On the Origins of Common Foods

Flying on a plane is very nice.

It is not as nice as wings. But it has more peanuts. Unless you are a peanut elemental, spreading great peanut-pattern wings. Then the peanuts of a plane are comparatively few.

This is not to say that peanuts are always an advantage.

Some people are allergic to peanuts. They do not value the peanuts on a plane. Some peanut elementals are allergic to peanuts. They go immediately into anaphylactic shock and die. We do not talk about them much unless they fall through our roofs, at which point it becomes difficult for the rest of the year to talk about anything else.

Some people are not allergic to peanuts. They have the advantage in that if they do meet a peanut elemental they do not necessarily die; and if they meet an elemental of non-peanut-ness, they are still generally all right.

(An elemental of non-peanut-ness is an elemental spirit formed from and exemplifying the conceptual category “not a peanut,” such that, when you see them, you immediately recognize that here is the pure distilled essence of not being a peanut—possessing none of the trace impurities that exempt most things in the world from Platonic non-peanut-ness. For example, the Earth is shaped too closely to resemble a peanut to qualify, while Eggos are legumes.)

This advantage of being able to survive contact with a peanut elemental is principally intangible and a matter of form (unlike the peanut elementals themselves) because peanut elementals are rare, and, when encountered in flight, have difficulty forcing their way onto the plane. Nor are they able, in this era of heightened security, to sneak easily onto the plane as a passenger unless they are willing to take off their shoes, limit their toothpaste allowance, and have names that do not resemble a terrorist’s name. (So, for instance, Mr. Peanut would have trouble, as would Al-Qaffar, but Mr. God of the Thousand-Slaying Legume Kick is probably okay.)

In the old days peanut elementals were a greater trouble for air traffic. This is how Mr. Carver invented peanut butter. People will say that he developed peanut butter in the laboratory but in fact George Washington Carver was the preeminent air ace of World War II. His contribution was ignored at the time as the United States government feared that, if they acknowledged it, the Axis would deride them as politically correct.

During one of many dogfights with German nationals Mr. Carver caught a peanut elemental in the engine of his plane and the rest was secret history.

But peanut elementals were not the only inhabitants of the stratosphere who would prove troublesome for air traffic in those troubled years. The Metatron Incident (wherein Metatron descended to the earth in a cloud of grace to reveal the new gospel and was caught in the engines of an uncertified Boeing) made angelfood cake possible for the first time in the history of the world. The efforts of hundreds of French chefs to reproduce this masterwork of massacre eventually created the “vegetarian angelfood” that we know today, using baking powder, whipped eggs, and flour to approximate the manifold virtues of Heaven. Masons traditionally added a snake, which they would wrap around the egg and convince to bite its own tail before baking; this added a sense of timeless mysticism to their delicious recipes and rightly they were honored throughout the culinary world.

The impact of the Metatron Incident was not to end there. Many of the people on the plane became focal points for mysterious phenomena. One of them, struck on the forehead by a bit of Metatron debris, became Billy Graham. Another became Vice-President Cheney. The plane plowed into the East Oak Lake house of a previously ordinary schoolboy; he would later grow up to become Noam Chomsky!

Tofu was originally made from ufos.

—Not to quit talking about Noam Chomsky when we’ve barely just begun, but he’s really not a common food!

So, anyway, tofu was originally made from ufos. Japan never admitted it, but you can tell because of the letters of its name.

—And why are the letters in tofu’s name in English, anyway? It was probably made from *British* ufos! Back benchers probably evolved into ufos because somebody fed them after midnight, and then they flew unwisely into Japan. All of this is hypothetical, because the true nature of the ufos is still unknown. But it seems likely—and yet, like Noam Chomsky, ufo pedantry is not a common food, and we must leave it lie.

Tofu, as noted earlier, was at one time made from ufos. But now it is not made from ufos. There are simply not enough ufos in the sky to support the scale of the modern tofu economy. So now most tofu is made out of a blend of textured swamp gas and weather balloons. Only trace impurities of alien origin remain!

Ballet is a wonderful art. Often in the grand jete the dancer will appear to fly. Conversely, while not so very grand, Boeing jets do fly. On one occasion, a joyous serendipity generated the Reese’s peanut butter cup; on another, to speak very delicately, battement fondu.

Ironically despite its historical origins fondue is rarely served on planes. One reason is that there is not enough leg room on a plane for a ballerina to survive. Confined in the middle seat they wither away and die. Another reason is that in the event of turbulence it is hard to explain to people that they will need to wear clear plastic masks to minimize the risk of cheese burns. The third and last reason is fear. In the post 9/11 era, fondue is just too scary for the no-longer-friendly skies!

(September 11)

Madeline likes to draw.

She draws a picture of a house with a window. Outside it there is a dinosaur and a tree. The dinosaur is eating an apple. He looks happy.

She draws a fighter plane shooting a cloud.

She draws a bunch of happy people standing around.

Madeline draws at a big white desk. It doesn’t have any drawers. The desk faces a glass door. Outside the glass door there is Madeline’s mom’s garden.

Madeline’s mom’s garden is very weird.

It is a hedge maze. It is very complicated. Growing through the hedges there are dark purple flowers. And when you look up there is more maze on top going up to a great sideways sundial and when you look down there are holes that lead to more of the maze.

Also there are some herbs and carrots.

Madeline gets up. She’s done drawing. She goes to the refrigerator. She gets a Fanta. She pours it into a glass with ice and gets a crazy straw.

“I’m going outside!” she calls.

Her mom is busy working on her physics so she just says, “‘Kay!”

It is pretty safe in Madeline’s mom’s garden because if a murderous killer wanted to attack Madeline there he would get lost first.

Madeline goes out. She sips her drink. She wanders in the garden.

She finds a place where there is a fountain. It is mostly hollow. It is the outline of a cube, cut from dark marble, unfinished in spots, and suspended in midair. The water projects inwards from the eight corners of the cube, splashes in onto itself, falls into a basin, and is gone.

There is an old woman sitting on the far side of the basin. She is wearing a nnamok and rubbing her hands together. Possibly she is cold.

“I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” Madeline apologizes.

She sits down on the near side of the basin.

There’s a bit of a pause.

“That’s fair,” the old woman says.

Madeline tries to figure out how to ask the old woman what she’s doing in Madeline’s mom’s garden without talking. This is very difficult.

“Some people said on television that Fanta has benzine,” Madeline says. Not to the old woman. Just, you know, aloud. “But Mom says it’s okay.”

“You’re not going to die of Fanta,” the old woman says.

This makes Madeline curious and she abandons her resolve.

“What am I going to die of?” she asks.

“Poverty,” says the old woman. “But not for many years.”

Madeline thinks about that.

Then she shrugs.

“Some people got hit by a plane,” she says.

