave, disgusted and uninterested in eating another Dinkle.

So Pinkle lay on the ground, and Sneaux waited.  Pinkle’s face was contorted into a look of intense concentration, as if this would help him blend into his surroundings.  Sneaux made a bet with himself about how long he thought Pinkle could hold the expression before he exploded, and whether or not his face would freeze that way.

Chapter 4

The Universe was bored.

Real bored.

He and Gravity spent the first couple billion years by themselves. Gravity was a pretty cool guy. And the two had eons of fun making stars and galaxies and crashing them into each other.  But a universe grows up after a while and throwing stuff into black holes just isn’t as fun as it used to be.

Evolution came along. She never really fit in. She got real upset whenever Gravity would send an over-sized comet into a planet she had been working on. No sense of humor, and she couldn’t even appreciate a good supernova. He never understood what she got out of watching little slimy things split in half over and over again. He always assumed she was a bit of a perv, too.

So, the Universe got bored.

He had one last source of entertainment.  He loved how the products of Evolution would try to figure out where they had come from and why.  Not because he didn’t know the answers, but because he had the same questions about himself.  He’d really just popped into existence with no instructions or manuals. He didn't make the rules, he just followed them.

He loved to make the products of Evolution think that he (the Universe) was a little mysterious.  He’d make weird things happen when people said certain words.  He’d send people coded messages that usually meant absolutely nothing.  He’d plant props that people could find to see how they’d react.  For some reason, screwing with their own attempts to find out where they came from kept him from asking himself the same question.

But even this was getting old.  He’d made heroes of losers, villains of heroes, intellectual pioneers of idiots and wackos of otherwise intelligent people.  He’d set up wars between trolls and monkeys and had led a dozen worms in the conquest of great empires.  He’d convinced people their planets had come from sneezes, excretions, a giant planet factory, and, his favorite, super intelligent turnips (footnote: He still got a kick out of that one.). 

But the Universe knew this next project was different. This was real. He would even have to let go of the reigns a little. He came up with the perfect plan, but he knew that you couldn't really plan for something that followed a different rulebook. 

Sic eram prognatus Horace.


Among the Darfinians, leaf piling was an identity constructing activity.  Every summer the Darfinians of Thursley would obey an almost instinctual drive to go into the woods on the north side of town and pile up the leaves.  They had long since forgotten what the function of the activity was, what they were celebrating when they did it, or even why they pretended to have fun while they were doing it (footnote: Thus, leaf piling among the Darfinians was akin to almost all other traditional activities engaged in by societies across the Universe.), but, without fail, once the leaves had fallen a huge festival was organized that would culminate with the piling of the leaves.  Some piles were large, some were shaped like things, and some could perform simple algebra, and then they would be left to decompose.  On this day, a few weeks after the Darfinians had finished the leaf piling and moved out of the woods—which they considered a relatively cold, wet, and generally miserable place—Horace had gone into the woods to be alone and clear his head.  Horace, you see, had become a rather mentally unstable clerk after rocks in his garden had started to talk to him (footnote: Many argue that the order of events may have been the other way around).  This is why, you see, that Horace had assumed that the soft, blue, and noisy object that had just fallen from the tree and that he was currently digging out of a pile of leaves was, in fact, a rock that was trying to convey to him another message from some guy that called himself the Universe.


Mary and Murrey were having the time of their lives.  The storm passed and they had found a nice, furry bed laid out for them to spend the night.  They were all the happier because they didn’t realize that the furry bed was, in fact, a large mammal that had recently fallen victim to a larger predator.  They would also have been glad that they were ignorant of the fact that the predator had not eaten the mammal because it, like the mammal, had been weakened by a terribly contagious, very painful and, ultimately, very deadly plague and had died before it could enjoy its final meal.  They were also happier because the next morning the clouds had passed but the storm had left the air fresh and crisp.  They were also happier because they didn’t realize that the vulture-like creatures circling over head, which were, coincidentally, vultures, were waiting to feed on them after they died.  They were, again, also happier because they didn’t realize that the vultures were expecting them to die because they had left the Ephulsian Plains and entered the Hictorian Desert.  The Hictorian Desert, Mary and Murrey would not have been glad to know, is only slightly more deadly with the arrival of a terrible, rampaging plague.          


Sneaux was beginning to hate Pinkle and all things Pinkly.  Since setting out that morning they had walked all day through thick grass.  The grass was so high in most places that they could not see more than a few inches in any direction.

Pinkle claimed he could keep them traveling on a straight path by positioning them against the sun, but Sneaux had his doubts.  He was pretty sure the sun was moving.  Nor was he convinced that straight would lead them someplace better than left, right, circular or backwards would.

Pinkle had also decided that they would ration their food.  Sneaux learned that this meant that he would slowly starve them to death.  Grass monsters didn’t sound so bad at this point; at least they would end things quickly.  But Sneaux was beginning to believe that in this jungle it was more likely that his soul just got lost than that a grass monster was able to find them.

“Pinkle, I hope you die a miserable death.”  Pinkle was used to this.  These declarations had become commonplace since he had limited them to a couple of bites of nut at lunch time.  But he had bigger concerns.  He had just realized that the sun might be moving and that he had, possibly, just led them in a giant circle.  He knew that if they stumbled back to the tree he might have to suppress a peasant revolt (the peasants being, of course, one fat, lazy, fatalistic dinkle).  They needed a guide, preferably one that wouldn’t eat them.

“I think we should stop for the night,” Pinkle suggested.

“I think you should rot,” Sneaux retorted.

Pinkle had already stopped, squatted, and started to perform the motions that people should perform when they stop to set up camp, except he didn’t actually have anything to set up camp with.  “Sneaux, we’re out of water.  Go see if you can find any.”

Sneaux hesitated.  On principle, he didn’t follow orders from Pinkle, and wasn’t too excited about walking any more than he had too.  But on the other hand, once he walked off to find water he couldn’t think how he could possibly find his way back which, since Pinkle was going to slowly starve him to death anyway, didn’t sound that bad.  “I’m off,” he yelled out behind him.

He had identified three types of grass while they were traveling.  One grew in thick bunches with several stalks rising out of a single plant.  This was the easiest to navigate because paths were naturally carved out between bunches.  The other type was thick, green, flat grass.  Underneath it was dark, wet, gloomy, and walking through it was best accomplished with a machete at least or, preferably, large amounts of explosive.  They didn’t have these, and Sneaux hated Pinkle all the more for that.  The third kind Sneaux was currently battling.  It rose up in thick, tall stalks that often adorned barbed weapons that were, for a dinkle, akin to a mace or, as Sneaux had come to call it, organic death.

Sneaux traversed the terrain with three goals in mind.  First, avoid puncture wounds.  Second, avoid a larger animal’s intestines.  Third, get terribly, terribly lost.  Pinkle had all the food and water (Sneaux had insisted that he carry it all in case they got separated Pinkle would have the greater chance of survival), but Sneaux had a unique gift—complete and total apathy.

He was frustrated when he saw his path quickly interrupted.  Squeezing between two grasses he found himself in a clearing.  It was about as wide as the tree was tall, as long as Sneaux could see in the either direction and covered almost entirely in running water.  He had heard of rivers, they were a part of Dinkle folklore, but when he experienced one first hand he was exasperated at its audacity to put itself right in his way.

He stuck a toe in.  It was cool; he liked it.  He stuck a foot in.  It was cold, painfully so, but the feeling was still, somehow, enjoyable.  He took a step in.  It washed his legs out from under him and he splashed face first in the ice water.  Exasperation evolved to something more like hatred.

“Hey Pinkle, get your round butt over here.”  The experience was miserable, Sneaux thought, and he really wanted Pinkle to experience it.  He was worried, though, that the water might all run down before Pinkle worked his way through the impregnable forest.  “Hurry, you fat lard.”

A few minutes later an empty shell popped through the last layer of grass followed seconds later by an almost frantic, panting Dinkle.  He looked at the sheet of water in front of him in awe and slowly rose to his feet.  The river was slow and steady, high on its banks from the storm.  The setting sun reflected off its smooth surface. Pinkle was transfixed. 

