I think I took that class one semester!
I got a B!
Podcasting through the centuries!
Awfu I mean, Amazing imitations!
Bunkum is your source for accidental exposure to actual information about history!
I think I took that class one semester!
I got a B!
Podcasting through the centuries!
Awfu I mean, Amazing imitations!
Bunkum is your source for accidental exposure to actual information about history!
Hello! And welcome to “This Old Dump”. I’m your host, master carpenter Bob Ourman. This week, we’re restoring a charming 1920s ranch home to its original design and upgrading it with a second and third story, a finished basement, a wraparound porch, four corner turrets, an elaborate fountain installation, and my signature addition of a life-sized, hand-carved oak recreation of the Battle of Waterloo. So let’s get started!
Now as you can see, this home has a lot of curb appeal. It certainly curbs mine, so let’s skip the front and head on in.
As we step inside, there’s a lot to admire right away. We’ve added a beautiful 300-year-old Persian rug. And here’s an original Louis XIV bench and you can see the ivory and tortoise shell marquetry. If you look up there’s a breathtaking crystal chandelier. And as you came in you saw the intricate, one of a kind Faberge doorknobs. This is easily in the top ten mudrooms we’ve done this season. Oh, say, Harry? The nails go in pointy side first. There ya go.
Now, as we come through the hallway and into the family room, take a look at the windows. They’re entirely stained glass. Ooh, yeah. That’ll never come out. We’ve got the 273-inch reclining sofa with the optional inter-cushion vacuum system that filters out the crumbs and leaves the change. And up here is the 195-inch TV that moves from side to side so you don’t strain your neck watching tennis.
Say, Harry? The rug goes UNDER the furniture. Right. Good.
We’re down in the kitchen and it’s fairly consistent for the modern exurban style. We’ve put in lead-lined cabinets so the china and canned goods aren’t visible to any passing superheroes and we’ve updated the appliances to the new gas-electric hybrid style. In this new type of oven, you set the food inside, select the desired temperature, turn on the gas, and when you flip the switch, the oven explodes with the precise heat and velocity required to cook the food as directed.
We’ve also added an island, specifically one of the smaller ones from the Bahamas, so the homeowners will have a steady supply of onions, okra, tomatoes, oranges, grapefruit, cucumbers, sugar cane, lemons, limes, and sweet potatoes. If you’d like to learn more about the Bahamas, consult your local office of the Bahamian Tourism Board.
Oh, hey, Harry. Whatcha got there? Ooh. No, no. The water gets hooked up to the sink. The gas goes to the oven. Got it? Alright.
And before we leave the kitchen, we’re actually not allowed to broadcast a show about houses without installing a deep farmhouse sink, a new tiled backsplash, and granite countertops. This sink is a little special as we’ve replaced the faucet with a cherub-shaped fountain that spits the water onto whatever you’re rinsing. Aw, his little buns are showing. That’s adorable. Let’s go upstairs.
In here is the master bedroom. It’s got the classic 50s television twin bed setup complete with twins. Hi, Jeremy. Hi, Albert. These twin brothers were specially genetically designed to thrive in this exact house. They’ll require home schooling, a diet consisting solely of food grown within two miles of the house, and jobs that don’t require them to leave the home. So I hope the homeowners will like them. Otherwise it will quite an unpleasant life for everyone. Anyway, let’s come through to the master bathroom.
We’ve made a few upgrades here with a marble floor, the gilded toilet seat, and this beautiful antique tub. It’s an old claw foot tub, which has a lot of character. Unfortunately, it was small and stupid looking. So we cut it into fourths and added an acrylic bathtub liner material to in the middle of each side to make it four feet wider and eight feet longer. It’s a plain white, too, to try and class up the faded cream color of the original.
And if you look here on the quintuple sink you’ll see we’ve repurposed a stainless steel cocktail shaker to now be used as a toothbrush holder. We’ve also got a miniature brass cuspidor or spittoon to collect finger- and toenail clippings. There’s a small ornate Grecian-style altar on which to burn the hair they pull from their hairbrush and a beautiful series of snowglobes prefilled with water and tiny models of peaceful alpine villages in them that they can put the dead skin they file off their calluses into so they can be a part of these lovely wintry scenes.
Oh, Harry. The mirror goes with the reflective side away from the wall. See? That’s better.
Let’s go up to the attic.
