The One: Entry 2

It’s weird for me to be telling this story. I just want to be upfront about that before we get too much further into this little journey you and I are about to go on. Sometimes I wonder why it’s so hard to talk about this stuff when I’m face to face with people, but then I realize that I’ve already answered my own question. Face to face is hard, don’t you think? It’s just so, I don’t know…different. Because when we’re speaking to someone in person, we can immediately see their unintentionally expressed judgments and subtle cues that make us fully realize what they actually think of us. Right? I know you know what I mean.

Which is why I prefer telling my stories like this. Journaling, you know? Journals let us extract the real. The deep. The truth! Because with journals, we don’t have to concern ourselves with an audience. Ugh, the audience. Always judging. Always critiquing. Anyway, I digress. Let’s get back to my original point.

Love. Soulmates. The ONE.

Yep, you heard me. I bet you already know them. Wanna know how?

Technology.

Simple! This whole Information Age that we find ourselves lucky enough to be living in has unlocked a near unlimited number of doors for us. Yup. For anyone willing to try and step in, the various social media platforms and apps we have access to are host to literal millions of people all waiting to be validated. Doors just begging to be opened.

All you have to do is knock.

And hell, sometimes you don’t even need to do that! There’s people out there who just leave the damn door wide open! Its crazy, I tell you. Sometimes it makes me wonder how certain folks can be so trusting with all their shit out there in the open, but hey…I guess not everyone is as messed up in the head as me. Seems there are plenty of perfectly normal, “nothing to see here” types just asking to be walked in on.

Wait. I think I got off track again. I was talking about meeting the One, right? Of course I was. So I bet you’re wondering what I meant by that. Well, believe it or not, my scattered brain never ceases to fail me and has brought us to the answer. Social media! Simple. It’s so easy to read between the lines and really understand people based on a precise formula: one part profile, three parts day-to-day posts, and a heaping spoonful of comments/actual interactions. Because they all tell us different, albeit very important, things.

Take our profiles, for instance. Or our own personal “ad”, as I prefer to call them. They’re basically shovels full of bullshit that we scoop from the dirt-pile that is reality which we then cast toward the window of public knowledge – hoping that the best parts stick on the glass before slowly falling down so others will remember the crap we want them to. They’re sort of like social resumes, but without the necessity of having to worry whether or not we can back it up. You know…like an actual, real job would require. I mean after all, how many people do you know would look at a person’s “About Me”, see that they graduated from Syracuse in 2012 with a bachelors in Bio-Bullshit or something, and then actually go check the alumni lists to make sure they’re telling the truth?

I’ll save you the time: no one. You know precisely no one that would do that. Maybe some photo stalking to audit them perhaps, but hey – all it takes to dodge that one is a quick “Where are my college photos? Oh please, I had to delete those when I started applying to real jobs. You know how it is!” Giggle giggle, sly wink, and a sip of that vodka cranberry and we’re on to the next topic. Please. Any uneducated kid with a vocational degree can do it. So yeah, that’s the profile for you. It’s our canned version of ourselves. Which, incidentally, can tell us a lot about someone and how they wish to be perceived.

Then there’s the day-to-day posts. These are basically the fluff that people put up to support the claims advertised on the profile. All initial releases need some backup content, no? Sort of like sequels. Posts are like sequels to our first installment, furthering our narratives. Makes sense if you ask me.

Which, of course, brings us to the meat and potatoes. Comments. Interactions. Arguments! These are what truly reveals who a person is or is not. Actions speak louder than words, after all, do they not? Oh yes. They most certainly do.

But let’s get back, for the third time now, to how you already know your soulmate. It’s by taking the information we just discussed, and intelligently applying it with the appropriate intentions. Social media. Reading people. Easy. You know it, I know it, we all know it.

We all have that one, perfect person out there just waiting for us to slide into their DMs. The question is whether we ever grow a pair big enough to actually do it. And what you’re about to learn…is that me? Well, I did.

Boy, did I.

The One: First Entry

Can we be honest with ourselves for a moment? I want to talk about some things. Things like Facebook. Twitter. Instagram, perhaps. Hell, even Tinder…anything that lets people advertise who they are (or at least who they want to be) without having to concern themselves with the real world.

Yeah, I know.

It’s not easy to examine one’s self. We’d all much rather be judging someone else. But right now, let’s do the hard thing and focus the lens introspectively.

Sure, it’s easy to look on at the spinning wheel that is social media, watching as the people we know and grew up with move on with their lives. Comparison is the theif of joy, ain’t it? That’s what they say, at least.

It’s funny though because everyone’s aware, whether consciously or subconsciously, that social media is just a highlight reel. If only we knew who we all are after each one of those many layers of social graces and obligatory formalities got peeled back. The real, you know? Because as much as we market how cool our lives are, at the end of the day…it’s validation that we really want.

Most of us, that is. And you know what? That’s perfectly normal. Not at all a thing to be ashamed of.

After all, most of us just want someone who knows us. Who understands us. Who IS us. We want to enjoy life with a person who gets, more so than anyone, who we truly are. And I’m not talking about the person at three o’clock, bringing in coffee with the same fake grin we all wear knowing we’re just waiting for the hour hand to get knocked ahead a couple notches. I’m talking about the person we are when the day’s facade is over, the candles go out, and the door closes. That person you see when the ambient light from the TV flicks on as it highlights the it-was-a-long-day-fucked-up-hair and feetie pajamas silhouette. That’s the person we’re searching for.

And you want to know something? I bet you’ve already met them.

I know I have.

91 (A Short Story by Josh Jones)

91

At 91, Gladys sips bourbon from her grandmother’s floral teacup. It’s eleven in the morning. The teacup shakes slightly in her veined, big-knuckled hand. The saucer clinks several times as she sets it down. She’s given up reading the newspaper because her eyes are shot and she feels reading glasses are gauche. Instead of reading she listens to the radio.

Her radio, an original transistor type, picks up programs broadcast on the FM signal. A light jazz music traipses through the air. She wears a light cotton gown. White, wispy hair dances around her face, catching the morning light. Her eyes are set deep within a wrinkled face. Looking out her window to the yard, a young Hispanic man mows and trims.