“A river,” he finally stuttered.  “You found a river.  It’s got water and it’s moving, and there’s lots of it.”

“Yeah, why don’t you jump in?”  Sneaux knew it shouldn’t be difficult to suppress a smile in the situation, but he had spent the last several minutes imagining Pinkle collapse face first into the river and assumed, if Pinkle looked half as stupid as he had felt, it would be worth remembering. (footnote: Dinkles, for obvious reasons, do not have much experience in water related tomfoolery and thus, for a dinkle, it is novel, even life-altering entertainment.  This has led some to suggest that the introduction of water balloons to Dinkle society might be dangerously revolutionary.)

Pinkle walked carefully to the river’s edge and stuck in a finger.  He pulled out his finger and sniffed it.  “Yes, I do believe this is water.”  He scooped up some in his hand was going to bring it to his mouth, but Sneaux, becoming impatient, went ahead and kicked him in.

Pinkle hopped up, but his pajama pants, heavy with water and stretched by the nuts they had been carrying, refused to make the journey. 

Sneaux was beside himself.  This was the opportunity of a lifetime.  Pinkle, his newest nemesis, was standing in a river, soaked with freezing water with his pants down around his ankles.  But this, too, was ruined for him, because out of Pinkle’s pants squirmed the nuts that they had been so carefully rationing. 

“The nuts, man, you’re losing the nuts.”  Pinkle didn’t react except for the silent fuming.  “Pinkle, grab the nuts, you fool.  We need those to not die.”

“The nuts,” Pinkle responded slowly, almost painfully, “are gone. They are floating down the river.  You have killed us both.”

Sneaux didn’t think.  Instincts had taken over.  Generally, Sneaux’s instincts told him to move as little as possible.  Sneaux and his instincts usually agreed.  “Someone else can do it.”  “I’m tired.”  “I’m lazy.”  “I’m digesting my last meal and I wouldn’t want to disturb that.”  Or “Burn wounds heal and if I get involved I may only compound the problem.”  They had even tag teamed his conscience into submission.  But right now, having already experienced the pain of mild hunger, his instincts threw him thoughtlessly into the water.

Under normal circumstances, two species that had been separated by hundreds of miles and hundreds of years would not speak the same language.  These, of course, were not normal circumstances.

Horace’s life, recently, had been filled with abnormal circumstances, and he was not the least bit pleased. 

Horace, you must understand, was very upset that the Universe was interrupting very well laid plans.

Horace’s plans were not unique.  Every community has a Horace.  Some have two.  He was not abnormally large, nor abnormally small.  His hair was a rather un-noteworthy shade of blue.  He was mediocre by any measure except, that is, at being mediocre at which he excelled.  He had the rather indistinguishable goal of being rather, well, indistinguishable.

He didn’t dislike people, he just didn’t like dealing with them.  He was friendly when it was easy to be friendly and something well short of vicious the rest of the time.

Horace didn’t like to dream.  His dreams frightened him.

He also didn’t like mysterious squishy, little rocks that talked.  He wasn’t too much concerned about the plan at this point; Horace just preferred it when the rocks didn’t talk.

He could ignore the rocks that didn’t talk.  Five days after his 17th birthday, two days ago, the rocks didn’t talk.  They didn’t need to.

They didn’t talk, but Horace got the message when he was returning from a rather abnormal day at work.  “Hello.”  The words were carefully spelled out with rocks, very normal rocks, in his garden.  The word was about 2 feet tall from the bottom to the top of the letters and made with more rocks than had ever before been in that garden.  He didn’t think much of it.  He didn’t know anyone that cared enough that he existed to bother writing things out in his garden with rocks, but he also didn’t know several people that just might value their own time and effort so little that they would bother to write out words to strangers with rocks in gardens.

Horace had bigger concerns right then. 

He, you remember, was a clerk.  Clerking was great because he always worked behind doors and never had to confront real people.  He only had to confront the paper trails of real people.  He could deal with paper trails.  Paper trails didn’t talk.  They didn’t ask annoying questions and then pretend to care about the answers.

Horace kept track of merchandise (before, that is, the merchandise was destroyed by the fire ball).  He made sure the amount that was sold was equal to the amount that was no longer available to be sold.  He also made sure the money turned over to him was equal to the amount needed to purchase the merchandise that was no longer available to be sold.  He was very good at his job.

But he had been interminably interrupted from his duties on the day that the rocks started to report messages after his manager, Franklin, disappeared.  Vanished.  Inexplicably.  No notes, no clues, no nothing.  The manager came to work in the morning, worked a few hours and then, apparently, ceased to exist.

Horace felt a little bit bad for the guy.  Personally, he had no experience with vanishing.  Couldn’t be much fun.  He’d never heard of people getting together on the weekends for a vanishing party or anything.  But the thoughtless buffoon did it at work.  Cops showed up to ask questions.  Reporters showed up to ask questions.  The butcher showed up to ask questions.  The crazy cat lady showed up to see what was going on, and the local bully showed up because crowds were a good place to get free shots on people’s more sensitive areas.

It was way too much distinguishableness for Horace.   And now his rocks had fallen into formation.

The next day the rocks tried to communicate with him again.  One word at a time they wrote, “Hello, it is a pleasure to meet you.  My name is the Universe.”  Rocks rolled around and popped out of the ground where necessary.  But Horace had more important things to think about than demon rocks.

Horace had gone to work that same morning.  The mob had left.  Only one cop showed up.  He seemed a bit confused—he must have missed the memo that the mob was going to meet somewhere else and now he didn’t know what to do.  So he poked, as if he was going to find the bloody glove, or maybe Franklin himself, behind a can of beans.

 Then he was struck by fire ball.  In the middle of the store.  The sun was out, the sky was clear.  There was no other explanations—Horace had called down a fire ball.

He didn’t know how, but he knew that one minute he was wishing the man would become personally acquainted with a ball of fire from the heavens, and the next minute, lo and behold, there was a burnt out shell where the store had been.  Just like Franklin except a little flashier. 

Horace didn’t know anything about the monkey fort, except that it must be his fault.

He didn’t know why his boss disappeared or he could suddenly call down fire, but he was confident this new rock, with arms and legs, would know the answer.

“Who’s the Universe and what does he want from me?” he yelled, shaking Herbert like one would a misbehaving teddy bear.

For Herbert, not being suffocated was still sinking in, and his mind had to put the screaming lunatic on the back burner for a second.  Horace got his attention when he hung him by his left ankle 4 feet off the ground.

“and what’s the deal with the fire balls?”

“I don’t know,” Herbert yelled in sudden desperation.  “I have no idea what you’re talking about, you bloody lunatic.”  It’s never a good idea insulting a man that is holding you at bone crushing heights by your ankle, but the “good idea” filter in Herbert’s mind was temporarily out of order.

Horace was frazzled.  Last night, haunted by demon rocks, fire balls and invisible men, he accidentally had a dream.

“Horace.”  His dreams always started this way; a creepy old guy would call out his name and then start to insult him.  The old man was back, but his nostrils seemed to have gained ground in their endless struggle against the nose hair.  He had teeth now, too.  Horace recognized the voice, but it seemed a little angrier. 

“Horace, you chump.  Listen to me, you pathetic excuse for a Darfinian.  My name is the Universe and you really need to get on the ball here.  I’m getting impatient, and you don’t want to try the patience of someone who can obliterate your galaxy on a whim.”

The voice rattled in his brain even after he woke up.  It was still rattling in his brain as he shook the blue, unrockish Herbert.

“Just tell me what the Universe wants so I can get on with things!”

Herbert’s “good idea” filter was in serious need of repair, but the idea generator was working overload.  Consequentially, he made one of those classic blunders that generally results in the kind of punishment that fallows the soul even after it is ripped from the body.

“You, Ugly Blue Haired Man,” he started in his best “pretending-to-be-divine” voice, “Will Turn Me Upright.  You Will Take Me To Your Home And You Will Get Me All The Nuts And Water I Can Eat And Drink.”

It seemed like such a promising idea at the time.