Something that’s really popular these days is finding your family history. Whether it’s taking a DNA test to see where your ancestors came from or filling out an online family tree, white people LOVE that stuff. So we decided to make that the theme of the attic: family history. Unfortunately, the owners of this home have a dreary, boring family, so we’ve brought in another family’s memories to make it a little more interesting.
Here’s a foot locker that someone’s grandfather used in the Korean War. And here’s an old wedding gown we found at the Goodwill that can be their mother’s. Hmm, well, let’s say aunt’s.
Harry, go back in the bedroom.
“Okay. Bedrooma! Bedrooma!”
This is a special item that we’re really excited about. It’s going to be their great-great-grandfather’s locket with a portrait of their great-great-grandmother in it that he took to France in World War I. It’s amazing the kind of stuff you can find at garage sales. For two bucks this family got a family story filled with tragedy or romance or however they want to fill in those blanks. Let’s go to the basement.
We’re trying something new with this house and putting the basement on the roof. It’s a real time saver because with this special space-time polymer duct work that we’ve installed you can now go downstairs and end up in the attic or go upstairs to get to the basement. Heck, you can even dive into the pool and land on the couch. And This Old Dump branded wormhole ducts are available at all fine hardware stores.
Which brings us out to the backyard. We’ve taken out the dreary old hedge maze and put in a 300-meter swimming pool in the shape of Albuquerque, with eleven smaller pools on its perimeter as the homeowner’s favorite number is 36, which is too many pools to add so we made it eleven.
And if you look over here, we’ve put in a large gazebo with a smaller gazebo inside of it. That way if you find yourself under the gazebo and not feeling like life has been heightened to its fullest potential, you can go under the smaller gazebo and–
[SFX: giant crash with some glass shattering]
Oh my gosh, we forget the walls!
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.
“Everything alright, chief?”
“Oh, it’s you. Just caught my hand in the drawer. Come in, Double-O H. Ooh!”
“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!”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.
“No. I’m afr–”
“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]
My name is Dr. Buckminster Ourman, Ph.D., MA, BFA, MS, JD, LLC, TP, WC, MGM, WTO, IDIOT, pronounced “Ourman”. I’m the Anders Flanders-Sanders Professor of Comparative Correlation at Flotsam University. I was relaxing one Sunday morning with my coffee and a copy of the Big City Tribune Gazette Times Post News Sun Journal. Having read the Violence, Corruption, and Sports sections, I moved on to the classified ads. Let’s see.
“For sale: Slightly used coffin in good condition. All stains and odor removed professionally. Glad Uncle Dave is well, but need to recoup costs of remodeling his home into a combination strip club, casino, and wing joint. Interested parties respond to this ad. Uninterested parties come to Terry’s and get saucy!” Hmm, every part of that sounds risky. What else?
“Missed connection. You: attractive woman, 30s, blond. Me: roguish man, hirsute, fun-loving. I saw you on the subway and tried to say hi. You had headphones in, so you must not have heard me. I waved, but your book was blocking your face. I tried signalling my intentions with crude hand gestures, but you happened to turn to face the window. I tried yelling what I’d like to do to you and thought I saw you react with a flinch, but you must have just had a chill because you made no response. Reply to What’s Personal Space? c/o this newspaper.” Gross. What’s this?
“For sale: Dirty old pair of men’s underwear. Could have been owned by famous celebrity or powerful business tycoon. Found in a puddle near the airport, so anything is possible. $1200 OBO.” Intriguing! I might come back to that one. Ah, this looks interesting.
“For sale: Various genuine cursed objects. Come on down to Honest Sal’s Emporium of Darkest Mystery. Palms read, fortunes foretold, animals disemboweled and guts used for augury.” Now this sounds like a good way to spend my Sunday!
I came on down to Honest Sal’s. I got out of the car, looked down, got back in the car, went home, and put on pants. I came back on down to Honest Sal’s and went inside, confident in my attire’s perfect attendance.
The shelves and cases were filled with spooky totems, cracked idols, and mysterious papers. I was looking over some maps of uncharted lands and books written in forgotten languages when Sal came out from the back room.
“Hello, my friend!” he said. “Interested in something dark and powerful, are we? Might I interest you in the favorite eyeball of Nostradamus? Or maybe the lost raiment of King Hadz-na-Kloom is more your style? Or — and I don’t offer this to just any customer, but you look like a serious fan of the occult — maybe the mystic toenail clippings of Aleister Crowley?”