Her lips, moistened from the bourbon, tense every so often as she listens to the irritating man on the radio who talks between her songs. As he prattles on, she closes her eyes and sees the lovely vignettes of her childhood. She dwells here more and more, in the thoughts of a youth, where memories are so vivid in her mind. She revels in her recollections and the emotions they bring. They take her back to times long before the Alzheimer’s became the focal point of her life. Mornings are the best, with her bourbon, her light jazz and her youth.

She remembers the small apartment where she, her sister, and parents lived. It was an Irish neighborhood on the cusp of Harlem in the thriving days of New York City’s bustling renaissance. She remembers ‘rushing the can’ to her parents as they listened to Benny Goodman. The large can, coming from the corner bar, was filled with cold beer. At nine years old, she would give the slip of paper to the bartender for credit at the bar from her father. She remembers the smoky bar. She remembers neighbors sitting on the stoops of their buildings. She remembers her parents would drink the beer out of clear glasses while dancing in the kitchen.

Her older sister, Esther, would come home with stories from The Cotton Club where she was a coat check girl. She told her parents about the fur coats, the shimmering clothes and way the dancefloor pulsed with people dancing, drinking, smoking. Gladys would sit in the window overlooking the alleyway watching her parents dance, wanting to be older. She remembers her mother moving to the icebox, her hips swaying to jazz orchestra, to get refill the glasses. When her mom would be busy, Glady’s dad would pluck her from her window seat and spin her around to the jumpin’ and jivin’ music. She could smell the beer on his breath and the smoke on his clothes.

At her kitchen table, the ninety-one-year-old Gladys brings a hand up and feels the cotton collar of her house gown. She thinks of the sable furs her sister described from her job at The Cotton Club. In her silent reverie, Gladys picks up the cork from her Maker’s Mark bourbon bottle. The weight in her hand reminds her of the Bazooka Joe bubble gum her mother would give to her. She’d unpeel the wrapper, read the joke to her parents and they would hoot and holler with tipsy delight.

Gladys’ toe is bouncing along to the jazz station on her FM radio. The bouncing reminds her of jumping on the bed as she and her sister giggled together about a Barney Coogle cartoon called “Patch Mah Britches”. The character, and his big bottom, are covered by trousers with a hole in the seat. They fall back onto the bed laughing at the picture of the man’s underwear poking through his britches.

The radio goes to a commercial and her thoughts stop as an advertisement to cure erectile dysfunction dissipates the fond visions in her mind. She looks wide-eyed at the table. A plate from dinner with her remaining meal still sits on the table next to a pill dispenser.

Did she forgot to eat last night?

Oh dear, whose pills are those?

She sips her bourbon as a commercial for feminine hygiene products for maximum flow days causes her to scoff. She looks at the table again where her teeth are submerged in a glass next to her uneaten meal. She touches her mouth as if she’s surprised her teeth are across the table from her.

The music begins again and again, she is now skipping down the sidewalk beneath her apartment, throwing  a stone onto the hopscotch square. She hops deftly from one square to another, leaning forward to pick up the stone. A siren sounds down the street, she looks up as folks lean out their windows to watch the fire truck ramble by with its large water tank as firefighters hang off the sides.

Finishing her hopscotch, she says hello to Mrs. Finnegan, the fat lady across the hall who wears enormous, floral dresses and hands out candy. She gives Gladys three pieces of salt water taffy. She puts the candies into her pocket and runs upstairs to share with Esther. The radio in the kitchen is playing a rumba song. Esther grabs Gladys and they try to copy the dance moves they’ve watched her folks do. They both trip over each other, falling into a pile, giggling on the kitchen floor.

“Mom!” Gladys hears the sharp words and thinks her mother is yelling at them.

But, where’s Esther?

The knock comes again to her door. The door to her house, not her parent’s apartment.

Gladys walks to the door. “Yes?” she says.

“Mom,” a woman says again. “Open up, I have your groceries.”

“Groceries?” Gladys questions laying her hand on the door. “I didn’t order any groceries.”

“Mom,” the woman says, “it’s me. Your daughter.”

Gladys opens the door and looks at the woman and says, “I don’t know. I need to call my daughter to see if she ordered these groceries.”

“Mom,” the woman said. “I’m your daughter.”

“Oh…” Gladys said.


 

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The Ward & the Bone: 12

“Grr Barker, you’re up early.”

Trotting aimlessly through the hedge maze outside of Cage Spamalot, Master Squirrelin spots the new King on a morning stroll.

“Aye, Master. I found it difficult to slumber this morning. I am used to my princely duties, but now that I have inherited the Bone, I find that the responsibilities weight heavy on my conscience.”

“This is understandable, my Liege.” Squirrelin says as he pats Grr Barker on the back. “Your newfound tasks must cast an unimaginable burden.”

“They do, old friend. They do.” Barker sighs.

“My King, there is something I must share with you. I have spent much time digging through the archives. There is something I believe that must be addressed.”

Intrigued, the young King raises an eyebrow.

“Go on,” he barks.

“Barker, I have known you since you were just a pup. You know that I have always had your best interests at heart. May I speak freely?” Squirrelin asks.

“Of course,” Barker nods.

Stopping their pace, Squirrelin places a hand at the King’s chest. Looking up in surprise at the gesture, Barker turns to the mage to give him his full attention.

“There is much peril brewing in the East.” The old Squirrel says.

“Peril?” Barker asks, caught off guard dog.

“Yes, my liege. Peril. Much of it.”

Squinting his eyes and slowly casting his gaze toward the rolling hills to the East, Grr Barker suddenly wafts his hair back.

“These lands are as secure as ever!” He barks with confidence.

“My liege! You must listen.” Squirrelin pleads. “There is one who remains. One who was not felled during the War of the Realm. She is a Phelyon known as Corgin La Fey. She is mustering a massive army to reclaim what was once theirs!”

Recognizing the sincerity in Master Squirrelin’s plea, Grr Barker’s arrogant smirk fades into a look of concern.

“Are you certain of this, Master?” He asks.

“I am.”

“Hmm.” Barker hums, stroking his beard. “I shall consult my Bites about this. We must purge the Realm of any evil if it does, in fact, remain.”

“It remains, my liege. It assuredly remains. There is more…”

“Oh?” The King Barks.

