Posts Tagged ‘blog: fiction’.

Fiction: Totally Plausible Ways I Could Talk To The Girl Who Lives In My Building

I present the latest in my irregular series “Rejected by McSweeney’s.” A work of fiction.

Totally Plausible Ways I Could Talk To The Girl Who Lives In My Building

1. She is coming in from walking her dog, the leash in one hand and a bag of groceries in the other. I hold the door open for her. She says “thanks.” A conversation starts, perhaps about the dog, perhaps about the groceries (“just out buying dog food?”, etc).

2. The water is off in the building while some sort of repair is being done. While in the courtyard tending to my herb garden, through her apartment’s open window I hear her mutter to herself that she is thirsty. I stand up so that she notices me through the window, then jokingly hold up my watering can and indicate that I have water left in there, if she really wants some. I indicate that this is a joke, but add that I have bottles of water in my apartment.

3. I am checking my car’s oil in the parking garage. She sees me under the hood and, figuring me for the mechanical type, asks a question about a “kind of intermittent rattle or squeak” emanating from near the front left wheel of her 1997 Honda Prelude. I have noticed this squeak before, so I have previously consulted Wikipedia and several auto forums, and can confidently recommend that she get her control arm bushings checked out, or it could be a wheel bearing.

4. I see her at the farmers’ market. She makes eye contact without recognizing who I am, so I freeze and say nothing. She buys some rhubarb and chard, and I buy the same without knowing what either tastes like or what I would use it for. I casually mention to the seller how convenient the market is, considering that I live just down the street in the white building. At this, the girl turns and recognizes me. I pretend to recognize her for the first time as well, and we both laugh.

5. Across the street, a car catches fire. Neighbors gather on the sidewalk to watch the fire trucks arrive. She comes out onto her patio, asks what happened, and I explain. I then ask if she would like to review video of the fire that I captured on my phone, and walk over to her patio. Once there, I comment on her barbecue grill. I mention that I have an extra propane tank that I will never get around to using, and ask if she wants it. From here we discuss the merits of propane vs. charcoal grilling. She doesn’t seem too interested, but I have read about it on Wikipedia beforehand so I have lots of factoids that keep the conversation moving.

6. A drive-by shooting occurs in our neighborhood. I see her walking down the sidewalk with her dog, see the gangbangers’ car approaching with its headlights off, see their intended target, do mental geometry, and realize that she is likely to be struck by stray shots. I vault over my patio railing and knock her to the ground, just as bullets rip through the air where she just was. She drops the dog’s leash, but I quickly snag it with my free hand to prevent the dog from running into traffic. She is scared and thankful, but I am simply grateful that she is all right. The gangbangers speed off, so unnerved by my sudden action that they also missed their intended target.

7. The national economy collapses, and riots break out nationwide. I have stockpiled weapons and provisions in my apartment. I invite her to stay with me until it all calms down. Faced with the prospect of otherwise having to eat her dog, she moves in and I teach her how to shoot a Sig Sauer P226.

8. She becomes President of the United States. Reporters eager to dig up dirt on her past knock on my door. I lie to get onto television, but once the cameras roll I say only nice things. Impressed with my bold stand, she appoints me her Chief of Staff, and from then on we speak practically daily.

9. I get into a revert war with another Wikipedian regarding the prose style of the article on Railway Stations of New Jersey. During heated discussion on the talk page, the other editor uses the term “cockadilly nonsense,” which I have only ever heard before with my ear pressed against my apartment wall, attempting to overhear her telephone conversations. I immediately rush outside, knock on her door, and when she answers, dressed like me in animal-spangled pajama pants, I whisper “This is a stupid thing to fight about.” After we make love, she concedes that I was correct that the article suffered from a critical lack of encyclopedic tone.

More Surprising Etymologies

Flickr photo by Tom Hynds

Comic #829 involves a false etymology for the words “pep” and “pepper”. Here are some more surprising etymologies, of various degrees of plausibility.

