Friday, August 29, 2008

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

postcard: fishing

the little boy who was traded for a tulip

It was just a flower.

Just a little flower.

Just a little red flower that Epke saw there.

Epke frowned. He was tired after walking out so far beyond the village in the dark of the early morning with his papa, just to stand there and look at a little red flower.

Other people stood there, too, tall men with low voices. They huddled around the little red flower, talking in such a way – murmur, mutter, mumble – as to sound to Epke like humming almost.

Epke’s papa spoke. Quietly. “Behold, Epke, behold the Eye of the Night Tulip. The only one in all the land. A dream made real. He who owns it is a rich man indeed.”

Epke looked at his papa, but his papa just stared at the flower.

“Come, Epke, let us go.”

His papa said not a word more on their way back to the village.

Epke’s papa worked in a shop repairing the sails of the great ships of the sea. They walked there.

Then Epke walked home, sneaking past his mama and back into bed, where he fell fast asleep, with no dreams of flowers. With dreams of the sea.

The morning passed. Epke’s mama went to the market. Epke didn’t hear her leave, but later awoke to the sound of voices outside.

He looked out his window and saw his papa talking with another man – a tall man with a small hat.

He saw the man hand his papa a flowerpot … holding the very flower that Epke had seen that morning. Then he saw his papa hand the man a key.

And then Epke saw his father see him.

His papa’s eyes grew wide, and he turned away, walking away very slowly, hunched over in a way. The flowerpot must be very heavy, Epke thought.

Epke heard the key turn in the front door, and then steps, and then before him stood the tall man with the small hat.

“You … you should not be here,” the man said.

“But this is my house,” said Epke.

“Not quite,” the man said. “It is mine now. Your father, fool that he is, said he would give me his house if only I would give him the Eye of the Night Tulip. He begged. I agreed. So now this house and everything inside it – including you, it seems – belongs to me.”

“But … but … no … you … my …”

“Quiet, boy. Now fetch my food. And you will call me Lord Boorish.”

For three days and three nights it went on like that, Epke cleaning and cooking and fetching for Lord Boorish. On the fourth morning, Epke snuck away while Lord Boorish slept.

Epke walked the village streets, looking for his mama and his papa. Finally, he was told that his papa had gone away, carrying the flowerpot in his arms and shame in his heart. His mama had gone, too.

At the end of that long, long day, Epke walked along the docks where the village meets the sea. He came upon the dock market, where every morning the merchants sold fruit and shoes and the like from their small swaying boats.

Epke was so tired he climbed onto one of the boats and fell fast asleep. Again he did not dream of flowers. He dreamed of rain.

The next morning’s sun awoke Epke. That and the squawking birds and the “well, well, well” he heard from the man standing over him.

“Look what the morning has brought. Are you here to sleep or to buy?” asked the man, a tall man with bright eyes.

Epke began to cry. He told the man of his papa, the flower, his house and Lord Boorish.

“Well, well, well,” the man said again. “That a little flower could do all that. Have you eaten?”

The man’s name, Epke learned, was Captain Simmerink. He owned many boats at the dock market.

After they ate, Captain Simmerink showed his boats to Epke. One sold fish, another sold pearls, and still another sold shark’s teeth and octopus ink.

“And here,” said Captain Simmerink, “is the one from which I sell nothing.” He stepped onto a rickety little boat that seemed barely afloat. He reached in and held up a flowerpot.

With a flower in it. A little red flower.

Epke stared. “But how …”

“Oh, it’s not so rare. I’ve many more just like it,” said Captain Simmerink. “Come, we’ve work to do.”

That afternoon Epke knocked on the door of a house in the village. A woman answered. Epke held up a small flowerpot. “Would you have this flower for your house?” he asked.

The woman stared. “The Eye of the Night! Oh, I could never …”
Epke handed it to her. “It’s yours to keep.”

Epke pulled the small wagon, heavy with tulips, to the next house, where he knocked on the door and said again, “A flower for your house?” He did that all afternoon, until every house but one had tulips.

Captain Simmerink knocked on the door of that house. Lord Boorish shouted from the window, “Who is it? What is it you want?”

“My dear Lord Boorish,” said Captain Simmerink. “This house of yours, at one time it was worth a single tulip. Do you think it might now be worth 10 such tulips?”

Lord Boorish came running out. “10? 10, you say? Take the house. Too drafty anyway.”

His arms full of flowerpots, Lord Boorish started toward the village square. He wondered what they might bring in trade. A ship or six? A block of shops?

As he hurried along, he paid no mind to the red flowers in every windowsill.

At the square he called out, “Attention! Good people, I bring you a bounty of tulips the likes of which you’ve never seen! As much as it would pain me to do so, I would be willing to part with them, for the right price. Now, who has their heart set on these fine tulips?”

The crowd who had gathered around said nothing. Then someone giggled. Then everyone began laughing loudly, pointing to the red flowers in every windowsill. Tulips, all tulips, too many tulips, and in that moment Lord Boorish did not think himself so rich.

Epke’s mama and papa returned to the village three days later, after the story had reached the countryside.

They settled back into their house. Epke spent his days helping Captain Simmerink with his boats. Epke’s papa went back to work, but every night for a week he slept outside – it rained that week – with his only shelter being one of the sails he repaired for the great ships of the sea.

That was mama’s idea.