Chapter 3

All things considered, Herbert felt the day had gone pretty well.  He had been selected for random disposal by his friends and family.  He was a couple of feet from landing safely when his parachute was caught in a freak storm.  He was herked and jerked through the air across half of Upper Hippotulamulia and he was not yet convinced that his limbs were still fully attached to his body.  A final gust finally ripped his parachute and he nose dived into a river.  After pin balling off rocks for a mile or so down the rapids he finally pulled himself onto the shore.  He crawled onto the river bank and as soon as he had rolled over onto his back to catch his breath he noticed the eagle swooping in towards him.  It scooped him up, flew him back to its nest, dropped him off and left again.  He was caked in mud, bruised, beaten, tired and, were he not so beaten, battered and tired, he would have been very hungry.  All things considered, thought Herbert, I couldn’t have hoped for anything better.  I’m still alive, I think, I still have all, or at least most, of my limbs, and I’m miles away from the dinkle’s tree.  I couldn’t have asked for much more.  He was not being completely sarcastic.


Hutley was a man of many talents.  He could tie cherry stems with his tongue.  He knew some magic tricks.  Only a fool would take him on in poker.  And he was arguably the Universe’s favorite con artist.  But recent events made him think that the Universe had turned against him and was determined to make him come clean. (footnote: The Universe had not, in fact, turned against him, and was completely disinterested in him coming clean or staying dirty, but he did get a big kick out of putting people in very awkward situations.)

It all started with the monkeys.  Monkeys were common visitors to Thursley, but they generally didn’t take the time to stop and begin large construction projects.  Asteriods were not strangers to the region, either, and stopped by as frequently as possible.  But this asteroid had the looks of a divinely guided precision strike.  Then there was Franklin.  Selfish little prat just disappeared.  And now Thurslinians wanted to know why.  Hutley was worried.  As Head Priest at the High Temple of Grimesly he was responsible for preventing or, if that failed, predicting or, at least, explaining such events.  What have monkey forts, tactile asteroid strikes and invisible men got to do with each other?

He had, traditionally, relied heavily on two tactics.  The first involved inventing calamities that he had averted.  He liked ridiculous weather and alien related troubles, but sometimes pulled in hideous diseases that turned people into zombies and such.  His second tactic was to explain existing problems as somehow related to a failure by the people of providing him with a sufficiently luxurious lifestyle.

But Hutley, or Lord Hutley the Immaculate of the Graygathian order of the High Temple as he was officially known, lacked the imagination to relate monkeys, disappearing men, asteroids and the silkiness of his sheets.  He decided that some other supernatural force was tired of playing along with the deities his ancestors had invented and was calling in her chips.  It was time he let the people of Thursley know that Graygathia and Dorloria had retired and Random Chaos had been promoted in their place. It would have been his first, truly prophetic moment.

The entire town, minus one mentally unstable clerk and a thief who’s occupation had suddenly become much more lucrative, had gathered to hear the wise words of their richest, and therefore holiest, citizen.

“Degenerates of Thursley and asinine followers of Graygathia.”  The introduction was ceremonial; Hutley’s ancestors had gotten a real kick out of how much they could insult people in the name of deity and wanted their descendants to have the same opportunity.  “Wretched, puerile slobs that seek and receive the assistance of Dorloria despite your officiously pungent redolence.  Gather your disturbingly misaligned faces to me and you will hear words that you will blindly obey like brainless sheep to the slaughter.”

The crowd was excited.  Hutley had opened with the full ceremonial introduction.  They knew they were about to learn something very important.

The ceremony typically continued with the slaughtering of the invisible counterpart of a sheep.  Hutley loved lamb chops and thought the “invisible counterpart” was the magnum opus of his ancestors.  “Bring the sheep of sacrifice.”  A real sheep, a nice fattened one appropriate for sacrifice, was brought forward.   It was led up the stairs of the ziggurat-like temple, past Hutley, and out of sight inside the temple.

“I now call on the sheep in its true form.”  Hutley went through the dramatic motions of waving a yellow cloth like a bull fighter behind which the ‘sheep’s true form’ would, invisibly, appear.  He had done this hundreds of times.  Sometimes he would do it a couple of times a week when he wanted to get the priests from the neighboring temples together for a party.

But something was wrong.  The cloth waving was met with silence.  They should be cheering.  Usually, he waved the cloth and the stupid fools cheered, but now they weren’t cheering.  They didn’t applaud.  They didn’t even smile.  They just stared.

Confused, Hutley followed their eyes to the spot where the sheep should have been pretending to be.  As he expected, nothing was there.  He turned to the crowd, “What?”

 The eyes looked up at him and then back to the spot.  “What’s wrong?” he repeated.

The local bully piped up first, “Where’s the sheep?”  The crowd mumbled consent and confusion.

“What do you mean ‘where’s the sheep’?” Hutley stumbled. “It’s right here like always.”

“I can’t see anything.”

“Of course you can’t, you illiterate tully.”  Hutley struggled to step back into his role and calm the crowd with verbose insults and contradictory (aka mystical) explanations.  “The sheep is invisible in its true form.  That means you can’t see it.”

“Since when?”

The Universe wasn’t out to get Lord Hutley the Immaculate of the Graygathian order of the High Temple, it just had a terrible sense of irony.


Mary and Murrey braved the storm heroically.  The wind blew over them, blocked by the thick grass of the deep plains, but they trudged on with pronounced, meaningful steps.  A flash flood washed them up, but they managed to grab a deeply rooted piece of grass before they were washed over a cliff (a frightening 6 inch drop in an otherwise completely flat plain).  The water forced a horde of worms to the surface, but the twins majestically defeated all of the completely harmless crawlers they found in their paths.  They figured that was good material to start composing the heroic epic poems that generations of dinkles would sing about them.  They also decided to add in some trolls and wrestling matches with demigods for narrative flow between dramatic episodes.


Sneaux had never had an unobstructed view of the Outside.  The outermost branches of the tree could not support the weight of a dinkle, and so he and the other dinkles had always looked from further in the tree at a world blotted by stray branches and leaves.  During the high season, leaves would completely enclose the dinkles in their own isolated universe.

From under the tree, though, a new reality was opened up to him.  He could see the grass stretch out to the horizon.  In the storm, magnificent lighting and percussion colored a dramatic show of power.  After the winds passed over head and into oblivion, the lightening offered an extended encore that also seemed to be stepping in as a preview of some unworldly power that lay beyond.  This all, in his mind, confirmed his hypothesis that he hadn’t been missing much.

He woke up early (relatively speaking) the next morning.  He had planned before going to sleep that he would position himself such that when he woke up he could stretch vigorously and, with a little luck, “accidentally” catch Pinkle under the chin with a haymaker.  He had been so excited about the prospects that he was up hours more imagining what it would feel like.  When the moment arrived, though, his yawn-powered upper cut landed roughly on a painfully resistant root.

Pinkle had obviously been awake for hours.  He had fetched the shell and sealed it with a twig.  He had built a little teepee of sticks as though he were going to build a fire.  When Sneaux sat up, Pinkle was on his knees with his ear on the ground (a very difficult feat for a dinkle).

“Hey Pinkle, you look like an idiot.”  Pinkle didn’t react.  His face had that look of determined focus that only those fully employed in some ridiculous activity can ever achieve.  This look is remarkably impervious to insults. (footnote: Theories about the ability of this look (the I’m-trying-to-look-like-I’m-thinking-real-hard-but-the-clockwork-upstairs-definitely-ain’t-working look) to resist insult center on those types of individuals that are usually found employing it.  The first group is those that have overactive imaginations—some children and any politicians who think they will actually make a difference.  The second group is made up of B grade actors and the other politicians who know their work is inconsequential but try to convince people otherwise.  For these groups, their fictional worlds buffer them from outside interference.  The third group is made up of people who are not intelligent enough to focus and listen at the same time.  The most reliable evidence forces us to conclude that Pinkle is probably a member of the third group.)

Slowly, either for effect or to avoid losing his balance, Pinkle raised a “shush” hand to Sneaux, so, logically, Sneaux decided he needed to repeat his statement more loudly.  “Hey.  Pinkle.  You Look Like An Idiot.”

He finally got Pinkle’s attention.  “Will you be quiet, man?” Pinkle whispered sharply.  He was in his element—that is, courageously navigating waters that have only become treacherous because of his own imbecile attempts to avoid fantastic (not fantastic ‘great’ fantastic but fantastic ‘crazy psycho hallucinations’ fantastic) danger.

