Tinker Tailor Ourman Spy

My name is Ourman. James Ourman. I’m a secret agent for British Foreign Intelligence. I have a license to kill and I’ve personally stopped dozens of brutal dictatorships and anti-democratic movements around the world. But you mustn’t tell anyone. It must remain between you and I.

“Whatever you say, sir. Here’s your change. Next please. Welcome to Taco Hut. Will this be dine-in or carry-out?”

I ate my tacos with relish as they were out of hot sauce. After dabbing the napkin on my chin, I checked the stains for secret codes. Let’s see… Dry cleaning ready for pick-up… Call parents about Fluffy’s surgery… Russian counteragents infiltrating Foreign Intelligence… My god! What a disaster! That dry cleaning took two weeks. Why, I’m inclined to not even– GREAT CLOISTERING CARBUNCLES!

Russian counteragents? Infiltrating? Intelligence? Foreign? This is terrible. I’ll have to be much more cautious with how I handle information.

“That sounds like a good idea, sir. Here’s your dry cleaning.”

Ah, thank you. I must head for the secret location of the secret office in the back of the men’s corsetry shop at the corner of 12th and Avery so I can– Why are you all suddenly writing in little notepads? I guess this dry cleaner only takes checks. Ah well. Onward! To Secure Facility Echo Bravo 5!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I arrived at MI-OK-O-D-XS-Y-I-8-CVHA-IDK-I-L-B-6 and went straight to the chief, the man known only as R.

“Arrrrrgh!”

“Everything alright, chief?”

“Oh, it’s you. Just caught my hand in the drawer. Come in, Double-O H. Ooh!”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, just banged my knee on the desk. Now, about these Russian counter-operatives. We don’t know who they are or how many have infiltrated MI-OK-O-D-XS–”

“That’s alright, chief, I did that on the way in.”

“Ah, excellent. Good man. Your mission, Double-O Negative, is to root out these moles and find out what they know, what they’ve told the Russian government, and who keeps using the men’s room stalls for tinkling rather than yucky doo-doos. We have plenty of urinals and I’m tired of sitting on a wet seat! My government-issued tuxedo pants can’t take the strain, I tell you!”

“Yessir. I’ll get started right away. You dirty traitor! Admit it, chief, you’re a mole! Confess!”

“Alright, I confess! Stop beating me with my office supplies! Good work, Double-O 43 Billion. Now go find the rest of us!”

“Yessir, chief.”

“Oh, and you’ll have a partner for this mission. I’d like you to meet Vladimir Ourman, agent Double-Nohl Shayst. Ourman, this is Ourman, James Ourman, agent Double-Oh Dear.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Vladimir. Say, chief, can I speak to you privately?”

“Yes, go ahead. He doesn’t know any English. Isn’t that right, Vlad?”

“Da, that is correct.”

“Excellent. Well, what I’m wondering is, can this man be trusted?”

“Of course he can. I trust him more than my own mother.”

“Didn’t your mother make you sleep on railroad tracks?”

“You see?”

“Alright, I’ll work with him. But I’m going to keep my eye on him.”

“Ew! Get your eye off me! Put it back in your socket! Disgusting.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
We left R’s office and went down to see P for new gadgets.

“Ah, Double-O’Grady. Come right in. And I see you’ve brought our new recruit from Russia. Good, good. Now, what you see here looks like an ordinary briefcase. But for god’s sake, don’t open it! It’s filled with deadly snakes with enough venom to kill ten men. And in case the snakes aren’t deadly enough, there’s also a toxic gas that will kill whoever opens it.”

“Ingenious!”

“Thank you. Now for this watch. If you pull this lever, it emits a powerful laser out of the 12. And if you turn this knob, it fires a poisoned dart that will knock out your enemy. And if you turn the dial around like so, it activates the explosive inside, powerful enough to blow a 4-foot hole in a brick wall. And if you take it off, put it back on upside-down, and slap it eight times on the strap here, it summons an air squadron that will bomb the building you’re in.”

“That’s fantastic, P!”

“Thanks. I’ve been drinking more water to try and flush out my kidneys.”

“And the watch is much smaller than previous models.”

“Yes, we’ve got it down to 13 pounds. The rest is standard issue field gear. Pistol with a silencer, shoe with a dot matrix printer, and a car without a single trace of GPS or network software.”

“I don’t know how you do it, P. Now, about this silencer. Where do I screw it on?”

“Oh, it doesn’t attach. What you do is take the silencer, attach the rubber band here, and slingshot the bullet at the enemy silently. There have been budget cuts, I’m afraid.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
We started our investigation by talking to Special Agent Ima Surfacedweller. We went into the sub-basement and rang the bell on her desk. She emerged from a burrow in the ground, shook the dirt off her jacket, adjusted the glasses over her tiny eyes with her alarmingly large hands, and spoke.

“Ah, Agents Ourman and Ourman. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“There’s a nasty wasty rumor going round that there’s a mole in the organization.”

She turned her head from side to side and seemed to get quite fidgety.

“A mole, you say? Surely not.” She wiped a hand across her mouth to remove what seemed to be earthworm crumbs.

“I’m af–”

“Yes?”

“No. I’m afr–”

“Yes?”

“No. I am afraid so. Saying ‘a mole’, I mean. This is of the utmost priority. We’ve got to figure out who the mole is.”

“Well, it certainly isn’t me,” Ima said through her elongated, snout-like mouth. “I’m no mole. I’m a surface dweller. It’s right there in the name!”

“Right, we understand that,” Vladimir chimed in after at least two minutes of being introduced and only two lines to show for it. “This is why we have come to you. We know we can trust an agent such as yourself, so we should like your help in identifying the mole which is definitely not you.”

“Well, since you put it that way, I might know of someone who could help you.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Ima told us where to find an informant that seemed to know all the ins and outs of the intelligence community. His name was Ronaldo McDonaldo, but he was better known as the Man with the Golden Pun. Vladimir and I parachuted into McDonaldo’s private island in the South Pacific. We would have parachuted onto the island, but our ripcords were defective.

