Archive for category Alcatraz Rules and Regulations

Eight of Hearts: Ten Minutes a Day


Ten minutes a day,At the wake-up bell in the morning you must get out of bed and put on your clothes.
that’s all you need
to realise your dreams —
not as hard as it seems.
Ten minutes can always be freed.

Ten minutes a day,
a sixth of a clock,
to keep up your writing,
its forced march providing
a force to march through writer’s block.

Ten minutes a day
can’t be denied,
to read through your bookshelf
and castle your rook self
with culture of kings by your side.

Ten minutes a day,
one day at a time,
to inch past the worst of it,
combat inertia that
nothing excuses; must try if it uses just

ten minutes a day,
don’t you forget,
to learn a new language:
word spread, grammar sandwich.
Ten minutes to keep your tongue wet.

Ten minutes a day
(if you’ve spread spores)
to teach well your baby;
remember that maybe
its life will be bigger than yours.

Ten minutes a day,
on- or offline,
to maintain your friendships,
accept rain and send drips;
as long as it’s something it’s fine.

Ten minutes a day —
find it somehow.
Forego social network fun,
finally get work done.
You’ve got all these things to make, it’s really not hard to take

ten minutes a day.
That’s all you do
to try meditation
and self re-creation;
you have to take some time for you.

Ten minutes a day —
it doesn’t take long
to tidy a tight space,
put junk in the right place;
and live with things where they belong.

Ten minutes a day,
not big amounts
to work on your fitness;
don’t tire yourself witless,
but even a small workout counts.

Ten minutes a day?
I can do that!
Grab life while I’m alive,
did all the things and I’ve
got what I’m leaping for now, and I’m sleeping for

ten minutes a day.
That’s all I need. [yawn]
Night dreams are boring;
my real dreams are [sound of snoring]
[snoring continues]

This is another one of those poems which has a tune in my head, and I had a hard time reading it without the tune to see if there were any lapses in rhythm the tune was forgiving. I fear I this may have caused me to write a terrible song and mediocre poem instead of a good poem. But I like it anyway. I might have to make a robot choir recording of it. It even has guitar bits after the second line of each stanza, which will be a fun challenge to record using only my MIDI keyboard and my vague suspicion that things called chords are involved.

I’ve been thinking about this one for several weeks, every so often adding something to the list of things that people say we should spend some negligible and underestimated amount of time on every day. It wasn’t really inspired by that card, and I still haven’t even tidied up my cards since the cruise. On the subject of the cruise, and people telling us to write every day, here’s my video recording of the live episode of the Nerdist Writers Panel recorded on JoCo Cruise Crazy 3.

It might be nice if I changed ‘ten minutes’ to either ‘five minutes’ or ‘one hour’ (‘hour’ pronounced as two syllables) so that I could arrange the first twelve stanzas around a clock and put the last one somewhere where there isn’t time for it, but I prefer the sound of ‘ten minutes’. I was thinking of making it zigzag across the page, three stanzas wide, but that would be pretty gratuitous.

I can consistently introduce and read this one in under three minutes, so I might read or recite it at the poetry open mic at ICV Arcade on the 31st. Let’s see if I can memorise it. My goal will be to make the audience yawn, and with that as a goal I don’t think it’s possible to fail. I bet you’re yawning already, so I’ll stop this now.

Addendum:

I changed some of the words. It originally went:

to try social network fun,
or you could get work done.

but who ever advises people to use social networks more? Apart from to maintain your friendships, of course, but conflicting interests is what this poem is about. Also, I used to have ‘for’ instead of ‘but’ about the small workout counting. I’m thinking about ‘a’ to ‘the’ in the fourth line of the second stanza.

Further Addendum: I recited this at open mic, and lots of people said they liked it, and I wish I could have said the same to the other poets there but I am not good enough at absorbing poetry and memorising faces and attaching the two all at the same time. I have some ideas for illustrations which could turn this poem into a small picture book or large comic strip for people who are told they’re too old for Dr. Seuss, and maybe aren’t yet old enough to realise they’re not. It would also be used for a halfhearted slide-show-style music video when I eventually teach my robot choir to sing this. I’m not sure whether I should attempt to draw it myself using stick figures, or commission someone else to do it. I’m starting to think it would be fun to have merch to shill, even if it the profit would be inevitably approaching zero from one side or the other. I have a day job so I can do that if I want. I enjoyed the ego boost when the occasional person would buy my shareware in the late 90s, and I still have the T-shirts and most of the cheques (the payments were processed by a US company, so they actually used cheques, even though it was almost the 21st Century.) But I won’t start on any of that until I’ve finished the King of Hearts.