“I’m listening.  For grass monsters.  Or birds.  Or . . . whatever else might want to eat us.  We’ll need to know where they’re at so we can go the other direction.”

“You learned that from the Guide?”  Sneaux queried.

“Came up with it on my own,” Pinkle responded proudly.  He put his ear back on the ground and closed his eyes to emphasize that he was focusing very hard.

Sneaux looked at the terrain around him.  He knew he had to leave the tree to find food.  The world around him in every direction looked exactly like the world around him in all the other directions.  Grass.  Lots of it.  Tall grass.  Three times taller than he was.  In every direction.  Just grass.  Nothing else.

He remembered which way the water had ran during the storm and started to develop a plan.  You see, Sneaux has an incredible amount of respect for water; it has mastered the art of always following the path of least resistance.  You could say that water was for Sneaux something of a role model.

So, remembering that the water had flowed past the tree towards Pinkle’s current location, he walked between Pinkle and the tree and started to jump up as high as he could (not tremendously high, mind you) and stomping his feet as loudly as possible on the way down.


He took a couple of steps closer towards the squatted Pinkle and jumped again.


He took a few more steps towards Pinkle.  If Pinkle didn’t hear him this time he was close enough that he could kick him for making him exert all this energy.  He jumped again.

Pinkle’s head shot up.  “I heard’m.  They think they’re pretty sneaky devils, but they can’t get by me.”

“What did you hear?” Sneaux asked preponderantly.

“Sounded like a three legged grass monster.  Big fellow, about twice as tall as a dinkle and much longer.  I’d guess he was about three leagues to the north and heading this way fast, so we’d better get moving.”

Sneaux looked up and cursed whatever was up there that got their kicks out of making a helpless dinkle very miserable.  He wouldn’t have to fight gravity, but now Pinkle thought they needed to double time to run away from figments of his imagination. Irony.

As they started to walk away from the tree Sneaux turned to Pinkle, “How far’s a league?”

Pinkle’s face immediately tightened into a look of painful, ignorant determination.


Herbert knew he needed to get out of the tree before the bird returned.  He didn’t know why the bird had left him alone in the nest, but he assumed it wasn’t because the bird was shy.  Herbert thought it more likely that it was going to borrow some rosemary and ginger from a neighbor so it could properly enjoy its meal.

As we mentioned before, even though Dinkles live in trees, it is, in fact, a bit of a mystery why.  That the Universe had decided to also inflict Herbert with a fear of heights he felt moved the condition from irony to cruel irony.  Herbert had learned at a young age to be grateful for what he has instead of becoming angry for what he doesn’t have, because his only other choice is to seek revenge on the entirety of the existence and Forces of Nature.  Now, sitting in a bird’s nest, beaten, bruised, battered, high in the air and afraid of heights, only happy to be where he is because where he was will soon no longer be a where but will become a was as well, thoughts of revenge started to seep into his mind.

Dinkles had traditionally avoided seeking revenge against the Universe and the Forces of Nature by insisting that a system of karma was operating.  The idea is this—the Universe is just picking on them because he’s a bully.  They don’t think they’ve done anything to deserve their situation, and therefore can’t do anything to undeserve it.  (footnote: Most societies in the Universe have some concept of called karma (because it is a really cool sounding word in almost all languages) but there is very little consistency in its meanings.  Generally, though, it is an attempt to explain why life sucks.)  So, they just try to ignore the Universe and hope that, like the little kid that is intent on mimicking someone who refuses to talk, he will eventually lose interest and let them get on with it all.

Herbert felt, though, that it was time that someone taught the Universe a lesson.  He didn’t know what that lesson would be, who would teach it or even how one would go about teaching the entirety of everything a lesson, but he felt that these logistical challenges were minor inconveniences compared to the more pressing demands of not dying.

He was confident, therefore, that the first step in getting back at the Universe was to get out of the nest.  He awkwardly crawled out (Dinkles for reasons I don’t feel I need to discuss are not natural crawlers), wiggled his feet down to the branch below and lost his balance.  He wasn’t too concerned about losing his balance.  He figured he had two methods of getting from the branch where he was now perched to a lower one: falling or jumping.  Falling from the branch at least made his impending death accidental, while if he had jumped it would become suicide.  He didn’t want Gravity to think he had given up.

So, Herbert lost his balance and fell.  And he continued falling.  From inside the nest he had no concept of how high off the ground he had been.  He had been assuming that his fall to the ground would have been broken by branches, which, if he was lucky, just might knock him unconscious before he rebounded off the forest floor.  But instead he just fell.

Instead of the bone cracking smack of a branch or the thud of the forest floor, Herbert’s fall was broken as he sunk deep into pillowy softness.  He opened his eyes, but could see nothing.  The air around him was cool and moist and sparse.  Falling from the tree, Herbert realized, he had fallen into a pile of leaves.  He quickly made the transition from shock at not being dead to confusion at not being dead to relief at not being dead to fear and panic that if he was not able to get out of the pile quickly he would not be not dead very much longer.

Chapter 2

There are two, contradictory experiences of all sentient beings in all universes and multiverses. First, we all carry on as though we are the center of our personal -verse. We are consciously aware that others exist, and that others have similar emotions and sensations, and we might talk as though we care about those emotions and sensations, but in the end we can only care about our own emotions and sensations.This doesn't make you a bad person--it can't be any other way.

On the other hand, every being that has ever existed has been haunted by a sense that there is something larger going on around them. Someone else is pulling the strings, having more fun, making the big decisions while we our stuck at home on Friday nights, going to the same crummy job, using the same, unscented toilet paper. We try to tell ourselves that we are happy in our own spheres, and that we are just being paranoid, but we know its not true. Our lives really are lame, and someone out there really is more important, having more fun, and keeping all the big secrets to themselves. There is that one person who really is invited to all the exclusive parties and really is privy to all the important gossip and powerplays, but you're definitely not that person.

Even the Universe suffers from the contradiction of 1) feeling as though he is the center of the universe and 2) feeling like he is missing out on something bigger. Of course, he actually is the center of the universe, and the periphery and everything in between.

On Lutranean B, this contradiction resolved itself in a perfectly, simplistic way that not even the Universe could understand.

Lutranean B is a world if sentient diversity. The planet is named after the dominant species--the Lutranea. A full grown Lutranean was more than 8 feet tall and incredibly attractive. For the most part, species tend to be drawn to other members of their species, finding members of other species relatively less attractive, but everyone agrees that the typical Lutranea is no less than a mortal Adonis. People cannot actually agree on what a typically Lutranea actually looks like.

The most populous species on Lutranean B are the Aranas. With multiples heads, eyes, legs, abdomens and little sprikly things, Aranas are considered to be among the least attractive sentient beings--but given their high birth rate, they obviously disagree. Aranas never surpass a foot in height, and were generally disregarded for thousands of years and big insects that wouldn't shut up. The Lutranea still use the phrase "talking with the Arana" as a euphemism for insanity. The Arana still use the phrase "bugging like a Lutranea" as a euphemism for freaking out . . . and "smart as a Lutranea" is not a compliment.

The Darfinians are often treated like the Lutranea's shorter, uglier, bluer, and generally nerdier little brothers. They generally top out at 6 feet, walk upright on two legs, have two arms with opposable thumbs, and are best known for being a second late with the witty comment at parties and getting one-upped by a Lutranean when they try to impress. They tend to live in forests far away from the Lutranea.

And then there are the Dinkles.

The Lutranea generally consider themselves the dominant species of the planet, and no one really bothers to disagree. They claim that position based on their advanced sewer system; sewer systems being an obvious way to measure the technology, culture, civility, and non-ickiness of a people. No one is really quite sure why the Lutranea invested so much in an advanced waste disposal system, since their waste literally does not stink. The Lutranea respond that others would understand if they had to live with the pressure of being the most perfect species in existence, but, of course, they don't.


