THE VERY DIFFERENT CATERPILLARS

Once there were three caterpillars, who were very different. Nigel was a very thoughtful and introspective type. Gwen was reckless and excitable. And there were no words for Shane.

One day at Insect School, they were told by their teacher Mr. Mantis that they would one day go through a metamorphosis and become butterflies. “Butterflies!” they scoffed, “who wants to be a butterfly.”

“But that is what you’ll be. When the time is right, you will enter your cocoon, transform and exit your cocoon a beautiful butterfly. Doesn’t that sound just too, too nice?” Mr. Mantis said, clasping his forelegs together. “Not everyone gets to go through such a magnificent metamorphosis. Gregor the cockroach, for example, will remain a monstrous insect. You know, not to play favorites.”

“Butterflies are such flighty creatures,” Nigel said. “I’d much rather transform into a great philosopher, like Socrates. I’ve always wanted to contemplate the great mysteries of the universe, and I’d look good with a receding hairline.”

“No, no, no!” Gwen exclaimed. “I want to be fast and furious, flying crazy through life in a whirlwind. I’m going to transform into a 1972 El Camino. Vroom, vroom, I’ll speed down the highway like a coupe possessed! Whoo-hoo!”

“You guys are nutty,” Shane said. “Clearly, if you get to choose what you metamorphosizize into, the greatest and best and only decision would be as the greatest hot dish known to man, woman and insect, the Green Bean Casserole. But, to make yourself even greater than great, you should swap out the green beans for gummy worms. And while you’re at it, swap out the onions for back issues of Gumby comics. And the cream of mushroom soup could be easily swapped out for the isolated bass track from the Beatles song, “Something.” Everybody talks about the guitar solo in that song, but to my finely tuned caterpillar ears the bass line is far more interesting. And I mean, while we’re swapping out and adding ingredients, we may as well include the Elephant in My Pajamas speech from Animal Crackers, some chunky peanut butter, the Nefarious Dr. Wilhelm Skreem’s evil laugh, the cha-cha, argyle socks to taste and a kiss on the cheek from Mommy.”

Mr. Mantis stared at the Very Different Caterpillars. “No, no, metamorphosis doesn’t work that way. You will all become beautiful butterflies. You won’t become Greek philosophers, you won’t become classic cars, and you won’t become… whatever Shane said. You become butterflies, that’s it. You have no choice in the matter.”

“Agree to disagree,” Shane said.

“Go to the Principal’s office,” Mr. Mantis said. And he did. But was he right? Would the Very Different Caterpillars become beautiful but boring butterflies or would they transform into their most desired forms?

Happily, they all became the objects they most desired! Gwen sped down the highway as an el Camino, while Nigel expounded on ethics as Socrates. All except Shane, who had to compromise as the rights to Beatles music is astronomically high. He was able to substitute the drum part from the Honeycomb’s “Have I the Right,” which is almost as good.

But how, you may ask yourself, was this possible? Weren’t these caterpillars fated to become butterflies? To which I say, yeah, sure, but if you accept the premise that all the insects can talk and go to school and stuff, why can’t they become whatever they want?

Got you there, didn’t I?

THE ISLAND OF REALLY BAD CAT PEOPLE!

I didn’t think I was much of a Cat Person until I met Matilda. She’s an even worse Cat Person than I am, I thought. I laughed derisively. I’ve got to do something about my derisive laugh. And maybe start talking aloud.

Matilda was trying to scratch a sofa, and failing miserably. “She’s got no claws; that’s her problem,” I said aloud. Matilda turned and glared. “Oops, I should not have said that aloud,” I said aloud.

“Oink,” said Matilda.

“No, no, it’s meow. Cats say meow. Pigs say oink. We are not pigs.” I had been lapping up a bowl of milk and it was dripping from my chin like fatty tears of frustration onto my fur.

“Last time I checked, cats don’t speak English either, Mr. Smarty-Pants. I mean, meow,” another Cat Person named Eliot said. He had me there.

I decided to go back to drinking my milk and minding my own business. The only thing worse than a bad Cat Person is a know-it-all hypocrite Cat Person. That was Cat Person 101. And it was the reason I was here in the first place.
We were all stuck on this deserted island, outcast like the unworthy Cat People we were. The mad scientist Dr. Moreaurles had created us, along with dozens of other animal-human hybridizations. For his crimes against nature, he had been exiled to a deserted island. For our failures to be perfect crimes against nature, we were exiled to an even more deserted island. We were exiled by an exile. So yeah, I didn’t count pride amongst my virtues.
Anyhow, Matilda wasn’t so bad. It was kind of cute, how she mixed up her animal noises. Sometimes she’d wander over my direction and look me straight in the eye and go, “Moo!” I don’t know. There’s just something endearing about a Cat Lady going, “Moo.”
I tried to escape the island once. I drew up great big plans, with rafts and explosives and costume changes and a musical number about memories and moonlight. It was all intricately thought out and time-consuming, and I was ultra-secretive about it. No one knew. But I ultimately shelved the notion of leaving. Because what would I do if I escaped? Live in your world, where I would be a bad Cat Person who stuck out, as opposed to fitting in here? What did I hope to accomplish?
Also, when I was just about ready to go, to really leave and start my life over as, I don’t know, a bad Cat Person accountant or something, Matilda wandered over to me, playing with a catnip mouse. And she looked me in the eyes with those huge, cat pupils. It was as if she knew I was going, even though she had no way of knowing. But there was a longing there, in those round pupils. And she asked me to stay, in her own inimitable way.