Some days later, Epke and his papa were walking through the village square past a crowd – tall men with low voices – when papa stopped. And stared. And said quietly, “And I thought it was but a dream. Look, Epke, look upon the Noonday Daffodil. A stunning wonder of yellow. He who owns it …”

“Come, papa, let us go.”

Epke took his father’s arm.

And they left the square, Epke staring straight ahead and his father looking back at the little yellow flower.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

the bony-fied express

Everybody inside the post office turned and stared as Harry clattered his way across the well-scuffed wooden floor.

Honestly, they thought, can't a skeleton just for once do a simple thing like walk into a place quietly?

"Help you?" said the postmaster.

"Hear you're looking for Pony Express riders," said Harry.

The postmaster looked Harry up and down. Good teeth, he thought, but a bit on the lean side. "Think you can find your way to Painless Point?"

Harry tapped his head. "Got it all right up here. See?" He bent over and showed the postmaster the dotted map that stretched from one side of his head clear across to the other.

"Looks about right," said the postmaster. "But still ... idn't it ... how do you ... what I mean to say is, ain't your sorta missing something?"

Harry stepped back and looked himself over. "Like what?"

"Like BOOTS! Ain't you got none?"

"Oh, sure," said Harry. "Left them outside. Time to time my feet get a little stiff from riding,"

"Well ... OK, then." The postmaster handed Harry a saddlebag full of letters. "Get these out to Painless Point as fast as you can. They've been waiting like there's no tomorrow."

Harry clattered back outside. "Let's get, Marmalade," he said to his snorting stallion, all burly and black.

And off they galloped, headed for the high hills.

They rode and they rode, all that day and all that night. The next morning they rode straight into a howling blizzard. Snow so fierce that Harry couldn't even see his hand in front of his face.

Staggering to stay upright, Marmalade stepped on a rock buried by the snow, sending the both of them tumbling to the ground.

Harry sat up and tried to clear his head. Nothing broken that he could see. He shook the snow out of one boot, then the other, then went to put them back on and realized he had shaken out all his toes. Every last one of them. He dug all around but couldn't find them anywhere in the drifting white mounds of snow.

He sighed -- those were good toes, too -- picked himself up and started out again. Slowly now, for Marmalade had lost a shoe in the fall.

That afternoon the snow cleared a bit and they came to a small town. Harry left Marmalade at the blacksmith for a new shoe, then limped over to the town doctor.

On the doctor's door were some small painted signs:


and underneath that:


Harry hobbled in. Two hours later he wobbled out and looked down at the piano keys that were where his toes used to be. Carefullly, ever so carefully, he stepped off the porch. BOM-DLEEN! He took another step. BOM-DLEEN! Not so bad, thought Harry, better than having ten fingers on my feet. (I'm going to miss those toes, though.)

Harry BOM-DLEENed back over to get Marmalade. They left town in a sprint. Between Marmalade's hooves and Harry's new toes, the sound RUH-DUH-THUNT-PALINK, RUH-DUH-THUNT-PALINK cut through the prairie air.

After a week of riding, Harry and Marmalade came to a rocky cliff high above the ocean. They stopped by a sign at the very edge of the cliff.


Harry leaned over the looked down, waaaaay down, all the way down to the crashing ocean waves. Whoa. He got all dizzy and stepped back.

The wind whistled through his bones, his teeth chattered, his kneecaps knocked and his new toes shievered with a BAH-DAH-KAN-KA-KANG  BAH-DAH-KAN-KA-KANG kind of sound.

"Hey, keep it down over there!" a voice called out.

Harry looked around. He didn't see a soul, just Marmalade there and a bunch of rocks scattered about. He rattled even louder.

The voice called out again. "Didn't your hear? Quiet! Can't you see we're trying to sleep?"

Harry spun this way and that. "Who's there? Wherever you are, mister, I'm just here to deliver the mail."

That voice again. "Mail? Did you say mail? Hey everybody, mail's here!"

The ground quivered just below Harry's feet. Harry jumped out of the way as five bony white fingers wiggled up through the dirt. Then, nearby, another bony hand poked up. And another one over near that one. And then another and another until Harry was surrounding by flapping white hands and wiggling white fingers.

And voices, too.


"Over here!"

"Bet there's mail for me!"

"How's the weather up there?"

Harry sputtered. "G-g-got l-l-letters. For P-P-Painless P-P-Point."

"About time," said a burly voice nearby. "Can't tell you how long we've been waiting. Anything for me? The name's Grout Wheeler."

Harry dug through his saddlebag and much to his surprise found a letter with the name Grout Wheeler on it. "H-h-here you g-go." He handed it down. The fingers snatched the letter and slipped back into the ground.

Now Harry saw that all the rocks scattered about had names painted on them. He tromped back and forth -- BOM-DLEEN, BOM-DLEEN -- around the wiggling fingers.

There was mail for Lorelei Yodeloff, No-Luck Liplock, Junebug O'Boyle, Streudelneck Hackerman, Old Zither McDither and the rest. One by one the hands disappeared with the letters, and rising from the ground, sounds of laughing and crying, hooting and sighing.

A hand came back up. Grout Wheeler's. "Thank you kindly, mister. Can you carry this one back with you? It's to my nephew."

Harry took it and shook hands with the hand, then collected some more letters and headed for his horse.

"Sure you don't want to stay awhile?" called out Grout Wheeler. "You might like it here."

"Better not," said Harry. "Could never stay too still for too long. See you around."

