* CHAPTER 3,781
Brad Infinitum had been asleep only four years or so, give or take a few months, when he was jolted awake by the sound of screaming.
Not a-new-bike-for-Christmas screams.
These were help-somebody-save-me screams.
Brad Infinitum stumbled out of bed to see who was making such a sound. He wondered who might have scaled the walls of his castle high atop Mount L’amoeba, a place beyond the reach of eye or man.
He walked through every room. Nothing. No one.
He sat down at his Vill-O-meter, a device that tracked the presence and movement of all the diabolical doings in the world.
Nothing out of the ordinary. Just three blips showing – a couple of schoolyard bullies and a very rich man who didn’t tip the waiter after dinner.
He walked outside. Even atop Mount L’amoeba, the screaming made him wince, it was so loud.
I’D BETTER GET DOWN THERE AND SEE WHAT THIS IS ABOUT, Brad Infinitum thought to himself. AND WHY DOES IT FEEL SO HOT TODAY?
He went back inside, took a small box out from under his bed, opened it and carefully took from it a folded piece of yellowed paper no bigger than a thumbnail. It was a terragami, able to take the shape of any of earth’s living creatures.
He went back outside, carefully placed the piece of paper on the ground and said the words that would give form to the terragami:
“What life as this shall yet behold,
Appear to me now, white ibis unfold!”
Nothing happened for a second. Then the tiny piece of paper moved ever so slightly. It lifted itself up on one corner, spun around 6 times and then flopped back down. From beneath it a long tendril of paper inched out, then grew longer and longer. Another tendril began to emerge. Then the piece of paper raised itself, with both tendrils supporting it like two long sticks – like legs. The middle part expanded, and then another tendril grew straight up from it and curved around, forming a long neck and an even longer bill. Finally, two eyes appeared on either side of the head.
A white ibis.
Or it would have been a white ibis if the paper had not been yellowed. That was the thing with the terragami – for many years now, ever since Brad Infinitum forgot and left the paper outside for a few weeks – every creature that formed from the paper, be it the bluest of jays or the grayest of seals, was yellow.
Brad Infinitum climbed on it – no time to put on a saddle – and the ibis lifted up in the air and circled around the mountain once, then sped to the earth below.
What a strange sight lay before him – everyone was running and screaming. Their footsteps thundered as they ran this way and that. They were all shouting something, but Brad Infinitum couldn’t quite understand what it was.
He hovered just above the nearest town, the ibis gently and slowly flapping its wings. The people below saw him and began pointing. He thought they were pointing at him, so he shouted, “Fear not! It is I, Brad Infinitum!” But the people kept pointing, and kept shouting, and kept looking up, until finally he realized that they were not pointing at him at all, but at something beyond him.
He looked up over his shoulder. Written across the sky, in letters that seemed like they were cut from clouds, were the words
WE ARE COMING FOR YOU
* CHAPTER 3,782
Brad Infinitum stared up at the words written in the sky.
WE ARE COMING FOR YOU
WHAT COULD THAT MEAN, he thought. WHO IS “WE”? WHEN ARE “WE” COMING? WHAT DO “WE” WANT? AND WHY DO “I” ALWAYS THINK IN CAPITAL LETTERS?
He guided the ibis to the ground, left it next to a parking meter and approached the running, screaming, pointing crowds of people.
“Calm yourselves!” he shouted, “and tell me what has you fleeing so.”
But there were so many people in such a panic that no one listened. Instead, they rushed past him, then bumped him about, then knocked him to the ground, then stepped all over him.
I’VE BEEN TRAMPLED BEFORE, Brad Infinitum thought to himself, remembering the time he had been overrun by the Nation of Minions, that vast army of tiny beings, BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN I HAVE TO STAND FOR IT.
He shouted again, this time using his Voice of Authority, a voice he employed only when the need was direst, a voice that sounded like an earthquake rumbling up from the ground.
“CLEAR THE WAY!”
Everyone stopped where they stood. Brad Infinitum picked himself up, standing as upright as his 4 feet 11 and 15/16 inches would allow (living all that time hadn’t made him any taller) and said again, “Citizens, tell me what has you fleeing so.”
Everyone started talking at once, so fast and so jumbled-all-together that he could make out only bits and pieces of it.
