Journal

Resurrecting Justice for the Realm

Marla Tipley stood on tiptoes, feeling around the top shelf for a jar of firenewt spines. “I know it was up here, just yesterday, I — Ah ha!” she said, pulling a green clay jar off the shelf.

“Drat!” Marla slammed the jar on the counter. “Any chance maggot tongues would work?”

Vork, cloaked in his heavy hooded cloak, despite the summer heat, shook his head.

“Doesn’t hurt to ask, does it?” Marla said, climbing on a stool to search the shelf.

Vork despised coming to Marla’s Magik Makings for his potion supplies. Not only did Marla overcharge for commonplace magical items, the shop was a disorganized mess. He preferred Petra’s Potion Emporium two towns over, but the corpse laying in his cavern wouldn’t keep in the summer heat, while he traveled there and back.

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A fire newt prior to de-spining

“Ah! Here we go, spine of firenewt! Somehow it ended up behind the bottle of swamprat urine,” Marla said, pulling a blue clay jar from the shelf and setting it next to the green one already on the counter.

 

“So let’s see. That’s one jar of firenewt spines and jar of maggot tongues,” Marla said, totaling the amounts on a pad of paper.

“Only the firenewt spines,” Vork said, pushing the maggot tongues away.

“I could have sworn you said—“

“Only the firenewt spines,” he repeated, placing a skinless hand on the blue jar.

Marla flinched seeing the hand. “Yes, of course. Just the jar of firenewt spines,” she mumbled, crossing maggot tongues off the bill of sale. “One silver.”

Vork dropped his last silver on the counter, stowed the blue jar in a pocket of his cloak, and left the shop.

“Creep,” Marla muttered, biting down on the silver coin.

Vork drifted through town, relishing the aversion people showed as he passed. Normally he would drift past the church, giving the pastor cause to pray, and by the schoolhouse, just to hear the children weep, but Vork was in a hurry.

Despite his urgency, Vork made sure to pass the Muller farm, where he stopped and whispered a short incantation. The cows lowed; inside the barn Leslie shouted, “Dammit, Vork, stop spoiling the milk!”

He whispered another incantation. The cows lowed a second time.

“Thank you, you skinless gimp!” Leslie shouted.

Vork would have smiled if he had lips and continued on. He’d visit with Leslie after resurrecting the corpse and returning it to the capital.

Up the road, he entered the woods. While walking the mile to his Cavern of Doom, he took time to enjoy the terrified silence of the birds. Simple pleasures were difficult to come by these days.

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Vork’s Castle of Doom – the potential for water damage is apparent in this picture

Vork’s troubles began when his Castle of Doom collapsed, several months earlier. While the townspeople whispered hell had swallowed the castle, but spit Vork back to earth, the truth was foundational water damage had caused a sinkhole to form. One evening while Vork was gathering bandit spleens by moonlight, the castle, most of his magical items, and his entire fortune had sunk into the earth.

 

Leslie Muller had been kind enough to let Vork stay in her home until he found the cavern in the woods.

But replacing everything he lost was costly and work had been hard to come by.

Bitter townsfolk requested minor hexes, giving Vork enough work to keep tea in the pot and bread on the table, but not enough to conduct his hellish endeavors and buy a nice cottage where he could invite Leslie Muller to dinner.

So Vork sent notices out to town boards throughout the Realm, offering competitive rates for malevolent magic and nefarious necromancy.

Vork heard somewhere alliteration sells.

He didn’t receive replies to his posts until a lucrative offer appeared on his doorstep three days earlier, followed by the corpse delivery last night.

Vork entered his cave and found the muddy potion in his cauldron had slowed to a simmer.

Vork added lilac wood to the fire and, after a few puffs from the magic bellows he had stolen from the Volcano of Shoo, the cauldron bubbled back to life.

Then Vork checked the corpse.

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The bloated corpse on Vork’s cavern floor

The corpse was overripe when it had arrived last night. Vork should have performed the spell immediately, but it was only after the corpse’s arrival Vork realized he was out of firenewt spines.

 

The morning’s heat had sped the body’s decay. Originally bloated and fishbelly grey, the corpse’s palor had risen to that of a sickly flan. Vork pressed a bony finger against the corpse’s stomach and found its consistency matched its color.

Vork calculated he had less than an hour before resurrection was no longer viable.

Vork wiped his flan-flesh coated finger on his robe and returned to the bubbling cauldron.

He took the clay jar of firenewt spines out of his pocket and pulled out the cork topper.

Vork dropped five firenewt spines in the cauldron. Their addition released a puff of green smoke, turning the brown brew red.

Vork began the first incantation. The lilac flames blazed up and over the cauldron and disappeared. An icy chill entered the cavern; frost formed on the walls.

Vork dipped a vial in the cauldron, filling it with the bubbling red resurrection potion.

He moved the ceremony to the corpse, chanting the second incantation, and poured the vial’s contents in the corpse’s mouth.

Then… Nothing happened.

Vork waited.

He poked the corpse – his finger sunk to the knuckle in its flan-like side.

Vork grumbled.

Possibly the firenewt spines were past their expiration date. Perhaps the corpse was no longer viable.

Or perhaps the spell needed time to work. The corpse was fairly dead.

So Vork made himself a pot of cucumber-lemongrass tea and waited to see if the resurrection would occur.

*             *             *

“Habeas Corpus!” the corpse shouted, jolting up from the floor. He then fell to the left and flopped aimlessly around on the floor like a fish in a dry barrel.

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Vork received this tea set as a graduation present from his mother

Vork picked up his green ceramic tea set, rinsed to pot and cup, and put them away.

Then he got his bag of traveling powder, whispered the incantation, and tossed a pinch of dust in the air between the corpse and himself.

The dust swirled and grew.

“Cloud!” the corpse shouted, as the traveling spell enveloped them both.

“Yes, cloud,” Vork muttered, as they disappeared from the cavern.

“What is the meaning of this?” Senator Wallpot shouted at the two men who suddenly appeared in the center of her office. One could have been the grim reaper while the other flopped helplessly on the floor.

“Justice Briff!” Senator Wallpot said, recognizing the flopping guest.

“Stare decisis!” the judge shouted, before rolling over and vomiting a pile of maggots out on the carpet.

“He… doesn’t look like himself,” the Senator said, looking down at the bloated, flan-like justice, who was currently picking through the pile of maggots.

“His coloring will improve with time. As for the rest of it…” Vork shrugged.

“I need to get him in his seat before the Queen nominates a replacement. Otherwise Justice Briff can no longer hold his seat on the high court,” the Senator said.

“Resurrection is dicey. You get, what you get,” Vork replied.

“Argle bargle!” Justice Briff screamed.

“Yes… well I suppose he’s already sounding more like himself,” the Senator chuckled. “And political beggars can’t be choosers. As promised, here is your payment,” Senator Wallpot pulled a sack of silver from her desk drawer and handed it to the wizard.

In exchange, Vork gave the Senator a scroll of instructions on dealing with the resurrected.

The Senator reviewed the scroll.

“He eats brains now?” she asked.

“Brains!” Justice Briff shouted, grabbing the hem of Vork’s cloak and putting it in his mouth.

“Legal minds will keep him current,” Vork replied, pulling his cloak from the justice’s mouth.

“I suppose there are enough lawyers in the Capital to keep him fed for a lifetime. Thank you for your service to the Realm and the Congressional party,” Senator Wallpot said, stowing the scroll in her desk drawer.

“Think nothing of it,” Vork replied, pulling the bag of traveling powder from his robe, and disappearing from the room.

The Senator helped the high court justice to his feet.

“Brains?” the justice asked, pulling at the Senator’s hair.

“Bradford!” the Senator yelled.

“Yes?” her assistant asked, hurrying into her office. A look of revolted surprised crossed his face, but he quickly covered and said, “Justice Briff, nice to see you again, sir.”

“Yarg,” the justice responded.

“Bradford, you attended law school, didn’t you?” the Senator asked.

“Yes, ma’am. Top of my class.”

“Wonderful! Please come in and shut the door.”

The Queen’s Corgi Conspiracy

Holy Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics! There’s actually a 0th Law of Thermodynamics because science gives zero math fucks!

I sat down this morning to write a titillating piece on science’s sciency discovery of gravitational waves and how freaking lame everyone is for getting excited about this.

But while researching (aka procrastinating) I discovered a conspiracy so deep, I had to turn to Wikiepedia for insight.

The Shitsticle That is Queen Elizabeth’s Dog Collection

For those not in the know, as I was until about three minutes ago when I checked Wikipedia, She-Of-Many-Hats has three breeds of dogs: corgis, cocker spaniels, and dorgis.

I, like you — unless you’re British and care for such things — thought the Queen only owned corgis. I also, like you, thought dorgis were a family of house elves in the Harry Potter series.

“So, she owns three types of dogs. There’s no conspiracy in that, Cole.”

Well, no freaking duh, Aunt Regina! It’s what further research of these dogs uncovered.

Stick with me and hold onto your bloomers.

HRH’s Corgi Collection

According to Wikipedia, at last count, the Queen owned five corgis. This “last count” caveat is important, since the last count was as of 2007. Nearly a decade has passed and no one has any clue how many corgis the Queen has, except maybe HRH herself.

And she’s keeping that shit off Wikipedia.

Why?

Oh, there’s a reason…

And his name is Monty.

The Queen’s five corgis are named, innocently enough: Monty, Emma, Linnet, Willow, and Holly.

Now aside from naming her dog Linnet, nothing seems particularly askew here.

Until Wikipedia, bastion of all temporal knowledge, goes on to explain the following:

“Monty, Willow and Holly appeared in the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony when James Bond (portrayed by Daniel Craig) arrived at Buckingham Palace to escort the Queen to the event. Monty had previously belonged to the Queen Mother, and died soon after in September 2002.”

Did you catch that? No?

That’s because the Queen’s guards fucked around with the order of information so the timeline isn’t clear. Let me untangle this little fuckery for you.

2002 – Monty dies, soon after the Queen Mum passes.
2007 – Monty is one of Queen EII’s five corgis.
2012 – Monty appears next to Daniel ‘slab of carved beef’ Craig in the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony.

If you’re like me, I don’t have to tell you what this means.

Which is why I’ll tell you, because you aren’t like me, you poor, silly, naïve bastard.

Queen Elizabeth is dead!

“Wait, Cole, how do you figure that?”

Thought experiment time!

You’re one of the Queen’s handmaidens. One morning you come in and find her facedown in a bowl of Fruit Loops. What is your first thought?

Exactly!

Wait, you didn’t figure it out?

Fine, I’ll spoonfeed it to you.

“Oh, shit! She of the lesser hat game is gonna be Queen.”

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Camilla Parker Bowles wearing a Texas Steakhouse centerpiece as a hat

As handmaiden to the Queen, you call all of England’s top scientists together and explain what’s at stake. Then you say, “You have two hours before the Duke of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall show up for breakfast. Fix this!”

