Premiered – April Fools' Day, 2004
Outside the bloodsucker's office, Earl began to walk, trying to think good thoughts and pretend that his side was not hurting, his neck not equipped with shooting pains, his stomach not queasy, his feet not beginning to swell from all the walking around he had been doing that day, and his head not beginning to hurt from his continual efforts to think good thoughts. He was successful to some extent, the pain in his neck going into remission... provided, of course, that he kept his head at a rather odd angle.
The town's streets were in their recently typical deserted condition and Earl had few if any distractions to interfere in his mental attempt to think good thoughts. He was only slightly distracted when he began to wonder about what exactly constituted 'good thoughts', and then to question if what he was thinking, would qualify. But before he could conjure up an answer, his lack of other externally generated distractions was shattered.
"PSSSSSSSST!!" was the initial contents of the distraction.
Earl turned and looked around the street. Then he heard the noise again, this time coming from an alley. Of course, Earl had never known that alleys existed and was a bit surprised to find such a narrow, quaint street. Then in the shadows, he could see someone... or something. Squinting, he could just make out the rather ugly figure. It was the beggar lady.
"Hey big guy! Come here. Got something for you!"
Earl, oblivious to chicanery, obliged. As he approached, BeLa whipped out a small round disk from her ragged coat. The disk had words on it which said, "Back off dogbreath, I'm having a bad day!" Smiling in her own terrifying way, BeLa made her pitch. "What do you think big guy? Is this what you need or what? And a mere ten Whoopees. Or thirty thousand alms. Whichever is greater."
"Ah gee, I don't think so," Earl answered. "I'm trying to think good thoughts, and this doesn't seem to qualify."
"It's seems to be the only way in which I can cope with today's events."
"You're having a bad day?"
"Yes," Earl admitted. "Ever since that very strange flying creature, the one that no one else but Varenna seems to be aware of, came into my life, things have been, well... Dismal."
"Sounds like your Zygo. Small wonder no one else can see it!"
"But why?" Earl quickly asked. "Why can't anyone else see it?"
"You only see a Zygo if you're ready."
"And what's a 'Zygo'?" Earl asked.
"How should I know!? It's your Zygo!" Earl could only stare. "But if you're feeling bad, well then, how about this?" BeLa held up a small flask for Earl to examine.
"What's that?" Earl inquired.
"The wonder drug of the millennium -- which, fortunately for you, I happen to have a small flask of." BeLa offered the flask to Earl. "Take!" she suggested in the same tone of voice as the proverbial old nurse, one long since beyond the point of tolerating dissent. When her patient hesitated, BeLa took a quick swig herself, and handed it back to him.
Earl watched her for a second, noting the lack of shaking in her outstretched arm with the flask, the color in her cheeks becoming all the more radiant, and the glow in her eyes all the more enticing. Then he took the flask and drank it.
"Unbelievably good, isn't it?"
"Nice taste," Earl semi-agreed.
"And you feel perfect, right?"
Earl suddenly realized that he did feel great. "Wow!" he said. "What's in this medicine, anyway?"
"Actually, it's not just water. It's a flask of water in which I waved the contents in front of a former solution of high potency vitamins and illness-eliminating, cure-all drugs. The greatest, I might add, ever conceived by woman. For this vial of purified healing had been previously diluted to the point that there was less than a negligible chance of the remaining solution containing a single molecule of anything but water. However , the water molecules in the remaining solution have still retained the know - how to cure whatever it encountered. Simply because of being previously associated with the cure-all.
"I know. But what is really crazy is that it works! Even I am impressed!"
Earl thought for a moment, feeling the effects on his body. 'Strange', he thought, 'I really do feel better. No pains at all.' 'That's not strange, another voice said, that's weird!' 'I agree,' thought Earl. 'Depressing, isn't it,' thought the other voice, 'to not have any idea of what's happening?' Earl had to agree with that thought as well. Then he voiced it aloud.
"This is weird," he said.
"And only twenty-two thousand alms."
"The cost of the miracle cure! Just be thankful you're getting it direct, without all those middlemen, those multi-level marketing types. Otherwise it would have cost ten times that much!"
"But it's just water!!"
"Which because it's just water does a wonderful job of eliminating the side effects, don't you think!?"
"You want me to pay twenty-two thousand alms for a flask of water!!?"
"Not just water! Water with a... memory of the healing ingredients!"