“Oh, I dunno. I’m just browsing.”
“Tell me, what sort of item are you looking for? Something to increase your luck? Or maybe you’re looking for a way to have more vigor?”
“Really? No! No, no. I guess I was just hoping there’d be something here that would really make me question reality and everything I thought I knew. Do you have anything like that?”
“Ah. A connoisseur. Take a look over here.”
He led me to a back corner and moved a pile of boxes out of the way, revealing a door with several locks on it. He unlocked them one by one and mumbled something in a strange, guttural language unspoken by humans. Then, as he gripped the knob, said, “This is one of our best sellers.”
He opened the door and I found myself staring into a psychedelic wormhole in an otherwise black void. An eye opened in the middle of it and a booming voice asked, “Who dares disturb my slumber?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
Sal closed the door and locked it. “Well, it doesn’t look like it’s my day. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.”
I thanked him for his time and left the shop. I then went into the store next door, Spooks & Things. There, next to a basket of discounted monkey’s paws with only one or two wishes left, was a rusty old oil lamp with a sign that read, “Inside! Real Live Genie! Fool Your Friends!” I paid the clerk my fifteen cents and took the lamp home.
I rubbed my hands with excitement. Nothing happened. I read the instructions again and realized my problem. I rubbed the lamp with excitement and this time it began spewing mysterious smoke mysteriously! The smoke condensed into the form of a giant man in a turban. The genie!
“You’re a real genie! Wow!”
“Well, I should hope so,” he said. “Otherwise I’d be in trouble with the FTC for false advertising. What can I do for you, my master? You have three wishes.”
“I wish for infinite wishes!”
The genie paused and put a finger to his chin. “Hmm. You know, in my thousands of years in the Genie Corps, no one has ever thought of that. Consider it done. You now have infinite wishes.”
“Fantastic! Well, let’s get the big ones out of the way. I’d like a billion dollars, a fully furnished enormous mansion, and world peace.”
“Done, done, done. Come on, give me a challenge.”
“Wait. You didn’t grant them through some trickery, did you? You didn’t bring about hyperinflation and make a billion dollars the price of a loaf of bread or something or end war by killing everyone on Earth?”
“Nope, nothing like that. Your billion is worth just as much as it would have yesterday and no one died. The mansion isn’t on a sacred burial ground or haunted or anything like that. You’re all good.”
“Wonderful! I suppose I should think long and hard about how to use my other wishes. Mr. Genie — um, do you have a name?”
“Okay. Fred, take a break. Relax. Help yourself to whatever you put in the kitchen.”
Weeks passed. I wished for an end to disease, no more poverty, and for all the answers regarding morality and religion to be known and available to everybody. The world was a utopia. No more suffering. No more quarrels over beliefs. Enough food and money for everybody to be comfortable. Everything seemed perfect.
One day, I felt so pleased with my world that I decided to leave the mansion and take a stroll downtown to witness everybody’s non-stop joy firsthand.
“I’m going to take a stroll downtown to witness everybody’s non-stop joy firsthand. Do you want to come?”
“Oh, I don’t think that’s a good idea, master.”
“Why not? I think it will be delightful.”
“Oh, no. It’s such a bother. Wouldn’t you rather stay here and just watch videos of happy people on the news?”
“I’ve done enough of that. I want to experience the sights, the sounds, the smells of a happy populace! Be back later!”
I got into the car, but it wouldn’t start. I tried the other 38 cars, all three planes, and the jet pack, but none of them would work. I ran to the gate, but it wouldn’t open. I began to suspect something was amiss.
I climbed over the gate and headed downtown. When I found a busy neighborhood, the people didn’t look any different than before. I found someone waiting for a bus and asked, “Isn’t it nice to be free of poverty, war, and all those other problems?”
“I wouldn’t know, bub,” he said. “Everything’s pretty screwed up as far as I can tell.”
That didn’t sound right. I investigated further. I checked a newspaper. War, disease, theft, violence. Nothing was solved at all!
I returned to my mansion and demanded an explanation.
“Well, it’s like this, master,” Fred began. “Solving all those problems without it causing some unforeseen bigger problem is, like, really hard. But changing all the information in here to say it’s been fixed is really easy! You’re rich and happy, so mission accomplished.”