“Yes.” Squirrelin asserts. “The prophecies have foretold there is but one way to defeat this scourge. You must recover Excalibone! The sword your father wielded during the War of the Realm. It is the only way that this Corgin will be defeated.”

“A quest, you say?” Barker barks.

“A quest!” Master Squirrelin repeats.

“Then it is so!” Barker shouts, head held high. “Myself and my Bites will take on this quest with honor and return balance to the Realm!”

“Excellent!” The magic-wielding rodent exclaims. “Excalibone!”

“It shall be mine!”

 

The Ward & the Bone: 7

After the seventh hour of the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year of the seventh century of the seventh Age, the brave Bite, Toother Mansbestfrienddragon, overcame his enemies. He led a valiant assault upon the entire Realm, ousting the Phelyons and their evil regime. This is common knowledge, and their story is told in halls across all the Land.

However, a far more secretive element of the story exists. An element, should it be widely known, that would open the Kaynine’s new Kingdom to challenge, and contest. This element is the very weapon that enabled Toother to defeat his powerful foes…Excalibone! The fabled blade that contains unspoken magical properties, allowing its wielder to own the battlefield with the mightiest of presences.

Much to the dismay of Toother’s campaign, the legendary Excalibone was lost after the final battle between the Phelyons and Kaynines. Thus, the knowledge of such a powerful artifact was buried, deep, deep, underground by the furious digging of Kaynine paws. The scrolls detailing Excalibone’s last known whereabouts were buried way beneath the Catabones of Cage Spamalot, far out of reach of any who may remember its influence.

Now, the Kaynine’s face their greatest test since the War of the Realm. They must recover the weapon that they so carelessly lost, or helplessly face Corgin La Fey’s reinvigorated armies of the East!

The Ward & the Bone: 4

Days after the Games, the valiant Prince Grr Barker, first in line for the Bone, parades around the halls of Cage Spamalot, the stone castle which the Bites of the Round Bowl call home.

“I suppose you all witnessed my triumphant victory the other day?” The prince howls, his chest puffed out in pride.

“Aye, you were brilliant in the Joust!” His close friend, Grr Pantsalot, barks as he tries to catch his breath.

“Why are you always panting, friend?” Grr Barker asks his companion, placing a paw on his back.

“I cannot say, my Liege.” Grr Pantsalot pants. “I simply feel as if I’m constantly out of breath.”

“I see,” Grr Barker says, turning to face the other Bites of the Round Bowl. “Come, Good Boys!” He shouts. “We shall dine on the finest of soft foods this evening to celebrate my victory! I have arranged the most well-groomed bitches for you all to consort with in my honor! Behold!” He barks, waving his paw toward the centrally located room in the Tower. Laying within are several beautifully groomed, free-of-fleas female Kaynines, waiting for the Bites of the Round Bowl to join them.

“Awoooooo!!!!!!” Grr GoodGallihad howls, unable to contain his excitement. “Come on, boys! Grr Barker has bestowed upon us the finest bitches in the Realm!”

As the group of brave Bites debaucherously make their way into the Chamber of Doggy-Style, one Bite remains behind, lacking the same level of excitement his peers have displayed. Witnessing the events from the Halls, Grr Barker’s own mentor and personal sorcerer, Squirrelin, sees this particular Bite pausing. Carefully approaching him, he inquires what is on the young Bite’s mind.

“Grr Poopsalot, what troubles you?” The magical rodent asks.

With a grave stare, Grr Poopsalot locks eyes with Squirrelin for a moment, only to let his gaze drift to the floor.

“I have been plagued with nightmares as of late, Squirrelin, and I fear for Grr Barker. For weeks, every night as I rotate several hundred times before finding the perfect spot for me to lay myself to rest, I have had terrifying images occupy my thoughts.”

Recognizing the significance of such events, the magic-wielding advisor tries to learn more.

“You must share these visions with me, Grr Poopsalot. It is the only way for me to use my powers; we must see if there is imbalance brewing in the Realm.” Squirrelin asserts, placing his claws on Poopsalot’s forehead.

As the two close their eyes and hang their heads, deep in concentration, the somewhat cavalier Grr Humpsalot shouts at them to join the others.

“Poops!” He barks. “Come, sit and be a good boy! We are celebrating our Lord’s victory, do not be disrespectful!”

Sighing and briefly locking eyes, Grr Poopsalot apologizes to the sorcerer for his duties.

“I am sorry, Squirrelin, but I must join my pack. We shall revisit this conversation another time.”

Obediently jogging toward the Chamber of Doggy Style, Poops reconvenes with his peers and partakes in all the pleasures Cage Spamalot has to offer. Squirrelin, recognizing the possibilities before him, retreats to his kennel to study what this young Bite’s dreams may truly mean.

The Ward & the Bone: 2

Grr Barker

“Grr Barker! You have forgotten your vest-piece!”

As the gigantic crowd gathering around the fairgrounds sits in anticipation of the Games, the magic-wielding mentor of Grr Barker, heir to the Bone, chases after the daring Prince holding a Leash of Armor in his hand.

“Fear not, Squirrelin!” Grr Barker shouts back as he charges ahead, valiantly guiding his faithful steed Lambrei toward the jousting arena. “I shall have no need for such protection! Grr Sleepsalot may be a Bite of the Round Bowl, but he poses no challenge to the likes of me!”

The crowd, seeing the handsome Grr Barker ride out so daringly with no concern for his own protection, roars in support of their future King.

“ALL HAIL GRR BARKER!!!” The chant echoes across the land, reaching even the chipmunks who occupy the outskirts of Spamalot, the Kaynine’s Kingdom and Castle.

“’Tis a beautiful day for the games, no?” Grr Bitesalot says to his fellow Knights as he peers up into the bright, blue sky; anxiously awaiting the joust ahead.

“Aye, it surely is, “ barks Lady Playpenuivere, Grr Barker’s faithful betrothed. “I only hope he doesn’t hurt himself again,” the beautiful bitch adds. “The last time he jousted without a vest-piece, the Royal Vet had to attend to him for days. He worries me with such careless antics.”

“Bow-wow, fear not m’Lady,” Grr GoodGalihad says. “Barker always maintains his composure in the ‘Pens. He will come out without a scratch, I assure you.”