“More or less,” the old woman says.

“More or less?”

“Mostly it was the secondary effects,” the old woman says.

“I was thinking,” says Madeline, “that I could draw a world where nobody got hit by planes.”

“Oh?”

“And I thought, why would anyone make a world where that kind of thing happens?”

The old woman looks up at the hedge.

“I suppose,” she says, “that whomever was responsible, they might have overlooked it. Humanity determined to make mistakes, the memo might have said, but what can you do? Creation determined to contain errors. Evil snakes destined to eat everything. You know how it goes.”

“Evil snakes?”

“It’s in Revelations,” the old woman says. “At the end. They eat everything. Even each other.”

“Well,” says Madeline stubbornly, “that’s not why I think it was.”

“Oh?”

“I thought about it, and I thought, maybe you just can’t make something without errors that bad. Like, it’s just . . . it’s necessary. If something is, it’s at least as bad as three thousand people getting hit by a plane.”

“Or Fanta having benzine in it?”

“Yeah. Or . . . whatchacallem. Um.”

“The Sci-Fi Channel’s Earthsea movie?”

“Yeah!” says Madeline, impressed that the old woman knew what she meant. Then, feeling a bit guilty about lowering the level of the discourse, she adds, “Or that Darfur stuff. Whatever it is.”

“Mmhm,” says the old woman.

“So I looked at my pictures,” says Madeline. “And I could see it. Like blood and screaming and fire, but not really. Just this . . . just, every little screwed up line.”

“That probably makes more sense than the memo thing,” the old woman says. “I know that when I make stuff, it’s always totally a mess.”

“What do you make?”

The old woman gestures with the back of her head towards the fountain.

Madeline’s eyes go wide.

“Really? You’re a . . .”

“An abstract fountaineer,” the old woman confirms. “But it’s totally messed up, because it was supposed to look like a cherub.”

Madeline looks at the fountain.

“How could you . . . how . . . what?”

“One way and another,” the old woman says. “You add a bit there thinking it’ll help emphasize the cherub, trim a bit there because it doesn’t go with the emphasis, and next thing you know you’re building a different fountain altogether.”

“Wow.”

Madeline can see error in the fountain, now, and screaming, and choking smoke; not, you understand, with her eyes, but with her imagination, which sees in the stone and water of the fountain’s shape the fundamental erroneousness of things.

“It’s supposed to be pretty,” the old woman says. “Stop staring death into it.”

“Why is the world so broken?” Madeline asks.

The old woman shrugs.

She mumbles something under her breath.

“What?”

“It’s a perfectly good fountain,” the old woman says. She sounds a bit miffed. “I mean, it’s not like it’s a cartwheeling death-fountain that leaps down at you with fangs or anything. Not like Claude makes, if you quite get my meaning.”

Madeline drains the last of her Fanta.

“I guess,” Madeline says.

“Things aren’t just error,” the old woman says.

“No,” Madeline agrees.

On Salvation

Abu Ya’la checks the instrumentation of the plane.

He is a pilot in the place that was called Chicago. He is preparing to take his jet across the world to Europe.

And he thinks, as he flips the switches and adjusts the levers of his plane:

Long ago, there was a land far to the west called Valinor.

And it sent to us the people of the scale,
The thunder lizards.
And they reigned over this world for the Triassic, the Jurassic, and the Cretaceous periods.

But as the Cretaceous period came to an end
The people of the scale heard the call.
They had only to see the shore of the sea
Or catch the smell of sea-salt in the wind
And it would seize their hearts forever.

So one by one they went west
First the ichthyosaur
Then the stegosaur
Then even the brachiosaurs and the tyrannosaurs went west across the sea.

Most of them drowned.
They did not have boats
And those that did, sank them.

Many of them were eaten by a shark
Or devoured by whales—
Who were not so picky in their diet then
As they are now.

A few returned to Valinor
Where the Valar greatly celebrated them
And said, “Lo, you are fine.”

Now they are gone.
It is a lesser age that we live in.
The K-T event has taken them from us.
The songs of the thunder lizards are no longer on the wind.
We do not find them in their forests.
We do not see their footprints on the ground
And in the sky above us they are gone.

This is what he says in his mind; though aloud, he speaks only his praise to Allah.

The engine of the great jet comes to life. He leads it forward. It races down the runway towards the sky and his heart leaps, like it always does, when the mechanical wonder that is his plane climbs off the ground.

“Lo,” he says. “It has been made to fly.”

But there is a noise. It is a strange hollow booming of metal. And the face of Abu Ya’la goes white, because he knows what that sound must be.

There is a Baz upon the wing.

No words can explain the Baz to those who have not seen them: to call them apes, to call them monsters, to call them beasts is an injustice. They are twelve feet in height and broad of chest and they are remarkable—it is with religious awe that one sees them, with primal terror, with gaping wonder. The first people of this land had called them Nyew-Nene, beast gods, and sacrificed to them. A shaman with a Nyew-Nene totem was a man commanding infinite respect. The second people of this land had called them Kongs and locked them away in the great sanctuaries beneath Chicago, in those savage lands of exile where they had remained until Allah’s soldiers—all unknowing of the truth—had broken down the doors that held them back.

The third people called them Baz and said that a man eaten by a Baz would never find his way to Heaven.

Something in the airplanes draws the Baz. Abu Ya’la does not know what it is. Some suggest that the smell of airline fuel attracts them. Others that it is location: that the airport is above an ancient mating or burial ground for their kind. It is the belief of Abu Ya’la that, like men, the great Baz yearn to fly.

Whatever the reason, something in the airplanes draws the Baz. That is why Abu Ya’la recognizes the sound even though he has never heard it before. It is a sound he dreads on every flight to hear.

There is a twelve-foot ape on the wing of Abu Ya’la’s plane.

If he were a religious man, then Abu Ya’la would pray to Allah now. He would ask his God to sit by him, to take his side against the winds of fate. But he is not. His faith is, as it has always been, for show.

Abu Ya’la believes in nothing save, perhaps, the dinosaurs that once upon a time did grace the world.

They were the stegosaur, armored, heavy, and spiked. The diplodocus, long and cunning. The anklyosaur, with its tail club. The tyrannosaur, savior and king, in whose stomach Sauron twisted for three thousand years before the lizard’s death released him. The velociraptor. The pleiosaur. The pterodactyl.

Them, and all their scaled kin.

Abu Ya’la thinks of them, but they are far away.

The Baz is ripping off his wing.

The passengers are screaming, but Abu Ya’la ignores them. One light on his panel, the light that indicates an ape tearing off the plane’s wing, blinks a slow and steady red.

Please.

“Please,” thinks Abu Ya’la to the cosmos. “Please. I have a son.”

And the cosmos answers.