She said, “Quack.”

STRONG MAN

Guinevere’s is a little dive bar on its own patch of land. A glorified shack held together by rotting wood and the laziness of gravity, set out about fifty yards from Highway Five, it looks as though there is absolutely no way to reach it. Smack dab in the halfway point between the widest swathe of uninterrupted road, there are no points of entry to Guinevere’s to the untrained eye, and no parking lot. There’s a red neon sign with a chattering buzz, the kind that turns mosquitoes into ashy cumulous clouds and attracts flying rodents, and is written in a feminine cursive. If you can find a way to get to Guinevere’s, you should be aware that it isn’t your average bar. In the black hole swirly knots of the cherry wood floors are fingers peeping upwards and outwards, grasping at laces and setting hot foot upon hot foot. The jukebox plays old answering machine messages for a nickel. And the specialty cocktails involve ingredients like stegosaurus tears and the thurl of a raven’s croft. Still, the circus folk frequent it.

At the bar, the geek, slouched over a splash of Amaretto in a crushed velvet suit, gets stinking drunk until he gets the hiccups and expels bubbles containing the kittens and pocket watches he ingested that evening. The magician practices setting fire to his fingertips and blowing them out like a birthday cake. To their left, a collection of clowns circled a table, cracking themselves up with jokes clowns aren’t necessarily known for.

In the corner shadows the strong man yawns. His mouth, usually a concentrated asterisk in the center of his head now forms a perfect, cavernous circle. Everything about him is excessive, greater than. All except his mouth and eyes, which appear as the little holes in the bowling ball that is his skull. He has no nose. He smells awful. And he is in love. He pines, pines pinier than a Christmas tree for a woman that would not, could not return his affections.

He is in love with the tightrope walker, his exact antithesis. Where he was excessive, she was diminutive. She was the breeze to his belch, the swan to his Studebaker. She was so delicate and slender no one would sneeze near her for fear the force would sweep her across county lines. Her feet made the vaguest suggestion of prints when she glided through a room; it was as if she learned walking from the astronauts.

The strong man recognizes their differences, curses them. He has tried to appear precious and unassuming in his overwhelming frame. He wore a beard of daffodils, he learned to play the harp and ride a unicycle, he slouched under a ten gallon hat, and he carried an egg filled with helium laid by a balloon animal peahen to show that he could handle the slightest thing. Nothing works. The strong man cannot hide his overbearance, he invades uncontrollably and unhappily. He cannot make the tightrope walker love him, for she cannot love anyone. It should be consolation, but sometimes the truth is far from liberating. Sometimes the truth constricts air passages and avalanches on top of you on constant, repeated replay.

It was two nights ago, the spotlight ensnared the tightrope walker, seeming to magnify her as she pirouetted across the micro-thin line separating her from space, which separated her from the ground. Her toes a blur, her face closed, collected. A leap. A slip. A gasp? Something strung the line, causing a low E to tremor throughout the tent and she was aloft, airborne.

The strong man’s sense of shock at the sudden fall, like teeth were trying to break out from his skin, gave way to jaw-gaped awe and utter perplexity. The tightrope walker, suspended, spinning, actually fluttering. The face unchanged, the descent drawling, agonizing, breathtaking.

When she finally and gently brushed the circus floor, the audience, unsure how to react, left. A physician was called to inspect her for any broken bones. He subjected her to an X-ray, and the X-ray revealed her secret. She had no bones. She had no muscles. She had no internal organs. Her innards consisted of seven hummingbirds flitting about her chest. Was this cheating in the eyes of the circus folk? No. But she was not a person. She was a doll, a pillow. She was incapable of feeling, and incapable of returning the strong man’s affections.

Still, in the puddle of shadows, the strong man still pined for her.

