Right now, I am only offering my most recent short for e-reader, but I am hoping to add the rest soon!
FYI: I’ve asked the authors to submit clean and funny options in the promo, but adherence to those guidelines is on the honor system and I haven’t read everything submitted.
Katysfables.com is not responsible for any trauma resulting from the contents of third party fictions. Risk associated with reading any of the above works is solely the responsibility of the reader. <– Law Fairy insisted I add this disclaimer.
Of all the alternate universes in existence, Para Sympan is the most like our own. There are only a few minor differences. For example, like our world, Para Sympan has a Washington State and a Seattle and a Sea-Tac Airport. The only minor difference is the dragons living in the Cascades.
The mountains are home to thirty-six species of dragon which means trouble for travelers flying out of Sea-Tac from March through May.
You see, this is mating season for dragons and the lovesick young males often confuse aircraft for females to be wooed or rivals to fight. Either way, it poses a danger to departing and returning flights.
Fighter jets circle the airport every spring to protect passenger planes. Most dragons won’t fly above ten thousand feet, so defense is only required during takeoff and landing. Dragons are a protected species. While it is illegal to shoot them down, it is acceptable to scare them off with a warning shot. Usually this is sufficient. Usually.
Several years ago, there was one dragon who was not so easily dissuaded. His name was Herbert and he has become a local legend.
He flew down from the mountains one spring, passed over the airport, and spotted the emerald green of an Intermittent Airlines 737. From the moment he saw her, he was completely and totally in love. They had so much in common. They were both green, they both had a lingering kerosene scent, and they both emitted smoke. He watched her as she left the gate and taxied to the runway.
She gave a magnificent roar as she leapt into the air. He flew after her, mistaking the hum of her engines for the purrs of a broody female. No amount of warning shots could keep him from pursuing. He followed higher and higher calling out to her in dragonish:
“Come back, my beautiful! Let us go into the mountains and make eggs together! I will bring you dead cows! As many dead cows as you would like!”
As she ascended higher above the clouds, his pleas became more earnest.
“Where are you going, my beloved? How is it you fly so high? Come back to me! I will bring you more dead cows than anyone ever has! We shall have a beautiful nest with green and yellow chicks. Their little mouths shall be crimson with the blood of cows! Come back to me, beloved!”
He followed her higher and higher until the air became too thin for him to ascend farther. Even then, he followed her from below for miles calling to her until she disappeared from site. Then he returned to the airport, flopped down at her gate, stuck his nose in the ramp and made mournful sounds.
The ground crew shouted and threw things, but nothing could drive him away from that sacred place. Airline staff scrambled to reassign gates. The airport called animal control but animal control was not equipped to handle this kind of situation. A specialist was called in from Point Defiance Zoo.
Her name was Dr. Diana Diaz and she was a herpetologist who specialized in dragons.
Most people like puppies and kittens and furry critters. Dr. Diaz liked feeding furry critters to her reptiles. She had a warm heart for the cold blooded.
She prepared a sedative while the animal control team located a crane and the largest tractor trailer they could find. Diaz had a tranquilizer gun designed specifically for dragons. It looked like a rocket launcher but fired a giant syringe.
They sedated the great beast and loaded him onto the truck. (They had to add a second trailer as one wasn’t large enough, even with Herbert curled up.) Dr. Diaz took his measurements and injected a tracking device under his scales.
“He looks like a Herbert, don’t you think?” She commented to one of her assistants and that is how he got his name.
The dragon awoke the next morning alone in his natural habitat. Under such circumstances, most young male dragons would have moved on to pursue other females, or perhaps eat some elk, or pick a fight with a rival. Herbert, however, was no ordinary dragon. Immediately he took off toward the airport so he could continue mourning his lost love.
But, as he prepared to land, something caught his attention. It was another Intermittent Airlines 737. Herbert’s heart leapt. She’d returned for him! He looped in the air with excitement. He had to do something special for her.
The aircraft left the gate and taxied toward the runway. It was just about to take off when something fell from the sky and crashed directly in its path. It was the carcass of a fifteen hundred pound angus heifer.
The passengers heard some muffled profanity over the intercom. A few moments later, they heard the captain’s voice calmly explaining that there would be a brief delay and asking for their patience.
Herbert landed beside the carcass looking very pleased with himself.
“Look what I got for you, my beloved!” he purred.
Dr. Diaz and her team were called in once again to remove the animal, but that did not stop him from returning the next day, or the following day, or the day after that. Each day, he would pursue the first Intermittent Airlines 737 he saw, thinking that she was his beloved. What the poor, confused, lovesick creature thought was one female, was actually multiple aircraft.
He’d drop cattle, elk, and other prey around the airfield in an attempt to impress her. Additionally, he’d find shiny things like flagpoles, satellite dishes, and cars and bring them to her as gifts.
The Federal Aviation Administration was concerned about the safety hazard Herbert posed and the local farmers were furious on account of their lost livestock.
A paper quoted one farmer as saying:
“Regulations be damned. If that thing comes for my cattle. I’mma gonna shoot ‘im.”
Luckily for Herbert, no civilian possessed the necessary fire power to take him down.
In all her years of research, Dr. Diaz never encountered a dragon more persistent. She fully expected Herbert to lose interest in the planes after the first relocation. She tried to think of ways to discourage Herbert from approaching the airport.
First she recommended the crew install mirrors on top of every ramp so Herbert would be blinded as he tried to land. Herbert responded by landing at a distance and trotting in to meet his beloved on foot. Hopping the fences that surrounded the airfield was no trouble.
Next, Dr. Diaz tried noise deterrents. They played a sound at a pitch outside the human hearing range that was extremely irritating to dragons. This only made Herbert more determined to reach his beloved so he could rescue her from the awful racket. He charged across the airfield with his ears lying flat against his head, calling in dragonish:
“Don’t worry, my love! I will get you away from this awful noise! Come quickly! Let us go into the mountains were this terrible thing is not! We will eat cattle, and make eggs, and be happy!”
He trotted toward the first plane he saw that resembled his imaginary lover and grabbed her by the tail. This resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. Herbert was once again tranquilized and relocated. The crew removed the noise deterrents and towed the plane to the hanger for repairs.
But Herbert returned that evening, set on finding and rescuing his mate. Since dragon’s are diurnal, the airport was completely unprepared for his visit. He trotted around the airport making distressed whimpers.
Then, he spotted her through the window of a hanger. It wasn’t difficult for him to break in. His hard scales made smashing through the window completely painless.
“My beloved!” He cried. “How wonderful that you have found a cave for us! And those sounds are gone so we can build a nest here!”
As the security guards frantically called for help, Herbert went to and from the hanger, carrying trees and tarps and other suitable nesting materials.
When the animal control team arrived in the morning, the hanger was in shambles and Herbert was curled up next to his beloved, sound asleep.
The airport called the Department of Fish and Wildlife to get permission to euthanize Herbert. (And by euthanize they meant shoot him down. Fire breathing dragons explode into a giant fireball when shot with an anti-aircraft missile. It’s a glorious site.)
Dr. Diaz begged and pleaded for time to think of an alternative solution. She was given forty-eight hours. She searched through all her research but couldn’t think of anything. Then she flipped through every book on dragon behavior that she owned, and still no solution came to mind. Then she spun around and around in her wheely desk chair until she was dizzy. That’s when it hit her—the corner of the desk. Then, as she was rubbing the bruise on her hip, she had an idea.
She called every zoo and wildlife rehabilitation center within two hundred miles until she found what she was looking for. Vancouver Zoo was home to a young female dragon by the name of Reya. She had been recovering from a broken wing and was ready to return to the wild.
The female was sedated and transported to the airport where Dr. Diaz had her painted with the Intermittent Airlines colors. (She was already green, but the shade was not in compliance with Intermittent Airlines brand standards.)
Diaz then had her team rub Reya with jet fuel so that she’d smell just like one of the planes. She assured her assistants that the entire process was completely harmless to fire breathing dragons. She advised them, however, to wear gloves and masks.
When the task was complete, the team fell back, leaving the animal to wake alone. The entire process was finished mid-morning which was when Herbert usually made his appearance. Dr. Diaz watched through binoculars from the air traffic control tower, her heart pounding in anticipation.
Herbert cruised toward the airport scanning the ground for his mate. Then, he spotted her, or at least something that looked like her.
He landed a short distance away and approached cautiously. Reya looked back over her shoulder at him, with a slightly bored expression.
“Why beloved, you look so beautiful today!” Herbert exclaimed. “I mean, you always look beautiful, but you… I don’t know, you seem somehow more alive. Did you have a good sleep?”
“Who are you?” Reya asked.
Herbert’s heart leapt. He’d never heard her speak. Before she’d purr and hum and sometimes roar, but she never spoke.
Of course, the humans observing couldn’t understand what was said. They only heard growls and grunts and throaty vocalizations. Nonetheless, Dr. Diaz recognized that communication was taking place. She tried not to get her hopes up too quickly.
“You know who I am,” Herbert replied. “I am your mate. I built a nest for you, remember?” His ears drooped. “But the people took it away before we could make eggs.”
“Aren’t you presumptuous!” The female scoffed. She lay her head on her forefeet and pretended to be asleep.
Herbert flew away and, several minutes later, a three thousand pound bull came crashing into the concrete behind her. He landed beside it and pranced back and forth looking pleased with himself.
Reya was unimpressed.
“You aren’t the first male to bring me a dead cow, you know.”
Herbert took off again and returned a few moments later with an elk carcass.
The female yawned.
The ritual continued. Herbert brought her all kinds of things until the gate area was littered with dead animals.
“Any male could bring me these things,” Reya observed.
Herbert left her one last time, and did not return for almost an hour. Dr. Diaz waited impatiently—typing a few notes, then pacing around the tower, then trying to type some more. It was agonizing.
Then, at last she spotted him approaching from the ground. He trotted proudly across the airfield clutching a Tesla in his teeth. It was the shiniest thing Reya had ever seen—blue and shimmery and beautiful. She could no longer be coy with him. She was completely and totally overcome with love.
I won’t describe what happened next, only that it made some of the spectators blush, some snicker, and Dr. Diaz cry tears of joy. The two dragons flew away together and left the airport in peace.
