Monthly Archives: April 2013

Ningen

antarctic_humanoid_2

Hiroshi regarded the cutting board before him with calm. Machi hit the counter bell and he broke from his reverie long enough to hand her a carton of sturgeon roe, and then went back to his contemplation.

Iku-yo! was more alone the lines of a trendy coffee shop than a sushi bar. The chef was unskilled and hacked the fish in thick, uneven wedges and crushed the sushi instead of slicing it. It mattered little to their clientele, no traditional sushi connoisseurs, thrill-seeking twentysomethings and  gaijin who peppered their rolls with shoyu before even tasting it. What it lacked in staff skill it made up for in notoriety. Only last month Hiroshi had been contracted by the manager/owner to come along on a midnight “buying trip.” Thick, oily kujira rolls had been an unseen menu option for the following week, until the stench had turned even the manager’s guts. Rare, even illegal fish were their trade, but this…

Hiroshi’s official title was assistant chef, but he did little more than section up the fish meat to be handed off to the clumsy knife-swinger in the kitchen. All he had been told to do was section the fish before him and lay it out in Styrofoam cartons packed with ice. But he had yet to bring himself to touch it, let alone take a knife to its pale flesh.

Ningen. He thought only old people and fishermen believed in them, but if there was a better name for the white body before him he had yet to hear it. Like a sculpin, yet oddly jointed, as if the fins served another purpose. The skin looked rubbery and tough.

Machi’s hand dinged the bell again, and her head, shaved near-bald in the back but grown in shoulder-length tendrils near her ears, poked in the window and gave him an exasperated look. He gave her a slab of salmon to stall her.

Hiroshi was used to handling odd fish. He had worked on anglerfish, the meat near jellified from pressure shock, to seahorses, taken still living from their basin, to basking shark, this time only a fin and a bit of belly meat. Yet he still couldn’t bring himself to touch the fish directly, so he turned it over by using his knives as makeshift tongs.

The resemblance was even more uncanny on this side. Beady black eyes and a “nose” that he knew was just a bump of cartilage or some sensory organ, but together they formed a face that seemed to gaze at him with dumb shock. Two mounds between the pectoral fins. Hiroshi realized he was looking for nipples and made himself pick up his knives. It had no visible gills, yet the manager had called it a fish. He found himself wondering if the distinction was important. Oh well, it was easy enough to figure out…

He called the restaurant from home an hour later and told them he was never coming in again.

In the weeks that followed he avoided any mention of raw fish. He found a job in a trendy hipster café, the closest things to sushi were the sweet rolls they served with coffee. He served college kids with dorky hairstyles and tried to forget he had ever worked at a place called Iku-yo!

He ran into Machi once, on the street. Her trendy hair now had streaks of green, and she’d removed her lip stud. They’d crossed paths on the subway, she’d spotted him on her way into a car and her mouth opened to call his name, or perhaps ask him why he’d quit, but the doors shut between them. He was not sure he’d have an answer for her anyway.

He had a reason, of course. And nightmares. Endless, wet nightmares after he’d massaged the abdomen to express roe and something, not a mermaid’s purse, not roe, but most closely resembling a human fetus complete with umbilical cord slithered from the genital slit.

Hiroshi could still smell fish under his fingernails. He hoped it was psychosomatic since none of the customers complained.

Just once, his daily errand path led him past the restaurant. The little six-seat room had a line stretching out the door, and the sign now read Ningen-Yo! Though it sometimes added hours to his commute, he avoided that part of the city entirely.

Nights he’d stay up, thinking about that damn fish. Was it possible for humans to evolve alongside something at the same rate, but never seeing the other?  Was the ocean really so unfathomable that something like this could go unseen for so long? Then he wondered why it would keep itself hidden for so long, and why it would let itself be caught. Let itself. He tried to turn off his thoughts after that.

They received a new food shipment that day.

“It’s so healthy!” the counter girl gushed, “and so yummy! It’s s got, like, some kind of super protein in it. It’s really popular right now.”

Hiroshi regarded the box. Beneath balloon lettering, there was an illustration of a white fish with oddly jointed limbs and a smile.

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The Last Empress

Remick dropped his “surprise” on the table. It was a dead bird, wrapped in cloth.

Curtis did not give him the satisfaction of retching or pulling away,  two months spent as the youngest member of this expedition had hardened him to the archeologists’ unique sense of humor. Even now, Remick chuckled as if he’d jumped on a chair like a cartoon housewife, stroking his forelock out of place.

