What It’s Like

I should probably quit it with the authorial interjections for a while and just tell the story of Hitherby Dragons. If nothing else there’s enough meta in the concept as it is without the real me sticking my nose in to say stuff in the first person. But sometimes I worry about what would happen if there was a virus on my machine that sucked me and my friends into a virtual world where we had to defeat an evil interpreter to return to our reality.

And okay,
To be honest,
I’m worrying about it right now.

I kind of wanted—before I, you know, spend the next few years of entries just telling the story—to get that off my chest.

If I got sucked into the world of the machine, would I be able to keep posting? What about posts that I’d already written? Would they get changed behind my back?

What if nothing is stable? What if the foundations of reality itself could . . . shift, like suddenly frictionless triscuits?

So I’m sitting here poking at my peanut butter firewall.

I don’t know if it’s what computer security experts would recommend. They’re probably all in the pay of sinister virus programs anyway. But I know to call it a firewall.

It’s called a firewall because you can’t actually burn peanut butter, and even if you could, it would taste pretty grody. I mean, really, really bad. So it stops fires.

And it works for stopping viruses. (Unless.)

It works for stopping viruses. The bits have to pass through the peanut butter in order to get to my machine, which makes them all sticky. Then they get swarmed by peanut-butter-loving white blood spreadsheet cells.

I’m pretty much safe. (Unless, until. . . .)

Until the virus writers start coding in sardines. ‘Cause sardines are the anti-peanut-butter. You slather peanut butter on a sardine and trust me, the white blood cells won’t want to swarm it.

They’ll just look out of their grids at me with that, “Er, yes, right.” look.

“Let’s not eat that,” their accusing expressions will seem to say, “and say we did.”

It’s hard to truly tame spreadsheet cells. So hard. I mean, you can make friends with them, but you can’t really domesticate them—one peanut-butter-covered sardine virus and it’s like they don’t even know you exist. And if that peanut-butter-covered sardine virus is also shooting lasers out of its eyes, there’s a serious risk they’ll turn against you.

The idea of my defense system actually working against me to suck me into the computer world . . .

It’s like a living nightmare that hasn’t ever happened.

You know.

Like that one where zombie Nixon attacks.

Don’t look at me that way. When Nixon says he’s going away for good, you know he’ll be back. You can’t trust Nixon! He came back to politics, and he’ll come back from the grave.

You’ll be sitting around planning Democratic strategy, and his zombie Pekingese minions will come in and start measuring your brain, and you’ll go, “Er, what?”

And they’ll say, “We’re just here to . . . adjust the . . . wastebaskets.”

And you’ll say, “Oh, carry on, then,” but they’re not wastebasket adjusters, they’re zombie Pekingese minions of a corrupt and evil ex-President who wants to eat your brain.

See? It’s like that.

Anyway, everything you see here for a while will be a letters column or a helpful data sheet or one of Jane’s shows. Unless there’s a number in the title. For some reason, the numbers mean that what you’re reading is a real history or a real story from Jane’s world.

Sardines are scared of numbers because they can’t count the reals—right?

Tell me it will keep me safe from the shifting, terrible changing chaotic nature of the world.

Skipping Right Over King Obo-Zed1

1 whose story does not interest.

The snowflake kingdom is high on the cloud. Prince Adric lives there. He doesn’t like Prince Leopold. PUSH!

Prince Leopold goes over the edge. Flutter flutter flutter down to the earth below.

King Gordon lives on the cloud. King Gordon is sleeping with Laurel, Melinda, and Amanda. They catch him at it. It’s not too hard once they take off the blindfolds. PUSH!

King Gordon goes over the edge. Flutter flutter flutter down to the earth below.

It’s their tragic destiny. It’s nature’s calamity! They have to have infighting so that we can have snow.

“Oh, Romeo,” says Juliet, who is a snowflake from a great snowflake family, “wherefore art thou Romeo?”

Romeo gives her a chilly glare. He can’t help it. He’s a snowflake. He also makes pointed remarks. It’s just part of the package.