Harry and Marmalade rode away, and the hands of Painless Point all waved as RUH-DUH-THUNT-PALINK, RUH-DUH-THUNT-PALINK grew fainter and fainter in the distance.

the talk of lingaloon

Now and then in the land of Lingaloon, where everyone speaks when spoken to, the talk would turn to long-ago times and soon-enough days.

As it did late one evening around the fire they all shared.

“All our yesterdays are but simple stones with which we built a path to tomorrow,” said the Rather-Blathers.

“Yes, but a grassy path ensures a more comfortable journey,” said the Quibbletons.

“We know exactly where we’re going – straight to bed,” said the Bonny Mots.

And with that, the Bonny Mots wandered off and went to sleep, followed by the Quibbletons, and then finally the Rather-Blathers.

Now that they’re asleep, this might be a good time to tell you – quietly – about the peoples of Lingaloon, or the Galoons, as they were all called together.

They had lived where they lived for the longest time, longer than anyone could really say.

The Rather-Blathers lived just a little ways from the river, in and around the shade of the towering trees.

The Quibbletons lived near. And the Bonny Mots lived nearer still.

And though there were many, many Rather-Blathers – 722, the last time they counted – they all spoke as one. The same with the Quibbletons (436 of them) and the Bonny Mots (299, with another one on the way).

They all slept as one as well. And worked, and played, as one. And even got their hair cut as one, in a giant cutting circle.

The next day dawned fresh and fully. Though there was not a cloud in the sky, the Rather-Blathers were troubled.

“There is thunder on the move. Me-thinks it carries more than a pattering rain,” they said.

“Perhaps, and yet ‘me-thinks’ is hardly the correct word when there are 722 of you,” said the Quibbletons.

“We-thinks our bellies are rumbling – let’s eat,” said the Bonny Mots.

And eat they did, all of them, at long, long tables laid end to end, munching and crunching so loudly on apples and toast that they could not hear the heavy boots tromping through the woods toward them.

“CHARGE!” an enormous voice bellowed, and the Galoons looked up from their breakfast to find themselves surrounded by a vast army of short, stern soldiers.

One of the soldiers, shorter and sterner than the rest, stepped forward and walked slowly behind a row of quivering Quibbletons.


The Rather-Blathers gasped.

The Quibbletons blinked.

The Bonny Mots let out a low whistle.

Baron Von Bellicose’s eyes narrowed.


"Forgive us, but we stand in amazement that you alone are given to words,” said the Rather-Blathers.

“Quite right, even though we find ourselves sitting at the moment,” said the Quibbletons.

“For a high commander, he certainly stands low to the ground,” said the Bonny Mots.

“SILENCE!” growled Baron Von Bellicose. “I ALONE SPEAK FOR MY ARMY AND TO MY FOES."


“HAR-OOMPH,” grunted the Stentorian Horde, who pushed aside the Galoons and sat down to gobble up all the apples and toast.

From that day forward, the Galoons did the Baron’s bidding. Everything the Stentorian Horde needed doing, the Galoons were made to do: the fetching of food and drink and especially the polishing of their shiny boots and barbed, brassy helmets.

They even had the Galoons build a towering fortress within sight of the river. The Galoons were forced to live in a dungeon below.

The Galoons were too fearful to speak – not even a whisper – because all the whispers taken together would be much too loud for the Baron, and punishment would be swift.

In their silence, the Galoons did their best to talk without words.

“Alas and alack, there must be some way by which others could be made to hear of our plight,” said the Rather-Blathers, their lips silently mouthing the words.

“That seems unlikely given that we have no voice,” said the Quibbletons, their fingers darting back and forth, drawing letters one by one in the air.

“Well, you can’t very well expect to have peace AND quiet,” said the Bonny Mots, their feet tapping out a code that only the other Galoons could understand.

It continued that way, for days on end, until early one morning found the Galoons lying in the dungeon, unable to sleep – again – because of the Stentorian Horde’s snarling way of snoring.

A “hup-hup-hup-hup” sort of sound, ever so faint, began to fill the dungeon. It grew louder – “HUP-hup-hup-hup HUP-hup-hup-hup” – but not so loud as to wake the Stentorian Horde.
The Galoons looked out through the bars of the dungeon.

There before them stood row upon row of tall, taut soldiers. In the front, one of them – taller and tauter than the rest – held a finger to his lips.


The Galoons nodded.

The taller, tauter soldier stepped closer. “Baron Von Bellicose!” he shouted. “Awake to your peril!”

The Baron scrambled to the top of the fortress and looked down. “WHO DARES DISTURB MY SLEEP?” he barked.

“It is I, Major Cadence, and the mighty Huptuits,” the soldier proclaimed. “Surrender or be silenced!”


Quickly lining the rim of the fortress, the Horde fired off their blare guns. A swarm of volleys arched high, high overhead and then, as they fluttered to the ground, let loose torrents of noise – harsh, wailing sounds that streamed down onto the Huptuits.

The Huptuits were slowed but not stopped. They advanced on the fortress, their cackling guns at the ready.

“Steady, men,” Major Cadence called out. “Don’t fire until you see the lobes of their ears … steady ... steady … now!”

The heavy din of CACKLE-cack-cack CACKLE-cack-cack pelted the fortress and sent some of the Stentorian Horde to their knees, their hands covering their ears.

The Baron, by now much alarmed, cried out, “TOOTY SHOOTERS TO THE FRONT!”

A new line of gunners rushed to the rim and took aim. They aimed well. Screaming salvos cascaded down upon the Huptuits – A-WHOP-BOP-A-LOO-BOP-A-WHOP-BAM-BOOM!