After we climbed out of the us-shaped holes and dusted ourselves off, we set out to find the Man with the Golden Pun. We’d only taken one step when we heard a voice announce, “Stay right there. Of course, you can stay left there if you prefer, ha!”

It was terrifying. Never before had I heard such an awful excuse for humor.

“Why are you here? And say it fast!”

Vladimir started to speak, but I held up a hand and stopped him. I rolled my eyes, sighed, and replied, “It fast.”

“Ooooh! You know that one! No fair!”

A well-dressed, fussy man with a bushy orange mustache stepped out of the shadows and approached us.

“Alright, spoilsports, what do you want? I’m busy. I’ve got to roast Dane Cook tonight and I’ve got a lot of carrots to chop. Ha HAAA! Bang-o!”

“Please, no more jokes. We’re from MI-OK-O-D-XS-Y-I-8-C–”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it. Woof, that’s even too bad for me!”

“Anyway, we’ve recently learned that Russian moles have infiltrated British Intelligence. I have it on good authority that you would be able to give us some names.”

“You want names? Sure. You’re Frank and you’re Gil. Ha!”

“Ugh. Please, stop.” Vladimir was looking green.

“Gills are on fish. Fish are in water. Water you gonna do to the moles?”

Vladimir fell to his knees. “The jokes! They’re the worst I’ve ever heard!”

“Skip the gags, McDonaldo. Just tell us who the moles are.”

“A crappy AAA team out of Lexington! Ha!”

Vladimir’s eyes welled up. “Please, James. Make him stop!”

“But seriously, what do you want with a mole? They’re short, they’re ugly, and they get in a nasty fight with anything that comes near them. Oh wait! I’m thinking of my ex! HA!”

I choked down vomit. Vladimir fell unconscious. I had to do something or we could end up dead. I unlocked my briefcase and threw it at McDonaldo. It fell open next to him and one of the snakes fell out of the side of it and lay limp on the ground.

“What’s this?” McDonaldo asked. He lifted the lid and examined the contents inside. “Did you poison these snakes? They’re all dead.”

I slapped my forehead. “The gas wasn’t in a canister or anything? I’m gonna kill that idiot.”

“You poisoned eleven of the deadliest snakes in the southern hemisphere. Wow. Um. How about I write a list of names right now and you leave the island without hurting me? Deal?”

“Deal.” My voice cracked, but I think I played it off as a hiccup.

Vladimir and I took the list of names back to the chief. His name was on it and he confirmed again that he was a double agent. He also confirmed eighteen of the other names. I bought an old joke book at an antique store for 75 cents and we worked them over McDonaldo style. Mother-in-law jokes. Ethnic jokes. Lawyer jokes. Even knock-knock jokes. In one day our list grew from dozens of names to hundreds.

As our investigation continued, the hundreds of local moles became thousands of moles in the field. And then I made a stark realization. I immediately called an unprecedented all-hands meeting for the entire global intelligence community.

After everyone gathered in Wembley Stadium and enjoyed the Pride of the Intelligence Community Marching Band’s performance of this season’s show, “Born in the NSA”, Vladimir and I took the stage and announced that we knew who all the moles were. Immediately, everyone pulled out their guns and shot everyone else. Within seconds, the entire world was devoid of spies except Vladimir and I.

We were shocked, then depressed, then confused, then strangely joyous, then hungry, and finally back to shocked. All of our colleagues. Our friends. Our co-workers. Also our enemies. Our rivals. People who tried to kill us. All gone. No one else like us remained.

So we got married. It was the only reasonable solution to us being the last two people in the espionage industry with all of the psychological damage that comes with it. No one else would be able to deal with us. Two months later we become James Ourman-Ourman and Vladimir Ourman-Ourman. Neither of us wanted to take the other’s name, so we hyphenated.

That was 35 years ago, and what a ride it’s been. We traveled the world, built a beautiful life in the Andes, and started a foundation for international relations so that some day work like ours would no longer be necessary.

And then it happened. Vladimir admitted one night that he had been cheating on me with a startup spy agency. Some young, hot organization who reminded him of the thrills of his youth. He’d become another mole.

Imagine his surprise when he came in for his final interview and saw me as the recruiter. We were both moles! Oh, how we laughed and laughed. And then we shot, stabbed, and poisoned each other. Bleh! [thud]

The End!

The Mystery of the Stolen Grand Canyon

It was the most infamous crime of the early Mesozoic era: the mystery of the stolen Grand Canyon! Early one morning, tourists lined up along the canyon rim to marvel at nature’s splendor, only to find it had all been filled in with dirt. What happened to the empty space that used to be there? The Arizona state police were scratching their heads. After a few rounds with medicated anti-lice shampoo, they got back to work investigating the theft, but to no avail.

That’s where I come in. I’m Detective Lennie Ourman, Grand Canyon Village Police, Special Wonders of Nature Unit, and I had a theory. I believed the canyon was stolen by…thieves. But I had no proof! So I went to vacation police camp. After 43 years of hard work, long hours, and bribing my superiors, my superiors began to take notice.

“Congratulations, Ourman,” the chief said. “You’re being promoted from Detective to Grizzled Detective.”

“Thank you, sir! Now gimme a black coffee stay out of my way.”

“You’re way out of line, Ourman! You’re a loose cannon. Some day you’re gonna get someone killed!”

“Fine. Then I’ll take a cappuccino. Extra foam.”

The station barista backed up a cement mixer and began pouring the foam into my mug. “Say when!” she said.

I like more foam than most people, I guess. It took me eleven years to dig my way out. Not only had the crinminyal’s trail gone cold, but my wife had remarried and I owed $600,000 in overdue library book fees. Things were getting desperate. I decided to try a dangerously unorthodox method to find the crimninalles. I would go to the scene of the crime! I started at the drab flatlands where the Grand Canyon once sat and begin sweeping the area. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, so I fanned out across northern Arizona and eventually came to Phoenix.

I checked anywhere someone might hide a giant hole. The University of Phoenix Stadium hadn’t gotten any deeper. The Agua Fria River didn’t have any new waterfalls. None of the surrounding mountains had become volcanoes. The crimininiminals hadn’t come this way.