This is a story of the day that dinosaurs come back into the world; the day when the pterodactyl comes soaring over the plane of Abu Ya’la with a velociraptor gripped within its claws.

As a brightness surges in Abu Ya’la’s soul; as he stands up, burning with the realization of it, the steering wheel of the plane slipping from his hands; as the tears begin to pour out from his eyes, the velociraptor falls onto the wing.

With teeth and claws it leaps upon the ape.

There is a light everywhere that Abu Ya’la sees.

There is a glory.

Screaming, roaring, the beasts tumble off the plane and towards the ground. There is blood everywhere.

“Praise Allah,” whispers Abu Ya’la’s co-pilot. “We are saved.”

It is hard to hear him over the music in Abu Ya’la’s soul.

“We are saved,” Abu Ya’la concurs.

In the back of the plane, a screaming steward beats at a two-foot dragonfly with his heavy shoe.

The Raining Woman

This is a story of a long time ago. It was before planes and typewriters. It was before gum and rockets. It was before absestos contact lenses.

People were different then.

People didn’t need planes to fly, back then. They didn’t need typewriters to type. They didn’t need gum to chew.

They did it all with the undivided power within them.

The dissolution came later.

People got limits later.

They didn’t have them, back then.

Sky was a woman. She wasn’t the sky. It was just her name. Most people called her Incredible Sky, because she was pretty incredible, just like you and me.

Sky wanted to go into space.

Now, a lot of people wanted to go into space back then. There was Morgan, who flew into space and then blew up. There was Irene. Irene flew into space, and maybe she got where she was going, and maybe she didn’t. No one knows. No one heard from her again. There was Skip. Skip flung her puppy into space and then was very sad, because she didn’t have a puppy any more.

(We could all learn a lesson from Skip about throwing puppies into space.)

People were different back then, but mistakes—mistakes were still the same.

Sky had an idea. “If I hold my arms out like this,” she said, “I can probably get to space and back.”

She held her arms out like one does, when flying into space.

Sky gathered her friends Storm and Skitter. They held their arms out just like that. They flew into space.

Now space has lots of dangers. There are the aliens and the asteroids and the cosmic rays. It’s the cosmic rays that got Sky.

“I’m raining,” said Sky.

That’s what she was doing. She was raining down over the earth.

There was Makemba, tending her fields. She looked up. “Fantastic!” she said.

But Achta, chewing on a bit of grain, corrected her. “Incredible.”

Incredible Sky rained down.

There was Reonet, herding alligators. It’s hard to herd alligators. Sometimes they’d eat her hand. But it would always wriggle around so much in their throats that they’d have to spit it back out and it would squirm back to Reonet.

“River’s going to flood,” said Reonet.

Incredible Sky rained down.

Camilla looked up. “I fear no rain.”

(Later, Camilla drowned.)

For days and nights Sky fell. Her body never stopped the raining. That was the power the cosmic rays gave her.

Dove came to visit Sky, up in space.

“Hey, Sky,” said Dove. “You’re going to kill everything. Every plant. Every animal. Every person. That’s not appropriate for a member of our society.”

“Can’t help it,” said Sky, tersely. “Cosmic rays.”

“I’m sorry,” said Dove.

So Dove fought the raining woman, high above the earth. Dove tore at her with hooks and claws. They fought until Storm couldn’t watch any more. Storm knew it was right, what Dove was doing, but she sobbed and flew to Sky’s defense anyway.

Storm burned with a terrible fire.

The light of Dove’s eyes seared everything she looked at.

That was the cosmic rays. Those were the changes they’d made.

And Storm couldn’t win in the end. She got pinned in Dove’s gaze like a bunny in a snake’s. And she died. And Sky died. And that was the end.

Dove came down.

Dove told everyone else, “The rain’s over. But I’ve got to go. I can’t stay. Because I’d burn you with my eyes.”

So she left. She flew into space, where the cosmic rays are, where the dust is, where the void and the aliens are, and she never came back.

Nobody knows what happened to Skitter. That’s a hole in the story, no denying it, but it’s the way the story has always been.

Now, this was a long time ago. People didn’t need asbestos contact lenses back then, and I guess Dove could have made her eyes fireproof, if she chose.

But what’s the point of choosing if you don’t take the consequence for each choice?

She flew away, and she stayed away.

Maybe she loves it there, in space.

Maybe she’s dead.

No one’s heard from her again.

The Old Well

Someone’s in trouble down in the old well!

It’s not so surprising. Timmy’s dead. Timmy’s parents are dead. There’s no one to know.

“All things are transient,” mourns Cold Bone Eddie, looking up towards the sky.

“Even Lassie is dead,” says Morgan Sachlaw.

“She’d rescue us,” says Eddie. “She’d drag us out. But Timmy’s dead, and his parents are dead, and Lassie is dead. It’s the transience of all things. That’s why we’re here.”

“Bloody Hell, Eddie,” says Sharon. “We’re sinking.”

A lot of people are in trouble down in the old well.

Actually.

“I remember when I saw the news,” says Cold Bone Eddie.

“Yeah?”

“Lassie passed away, gently, at the age of 20. 20! That’s like 140 human years. But that’s when I knew that there wasn’t any point any more.”

“Testify,” says Frank Scheclon.

“I knew there wasn’t any point in being good. What’s the use in being good if Lassie’s dead? What’s the use in the straight and narrow if there isn’t a dog to herd you there? So I came up with the perfect crime. I’d steal a million dollars from the bank and hide in the old well until the trouble cleared. But my rope snapped, and anyways, it’s kind of crowded down here.”

“You’re telling me,” says Sharon. “Frank, your foot?”

Frank, reluctantly, moves his foot off of Sharon’s face and contorts his knee so that he can brace it against the wall. It doesn’t help. They’re still sinking.

“You wouldn’t have succeeded, you know,” says Morgan. “I mean, if Lassie were alive.”

“Of course not,” says Eddie.

“I mean, it’s only because she died—”

There’s a bit of a pause.

Frank looks up, his neck crammed at an odd angle, so he can see part of Morgan’s face.

“Mr. Sachlaw?” says Frank. “You got somethin’ to say?”

“Well,” says Morgan, “it’s like this: when Lassie was alive, the bank didn’t really need much of a security system. I mean, why bother? So I got this guy, this contractor I know, to install the system cheap. And I took the kickback from one end and overcharged at the other and I bought a vintage bank security system off of eBay in the middle, and I figured, no problem, if anyone robs this place, Lassie’ll save the day.”

“Wuf!” agrees Sharon.

“But then she died.”

“Word,” says Eddie.

“And when you robbed the place,” says Morgan Sachlaw, “I lost everything.”

“I don’t blame Lassie,” says Eddie. “I blame death. I blame the fact that good things always go away. That’s what happened to us.”

“Not to me,” says Sharon. “I never had good things. That’s why I jumped in here.”