“Look, babe. I’m just how I gotta be.”

“Well, I’m killing myself, then!” JUMP!

Juliet goes over the edge. Flutter flutter flutter down to the earth below.

“Woe is me! Nobody loves Snowflake Romeo!” JUMP!

Romeo goes over the edge. Flutter flutter flutter down to the earth below.

In the spring, it will be warmer, and the rain will fall like the blood of God, speared through the heart by a lance of sunlight, falling forever through the sky, soft as a cloud. Because that’s what it is.

In the autumn, leaves will scurry from the trees to carry out their offensive against the governments of mankind. They’re orange and red. Those are the colors of their revolution.

In the winter, King Gordon XVIII will stand before the assembled snowflakes. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he will say, and everyone will look utterly blank.

Gordon will blush. He cribbed his speech from late night television. Bad Gordon XVIII!

“Variously sexed frozen particles of water!”

Wild cheering.

“Tonight, we launch our invasion plan of the earth below.”

He gestures widely at the snow mortars; at the snow tanks; at the snow bombs, each carrying more than a teraton of explosive power, if only snowflakes had nuclear technology, which admittedly they do not. “We shall sweep them away in our wrath. We will bury them!” JUMP!

Gordon falls.

JUMP!

Many subjects fall.

The sergeants scowl at the others. PUSH!

The remaining subjects fall. Flutter flutter flutter down to the earth below.

“Oh no!” cried King Gordon XVIII. “We forgot our military armament. Can anyone flutter upwards?”

King Gordon XVIII hits the windshield of someone who doesn’t know how to drive in the snow. Splat.

This is everybody’s world.

The Monster (I/IV)

The monster is only comfortable in uncomfortable situations. The monster won’t have tea with the Queen. That’s too normal! So the monster has tea with the gingerbread-house witch. That’s not uncomfortable enough! So they also invite Santa Claus. That makes for some awkward silences!

Santa Claus doesn’t know it’s a monstrous tea party. The invitation says it’s a charity dinner. Santa plans to give a speech. He plans to talk about the endangered toys from the island of broken toys. He plans to deny all ties to Al-Qaida. He plans to read selections of his naughty/nice list as a party game. Santa is a very popular speaker. This isn’t a charity dinner. Surprise, Santa! Surprise!

“Soon,” cackles the witch, “Hansel will be fat, and I’ll pop him in the oven.”

This makes Santa look uncomfortable. He’s not gotten as far as he has as a saintly figure sacred to children everywhere by endorsing child-eating witches! “He’s a good kid—” Santa says.

“Have a popover, Santa!” exclaims the witch, and shoves one in his mouth. This strongly discourages further speech. You can’t be a reputable saint when dribbling popover onto your beard! The witch cackles.

“Fattened children are tasty,” the monster agrees. He has no stomach to argue taste with the witch! “Still, there are healthier alternatives.”

Hansel’s face lights with hope. Surely, if Santa won’t save him, the monster can!

“After all,” the monster continues, “lean, well-exercised children are the medically preferable diet! If you baste them with molasses, you’ll lose weight and they’ll taste great!”

Hansel’s face falls.

The witch peers at the monster. She’s very near-sighted. She has to lean so close to see him that she’s almost bumping him with her nose. “That’s deranged and wrong,” she says. “Eating lean, healthy children is immoral! I won’t have it in my house.”

“I’d thought this was a charity dinner—” Santa says.

“Have a popover, Santa!”

Santa chews.

“It’s his own greed,” the witch says, airily, “that makes him eat the candy I push through the bars. So that’s why I can cook and eat him.”

Hansel looks plaintive. “I’d rather prefer some spinach.”

“See?” shouts the witch, full of glee. “Candy’s not even enough for him!”

Santa swallows. “How about a Tickle-Me Elmo?” he asks. He is desperately grasping at straws in a social situation spiraling out of his control. “Everybody likes Tickle-Me Elmo!”

