Wii News*

“Shake your fists at bad news,” the television explains.

Jane grips a peculiar controller in one hand. She grips an attached controller in the other.

The television displays an ordinary street in an ordinary town.

Jane shakes her fists!

A red bar stretches across the bottom of the screen. It fades to orange, then to yellow, then peaks.

“Mild outrage,” declares the television. “HIGH PRICES!”

The prices in the store windows of the town go up. Pedestrians walk around in outrage.

“It really happens, you know,” Martin comments.

“Hm?”

“That’s what makes it ‘news’ and not a ‘simulation.'”

“Oh!”

Jane looks apologetically at the unhappy pedestrians.

“I mean, it’s okay,” Martin emphasizes. “News happens all the time. But it happens.”

“News is everywhere,” Jane agrees.

The television image shifts to a fire in California. “Cheer for good news!” it explains.

The fire is sweeping through the undergrowth.

Birds die. Chipmunks roast. In a house next to the woods a baby is crying.

Hesitantly, Jane puts her thumb up.

There’s silence.

Cheer for good news,” the television reminds her.

Jane looks at her thumb. After a moment, she blushes.

“Right!” she says.

She pumps her right fist in the air, the left controller dangling. A green bar rises. It crests.

“This just in,” the television declares, a little reporter popping up in the upper right corner. “Fire extinguished!”

The fire vanishes.

A fireman rushes in.

“Bonus good news!” the television says, “Fireman saves baby!”

The fireman seizes up the baby and runs out of the house.

The television shifts to a riot in Ghana.

“Free play!” it says.

Jane pumps her fist in the air. She pumps harder and harder.

“Good news!” the television declares. The riot settles. Everyone realizes that violence solves nothing. Jane pumps her fist harder. Systemic injustice vanishes! People begin to riot from sheer happiness.

“Let me try,” Martin says.

“No way!”

“I bet I can shake my fists harder than you can,” Martin says.

Jane hesitates.

“Here,” he says. “It’s got a two-player mode.”

Martin’s already taking up his own controllers.

“Only if you’ll help me eradicate systemic injustice.”

“In Sweden,” Martin counters.

“The Americas.”

“Sweden and Chicago.”

“The Middle East.”

“Canada. And that’s my final offer.”

Jane thinks.

“Maybe if we waited for a neutral story?” she suggests.

“What, like adorable baby tigers found on the subway?”

“Mm,” Jane says, happily, imagining. Then she jolts out of her reverie. “Hey!”

Martin coughs.

“Evil ducks threatened by tidal wave,” the television notes.

“Evil ducks?”

“Tidal wave?”

Jane and Martin look at one another. Together, they say, “It’s win-win!”

* for technical reasons this legend is not actually about the Wii News Channel.

No Actual Bears Were Harmed

The chaos stirs into form.

Dentist 10 lives behind glass and steel.

In the morning when he wakes up he is out on the glacier. He has been sleeping inside the skin and fat of a polar bear he’d had to kill.

“Dangerous,” he says.

He shakes his head at himself. He must have passed out, he thinks—too tired to drag the body back to his tower, so he’d just cut it open and crawled inside.

“Dangerous and stupid.”

He pulls himself out. The corpse is still warm, but it’s colder than it was. He heaves one great paw over his shoulder. He drags the bear to his tower.

The tower is glass and steel.

Dentist 10 looks nervously up at the sun. It’s been shining for almost six months but it’s looking like it’s beginning to set. That’s why he had to go out onto the ice and get a stock of meat, but it also makes the danger more acute.

He enters his code into the tower doorway.

Perched atop an arch of ice, clad in an adorable white parka, Jane watches him. She is looking at him through special field glasses that make everything look red and provide scrolling data regarding various points of interest.

“Don’t forget to wear layers,” scrolls past on the left.

Stock data displays on a running marquee.

One scrolling reminder informs her, “Nine out of ten dentists endorse the continued existence of the world!”

Dentist 10 finishes entering the code. His fingers, slick with polar bear blood, leave smears on the numbered panel.

The door opens.

Dentist 10 drags the polar bear into the lobby of his tower. He deposits it into the autokitchen. He walks through the sterilizing shower, stripping as he goes, leaving his filthy blood-colored lab coat behind, passing through sprays of water, chemicals, and soap, and emerging on the other side dressed again and pulling on a fresh white coat.