• Tea gets its name from the abbreviation on tungsten tellurium lanterns (atomic symbol Te), which were used by British soldiers in the Crimea to heat teakettles in the field. The beverage was previously colloquially known as rattle, short for “rattle and clink,” Cockney rhyming slang for “leaf drink.”

• The word sultan comes from the same Latin root as the word consult — in the same way that a president is one who presides, a sultan is one consulted. The title sultan was first assumed by Turkish ruler Fazzad bin Rahib during the thirteenth century in an attempt to emphasize rulership based on the classical qualities of reason and logic.

• The Old French mer is the root for many of our words relating to water, such as marine, maritime and marsupial. But mer was also used more generally as a metaphor for “truth” — the clarity and cleanliness of water representing honesty and sincerity. Thus we get camera, the “capturer of truth”, and mirror, the “twisted truth”. The -or suffix is often found in this context: terror means “the twisted earth”, or something unsettling and otherworldly; horror (using hor- as in horizon) means “twisted boundaries,” or something unreal made real.

• Speaking of fear, the bogeyman feared by children everywhere has its roots in the legend of John Bogieman, a poor farmer said to have given his children away as payment when he couldn’t make the mortgage on his farm. He kept his farm, but his vegetables turned up rotten evermore and he starved to death. Now, he wanders the earth searching for his lost children, and many say his ghostly form cannot tell innocent children from his own, whom he wants to take back with him to the underworld.

• The verbs punch and fart are both onomotopoeias.

Leave your own in the comments!

Happy Imaginary Day!

(Drawing by RDCarneiro, from here)

As you know, this week we had Imaginary Day on February 30th! It’s a new holiday, so obviously our traditions and observations will be different, but as it’s a day that didn’t exist at all, who’s to say what did or didn’t happen?

What did you do on Imaginary Day? Leave a comment and let us know!

Here’s what happened on my Imaginary Day:

I woke up early, before the alarm even went off. I was perfectly rested, not tired even a little bit! I leapt out of bed and had a nutritious breakfast. I was pleased because my kitchen contained exactly the right food for me to assemble a perfect breakfast! There was one English muffin left and two eggs and just a bit of cheese and some breakfast sausage. This was satisfying, because all the packages of food were totally used up all at the same time!

Then I got a phone call from a friend. “Hello, friend,” said the friend! “I know we used to hang out for no reason, and have fun, because that is what friends do sometimes, but ever since we Grew Up and Got Jobs, we never hang out just for fun. We feel like our time is too valuable, or something. But screw that, let’s hang out!” So we did!

Me and my friend went for a walk and got some coffee and chatted, then curled up and read books. Neither of us felt like we had anything else to do today. In fact, the internet had some sort of Imaginary-Day-related Y2K problem and there were no emails to answer, nothing distracting going on, no projects calling out to be worked on. For one day — Imaginary Day — just sitting and reading was all there was to do!

After we read for a while, I went to go get a snack, but my refrigerator had become a doorway to another dimension. I opened the door, and bugs came pouring out! They filled my kitchen, seething, swarming out like a fluid, a chittering crawling wave, but I had to get through them, I had to find something on the other side. I dove into the wave, keeping my eyes firmly shut, and I swam, and kicked, and felt with my outstretched hands for anything I could use to pull myself through the tide.

It was horrifying, but it was only imaginary!

My fingers brushed something firm, and after a few seconds of straining, I was able to grasp it. It was round, like a pole, but with bumps and contours — and when I pulled against it, it moved. It bent in the center. It was the leg of a horse, and it started running. The sea of bugs was still washing over me, but I knew that wherever this horse was going to go, I had to stay with it.

I hung onto its leg as it kicked and ran and galloped away, and soon the bugs dropped off. The horse was red. It was running on a baked, featureless desert. The bugs gone, the hot desert sun hit me directly. My skin began to blister.