So the scientist go all Newtown’s Law and build a time grabber.

“Cole, what’s a time grabber?”

Seriously? Take a high school science class.

A time grabber is like this:

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A grabber

Except it reaches through time to pluck back the thing, or person, you want.

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QEII toileting with Monty AND frozen in carbonite

So the scientists build the world’s first time grabber, reach back, and pluck a living Queen Elizabeth off the potty and bring her back thirty seconds before Charles and Camilla walk through the door.

Only the Queen happened to be holding Monty, the aforementioned dead corgi, on her lap while toileting.

Why would she do that?

She’s royal. Don’t ask stupid questions.

I know what you’re thinking…

“But, Cole, this seems highly likely. The cost of maintaining a quantum grabbed person, let alone person and dog combo, in the present day would be astronomical!”

I appreciate your economical savvy set-up for my transition to…

The Cocker Spaniels

You’re absolutely right, of course. Without the funds to support a quantum grabbed Queen, HRH would be sucked back to October 2002 where she came from.

Which is why Buckingham Palace is now home to five cocker spaniels.

Some people think cocker spaniels ground the quantumly kidnapped in the present day. Those people have no understanding of the basics of science caninery.

If you want a dog breed to ground the quantumly kidnapped in the present, you use finnish spitzes. But that’s a rare dog breed, even for a Queen, so instead you need a lot of money to pay the electric bill needed to maintain the temporal shell surrounding the Madam of Monarchy.

“But, Cole! She has a lot of cash, she’s the Queen!”

Yes, but remember, she doesn’t want Charles or Camilla knowing about this. So a secret stash of quantum maintanence cash is necessary.

So what do you do?

Get five cocker spaniels and sell their naming rights to large corporations.

“Cole, that’s ridiculous. You can’t prove it.”

Oh yeah?

Well, the Queen’s c-spans are named: Bisto, Oxo, Flash, Spick, and Span.

I know, now you think I’m fucking with you.

But I swear to Almighty Schrodinger, this shit is real.

Bisto – a British food company
Oxo – another British food company
Flash – a Marvel superhero… or DC hero… or a WB coming of age character
Spick ’n Span – a cleaning product from Prestige Brands

Now I’ve only done some back of the napkin math on this, but those four brands over five dogs is more than enough to fund a quantum shell maintainment unit.

And if prices go up, she can just add a sixth cocker spaniel named, Beepee.

Now onto the dorgis… the unintended consequences of a quantum grab.

Dorgis

According to Wikipedia, a dorgi is not a house elf, but a corgi-dachschund hybrid.

Yeah, like we’re going to believe there enough people are standing around saying, “I want my corgi to have shorter legs and a longer spine, dachschundize-it!” to require a brand new breed of dog.

Here’s a picture of a dorgi:

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The dorgi, suspiciously nothing like J.K. Rowling’s house elves.

I’ll admit, it looks like a dog, but there’s not an ounce of dachshund to be seen.

If anything, this is a corgi-Russell Tovey hybrid.

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Corgi
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Russell Tovey

A bunch of furries just melted.

Anyways…

Dorgis are neither of the aforementioned hybrids, but a parallel universe version of the corgi.

“Wait, Cole, you lost us!”

Seriously, what were you doing during high school science?

In science, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

“So?”

Sigh… Fine, I’ll spoonfeed this to you.

Action: Pull Monty from historical timeline and hold him in the present.

Reaction: Alternate universe corgis come into the present to prevent an imbalance in the Force.

“Wait, Cole, that makes absolutely no—“

Ssshhh… Thinking too much hurts the brain.

But that leaves a looming question. If pulling Monty into the present pulled four alternate universe dorgis into the present, what was pulled through to balance out the presence of the Queen?

The house elf version of the Queen, of course:

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For the old people out there, this is One Direction. They broke up to pursue their Royal House Elf ambitions.

The Accountability of We

“Mommy! Watch!”

Zoe lifted her sunglasses so Barnaby could see she was watching and said, “Go ahead, baby!”

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A stock photo of a beach resort.

Barnaby, who wasn’t yet 3, crouched, wiggled his butt, and jumped into the pool where Bill caught him before he went under.

“Good job!” Zoe said, clapping.

Bill smiled and waved. Zoe waved back. Then he turned and crossed the resort’s pool giving Zoe a few minutes to relax in the sun.

The vacation was Bill’s idea. He planned everything, even booking first class tickets for both of them.

“I can fly down there and save us—“

“No way! I want you next to Barnaby and me the whole time. We like your company,” Bill said, kissing her on the forehead.

Zoe liked hearing that. She work had eaten up a lot of their time together.

All Zoe needed to do was request time off work and enjoy her vacation.

“Another daiquari, ma’am?” the waiter asked.

“Please,” Zoe said, settling back in the lounge chair and closing her eyes.

Nearby someone whispered, “Look at that!”

Zoe heard gasps and murmuring; then the familiar click of high-heeled boots. ‘How were those even useful footwear for a superhero?’ Zoe often wondered.

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Image of Flying Girl from her short lived clipart comic.

“Thermo?” Flying Girl asked.

Zoe sighed and opened her eyes. “Use my real name when I’m not in costume.”

“It’s a Code Burgundy,” Flying Girl said, ignoring the reprimand. She tossed her hair so it gently bobbed in the breeze.

Zoe considered Flying Girl a sanctimonious tool.

But with a Code Burgundy, Zoe couldn’t ignore her, even on vacation.

She spotted Bill swimming towards them, with Barnaby on his back. A knowing and disappointed look on his face.

Before Zoe offered her usual apologetic look, Bill shrugged and gave a half-smile of understanding which said, “If it weren’t for the health insurance…”

Zoe crooked her lip in response: “Damn benefits.”

Bill blew her a kiss, turned, and swam Barnaby off to the other side of the pool so he wouldn’t see mom leave. Hopefully she would be back before Barnaby woke up from his nap.

“Thermo, there’s no time to waste,” Flying Girl said, placing her fists on her hips.

“You’re single, aren’t you, Jennifer?” Thermo said, standing up. Before Flying Girl responded, Thermo flashed into the sky, leaving a pair of burnt footprints on the cement deck.

Flying Girl glanced around, seeing if anyone heard Thermo’s revealation of her secret identity. She would file a grievance as soon as she got back to the office.

Twenty minutes later, Thermo, in full costume, strode into the conference room.

“Thermo, glad you made it.” said the Purple Decree, who sat in his usual spot at the head of the table. Mike, the Middle Manager, sat to his right. “I trust you’ve been briefed on the situation?”

“No, I was poolside at the resort when Flying Girl notified me. There wasn’t time for an update,” Thermo said, hoping she accented the words ‘poolside’ and ‘resort’ without coming across as passive-aggressive.

“Then let’s jump in,” the Purple Decree said. “Mike, bring us up to speed.”

By ‘us,’ he meant ‘her.’

“Happily,” Mike said, connecting his laptop to the projector and dimming the lights.

Thermo maintained a corporately passive look, despite finding her vacation cut short to view one of Mike’s powerpoint presentations.

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Buffalo Before

“Approximately ten hours ago, Buffalo, was wiped off the map,” Mike said. A picture of Buffalo’s former downtown flashed on the screen.

“What happened?” Thermo asked, concerned since Buffalo was a major city in her portfolio.

“That’s what we’d like to know,” the Purple Decree replied. “Mike, please continue.”

“We don’t know what destroyed it? Do we have anyone on the ground?” Thermo asked.

“Of course we know how it was destroyed. We’re here to figure out what happened,” the Purple Decree replied.

Thermo felt her temperature rise, but kept her questions to herself.

The screen changed. Security camera footage showed beasts rampaging through Buffalo.

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Photo of a space yeti attacking the mayor of Buffalo and a woodsman

“Approximately 16 hours ago, space yeti attacked and ultimately destroyed the city,” Mike said.

The screen changed again to read: “Thank You! Compiled by Mike Glaston, Middle Manager.”

The lights came back on.

“What happened when they attacked?” Thermo asked.

“We’ll let Mary Preston explain. Dial her in, Mike,” the Purple Decree said.

Mary Preston, Assistant City Manager of Buffalo, and Thermo’s primary contact on the account picked up on the second ring.

“Hello? Ms. Preston? This is the Purple Decree at Heroes Inc. I’m sitting with Mike, the Middle Manager, and Thermo to figure out exactly what went wrong.”

“I’ll tell you what went wrong. No one did their jobs! I must have called three dozen times and sent no less than fifteen urgent emails, but Thermo did not respond! Now everyone is dead and I’m out of a job!” Preston shouted.

“Mary, I’m so sorry. I’m not sure what happened—“ Thermo began, but got cut off.

“Like always, you were unresponsive!” Preston snapped.

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The conference phone used to call Mary Preston, former Assistant City Manager of Buffalo

“I’m not sure when you feel I’ve been unresponsive before, but this time I was on vacation. The Warlord Warrior was covering all of my accounts. Perhaps if we could—“

“How am I supposed to know the Waylaid Warfarer is covering your accounts? All I know is I called and emailed and got no response!”

Thermo took a deep breath, avoiding eye contact with Mike and the Purple Decree.

“When we spoke on our call last week, I mentioned I’d be out of the office. My voicemail and the out of office message on my email—“

“Buffalo was destroyed and you’re referring me to an out-of-office email! Are you saying this is MY fault?” Preston shouted.

“No one is saying anything of the sort,” the Purple Decree said, stepping in. “I heartily agree, Ms. Preston, now is not the time to get mired in details. We should be figuring out who is accountable for this disaster.”

Thermo felt her temperature rise.

“It’s good someone at your organization is willing to take responsibility! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to dig through the rubble that was once my house,” Mary Preston said before hanging up.

“It sounds as if Ms. Preston attempted to contact us,” the Purple Decree said.

‘Me,’ Thermo wanted to say. ‘She attempted to contact me,’ but instead said, “I can bring up the emails and voicemails.”

“No need,” the Purple Decree said. “As long as you’re sure you set your out-of-office messages?”

“I am,” Thermo said, failing to keep the annoyance from her voice.

“I’ll trust your word on that,” the Purple Decree replied. “Did you follow protocol of having all emails forwarded to your backup?”

“Of course. The Warlord Warrior and I tested it last week before I left. Perhaps if he joined us we could—“

“Oh, he’s dead. He was killed in an assault by Cheethor two days ago,” Mike, the Middle Manager, said.

“Ah, yes. I remember the email,” the Purple Decree said.

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The Warlord Warrior, while good at his job, had many cultural sensitivity trainings with HR

Thermo lifted her mask, staring at the two buffoons across the table. “Warlord is dead?” she asked, enunciating each word. She steam hissed through her ear canals.

“Yes, didn’t you read my email?” Mike asked.