“I hope you are right, GoodGalihad,” the bitch says. “He so loves his theatrics. It pleases the common-folk, but I worry every time he sets paw in that arena. I pray to the Dogs that they bestow their blessings upon him. I know not what I would do if I were to made a widow.”

Interrupting the barkalogue, the Games’ trumpets are blasted, echoing across the entire Realm.

“KAYNINES!” The announcer barks, straddling a brown bear as he struggles to maintain his grip on its reigns, “LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!”

As the announcer manages to steer the brown bear away from the fields into the Cage for Commentators, Grr Barker and Grr Sleepsalot take their positions opposite each other on the long, green field.

“JOUST!!” The announcer woofs, aggressively waving his paw.

Both riding their favorite foxes, the two contestants charge at each other with bone-lances in hand. After several suspenseful seconds of fox-trotting, the two clash together as Grr Barker’s bone-lance strikes the heart of Grr Sleepsalot’s fluffy vest-piece, de-foxing him.

“HUZZAH!!!!” The crowd barks, drooling in excitement as they witness their Prince circle the Fields in victory.

“AWOOOOOO!!!!!!!” Grr Barker howls, holding his lance toward the sky in triumph.

“I told you!!” Grr GoodGalihad bow-wows to Lady Playpenuivere. “Ha! Let’s join the celebration, shall we?!” He adds, launching himself over the short, hallway-sized divider meant to keep the Kaynines from entering places they shouldn’t enter.

Beaming at her betrothed, the bitch bats her eyes several times before letting her indifferent gaze fade into a wide grin.

“Fine,” she reluctantly says through her smile. “Time to celebrate…again.” She adds with a playful eyeroll.

As the crowd celebrates their victor, a raspy voice stirs far to the East.

“Fffffffftttt.” The voice fits, observing the celebration from afar in digust. “These Kaynines’ days are numbered, mark my words. Mark them, as they unwittingly mark their territory which shall soon be MINE!!!”

To be continued…..

The Ward and the Bone: 1

The Beginning

Lo, verily, and behold.

It was the seventh hour of the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year of the seventh century of the seventh Age; the Bone Age. For so long had the Realm been ruled by the monsters of yesteryear. Those snide, cunningly demonic oppressors who could see through the night as if it were day…the Phelyons. Many millennia had passed since the Phelyons conquered the domain, and many millennia had passed since the realm experienced true peace.

That is, until the Kaynines came.

The Kaynines, a race which hailed from a previously unknown land, had introduced themselves to the Realm unexpectedly, having never been seen or heard of before. This new brand of noble, courageous warriors witnessed the death and despair the Realm was strangled by, fighting valiantly to overcome the Phelyons’ rule. For many decades the War of the Realm transpired, finally ending with the Kaynines emerging victorious. Peace, fortune, and love swept over the Realm upon their victory, echoing until this very day.

Until…this exact, very day.

The Tiki Torches: 2

“YEEEEEHAW!”

Driving crazily through the backwoods of a Tennessee highway, Joe and Carl are having the time of their lives in their ’91 Chevy S-10.

“Built Ford tuff motha fuckas!!” Joe shouts out of the passenger window, can of Natty Ice in hand.

“Joe, this here’s a damn Chev Ro Lay!” Carl asserts, punching his sidekick in the thigh.

“Aw hell Carl, what’s tha dang difference? They’re both good enough for catchin’ them naggers! Yeeeeeehaw!” Joe shouts again, leaning his head out the window. “Boy oh boy oh boy I can’t wait to show the rest of the fellas these here torches we got stowed away! We’re gonna light up the en-tire place!”

“Say, Joe, that reminds me.” Carl says, scratching his head with his right hand, pulling it off the clutch. “Whereabouts is this rally anyhow?”

“Dammit Carl!” Joe responds, sipping his crisp, delicious Natural Ice. “We’re going to tha damn mayor’s mansion! Can’t believe this stupid ass town voted one of them naggers in.”

“That’s right.” Carl says, cracking open his own brew, raising it out of the window as if he we’re toasting the Nazi Gods of yesteryear.

SCREEEEEEETCH

“Well she-it! Lookie there. We made it!” Carl shouts.

In front of the rickety ass S-10 that the duo is driving, there is a circle of about 15 or 20 white cloth laden, horse-backed Klan members.

“Quick!” Carl says to Joe, seeing the Klan members who are obviously waiting on them. “Put ur damn hood on!”

In a fury of flailing arms and gritting teeth, the pair don their meticulously carved white KKK hoods, perfectly complimenting their long, white robes.

Bursting out of the passenger’s side door, Klansman Joe approaches the back of the nasty truck to grab his newly acquired tiki torch. Fidgeting for a moment as he tried to light his steel lighter, he finally ignites the tip, which casts a light strong enough to….mimic a firefly.

“WOOOOHOOOO MOTHA FUCKAS!!!! LETS GO GIT US SOME NAGGERS!!!!!!” Joe screams, waving his tiki torch in a fit of frenzy. “Betchall ain’t got torches like THIS!” He shouts, circling about the group of Klansmen on his own horse that he’s just saddled.

As the entire group looks at Joe in curiosity, one slams his torch down.

“Well SHE-IT!” He yells. “Joe, git your ass over here!”

Wondering why Brad would request such, Joe gallops his horse over.

“Lemme see that there damn torch.” Brad says, squinting his eyes behind his white hood.

“Well slap me silly and tickle me Elmo! I’ll be gat damned!!” Brad shouts after seeing the tiny Wal-Smart price tag on the torch. “These boys got them some tiki torches too!”

“YEEEHAW!!!” The entire group shouts together.

As the group begins to realize that they all had the same brilliant idea of buying their torches at the local Wal-Smart, their morale reaches new heights.

“AYEAYEAYEAYEAYEYAYEAYE!!!” They all shout and chant, horses galloping in a chaotic mess of bigoted hilarity.

“Let’s do this boy-os!!” Brad shouts, pausing for a moment to adjust the hood that his wife had just cut that afternoon. “To the mayor’s!!!!”

The Tiki Torches: 1

“‘Ay Carl!”

“Wut?”

“Ya think this in’ll work?”

Strolling along the calamitous alleyways of the local Wal-Smart, Carl and Joe have a bit of difficulty deciding what torches to carry to their Klan march.