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King of Diamonds: **** FLASH **** National Treasure Stolen From San Francisco


Kings of Diamonds reading 'You may be stopped and searched at any time' and 'Completed in 1937, in just over four years, the Golden Gate Bridge cost $35 million to build. Completed in 1930, in under one year, the Empire State Building cost just under $25 million to build.'

Lady Agatha Wayland fingered her diamond ring nervously. The engraving on it was barely noticeable next to the grapefruit-sized diamond, but never failed to help her: WWBD. What Would Buffy Do?

Buffy would be confident. Buffy wouldn’t act suspicious. Buffy would walk around with her head high despite the weight of the Golden Gate Bridge in a secret compartment in her brassiere. Buffy would not call attention to herself. Carmen “Buffy” Sandiego would ask a perfectly normal question, and fly as if on a perfectly normal holiday.

Agatha walked into the nearest store. “Excuse me, I’m looking for some travel advice.”

“Ma’am, I’m a butcher. I’m afraid I can’t help you with that. Can I interest you in a sirloin steak?”

Agatha touched her ring, and stuck out her chest as if it didn’t weigh 887 000 tons. “I’m planning a taco party. I’ll just take a few pounds of ground beef.” She took the beef and ran out of the shop before her confidence dissolved, not so much forgetting to pay as reverting to an old habit. Okay, new tactic.

She sped away in her Denghby speedster convertible, hoping the butcher wouldn’t call the police over a bit of beef. She tried to think of the least-obvious city to escape to. With any luck, ACME Detective Agency’s headquarters were on the other side of the now-bridgeless Bay, so their super sleuths would take some time to get to her, but she still had to get out of San Francisco quickly.

What would Buffy do? She’d get rid of the loot, that’s what she’d do. Agatha tried to think of places with bays or rivers in need of bridges. Hudson Bay had already been stolen by Fast Eddie B. a few years before, so that was out. Where were there rivers? Didn’t ‘Rio’ mean river? Perfect. She called a henchman to arrange a plane ticket to Rio de Janeiro and a fake passport.

Half an hour later, Agatha was browsing mystery novels in a bookstore when she caught a henchman’s eye between the shelves. He passed her a book titled ‘1001 Perfectly Legal Ways to Make $35 Million’ and shuffled off. She put the book into her secret coat pocket, and went to the counter with a novel, and a Portuguese phrasebook to help her out in Rio.

Her speedster was gone by the time Agatha left the bookstore. Surely taken away by the henchman and prepared for smuggling to Brazil. Agatha opened the book the henchman had given her, and found it had been hollowed out to make room for a passport, a plane ticket, and a pair of disguise glasses. V.I.L.E. never let her down.

*

Lady Agatha Wayland felt good. She had a destination. She had a plane ticket. She had a fake passport. She had the bridge hidden in her bosoms, where nobody would dare search. She had a safe way out of this place, and the police probably didn’t even have a warrant for her arrest. Compared with the native San Franciscans, she looked downright boring. To blend in a little more, she stopped at a Starbucks and ordered a frappuccino and a limousine to the airport. The only crime she needed to worry about was in the murder mystery she was reading.

Agatha felt a familiar thrill as the limo flying a green, blue and yellow flag pulled up. Soon she’d sell the bridge and live like a queen again. She should be able to live at least another twenty years before needing to pull another heist. She grew more and more confident as she checked in for her flight. Her luggage was respectably underweight, and her passport passed the security tests. Despite surprise at the new procedures, she obligingly removed her tennis shoes and cockily presented her hastily-prepared clear plastic bag of perfectly innocuous bottles of liquid — just a little shampoo and some diamond polish. She strutted through the metal detector, knowing she’d left her knives in her checked-in luggage, and the Golden Gate Bridge was safely masked within her chest TARDIS.