Dragons mate for life and hatch six to twelve chicks every spring. If you are ever flying south from SeaTac on a clear day, look out the window and see if you notice a speck of green sparkling against the snowy peak of Mount Rainier. It is likely Herbert and Reya teaching their little ones to fly.
They help other people practice virtue. You’ve probably heard stories about fairies taking the form of vagrants, going to castles for aid, and blessing or cursing the occupants depending on their response. This is a typical strategy, though they have dozens more.
While most fairies are content with this vocation, some deeply resent it. Two in particular come to mind: a mischievous pair of twins by the names of Jace and Acacia. When they were young, they begrudgingly accepted their job. However, after about a hundred years, they deemed humans predictable and frustrating, never learning anything despite their best efforts.
At last, they started questioning why beings as powerful as themselves should spend their lives in the service of such stupid creatures. They started amusing themselves by manipulating humans. It was much easier to get humans to practice vice than virtue, so they entertained themselves endlessly by tricking people into ruining each other. Jace and Acacia got the same pleasure from toying with the lives of humans as children do from crushing fireflies to watch their flattened innards glow.
Now fortunately, there is a magical rule that prevents fairies from directly killing humans. Any fairy that kills a human dies instantly. (I’ve never seen it happen, but I like to think they explode into dust.) So it is highly unlikely that you will ever be shanked by a fairy (even in Para Sympan). There is one small caveat: a fairy can kill a human, if the human attacks first.
This rule was not much of a hindrance to Jace and Acacia because they were exceptionally good at getting humans to kill each other. Their intelligence was far superior, they had magic beyond measure, and a complete disregard for the lives of others.
After causing three wars, the fairy counsel sentenced them to two millennia in prison. The only way to contain a fairy, is to seal it in a magic bottle. These are the same magic bottles used to contain genies. (You can actually use them to contain anything; they are very handy that way.)
So they were imprisoned, and their bottles hidden away in a desert cave. The fairy counsel filled the cavern with snakes and scorpions and left feeling confident that the bottles would remain undisturbed by curious mortals.
Princess Fausta was a curious mortal who happened to be in desperate need of a genie. She was having some family problems. They were the type of family problems she figured only magic could resolve. While finding a genie was no easy task, Fausta was relentless in her search and persisted for many months seeking clues and following rumors.
You can imagine her delight when at last she found the two bottles nestled in that dreadful desert pit. Could she really be lucky enough to find two genies?
She took the first bottle, pulled a corkscrew from her pocket, and removed the seal. It flew off with a loud POP and a blinding flash. Smoke filled the cavern and there stood Acacia blinking and fanning the air with her hand.
She was a beautiful, imposing, figure—the type of person it was hard to look directly in the eye.
“Has it been two thousand years already?” Acacia asked groggily. Then she noticed the princess. “Who are you?”
“I am Princess Fausta of Kalathea,” She replied, pulling the cork from the second bottle. It came loose immediately without a pop but smoke still filled the room. When it cleared, Jace was standing beside his sister.
“Jace,” Acacia smiled. “How long were we imprisoned?” The grogginess had left Acacia almost instantly and she looked fresh and bright, the way irritating morning people do the moment they roll out of bed.
Jace, however, still needed a moment to recover himself. “I don’t know, maybe a thousand years?” He looked around the cave taking everything in. “Not that I’m complaining, but why’d they let us out?”
“They didn’t,” Acacia answered cheerily. “This sweet lady saved us. Isn’t that nice, Jace?”
“Oh,” Jace replied, looking at the princess. “Yes, how very kind of her.”
“Perhaps we should do something to thank her for setting us free?” Acacia suggested.
A smirk flickered across Jace’s face. “Absolutely!”
Acacia addressed the princess: “Tell me, what reward can we give you? What would make the fleeting decades of your life more pleasant?”
“I was hoping for three wishes,” the princess answered.
“Three?” Laughed Jace. “She’s a bold one isn’t she? She only rescued us once.”
“Now Jace,” his sister reasoned. “There are two of us, so that’s two wishes at least.”
Fausta knelt before them. “I do not wish to try your patience,” she answered. “A single wish is all I require.”
“Then why did you ask for three?” Jace grumbled.
“Well, just because, I thought three was standard for genies.”
“GENIES!” Jace cried. “You think we—”
But Acacia held up her hand to silence him.
“Only in legends, my dear,” she answered. “We can give you as many, or as few as we deem appropriate. Tell us what it is you desire.”
Jace glared at his sister and mouthed: I hate genies!
She mouthed back: I know. Shut up.
Fausta’s face was bent toward the ground in reverence, so she did not notice the exchange.
“My father, King Basil the Fourteenth, recently expired.”
“Just like old cheese,” Jace mumbled. Acacia shot him a glare.
“I have two brothers. An elder brother by the name of Justin—a warrior in the prime of life. My younger brother’s name is Alexander, a boy of sixteen. It was always assumed that Justin would inherit the throne, but upon my father’s deathbed, he named Alexander heir.”
Acacia gasped in horror. “But why?”
“I don’t know!” Fausta complained. “It was something about my older brother and I being evil. I couldn’t really understand what father was saying because he was dying at the time.”
Jace picked up his bottle and tapped the opening into his palm. A long stick slid out, far longer than the length of the actual bottle. The end of it was burned into charcoal. Jace took it and started writing notes on the cave wall.
“So what is your wish?” Jace asked.
“My elder brother, Justin, sent me to find you on his behalf,” Fausta explained. “His wish is that you restore his birthright and make him king.”
“Why didn’t he come to find us himself?” Acacia asked.
“He’s away fighting in another land,” Fausta explained.
“You must love your brother dearly to embark on such a treacherous quest on his behalf,” Acacia observed.
The princess hesitated. “Of course I do. He’s just like a brother to me.”
“I see,” Acacia replied. “It’s just… your success in finding and freeing us tells me that you are brave, capable, and intelligent. Why if I lived in Kalathea, I’d want you on the throne.”
“I was thinking the same,” Jace said. “Tell me princess, how did your father die?”
“He was ill.”
“And how long was he ill?”
“He’s been ill for years,” Fausta answered. “But several weeks ago, his condition deteriorated so that he couldn’t even rise from his bed.”
“And while your elder brother was away fighting and your father was bedridden, who was leading your people?”
Fausta bit her lip. “I was.”
“Then why not continue?” Acacia urged.
“A woman on the throne?” Fausta mumbled. “I don’t know…”
Jace and Acacia both laughed. Acacia looked to Jace and said: “Here she has our unlimited power at her disposal, yet she binds herself by the rules of men!”
“Alright,” Fausta interjected. “If you can make me queen, then that is my wish! I wish to be heir to my father’s throne in both action and title so that I may be given due honor for the service I’ve rendered my people!”
Jace and Acacia shared a smile. The dark cave suddenly became bright as day though Fausta could not find the source of the light.
“That’s better,” Acacia observed. “Blow out your lamp, my dear. Save the oil. Let’s begin planning.”
“Planning?” Fausta asked. “Can’t you just… snap your fingers or something?”
“Perhaps that’s how it works in stories,” Jace answered. “But in the real world magic is much more… complicated. We will need your complete cooperation.”
“That’s right,” Acacia added. “You’ll need to answer our every question honestly if this is to work.”
“Don’t lie to us,” Jace warned. “If you lie to us, we’ll know. We know everything!”
“But if you know everything, then why do you need to ask—”
“First,” Acacia interjected. “What does your husband think of all this?”
“I don’t have a husband.”
Jace scrutinized her. “How old are you?”
“Twenty-six, what does that have to—”
“A princess? Twenty-six and unmarried?” He questioned. “How unusual.”
“I’ve been married,” Fausta answered. “Three times.”
“Three times!” The fairies exclaimed in unison.
Fausta nodded then sighed deeply. “They all died.”
“I am so sorry,” Acacia replied softly. “How?”
“I blame myself really,” Fausta recalled. “The first was carrying me off after our wedding celebration, when he tripped and landed on my knife. The second died during our wedding feast when I accidentally spilled hemlock juice in his drink, and the third died of a heart attack after our vows. I don’t blame myself for that one, he was a very old man. It was just luck, I suppose.”
She stared wistfully into the distance, then added: “Bad luck. Very, bad, luck!”
She pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed her nose. “With three husbands dead, my father couldn’t find me another suitor. So here I am, doomed to pave my fate as I see fit.”
“How unfortunate for you,” Jace sighed. “Three dead husbands, a dead father, two dead brothers…”
“My brothers aren’t dead,” Fausta corrected.
“But they will be!” Jace answered cheerily. “When you kill them!”
“Who said anything about killing my brothers?” Fausta asked.
“It’s all part of the magic,” Acacia explained. “Do you want this kingdom or not?”
“More than anything,” Fausta insisted.
“Then you have to do what we tell you, my dear.”
Acacia took the charcoal from Jace and found a flat spot on the cave wall. First she drew Alexander. She had no idea what Alexander looked like, so she just imagined Fausta as a sixteen year old boy.
“It’s his perfect likeness,” the princess marveled.
Acacia then drew Justin beside the young king, imagining how the princess would look as a man in the prime of life. She stepped back for a moment scrutinizing her work, then tapped the charcoal on his face to add stubble.
“How do you draw so well?” Fausta asked.
“Magic of course,” Acacia explained. Though in truth, it was from a thousand years of practicing on the inside of her bottle. “The plan is simple. First we must plant rumors among the Kalatheans to build hatred and distrust toward the young king Alexander. At the same time, we must spread word of Justin’s charity and kindness.”
“That is going to be difficult,” Fausta replied. “Justin is a violent drunk. When I said he was off fighting a war, what I meant was he’s off pillaging surrounding kingdoms.”
Jace rolled his eyes. “Then why did you wish for us to restore his birthright?”
“Because he’s never home and without him I am queen in all ways except title.”
“Not to worry, brother,” Acacia smiled. “The next part is easy. When Justin returns from the war, the princess will stab him in the back.”
“Figuratively?” Fausta questioned.
“And literally!” Acacia clarified.
Fausta gave a little shrug and a nod. “Alright, then what?”