The monster scowls at Santa terrifyingly. “You bastard! Shut up!” His eyes gleam. His shiny tie gleams. He’s the very picture of an abhorrent fiend!

Santa shrinks back in his seat. He can read those eyes. He can read that tie! No one gave the monster soft cuddly toys when he was a child. That’s what drives him! In a way, it’s all Santa’s fault. If he’d put the monster’s name on the Nice list, there wouldn’t be this horror. He gave him no dolls. He gave him no toys. He gave the monster a chunk of coal, and that’s made its blackened smear on the monster’s soul. That’s the whole problem.

It’s too awful! Santa decides on seppuku. He remembers just in time that he’s not sworn to the code of the samurai. Too bad, Santa! But it’s good for all the little children of the world. A bushido Santa would be dead—that’s how harsh honor is!

“The boy’s a glutton,” says the witch. “Just listen to him. All the candy in the world’s still not enough! But you can’t expect me to punish him. He’s thin as a bone!”

The witch is clearly very image-conscious. The media’s relentless portrayal of thin, fit children as nice has convinced her that they can’t be naughty! Santa knows better, but he’s wrestling with depression and futility. Fight it, Santa! You can be jolly again!

“Some tasty cauliflower!” exclaims Hansel. “Mm, cauliflower. It’s the only vegetable that tastes like chalk!”

“You could still punish him,” the monster says. He’s pinning Santa with his eyes. He wants Santa to commit seppuku, oh yes. “I mean, he’s staying thin. Isn’t that stubborn and obstreperous, when you want to eat him? You can always find some reason to punish a child.”

The witch looks disgusted. She wrinkles her nose—just like one leg in a pair of crumpled leggings! “You can’t do that,” she says. “You can’t make ‘fairy tales’ without ‘fair’! And stuff you find out by determining what words are inside other words is never wrong. Now drink more tea.”

“I’ve had ten cups!”

“. . . you have?” The witch looks very innocent. She wouldn’t eat a fellow monster! “Let me feel your finger.”

The monster is reassured by the witch’s innocent expression. He extends his finger towards the witch. She massages it and thinks. “You’re not jittering enough yet. You should drink more tea.”

Santa opens his mouth to interject.

“Have a popover, Santa!”

The witch looks smug. She’s not only being cruel to Santa, but she stole the popover trick from a rival witch! Recycled evil is the best kind.

“Actually,” explains the monster, “I’ve got to go. I’ve a show to catch!”

“You could let me out,” says Hansel. “I mean, while you’re here and all. I promise I’d be good.”

“Hush, dearie,” says the witch. There’s some sympathy in her eyes. “You’re better off with me.”

“Santa?” asks Hansel, plaintively.

Santa Claus shakes his head silently. He can’t give Hansel his freedom. It’s not Christmas! That would be wrong!

The monster leaps to his feet and adjusts his shiny tie. He’s got a show to catch, just like he said!

“Gretel?” asks the witch.

Gretel resignedly places her shovel under the monster’s feet and heaves him into the fire. Woosh! He flies up the chimney. That’s the preferred exit for monsters. It’s also the preferred exit for changelings, Santa Claus, and smoke elementals! The witch doesn’t use her front door very much.

The Hero (II/IV)

The hero is taking the Ogre Express. Four big ogres run up to his house. They have tusks. They have yellow eyes. They’re holding a wooden platform. They put it down. He stands on it. They pick it up. They run! That’s the Ogre Express.

“I don’t like the stage,” says the hero. He’s very dashing. He’s got black hair and dark eyes. His skin’s a little gray. “It’s only there because my sister died.”

“We run!” say the Ogres. “We’re the Ogre Express!”

“I could have saved her,” the hero explains. “But I didn’t. So I sealed my heart in a box.”

“We run!” say the Ogres. “We’re the Ogre Express! Look, run on big gray hill. Thump, thump, thump—that’s our feet!”

“I’m a giant elephant!” says the hill, somewhat perturbed. “Don’t run on me.”