As she was gathering up her things from the conveyor belt, a security guard approached. “Ma’am, we’ve picked up something unusual on the millimeter wave scanner. We’re going to have to take you aside for some further screening. ”

Millimeter wave scanner? Agatha cursed her habit of rarely reading past the crossword page to the Life & Crime section of the V.I.L.E newsletters while she was out of the game.

Agatha was ushered into a small room by two female security agents. One of them patted her down, paying extra attention to her chest area. When they asked her to remove her top, Agatha was at the same time white with fear and blushing, which gave her a somewhat normal appearance.

No doubt newer chest TARDISes were thinner and lacier than her decades-old model, but Agatha never bothered with the fashion pages of the newsletter either. The agents prodded at her rock-hard brassiere, looking for secret pockets.

Until one of them found the button.

The Golden Gate Bridge exploded out of the bra, destroying a large section of the airport and bopping a taxiing plane into the Bay. Agatha was thrown back by the force unleashed by her undergarment, and was quickly detained by unfazed security personnel without so much as an arrest warrant.

The airport bridge became San Francisco’s most famous tourist attraction. In a bid to win back some of their tourism dollars, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary erected a particularly Carmen-Sandiego-esque statue of Agatha in one of their rooms, claiming that she had been held at the prison after the attempted heist. Carmen Sandiego started up a legal landmark-moving business with the slogan ‘Anywhere in the world’, and became richer than ever, eventually starring in a business startup reality show entitled ‘What Would Carmen Do?’ Lady Agatha Wayland spent the rest of her life conning other Guantanamo Bay detainees into giving her advance payments on the bridge they needed to cross the bay.

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Two of Diamonds: Unauthorised Games


Alcatraz rules and regulations: Authorized card games are Hearts, Cribbage and dominoes. No card game will be allowed if it is a "draw" type of game or does not use the full deck on the dealAccording to the two of diamonds from my Alcatraz rules and regulations deck, for prisoners, ‘authorized card games are Hearts, Cribbage, and dominoes. No card game will be allowed if it is a “draw” type of game or does not use the full deck on the deal.’

This sounded like a challenge to me. Why must I use the full deck when I have a perfectly good pile of twos of diamonds? And what’s a “draw” type of game? If you’re ever incarcerated at my place, the only authorised card games will be ones that use entirely twos of diamonds, and one might expect them to end in a draw. Let’s see what happens when some normal card games are played this way:

Snap

Assuming automatic snap (when whoever puts down the matching card wins the pile) when this is played with two cards, the second player will always win. With three cards, the second player wins if they start with the extra card. In all other cases, the game goes on forever. Have fun! If it is not automatic snap, then I predict much fighting over who touched the pile first.

Last Card

If played with the rule that cards of the same value can all be put down at once, the first player wins provided he or she declared ‘last cards’ before the game started. Nobody has to worry about the 2 meaning that the next player should pick up 2, since they can always counter it with another 2 to make the player after them pick up four (unless they too can put down a 2, which they can.) However, players should still act surprised when this happens, and behave as if their opponent will have to pick up cards. If this game is played with the optional rule that one must not put down a 3, 5 or 2 as their last card, the game reduces to much frustrated staring at each other.

Now, let’s say we add a single joker or other card that is not a 3, 5 or 2 into the deck. Players will want to pick up as many cards as they can in the hope of getting this card and being able to put it down to win the game. Since there is no penalty to having a lot of cards (as they can all be put down in one move) optimal play would be to pick up 2 whenever a 2 is put down, and never put down more than one 2 at once, since it would just allow an opponent to pick up more cards. Assuming the player who picks up is not allowed to play anything, if this is played with an even number of players, eventually the even-numbered players will have a lot of cards while the odd-numbered players would have one or two, up until the point where an even-numbered player gets the joker and actually wants to shed their cards.

Once they have the joker, a player will probably want to put down all their 2s at once, say ‘last card’, and on the next turn put down the joker and win. But other players will certainly put down 2s, and without a 2 to counter them, the holder of the joker will have to pick up. So they must try not to make it too obvious that their last card is the joker, and make sure the player before them picks up (either because the previous player played a 2 and they don’t realise they should force you to pick up rather than picking up themselves, or because they only have one card left and they can’t play it because it’s not a joker) rather than playing a 2. But how do you get rid of your cards without making it obvious that you now want to get rid of your cards instead of accumulating them? You probably bluff throughout the whole game, occasionally countering somebody else’s 2 with your own rather than picking up. And that’s how the game gets interesting. Maybe with all this bluffing, you’ll forget to say ‘last card’ when you’re supposed to.