“Then find Alexander and cry: ‘brother, brother, something terrible has happened!’ When he says: ‘what is it, my dear sister?’. You say: ‘I’ll show you!’ Then you take him to Justin’s corpse and while he is still gaping in horror you—”
“STAB HIM IN THE BACK!” Jace interjected. He was too excited to contain himself.
Acacia sent Jace an annoyed glare. “Then throw yourself over Justin’s body, weeping and wailing and calling for the guards! When they enter, tell them you saw Alexander murder Justin and you were filled with a holy vengeance and killed him.”
Fausta furrowed her brow, thinking through the whole thing carefully.
“In this way, you will rule the hearts of the people.” Acacia concluded. “They will uphold you as a beloved hero for avenging their dear prince and when you lay claim to the throne, they will support you.”
“Do we really need to kill Alex?” She asked. “Why not just banish him, or throw him into prison or something?”
Jace and Acacia both regarded her for a moment, then exchanged a look.
“Is there some reason you wish to keep him alive?” Acacia asked.
“Well, I don’t know,” the princess shrugged. “He’s a child! He’s not like Justin. He’s not cruel or greedy…”
“So what is he?” Jace inquired.
“He’s, well, he’s sixteen,” Fausta continued. “Mostly he just reads and eats. Sometimes he
mumbles. He’s been so lost since he was crowned. He wanders the palace with the anxious stare of a newborn calf. He’s been coming to me for advice constantly.”
Fausta rubbed her forehead.
Acacia looked at the princess with soft eyes full of compassion. “You really are the only person keeping the kingdom together, aren’t you?”
The princess responded with a deep sigh. “If only you knew.”
“Your people need you, princess,” Jace observed. “Where would Kalathea be without you?”
“A wasteland of poverty and sickness,” Acacia finished. “You know something? I think you will be remembered as one of history’s most powerful women. Little girls for generations to come will admire you. Because of your reign, the world will come to realize that women can do anything men can. You have no idea how important it is that your wish come true.”
“But Alex hardly deserves to die,” the princess remarked.
“Your hesitation is understandable,” Acacia said. “But if you imprison Alexander the people will perceive you as soft.”
“And you cannot appear soft to anyone,” Jace asserted. “Your enemies will see your sex alone as a sign of weakness. ‘Kalathea has a woman on the throne,’ they will say. ‘She’s gentle,’ they will say. ‘Let’s sack Kalathea,’ they will say. You must prove that you are as ruthless as any man and avenging Justin is an excellent way to start.”
“I’ve never killed anyone who didn’t derserv—” Fausta started. “I mean, I am willing to be strong, but to kill Alexander would make me a tyrant. He’s not like other men. He’s very gentle. While Justin is off splitting skulls, Alexander is home asking how this edict or that law will affect the common folk. It’s very sweet but entirely impractical.”
“His gentleness is a product of naivety,” Acacia answered. “In time he’ll be like every other man: self-absorbed and cruel.”
“All men?” Jace objected, shooting his sister a look.
Acacia glared at him. “Especially you.”
“It’s true,” Jace admitted with a smirk.
“What will it be, princess?” Acacia asked. “Will you save your country?”
Fausta was silent.
“You admire Alexander’s concern for the people,” Jace added. “But you don’t seem concerned for them yourself. How will they fair under the reign of an unfit king?”
“Alright,” Fausta agreed, though her tone seemed uncertain. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”
“Excellent!” Acacia replied. “I have a simple formula that will serve us well.” She started writing on the wall.
“Formula?” Fausta puzzled.
“Yes, my dear, there’s a science to tainting a person’s reputation. Now tell me, where do people talk?”
“I don’t understand,” The princess answered. “People talk everywhere.”
“Of course,” answered Acacia. “But people talk more some places than others. For example, do you have a marketplace? Pubs? Churches?”
“Oh!” Jace was giddy with excitement. “Gossip flourishes in church congregations!”
“I really don’t under—” Fausta began.
“Hush!” Acacia interjected. “Just listen, my dear! You will begin in your home. I am sure Alexander is the topic of much conversation at the palace. Jace and I will begin with the common folk. Start a conversation with anyone you can, and begin by mentioning one of Alexander’s good qualities.”
“Good qualities?” Fausta questioned. “Aren’t we trying to destroy him?”
“Yes,” Acacia replied. “But you don’t want people thinking you’re a gossip!”
“Wait, but… aren’t we?” Fausta asked.
Acacia continued ignoring Fausta’s question. “It also makes them more likely to believe you when you say less than complimentary things. That brings me to my first equation.”
She started writing on the wall with her charcoal, then stepped back to reveal the following:
“For example,” Acacia explained. “You could say: ‘Our king seems like a kind person, doesn’t he? But I’m concerned because he’s so young! Do you really think he’ll be a capable ruler?’”
“I don’t see how that helps us,” the princess commented. “There is nothing false in that and it seems like something that should be discussed.”
Acacia smiled. “It’s not the sentence itself that’s damaging, but rather who discusses it and how they discuss it. You see, if the young king’s advisors discussed this concern, they would be able to provide him help and guidance that would make him a stronger king. We don’t want him to be a stronger king, we want him to be a dead king. So we need to be sure that the people who discuss these concerns are the people who can’t do anything to address them. Then we can move on to the next portion of the plan.”
She wrote a second equation below the first:
Doubt + potential consequences of legitimate concern x the human imagination = fear.
“There are many potential consequences of the king’s inexperience, why don’t you name a few?”
“I’ve got one!” Jace interjected. “He may not fully understand the grave responsibilities he has to his people! He might neglect his duties and use his wealth and position for his own amusement.”
“Yes!” Acacia answered. “And once that fear is planted, we draw attention to everything young Alexander does that isn’t directly related to his kingly duties. What else? Surely our princess has some ideas?”
Fausta thought. “Well, I suppose our enemies could see his age as a sign of weakness and launch an attack.”
“Marvelous!” Acacia said. “Speak of these potential consequences to anyone and everyone, and if you have any evidence at all that they might come to be, draw attention to it, exaggerate it! Then we can begin the final part of the plan.”
Acacia began writing again and as she wrote she explained:
“Anger is a natural reaction to perceived injustice. Once the people are afraid, they will be watching for injustices in everything Alexander does. You should watch the young king too. Every time he misspeaks, make it known to as many as possible. Read meaning into everything he says and does and spread your conclusions to every waiting ear.”
She stepped away from the wall, now it read:
Fear + the perception of injustice = hatred
Once the people are sufficiently angry, you can say anything about the king, true or false, and people will believe you without question. Only when the people hate him can you kill him. You see, he’ll already be dead in their hearts. Killing him will be a formality.”
The princess was looking at the stone floor, lost in thought.
“How long will all this take?” She asked.
“Has the internet been invented yet?” asked Jace.
“I take it from the princess’s perplexed expression that the answer is no.” Acacia cracked her knuckles. “We’ll just have to go about this the usual way. When is Justin coming back?”
“When war season ends,” Fausta answered.
“That will be plenty of time,” Acacia replied.
They went on to discuss ways of building up Justin’s reputation. According to Acacia, it could be done by crediting him with acts of charity, distributing goods to the people in his name, and dismissing any of the servants who actually knew him personally.
Fausta suggested that it might be easier to paint Alexander as the beloved victim and Justin as the cruel killer, but Acacia was intent keeping the original plan.
In the weeks leading up to Alexander’s fall, the princess spent more time in the company of the fairies who manipulated her desire for power and her resentment toward Justin. As the time to execute their plan approached, Fausta did not have second thoughts about killing him.
It was Alexander she had second thoughts about killing. Second thoughts and third thoughts and finally when the moment came and Alexander stood with his back to her, gaping at the site of Justin’s corpse, she couldn’t bring herself to do it.
Acacia had concealed herself from human view by magic and stood in the room watching the princess to see if she would follow through. When she saw her hesitation, she immediately revealed herself and started screaming for the palace guards.
They poured in to see Acacia, Fausta, and Alexander standing by the body of the prince. Acacia’s expression was anguished, tears streamed down her cheeks. Fausta was white-faced and trembling head to foot. Alexander had been frozen since the moment he noticed his lifeless elder brother.
After the guard, came everyone else who was within the sound of Acacia’s cries: servants, nobles, and palace guests. Most looked in sorrow upon their beloved prince. Some (the few remaining who knew him in life) thanked God silently and excused themselves.
Jace entered with the crowd and was the first of them to speak.
“What happened, princess?” He asked. “Who is responsible for this heinous crime?”
Fausta had a choice to make.
The people hated their king so much, that a word from her would condemn him. No one would question her. However, when she looked on the confusion in her little brother’s face, she found herself unable to speak. Her lust for power battled with her affection for him.
As a princess, Fausta was used to getting her way (except in a few small things like marriage and career choice). Most of the time, if she wanted something, she got it. At the moment she wanted to take over the kingdom without killing her little brother.
She had an idea.
“When I heard that the prince had returned, I came down to greet him,” she recalled. “But when I entered… I saw…” She looked at Alexander with a betrayed expression. Alexander looked back, eagerly awaiting her testimony.
“I saw the king driving a knife into his back.”
There are so many holes in this story that you could use it as a colander, but the people didn’t care. They’d been waiting for an excuse to kill Alexander for so long they swallowed it without question.
Alexander would have been torn apart right then and there, had the guard not intervened. As they held the rabble back, they looked to Fausta for instructions. She ordered them to arrest Alexander which they did immediately. Any loyalty they had to the young king was dissolved by the toxic murmurs of the people long ago.
It was clear to every person present that true power resided with the princess. The Kalathean counsel was quick to confirm that no law existed prohibiting a woman from ruling. They went on to attribute the late king’s choice of heir to madness brought about by his illness. So it was, that Fausta was named queen within a few hours of Justin’s death.
Her first act as queen was to sentence Alexander to death. Though her enthusiastic subjects wanted to carry out the sentence immediately, she insisted it be done at dawn.
“Dawn is standard for executions. What kind of a queen would I be if I violated Kalathean traditions on a whim?”
The next morning, when the guards came to fetch Alexander, they found his cell empty. The city and all surrounding villages were searched to no avail. When the guards brought the queen the news of the futile hunt, she ordered the matter dropped.