A crevasse opened beneath the horse, and it bucked and whinnied and tried to flee, but the crevasse had a gravity all its own. The horse was pulled in, but I let go and dropped to the ground. The heat of the desert floor wrapped around me, encasing me in a sphere that I realized, as I began to choke, was made of sand. It pressed me, stifled me, solidified around me, kept pressing and squeezing until I could feel each grain of the sand crystallize and harden into glass. I could not move, could not breathe. It became dark.

I do not know how long I sat there, silent and void, trapped in that glassy prison.

The next sound I heard was something like a chisel against stone. It was far away, a million miles perhaps, but then a bit of light came through, and I felt the glass separating, cracking like an egg. It fell away from me, and I fell to the ground, but what had been harsh desert before was my own carpet, my living room, its familiar shape a soft fielder’s glove slipped on once more after years away from the game. “I’m ready,” the real life reminded me. “I’m here.”

It was a minute after midnight, and Imaginary Day was over. My friend was no longer here. I went to get some ice cream, but I hesitated, my hand an inch from the freezer door handle.

After far too long, I wrenched it open, and in there was ice, and frozen peas, and Hot Pockets, and meat, but no ice cream. The bugs had taken it all with them.

The Saga of Jordan Damascus

Alert Marksman Kimor K. has written in to say:

As I am certain that you are well aware of the latest exploits of the famous detective, Jordan Damascus, I shall spare you the details of explaining the relevance of this matter. However, you may find it interesting to note that Mr. Damascus was previously a rather highly decorated member of the armed services. (See: Wondermark #641) I am having difficulty understanding how such a high-ranking officer could have fallen into such incompetence, but I shall leave the interpretation of this fact up to you. Was he disgracefully discharged and now struggling to survive in a civilian occupation? Was he abducted by aliens and lobotomized? Does the armed services of this fictional company promote solely based upon the length of mustaches? We, your readers, would love to know.

Good catch, Kimor! Damascus is indeed a former military man. (If you notice the bottle in the latter picture, you may have an idea why he was discharged.) He was a Detached Leftenant with the King’s Eighth Regiment, the “Crackerjack Riders,” serving in a Rhodesian field post.

As is required by law, the Ministry of Foreign Service has retained copies of all correspondence sent from foreign posts, and after a thorough search of the Regimental Archives (with many thanks to Mrs. Myrtle Fumblebum in the Ministry’s head office in Chestershire-upon-Boffin) I have compiled the below, sent by Leftenant Damascus back home to his mother.

January 18.
My dear mum. This place burns me with its presence. Why did you make me enlist. No man shall this experience make of me; rather, a mongrel begging at the table for any scrap of sanity, any thinky, glistening sweet-fat to remind me that justice might yet exist in the world. The whole of Camp George is a dog fallen into a crevasse. Its legs are smashed to dust but the only thing to do is whimper. Please send any meats that will make the trip. Yours, J

February 5.
Mum. The Colonel is in receipt of your letter of January twenty-seventh. What did you tell him? He has turned more brutish than ever before. My ration of bootblack has been halved. A pinch of salt I had been saving in my pillow for Lent was discovered and burned in front of the men. This is not a good way to encourage thoughtful souvenirs for yourself. Write our MP and complain about this treatment. Affix my name; I have enclosed an extra signature here for your use in this. Cordially, J (here is the extra: J)

February 28.
Old dear mum. There is some mystery afoot. The Colonel says he has not heard from you at all, but he is suddenly possessed of a deep knowledge of my childhood and details known only to our family — including the way I became stuck in the chimney after eating too many sweets last Christmas. But here is a clue! I blamed the sweets as a ruse. If he had known the true story, he would have not mentioned the sweets at all. Someone has been feeding him information. Curiouser and curiouser, J