Plop

“There!” Joe shouts, proudly placing his newly acquired bug-deterrent torch in the basket, ready to check out.

“Now just you wait a tick,” Carl says, squinting his eyes as he pans the strangely smelling torch up and down. “I think we can do better’n that. That one ain’t gonna light much ‘a nothin!”

“Hell, you’re prolly right, Carl.” Joe says, scratching his head. “Well, shit on me and call me a skidmark, what’re we gonna do now?!”

“You hold it right there.” Carl says, matter-of-factly. I’mma fetch us a torch the resta the boys’ll be talkin ’bout for weeks.”

Exiting the aisle of bugly torch sticks, Carl takes several minutes before returning. Joe, meanwhile, stands next the Wal-Smart buggy, picking his nose, rolling boogers between his fingers.

“Ha!”

Suddenly, Carl jumps into the aisle again, a brand new torch in hand. It seems he has given up the bug repellent torch for a new one. A brilliant, highly flammable….tiki torch.

“This one’s gonna light up the night like you ain’t never seen!” Carl shouts to Joe, beaming at his new possession.

“Awwww boy, that thing sure is gonna make a lotta light!” Joe chirps, flinging his booger behind him so Carl doesn’t see it.

“Come on now. Let’s check out and join the resta the boys!”

For Better or Worse

Chapter 1

They’re so cute!”

Looking into a giant glass terrarium at her small colony of pets within, a little girl tugs on her father’s sleeve to get his attention.

“I know, dear. They’re very cute. Now get tucked in, it’s getting past your bedtime,” the father says.

“But Daddy!” The little girl begs, peering back at the many small creatures inside. “Can’t I watch them play just a little bit longer? Look! Aw, look Daddy! Those two are loving each other!”

“Come on now, little girl. You’ve stayed up late enough. Time for bed.” He says, lifting his daughter up as he hoists her into her sleeping space.

“Okay, okay.” The girl sighs, watching her father place the wide veil over the terrarium to cover it. “See you guys tomorrow!” She shouts gleefully at her tiny creatures.

Kissing her on the snout, the father tucks the little girl in and turns off the light.

“Good night, little munchkin. I love you.” He says, closing the door until it’s just slightly cracked.

“I love you too Daddy.” The girl replies. Waiting until her father is gone, she lifts her head and peers at the glass dome.

“I love you guys too,” she whispers, closing her eyes before slowly drifting asleep.

Chapter 2

“Rise and shine, everyone!”

Quickly pulling away the large veil covering the girl’s terrarium, she excitedly greets the occupants inside.

“I bet you guys are hungry, aren’t you?” She asks matter-of-factly. Walking to the small closet in the corner of her room, she grabs a packet of food and a pale of water.

“And it looks like your lake is almost all dried up! You guys must be thirsty!” The girl exclaims, ripping open the food packet as she pulls back the small square door at the top the glass dome.

Holding the packet over the center of the little community of creatures, the girl shakes it until all the tiny morsels of food have fallen out. Watching her pets scramble toward the newly dropped food, she smiles as she pours water into the side of the dome where a pond-like crevice has been dug.

“Drink up, teenie weenies!” She cheerfully says, closing the lid.

As she places the water pale back in the closet, she notices that one of the tiny creatures is laying underneath a group of mini tree-like plants, not moving.

“Oh no!” She cries. “Not again!”

Placing her hands on the glass to lean over the dome, she looks down at the recently deceased pet.

“I told you all to stop fighting!” She tersely shouts. “Why can’t you just get along?”

Returning to the closet, the girl reaches in and grabs a long, skinny pole with a tong on the end. Re-opening the glass lid, she nabs the dead creature and chucks it outside her open window onto the lawn below.

“If I find out which one of you keeps doing this, you’re gonna be in big trouble!” She asserts, holding the tong up. “Now ya’ll behave while I’m gone!”

Closing the lid once more, she puts the tong back in the closet, exiting the room to spend the day outside.

Chapter 3

“Aw, yay!”

The day after disposing the dead creature, the little girl is pleasantly surprised to see that two of her pets have had a baby. Standing over the dome with a wide grin on her face, she looks down at the two tiny creatures nurturing their teenie, fragile newborn.

“Good job, you two! I hope the others take after the example you’ve set.” The girl coos, giggling as she watches the little family huddled together in the corner of the glass enclosure.

“Oh! But wait!” She says, remembering the chapter in her booklet that teaches how to properly take care of the creatures.

Sliding the lid open, the girl reaches down and grabs the newborn pet, pulling it up out of the dome. As she does so, the parents become visibly distraught, running to the edge of the glass as they watch the little girl carry the baby across the room.

“It’s okay!” She shouts back at them with a smile, seeing their distress. “I’m just making sure she’ll grow up nice and strong!” She adds, placing the small newborn in a separate, much smaller container.

Obviously not comprehending the reassurances of the girl, the baby creature’s parents remain at the edge of the glass for the remainder of the day, helplessly peering across the room at their new offspring, wishing they could be together.

Chapter 4

“All better!”

Pulling her arm from out of the tank, the little girl slides the lid back on her glass habitat after setting down the little newborn she’d taken out the night before.

“Those nutrients will make you a super pet!” She shouts, watching the parents finally reconnect with their baby.

“Anyway,” the girl says, sounding bored, “What are the rest of you guys up to?”

Stepping over a few feet to observe the little colony of creatures, she scratches her head.

“Why do you all keep doing that?!” The girl cries. “Stop splitting up!”

Since she first got them, the creatures have shown a tendency to huddle together in small groups. Some are lighter colored, and some are darker, and they seem to prefer grouping with those they resemble.

“You guys are sooooo weird,” the girl says to them. “You know you’re all the same little things, right?”

Looking back to a bookshelf against the wall, the girl grabs the instruction booklet that came with her pets’ terrarium. Opening it up, she turns to the pages that cover their interactions with one another.

“The creatures will have a tendency to keep close proximity with ones that look most like them.” She reads. “Do not worry if they display this behavior, as it is expected of them.”

Taking a moment to look at the tank again, the little girl shuts the booklet.

“Huh! Well I guess it’s normal after all, weirdos! But just so you guys know, I think that’s pretty dumb. You’re all made of the same stuff.” She says, sliding the booklet back in its spot on the shelf. “Anyway, its sleepy time! Good night little ones.”