With her wish granted, she decided to inform her genie companions that their debt had been fulfilled and they were free to go. She’d been eager to get rid of them because the more time she spent in their company, the more they frightened her. Without a coup to plan, she couldn’t distract herself from the unpleasant feeling she got when she was around them.
She met with them in a secluded corner of the garden where she was confident they wouldn’t be overheard. She thanked them for their assistance and tried to dismiss them.
“Go free?” Acacia asked. “You don’t understand, my queen. Us genies are only happy when we are living in the service of a mortal.”
Jace snorted and brought his fist to his mouth in an attempt to conceal the involuntary curl of his lips.
“Why without a master we wander without purpose,” Acacia continued. “It’s a torturous existence.”
“But I do not need anything from you,” Fausta replied. “You’ll find no purpose in serving me.”
“I think she’s trying to get rid of us, Jace,” Acacia asserted
Fausta’s eyes widened in horror and she knelt before them.
“Do not be offended!” She begged. “I only want to make it clear that you are no longer indebted to me. With your magic you could do anything, go anywhere! Why would you want to stay in Kalathea?”
“It’s alright, my queen,” Acacia sighed. “I am sure we can find another master to serve. Jace, can you think of anyone who might need our services?”
“Hmm…” Jace thought. “We should find someone hopeless, friendless, someone with problems so great only magic can resolve them.”
“I just thought of someone!” Acacia exclaimed. “How about Alexander?”
Fausta felt a knot in her stomach. “Then again,” she answered slowly. “Running a kingdom is no easy task, I am sure I can find something for you to do.”
The twins shared a smile.
Author’s Note: You were hoping I’d drop all three of them in a wood chipper, weren’t you? Not to worry, we’ll return to Kalathea again. Maybe we’ll pay young Alexander a visit next time. I feel like he could use some company.
In the second decade of the twenty-first century, Sertraline, King of the high elves declared war on Santa’s workshop. The conflict was inevitable. You see, in the latter half of the twentieth century, advances in communications technology helped bring people from across the world closer together.
Humans, for example, interacted with both the high elves and Santa’s elves online. Though they bore the same name, the two races were very different.
The high elves were almost identical to humans except immortal, pretentious, and better looking. Santa’s elves were jolly little folk, not even half as tall as the average human. As far as Sertraline was concerned, the only thing the two races had in common was their pointed ears.
Now, humans confused them constantly. They were always asking the high elves for cookie baking tips and handing them letters to Santa. Sertraline started dreading the Christmas season because it meant continuous misidentification. His people would spend hours writing blog posts and answering forum questions explaining the difference, but it never seemed to do any good. The humiliation continued.
At last, Sertraline decided he had to take action. So he arranged for a conference call with the queen of the Christmas elves. Sertraline was an elf of habit, so he joined the conference call using the same magical seeing stone he’d been using for the last three thousand years. The elf queen used Webex. She was a cheery little person with rosey cheeks and a long blonde braid hanging down from beneath her pointed, red hat. Her name was Cranberry Cedarpine the Amiable, but she insisted her everyone call her Cedar. She didn’t care for formalities.
When Sertraline explained the issue, she said: “It’s very considerate of you to want to resolve the confusion, but we don’t mind sharing our name.”
Sertraline explained in a long, elegant, and round-about way, that he did.
Cedar asked if Sertraline had considered changing the name of his people, to which Sertraline became indignant. The call ended with the elf king in a sour mood and nothing resolved.
He returned alone to his council chamber and paced back and forth, his brow deeply furrowed as he pondered the situation. Since Cedar was unable to see reason, it seemed the only thing he could do was declare war.
The king loathed the idea of the death and destruction that would result from such a choice, but the alternative was to be forever confused with the most annoying race of people on the planet. Because of them, the radio played the same five songs on a loop every day from November 1st through December 25th year after year. These cheery tunes bore through the skull and gnawed away at the mind. Sertraline had every radio in the palace destroyed years ago. Even so, he only had to hear one line from the window of a passing car and the whole tune would loop repeatedly in his head until he called out to Heaven, begging God for the sweet release of death.
He told himself he’d be doing society a favor by wiping the jolly, little folk off the face of the Earth. Still, he was conflicted, and debated with himself throughout the night. When morning came, he had an idea. He called Cedar again.
The king’s tone was grave. “Despite my attempt to resolve our differences peacefully, we’ve made no progress. Therefore, it is with a heavy heart, that I declare war on your people.”
Cedar sipped her hot chocolate, her cheery disposition unaffected by the king’s declaration.
“‘Kay,” was her only response.
“However, to minimize the destruction brought about by our conflict, I propose we select champions from among our warriors and have them engage in combat. If my champions are victorious, your people will have to change their name. If your people are victorious, we’ll change ours.”
“If my people are victorious,” Cedar said. “We’ll continue to share the name.”
Sertraline rolled his eyes. “Alright, we’ll share the name. There will be three contests—”
“Poetry, baking, and craftsmanship,” Cedar interjected.
“I was thinking something more lethal,” Sertraline replied.
“That’s not very nice,” Cedar observed. She pulled a book out of her pocket and scratched a note.
“You brought this upon yourselves,” Sertraline stated. “If you do not accept, we will be forced to invade the North Pole.”
“Poetry, baking, and craftsmanship,” the queen repeated. “Take it or leave it.”
She ended the call.
Sertraline sent for his generals and ordered them to prepare their troops for battle. While the army was assembling, the king sat in his council chamber scowling as he meditated upon the gravity of the situation.
“Accept her terms,” a voice demanded.
Sertraline would have jumped, but he was too dignified for such expressions of alarm. He slowly turned to see the speaker, his golden locks fluttering around his shoulders. He sighed when he recognized her.
It was Alika, the justice fairy—an imposing, immovable, force of a woman. She had a habit of showing up at inconvenient moments and telling him not to carry out his plans. She’d been doing this for as long as he was king (which was a very, very, long time).
“This is not your war,” he replied gravely. It was his way of telling her to leave.
“It is the war of every person who will suffer the devastation of your conflict, elvish or no,” she stated. “Make an enemy of the Christmas elves and you make an enemy of Santa Claus.”
“Santa Claus is no threat to me,” Sertraline grumbled.
Alika’s expression became dark. “You have no idea what Santa Claus is capable of. If you proceed, only one race of elves will remain on Earth, and it won’t be yours.”
“What kind of a king would I be, if I allowed my people to endure such humiliation?” He cried. “What would you have me do?”
“I already told you what to do,” the fairy responded. “Accept her terms. Besides, do you really think the Christmas elves could defeat you in any of the contests she suggested?”
The king thought. The greatest poems in history were written by his people (usually off the top of their heads). Their craftsmanship was also unmatched. Everything they made was beautiful, functional, and insusceptible to decay. Sertraline had been using the same sword for the last two thousand years and he never needed to have it sharpened. He’d never thought of their culinary skills specifically in relation to those of other peoples, but this was likely because he refused to eat anything that wasn’t made by elvish hands.
“Those little people have no appreciation for true artwork,” Sertraline scoffed. “They will declare themselves winners in every category though our work is objectively superior.”
“What if I were to select three unbiased judges from among non-elvish races and let them select the winners?”
“I’ll consider the matter,” he answered.
He waited twelve hours, then told Alika he would accept Cedar’s terms.
A short while later, Sertraline found himself, his family, his nobles, and the champions they’d selected, on the royal jet headed for the north pole. Elvish aircraft ran on a clean, renewable energy source they’d developed for their own use but wouldn’t share with humans because they were angry with humans for causing climate change.
When they arrived, they were greeted with cheers, red and green confetti, and cups of hot chocolate. Queen Cedar did not have a castle of her own, but instead, shared one with Santa Claus, the reindeer, and her thousands of subjects. Santa Claus was not present when Sertraline arrived. One of the little elves explained that he was speaking at a conference for holiday legends.
Sertraline and his entourage were escorted to the great hall. The king wasn’t sure where to focus his attention when he entered. He thought the walls were grey stone like those of most castles, but he couldn’t be sure because they were completely covered in greenery, tinsel, paper chains, and crystal snowflakes. A layer of Christmas trees bordered the entire room. It looked as though they had cut down a forest for the sole purpose of moving it indoors. Sertraline grumbled at their lack of respect for the environment.
“Don’t worry,” said a Christmas elf as though reading his mind. “They’re made of plastic!”
Sertraline sighed deeply. They’d end up in the ocean eventually. He was sure of it.
The Christmas elves all gathered on one side of the hall, bouncing up and down with excitement. The high elves gathered on the other side in silent anticipation. At last, Cedar herself came out to meet the king, trailed by a small entourage of little elves. She was even more adorable in person. Sertraline had to resist the urge to kick her across the room.
“You have beautiful hair!” She noticed. “It’s so soft and shiny, like in a shampoo commercial!” Her fellows all agreed—all the elves, both short and tall, agreed. Even by elvish standards, Sertraline had amazing hair. That’s why they made him king.
After exchanging greetings, Sertraline and Cedar parted and went to their places on either side of the hall.
Alika entered. The Christmas elves cheered all the louder at her arrival. She smiled slightly, then held up her hand to silence them so she could introduce the judges she’d selected.
The first was a kindly looking human elder. She fussed over the little elves that escorted her in and offered them mints from her purse.
Alika announced her as Miss Maggie of Milwaukee.
The next judge was a mermaid. She cruised through the door on a motor scooter. She was all bundled in a thick coat and snow pants (or snow pant, it only had one leg for obvious reasons.)
Alika announced her as Tivela of Atlantis.
The last judge was a fairy who clearly wasn’t phased by the cold weather. She was wearing a knee length pencil skirt and heels. She entered Santa’s hall with her eyes fixed on her phone. This was, of course, Eda the business fairy. Her previous engagement had been canceled, so she agreed to come judge the contest.
“Where you living these days, Eda?” Alika asked.
“San Jose,” Eda replied.
“Right,” Alika noted. “Our third judge is Eda of San Jose!”
The judges were seated and the first contest began. The contestants had ten minutes to write a poem of any kind.
The Christmas elves had a team of three champions, who all huddled together with pens, scratch pads, and markers.