Dinkles spend the majority of their lives sitting in a row along a branch taking turns puffing a pipe. Centuries ago, before they had developed the myth of the poisonous air and grass monsters, the pipes were filled with a combination of weeds and mushrooms that acted as a mild relaxant. Now, they filled the pipe with dried and crumbled leaves from their tree which had absolute no psychoactive properties whatsoever. More important to the Dinkles, who experienced little stress in their lives and, therefore, had no real need of a relaxant, the leaves smelled better and were therefore more pleasant for passing the time.

The Dinkles spent the majority of their time smoking a pipe because they had the majority of their lives to waste. Collecting nuts required them to work full days for most of a month, and then the rest of the year they would live off storage.

The nuts were distributed equally because, quite simply, no one wanted more nuts than they could eat. Consequently, there were no rich or poor among the Dinkles. The leaves for filling pipes were available in abundance to everyone. Taking eggs was a dangerous task, and so, when the opportunity arose, the entire nest was cleaned out. The eggs were large enough that one nest could typically feed most of the Dinkle population, and they had to be eaten quickly or they would go bad. Everything was shared equally. There was no such thing among the Dinkles as fine wine, fine clothes (they only had leaves), fancy jewelry (from bark?), high art (on bark?) or, for that matter, fine women (footnote: the population control program is not as difficult for the Dinkles as it might be in other societies, because the Dinkles don’t find themselves to be at all attractive). All Dinkles lived, essentially, the same.

But Sneaux had found a reason to be cynical, and for this the Dinkles hated him. To explain, cynicism in a society is typically the product of class conflict. Generally old money, when challenged by new money, will create measures of refinement (a taste for good art, drink, clothes, manners etc.) that take a lifetime to develop. Then, they belittle all other attempts at good living to establish themselves as superior. Other classes, in an attempt to copy the higher classes, will develop a similar attitude, elevating their own food, drink, art, entertainment, and women. Eventually, nothing’s good enough to satisfy everyone, and people learn to just be cynical about everything.

The Dinkles were not cynical. They all generally ate the same food, drank the same water, smoked from the same pipes, and were equally spherical. Putting down another Dinkle for his choice in food or women was pretty pointless.

Sneaux was different from other Dinkles in one important way, though. He freely expressed his view that life is for suckers and mocked other Dinkles for valuing it. For the Dinkles, Election Day provided their one source of self-elevating pride. It motivated and perpetuated population control measures because it allowed non-Extra Dinkles to celebrate their lives as intentional, if not meaningful, while the Extras were inferior. They hated Sneaux because he tried to turn the tables on them.

Some have wondered, though briefly and without much real interest, what the Dinkles think about while they're smoking their pipes. It has been suggested that if they had a surface that allowed them to gather in a circle they would talk more. Further, the argument goes, if they talked more they may have developed literature, philosophy, and, perhaps, even begun to question and criticize the existing social order. This, of course, is blathering hogwash dreamed up by people that have never actually met the Dinkles.

But some have wondered what the Dinkles think about while smoking their pipes. Their universe is bounded by the outer limits of the tree branches. Birth and death are reduced to mechanisms of the population control program. They do have some poetry and storytelling, but the themes are very limited—you can only write so much about bland nuts, smoking pipes, and a series of battles hundreds of years ago that no one remembers. The truth is, mostly they try to think of alternative ways of preparing nuts, in which, unfortunately, they have made no progress.

Sneaux, like most Dinkles, had never actually thought about what happens after death. As he fell out of the tree, he still didn’t think about what happens after death and instead thought something along the lines of “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggggggg-ggggggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”, the interpretation of which is still being debated.

Had he been able to focus while he was screaming like an idiot he would have noticed 1) he was able to scream, which meant his lungs were still reasonably well positioned, 2) his spleen was still fully intact and as useless as ever, 3) when he was scared he screamed like a sissy girl, 4) a massive wall of dust that was moving in quickly and might reach him before he hit the ground, 5) Lutranean B had two moons of about equal mass (footnote: the moons were named, incidentally, Norman 1 and Hyptokaramuliathalipulis. A disgruntled scribe had convinced the King responsible for naming the moons (his name being, rather coincidentally, Norman) that the name of the second meant Norman 2 in some ancient language. In reality, Hyptokaramuliathalipulis was just the most ridiculous series of syllables the scribe could come up. Little did he know, Hyptokaramuliathalipulis is a name, in a language older than Language herself, and it can be translated either as That Which Cannot Be, Yellow Bunny Horse Slippers or, rather ironically, Norman the Second.), or 6) that the tree might not actually be the best place for a Dinkle right now, despite all other evidence to the contrary.


Herbert, to avoid coming to terms with his seemingly imminent death, noted the moons, calculated their orbits and postulated on their origins, and became very aware that the Dinkles were about to be in the middle of something much bigger than they could ever imagine. And then he thought to himself a most curious thing: death by monkeys or death by elephants.


Mary and Murrey floated down together, each striking poses that seemed to them very noble indeed. If there was ever a time where attitude mattered, it was now - at the start of their grand adventure. They landed first, softly and graciously, followed by Sneaux and Pinkle. Sneaux’s parachute had snagged on a branch and so lost its ability to slow his descent, and Sneaux crash-landed unceremoniously in between the twins. He lay there, sprawled out - as well as any creature approaching spherical could sprawl - and as he regained his senses he noticed Mary and Murrey standing above him.

“You alright, Sneaux?” Mary asked. “You look…”

“Like you’re ready for a bath.” Murrey finished confidently. Pinkle landed a few inches away from the trio, poised and ready to take on any grass monster that might be hungry.

Mary glared at her brother. “That’s not what I was going to say, Murrey,” she stated with a hint of irritation in her voice. “I was trying to tell Sneaux that he looked a little disoriented.”

“Oh.” Murrey immediately looked embarrassed and even heartbroken, but just as quickly forgot the whole incident. “Where’s Herbert?” he wondered aloud.

The four Dinkles on the ground, with the exception of Pinkle, who had now dropped to the ground in a GI pose and was crawling through the grass on his elbows, spent a short moment wondering where Herbert could have gone. They didn’t spend too much effort on this question, however, before they decided that he had probably landed without them noticing and run off.

“He’s gone to find food,” said Mary. “He’s gone to start an adventure,” decided Murrey. The twins began discussing, in whispers, how Herbert was probably planning on one-upping them in their escapades, what they could do to stop him, and where they should first look for food. Sneaux was thinking about how it just figured that his own parachute would be the one to get a hole in it, and Pinkle was busy staring at nothing and cocking his head slightly to the side, listening intently for any sign of trouble.

What the four Dinkles didn’t know was that in fact, Herbert had had the unfortunate lot of being carried away by the hurricane force gale that had blown in, a gale from which they were temporarily protected by the thick grass. This, of course, will be supremely important later in the story, but for now it will flop elegantlessly as an elaborately foreshadowed event that is painfully anti-climatic.

Mary and Murrey scurried off. Motivated now by competition, they were even more determined to travel speedily in the direction they had chosen completely at random.

Pinkle looked at Sneaux. “Brilliant. I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“What are you talking about, you dip?” Sneaux was unpopular among the Dinkles because he challenged the system, but also because he had a terrible habit of throwing out random insults whenever he had the chance.
Pinkle didn’t seem to notice. “Screaming. It kept air from entering your lungs and amorphized your spleen. Chapter 3 of the Handbook. I decided to take out the spleen so I wouldn’t risk attracting predators, but your effeminate quiver indubitably scared away any predators for miles.”

As a back handed compliment, Sneaux caught this one in the jaw like it was wearing a weighted, armored glove. He was a bit embarrassed to have his ‘dip’ still hanging out there and decided to change the subject. “There’s a storm moving in. It’s big, and we need shelter now.”

Pinkle pulled out his "Exiles' Survival Guide". The Guide had two parts, Preparation and Field Work. Pinkle had memorized the Preparation portion, but had followed the author’s unequivocal advice that he not remove the seal from the portion labeled Field Work. (footnote: In a personal note from the author, Bimal informs the reader that these pages are chemically treated for the toxic air, and if exposed to tree air the writing will vanish.) Now he broke the seal to scour the pages for advice on shelter.

“Oh no, oh no, oh no no no no no. . . What have I done?” Pinkle screeched as he flipped feverishly through the pages. “I’m an idiot.”