“… apocalopes … from the sky … words … have to get away … hot today … apocalopes … after us … everywhere … so afraid … must escape … apocalopes … help …”
“I hear you well and understand your plight,” Brad Infinitum said to the crowd, though he hadn’t quite heard and didn’t really understand their plight – he just said that to calm them down. “These blocks of soap that trouble you so – I can assure you, you will not soon be caught and carried away in a giant sud-bubble.”
“NO! NO!” shouted the crowd. “Apocalopes! Apocalopes!”
“Ah, now it is most clear,” Brad Infinitum said, though it wasn’t clear at all, “jalopy spokes. Fear not, you will not soon be crushed beneath the wheels of a giant fume-spewer.”
“NO! NO!” shouted the crowd. “Not jalopy spokes! Apocalopes!”
“Apocalopes, you say?” said Brad Infinitum. “I have no knowledge of such creatures. Of what nature are they, and how is it they have come to mean you harm? Tell me, if you would, but please, one at a time, so that I may fully understand.”
The people stepped forward and began to tell a tale: of massive fur-covered beasts with razor-sharp fangs and horns the size of tree trunks. Of an electrified creature that grabbed a train in its mouth and shook it like a dog does an old sock. Of a sea monster whose breath was so fiery that every ocean wave carried flames to shore. Of the savage way in which one had snuck into a nice old lady’s house and hid her false teeth. Hid them!
“Insidious,” gasped Brad Infinitum.
“That’s what the nice old lady told the police,” said someone in the crowd. “But they couldn’t understand a word of what she was saying.”
Apocalopes. In all of Brad Infinitum’s many, many, many, many, many years he had never heard of such creatures. He needed answers. And he knew just how to get them.
* CHAPTER 3,783
The Apocalopes seemed to be everywhere. Brad Infinitum heard tale after tale of the terror they brought, the destruction they left, the beastly breath that people felt on the back of their neck whenever one was nearby.
He had heard enough. IT IS TIME, he thought to himself, TO PUT AN END TO THESE THINGS, WHATEVER THEY ARE.
He mounted the ibis and took flight, circling once above the crowd and then speeding off.
His search carried him to the farthest reaches of the earth. He and the ibis soared over every hill, every valley, every town and every desert. He swooped down low, straining his eyes as he looked for the apocalopes.
But everywhere it was the same thing – or the same nothing, actually. He saw only people running, shouting and pointing to the sky. He never managed so much as a glimpse of the creatures themselves.
STRANGE, he thought to himself. I’VE SEARCHED THE WORLD OVER AND SEEN NO SIGN OF THEM. SURELY THEY CAN’T ALL BE HIDING FROM MY SIGHT.
Then he thought of someone who might be able to help.
He steered the ibis across the ocean, finally landing on a sugar-white beach caressed by velvet-blue waters. It was the home of the Bora-Boracle, who sees all, knows all and likes nothing better than to lie on the beach for hours at a time.
Brad Infinitum approached a sheep napping in the noonday sun.
“I’ve been expecting you, Bradley,” the sheep said, even though its eyes were closed. “Yes, it does seems a bit hot today.”
Brad Infinitum sighed. Of course the Bora-Boracle knew he was there. And of course the Bora-Boracle knew that he hated to be called “Bradley,” which is why he did it.
“I’ve come to borrow from your wisdom. It’s about …”
“The apocalopes? I’m well aware of them,” interrupted the Bora-Boracle. (Brad Infinitum now remembered how hard it was to have a conversation with something that sees all and knows all, especially a sheep.)
“I have heard the tales,” Brad Infinitum said, “but have not seen the creatures themselves. What can you tell me about them? Are they a real…”
“Danger?” interrupted the Bora-Boracle. “Yes, the danger is real. As for the apocalopes … Well, as you’ve often heard me say, when rumors become fears, the fears become fact.”
Brad Infinitum had, in fact, never heard the Bora-Boracle say that. “If you please,” he said, “I don’t have much …”
“Time?” said the Bora-Boracle. “On the contrary, Bradley, you have all the time in the world. It’s the world that doesn’t have much time.”
Brad Infinitum was more confused than before. “What do you mean? I’ve searched the world over and seen neither hideous hide nor harrowing hair of the apocalopes. Where are they? What do they want? How do I …”
“Stop them?” said the Bora-Boracle. “I think – actually, I know – that you can find your answers in the clouds. Just look.” The sheep lifted its head to the sky.
Brad Infinitum looked up. The words that had been in the clouds, WE ARE COMING FOR YOU, were starting to change. Letters were being moved and removed, forming new words …
Brad Infinitum jumped on the ibis and headed straight for the clouds just as another letter appeared in the sky.
