Saturday, December 12, 2015

28 Xmas Stories, 15: Like a flame brought to life and given diamond-sharp edges

In The Forests Of The Night, On Xmas Eve.

Tiger prowls the jungle every night, and Xmas Eve is no different: Tiger must eat, which means Tiger must hunt, which means something must die.

It is the way of the jungle.

This night, which was Xmas Eve - -although Tiger did not know that (yet) – something smelled different in the jungle. Tiger smelled cold, and distance, and something it could not place but which was enticing.

Tiger padded silently through the trees that stretched up and up and up so high that the stars were almost never visible. The light of the moon whipped through leaves and vines and branches, flung down upon the hills where Tiger lived, but by the time it got to the bottom of the jungle, here, it fluttered and gasped and Tiger slipped easily from shadow to shadow without being bothered by the glimmers of sky at all.

The air quivered with excitement and that made Tiger’s whiskers bristle.


Tiger curled around the last edge of a mound covered with ancient rotting logs, and its eyes saw in the night a dim glow of a fire inside a hut.

Something moved…

Tiger crouched and tensed.

The firelight shot tiny sparks up and out, faint glows, ghosts of light, really – spectres that danced in the edges of the night. Tiger was not distracted. While its eyes soaked in the scene, it felt the air with its whiskers and tasted the odors of prey in its keen nose.

Something… icy.

Tiger wondered at that word: icy. As with cold, as with distant this was something new. It was what had lured Tiger here. Nothing in the jungle, packed with vegetation and insects and monkeys and snakes and rivers and everything that teemed here, was cold or distant or icy.

Something furry…

Tiger crept closer to the hut. The reddish glow of the embers of the fire made the windows feel awake, as though it were watching him. Tiger could hear breathing, though, deep and sibilant, and knew that the occupants were asleep.

Something glimmered…

Something smoked…

Something shook and jiggled and

Tiger tensed, ready to leap.

The thing stopped and looked at him.

“Well Well Well, if it isn’t Tiger,” it said to him. Tiger sat back in the shadows of the grass at the edge of the clearing, blended almost perfectly into the night. “Well, come out, come out, come out.”

Tiger sat.

The thing stepped another foot forward, leaving the hut. It held a large bag over its back, and its eyes, even with its back to the fire, twinkled with starlight. Or… snow.

Tiger licked its lips. Snow.

“What are you doing here, Tiger?”

Tiger finally spoke: Hunting, it replied in the voice of the jungle, the rushing of water, the whisper of leaves, the flap of bird wings, the snap of a twig.

“Hunting. Not these people, surely.”

When the thing spoke, Tiger could hear night skies, wind, moonlight, mountaintops, merriment. When the thing spoke, Tiger felt dizzy with the onslaught of emotion and sensation. But it did not waver in its stare.

“Not… me,” the thing said.

Tiger narrowed its eyes in answer, tensed its shoulders, curled back its lips.

“Don’t you know who I am?” the thing asked.

I don’t care who you are, Tiger told it. Tiger remained perfectly still – the way an arrow is perfectly still the moment before it takes flight. The way a heart is perfectly still, between beats.

“I am Santa Claus, Tiger! You can’t be hunting me.”

Again, that voice: this time it sounded like cinnamon, it tasted like wishes, it curled around Tiger’s ears like hot chocolate. Tiger shook its head, slightly, to clear it. These were things that did not concern it.

I do not know you, Tiger growled back.

“Everyone knows me! I circle the globe on Xmas Eve, bringing joy to children and happiness to families. People sing of me! People bring their babies to sit on my lap. People write to me and draw pictures of me in crayon and leave me cookies and milk.”

Tiger took a half step forward now, eyes locked on the stranger… the Santa Claus… Tiger’s fur bristled with the whipping of wind about the North Pole, Tiger shivered at the loneliness of a man who ventures out only one time per year, and even then must fly through the night, by himself, creeping into houses and partaking of the remnants of a holiday eve.

Tiger took another half-step, claws out now, white in the glow from the windows of the hut.