But of course, once you have the joker, you’re still the only person who can win, even if it takes you hours to do so. So I would add another rule: on their turn, a player can accuse another player of having the joker. If they guess correctly, they win. If the person they accuse does not have a joker, the accuser is out of the game. There; it ends, but not in a draw. I’ll call this variant of the game ‘Last Two’. Players start with two cards, to minimise the chance of starting with a joker, while ensuring nobody starts with just the joker and could potentially win on their first turn.

I’ve been trying to invent an interesting game involving only twos of diamonds all week, and I came up with a few ideas, but just by spending an hour investigating Last Card and inventing Last Two, I think I’ve come up with something better than it. Sure, it doesn’t use only twos, but it’s close enough. I don’t think I’d ever heard the rule about not ending on a two before, though; nor did I realise that Last Card is (according to wikipedia) only played in New Zealand. Let’s make sure Last Two is played by people all over the world who happen to have large collections of twos of diamonds.

Here’s are a few of the simpler games I came up with, which are similar to Cards Against Humanity but with silly poses, acting and writing in the place of white cards.

Cards Against Sanity

This works best with a wide variety of different twos of diamonds. Cards are dealt out evenly to all players. On each turn, a player plays one card from their hand, and all the other players do their best to imitate the card, either by following any instructions on the card or by posing as whatever pictures or shapes are on the card. The player who played the card judges whose impression they like the best, and gives them the card face down to mark that they won a point. Play continues clockwise  until there are no cards left or they’re sick of playing, at which point the person who won the most rounds is the winner. If anyone plays the Alcatraz two of diamonds, they immediately win the game because nobody can obey its instructions while still playing the game. The player holding this card must decide whether they value winning more than continuing to play a fun game with their friends, and/or making their friends strike silly poses.

Writing Cards Against Sanity

As above, but instead of acting out the cards, each player must write a story, poem, or list of made-up card games based on the selected card.

I did come up with a game called ‘Miners and Dragons’ played only with plain twos of diamonds, which was going to be the main subject of this post. But it’s kind of complicated to describe, has been play tested only a trifle more than these games, might work better with dominoes, and probably isn’t even as much fun as Last Two. Feel free to leave your own suggestions for two-of-diamonds-only games in the comments.

While you’re thinking about that, here’s a video I shot of The Burning Hell playing a half-hour concert at 6:30a.m. in Trogen as part of their world-record-breaking tour I mentioned in previous posts:

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King of Spades (Moxy Früvous parody)


This is a parody of King of Spain by Moxy Früvous, written by me and sung by my not-so-top-secret collaborator, whom some of you recognised as Hello, The Future! She was sick for a while, which is why this is a week later than promised. There’s an mp3, but it probably makes more sense with the video.

Here are the lyrics (forgive the spacing; if I could have a superpower, it would be to always be able to make WordPress space lines the way I want):

Once I was the King of Spades              now I’m just a playing card

Oh, how I planted that naked lady          now I’m just a playing card

I’m telling you I was the King of Spades   now I’m just a playing card

And now it takes lady luck to play me

Wan, 2 3 4!

Chicks dug me, spades really suited me

digging up bones from the late Cretaceous or planting downy birch trees

Now I eat humble pie whenever the ace is high

Caught in a flush for a poker cheater, plotting to crush the other guy

Once I was the King of Spades             now I’m just a playing card

A pirate’s deckhand, burying lucre        now I’m just a playing card

I’m telling you I was the King of Spades  now I’m just a playing card

And now my hand sweeps the deck at Euchre

Once this was the King of Spades

Folks would rave, they’d die so I’d dig their grave, the people said:

“King, how are you such a genius?”

“Your mounds are convex”

“and holes are concave!”

Kill chafer grubs so I would have safer shrubs

I’d do yardwork all through the weekend

and dig diamonds to give the lonely hearts clubs

Once I was the King of Spades                             now I’m just a playing card

Old tree falls, new sea walls, you sat back, I’d hack that.   now I’m just a playing card

I’m telling you I was the King of Spades                     now I’m just a playing card

Now the Ace hits me up to save you at blackjack.