“Thump, thump, thump!” say the Ogres. They leap off the hill’s head. Perfect landing!

“I thought I wouldn’t go,” says the hero. He’s dressed in silver chain armor. The sunlight does not fall on him. He’s held back tears for decades. “I thought I wouldn’t see the performance. But I couldn’t help it. I wanted to see what her death wrought.”

“We’re the Ogre Express! Look, run on rainbow. Thump, thump, thump.”

The rainbow is made of light. Their feet don’t thump at all. The ogres look embarrassed. JUMP!

“Look,” say the Ogres, hopefully, “run on Armani. Thump, thump, thump.”

The man under their feet falls down. “I’m a stockbroker,” he says. “It’s just an Armani suit!”

“Run on gold,” say the Ogres. They’re looking desperate now. “Thump, thump, thump!”

“I’m a road made out of gold!” says the road. “Thump, thump, thump!” This pleases the ogres no end.

“So that’s why I’m going,” says the hero. “That’s why I’ll watch, with sad eyes and a sword at my side.”

“We’re the Ogre Express! Look, run on stage! Thump, thump, thump.”

“Actually, this is my stop,” notes the hero.

“RUN ON STAGE,” insist the Ogres. “We’re the Ogre Express!”

The hero kills the Ogres with one sweep of his sword. The platform falls neatly to the ground.

“Now we’re dead,” say the Ogres, annoyed. “Look, run on Hades! Thump, thump, thump—that’s our feet!”

The hero smiles wryly. He knew they’d be okay. That’s why he’s the hero, after all!

The Angels (III/IV)

“Surprise!” says Jane’s mother. “We got you an early Christmas present.”

“Ooh!” says Jane, and tears off the wrapping. “It’s a burning bush action figure, with real prophetic action! And it sings!”

“That’s right!” announces Jane’s mother. “I knew you’d like it. I couldn’t wait for Christmas!”

“That’s very bad, mother,” lectures Jane. “Presents should wait until Christmas Day!”

“I’m sorry,” admits Jane’s mother, and hangs her head. “Here, you should light it on fire and see what action figure God says!”

“Okay!” says Jane, who can’t stay angry at her Mom long. Fwoosh! The bush catches on fire.

“I AM THAT I AM(TM),” the bush announces. “I’m a burning bush with real prophetic action!”

“Wow!” says Jane. “It’s even better than I imagined.”

“You must be Jane,” says the voice of the plastic Yahweh action figure. “That’s good! I need you to save the world.”

“I’ll do it!” Jane exclaims. “But I have to be in bed by 8.”

“You must push every software CEO in town,” explains the burning bush action figure. “PUSH! Otherwise I’ll have to blow everything up, and that’s bad.”

“That’s very bad, plastic God,” lectures Jane. “Pushing people is impolite! A good girl never pushes. Not even people with MBAs.”

“Very well,” concedes the burning bush. “You may give them a bouillon cube instead, if they do not want to be pushed.”

“Yay!” shouts Jane. “I’m going to save the world.”

“Be careful!” cries the burning bush. “You will have many enemies!”

It’s no good, burning bush action figure! Jane’s already dropped you and bolted out the door. She’s a hasty heroine!

Jane visits three CEOs. She gives two of them a bouillon cube. The third, she looks over. He doesn’t understand the importance of Ops. So she says, “Excuse me, sir, but can I push you?”

“Only if it’s necessary to save the world,” says the CEO. He laughs to himself. He’s so clever! She’ll never push him now!

PUSH! Jane runs away. You always have to get permission before pushing someone, but if it’s to save the world, they just might give it to you. That’s the lesson!

Jane’s at the mansion of a software CEO. You can pick which one! It’s guarded by fierce attack dogs. They snarl and slaver at Jane. She makes faces at them. They can’t cross the invisible fence! But Jane can’t cross it either — they’d snap her up! She pokes her finger over the fence. SNAP! SNAP! SNAP! go the dogs.

