Another Win for First-Class Service

And I wasn’t wrong.  There it was right there on the sign: 

Lunch Specials: 

  • Wear Corpse-Blue, Get 3 for the Price of 2

  • Buy 3, Get Life-Free

  • Buy 4, Dine on Styx’s Shore

“Oh, I so would enjoy a shoreline view—wouldn’t that be delightful?” I asked.  

“Very much,” Chevron said, salivating.  

Macie and the Ambassador had a look of—well, a lifeless look, if I do say so myself.  All color drawn out of them.  Drawn out and put where, I don’t know.  In a puddle on the floor, probably.  Well, let the mops look lifeless!  Chevron and I could appreciate the finer tastes in life, like the taste for…um, taste.  

Without so much as a word from Macie and the Ambassador, Chevron and I popped into the establishment and were greeted by a dark-haired gent in a gentle flowing costume.  All shadows and folds.  “Two for lunch,” I said.  “But do tell us what we would need to do in order to get the shoreline view.  After the day we’ve had, nothing could be more felicific.”  

The greeter nodded quite approvingly, I’d say.  And led us straight back.  Impressive, I considered, this ability to serve as a greeter without so much as a verbal greeting.  Or a verbal affirmation.  Without—even—a verb.  But that’s the way with some professionals of the service class—they serve so smooth, it’s practically other-worldly.  Supernatural, you might call it—without the heebie-jeebie part.

“Cold in here,” Chevron observed.  And he was right.  The dark of the place penetrated to the fingers and toes, like the cold glass of a window-pane.  In December.  With the sleet sleeting down.  

“Would you happen to,” I started—and before I could finish, the greeter had handed us two heavy coats—flowing numbers just like him.  Another win for first-class service!  I took the fabric with pride. Now I’m quick to admit that it wasn’t my preferred style, but style takes second fiddle when there’s a cold concertmaster conducting the thermostat.  

Chevron heaved his way into the fabric and I did the same—and the moment we did, the creaky-looking dining room fell away and the two of us found ourselves creaking and crooking across a deck in some misty backwoods place.  It was a wooden platform of sorts, leading into the mist and, I hoped, out of it.  I looked behind to see if there was continuity between where we had walked and where we were walking, but when I did, all I saw was more mist.  I wondered, then, about the circulation in the place, and decided that they must be having a hell of a time with the air conditioning.  

“Hell of a time with the air,” I said to our host in a jovial, forgiving fashion.   

He shrugged in that embarrassed sort of way that all employees must when their employer decks the place in dilapidated appliances. 

“It’s not your fault, I know,” I said to him.  Or—I thought it was a him.  I looked more closely and couldn’t tell, I tell you.  And wasn’t it rotten?  'There’s the patrician brain for you!' Macie might say.  And she’d be right: to think every anonymous person is a man—and even some not-so-anonymous ones.  No wonder women feel such animus.  

“Do you have anything less…” Chevron motioned to the mist.  “…muggy?”  

At this the greeter made a movement with his arm and the fog receded.  Even more impressive stuff!  If only Macie and the Ambassador could see how wrong they were about the place!  

Beneath the mist was water—dark water, it looked black in this light, maybe fed by a swamp or some other briny pool.  Ah!  The name of the place, Pepper and Brine!  Now it made sense!  And if there was Brine, there was pepper!  

As the greeter helped us onto a very comfortable looking little boat—a sea-cab to get us to dining on the other side of the river—I made a quick inquiry on the pepper situation. 

And received in return a journey that I don’t think either of us will ever forget.  It started—thank goodness—as all answers ought to start: with an appetizer. 

The Houses That Hugged The Hill

The houses that hugged the hill didn't hug us back. We landed on the houses like unwelcome guests. I hit an old thatched roof that hit me back with almost equal force and I landed on to another roof, and then I was in the air again and continued my slow and painful decent till there were no more roofs to bounce me. So the ground met me instead. The earth seemed to rise up and it took a swat at me. I tumbled and landed on my back. I stared up at the air, which was filled with my troupe, who decided to land a little later than me. They landed on me. First the Ambassador, then Chevron, then Macie. The air was sucked out of me as they all piled on. 

Each stood, dusted themselves off and looked confusedly around. 

I stood, realigned my spine and looked at whatever it was they had locked eyes on. 

"A restaurant!" I said with glee. 

"Pepper and Brine," the Ambassador said. "This isn't good." 

"Why's that?" I asked. 