The Huptuits stood there, all a-daze. “Fall back! Fall back!” yelled Major Cadence, and they managed to retreat into the near forest.


And for a time, they didn’t.

But now, from the near forest, the Huptuits reappeared in their rows. All of them were wearing small shields on their ears. The rows parted in the middle, and in that space, giant cannons of a sort the Baron had never seen were pushed forward by a different group of soldiers, four to a cannon. None of these soldiers wore ear shields.

These were the Concusstidors, earless and fearless. They trained their weapons on the fortress.

Major Cadence held up his hand, then brought it down, signaling “Fire!” to the Concusstidors.

Oh, the sound of it all.

The sky grew thick with the deep pounding blasts of




One after another after another the cannon shots exploded over the fortress. In their confusion, the Stentorian Horde stumbled about and shouted what they could, but their shouts grew weaker and weaker until at last they raised their hands and said hoarsely, “We surrender.”

Baron Von Bellicose said not a word. He just glared.

Slowly and silently, the Galoons emerged from the dungeon. The echos of battle still hung heavy in the air.

Major Cadence approached the Galoons. “Is this your land?” They looked at one another hesitantly. “Speak up.”

“Are we now free to have our say?” asked the Rather-Blathers.

“Or should we talk louder?” asked the Quibbletons.

“Tell us what happened – we’re all ears,” said the Bonny Mots.

Major Cadence explained, “We’ve been after the Stentorian Horde for a long while now. We got word from the Chattering Classes that you’d been overrun. But you’re safe now. We’ll take the Horde and give them a good soundproofing.”

As the major spoke, Baron Von Bellicose was being led away.

“Any last words, Baron?” said Major Cadence.

“The time will come again when the ground trembles before our battle cry,” said the Baron in a small whisper.

“What’s that? Couldn’t hear a word you said. … Get him out of here,” Major Cadence muttered.

“Our eternal gratitude for sparing us a most intolerable fate,” said the Rather-Blathers.

“On this point we must concur,” said the Quibbletons. The Rather-Blathers, shocked by this, looked warmly at the Quibbletons.

“What’s next, a group hug?” said the Bonny Mots.

With the battle over, and the armies gone, an occasional quiet settled over the land.

The Galoons tore down the fortress and built in its place three towers of bunk beds, one for each people. Each bed was slightly wider than the one above it, in case anyone rolled over and fell out during the night.

Late one evening they all lay in bed, talking.

“And so another fine day is spent. May you all be well-slept,” said the Rather-Blathers.

“That we shall, unless we are unrested again by your talking in your sleep,” said the Quibbletons.

“Surely, you are mistaken. Our sleep is as peaceful as Lingaloon itself,” said the Rather-Blathers.

Replied the Quibbletons: “Say what you will, but while we lay last night, there arose a chorus of gibberish …”

“Hey, we thought we always had the last word!” said the Bonny Mots.

“Have you not heard? We are embarked on a new discourse,” said the Rather-Blathers.

“Yes, a new word order,” said the Quibbletons. “No longer will you need to conclude our discussions. We are free to converse as we choose.”

The Bonny Mots started to speak, then paused … murmured among themselves … smiled and said, “Let us be the first to say, we like the sound of that!”

the way of snowflakes

a tale that concludes:
"no two snowflakes are alike."
why so? to begin ...



many's the winter
of shivering trees and the
snowman in the sky.

so distant a home
that echoes never reach there
before turning back.

it is there that he
christens winter proper by
dancing 'round the snow.

for when a snowman
dances, he shakes loose the snow
he's always wrapped in.

from that dancing 'round
come flecks and flakes, each the same:
perfect little dots.

(you might have heard that
no two snowflakes are alike.
that is true ... in time ...)

and not just any
dance. it takes a special dance
to send down a snow.

a slow and graceful
pirouette is all he needs
for a light dusting.

or to bring on a
good flurry, a handsome waltz
sets him a-striding.

and when he has to
get moving on a blizzard,
then it's rhumba time!

rhumba here and a
rhumba there, look out below
on a rhumba day!

and all the while he
dum-de-dums, quietly, the
only song he knows:

"it's not for me to
light all the stars, or to set
the moon in motion.

"i'd much rather turn
the lowlands white, whenever
i get the snowtion.

"no, it's not for me
to stir the seas, or bundle
the winds for blowing.

"it's only for me
to dance about, whenever
the world needs snowing."


then one day he fell.
and could not rise, and did not
know to call for help.

he'd been stirring up
some flurries before taking
his rest for the night.

but he missed a step
and toppled over a

or something like that.
the sky shook. the snow came hard
and then came no more.

it was the waltz that
turned into the halting waltz.
it was the last snow.

for the next winter
passed with no flecks at all, and
certainly no flakes.

the next winter, too,
and the winters twenty more
were silent and bare.

and the people would
gather and look up and wish
and go home and sigh.

it came to be called
the time that the snowman fell
and the snow did not.


there then came a wind
that snatched up the many sighs
and sent them soaring.

like a lost balloon
they drifted off ... to the home
of the up-yonders.

who were all sleeping.
it's what they did all winter.
every winter.

know this about the
up-yonders, for you never
see them anywhere:

what goes in the air
is put there -- save for the snow --
by this little flock.

like the rain: fatsplats,
hissingmist, and each one of
the drops in between.

and like the rainbow:
stretched and curved, soaked in colors,
lowered into place.

just for fun, they would
dabble in dew, or form the
occasional fog.

they work in springtime,
summertime, autumntime, too,
before it gets cold.

but no fluffy snow
from them; they sleep all winter
every winter.


but not this winter.
not with all those sighs making
it too sad to sleep.

the head up-yonder --
who's a head above the rest --
was the first to wake.

he nudged the others
and they hurried straightaway
to see all the sounds.

they pressed their noses
to the windows on the floor.
(how else to look down?)