"Don't be absurd! I have no intention of paying such an outrageous fee for just water! Besides," Earl added in a quieter, more introspective tone, "right now, I'm not real sure where I could lay my hands on that much money.
"No money!?" BeLa asked, apparently quite shaken by the revelation.
"Nope!" Earl replied.
BeLa frowned. And then just as quickly, smiled mischievously. Without further ado she pulled out a folded sheaf of papers. Sticking it in his hands, she announced, "In that case... You've been served!"
Earl just looked blank, staring at the paper. The last time he had been served had been at breakfast... A marvelous, carefully prepared egg-less omelet with artificial bacon grease and sour dough imported from Algeria . This was not the same. Obviously of minimal nutritional value -- as was perhaps his breakfast -- this did not seem like the same kind of service. Not understanding, Earl looked up to see the beggar lady slowly dragging herself away. First one leg was dragged, then the other -- reminding anyone from Earl's vantage point of something resembling an accelerating ice-skater.
Assuming rightly that BeLa was unlikely to provide any more assistance, Earl ceased to concern himself with the alleged woman, and instead, opened the folded sheath of papers to read.
The first page was somewhat less than informative, inasmuch as it contained exclusively: a host of elaborate, slightly erotic engravings denoting the Kingdom, its former and regrettably glorious past, and a dozen or so official stamps verifying that in fact each previous official stamp, was an official stamp.
Moving right along, Earl turned to the second page, which after several minutes of perusal, he determined to be the delivery page whereby BeLa guaranteed the prompt and/or eventual serving of the attached documents. Earl assumed that this page, as well as the first page, was not going to tell him a great deal. He was correct in his assumption.
The third page, however, seemed to get right to the point. At the top was printed the word, "Subpoena", in elaborate cursive letters -- sufficiently elaborate to almost disguise the identification of the word. Reading further down the page, Earl noted that the madness for elaborate letters mercifully degenerated into a legible script. It said:
THIS SUBPOENA DELIVERED FORTHWITH AND PROMPTLY
AND SOMETIME DURING THE FIRST YEARS OF THE REIGN OF
The Kinder and Gentler Prince of the People
THE HONORABLE AND ESTEEMED
ROYAL EARL OF CAMESELDOM FIEFDOM
TO WIT AND WHEREAS, it has come to the august and constantly alert attention of:
The Kinder and Gentler Prince of the People
Of the existence of certain irregularities (other than those normal irregularities in the regular course of governmental irregularities);
AND WHEREAS, the Honorable and Esteemed Royal Earl of Cameseldom Fiefdom has neglected to promptly prosecute, attend to and/or fail to otherwise assign the blame;
AND WHEREAS, the bureaucracy of the Kingdom has nothing else to do but conjure up this stuff;
AND WHEREAS, in accordance with the established laws, procedures and rules of the Kingdom;
AND WHEREAS, these time-honored, traditional laws, customs, procedures and rules of the Kingdom have recently been changed to reflect the recent changes in the elected reprehensibles and the preferences of themselves and their closest friends and business associates;
AND WHEREAS, the established laws, procedures and rules of the Kingdom are generally unavailable to the citizens of the Kingdom, thus necessitating the existence of a bureaucracy which can explain or otherwise capitalize upon said laws, rules, etcetera;
THEN, THEREFORE AND FORTHWITH, NOTWITHSTANDING, AND UPON THIS DATE AND PLACE, HEREINAFTER REFERRED TO AS NOW, AND WITH THE TRUE BLESSINGS AND CONDEMNATION OF WHOMEVER, BE IT HENCEFORTH KNOWN AND PROMULGATED HEREWITH AND IN PROPER ACCORDANCE, THE FOLLOWING:
THE HONORABLE AND ESTEEMED
ROYAL EARL OF CAMESELDOM FIEFDOM
(Hereinafter known as the commoner, Earl)
Earl looked at the third page for a few moments, not really understanding what had been written. Inasmuch as this lack of understanding was due part and parcel to the mode of communicating whatever had been said, this was not particularly surprising.
But then, Earl realized, he knew the law on such things. Quickly, he turned to the fourth page, which would by law be required to inform him of his defense against such actions. And true to form, the fourth page made his opportunities for defending against the action, abundantly clear.