“Nevermind that. I’m concerned about what happened in Buffalo,” the Purple Decree said. “Tell me, Thermo, how do you think we can do better for our clients?”

There was the ‘we’ again.

“The Warlord Warrior was dead and I was on vacation. Who was supposed to cover an attack on Buffalo, or any of my clients for that matter?” Thermo asked, a puff of black smoke escaping her left nostril.

“Thermo… Zoe, this sounds like a problem instead of a solution,” the Purple Decree said, folding his hands on the table.

“I’m just pointing out a possible procedural breakdown, if we don’t have a failsafe for a vacationing, or dead, superhero this could happen again,” Thermo replied, clenching her teeth.

“We have a plan. When a superhero leaves the company, their Middle Manager assigns their workload,” Purple Decree replied.

“So Mike was supposed to delegate the workload?” Thermo asked.

Convincing Barnaby to eat his peas or Bill she needed to work late was easier than this conversation.

“We’re not looking to point fingers, Thermo,” Purple Decree replied.

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A sample expense report

“And I’ve been swamped compiling expense reports. There just aren’t enough hours in the day,” Mike replied. “It’s why I depend on my colleagues to be independent.”

“Independent?” Thermo repeated, as the back of her chair began melting.

“See, Thermo? If we don’t support each other cities, lives, and accounts will be lost. We need independent, outside-the-box thinkers who can work beyond protocol. Buffalo is a sad reminder of what happens if we don’t. So I would like you and Mike to come up with a workable solution for future breakdowns of this sort—“

“Purple Decree, I have a suggestion,” Mike, the Middle Manager, said.

“Oh good! Thank you, Mike, for bringing forth a solution for Thermo’s oversight. What are you thinking?” the Purple Decree asked, swiveling in his chair so his back was to Thermo.

“Perhaps if Thermo, or any superhero really, is out of the office, they should be expected to check their email and voicemail on a regular basis. This way they’ll always be up to speed on what’s going on and can plan accordingly. If Thermo had been aware the Warlord Warrior was dead, she could have made alternate accommodations for her clients,” Mike replied.

“Wonderful idea, Mike! And thank you for offering us a solution. How often would you recommend heroes check-in?” the Purple Decree asked.

“I don’t think more than once an hour is necessary,” Mike replied.

“Once an hour!” Thermo exploded, quite literally in a blinding flash of heat and light. Fortunately the conference room at Heroes Inc. is outfitted against such internal disasters, as it’s often used by HR for layoffs.

Shielded from Thermo’s explosion, the Purple Decree and Mike gave her a moment to pull herself together.

“I’m sure you understand what a privilege it is to work here,” the Purple Decree said.

“Of course, and I’m sorry for my outburst,” Thermo said, sounding as apologetic as a volcano. “Now, Mike, who will be backing up my other clients for the rest of my vacation?”

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The Corpulent Corporal’s algae monster attacking a now forgotten city

“As the Warlord Warrior’s backup, I’m sure you understand we’ll need you in the office. I’ve gotten word a giant algae mass has been spotted off the coast of Portland, and—”

“But my vacation—“

Purple Decree lifted a finger. “I’m sure you understand how, after the incident with Buffalo, vacation time should not be your first priority.”

Mardi Gras Is A Contact Sport

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Step right up and try to take on New Orleans Mardi Gras!

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Welcome, welcome, welcome to Carnivale Cole’s Mardi Gras Pitching Contest! Step right up and show off your strength and accuracy! Prove your skills to that lovely lady or gentleman in your life. Win them beads! A stuffed animal! Or any number of wonderous prizes.

Who will be the first to show us what sort of king cake they’re made of?

You, sir! Thank you very much. Step right up.

Let’s all give him a round of applause!

Now sir, let me start you off with 5 3-lb bags of beads. We’ll put you on this parade float and get you traveling down the street.

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I got photobombed as I tried to take a picture pointing at the mansion in the background. Two minutes later, I snagged a bag of beads before they crushed this lady’s head.

Up ahead, you’ll see people standing on platforms and ladders. Knock down at least 3 people and win this amazing stuffed elephant for your lady friend!

Okay ladies and gentlemen, hee went for the college girl on the foot-width platform. Good choice, she had nowhere to dive!

Oh! A near hit! Unfortunately the bag exploded on a ladder showering everyone with beads.

Bonus points for hitting someone already standing on the ground! They crumpled like a wet paper bag!

He must be getting desperate! He went for the baby carriage! Too bad it’s empty! A ruse de guerre!

Last chance, who will he go for?

The gentleman on the ladder who, it seems, was not quite as drunk as our contestant assumed! The man on the ladder caught the bag! No points awarded.

Thank you, sir for playing! Better luck next time!

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For those who don’t know, this is a king cake. It is amazing. You should trade your first-born in for one immediately.

 

 

The City of Narr

Inside the sacred tent, Sev the Barbarian knelt before the tribe’s high priest. The sacred fire of Galeth burned behind him and illuminated the priest’s face.

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Sev during his brief modeling career at the Tom Fjord agency.

“Sev, Seventh Child of the Seventh Leader of the Seventh Tribe, do you accept your fate as the one foretold?”

Sev, born into prophecy, without any say in the matter, knew only one answer. He was, and always would be, the Seventh Child of the Seventh Leader of the Seventh Tribe.”

“I accept,” Sev answered, bowing his head to his knee.

“Bring forth the Spear of Galeth!” the high priest shouted.

Four of the Seventh Tribe’s strongest warriors carried the Ark of the Spear into the sacred tent and placed the stone case behind the high priest. The priest placed his hand on the Ark, reciting the incantation of Fenault. The Ark’s lid glowed pink and opened.

“Sev, the Seventh child, retrieve your destiny!”

Sev took Galeth’s spear from the Ark. The tribe cheered.

Sev held the spear for all to see, speaking the ceremonial words ingrained upon him since birth.

“Today we ride across the unclaimed desert to the Cavern of Moore! And with the swiftness of Galeth, we will stop Boh’s awakening!”

***

 

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Downtown Narr, built directly on top of the Cavern of Moore

During the reign of King Bluthmarn III, the city of Narr was the pinnacle of culture, society, and architecture. Glass spires rose high above the marble walls surrounding the city. Poets, musicians, and fashion designers of any historical note resided inside its walls. Famed merchant houses for textiles, jewelry, and spices headquartered in Narr.

Anyone who was anyone came to Narr to walk its flagstone streets and soak up its culture.

And protecting the Realm’s richest city was a red and white guardhouse just outside the city’s main gate.

And inside the guardhouse, reading today’s newspaper, sat Daris the guard.

“Good morning, Daris!”

Daris looked up from the paper and found Alice Preston learning through the gatehouse window.

“Ms. Preston! Good morning! Lovely day!” Daris said, quickly folding up the paper, and brushing off his epaulettes.

“It is, isn’t it? Are you going to see the Harlequins’ show tonight?” Alice asked, referring to famed traveling circus.

Darius puffed out his chest. “I’ll be guarding the city.”

“Oh, poop. I hoped you’d join me. Perhaps another night,” Alice said, pouting her lips.

“I… would like that,” Daris said, allowing a brief, unprofessional smile to touch his lips.

“Wonderful! Well, I should get to work,” Alice said, turning to the road out of Narr. “Have a wonderful…”

Alice paused, squinting at the horizon. “What do you suppose that is?” she asked, pointing.

Daris leaned out the guardhouse window and caught a whiff of Alice’s mulberry perfume. He followed her gaze. In the distance, a cloud of dust tumbled towards the city.

“Better get inside the gate, Ms. Preston. This could be trouble.”

“Be careful, Daris,” Alice said, touching his arm before hurrying back to the safety of the city’s walls.

Daris ordered the gate closed.

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A portrait honoring Daris Aubergarde for his heroic saving of Narr.

Crowds gathered inside the gate and on the city walls. People whispered about the cloud. They asked Daris what he thought it was, but he simply picked up his paper and continued reading.

“He’s so brave. He’s not worried,” Alice said to those around her.

“We have nothing to fear with Daris at the gate!” someone else shouted.

Three cheers rose for Daris, then everyone waited to see what trouble the dust cloud would bring.

Hoofbeats rumbled across the plain. The cloudy shadows took shape. The people of Narr leaned forward, shouting descriptions, and wondering why barbarians approached.

Daris continued reading his newspaper.

The Seventh Tribe stopped a hundred yards from the gate. A single barbarian detached himself from the horde and rode to the red and white guardhouse.

Sev held the Spear of Galeth aloft and shouted, “I am—“

“State your business,” Daris muttered, folding his paper.

“Excuse me?” Sev asked, turning to look at the squat man in a box.

“State. Your. Business.” Daris repeated, enunciating each word.

“To… uh… I’m sorry, this is throwing me off a bit. I have a whole speech I’m supposed to give and—“

“Business! State it,” Daris said, slapping the paper down.

“Yes, sorry. To prevent the awakening of the demigod, Boh,” Sev replied.

Daris pulled out a clipboard and began flipping pages. “Boh… Boh… I’m sorry, I’m not seeing anything. Do you have any paperwork?”

“Paperwork?” Sev asked, glancing back at the high priest who, very unhelpfully, shrugged.

“Yes. Travel papers, state of work, seal of someone or another perhaps?” Daris asked, counting the options off on his fingers.

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The Spear of Galeth, currently stored in the Hogarth Museum of Supernatural Weaponry, is rather unimpressive looking.

“I have the Spear of Galeth. Would that work?” Sev asked, holding out the spear.

“A weapon? Are you threatening me?”

The Narrian crowds booed.

“No. Absolutely not. I’ve taken a vow to save your city and the world. I would never…” Sev said, quickly putting the spear behind his back.

“I believe I can help, my Noble Sagewent,” a voice squawked from inside the horde.

Sev turned atop his horse and watched the horde part, letting through a tiny, old woman, loaded down by several leather satchels.

“Who are you?” Sev asked, having never seen this member of his tribe before.

“Madal, the bureaucrat, oh Noble Sagewent,” Madal said, approaching the guardhouse, while rifling through one of her seven satchels.

“Bureaucrat?” Sev repeated.

“I file forms, licenses, camping permits, and the like so no one else has to. All the stuff that takes away from the splendor of barbaring,” Magal said, before poking her head into one of the sacks.

“All hail, the bureaucrat!” Sev shouted.

“All hail!” the horde shouted in response.

“Oh! Haha, very funny,” Magal said, pulling a small leather purse from the third satchel. She walked to the guardhouse, stepping between Sev and Daris.

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Magal’s paperwork was legendary and is considered, even today, the gold standard which all bureaucrats should strive to emulate.

“Now then, I think you’ll find everything in order. Here is our invitation from the mayor and the King of the Realm to stop Boh’s awakening. Our license to fight beings up to, and including, demigod status. A permit to bring supernatural weapons into the city. And camping permits for outside the walls. Should we just set up camp over there?” Magal asked, pointing to a smattering of tents east of the city.