It made a lot of sense, aside from being completely wrong and bad.
“You foolish twerp of a genie! I demand that you grant my wishes as I ask them from now on! Now, what do I want for my next wish? Ah, I know! Seeing as ending violence and fighting is too much for you, I wish to be more powerful than any army.”
“Sure thing, bro.”
Fred snapped his fingers and I immediately felt…well, exactly the same, really. “Did you do the thing? Am I powerful?”
“Yeah, of course! I made you a writer!”
“What!?!? Do you not understand me? Maybe English is your second or third language.”
“It’s my eighteenth, but I understood perfectly. Haven’t you ever heard that the pen is mightier than the sword?”
I blinked a few times. “I guess so, but that’s just a saying. It’s not literally true.”
“Sure it is! Here, I’ll prove it.”
Fred snapped his fingers again and a fearsome knight stood before me. He raised his sword and cut me in half.
Fred looked up from the dictionary. “Ohhhhhh, that’s what ‘literally’ means. My bad.”
With me dead, Fred was masterless and free to do whatever he wanted. He used his powers to take over the world and reigned over centuries of peace and prosperity that formed the foundation of humanity’s expansion throughout the universe. It was the dawn of a truly utopian era with no end in sight. So he can do all that but doesn’t know what “literally” means and he can’t make me survive one fight. Some genie.
It all began with the universe exploding out of nothingness in a phenomenon known as the Big Bang. 13.8 billion years later, I was walking to the post office to mail my pet giraffe to the vet. It seemed to have broken its neck as I folded it into the crate so the vet seemed a pertinent destination for it. Yes, it’s because I wrestle with these type of big type questions that they pay me the medium bucks.
As I was hammering one of the giraffe’s horns down so it would fit in the mail slot, I saw a man carrying a package and running towards me in a rapid sort of run, followed closely by several uniformed policemen. Either they were all growing at an alarming rate, or they were heading straight for me.
I quickly conducted a series of scientific experiments, published them in peer-reviewed journals, and gathered criticism and suggestions for further study from my fellow intellectual giants. The conclusion was inescapable: they were running right at me!
Seeing men run towards you is enough reason to circle the day on your Date-O Brand Calendar of Well-Known Days, but imagine my shock when I saw that the chas-ed man looked exactly like me! Are you imagining it? If you are, draw it on a postcard, put it through an industrial-strength combination shredder and paint mixer, and email the scraps to firstname.lastname@example.org to enter a drawing for a drawing of a drawing room with a drawbridge and a chest of drawers drawn by Long Drawn Milliner.
As I stood stunned from this revelation, the mysterious lookalike looked back at the police. Not seeing where he was going, he ran into me and our parcels fell to the ground. At this point he got a good look at me and shared my surprise. With the police closing in, we did a mirror routine. When I touched my nose, he touched his ear! When he rubbed my stomach, I fell on my sit-upon in ticklish mirth. He helped me up as the police applauded our antics. He dusted me off and we picked up our packages, shook hands, and went our separate ways, him to the back of a police car with his box and me to the post office with mine.
I was pondering the strange sudden appearance of my apparent twin (things had been rather strange lately; why, just the previous week I had found an onion ring in my french fries!) when the post office clerk said the postage would be $3.86 and it should arrive by Thursday. This seemed awfully cheap for a package containing an entire giraffe, so I took the box back and opened it. Not a single hoof sprang out. Nary a brown spot nor blue tongue was ejected from the box with a force that would make Isaac Newton blush, no! In fact, the box was completely devoid of giraffes!
Bum bum buuuuuuummmm!
Oh! Oh, yeah! We must have switched packages. Ha! I thought perhaps he was a wizard. Oh, what a day. Hey! Is it Friday yet? Ha! So yeah.
Bum bum buuuuuuummmm!
I hied immediately to the local library, looked up “police” in the encyclopedia, and learned all sorts of fascinating facts, such as where the police take you when you’re arrested. I rehied in a jailward direction and confidently strolled up to the sergeant’s desk to explain that they’d arrested my apparent twin and our packages had gotten switched and could I please have my 13oz box of Giraffe-Os in exchange for the mysterious parcel my seeming doppelgänger had left?