Jane falls over backwards. She’s got all her fingers, but that was close!

“Oh, Heaven,” she says, looking upwards. “I have to give this CEO a bouillon cube. Or maybe push him! But I can’t — his dogs are too fierce!”

Heaven is silent. Jane gets up. She pokes a finger past the invisible fence again. The dogs look shifty. Their eyes shift back and forth! They’re discussing a suspicious plan in dog language. Jane can’t speak dog language, so she doesn’t know. All she knows is, they’re not biting her.

Slowly, she steps forward, past the invisible fence. The dogs don’t move. They just wag their ears and tails. Dogs speak in semaphore! That’s their secret.

Jane steps forward again. Suddenly, the dogs lunge! LUNGE! LUNGE! LUNGE! They look like they’re made of teeth and claws! Their eyes burn like fire and blood! Jane screams and falls down. Bouillon spills from her bouillon pocket and scatters across the ground. Oh no! She can’t give the CEO a dirty bouillon cube, can she? Plus, the dogs want to bite her in half. Jane closes her eyes.

The teeth don’t bite.

“You can chomp all you want, but you can’t bite me!” That’s a mysterious voice shouting. “No one can bite me! I’m Evasive Angel!”

Jane opens her eyes. She’s surrounded by four angels. One’s standing in front of the dogs, but every time they try to bite Evasive Angel, they miss.

Evasive Angel’s a girl. She’s wearing a jacket. It’s got holes for the wings. It’s got a big logo on the back that says “Evasive A.” She’s got a halo. The dogs can’t get a hold on her. It’s not that they’re bad at biting. It’s not that they don’t want to bite her. It’s just a part of who Evasive A is.

Jane looks at all the angels’ jackets. “You must be Realistic Angel, Forbidden Angel, and Magic Angel!”

“Probably not,” says Realistic A.

“Ignore her,” says Magic A. “We’re the Angel Four, and we’re here to make sure you can push this naughty CEO!”

“That’s very bad, Magic Angel,” says Jane. “You can’t push people just because Heaven wants you to.”

“Actually,” says Forbidden A, “that’s kind of a knotty theological question.”

“Can you even apply standards like that in the modern world?” wonders Realistic A.

“No one can defy me! I’m Evasive Angel!”

Jane looks confused. “How does that work?” she asks.

Evasive A takes a moment to think about it, then snaps her fingers. She doesn’t have to answer that question. She’s Evasive Angel. “That’s not important,” she declares. “What’s important is, we have a CEO to trouble!”

“Then let’s go!”

“I’ll stay here and distract the dogs,” says Evasive A. She’s scared of what awaits Jane inside. She’d rather distract the dogs. She likes dogs, and they can’t bite Evasive Angel!

Jane and the angels rush up to the mansion.

“Be careful,” says Forbidden A. “There are lasers strafing the entry hall.”

“Lasers?” asks Jane.

“Worse!” says Forbidden A. “Heat-seeking lasers! And exploding robot butlers on the other side.”

“That’s bad,” concedes Jane. “Do any of you have any special powers?”

“I can provide a pragmatic evaluation of any situation,” says Realistic A.

“I can do anything, but only sometimes,” answers Magic A.

“You aren’t supposed to think about me,” says Forbidden A. “Although people do anyway.”

“Her special power sucks,” notes Realistic A.

“Realistic Angel, how can I get past the heat-seeking lasers?”

“I’d recommend distracting them with something hot, like the sun.”

Jane searches her pockets. “I don’t have it on me!” she wails.

“Or a burning bush?”

“That either!” Jane sits down. Her lip trembles. She might have to cry. The angels are no help at all! But then she has an insight. “I know! The burning bush has an omnipresence mode. When you activate it, the burning bush is everywhere — just like in the Bible!”

“Go Jane!” says Forbidden A. Forbidden A is pretty cool, but remember that you’re not supposed to think about her!