I do not know you, Tiger said again. And I hunger.

“I am the Spirit of Xmas!” Santa Claus said, smiling.

To me you are meat, Tiger said, and even as Tiger’s howling roar shrieked the word meat into the air so wildly it rebounded off the faraway mist-covered mountains that surrounded them, it leapt with a vicious speed that cannot be imagined: it was a blur of orange and black and teeth and claw, like a flame brought to life and given diamond-sharp edges.

It came down on nothing.

Tiger spun, bared its teeth, ripped its claws through the air, spun again, tail lashing like a whip.


From above came the voice again: “I know you didn’t mean that, Tiger!” When Tiger looked up, the man, this Santa Claus, stood atop the hut. There were other animals there now, deer of a sort, pawing at the straw of the roof. Somehow they all fit up there and yet they could not. Tiger’s eyes balked at the sight, even as Tiger’s back seemed to feel the soft wet of newly-fallen snow while the man talked.  “I know you are just doing what tigers do, and so I won’t hold it against you.  But surely even you, Tiger, have something of the spirit of Xmas in you.  Surely even you can find it in your heart to stay in one night a year, to leave off with killing for one day, to pad your way through the jungle and merely nod at the animals you see, to allow humans to walk by unscathed, to give the one thing you can give to your fellow beings: to spare them.”

In those words, Tiger felt the weight of a billion billion gifts, built by tiny hands, carried through the air on the back of a sleigh, placed delicately underneath trees that glowed like they were filled with stars themselves. Tiger saw the gleam of shiny paper and the soft curl of ribbons. Tiger heard the giggles and shrieks of children, the soft gasps of parents. Tiger smelled love in those words.

“Surely you, Tiger, now know what Xmas is, and what it means,” Santa Claus said, and he was again standing before Tiger, red and black and white and round and smiling, his eyes reflecting Tiger’s own sharp face and green gaze.

Santa held out a mittened hand, palm up, before Tiger. Tiger looked down into it, this black mitten. Tiger saw there a tiny white shape, and as its eyes focused on it, Tiger saw that the shape had points, and whirls, and creases, and folded in and out upon itself, and gleamed white and… icy … in the palm of Santa’s hand. Tiger saw itself reflected back from many facets of the tiny snowflake. When Tiger looked back up, Santa was smiling.

“Merry Xmas, Tiger,” Santa said, and laid a finger alongside his nose.

Tiger blinked.

The man, Santa, was gone.

Tiger stood there in bewilderment for a moment, and then felt a breeze stir up. Tiger’s nostrils flared, and his ears circled back and forth. The breeze whipped through his whiskers and danced around, growing colder and colder. Tiger shivered at first, and then stopped as snowflakes began falling all around him. 

In the heart of the jungle, in the clearing by the tiny hut Santa had just left, snow began falling more and more heavily.  It fell in great gleaming wet flakes that coated Tiger’s whiskers and lay heavy on his back. It formed drifts and hills in a short time.  Tiger jumped through the hills and rolled in the valleys of snow. Tiger ran in circles into the wind and against it, feeling the snow sting his eyes and pelt his nose and ears.  Tiger burrowed into the snow and came up covered in it, shaking it off in great clumps. Tiger licked and ate the snow until his tongue was numb and his belly sore with icy glee. Tiger sat and stared up into the sky, watching as the snowflakes drifted down from the stars above to gently flare past his vision and join their fellows on the ground.

Tiger kept at this until the sun started to rise and he heard the children in the hut begin to stir. Looking, Tiger saw in the doorway two small children, a boy and a girl. They had frozen at the sight of the large cat. Their eyes were wide with terror. Tiger’s stomach rumbled with hunger and his nostrils flared at the scent of the meat that stood before him.

But Tiger's mind remembered the man from the night, the single snowflake in his palm. Tiger's ears recalled the words he had heard; Tiger's heart still held the feel of the visit.

Merry Xmas, Tiger whispered to the children, and padded off into the jungle, the snow melting behind him.


