The Mystery of the Mysterious Twin Mystery

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.

As they approached, I 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 imaginemy@shock.gov to enter a drawing for a drawing of a drawing room with a drawbridge and a chest of drawers drawn by Long Drawn Milliner.

Anyway.

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 Podcastia, 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 End

EPILOGUE

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

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

Marian the Contrarian

Marian the contrarian loved to answer “No”.
When someone said to hurry up, she always went real slow.
When people wanted change, she’d defend the status quo,
‘Cuz Marian thought that she was better than the average Joe.

Marian the contrarian saw life as debate.
It didn’t matter what you said; she’d always altercate.
She’d argue ten was less than nine though number is innate,
‘Cuz chats were competitions and she had to dominate.

Marian the contrarian thought the world was dumb.
Where we saw a utopia, she saw a mindless slum.
There must have been some cortex in her brain that had gone numb.
How else can you explain having an outlook that’s so glum?

There’s lots of Marians in the world, a hundred million two.
They change beliefs from day to day to oppose the pop’lar view.
And if she doesn’t sound familiar yet, here’s a clue:
If you don’t know a Marian, I bet all your friends do.

The Redressers: Part 9

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?”

“Yeah.”

“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.”

“Okay, good.”

“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.”

The Redressers: Part 7

~ Ten Months Later ~

Some people find religion behind bars. Some see the error of their ways and vow to reform. Some are made more violent. The Redressers had been awaiting trial in jail for fifteen months and Carl had a sudden burst of insight.

“Man, jail sucks!”

Mia, Kathryn, and Frankenstein glanced at him and settled back into their own interior monologues, which were immediately interrupted by Carl again.

“Seriously! This place is the worst.”

“Prison is worse,” Mia said. “When we’re found guilty and sent there, this is gonna seem like a vacation. From what I hear, the gangs are a lot more dangerous.”

“The lockup gangs may not be violent,” Frankenstein said, “but they’re so incredibly irritating! They’re either having episodes because they stopped taking their meds or they’re just sloppy drunks.”

Kathryn rolled over on her bed, threw up, and fell over the side into the vomit. She sat up, barely noticing the filth. “D’you say drunks? ‘Sthe Toilet Winos comin’? Those guys’re great.” She fell sideways, back into the land of blacked out slumber.

“She’s gotten worse,” Carl said. “She swears she’s just investigating the Toilet Winos undercover, but jeez.”

Mia sighed. “This wasn’t the plan. We were supposed to network with the minor league gangs here to get intel on the guards so we could expose the institutional abuse. We may be stuck waiting for our trial, but we can do some good in the meantime. But our spokeswoman is just–” Kathryn farted in her sleep. “Yeah.”

“I still think one of us could do it,” Frankenstein said.

“Oh, come on. The public won’t take the charges seriously coming from a Latina, let alone a blue guy or a corpse quilt, no offense. We need a white lady, and ours has John Bonhamed out.”

“In her defense,” Carl said, “have you tried the toilet wine? It’s only kind of terrible.”

“Our trial starts soon,” Mia said. “We’re running out of time. We need a plan.”

 

~ ~ ~

“All rise,” announced the bailiff. “The honorable Judge Natliss Yebajuge presiding.”

“Be seated,” the judge said. “I’ve got a fundraising dinner to get to, so let’s try to hurry this along, okay? Prosecution, start your engines.”

“Thank you, your honor,” said District Attorney Gary Dean Stanton, no relation. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we have here a pretty straightforward case of four people wrecking a store so the owner could file a false insurance claim and walk away a rich man, and then attempting to break the owner out of jail, causing quite a lot of public property damage and getting caught red-handed in the act. Okay, so it’s not that straightforward, but it is a solid case. We have security camera footage and sworn testimony from the jail personnel, as well as the testimony of the owner, who was more than happy to rat out his friends in order to cop a plea bargain.”

“What?!?,” Frankenstein cried, slamming his massive hands on the table.

The judge banged the gavel again. “I’ll have order! Go on, Mr. District Attorney.”

It didn’t get much better after that.

 

~ ~ ~

That evening, they were put back in their cell. Mia started off the panicking session. “This sucks so bad! I can’t believe I stuck with you idiots! Now I’m gonna go to prison and my career is toast, not that it ever started off to begin with, and I’m gonna end up in some stupid gang explaining to everyone how tasers work or something. Ugh! I hate all of you!”

After a moment of awkward silence, Carl spoke up. “Heh, isn’t it weird that they put us all in one cell? They didn’t even separate the men and women.”

The others stared at him.