The high elves only presented a single champion. His name was Acetaminophen. He was currently Sertraline’s favorite poet. He walked onto the floor and stood before the judges for the full ten minutes as though already prepared.
When the alarm signaled the end preparation time, the Christmas elves allowed Sertraline’s champion to go first. He spoke from the top of his head:
An elf-maid fair, afar did roam,
Without a care, for hearth and home.
Lured away by love deceiving,
Swift to obey a face so pleasing.
The headstrong child left unknowing,
Of heart defiled, love unflowing.
For rejection came no better tutor,
Than affections of her human suitor.
The poem continued to recount the story of the unfortunate elven lady and the troubles that came about because of her human lover. After thirty-six verses, he left her for a mermaid and she died of grief.
It was the most depressing poem ever recited under Santa’s roof. It made Sertraline feel miserable. He loved every word of it.
When at last Acetaminophen finished, the high elves clapped politely and the Christmas elves jumped up and down, yelling and cheering happily as though they’d forgotten he wasn’t a part of their team.
Miss Maggie was scowling as she viciously scrawled her thoughts in her notepad. Eda elbowed Tivela who was starting to doze off.
One of the three Christmas elves, introduced as Myrrhy, came forward holding a crumpled piece of looseleaf.
“Our poem is made of a series of limericks!” He explained, jittering with excitement.
Sertraline rolled his eyes. Limericks were a scourge on the art.
Myrrhy tore the paper into three pieces and handed one to each of his teammates. Then they lined up behind him. He cleared his throat and read from his paper:
There once was a fellow named Petey,
Who was nothing but wicked and greedy.
For his covetous soul,
He earned nothing but coal,
And spent the year hopeless and needy.
He high-fived both his teammates, then stepped aside to let the next elf speak:
There once was a boy named Dwayne,
He was conceited and vain,
Consumed by his pride,
‘twas alone that he died,
So stubborn he’d live so again.
The second high-fived his teammates, then stepped aside allowing the last elf to speak:
There once was a boy named Phil,
Who served others with goodness and skill,
Giving all that he had, to make others glad,
Was an excellent use of freewill.
Miss Maggie smiled as the last elf tucked the paper back into his pocket.
“That was very nice,” she said.
Alika gave the judges a moment to collect their thoughts and then called upon them one by one.
Miss Maggie explained that she was voting for the Christmas elves because Acetaminophen’s poem perpetuated an offensive stereotype. Tivela also voted for Myrrhy’s team because she’d slept through most of the first poem. Eda was torn, but in the end, settled upon the Christmas elves because: “They kept their target audience in mind.”
So the Christmas elves were declared winner of the first contest. They exploded with excitement, bouncing and hugging each other, and crying tears of joy.
Sertraline scowled. Fairies, humans, and mermaids seemed to lack appreciation for true art. But two contests remained and he felt certain the high elves would be victorious in the end.
The baking contest began. The teams were to mix their ingredients in the hall and proceed to the kitchen when they were ready to use the oven (with Alika escorting to ensure no one was cheating).
The high elves supplied a single champion for this contest also, and the Christmas elves a team of four. The Christmas elves never seemed to do anything alone. Sertraline was sure they had a hive mind.
Each side worked similarly in their respective areas. The only difference in method was that the Christmas elves used an electric mixer and the high elf used a spoon carved from the wood of an ancient elm.
When the contest was over, the Christmas elves presented the judges with a wide variety of cookies—sugar cookies for Miss Maggie, biscotti for Eda, and salmon cookies for Tivela. (These looked and tasted like salmon.)
The opposing champion presented organic, gluten free, GMO free, sugar free, flattened white octagons. The judges tried the Christmas cookies first since they looked more appetizing but were pleasantly surprised when they tried the octagons. These were light, fluffy, and subtly sweet.
Miss Maggie surprised the crowd by voting for Sertraline’s champion because she appreciated the health benefits his cookies offered. Eda also voted for the high elves because the demand for healthier alternatives to traditional desserts was growing and she thought their cookies would appeal more to modern populations. Tivela voted for the Christmas cookies. She liked the fishy taste.
Sertraline smirked. The little elves cheered just as they had before and Sertraline’s smile turned into a scowl. He wished that, just once, they’d remember this was war.
The last contest was craftsmanship. The two teams had one hour to make something of their choosing. Sertraline’s team was made up of three of his finest silversmiths. They were opposed by five Christmas elves.
The teams provided their own supplies. The high elves brought molten silver in a crockpot along with all their smithing tools. (It was a magic crockpot able to maintain a temperature of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.)
The little elves had a bin full of wires, plastic, and other odds and ends. They also had a whiteboard and millions of sticky notes.
The high elves set to work at once. They were making something they’d made a thousand times before, so they were able to skip the planning phase and get right to work.
The little elves spent the first fifteen minutes talking among themselves, writing on stickies, and adding them to the whiteboard in neat little rows. Then they broke off and worked individually.
Three were typing away on laptops, one was assembling something from the materials in the bin, and the fifth was moving sticky notes around and calling for standup meetings every so often.
When at last the timer announced the end of the contest, it was the Christmas elves who were prepared to present first.
They gleefully handed Tivela a shiny touch screen tablet, explaining that it was completely water resistant, and could withstand pressure up to ten thousand feet below the surface of the sea.
Tivela was delighted. Most technology companies didn’t take mermaids into account. (At that very moment, her latest cell phone was sitting in a bowl of rice). Her amazement only increased when they turned on the tablet to see that the elves had programmed an online portal for submitting Christmas requests. Popular items were suggested and could be ordered with the click of a button.
The portal also had recommendations for donating to charity in the spirit of the season. They were all environmental charities focused on cleaning up the oceans and protecting endangered wildlife.
It was sleek, intuitive, and no attempt on Eda’s part could produce a bug. The Christmas elves explained that they tested it thoroughly. Eda was especially impressed with their planning, execution, and attention to detail.
The portal was even in compliance with accessibility laws, so Miss Maggie could see everything on the screen.
The high elves presented a pendant. It was designed to capture the beam of a full moon, so it could be used again during travel on moonless nights. It was one of their most popular items before the late 1800s when the flashlight was invented. Sertraline still used one.
“Oh!” Miss Maggie said. “This looks just like the one I got in Heathrow airport. That was a keychain though.”
Tivela thought it would be an excellent tool for night fishing, but Eda was less than impressed. She thought the cost of production was too high and doubted anyone would buy one when they could get a flashlight for less than a dollar.
The high elves countered saying that artificial light was useless for keeping goblins away.
“My husband is a goblin!” Miss Maggie gasped indignantly.
“My ex is a goblin,” Tivela noted. “How much do you want for this?”
Since this contest would determine the winner of the entire event, Alika called for a quick recess so the judges could deliberate.
Sertraline wasn’t worried. His people were clearly superior. They only lost the poetry contest because Acetaminophen offended one of the judges. (Humans were so sensitive.) He assured himself that if they defeated the Christmas elves in a baking contest, they could defeat them in ANY contest.
It was an agonizing fifteen minutes.
At last everyone was called back to their seats.
The vote was unanimous. The Christmas elves were declared the winners of the entire event.
Sertraline was in shock.
The contest was over, the little elves victorious. They threw a feast for their guests without a single sugar-free item available.
The elf king wandered the perimeter of the room in silence, staring vacantly as he nibbled the corner of a sugar cookie. It was sweet, too sweet, like Cedar’s personality. He hated it.
He took another bite then patted his hips to make sure they weren’t expanding.
Around the hall the high elves were talking with their small companions. There wasn’t a grim face among them. They were all sitting together making Christmas ornaments, gifts, and paper chains.
As Sertraline patrolled the room, he even saw the rival teams sitting together talking and laughing, their enmity forgotten. Acetaminophen was sitting with Myrrhy writing poems for the insides of Christmas cards. Sertraline’s craftsmen were listening to their Christmas counterparts explaining Agile Methodology, and the baking rivals were talking about how they could combine the flavor of Christmas cookies with the health benefits of elven bread.
“Perhaps you have more in common than you think?” Came Alika’s voice.
Sertraline ignored this and instead grumbled: “What did they do before the birth of Christ?”
“Don’t bring that up,” Alika said. “It’s the one thing that makes them upset.”
Sertraline thought of the humiliation his people would continue to face as a result of the outcome. He considered organizing an invasion, but when he observed the happy conversations taking place around him, he doubted his people would support it.
“How can I allow my people to continue enduring such disgrace?”
Alika glanced around the room. “I’m beginning to think the issue isn’t as important to them as it used to be.”
The elf king glared. “Who are you to tell me what is and isn’t important to my people?”
Alika raised an eyebrow and asked with a hint of a smile: “To your people or just to you?”
Sertraline went red in the face, then breathed deeply so his color returned to normal. He excused himself and left Alika, grumbling under his breath.
Some of Sertraline’s people enjoyed their visit so much, they chose to stay in the North Pole and work for Santa Claus.
And when the children of Para Sympan opened their gifts that year, some were made by the hands of Christmas elves and some were made by the hands of high elves (though I suppose technically, they were Christmas elves now too).
The new alliance increased the confusion of non-elvish people, but for the most part, the high elves no longer cared. They were proud to be associated with a people so kind and talented as their shorter brethren.
Except for old Sertraline. He returned to his palace as sour as he’d ever been and sat in his council chamber munching sugar cookies until the dreaded month of December was over.
Dave was rushed to the Mackerel Valley Emergency room.
He’d been walking across the bridge on his way to work when he was mugged, brutally beaten, and tossed over the railing. If that wasn’t bad enough, some idiot left a wood chipper parked under the bridge. As Dave fell toward the open funnel, he instinctively peddled his legs in the air as if doing so would propel him upward. So he landed with his left leg extended below him and his right leg bent up behind.
Luckily (though I suppose luck is relative in this case), the wood chipper jammed before it could consume Dave above the knee, and his right leg was spared entirely. A kindly road worker managed to pull him out, tie a tourniquet around the bleeding stump, and drop him off at the hospital waiting room.
He hopped over to the triage desk and signed himself in. The receptionist told him to have a seat and that she would call for him shortly.