Daris grunted, shuffling through the paperwork. Unfortunately, everything was in order. Magal even had triplicate copies of the supernatural weapons permit for filing with the guardhouse, the armory, and cathedral.

With the entire city watching, Daris had no choice but to allow a horde of barbarians inside.

“I’m sorry. No,” Daris said, handing the paperwork back.

“No?” Magal said, glancing through the paperwork. “But I don’t understand.”

“My job is to protect the city. I do not believe barbarians have a place here,” Daris said, loudly so the citizens of Narr could hear.

Many cheered.

“But we have the proper paperwork. I went through the proper channels and—“

“I have the Spear of Galeth!” Sev shouted, raising the spear over his head.

“That’s fine, dear, but right now we need to get this cleared up,” Magal said, patting the Sagewent’s leg. “Now then, what can we do to make this happen?”

“I’m sorry, but I do this for Narr!” Daris said, raising his chin with pride.

“We have followed all laws and completed all paperwork,” Magal said, holding out the paperwork for Daris to take.

Daris struggled. Magal was correct, they had followed the law and had the correct paperwork… But they did not have his blessing.

“There… are… laws… greater than those of men,” Daris said, bowing his head and performing the sign of the circle.

“Greater than… Excuse me?” Magal asked.

“Daris! Daris what are you doing? Let them in!”

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The last known election poster of Mayor Trutt.

Daris leaned out the guardhouse window, pushing past Magal, and saw Narr’s mayor standing behind the gate.

“Mayor Trutt! Hello! Never fear, I’ll keep these heathens out of the city!” Daris shouted, saluting the mayor.

“Let them in you buffoon! The prophesy says Boh will rise any moment. His awakening will destroy the city!” Trutt yelled. “And will someone open this damned gate!”

Daris looked at the citizens watching him from the walls and the crowd behind the gate.

He looked at Alice.

In her eyes, in all their eyes, he saw the same thing.

Fear.

“Belay that order!” Daris shouted. “Only the guard of the gate may order the gate opened! I’m sorry, Mayor, but my duty must come first!”

The citizens of Narr cheered.

The mayor, surprised at the reaction, took a moment to realign himself with his constituency as there was an election fast approaching.

“Perhaps if you came back tomorrow? We appreciate your urgency, but we need time to discuss the pros and cons,” Mayor Trutt shouted to the barbarians.

“The pros and cons? But your city will be destroyed!” Sev shouted.

“Yes, yes. You’ve been very clear about that. I’m just not sure we believe you,” Daris said. “Honestly, in all the years I’ve lived in Narr, we’ve never had a demigod awaken.”

“Yes, but the Cavern of Moore—“

“Please go.”

“But—“

“Now.”

Sev sighed.

Magal returned the paperwork to her third satchel.

“Have a nice day and thank you for visiting Narr,” Daris said.

“Yeah, sure,” Sev said, turning to ride off.

“One moment,” Magal said, digging through her sixth satchel and pulling out a scroll. “I’ll need each of you to sign the refusal of services contract. Basically releasing the Seventh Tribe from any damage, disaster, or death resulting from not fulfilling the prophecy. If you could sign here, here, and… well, next to each X, we’ll be on our way.”

Daris snatched the scroll and signed his name next to each X, feeling the paperwork undermined his impressive display of heroism for Narr.

“I’ll need a copy of this for our files,” Daris said, handing back the scroll.

“Of course,” Magal said, handing the scroll to Sev.

Sev signed on the lines marked, “Prophesy Filler,” and handed the scroll back to Magal.

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The Seventh Tribe’s copy of Narr’s Refusal of Services contract.

Magal whispered an incantation older than the one used for opening the Ark of Spear. The scroll glowed green and a second version of the signed scroll appeared next to the first.

“Here’s your copy. Make sure to file it with your Hall of Records and—“

“I know the procedure for filing forms with the city,” Daris snapped, taking the scroll.

“Of course you do. Now, I suppose we should be on our way, my Noble Sagewent?” Magal said, turning to Sev.

“I suppose we should,” Sev said, shouldering the Spear of Galeth.

“Don’t forget to come by tomorrow after we have this all sorted!” Mayor Trutt shouted.

But the barbarian horde had turned and was already riding back across the Narrian plains.

Daris stepped out of the guardhouse, watching the retreating horde’s dust. Then he turned to the people of Narr.

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The people of Gesthalt re-enacting the Narrian people’s excitement when Daris turned the Seventh Tribe away.

“Ladies and Gentlemen of Narr! Today is an important day. A day we have saved our children from—“

The ground shook. Daris stumbled, grabbing the guardhouse for support. Several people screamed for the gate to be opened.

“It’s only a small tremor. Now where was I? … Ah yes! Today I have protected you from the scourge of—“

The ground shook again. The cathedral’s glass spire cracked.

“Just an aftershock! You see—“

But no one saw, mostly because they were tumbling down into the Cavern of Moore as Boh stood and wiped the sleep from his eyes.

Fast Times at Flat Earth High

Thought experiment time!

Suppose you find yourself the protagonist of an Isaac Asimov story where a sentient robot tells humanity a fundamental basis of their worldview is wrong.

Do you believe this Basis of Belief machine? Or do you hold onto the unexamined worldview?

I hear you yawning and thinking, “That’s a dull thought experiment.”

Until, holy-fucking-bing-bang-bucket-of-shit, this happens!

And in response, Neil deGrasse Tyson responds with this:

That’s right! The Basis of Belief machine, or B.o.B., fronts as a Georgian rapper. And Neil deGrasse Tyson responds in B.o.B.’s preferred programming language.

Shit just went Asimov, bitches!

Now I know what you’re thinking, “But Cole, B.o.B. is a crackpot conspiracy theorist not a sentient robot!”

“A crackpot, you say? How do you know?” I ask.

“Because… Um… The world is round, not flat?” you say.

“How do you know?” I reply.

“Because my third grade teacher told me so!”

“She also told you weed was evil and sex kills.”

“Shit! You have a point, Cole!”

I always do.

So put on your tinfoil hat — seriously, I don’t want you distracting me with your sexy thoughts — and let’s get this conspiracy show on the road!

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That sun vest isn’t just fashionable, it’s also symbolic of N.d.T.’s secret science society.

I, like you, found myself wondering, “What if B.o.B. is right? What if Neil deGrasse Tyson, as minister of the Science Industrial Complex, is lying to us? And why was Washington Irving a shithead?”

These are a lot of difficult questions.

Since I know you’re busy with the kids, I went ahead and found the answers for you.

I put on my Dunce (Italian for ‘thinking cap’) and took to the internet to learn how the Earth became round.

“Gah, Cole, are you really going to give a history lecture like Mr. Saam did everyday of Sophomore year?”

Gah, you’re a difficult audience.

Fine, I’ll bump up the entertainment value and give you a little lesson I like to call, “Science History!”

So put on your Breakfast Club Soundtrack and follow along with the all new:

 

Abridged History of the Theory of the Round Earth: 80s Style High School Movie

Pythagoras – The Stoner

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Pythagoras also started the ‘Bagel in the Pants’ fashion trend that confused my Grecian parents.

2,600 years ago Pythagoras and his surfing bros were hanging out on the beach, smoking weed, and watching a flock of swans fly overhead.

“Oh shit! Guys, the Earth is round,” Pythagoras said, jumping to his feet.

In reality, he stumbled and wobbled to his feet, but it felt much faster in his head.

“Dude? Really?” Eschlamidides said, swaying his head to-and-fro.

“I can feel it!” Homeopathy shouted, swaying his hips and trying to catch his balance.

“Cool tan, bro!” Davaros the Feathered Haired added.

And it was a cool tan, bro. So cool it enchanted all the cool kids into believing Pythagoras’s theory.

Then everyone went to the mall, bleached their hair, and talked about how cool it was to live on a round world unlike their parents’ stodgy flat world.

Then a Spartan land developer threatened to tear down the mall, Pythagoras entered a geometry competition, invented his famed theorem, and won enough money to save the Athenacrest Shopping Plaza and Temple.

Aristotle – the Lost Soul

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Aristotle was smart, but not very fashionable. Obviously a winter, he spent too much time wearing autumn colors.

Two centuries later, at a Northeastern boarding school, Aristotle was left grieving the loss of his father. His mother, having recently married Aristotle’s uncle, sent him off to boarding school to ‘get over it, your daddy’s dead,’ and possibly hide the fact his uncle killed his father by pouring poison in his ear.

It’s Greek. It’s dramatic. It’s awesome.

And mostly unrelated to the rounding of the Earth.

Sad, depressed, morose Aristotle, looking for a father figure, finds himself in “Things We All Know But Don’t Have Proof of Yet” taught by Mork-turned-serious-thespian, Plato.

And Plato is a pain in the administration’s side, as all good teachers are. So the administration is looking for a reason to get rid of his hippy, non-traditional ass.

“He plays the lute in every class,” the dean moans in every third scene.

Interesting sidenote: Dean is Greek for “Whines about fun.”

Moving on.

So during the course of the semester, Plato teaches his students about Pythagoras’s philosophy that the Earth is round.

Plato also encourages one of his students, Oedipus, to go after the hot girl he ran into at the Crossroads Bar.

And if you don’t know how that turned out, you should probably stop relying on the American education system for your schooling.

The dean went to Plato’s class, grabbed the teacher by the arm, and escorted him from the room. Just as they reached the door, Aristotle climbed on his desk and recited the following poem:

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No one tells Aristotle to sit in the corner.

“Oh Captain, My Captain!
As we move south,
The stars don’t grow in the sky
Because we stand on the orb
They rise northward and high.
Oh Captain, My Captain!
When the Earth’s lonely shadow
Creates an eclipse,
We see a round shape
On Artemis’s lips!”

The poem was shitty, but Aristotle’s sentiment was moving. Also, it offered the first logical proof the Earth was round.

Despite this sad moment, the movie ended happily for everyone except Oedipus.

The dean got rid of Plato.

Plato got a job at Harvard.

Aristotle got vengeance on his uncle and then went on to the illustrious position as tutor to Alexander the Great.

Also, there was a kegger in a cave.

Eratosthenes – the Productive Slacker

“Delaney?”

“Here!”

“Dolomite?”

“Here!”

“Eratosthenes? … Eratosthenes? … Eratosthenes?” Ben Steinocles repeated ad nauseam.

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Camocrates was a big fan of the Roman Red Mercuries.

Eratosthenes was not in school. He was playing hooky because his friend, Camocrates, needed to chill out and learn to become his own man.

Camocrates was pretty tightly wound on account of his father’s super high expectations.

So the boys stole Camocrates’s father’s mule cart and headed off to downtown Aswan for the day. There they caught Aristophanes’s Lysistrata and were transformed by its pro-sexual, anti-male empowerment message.