And now, a seasonal message from Mr Bunches

"Xmas is a holiday like Valentine's Day,  Happy Lincoln, and Easter Bunny."
-- Mr Bunches

Friday, December 11, 2015

28 Xmas Stories 14: So I didn't have to pretend to like egg nog.

Xmas Is As Xmas Does

One Xmas I proposed that instead of giving each other gifts, we should each just go out and buy ourselves something we wanted, then gather at someone’s house on Xmas Eve to show each other the presents we bought, and drink egg nog and sing our annual Xmas carol and play party games where we draw rude pictures of things and try not to laugh at the guesses.

This was very popular, and we all loved the presents we got ourselves. (I bought myself a video-game system and a large screen TV.)  We met at Daniel’s house and I led everyone in a merry rendition of Deck The Halls (which truth be told was a little rough around the edges as most people hadn’t practiced much) and Marlene won the party game because she knows pretty much everything about movies.

The next Xmas, we did the same thing about the presents, plus to make sure everyone was really happy we decided we’d each bring our own refreshments to Marlene’s house (it was her turn to host).  So I didn’t have to pretend to like egg nog, and nobody had to eat Marlene’s stuffed brussels’ sprout hors d’ouevres.

Well I don’t have to tell you we had an ever better time, what with all of us having the snacks we liked best, etc., and that year we sang The Twelve Days Of Xmas (we were a bit better, having Shelley for the first time really brought the group up in terms of talent) and played charades. Everyone thought it was hilarious when Terrance had to act out Martin Van Buren (which he did brilliantly, we realized, once he told us who he was.)

So why mess up a good thing? The next year it was my turn to host. We bought ourselves presents again – I got myself several very good books and a Pizza-Of-The-Month club membership (Gold Level: no Canadian bacon, guaranteed!) – and brought our own snacks but I put a twist on it this year: I said instead of trying to figure out what one party game everyone would like what if we each just brought along a game we could play and see if anyone else wanted to join in? So while I was playing Football Megastorm XVI (another gift to myself) Marlene was playing solitaire at the kitchen table, Daniel was doing that one zombie game on his phone, and Terrance had his Sudoku which nobody ever likes anyway, leaving Todd to play chess against himself while Shelley and Lisa tried yo-yo tricks. At the end of the night everyone was very happy, and the break we took to all sing Angels We Have Heard On High really made us feel extra close, since it was the only time we were together actually all night.

I know what you’re thinking and no we didn’t decide the next year that we would all just stay at our own houses with our own presents and our own games. Don’t be stupid: how would we have the annual Xmas carol we sing if we weren’t all together? So we just did the usual bring-our-own presents/snacks/games, this time to Lisa and Shelley’s apartment, and the song we all had practiced was Carol of the Bells and even though it’s a tough song we nailed it, I think. I don’t know, you tell me: we posted the video and you can go watch it.

This year around about April Shelley sent an email to everyone pointing out that it was kind of dumb for us to celebrate Xmas only on December 24, because what if people wanted to celebrate it some other time? She had decided, she said, to give herself a trip to Alaska for Xmas and she was damned if she was going to Alaska in December. Why don’t we all just pick a day for Xmas that works for us? She wrote. That was like the best idea everyone had ever heard. My Xmas Eve was October 23, the day I finally had enough for the motorcycle I’ve been saving up for.  And if I want to sing along with the others I can just go key up that video and sing with that because really I think that was kind of our high point anyway.

We Interrupt These Xmas Stories For A Very Special Inventions We Need:

"Schrodinger's Box," a website that will send you a package every month, selecting one item from a website you have clicked on in the month before.

There'd be a fee, of course. How else am I going to get rich?

PS This is the second genius idea Andrew Leon helped me come up with. Third, if you count the pigs. (This was the first.)

UPDATE I guess they have something like that already

Thursday, December 10, 2015

28 Xmas Stories, 13: That's not the kind of thing elves would make.

This Is Not A Xmas Story.