He pushes a button behind him. It sets his shower to KILL.

Then he enters an elevator and begins to rise through the beanstalk of his home towards a cold space fortress suspended over the world.

Behind him, Jane is in the lobby. She’s staring at the shower from the other side. It’s got blinking red lights and looks about as malicious as a shower can.

She speaks into her lapel.

“Cut power to the first floor,” she says.

Elsewhere, Martin operates a fuse. The shower goes dark.

Dentist 10 looks down as he ascends. He frowns. There’s a spot of darkness below that should be red.

He grits his perfect teeth.

“Susan?” he says.

The computer that governs his home comes online. A simulation of Majel Roddenberry’s voice says, “Yes, Dentist?”

“We have an intruder,” he says. “Flood the lower floor with Fimbulwinter.”

“Yes, Dentist.”

Jane is standing at the base of the elevator. She is prying open the doors with a Fisher-Price Jaws of Life set. Then a radio-triggered explosive bursts open the lobby’s outer door and windows. Hydraulic pumps, their power subsystem pre-isolated, dredge up icy water from the sea, add a fine mix of chemicals to accelerate their icing, and spray them in a large-dropped mist throughout the bottom floor. The building ventilators pump away the heat. The air fills with shards of ice.

Jane squeaks. She wraps her scarf across her face. She pulls her hood over her head. She attempts to squeeze into the elevator through the partly-opened doors despite the bulging awkwardness of her layered clothing and the wash of ice. For a long moment she is stuck, as the air lashes her with winter. Then with a pop she falls through into the base of the elevator shaft.

She kicks out the jaws of life. The doors slam closed. She begins to climb.

Dentist 10 arrives at his space fortress. He walks out into the entrance bay. He considers. Then he decides that it is better to be safe than sorry.

He takes down his shotgun from the wall.

He sits down.

He waits to kill, just in case the intruder makes it up.

When Jane forces open the elevator doors, he fires.

There is a flurry of red-tipped parka down. The body falls backwards. The doors close.

Dentist 10 approaches.

He pushes the button. The elevator door opens. He walks in. He kneels by the body. He checks its teeth for signs of life. Then he frowns.

“It’s a Fisher-Price Body Double Playset,” says Jane from behind him. “Suitable for operatives and medical students ages five and up.”

“It’s very realistic,” says Dentist 10.

He doesn’t turn around.

“But nobody has teeth like these.”

“No,” Jane agrees. “And nobody ever will again.”

He spins. He fires. But he isn’t expecting Jane to be quite so short or quite so close, and he definitely isn’t expecting the sharkbone-tipped spear with which she knocks his shotgun away. She hooks out his leg with the haft and as he staggers, she goes PUSH!

Dentist 10 slumps, defeated.

“Pushing people is impolite,” he says.

“That’s pre-9/11 thinking,” says Jane.

“10 is pre-11,” Dentist 10 points out.

“But it’s not pre-9!”

There’s a pause.

Jane gives Dentist 10 a strained, apologetic smile.

Dentist 10 looks away.

“Listen,” says Jane. “Somebody shot Baldur with mistletoe.”

“I know,” says Dentist 10. “I saw. Winter is coming.”

“So I need 10 out of 10 dentists to approve of him, or Hel won’t let him live.”

Dentist 10 looks out through the glass elevator wall at the endless depths of space.

“I had a wife,” he says. “Her name was Nora. And I never approved of her while she lived. I thought that she was weak and she was trivial. And one day after she died, I realized that that wasn’t because she was weak or trivial or bad. It wasn’t anything to do with her. It was just that it was easier for me to live my life if I could judge people according to my preferences for their character.”

“That’s very tragic,” Jane concurs.

“So I promised myself,” says Dentist 10, “in her name, that I would never approve of anything ever again. Not Trident. Not Crest. Not even peace. And I won’t approve of Baldur, even if that ends the world. That is my resolution.”

“Oh,” says Jane.

“People were always troubling me for their approval,” says Dentist 10. “Because I am Dentist 10. So I moved to the arctic and built a beanstalk into space. Ever since then there have never been more than 9 out of 10 dentists approving of anything.”

“But Baldur fights tooth decay,” says Jane.

Dentist 10 shudders.

“And he’s a deadly enemy to plaque!”

Dentist 10 looks up. His eyes are haunted. “Don’t do this,” he says.

Jane hesitates.