THE LAZIEST ROBOT

Zurt was the laziest robot ever built. He never computed any complex equations, never lifted any fifty-ton objects, he never even battled villainous bald-headed millionaires. Not a one! He just stood in the corner of the Robotics Factory, making a slight buzzing noise and daydreaming. He had no robot ambition, unlike his brother XK-Thousand, who studied robot law at Robot Harvard University. He felt no robot pride, like his cousin BetaVorg, who, along with five other robots, combined to create super-robot MegaZorgaThon, which battled evil forces across the galaxy. No, Zurt just stood in the corner and buzzed, like an apathetic mosquito.
His official job title was Robotics Factory Supervisor, but he did not supervise. And he hated the Robotics Factory. For one thing it was noisy and dangerous, what with all the sparks from the welding arms of Welderbots, various parts flying through the air to be clanged together and drilled with a high-pitched whine into one another. It was also disconcerting to see how other robots were made. Zurt knew he had been built in a dark and impersonal factory like this one, but he didn’t need to be reminded of it every day. And the fact that these tiny nuts and bolts and computer chips were attached to bring to life machines that would go on to bigger and better jobs than Zurt would ever see was just a bit unfair.
What Zurt really wanted to do was act. He wanted to be a big star on the stage, reciting soliloquies and kissing robot leading ladies on the robot lips. He wanted a robot haircut that swooped to the side, and to pretend to be dashing heroes who defeated roguish sneaks with swordplay and witticisms, and won the fair maidens with suavity and witticisms. He wanted to make the robot world laugh with his robot jokes and cry robot tears at the tragedy of his fake, robot actor deaths. But his dreams would never be. Because robots did not watch plays and therefore there was no such thing as a robot actor. Also, Zurt was lazy, and would never have attempted to become an actor anyway.
The moral of the story is that sometimes dreams do not come true. Especially if you’re lazy. You may think a better author would have provided a more satisfying ending, or any ending at all, but I have to disagree with you on that. Not for any specific reason, mind you.
I just disagree.