He was a terrifying sight, dripping blood, covered in bruises, and one eye swollen shut completely. He tried to ignore the anxious glances of the people waiting around him. They were mostly hacking plague victims, though there was one kid zipping across the room unhindered by his broken foot.
“David Jones?” Called the receptionist. Three hours had passed since Dave had taken his seat. He hopped eagerly back to the triage desk.
The receptionist handed him a clipboard and asked him to fill in his medical history and insurance information. By this time, he was a bit woozy from blood loss, so he’d trouble recalling all the details. To make matters worse, his attacker stole his wallet leaving him without his insurance card. “You understand if we can’t file with your insurance, you will be responsible for the cost of your own treatment?” The receptionist explained when she handed back the clipboard.
Dave was slightly distracted by the agonizing pain shooting up from his leg stump and throbbing through his head, so he just nodded.
He returned to his seat and waited a second eternity until, at last, a nurse with a wheelchair entered the waiting area and called his name.
“Hi, I’m Carrie,” she introduced cheerily as she helped him into the chair. “I’ll be taking care of you today.”
“Could I get something for the pain?” Dave asked.
“Of course,” she replied. “Just as soon as the doctor admits you.”
She wheeled him through a labyrinth of hallways and parked him in a treatment room. Actually, it was more like a nook than a room. It had three white walls and a curtain where the fourth wall and door should have been.
She tossed him a clipboard full of paperwork and asked him to fill it out.
“I already filled this out at the front,” Dave explained.
“Oh, reception doesn’t share that information with us,” Carrie replied. “You’ll have to fill in this one for me and then reiterate everything verbally when I come back in.”
“But!” Dave began.
Carrie disappeared behind the curtain.
Dave was having trouble holding the pen in his trembling hand, but he somehow managed to redo everything before Carrie reappeared. He handed her the clipboard.
Carrie flipped through it, took a sheet from the bottom, put it on the top and handed the whole thing back to Dave.
“Please sign the document saying that you declined to take a pregnancy test,” she asked.
“But I’m a man,” Dave protested.
“Yes, but since the Medical Equality Act was passed we have to treat all patients equally when providing medical treatment,” she explained. “Now we can’t treat you until you’ve signed that.”
“If I sign this, will you give me something for the pain?” He pleaded.
She nodded. “Of course.”
He signed the form, she took the clipboard and disappeared. If the physical torment wasn’t enough, the TV in the upper corner of the room was playing soap opera reruns and he couldn’t reach the off switch.
He watched helplessly as Jessica agonized about whether to stay with her current boyfriend, the incredibly sexy Dr. Jamie Dreamheart, or get together with her late husband’s long-lost identical twin brother.
The nurse returned about thirty minutes later.
“Oh, you’re dripping blood!” She observed. “Let me grab some towels.”
“Wait!” Dave called, but she’d already stepped out.
Another thirty minutes passed and she returned with the towels and threw one of the floor beneath his leg stump. She put a paper bracelet on his wrist.
“Alright, Dave,” she said. “Let’s get an IV started, then we can get those pain meds going!”
Dave managed to mouth a thank you.
“Which arm do you prefer?” She asked.
“Oh you’re easy!” She smiled and started tapping the crook of his arm. She frowned and tapped a few more times then poked her head out of the room.
“Rita?” She called. “Can you come look at this?”
An older nurse, presumably Rita, entered.
“I can’t find the vein, Rita,” Carrie stated.
Rita brushed her aside and started tapping viciously up and down Dave’s arm.
“Hmm…” she mumbled. “How about this one?” She pointed to his forearm.
“No,” Carry replied. “He’ll bruise.”
“I just lost a leg,” Dave moaned. “I really don’t care about—”
“Let me go get the butterfly needle,” Rita said and swept out. About thirty minutes later she returned with new equipment. It took about twenty-seven pokes, but they managed to get the IV started.
“Alright, Dave!” Carrie smiled. “The anesthesiologist is just finishing up with someone else and she’ll be in to discuss your pain management options.”
“Can I at least have an ibuprofen?” He pleaded.
Carrie thought. “I’ll have to ask the doctor.”
“Wait!” Dave cried but she’d already swept out of the room.
She swept back in thirty minutes later.
“Hi Dave! So the doctor says you shouldn’t take anything until we are finished running our tests.”
“TESTS?” Dave cried.
“Yes, he’s ordered an X-ray, a CAT scan, and blood work.”
“Well we want to make sure we understand what’s wrong with you before applying treatment.”
“I’ve lost my leg!”
“I know,” Carrie sighed. “But we need to make sure nothing else is wrong with you.”
Dave didn’t have much blood left but the lab team managed to squeeze a few drops out for the tests.
After several hours of imagining, the anesthesiologist caught up with him. She wheeled a cart through the curtain into his treatment room.
“Let’s discuss your pain management options,” she began.
“Give me anything,” he pleaded. “I trust your judgement.”
After confirming Dave wasn’t allergic to nylon, shellfish, eye of frog, or dragon’s blood, Dave finally experienced sweet relief.
Carrie wheeled Dave up to ICU where he received a permanent room, a welcome pamphlet, and a bucket sized water cup with a giant bendy straw. He also got a new nurse—a chipper man named Fred.
After covering Dave’s chest in suction cups and clipping a monitor to each of his fingers, Fred explained that the best thing Dave could do was try and get a good night’s sleep. Sleep sounded wonderful, and Dave managed to doze off despite being completely entangled in wires.
About thirty minutes later, he awoke to the grip of a blood pressure cup.
Fred was standing next to him in the dark.
“Go to sleep, Dave,” Fred whispered. “I’ll just be poking you here for a couple of minutes, don’t mind me.”
He took Dave’s temperature, adjusted the heart monitor clip on his finger, and left the room. Just as Dave was dozing off for the second time, an alarm sounded in the room.
ENT! ENT! ENT!
It continued unceasingly. Dave looked around. What was it? Was he dying? Where was Fred?
He pounded on the nurse call button until Fred stumbled into the room.
“Oh dear, is that IV machine going off again?” Fred grumbled. He adjusted Dave’s IV.
“This is a finicky one,” he explained. “Try holding your arm straight upward and hopefully it won’t go off again.”
Unfortunately, it did happen again, and again, and again, every twenty minutes all night long. At last, around 7:30 Dave managed to fall asleep only to wake two hours later when the door to his room opened. In walked a jittery, red-headed man in a collared shirt and lab coat.
Doctor Webb cheerily explained the tests revealed trauma, lacerations, facial and bodily injuries, and the absence of a limb.
“That’s what I said at triage,” Dave complained.
“Oh did you?” Dr. Webb replied. “You know they really never tell me anything around here.” He shook his head. “Well, we are going to have to do surgery on your face and your leg. What’s left of it anyway.”
Dr. Webb laughed.
Dave did not laugh.
“What does that involve,” he grumbled.
“You know, I’m not sure,” Dr. Webb answered. “You’ll have to ask the surgeon. He’ll be here around 11:00 to talk to you.”
“But—” Dave started.
Dr. Webb’s watch beeped. “Alright, great talking to you,” he said glancing at his wrist.
“But!” Dave repeated.
Dr. Webb swept out of the room before he could answer.
A little later someone called a nutritionist came into the room and gave Dave a plate of slightly dried microwave pancakes.
Dave clicked the TV on and started gobbling them up. The same soap opera that tormented him the night before was playing. It was a stupid show, production was cheap, the acting was bad, the characters were shallow. He sat watching it for the next two hours until the surgeon entered followed by a small army of medical students.
Dave jumped and clicked the TV off as quickly as he could find the remote.
“Um, hi,” he said.
One of the students rolled a white board to the end of Dave’s bed.
The surgeon drew a diagram of Dave’s face by making a circle, a dot for one eye, an X for his swollen eye, and a happy curve for his mouth. He started explaining what they were going to do. Dave could only understand a few of the words he was saying, such as incision, puncture, and remove.
The surgeon asked if he had any questions.
“…um… how long will it take my eye to heal?” He asked.
The surgeon laughed. “I actually don’t know. You’ll have to ask the Ophthalmologist that.”
“Opht-what?” Dave asked but the surgeon and his students were already pouring out the door.
So it continued. Experts came in and out throughout the day, there was a different one for every question.
Dave was glum. There was one doctor on his soap opera. Dr. Jamie Dreamheart. He could do ANYTHING: deliver babies, heart surgery, facelifts, treat STDs, (spread STDs) there was no medical question he couldn’t answer.
Dave went into surgery early the next morning. When he awoke, the surgeon came in to speak with him. Again Dave didn’t really understand what he was saying, but he seemed pleased with himself. Dave decided to take this as a good sign.
He finished by saying, “When we get you back to your room, Fred will show you how to take care of the cavity.”
“I’m sorry, what?” Dave asked.
“Where we removed your eye,” the surgeon explained.
“REMOVED MY EYE?” Dave exclaimed.
“Yes,” the surgeon replied. “I am afraid cutting it out was the only thing I could do.” Despite his words, he did not seem regretful. In fact there was a gleam in his eye and the corner of his mouth twitched as if he was trying to conceal a smile. “Don’t worry, most insurance plans cover fake eyes!”
The days passed and with them came specialists, surgeries, pills, and IV alarms in an endless flurry. Fred was his nurse the entire time. The man never ate, never slept, never sat down, yet was always in a good mood. Dave wasn’t sure if he should admire Fred’s endurance or worry that a man so sleep deprived was medicating him.
When at last the surgeries were done and the stream of specialists exhausted, Dave received a visit from the billing department. The representative was a woman with a perpetually bored expression and a clipboard piled high with pamphlets. When she introduced herself, Dave was relieved that he’d managed to find his insurance information through the online portal. He gave it to her and relaxed as she left the room.
A little while later, she returned to inform him that his insurance wasn’t going to cover his medical bills because he hadn’t pre-notified them before checking into the hospital.
“HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO NOTIFY THEM!” Dave cried. “I DIDN’T PLAN ON GETTING MUGGED!”
“I’m sorry,” the billing lady said. “You can pay in installments if you like. It looks like you are going to owe about eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”
He sprang out of bed on his good foot and ripped himself free from the monitors and cords. Then he hopped to the window like a madman as the billing lady frantically called for help. He threw open the window and leapt toward freedom.
