and last

The novelist went home.

After a long adventure, in unknown lands and among strange people, when your life and your thinking have changed, when you’ve seen more and risked more and dreamed more than you ever did before, it can be hard to go home. Especially when the City Council, under rights of foreclosure, has built the new additional parking lot for Wowzo’s Shopping Centre over what used to be your home, like the novelist’s home.

The novelist stood in the new additional parking lot for Wowzo’s Shopping Centre with the  dissolute air of a man who can’t find his keys. Or his sofa. Or his house.

This, he decided, was a very strange sort of ever after.

He decided to go to Wowzo’s Shopping Centre.

He skirted past the grinning cyborg lurking in the doorway, waiting to welcome him to Wowzo’s, and blundered over to Customer Help.

“Er, hello?” he said.

The Customer Helper looked up from his detective novel. “Yeah, what?”

“I live here,” said the novelist.

The Customer Helper stared.

The novelist realized his mistake, laughed pleasantly. “Oh, not here exactly. I live over there.”

The Customer Helper stared where the novelist was pointing. The novelist followed his stare, and realized another mistake.

“Well, not in there, obviously, er, just outside. The additional parking lot.”

The Customer Helper returned his stare to the novelist.

“That is,” the novelist mumbled, “my house was there, and, ah, it isn’t.”

“Mister,” said the Customer Helper, “you need help.”

There were so many countless things massively entangled in this statement that the novelist laughed weakly and shuffled away. He pretended to look at dull greeting cards for a while, then slunk out of Wowzo’s, back to where his home wasn’t.

He sat on a car, drooped his head in his hand in despair. The car alarm went off, suddenly and violently. The novelist sprang with surprising agility to the curb, and there resumed his despondent posture. The car alarm kept wailing.

“I have traveled,” said the novelist, “untold miles through endless worlds. No—endless worlds and untold miles. Sorry, better the first way, just without through. Ahem. I have traveled untold miles, endless worlds, er—driving my story, no, bearing, no, questing my story before me. What the deuce does that mean? Ah, questing for the story that burns in my heart, I like that. Burns in my heart, is that a cliché? Quivers, that’s not. Ahem. I have traveled untold miles, endless worlds, questing for the story that quivers in my heart. Like a jelly. Quivering like calves foot jelly. What a horrid image. I have traveled untold miles, through endless worlds—no, not through—endless worlds, questing for—oh dash.”

The car alarm was shrilling through Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, transcribed in several keys for kazoo ensemble. The novelist glared at the car as if it were its fault.

“I hate monologues,” said the novelist.

He walked around behind Wowzo’s to get away from the car alarm. To his somewhat melancholy surprise, the dumpster still held relics of his house, refuse swept up after the munching of great machines. He clambered up to see if anything of sentimental values—a manuscript, perhaps, or a stray rejection letter—had survived.

A cloud of plaster dust choked him. He waved it away, wheezing, looked into the dumpster.

“Have you gone mad?” said a disembodied voice.

“Not,” said the novelist, “unless talking to disembodied voices makes one mad. So yes.”

“I like that,” said a second disembodied voice. “Got a sort of a good political ring to it. Answer no, unless yes.”

“That would be what you would say,” said the first disembodied voice. “I’ll write a scathing critique of that later. I’ll use the image of a wilted begonia.”

There was something suspiciously familiar about those disembodied voices. And why, the novelist wondered, if they were disembodied, did they emanate from about six feet above the ground when his own head was currently at about twelve?

The novelist looked down. The poet and the Press looked up at him.

“What are you doing here?” said the novelist.

“Looking for you,” said the Press. “Lovely little story you led me to, about the sock monkey trying to sell the script of the world. It all ended happily—the committee chairman was a closet literary agent, and after reading my article, he decided to represent the script. Beautiful story, thought you might have another.”

“There wasn’t anywhere else to go,” said the poet. “Besides, I thought you may have forgotten, in your rush to go home, that the king over this way wants your head cut off for writing a story that began with ‘Once Upon a Time’. He hate predictable plot lines.”

The novelist stared, then laughed.

“Look,” said the Press, “if you’re not mad, don’t laugh like that.”

“Why not?” said the novelist, still laughing.

“It might make sense,” said the poet gloomily. “It might not. Does it matter? No.”

“I think I am mad,” said the novelist. He looked into the dumpster, and suddenly realized what he was looking at.

“Well, come on, will you?” said the Press. “We’ve got to find another story.”

tender with the tulips.” The poet clasped his hand behind his head, stared vacantly at the giant face smiling down from the sky, without realizing at all what he was looking at. (No one else noticed, so it didn’t make much of a difference.) “soft rainfall on my cheek /and I begin to remember…”

“Just a moment,” shouted the novelist. “I found what I forgot!”

He dove into the dumpster.

The poet and the Press stared at each other.

“Was that wise?” said the Press.

“Does it matter?” said the poet.

They clambered up the side of the dumpster, looked in just as the novelist clambered out. He was covered with plaster dust, and had a nasty cut over one eye.

“Not the wisest choice I’ve made,” he gasped. “What are you doing up here?”

“Does it matter?” said the Press.

They swung off the dumpster.

“Right,” said the novelist. “Let’s go.”

“Er,” said the poet, “why did you dive in after a stick of wood?”

“Not a stick,” said the novelist. “Sword cane. Never leave home without it. Come on! Last one out of the kingdom is a rotten egg! Let’s find a new story!”

So they did.

(The laws of probability indicate one of them must have been a rotten egg, but the present chronicler thinks that unlikely, and recommends that the laws of probability take a hike.)


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