March 14.
Mumsie dearest. The Colonel is a man bewitched. He mumbles in his sleep about me and my childhood. I have tried prolonging his sleep with aether but the chemicals I purchased in a Salisbury bazaar proved to be counterfeit. He awoke in a rage and pushed my head through a series of walls. I believe the elixir I paid handsomely for to be simple extract of camel. This foul brew has many uses, but dulling cranial pain is not among them. I have not slept for days. Did you ever hear from the MP? Please advise him that the situation grows dire. I cannot see from both eyes at once. Ever your twinkle-fly — J

April 3.
Margaret. What horror I have described in the past was but a cheery Spring afternoon compared to the recent ordeal. The temperature and humidity in the camp resemble being inside of a whale at all times, even when asleep or bathing. We have but one bath-tub for the entire squad and I have been near the last in line each day on account of my declining vision. I would be last every time if not for one Private Muldoon, the battalion imbecile. He is continually convinced that the sky is the underside of a giant frog. The Colonel continues his tirade of abuse. This morning he called me a coward for stealing an apple from Broad Street, but this happened twenty-one years ago. Please advise. Until death, J

April 27.
Hello Mum. Please excuse the penmanship as I write this from the brig. The Colonel discovered an escape plan I had been formulating on an old bedsheet. I had thought to bribe Muldoon (who is possessed of a powerful energy) to excavate a tunnel from our barracks, to emerge ideally in Egypt. From there I should find a friendly native and return home by steamship. I have been roundly disciplined by the Colonel, but all the while Muldoon toils unawares. I imagine the man halfway to the Nile by now. I know not if I should live to see [illegible] underside of my arms. Please advise the response of the Bishop. Unblinking, J

May 20.
Greetings Mum from the centre of the earth. Or someplace not far removed — a cell clearly just shy of the outermost circle of Pandemonium, such is the heat and misery of this place. The Colonel suspects me of being a spy for the French. As he is suspiciously versed in every minute of my past life, I do not know where he thinks being recruited by the French may have occurred. He claims that my loyalty turned Gallic here in the camp and that I have yet to meet any actual foreign agents. Still no sign of Muldoon but I imagine the tunnel will be discovered any day. Please write the Colonel in my defence and apologise to the Bishop. Rottingly, J

June 16.
Mum, this life has ruined me. My strength and resolve are sapped. The Colonel has claimed to have merely guessed correctly all those facts about my life. I believe him either a liar or possessed by a nefarious spirit. I do not think I can perform an exorcism in this pagan country without risk to my own person. The cell has become a coffin. Mother, your son dies as he writes. Please send copies of the Post, it is dreadfully dull down here. If I ever see the sun I shall be grateful the rest of my days. Sad sad sad sad sad sad sad [this continues for three unbroken pages] — J

June 29.
Mum: By trying a little each day, I have managed to bend the bars of my cell cumulatively the width of the smallest fingernail. At this rate I may celebrate my eightieth birthday outside. The Colonel visits daily, but simply makes noises. Either I have forgotten language or this country has made savages of noble men. Pretend you have no son so that you may one day be surprised if I return. In a vat of oil, J

July 17.
I am free! I have solved the mystery that has haunted me these many months! The Colonel is a madman who has stalked me since infancy. He has worn cunning disguises so as to be never recognised. A dream brought on by putrefied soup revealed the evidence to me incontrovertibly. The dizzying heat provoked a fugue state of sorts, in which I apparently shoved my left ring finger into the cell’s lock until it malformed into the shape of the required key. I have been wedded to a door, Mother. Do not send gifts; they will not make it in time — for I return! As soon as I murder the Colonel. Excited for the future. J.

July 19.
Mother everybody in this camp has been transformed into a bat. I will attempt to do the same. Put the kettle on. J

July 22.
O Mumsy. I am in Crete but not on purpose. The Colonel makes a poor boat. Back on the Continent soon. You know, I think I might make a good detective.

Thanks, Kimor! Folks, feel free to write in with these questions any time you like.