“I concur,” Sneaux submitted with pleasure, feeling immediately less humiliated but a little disconcerted with Pinkle’s reaction to the Guide, “but what has provoked this most recent bout of self-effacement?”

“The air here is not toxic. The grass air, apparently, has cleared the pages. My copy is useless.” Pinkle moved quickly from fear, to acceptance, to self pity and hopelessness. He slumped on the ground and dropped his face in his hands. “I’m lost. We’re lost.”

Sneaux had always been impressed with Bimal’s lack of scruples, but he was awe struck by this most recent revelation. The man, obviously, possessed a brilliance surpassed only by Sneaux himself. He decided that he would pick up where Bimal had left off. The squatting Pinkle had food squirting from his blue pajama pants, and Sneaux was famished.

“Pinkle, you slimy maggot, pull yourself together.” He was impressed with the force of his own commands. “The storm’s coming from the north. We’ll set up camp on the far side of the tree and use the base of the tree to blunt the storm winds. We’ll need to empty out a couple of those nuts in your pants to store water.”

His new subordinate split a smile, pulled out a nut and tossed it to Sneaux. He took out a second for himself and produced, almost magically, a sharpened rock from deep inside his pants. Sharpened rocks, for obvious reasons, were very valuable to the Dinkles, the closest they had to sacred relics.

Sneaux then Pinkle chopped holes in the tops of their nuts. The meat inside could be dug out by hand, and the two Dinkles cleaned out their nuts in a couple of minutes. After the storm had passed they could carve out fallen sticks to function as stoppers.

They ran to the south side of the tree, going over or around protruding roots. They positioned themselves between two larger roots that, they supposed, should buffer them against any winds that got lost in all the confusion and came at them from the wrong side. They heard huge drops of rain began to pelt the grass around the tree even before they had been able to settle in their new shelter.

“OK,” Sneaux started less convincingly, “Now, go out and fill up our nuts.”

Pinkle hopped up, grabbing both shells, and ran away from the base of the tree. As he ran he was apparently focused on the branches above them. Sneaux was first confused about what he was doing, which mutated into indifference about Pinkle’s fate, but was ultimately beaten out by a supreme concern about the future of his next meal as it was now packaged in a certain pair of blue pajama pants. He hopped up and ran after Pinkle. He had barely cleared the cover of the roots when a confused gust caught him and Pinkle and lifted them both off their feet.

Sneaux had barely hit the ground before he was up and running again. “What are you doing, you fool? Where are you going?” The words were caught up in the wind and carried to some other destination than that which Sneaux had intended.

Pinkle had struggled to get up with the shells in his hands and pants full of food—in any other circumstance Sneaux would have been amused by the show and for the second time that day discovered that his eminent death was really making life less funny. The delay allowed Sneaux to make up ground on Pinkle. He dove for his feet, or, rather, flopped in a manner that somewhat resembled a supple whale, and managed to trip him up with his hand. Pinkle’s feet were ripped out from under him, but his torso continued forward and whipped down like a fulcrum. He kept a hold of one shell, but the second flew out of his hand and was caught in the wind and blew well beyond the cover of the tree.

With only one shell, Pinkle was much more agile. He hopped to his feet. He ran another foot, near the edge of the tree’s cover. He found a spot that had been wetted by dripping water from a leaf high above and dug out the loose mud with the rock. He stuck the shell in the hole and turned back. Sneaux watched this performance from his belly. Athletes will often fake an injury to cover some idiotic move on their part, but Sneaux didn’t need to fake anything. He felt like the dive had detached each muscle from its proper skeletal contact point.

Pinkle ran back by him, looked confused, gestured for him to run back with him and said something that was swallowed up in the wind that approximated, as far as Sneaux could tell, something along the lines of “What are ya’ doing on the ground?” Sneaux decided that Pinkle must never know what it was that he was doing on the ground, and, with his mind occupied with his good fortune that Pinkle was obviously unable to deduce the obvious, Sneaux hopped up mindlessly and was half way back before his body finally got his brain’s attention and he limped the rest of the way back.

The two sat under the tree, breathless. “Sneaux,” Pinkle huffed, “I lost one of the shells.” “I know,” Sneaux replied. Sneaux wasn’t sure if Pinkle could hear him over the storm, but he was certain the tone exposing his own guilt was washed away with the wind.

“Wait.” Sneaux said, turning to Pinkle. “There’s something we need to do. Something I’ve always wanted to do.”

He stood up, turned around, and looked up into the tree. As loud as his oversized lungs would allow him he began, “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN.”

Pinkle had been out of sorts after his recent adventure, but Sneaux’s insane declaration at no one in particular caught his attention.

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,” having noticed that he caught Pinkle’s attention he decided he should start again from the beginning. “WE HAVE GATHERED HERE TODAY TO PARTICIPATE IN THE SOLEMN NECESSITY OF TELLING YOU WE THINK YOU ARE THE WORTHLESS, ROTTING MUCOUS I HOPE TO BLOW OUT OF MY NOSE.” He waved at Pinkle to stand and join him.

“We hope you die humiliated and homeless,” Pinkle started timidly. Sneaux was surprised, but encouraged him to continue. “We hope you run out of food,” he was picking up steam, “OR THE TREE BURNS TO THE GROUND TAKING YOU WITH IT OR . . . “ He looked at Sneaux and grinned like a full-blooded goofball “YOU CATCH A BLOODY COLD AND SNEEZE YOUR LUNGS OUT YOUR NOSE.”

Too embarrassed to look at each other, the two turned around, found a spot, sat down and watched the storm pass above them. Minutes later Pinkle had fallen asleep to the relaxing sounds of rain drops on leaves and gusts of wind that could probably rip a man’s hair out of his head. Several feet above him, the entire Dinkle population was also sound asleep, completely unaware that any storm of any magnitude had passed their way.


Elias was also unaware of the storm, because he lived hundreds of miles away from the Ephulsian Plains of Upper Hippotuliamulia. But Elias was strangely aware of the Dinkles. Elias often found himself drawn to that half sentence, usually following a semi-colon, that mentioned the Dinkles in Lutranean text books.

Elias had always been a big different from his fellow Lutraneans. He was a bit rebellious. In a society obsessed with keeping up appearances--a rather boring endeavor since Lutraneans could not help but keep up appearances--Elias liked to break the rules.

He liked to shock people. He generally stuck to petty crimes--talking back to teachers, cannon balling at the pool, mooning the police--but he occasionally found himself daydreaming about starting a mass panic, a work stoppage, overthrowing the government, something that would really get people worked up.

The most serious of his crimes, though, was consorting with the lesser species, not to exploit their labor, but to learn. It was through these interactions that he learned about the mystery of the age of work. The Lutranea weren't too concerned about the age of work because they never really did any; they could always convince a Darfinian or Arana to do it for them. But Elias found himself strangely drawn to this debate. It was completely esoteric, pointless, meaningless, hopeless--it was perfectly academic.

Elias was more drawn, though, to the idea that the age of work was once 0; at some point, the age of work was born to replace something else, and there he learned about the myth of the age of magic. A world of Magic! A world of broken rules, of disorder, of Chaos! And Elias had dreams.

So, on a Tuesday in the Spring, in the 12th year of Norman Gregory the MMDLXXIV, a date that, notably, could not be measured by the age of work, Elias set out for Mount Apothesis.

Chapter 1

Evolution claims she spent so much time getting their brains to fit in such a small space that she really just forgot about the rest.  Others have suggested that the Dinkles are proof that Evolution has a sense of humor, because nothing so unsituated for its environment, or existence in general, could possibly have come about by accident.

(The Dinkles had been fit with all the necessary internal organs--lungs, spleens, etc.--but the Dinkles often complained that she was in too much of a hurry when she did it.  They were, as a result, the first to develop laxatives and have the world’s most complex sewer system on which they inscribed at frequent intervals, “Evoluti, hic comede”.)

Sneaux was like any other Dinkle.  He was about two inches tall and approaching spherical.  He was about as agile as whale blubber in navigating his home environment.  He, like other Dinkles, only managed to stay in the tree with a complex system of harnesses and nets that got frequent use.