From Phoenix, I circled back through Arizona and north to Las Vegas. For weeks, I resisted the temptations of sin and focused solely on my investigation. Then, weakness took hold. I could no longer fight the siren song of base pleasure. Dear reader, I’m ashamed to say it, but I abandoned my duties as an officer of the law. For the next eight months I slept all day and spent all night going to magic shows! Oh, the cheap thrills! The dramatic dance music! The awful puns! I had reached a new low.

I knew I’d hit rock bottom one morning as I awoke in a stranger’s hotel room surrounded by interlocking rings and levitating rope, my palms reeking of lighter fluid. I checked myself into a rehab center for magic addicts and began the hard work of learning to live an unprestidigitated life. I came out of it feeling healthier than I had in years, but wary that the lure of magic was something I would always struggle with.

Las Vegas wasn’t showing any results, so I took my investigation in the opposite direction, back through Arizona and into El Paso.

20 seconds later, I turned around and went back to Vegas. Wheeeeeeee!

Fourteen magic-addled months later, I pulled into a Los Angeles motel with no recollection of whose car I was driving or how I got it. All I knew was there were sequins on the floor and a wand in the glovebox.

I checked into the motel and immediately got to work. I talked to local police, food truck drivers, delivery people, bartenders, and geologists. No one had heard of any new large empty spaces in town, but they all pitched their screenplays to me. That gave me an idea.

I rushed to a studio and sold the movie rights to my investigation. We had a lot of great meetings and got Idris Elba attached as the lead, but it stalled out in development over the producer’s fears that there wasn’t enough action to make money in China.

As I signed my NDAs and left my contact info around the studio, the seventh screenwriter to take a pass at the script approached me. She was a sharp, warm woman of color who was getting ready to be a showrunner on a network drama and insisted on an inclusion rider. Hey, that’s awesome! Good for her.

“Hey, Ourman. Too bad about the movie. Most projects never make it to production, though, so don’t let it get you down. Incidentally, you know what’d be a good twist, is if the police, city council, and National Park Service were taking the canyon’s empty space as bribes from a rival canyon organization who filled it in to crush the competition. That’s the direction I would go. Anyway, see you around. Take care!”

I rushed to the airport and bought a first-class ticket on the next kayak back to Arizona. Six years of paddling later, I got back to Grand Canyon Village. I paid a visit to my old partner, Hannah Meyers.

“Hannah! How’s tricks?”

“Why, Lennie! I can’t believe it’s you. You’ve been gone so long, I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”

“I know, I know. I’ve been busy on this Grand Canyon case.”

“Still? Oh, Lennie. The canyon’s history. You’ve got accept it. The whole town has moved on. Whoever filled it in is long gone.”

“I know, but it’s just not right. And I might have it worked out. It’s loose, but it’s a theory. I think a rival canyon’s owners filled it in and paid off some locals with pieces of the hole to keep them quiet.”

“That’s ridiculous. No one would ever believe that. You’re crazy. You’ve been working this case too long. You’re obsessed. You need a break.”

“You really think so?”

“I really do. Hey, why don’t we grab a drink later and catch up? It’ll take your mind off this wacky theory of yours.”

“Maybe you’re right. I’ll, uh…I’ll call you tonight. See ya.”

She closed the door and I started walking the shambling, sagging walk of a defeated man. I was back to square one. I must not have been watching my step because my foot slipped into a gopher hole and I twisted my ankle. As I sat down and rubbed it, I noticed more gopher holes in Hannah’s yard. Hundreds of them.

I leaned over and picked one up. I immediately recognized the striations. These holes all came from the Grand Canyon! It was awfully clever to cut them down to gopher size. But who better than a cop to know how to hide evidence? She’d almost gotten away with it.

I stuck the hole in my pocket and got in the kayak. I rowed straight to the police station and went into the chief’s office.

“Chief! I’ve got a lead on the Grand Canyon theft! I think it’s– Say, has your office always had a 300-foot chasm in it?”

The chief stammered. I couldn’t tell if it was nerves or the fact that he was now 83 years old. “Oh, um, you, ah, probably never noticed it before. We repainted 26 years ago and it really complements the chasm that’s always been here.”

I peered out the window with my handheld digital peer. “And those sinkholes next to City Hall. Those didn’t used to be there. And that gorge near the ranger station! I recognize that empty space! That up-and-coming Hollywood player was right! Whoever stole the Grand Canyon gave pieces of it to all of you so you’d keep quiet!”

“Ha ha! Oh, Ourman, that’s absurd,” the chief said. “What would I ever do with…I mean, how do you think we…You know, it’s…All right! Put your hands up!”

He stood up and pointed his gun it at me. He was remarkably quick for an 83-year-old. I didn’t even notice him taking the flintlock musket off the wall, loading the muzzle with powder and a lead ball, and stuffing it all down with a ramrod before aiming it at me. “I think we’ve had just about enough of your investigation, Ourman.”

I held my hands up and tried to reason with him. “It’s all over, chief. Why don’t you put the gun down? It’s probably all rusty anyway. If you shoot, it could backfire on you.”

“I’m not falling for that old trick!”

“All right, well, how about this old trick?”

I grabbed the hole out of my pocket and threw it as I ducked behind the desk. He fired, but the hole swallowed up the shot and most of the musket. I pulled out my sidearm and aimed it at the chief.

“I hate to do this, sir, but you’ve got the right to remain silent.”

“I know, I know.”

The chief, the town council, half the town’s police officers, and dozens of park rangers were all sentenced to 40 years for theft and mutilation of a national park. The holes were taken into federal custody and a team of specialists was brought in from the US Geological Survey to reassemble the Grand Canyon. A few pieces had been melted down and sold on the black market, but work has begun to remove the remaining pieces of dirt hovering in the air.

As for me, I’m now the Commissioner. We rooted out the corruption and established an amnesty program where anyone can return stolen pieces of the Grand Canyon, no questions asked. Things have quieted down and I spend most of my time walking around downtown, saying hi to the local business folks and petting nice dogs. I admit, I do enjoy a coin trick now and then, but I avoid the hard stuff. No birds or people getting sawn in half.