So Eratosthenes leaves the theater, jumps on a float, and sings Walk Like an Egyptian, because that’s what inspired people do when hanging out in downtown Aswan for the day.

While this is going on, there are two side stories about how his sister and the pedophile principle are trying to prove Eratosthenes is playing hooky. All this is terribly boring in comparison to Eratosthenes’s cool and insightful nature.

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Here is Eratosthenes dancing in the Egyptian German Pride parade. This was before German Pride was a bad thing.

While dancing like an Egyptian on the float, Eratosthenes realizes his shadow has a different angle in Aswan than it does at home.

“How can he notice this while singing and dancing on a parade float?” most people wonder.

Because he’s cooler than any person who ever lived or ever will live, thank you very much.

Also, carpe fucking diem.

So Eratosthenes and Camocrates take some measurements in Aswan. Then they head home and take measurements there. Eratosthenes runs some calculations, Camocrates destroys the family mule cart, and the story is almost over.

Eratosthenes calculates the circumference of the planet, which he couldn’t do if it were flat like a pancake, and wins the science fair.

When his sister and principal finally catch up with him, Eratosthenes says, “I couldn’t have won the science fair if I was playing hooky, could I?”

The principle is foiled.

His sister learns a valuable lesson about life and science.

Camocrates stands up to his father.

And Eratosthenes hangs out by the pool with his girlfriend.

Revenge of The Protestants

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This photo was taken before Protestants could wear nice clothes.

Two centuries later, the Protestants have gotten pretty fed up with being bullied by the Catholics.

“St. Francis of Assisi gave me a swirly yesterday!” Dave complained, puffing on his inhaler.

“St. Augustine of Hippo invited me to the dance and then poured pig’s blood on me,” Jennifer whined, adjusting her glasses.

“Pope Gregory VII burned my girlfriend at the stake because she wouldn’t go out with him,” Chuck cried, popping a zit in the bathroom mirror.

“We’re Seniors! We can’t take this lying down. Do we want to be losers for the rest of our lives? It’s time we showed those Catholics they can’t get away with this!” Trevor said, adjusting his pocket protector, because no 80s nerd likes ink stains on their shirt.

So the Protestants put their heads together and develop a plan.

In an amazing montage, with background music sung by Huey Lewis and the News, the Protestants run around whispering to people in the hallways; having discussions in the bathroom overheard by people in the stalls; and getting new clothes at a trendy boutique.

The next day, or perhaps the next week, it’s always difficult to tell with a montage, the Catholics enter school, high off a big win against the Muslims in the big Crusades game.

“Winners! Winners!” the Catholics cheer.

“Losers! Losers!” the rest of the student body yells.

The Catholics stop, look around, and notice everyone is pointing and snickering at them.

“What gives?” Heather the Catholic asks.

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If only he hadn’t tried taking Russian in the winter. He might have graduated on time.

“You guys think the world is flat. You’re so stupid! This is the Age of Enlightenment, Gawd!” someone named Napoleon replied.

“No we don’t, butthead!” replied Biff.

“Well you did. You forced everyone to believe the Earth was flat for thousands of years. Remember the Dark Ages?” Pedro, who would soon be class president, replied.

As with any school, the Dark Ages referred to Sophomore year.

The thing was, the Catholics never said that. During Sophomore year, the Catholics pretty much beat the snot out of anyone who suggested the Earth was flat. Granted, they thought they were the center of the Universe, but they still promoted the belief the Earth is round.

But being terribly hated for burning so many preppies at the stake and handing out purple nerples like they were jelly bracelets, everyone accepted the Protestants’ rumor about the meathead Catholics.

A grand old comeuppance story if ever there was one.

Washington Irving – the Ugly Duckling

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Washington Irving’s family photo. Pictured, left to right: Jefferson Irving, Martha Irving, and their son Washington.

Washington Irving, a misunderstood loner, walked the halls of Bayside High. He was invisible to the jocks, brains, basket cases, princesses, and criminals. Even Principal Vernon ignored the dreamer in the trench coat.

This was in the days before trench coats were used to smuggle high assault rifles onto campus.

So Washington wandered around campus with a notebook writing poems and short stories, dreaming of a life where horsemen chopped off the cool kids’ heads and where he could fall asleep until the future made everything better.

Then one day during lunch, Washington is writing a fictional account of Christopher Columbus’s travels.

“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about!” the Spanish advisor yelled. “The world is not round! It is flat!”

“You don’t know me. You don’t understand me! You don’t know anything!” Columbus shouted back.

One of the jocks grabbed Washington’s notebook and tossed it to the captain of the football team.

“Hey!” Washington yelled.

“Hey, you,” the captain said. “This is really good!”

You see, the captain of the football team is a sensitive jock who writes poetry. He not only redeems Washington’s faith in humanity, but also our own.

“Thanks!” Washington said, blushing. He’s never gotten noticed by anyone in school, let alone the star quarterback.

“Everyone! You have to read Washington’s factual account of Columbus. You won’t believe the stupid shit the Spanish tried to pull!” the star quarterback said, flashing his beautiful green eyes at Washington.

“Uh… I… Yeah!” Washington said, afraid he would lose the star quarterback forever if he admitted the truth — the story was an allegory for his troubled relationship with his father.

Everyone loved the story. They called Washington a genius. The administration asked Washington to read his story at an assembly for Columbus Day.

On the day of the assembly, Washington walked to the center of the stage. He looked out at the crowd and made eye contact with the star quarterback. Then he looked to his father, who Washington had reconciled with when his dad took the day off work to attend the assembly.

“Everyone, I have something to say before I read this…” Washington said, clearing his throat.

“I”m really glad you all like my well-researched and factual explanation of Columbus’s life and voyages!”

As Washington begins to read, a voiceover explains sometimes in high school it’s difficult to do the right thing. Washington and the star quarterback went on to have a wonderful summer, then they went off to separate schools and never spoke again.

“I’ve always regretted not telling the truth that day, but I learned a lot from it,” Washington says warming our hearts.

Because if he learned something, we can all agree he’s not a shithead, right?

Back to the Present Day

Now we get back to the present day where our underdog B.o.B. is taking on the administr… err… establishment.

B.o.B. has offered several strong arguments, not the least of which is this:

And lest you should feel B.o.B. is alone in his viewpoint, earlier this month, intellectual heavyweight, Tila Tequila jumped into the foray:

Now the administration has a lot of weight on their side. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Pythagoras, Aristotle, the Catholics, the Protestants… well, the list is pretty much endless.

Now all my research has me leaning one way, but I’m a sucker for an underdog. So here are a few points I’ve come up with to help B.o.B. out:

Reason to Believe the Earth is Flat

  1. Hitler believed the Earth is round.
  2. Stalin believed the Earth is round.
  3. (Favorite hated minority) believes the Earth is round.
  4. Math is difficult, so we can’t calculate whether the Earth is round.
  5. I have a new song dropping and this will get me some attention.

So who do you side with? Take the poll now!

Warning: Results of this poll may change the quantum make-up of the Universe.

Shrink Girl Makes Her Mark

It was another bright and cheerful day at Heroes Incorporated until disaster struck.

Little did she know it, but today would be the day Shrink Girl finally made her mark at Heroes Inc.

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Heroes Incorporated’s cubicle farm. Superheroes are just like you!

“Code Rose!” Mike, the Middle Manager, yelled, running through the cubicle farm. The world’s most famous superheroes popped their heads over the cubicle walls like a herd of masked prairie dogs. Mike turned down one row, up a column, down another row, rounded a corner, and started retracing his steps, all the while shouting, “Code Rose!”

Beet red and breathless, Mike stopped and leaned against a cubicle wall.

“Anything I can do to help, Mike?” asked the Human Megaphone.

The Human Megaphone never missed an opportunity to help middle management, unless there was a chance to help upper or executive management.

“Need… to find… Shrink Girl!” Mike wheezed. He bent at the waist, forcing blood back to his head.

“SHRINK GIRL! REPORT TO SECTION B, ROW 7, CUBE 27A! I REPEAT… RRRREEEKEEKEKKEBBERRR!”

Everyone covered their ears to block out The Human Megaphone’s feedback.

“Who is using a transistor radio?” The Human Megaphone glared at the heroes around him. “I’ve asked you not to use transistor radios as they interfere with my abilities! … Mike, I’m so sorry. I’ve told them…”

A row over, Scarlet Mime switched off her nonexistent radio. There was, in her opinion, no need to shout in an office.

“Hello? Did someone call me?” Shrink Girl asked, rounding a cubicle corner. She bit her lip in an unsuperhero-like manner and assumed she was in trouble.

“Where have you been?” Mike demanded.

“On The Public Relations Importance of Catchphrases When Dealing with Collateral Damage webinar. I had my headphones in,” Shrink Girl said, lowering her eyes.

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Three days later, signs similar to these went up on every cubicle wall at Heroes Inc.

“This is exactly why headphones are forbidden in the office. Right, Mike?” The Human Megaphone said, at a volume 4, so everyone heard.

“That’s right! I know you’re new here, Shrink, but we have rules for a reason.” Mike launched into a lecture on the dangers of headphones in an office, which is easily summed up by saying, “And that’s why radioactive marine life now run Topeka.”

Mike, as Middle Manager, was obligated to give the longer explanation.

Shrink Girl had only worked with Heroes Inc. for three months, replacing the former shrinkable hero who left to pursue a career in accounting.

Since starting, Shrink had only been allowed to attend seminars, conferences, and webinars on all topics superhero and legal. She had also taken forty-seven tests on the Super Employee Handbook and Crime Fighter’s Manual and passed each one.

And all of this experience led Shrink Girl to one, undeniable conclusion. She was underutilized.

So she began sending out her résumé.

“And just after Google installed a fiber network. Such a waste,” Mike said, finishing his lecture.

“I’ll never wear headphones again. I promise,” Shrink Girl said, wondering how the Dastardly Debutante would enjoy listening to tomorrow’s webinar: ‘To Rescue Or Not To Rescue – The Likelihood of Lawsuits.’

“Good. That will be all,” Mike said.

Shrink Girl turned to go.

“Mike, what about the Code Rose?” The Human Megaphone whispered.

“Of course!” Mike shouted, grabbing Shrink Girl’s hand and dragging her off through the cubicle farm.

“Good luck, Mike! Your work is appreciated!” The Human Megaphone called after them.

“The Human Megaphone’s a good guy. Keeps up morale, which is very important. You could learn a lot from him,” Mike said pulling Shrink Girl towards the stealth hanger.

A Code Rose? Thoughts swirled in Shrink Girl’s head.

A Code anything was important.

Someone had taken notice of her test scores and hard work!

Soon she would be in the stealth plane getting debriefed on the Code Rose situation!

Now, if only she could remember what a Code Rose meant.

Red indicated a major continent was being attacked.

Orange meant a minor continent was under attack.