"will you look at that,"
said one. "i wonder what brings
the sighs here today."

then they saw something
they had never ever seen:
no snow in winter.

"will you look at that,"
said one. "i wonder what made
the snow go away."

the head up-yonder
and another few or so
went looking for why.

they searched the clouds, took
apart the twilight, even
asked the equator.

then they came upon
him, singing in a whisper,
moving not at all.

"i can't seem to dance,"
said the snowman. "where has the
snow been all the while?"

"nowhere," said the head
up-yonder. "there is no snow."
"oh," said the snowman.

"but there must be dance."
the head up-yonder frowned, then
sent for the others.

they gathered around,
across and alongside as
well, then set to work.

"push!" "easy!" "hold!" "now!"
using all the little might
that they could muster.

when the snowman was
upright at last, he blinked once,
then began to sway.

and, looked at each
upturned face, spun a slow and
graceful pirouette.


just as slowly, a
lone up-yonder in the
back began to clap.

in turn, they all joined
with him, and the clouds themselves
shuddered with the sound.

the snowman kept up
his pirouetting, the sky
swirling up in white.

as the snow darted
and scattered, it came to rest
on cold little hands.

a lone up-yonder
shook it loose and saw a flake
much unlike the rest.

he shook again and
again, with each tiny flake
much unlike the rest.

the snowman said, "aaahhh ...
why don't you stay the winter?"
the up-yonders did.


and thus it is: the
snowman in the sky dances
and sings quite brightly.

while the up-yonders
gather the flakes and shape them
one by one by one.

when fashioned just so,
they are sent floating away
by cold little hands.


it is written that
no two snowflakes are alike.
and now you know why.

(author's note: yes, this is made up entirely of haiku-like stanzas, 5-7-5 as syllables go)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

tastes like a dream

In the deepest, darkest corner of Moonswallow Hollow, on a night just like the one before this one, everything was so hushed.

Everything everything.

The trees.

The deer, the creek.

And the four little dreamers in the little red tent.

Side by side they slept, side by side: Otis and Melvin and Sally and Callie.

All upsnuggled in their sleeping bags, sleeping and snoring and sleeping and snor-snor-snoring like a pig might (well, just Otis).

“Otis … Otis!”

And as they slept, their thoughts tiptoed out of the tent and wandered into the spiderweb that some people call dreams.

And at that very moment, in a place just past the star you can’t quite see, Dreamkeeper Periwinkle awoke.

Dreamkeeper Periwinkle – or D.P. Winkle, as she was called by those who knew her better – sat up in bed and looked about the many-rounded room where she and the other dreamkeepers slept. The others were gone already, tending to dreams and making them not-so-scary (and sometimes, on nights when the wind was especially sweet, even making dreams come to life).

It must be very late, thought D.P. Winkle. I wonder if there are any dreams left for me.

D.P. Winkle put on her frock of wildflowers and hurried from the dreamery.

She whisked about, searching for any little dreams that might be calling. Across the waters, over the cliffs, into the forests, until at last she saw a little dream that had just taken its place among the stars.

Inside the little dream, sparkling in the night, was a … no, it couldn’t be … simply unthinkable … am I seeing right? …

A lovely slice of bread.

How strange, thought D.P. Winkle as she hovered around it, touching both sides (it was not toasted) and the edges.

And then what should bump up against that lovely slice of bread but a second little dream, all fresh and gleaming, a … my goodness … a …

A jar of homemade jelly (boisenberry, it seemed).

Close behind, another little dream … thick to the touch … peanut butter!

Then one last little dream there alongside the others … another lovely slice of bread … hmmm, that’s two of those … (she had no idea that Sally and Callie were twins and shared their dreams).

A whiff of wind puffed up. A sweet one at that. Aaaah, thought D.P. Winkle, a most fortunate time for these little dreamers. She set to work.

The next morning, Otis was the first one out of the tent.

“Hey,” he thought, “What’s that doing there? We didn’t bring that!”

He took it into the tent.

“Look what I found. Whose is it?”

“Not mine.”

“Not mine neither.”

“Don’t look at me.”

“Well, somebody put it there. AND took a bite out of it.”

Tasty, thought D.P. Winkle.

postcard: fluctuate

the never-ending adventures of brad infinitum

* 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 jump-for-joy-screams.

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.


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


* CHAPTER 3,782

Brad Infinitum stared up at the words written in the sky.



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.


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.


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.


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


and in the weeks after, followed those with






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


now read


“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.


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.


“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.)

the further never-ending adventures of brad infinitum

* CHAPTER 3.787

“Wake … up … wake … up … wake … up …” whispered the alarm clock next to the bed and the head of Brad Infinitum.

Brad sat up, rubbed his eyes, looked at the clock, saw it was August, pressed the snooze button and went back to sleep.

“WAKEUPWAKEUPWAKEUP” went the alarm clock again, faster and louder this time, echoing throughout the castle high atop Mount L’amoeba.

Brad sat up, rubbed his eyes, looked at the clock, saw it was September and got out of bed.