I’d gotten as far as “Hello, I” when they tased me, shot me, jumped up and down on me, threw me off the roof, set me on fire, and force-fed me glass shards laced with uranium-235. The sergeant then swept the pieces of me into a dustpan, dumped them in a solitary trash can, and said, “Can I help you, sir?”
I reconstituted my molecules — I minored in it at Seventh Diminished College — and explained the situation to him. You already know that part, so I’ll skip ahead. The sergeant wasn’t convinced. He said I had escaped earlier that morning disguised as a crumpled up copy of the Big City Tribune Gazette Times Post News Sun Journal and that I must have changed clothes and come back to the jail.
“That’s absurd!” I protested. “If I were the prisoner, why would I return to jail?”
“Because it’s karaoke night and you didn’t want to miss Officer Krampus’ electrifying rendition of ‘O Canada’!” he said.
With that, he slammed the door shut and walked away, cunningly avoiding the pit I’d surreptitiously dug, filled with pointy sticks, and covered with palm leaves as he led me in.
I was trapped! Framed! Imprisoned! All past participles that accurately described my loathsome situation. As I bemoaned my befate, I found myself knocked unconscious by a sudden blow on the head. When I awoke I discovered someone had thrown an anchor with a note tied to it through the window. I read the note.
Oh, did you want to know what it said? I’m sorry. Ahem!
It said, “I have your giraffe. I shall break you out at midnight and we can trade. Have no fear!”
“But that’s illegal,” I said.
“Just shut up and be ready,” the note replied.
Midnight came. It left a cup of chamomile tea to help me get some sleep. How thoughtful! I took a sip and immediately felt something wriggling around in my mouth. I spit it out and zounds! Egad! Gadzooks! It was my double!
“Thank goodness you’re here,” I said. “Now we can escape and get to the bottom of this identical twin mystery.”
“You stay away from my mysterious identical twin bottom!” he said.
We disguised ourselves as a breeze and blew out the window. From there it was a quick 40-foot plummet to the ground and then a mere three miles of hobbling on broken legs to the nearest Civil War doctor’s tent. We were given ether, had our legs sawn off, and died of infection.
The next morning, a guard found one of the jail cells empty except for a couple of packages. He opened one, unfolded the giraffe he found inside it, and stared at it for some time, quite puzzled. He opened the other one, found the jewels the missing prisoner had stolen, and took his lunch break. He was never seen again. The end.
The Actual End
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 and 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!
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,
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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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.
Charles parked his sportscar outside St. Jeremy’s Cathedral and opened the passenger door for Lady Mabel. She stepped out of the car, no longer afraid of the scandal she was sure to face for riding with a mere footman. She didn’t care. She couldn’t resist the thrill of racing through the shire at 25 miles an hour, even to an occassion as sober as Lord Reginald’s funeral.
Sir Benjamin scoffed as she approached the cathedral doorway. “So glad you can find joy even after your brother’s death, M’LADY.”
“Ah, Sir Benjamin,” Lady Mabel replied, “I’m so glad you were able to come. I was worried you wouldn’t be able to pull yourself away from stuffing the cook’s turkey like you managed to for your wife’s funeral.”
The general tittering that befell the crowd pleased Lady Mabel for a mo’, but she knew as soon as she stepped inside the cathedral she risked an awkward meeting with Mr. Rongold. Mr. Rongold was sure she knew something about how his begonias went ruddy the night before the county garden show.
Mr. Rongold did, in fact, notice Lady Mabel’s arrival, but dared not approach her for fear he would attract the attention of Colonel Sedgwick. He had been avoiding Sedgwick for two weeks now, ever since the colonel caught him giving his best horse a right snogging.
Colonel Sedgwick had indeed spotted Mr. Rongold, but made no attempt to confront him. His expertise in covert strategy and crowd control led him to the inevitable conclusion that doing so would alert Roger Thorndyke to his presence, which would be most regrettable. Thorndyke, in his work for the London Times, had come across a memorandum in which Colonel Sedgwick approved the Jameson Raid into Johannesburg and subsequently caused the Second Boer War, and Sedgwick was in no mood to respond to a newspaperman’s inquiries only to see himself misquoted in the evening edition.
Lord Reginald was also avoiding Thorndyke, whose recent appearence in the village had become something of a nuisance. His cursed snooping around with his pencil and pad threatened to draw unwanted attention to certain members of the royal family who may be hidden in certain root cellars on property Lord Reginald maintained throughout the county.
