September 2019


CARL: This is Carl Drake, play-by-play commentator for NBS Broadcasting, coming at you live from the booth for this latest episode of NCAA gridiron madness!

TOM: That’s right, Carl. This is Tom Hicks, color commentator for NBS Broadcasting, and I’m going to be honest: I can’t differentiate between those ants on the field and those I’ve seen a hundred times before. I think I may be on the verge of entering a fugue state! Also, bad call by the refs there I think. That’s ten yards the offense won’t get back.

CARL: It’s a good thing no one more than half-listens to what we say up here, Tom! And since this is a non-conference game, where the lesser team is basically being paid good money to act as a punching bag, we’re only being carried on NBS radio, which has a about the same nationwide audience as C-SPAN. Oh, look at that drive! That’s a turnover, possession goes to the away team!

TOM: That’s right, Carl, these ringers from outside the conference are making an uncommonly good show of things here today. If they win the game they’re essentially paid to lose, do you think they have not done their job and shouldn’t get paid? Discuss.

CARL: They’ve earned their money with an upset, all right, even if their exploited and basically enslaved student athletes never see one red cent of it. No, a loss here–as seems to be the case, with the box score 29-8 against the home team–merely serves to add one more log of thousand-dollar bills to the incandescent blaze that is NCAA sports. In among all the other money being burnt to make sure the people at the top stay in Learjets and thousand-dollar suits, it’s all but unnoticed.

TOM: That’s right, Carl, and let’s not forget that a loss in a non-conference game is blood in the water to other teams in the conference. They’ll be circling like sharks now, determined to beat a wounded and unresisting opponent to burnish their own programs before being defeated by the five-time national champions.

CARL: It’s almost like the system is set up so that the rich programs get richer and the poorer ones get poorer, with nothing but the hope of a bolt from the blue upset against a conference opponent, or enough fattened-cow sacrifices from out-of-conference opponents to make themselves seem viable.

TOM: That’s right, Carl. The best way to build a dynasty in the NCAA is to already have a dynasty. And it’s worth adding, I think, that the $175 million dollars per year price tag of the current dynasty makes it a tough sell considering that figure exceeds the GDP of at least three small countries.

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The tiny sprite hovered on gossamer wings above Timmy’s bed. It was impossible to miss the tooth motif; her vestments were crowned by knitted marching molars, with incisor inlays and a wisdom tooth atop the rod she daintily clutched.

“Wow,” Timmy said. “The Tooth Fairy! But wait, I lost my tooth on the playground, there’s nothing under my pillow!”

“I heard your wish.” With a knowing smile, the fairy waved her wand. Timmy immediately felt incredible pain followed by a stark pop in his lower jaw.

“OWWW!”

Running over the affected area with his tongue, Timmy felt that his baby tooth had returned, as solidly planted as ever in its old socket.

“I’m the Reverse Tooth Fairy,” the pixie said, floating off on the wind. “Enjoy your new chomper.”

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“And, the next option is to file jointly with your spouse,” said the accountant softly, prodding the relevant section of the paper. “It won’t let you write off business expenses like an LLC will, but-”

“I don’t have time for this,” said Burkette. “Just tell me about the cheapest option.”

The accountant paused, lip quivering. “You interrupted me.”

“Yes, yes I did, because I don’t like having my time was-”

“If you interrupt me again,” the accountant said, still very soft and flat, “I will carve your heart out of your living chest and show it to you before I eat it while you bleed out on the floor.”

Burkette’s jaw came abruptly unhinged. “What?”

The accountant, whose expression and tone of voice had not changed, looked back uncomprehendingly. “What?”

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The ship was made almost in mockery of what the humans sailed, appearing at a distance as a square-rigged three-masted ship of the line. But it revealed itself on closer inspection to be a haphazard conglomeration of trees uprooted and coaxed into strange shapes, dead leaves and dry twigs held in place by old magic, and gunwales bristling not with cannons but with catapults laden with explosive dynamite tree fruit.

But the skull-and-crossbones the fae crew carried was clear enough, as was the shot across the bow that left the Scarper‘s foredeck littered with caustic fruit pulp. Her master ordered the white flag aloft, and as the fae pirates pulled alongside, boarding hooks at the ready, he stood at the helm to receive them. Looking over the diverse shapes opposite him–elves, pixies, pookas, and far stranger things on gossamer wings–he turned to his quartermaster.

“What sort of thing,” he asked, “would a fairy plunder from a mortal ship?”

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The farmer toiled every day in his fields, sweating and laboring to bring forth his master’s crops from the rich muck of the Nile floodplain. But from where he toiled, the great Pharaoh’s compound was visible across the river. At dawn and at dusk, glittering across the river, the farmer could see the lights. When the winds were right, he could hear the singing of the priests and the shouted ablutions offered up to Osiris and Ra.

Local priests kept the farmer and his fellows well informed as to what the Pharaoh meant, a living link to the gods. But the farmer came to think, in time, that he knew the gods as well as anyone did. Perhaps they would deign to accept a substitute to speak to, and incidentally to offer a life of leisure with honeyed wines.