Blue was for asteroids, space junk, or other inanimate objects hurtling towards Earth.

But Rose…

Shrink Girl blanked. She pictured the page in the manual, but couldn’t find Rose.

Not that she would admit this to Mike, the Middle Manager.

They were ten feet from the hangar doors when Mike made a sudden left. Shrink Girl, lost in hashtags descriptions for her first mission, missed the turn.

She lost her footing and fell into the doorway of the 4th floor supply room.

Red-faced, Shrink Girl stood up. Three heroes, plus Mike, stood there staring at her.

“She’s here. If anyone can find the paper jam, I’m certain Shrink Girl can!” Mike announced to the group.

“Just use the 3rd floor machine,” Mister Stretch said for the third time today.

“That’s for support staff,” Mike replied, clearly appalled at being lumped in with them.

Mister Stretch rolled his eyes.

“Shrink Girl, this is important. A rash of yogurt thefts are bringing down morale. We need fifteen signs reminding people to only eat their own food. But the copier is broken,” Mike said. “If we don’t have morale, what do we have?”

“Paychecks?” Lady Mystery suggested.

“People don’t work for paychecks, Mystery. At Heroes Inc., we work for the love of our job. This is our passion and a yogurt thief will not undo our commitment!” Mike replied, banging on the Rose-McKellan copy machine.

Lady Mystery’s smile was difficult to read.

“Here’s the background, Shrink. I got Stretch, but he couldn’t reach the jam, and Kongliath wasn’t able to shake the paper out. Now you’re up. Make me proud!” Mike said, stepping aside.

“What about Lady Mystery?” Shrink Girl asked, hoping to finally figure out the Lady’s powers.

“I just came for a pen, but stayed for the excitement,” Lady Mystery replied, leaning back against the laser printer, as if to say, ‘Why not just print more pages from this?’

“So get in there and show us what you’ve got, Shrink Girl!” Mike said, popping open a compartment door.

“Okay!” Shrink Girl said, hoping enthusiasm hid her disappointment. Only Mike seemed fooled, but Shrink Girl figured this was fine, since Mike was the only one who cared.

She dove into the open compartment door, shrinking to the size of a pea, and landed on tab B. Shrink Girl climbed over a roller and entered the heart of the Rose-McKellan.

Back in the supply room, Mike’s head snapped towards the door. “Did I hear Paper Mate out there? Isn’t he still on vacation?”

“Today’s his first day back,” Kongliath replied, picking a nit from his forearm.

“Why didn’t anyone say so?” Mike asked, hurrying off to find Paper Mate.

“I’m starving. What are you two doing for lunch?” Lady Mystery asked.

“I brought mine,” Kongliath sighed. “Dan has me on a diet. I couldn’t fit into that monkey suit for his 40th birthday, so now I’m stuck eating chicken feed and lettuce.”

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Heroes Inc. is located in a corporate park. Jimmy Subs is the only lunch place within walking distance and receives a lot of business from non-flying heroes.

“I’m going to Jimmy Subs. You’re welcome to join,” Mister Stretch replied.

Lady Mystery shrugged. She’d already eaten Jimmy Subs twice this week and was getting tired of them. But she was also one punch away from getting a free sub. “Let me get back to you,” she said, as Mike pulled Paper Mate into the supply room.

“G’day, mates. Whad’ve we ‘ave ‘ere?” Paper Mate asked.

Originally from Woonsocket, Rhode Island, the corporation rebranded Paper Mate to appeal to their Oceanian clientele.

As part of the rebranding, Paper Mate spent Tuesday and Thursday afternoons working with an Australian linguistic coach. So far he had managed to alienate most of New Zealand and the better part of Queensland.

He looked at the Rose-McKellan’s display panel.

“We’s pulled the machine apart, but it still won’t run,” Mister Stretch explained. “There’s a scrap in there somewhere.”

“Nah. Yoo joost ‘ave to turn it off then on a’gin,” Paper Mate said, slipping into a terrible Canadian accent.

He flipped the power switch.

“No!” everyone yelled, except Mike, the Middle Manager, who muttered, “Yes, of course! Turn it off and on again.”

The machine buzzed to life, spitting out signs reading, “Remember: Gogurt Your Own Yogurt!”

“Something must be wrong with the ink saturation,” Mike muttered, throwing the top five pages into the recycling bin. “Oh nevermind. No more red streaks. We’re all good.”

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Mike, the Middle Manager, ended up retrieving the red streaked pages, saying, “It will serve as a subtle reminder to anyone thinking of stealing yogurt.”

The Greatest Inventors Ever Known

Yesterday afternoon my gift giving friend IM’d me.

“Can you believe this shit?” she wrote and then pasted a link.

I opened the link, which turned out to be a recipe for tapas.

“Tapas isn’t an actual dish. It’s a style of dish,” I pointed out.

“Huh? Dammit! Wrong link!” my friend said, in slightly more salted language.

Another link popped up.

“Sweet Mother of God,” I wrote.

“Sweet Mother of Humanity,” my friend corrected.


Before I share this mind-blowing link with you, I’d like to take you back.

Way back.

6,000 years back to when God dipped hands in the mud of what would one day be Flint, Michigan’s water system, and created man.

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What Adam would have looked like after God told him to put on a fig leaf if the Paleo Diet had been invented.

“Jesus,” God muttered, seeing his creation. “It’s rather floppy in parts. Let me invent unleaded mud and then create another creature.”

 

There were some bunsen burners and beakers, sugars and spices, and a bit of Chemical X, and lo and behold, there stood Eve.

Now imagine, you’re Adam or Eve. You’ve just been invented. What is the first thing you do?

No, you don’t get Five Guys.

No! You don’t go to Disney World.

You invent walking.

That’s right. Adam and Eve fucking invented walking!

I mean, who did you think it was? Copernicus?

You think everyone dragged their sorry asses around for thousands of years and Copernicus suddenly said, “Hey, why not balance all our weight on two feet and not fall down! Also the Earth goes around the sun!”

Anyways, enough of your misconceptions about history! We return to Adam and Eve perambulating around the garden when God happens to stop by.

“Holy Shit! What are you doing?” God asks.

“We call it walking,” Adam said, taking credit for what was mostly Eve’s idea.

“That is the shiznit!” God said, having spent all of eternity, up until this point, riding around on a cloud. “Not only do I like your invention. I like the name! How about you go around and name all these creatures running around? And while you’re at it, give yourself a little something.”

That’s right, before this moment, Adam and Eve were nameless.

So they go off, as instructed, and name all the animals.

Which went something like this:

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The first platypus invented the hat. This confused Adam and Eve, so they named the hatted platypus ‘Perry.’

Adam: What should we call this thing?

 

Eve: How about a duck-billed platypus?

Adam: What’s a duck?

Eve: What do you mean, ‘what’s a duck?’

Adam: Well you used ‘duck’ as an adjective to ‘billed,’ so I wondered what a ‘duck’ is.

Eve: What’s an adjective?

Adam: We don’t have time to invent grammar, Eve! We have to name all these animals. So what’s a duck?

Eve: How about that thing over there?

Adam: Good enough for me.

And so it went…

After two years of work, Adam and Eve named all the animals and had nothing else to do. So they invented Netflix and Chill, deciding their progeny could later invent a netflix.

“What’s this?” God asked.

“Netflix and chill,” Eve said.

“Nice! Well, since you haven’t shown any interest in this tree over here, I’d like to point it out and tell you not to touch it. Okay?” God said.

“Okay,” Adam and Eve said.

But being the first parent of two-year olds in the history of… well, history… God knew telling them not to touch something wouldn’t be enough.

So God two-year-old proofed the shit out of the Tree of Knowledge.

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Little known fact: Gabriel was the first Captain Kirk.

No expense was spared. Electric fencing, photon torpedoes, and those lion hunter pits covered with sticks to ensnare anyone walking over.

 

So what did Adam and Eve do? They concocted a caper so brilliant George Clooney turned it into Ocean’s Eleven.

“But Adam, there are only the two of us, and neither of us is Bernie Mac,” Eve pointed out.

So they revised their plan into a Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper vehicle called The Silver Linings Playbook, so named because of God and their scheming.

So let’s recap. So far Adam and Eve have created:

  • Walking
  • Adjectives
  • Names for every animal
  • Madcapped capers
  • An Oscar Nominated Adapted Screenplay

They are smart, but not as smart as God. God left one final thermal detonator next to the Tree of Life to stop Adam and Eve from getting in trouble.

That thermal detonator was named Snake.

Who wasn’t very good at his job.

Now I know what you’re going to say. “Cole, you’ve mixed your allusions! Photon torpedoes are from Star Trek; thermal detonators are from Star Wars!”

To which I respond: “This is religion, Jim! Not sci-fi!”

Moving on…

Which is exactly what Adam and Eve did.

Like every other exhausted and frazzled parent in history, God said, “Look, I don’t have time for your shenanigans. I’m busy creating ultraviolet light. So you’re going to need to take a time out.”

Only God called this “Original Sin,” which is why God is a better parent than you. You call it a time out, how weak is that?

Does this time out deter Adam and Eve’s inventing spree? No. Those goddamned geniuses (quite literally at this point, I’m afraid) invent “the move.”

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Housed in the London Museum, this is believed to be Adam and Eve’s kitchen supplies box.

Boxes, tape, packing material, trucks too big to park comfortably on a residential street – the whole kit and caboodle.

 

Yeah, I know, you thought Copernicus invented that shit. You give him too much credit.

They move, then go on to invent the human race. Now they wipe their hands and retire. Right?

Wrong!

Holy Edison’s Patent Attorney are you wrong.

Which is where we come back to the present day.

Scientists have recently determined some of our most popular fairy tales are nearly 6,000 years old.

Which means someone wrote these stories right around the time God created the Earth.

And who else was around to write these stories other than Adam and Eve? Bernie Mac?

While Bernie Mac would have kicked the bejeezus out of the three act story structure, Eve already informed us he is not there.

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Always the troublemaker, Cain asked, “Mommy, what’s a spindle?”

That’s right, Adam and Eve created the bedtime story. They filled Cain, Able, and Seth’s heads with the likes of Snow White, Cinderella, Pocahontas, Mulan, and Herbie the Love Bug.

 

Don’t believe me? Check out CNN’s recap here – everything I said is 100% factual(ish).

Which leaves me wondering, are Disney Princesses the real Original Sin?

Is our atonement, as a race, to attend princess party after princess party, cleansing our soul with each rendition of ‘Let It Go?’

Is Michael Eisner an archangel?

Someone call Neil Degrasse Tyson and get us a clear answer!

The End of Flamebro!

I. The Cavern of Flamebro!

“Number 473! Does anyone have number 473?”

Plupart glanced at the ticket in his hand.

“Oh! That’s me!” he yelled, raising the ticket over his head and pushing through the crowd.