Lord Reginald went so far as to fake his death to avoid the inkmonger. It all started out simple enough. After all, he had decades of experience when it came to sitting motionless in a chair with his eyes closed. But things escalated when that bloody peahen of Lady Mabel’s started pecking at his fingers. He tried to surreptitiously shoo it away, but it wouldn’t cease its infernal pecking. Luckily, Lady Mabel chose that moment to poke her head in the window and ask the village doctor if anyone had seen a peahen around. As she scooped the bird into her arms, she’d scolded it for pecking at the body of such an esteemed member of the gentry. Lord Reginald could have sang with delight if it wouldn’t have given away his ruse.
Lord Reginald was now lying in the coffin with similar feelings of relief. He was so close to getting away with everything, he could practically taste those crown jewels. Just then, he heard a tapping at the side of the coffin. He lifted the lid a crack and broke out in a cold sweat. There, bobbing next the coffin in time with the tapping sound, was the blasted gray crest atop the blasted head of Lady Mabel’s blasted peahen.
Lord Reginald jumped up, slamming the coffin lid open. He tried to stand but lost his balance and fell back into Father Murphy yelling, “That peahen! Lady Mabel’s peahen!”
Needless to say, the assembled villagers found this sight quite shocking. As they made their way, hurried and harried, screaming through the aisles and out of the cathedral, Lady Mabel gazed fondly at her precious peahen. “Oh, Henrietta,” she said, “you are a naughty girl. But I suppose we ought to thank you. I imagine you’ll even find an extra helping of cheese in your crickets tonight.”
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?”
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?”
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.
Mia, Dwayne, Kathryn, Carl, and Frankenstein looked from the three-story demon in a tuxedo to their infernal surroundings.
Kathryn shook her head. “Ha! I did not expect this.”
The demon twirled his walking stick and let it rest on his shoulder. “I suppose I ought to get the tour out of the way so we can begin your eternal torment. My name is Skranenflon and I’ll be your attendant while you’re here. Anything you need, just wail and gnash those pearly little whites. You’re all here because you did lots of nasty things up there like breaking out of jail and eating shellfish. Ooooh, He hates that! (It’s a texture thing. They’re so chewy!) Anywho, up there is a limitless void separating us from the mortal plane and everywhere around you is a burning lake of fire. Any questions?”
“So is there like, sex stuff here?” Carl asked. “Lotta pervoids? Where do you keep them?”
“In the boiling lake of fire like everyone else,” Skranenflon said. “We used to specialize the punishments to match the crimes — you know, starving the gluttons while showing them food just out of reach and beating the greedy with bags of gold — but we’ve had such an influx of sinners over the last five thousand years and their sins are so varied and intermingled that we had to simplify everything. I tell you, some days I don’t know why I show up at all. Long story short, if you’re looking for perverts, you’ll have to ask around while the flesh melts off your bones.”
“Hmm. Well, it’s an icebreaker, anyway,” Carl said.
“That’s the spirit. Now, before we get started, there’s a technicality to take care of. We give all newcomers the option of either serving as minions of evil or being tortured for eternity with a chance of parole in a few million years, give or take based on your case. It’s a very difficult decision and–”
“We’ll do it,” Dwayne said.
“Are you sure? Everyone else has chosen the torture and hope for eventual redemption rather than doing evil.”
“Nope. No, thank you. We’ll do it.”
“Does that go for all of you?” The Redressers shrugged and nodded. “Wonderful! I’ll get the paperwork started. Hey, Adolf! We’re going to need a few badges over here!”
Before long, they were outfitted with black leather outfits of varying degrees of coverage and were reading the user manuals about their new satanic powers. Mia was now a cyborg with a robot arm, a laser eye, and a spiky red metal mohawk. She also had the ability to interface with any technology and take it over. Dwayne had grown into a gravelly-voiced muscle man with throbbing veins, a face tattoo, enormous guns, and lots of pouches. An inordinate amount of pouches. Kathryn had the power to transmute materials from one substance to another. Her new uniform showed even more cleavage than her old one, but she didn’t mind anymore since she was working for the devil. Carl had the cosmic power to transport people anywhere and create special “survive in space” bubbles if necessary, Finally, Frankenstein could now shoot beams that could kill and other beams that could bring stuff back to life. It was pretty impressive, honestly.