As he always did after a good long sleep – about six years this time – Brad liked to wake up with a nice hot bowl of alphabet soup.

He was in the middle of eating – between the K’s and the O’s – when he noticed he wasn’t hearing a peep out of his pet parakeet, Pi.

Still slurping, Brad headed to the nesting room, where Pi lived and flitted and slept.

The door to the room was open.

Brad gasped, and when he gasped, a soup letter stuck in his throat.

He gasped and coughed, running from room to room.

“Pli,” he called out. That didn’t sound right. “Pli,” he tried again, “Clome to Papal, Pli.”

No Pi anywhere. Brad went back to the nesting room and saw a note on the floor. It read:


What do those blanks mean? Brad wondered. And where’s Pi? And why did I have to get an L in my throat?

Brad picked up the phone to call the doctor’s office. But just before he started pushing the buttons for the numbers, he noticed there WERE no numbers. Just blank buttons.

Now what? Brad wondered. Pi’s gone, there’s an L in my throat and all the phone numbers are missing. I’d better get to town.

* CHAPTER 3.788

Brad got dressed and jumped on his HiPi-ByePi-Cycle. It had a cage right between the handlebars. Pi loved to go on bike rides, and people would always say, “Hi, Pi” and “Bye, Pi” as they passed.

But there was no Pi this time, just an empty cage clattering as Brad headed to Valleyvale, at the base of Mount L’amoeba.

There were people everywhere. That wasn’t so unusual – Valleyvale was usually bustling – but it was what they were doing that made Brad stop and stare.

Actually, it was what they were NOT doing.

They were not doing much of anything.

There was a crowd standing underneath the big clock in the center of town, nodding their heads. They were looking up at the clock, then looking down at their watches, then tapping their watches, then looking back up at their big clock, over and over again.

“Whatl is thisl?” Brad asked a man in the crowd. (That L, getting in the way again.)

“Brad Infinitum, glad you’re here,” said the man. “It’s not a thistle, it’s a disaster. Look at the clock. Look at the store signs. Numbers have all disappeared. Just look.”

There were people standing in long lines going all the way out the doors of the movie theater and the grocery store and everywhere else. The longest line was the one coming out of the bank.

“Needl help?” Brad said to a woman in line at the bank.

“Oh, Brad Infinitum, thank you for offering, but a needle wouldn’t help right now. We’re waiting until the numbers come back so we can get money out of the bank. And those people at the stores are waiting to find out how much to pay. You have to help us.”

“I’m gloing right awayl,” Brad said.

“Don’t worry about glowing, just go!” the woman called after him. “And who cares if a whale’s right or not! Just get our numbers back!”

* CHAPTER 3,789

The missing numbers will have to wait, Brad thought. Pi, too. I have to get rid of this letter first.

Brad rode his HiPi-ByePi-Cycle to the nearest doctor’s office. On the door it said EAR, NOSE AND THROAT.

“May I help you?” said the nurse at the desk.

“I’m slick,” said Brad.

“Yes, Mr. Infinitum, you look quite slick, but what exactly is wrong?”

Brad pointed to his throat. “Owl.”

“You have an owl in your throat? That sounds serious.”

Brad took some paper and drew a sideways L inside a neck.

“Oh, you have a letter stuck in your throat. Why didn’t you say so?”

“I didl,” said Brad.

“Well, if you’d been talking instead of diddling, maybe we could have found out sooner what was wrong,” said the nurse. “Let’s find a doctor. Let’s see – the ear doctor’s aching and the nose doctor’s running late. Let me see if I can grab the throat doctor. This way, please.”

The nurse took Brad to an examination room. After a while a doctor came in, wearing a long white lab coat.

“Hi there. I’m Dr. D. Dweezil Duckway, MD, PhD, GED, ID, CD, TD, DOD, LOD, JYD, PD, RFD and, of course, DVD.”

“That’s a lot of D’s,” Brad wrote on the paper.

“I wasn’t a great student,” Dr. Duckway said. “I wanted to be a musician, but my best was a D-flat. Now what seems to be the problem?”

Brad showed Dr. Duckway the drawing.

“Can’t expel the L, eh? Open your mouth and say ah.”


“Hmmm … again,” Dr. Duckway said.

“Lah lah.”

“Stop that singing,” said Dr. Duckway. “Oh, yes, I see it now. You have a mild inflection.”

Brad wrote a large ? on the paper.

“An inflection, but a mild one. You’re talking with an extra letter – looks like an L. The scientific name is consonitis. Come with me, please.”

* CHAPTER 3,790

Dr. Duckway led Brad into another room. Here the walls were lined with cabinets reaching from the floor to the ceiling. Each cabinet had row upon row of tiny little trays with tiny little names printed on them.

“This is the ment room,” said Dr. Duckway. “After years of fighting ailments with the usual treatments and ointments and linaments, I realized I could probably cure just about anything with the right kind of ment. So I started making some. My first experiment was a success, and now there’s almost nothing a ment can’t cure.

“Loose tooth? Have a cement.

“Back out of whack? A little alignment should straighten you out.

“Feeling blue? Amusement, enjoyment or merriment can help with that.”

AMAZING, Brad wrote on the paper.

“It would be, with the right amount of amazement,” said Dr. Duckway. “Now, let’s see what we can do for you.”

Dr. Duckway ran his finger along the names on the tiny little trays. “Let’s see … P … P … P … Parliament, no … pavement, payment, pigment … no, your color looks fine … a-ha! Here it is.”