"Because Pepper and Brine are not what you think." 

"You mean they only serve breakfast?" 

"No," Chevron said. "They only serve the dead." 

"Which means..." Macie began.

"They have a lunch special," I said. 



Past Noon

It was now well past noon—probably twelve or fifteen minutes past it.  And though we—we being Macie and me—me being Kelvin F. C. L., secret attache to Lincylum, she being Macie M. Masterson, Master at Arms of all of Mappleton—though we had scored a success in locating the Ambassador, we had, in that very success, succeeded at losing ourselves. In fact, we were becoming ever more lost as we soared ever-so-deep into the Willowing Forest of Delights.  

“Dessert!”  Chevron corrected, a few puffs in front of me. 

“My thoughts exactly!”  I exclaimed, stomach agrumble.  If not dessert, at least something to hold us over as we were held over these sweet-scented trees.  

“Your thoughts exactly?”  Chevron asked.  “I can still hear your thoughts?”  

“Oh, no—”  I said.  “I don’t think I was thinking of dessert until you said something.”  

“Of course you weren’t thinking of dessert!”  The Ambassador declared.  “Who could think of dessert at a time like this?! We haven’t sat for lunch yet!”  

“Yet?!”  Macie mocked, hovering in the air over the Ambassador’s left shoulder.  “Yet?!!  You couldn’t sit if you wanted to!”  

“Well, I don’t want to!”  The Ambassador said.  A man of mania, sure—but a man of my own spirit.  

“I’ll tell you what I want…” I started.  

“Lunch,” Macie guessed.  “And it doesn’t take a mind-reader to read that.”  

“No it does not,” Chevron said.  “But to guess the right lunch, the right dessert—takes time-tested taste testing.”

The Ambassador huffed at this professional self-profession.  

And I huffed right back at him: Let Chevron take pride in his work.  At least it worked.  Unlike Titanium Levitation!  I had had it up to here with huffing and puffing of all kinds—and here was getting higher and higher up by the minute—thirty, forty, fifty five feet over the treetops.  I leveled a claim: “Too bad you magician’ed those perfectly good boiled eggs into perfectly spoiled chicken-ants,” I said.  “Who knows how long we’ll be up here, now.  Maybe straight through the sweetest hours of the afternoon.  Maybe all the way to dinner!”  The horror was too much to contemplate; I regretted even bringing it up.  

“Believe me,” the Ambassador said.  “In most of this place, you’d much rather be up here than down there.”  He gestured then at the small crop of houses we swooped over—little boxy numbers, hugging the hills for dear life.  And there wasn’t much life in’em.  

“Is that right?”  Macie asked.  I didn’t like the way she asked it.  And I liked it less when I saw the Ambassador drop out of the sky.  Then Chevron, then Macie—then I.  


Podcast Episode 3 - Avoiding the Sense of Destiny

If you're behind in reading the story, don't worry!  Jamie and I will read it for you—in fact, we already have in "The Paragraphing Podcast!" 

Episode 3 is already out.  Each episode, Jamie and I take turns reading our contributions to the week's story, then discuss the process and writing in general.  

Here's what you'll get in Episode 3: 

In the third episode of The Paragraphing Podcast, the story continues—with the introduction of an entirely new character, the explication of actor ants, and a somewhat surprising narrative effect. Afterwards, Brendan and Jamie share thoughts on the story’s fast-paced twists and turns; the difference between where you expect the story to go and where the next writer takes it; and the comedic style of their favorite authors.  They also discuss how writers can achieve the sense of a “thinking person” on the page, rather than a “sense of destiny.”  Essentially, they conclude that flaws in thinking can often be more interesting than flaws in character.  

Click here to listen and subscribe!

You Have To Understand

"You have to understand, the ambassador is okay," he said. 

"Who are you?" I asked. 

"Chevron," Macie began, turning to me. "It's the..."

"Yes, I'm Chevron," I said cheerily.

 "He's the man we are supposed to follow. The man who was pursuing us," Macie said. 

"I don't like the look of him," Kelvin said.

"Why's that?" Macie asked, suddenly becoming defensive. 

"It's his mustache," Kelvin said. 

"What's wrong with his mustache?" Macie asked.

"I'll tell you what's wrong with it!" Kelvin said. And he reached out and locked his fingers onto the mustache. 

"Unhand me you Buffon!" The Pursuer protested. 

And Kelvin ripped off the mustache revealing the Ambassador under it. 