Jane reaches out and activates the omnipresence mode. Soon, her burning bush action figure is everywhere. She turns it on. It lights on fire. “I AM THAT I AM(TM),” says the bush.

“Action figure!” commands Jane. “Distract the heat-seeking lasers.”

BURN! The burning bush action figure flares up. It’s omnipresent, so it’s in the hall too. The heat-seeking lasers all fire. Silly lasers! You’re just helping action figure God burn!

Jane and the angels dash through.

“Oh no!” cries Jane. “Exploding robot butlers!”

“That’s right,” says the chief robot butler, twirling his steel moustache. “I’m going to serve you tea, and then explode, showering you with thermonuclear radiation! No one will be able to live near you for generations!”

“But I have to push the CEO!”

“I won’t let you!” The chief robot butler laughs manically, boiling water for tea with hideous mechanical efficiency. Jane watches the pot, but how long can that save her?

Forbidden A steps forward. “Hey! Robots!”

The robots all look at her.

“Oh no!” says the chief exploding robot butler. “I’m thinking about you, but I’m not supposed to! This is an error in my programming!”

“Oh no!” say all the other robot butlers. “Us too! We’re just as bad as our boss!”

“01010101001110100101,” exclaim the robot butlers, and deactivate. Thank Heaven for Forbidden A! And then stop thinking about her!

“Let’s go!” cries Jane, and rushes onwards. But then she comes to a giant pit. It’s all that’s between her and the CEO — he’s standing on the other side. He looks lonely. No one’s come and pushed him or given him bouillon since he bought the heat-seeking lasers. He wanted to be safe, but now he doesn’t have any friends!

“I can’t jump that giant pit,” says Jane. “Can you fly me to the other side?”

“Hardly,” says Realistic A. “My wings are far too delicate.”

“I oughtn’t,” admits Forbidden A.

“Of course,” says Magic A. “But only if it works.”

“All right,” says Jane. “Then I’ll have to trust you!” She leaps into Magic A’s arms. It’s a leap of faith! Magic A backs up, then runs for the pit. She jumps!

“Hey,” says the omnipresent burning bush. “Don’t you four have tickets to a show?”

“Eep!” says Evasive A. “No one can make me late — I’m Evasive Angel!” Evasive A vanishes. Realistic A vanishes. Forbidden A vanishes.

Magic A soars with Jane across the pit, but in midair, she looks at Jane. Her face is very apologetic. “It won’t work this time,” she says. Her wings give out. She falls. Jane falls. They’re going to hit the far wall. It could break their heads! But Magic A shoves Jane back towards the center of the pit and vanishes.

Jane’s still falling. She’s thinking this: “I just wanted to give bouillon to every software CEO in town, or push them. Now I never will. I guess my burning bush action figure will have to blow up the world tomorrow.”

No, Jane! It’s not that way. The bottom of the pit is covered in stock certificates. The CEO has so many, he has to use them to pad his pit — otherwise, he’d be covered in them from head to toe! Sploosh! Jane splashes into the stock.

“Hey,” she cries up. The CEO comes curiously to the edge of the pit and looks down. “Would you like some bouillon?” she shouts.

“No, little girl,” says the CEO. “I’m too important for your dirty old bouillon. Also, please stop swimming in my stock.”

“If I can’t give you bouillon, can I at least push you?”

“I don’t see as how you have any alternative,” says the CEO, who is a realistic man.

Suddenly, Jane rises from the pit. She’s standing on the head of a colossal stock squid! If you leave stock sitting around too long, you’re going to have colossal squids — that’s just how spontaneous generation works. The stock squid rockets skyward. Jane leaps down to stand in front of the CEO.

PUSH! Then Jane runs away. The angels left for a show, but she’s got bouillon and a squid — no one can stop Jane now!

The Shadow (IV/IV)

The shadow is corrosion. The shadow is decay. The shadow is the dissolution at the heart of all things. The hungry caterpillar bites the shadow. CHOMP!

“Hey,” says the shadow. “That hurt!”