The bird was so stiff it rocked with the slam of the yurt door.

Around noon, the call came.  Weeks waiting under the blank sun, constant uphill work. Twelve solid feet of frozen dirt. Water that refroze as soon as you turned the torch off. They’d exhausted their butane four feet in and had to make do with the old pile-of-embers method like they were making a dugout canoe. All for one grave.

True to their steppe surroundings, the Qtak empire had been nomads. Well, perhaps empire was a strong word for a people who had never numbered in the thousands. They had been around though. Tussled with the Tatars, scrapped with with the Scythians, hunted a Hun or two. If half the things said by their enemies were correct(and they probably weren’t) the Qtaki had eaten their common dead, meaning a tomb was a very special find indeed.

Curtis rocked back and forth in his Keds as team members were outfitted with what little gear they needed. The stone cairn, a circular well-cap about twelve feet in diameter, didn’t go down very far. But it was cold. And treacherous. Ramirez now limped, still radiating enthusiasm after a near-miss with a real Indiana Jones-style deathtrap. The mood had sobered up considerably when Brecht informed them that the Qtak favored poison on their flint knife-edges, a nasty concoction that involved rotting several species of venomous fish.

The Qtak had a peculiar attitude towards death. The birds Curtis had been finding for days were a good luck charm, killed with a sling and buried in red cloth. Construction of the outhouse had turned up enough to bless an army. Whoever was buried here was a person of interest indeed. And yet Curtis felt no excitement as he was ushered in to the main burial chamber. The dig had been even more unglamorous than advertised, and he suspected that at least part of this was intentional. He had not taken part in the joy of discovery, or even the excavation of all the finery that nomads could offer. He was, instead, tasked with what fragments they could trust him not to drop with mittened hands. Brecht and Goldman petted the opening with bluing fingers. Ramirez nudged him.

“You first, Lord Carnarvon.”

The Qtak, Curtis found, had been big on horses. Or hated them. He had yet to decide as he bagged the umpteenth hoof-ornament. Before him, Goldman elucidated the smeary scrawl that covered the hide scrolls in the burial chamber. It promised the contractual swift and sudden death to all who broke the grave’s peace, urging the canny tomb raider to seek out somewhere less protected.

“–and you can see by the livering of the hide, the chief pigment was probably a manganese derivative,” Goldman explicated, “as seen on the storage jars of the Erener-Seers expedition of 1812…”

Goldman had nice, crisp diction and an infectious Birmingham drawl, which was probably why Brecht left the speeches to him. The shorter man braced his forearms over his chest, legs apart, scowling with authority.

The nomads had left horn drinking cups and hide utensils. The nomads had eaten with a crude spoon/knife hybrid and their chief diet had been meat and a kind of millet. There was no metal, not even ornaments.

Curtis tagged the tableware and tried not to look at the dais.

Ice had kept time from touching everything, even the bacteria that would rot a body found no footholds in here. A slender wrist, white and smooth as bone, protruded between robe and silk warming pouch. It was swirled with blue spirals that suggested labyrinths. Curtis caught Brecht’s scowl and lowered his head. The tomb had many treasures, the most mundane packed loosely to bribe customs officials, the most precious secreted in equipment boxes. Only when this was done would they consider the body.

That night Curtis had a primitive stew made with caribou fat and blood and vinegar to keep it from congealing. In their tent, Brecht and Goldman and six senior members had Kraft mac ‘n cheese with Miller Lite. After he feigned fullness to leave the table, Curtis shrugged on his gloves and went for a walk.

There was a special kind of emptiness to the plains. It was something they didn’t tell you about, and he didn’t think anyone could put it into words. He wondered what could possibly frighten a people after living in such a place.

His wandering carried him past the tomb. Hermann was watching the entrance with one of their precious beers. He had been least antagonistic towards Curtis, probably out of regret for the snake-in-the-boot incident early on in the expedition that had nearly killed him. Oh well, Curtis would take goodwill where he could.

The pudgy Viennese smiled as he approached and waved him closer.

“Here,” he called, “something to show you.”

The possibility that Hermann’s contrition had run out did grace Curtis’s thoughts, but he scrambled through the low stone arch anyway.

Curtis clenched to himself. It was against all physical logic that a place sheltered from the incessant windchill would be colder. Hermann, made merry against the cold by alcohol, beckoned him further.

