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.

Lord of the Rings IV: King Kong

There is an evil in Valinor that does not sleep.

PICTURE OF A STONE MONKEY. IT BEGINS TO MOVE.

Sun Wu-Kung shouts, “I am the Great Sage, Equal to Heaven!”

It has been safely bound for many years.

PICTURE OF SUN WU-KUNG BOUND BENEATH THE MOUNTAIN

Sun Wu-Kung writhes. He whispers, “Baggins. Baggins. SHIRE!”

But now . . . it has awakened.

WORMTONGUE STANDS BESIDE SUN WU-KUNG

“Great Sage,” says Wormtongue. “The bearer of the ring comes to Valinor.”

Sun Wu-Kung looks up.

“He bears the imprint of the ring upon his soul.”

And not all the powers of Valinor . . .

VARIOUS POWERS KNEEL BEFORE FRODO

“You have my sword,” says Melkor.

“And my eagles,” says Manwë.

“And my infinite power,” says Eru Ilúvatar.

Frodo looks very impressed.

“Showoff,” mutters Melkor.

can stop the tragedy that is to come.

FRODO IS SAILING WITH SAMWISE NEAR AN ISLAND WITH A MOUNTAIN ON IT.

“Monkey Island?” asks Frodo. “What’s that?”

A great wave rises.

SUN WU-KUNG STANDS BEFORE FRODO.

The Great Sage’s power wrenches a burning ring-shaped essence from Frodo’s chest. Power pulls it slowly through the air towards Sun Wu-Kung, while Frodo’s face contorts.

A GIANT MONKEY KING STANDS OVER MONKEY ISLAND, WIELDING HIS MANY-SIZE ROD, STARING AT VALINOR.

Eagles fly past Sun Wu-Kung, with wizards standing on them firing blasts of power at the Monkey King. He slaps at them.

A GREAT HAND COMES DOWN TO GRIP FRODO.

“Sam,” whispers Frodo. “Sam.”

The Monkey King begins to climb.

Just when you thought it was safe to sail West and leave behind the burdens of material existence . . .

THE MONKEY KING LOOMS OVER ERU ILÚVATAR.

Slowly, reluctantly, Eru Ilúvatar kneels.

LORD OF THE RINGS: KING KONG

“I beat Sauron!” shouts Frodo. “I shouldn’t have to fight a giant monkey!”

Coming soon.

Wuxia Mumakil1

In Middle-Earth, there is no union so sacred as the bond of friendship between a dwarf and an elf. When Legolas died, Elrond assumed his responsibility for Gimli. Yet the two of them could never be friends. To befriend Gimli would dishonor Legolas’ memory; and however much Elrond longed to share an ale and a story with the dwarf, he could not. Separated by the shadow of the dead, the two were doomed to live forever apart.

It came to pass that both of them met an oliphant, or mumak, who possessed great potential. It was forbidden to teach the secret arts of the elves to the mumakil—yet Elrond and Gimli wished to try. They feared if they did not that ambition and lost potential would taint the mumak’s soul and make it a poisoned elephant.

To assert its independence, the mumak stole the mystic howdah called the Green Destiny, filled with the dark riders of Sauron. It carried the howdah away to the distant forest, tall and green, where Elrond confronted it at last.

1 requires familiarity with the Lord of the Rings and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Great green trees rise on every side. Their branches rustle and sway in the wind.

Elrond looks grimly at the mumak. It looks back. It’s a giant elephant. It has four tusks. Its riders serve Sauron.

“Your martial spirit is great,” Elrond says, “but your anger poisons your spirit. Become my apprentice. I will teach you the way of the elves.”

The mumak charges. Like a feather, Elrond drifts upwards into the branches. The mumak snorts and jumps after him. It lands lightly on a branch.

Elrond’s branch sways. Swoosh. Swoosh.

Elrond fires an arrow. Swoosh. Swoosh.

The mumak tosses its head. Then it charges. It tries to trample Elrond. Elrond darts aside. The mumak stands at the end of the branch. The branch sways. Swoosh. Swoosh.

Elrond fires five times. The recoil sends his branch swooping away. The mumak trumpets uneasily as the arrows pepper its flesh. Swoosh. Swoosh.

The mumak charges Elrond and attempts to gore him. He catches hold of its tusk. His eyes closed, he lets it carry him backwards. Then, as the mumak stops, Elrond steps off onto a nearby branch. The wind blows him and the mumak apart. Swoosh. Swoosh.

The mumak wiggles its head. Elrond, who speaks the secret language of giant martial arts elephants, understands its meaning. The mumak is saying: “If you can defeat me in five moves, I will become your apprentice.”

Their branches sway together. The mumak takes a step; Elrond takes another. The mumak gores at him. Elrond steps aside. Then Elrond takes the fifth move, and suddenly the mumak no longer has its howdah. Elrond balances it in his hand. The riders look perturbed.