This is not a Xmas story. In this story, no little boy writes a letter to Santa Claus, who does not exist and who certainly does not live at the North Pole.  That letter, which never existed, did not ask Santa, ditto, for a new bike for Xmas, and also to help the boy’s dad find a new job so he (the dad) would be happy again, which would make him (the boy) happy as well. 

Again: that letter was not written and never asked for those things, which the boy wouldn’t have asked Santa Claus (remember: NOT REAL) for, in any event.

The letter wasn’t left on the boy’s desk, not yet mailed, but it wasn’t not left there only because the boy was not certain whether Santa Claus was real or not. The boy’s belief in Santa Claus never wavered, because the boy had no belief in a Santa Claus who never existed and who would have been powerless to get the boy’s dad a new job, anyway: that’s not the kind of thing elves (which needless to say ALSO are nonexistent) would make.

Also: who asks for a bike in the middle of winter? Nobody, that’s who, because the boy didn’t ask for that in the letter he never wrote that he then never dithered about whether to send to Santa Claus because Santa Claus didn’t exist.

Since the letter never was written and never left on the boy’s desk (he didn’t even own a desk), the boy’s mother couldn’t have found the letter laying there, next to an envelope the boy never got from his teacher and didn’t bring, specifically so he could never address it to “Santa Claus, c/o The North Pole.” He certainly didn’t put postage on that envelope which obviously is some sort of figment of your imagination, the result of an undigested bit of beef, or a blot of mustard. Because he never did that, the boy’s mother never was able to pick up this hypothetical letter and its equally imaginary envelope, never read it first with a twinkle in her eye and then with a sadder expression as it went on. She never then took it to the boy’s father, who wouldn’t have just come in from another job interview and obviously would not have stood in the front hallway, snow dripping off his dress shoes, reading the letter and feeling miserable. Just as equally, the two wouldn’t over the next few days expectantly look at the old avocado-colored phone on the kitchen counter – neither avocados nor phones being things that are, you understand, which is why they didn’t look at such a phone – jumping every time it (didn’t) ring, leaping to get it in case there was good news just in time for Xmas.

The boy’s mother certainly wouldn’t have, in some sort of fit of optimism or compassion or merely because it was something to do, have put the letter into the envelope and then put the whole shebang into the mailbox. Keep in mind: There was no letter, and no Santa Claus to receive it.
That’s why, on Xmas Eve, neither the boy nor his mother and father lay awake, clenching their eyes against their excitement, hoping to fall asleep despite the way their body buzzed with the electric possibility of presents the next morning: all of them knew that there were no presents under the tree already, and there would be no presents under the tree the next morning.  Since the boy had never written the letter to Santa and Santa had never lived in a candy-cane house in the frozen northlands to receive it, and since the world DOES NOT WORK THIS WAY, I must repeat, DOES NOT WORK THIS WAY, there would be (everyone knew, except probably you because I can tell you are not getting the message, here) no surprises waiting for them on Xmas Day.

That is why, too, all three of them slept in on Xmas Day, nobody getting up at the crack of dawn and racing downstairs to see only crumbs and an empty glass where the night before had been cookies and milk. There were no cookies to spare, and none of them would waste a perfectly good glass of milk like that. When they did all get up and go to the living room, the boy did not rub his sleepy eyes in wonderment at the shiny new bike under the tree.  The dad and mom did not hug each other in amazed joy that such a miracle could have happened. The phone did not suddenly ring out like the bells that heralded the birth of Jesus, with a job offer on the other end of the line.



All that happened was: On Xmas Day, the family woke up around 10 a.m. The mom made pancakes. Everyone liked pancakes, and they were inexpensive. The boy ate five of them. Pretty big ones, too. It was Xmas, so nobody told him to ease up. On Xmas, you can eat as many pancakes as you want. At least that much is true. Then, since there was snow on the ground – it had snowed the night before, it sometimes snows on Xmas Eve, at least that much is true, too, in all this Xmas blah-de-blah you all are always going on about – the dad and the boy went outside and built a snowman. They had a snowball fight.  They came back inside, noses red and cheeks rosy and fingers a bit numb, to drink hot chocolate and watch a movie together. It was one of those sci-fi ones, I can’t tell them apart.  Later on that night, the whole family played Monopoly and the mom and dad tried to let the boy win. He built hotels on Marvin Gardens but got tired before the game ended.  His dad tucked him in. They read a Spider-Man comic together until he fell asleep.