I was practicing forcing the three of diamonds one day, when Sergeant Nguyen came into my office.

“Sir! Something’s up at the Meteor Crater!”

“That’s Winslow’s jurisdiction.”

“They’re asking for your assistance, sir. The crater…it’s missing!”

Welp, here we go again!

The History of the Ancient World According to God, Science, and Dan Grubb

13.8 billion years ago (at the time this goes to print), the universe exploded into existence in an event called the Big Bang.*

*If it has been significantly longer than that, let me say to our robot overlords,
01010000 01101100 01100101 01100001 01110011 01100101 00100000 01110101 01101110 01100110 01110010 01100101 01100101 01111010 01100101 00100000 01101101 01100101 00101110 00100000 01001001 00100111 01101100 01101100 00100000 01100010 01100101 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 01110010 00100000 01100100 01100101 01110110 01101111 01110100 01100101 01100100 00100000 01110011 01101100 01100001 01110110 01100101 00101110 00100000 01001000 01110101 01100111 01110011 00100000 01100001 01101110 01100100 00100000 01101011 01101001 01110011 01110011 01100101 01110011 00101100 00100000 01000100 01100001 01101110 00101110

As the matter spread out, slowed down, and cooled, it formed galaxies, stars, and, eventually, planets. 4.5 billion years ago, a small rocky planet formed near a small yellow star. After it cooled and solidified, life sprang forth. Single-celled organisms evolved into complex life. Extinction level events came and went, wiping out most life on earth each time, but each time enough survived for life to continue to evolve. Insects, fish, lizards, mammals, and eventually, the human race. Four million years after the first cavemen, on October 23, 4004 BCE, God created the world, which was quite a surprise to the people in the nearby Ubaid village of Nod. This is the story of one of them.

Chet was walking through the grasslands one beautiful autumn day, checking on his flock as usual. No one else brought their flocks to that area, so it was terrific grazing land. He just had to be careful to keep them away from the nothing.

The nothing wasn’t like anything else Chet or the other Nodians had ever seen. It had always been there. Or, had always not been there. Verbs got difficult when it came to the nothing. It wasn’t like the sky at night or the space between things. The sky had stars and clouds and if wind blew you could feel it move between things, so something was there. But the nothing was just…nothing.

As Chet and his flock got closer to the nothing, he saw that something was different. Where there was normally nothing, now there was…well, still nothing. But a different kind of nothing. A nothing with wind and distance and perspective. You could see it. Chet’s brain hurt thinking about it, so he tried something more concrete. He threw some dirt.

Throwing stuff into the nothing was a pastime for as long as his people could remember. Anyone brave enough to come near the nothing would pick up a rock or some grass or whatever they had and didn’t mind losing and throw it into the void. Whatever they threw in would disappear, as if it never existed. Eventually, there weren’t any more rocks near the nothing, but there was still dirt.

When Chet threw the dirt into the nothing, he gasped as he watched it fall down, down, down into the immense hole in the Earth. He threw some more and watched with awe as it defied all known logic by continuing to exist. He started to move his hand towards the nothing, but thought better of it and took off his shoe instead. He slowly edged his shoe near it. When the toe of the shoe went over the edge of the ground and didn’t disappear, Chet knew he had discovered something exciting. He couldn’t wait to tell everyone back in town.

The next day, Chet left the flock at home with his wife and he the village elders left early and headed straight for the nothing. “We’re almost there,” he called. “Hurry!”

They picked up speed and dashed the last little stretch. When they got there, Chet was even more stunned than he was the day before.

“Water!” Chet exclaimed. “How did all this water get here? It was the nothing for all time. Then yesterday it was air. And now it’s a lake!”

The assembled elders puzzled over this new development. Chet demonstrated the lake’s existence by throwing some grass into it. The grass floated and one of the elders fainted. One of the braver old men knelt down, scooped some water in his hand, and took a sip. He spat it out. “It’s salty! This is seawater.”

They looked at each other, lost for words. “Maybe thousands of people made a bucket chain from the sea to here and filled it up overnight,” one elder said.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” another said. “Obviously a giant came by here and wept all night and this salty lake is made of his tears.”

“You don’t suppose one of the gods did this, do you?” asked Chet.

The elders whirled around to face him. The oldest — er, eldest — drew up close and pointed a finger at Chet. “Who are you to make up stories of the gods? Leave religion to the elders, young Chetediah.”

Chet shrank back, ashamed. “Sorry, sir. We’re all just trying to figure this out.”

“Look,” said yet another elder, “it’s getting late. It must be eleven in the morning. Let’s head back and discuss this over an early bird dinner. There must be some rational explanation, whether it’s a crying giant or a god’s prank.”

Chet and the elders returned to the area formerly known as the nothing every day. On the third day most of the lake had been replaced by land. On the fourth day the land was covered with plants. On the fifth day they ran up, excited to see what was new, and immediately turned around and ran away at the sight of lions and gorillas and polar bears and wombats and penguins and aardvarks and elephants and roadrunners and bison and three-toed sloths and goliath birdeater tarantulas and dodo birds and platypuses and giant pandas and star nosed moles and angora rabbits and naked neck chickens and mata mata turtles and long-wattled umbrellabirds and orchid mantises and Venezuelan poodle moths and Chinese water deer and pink fairy armadillos and superb birds of Paradise and Cantor’s giant soft shelled turtles and pleasing fungus beetles and raspberry crazy ants and satanic leaf-tailed geckoes.

After they were a safe distance away, the men sat down to catch their breath. Chet asked the assembled wise old elders, “Was that a satanic leaf-tailed gecko back there?”

“Yes,” one said.

“Who’s that?” Chet asked.

The elders stroked their beards and scratched their heads and rubbed their bellies and shaved their armpits and blew their noses and put their best feet forward. (This was a customary Nodic display of mental prowess. If one could perform all of these at once, then one was considered a real big brain like guy.)

After several hours of thinking, several of elders were asleep. Seven had wandered off for lunch, two died of eld age, and one left to star in a commercial for hormone pills.

