Friday, December 28, 2012

The Kingdom & The Kingdom

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom ruled by many and varied kings. There were so many kings of so many sizes, with so many legs, so many joints, so many eyes.

You have traveled across mountains and valleys and fields. You have seen great deserts and vast oceans. You have witnessed the most wondrous of things, bright green lights in the sky, and you have experienced the most terrible of things, the almost eternal darkness, both, paradoxically, in the same place. You have traveled far.

You now come to a field. A grassy field, like so many others. You can hear the humming of insects on the earth, in the grass, and it feels right. You feel content. You feel like you could lay in the grass and stare up at the deep blue sky forever.

And, best of all, the field seems to go for quite a while. You begin walking across the field, intent to see how far it really goes, when you see a patch of brown grass, dead grass. You think nothing of it until you see another and another and soon the field you are in is completely brown, completely dead.

You wonder what could have caused this. Your curiosity outweighs your fear. You trek onward.

Soon, you realize that the humming you are hearing is not from the insects in the grass. It is a deeper hum, a lower hum. It is coming from under the earth. It is coming from the roots of the dead grass, from beneath the roots. Before, it was a gentle hum, a hum of insects going about there business. Now, it is an ominous hum, a hum of things moving and feeding and waiting.

You move on, hoping that the hum will go away, hoping that the grass become bright and green again, but it doesn't. The soil now is loose and you can feel things pulling at your feet. You think it's your imagination at first, but then you see the beetles, fat and black, on your shins. You brush them off, but there are more of them. And then you see:

There are more of them and more of them and more of them. There are so many of them, rising up from the dirt and topsoil, that they make the ground turn from brown to black. They aren't on the ground anymore; they are the ground.

You run. You have no other options. You run and you can feel every insect beneath your boot, every squish of every exoskeleton and then you can feel them on your legs and you can feel their tiny legs climbing and if you stop to push them off, that just means more will show up, so you keep running and they keep climbing and now your legs are covered and so is your stomach and you arms and your shoulders and your neck and your mouth and your eyes.

The Many-Legged Kings feast on you. You are a tasty snack for them. Your skin is soft, your muscle chewy. Soon, you are just white bone against their black bodies.

You would serve as a warning to others not to step into this field, if the Many-Legged Kings didn't drag your skeleton underground to be fossilized with the others.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Port de Peste

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom ruled by a king who was a physician.

You are going to a new land, a land of plenty and opportunity, and you are going there by ship. And it is hell.

The conditions of the ship are brutal and sickening. Those on this coffin ship are packed tight, without regard to safety or sanitary conditions. The plague has struck many times and each time, you must give money to the sailors for them to even toss the body overboard, but it is better to lose money then to let the bodies fester in the heat. You try not to breath the noxious vapors, you try so hard to stay away from others, but there is no room, no room at all.

Until, finally, the ship lands. You are here. You are free.

Joyously, you rush to the top of the ship and prepare to leave. Until you see the men on the dock, the signs that they hold, the word that fills your heart with dread: quarantine.

You have traded one ship for another. Now, you and your fellow passengers must stay in this port for who knows how long. You don't even remember seeing this port on the map, but it must have been set up specifically to serve as a pest-house.

The workers of the port speak barely a word of your language. All you recognize is "quaratine." "Quarantine," they say repeatedly as they lead the sickly passengers away. "Quarantine."

One of the other passengers sidles up to you and says, "I hear they serve the Physician King. That this whole place was set up by him so that he could observe how fast those carrying the plague die."

You don't respond. You don't even want to open your mouth, the miasma is so thick around here.

Over time, more and more passengers of the ship disappear. You see each one being lead by one of the port workers, big hulking men and women wearing white cloaks and bird masks. You never see them again and you know why: the plague has taken them.

Finally, you are alone. The last passenger before you had to be dragged away, all the while screaming about how he had been "careful" and how he didn't have the plague at all. You shake your head and silently curse God.

And then they come for you. Their cloaks are still white and clean, so clean you don't even know how they have kept them in such a state. "Come with us," they say.

"Why?" you ask.

"Quarantine," they say. "Come with us."

You don't want to be dragged like the other man, so you slowly walk along with them. You have never felt the touch of the plague, perhaps they will finally let you go. Yes, that's it, they're going to let you go now, it's all over, you hope.