He pulled out a tiny tray. “Pronouncement. It’s a little hard to swallow, but it should clear you right up.”

HOW MANY, Brad wrote as the doctor handed him some small pills, all shaped like an X.

“Don’t know,” said Dr. Duckway. “Can’t tell without any numbers on the label. Strangest thing, the numbers all disappearing. Just take your medicine. And come back anytime. Something I’ve never been able to make is an appointment.”

With a big drink of water, Brad gulped down the X pills. “Thankx yul,” he said, then sighed – more of a sligh, actually.

“Don’t worry,” Dr. Duckway said. “Only a temporary side effect. It’s just the X’s up against the L. Now I must go. I have another patient who just needs a moment – he’s been waiting for days.”

Brad headed for the harbor.

* CHAPTER 3.791

Harbor-bound on his HiPi-ByePi-Cycle, Brad pedaled to the sound of Pi’s cage clattering, but now another sound joined in – a flappeting sort of sound. Brad slowed down, and the flappeting slowed, too. When he speeded up, so did the flappeting.

He stopped and looked the bike over. He saw something stuck to one of the tires. It was a number. A number! He carefully peeled it off and looked at it. It was a 45, made dirty and ragged from the tire rolling over it again and again. Someone must have dropped it, he thought. He carefully folded up the number and put it in his pocket.

Once at the harbor, Brad rode past all the boats. And then he saw it. It was HMS Naughthawk written on it, and it was the biggest ship he had even seen. Bigger than any ship that ever carried people or coal or cars. But instead of people or coal or cars, it was piled high, piled to the sky, with numbers.

All kinds of numbers, all shapes and sizes of numbers: numbers from mailboxes, numbers from race cars, numbers from pennies, nickels, dimes, numbers from phone books, even the numbers from recipes for how to make the perfect meat loaf. Numbers numbers numbers, as high as the eye could see.

“I think we have them all,” said a voice behind Brad.

Brad turned around. And looked up. There stood a man in a long brown coat. He must have been twice as tall as Brad was on his best day … and this wasn’t Brad’s best day.

“Hi, I’m Harry,” the man said, smiling.


“Harry. I preside over the Indivisible Order of Anathematics.”

“The order of what? … Hey, I can talk!” said Brad. The pronouncement had worked. The L was no longer stuck in his throat.

“Well, of course you can talk,” said Harry. “But that’s not the point. We’re the Anathematics – we’re here to collect all the numbers.”

* CHAPTER 3,792

“But why take all the numbers?” Brad said to Harry, he of the Indivisible Order of Anathematics.

“Simple, really,” said Harry. “Though man invented numbers, those numbers have come to rule man. All your life you are measured or gauged or counted in some way. How fast were you going? How much is that doggie in the window? Your life is just one calculation after another.”

“But that’s how the world works,” said Brad.

“Your world, perhaps, but not ours,” said Harry. “We live in a land without numbers. We are not beans to be counted, nor are we chickens or noses or heads. We believe not only in the letter of the law, but that letters ARE the law.” He whispered, “Besides, we always hated math in school.”

He continued: “But because you insist on living that way, even your days are numbered.”

“Our days? Numbered? How many do we have left?” asked Brad.

“Who knows?” Harry said. “But we can’t take the chance that when your number is up, that ours will be, too. So we’re collecting all the numbers and taking them home to Zilchville. Let’s go. You’ll see your bird soon.”

Harry and Brad boarded the Naughthawk and headed out to the open sea.

Harry told Brad more about the Indivisible Order of Anathematics. They weren’t going to dump the numbers overboard, nor bury them in a cave. Their plan was to take the numbers back to Zilchville and fix them, or “reconfigure” them, as Harry called it.

With a little bending here, some hammering and chiseling there, they were going to take every 1 and make an i out of it. The same with the 3 – it would be turned into a B. The 7 would become an L, and 6 and 9 could be made a b or d or q or p. The 0, of course, would make a fine o. Then the Anathematics would bring them all back, and everyone everywhere would live by the letter.

* CHAPTER 3.793

As the HMS Naughthawk pushed through the waves, Brad noticed for the first time other things amid all the numbers. “What’s all those?” he asked.

“Oh, that,” Harry said. “Once we collected all the numbers, we found it necessary to collect all those objects that have numbers for names. So we collected every nine-iron, eight ball, seven of diamonds (and clubs and spades and hearts), six-shooter, high five, four-leaf clover, three-piece suit, Number Two pencil, and, of course, every one-horse open sleigh. But just the sleigh, not the horse.”

“What, no 10-gallon hats?” Brad joked.

Harry stared hard at Brad. “Perhaps on our return trip.”

He continued: “Anyway, that brings us to your bird. We have a favor to ask. We need you to give him another name.”

“Change his name from Pi? Why?” Brad asked.

“The last thing we need is Pi flying about to remind everyone of never-ending numbers. They might start to want their numbers back. Come, let’s go see your bird.”

Harry led Brad down and around and deep inside the ship to a dark gray passageway with a series of doors. “Funny, we haven’t heard a peep out of your bird since we collected him,” Harry said, unlocking one of the doors.

“Pi?” said Brad as he stepped into the room. From the shadows he heard a rustle of feathers. “Pi? Come to papa, Pi.”

In a burst of color and flight – so quickly that you couldn’t tell he had been in the air at all – the parakeet was out of the shadows and perched on Brad’s shoulder, rubbing his little yellow beak against Brad’s cheek.