"As I said," the Ambassador said. "You have to understand, I am okay." And the chicken squawked under his arm as he began to explain how he had fooled us with his escape and how Titanium Levitation could transform inner thoughts outwardly and mess with "the narrative of everyday life."   

Selina Veronica West spoke again, this time with a higher pitched squawk which translated into all of us suddenly being flung upwards into the air, including the Ambassador. 

"Something is wrong with Titanium Levitation," the Ambassador said. "It must be sick."

"This is dangerous," I said as we soared deeper into the forest. 

"I hate flying," Kelvin said. 

"I hate falling," Macie said. 

"Squawk," Selina Veronica West said. 

Meanwhile (again!)

Meanwhile, while Macie, Chevron and Kelvin were meaning to pursue the Pursuer—while the Ambassador was being purloined and the actor ants were acting chicken-like, nobody—and I mean nobody—was minding the chickens.  I wasn't minding the chickens either, which is how, completely by accident, I accidentally appointed one to be interim Ambassador to Zoic.

It happened like this:

Two hundred and twenty seven seconds ago, there was a tremendous splash.  The splash was so tremendous it caught the attention of the Tremendous Tremor Transponders or TTTs as our populous so affectionately calls them.  These TTTs, I should tell you, are psycho-electric detectors, about the size of half a pineapple and shaped like one, too.  They sit all across the countryside, awaiting the tell-tale signs of a tremendous titanium levitation event.  Like the splash of a shallow river lifted out of its riverbed and then crashed back down again.  When a TTT detects a tremendous sound like that, it wires a message to the Tremendous Tremor Transponder Transmission Tower, or TTTTT, as our populous not-so-affectionately calls it.  Those signals are routed directly to the TTTTT Pursuer Pipeline (Patent Pending), which sends out a TTTTT-PPPP Licensed "Locate and Limit" List to every licensed Pursuer in the area.  Their mission: to locate the source of heretofore said tremendous activities, and limit their future activation.  That is to say: stop Macie, Chevron, Kelvin and the Ambassador in their tracks by issuing an official TTTTT-PPPP-LLLL warning.  Which usually came in the form of a form—pad-sized in triplicate, of course.

Except—except for the TTTTT-PPPP-LLLL Form-Filling Strike.  Absolutely no pursuer within a thousand miles will pursue tremendous sounds of any kind.  Or—I should correct myself; any pursuer will pursue, but she or he roundly refuses to confront the perpetrator with a filled-out form.  What's a pursuit without a filled out form?  Well, I'll tell you: not any pursuit I would pursue in Lincylum.

Hence the need for me to step out from behind the Narrative Arc, as it were (a truer ark than any seen since Mt. Ararat).  Step out and step into the customary pursuer garb—the garbled jacket, bowler hat, beard and brown boots.  To become again a Pursuer, in pursuit of a cause.  Until...

Well, until I accidentally appointed Selena Veronica West interim Ambassador to Zoic. In my defense, she was far more intelligent than the current ambassador, and could hold even better conversation.  At least once you loosened the molecules a bit, and freed thoughts from words and words from thoughts.

Selina Veronica West said to me—and I'll never forget it—

I Don’t Know Why They Weren’t Listening

I don’t know why they weren’t listening — Kelvin and Chevron — they never seemed very good at listening at all. It was their fault that we got into this mess. They hadn’t paid attention. Paying attention is the sort of thing you should do when you have no idea what’s going on. They are always oblivious. That’s their fault. 

Kelvin glared at me. 

“I can hear you, you know—don’t you?” he said, mincing words — mixing them up like he was making a stew with poor grammar. 

“I resent that,” he said.

“I never said that,” he said. “I thought that. If you’re going to start taking the narrative you’ve got to get things right.” 

Kelvin fell flat on his face. 

“That’s a lie,” Chevron said, “He didn’t fall anywhere. Now you’re taking creative license.” 

Chevron tripped over his words like he tripped over that log. 

“I never tripped over a log,” Chevron said. “You’re playing wolf with the narrative, now.”

“Fine,” I said. “That never happened. But still, got to say — taking creative license is fun. Probably why the Ambassador loves flinging people with his Titanium Levitation control. So, on a serious note: how can we understand each other’s thoughts?”

Kelvin scratched his chin, methodically; Chevron scratched his bald scalp. 

“I don’t know,” they said. “But maybe we should follow our Pursuer and find out.”

“I agree,” I said, “It was a good idea when I thought it up.” 