The Science-Doktor’s Vengeance

Science-Doktor Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa watched through the tall, sloped windows as Eyjafjallajökull began to spew clouds of brown, billowing ash.

“This will prove that I am serious,” he sneered, checking his command console for the blinking light that would indicate a phone message. Those fools at NATO headquarters had missed the deadline to respond — and now had paid for their impudence.

“Seriously weak,” came an echoing voice. Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa whirled. Bond. But no matter — the volcano had been triggered. The Englishman was too late.

“It’s no use, 007,” Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa shouted, pulling the Beretta PM12 into his hands. “There’s no stopping the volcano now! Europe will be blanketed in ash within days! They tried to play games with me,” he said, cocking the submachine gun and tracking the spy’s slow walk across the polished marble floor. Bond’s confident posture angered him. What did he have to be confident about? “Now they realize what a threat I really am!”

“I’m surprised you had the money to pull this off, Vondurdog,” Bond said coolly, tracing a finger along the lines of the command console. He looked like he was itching to turn a knob, press a button… but the spy showed commendable restraint. “After the whole banking debacle. You must have been very well invested.”

Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa fumed. He knew. He had to know! “The Icelandic government is very hard-headed, it seems,” he growled. “I had a very simple ransom demand — and was left without even the courtesy of a reply. After that exercise of my power, you would have thought the world would have learned to listen!”

“Tsk, tsk, temper temper,” Bond cooed, and Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa brought the Beretta up in rage. BRAPPPPP — Bond dove — and the geologic destabilizer controls went up in a shower of sparks. That cost fifty thousand krónur! Bond had goaded him into it. The rat was nowhere to be seen.

“This is just the beginning,” Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa crowed to the empty room, slowly circling with the gun at the ready. Where was he hiding? “Eyjafjallajökull was just a throat-clearing. If my demands are not met, Katla will be triggered next — and it will drown all of Europe beneath a sea of ash and magma!”

“That’d be a good trick,” came the voice from across the room, and Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa whirled, firing another long burst into the far corner. The glass face of the seismolostroyer console disintegrated into green dust. And with the click of his empty gun, Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa knew it was over. Bond’s shadow felt somehow cold as it covered him.

Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa spun quickly and tripped the spy. Bond’s voice-transmitter still active, the cry of pain seemed to come from the far corner of the room. A clever ruse! As Bond hit the ground, Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa stomped on his wrist to dislodge the Walther from his hand — but Bond wrapped a leg around Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa’s knees and brought the Science-Doktor down with him. They fought for the gun in silence, the sky outside darkening with the growing cloud from Eyjafjallajökull.

A shot rang out! Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa flinched, his ears ringing from the sound and his hands burning from the powder — but he felt no bee-sting of a bullet, only the thin hum of some far-off machine spurting to life. “You’ll have to do better than that, 007,” he growled. But the spy only smiled.

The geologic destabilizer’s agitation-paddle caught Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa in the side of the head, wrapping its auger-talons around his jaw and skull and dragging him across the room, chewing a furrow in the hard black floor. Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa pulled at the talons with his fingers, but they were double-bonded titanium, designed to fight the pressures of plate tectonics. A man was no match for them — less so, a pane of tempered glass. The paddle pushed Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa through the window and out into open air.

Then it stopped, the long arm of the paddle hovering above the burning, roiling mouth of Eyjafjallajökull, shards of glass falling to vaporize in mid-air. Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa gaped back at Bond, who delicately brushed dust from the shoulders of his jacket.

“Well, do it,” Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa squealed with as much force as his tight-gripped throat could muster, kicking his legs in the ash above the long drop to Hell. But Bond only smiled.

“Do you want to know why NATO never called?” he shouted through the window at Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa. “Do you wonder why your ransom demands were never answered? Why nobody trembled in fear when you threatened to collapse the banks, or trigger the volcano?”

And then, as Vondurdauðahöfuðkúpa’s eyes bugged out high above the flaming glacier, Bond held up a single, severed telephone cable.

“They never even knew it was you.”