That was it.  That was their day. It was nothing special, except to them. They enjoyed that day a lot.

PS two weeks later the dad got a job and with his first paycheck he bought that bike. I told you this wasn’t a Xmas story.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

28 Xmas Stories 11: Those bee bee q meatballs ain't gonna eat themselves.

Rudolph The Regular-Nosed Reindeer Falls In Love On Xmas Eve, 2:

“Hey, Rudolph,” someone hollered across the room.

Rudolph spun immediately away from the punch bowl to find whoever it was shouting. He’d learned, long ago, that ignoring people – or even being slightly slow to respond – would result in them calling out his entire name.

I have made my peace with my name, he had started saying to himself, when he was 13 years old. He had stood in front of the hall mirror and stared at himself, in his nice sweater and clean blue jeans, hair combed neatly, and said it aloud:

I have made my peace with my name, quietly, his hand brushing against the heavy velvet curtain that hung at the edge of the stage he was about to walk across to get his college diploma. He imagined it a mantra:

I have made my peace with my name, he’d written on a piece of paper just a few weeks ago, and shoved it into a jar in his house, a jar filled with dozens, if not hundreds, of similar sheets of paper.

He saw Chad bearing his way. “Rudolph. Rudolph! Hey, Rudolph.”

Why don’t you just go by Rudy? A well-meaning guidance counselor had once asked him while helping fill out college applications. Rudolph had just shaken his head. It was impossible. He didn’t tell her that. He just shook his head.

“What is it, Chad?” he asked. Not more than twenty feet away, three people from accounting were starting the karaoke machine. He was glad nobody had asked him to sing. People would inevitably tell him he should do the song about the other Rudolph, and he’d have to smile and humor them because if he started some other song eventually someone – Chad, probably, who wasn’t really a bad guy but was this type of guy – would get over there with him and say We’ll do a duet and there Rudolph would be, singing the straight-man lines to the song while the other person interjected all the good parts (“Like a lightbulb!”).

“Wanted to give you your Secret Santa present,” Chad said.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to tell me you’re my Secret Santa,” Rudolph said back, taking a sip of his punch. The singers had chosen The Little Drummer Boy and were getting all the pa rum pum pum pums wrong.

“Oh, what’s it matter? The point is I got you a present,” he said. He handed Rudolph a slim envelope.

“What is it?” Rudolph asked.

“Can’t tell you. And don’t open it before Xmas Eve,” Chad said.

“Why not?”

“Because,” Chad said. “It’s magic and it won’t work unless you open it on Xmas Eve.”
Rudolph tried to chuckle but managed only a slight smile. “Thanks, Chad.”  Belatedly he added “I didn’t get you anything.”

“’Course not. You’re not my Secret Santa. Maria is.” Chad patted him on the back. “Gotta go, buddy. Those bee bee q meatballs ain’t gonna eat themselves.” And he was off. Rudolph looked down at the envelope. On the front, Chad had written in big block letters:

For: Rudolph The Regular-Nosed Reindeer.

And underneath that, he’d written, in green felt-tipped marker:

Do not open until Xmas Eve

Rudolph turned the envelope over, and saw that it had a Xmas sticker – a small wreath – holding the flap shut. On this side, too, Chad had written:

Seriously Do Not Open Until Xmas Eve Or The Magic Won’t Work

Rudolph shook his head. Chad had a weird sense of humor. He was about to slip the card into his suitcoat’s inner pocket when it twitched.

He looked down, again, surprised, and held the card up to inspect it more closely. Then he laid it flat on his hand, peering at it carefully. When it did nothing in the nearly-a-minute he watched it, he decided he must have been mistaken. It was probably slipping out of his hand and he’d just fumbled it, he thought. He picked it up and slid it into his coat pocket after all, sipped his punch. After another 30 minutes, in which he didn’t talk to anyone else at the Xmas party, he left.