At the entrance to the Great Hall! a middle-aged woman waited to take Plupart’s ticket. A placard identified her as, ‘Agnes, Ticket Agent.’

“I almost moved onto Number 474—“ Agnes muttered.

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Fiorna Plott of the Normanshire District claims her cat, Buckles, is the reincarnation of Agnes. You can see the similarities in the eyes.

“Did you call 474?” a knight in shining armor asked from a foot away.

“No. Wait your turn,” Agnes snapped.

Plupart tried to apologize. “I’m sorry. We’ve been waiting for days and… well the mind wanders, one forgets the number, makes a new one up—“

Agnes tapped a small sign next to her which read: “Absolutely NO Soliloquizing!”

“Yes, sorry about that,” he muttered. Having graduated with honors in Soliloquy from the Realm’s Knightiary, Plupart thought it rather rude of the ticket taker to interrupt.

“Okay, you may go in,” Agnes said after checking Plupart’s ticket.

“I need the rest of my party,” Plupart replied, standing on tiptoes to find his friends in the crowded cavern.

The knight in shining armor, a scantily clad barbarian, and a cudgel-wielding orc all sighed.

“Sir, your entire party must be present—“

“They’re all here. It’s just so crowded, you know?” Plupart replied, making a small hand gesture suggesting Agnes calm down.

“Yes, sir. Flamebro the Wicked is very popular, especially during the holidays, but the rules state—“

“Bree! Thomas!” Plupart yelled over the conversational rumble of the crowd. Several heads turned. The torchlit gloom made it difficult for Plupart to distinguish the faces, so he waved his hands wildly, yelling, “We’re up! Come on!”

“Sir, I need to keep the line moving—“

Plupart again gestured that Agnes should calm down.

“This way! Yes, over here!” Plupart yelled, seeing his friends making their way through the crowd.

“Plupart! Thank goodness!” Bree said, popping under the arm of the barbarian. “We’re finally up?”

“We are,” Plupart said.

Agnes violently cleared her throat and tapped another sign that read, “Under NO Circumstances Will Children Be Allowed to Battle Flamebro the Wicked.”

Plupart groaned. “You really shouldn’t—“

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How Agnes confused Bree for a little girl is uncertain. Especially since Bree may still be out there and we definitely want her to know we don’t think she looks like a little girl at all!

“I am a 327-year-old vampire, ma’DAME! I have as much right to be here, if not more, than…” Bree sneered at the knight in shining armor, “some wannabe hero who is more shine than shimmer! Your lack of respect for vampire culture—“

“Identification, please…” sighed Agnes, holding out her hand. The knight in shining armor huffed and turned to look at a rather drab wall sconce.

Bree handed her vampire age identification paper to Agnes. “This really is inconvenient. No other species—“

“Fairies, water nymphs, wind sprites, most of the lesser gods… the list goes on. If you feel offended, take it up with your Senator, as they write the legislation regarding children and battles,” Agnes replied, peering through her spectacles at Bree and then at the paper.

“Plupart! Are we up?” Thomas asked, sliding between two rather large Normanshire wrestlers.

“We are, let’s do this!” Plupart said, drawing his sword and raising it high above the crowd.

“Sir!” Agnes shouted, quickly tapping yet another sign that read, “All Weapons MUST Remain Sheathed Until Entering The Arena.”

“Sorry,” Plupart said, returning his sword to its scabbard.

Agnes sighed and lifted the Gate of Entrance!

The party passed through the gate and headed down the Great Hall! to Flamebro’s arena.

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Agnes’s Knight in Shining Armor

“Did you call Number 474?” the Knight in Shining Armor asked Agnes.

“So help me, Rudolph, if you ask me again, I’m skipping straight to 475,” Agnes threatened, lowering the Gate of Entrance!

“475 right here!” the wrestlers shouted.

Agnes rolled her eyes and huffed. She needed a vacation.

 

II. The Great Hall!

“Stand to your left!” Haverford the line keeper shouted. “No crowding to the right! It’s a fire hazard!”

“What? What’s going on?” Plupart asked, looking at the long line in front of them.

“This is the line to get into Flamebro’s Arena,” answered the Kensian warrior standing in front of them.

“Cherries!” Plupart cursed.

“In front of a child? Have you no respect?” the Kensian warrior said, nodding towards Bree.

“Thomas, what does the book say about this line?” Plupart asked, as Bree heatedly reprimanded the warrior.

Thomas unshouldered his satchel and dug out The Warrior’s Guide to the Realm. A green bookmark, once the tongue of the Donaldstown’s Hydra, marked the page on Flamebro’s Cavern!

old_armenian_book_by_deviantik
The 47th Edition of The Warrior’s Guide to the Realm. Haverford was dead by the time this edition was published. It contained a nice obituary outlining his aviary accomplishments.

Thomas scanned the page. “Get a number from Agnes… enjoy company of other famous warriors… number called… Ah! Here it is! ‘After passing through the Gate of Entrance! the warrior will find themself standing in a formalized line awaiting their turn to battle Flamebro in the arena. As Flamebro dispatches his challengers with relative ease, the warrior should expect a fast-moving line. While waiting, take time to enjoy the company of Haverford Hacklin, Flamebro’s linekeeper and Agnes’s husband. Ask Haverford about his parakeets.’”

“Look, I’m sorry. But you have to admit it’s an easy mistake,” the Kensian warrior said.

“I don’t see how. How many 13-year-old girls do you know with dagger-like canines?” Bree asked, flashing her teeth.

“I don’t make a habit of examining 13-year-old girls’ teeth. Perhaps you should wear a cape or something!” the soldier snapped.

“Oh Gods,” Plupart groaned.

“Wear a cape? Vampires were forced to wear capes as part of the Grendlin Inquisition, singling us out for…”

“Haverford! Hello!” Plupart called, waving to the shrunken man who was more moustache than face. Haverford was now reprimanding a troll for not standing far enough to the left.

“I don’t care how big you are! No one stands on this side of the line,” Haverford snapped, pointing to a line in the sand. “If you’ll excuse me, I hear someone calling my name.”

Haverford waddled to the back of the line where Plupart was waving.

“Afternoon and welcome to Flamebro’s Cavern!, how may I make your pre-execution experience more enjoyable?” Haverford asked.

“I hear you have some pretty amazing parakeets,” Plupart said. “I’m a fan myself.”

care-parakeet-eggs-breeding-birds_aeb8d07a8152be25
Haverford’s parakeets (left to right): Blinky, Pinky, Inky, Clyde, Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

Haverford’s eyes welled up, his sniffed, and shook his head. “My parakeets died five years ago, thank you very much. And if you warriors weren’t so cheap and bought the updated version of the Warrior’s Guide, maybe I could finally get over my grief!”

Haverford wiped his eyes, turned, and headed back down the Great Hall! yelling “Stand to the left or I’ll throw you out! I don’t care how long you’ve been waiting!”

“Well that was embarrassing,” Plupart muttered.

“We really should get the updated copy of the Guide,” Thomas said. “Remember the attack on Fero’s Cove? We were thirty-seven people in before discovering everyone was cured of zombism two years earlier,”

“That was a messy quest,” Plupart said.

 

III. Flamebro’s Arena!

The Guide was wrong about the parakeets but correct on the line. Within an hour, the trio was escorted into Flamebro’s Arena!

“Charge!” Plupart shouted, pulling his sword from its sheath.

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Plupart’s sword, Myrtle, currently housed in the Heroes’ Museum and Interactive Experience

“Just a moment, Sire. I need to finish moving these bodies and sopping up their blood,” said Blarf, Flamebro’s Arena keeper. He tossed one of the Kensian warriors into his corpse cart.

“What? We waited three days!“

“And I wouldn’t want you tripping on a corpse or slipping in bowel slop,” Blarf said. “Real tragedy, that would be.”

“He’s got a point,” Thomas said.

“Let me give you a hand with that,” Bree said, diving on the Kensian warrior who had called her a child, and sinking her teeth into his not-yet-cold neck.

“Much obliged,” Blarf said, tossing another body into the cart.

“Sorry for the delay, brahs,” said a fiery redhead coming around from behind the cart. He wiped his hands on a bloody towel and tossed it on the nearest corpse.

“Flamebro! Gods, it’s an honor!” Thomas said, hurrying forward to shake the elemental consort’s hand.

“Flamebro!” Plupart screamed. He pulled his sword from its sheath. “Die, elemental scum!”

“Woah, dude, be cool,” Flamebro said, holding up his hands showing he meant no harm.

“Yeah, Plupart, be cool,” Thomas said, before grinning stupidly at Flamebro. “This is the meet-and-greet part of the battle, isn’t it?”

“You got it, little man,” Flamebro said.

“Sorry, did you say ‘the meet-and-greet?’” Plupart asked, sheathing his sword.

“Yeah, man. Doesn’t happen often, since Blarf’s really efficient with the clean-up. But there were forty-seven of those Kensian warriors. Even Blarf isn’t that quick. Are you, Blarf?”

“No, boss! But I’m trying!” Blarf yelled back.

Flamebro sighed. “I keep telling him ‘call me Flamebro, bro.’”

Plupart scratched his head. “You’re Flamebro? Elemental consort to Goddess Rujan? Slayer of Lord Braxwell and Lady Miff’s armies? The Boar-Tusked Demon?”

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According to legend these tusks once belonged to Flamebro the Wicked

“That’s right, brah. But I’ll tell you, I haven’t had time for Rujan since starting this whole enterprise. I haven’t hung with my crew, drinking wine and spit roasting virgins for… I don’t know how long.”

“Spit roasting virgins?” Thomas asked, somewhat confused.

“Ask this guy. He knows, amirite?” Flamebro said, clapping Plupart on the shoulder.

“I know no such thing,” Plupart said disgustedly.

“Sorry, I assumed you attended the Knightiary.” Flamebro said.

“I did and graduated with honors in soliloquizing. But as knights, we pledge ourselves to upholding the values of honor, fealty, and chastity,” Plupart said, beating his chest as he repeated each value.

“Oh, brah…” Flamebro said, shaking his head.

“Uh, Plupart?” Thomas said. “It’s charity… not chastity.”

“No, it’s… well it was…” Plupart glanced from Thomas to Flamebro to Bree to Blarf and saw the same look of pity in everyone’s eyes.

“Gods on Heaven’s Bench!” Plupart cursed, flinging his sword across the arena.

“Tough break, brah,” Flamebro said, throwing an arm around Plupart’s neck. “Finding that out just before you die.”

“No… it… I mean… All those years!” Plupart groaned.

“So… Uh… Flamebro. This is quite the operation you have here,” Thomas said, changing the subject.

“Thanks, l’il man. We’ve grown a lot over the years, haven’t we, Blarf?”

“Yes, boss. We sure have!” Blarf said, grabbing the handles of the full corpse cart and dragging it to the other side of the arena.