And we followed the Pursuer this time for sure!

Knotty Notions

It was all a bit wearing, you know.  And I’m not ashamed to say it—I was wearied by the events of the afternoon.  Well, late morning.  My God!  Was it still morning?!  

By this time, the plan was…

“What was the plan?”  I asked Macie.  


“What had been our plan at this point,” I asked again.  “Having discovered the power of eggs.  We had a plan after that, no?”  

“To find the Ambassador,” she said.  “Which is exactly what we are doing.”  

“Oh, was that it?”  I perked up. “A rather successful run of it, then.” 

Macie looked back at me.  Blankly.  

“Never one to celebrate, I know,” I told her.  “But to find such success in sticking to the plan!  And it’s still morning, mind you!”  

I found a comfortable log and took a load off.  I slipped off my loafers—squeaked off, I should say.  They were still wet and not friendly in their atmosphere.  I tossed them a few paces away.  After all, what is a celebration without the right atmosphere?  

“What’re you doing?”  Macie asked when she saw this display.  

I took a deep breath of air.  Sweet with the scent of dessert—just as you’d expect in the Forest of Willowing Dessert.  The sun was shining, the temperature was right—a light sway to the trees, that whispery, whispy sound in the leaves; it was just beautiful.  And the only thing missing was the lull of a brook or stream or something.  And maybe seating that was a little more comfortable than a log, or perhaps a log with more padding to it (you have to keep the natural spirit of the place, after all).  And some tasty dessert to go with the aroma of the place.  Something light—fruity with whipped cream.  The whippiest of whipped cream.  With a hint of lemon.  

“We don’t have any lemon,” Chevron said flatly.  

“Uh—what?”  I asked.  

“You were saying whipped cream and lemon.  We don’t have any lemon in Lincylum,” he confirmed.  

“Was I?”  Hmm.  I didn’t remember saying all of that out loud.  

“Oh, believe me—”  Macie huffed.  “You were loud about it.”  

“Was I?”  

“Practically screaming!”  Macie screamed—yes, screamed herself!  

“Well…” I trailed off.  

“Well, what?”  Macie asked.  

Now, I had great respect for the gal, but you don’t claim deafness when you’ve just deafened the room—or, woods, as it happens.  You own up to it—you deafen with defiance or don’t deafen at all, I say.  So I had to say something: “I have to say something about this, Macie—tut tut.”  I tutted.  “You know very well ‘well, what.’  There’s no need to practice the scream on your part when claiming a practical scream on mine.”  

“What’re you talking about?”  She put her chick down now so she could focus all attention on her log-seated companion.  “I didn’t scream.  You’re the one who’s been screaming about lemons and logs with better padding.  I heard it with my own ears.”  

“Well, that’s impossible because I didn’t speak it with my own lips.”  

“No,” Chevron cut in.  “It’s not the lips that do most of the screaming, it’s the—”  He made a spirited motion under his chin.  

“The throat?”  I offered.  


“The neck?”  


Macie sighed.  “The vocal chords—”

“Precisely,” Chevron said.  

I saw how this was going—and where in its going it was going to get us.  The two of them, performing a pas de deux of sorts—dancing in contracting circles, spinning a circle of fancies in a tight little knot around me.  Me at the center of their knotty notions.  For no other reason than to pass the time, I tell you.  Because to sit on a log and linger wasn’t enough for them; the sweet scent of the willows wasn’t willowy enough.  Well…  “If you insist on—“  

“Shhh….”  Macie said.  

“I was just—”  

“Shut up.”  She turned to Chevron.  “Did you see what I saw?”  

“I didn’t see anything,” Chevron said.  But he said it with a sense of portent.  It made my skin crawl—really, it did.  

“What’s all this about?”  I demanded.  “What did or didn’t you see?”  

“We saw your skin crawl, really we did.”  Macie said.  “Or, we didn’t see it—we heard it.”  

“What are you talking about?”  

“Knotty notions,” Chevron said.  

Macie looked me square in the eye and without moving her lips, said: We can read your thoughts.  

I shook my head and thought: You mean hear—you can hear my thoughts.  And I can hear yours.  

The Follower (Or Pursuer)

The follower (or Pursuer) was so much better at pursuing than I was at leading, that the Pursuer overtook us and followed our path beyond us. He walked right by us — bowler hat, checkered jacket, beard, brown boots and all… He was so good at following where we were going that he passed us by and was going to get to where we were going before us. 

“What do we do?” I asked.