“Look surprised when they reveal this tomorrow,” he rasped in Curtis’s ear, “otherwise we’ll both be in deep shit.”

He lit the dais with a small camping lantern, throwing the diaphanous veil into mist. Curtis wondered how a people who lived by blood and dirt could make anything so fine and–

“It’s a girl,” he breathed. Hermann gave him an odd look.

“How’d you guess?” he said, “never mind. This is queen Rangana XXXVIII, last and most horrible ruler of the Qtak people. Even to a bunch of murdering bastards, she was a little too much. All this writing? They wanted to make sure she stayed put. Nasty little bitch she must’ve been.” He pointed with his chin. “See her gown? Bridal garb. They dressed her this way because she was marrying god.” He caught Curtis’s puzzled stare. “They walled her in here.”

Curtis stared at that fine little wrist, which had been jarred or moved intentionally to display more of the tattoo that wound like a stylistic bruise up her arm. Hermann snorted like a water buffalo and scratched his ass.

“They buried beer with her, too,” he said, grinning crookedly, “I’d invite you to partake, but who knows what they put in it?”

Curtis didn’t want anything to drink, even when a remorseful Hermann offered a sip of his longneck. He wasn’t sure he could keep the stew down anyway.

Through the soothing buzz of his yurtmate’s snoring, even with the reassuring rasp of Remick’s foot against his left calf, Curtis dreamed he was alone on the plain. Stranded from all directions, he had no cover against the endless procession of day and night. There was a stone on his chest, and when he tried to move he found his body brittle.

Ramirez slapped him none-too-gently awake for briefing. He was still ten minutes late and arrived tucking his pullover into the waist of his pants. Brecht stared a silent reprove. Goldman took point, speaking with sonorous goodwill.

“My and my colleague’s suspicions have proved to be correct, this is indeed the tomb of Rangana XXXVIII.” He paused for polite oohs and ahhs and a few good-natured fucks. Brecht dissected Curtis with his gaze, so he pantomimed exaggerated shock.

“The last, and most despised, ruler of the Qtak,” Goldman continued, warming to his subject, “when she died, they scratched her name from every official record… those that were left, anyway. The product of a Dynasty’s treachery and inbreeding, the lady was called a sorceress and a demon and a few other terms that don’t translate. Her chief surviving title is “woe to the people.’”

Curtis gazed over her majesty. She had been buried with all finery, a dainty set of horsehide slippers and an antler comb for the hair that still shone lustrous and deep red beneath her veil. She was small. So small.

“When her reign ended prematurely, it was thought that one of her male relatives would ascend to the throne, but the people could no longer take a chance of another tyrant of her stature—”

Curtis’s hand cut through the air. Goldman, piqued at the interruption, nodded his head.

“Mister Fullman seems to be under the impression we are in class. Yes?”

“Fullham,” he corrected automatically, “and how can that possible, sir? She’s just a girl.”

The silence cracked like glacial ice between the party. Curtis knew he had just trashed his chances at ever recovering popularity, but it was important.

It was Brecht who answered him, though. “And I suppose you doubt all the empirical evidence we’ve amassed since the beginning of the dig?” he inquired in clipped Braunschweig tones.

“Couldn’t they have switched her out for a nobody? Surely anyone could see that this is the body of someone who has yet to hit puberty—”

But Goldman was already clucking, Brecht shaking his head slowly with a condescending smile on his face.

“I would like,” he said, “to get the corpse appraised by a proper scientist before we take the word of a grad student.” Low chuckles.

Curtis knew he should stop, here and now, but the tiny form squeezed into his chest like a fist.

“With all due respect, sir,” he said, giving each word a knife-edge, “this has all the hallmarks of a sacrifice, perpetuated by the same small minds who would condemn someone incapable of defending themselves.”

Crimson bloomed across Brecht’s cheeks.

“Fullham, you’re suspended until further notice,” Goldman said softly.

Curtis rested his head against the yurt wall and listened to Hermann listen to a Turkish game show. The others were busy packing and labeling the empress’ last effects, then they would return with their scalpels and—

Curtis squeezed his eyes shut. no.

He wondered what it was like, being betrayed by your own people, used as an expendable asset. Had she been lonely? It was lonely out here.

Curtis tugged on his gloves. He only had so long. So long, so long she’d been out here. Betrayed.

Herman’s skull gave neatly to his flashlight.