The mumak trumpets: “You cheated.”

Elrond sighs, and tosses the howdah into a pool deep below.

The mumak hesitates. Then it cries: “My riders! They’ll all die!”

“A true master needs no howdah,” Elrond says. “The desire for excellence is the only monkey on his back.”

The mumak dives off the branch towards the water below.

“I told you that you couldn’t save it,” growls Gimli.

Elrond looks at Gimli. There is a sorrow in his gaze that no words can express.

Uncomfortable, the dwarf looks down. “Well, you can’t,” he grumbles. “Some things can’t be fixed.”

“Ah,” murmurs Elrond. “This is a world of sorrow.”

I Remember All My Life1

1 requires familiarity with the Lord of the Rings, the song Mandy, and optionally with Gandalf’s Secret.

Sparky’s a young girl. Fourteen. She’s dressed a bit old for her age. She’s in the wrong part of town, and that’s why there are seven guys looming all around her.

“Nice weather,” she says, backing up. Then she giggles, a bit nervously. The sky is tinted red and black. It’s raining. It’s the kind of rain that makes you think Manwe of the Eagles is tossing his cold grey soup out the window. It’s been this way for hours. She doesn’t know why.

“Yah, chickie. Real nice.” One of them smiles at her. He’s missing a tooth.

Sparky’s back hits a chain link fence. She startles.

“Look,” says one of them. He’s being reasonable. “Just strip down, and this won’t hurt at all.”

Sparky frowns a little. Then she smiles. She kicks him, a high side kick to the neck, and he drops. He’d scream, but it hurts too much. One of them grabs her foot. Two of them grab her arms. Her jacket crackles. The two on her arms spasm and fall back. Grabbing the fence for leverage, she manages a weak kick at the stomach of the guy holding her foot. The results aren’t entirely pleasing for anyone; he looks a little sick, but at the end of it, she’s dangling there with one ankle held in each of his hands.

“Turn the jacket off,” instructs another one. He’s got a gun. A moment later, the tip of a sword emerges from his chest. He goes limp. One of them lasts long enough to level a gun and ask their new assailant, “Who the hell are you?”

“No man can kill me,” comes the answer.

The gun fires. Twice. The sword comes down, and there is blood.

“Heh,” says Sparky. “Heh. Um, hi.”

“Are you all right?”

Sparky nods. The rain is blinding. All she can make out is the shadow of a man. His eyes burn.

“Good.” He turns. He walks away. A car door opens. A car door closes.

“Hey!” Sparky shouts. “Hey!”

She snatches up a gun from a puddle. She chases after him. The car starts. She catches a glimpse of a face in the window. It’s not a human face. Then the wheels scream, like some great beast crying in the night, and the car moves away.

“Oh, no, you don’t!”

Sparky fires. The bullet spangs into the car’s rear bumper. She fires again. It lands under the body. Squinting against the rain, she takes more careful aim at the back tire.

The car stops. Slowly, it backs up. She hears the other door open, and hurries around, and gets in.

“You can’t just do that and leave,” she says.

“Ah.”

“Thank you,” she says.

The creature nods.

“Where are we going?”

The creature hesitates a long moment, then shrugs. A bony finger taps the seat belt. Sparky buckles up. The car starts again. He drives. “Los Angeles,” says the Witch-King of Angmar. “We are going to Los Angeles.”

“That’s over a thousand miles away.”

“Yes,” agrees the first and greatest of the Nazgul. He turns on the radio. He drives.

The night goes into morning. It’s just another day. Sparky’s asleep in her seat. When the full sun shines on her face, she snaps awake.

“Hey,” she says. “Who are you?”

The Witch-King turns down the radio. It’s playing the top hits of the 70s. This was making it hard for him to hear Sparky, even with his supernaturally acute senses.

“I am the Lord of the Nazgul,” he says. “The Lord of Morgul. The Witch-King of Angmar.”

“I’ll call you Ange.”

“As you like,” he agrees.

“Why are you going to Los Angeles, huh?”

“I’m looking for someone I lost a long time ago,” he says. “I have heard a rumor that she is there.”

“Wow. How long you been lookin’?”

He looks over. His eyes meet hers. For a long moment, he sees nothing but memory. “You remind me of her.”

“Ooh?” She wriggles her toes.

“I never knew what to say to her, either.”

Sparky giggles. “We should fight crime. On the way.”

“Hm?”

“We should stop in a bunch of different towns,” she explains, “and clean up their troubles. They’d call us Sparky and Ange—mysterious strangers! I’ll be the brains and charm, and you can be the muscle.”

The Witch-King regards one skeletal finger.

“Metaphorically,” she clarifies. “Geez.”

The Witch-King smiles a little. “I never realized,” he says. “How happy she made me.”