But Sneaux was also somewhat unique.  He was a third son.  He was a goof. A big goof. Not on the scale of the Lucian atrocities, of course, but definitely not part of the program of population control that the Dinkles had been practicing for generations.  Not that the problem wasn’t correctable; it was correctable and Sneaux knew that it was only a matter of time until it was corrected.  Then he would find out what it was like to have his spleen explode or his lungs come out his nose—whichever happened first.  By all accounts, a lose-lose situation.


The adventures that would transform Sneaux from rotting roadkill in the eyes of his kinfolk to a legend of mythical proportions began on the day that Sneaux always assumed would be his last.  It was election day.

Sneaux struggled to get out of bed that morning.  The Dinkles did not have a penal system, let alone capital punishment, but if they had he might have thought, “This must be what people on death row feel like.”  He would have been terribly mistaken, so it is probably better that he didn’t think that.

Instead he thought, “So, this it what it feels like to wake up in the morning of the day that you will get shoved out of the tree only to have your lungs ripped from your chest and out your nose before you even hit the ground.”  He was, in this case, very accurate.

The election was at noon, but still Sneaux couldn’t force himself to wake up before eleven to enjoy his last moments alive.  He hadn’t yet enjoyed any moments of his life so far, so he didn’t really think the last moments would be any different.  Even if he had that expectation, he wouldn’t have gotten up any earlier.  He stopped battling habit soon after birth.

He threw on his leaf bib overalls and made his way towards the Hall.  He lived near the bottom—that way he would never need to risk going up at the end of the day—and the Hall was near the top.  He used a trunk ladder to climb the first 10 feet, got tired and hopped in a pulley seat and rode it the last 90 feet.

(footnote: The Dinkles take more pride in their system of pulley seats than even their sewer system.  Ropes, strewn through a system of pulleys, are tied to rocks at one end and attached to seats, like you’d find on a swing set but much longer relative to the size of a Dinkle and wooden, at the other.  Dinkles are typically expected to climb up a set of ladders built out of the tree trunk, but then will always ride down the pulley seat.  With three in the seat at once, they outweigh the rock and pull it up.  Seats could then be used if a Dinkle needed to climb in a hurry or if they were bringing bulk up with them and the weight of the rock could lift a single Dinkle with a light load all the way to the top very quickly.  Similar to the inscription on the sewer system, they etched on each seat, “Gravita, item tu”.)


Five parachutes.  Pinkle had arrived early and was anxiously inspecting them.  Pinkle, like Sneaux, was an extra.  He was a second son and third child.  But instead of accepting his fate, he decided early that he was going to beat exile.  Everyday he traveled to the edge of the branches and would take big whiffs of tainted air to “toughen his lungs”.  He decided that he didn’t need a spleen, so he went ahead and had it removed.  He was now looking for the parachute that would provide him the slowest, most reliable descent.  Sneaux noticed he had already changed into his baggy blue pajama pants, and they appeared to be stuffed with food; he considered that ridiculously optimistic.  Even if he survived the toxic air and the fall, the birds or grass monsters would eat him well before his stomach settled and he got hungry.  He was carrying a copy of Bimal's “Exile Survival Guide”.  Of course, no one had ever actually survived exile, so it was about as effective as any other self-help book.

The twins were there too, thanking everyone individually for coming to see them off on this, the best day of their lives.  Sneaux thought dryly to himself that they wouldn't be so excited if only they realized that it was going to be the last day of their lives.

Mary and Murrey were the only pair of fraternal twins - indeed, the only pair of any sort of twins - in all the Dinkle population. They caused quite a stir when they were born.  No one had ever seen anything quite like them before.  Their mother, Lucia, had screamed and, in an effort to rid the Dinkles of the woman who had given birth to such an abnormality, climbed to the highest branch she could (which, luckily for her, was only the second one from the ground due to her bad back and fear of heights) and promptly and dramatically flung herself from it.  Also luckily for her, right at that moment the children's choir happened to be passing by, practicing for their annual "We Beat Out all the Other Dinkle Tribes" celebratory parade, and the banners they carried broke her fall - mostly.  She survived, but the fall did put her in a coma for a couple of days and rattled her brain in such a way that she awoke thinking her newborn twins were the most beautiful Dinkles in the whole Tree.  Incidentally, she no longer has a bad back and has miraculously overcome her fear of heights.

Unlike the others elected to jump for the sake of population control, Mary and Murrey were by no means extras, being the first male and female in their family.  They were, in fact, the first male and female of many males and females in their family, since their mother thought they were so adorable she should do the world a  favour and have as many as dinkly possible.  When she had popped out her 17th Dinkle, the Committee for Population Control sent her a letter saying if she didn't stop they would have to take drastic measures.  The CPC had meant to issue the ultimatum after Lucia's 11th Dinkle, but had spent so much time arguing over the wording of the letter, what the drastic measures might be, and the environmental impact of sending said letter, that it took an extra 17 months for the warning to be sent (after it was copied nearly word for word from a note by the committee leader's bully child confiscated in the middle of his history class, the drastic measures were left undecided, and the environmentalists had been paid off).  By that time the warning didn't do much good, because Lucia had already decided she was tired of having children and had just taken up leaf collecting as her new hobby.

Mary and Murrey, instead of being elected to jump, had happily volunteered for what they thought would be the start of a grand adventure, which would make them rich and famous upon their triumphant return and guarantee them a lifetime of royalties from the story.  The fact that no other elected Dinkles had ever returned, triumphant or otherwise, did not seem to concern them.  Perhaps someone should have warned them of what they were volunteering for, but as the twins weren't exactly on the list of those you would invite over for dinner if you wanted a favour from the Governor, no one did.

Pinkle, on the other hand, was very aware of what he was getting into.  He just thought of himself as some kind of incorrigible conqueror of danger.

Pinkle is actually a very popular, or rather common, name among Dinkles.  Dinkle was originally the tribal name of the lone survivors of the “Dinkle Wars”, and so surviving members are at times referred to as so and so of the Dinkle.  Pinkle of the Dinkle is one of the more comical sounding names in the known universe, and as such it has been reserved among the Dinkles as a sort of space saver.  Extras are often named Pinkle so their parents are not forced to think of a better name for their shame—and so no one will ever take them seriously.

Sneaux leaned over to Pinkle.  “Take the one on the left,” he whispered, feigning concern that this information not be shared with Mary, Murrey and the other extras that could be getting dropped with them.

“Why?” Pinkle logically responded.

“It’s the best.”

“How do you know?  What do you know about parachutes?”

“Look at the cross-stitching, man.  And the way they’re folded.  The second one on the left has, I’d say, a 50% chance of failing to open, and the one on the far right is too weakly stitched.  It can’t hold up to the hurricane force winds we may be facing out there."

Pinkle thought about this.  He was visibly troubled.  “If it’s so great, why don’t you take it for yourself?”

“I’ve got a spleen, man.  I don’t have a chance.  But you, you’re ready.”

Pinkle smiled gleefully.  “I do have a chance, don’t I?”

Sneaux was glad this last question was rhetorical, because he had grown disinterested in lying to him any further.  Yanking the chain of a man with a half hour left to live wasn’t as much fun as he’d been hoping.

The conversation, though, was not yet over.  “I looked.”  Pinkle had leaned over and was whispering so closely in Sneaux’s ear that Sneaux could feel the moisture from his breath condense in his ear canal.  It tickled.

Sneaux knew exactly what Pinkle meant, but was shocked into disbelief.  The Dinkles had one and only one rule that was considered important--except, of course, the having-a-lot-of-babies thing.  No self-respecting Dinkle should ever look down towards the presumed landing spot of the exiles.  One reason, obviously, is that seeing the dead bodies of their exiled comrades may influence some Dinkles and bring an end to the practice, and thus risk the sustainability of their society.  The second, publicly advertised, reason is that the exiles should be given more respect and not have their dead bodies gawked at from above.

Sneaux had looked several times already and knew what startling discovery Pinkle thought he was about to reveal to him.  He figured that the exiles were his brothers in arms and they would want him to take a little peek.  He was just shocked that Pinkle would look.

“Looked at what?” he responded.  He immediately regretted this response, because faking ignorance would only prolong the conversation.