Flicking off the light, the girl throws the wide veil over the dome and crawls into bed.

Chapter 5

“Hidey hidey hoooo!!”

Happily skipping over to the habitat on her table,  the little girl in the bedroom is gleaming over the new cut she’s gotten for her fur.

“Do you like my new bangs, teenie weenies?” She excitedly asks her pets. “I know you can’t understand me, but I bet you do! They’re very pretty. Just like you guys!”

Looking to a small group of less-than-healthy-looking creatures coddled in the far rear of the dome, she grimaces.

“Well, like most of you guys, at least.” She says, rolling her head to the side as she snootily brushes her hair back. “Anyway, you’re gonna love the new toy Daddy got for you all!”

Opening the tank, the girl lifts a box and pulls out a large digital screen which depicts moving images of other small creatures that look just like her pets. The creatures displayed appear to be acting out their own little lives, similar to the ones in the terrarium. Finding a cozy spot to set it in the terrarium, she places the big screen down as the tiny inhabitants flock over in front of it, seemingly enamored as they watch the images.

“I knew you’d like it!” The girl excitedly coos, closing the lid. “No idea why, though. After all, those fake teeny weenies aren’t doing anything that you aren’t already doing yourselves! Why don’t you just watch each other, sillies?”

Happily scooting back to observe the new environment she’s created, the little girl spends the rest of her evening quietly watching them enjoy their new square of moving images.

Chapter 6

Caution: Creatures may occasionally engage in physical conflict. It is important for the owner of the habitat to pay close attention to how your terrarium’s occupants are grouped. Indicators of impending conflict may include, but are not limited to:

  • Two large groups of inhabitants facing one another in close proximity. Usually preceded by audible squealing of the creatures as a collective.
  •  Aggressive body language, abrupt movement, and loud vocal exchanges (when occurring simultaneously). Individually these behaviors do not necessarily indicate physical conflict. 

**Important**

If your terrarium’s inhabitants group together in close proximity while carrying small, board-like signposts or other tools, separate them immediately. It is recommended you allow two to four hours before removing them from isolation to reintegrate with their fellow inhabitants. This will allow their aggressive emotions to subside, creating a more peaceful environment for your pets! 

———————————————————————————————————————————–

Closing the handbook, the little girl sets her Creature Care Taking Manual back on the bookshelf by her bed after reading it.

“Silly teenie-weenies!” She says, laughing as she turns to look at them from her bed. “See? There’s no need for you guys to fight! It says right here you’ll calm down if you yourselves a little time to blow off the steam.”

Getting up to walk over to the dome, she opens it and removes the partition she’d placed down three hours ago to separate two groups of visibly angry little creatures.

“You guys are so cute.” She says as she watches the two groups slowly make their way toward one another, eventually creating one seamless, teenie-weenie unit.

“Good job! I’m proud of you fellas.” She says.

Shutting the lid, she turns around and leaps into bed, wriggling around until she’s created a little dimple in her wide mattress. Hearing the commotion, her father enters the room to kiss her good night.

“Hello, little one. How was your day?” He asks he as he blows her candle out with his long snout.

“It was good, Daddy! I made my little guys get along.” She says cheerfully, obviously proud of herself for mitigating the conflict. “They we’re fighting over something stupid.”

Laughing and smooching her forehead, the father brushes her hair back before walking to the door.

“Good girl. I’m glad to hear that you’re a peaceful overlord.” He says with a chuckle and a wink.

“I love you Daddy!” The little girl says, shutting her eyes.

“I love you too, sweetie.” Her father whispers with a smile, gently closing the door.

Chapter 7

“Ho hum ho hum deedeedee!”

Joyfully skipping around her bedroom, the little girl is singing and humming to herself as her furry pigtails bounce around behind her.

“Now, what are my teenie-weenies up to today?” She asks, skipping over to the terrarium.

As she peers inside, she sees that her little creatures have erected an enormous statue of her. Chiseled to perfection, the monolith displays her every feature, dimpled smile and all.

“Wow! Well look at that!” She squeals in delight. “How did you guys do that without me noticing?!”

Leaning back to admire the sculpture, she beams at the tiny inhabitants inside, who appear to be bowing before her.

“You guys are just so adorable. Thank you for my statue!” She says to them.

Entering her room, the girl’s father approaches the tank as he puts his hand on her head.

“Time for bed, sweetie.”

Noticing the statue, he chuckles.

“And what have we here?” He asks.

“My teenie-weenies built me a monument, Daddy! Look!” The little girl says, pointing to the newly erected obelisk.

“Very impressive!” Her father laughs. “You are clearly a generous God. Now come, let’s get you tucked in.”

“Okay Daddy.” The girl says as her father lifts her up, placing her under the sheets. Kissing her on the forehead, smiles at her before walking out the door.

“I love you, kiddo.” He says.

“Love you too Daddy.” The girl replies, yawning as she softly falls asleep.

Chapter 8

IMPORTANTHUMAN BEINGS ARE VOLATILE, DANGEROUS, AND EMOTIONALLY UNPREDICTABLE 

***Handle with utmost caution. Do not allow these creatures outside of the included habitat***

Setting her instruction booklet aside, the little girl takes one final look at her “teenie-weenies”, before clearing the tank to make room for her next batch of creatures.

“Sorry little guys!! I know you’ve been having the time of your lives in there, but I’ve got some new teenie-weenies on the way!! Daddy says they are even more exciting than you guys! Much smarter and more fun to play with. I’m sooooooo sorry!!!!!!”

Grasping the enclosure with her trunk, the little girl dumps the entire habitat of human beings into the drain inside her bathroom, flushing them down into the abyss below.

“Have fun down there!!” She shouts, smiling as the very last human swirls around in a vortex of death.

“All clean Daddy!” The girl shouts, waiting for her father to bring in her new pets. “These humans were fun.”

 

For Better or Worse (Ch 8)

IMPORTANT: HUMAN BEINGS ARE VOLATILE, DANGEROUS, AND EMOTIONALLY UNPREDICTABLE 

***Handle with utmost caution. Do not allow these creatures outside of the included habitat***

Setting her instruction booklet aside, the little girl takes one final look at her “teenie-weenies”, before clearing the tank to make room for her next batch of creatures.