Once this was the King of Spades

Ladies and Gentlemen, make your bids for the instrumental bridge!

Now some of you might be wondering how I came to be a playing card

after being a real life king of spades. Should I lay my cards on the table?

(shouting)

Deal me in!

You see late one day, I’d just dug a wishing well

Clearly I had to test it, I’ve pride in the service I sell.

And I thought, well this number’s fun, but I should be in the pictures

Next thing my heads are pounding, I’m upside down,

and I’m too legless for britches.

Ship and flatfish, banquet and cat dish

How I wish I’d never made that wish.

Counter to all intentions, I only have two dimensions.

If you’ve felt you’re bored with the cards life dealt

Remember, real life beats royal flushes

so dig your way to gold rushes!

Once I was the King of Spades                      now I’m just a playing card

I was dealing out gem stones from pyroclastic      now I’m just a playing card

I’m telling you I was the King of Spades           now I’m just a playing card

And now my dealer is Angelastic.

Once this was the King of Spades

It was obvious I should parody this song for the King of Spades. I assumed I’d end up writing a nonsense song describing all the Kings of Spades I have in rhyme, and that it wouldn’t make any sense at all without a video showing the cards. Sort of like Jonathan Coulton’s Flickr. But to make a video, I’d need someone to sing it. Naturally, I thought of Hello, The Future! since she has already written one King of Spain parody, and when I first met her she was wearing a ‘Hello, The Future! is the name of my Moxy Früvous cover band’ T-shirt. Also, I knew she had a fez and had experience wearing a fake moustache. I commissioned her to do it even before I’d written anything. Once the lyrics were written, I sent her my shouting parts, some noises I made with my rainstick (which I am determined to use in everything now) and a plastic box full of kings of spades, and the one line which I realised, to my horror, would only make sense if I sang it myself, and she mixed it all in. It ended up being some kind of story about a real-life spade maven who turns into a playing card, and it might make some kind of sense without the video, but it’s still more fun with it.

One thing I hoped I could make clear in the video was that the ‘naked lady’ line was referring to amaryllis bulbs; I’m not sure how widespread that name is. But alas, amaryllis is out of season here.

One of these days, I should put this and several other things on my podcast. Unfortunately, I chose a podcast hosting platform which is a real hassle to use, so I’ve been lax in adding things to it.

I used cards from several new decks of cards this week. Obi-Wan Kenobi from a Star Wars Heroes & Villains deck I got in Sweden made an appearance (he’s a King of Spades, but was the ‘Wan’ as I shouted ‘1 2 3 4’), as did a Queen of Hearts (in the lonely hearts club) from the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. Also in the lonely hearts club is a King of Spades from a Kama Sutra deck I found while searching for panties to throw at Paul and Storm. Underneath the ship card, you can see some information from a Golden Gate Bridge deck I was given on JoCo Cruise Crazy 2, and somewhere in there is a King of Spades from a pirate deck I bought in Aruba (the same place I got the rainstick) during that cruise.

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Queen of Spades: Pancake cake (video)


As I mentioned, last weekend I was in Sweden with some friends, and my birthday was a few days later. My Swedish friend read us a well-known story by Sven Nordqvist about a pancake cake (Pannkakstårtan in Swedish), and then made me such a cake for my birthday. I made this video about it. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but cover the edges with cream and it’ll be okay.

I used the following songs:

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Six of Spades: The Barely Finished Story


Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t read of watched The Neverending Story, and you intend to, you might want to wait until afterwards before reading this.

He just imagined that in front of him, there was a giant requirement to do what he had committed himself to do. Taylor ran from the insipid story ideas that came to him, squatting in trashy distractions until he thought the ideas had left. But as soon as he stopped distracting himself, they came back. He had 18 hours to write something, and this would have to be it. He still ran, until the interruption of a pleasant procrastinatory conversation with a friend gave him a door, and he ran inside.

On the shelf was a DVD of the movie ‘The Neverending Story’. A story of a boy who saves Fantasia, the world of human fantasy, right when people were beginning to lose their hope, to forget their dreams. What if Fantasia were being destroyed again? What if that’s why there were no good story ideas left? If only he could get to Fantasia, and get a child to give the Childlike Empress a new name, he would be able to restore his hope and the wealth of fantastic story ideas he’d once had. He poured himself a frozen lemonade with vodka and sat down with his laptop to write.