The hungry caterpillar bites the shadow. CHOMP! GULP! That’s it for the shadow.

The hungry caterpillar’s eyes turn black. Its skin seethes. It weaves a shadow cocoon. It sleeps three days. Then it emerges. Now it’s like a monster. It lives only to destroy. It crawls out onto the branch.

“Hi, shadow caterpillar!” says the ant. The ant is industrious. The ant is busily storing food for winter.

The shadow smiles at the ant. It eats one antenna. It eats the other one. It eats two of the ant’s antennae!

“Great,” says the ant. “Without my antennae, I can’t communicate with the home planet. I hope you’re happy.”

The shadow isn’t sure whether to be happy or not, so it moves on.

“Hi, shadow caterpillar!” says the grasshopper. The grasshopper is frivolous. It frolicks without thought for the future.

The shadow smiles at the grasshopper. The shadow eats two front legs. It eats two middle legs. It eats two back legs. The shadow eats six of the grasshopper’s legs! The grasshopper bleeds out and dies.

“Now I won’t starve to death in winter,” says the grasshopper ghost. “You’ve deprived me of my basic moral function in society. I hope you’re happy.”

The shadow caterpillar isn’t sure whether to be happy or not, so it moves on.

“I promise I’ll haunt you!” cries the grasshopper ghost.

The shadow caterpillar isn’t worried. What can a grasshopper ghost do?

“Hi, shadow caterpillar!” says Mr. P. Mr. P. has been held in a South Carolina jail without access to an attorney for 19 months. This is because Mr. P. is allegedly a threat to national security.

The shadow smiles at Mr. P. It eats one of Mr. P.’s arms. Then it eats the other. It eats two of Mr. P.’s arms! Mr. P. rapidly sprouts four arms. Oh, no! Mr. P. isn’t an enemy combatant. He’s a lernean hydra! The shadow eats two of Mr. P.’s arms. Then it eats two more. It eats four of Mr. P.’s arms. Mr. P. sprouts eight more.

“I can’t very well use a dirty bomb when I’ve got eight arms,” says Mr. P. “I hope you’re happy.”

The shadow is not sure whether to be happy or not. Nor is it entirely sure what percentage of Mr. P.’s arms it has actually eaten. Can YOU figure it out?

“Excuse me,” says the Justice Department. “I don’t think Constitutional freedoms are meant to apply to lernean hydras.”

The shadow smiles at the Justice Department. It eats twelve and a half lawyers. It eats another twelve and a half lawyers. It eats one department after another. It eats ONE HUNDRED of the Justice Department’s lawyers.

“The consumption of our lawyers is going to substantially delay any public trial of the Nemean Lion,” says Mr. A. “I hope you’re happy.”

Mr. A. is a striking figure. He’s wearing an invulnerable lion-skin suit! It’s like he’s stepped right out of the Greek myths.

The shadow stops to think. A spotlight shines on the shadow. You’d think this would destroy it, but it’s a blacklight, so it’s okay. The shadow clears its throat.

“I’m actually not happy at all,” it says. “I just want to eat things and dissolve them in my stomach. But it seems like everything I do in the interests of mindless consumption and decay has a complex moral character that I did not originally intend.”

“I know what that must be like,” confides Mr. A. He’s startlingly sympathetic in this portrayal. “Perhaps you should retreat to a quiet place and meditate?”

“I’ll do that,” asserts the shadow caterpillar. “Perhaps I’ll find enlightenment and become a truly baneful demon.”

The shadow caterpillar travels for seventy days. It gets lean and hungry, so it eats a bunch more people. That satiates its stomach! Finally, it finds a place of peace and quiet and settles down to meditate.

CHIRP.

“Damn you, ghost grasshopper!” cries the shadow. “Will I never know peace?”

CHIRP.

The sound is getting closer.

“I’ll meditate despite you. You’ll see! I’ll achieve an all-encompassing enlightenment devotion. Then I’ll eat the whole world!”

CHIRP.