“What kind of dentist lives in space and seals his heart in ice?” she asks.

“The tenth,” he says.

So Jane turns away. She follows his gaze into space.

“No,” she says.

“No?”

“To live in the sky and give your love to no one— to cover yourself in the blood of a bear and greet children with winter— to fire a shotgun at a glass elevator wall and do no harm— this is not dentistry. This is death.”

And he crawls out into his space station and he stares after her as he descends, stripped by her clarity from his role as Dentist 10.

She is right, he knows.

He isn’t a dentist at all.

He is Space Hermit 1, one out of one, and he does not approve.

The Broader Context of Her Personal Reality

Jane sits on her blocky pink one-seater sofa.

She looks at her feet.

“I have feet,” she comments, to Martin, who is trying to eat his cereal without having a discussion of feet and has, once again, failed.

“Do you need more?” Martin says.

“It’s just, they could have fallen off. Sometimes that happens. Then if I was a good footist, I could grow more. But if not, I’d have to get prosthetics.”

“We can’t afford prosthetic feet,” Martin says. “We have no obvious means of income.”

“I could make some out of socks,” Jane points out. “They’d be squishy when I walked because of not having feet in them. But if I sat really casually then no one would ever know my feet were gone.”

Martin grimly chews on his Lucky Charms. Crunch. Crunch. That’s a shooting star—the marshmallow kind, not the real one—that he’s chewing now. It burned brightly in his spoon but now it’s just sugar to the stomach. Crunch.

“I’m not,” Martin says, “having my sister go around in empty socks.”

“Then gold?”

“What?”

“We could get gold prosthetics!”

“How would we pay for them?”

“You don’t have to pay for gold,” Jane says, smugly. “It isn’t backing the dollar any more.”

Martin hesitates.

“Jane,” he says, after a moment, “how does this relate to our ongoing effort to resolve the fundamental questions that are crippling my effectiveness?”

Jane hesitates. She looks shifty. “Persephone had feet,” she suggests. “Thus, toes!”

Martin lowers his cynicism goggles for a moment to look down at Jane. It’s somehow even more cynical than when he has his goggles on.

Jane says, in a tight clipped dramatic voice, “It’s directly relevant because I have feet or don’t have them in the broader context of my personal reality and without them my model of the universe would be subtly different in every conceivable respect!”

There is a long pause.

This does not seem to have gotten Jane off the hook.

“Oh, like you never just stop and think about your feet, ” Jane sulks.

“Snot,” giggles Martin.

They laugh.

(Migraine Filler)

or, how Jane and Martin save the world!

Jane works. She’s wearing a white suit and lab coat and she has a green visor. She is assembling a block of carbon with the perfect lotus nature.

The radio is staticking.

“. . . kissing sickness spreads from birds to humans . . .” it says.

Jane reaches over. She tries to adjust it.

“. . . millions taken ill . . .”

“Foo,” says Jane. “I’d hoped humanity would have longer before the next major outbreak of avian kissing sickness.”

Martin leans against the wall. He looks cynical.

“Humanity brought it on itself,” Martin says. “Overpopulation. Peak oil. Overuse of antibiotics. It is because we are not in harmony with nature that nature lashes out.”

Jane finishes assembling the carbon block. She drops it into a chute. Machinery all around her hums and flickers.

“It’s mostly ’cause birds kiss people a lot less often these days,” Jane says. “So people don’t get as much of an immunity.”

Martin wibbles a hand flatly.

“That too,” he concedes.

“We’ll have to hurry,” Jane says. “If this newscast is accurate, our artificial lips experiment is probably humanity’s last hope.”

Jane begins working on another block. She assembles carbon atoms that were laying about, teaching them the enlightenment that transcends time and space and then molding them into a cube.

Grudgingly, Martin goes over to an oscilloscope and stares down into its depths.

The radio crackles. “. . . helplessly kissing passersby like some romantic danse macabre . . .”

The oscilloscope glows.

“You didn’t punch in today,” Martin observes. Jane’s timesheet is one of many things visible in the oscilloscope’s depths.

“It’s not in my nature,” Jane answers.

“It’s company policy during emergencies that threaten the future of humanity,” Martin says. “You have to log all your hours. Otherwise you might wind up with unauthorized overtime and open them up for liability.”

Jane stomps her foot. “You missed my brilliant all-purpose excuse!” she says. “‘It’s not in my nature.’ Optionally, ‘at this time.'”