The tomb was cold as he wriggled his way through the small(child)-sized door.

Whoever had put her on her dais had arranged her with decorum in a sitting position. She had one hand out as if offering(beckoning) and one hand to her stomach(clutching a wound?) inviting. Her shawl was the deep red of celebrations, of joy, of blood.

The body he carried was as light as death.

He couldn’t imagine the kind of people who would bury a small girl like this, who would take advantage of someone so much weaker and smaller than they were. To shut them up in the dark, declaring that they would never rise. It was all slander, like Tacitus against Messalina, like Daniel against Nebuchadnezzar II. She must have been a convenient scapegoat, a girl of royal blood, or just a girl at the wrong place at the wrong time. No one so young was capable of anything of such a massive and evil scope. Beneath his hand, her illia had not even flared. And this was a despot?

Goldman met him coming back from the outhouse, smile dying on his lips. Curtis hit him twice to make sure he stayed down. So small, so light in his arms. Had she caught the eye of some fat warlord and paid the price for it? Had she no one in the world to speak up for her, defend her against sacrifice? Or(he feared this was the case) had they held the priest’s sleeves as they ritualistically bound her ankles together?

The first of the jeeps caught aflame easily. Ramirez went after him with the jerrycan, so he had to put her down somewhere safe before he could grapple. Ramirez had eighty pounds on him, but made the mistake of showing him an old football injury on the trip up. He fell, hand clapped to his spurting ear. Curtis spit out cartilage and blood and felt warm for the first time since arriving here.

Brecht fell quickly, ice blue eyes widening at the tent stake. Some joker had smuggled a gun in his sock, but Curtis divested him of that smart quick. The yurts burned like torches as he hunted down the survivors.

He found her still curled up in the knoll he’d left her in.  Gathering her tenderly to himself, he murmured reassurances he knew were ineffective. They’d called her a sorrow, a plague, a woe on the people. They had called a child a tyrant. Let them see what true tyranny was.

Beneath empty skies, he rocked the bride of god.

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Clockworks

If I remember correctly it all started right around here. Two fellows. The first went by the name of Johannes. Johannes Fitcher, best damned tinkerer you ever saw, worked out of the old clock shop by himself, even though there hadn’t been clocks there since…but what was the other one? Franz? Friedrich? No, Franz. Franz von Homburg, fine fellow. Came from fine stock. They were chums, more from duty than anything else. Their fathers went way back, but then old Fitcher went bankrupt and knocked himself off without thought for his widow and child, and there were whispers about nasty business Homburg had dealt to him, but I won’t bore you with gossip.

Franz made a point of patronizing his friend’s establishment on a regular basis, usually to introduce some new so-and-so from the city to Johannes’ many wonders. How they’d laugh at Johannes’ clever fingers, all his little gadgets. A less enlightened soul would say Homburg’s visits did more harm than good, as his rich guests often left with more mirth than merchandise. But Franz was always solicitous after Johannes’ health.

Such friends! And when they should be so opposed, too! You see, in the strange caprice that sometimes strikes children of nobility, Franz thought to enter the clergy. He took many years of study, every holiday coming back home to his empty manor and his good friend Johannes. And every holiday, at least once a visit, Johannes would push himself back from his workbench, wipe his eyes behind his spectacles, and regard his newest specimen with pride.

“Now if that’s isn’t just near life,” he would say.

And Franz, smiling, would riposte, “but you will never truly be near life, Johannes. Only God can make it so.”

And, humbled, Johannes would return to his work.

Such work! Clockwork birds that sang popular melodies, rosy-cheeked maidens that fed Chinese pheasants and geese, silver crickets that trilled with the hour. Johannes worked his way slowly up to master craftsman, mostly under his own impetus. The tragic part of his brilliance was that he never got a proper education, by the age of twenty he could barely write his own name, and any apprenticeship was out of his grasp.

Oh, there were those crass persons who said he could have imposed on his friend for money, but Franz reassured him that if he was truly meant to have an education, God would see to it that one came his way. Alas, Franz was beset by money troubles and could give no  help to his oldest friend, not that he would cheapen their friendship with monetary taint anyway. And Johannes would smile that sad, understanding smile and work harder.