Fred entered with security just in time to see him disappear.
But poor, unfortunate Dave did not escape that day. You see he came down onto a lighting rod that impaled him directly through the heart. He was taken to surgery where it was determined he needed a new heart.
Dr. Webb just happened to have a heart available. It belonged to one of his former patients, a certain CEO by the name of Scott Allen. It was horribly diseased but the best Dave could afford without insurance.
After several months, he was released from the hospital. Since he couldn’t afford prosthetics, he settled for a peg leg and an eye patch.
He returned home a different man, no longer the upright citizen he used to be. Scott’s diseased heart was filling him with evil desires. That night he illegally downloaded hundreds of movies.
This action filled him with such exhilaration, he decided to pursue a career as a full-time pirate. He flew to Seattle and stole one of Lake Washington’s historic sailing ships. He picked up a crew and started commandeering ferries on Puget Sound.
He’d put the terrified passengers ashore and leave to distribute their vehicles to sketchy used car dealerships in Tacoma.
The moral of this story is never buy a used car without first verifying it is ethically sourced.
The people of Helevina know very well that one’s ability to reason is directly proportional to the length of one’s beard. Now there was a man who lived in Helevina a very long time ago, whose beard was particularly long. His face was especially stern because he’d wrinkled his forehead with so much thinking. His name was Rouvin and he was a philosopher. But Rouvin wasn’t just any philosopher, he was arguably the greatest philosopher in history.
He wrote about everything from the nature of thought, to the human soul, to God Himself. Though his teachings caused his students to gape, scribes to scribble furiously, and the kings of the world to seek his counsel, the only thing they brought to God was an amused little smile.
This, dear readers, is Rouvin’s story, and I regret to say, it is not a happy one. It begins when he was just a young man (though even in his youth he was bearded. In fact, historical evidence suggests he was born bearded). He lived in a little village on the eastern side of Helevina that overlooked the sea. It was here that he first learned to wonder, and the delight he experienced in wondering was so sweet that once he began he never voluntarily ceased.
Day in and day out he would watch the world, question it, contemplate it, test his conclusions, and finally put them on paper. He spent so much time doing this, he would have starved to death if it hadn’t been for a young lady from the village. She’d remind him to eat, remind him to sleep, and when she visited his home she’d clean it thoroughly and scold him for allowing it to fall into disarray. She was as practical as he was theoretical and as down to earth as he was absent minded. Her name was Sophia, and Rouvin was very fond of her. As long as she was by his side, all his temporal needs were cared for and he was free to think.
She was fond of him also, for she could see that he had a brilliant mind and their conversations inspired and enriched her. Together they were happy…at first.
As time went on, Rouvin was consumed in his work more and more. He became so engrossed in his thoughts on the social nature of man that he stopped conversing with Sophia. Then, so busy penning his work on the nature of human affection that he forgot to offer her any. While he wrote seven hundred pages about the nature of human emotion, he failed to notice her growing frustration.
All this took place over the course of three years, and toward the end of the third year Rouvin the philosopher began what is widely considered his greatest work. To this day, the work brings even the most stately academics into a state of uncontrollable sobbing for its sheer splendor. He titled it: On Marriage and the Nature of Love.
On the very day that he sat putting the final touches on this great work, Sophia decided to confront him. She was carrying a basket of his togas out to wash, when she noticed him sitting in his usual place scribbling furiously onto a scroll. She paused before him, silently reading his words.
She cleared her throat. Rouvin jumped, his pen flying from his hand. He looked up toward her bewildered.
“You have said that an actual thing is greater than the idea of a thing,” Sophia began.
The philosopher shook off his confusion and smiled.
“Quite so!” He replied both alarmed and delighted by her understanding.
“It follows then,” she continued. “That actual marriage is greater than the idea of marriage.”
Rouvin thought for a moment, then answered: “Why yes! That’s exactly right. I’m so glad that you are beginning to understand these things, my dear!” With that, he began searching for his pen. Finding it, he turned his attention back to his writing.
After a few moments, he glanced up. She was still standing there, staring at him, her brow furrowed and her jaw tight.
“Was there something else you wanted?” He asked.
Her hand clenched the handle of the basket so that it almost snapped in two but her expression did not change.
“I suppose actual clean laundry is also greater than the idea of clean laundry,” she stated.
“I suppose so,” he answered raising an eyebrow. He wasn’t sure why she was still on this subject.
“But since you seem content to live in the world of ideas…” she dumped the basket on his head and stormed out.
When she did not come home the following day, he went out into the village to look for her. His neighbors told him she’d left by ship to seek her fortune in Athens.
Now Rouvin was arguably the most brilliant man that ever lived. And while he’d answered some of the greatest questions in the universe, he could not make sense of Sophia’s behavior.
He spent many a long evening sitting alone among his scrolls, sipping wine, and contemplating this question. Indeed, he thought about it so much that his hair turned white and his face became frozen in a scowl. At last, he finally came to a conclusion and penned his most infamous work. If you asked your philosophy professor about it, I guarantee he will deny its existence.
The work is titled: On the Nature of Women. In this work, Rouvin concludes that women are so enslaved by in their emotions that they are completely incapable of reason.
Having satisfied himself with the idea that Sophia’s behavior was a result of her feminine nature, he decided to move onto other questions. Further, he resolved never to interact with a woman again. Of course, this was easier said than done, due to the inconvenient fact that women made up half the human population. And it only became more difficult after that fateful day when Lysander the Conqueror attacked.
If you ask a child what he wants to be when he grows up, he might say a doctor, a firefighter, or an engineer. When Lysander the Conqueror was a little boy, his mother asked him this very question. He answered: “I want to rule the world!” His mother laughed and patted him on the head. What she didn’t realize is that one day he would actually do it.
Lysander valued three things above all else: books, conquering (obviously), and his darling war horse Calla. He’d have married Calla if he could, but marrying horses was frowned upon in those days even for the ruler of the world.
The day Lysander invaded, Rouvin was so absorbed in thought he failed to notice the attack on his village until one of the conqueror’s warriors broke down the door. The man would have killed the terrified philosopher right then and there if Lysander himself hadn’t intervened. You see, when the invader stormed in, one of Rouvin’s scrolls came rolling out into the street. Lysander (being a lover of books and all) stopped killing people for a moment so he could read it. The work was called On Horses: Highest of Animals.
The conqueror rushed to the house. Luckily for Rouvin, the invading soldier, blade raised for the kill, paused mid-blow (it was the kind of hesitation one has when one is about to kill the protagonist of an incomplete story). It gave Lysander just enough time to burst in shouting: “STOP!”
Then catching his breath, he held the open scroll out toward Rouvin. “Did you write this?” he demanded.
The wide-eyed philosopher nodded.
“Wonderful!” the conqueror exclaimed. “You’ll come back to the capital with me and teach at the university! Every student in the empire will come to know that horses are the highest of animals! And we will add your works to my library! You will have wealth and power and fame and servants to do your bidding. Everything you’ve ever wanted will be yours!”
Rouvin agreed immediately because he was afraid of dying (also wealth and fame sounded pretty good). And so the conqueror took the philosopher back to Logus, capital of his home country. It was beyond anything Rouvin could have imagined (which is saying a lot since he spent most of the day in his mind). The many intersecting roads were paved with cobblestone, every building touched the sky. Greenery only appeared in places designated by city officials. Every pigeon was washed and combed before it could enter the street. And by Lysander’s decree, every warrior had to wear a brush on his helmet so he could dust the ceiling as he walked through a room.
Rouvin became quite comfortable in the city. He spent most of his days in the royal zoo. Lysander had a habitat for him there, complete with scrolls, togas, a beard comb, and five to ten half empty cups of coffee. A plaque in front of the exhibit explained that these were philosopher enrichment items.
When Rouvin wasn’t in his exhibit, he was in the library. Lysander the Conqueror had a magnificent library. It was the second largest building in the city. (The first was the temple of Lune, the god of vermin.) The books fueled Rouvin’s thoughts. In the few short years, the philosopher lived in Logus, he wrote more than he had in all years previous.
Now Lysander had a wife (he actually had many, but only one is important to this story). Her name was Amira. She was a princess taken from a distant corner of the empire. Unlike the conqueror’s other wives, she could read and would spend most of her days sitting cross legged on the library floor, absorbing one book after another. Lynsander found this amusing and when he was showing distinguished guests around his great city, he would often point her out.
“Look,” he’d say. “There’s the Anamian princess reading again. Isn’t that delightful?”
She’s shoot him cold glares which he’d ignore.
Of course Rouvin saw her too, and would grumble to himself that they’d allow a woman in the library. Luckily, she was the only woman there and easy for him to avoid. At least until she stumbled upon one of his works.
It was his work on God. In those days, most people worshiped many gods, the people of Logus being no exception. They had gods for everything you can possibly imagine. They had gods of the elements (fire, water, earth, and air), gods of the weather (thunder, wind, hail, and the like). They also had gods of oddly specific things, for example, the dying llama god. They did not have a god for healthy llamas, nor a gods for similar animals like alpacas so their religion lacked consistency.
But after many, many, years of thinking, Rouvin had come to the conclusion that there was only one God and had written extensively on the subject in his work: The Creator of the Universe. Amira read it twice through and it fueled her curiosity. She began collecting and reading through Rouvin’s other works. His books inspired a thousand questions, she wanted to learn more, everything she possibly could. So when she spotted Rouvin in the library one day, she decided to approach him.
He was sitting at a table, completely lost in his work and did not notice her walking toward him. You can imagine is alarm when she plopped The Creator of the Universe on the table in front of him, and said: “I’d like to know more about your one God.”
His surprise turned to anger when he’d a moment to take her in. There she was, standing before him, a basket of scrolls perched on her hip. For a moment, he was swept back to his old home, to the laundry, to Sophia…
“Go away,” he hissed, turning his attention back to his scroll.
She clenched her teeth. In her homeland, no one would have dared speak to her so. She was respected as a queen. She reminded herself that things were different here. She just another wife of Lysander and a lesser one at that. She maintained her composure.