They lead you to a wooden door and slowly push the door open. Inside, there is a man. He is wearing a cloak like the others, but this cloak is black, as black as the deepest well you've ever seen. He wears a bird mask, too, but you can see there are actual feathers on this one, and the eyes are made of a shiny black glass. And above his mask, he is wearing a small wooden crown that looks like a snake wrapped around a stick.

You realize that this is the Physician King.

"Please," you beg. "I don't have the plague. I don't. Please."

The Physician King steps forward, his movements swift and sudden. With one gloved hand, he touches you on the chest and then moves away.

The port workers grab you and drag you outside. You cannot move, but you can see the sun on your face as they drop you. You stand up, unsure and afraid, and look around. You are outside now. You are free.

You long to ask why, but you know you would never receive an answer, so you simply thank God you are free and alive and start walking.

Until you feel a cough heaving in your throat, a fever burning in your blood, pustules bubbling on your skin.

If you didn't have the plague before, you certainly have it now. You look back, but the port is gone. No more quarantine.

The Physician King has work to do.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Big Sky Country

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom ruled by a king with many wings.

You have traveled a great distance to be here. You have traveled across seas and mountains, through small villages and large cities.

And now you are in the country of big sky. You haven't seen anything like this before. The clouds a perfectly white, the breeze is soft and gentle, and the sky seems so large that it dwarfs anything you can think of. You always wondered why it was called Big Sky Country, for other countries have certainly had skies and big ones at that, but now you know: it's not that the sky seems big, it is big. You just never noticed it before, but here, you can see just how immense it is, how magnificent it is. It's almost overpowering.

Luckily, the people who live in Big Sky Country are friendly and hospitable and they share with you their meals and ale and stories of life. It sounds like perfection - there are no roofs here, so at night, they sleep under the darkening sky and can see the morning sun when they wake up.

You decide to stay for the night just to experience it. After all, it sounds wonderful.

They give you a room and tell you that you are free to stay however long you want...provided you work for their king. You agree that this is a fair trade, although you only want to stay the night right now.

And as you fall asleep under the starry sky, it seems like you can hear some of the others whispering, but you cannot make out what.

When you awake, the dawn is breaking and it is beautiful. You are glad you stayed the night, until someone enters your room and says, "It is time. The king is coming."

"So soon?" you ask. "Can we not break our fast first?"

"We will eat with them," the person says, eyeing you uneasily.


"Our king," they say. "If you wish, you can watch their approach. You can see them on the horizon."

You go outside to try and catch a glimpse, but at first see nothing. And then you notice that the sky is darkening somewhat. The sun is still rising, but a dark cloud appears to be catching up with it. "What is that?" you ask.

"That is our king," they say. "The Many-Winged King. They have come to fill the sky and fill our bodies."

"'Fill the sky'?" you say and, looking closer, you noticed that the cloud appears to be made of black feathers. "But those are birds. They can't possibly be so many to fill..." You stop and your eyes widen. The cloud grows and grows and soon overtakes the sun, so that it is night all over again.

You rush, trying to get away from this place, but the cloud is faster than you could ever be. The Many-Winged King is above you now, a dark thunderstorm of claws and feathers and sharp, wicked beaks. You can feel a hum above you and see the crackle of lightning and then the boom of thunder and you fall to your knees.

"We all work for them," the others say. "It is the price to pay for living in Big Sky Country. For the sky to be so big, we must let it be filled. We must let ourselves be filled by them."

The birds that make up the Many-Winged King start to break up and the inhabitants of Big Sky Country each open their mouths and let the birds fill them up.

You gaze in terror, but eventually they hold you down and lift your face upwards to face the storm of birds.

And before you become a simply nesting place, you can hear them say, "Open wide."

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Gardens of Glossolalia

Once upon a time, there was a king who spoke all languages.

Have you ever heard of the Gardens of Glossolalia? They lie about ten parasangs from the edge of the eastern desert and are in the center of a stone city that has been completely abandoned. Come, why don't we visit it together?

You wish to know why they were called the Gardens of Glossolalia, don't you? Well, the city had always been known for its beautiful hanging gardens, gardens that covered terraces and plinths and pillars and which extended for hundreds of plethra within the city. But then something happened to those within the Gardens; they began to speak in a myriad of languages, both known and unknown. Some spoke in wild tongues that none could understand.