By twenty-three, he had surpassed even his father in his mastery of the mechanical. At twenty-five, he buried his mother. We all felt for him, a man without family—but such a powerful friend! It seemed every other day he was bringing new city folk in in their bright taffeta and linen to laugh at Johannes’ clever clockwork creatures! It got to be so common folk couldn’t even get through the door! Lord bless their hearts, the rich are such different creatures from you or I, they could not buy Johannes’ stock for they were too common but if he were to build to their wishes he would go out of business.

And almost every other day, Johannes would rub his eyes with his fists, sigh, and say of some mechanical wonder that had all but the breath of life:

“So close!”

And Franz, smiling, would clap a meaty hand on his friend’s shoulder and chide him:

“But not quite!”

Poor Johannes seemed to age ten years in the next five, though his work advanced in suit. Clockwork serpents that coiled around peach-enameled Eves who bit into red glass apples. Astrolabes of imaginary planets, even Buckley’s Tlӧn included, wrought in jasper and jade. Courtyard scenes of such intricate movement that one could not view all in one sitting. And yet he never grew an ego, like old doctor Coppola down in Bremen, for his good friend Franz was always on hand to humble him back to earth.

I’m forgetting something aren’t I? Ah, the women. No woman wants to marry a man penniless, no matter how big his dreams are. Johannes had little more than hope, and it was often only a little way into a visit before a faithless maiden would turn her calculating gaze to his friend. Poor Johannes! Poor Franz! He tried often to interest his friend in women, parading them by his shop, but more often they would leave arm in arm, and he would have to find a way to courteously distangle himself without scandal.

…Wait, there’s still one I’m forgetting.

One day Franz entered the shop, and his usual friendly rejoinder died on his lips. A most curiously beautiful creature, a Botticelli angel brought to solid form, stood bent at the waist to peer at the clockwork Eve. Johannes, however, seemed to  act curtly toward her, delivering short, clipped instructions as if to a dog. Her face registered no dismay, only lovely blank curiosity towards the clockwork wonder.

Franz introduced himself. The lady pivoted at her hips like a Javanese dancer, proffered her hand in a most balletic manner. Yet it was Johannes who introduced her, called her the lady Something-of-Something from southern Somewhere, in need of an escort. Well, dear, lovely, lonely Franz, how can he hear this but offer his help? The maiden regarded his offer with cool composure, and Franz feared he’d finally overstepped his bounds, but Johannes said she could not fail to appreciate the finer points of the city with him at hand. And the lady spoke her first words to Franz in assent.

Ah, if I could only tell you that voice! No wax cylinders exist of it, lest everyone be reduced to a lotus-eaten stupor. It was like peals of a silver bell, with a lovely rhythmic quality. To hear her was the essence of womanhood. And what better match for her than the fine essence of manhood Franz von Homburg, only a little worse for wear after a few year’s university dinners. He took her to galleries, operas, even the finest parties of the genteel. Always she was an ethereal presence at his elbow; a lady to the end, she spoke very little and only in reply.

One of her most commendable qualities was her talent for listening; the flush of her white throat, the wet shine of her sapphire eyes, she focused upon the speaker as if on the holy word. Oh, Franz grew quite smitten. Perhaps her permissibility went a way toward stemming his prior habits, he did not take liberties with her that he had taken with ladies of lesser stature. He quite forgot himself, forgot his good friends who were showing signs of becoming old friends, quite forgot about poor Johannes alone in his workshop. Inevitably, he proposed marriage, and the lady lowered her eyes modestly in assent.

The old house had not been so alive and gay before or since. Even the grand hall, with its teak floors and plush wall-rugs seemed not grand enough for the lady, and Johannes ordered a good chunk of his inheritance toward redecoration. As to color and style, the lady only replied modestly that whatever her husband-to-be chose would be enough for her. Such a lady, we said, already so attuned to the needs and preferences of her husband! Such a saintly being, a model of behavior for the lesser cherubim of matrimony.

The day came, as all days must, and the wedding was held in the grand hall, now shining with gilt and glass and sporting not a few fine silk flowers. The groom looked quite handsome(well-fed, less charitable souls might say) in finely-cut linen, and the lady was stepped out of a Raphael painting. No dress could have done her justice, but the almost sardonic plainness of her gown seemed only to accentuate the gold fall of her hair, the sapphire of her eyes, the symmetrical rose flush of her cheeks.

Much merry was had that day. Anyone and everyone was there, even poor little Johannes had managed to detach himself from the workbench for a day and dress up in an ink-spotted collar. He greeted his friend in all good spirits, gathering him in an embrace and leaning in close to his ear.