Flamebro chuckled. “That guy cracks me up! You know, back before all of this,” he gestured to the cavern, “I was under constant threat of a surprise attack. Warriors showing up without notice, expecting to fight on the spot. No regard for the fact I might have plans.

“You know, I tried to see Hemswell’s ‘Whose Mule Is This?’ seven times. Every time, I was pulled into a fight.”

“How rude!” Plupart said. Being a fan of the theater, he strongly believed in honoring a ticket holder’s plans.

“Right? Well one day, two different groups show up to fight me. The first said to the second ‘take a number’ and inspiration struck. Boom! Set it up in a cavern, no more surprise attacks!”

Motheral
A play bill from the Deserted Desert tour of “Whose Mule Is This?” Note the odd Desertian translation of the play’s title.

“And you were able to see ‘Whose Mule Is This?’ How did you feel about the third act?” Plupart asked.

Flamebro grimaced. “Haven’t seen it yet, brah. Hopefully in the next year or two. Now that everyone knows where to find me, there’s a lot more day-to-day volume. But we’re working out the kinks, making things more efficient, and soon we’ll be back to an eight-hour day.”

“How so?” Thomas asked.

“Efficiencies, brah. I already said that,” Flamebro replied. “This guy ever listen?”

Thomas shrugged.

“That’s what I thought,” Flamebro said.

“What I meant was… how are you going to make it more efficient? Won’t there always be more warriors showing up to avenge their lost comrades and take down the Lord of the Wicked?” Plupart asked.

“Well… Yeah, brah… But if we’re more efficient, we can… like get through everyone quicker. And then there will be fewer people to fight,” Flamebro said, sensing he may have missed a pivotal part of the plan.

“How will there be fewer people?” Plupart asked.

“All set boss!” Blarf called out.

Bree rejoined the group. “Shall we get this underway?” she asked.

“Hang on there l’il sis, I need a minute. Brah over here just blew my mind,” Flamebro said, miming an explosion with his hands.

Plupart, Thomas, and Bree dove to the ground. Flamebro was, after all, a fire elemental.

“Sorry, l’il man,” Flamebro said, pointing to Thomas’s singed eyebrow.

“No problem! How many people can say they got singed by Flamebro?” Thomas asked, doing a little victory dance.

“If they could still talk, around 347,000,” Flamebro muttered, sliding down to the ground.

“And how many more will there be?”

“Look, it’s rough now, but like you said, there are efficiencies. You’ll get through this,” Plupart said. “I believe in you. Bree believes in you. And Thomas definitely believes in you. So if we could just get this started, I’ll go get my sword and—“

“I’m not really in the mood,” Flamebro said.

“We’ve come all this way. Waited three days and—“

“Brah, I’m sorry. But it’s just… I need a moment. I’ve been doing this nonstop for a century. I’m immortal and I’m tired,” Flamebro said, running a hand through his hair.

 

IV. Career Change!

“From one immortal to another, have you considered a career change?” Bree asked, plopping down next to Flamebro.

“Huh? No way, l’il sis. Look at what I’ve built,” Flamebro said.

“You don’t seem very happy,” Thomas pointed out.

“True, l’il man,” Flamebro said.

“What are you two doing? We’ve come here for a battle and—“

“Plupart, hush. We agreed to never fight an injured foe. How would it look for us to take on a burnt-out fire elemental?” Bree asked.

“Exactly, brah. Not cool,” Flamebro muttered. “So what were you saying about a career change, l’il sis?”

“I’m saying sometimes a career change helps. I used to be part of the Royal night watch. Things were going well until I got good at my job. Then they had me guarding the walls at night and the castle during the day. I worked around the clock!

“So I switched to being a thief. Didn’t know a thing about it. Everyone cuts the newbie a ton of slack because they’re still learning.”

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Woman wearing one of Thomas’s hats. We have confirmed she looked like this before donning his handmade chapeau.

“It’s called a learning curve,” Thomas said. “I was a highly sought after milliner. Nobles constantly demanding my services. My fingers bled felt. Now I’m an alchemist. The hours are great, I’m learning new things all the time. There’s literally no pressure.”

“He can almost turn water into tea with the right herbs,” Bree said, winking at Flamebro.

“Don’t exaggerate. I can almost always turn water into tea with the right herbs,” Thomas corrected.

“How about you?” Flamebro asked, looking at Plupart.

“Me? I’ve been a knight since leaving the Knightiary seven years ago,” Plupart said, throwing back his shoulders with pride.

Bree cleared her throat.

“Fine! If you must know, I’m hoping to earn enough to start a cake shoppe,” Plupart said, shaking his head. “You probably think that’s stupid.”

“No way, brah! That’s awesome. Follow your dreams,” Flamebro said.

“And what are your dreams?” Bree asked.

Flamebro thought a moment, then shrugged. “I still have this guitar from my battle with the band of Rogues. I’ve been wanting to learn how to play, but just haven’t had the time.”

“There you go!” Thomas said.

“You could become a balladeer,” Bree said.

“A what?” Flamebro and Plupart both asked.

“A balladeer. You know, the person who travels with the heroes putting their exploits to song, making the heroes famous, that sort of thing,” Bree explained.

Flamebro nodded. “Cool. Yeah, it might be nice to get out of the Cavern for a few decades. Learn to play the guitar, sing about other people’s battles. I like it, l’il sis.”

“So, what do you think, Plupart?” Bree asked. “Can he join us? It’ll be good publicity… once he learns the guitar.”

“I don’t know…” Plupart said, not sure he wanted a fire elemental traveling the Realm with them. Especially one as battle prone as Flamebro the Wicked.

Flamebro’s head sank. “And what about Agnes, Haverford, and Blarf? They depend on me.”

“Bring them along! We need someone for battle clean-up. Haverford could raise messenger birds so we don’t have to trek back and forth across the Realm. And Agnes… I suppose she could make sure we don’t battle any children or break any rules,” Bree muttered.

“And you just came up with that?” Plupart asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I’ve been working on an org chart,” Bree admitted. “They all just happen to fall into it.”

“I love this idea, brah! Let’s do this!” Flamebro said, jumping up from the arena floor.

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An artist’s rendition of Flamebro’s excitement to join Plupart’s Party as a balladeer

“Look, I don’t know if it’s such a good idea,” Plupart said.

“I’ll show you how to spit roast those virgins,” Flamebro said with a wink.

“Well… maybe it wouldn’t hurt to have a fire elemental on our side,” Plupart said, looking around for his sword.

“All right!” Thomas said, jumping up and doing a victory dance.

“Come on, Blarf! Let’s talk blood,” Bree called.

“So about this spit roasting,” Plupart asked in a hushed tone.

“Yeah, brah. First, you build a bonfire. You don’t want it too hot, otherwise the thing’s over too quickly,” Flamebro the Wicked began to explain.

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Searched “Man on Spit Roast,” was not disappointed.

Where My Dog and I Escape the Minion of Hell

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The hound versus the forces of Hell.

It’s a lovely afternoon in New Orleans… a lovely afternoon for EVIL.

After what we’ve experienced, Mardi’s keeping a close watch on the front gate. Every two minutes she turns to me and gives the all clear. Mostly this sounds like “ruff,” but I know what she means. Even though we don’t speak the same language, when you’ve been through the trenches with another creature a connection is wrought. We can ruff without ruffing.

Our excursion began innocently enough. An after-lunch walk through neighborhood to aid in digestion; which is society’s polite way of saying it helps us poop.

People used to walk in the evenings after dinner. Now they watch television. The loss of the evening walk is, most scientists agree, the reason so many people are full of shit.

Pardon me, I’ve veered from my tale of horror into the realm of fact. Facts, I’m afraid, are life preservers for the coward’s sanity. And I, my dear friend, am a coward.

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These are not the birds I couldn’t hear.

We perambulated down one street and up another. The sun shone, but the birds did not sing. Perhaps they knew of the darkness in the light. Perhaps they were singing racist Disney songs.

Perhaps I once knew the reason but that knowledge was scared out of me.

I chatted to my four-legged companion. “Will you be voting for Beagle Sanders or Pug Cruz in the upcoming Pawsidential election?” I asked. “Or perhaps Basset Trump?”

Mardi gave me the same look you have now.

Two houses ahead I spotted an elderly lady making her way down her front steps.

She bore the marks of Cain – a light blue dress and wild white hair. I know these marks well. I went to Catholic school.

Was it morning or afternoon? I asked myself, preparing a proper greeting, so as not to draw her ire.

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This is me, terrified. This is not the old woman.

She glanced up. Evil was in her eye.

Most people mistake evil for cataracts.

Those people did not go to Catholic school.

“Good—“ I began, in way of a greeting, but was unceremoniously spun around, before I had a chance to finish.

The dog was flat on the sidewalk, muscles taut, attempting to army crawl backwards down the block.

“Knock it off,” I hissed, pulling on the leash.

Perhaps if the old woman did not know the I knew what she knew to be true, she would let us continue on our way.

But the pull launched my companion into action. She bolted to the side, across a lawn, and dragged me into the street. She continued moving backwards, keeping her eyes on the old woman.

“I think your dog is hurt,” the old woman said.

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The Gates of Hell, very similar to the old lady’s front gate.

An obvious ploy with which to invite us into her house of horror, which was accented with a lovely azalea bush.

“Yes, she must have — Oof!” I stumbled, the leash slackened, Mardi bolted. My imbalance afforded her the opportunity she needed to get us to the other side of the street.

I kept myself from being thrown to the ground by locking my knees and pinwheeling my legs. Safely on the other side of the street, Mardi pulled forward, away from the woman.

“I think she’s hurt,” the old lady called out again, relentless in her pursuit to draw us into the devil’s pit itself!

“Yes, perhaps she is — Oof!” the dog yanked me back a few steps.

Frustrated, I knelt down and took her face in my hands. Making eye contact I firmly said, “Calm down. It’s fine.”

I wanted to explain the dangers of letting evil know you know it’s evil, but before I could, she nudge me aside.

I was blocking her view of the old woman.

“Ruff!” she said, with just enough softness to suggest maybe she hoped the old woman wouldn’t hear her. She turned, lowered herself to the ground and began crawling down the street, dragging me behind her.

Every five steps she turned, looked back at the woman, and let out another, barely audible “ruff.”

“Have a good morning!” I called, waving to the woman.

Damn, it was the afternoon.

Would my lapse show her how terrified I was?

The woman rolled her eyes, bent down, and began weeding her garden in the cruel, soulless way evil has of landscaping.

Mardi dragged me three blocks back home, all hopes of a properly digested lunch gone.

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This is the path from hell to salvation.

The dog knocked against the gate until I opened it.

She knocked against the front door, until I opened it.

Then she bolted to the front window, where she stands now, waiting for the woman to appear.

“Ruff,” the dog says, her hackles rising. She tucks her tail between her legs. Someone is knocking on the front door.