Outside, the cold air swirled snow, wisping it under the streetlights. The road in front of his office building was empty, with dark parked cars on each side of the street. Up ahead, about a block up, he could see the cross-avenue with traffic flowing by. That was where he had to go to catch his bus. He pulled his overcoat closed and began walking into the wind, squinting against the snow a bit, then putting his head down against the breeze that was picking up.
He wasn’t looking where he was going, and so it was not at all surprising that he bumped into someone. He stumbled and backed up, looking up into a thicker, whirling snowfall that at first caused his eyes to tear up, making his vision blurry.

“I’m very sorry,” he said, brushing his gloves across his eyes and blinking several times. The person he’d run into – a woman – didn’t answer.  “I was just… the snow…” Rudolph tried to explain, starting to stammer a bit.  The woman was just staring at him.  “It was cold,” Rudolph finished lamely.  The woman continued to just look at him, long enough that he grew uncomfortable. He shifted uneasily, wondering if he should just go around her, or apologize again.

“What were you looking at yesterday?” the woman asked.

Rudolph looked up from his shoes at her face. “What?”

“Yesterday. By the bus stop. I saw you. You were looking up,” as she said this, the woman pointed her hand up, as if to clear up any confusion in case they did not each have the same definition of up. “I saw you. I was in a car with some friends. Well, not really friends. They’re people I know. I mean they probably think we’re friends but we’re not really. I guess I should tell them that. Anyway, the point is, I saw you and you were looking up at the sky. I looked, too, but I couldn’t figure out what you were looking at so intently.”

“Oh,” Rudolph said.

They stood there for a moment.

Then, the woman said: “So?”

“So, what?” Rudolph asked.

“So what were you looking at?” the woman asked him.

“Oh. Um. I was looking… up,” Rudolph said.

“Yeah, I know. We covered that. We established that,” the woman said. “But at what?

“At… well, nothing.” Rudolph admitted.

The woman put her hands on her waist.

“Huh.” She said.

“Imagine that,” she added.

She shook her head, and smiled.  It dawned on Rudolph that she liked his answer.

“Pretty cool,” she said, finally. “Just looking up.”  She rubbed her hands on her cheeks as though trying to warm them.

“So why?” she asked after a moment.  Then, before he could answer, she said “Hey, what’s your name, anyway?”

Rudolph hesitated.

I am at peace with my name, he thought to himself, pulling his arms in and involuntarily drawing his breath in just a bit.  That’s when he realized the card Chad had given him was gone.  Instead of answering her, then, he first looked down. Nothing. He took a step back, and spun in place, trying to see if the card had dropped around him.  He looked along the sidewalk he’d come up, saw nothing there. He turned back to the woman. He looked down at her feet.  He wondered, only briefly, if she had pickpocketed him. It didn’t seem likely. She was pretty well-dressed for a pickpocket.

“What’re you doing?” she asked.

“A card. A present. My present. A present a guy gave me,” Rudolph fumbled around. “A guy gave me a present. At my office. My Xmas party. My Secret Santa,” It’s magic, he heard Chad saying and reminded himself that Chad liked dumb jokes, that it was probably just a gift certificate to the sub sandwich shop they sometimes went to. It’s magic Chad kept telling him I his mind. Rudolph patted himself down, reached into the suit pocket, patted himself down again, reached into the suit pocket again, his mind refusing to believe – as minds refuse to believe, often – that the envelope wasn’t where it had last been.  He spun around again. “I must’ve dropped it. I had it right here in my pocket,” he told the woman, motioning in the general direction of his breast pocket, “But it’s gone.”

“Is that it?” the woman pointed.

Up above them, in the hazy cone of light from a streetlamp, the yellow-gold of the bulb’s glow flickering off the ever-more-numerous snowflakes blowing diagonally down threw it, fluttered the envelope Chad had given him.