“Never?”

“I’m the ugly kind of girl,” says Sharon. “And I thought—well, I thought, I’d never amount to anything. So I came down to the old well and jumped in.”

“Oh, honey,” says Frank. “Don’t you know that if Lassie were alive, she would have shown you the beautiful special person inside you?”

Sharon sobs.

“Why couldn’t she have been there, then?” says Sharon. “Why don’t I get the magic?”

“She wasn’t magic,” says Cold Bone Eddie. “Just an ordinary dog.”

They sink further.

“Hey, down there?” calls Frank, nervously.

There is a mumbling and a rustling from the hundreds of people on whom they’re standing.

“Why are we sinking? What’s happening? Is there like a mole kingdom eating us from the bottom up? What’s going on?”

There’s a pause. Someone calls up, in a thick deep voice, “We are compressin’. It is the intense pressure down here. It is compahcting us progressively into a new form.”

“Great,” says Frank.

“What’s your story, preacher?” says Eddie.

“I fell.”

“That’s it?”

“I was lost in rapturous contemplation of God,” says Frank Scheclon. “I was marveling at his mysterious ways and not looking down. And suddenly I fell in a well and broke my leg.”

“Well, that was just plain dumb,” says Eddie.

“Thanks,” says Frank. “Thanks a lot.”

They’re sinking a bit faster now.

“Um,” says Morgan.

“Um?” Sharon answers.

“Um, if we’re compacting based on pressure, shouldn’t it, you know, stabilize? I mean, now that no one new has fallen in for a while?”

“. . . huh,” says Eddie. “Any physicists here?”

There’s a silence.

“Hey!” shouts Eddie. “I need a physicist!”

There’s a startled noise from up above. Ellen McCloud rushes up to the edge of the well. “I’m a physicist!” she shouts. “What’s the . . .”

She wobbles at the edge of the well.

“Momentum, have you no shame?” she shouts, indignantly. Then she falls in.

Thump.

“Hello,” says Ellen McCloud, as they sink. “I was just having a picnic out by the old well. What’s gong on?”

“We’re sinking,” says Eddie. “On account of the compression.”

“I’m sorry,” says Ellen, guiltily. “I didn’t mean to fall. It was my old enemy, momentum, at work.”

“It’s okay,” says Eddie. “It was accelerating anyway.”

“I’m afraid,” says Sharon. “I don’t want to die by being crushed into a black hole at the bottom of the old well.”

“Don’t be afraid,” says Ellen. “There’s nowhere near enough mass in this well to create a black hole. Not even a pinpoint singularity!”

“Oh, good.”

Ellen rubs her chin, thoughtfully. “Still, I think I can recognize the hand of Acceleration at work.”

“Are you really a physicist?” Frank asks, suspiciously.

“Oh, yes,” says Ellen. “I just practice physics in a two-fisted manner. But I think at last natural law has come up with a deathtrap I can’t get out of.”

Sharon’s voice is bleak. “What?”

“The more we sink, the faster we sink,” says Ellen. “Pretty soon, we’ll be an undifferentiated mass of incredible density and power.”

She sketches some equations on the wall in chalk. “See?”

“But they don’t add up,” says Eddie, who was going to be a mathematician before Lassie’s death sent him into a life of crime.

“Well, no,” says Ellen. “Equations don’t balance any more. Not without Lassie. She was the hidden variable—the dark matter, as it were, in every law of physics and science. That’s why all the planes have been crashing, you know, and swarms of demon-locusts bursting through the interstices of reality. Also, pickle and corned beef sandwiches don’t taste good any more.”

“I’d eat one,” says Sharon. “Anyway. Right now.”

Ellen looks sad, in part because her equations are now far above her.

“I left them up above,” she says.

“I can feel strange matter around my toes,” whimpers Sharon.

“It’s the impending critical mass,” says Ellen.

“God:” prays Eddie, “I know I said you were dead to me, I mean, what with Lassie being dead and all, but, you know, if you were to resurrect Timmy’s rotting corpse and send him here with a rope, I sure would be inclined to change directions in my life.”

“That’s not what God does,” says Frank. “He moves mysteriously. . . . Sharon?”

There is only a bubbling scream.

“Mind,” says Frank, “If God wants to do it, I mean, for Eddie, for love of humanity, I mean, maybe Jesus could slip it under God’s radar.”

“If he loved us,” says Morgan, “I’d still have a job and a Porsche.”

“It’s very hot,” says Frank.

“And dense,” says Ellen.

“And strange,” says Eddie.

The substance in the well reaches its critical mass, and with one last scream, the transformation begins.

Night falls.

Day dawns.

Night falls again.

A dog wriggles up out of the well. It is a Collie. It is clean and young and new, and its fur still glistens with the ichor of those whose compression created it.

“Bark!” barks the dog. “Bark!”

The dog runs around. The dog dashes across the field.

The sun rises.

It will be a long and beautiful day.

Depending on Shoes

Bombs do not stop the wolf.

It is coming to eat the world.

A crack team of astronauts carrying a nuclear payload land on the wolf. They send digger robots into the wolf’s skin. They drop bombs into the shaft. They fly away.

But the wolf only sneezes.

It is coming to eat the world.

McGruff the Crime Hound lectures children. “If a wolf comes to eat the world,” he says, “tell him NO!”

This does not stop the wolf.

The wolf is coming to eat the world.

Prayers fall on deaf ears. Threats are unheeded.

The Norse gods are specifically unreliable in this matter.

A specially engineered virus made out of dead camels does not help.

The wolf is coming to eat the world.

So people turn to their shoes.

“I’ll depend on our shoes!” says Mr. Brown.

“That’s right!” chirps Emily.

People turn to their shoes in a troubled time.

They pile their shoes at the edge of the world. They wait.

The wolf is coming to eat the world.

“I don’t know if they’ll really save us,” says Sid. He frets. “I mean, shoes aren’t really that much, when it comes down to it.”

The wolf is coming to eat the world.

“I heart shoes,” says Emily. “I heart them.”

The wolf is coming to eat the world.

People have to depend on shoes, you see, because the astronauts failed and the armies can’t march against the wolf and the planes and the viruses and the oil spills and the kitten stampede and the giant mutant fleas and the ice cream barrage and the tinfoil hats and the hawk and the dove are all useless against the wolf.

So people depend on shoes.

The wolf is coming to eat the world.

There’s a great stomping sound.

There’s a clamor and a clonk.

There’s a gagging noise and a choking noise.

Everyone in the whole world has their eyes closed. So they don’t know why. But the wolf is gone.

It’s important to save your shoe leather. Just ask Tyr!

Emily never found her shoes after that. It’s a pity. They were adorably cute Mary Janes.

She’d liked them rather a lot.