Many a year has passed since then, and this is all hearsay coming from the son of some viscount who happened to be within earshot, but the thing they say Johannes whispered into his friend’s ear went something like this:

“Do you like her? Could the creator himself have done better?”

Franz never did go into the clergy; his financiers ran into some trouble and he went to the south of France to drink away the last of his money. Johannes’ figures remain collector’s items, run smoothly as the day you bought them. He never married, no, but he maintained his business with the sense of pride usually reserved for literary scholars. As for the lady herself, I’ve never heard conclusively as to where she ended up.

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Princess Bighands, a fairy tale for disappointing children

Once upon a time there was a princess who was born just kind of okay-looking, so the fairy invited to her christening ran out of ideas for gifts to give her and decided to give her the biggest hands in the county. This was a problem when she was a baby, because instead of petting kitties she would smash them flat.

Then when she became a little girl they were the biggest hands in the country. Every time she tried to wave hi to anyone she would accidentally give them a black eye. She had to be careful when clapping because the sonic boom created from her hands would shatter glass. And every time she snapped she would start a fire.

The problem got so bad she went to a wizard to shrink her hands. The wizard was smoking a pipe so long it reached up the chimney.

“What seems to be the problem?” he asked.

“My hands are lethal weapons,” she said, resting them on the sofa and squashing his wizard cat, “the last time I hi-fived someone I wiped out his entire family. Can you help me?”

The wizard rolled up his sleeves. “Of course, I can fix it so you wipe out his entire bloodline.”

And the princess said, “No, no, I want normal-sized hands.”

The wizard laughed a hearty wizard laugh. “I haven’t heard such a ridiculous request since King Evilkitty the first told me to kill all the first-borns in the kingdom. If anything, your hands are too small! They should block out the sun!”

The wizard was obviously off his conker so the princess punched his entire life and left.

The princess was all out ideas to help her kingdom so she decided to take up boxing. But the first punch she threw made an entire species of mink go extinct. Then when she was retracting the punch, she made a wind tunnel that destroyed the cash crop of soybeans. So her subjects sent her to live in the mountains with all the other oddly shaped people they wanted to get rid of. There she met the boy with no nose, a man shaped like a key, and a rabbit in a cat’s body. When she saw the caves they had to live in, she sat down and cried princess  tears, which are like normal tears but slightly oily with a hint of orange peel.

“Don’t cry,” said the boy with no nose, “your tears will attract wolverines!”

“I can’t stop crying,” the princess cried, “I have to live in a smelly cave just because my hands kill people.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” said the man shaped like a key, “say what you will about our deformities, at least they don’t kill people. You can sleep outside.”

At that, the princess cried harder, and in trying to rub her eyes she accidentally knocked herself out. When she awoke she found a lovely fairy hovering over her.

“Hello, princess,” she said, “I’m here to grant you a wish.”

“Cripes!” said the princess, “if you could do this the entire time, why’d you wait until I was all miserable?”

The fairy laughed like a drag queen. “then you wouldn’t have learned your lesson.”

“What lesson, magic people are jerks?” the princess asked. “’Cause I think I’ve learned that one pretty well.”

“Hush,” said the fairy, “your troubles are now over: behold!”

And a beautiful, shimmery, beautiful shimmer settled on her hands, and when the blinding flash faded, the princess now had squid tentacles for hands.

“What the barf?” the princess said, “you’ve just made my problem grosser. I thought you were going to help!”

The fairy said, “but now you won’t crush people with your hands, and you can get things out of very narrow bottles, it’s win-win!”

The princess sighed. “No it isn’t, but if you try again you’ll probably make something even dumber. I guess I’ll stay with this.” And with that she turned to her loyal subjects.

“To you, my fellow freaks, I bequeath special positions within my kingdom.”

To the boy with no nose she said, “you, boy, shall be the keeper of royal tissues.” And the boy put his face in his hands and cried and cried.

To the rabbit in the cat’s body she gave a collar with a nametag that said “rabbit.” And he didn’t really say anything because, well, cat.

And to the man shaped like a key she said, “ And you shall be our royal key.”

“Wait, no,” said the man shaped like the key, “I hate being shoved into doors and getting all bruised, it’s why I moved out here.”

“Well, suck it up,” the princess said, “you’re doing it.”

And so princess Bighands became princess Squidhands. And everyone was happy except for visiting dignitaries who had to brave that handshake. Urgh.

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