“Well,” Chevron said. “I’ve never seen someone who was so good at following people before.” You could see the admiration in his eyes. 

“I say,” Macie said. “We should follow him. He seems to know where it is we are going. Since we don’t know where that is, logically, he should take us there.”

Chevron and I both exchanged looks. 

“Sounds good to us,” we said in unison. 

And so we followed Macie, the new leader of our small troupe, as she followed the pursuer who was following us, leading us to where it was we were supposed to go — wherever that is. 


Macie knew all about being followed—for Macie had followed this line of thinking her whole life.  The thinking of must.  At five years old, must was making a name for herself among a family of five siblings—each extraordinarily loud and loquacious.  She must find a way, she told herself—and so she told them: "must you be so loud?"  She told them: "you mustn't miss the world."  Yes, she made the loud listen—not by being louder herself, but through silence.  "Listen—do you hear it?"  She made them hear it: the sound of the world that by talking they missed.  At ten years old, must was finding her way out of the power blackouts—and leading the way not with a flashlight, but the flash of a smile.  Yes, so many people were afraid of the dark that her fearless smile brightened every turn she made, so that no path was unknown.  This attracted a crowd—so that by fifteen years old, must was projecting her voice loud enough for all to hear, even when they were hard of hearing.  Now, twice as far from fifteen as fifteen was from five, she stands—with the wisdom to be just what the situation required her to be: in command.  

We Have To Do Something

“We have to do something,” Macie exclaimed. 

“Something is not the issue,” Chevron said. “The issue is what something can any of us do if all the ants are all of us? We can trust nothing. I think therefore I’m not.” He said, misquoting a famous line by a less famous philosopher. 

“It’s ‘I think therefore I am,’” Macie corrected. 

“But are you?” Chevron said, questioning the bedrock of all Western Thought. Chevron was on a clear course for self-destruction, he was doing mental workouts with a brain that was not fit. 

“We have to find the Ambassador, no matter what,” Macie said. “Whether he’s an actor made of ants or not. It is our duty.”

“Not mine,” Chevron said. 

“It is your duty! You’re the taste tester.”

“Well, I don’t like the taste of this,” Chevron said. "Besides, chasing after ants is different than trying a bowl of tasty soup." He plopped down on the ground and did what any confused person would do: he pouted. 

“I like his thinking,” I said, falling down beside him. “Let’s just sit here and everything will sort itself out. That’s how the world works. No point in arguing with the universe.” I turned to Chevron, “More ants than molecules, eh? The universe is a crazy place. I hope to move there some day.”

Macie wasn’t having any of it, she reached with both her hands and grabbed each of our ears—I was in her right hand, Chevron in her left— and she tugged us up from the earth. Safe to say that getting your ear tugged is more painful than being lifted up by Titanium Levitation.  

“I will not be held back from our mission by buffoons like you.” 

And she dragged us into the woods. 

“Now I know how the ambassador felt when he was carried away,” Chevron said. 

“Quiet, you,” Macie said. “We are being followed.” 

Don't Get Me Started

"One thing I don't understand—," Macie started.  

"Don't get me started," Chevron said.  

"No, do—do get him started, Macie!"  I coaxed.  I was starting to weary of this testy taste tester.  

"Ants aren't the size of chickens," she finished.  

"Usually," Chevron said.  

"Always," Macie insisted.  

"No," Chevron explained.  "An ant—yes, an ant is smaller than any one chicken.  But do you know how many ants there are on Earth?"  

"I know how many chickens there are—" I offered.  "Fifteen plus four...that's..." I counted on my fingers.  "Practically twenty of them!"  

"There are more ants on Earth than there are molecules in the Universe," Chevron asserted—with absolutely no shred of proof or scientific standing.  

"Uh huh," Macie nodded, accepting the statement at face value.  

"So you can imagine—imagine with me, would you?  You can imagine just how easy it would be for those ants to assemble themselves as molecules assemble—into any shape or color or motive they'd like," Chevron said.  

"Hence the chickens," Macie said.  

"Hence the chickens," Chevron warned.  "But I'm afraid the chickens are only the beginning.  How many did you say there were?"  

"Fifteen...sixteen...seventeen...eighteen..." I calculated.  "Eighteen or nineteen, I think."  

"Fifteen, remember, of the new ant variety," Chevron corrected.  "But to make what looks like fifteen chickens takes many more ants than even you or I might surmise."  

"Forty," I said boldly.  