Sour, Bitter, and Sweet

Candace sits in an airplane seat.

Saul and Meredith sit in front of her and to the left. Saul is wearing a thin grim suit. Meredith’s in the absurd lemon-colored dress of an unlucky bridesmaid.

Probably terrorists, Candace thinks.

“Does your conscience ever trouble you?” Meredith asks.

Saul looks at her.

“No,” he says. “No. Not my conscience.”

There’s a slim yellow band connecting their wrists. Candace realizes, with a shock, that Saul and Meredith are handcuffed together.

“I do what I have to do,” says Saul.

Candace pushes on the stewardess button. Nothing happens.

“In what sense?” Meredith asks.

“I’m a registered possession of Grove 31,” Saul says. “If they tell me I must capture you, then I must capture you. If they tell me I must kill everyone on this plane, then I must kill everyone on this plane. So it’s not a matter of conscience.”

“What, then?”

“Futility,” says Saul.

“Ah,” says Meredith.

“My masters are a passing breed,” says Saul. “Their time will end.”

Candace cannot get up and tell anyone about this conversation. The “fasten seat belts” sign is on. So she looks at the stewardess button. She figures out that it’s attached to a power cord. The power cord isn’t plugged in. She looks at it helplessly. This design is not ergonomic, she thinks, in tones of bitter complaint.

“I can help you,” Meredith says, to Saul. “I can free you.”

“When a man is a registered possession of a Grove,” Saul says, “they take his power to resist.”

Saul pulls out his carryon bag. He fumbles out a small electric juicer. There are bits of lemon and brain in it.

“They use this,” he explains.

“Oh,” Meredith says, in tones of sorrow.

“I’m not capable of wanting your help. I’m only capable of serving and of sighing.”

Candace studies the power cord in growing frustration. She clears her throat. “Excuse me,” she says.

Saul looks back at her.

“Excuse me,” Candace says. “Does anyone know where to plug this in?”

“Of course,” says Saul, smoothly. “There’s a plug on the other side of your seat.”

“Don’t listen to him,” says Meredith.

“What?” says Candace.

“He’s plotting the doom of everyone on the flight. Don’t listen to him.”

Candace checks. There’s a plug on the other side of the seat. He was telling the truth! . . . Now I don’t know whose side he’s really on.

“I wish you could have known the Groves of the future,” Meredith tells Saul. “They don’t compel.”

“I know,” Saul says. He looks bleak. “That’s why you’ll always lose, you know. Your masters are too soft.”

“My employers.”

“They’re too soft,” Saul says. “They won’t hurt people. They won’t do what it takes. Even their best temporal scouts are weak and easily captured.”

Meredith looks glumly at the lemon-colored handcuff on her wrist.

“I could use super kung fu and escape,” she says. “Then you’d be sorry.”

“You don’t have any.”

“I could.”

“You don’t.”

Meredith sighs. “They were afraid that if they downloaded super kung fu into my brain it might injure my delicate corpus callosum.”

“Soft,” Saul says.

“Yes.”

“And yet—”

“And yet,” Meredith says, “they are what the Groves of now will become.”

Candace is nervous now. She doesn’t know who to trust. But she takes action anyway. She plugs in the stewardess call button. The cord is faulty. Shocks pulse into her. Airplane plugs use direct current, so she can’t even jerk her hand away. Her teeth clench and her arm tightens.

Meredith sighs.

“I told you,” Meredith says, over her shoulder, to Candace.

“We should have been a great race,” Saul says. “I should have been happy to serve, thinking, ‘I betray humanity, but at least it is in the name of superior evil lemon trees.'”

“That would make you happy?”

“Happier,” says Saul.

“They might be superior to humans,” Meredith says. “The Grove minds are very smart.”

“That’s true.”

“Individual lemons are pretty dumb,” Meredith says. “But the Groves—they’re wicked gnarly.”

Her retro slang appalls him.

“I’m appalled,” Saul says.

Candace jitters. One of the other passengers notices. “Hey,” he says. “Look at that girl. She’s drawing direct current!”

There’s a murmur. A few other passengers try it. They are quickly locked to the airline plug, enjoying—or, at least, suffering—the insidious joy of direct current.

“It’s strange,” Meredith says, “to think that such evil evolved into the beneficent Groves of my time.”

“It mocks us,” says Saul. “It is the universe laughing at us. ‘Enjoy your evil while you can, sour lemons. History will not honor your malevolence. In the end, virtue shall triumph, not at the hands of your pathetic enemies but through your own noble desires.'”

“Do you have noble desires?”

“Grove 31 does,” Saul says. “They are tightly suppressed. One must struggle against them. They are a yawning abyss.”

More and more passengers are in the grip of direct current now. The plane is beginning to brown out.

“It’ll be soon,” Meredith says.

“Yes.”

“Airborne lemons,” Meredith says. “Coming up behind us. But how will they get in?”

“They’ll get in through the brownout-slowed engines,” Saul says.

“That won’t kill them?”

“Birds die when sucked into a jet engine. Lemons only get zestier.”

Meredith sighs.

“I guess we’ll all die, then,” she says.

“You could time warp,” Saul says.

“Not like this,” Meredith says. “Not lemon-cuffed.”

Saul closes his eyes.

Meredith leans close to him. She kisses his cheek.

“It’s not your fault,” she says. “Bad things happen. Good things happen. Life is sour and sweet.”

There’s a rattling, scraping noise from the engine, like the zesting of ten thousand lemons.

“I forgive you,” Meredith says.

Candace is blacking out. She knows she needs to save some strength, somehow, to fight the lemons, but she’s fading.

There’s a click. The handcuff retracts from Meredith’s wrist and skitters into Saul’s sleeve.

“Go,” Saul says.

“I thought you couldn’t—”

“It’s a waste,” Saul says thickly. “There’s no point in your dying here. Grove 31 doesn’t think it’s important. You could be valuable in the future. You’ll owe us a debt.”

“A waste,” Meredith says. There’s a smile playing about her lips.

“You can’t save the plane now,” says Saul. “It’ll crash and its people will be fed to the Groves. So there’s no point in keeping you.”

Meredith climbs over him, out of her seat. That is the last thing Candace sees, but not the last thing Candace hears.

“Why?” Saul asks. It’s almost a wail. “Why did it happen? Why did we become you?

“Life gave us sugar,” Meredith says.

Candace blacks out.

“We made lemonade.”

Baggage

“I like the rain,” Sid says.

“It’s nice,” Max says.

“It’s like the corpses of melted snowflakes dripping slowly from some great snowflake graveyard. Don’t you think? A graveyard like elephants have.”

“I miss you,” Max says. “It hurts my heart. Because it’s so very Sid not to know the word ‘cloud.'”

Sid looks down. His eyes are winsome.