“What do we do with this incredible power?” asked Kathryn.
“You’ll be working with the terrestrial reclamation team,” Skranenflon said. “The main focus is spreading as much evil over the Earth as possible in order to drive more souls down here. We made some great strides in the 20th Century, but these darn millennials just aren’t taking the bait like their parents did. Do you know how many twenty-somethings killed someone because of their race or religion last year? Two million! When you say it out loud, that sounds like a lot, but it used to be much higher! So you need to stir up the hornets’ nest. Spread fear. Destroy some buildings. Blame it on some kind of group. Have fun with it! And don’t worry about the morality. You’re already in Hell. Okay, Genghis. Let ‘er rip.”
Genghis waved a glowing sword and the Redressers disappeared. “Boy,” Skranenflon said, “I thought they’d never shut up.”
The Redressers appeared in the alley where the Sand Witch had killed them. Their bodies were still there. Frankenstein tried out his new abilities by re-animating the arm of Dwayne’s body and making it wiggle around. “Yoo hoo, Dwa-a-ayne,” he said.
Everyone had a good laugh except Dwayne. He growled, “Cut it out!” and shot Frankenstein’s legs off. Frankenstein made the arm flip Dwayne the bird and then de-re-animated it before making his legs grow back.
“Well,” Mia started, “what do you guys wanna do?”
Carl said, “I guess if we’re supposed to spread fear and violence, I’ve got a pretty good idea.”
He waved his arm and a vertical disc of blue light appeared. “Step in. This’ll be fun.”
Meanwhile, remember the monkey who ran away a few segments ago? She was hanging out on a fire escape, eating a cantaloupe she found in the trash, when a chubby old man approached on the ground below. She shrieked and jumped up.
“Hey, up there. Don’t be startled. I’m a friend.”
The monkey squatted low, then slowly raised her head to look at the potential threat.
“Here, this will help us get to know each other.”
The old man wiggled his fingers in the air and the monkey suddenly felt like her brain was exploding, but without any pain. Just expansion. She gasped and then made a few vocalizations.
“Puh! Puh! Fuh! Muh muh muh. Oh, wow! I can talk!” She clasped her hands over her mouth. “This is amazing! What did you do? Who are you?”
“No biggie. I’m Buddha. Nice to meet you.”
“Wow! Like, THE Buddha? You’re a big deal.”
“Oh, I do okay, I guess. I try not to let it go to my head.”
“Oh, right. That’s kind of your thing, isn’t it? Wait, how do I know that?”
“You’re wise, little monkey. I just made you a little wiser. Speaking of, along with speech, I went ahead and gave you Sun Wukong’s other powers. Crazy strength, somersaulting halfway around the world, changing shape and size, all that. I threw a couple of extra ones in as a surprise. I figured you could use them.”
“Use them? For what?”
“Well, you know those people you used to hang around with, the Redressers?”
“Old Scratch has given them superpowers. He wants to wreak havoc, drown the world in blood, yadda yadda yadda.”
“That’s, uh, not great.”
“Right. And since you know them, it seems like you’d be a good one to stop them.”
“Yikes! That’s pretty heavy stuff, sir.”
“I know, but the finale’s coming up so we have to make sure things are set up for the big battle.”
“Okay, I’ll do my best. But isn’t fighting kind of antithetical to your teachings?”
“You’ll find a way. You’re a pretty clever monkey. By the way, you should think up a name. ‘The monkey’ is pretty impersonal.”
She thought for a minute. “How about Donut?”
“Donut! What an excellent name. Something that brings you immense childlike joy. Very good, Donut.”
“So what do I do now?”
“I’m sure your former colleagues will make themselves known before too long. Then just go to wherever they are and do something about it. You good?”
“I think so. Hey, there aren’t any sexual politics underlying a female monkey getting powers from a semi-divine male, are there?”
“Probably. But I think you saving the world from weaponized masculinity makes up for it.”
“Come back when you’re done. We’ll grab some churros and empathize with whatever’s around.”
“Sounds like fun. Thanks!”
It was about that time that the Redressers blew up the Statue of Liberty. News crews in New York started broadcasting live footage immediately, and Donut saw the the images on a TV in a sports bar she was passing in Big City. She planted her feet for a somersault and took a deep breath.
“Time to fling some righteous poo.”