So one night, when the moon was full, the farmer swam the Nile to reach the palace. With him, on his back, he carried a feral cat from the fields, a fine mouser who had earned the respect of those whose grain she saved. With the cat as his sacred guide, the farmer sought to enter the palace and speak to the gods, begging them to at least let him attempt the role of a pharaoh himself. Other than the clothes on his back, he carried nothing else but a small knife for emergencies.

The compound was not strongly held, with the few guards easily avoided by one who had years to practice hiding in darkened fields. Perhaps, the farmer thought, the Pharaoh relied entirely too much on his people’s worship to keep him safe. In the vast pools of darkness between the few lit oil lamps inside, the farmer was able to find his way to what he reckoned to be the royal chamber. There, he began to make his ablutions and obeisances, imploring any god who would listen. Ra, Osiris, even forgotten Aten were all beseeched in turn, but their answers were only insect song and frogs along the river.

When a shape approached in the dark, roused perhaps by the farmer’s devotions, instinct took over. The knife glinted in reflected moonlight, and the shape fell to the floor, gurgling its last. When the guards came, drawn by a startled cry, they found the farmer standing over the Pharaoh with a dripping knife and a cat slung over his back.

Naturally, he was struck down at once. But the high priest, noting the presence of an auspicious cat with the assassin, decreed that both the farmer and his feline companion be mummified, to be buried with the Pharaoh and to serve him eternally in the hereafter as penance. The new Pharaoh, desiring an auspicious start and no questions about the light guard his father had been assigned, went along with the plan. The farmer was duly embalmed, as was his field cat, and placed in the Pharaoh’s burial chamber.

Not long after, grave robbers who had helped to build the tomb arrived and dug it up, plundering the riches that had been laid to rest with their dead king. Unable to separate the Pharaoh’s mummy from his jewels, they simply took the body with them to be dismembered and burned at their leisure. They left the crypt in disarray, leaving the farmer’s body contemptuously untouched, for it had no jewels or adornments.

And that is how, centuries later, the body of the humble farmer came to be displayed in a great and famous museum under the name of the pharaoh he had accidentally slain. His prayers to Osiris, Ra, and Aten had not gone unheard, it seemed. Rather, they had been answered with the patience and subtlety only very old gods can muster.

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After almost drowning in a freak accident in Tribeca, Daniel Feldman had a vision of holy light and oneness with celestial beings. He was able to recapture it through a series of meditations involving breath-holding and free-association writing about the heavenly visions that followed. Dubbing himself “David the Teacher,” he quickly acctracted acolytes, or “pupils,” who joined him in a small but growing Bronx commune, which raised the ire of local authorities who saw it as a Communist plot. Yet Davis was frustrated that the most persistent of the heavenly beings in his visions refuses to reveal its name, driving him to ever-more-stringent meditations and ever-more-dangerous levels of oxygen starvation.

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“If you’re gonna tell the story, best get it right.”

Emerging from the oil-lamp shadows and parting the hushed crowd, Baha limped over to the table and sat down heavily. Without asking, she took the bottle of hooch from Dickenson and poured herself a double shot in Mariah’s glass, downing it before proceeding.

“I was a young woman,” she said. Then, stabbing a finger in Mariah’s direction: “Scarcely older than this tot.”

“I beg your-” Mariah began.

“My lover was a whaling captain, tall and proud. And even though the men thought a lady terrible bad luck on a ship, my man smuggled me aboard, such was our love for one another.”

Dickenson looked at Baha’s scarred visage and embroidered eyepatch, as well as the silvery barbed claw that took the place of her left hand. “Can’t imagine what that must have been like,” he muttered.

“Believe it,” snapped Baha. “Once upon a time this face lured men like him to their doom. But it was not to be, for this time it was true love torn asunder too soon.”

She slammed her good hand on the table, rattling the others’ drinks. “The whalers attacked an eldritch horror from beyond the stars thinking it was a whale, realizing their mistake only when the unearthly tentacles arose, black and billious, from the waves, driving some mad by the mere sight of them.”

Baha took another drink, this time bypassing Mariah’s glass altogether and simply drinking rum from the bottle. “I took command after my lover was killed,” she said, “as I was the only one with the werewithal to fight back after he was enveloped and consumed by that maw. But it still took every man jack of the crew to the bottom.”

“So you’ve come to kill it, then?” Mariah said. “The lurker at the threshold, the thing on the doorstep, that we’re all here to see put down for good and all?”

“Aye. I call it the ‘weird whale’ and ever since I was hauled aboard a Nantucket square-rig from a whaleboat, I have sailed the seven seas with a new crew in search of the ‘weird whale.’ I mean to avenge myself upon it.”

“Kill that which scarred you physically and emotionally, is that it?” said Dickenson.

“Aye. Finding an equally weird being here…what can it be but the “weird whale” arisen anew, somehow?”

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