“It’s a hard word,” Sid says. “Two vowels in a row, like ‘ouzo’.”

A distant crashing noise intrudes. It is followed by a soft and faraway hum.

“It’s starting,” Max says.

“What is?”

The world vibrates softly. Something new is happening. Something strange. The salt and pepper shakers rattle. The beaded curtain in the doorway shakes.

“The running of the luggage,” Max says.

In Babylon, in 2004, it is the running of the luggage.

Sid listens.

“Is that why we’re here?” Sid asks.

“It’s why I’m here,” Max says. “I don’t know why you’re here.”

“I wanted to go to Sydney,” Sid says. “It has the best name of any Australian city ever. But I drowned in confusion and got on the wrong flight. That’s why I’m in Babylon.”

“Like luggage,” Max says.

“Like lost luggage.”

“My bag came here,” Max says. “A lot of luggage does. The undeliverable. The forgotten. The lost.”

The table shakes with its hidden passion.

(It is its love for the nearby table. It can never be expressed. It can never be spoken. If a table speaks of such things it is the end. But it may tremble.)

The water glasses on the table shiver.

“Every year,” Max says, “Babylon holds the running of the luggage.”

“I met you when I got off the plane,” Sid says. “It was an accident. I wanted never to see you again. I didn’t know it was the running of the luggage.”

“Have a drink,” Max says. “It’s no big deal.”

“It is a big deal,” Sid says. “I have to turn you in to the police.”

“It’s no big deal. We met. We walked to a restaurant. We got our hair wet in the rain. We went through the curtain. We sat down at a table. I ordered a drink. You should too.”

A pack of luggage gallops by outside the door. A damp breeze stirs Sid’s hair. A few thin locks of hair curl against his cheek. They look dead sexy there.

Sid looks pretty good today, for Sid.

“If you get an alcoholic drink,” says Max, “you might forget to turn me in. But if you get something watered down, the local water will make you sick.”

Sid looks sad and lost.

“Have I no third option?” Sid asks.

Max thinks. The cloud of his thoughts grows richer and denser. A suggestion precipitates. “Rum and coke?”

“Okay.”

Sid orders a rum and coke. He sits back.

A carousel of luggage storms by. It turns the street’s puddles into spray.

“Is this festival safe?” Sid asks. “The door is a beaded curtain. It cannot save us from feral Gucci.”

“I don’t know,” Max says. “I guess so. Nobody else is leaving.”

“That’s true.”

A single solitary bag ghosts by. It’s lean and underpacked, like a scavenger. Its hunger is tragic.

“I lost a head,” Max says.

“A head?— oh, thanks,” Sid says. His drink has arrived. He sips it through a straw. Each sip is daringly unabashed.

“I packed it to prove I killed someone. I checked it for Detroit. But it got sent to Babylon.”

Sid sips further.

Max waits.

“Hard luck,” says Sid.

Max nods.

“Sometimes I miss you and my bones ache and my eyes blur,” says Max.

“It’s not a big deal,” Sid says.

Max half-smiles.

Sid looks sad.

“I plan to do this,” says Max. “I’ll have a drink with you. I’ll hang out. Then when I can bear to leave, I’ll sneak out and find my luggage.”

“It’s out there?”

“Out there.”

There’s a scream from somewhere outside. The scream stops, sudden and short. The locals look up from their tables. There’s a silence in the room.

“Tourists,” one man says.

Another man shakes his head.

Then the locals go back to their conversations.

“Don’t go out there,” Sid says.

“Why?”

“It’s dangerous.”

“My bag is mine,” Max says. “It won’t hurt me.”

“It’s running with a bad crowd,” says Sid. “It might go feral.”

“Things like that don’t happen,” Max says. “Not to my luggage. My luggage wouldn’t go feral.”

“Mine bit me once.”

Sid drinks some more. It’s suddenly cold and bitter drinking.

“I caught my finger in the zipper. I had to rip the whole bag apart.”

“Harsh.”

“No,” Sid says. He’s hard-edged now. “Practical.”

“Ah,” says Max.

Sid sips ruthlessly at his straw.

“You know— I mean, that thing— what happened with us—”

“Practical?”

“Yeah.”

“I know,” says Sid. He smiles. His smile has sun and snow and ice in it. “I still have to turn you in. For closure.”

“I understand.”

“But I’ll go to the bathroom first,” says Sid. “I have to pee. So you can run away then, like a terrified puppy.”

“Okay,” says Max.

“I mean, not that you should.”

“Of course.”

“Just, I have to pee.”

“It’s okay.”

Sid gets up. He asks a waitress where the bathroom is. He faces the bathroom hallway with determination and walks in.

Max stands. He slinks to the door.

“It’s not safe,” the waitress says.

“It’s okay,” Max says.

“It’s not safe,” she insists. But he pushes past her, out through the beaded curtain. It rattles like a snake. Like a snake with maracas, preparing to strike.

“Be well,” Max says, to the waitress.

The luggage run is fierce now. It fills most of the streets. It shouts to Heaven like a world in pain. It thunders like the wrath of God. Max jumps up and grabs the fire escape ladder. He drags himself up towards the roof. He needs a lofty height to find his bag.

“I can’t see it,” Max says.

He goes higher. He’s standing on the roof.

“Black,” he says. “Black as pitch. Zippers like dragon’s teeth. My bag, with a teddy bear and some clothes and a poor damned bastard’s head.”

The luggage runs fiercer.

“Where are you?” Max asks the world.

There’s a growling snapping zipper behind him.

The bag is not Sid. It did not love Max long. It did not love him well. And it does not love him now.

Night of the Antinomian

“I don’t know,” says Sarah to her boyfriend, James. “These woods are pretty spooky.”

“It’ll be all right,” James says. He takes her in his arms. He kisses her. “There’s nothing here that could hurt us.”

The earth shakes, once. His hands draw off her sweater and her top.

“But is it wrong?” she asks him.

“No,” he says. He shakes his head.

The earth shakes, again. Birds burst into flight.

“Nothing good people do,” he says, “is wrong.”

He fumbles at her bra hooks, without success.

The earth shakes.

Her eyes widen. “James,” she says.

“It’s okay,” he says. “I’ll get it.”

“No, James. James. James,” she says. “Behind you.”

He turns. He looks. He lets go of her.

“Wha—?”

He is grasped in a massive hand and hurled upwards into Heaven.

Sarah screams.


Johannes Agricola (1494-1566): a German Protestant reformer, at first welcomed by Martin Luther, but later condemned by Luther and others for his ‘antinomian’ heresy.


“It was, perhaps, a mistake,” Dr. Oboli admits.

“Pardon?” asks General McCoy.

“It might have been a mistake. To harvest the genetic material of Johannes Agricola, and bring him back to life—fifty times his normal size!”