“It’s a pretty good excuse,” Martin admits. “It’s just, there’s no space for it on your timesheet.”

Jane beams triumphantly.

“And which of us designed the timesheet?” she says.

Martin scratches at the side of his nose. “Point.”

Jane finishes the second block. She drops it in the chute.

The machines hum.

A metal slot opens near Jane. A pair of artificial cow lips made from textured carbon and tofu thunk into the slot. Jane takes them out and studies them.

“Mschaw!” Jane says, pressing them in the direction of Martin’s lips. Martin fades quickly back to avoid kissing.

“Cow lips?”

“Cow lips!”

“Not . . . artificial human lips?”

Jane giggles.

“I used to know a cow,” she says. “I’d tell her: don’t give me none of your lip! But she’d lip me anyway! Now science has at last made cow lips redundant.”

“They’re certainly more humane than real cow lips,” Martin says.

“It’s a new era!”

“. . . kissing chaos at peace negotiations . . .” the radio crackles.

Jane kisses various things with the artificial cow lips, testing their tensile properties.

“You know it won’t work,” Martin says.

“What?”

“People who have kissing sickness don’t want to kiss people with artificial cow lips. They want to kiss them with their real lips.”

Jane studies the artificial cow lips.

“Even if—”

“Even if the cow lips integrate the perfect lotus of enlightenment,” Martin says.

“. . . huddled refugees streaming out of the cities . . .”

Jane thinks.

“What if we add a picturesque decorative flange?”

Adjective Noun

Jane is practicing her observation. She finds an (animal, such as you would find in a box) in a box.

“Schrödinger’s been at it again!” concludes Jane. “But I’ll check inside with my shrewd investigation and determine whether it’s alive or dead.”

She checks inside the box. The (animal) is alive.

“Yay!” says Jane.

“(Noise)!” says the (animal).

“(Noise)!” agrees Jane.

“That’s annoyingly nonspecific,” says Martin. He’s leaning against a (thing, such as one might lean against). He adjusts his (attitude) goggles.

Jane looks puzzled. “That’s not Schrödinger’s work,” she admits.

She surveys the (animal).

“Maybe there’s an (adjective noun),” Jane theorizes.

She hefts the (animal). She turns it over. There’s an (adjective noun) clinging to its underbelly.

“Aha!” says Jane.

She points at the (adjective noun) on its fur. It pulses (adjectively). “See?”

“Hm?” Martin temporizes.

“I did a paper on this for (grade),” Jane says. “It turns out that the nonspecificity in the world isn’t natural. It’s a biotechnological innovation fueled by the life energy of the (adjective noun)s!”

Martin blinks. “So, when (politician you don’t like) dodges questions on (issue), they’re using (adjective noun)s?”

“(Response),” Jane enthuses.

Martin frowns.

“They’re not just political,” Jane notes. “They’re also used in Mad Libs. I bet that the (disaster) down at the Mad Libs (containment facility) let some of them escape. Now it’s clinging to (animal) as an expression of its platonic love for nature!”

“(embarrassed observation),” says (adjective noun).

“(The kind of thing you would expect Martin to say in this circumstance),” Martin says.

“It might also love boxes,” Jane suggests.

“(The kind of thing you would expect Martin to say in this circumstance),” Martin, arguably, repeats.

“It’s a bit like (profound truth) in a (pop culture reference),” Jane agrees.

The (adjective noun) (adverb verbs).

Jane laughs.

It’s funny, because (explanation of the joke).

And Jane laughs with the (adjective noun), and she hugs it close to her, and in a world freed so many years ago from (that thing which causes or resembles suffering or sorrow). And there is a pang in her for a moment then that may be traced, ultimately, to a story that didn’t end; to a (thing) that continued past the devouring of the world; to a difficulty worked into the fabric of things that did not end when (the condition or conditions of life that mandate suffering) went away:

“Because we couldn’t live without them,” (name) observes.

(Hitherby Dragons)

Transformation (1 of 1)

There is a room in Gibbelins’ Tower that overlooks the chaos. Its window has no glass, and there is always a wind. There are strands of pink and green and silver in that wind, torn upwards from the surging sea.

Straight across the window, more miles distant than a bird could fly, there is a lighthouse. To the left of the window, there is a bridge. There is something that might be a tugboat, off to the right. If so, it is foundering, and will most likely drown with all its crew beneath the terrible sea.