“I looked, you know, you know. . . . You know, right?”  Pinkle was struggling to explain what he had done without admitting guilt, but eventually gave up.  “I looked where I’m not supposed to look.  Guess what I saw.”

Sneaux was wondering if he’d ever practiced looking surprised, but was confident he couldn’t do a good fake surprise, so he decided to head Pinkle off at the proverbial path.  “Nothing.  I guess that you saw nothing.”

The facial expression this response inspired from Pinkle, which managed to encompass the entire continuum of emotional variance possible to Dinkles in a single set of wrinkles and brow relocations, made the entire conversation worthwhile to Sneaux.  He knew that he sure would have had a good laugh about it that night—except he’d be dead.

“That’s exactly right,” Pinkle responded when he had gathered his composure and scrambled to regain the initiative on the conversation.  “I didn’t see anything—no bodies, no parachutes, no blue pajama pants.  Nothing.”

Pinkle’s optimism was killing Sneaux, so he decided to do the meanest thing he could think of and gave Pinkle a peek into his own realism.  “Pinkle, they’ve all been eaten.  Those unfortunate enough to make it to the ground before a bird snagged’m were gobbled up by the grass monsters.”

It didn’t work.  “No, you’re wrong.  You’re dead wrong.”  Pinkle then took a quick moment to bask in the glory he felt should be coming his way for what he believed to be a very clever, even if accidental, pun.

Sneaux used the moment to slip off.  A crowd had now gathered and the Hall was nearly full.  The Hall was a simple structure compared to some of the other Dinkle accomplishments; the Dinkles had not yet figured out what force of nature they could snub by building a more impressive meeting arena.  It was built in a fortuitous location where 8 branches stretched for a couple of yards parallel to one another.  The cross section of those branches formed a U shape on which some bark had been laid to make a center stage with theatre seating rising up on two sides.  It could safely hold a third of the Dinkle population, but on election day it was expected to hold twice than many.

Giving the Hall a panoramic glance, Sneaux noticed storm clouds gathering in the west.  He tried to think of a reason for this to frustrate him or encourage his sense of victimization, but he couldn’t find any.  He was confident he would be dead before the storm arrived.  He underestimated how fast the clouds were moving in front of a hurricane force gale.


“Ladies and Gentlemen,” called out the Governor, “we have gathered here today to participate in the solemn necessity that we call Election Day.”

The crowd roared in a very un-solemn fashion.  Living in a tree made it difficult to participate in any events that were actually fun, so they made the most of election day.

“We meet here today under the jurisdiction of the CPC to perform our requisite duty of sending five beloved members of our community in search of fame, glory and, more importantly, food.

A ripple of shoulders passed through the Hall as two thirds of the surviving Dinkle population simultaneously shrugged.  They, one, knew it was a lie and, two, were completely disinterested in the fame and glory of the extras.  Mary and Murrey were strutting around the center stage like lame peacocks.  They waved on the indifferent crowd with uneven flapping motions with their arms; this was their moment to shine.

“Without further ado, let us begin the business at hand.”  The crowd exploded and the Hall rocked.  The Governor couldn’t help but respond.  “Today, we will be electing FIVE Dinkles to take up their parachutes and take the big jump.”  He was almost screaming into the microphone, the functioning of which was rather inexplicable among a people that had not yet discovered electricity.  “First, we have Mary and Murrey, children of the ridiculously fecund Lucia.  Although they are not extras, they have asked to jump as soon as they were old enough, and as the siblings of the Lucian Extras who can deny them?”  Attendants quickly switched between boos and cheers where appropriate, except for a few who could not keep up and were rather embarrassed to be booing when everyone else around them was cheering.  Mary and Murrey had won respect among Dinkles by volunteering to jump, the kind of respect one gives to the person that does and eats unspeakable things to survive being trapped in some extreme location.

“Third is a Pinkle.  He asked for a one year postponement after being elected last year so he could recover from surgery.  This healthy, overdue extra looks healthy and ready to jump today.”  Pinkle was in a corner, focused.  Sneaux couldn’t tell if he was meditating or taking care of some final business that would be much more difficult while gliding down with a parachute.  Sneaux had wondered if such business were more difficult without a spleen, but concluded that, if anything, clearing some room could only make the whole process smoother.  Either way, Pinkle seemed oblivious to the crowd’s gleeful response.

“The next nominee, a third son and rather worthless extra, is Sneaux.”  Sneaux had not made much of an effort to make many friends which was clearly reflected in the crowd’s response to his announcement.  Where most nominees got cheers, and some the occasional boo, Sneaux provoked profanity and comments predicting the future location of his lungs relative to his chest cavity and the stomach of some rather grotesque grass monster.

“Next up is a second Pinkle, . . . “  The Governor continued to announce 3 more Extras, each born the wrong sex or, generally, when they should not have.  Dinkles felt that baby Dinkles were somehow responsible for when they were born and what sex they were born, and were therefore extremely offended by Extras to have disobeyed very functional and well advertised expectations. 

The excitement for this election was especially high.  Usually, the number of jumpers matched precisely with the number of Extras that came of age that year.  The act of electing jumpers merely gave the Dinkles an opportunity to express their disdain for the audacity of the Extras to be born.  Because Mary and Murrey had volunteered, though, there were seven nominees to fill five spots.  The first four spots—Mary, Murrey, Pinkle and Sneaux—were given, but the crowd now needed vote to fill the final spot with one of three candidates. 

This caused some problems.  Because the election process in the past had been only a formality, there was no system for counting votes.  The Dinkles were able to work around this difficulty though because only a small number of the attendees (that number being exactly 3) actually cared which one of the nominees filled the final spot.  In the end, the Governor picked the fattest of the three on the grounds that the thinner two would represent less of a strain on the food supply.  Herbert immediately regretted indulging himself on extra nuts the last few months.

Mary, Murrey and Sneaux had put on their blue pajama pants while waiting for the Governor to pick their final member.  Pinkle arose from his meditation, tightened his parachute to his back and was practicing his jump.  He had read in the guide that his parachute would be more effective if he was able to lay out flat quickly after the jump and was determined to perfect this technique even while practicing on a flat surface.  Herbert was struggling to find a pair of pajama pants that fit him.  Sneaux noticed he looked a little panicked and his hands were visibly shaking.  He concluded that Herbert’s sudden verdict had not given him time to think about how little life had offered him so far and realize that the prospects for the future weren’t much better.

In a few minutes they were all loaded up and ready to jump.  The Hall had a plank at the outer end.  It was great for effect when the Extras would walk out to the end and jump off, but it also served to extend over the outer reaches of the branches and give the Extras a clean jump out of the tree.  Mary and Murrey were first in line to jump.  Sneaux was third, Pinkle fourth and Herbert last.  Mary and Murrey were excited to get started, Sneaux was completely indifferent, Pinkle wanted to see the dangers that awaited him by carefully observing the fates of those ahead of him, while having someone behind him as a bird decoy, and Herbert was struggling to come to terms with his life and, more eminent now, his death.

The front half of the seats were suddenly expected to support a disproportional amount of the attendant crowd’s weight.  The anxious Dinkles were holding their collective breaths anticipating the inherently anticlimactic moment as the jumpers disappeared over the edge.  As Mary stepped to the edge of the plank and disappered, Sneaux first realized he was about to die and his mind began to race.  He momentarily forgot about the general miseries of life and, in this state, irrationally concluded that he was not ready to die. 

But what could he do?  No one had ever tried to run; there wasn’t really anywhere he could run.  A passionate speech would never work, not with the way the other Dinkles felt about him.  He looked up and noticed that the storm clouds were moving in much faster than he had originally assumed, but he couldn’t think how that would work to his advantage.  Then, in a grand epiphany, he realized how he could get out of this but he’d have to act fast . . .

It didn’t work.  He’d taken two steps, tripped on his pajama pants, fallen on his face, and quickly rediscovered why he’d felt so callous about life for so long.  He stood up, saw Murrey disappear over the edge, got a running start and took a running leap off the edge plank.  Or so he intended.  Instead, he tripped over his pajama pants for a second time just as he was loading up and tumbled over the end.  He felt certain the crowd’s laughter was the last sound he’d ever hear.