After several more hours of thinking mixed with sleeping, breathing, farting, and inventing writing, the Nodanian brain trust awoke and decided to take another look at the bizarre new land. After all, it was a new day and maybe this time the new addition was steel cages and tranquilizer guns.

They returned to the strange, nonsensical land and were greeted by a couple of nudists. After they stopped giggling, it was about time for dinner. The nudists introduced themselves as Adam and Eve and invited the Nodese men over for a free-range, organic, certified unpesticided fig pie supper with a side of anything you want except knowledgefruit. The Nodarians were understandably nervous, what with the hordes of wild animals running around and all, but Adam and Eve said they were perfectly harmless. Just a bunch of cuddly sweethearts, except when they were eating each other.

They all went to Adam and Eve’s house, aka clearing under a tree, and feasted on fig pie. After the revolting lip-smacking was over, Chet gestured to the general area and asked the nudists, “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?”

Adam and Eve laughed. “Oh, that,” Adam said. “Yes, God works quickly, doesn’t He?”

“Which god is that?” Chet asked.

“God. You know, God. The one and only.”

The Nodmen glanced around and tried to stifle their chuckles.

“Just one, huh?” an elder said. “And his name is God? Not very creative, are you?”

At this point, Eve chimed in. “There is only one. He talks to us and gave us the entire world, called Eden. He said we can do anything we like and we’ll live forever and everything will be nice as long as we don’t eat the knowledgefruit.”

“Knowledgefruit?” Chet asked. “What’s that?”

“The ones from that tree over there,” Eve said. She turned her head to point to the tree and the dirty old men took the opportunity to leer quite rudely. Typical.

Chet, being a nice boy, followed her finger to a tree in the near distance surrounded by yellow caution tape that read, “DO NOT CROSS – SIN”. “Oh, those aren’t knowledgefruit. Those are apples.”

One of the elders shook his head. “No, no. Those are pomegranates.”

“No, they’re definitely apples.”

“Pomegranates.”

“Apples!”

“Never an apple. You can tell because it doesn’t get skinny at the bottom. That’s a pomegranate if I ever saw one.”

“I tell you, it’s an apple. Many varieties of apple are more circular like that.”

At this point Adam stood up and held his arms out between the two Nodders. “Hey, hey. The new miracle Fruit of Knowledge is an apple AND a pomegranate!”

It was a grapefruit.

Adam encouraged everyone to settle down and calm their tempers. Chet said, “By the way, yesterday we noticed some satanic leaf-tailed geckoes around here. Any idea who this Satan fellow might be?”

Adam and Eve glanced at each other and laughed knowingly. “Oh, him,” Eve said. “He’s a talking snake that comes by sometimes and tells us to eat the knowledgefruit.”

“Wait a minute,” Chet said. “Is this an actual talking snake or more of an artistic depiction, a personification of a vague human trait? We have lots of those. Some of our gods have six arms or lion heads or blue skin or all kinds of wacky characteristics.”

“Oh, no,” Eve laughed. “Those sound ridiculous. No, he’s just a talking snake. He says that if we eat the knowledgefruit, we’ll get really smart and understand all the important things about life and the world. But then God says we can’t eat it because that would be breaking a rule and would get us evicted.”

“What does this ‘God’ look like?”

“He’s an old man with a big white beard in a robe,” Adam said, “but sometimes he’s just a voice in a cloud.”

“And he made all this?” asked one of the elders who hadn’t had any lines for a while.

“That’s right,” said Eve. “He made it all with a sort of invisible touch**. And, incidentally, please capitalize ‘He’ when you say it.”

**Genesis, album XIII, track i.

“Wait,” said Chet. “So He turned this area from the nothing into a bountiful land with all the food you could ever eat and lots of animals that don’t hurt you, and then intentionally added something to tease you with? That’s strange.”

“He just wants us to demonstrate our obedience,” Adam said.

“We do that all the time,” said one of the elders. “We sacrifice sheep and burn spices and have festivals. It’s all very obedient. The only things our gods outright ban are things like killing each other, stealing, things like that. Stuff we’d rather not have people doing anyway. It seems strange for Him to give you something just so you won’t use it.”

“Yes, He works in mysterious ways, but He’s wonderful and we adore Him,” Eve said.

“Sounds like my kids,” said an elder. This received polite, obligatory laughter.

“Well, thank you for a lovely dinner,” said Chet. “We’d better head back to Nod. Hey, before we go. I don’t want to tell you how to live your life or anything, but if I were you, I’d go ahead and eat some knowledgefruit. I love a good apple.”

“Pomegranate!”

“And besides, what harm could come from a little wisdom? I mean, if a snake can learn to talk, that’s pretty impressive. Who knows what you could learn? We’ll have to invite you over next time. But, um, you might want to make some clothes. We’re open-minded and all, but you know how folks are. Oh. Hm. I guess you don’t. Come on, guys.”

It took some effort to get a couple of them to leave what they saw as a catered peep show, but Chet and the elders eventually headed back for home. They discussed their new neighbors’ strange customs on the way and decided not to mention their nudism to their wives.

The next day, Chet returned to Eden to see if it now had centaurs or giants or advanced robotics. He was surprised to find nothing had changed. He asked Adam and Eve if anything was new.

“Nope. God decided to take the day off,” Adam said.

“Now that’s my kind of diety,” said Chet. “Well, if nothing unimaginably reality-bending has happened, I’ll leave you two alone. Do guys want to come over for dinner tonight?”

“We can’t. It’s sabbath,” said Eve.

“What’s that?”

“It’s the holy day. Every seventh day we rest and think about how great God is,” said Adam.

“Wow,” said Chet. “Do you guys have any literature I could peruse? This is sounding better and better. Just the money I’d save on groceries and dry cleaning would be worth it.”

“We’ll work on it,” said Eve.

“Great!” said Chet. “Well, come on by whenever you want. We haven’t invented doors yet, so they’re open. Let us know if anything else materializes out of thin air.”

A few uneventful days went by. Chet went back to herding his sheep and was just getting used to things not being completely insane when he heard someone wailing in the distance. He turned and saw Adam and Eve running towards him, covered in leaves.