Chevron looked back; bold as his big eyes would allow: "Try forty thousand; nay, forty thousand thousand—"

"You mean a thousand times a thousand?"  I asked.  

"I mean just what I meant," he sent back.  "I mean, you have to understand what you're dealing with here.  Actor ants could be anything or anyone at any moment.  Once you've seen 'em in action, you see 'em in inaction everywhere.  Nowhere is safe from their thespian ways."  

"Haha!"  Macie laughed.  Or was it a laugh?  Or was it Macie?  

"Trust me," Chevron said.  "You'll never trust anyone ever again."  

And he was right.  I didn't trust a word of it! 

There Is A Thrill In Falling

There is A thrill in falling. This thrill is the reason why skydiving is a pastime and the sort of pastime I always pass on. To say that the thrill of falling, after countless tumbles, from titanium levitation to sliding down a ravine, was getting old, would be an understatement. After I tumbled, river and all, back into the river-worn chasm, I was done with it. I was done with anything that involved me in the air.

I plodded up to the surface of the raging, angry water and watched as the little chickens lifted up the Ambassador and started carrying him off into the forest. I swam to shore and collapsed on my back, staring up at the blue sky and wished so much that I wasn't going to be up there ever again. 

"We have to go up there again," Macie said, her head popping into view and blotting out half the sky. "We just booked a flight." 

"Wait, what?" I asked. 

"We have to go to Bamboo Island, in the Zoicterranean Sea," Chevron said, his head appearing and blocking the rest of my view. 

"We have to go up there?" I asked and pointed up. I didn't want to go up anymore. "I don't want to go up anymore." 

"Where's the Ambassador?" Macie asked. 

"He got kidnapped by a bunch of chickens." I said. "A magic trick gone wrong, I think. They carried him off into the woods." 

"Great Scott!" Chevron said, his mouth a gap. 

"What is it?" I asked. 

"Best cancel those plane tickets," he said. "Those were no chickens."

"But Selina Veronica West and Seamus Bartholomew Gorsuch the III?" Macie said, she looked at me. "And Rick?"

"They are fine," Chevron said. "It's these other chickens. They are not chickens at all."

"What are they?" Macie asked. 

"The Disguiseious Antadextrous, the elusive Ant of Mappleton. More commonly known as the Actor Ant."

"The Actor Ant?" I asked. 

"Yeah, sure," Chevron said. "You have the worker, the solider—and the actor." 

“Great Zander!” Macie said. “And they were...?"

"Yes,” Chevron said. “They were acting!"

And we looked to where the Ambassador had been taken, the woods looming menacingly in front of us. 


A Good Period

For a good period I sat there—sat on top of the very comfortable Ambassador.  Unaware, in fact, that it was the Ambassador.  Unaware and sitting in a comfortable way as the sweet water swam around me.  Unaware, of course, until the Ambassador made me aware of it with a move worthy of a biblical epic.  The water, every molecule of it—and there were many molecules, I must say, even given the shallowness of the river—probably at least two or three hundred of them; perhaps more!  Well, every one of those lifted out of its syrupy groove and flung themselves into the air like anxious little drops under a hand dryer.  They rose up—and I rose with them, in a constellation of fizz and steam.  It was difficult to see, actually, and did a hell of a number to the hair, so you can imagine it took a bit of time—a good period of it—just to recognize the Ambassador down there.  But when I did, it very well did me in!  Because what I saw, fifteen feet below, were five, ten—nay, fifteen!—little pairs of feet, each of them belonging to a baby chicken.  Marching, in as much as chickens can be made to march, at the command of Ambassador Revevevicez.  Marching forwards in the direction of the river, forwards like the river that, even with me in it, still followed along its appointed course fifteen feet above him.  I didn’t say a word; only listened to the funny sound of the water sounding funny as it twinkled in the air around me (a sound like lazy wind).  I didn’t dare draw attention, but in my mind I drew a picture of the Ambassador that was both more interesting to talk about and less likely to be talked about around him.  Luckily, I wasn’t around him.  I was fifteen feet above, floating, flowing where he walked.  Where he marched.  Where he created out of thin air, it seemed, his very own army of baby chickens.  The question I had: where were they going?  And what did they intend to do when they got there?

The Ravine Was A Slight Slope

The ravine was a slight slope of green grass, wet from the summer rains, cold with red syrup that seeped out of the earth from sweet roots of maple trees. It was this sweet root that bled into the water and turned the river into a putrid, syrupy color and that made the water run sweet and tasty and it was this river that I fell into with a heavy thud. It was not a deep river. It was a shallow river, and I landed hard and heavy.