Sparky tilts her head. “Tell me more!”

He gives her an amused look. “You’re awfully interested in the love life of an ancient corpse.”

Sparky blushes. “I like to know stuff,” she says.

The radio crackles and its volume jogs up. For a moment, he can’t respond: Barry Manilow is singing.

oh Mandy.
Well you came and you gave without takin’
But I sent you away, oh Mandy
Well, you kissed me and stopped me from shakin’
And I need you today, oh Mandy.

The radio crackles and turns itself down. The Witch-King of Angmar smiles wryly. “It was kind of like that.”

“Ooh.” Sparky beams. “Oh, hey, so how’d you lose her?”

“We stood on the edge between two ages of the world,” he says, softly. “And she wanted to remain a horror; and I, to find some better way. So I left. I walked up Cirith Ungol, and climbed the highest mountain of the Ephel Duath, and screamed the pain of ages into the wind above the world; and when I was done, I realized what I had lost. A vale of tears closed around my mind, and it seems to me I have spent all the years since climbing my way out of it.”

“. . . did you try just going back to her house?”

“She was not there.”

Sparky dons her best relentlessly practical look. “She might have been washing her hair.”

“It seems unlikely.”

“Did you check back the next day?”

“For seven years, I waited at her door.”

“And you’re sure you had the right address?”

The Witch-King of Angmar points his finger at her. It has a thin gold ring on it.

“What are you doing?”

“I am trying to use my magical ring to make you shut up.”

“Does that work?”

The Witch-King of Angmar sighs. “Evidently not.”

“It’s not really an age of magic rings any more.”

“No,” agrees the Witch-King. “Still, it is the ring’s corruption that makes me who I am; and it is natural to hope that one’s nature is a thing of power.”

“I’ve got a ring,” she says. “But you can’t see it.”

The Witch-King points his finger at her.

“Want to guess where?”

The Witch-King shakes his finger.

Sparky sighs. “It’s just a tattoo on my hip,” she says. “You don’t have to use magic.”

“Why are you in my car?”

“Oh,” she says. “Well, I always wanted to do cool stuff. So I decided to be a superhero. That’s why I went out to get into trouble and beat up some evil criminals. But something was missing. You! Now that we’ve met, we can kick some real evil butt.”

“Ah.” The Witch-King considers. “Are you rich?”

“Mom and Dad do okay,” she admits.

“Then you may pay for gas and food along the way,” he says, “and if you find yourself fighting crime, I shall assist you with my deathless sword; but only if it does not take us far out of our way.”

“We could be Sparky and Witch-ky.”

“No rhyming.”

“But—”

The Witch-King turns up the radio.

And nothing is rhymin’, oh Mandy.
Well you came and you gave without takin’
But I sent you away, oh Mandy
Well, you kissed me and stopped me from shakin’
And I need you today, oh Mandy.

The Witch-King turns it down. “Barry Manilow is wise,” he says. “Listen to Barry Manilow.”

Sparky sulks. She cannot find an immediate counter to this argument. She is forced to say, “Fine. Sparky and Ange. We can agree on Sparky and Ange, right?”

The Witch-King of Angmar frowns distantly. “It seems to me that I should have top billing.”

“Bah. You’re one step up from the magical talking mascot.”

“Who was it, yesterday, who was dangling upside down with a gun to her head?”

“Pfft. Yesterday.” Sparky waves dismissively. “Yesterday’s a dream.”

“. . . you took that from the song.”

Sparky sits back smugly. “And if I did?”

The Witch-King looks stonily forward at the morning. “Nothing.” A car zips past him in the right lane. The Witch-King honks, out of general aggravation. His car screams like a great bird, keening its rage into the wind.

“Wow,” Sparky says. “Cool horn.”

“Tradition.”

“You know,” she says, “that’s kind of worrisome.”

He shrugs.

“I don’t know,” she says, and shrugs too. “It’s just, you go around in cerements, and your car has a screaming-horn. And you said this woman was a ‘horror’. Did she really make you happy? Do you even want to be happy? Or is this whole journey thing, like, pain calling to pain?”

The Witch-King of Angmar, jaw clenched, finds himself accelerating. “You are an impertinent mortal.”

Sparky looks sideways at him. “It’s not just ’cause you’re hot,” she says. “You saved my life. And you’re my crimefighting partner. I’m worried. I don’t want you trapped in some kind of dysfunctional relationship.”

The Witch-King sighs. “It’s not like that,” he says. “We had something real. She . . . didn’t have to hang out with me. She couldn’t eat me. I don’t have any good meat.”

Quietly, he sings.

You came and you gave without takin’
But I sent you away, oh Shelob,
You kissed me and stopped me from shakin’
And I need you today, oh Shelob

“She kissed you and stopped you from shakin’?”

“Yah,” he says, lost in memory. “She used a paralytic venom.”