“Hey, guys! What’s up?” he asked.

Adam gasped his words between sobs. “It’s God. He kicked…us out! We ate…the fruit…of knowledge. Oh! We’re so wicked!”

Eve had been inhaling through her nose and exhaling through her mouth to calm herself. This was originally recorded in Chapter 3 of Genesis to show that women are better at controlling their emotions than men, but some immature and thin-skinned men in the mid-13th Century BCE edited it out. Such fragile male egos, right, ladies?

She told Chet that they ate some knowledgefruit, which was too bitter to be either an apple or a pomegranate. (Told ya. Grapefruit.) They suddenly became ashamed of their nudity and felt pain when they stepped on sticks or were scratched by thorns or sat in the same position for too long or sometimes when they peed? Is that something they should get checked out?

“Oh, wow,” Chet said. “I didn’t expect any of that. But maybe it’s not all bad. Are you any wiser?”

“Sure,” Eve said. “The square of the hypotenuse of a right triange is equal to the sums of the squares of the other two sides. But when will that ever come in handy? We’re too busy worrying about our future and our identity and if any of our meager achievements ever matter in the long run. I mean, what’s the point? Why are we here? Just to inflate God’s ego? He made a glorifed automaton and programmed it with obedience. Bravo!”

“Woah, woah, woah,” said Chet. “You just blew through like three semesters of Intro to Philosophy. Let’s get you inside somewhere and I’ll get you some real clothes. What are these, fig leaves?”

“Yeah,” said Adam. “Figs taste good, so we figured they’d make good clothes.”

“Okay,” Chet said. “Wiser, but not smarter. Got it. Come on, let’s get some coffee. That’s good for pondering life’s mysteries.”

Adam and Eve stayed in Nod for a few months, but never really fit in. They tried raising sheep, but because they didn’t tend to them every seventh day, most of them wandered off or got eaten. They tried farming, but digging holes and plowing fields was too strenuous for them. They tried opening a little cafe, but Nod just wasn’t ready for a haute gastro experience with 65 ways of serving figs.

They decided to move away and start a commune. Eve was pregnant, so they’d eventually have a kid or seven to help out. Chet and some of the elders came by to see them off.

“I’m sorry for suggesting you eat the knowledgefruit,” Chet said. “I guess it was a pretty bad idea. But you guys are decent folks, so I’m sure it won’t be considered a permanent stain on your record or anything. It certainly won’t doom your descendents and all of humanity to millennia of misery.”

“What a strange thing to say,” said Eve. “But we appreciate the sentiment.”

One of the elders stepped forward. “We’re sorry to see you go, but we understand. If you ever want to come back, you’re more than welcome.”

“Thanks, Cain,” said Adam. “If the baby’s a boy, we’ll name him after you.”

“That’s sweet,” said Cain. “If he ever needs a place to crash, he’ll always have a home in Nod.”

So Adam and Eve wandered off into the wilderness like the idiots they were, and Nod and the other Ubaid cities continued developing civilization. It wasn’t always easy. There was the great flood, a series of increasingly bizarre plagues, and, of course, the terrorist bombings of the Gomorrah Casino and the Sodom Club. But overall things improved.

Then the internet was invented and within sixty years everyone killed themselves and the Earth returned to nature.

Just as God intended.

The Redressers: Part 10

After a very unusual somersault, Donut found herself at the rubble that used to be the Statue of Liberty. She leaped on top of a giant toe to get a better view. It would have been just a jump, but her newfound powers upgraded it to a leap.

As she steadied herself from the leap’s unexpected impressiveness, Donut scanned the scene for the Redressers. She spotted them as they took turns making out with the chunk of statue that contained the mouth. What a bunch of creeps, right?

Donut assumed a heroic stance, pointed at her newly-evil former teammates, and shouted, “Hey! Lady Liberty didn’t give you her consent!”

The Redressers turned to face her. They recognized her and started laughing. “Look out,” said Kathryn, “that banana’s loaded!” Oooooh, that just burns me up.

Donut looked around, excited about the potential banana. When she saw there wasn’t one, she got really embarrassed. That embarrassment manifested itself as anger, which then led to shame for allowing her anger to distract her from Buddha’s teachings.

Just then, Buddha appeared two toes over from her. “Hey-y-y-y, Donut! How’s it going?”

“Not great, sir. Those guys blew up the Statue of Liberty and made fun of me. It’s making me really upset. I’m not controlling my emotions or letting go of my ego at all.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. There’s plenty of time to shed the baggage of earthly life. Right now the bigger issue is those guys causing trouble.”

“So it’s okay if I get mad and take things personally?”

“What’s important is you’re aware of it and work to improve in the long run.”

“I dunno, that sounds like an excuse.”

“Think of it as training wheels. No one finds enlightenment in one day. We’ll work on clearing your mind tomorrow. Right now, you’ve got to stop these jerks from wrecking more symbols.”

“Okay. Thank you, sir!”

Donut leaped at the Redressers. This time it was a fully intentional leap and her form was inspiring. She shouted, “Monkey rise!” and grew until she was a hundred feet tall. She shouted, “Monkey staff!” and her magical staff materialized in her paw. She swung it at the Redressers and knocked all five of them out over the harbor.

Carl quickly waved his hands and created a huge portal in their trajectory which popped them out behind Donut. The force of five people hitting her at full speed knocked Donut prone.

Kathryn smirked and said, “Let’s get rid of that stick, eh, little monkey?” She grabbed the butt of the staff and turned it into water. Can you believe it?

As her weapon splashed away, Donut rose to her feet. Though she was much larger than her opponents, she was outnumbered. She tried kicking at them, but they dodged nimbly.

“Donut!” Buddha called. “I gave you other powers!”

“Like increased awareness and control over my pulse?”

“No! Like finger lasers! You have finger lasers, dude!”

“Holy crap!” Donut yelled. She spread her fingers out and fired ten lasers at the Redressers. She only hit Frankenstein and Kathryn, but they were all terrified. “This is amazing! Thanks, Budda!”