The inhabitants of the stone city said that the "seeds of the Garden" had caught these people and they were led to the edge of the city and made to wander the desert. Eventually, as time passed, more and more inhabitants fell to this strange affliction and were forced to leave the city until finally there was no one left.

Now, of course, you and I don't believe such a story. It's a tall tale, designed to keep visitors from finding the Gardens and its treasures. I mean, people gave gifts to the Gardens, as if it was their king. They left tokens of gold and silver, tokens which could still be there. Ours for the plucking, my friend.

Ah, here we are. What a magnificent sight. And look, there is the Gardens, just as I said. Well, all the plants have died out, of course, without anyone to water them and care for them. Look, all that's left is this gray mold substance - the effect of age on stone, I suspect.

And look, here's some writing on the wall. It's written in various languages - even Latin, I see. I wonder why. Let me see if my old school lessons still work. "Rex omnes Linguae." Ah, it's a warning. It reads: "The King of All Tongues will make you speak. The King of All Tongues will make you weep. The King of All Tongues gave us the word and can take it away. The King of All Tongues sang life and sang death. Leave now before the King of All Tongues sings again."

What was that? I didn't quite hear you. I'm sorry, I don't understand. Quit fooling around. I mean it, stop talking like that. Where did you learn how to speak like that anyway?

What are you doing? Don't sit down, we have to find that treasure, we have to...what is that gray substance doing? It''s growing on you. Come on, we have to move, we have to leave this place. I was wrong. Don't just sit there and babble on.

Oh god, oh god, it's on me, too. Get it off get it off bekommen sie ab fá það burt af mér núna voi luoja se kasvaa nire azala da gauza honekin estalita åh gud ho dio Ó Istenem ela-hando-satelay-eek-condele-mosandrey-aseya-sa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-aaaaaaaaa

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Slender City

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom ruled by a king who was tall and thin.

There is a city where the streets are paved in black and white stones, like a checkerboard. All the buildings are painted black and white and they are built tall and high and stretch into the skies. Men walk the streets, men in sharp business suits, with black ties and briefcases.

You are a stranger in this city, this city of black and white. You look at each building and notice they are made of wood - and have objects carved into the side. One building has a tree carved into it; the other has an apple; a third has a circle crossed out. Symbol after symbol adorn the buildings.

You stop one man on the street. "Excuse me," you say, "can you tell me what these symbols mean?"

"They are tributes to Him," he says nervously. "We carve them for the same reason we wear these suits. In tribute to the Thin King."

"He has a lot of tributes," you say, not noticing the hurried glances of the man you are talking to, the sweat on his brow. "Is he a good king?"

"He is the King," the man says, "and we pay tribute to him. Please, I must go." He pulls away and walks across the street, his footsteps pitter-pattering across the white and black stones.

You try to stop another man, but every one seems too busy to stop for you. Finally, you try following one man, but it seems like he is just walking in a roundabout way throughout the city. You follow another man and he, too, doesn't seem to actually be going anywhere. Finally, you manage to stop one man and ask him where he is rushing.

"Please," he says, "I need to go. If I stay in one place too long, He will notice me. He might want tribute from me or my family. Please."

"Fine," you say, "but where is this Thin King? I'd like to see him."

"The center of the city," the man says as he walks away from you. "Just go where we do not."

So you look at the man around and you see a direction they do not walk in. So you go in that direction, against the flow of men in sharp suits, and you see the buildings as they gradually grow bigger. They seem to reach farther and farther up into the sky and you wonder how they were built, until finally you come to the center of the city and you see the Thin King.

He is so tall, you almost don't see His face. You have to turn your head upward, upward so much that even at noon, His face would blot out the sun. And what a face: just a canvas of blank whiteness. You reel backwards, because the Thin King towers over every building, over everything, and you wonder how you could not see Him before. His fingers are larger than your entire body.

You trip and fall and suddenly His head turns toward you. He has noticed you. You get up and try to run, but it's useless. How could you outrun such a thing? You feel a strange fuzziness in your mind and a sickness in your stomach and you fall to the ground again and retch. Then your mind goes blank, blank as His face, and you descend into darkness.

When you wake up, the man who had talked to before is standing above you. He helps you up and you notice that you are now wearing a business suit. "He has spared you," the man says. "Now you must help us spread His symbols. You must help Him grow bigger. Or else He might ask tribute of you."

The man hands you a briefcase and, even though it's empty, it seems to contain the weight of the world.