Luckily the Ambassador broke my fall. 

Nobody Noticed

Unfortunately, nobody noticed for quite a period of time.  Yes, maple syrup is sweet—but have you seen a baby chicken?  Talk about sweet—right there in the cup of your hand! 

“Look at it!” Macie exclaimed.  

“Look at this guy!” Chevron seconded.  

“Look at mine!”  I demanded.  

Nobody looked anywhere but into the sweet beady eyes of their very own chick.  

“What should we call them?”  I asked.

“Chickens!”  Chevron shouted.  

Macie answered: “Mine is Selina Veronica West, Chevron’s is Seamus Bartholomew Gorsuch the III, and yours is Rick.”  

“Rick?!”  I smacked.  “Mine is not named Rick!”  

“Rick,” she said, addressing the chicken now.  “Your prattling owner is smattering and prattling once again.”  

“Don’t talk to him like that—”

“Rick,” she said.  

Not Rick!” 

“Rick, like me—you’ll just have to get used to it.”  

“Don’t listen to her, Rick,” I cupped my hands to shield its ears—though I wasn’t quite sure where the ears were.  This startled Rick, and he began to fight back.  And—I’m not embarrassed to say—he put up quite a fight.  “Ouch!  Ouch!  Owe!”  

“That’s the way, Rick,” she laughed.  And Chevron laughed too.  Macie and Chevron—and even Selina Veronica West and Seamus Bartholomew Gorsuch the III, they all were laughing at me.  Rick, too!  

Well…“I don’t have to put up with this,” I said.  I sat down right there (even though it was leafy and the leaves were muddy).  I plopped Rick onto the ground beside me and, with a dismissive wave of the hand—as they laughed it up— I pushed off and slid down into the ravine. 

Magic Tricks Are Usually Tricky

Magic tricks are usually tricky things but they aren’t as tricky as amateur magicians. Amateur magicians, like amateur musicians, will transform anything and everything into a show — or as I’d like to call it, a sordid affair. Ambassador Revevevicez was no exception. He took the chicken into his hands, dropped it into a large, pancake-shaped leaf he found, and then, with the wave of his hand, he extracted two chickens — then a third one — then a fourth. He distributed the chickens to each of us. 

“For every adventure,” he said, with a tilt of his head and his underbite of a smile. “For every adventure you need something to look after.”

“I thought it was you who I am looking after,” Chevron said. “That’s more than enough work.”

“Now you each have a baby chicken to look after,” he said and then he fell down a ravine into the River of Maple Syrup. 

A Look Askance

The baby chicken looked at me askance and I looked back.  We were two creatures who shared a celestial connection, as the first alien and the first human are likely to share; one built not on communal spirit, but selfsame experience: we were both completely confused by the other.  For me, that confusion expressed itself in a raised eyebrow—or, I must admit—a slacked and on-the-verge-of-drooling jaw.  For the chicken, that confusion was expressed like this: he bit me.

Now, I don't know if you've ever been bitten by a baby chicken but the fact that chickens are as rarefied as real customer service suggests to me that it is as foreign to you as the bite of an intergalactic alien.  Two words can sum up the experience: salubrious and yikes!

Salubrious for the pleasing lack of pain.  Yikes for the surprisingly painful result: the Ambassador exclaimed—"Ta da!"

Yes—the horror in Macie's eyes oozed—it was true.  It didn't seem possible, but the reality couldn't be avoided: in addition to serving as the most notorious autocrat in the land, Ambassador Revevevicez was an amateur magician.  It sent chills down the spine.

And the worst part: he was rather good at it.

If There's One Thing

If there's one thing that history has surely proven it’s that things never are the way you’d expect them to be. For instance, have you ever found that after waking up your day has suddenly turned into what could only be described as a well-plotted horror movie? These days are called Mondays and should be avoided at all costs. It was one of those moments, a moment I’ll refer to here as a Monday Moment, that occurred when I looked into the blue Tupperware container. There were supposed to be eggs in there. Perfectly, unpeppered, cooked eggs. What I found, was not at all what I was expecting. 

“What is this?” I asked and like a Looney Toon Cartoon that looked down when he shouldn’t have, the air from under me gave way and Gravity, who was minding her own business, suddenly noticed that I was trying to usurp her.  I came crashing down, Tupperware and all. Luckily, Chevron broke my fall. 