“Pi … good to see you,” whispered Brad.

Pi began to sing.

“3 … 1 … 4 …”

Harry’s eyes grew wide. “What’s that … that sound?”, he cried.

“That’s Pi’s song,” said Brad. “Sing, Pi, sing.”

“… 1 … 5 … 9 … 2 … 6 …”

Harry ran from the room screaming.

* CHAPTER 3.794

Harry ran through the ship as Pi gave chase, singing merrily, thinking it all a great game.

“ … 5 … 3 … 5 …”

The Anathematics fell all over each other as they tried to escape the sounds echoing off the walls.

“… 8 … 9 … 7 … 9 …”

Some even jumped overboard.

“… 3 … 2 … 3 … 8 … 4 … 6 …”

“Enough!” Harry screamed. “We’ll return the numbers. Just make him stop!”

Brad nodded at Pi, who stopped singing. “You’d better, or you’ll never hear the end of this,” and again nodded at Pi.

“… 2 … 6 … 4 … 3 …”

At the sound, Harry stumbled against the ship’s sink-or-swim switch, pushing it to “sink.”

Which the HMS Naughthawk promptly did.

The ship slipped into the dark sea, taking down with it every number and every numbered name. Not even a single four-leaf clover remained.

In those few moments, Brad managed to grab Pi and jump in a lifeboat. He saw the Anathematics in lifeboats, too, heading back to Zilchville.

As Brad paddled, he thought about how the world would be different. How will people know their shoe size? How many strikes and you’re out at the old ball game? All for the lack of numbers.

Numbers. Then he remembered. He felt his pocket. Still there!

He carefully pulled out the 45. It was soggy now, as well as dirty and ragged. He laid it out in the sun to dry.

He neared the harbor, seeing only a woman standing there, wearing an orange jacket that said IN on the front and SPECTOR on the back.

Brad told her how the numbers had been lost at sea. He showed her the soggy, dirty, ragged – and now faded from the sun – 45.

“A number …” she whispered. “This looks like a job for…”

“For me, right?” Brad said.

“No, sorry. This looks like a job for …” She pulled out a walkie-talkie and shouted, “THE CORRECTOR SECTOR!”

* CHAPTER 3.795

A fleet of black cars came screaming up. People in dark glasses and dark coats got out.

“Meet the CORRECTOR SECTOR,” the woman said. “The Director here is in charge of things. I’m the Inspector; I keep a close eye on things. This is the Dissector, who takes things apart, and the Reconnector, who puts things back together. And, finally, the Protector, who’ll make sure we work safely. Whether it’s a bomb or a bread crumb, you have to be extra careful.

“Here’s the situation, team,” she continued. “We only have this one number to work with. Let’s hope it’s enough.”

“Hey, what about me?” said a voice from the group. “Just because I think this is a bad idea – ”

The Inspector sighed. “Don’t mind him,” she said to Brad. “That’s the Objector. He never wants to do anything.”

Carefully carrying the soggy, dirty, ragged, faded 45, the CORRECTOR SECTOR went to a big warehouse nearby. They crowded into a small room, laid the 45 on a table and closed the door behind them.

Brad and Pi sat outside. Every so often they heard voices – “Clamps! … Gently … Tie it right there … Don’t we need someone more skilled in the numeric arts?” (that last voice was the Objector).

At last the Inspector emerged. “You can come in now,” she said to Brad.

There, laid out across the table, all fresh and new, was a row of perfect little numbers. A 1. And a 2. And a 3, a 4, a 5, a 6, a 7, an 8 and a 9.

“A complete set,” the Inspector said proudly, “all healthy.”

“And the 45?” Brad asked.

“Just fine,” said the Inspector.

Brad frowned. “But there’s no zero.”

“Ah, over here,” the Inspector said. “Just when we thought there was nothing more left, it popped out. Would you like to hold a number?”

Brad cradled a 1 in his hands. “Hello, little one,” he said to it. “Will people be glad to see you.”

* CHAPTER 3.796

Brad bundled up all the little numbers and hurried to the nearest factory. Luckily, it was a factory of widgets and whatchamacallits and such, so the people there knew a lot about little thingamabobs and how to make them.

Brad told the factory manager that he had numbers, ALL the numbers, but he needed a lot more. Fast.

The manager set to work right away. He had the machinery and assembly lines turn out numbers instead of widgets, whatchamacallits and thingamabobs. Soon the factory was humming with numbers by the hundreds … then by the thousands … then by the millions. They were shipped out and put back into computers and clothing tags and especially meat loaf recipes.

Other factories joined in to make numbers of different sizes. Soon those numbers reappeared on billboards and elevators and especially big rumbling race cars. Still other factories were enlisted to replace all the nine-irons and eight balls and the like.

It was decided that Brad should keep the 45, since he was the one who had found it. He put it up at his castle and for the first time in his long, long life, he had an actual address: 45 Mount L’amoeba Lane. And a nice new mailbox, too.

In time (now that there was time again, with numbers back on clocks and calendars), life returned to the way it had been. People counted their money and took calculated risks. They weighed decisions and added on to their houses.

But in schools here and there, some children – one or two or maybe more – groaned their way through math class again. They had liked living without numbers. For one thing, they liked not having to be told to eat the last five bites of broccoli.

So they sat there, staring at their math books, counting the seconds until the end of class, counting the hours until the end of school, counting the days until they themselves might run away and become … Anathematics.

(note: this ran in the charlotte observer and the providence journal in 2006)