The ghost grasshopper drags itself into view. It has to drag itself, because it has no legs. It does, however, have a handgun.

“Say goodbye, shadow caterpillar.”

Guns don’t kill shadow caterpillars. Ghost grasshoppers do.

As the caterpillar dies, the shadow suspires from its wound. It hisses into the air above the corpse. It sulks. “Now I won’t be able to use my immensely powerful caterpillar body to dissolve all things back into the darkness of nonexistence. I hope you’re happy.”

The ghost grasshopper doesn’t know whether to be happy or not, so it leaves.

“I’m going to the show,” says the shadow. “But I won’t enjoy it!”

In the distance, Mr. P. wrestles ten federal agents. He’s got three million arms! Can even highly-trained federal agents defeat him now?

Mr. A

Mr. A is the 79th Attorney-General of the United States of America. He strangled the Nemean Lion and prosecuted terrorists but has a spotty record on civil liberties. His special power allows him to capture people easily. He predates the United States but may have been created on American soil or naturalized after becoming an American asset. He is invulnerable to most attacks and is a member of the Assemblies of God.

People are So Strange!

They stride through the streets, bold, swaggering. They’re the students of the Silver Cello University. Everyone respects them. Everyone fears them. They abide by no conventions. They ignore all laws. They defy the commandments of God and Caesar alike with their blasphemous melodies. Yet they are so beautiful! The SCU cellists can play three notes and brighten the darkest and most terrible days. Two notes, and they can shatter the most hopeful heart. Here’s an example.

Sid and Clair walk down the street. They’re just minding their own business.

“My dog died today,” Sid said.

“I’m so sorry.”

Two men in the SCU uniform swagger by. One pauses to strut. The other twirls moustaches. Sid and Clair ignore them.

“My distinguished mentor fell off a balcony onto him, breaking his spine. It was because of the heart attack, you see.”

“That’s awful.”

The SCU students get angry. They hit Sid with a metal stick. He’s too sad to notice.

“He didn’t have a very weak heart,” Sid explains, “but when he found out that our home town burned down and that the Easter Bunny was caught in the fire, that just did it for him.”

“I can understand that.”

The SCU students pound Sid harder. They flail at him like the mad beating of an impassioned heart. Ba-BUM! Ba-BUM!

“The fire was my fault,” Sid wails. “My experiments in physics lab changed the constant S and made things burn down more readily.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Plus, it means that the universe is going to run down in three days, rather than in endless aeons.”

Suddenly, THREE CELLO NOTES ring out.

“I’m so happy!” exclaims Sid. “This is the BEST DAY OF MY LIFE.”

That’s right. That’s the power of the cello! But if you invert the bow and play it backwards, it has a darker power.

“It’s the best day of my life, too,” says Clair.

“Oh?” asks Sid. He grabs her hands and dances her down the street.

“I woke up this morning and the cancer was gone! Also, the Alzheimer’s.”

“I didn’t know you’d had Alzheimer’s, Jenny!” Sid sings out.

“That’s because I’m actually Clair — Jenny’s mother! I woke up looking younger, too.”

“So beautiful!” carols Sid.

The SCU students pout. Sid’s happy, but he’s not paying attention to them! One of the students tries to kick a puppy. It grows laser-studded tentacles and growls. The student backs away. His health insurance isn’t good enough! He can’t kick that puppy!

“On my way to meet you,” Clair beams, “terrorist paratroopers invaded the U.S. and gave me all their country’s money.”

Sid stops his dancing. He looks puzzled. “Why?”

“It’s economic warfare,” Clair explains. “They made me promise to spend it — in economically unproductive ways!”

“Wow!” says Sid. “So what’re you going to do now?”

TWO NOTES.

“I’m going to kill myself,” sobbed Clair. “Life’s not worth living.”

“Buck up!” said Sid. “The Easter Bunny’s dead, so it can’t be that bad.”

He’s being as reassuring as he can, but Clair sobs anyway. People are so strange!