“Oh.”

He smiles.

“Wait,” Sparky says. “Just where did you two kiss?!

The last strains of Barry Manilow fill the car.

You kissed me and stopped me from shakin’
And I need you

Gandalf’s Secret1

1 requires familiarity with the Lord of the Rings, the work of Lovecraft, and slash2
2 fan-fiction stories where unlikely couples beat the odds.3
3specifically, the odds against them having sex.

“Master Frodo, throw the ring away. Throw it in the fire! Then we can go home.”

“No,” says Frodo. He sees what Sam can’t. He’s looking out at Mordor. He came here to destroy the Dark Lord Sauron. He’s a determined hobbit assassin! But there’s something above the Burning Eye that softens his heart. He can’t continue his mission! That’s because Shelob’s spun a web over Mordor. It has words in the web. Frodo reads the words and knows.

“What is it, master Frodo?”

“Don’t you understand, Sam? It says ‘SOME EYE’.”

“But master Frodo.” Sam turns and sees the words. His heart melts too. “You’re right. He’s no ordinary dark lord. We can’t kill him just like that. He’s something special, master Frodo. Something magical—and that’s the truth!”

All the people of Middle-Earth travel to the Black Gate to look up at Shelob’s Web and marvel at the words. Sauron attacks them with some monstrous soldiers, but they hardly notice. They know now. They’ve seen. They know the truth.

The next day dawns. Dew glitters on a new web. “TERRIFIC.”

“Come on, master Frodo,” Sam says. “Let’s go see the dark master.”

They travel to the Tower. “I’m sorry, Sauron,” says Frodo. “I guess I was so intent on your monstrous exterior and your foul intention to enslave Middle-Earth that I didn’t notice your inner beauty.”

Bright red flames consume the lidless eye. It’s blushing! That’s so adorable.

“As I look upon that inner beauty,” confides Frodo, “I can’t help thinking, ‘There is no God. There is no hope. All the universe is damned to endless darkness.’ It’s a harsh kind of beauty. But it’s there. And if Iluvatar’s out there somewhere, watching over us, may he bless us, every one.”

Aww! Sauron hugs Frodo. Frodo shrieks and writhes in the flame. Sam says, heart in his throat, “I’ll remember this moment forever.”

One shouldn’t encourage Sauron-Frodo slash. That’s a growing problem for the Internet! So there’s no sex here. Just a soft and tenderhearted story of love! As Frodo burns in those terrible flames of love, unconsumed and unconsummated, his eyes meet Sauron. They shiver with tenderness. He understands.

Frodo’s tongue flies from the Eye, landing flopping at Sam’s feet. “Joy!” it hisses, writhing horribly. It’s supercharged with the Dark Lord’s energies. “Worship Sauron and revel in mindless ecstacy as you stare upon our timeless love!”

Gandalf can not hold back his tears. “All our hopes, in the hands of one little hobbit—and he has surpassed my every expectation.” He spins to face the decimated troops of Gondor. “Launch the fireworks. I’d thought we’d defeat the Dark Lord, but instead my old comrade Sauron will have a happy ending. Let romance fill the air!”

Gondor’s troops load their catapults with the special romantic ammunition. “We’ve never done this before,” says Faramir, “but in Sauron’s hour of need, the men of Gondor will not fail him.” LAUNCH!

The dust of Gondor’s romance grenades sifts down over Mordor. Everywhere, the orcs make merry. The Lidless Eye blinks back happy tears. Even Shelob and the Witch-King of Angmar find comfort in one another.

“They say no man can romance me,” confides the Witch-King of Angmar. Shelob only chitters.

BOOM! That’s a romance grenade.

BOOM! That’s a romance grenade.

BOOM! Oops! That one hit the Lidless Eye. It pops and shrivels. Sauron’s dying! Frodo’s writhing tongue screams, “No! Dark master, do not leave me! OUR TIMELESS LOVE!”

Sauron’s tower explodes. The Eye slowly falls.

“10!” cries the crowd gathered around to celebrate the New Age of Middle-Earth. “9! 8! 7! 6! 5! 4! 3! 2! 1!”

Sauron’s eye hits the ground! Can such a bright spark of love end in so dark a tragedy? No orderly universe would permit it! Dim grows the Eye that burns over Mordor. Cold grow the hearts of orcs, elves, and men. Frodo’s tongue worms its way along the hot baked ground.

Frodo’s tongue gives the Eye one last steamy, lidless kiss. Isn’t that sweet? It’s saying goodbye!

POOF!

Kissed by a bold hobbit, Sauron turns into a marvelous princess! He’s been the enchanted Maiar Princess of the Hobbits all along!

“At last,” sighs Gandalf, laying down the heavy burden of secrets carried for far too many years.

It’s a new year! May your life have many happy endings, just like that.