Without asking how I was, the Ambassador took the Tupperware from off the earth and eyed the contents suspiciously. 

“First,” he said. “These are still warm! Second, what’s this strange yellow thing?”

There are moments where confusion can breakaway to understanding—this was not one of them.

“It’s a baby chicken,” I said. 

“How? There were no uncracked eggs in there. Just unpeppered eggs that had been cooked.”

“I know, sir.”

“Well, you see what the problem is,” he said. “Don’t you?”

I shook my head. I didn't know.

The ambassador put his hand on my shoulder. 

“You kept them too warm," he said. 

To Understand

“To understand titanium levitation, you must first understand levitation.”  

“I do,” I said.

“Do you?”  

“I do.”  

“Show me,” Chevron said.  


“Levitate right here, right now,” Chevron demanded.  

I wasn’t one for demands, neither given nor received—I preferred requests.  Requests and proclamations.  But this was neither.  The tone was off.  The demand insulting.  So I refused it.  Outright.  

“I refuse,” I said.  

“Do you?” 

“I refuse to levitate,” I repeated.  And I very well meant it.  

Macie laughed.  “You couldn’t levitate if you wanted to.”  

“Well, I don’t want to—so the issue is moot.”  I crossed my arms…

And was suddenly airborne.  

Now, a very wise man once said the key to flying is to throw yourself at the ground and miss—but levitation wasn’t missing so much as being missiled from the ground altogether.  The feeling was one of a bounce without a spring, of the wind being knocked out of you and then—of a sudden—being in the wind.  And I was in the wind, now—rising rather uncomfortably high into the trees.  At fifteen feet, the tops of people’s heads appear strange—too flat, or too round, or too shiny.  At twenty, the ground becomes the strange one—patterns start to knit together: you see how this tree root connects with that one; how that path turns into this one; how grass blades melt into a lawn.  At thirty—well, at thirty the air itself begins to shake; breathing is difficult.  Your voice quivers and you feel as a body feels when it plunges into cold water—alone in the universe and utterly surrounded at the very same time. Thirty five feet and the screaming begins.  So it began with me.  

For a good while I listened to the scream more than anything else.  I was sure of nothing but that the screaming was my own.  Then, it wasn’t: “You’ve got it now, Kelvin!”  I looked down—far, far down, and the far-down Chevron looked back up at me.  He was screaming with laughter.   

“I hope you are pleased with yourself!”  I shouted.  

This only increased his screaming.  “I am pleased with you!”  

“Please!  Please!”  The Ambassador said in an all-too-pleasing tone.  In the tone of a request.  “Explain to him why you believe titanium levitation does not work right.” 

Chevron looked nervously at the Ambassador. “I didn’t mean that it did not work right, I meant—”

“Please!  Please!”  The Ambassador repeated.  “Explain.”  

“You see,” Chevron started.  “Everywhere throughout the land, the Ambassador has laid at various depths a coil of titanium piping—”

“In some places just a wire,” the Ambassador noted.  

“In some places just a wire—and down this wire and piping is sent a tremendous charge of pseudo-electrical current.  The current vibrates at a certain frequency of…what is the frequency, Ambassador?”  

“20 nits per…no, 20 thousand vibrations a…or is it 20 an hour so every 24…you know, I’m not certain.”  

“The current vibrates at a certain uncertain frequency,” Chevron continued.  “One that compliments the vibrational frequency of all matter in the vicinity.  Compliments it—or rejects it.  Depending on the master approval list.  Isn’t that right, Ambassador?”  

“Plus or minus a few objects, yes.”  The Ambassador confirmed.  

"Objects that are approved adhere to the ground just as gravity would like," Chevron said.  

"Objects that aren't approved are repelled from the ground just as I would like," the Ambassador said.  

“Unless they're eggs,” Macie interjected...And immediately rejected.  

The Ambassador shot a glance her way.  Had he found us out at last?  Had she ruined everything by mentioning the now-confirmed power of eggs over titanium levitation?    

Then he looked up at me and smiled: “Oh!  You have the eggs; thank goodness!”  

He was right!  In horror I looked down at the pack I was holding.  If the eggs couldn’t resist the power of titanium levitation after all, what hope did civilization have to resist the power of the Ambassador?  As I floated there, thirty five feet over the still-strange looking blobs of hair, I tore open my jacket, pulled apart the Tupperware and gazed wide-eyed inside.