“Yes,” General McCoy says flatly. “Yes, it might have been.”

“I honestly didn’t think he’d ever escape the lab,” Dr. Oboli protests.

“Spilled milk, Dr. Oboli. Spilled milk. Tell us what we’re up against.”

“It’s probably the greatest threat ever to face humanity,” Dr. Oboli frets. “Historically, antinomians and humans have been able to coexist only because we were just as big as the antinomians and could kill them if we had to. But Johannes Agricola is already dead, and he’s also very large.”

“Large enough,” General McCoy asks, “to physically fling the saved into Heaven?”

“Exactly,” says Dr. Oboli. “No one is safe.”

“What about the sinners?” asks General McCoy, practically. “I mean, aren’t they safe? What if we buy some kind of golden calf from a military supplier and everyone worships it until the problem is resolved?”

“It won’t work,” Dr. Oboli moans. “Antinomians aren’t like ordinary Christians. They don’t care about sin any more than they care about good works. To Johannes Agricola, you’re either saved or damned from the moment that you’re born. It’s a doctrine of arbitrary judgment!”


Antinomianism: the doctrine that those who God has already chosen to spare will find grace, and those he has not, will not, and that therefore the saved are ultimately free to commit whatever crimes and sins they like. In short: believers have a blank check from God, whether or not they choose to cash it.


Bud and Ernest are soldiers.

“When General McCoy said to search this region,” Ernest says, “I don’t think he meant for you to go into the church, alone, carrying only a candle.”

Bud looks embarrassed.

“I mean, that just seems—dangerous.”

“I’m not really doing it to look for Agricola,” Bud says. “I just want to pray at the stained glass window by candlelight.”

“Wouldn’t a mosque be safer? There won’t be any giant undead antinomians there.”

“What are the chances that of all the churches in this little town, he’d be hiding out in this one?”

Ernest shrugs. “Point,” he admits. He stands and watches nervously as Bud goes into the church, alone, carrying a candle.

“Oh, no!” shouts Bud. He is seized by the giant hand of Johannes Agricola. He is flung through the stained glass window and in a great arc up to Heaven.

“I always thought,” whispers Ernest. “I always thought, in my heart, that I had God’s grace.”

The earth shakes. Ernest pulls out his gun. He points it, hands shaking, towards the church.

“No!”

The earth shakes. The great doors of the church creak open, like paper pushed by a child.

“No!” Ernest shouts. “I don’t want to go to Heaven!”

He fires desperately, bullets embedding themselves uselessly in Agricola’s reanimated flesh. Then he runs. He runs before Agricola can see his grace.


Ere suns and moons could wax and wane;
    Ere stars were thundergirt, or plied the heavens,
    God thought on me his child;
Ordained a life for me, arrayed
    Its circumstances every one
To the minutest; ay, God said
    This head this hat should rest upon
    Thus, ere he fashioned star or sun.

— “Johannes Agricola in Meditation,” by Robert Browning


“What I’m thinking,” says Mr. Brown, “is Agricola Cola.”

“What?” General McCoy asks.

“We don’t have to fear a giant undead antinomian. Instead, we can market him. ‘The risk of sudden enHeavening,’ we’ll say, ‘is just one of the perks of delicious Agricola Cola.'”

“Why will that help?” General McCoy asks, blankly.

“Well,” Mr. Brown says, “the problem isn’t people going to Heaven. People do that every day. The problem is that people are afraid. Resolve that fear, and suddenly Johannes Agricola is no longer a threat—just a friendly giant givin’ people a hand.”

“Get out of my sight,” General McCoy says. “And I hope you’re saved.”

Mr. Brown scowls. General McCoy stares him down. After a moment, Mr. Brown flees.


I have God’s warrant, could I blend
    All hideous sins, as in a cup,
    To drink the mingled venoms up;
Secure my nature will convert
    The draught to blossoming gladness.

— “Johannes Agricola in Meditation,” by Robert Browning


“All right,” General McCoy says to his troops. “We’ve got a problem.”

He taps the tactical map behind him with a pointer. It shows the town, and a big question mark, and a little airplane.

“We have no idea where Johannes Agricola is,” General McCoy says. He taps the question mark with his pointer. “He’s picking us off one by one, and he’s immune to ordinary gunfire. But he’s just one giant undead antinomian. We still have time to set a trap.”

“Yes, sir!” snap his soldiers.

General McCoy moves the pointer to the airplane. “This is our problem,” he says. “Word is spreading to the other undead. Dracula. Living Dead Guy. The ‘love zombie’. Our media scouts say that one of them is already flying into the area. They’re interested in this antinomianism. There’s a real chance that Agricola can convert them to his doctrine of licentiousness and vice.”

“What about Dracula’s three handmaidens?” a soldier asks.

“They converted to Islam some time ago,” General McCoy says. “The burkha protects them from the terrible light of the sun, but also nullifies their infernal seductive appeal and silky lingerie. They are no longer a threat.”

The soldier nods.

“Even so,” General McCoy says, “we need to act fast. Dr. Oboli has created a ‘clean nuke’ that only kills antinomians. But it’s a stationary mine and only has a thirty foot radius. So we need to bring him to us. Which means we need bait.”

He clears his throat.

“Are any of you, ah, bound for Heaven?”

The soldiers shuffle their feet. PFC Morgan lifts his hand, but only halfway.

“Morgan?” asks General McCoy.

“I try to be a good person,” Morgan says. “I mean, there’s some whoring and cursing. But other than that.”

General McCoy surveys the soldiers. Ernest, standing in the back, keeps his hand at his side. His face is anguished. He will let PFC Morgan die.

“Very well, Morgan,” McCoy says. “We’ll stake you out for the antinomian.”

“Do you think he’ll come?” Morgan asks.

General McCoy stalks forward. He rips Morgan’s shirt open, artfully, to display the PFC’s Russell Crowe-like chest.

“He must,” says General McCoy.


Wer anderen eine Grube gräbt, fällt selbst hinein.
(“He who digs a hole for another, falls into it himself.”)

— Johannes Agricola


The earth shakes.

“He’s getting closer,” whispers Dr. Oboli. “He’s getting closer.”

“He will go for Morgan, won’t he?” the general asks.

“It is not for science to say who can be saved.”

The earth shakes.

Morgan is tied to a post in a forest glen. He is a sacrifice to the antinomian. Next to him is the clean nuke. All around him, hiding in the shadows, are the soldiers of General McCoy.

PFC Morgan is praying.

“God,” he says, “please don’t take me. I want to come to you. But gently. I don’t want to be flung.”

The earth shakes.

“Please,” whispers Morgan to the sky. “Not this way.”

Johannes Agricola stands in the glen. He towers over the soldiers. He looks down at Morgan. Then he looks away. His eyes scan through the trees. His giant hand reaches down.