“Sorry little guys!! I know you’ve been having the time of your lives in there, but I’ve got some new teenie-weenies on the way!! Daddy says they are even more exciting than you guys! Much smarter and more fun to play with. I’m sooooooo sorry!!!!!!”

Grasping the enclosure with her trunk, the little girl dumps the entire habitat of human beings into the drain inside her bathroom, flushing them down into the abyss below. 

“Have fun down there!!” She shouts, smiling as the very last human swirls around in a vortex of death. 

“All clean Daddy!” The girl shouts, waiting for her father to bring in her new pets. “These humans were fun.”

For Better or Worse (Ch 7) 

“Ho hum ho hum deedeedee!”

Joyfully skipping around her bedroom, the little girl is singing and humming to herself as her furry pigtails bounce around behind her. 

“Now, what are my teenie-weenies up to today?” She asks, skipping over to the terrarium.

As she peers inside, she sees that her little creatures have erected an enormous statue of her. Chiseled to perfection, the monolith displays her every feature, dimpled smile and all. 

“Wow! Well look at that!” She squeals in delight. “How did you guys do that without me noticing?!”

Leaning back to admire the sculpture, she beams at the tiny inhabitants inside, who appear to be bowing before her.

“You guys are just so adorable. Thank you for my statue!” She says to them.

Entering her room, the girl’s father approaches the tank as he puts his hand on her head. 

“Time for bed, sweetie.”

Noticing the statue, he chuckles.

“And what have we here?” He asks.

“My teenie-weenies built me a monument, Daddy! Look!” The little girl says, pointing to the newly erected obelisk.

“Very impressive!” Her father laughs. “You are clearly a generous God. Now come, let’s get you tucked in.”

“Okay Daddy.” The girl says as her father lifts her up, placing her under the sheets. Kissing her on the forehead, smiles at her before walking out the door.

“I love you, kiddo.” He says. 

“Love you too Daddy.” The girl replies, yawning as she softly falls asleep.

For Better or Worse (Ch 6)

Caution: Creatures may occasionally engage in physical conflict. It is important for the owner of the habitat to pay close attention to how your terrarium’s occupants are grouped. Indicators of impending conflict may include, but are not limited to:

  • Two large groups of inhabitants facing one another in close proximity. Usually preceded by audible squealing of the creatures as a collective.
  •  Aggressive body language, abrupt movement, and loud vocal exchanges (when occurring simultaneously). Individually these behaviors do not necessarily indicate physical conflict. 

**Important**

If your terrarium’s inhabitants group together in close proximity while carrying small, board-like signposts or other tools, separate them immediately. It is recommended you allow two to four hours before removing them from isolation to reintegrate with their fellow inhabitants. This will allow their aggressive emotions to subside, creating a more peaceful environment for your pets! 

———————————————————————————————————————————–

Closing the handbook, the little girl sets her Creature Care Taking Manual back on the bookshelf by her bed after reading it.

“Silly teenie-weenies!” She says, laughing as she turns to look at them from her bed. “See? There’s no need for you guys to fight! It says right here you’ll calm down if you yourselves a little time to blow off the steam.”

Getting up to walk over to the dome, she opens it and removes the partition she’d placed down three hours ago to separate two groups of visibly angry little creatures.

“You guys are so cute.” She says as she watches the two groups slowly make their way toward one another, eventually creating one seamless, teenie-weenie unit.

“Good job! I’m proud of you fellas.” She says.

Shutting the lid, she turns around and leaps into bed, wriggling around until she’s created a little dimple in her wide mattress. Hearing the commotion, her father enters the room to kiss her good night.

“Hello, little one. How was your day?” He asks he as he blows her candle out with his long snout.

“It was good, Daddy! I made my little guys get along.” She says cheerfully, obviously proud of herself for mitigating the conflict. “They we’re fighting over something stupid.”

Laughing and smooching her forehead, the father brushes her hair back before walking to the door.

“Good girl. I’m glad to hear that you’re a peaceful overlord.” He says with a chuckle and a wink.

“I love you Daddy!” The little girl says, shutting her eyes.

“I love you too, sweetie.” Her father whispers with a smile, gently closing the door.

For Better or Worse (Ch 5)

“Hidey hidey hoooo!!”

Happily skipping over to the habitat on her table,  the little girl in the bedroom is gleaming over the new cut she’s gotten for her fur.

“Do you like my new bangs, teenie weenies?” She excitedly asks her pets. “I know you can’t understand me, but I bet you do! They’re very pretty. Just like you guys!”

Looking to a small group of less-than-healthy-looking creatures coddled in the far rear of the dome, she grimaces.

“Well, like most of you guys, at least.” She says, rolling her head to the side as she snootily brushes her hair back. “Anyway, you’re gonna love the new toy Daddy got for you all!”

Opening the tank, the girl lifts a box and pulls out a large digital screen which depicts moving images of other small creatures that look just like her pets. The creatures displayed appear to be acting out their own little lives, similar to the ones in the terrarium. Finding a cozy spot to set it in the terrarium, she places the big screen down as the tiny inhabitants flock over in front of it, seemingly enamored as they watch the images.

“I knew you’d like it!” The girl excitedly coos, closing the lid. “No idea why, though. After all, those fake teeny weenies aren’t doing anything that you aren’t already doing yourselves! Why don’t you just watch each other, sillies?”

Happily scooting back to observe the new environment she’s created, the little girl spends the rest of her evening quietly watching them enjoy their new square of moving images.

 

For Better or Worse (Ch 4)

“All better!”

Pulling her arm from out of the tank, the little girl slides the lid back on her glass habitat after setting down the little newborn she’d taken out the night before.

“Those nutrients will make you a super pet!” She shouts, watching the parents finally reconnect with their baby.

“Anyway,” the girl says, sounding bored, “What are the rest of you guys up to?”

Stepping over a few feet to observe the little colony of creatures, she scratches her head.

“Why do you all keep doing that?!” The girl cries. “Stop splitting up!”

Since she first got them, the creatures have shown a tendency to huddle together in small groups. Some are lighter colored, and some are darker, and they seem to prefer grouping with those they resemble. 

“You guys are sooooo weird,” the girl says to them. “You know you’re all the same little things, right?” 