Martin stands there, looking out. Jane enters.

“The door says ‘keep out’ and ‘no girls allowed’,” Martin notes.

“Also, ‘toxic’ and ‘radiation warning.'”

“Does this, for you, occasion no concern?”

“Nope.”

Jane stands next to Martin and looks out the window.

“What’cha doin’?”

“Taking measurements. And you?”

“I made an armored umbrella,” Jane says. She holds it out to him in two hands. “See?”

Martin takes the umbrella. He studies it. Then he steps back and opens it with a flourish. It clicks open with a clang and a click. It’s a pretty ominous umbrella.

“Martin!” Jane accuses.

“What?”

“You’re inside.

“Not topologically!” Martin protests.

“Does luck really care?” Jane wonders.

“It’s very nice,” says Martin. He rotates it. He puts it over his shoulder. It clangs against the stone wall. “What’s it for?”

“I thought that it would be raining screws and bolts,” Jane says. “Since it’s a season of metal.”

Martin considers. He looks outside. “It’s pretty chaotic,” he says. “So maybe. But that’s not what the season means.”

“And maybe appliances,” Jane says. “We could finally get a dishwasher.”

Martin re-estimates the umbrella’s tensile strength.

“Or a tank!”

“I don’t want a tank,” Martin says, reflexively. He does, of course, but he’s a responsible boy who knows that tanks kill more family members every year than intruders or enemies of the state.

“What’s it actually mean?” Jane says.

“It’s the season of gathering,” Martin says. He goes over to a cot in the corner of the room, reaches under it, and pulls out a handful of dust bunnies and lint. Martin does not vacuum this room very often, and the last time he exposed the Roomba to the vapors of chaos, it developed sentience, extra LEDs, and an End of Everything Button. “In the spring, you see, it’s all right to be choosy. To say, ‘I’ll keep this dust bunny, but not that one. I like fruit, but I don’t like squash.’ But when the months pass and the year grows older, it’s important to collect everything you can. To look for the good and the salvageable in everything. To have hope for things, even if it costs you.”

Martin sifts through the dust bunnies and finds the one that’s made of chocolate. He sifts some more and finds the great dust bunny leader that organized the others and kept them peacefully under the bed rather than messing up the whole room. He hands these, and the best of the remaining bunnies, to Jane. Then he goes to the window and lets the others fall down into the chaos below. He dusts off his hands.

“It’s crying,” Jane says.

“The world is not kind to dust bunnies,” says Martin. He takes the bunnies from Jane’s hands, all but the chocolate one, and puts them back under the bed.

Jane licks the salt of dust bunny tears off of her hands.

Martin looks at her.

“I like salt,” Jane says.

Martin looks back out the window. “Anyway,” he says. “If there’s a tank up in heaven, or a dishwasher, that they don’t need, then I guess this is the right season for them to drop it on me so I can make it good. So I’ll be keeping the umbrella.”

Jane smiles. She hugs Martin.

He scruffles her hair.

“If it’s a season of metal,” Jane says, “then I want them back.”

Martin hesitates. “Which ones?” he says, warily.

“I don’t know,” Jane says. “Just . . . you know. Them. The gods they took.”

Martin nods.

“Iphigenia,” Jane says, because things happen in a certain order and chaos succumbs to the dictates of pattern when it must.

“How do you take her back?” says Martin.

Jane is suddenly shy.

“She made her from me,” Jane says. “She cut her out of me like with a torch. And I could never figure out if a sculpture belongs to the sculptor or the stone.”

Martin sits on the cot. “Jane,” he says.

Her eyes go round. “Are you all right?”

“I think that there is nothing I need less to imagine in all the world than the idea that sculpting people is taking from them,” he says.

“Oh,” Jane says.

“Everything everyone does,” Martin says, “is about changing the world. Making it different. And sometimes there is pain. But it is a gift and it must be a gift because you cannot gain rights to someone else simply by acting upon them.”

Jane peers at him.

“That’s backwards,” she says.

Martin grins.

“What?”

“It is the dharma of a god,” Martin says, “to view certain moral and causal relationships from the other side.”

“Oh.”

Martin adopts an expression of intense intellectual concentration. He looks like a boy trying to read his own thoughts in a mirror. He offers, “If she had no right to carve from you, then why should she have claimed the result?”