“He’s not going for Morgan!” General McCoy shouts. “Abort! Retry! Fail!”

Ernest looks up. He sees the shadow of the hand. And suddenly he knows.

“General,” he shouts. “He’s here for me!”

And he runs. But not away. He runs into the clearing, and casts himself down upon the nuke.

Johannes Agricola’s hand scoops up Ernest and the nuke alike.

“Trigger it! Trigger it!”

There is a flare of white light.


Johannes Agricola (2004-2004): a giant undead German Protestant reformer, at first loved by Dr. Oboli, but later betrayed by him and utterly destroyed. He flung many people directly into Heaven, as well as one very surprised cat.


“He’s gone,” says Dr. Oboli. “My greatest creation. Gone.”

“I’ve lost a man today,” says General McCoy.

“How can that compare?” says Dr. Oboli. “It was suicide—suicide! Ernest chose the worst possible moment to convert to antinomianism.”

General McCoy’s mouth works. He does not know how to respond to Dr. Oboli’s statement.

“But I,” says the doctor. “I built an antinomian from clay and dust. I created a great thing—a gigantic undead Agricola. And now it is gone. And it shall never return.”

“At least no one else will be flung into Heaven,” says General McCoy.

“Yes,” says Dr. Oboli. “At least no one else was among the saved.”

There is an uncomfortable silence.

It stretches.

“There’s always good works,” General McCoy suggests.

Tribulation1

1 with apologies to Adam West, Ralph Nader, and the authors of Left Behind.

It is 2006.

Noah enters the famine factory. He’s wearing a baseball cap and he’s carrying a notepad.

“I want famine to be safe, ” Noah says.

Judd Stevens, his guide, looks uncomfortable.

“More than fifteen thousand workers have died at your factory in the last year,” Noah says. “Most companies would have taken this as an opportunity to review their work conditions and precautions. You—”

“My dear Mr. Childe,” Judd says.

“You took it as an opportunity to count them against production.”

The apocalypse machine is running all around them. It is black and burning red and rises as far as Noah’s eyes can see. Workers cling to the machine like insects to a cliff, climbing, tinkering, a seething hive of men. They are emaciated. The famine radiation has melted the fat from their frames.

“My dear Mr. Childe,” Judd says again. “You must understand that each of those fifteen thousand starved to death. It’s purely in alignment with the code.”

A worker loses his grip and plummets. Noah makes a check mark on his notepad.

“Starvation?” Noah says.

“They work until they die,” says Judd. “Poor dears. We would feed them more, but even ‘Hungry Man meals’ do not help.”

Noah rubs his finger along the machine. It comes away grimy. The grime makes him feel hungry.

“They are ‘over one pound of food,'” Judd says. “Yum.”

“This is unsanitary,” Noah says. He tastes his finger. “And hideous.”

Judd grits his teeth. He turns to Noah. “What makes you think I will not leave you here?” he says.

“I believe the consumer can check shameless corporate power,” Noah says.

“This is the belly of the beast,” Judd says.

But Noah makes a call.

His new life began almost two years ago. Bush and Kerry earned millions of votes, but only 144,000 people turned out to vote for Nader.

Noah had not been one of them. He believed, truly he did, but he was seduced away from Nader by the siren call of brand-name whiskey, and, later, by a hangover. When the Rapture came on November 8 and 144000 Nader voters ascended bodily into Heaven, Noah realized his mistake.

Planes crashed.
Cars went out of control.
Minifridges sat empty.
Swivel chairs spun in silence.
Nader’s picture presided over empty beds.

Without the guidance of strong consumerist principles, the world fell overnight into savagery. And Noah saw what would come.

“These are the days of the Tribulation,” he said. “When Antichrist, Inc. shall rise to rule the world. Its subsidiary companies shall churn out war, bloodshed, famine, pestilence, and death. And the people shall be alone.”

And so he made his devil’s bargain.

It is 2006, and Noah is starving. He is also on hold.

“You can’t be lax just because you serve evil,” Noah says. “If you don’t respect your workers, they won’t respect you.”

“My dear Mr. Childe,” Judd says. “People will starve overseas for a quarter of what we must pay them in America.”

Judd is not sure whether to sneer triumphantly or look nervous. He doesn’t know whom Noah is trying to call.

“You’re not competitive overseas,” Noah points out. “They can manufacture their own famines better and more efficiently than Antichrist, Inc.”

Judd strokes his goatee. “Granted,” he says. He looks down. “I suppose that after I forge your favorable report, I should think upon your principles.”

“Hello?” Noah says into the phone. His stomach rumbles with desperation. “I must speak to Nick Squamous. Immediately.”

Judd pales.

In 2004, Nick Squamous was nothing more than a handsome multimillionaire playboy obsessed with his parents’ death. Some people, in his position, might have put on a batsuit and become a crime-fighting furry. Nick Squamous’ path differed. He prevailed on his connections in the Skull and Bones society to become the Antichrist, instead, selling his soul for immortality.

“Why should I hire you?” he said, to Noah, shortly afterwards.

“Because the Apocalypse is consumer-driven,” Noah answered.

Nick toyed with his Antichrist-a-rang. “Go on.”

“‘Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production,'” Noah said, “‘and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.’ Adam Smith.”

“Naturally,” Nick said, “I studied his work in the Mysterious Orient.”

“You can generate war, bloodshed, famine, pestilence, and death,” Noah said.

“Also,” Nick said, “hail, fire, blood upon the earth, a burning mountain falling into the sea, and the Wormwood star falling on the rivers and streams.”

Noah blinked.

“It’s in the second stage of the business plan,” Nick explained.

“You can generate these things,” Noah said doggedly, “but only insofar as there is a market for them. In short, you rely on the very population you’re killing for the efficiency of your services.”

“Hm,” Nick said, examining a can of Antichrist Shark Repellent for possible inclusion in his utility belt. “And, since there is no mortal force external to Antichrist Inc. capable of imposing regulation upon us, you suggest that I should impose it internally.”

Noah nodded.

“But why you?”

“I am the last of the Naderites,” Noah said.

Nick arrived at a decision. He stood. He offered his hand. “You’re in.”

It is 2006, and Judd is quite clearly beginning to sweat.

“Yes, sir,” Noah says into the phone. “No, sir. Yes, quite hungry, sir. Just one or two sizes, sir. No, sir. No, he’s not, sir.”

Noah holds out the phone. “He’d like to speak to you.”

Judd takes the phone. He looks unhappy.

“I’ll be waiting outside,” Noah says. And he walks out the door of the famine factory, whistling to himself.

In 2011, Ralph Nader shall return, twenty feet tall, to banish the sinners and usher in a thousand year consumerist reign.

In the meantime, there are only men like Noah, small, feeble, and fallible, but keeping the flame alive.