TO ALL RELEVANT PARTIES HEREBY, BE IT KNOWN FORTHWITH:
An official hearing on the alleged, indictable and inevitable OFFICIAL DEFROCKING will be held in East Orange, Nevada (somewhat west, south, or southwest, depending on your sense of direction, from the City of Sacramento and located in the wilder and woollier regions of the New World).
AND IN ACCORDANCE WITH LAW,
Will be held promptly and expeditiously sometime in the next several months depending upon the pleasure of the presiding judge and the onset of monsoon winds in East Java .
THE FORMERLY HONORABLE AND HERETOBEFORE ESTEEMED
OF WHAT-USED-TO-BE CAMESELDOM PRIOR-FIEFDOM
Granted the inalienable and temporary right to contest all allegations, attend the hearing (whenever and wherever) and offer any defense with which the commoner, Earl, might wish to attempt to amuse the court. However...
WHEREAS it is exceedingly difficult and terribly dangerous to even find East Orange , Nevada (in fact, about as difficult as finding an English word that rhymes with orange);
AND WHEREAS the court generally does not look favorably upon any attempt by anyone to disagree with the court and/or establishment's foregone conclusions;
THEREFORE, the trip for Earl might be something of a waste.
IN THE EXTRAORDINARY EVENT, Earl is indeed planning to avoid the vain and utterly futile attempt to prevent the inevitable;
BE IT KNOWN HENCEFORTH that Earl should mail in his brass plate, the one with his name and title inscribed thereon.
SIGNED THIS DAY FIRST CONCOCTED,
BY APPROPRIATE AUTHORITY
UNDER ARTICLE ? XCVIII (J) 9.C-14, n p D f (36d)
HAVE A NICE DAY.
Getting rid of a title, Earl was beginning to believe, might be something of a relief. Hopefully, commoners were not required to read similar documents.
"You got one too, huh?"
Earl looked up to see Varenna, a slight knowing smile on her lips, one arm gesturing to the sheaf of papers in his hand.
"I've been defrocked," he said simply.
"Me too," she replied.
"Only... I'm not sure I know exactly what defrocked means?"
"It's not good."
"I didn't think so. Official papers seldom foretell of anything good."
Varenna hardly heard Earl's last statement, as she stared at her own personalized set of papers. "I had just come from counseling when I received mine; when this horribly old disfigured woman stuffed this subpoena in my hand."
"You've been defrocked, as well?"
"Defrocked and divorced," Varenna answered. "The latter, which really makes my blood boil."
Earl has never spent much time around divorced women, and was therefore unaware of the potential for his being burned by boiling blood merely by the fact of his being male. Thus he innocently inquired, "Divorced?"
Varenna's boiling blood was having its effects on the cauldron of her otherwise cheery disposition. "The deal was he supports me financially and socially, and I don't talk back, I don't tell him what an asshole he really is. That's the way it was set up!
Then her wicked smile waxed. "But if he's now reneging on his support, telling me to kiss off... Guess what happens to my not talking back, to my continuing to put up with all of his garbage!?" Her eyes flared, emphasizing her commitment to the cause and effect scenario. The astute observer would also have noticed the gnashing of her teeth.
Earl didn't notice. He was still in his old traditional paradigm. "Divorced, eh? How unfortunate. But to be defrocked as well!"
Earl's inability to comprehend the effects of divorce served to mollify his companion's anger, bringing her back to the mundane. In a low voice, not quite appreciating what it meant, Varenna said, "Defrocked as well."
"A shock," he mumbled.
"But strangely enough I feel somewhat relieved."
Turning to her, he asked, "Why is that?"
Varenna grimaced. "Well as 'Ole Psychi' would say, 'You're suffering a hysterical reaction.' Or similar such nonsense."
"Who's Ole Psychi?"
"Psychi Woods, the shrink I just wasted a bauble on."
"Why would you want to do that? I mean, waste a bauble."
Varenna smiled slightly, a tinge of embarrassment covering her face. "I was feeling a little depressed. Tried to barter with a half dozen people for a meal, but no one had change for a bauble." When Earl's eyebrows raised, she explained, "I've always had expensive tastes in baubles, mostly diamonds inlaid with gold." Then she grimaced, "On the other hand, Psychi had all sorts of less expensive baubles... Some with which I wouldn't have been caught dead. Still, I did manage to find a few worthy of being temporarily carried upon my person. Thus, Ole Psychi and I were able to strike a bargain. He got my diamond earring bauble, less change, and I got to unload my depression."