“It’s just weird. Heh.”

“L’you plizz step tlkng?” Kathryn felt like a steamroller was crushing her head and all of the gloppy chunks were splattering into her bowels. “‘M ne’er drinkin’ toilet wine ag’n. Mean it dis time.”

“Shall we attempt an escape?” Frankenstein offered. “I bet if we put out heads together we could figure out a good plan.”

“I appreciate the thought, Frankenstein,” Mia said, “but I wouldn’t suggest putting people’s body parts together if I were you. Just saying.”

“Psst!”

The Redressers looked at each other.

“Psssssst!”

They raced to the window, which took like a quarter of a second because it’s a jail cell. Outside, they could barely make out a figure waving in the dark.

“Guys,” the figure said in a stage whisper. “It’s me, Dwayne! Where are you?”

“Over here!” called Carl.

Dwayne ran up to the window and pressed his face to the bars. “You’re all clear, kid! Now let’s blow this thing and go home!” He waited for a reaction. It didn’t come. “Get it? Like Han? It doesn’t matter. Just stand back, okay?”

Dwayne took a few steps back and pulled a small bomb out of his jacket pocket. He hurled it at the jail cell and it exploded in flames. The flames began to spread across the cheap paint that the jail was coated in, but the actual bricks weren’t harmed.

“Huh,” Dwayne said. He scratched his head. “Any ideas?”

Frankenstein pushed on the wall. It collapsed outwards, creating a giant hole. The others stared at him, mouths agape.

“What? We needed a hole. Come on.”

The alarms blared as they ran out of the cell and into the open air. Dwayne was watching the fire spread over the jail. It was getting near the government center now.

“Should we tell someone?” Dwayne asked.

“Sorry,” Mia said. “I left my phone in the evidence locker.”

They ran a few blocks before taking a rest. Mia stuck her pointer finger in Frankenstein’s face.

“You could have done that at any time?”

“Um…yes?”

“Why didn’t…I’m so…This team sucks so bad!”

Kathryn knelt down and threw up. “Ohhhhh, tha’s better.” She spat and stood up on her wobbly legs. “Okay, lez go.”

They ran off into the night. They stopped six times to convince Kathryn that running away was still a better idea than taking a nap at a bus stop.

When they arrived at Dwayne’s one-bedroom apartment, they got to work planning their next steps.

“So what, we’re outlaw vigilantes now?” Carl asked.

“I guess so,” Dwayne said.

Mia put her head in her hands. “All I had to do was serve coffee and apply for jobs.”

The Redressers: Part 6

Mia, Carl, Frankenstein, and the monkey that they kept around despite her not, in fact, being the fabled Monkey King Sun Wukong gathered in the parking lot of the Big City 2386th Street jail. “Where’s Kathryn?” asked Carl.

With the impeccable timing of a fictional story, Kathryn approached the team at that exact moment! Isn’t that exciting? What are the odds? I mean, seriously. If you factor in the timing of the traffic sig– Hmm? Oh. Right. Sorry.

Kathryn approached the team. She was embarrassed and then immediately furious. “Why didn’t anyone tell me we weren’t doing this in uniform? You know I hate my boobs flopping out of this stupid thing.”

“Okay,” Mia said. “We all know the plan, right? Kathryn, you go in and distract the guards with your, um, yeah. After they’re nice and drooly, the lights will go out and you take the keys. Then we come in as backup and keep them occupied while you free Dwayne. ”

“For the record, this plan sucks,” Carl said.

“I know, but you all lied about having powers so it’s this or no team. Got it, everyone?”

They all said “Yeah” in unison like some stupid 80s Saturday morning cartoon. They might as well have put their hands in the middle and said, “Go Redressers!” Yeesh.

Kathryn made her way to the entrance and Carl crouched down next to the monkey. “Okay, Sun Wukong, listen closely. I’m going to pick you up and put you in that air duct over there. Your job is to get to the security desk and– Hey! Hey, come back!”

Since it was the first time she had been outside in weeks, the monkey they insisted on calling Sun Wukong saw an opportunity to escape and took it. She scampered off at top speed for over half a mile before crawling into a cardboard box and taking a nap. Later that night she would wander behind a grocery store and find a dumpster full of delicious produce that was mostly edible. It was the first night of the rest of her happy, fulfilling life. Bye, little monkey! Good luck! I love you!

Carl watched her run away. “Crap. Uhhhh, okay, plan B. Mia, you’re an engineer, right? Can you disable the security system?”