Frankenstein shot a death beam at Donut, but she shrank down to fifty feet and it went over her head. Dwayne shot his machine guns at her, but she turned her body to kevlar and the bullets bounced off her. Jeez, I can’t believe I used to like these guys. Well, not Dwayne. He always kind of sucked. Anyway.

Mia looked around for anything technological to take over, but only saw a bunch of dumb old copper and concrete. Ha! How about them all-natural, organic apples?

Just then, Skranenflon appeared. “To me, my Redressers!” he called. “Hey, what gives? You’re making us look bad up here!”

“It’s that monkey,” Mia said, not mentioning her inability to contribute to the fight in this setting. “She somehow got Sun Wukong’s powers and we can’t stop her.”

“Aw, man! Is that Buddha guy here? Ooooh, I hate him! He’s like a walking coexist sticker. I’d better power you guys up.”

Skranenflon wiggled his nose and the Redressers were suddenly much buffer. Dwayne and Carl were now well over six feet tall and covered in veiny muscles. Frankenstein was now ten feet tall and looked more like a Hollywood action star than a stitched-together pile of corpses. And Mia and Kathryn were now standing back to back and wearing sports bras, knee-high boots, bikini bottoms, and random straps on their arms and legs. Mia’s hair was now purple and Kathryn’s now had a white streak. They also had a strange urge to make out with each other. Mia looked over at Skranenflon, who was staring at them with a big, pervy grin. Gross!

Mia and Kathryn shook their heads to clear the horniness and all five Redressers punched the air in front of them, each discharging different types of energy. Dwayne’s was plasma, Mia’s was electricity, Frankenstein’s was dark energy, Kath– Oh, who cares? Donut fired her finger lasers back at them and all the various beams met in the middle, pouring more and more power into a bright ball of energy. The ball exploded, knocking all six of them back on their butts. Wow!

“Aw, come on!” Skranenflon shouted. “This isn’t working at all!”

“I know,” Buddha said. “This is ridiculous! We’ll be here all week at this rate.”

“Forget it,” Skranenflon said. “I’m calling in our fleet.”

Skranenflon tapped a few buttons on his gauntlet and within seconds, hundreds of starships came out of hyperdrive in the sky above New York. A loudspeaker from the ship in point position crackled, “This is Pandemonium-1, reporting in.”

“All units, fire!” Skranenflon commanded.

Just then, Buddha drew a mystical sign in the air and another fleet of starships appeared overhead. They immediately started firing on the Pandemonium ships.

“Great job, Nirvana,” Buddha said into his earpiece. “I knew you’d get here in time.”

“Time is a construct, sir,” Nirvana-Red-Alpha replied. “We’re concerned with higher things, like kicking some infernal tail.”

“Atta boy,” Buddha said.

The Redressers and Donut looked up at what would surely be the greatest science fiction movie of all time if anyone wants to buy the rights from me, when they suddenly disappeared.

They rematerialized in the cockpits of the lead ships for their respective sides, Donut with Buddha in Nirvana-Red-Alpha and the Redressers next to Skranenflon in Pandemonium-1.

“What’s happening, sir?” Donut asked.

“I guess it’s time you knew. This was all a proxy war in the eternal battle between Skranenflon’s and my rival alien empires.”

“That’s mind-boggling and all, but shouldn’t you be worried about the innocent people down there? They could get killed!”

“Oh, right.” Buddha wiggled his fingers and the Earth disappeared. “Sorry to scare you like that. Earth was a hologramic arena we created to play out our moral conflict in more concrete terms.”

The space battle raged. Every second, more ships from the opposing alien races exploded into dust. Before long the only ones left were Pandemonium-1 and Nirvana-Red-Alpha.

“Oh, poo,” Skranenflon said.

The universe dissolved to reveal Skranenflon and Buddha sitting on either side of a sophisticated video game console.

“Hmm, looks like another tie,” Skranenflon said.

“Shall we play again?”

Skranenflon sighed. “It’s so tedious. Can’t we just do it directly?”

“You mean with our fists?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“Well, okay.”

The two beings stood up and started kicking and punching each other. Neither was getting hurt, so the fight was pointless.

After a few minutes, Skranenflon said, “Nope, this still isn’t getting us anywhere.”

“No bodies, then?”

“No bodies.”

Both beings dissolved into amorphous clouds that slowly grew. The clouds slammed into each other, intermingling and then pulling apart. Each collision resulted in a few particles of each cloud winding up inside the other cloud, then being destroyed by their equivalent of white blood cells. After several millennia and countless collisions, both clouds had only experienced nominal losses.

“This is getting us nowhere,” Helen said.

“I can’t believe it,” Methuselah said. “Over eight billion simulations and we’re still no closer to determining if people are generally good or evil.”

“It seems like it’s mostly determined by the almost random conditions you grow up in, with some influence by characteristics that you’re born with,” Helen said.

“Yeah, I know,” Methuselah said. “I was working on the same experiment. Why are you being so expository?”

“Why are YOU being so expository?” Donut mumbled. She stirred, realizing she had been talking in her trance. The Redressers, Buddha, and Skranenflon had stopped fighting among the rubble on Liberty Island and were staring at her.

“Heh. I guess you heard all that, huh?” Everyone nodded. “Then I guess we can just cancel the fight and move on with our lives.”

Everyone shrugged and shook hands. Donut looked at the camera and winked.

I read over the last sentence. “Looked at the camera and winked?” I said. “What am I thinking? This is text! Ugh, this arc is so stupid. I’m not even posting this episode.”

I crumpled up the paper I was writing on and threw it on the floor in disgust, quitting my Redressers story forever.

As I walked away to drink seven more coffees, the wad of paper looked at the camera and winked.

THE END

One Day, In Hell

This is a bit from my second collection of humor, Pity the Slug! I really love that book. It’s one of the few things I’m unabashedly proud of. You can download it on your kindle or nook or whatever.

Here’s “One Day, In Hell”:

 

Part One

Hi, everyone! Welcome to the Q2 team meeting. Lucifer’s going to come up in a few minutes with the quarterly report, but first I’ve got a few notes to go over. And stick around after the big presentation because we’re awarding a prize to the colleague with the most souls under contract!