"Only it didn't do any good. Psychi was just another of those narcissistic, god-complex, psycho-pre-fixed bastards who are looking for undying adulation and a four year contract for regularly scheduled appointments."
"Hardly fair," Earl replied.
"Everything was fine, of course, while I explained my problems and all the garbage I've been through today. He could look down from his throne and smile condescendingly. But then when I mentioned that weird bird that's been crash-landing all over my day, he stated flatly that I was hallucinating. I told him I didn't hallucinate. He told me I was wrong. He was right and I was wrong. Period."
Earl smiled slyly. "You didn't buy that, right?"
"Are you kidding? No way! I asked him why it was that he was always right. And you know what he answered?"
"No." Earl really didn't know.
"Because he was superior! Did you get that? Superior ! Of all the barnyard carpeting I've ever heard, that's got to be it! I then told him that just because he hadn't seen the weird bird that's been hounding me -- because he wasn't there -- that maybe he was just flat wrong."
"He didn't buy that, right?
"Talk about crash and burn time! He flat fell through the floor! Outraged! Began screaming and shouting, accusing me of witchcraft. He whips out and begins holding a crucifix between us. Kept claiming that I was casting spells and exorcising his friendly Munchkins! When he began chanting some kind of anti-voodoo nonsense, the nurses came in and began to quiet him down. I figured it was time to leave."
"I'll buy that."
Varenna was still livid, in a friendly sort of way. "I get so put out with myself every time I weaken and go to one of those jargon- mumbling psychos."
"Seems simple to me," Earl offered. "Avoid them."
"I will, from now on. But I'm still mad."
"Don't be too upset. After all, we still have..."
"Wait a minute!" Varenna held up her hands. "I don't think I'm ready just yet."
"I don't understand."
"I know what you're going to say, and I don't think I can handle it."
"ARRRGGGG! Please! Not again!"
"Oh." Earl was suddenly very contrite. "I was going to add 'optimism'. But not until the end."
Varenna looked up at him, unbelievingly. "You're still optimistic?"
"This has not been one of our best days."
"I know," Earl said, meekly. "But the weather has been warm. And we still have the sun in the morning."
Varenna grimaced. "Yes. And I suppose we'll have the moon tonight."
"Exactly!" Earl exclaimed, feeling much more positive.
Varenna thought for a moment. Then she relented. "I guess you're right. We've got our... (gulp)... optimism."
Earl smiled and added, "Calm seas, warm weather..."
C R A C K ! ! !
The lightening bolt wrapped the town in its electrical discharge just as the deluge, carefully disguised to look like rain, poured down on the only two people in the village still standing outside. The black ominous clouds, previously unseen, descended with a darkness that guaranteed bad news. As if the Gates of Mordor had just been flung open and its occupants given rampaging carte blanche. The flood gates had opened, while the wind assured everyone that the storm was now in full force.
Earl looked up, thinking the beneficial tides might still be relevant, caught as he was in what he perceived to be a tide of some sort, beneficial or otherwise. Varenna looked up and around, deciding everything was obviously on schedule. Then she saw something in the now nearly constant lightning.
"Look over there!" When Earl turned to see where she pointed, she exclaimed, "It's that damn bird again!"
Sure enough, against the backdrop of brilliant flashes and darkening skies, the Zygo Mati could be seen doing figure eights, vertical loops, tailspins and all manner of clever aerial feats.
"It's flying seems to be improving," Earl observed.
"Yes," Varenna agreed, "that last loop is a very difficult maneuver."
For several moments the brilliantly lit, aerial show continued with death defying dives and sanity defying twists. No idiotic feat was too idiotic to be attempted. But then, just before what would have been the ultimate in creative finales, the show was prematurely ended as lightning fried the old bird in its aerial tracks. In a mere split second, the Zygo Mati had gone from a barnstorming aerial ace to what was apparently free-falling, charred ash.
For a moment, neither observer said anything. Then Varenna broke the silence. "Just as well. That bird has been giving me the willies all day."
"Maybe we should go check it out... The bird I mean," Earl replied.
"There should be something left. And fried, baked, or whatever, it's got to be more tempting than the empty feeling in my stomach right now."
"That's a strange idea," Varenna said. "But I think I like it."
Chapter 6 – B. S.
Chapter 8 – The Really Bad News
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