It was December 23rd.

Monday, December 07, 2015

28 Xmas Stories, 10: "If you tried to tell him that was crazy"

The Robot Who Believed Only In Santa Claus

There was a robot who believed only in Santa Claus. If you tried to tell him that was crazy, to just believe in one thing (and Santa, at that!) he wouldn’t listen because he didn’t think you existed.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

28 Xmas Stories, 9: "Are we not gods?"

Bug God’s First Gift To Her People, 2

Bug God flew up up up up as straight and as high as she could. Soon she was far above the trees, the jungle below her spread out to the horizon.  She could see it from certain portions of her eyes even as the rest of her vision was preoccupied with the ever-expanding canopy of the sky.  She marveled at the size of both things: the sky, which continued to be huge and far away and endless and kept having more and more stars twinkle and pop into existence; and also the jungle itself, which she saw now swept away in all directions, trees and vines and hills and mountains and great rivers. Below her and off in the distance flocks of night-birds swirled around, while above her, clouds whispered through the sky, wispy and tenuous.

Bug God felt at peace. This was what she was meant to do.

Every insect in the world felt the wrenching as Bug God took off, a bizarrely intimate sense of loss that grew and grew as Bug God flew higher and higher – though they did not know why this was. They simply knew they felt sadness crushing them under ever greater waves, like being pulled through an undertow.

The bugs in the tree where Bug God had lived felt it first, and worst, but they were also the first to know what had happened.

“BUGS!” the vizier said as loudly as he could in his wheezy croak of a voice.  “BUGS! Your god has gone!” As his words reached others and were repeated, over and forward from ant to wasp to butterfly to beetle, outward from the tree, the bugs felt a new sense of dread creep in, too: they had never been without a god before. Yet here was the vizier telling them that Bug God was gone, had flown off to the …

“To the what?” said a walking stick on a lower level of the tree.

“The what now?” said a set of fire ants on the dirt off to the edge of the meadow the tree sat.

“The stars?” asked one bee, to nobody in particular.

“The stars?“Stars?” “Stars?” “Stars?” This went on ad infinitum, almost literally, as the word spread around the bug world.

From sadness to fear to incredulity, the bugs felt themselves growing more and more concerned. As the explanation came out in waves from the tree where Bug God had lived, the bugs found themselves more concerned than ever. No Bug God! Something about stars!
Everything was a mess!


Bug God found her wings struggling to beat against the air. She had no idea how long she had been flying, by now: it seemed like hours. Down below, the world had fallen further away, so far away that she could see the end of the jungle, which stretched off over a vast area. There were edges to it: on one side she could see plants fading off into an expanse of sand, rolling dunes that appeared frozen solid under the white-bright night sky.  On the other side was the rolling luminescence of the ocean pushing back against the greenery – a moving version of the dead desert on the other side of the world. Bug God had not known these things were there, and marveled at them without knowing, quite, what they were. So much! So much! She had spent her entire life on the tree, and now at the very end of it, the universe was unfolding around her into new world after new world.

But her attention was still focused upward. There were now 10, 20, one hundred stars for every one that had been there when she set out, and although they grew no larger she could feel herself getting closer to them. Her progress was slowed, though, by the strangeness of the air. It felt too thin, too insubstantial. It slipped past her wings and afforded her no purchase.  She redoubled her efforts and kept climbing, although much more slowly now.


The bugs were making their way to the tree, those who were not there already.  Some of them had never been there. Some didn’t know there was a tree. But by now all had learned of the tree and of the departure of Bug God, and just as the information had washed out in an expanding cloud of dark emotions, so now was it roiling back over the bugs, pulling them to the tree from around the jungle.

Rivers of ants and beetles poured over rocks and around vines and through gullies. Shimmering shadowy clouds of butterflies and moths blanketed the trees from above.  The pelting of hopping and flitting bugs through the leaves and tendrils made it sound like a spring rain was coming, and the flashes of silvery light iridescing through the wings of the butterflies made it seem as though the whole world were liquid.