* CHAPTER 3,784
Clinging tightly to the ibis, Brad Infinitum soared up into the sky, climbing higher and higher, heading straight for the words in the clouds that had now been joined by another letter.
NO ONE L, it said.
As he drew nearer, he saw the letter “I” settle gently and neatly into place, almost as if it were being guided by a wise old wind.
NO ONE LI
He steered the ibis into, out of, through and around the letters. They were soft to the touch. Like clouds. But they did not so much as budge when he blew on them. Not like clouds.
Brad Infinitum heard a sound like something whisking through the air. He looked up, and in the distance, saw what seemed to be a flock of white geese flying in a “V” formation. As they approached, they flew faster and faster, getting louder and louder. They weren’t squawking at all. They weren’t geese at all.
LOOK OUT! Brad Infinitum and the ibis ducked their heads just as the “V” roared past and then pulled up right next to the “I.” Not two seconds behind it, an “E” came swooping in and lined up next to the “V,” followed by an “S” that took its place at the far end.
NO ONE LIVES, it now said.
THAT SPELLS TROUBLE, Brad Infinitum thought to himself. He looked down at the earth, where more people than ever were running faster, shouting louder and pointing harder. He looked all around the sky, squinting in the direction from where the letters had come, and saw the glint of a tiny, long, rounded object off in the distance.
“Giddy up!” he shouted to the ibis – Brad Infinitum could “giddy up” anything – and headed straight for the object.
It appeared to be a huge humming airship. It was blue, almost disappearing against the sky, and looked like a fresh-out-of-the-box-never-squeezed tube of toothpaste.
As he drew closer, he saw, standing in the gondola that hung from the airship, someone playing the violin. His eyes were closed as he played, and his face was calm in a cold sort of way.
I’VE SEEN THAT FACE BEFORE, Brad Infinitum thought to himself.
“The Archduke of Denouement … I should have known it was you.”
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t my old friend, come to interrupt my Concerto for T Minus yet again,” said the man, who was dressed in the kind of cloth that a king might wear. “And to join me for the end of the world, I do so hope.”
HERE WE GO AGAIN, Brad Infinitum thought to himself.
“Unlike the eternal and infernal Brad Infinitum, not all of us wish to live forever,” said the Archduke of Denouement. “You know, of course, that it is my particular fate to live on this earth until the day it perishes. I am merely trying to hasten the process.”
“And you thought making words in the clouds would do it?”
The Archduke smiled. “As always, you understand only half of what you see and nothing of what you don’t.
“Very well. If I may, let me enlighten you about such things as clouds and apocalopes and why you will be helpless to save the world from a fiery end. It goes like this …”
* CHAPTER 3,785
The Archduke of Denouement set down his violin, eased himself into his chair, sipped from his cup of tea and began telling Brad Infinitum how the world was going to end.
“I see you’re curious about how I made the letters in the clouds. They are from a device of my own making. I call it the Cumulus Behoovus.”
“That’s the most ridiculous name I’ve ever heard,” said Brad Infinitum.
“I rather like the sound of it,” said the Archduke. “But no matter. Sticks and stones may taste like scones, but words will never fail me.”
Brad Infinitum sighed. The Archduke never got his sayings right.
“While you were sleeping away the years,” the Archduke continued, “I crafted a few most interesting messages. I began with
ENTER THE APOCALOPES
and in the weeks after, followed those with
WE ARE WATCHING YOU
WE ARE AMONG YOU
WE ARE COMING FOR YOU
and my last words, as you can see out there, NO ONE LIVES.”
“And you created the Apocalopes,” said Brad Infinitum.
“I did no such thing,” smiled the Archduke. “I only created the belief in them. The tales you heard of their destruction? Merely a tale magnified twice over, and then twice again, and so on.”
“You may have loosed fear upon the world, Archduke,” said Brad Infinitum, but the world will keep on turning. It always does.”
“That’s where you are mistaken,” said the Archduke. “In their panic, so many people have run so hard and so far that the world itself is spinning ever-so-slightly slower. That, in turn, has made the world slip from its orbit. We are now hurtling toward the sun and will crash into it in, oh, I expect about 13 days or so. Have you not noticed the heat?”