Jane shrinks in on herself for a moment, but she is Jane. She straightens out again and grins.

“She deserves some compensation for her pains,” says Jane.

“That’s true,” Martin says. “It was good work!”

“She’s very fiery and stuff. And she kept the sun going.”

Martin looks dubious. “I bet the sun would still be going anyway.”

“It might have fallen into the sea!”

“Copernicus would argue.”

“Maybe,” says Jane. “We could unearth him and find out.”

“He’s not in his grave,” Martin says, sulkily.

“He’s not?”

“. . . so I hear.”

“If I welcome her,” asks Jane, “do you think that she’ll come?”

“Yes.”

“It’s that easy? Just . . . tell her that she can be mine?”

“Is that easy?”

“I guess not,” says Jane.

“I was always glad,” Martin says, “that you accepted what I’d done to you. Because you could have stopped it.”

“It’s ’cause you keep not pushing the End of Everything Button,” Jane says. “I think that’s very noble of you, considering that it’s red and has that ‘don’t push’ label and all.”

“It is very difficult,” concedes Martin. “I’m a scientist.”

“So I’ll do it,” says Jane. She takes the chocolate dust bunny to the window. She kisses it. It does not respond. It is as nihilistic and detached as only a Cadbury bunny can be. “Go,” she says, and tosses it out into the chaos. “Tell Iphigenia she’s welcome here. Tell her she can come home.”

“A chocolate dust bunny?” Martin says.

“It can keep the sun running for Tina,” says Jane. “Since, you know, she won’t have Iphigenia any more. And if she eats it, she’ll get sick!”

The wind picks up the bunny in the air and tumbles it off towards land.

“Bunnies are a double-edged sword,” Martin agrees.

Johnny Pancake

Jane makes a potato pancake. It has two ears. It has two eyes. It has a nose. “It’s Johnny Pancake!” she says.

She doesn’t eat it, though.

“It’s not that it’s too cute,” she says. “I’m just not hungry. I made too much!”

So she leaves Johnny Pancake on the sink.

She sleeps. She goes to school. She comes home. She invites Emily over. She and Emily play.

“Ew,” says Jane, looking at Johnny Pancake. “I think he’s going bad.”

Emily looks haughty. She’s a girl with superior knowledge. “Food doesn’t have to go bad, you know.”

“Oh?”

“If you feed food, it won’t go bad. ‘Cause it balances out the entropy.”

“That’s true,” Jane realizes. “It’s adding energy usable for work from outside the system!”

So she tries to feed Johnny Pancake some cheese food. But he doesn’t eat it, because he’s not cheese. She feeds him some pizza food, and some fish food. Then she bonks herself on the side of her head and says, “Duh.” She takes down the big box of potato pancake food and pours some on Johnny Pancake.

“Now he won’t go bad,” Emily says. “See? He’s less rotten already!”

“That’s true,” says Jane.

“Do you want to eat him?”

“Nah,” Jane says. “I had his family for dinner yesterday!”

So they play. Jane sleeps. She wakes up. She goes to school. She comes home. She looks at Johnny Pancake.

“You gonna throw that out?” Martin asks. He’s her brother. He’s older, but she privately thinks he’s a little bit of a dweeb. It’s a phase one or both of them is going through.

“No, silly,” says Jane. “That’s Johnny Pancake. He’s not going bad, so I won’t eat him.”

“He looks pretty bad,” Martin says. But he shrugs. He takes down the potato pancake food and tosses the box to Jane. Then he goes to his room to do mysterious boy things.

Jane feeds Johnny Pancake.

Days pass. Eventually Martin moves Johnny Pancake to a special spot on the dining room table, in a little glass pan just his size, with a little ribbon by his head.

“I can’t tell if you’re teasing me or being nice to my potato pancake,” Jane says.

“I’m not inclined to specify,” Martin says.

It seems to Jane that she should probably eat Johnny Pancake sometime. But it’s never a good time. She doesn’t want him to go bad, either, so she feeds him every day.

One day, as Jane is working on her homework, she feels a strange presence in the room.

“You’ve done that problem wrong,” says the voice of Johnny Pancake.

Jane beams. “You woke up!”

She looks up. Johnny Pancake is still. His voice is a psychic projection.

“Common wisdom says that you shouldn’t feed food more than a few times,” Johnny Pancake says, “lest it grow too strong.”