“Oh yeah, of course,” Mia said. “I’m sure you have the manufacturer, the model, and all the specs of this building handy, right? No? You don’t? That’s okay, because I can just ‘hack’ it like in movies, right? Let me get out my laptop and password-cracking software and I’ll get us in, right? Idiot.”

Mia let out an exasperated sigh and thought for a moment. “Vic, come with me.”

“What do I do?” asked Carl.

“Stick with the plan. When the lights go out, go in and help Kathryn. We’ll be right behind you.”

Mia and Frankenstein walked around the building until they found the building’s power supply. A transformer sat behind a locked chain link fence.

“Okay, Vic. We need to get in and basically destroy that round thing.”

“I know what a transformer is. It bumps the voltage up or down for a neighborhood, office building, or similar pull on the power grid.”

“Ooh, someone has Wikipedia.”

“Actually, Dan’s dad is an electrician and taught him that when he was like eight.”

“Who’s Dan?”

“Um, nothing! Let’s break this thing, huh?”

Frankenstein ripped the fence apart and stomped at the transformer with all his might. It exploded in a shower of sparks and the jail went dark.

“Arrgh!” Frankenstein yelled. “Fire bad! Rarrr! Ha ha, just kidding.”

Inside, Kathryn realized they had made a slight miscalculation going into this little escapade. Of the three guards on duty at the moment, two of them were women. She tried using her feminine wiles anyway — you never know — but the female guards quickly got wise to her scheme.

“You can cut the crap now, lady,” said Sheila the Guard With a Full and Personalized Backstory. “I’ve got to finish an essay tonight since I’m attending college part time to get my degree and pursue my career goals and I don’t have any time for your nonsense.”

Just then, the lights went out. Carl ran in and crashed into Kathryn. He got up and shouted, “What are you doing? You’re supposed to be shaking your boobs at the guards!”

“Ixnay on the oobsbay!”

“What?”

Before Kathryn could respond, three 20 million billion-candlepower flashlights were shining on their faces.

“Don’t move,” said– guess. Go on, guess.

Did you guess yet? Okay, let’s see if you’re right.

Said Louise, the other female guard. (Were you right? Good job!) “We’ve got tasers and guns and this job is super boring so we’ll light you up and post it on cooljailvids.net if you try anything.”

Louise covered them as Sheila and the unnamed male guard who doesn’t get any lines (take THAT, patriarchy!) put on the handcuffs. Mia and Frankenstein then burst in and all three guards pointed their guns at them.

“Aw, crap,” said Mia.

Dwayne perked up as Louise locked the rest of the Redressers in the cell and walked away. “Great! You came for me! So, what’s the plan?”

He looked from face to face. The others looked away.

“This is part of the plan, right?”

Nobody made eye contact for three weeks.

 

~ Five Months Later ~

Dwayne was led back to the cell. He was beaming. “Guys! I’m out! I’m going home!”

“What?” Mia asked. “How is that possible?”

“My trial ended. The judge let me off with five months, time served.”

“But you conspired to burn down your store and commit insurance fraud,” Carl said.

“Right,” Dwayne said as he picked up his couple of belongings. “White collar crime. Fraud is all money stuff and conspiracy is practically Wall Street! Good luck, everyone. Peace!”

“Wait,” Kathryn said. “Are you gonna come back to help us? Or hire some lawyers? Or anything?”

Dwayne grimaced. “Ah. Right. Well, the terms of my release bar me from having any contact with you guys, including providing legal aid.”

“So you’re saying you’re leaving and we’re stuck here for another ten months until our trial?” asked Frankenstein.

“Um, yes. Sorry about the whole inequality thing. I was talking to the judge and he was saying how you guys are in for property damage and attempted jailbreak and those are pretty lower class, so your trial isn’t that high a priority.”

“Time out,” Mia said. “You were just chilling out with the judge?”

“Oh. Yeah. White collar defendants get access to the lounge.”

Kathryn shook her head. “Courts have lounges?”

“Yeah. It’s like airports. Fraud and conspiracy are practically first class diamond club.”

He realized he sounded a little too exuberant. “I tried to get you in, but they wouldn’t let me,” he lied. “On the upside, a few months in jail is going to add a powerful new level of complexity and pathos to my seminars!”

Mia, Carl, Kathryn, and Frankenstein were stunned, mouths agape. “Well,” Dwayne said, “I guess this is goodbye.”

He started towards the exit as the unnamed male guard locked the cell.

“But you’ll come back for our trial, right?” Carl asked.

“Can’t hear you! Too far away! Sorry!”

They would never saw him again. They assumed. And so should you. Seriously, what a jerk.