SO THAT’S WHAT IT WAS, Brad Infinitum thought to himself. “As always, I will defy and defeat you,” he said. An idea was just starting to creep into his head. WHAT IF …
The Archduke smiled. “Yes, we have quite the past, you and I, but no future, I regret sorry to say. You may have silenced my thundering Fare-Thee-Whales. You may have laid ruin to my Armies of Geddon …”
I’VE HEARD THIS SPEECH BEFORE, Brad Infinitum thought to himself. KEEP TALKING.
“… You may have thwarted me in many a way, but no one, NO ONE defeats the Archduke of Denouement 17 times in a row!”
“NOW!” shouted Brad Infinitum. The ibis lunged forward, plunging its long, paper-sharp bill into the side of the airship so deeply that its eyes touched the outside of it.
“AWAY!” shouted Brad Infinitum. The ibis pulled its bill out. A small, jagged hole appeared in the airship, hissing at first, then bellowing, almost moaning, as the hole grew larger. The airship flopped and flooshed all through the air, this way and that, sending the Archduke tumbling toward the earth, still clutching his violin.
“I’LL GET YOU!” shouted the Archduke as he faded from sight.
NOT IF I GET YOU FIRST, thought Brad Infinitum to himself. He hurried the ibis back over to the letters, grabbed one here, moved one there, put thisaone thataway, then dove toward the falling Archduke.
Brad Infinitum reached out with one hand and snatched the Archduke, pulling him up onto the ibis.
“HOME!” shouted Brad Infinitum.
The three of them sped toward Mount L’amoeba.
* CHAPTER 3,786
The moment the ibis landed atop Mount L’Amoeba, Brad Infinitum leapt down, grabbed the Archduke by his robed collar and marched him into the prison he had fashioned long ago for enemies of all sorts: the Antagonarium.
“This should hold you for a while,” said Brad Infinitum as he clanged the cell door shut.
“Why do I hear no screams?” asked the Archduke.
“The screams are fading,” said Brad Infinitum. “Look to the sky and you will see why.”
The Archduke looked up at the clouds. The words
NO ONE LIVES
NO EVIL ONES
“Clever,” said the Archduke. “But it won’t save the world.”
Brad Infinitum jumped onto the ibis. “Wrong again,” he said as he soared off.
Far outside the nearest town, the people had slowed their running and were now walking or just standing. They had stopped their shouting and were now murmuring among themselves. They were still pointing, though, looking up at the new words in the sky.
Brad Infinitum went there first. He called up his boomingest Voice of Authority.
“HOME! YOU MUST RUN HOME! FAST AS YOU CAN! YOU’LL BE SAFE THERE!”
The people turned around and started running.
Brad Infinitum and the ibis circled the globe one, two, three times or more, carrying the same message everywhere.
All those people now running back the way they had come made the world turn ever-so-slightly faster and slide back toward its regular orbit. Brad Infinitum watched and waited and calculated until just the right instant, then circled the globe many more times to tell everyone to stop running.
“ALL IS WELL. GO BACK TO YOUR LIVES,” he shouted again and again. By this time he was Hoarse with Authority.
To make sure everyone was home safely, he circled the globe one last time, picking up a stray pup along the way and delivering him to a tearful youngster.
And the world returned to its usual ways. Oh, some warm places were a little cooler than they had been before, and some cold places were a little warmer, but people didn’t mind so much. Besides, that suited the Bora-Boracle just fine, because now he had more of the beach to himself.
I CAN’T WAIT TO GO BACK TO BED, Brad Infinitum thought to himself as he headed back to Mount L’Amoeba. He looked at the letters in the sky – NO EVIL ONES – and decided to leave them for a little while, to keep the people in comfort a little longer.
(Some days later, he threw ropes around the words and hitched them to the ibis, who brought them down to earth. Every year after that they were pulled through the streets during the holiday parade. They always made everyone smile, especially the time some of the people holding the ropes got tangled up and the words ended up saying NOSE IN LOVE instead of NO EVIL ONES).
When Brad Infinitum and the ibis finally landed at Mount L’amoeba, he heard the strains of a familiar piece coming from the Antagonarium: the Concerto in T Minus, as performed by the Archduke of Denouement.
I’VE HEARD SO MUCH OF THAT MUSIC BEFORE, Brad Infinitum thought to himself. I HOPE I NEVER HEAR THE END OF IT.
“Interrupted yet again,” sighed the Archduke of Denouement.
“The world is safe,” said Brad Infinitum. “No thanks to you.”
“This isn’t over,” said the Archduke.
“It never is,” said Brad Infinitum.
(note: this ran in the charlotte observer in 2005.)