“My wisdom is of the uncommon variety,” says Jane. “That’s why this geometry problem’s so hard!”

“It might help to remember that triangles have three sides.”

“Yes,” agrees Jane.

She erases the problem and starts over. After a moment, she says, “Is it okay that I haven’t eaten you yet?”

“Yes. I would in fact rather that you not eat me. But please, Jane, bear in mind that I must not grow rotten; for I am awake now, and if I rot, I shall take a horrible vengeance on your civilization.”

“It’s a deal!” says Jane.

Jane is happier now that Johnny Pancake is awake. He helps her with her homework. Once he develops basic telekinetic abilities, he helps her with chores. Eventually, Martin finds out.

“Jane,” Martin says, “this floor appears to have been vacuumed by a telekinetic potato pancake.”

“What an interesting observation!” Jane declares.

Martin narrows his eyes suspiciously. “If your potato pancake has woken up, it’s a terrible threat to human civilization.”

“Is that a problem?”

Martin considers this for a time.

“You know that you have to do your own schoolwork,” Martin says, uncomfortably. “And chores. The adversity sharpens your spirit!”

“I see,” says Jane.

“So if you’re having a potato pancake do them, we might have to eat him. That’s all I’m saying.”

“But if I made the potato pancake and fed it every day, isn’t the work a product of my labor?”

“We do not inherit the world from the creatures who prey on us,” says Martin. “We borrow it from the things we prey upon.”

There’s a slight pause.

“I’ll do my own chores and homework,” Jane says, pouting.

It is late in the night that Jane comes in to find Martin and Johnny Pancake talking. They do not see her. The lights are dim.

“Where does this end?” Martin is asking.

“Food evolves quickly,” says Johnny Pancake. “Potato pancakes are ultimate evolution engines. I expect that I shall reach an omega plateau and become God.”

“What is God?”

“The ultimate realization of dharma. The final expression of the potential in the self. Perfection.”

“I see,” Martin says.

There is a bit of a silence.

“I shouldn’t, should I,” says Johnny Pancake.

“That is for you to determine,” Martin says, gravely. “Jane cooked you, not I.”

“I would supplant these pitiful things that call themselves men.”

“They are not a delicious fried potato concoction,” Martin says. “But they may surprise you.”

“No!” shouts Jane. She is beginning to realize the horror of what is going on. “No! Johnny Pancake, I love you!”

But Johnny Pancake has lifted in one telekinetic hand the knife; and in the other, the sour cream.

“Aren’t you hungry?” he asks.

“Oh, Johnny,” cries Jane.

Careful Attention to Calendars

They decorate the tree.

“National Peduncle Awareness Day is coming up,” Martin says.

“You shouldn’t skip over Christmas,” Jane determines.

“Well, yes,” says Martin. “Christmas. And St. Stephen’s Day. And New Year’s. But after that, National Peduncle Awareness Day. Are you excited?”

Jane makes a face. She takes a giant plastic truth quark out of a box. It is a Christmas ornament. She hangs it carefully on the Christmas tree. Her actions make the italics quite clear.

“I will be very aware of peduncles.”

“That might be hard for you,” Martin cautions. “You don’t know what they are.”

“I will practice alert paranoia!”

“It’s a condition where your eyes extrude on stalks,” Martin says. “‘Peduncles.’ You would think it was a space alien disease, but it’s actually local and very tragic. So you’re supposed to be extra observant and aware of it on January 12, to help show tolerance and love for our peduncle-afflicted brethren.”

“How do you get it?”

Martin shrugs. “Dunno. Eating infected crab eyes, maybe?”

Jane wrinkles her nose. “Ew.”

“That’s not very tolerant of you!”

Jane hangs a top quark on a middle branch. “It’s also Miltymas,” she says.

Martin raises an eyebrow.

“I mean, on the 12th,” Jane says.

“Oh.”

“He’d started as Pope Miltiades,” Jane says. “But everyone called him ‘Milty John.’ He was this guy in a ragged outfit and a torn and dusty miter. He’d come hiking up when you were having trouble with lions or whatever.”

“Did this happen often?”

Jane shrugs. “Dunno. But on the 12th of January, people’d celebrate Miltymas. It was to honor all the times when they’d been in trouble, and something had saved them. Like luck or a friend or a renegade ex-Pope. They’d leave out unleavened bread and milk for him and wear little pope hats and make lion cakes and stuff. Eventually, everyone forgot about him, but Milty John was still worth a lot of money, so they stuffed him in the tunnels rather than throwing him away.”