SNOOZING PRETTY LADY

Once upon a time there was a faraway kingdom, which was not as far away as people would have you believe. Really, it was only two or three days as the crow flies, and crows are renowned for their efficacious travels and on the dot punctuality. The name of this kingdom was Hoisin, which is also the name of a sweet and sour sauce, coincidentally. Hoisin was ruled by King Edwin the Decent, so named because he was a good man, but no saint. He was jovial and even-tempered, but don’t expect him to help move your couch or remember your birthday. He did love his wife, Queen Helen, and their daughter, Princess Brooke.
Brooke is the subject of this story, the titular character, if you will. For on the day she was born, she was cursed by Gresmerelda, a wicked and ugly witch. Well, ugly is a bit harsh, I suppose. She did have a nose that was impossible to miss, and a bit of a mustache, and her brow resembled many of the geological formations found in the Southwestern United States. That being said, she had an enviable head of long, black hair, dainty hands that could have been used for modeling and a caboose like you wouldn’t believe. But wicked! Gresmerelda had been invited to the Princess’s birthday party after complaining about the fact she was never invited to the castle, and what does she do? The moment she laid eyes on the newborn Brooke, she cast a spell. “Huggeldy, Puggeldy, Muggeldy, Mooze! When the Princess turns sixteen, she will forever snooze!” At this, Gresmerelda cackled maliciously, and the Queen Helen clutched the baby to her person, wailing. The King ordered the witch arrested immediately, but Gresmerelda had magically disappeared, as had her cherry cheesecake. She was wicked to the core!
Needless to say, this put a damper on the mood at the castle and King Edwin 86ed the festivities. Princess Brooke was forbidden from leaving the castle grounds and was placed under constant supervision. Except for reading her diary and other girly things like that, the guards followed her everywhere and tutored her in math, science, magicks, comic books and surveillance. They even formed a volleyball league which also included her handmaiden and the court jester, who didn’t understand puns but had an incredible serve.
As her sixteenth birthday drew closer, King Edwin grew more and more nervous and called upon his favorite sorcerer, Adamus Neubauersky for guidance. The sorcerer performed a mystical examination on the Princess, and his diagnosis was surprisingly positive. “Clean bill of health,” he advised, “though she does have two gall bladders, which, okay, I’m no medical expert, but I believe is abnormal. But no signs of any curses, spells or mumbo jumbos. She’s as kosher as a pickle spear, and a heckuva volleyball player, from what I hear.” The King rejoiced! Not only was his daughter safe from harm, he had someone to turn to if ever he was in need of a gall bladder. A blessed day indeed!
Right away, Edwin and Queen Helen began planning the Princess Brooke’s Sweet Sixteen, to be held once again in the castle, and once again, they would invite the wicked Gresmerelda, this time to gloat. They held a fancy ball and potluck dinner in her honor, and the King took great pride in presenting her long-awaited introduction to the kingdom.
“My people, I introduce to you my daughter, the beautiful Princess Brooke!” The crowd gasped as she entered the room, for she just about tripped on the second step. She wore a tasteful neon orange taffeta dress and a lime green bow in her hair the size of a helicopter’s propeller blades. She was not, as King Edwin had described, beautiful. She was however, very pretty, and smiled warmly at the partygoers. They all smiled back politely, except for Gresmerelda, who cackled openly, for she was wicked and did not care who heard her cackle. King Edwin glowered at her. “What is all this cackling about?” he thundered. “We have had our daughter examined by the greatest and most affordable sorcerer in all the land and he found no sign of your so-called curse.”
“Ah, but the curse was cleverly disguised as a second gall bladder,” the witch said. Just then, the Princess yawned loudly and stretched her arms, settling in the nearest chair as her eyelids began to droop.
“Quickly, all of you, she’s beginning to get sleepy! Do something interesting, stat!” the King shouted. Rex the carpet salesman showed her his book of samples, Walt the accountant relayed the story of how he once found six dollars extra in the Royal Bank Book and subsequently discovered a sandwich receipt he had never seen, and Bronwen the sandwich lady told of the time the King bought a six dollar sandwich and almost forgot his receipt. But it was to no avail! Brooke slipped into a light snooze as her head dropped precariously close to her tapioca pudding.
“Cackle, cackle, cackle,” cackled Gresmerelda. “Now, she will doze fitfully forevermore, unless a handsome prince kisses her.”
At the revelation of that loophole, the King sent a decree searching for all the handsome princes in all the neighboring lands, and by the week’s end he had responses from dozens of princes. The only problem was that none were exactly what you would call handsome, though most were certainly good-looking. But there were no true knockouts in the bunch. Soon, the king was beside himself in dismay.
“Where, oh where are all the handsome princes these days? Haven’t these guys ever heard of a gym or a haircut?” He rent his garment like a home movie, and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed some more.
“Kingy, here’s the thingy,” Adamus Neubauersky said. “Princess Brooke, she’s a great kid, but you see, she’s not beautiful. Pretty for sure, but drop dead gorgeous, not quite. I know you don’t see that, seeing as how you’re her daddy, daddy-o, but trust me; it’s as true as the nose on my magical mug. And because of this fact, these princes would do in a pinch.”
King Edwin, chagrined, agreed to disagree. He called upon the closest Prince, Prince Calvin of Paprika, to kiss his daughter and awake her. It was agreed that Calvin, while no prize, was no slouch in the looks department, either, and he was equally as attractive as Brooke. “I shalt kisseth thine daughter, fair King,” Calvin said, speaking in very Olde English. “However, I firsteth must winneth her affections upon a date betwixt us two.”
“Uh, okay, but you do know she’s asleep,” King Edwin said.
“This matters not, for mine charms canst penetrateth the deepest of slumbers,” Calvin assured. The fact of the matter was that Princess Brooke was able to walk and speak a bit, since her sleeping took the form of a light doze, and she both walked and talked in her sleep. It was primarily gibberish, but the occasional word could be understood.
And so it was arranged that Prince Calvin would have dinner and see a show that evening, after which he would kiss the Princess, presumably waking her.
At six PM, Calvin escorted the snoozing Princess to the dining hall, where they were served tomato soup, roast beef and potatoes and flaming pudding for dessert. “Art thou sated, my dear, thou hast not touchedeth thine repast,” the Prince asked.
“Mmbzl volleyball zblm,” Brooke muttered.
“Too true, too true,” Calvin laughed.
After dinner, the couple retired to the Prince’s carriage to watch an outdoor theatre troupe perform The Amazing Colossal Gentleman of Verona. Finally, Prince Calvin walked the dozing Princess Brooke to her doorstep, proclaimed the date a triumph of charisma and enchantment, and kissed her lightly on the cheek. King Edwin, watching from the front window, rushed out to protest. “No, no!” he shouted. “You must kiss her on the lips or the spell won’t be broken.”
“Nay, good king, I cannot kisseth her upon her lips until the third date, at the leasteth,” Prince Calvin said. The King beseeched the Prince to make an exception, but he was bespurned by the Prince and besparking up the wrong tree. Calvin would not budge; he was an amazing colossal gentleman. And with that, they were back to square one.
As luck would have it, Prince Calvin had a twin brother, Hank, who didn’t so much stand on ceremony as he sat fifty paces away from it. When the King asked him to kiss Princess Brooke, Hank acquiesced with a shrugged, “Sure.” And with that, Brooke blinked, stretched and yawned. “Sweet Josephine Christmas Tree,” she said, “that was the worst nap I ever had!”
And so, after a week of fitful snoozing, Brooke spent an afternoon sleeping peacefully and awoke two hours later, refreshed and curse-free. And she lived happily ever after.
The moral of the story is that some stories are worth telling, and some should just be left alone. I leave you, dear reader; to decide which best describes this story.