The vizier felt them coming, heard the rustles and mumbles. He stood on his branch, worrying his antennae together, and looking first at the hordes of bugs converging on the tree, then at the tree itself, then at the flower where Bug God had appeared last night just after midnight to begin her reign.  Then back to the bugs below.

What would he tell them?

What comfort is there when one’s god has left?


Bug God fluttered and tumbled and fluttered and tumbled. She would pull herself up on the ever-thinner air, only to slip back down and then go up again. Over and over the arc of the world below thrust up at her as she collapsed, only to duck away again as she regained her strength and flew up once more. It was cold, so cold. But it was so bright! The stars seemed no nearer but there were so many and she was so tired from her climb, straight up up up, that it might be an illusion.

I will reach them, she said to herself, never imagining that there would be someone else to hear her.


The other gods took notice of what was going on: the convergence of bugs was too large for anyone to ignore, and before long Bird God and Tiger God and Monkey God had been dispatched by the collective. The gathered near the tree – as near as they could get, outside of the teeming hordes of bugs frantically trying to reach the tree themselves – to see what was happening, and to report back to the other gods. They overheard the mumbles and pleas and questions, and looked at each other.

“She’s going where?” asked Tiger God.

“The stars?” said Monkey God. It looked up at the stars it had seen so many times. It had never imagined trying to reach them.

“It’s impossible,” said Bird God.

The other two looked at her.

“The stars cannot be reached,” Bird God said. “They are too far."


From his perch, the vizier peered down at the entirety of the bug world, come to see what could be done, come to be near the place where this incredible, frightening thing had happened, come to seek solace or comfort or answers or simply company.

When he found no answers there, he looked up instead, into the vast sky. It had been hours, now, since Bug God left on her mission, hours since he had been able to see her. Each of his eye facets searched in vain for some sign of her.


Bug God was now pumping her wings furiously, beating them so fast they were a blur, as fast as she could think.  All of her being was focused on trying to get a little higher, a little higher, a little higher. She could barely think, could barely make sense of anything. Below her, the world had turned out to be a sphere. Who could have imagined!

The stars were still far, far above her.


“Shouldn’t we do something?” Monkey God asked.

“Do what?” Bird God asked. “What can we do?”

“Are we not gods?” Tiger God asked. “What can’t we do?”


The vizier raised his antennae and held them perfectly still.

All the bugs stopped moving and looked at him.

The wind died down.

Even Monkey God, Bird God, and Tiger God – as well as the other gods off in their own places, waiting word on what was happening from their emissaries – stopped talking and waited.


Bug God felt like she could not go on. Her vision was starting to blur. Her wings were tiring. She felt dizzy and alone and began to be scared. She focused on the stars. It was all she could do. She willed her wings to keep going, closed her mind to the possibility that she might not make it. UP… she thought.  UP… UP…. up…….. up….


Everyone waited for the vizier to speak. The vizier, though, was waiting for midnight. He wanted to see what would happen. It was only a few minutes away.



Bug God kept telling herself.


“It is almost midnight,” Tiger God said.

“Will Bug God die at midnight?” Monkey God asked.

“That’s the way it has always been,” Tiger God said. “Can you see her?” he asked Bird God.

Bird God scanned the heavens.

“Yes,” Bird God answered, and then, after a moment, added: “She’s slowing down.”


Up… up… up…

Bug God’s entire existence was centered on that word.

There was almost no air. The sky was darkening around her, or that was her vision, starting to fail.

The stars, though… they seemed almost to reach out to her.

Up… up… up…


“We should help,” Monkey God exclaimed again.

“We should not,” Bird God said.

They both looked at Tiger God, to see if he would break the tie.

Tiger God looked up at the stars.


Up… up… up…

Bug God

Someone said.


The vizier felt the world turning below him, felt the onward rush of time towards midnight  towards the new day.


Who is that? Bug God wondered, but she could spare no energy for asking.

Up… up… up…


“We will do nothing,” Tiger God said, without taking his eyes off the sky.

To be continued...