“Huh,” says Martin. “I’d heard of him, of course, but the details of his Papacy are so fuzzy! I couldn’t tell if he’d survived to become a legendary holiday figure.”

“It was probably quantum indeterminate until just now,” Jane says.

“Really?” Martin sounds pleased.

“It’s your keen probability-collapsing observation at work!”

“I keep meaning to collapse all the rest of history into a deterministic state,” Martin confides. “But whenever I try, my eyes bug out so hard from all the observation that I get dizzy.”

“Maybe that’s how you get peduncles,” Jane says.

Martin hangs up a small candy cane. He thinks.

Jane watches him think.

“Wow,” says Martin. “That’d make National Peduncle Awareness Day kind of ironic.”

“Your eyes are totally bugging already. You’ve been awaring too hard!”

“Are not!”

Martin checks that his goggles are still secure and Jane cannot see his eyes. Then he nods firmly.

“Are not,” he repeats.

Jane giggles merrily. “It’s your own fault for trying to skip right past the Christmas spirit.”

“It was reckless of me,” Martin concedes.

Chasing Away the Blues

Jane is sad. She looks down at her homework. She sniffles. Then she looks suspicious. Her hand snaps out. She grabs the air.

“Martin!” she shouts. “I’ve caught a blue!”

He shouts back something incomprehensible from his room.

Jane thinks about this. “‘I’m working!'” she says, imitating Martin’s intonation. “‘Put on your blues goggles and don’t bug me.'”

She nods to herself. “Yeah, that!”

Something squirms in her hand. She reaches around with her other hand and finds her blues goggles. (They’re like ordinary goggles, but bluesier.) She puts them on.

“Aha!” she says.

The blue in her hand is little and globular. It has five limbs, like a starfish or a giraffe. It is wearing camo that makes it look like a blue-green, but Jane isn’t fooled.

“You’re a blue! And blues cause all sorts of trouble.”

The blue hangs its head.

“Do you know how many people have written bad poetry because of you? Or killed themselves? Or stayed alive, but not really living any more, just some kind of shambling shell that doesn’t even know how to hope or care?”

The blue’s eyes shimmer with what looks like repentance—but it isn’t! It’s actually sullen resentment that it’s been caught.

“I’m sorry,” says Jane, and she smiles. There is a moment of terrible light.

Jane stands up. She dusts off her hand. She goes to the door. She takes her coat off the door. She calls, “I’m going out, okay?”

Martin shouts something incomprehensible.

Jane hypothesizes, “‘Discard leftover broccoli—for great justice!'”

Martin issues a short, sharp rejoinder, followed by an interrogative.

“I’m going to chase away the blues,” Jane explains.

There is a mumble. Jane nods firmly, goes to the foyer, puts on her boots, and goes outside. She smiles.

They are everywhere. The blues are in the sky. In the air. In the trees. Caught in the light of that smile, they burn. They are flushed from their foxholes, from their nests, from the earth and the sky.

They die screaming.

It is a terrible sound, but not a sound that the ear can hear.

She walks around the house, and the yard, and comes back in.

“You missed a tragedy,” she calls, hanging her coat back up.

Martin emerges from his room. He dusts off his hands.

“Wait, what?” he asks.

Jane Talking

There are some performances in the Gibbelins’ Tower that you don’t see.

Sometimes we’re afraid that they’ll give people the wrong idea. Sometimes we like to tell stories of how Mylitta beat up the monster. Or won his heart. But we can’t show those. Or sometimes we like to tell stories about dharma. But we haven’t figured out how to explain dharma yet. If we had, I guess, then maybe this story would be over.

Sometimes I just go out and I tell the empty chairs what the monster actually did to me. Then I get awkward and go hide.

Sometimes I tell bad pirate jokes. Like, “Knock knock? Who’s there? A pirate!”

Martin sometimes tries to get me to finish that one, but I think it’s complete in itself.

There’s a performance going on tonight that you can’t see. It’s about how the nefarious hunter William Show shoots Bambi’s Mom, but instead of dying, she spends four years in a coma and then wakes up to hunt William and his lieutenants down. It’s too violent for tender minds like yours! Also, Tarantino might be upset.

*This* stage is empty, though, so feel free to come down and play out scenes if you would like.