“Please,” she insisted. “I want to know more about your one God.”
“Go away,” he repeated.
And this time she did not ask again. She left without a word, the curiosity about the one God extinguished and replaced by a bitter lump. Then things got worse. The very next day she resumed her browsing, and stumbled upon On The Nature of Women. The bitter lump in her heart grew into a nasty resentment. And all her frustrations started boiling over. She decided she hated Logus, Lysander, and whole empire. She hated Rouvin, and his God, and all his works with him. It didn’t matter how beautiful and how true most of them were. In her mind, all were tainted by his work on feminine nature.
Shortly thereafter Lysander the Conqueror became a victim of a horrible accident. A knife fell on him while he was sleeping. Luckily, on the evening of his death, he’d written a note naming Amira’s son his heir. The people of Logus thought this peculiar considering Amira’s son was only two and Lysander’s youngest child. No one pointed this out though since Lysander also noted that anyone who questioned this should be thrown into The Pit of Death and Dismemberment.
Since it’s very hard to understand the babblings of a two year old, the nobles of Logus relied on Amira to interpret the words of their new emperor. She explained that the child’s first order was to throw Rouvin into the above mentioned pit. The philosopher was so horrified at hearing this that he immediately died of a heart attack. The people of Logus were very disappointed because watching victims fall screaming into the Pit of Death and Dismemberment was one of their favorite pastimes. (This was how people entertained themselves before HBO was invented.)
Amira’s son then declared that all the treasures of Logus be moved to Anamia and the capital be burned to the ground. People protested and war broke out. In the end, the city was burned and none of the treasures survived. The library, the university, and the zoo were all lost. Oh yes, and lots and lots and lots of people died. And it all happened because the greatest thinker in history, was so enslaved by his emotions that, during a critical moment, he lost his ability to reason.
James had everything a young man could want, well, almost everything. He’d a full scholarship to Rouvin University where he was a straight A student. He had a paid internship at Tap Pro Inc, and was building out a plan for his own business. He’d a mother and father who loved him and a sweet grandmother he’d visit every other weekend.
Yet, even with all this, he felt himself incomplete. You see James was waiting to meet the one. The girl he couldn’t stop thinking about, the girl he’d do anything for, the girl who’d make his life full and rich.
Julie was a biology major. She worked as a barista at the campus coffee shop and spent all her free time (which wasn’t much) volunteering at a local wildlife rehabilitation center. She found her volunteer work most fulfilling, and hoped she could eventually get a full-time job working with animals.
There was only one thing missing from her life and that was Mr. Right.
Then one fateful day it happened. James entered the campus coffee shop and ordered a sixteen ounce cup filled with as many espresso shots as would fit. He’d a midterm early the next morning, and was preparing for a long afternoon of study.
He was standing next to the pickup counter scrolling through the study guide on his phone, when a beautiful voice rang out:
He looked up and saw her peeking out from behind the towering espresso machine. He noticed the curls of her auburn hair sticking out from under her green uniform cap. Her hazel eyes, the gentle curve of her face, she was like an angel.
Julie noticed him too, his scruffy black hair, his untucked button-up and his deep brown eyes that seemed to swallow her soul.
In that moment, they both had the same thought: this must be the one!
James skipped all the way back to his apartment. He knew it was crazy, he knew it was reckless, but he also knew that Julie was the one. The person who’d make him complete. So he took the chance, he asked her to dinner and she accepted. It was like the universe was smiling down on him and everything was falling into place.
He moved his hand upward in a coffee drinking motion, only to realize he didn’t have his drink. He’d been so entranced with Julie, that he’d left it sitting on the pickup counter. Normally, such a revelation would have led to panic, but not today. How could he worry about a little caffeine deprivation when he’d found the one?
He spent the whole afternoon preparing for the date (researching to find the best dining options, buying flowers, ironing his suit again and again.) He wanted everything to be perfect. After all, he knew this girl was his other half. The person who’d complete him.
Julie’s heart was pounding. Butterflies fluttered in her chest. She’d lost her concentration. She forgot to put espresso in an old professor’s drink, and added it to a small child’s chocolate milk instead. She wrote the wrong name on almost every cup, even misspelling the name Ed.
Her fingers where unsteady, her mind was elsewhere. She hardly noticed the mob of angry customers swarming the pickup counter yelling obscenities.
A boy had asked her on a date–a real, live, boy. She’d never been sure of anything in her life until now. He was the one, her missing piece!
When her concerned manager asked her if she wanted to leave early, Julie fled the building. There was so much to do: shower, second shower, hair, make-up, call all her girlfriends for advice… She’d no idea how she would do everything in time!
When James came to pick her up that evening, they were both so overwhelmed they could hardly speak. So they didn’t. They just sort of giggled as they skipped hand in hand to the restaurant.
Unfortunately, neither of them realized they were skipping down the path to their own demise.
The next few weeks were blissful for the new couple. They spent hours gazing into each others’ eyes, whispering sweet nothings, and holding hands while spinning slowly through wheat fields.
Normally, James would have been horrified to learn that he’d failed a midterm (after all he’d never failed anything in his life), but he just didn’t care. What was one midterm to a man in love?
Julie’s grades were also falling. She couldn’t focus on her books, and daydreamed through class. She even freed all the mice from the lab once with the gentle words: “How can I vivisect you, little friends? I’m in love!”
The mice then joined her in a musical number about her newfound feelings. It came to an abrupt end when her horrified professor entered.
James’ advisor reminded him that he needed to keep his grades up or he’d lose his scholarship. James noted this, then fled the meeting as soon as he was dismissed, eager to be with Julie.
This continued for weeks. Julie stopped volunteering at the animal rehab so she could spend more time staring at the clouds with James. After several missed shifts, the rehab asked her not to come back. She was disappointed at first, but then figured it didn’t matter as long as she had her other half.
Finally, James’ advisor regretfully informed him that he’d lost his scholarship. James was horrified and spent the next several classroom hours wondering what happened. He ignored all the calls from his parents, since he did not want to speak with them until he had a plan. He needed to find time to resume his studies and bring his grades back up but did not want to use any of the precious time he had with Julie.
He decided he’d skip the visit to his grandmother’s, at least for a couple of weeks until he was able to get his scholarship back. This led to more calls from his parents which he ignored.
Julie finally lost her job at the cafe and ran tearfully into the arms of James. Together they bemoaned the cruelty of the universe.
“Not to worry, my darling,” James reassured. “I still have my job with TP inc, when I graduate we can get married, I’ll support us both!”
Julie was overwhelmed with joy. She gave up all thoughts of being a biologist and spent every moment dreaming of being the perfect wife. She didn’t need her dreams, James would complete her!
James was shocked the day TP declared bankruptcy. He was so depressed, he didn’t even bother to collect his box of cubical ornaments and sticky notes. He’d no scholarship, no job, angry parents, and was months behind on his business plan. But he still had Julie, what more did he need to be complete?
Then it came to him. Julie was the only thing in the world that mattered anymore and he was going to show her that. He was going to do something crazy, something reckless, something illegal, something his parents would never approve of, and all for Julie!
He was going to spray paint her name on the underside of the Mackerel Valley River Bridge.
It was an old open spandrel bridge made up of three arches, each hopping over a different obstacle. The first obstacle was the Mackerel Valley Expressway, the central arch spanned Mackerel Valley River itself, and the third spanned the cleverly named River Road NorthWest.
It was a beautiful piece of historic masonry and James felt the only thing that would make it more lovely, would be the name of his beloved in radiation green. He planned to do it right in the center of the arch over the expressway where it would be most visible.
He arrived in the middle of the afternoon with a backpack full of paint cans. If you think vandalizing such a public place in broad daylight is a bad idea, you are absolutely right. However, James was new to being a rebel and frankly, he didn’t care if all the world saw him immortalizing that heavenly name.
The area was busy, cars zipped up and down the expressway and a group of workmen cleared away the brush from the roadside. James strolled past the workers, trying to act casual while keeping out of sight behind their heavy machinery. He ducked past a tractor, a cherry picker, and then finally began his climb up the bridge from the shadow of a wood chipper that was parked beneath.
The workmen were so engrossed in the chopping of trees and clearing of weeds, they didn’t notice James as he edged around the spandrel columns toward the center of the first arch.
But someone else did.
“James?” Cried a familiar voice.
James looked up to see the face of his other half staring down at him from over the railing.
“James, no!” Cried Julie. “You still have me, remember? And plenty of companies make pointless smartphone accessories, you’ll find another job! I promise!”
James was confused until he saw other faces peering over the railing, some with expressions of mild curiosity, others wide-eyed with horror. It was only then that James realized they all thought he was going to jump.
James laughed. It was a reckless, laugh that could only come from a man in love. “Oh Julie, I could never leave you! I’ve climbed this bridge for you!”
“But why?” she called.
“Because love is a crazy thing—a wild, uncontrollable thing! It should be proclaimed from the mountaintops, but since there are no mountains here, I’ve chosen the side of this bridge. I am going to paint your name here on top of the world!”
A few of the bystanders awwed, but most just grumbled and went about their business.
Julie pressed her hand to her heart. “Oh James,” she called. “My name would be incomplete without yours!” She climbed over the railing and began working her way down to him. She ignored the garbled warnings coming from the police bullhorns at the top of the bridge and the profanity of the workers below.
Finally, she joined him at his perch. Then, clinging to the masonry, they each spray painted the other’s name in such a way as to make a seasoned graffiti artist smack his face to his palm. Then, hand in hand, they began inching back around the columns toward the base of the bridge and safety.
When they made it to the last column, Julie gazed into James’ eyes.
“You complete me,” she whispered.
“And you me,” James returned.
He leaned in to kiss her.
But I am afraid this story doesn’t end with a kiss. You see as they reached for each other, James lost his footing and tumbled off the bridge. Instinctively, his grip tightened on Julie’s hand and she too slipped off her perch.
Together they fell straight into the open funnel of the wood chipper below.
And that is how James and Julie tore each other apart (literally and figuratively).
Was that ending to gruesome for you? Clearly you haven’t read many fables. Sometimes fables have to be gruesome to effectively teach their moral. And the moral of this story is never park a wood chipper under a bridge.