Looking back to a bookshelf against the wall, the girl grabs the instruction booklet that came with her pets’ terrarium. Opening it up, she turns to the pages that cover their interactions with one another.

“The creatures will have a tendency to keep close proximity with ones that look most like them.” She reads. “Do not worry if they display this behavior, as it is expected of them.” 

Taking a moment to look at the tank again, the little girl shuts the booklet.

“Huh! Well I guess it’s normal after all, weirdos! But just so you guys know, I think that’s pretty dumb. You’re all made of the same stuff.” She says, sliding the booklet back in its spot on the shelf. “Anyway, its sleepy time! Good night little ones.” 

Flicking off the light, the girl throws the wide veil over the dome and crawls into bed.

For Better or Worse (Ch 3)

“Aw, yay!”

The day after disposing the dead creature, the little girl is pleasantly surprised to see that two of her pets have had a baby. Standing over the dome with a wide grin on her face, she looks down at the two tiny creatures nurturing their teenie, fragile newborn.

“Good job, you two! I hope the others take after the example you’ve set.” The girl coos, giggling as she watches the little family huddled together in the corner of the glass enclosure. 

“Oh! But wait!” She says, remembering the chapter in her booklet that teaches how to properly take care of the creatures. 

Sliding the lid open, the girl reaches down and grabs the newborn pet, pulling it up out of the dome. As she does so, the parents become visibly distraught, running to the edge of the glass as they watch the little girl carry the baby across the room. 

“It’s okay!” She shouts back at them with a smile, seeing their distress. “I’m just making sure she’ll grow up nice and strong!” She adds, placing the small newborn in a separate, much smaller container. 

Obviously not comprehending the reassurances of the girl, the baby creature’s parents remain at the edge of the glass for the remainder of the day, helplessly peering across the room at their new offspring, wishing they could be together. 

For Better or Worse (Ch 2)

“Rise and shine, everyone!”

Quickly pulling away the large veil covering the girl’s terrarium, she excitedly greets the occupants inside.  

 “I bet you guys are hungry, aren’t you?” She asks matter-of-factly. Walking to the small closet in the corner of her room, she grabs a packet of food and a pale of water.

“And it looks like your lake is almost all dried up! You guys must be thirsty!” The girl exclaims, ripping open the food packet as she pulls back the small square door at the top the glass dome. 

Holding the packet over the center of the little community of creatures, the girl shakes it until all the tiny morsels of food have fallen out. Watching her pets scramble toward the newly dropped food, she smiles as she pours water into the side of the dome where a pond-like crevice has been dug.

“Drink up, teenie weenies!” She cheerfully says, closing the lid.

As she places the water pale back in the closet, she notices that one of the tiny creatures is laying underneath a group of mini tree-like plants, not moving. 

“Oh no!” She cries. “Not again!”

Placing her hands on the glass to lean over the dome, she looks down at the recently deceased pet.

“I told you all to stop fighting!” She tersely shouts. “Why can’t you just get along?”

Returning to the closet, the girl reaches in and grabs a long, skinny pole with a tong on the end. Re-opening the glass lid, she nabs the dead creature and chucks it outside her open window onto the lawn below. 

“If I find out which one of you keeps doing this, you’re gonna be in big trouble!” She asserts, holding the tong up. “Now ya’ll behave while I’m gone!” 

Closing the lid once more, she puts the tong back in the closet, exiting the room to spend the day outside. 

For Better or Worse (Ch 1)

“They’re so cute!”

Looking into a giant glass terrarium at her small colony of pets within, a little girl tugs on her father’s sleeve to get his attention.

“I know, dear. They’re very cute. Now get tucked in, it’s getting past your bedtime,” the father says.

“But Daddy!” The little girl begs, peering back at the many small creatures inside. “Can’t I watch them play just a little bit longer? Look! Aw, look Daddy! Those two are loving each other!”

“Come on now, little girl. You’ve stayed up late enough. Time for bed.” He says, lifting his daughter up as he hoists her into her sleeping space. 

“Okay, okay.” The girl sighs, watching her father place the wide veil over the terrarium to cover it. “See you guys tomorrow!” She shouts gleefully at her tiny creatures. 

Kissing her on the snout, the father tucks the little girl in and turns off the light.

“Good night, little munchkin. I love you.” He says, closing the door until it’s just slightly cracked.

“I love you too Daddy.” The girl replies. Waiting until her father is gone, she lifts her head and peers at the glass dome.

“I love you guys too,” she whispers, closing her eyes before slowly drifting asleep. 

On the Eve: 10

Queen Jocasta – Sovereign Ruler of the West

Lies.

They plague our souls, causing us to act in ways of which we never believed ourselves capable. Yet we often cling to these falsities; desiring the reality we’ve fabricated over the painful truth that is life. Ignorance is bliss, they say. Perhaps there is some validity to the sentiment. But willful ignorance? There is no greater atrocity.

I have been deceived. All these years, lied to. Ulric, who, as Jordain’s Hand, was only charged with protecting the crown, came to me years ago with that crushing dispatch. News that the love of my life had been unfaithful, and intended to replace me as Queen with the Vice-Regent, Elaine. I believed him.

Last night I was greeted by an emissary who represented my former husband and King. Ulric’s journal, cataloguing his sadistic, manipulative thoughts, was presented to me. I was told Jordain has spent all these years tirelessly searching for anything to clear his name and prove his loyalty to me. After all this time, his efforts finally produced this journal. This, evil, disgusting journal that revealed everything he did was a lie.

Jordain’s actions, in light of this, have illustrated precisely the man I so fiercely loved. The sting of the irony is a dagger in my heart. He never shed his honor. He agreed to let me govern the Western lands. He conceded to my terms those many years ago, rather than waging a war that would cost the lives of thousands. And he did so knowing that my revolt was grounded in deceit. Despite his attempts to convince me otherwise, I refused to believe him. I believed Ulric’s fabricated tale of my husband’s infidelity. The enormity of my regret regarding this is inexplicable.

Tomorrow, we shall ride and face Jordain once again. My armies are not aware of the information this emissary has revealed. Tomorrow, all shall be unveiled.

On the eve of what will become a day fabled for ages, my mind is at ease.

There is no provider of solace equal to that of the unabridged truth.