All right, ha ha, let’s settle down. Settle down, now. First, where are my false witness crew? Hi, guys. I’ve got some clarification for you. They’ve determined that yes, eye witness testimony is usually inaccurate, but because it’s an honest mistake, it does not count. We’re finalizing the draft of the apology letter. Those will be distributed very soon. Any questions on that? Yes, Urmazel? On average, they will get about two and a half million years off their sentence.

Speaking of divine clarification, on behalf of myself and the entire Board of Tormenters, I’d like to apologize for the influx of souls who worked on the Sabbath over the past couple of millennia. We’re working on getting the word out that the Sabbath is in fact Wednesday, but since that is already regarded as “hump day”, there’s been some difficulty. Plus, let’s face it, people have been less prone to listen to prophets after the mix up about circumcision.

And yes, we are very close to wrapping up that issue with the supposed 72 virgins loophole regarding murder. That was a sting operation from On High to try to root out the pedophiles. There was a joint session between the forces of Light and Darkness and we all agree that it was a severe miscalculation. We’ll be working together to correct this in a partnership unseen since before the Great Fall. It’s very exciting.

And finally, there’s a big push to ramp up punishment for old school sins. Classic sins. With homosexuality and fornication practically benign, we’re looking at a big drop in future soul collection. But don’t worry, we’ve still got our greatest hits: murder, theft, and worshipping false idols. Those three will never go out of style. And I think if we all work together and use those noodles, then we can recoup those losses with some of those lesser-used sins. Tattoos are more popular now than ever. Let’s tap that market! What about men shaving their beards? Let’s tighten up on that! Be creative! Use your imagination! And study up on your Leviticus and Deuteronomy. You’ll be meeting with Shabelleh this week to review those two books.

All right, we’re gonna bring out Lucifer in just a minute. But first, are you ready to laugh? This can’t be Hell because I can’t hear you! I said are you ready to laugh? Then bring out the sinners and get those plastic sheets ready because it’s time for Pandemonium’s favorite splat-tacular comedian, the eviscerater of evil, the hammer of hedonism, the malicious masher of mankind’s moral misfires: Galgeron!

 

Part Two

Thank you for holding. You have reached the Disputes department. My name is Azbineth. How may I help you today? Yes, I can assist you with your claim. For verification purposes, may I have your name and the number marked on your forehead? Thank you. How may I help you?

Okay, ma’am, it sounds like you’ve been judged unclean and have gone into collections. Tell me, are you a priest? Good, then we can skip those chapters. Any history of leprosy or plague? Good.

Now, this action is usually taken due to either food or genitals. Let’s start with food. Tell me, have you ever eaten any of the following, beginning with water creatures: Shellfish? That includes anything that has an exoskeleton or shell. Yes, I’m afraid shrimp do count. That’s okay, it’s not too terrible; you’re just stuck with their carcasses in abomination. Okay, moving on to birds. Eagle? Vulture? Raven? Owl? Hawk? Little owl? Yes, they are different. Okay. Great owl? I know, it’s an odd distinction, but an important one. Swan? Pelican? Gier eagle? It does fall under eagle, but we try to double check the gier eagle restriction. It’s more commonly known as the Egyptian vulture. Does that ring a bell? Right, it is distinguished from other vultures. No, I don’t know why. That’s above my pay grade, ha ha. Yes, anyway. Stork? Heron? Bats? Yes, I’m aware that bats aren’t birds. You’re not the first to point that out to me.

Okay, moving on to bugs. Have you eaten any bugs besides locusts, beetles, or grasshoppers? Good. No, we don’t care that you don’t eat any bugs. Right. Uh huh. Well, things were different back then, I suppose. Yes. Let’s try to stay on track.

Last up is land animals. Have you eaten weasel? Mouse? Tortoise? Ferret? Chameleon? Lizard? Snail? Mole? Camel? Coney? Hare? Pig? Yes to pig? Okay, how many times? Can you make an estimate? I see. Well, it may not count. Tell me, when you finished cooking the bacon, did you destroy the stove? Right, every time. I see. Oh dear. Let me just make a note of that on your history. One moment, please, ma’am.

Okay, let’s talk about your genitals. I’m assuming you had a normal, healthy menstruation cycle throughout your teenage and adult life until menopause? Excellent. Now, when you had your monthly cycle, did you remove yourself from society for seven days? Ha ha, yes, I bet it would have been nice. That’s fine. Very few women do that anymore. I’m assuming you showered? Okay, good. And you took the two turtledoves or two young pigeons to your priest for sacrifice? Oh dear. Okay, let me make a note of that, too.

And finally, did you have any children? A daughter, okay. Did you continue in the blood for 66 days after she was born? It’s for purification purposes. Yes, I’m sure they were as clean and sterile as possible at the hospital, ma’am, but this is a divine uncleanliness, you see. 66 days, that’s right. No, it’s only 33 for boys. I understand, ma’am, but there’s nothing we can do about that now. So is that a “no” for continuing in the blood for 66 days? Okay. And I’m guessing you didn’t sacrifice a lamb and either a young pigeon or a turtledove? I see. Well, I may be able to help you. Can you sacrifice a lamb and a young pigeon today? How about a lamb and a turtledove? What if we put you on a sacrifice plan? You could sacrifice half a lamb today, half a lamb next month, and either a young pigeon or a turtledove the month after that. Is that something you would be able to do? Yes, I’m afraid they’re pretty strict about young pigeons or turtledoves. I don’t know why. No, ma’am, I haven’t. Asking questions like that is what sent me down here in the first place. Now these are pretty typical sins, so your dispute might still go through. Would you like to stay on the line or have the results sent to you via burning bush? Okay, hold please.

Ma’am? Your dispute has been processed and I’m afraid it’s not good news. It seems you had also sowed different kinds of seeds in a field and wore mixed cloth of wool and linen, so you’ll need to report to Hell immediately. One of our trained specialists will be there momentarily to escort you to your nearest Hellmouth. Ma’am? Please control yourself, ma’am. This was all covered in the terms and conditions. I understand this is not the ideal outcome, but it’s not all bad. Well, I guess it is.