He just imagined that in front of him, there was a giant Apollo White Room, where he could prepare to enter his craft and travel to unknown worlds. He’d had the training, read a summary of the book, watched the movie, and he knew exactly what he had to do. He would journey to the Moonchild.

It would be easier for him than for Atreyu. He just had to keep his chin up as he crossed the deadly Swamps of Sadness, keep his grip when speaking to Morla, find a luckdragon, keep his self-esteem up as he walked through the Sphinx gate, keep his cool as he saw his true reflection in the mirror of true selves, feign surprise when the Southern Oracle told him the Empress needed a new name, and hope he’d written the story well enough to capture a child’s attention.

Taylor stopped to take a sip of his drink, check his email, and try to forget how unlikely it was that a child would read his story and give Empress Moonchild the new name she needed. He’d cross that bridge when he came to it.

Ahead of him, the Nothing had already devoured the landscape. To the left and right was more nothingness. Behind him, he could see the Ivory Tower glowing in the distance. Andy, his Andalusian horse, had no problem galloping over the featureless landscape. When they arrived at the Ivory Tower, Taylor approached the bearded man.

“I’m sorry. But this is not the time and the place for adults. Adults do not have the imagination required for this quest. I must ask you to leave.”

“If you don’t want me here, you shouldn’t have sent for me.” Taylor had his lines memorized.

“It was not you we sent for,” said the man. “We wanted Taylor.”

“I am Taylor,” he said.

“Not Taylor the worn-out adult! Taylor the child!”

That is not what they’d said to Atreyu. “I’m the only Taylor you’ve got,” said Taylor. “I’m old enough to know what to do. But if you want, I’ll go back and write advertising copy.” Taylor turned away and pretended to leave.

“No, wait, come back, please,” said the man. Taylor turned back.

“If you really are the Taylor we sent for, you would be willing to go on a quest?”

“Yes, of course.” This was the script Taylor was used to. “What kind of a quest?”

The man gave the usual spiel about finding a cure for the Empress, to save Fantasia. It would be very dangerous and important, and he had to go alone, weaponless. Taylor feigned bravery as he accepted the challenge, knowing that having already seen the movie, he would be in no real danger. He did not need to feign awe as he was given Auryn, the amulet which would guide and protect him.

Taylor rode off into the sunset, knowing that the creature of darkness which would be tracking him down would be an easy kill. After riding for hours, they stopped and decided it was time to eat.

Taylor looked up from his laptop, suddenly aware that his stomach was growling. He topped up his frozen lemonade and made some toast. “Not too much,” he said after the first few bites. “We still have a long way to go.”

Taylor and Andy had searched the Silver Mountains, the Desert of Discarded Drafts, the Crystal Heads and the Sadness Swamp without success. He saw there was only one chance left. To find Melpolia, the ancient muse, whose home was in the deadly Forests of Disbelief.

Taylor led his horse off a cliff, and into the treetops which appeared ahead of them and disappeared behind them as they walked. Everyone knew that whoever stopped believing in the forest would fall to the bottom of the ravine. Taylor kept himself aloft by describing the feeling of branches underfoot to himself as he went, but the horse soon began to fall. “Andy! Can’t you feel the branches poking into your hooves? Can’t you hear the twigs cracking? Andy, please!”

As the horse fell into the void, Taylor could see just how impossible the forest was. He fell, but instinctively reached out and grabbed a branch that his muscles still knew was there. Of course it was there. If he could write it well enough, it was there. Taylor climbed back to the top and ran with his eyes closed, letting out shrieks of delight as he realised what a marvelous reality he had created. When he got bored with that, he just imagined that in front of him there was a giant red tabby, and then he collided with something soft.

Taylor rolled his chair back from his laptop and sighed loudly. This was a ridiculous idea. A giant cat? A giant cat was the best he could think of as a muse? Well, it would have to do. It was dark out. He was running out of time.

The wind seemed to sigh as Taylor looked up at Melpolia the giant red tabby.

“Oh, no. Not an adult,” the cat hissed. “Adults are no fun.”

Taylor sniffled a little, remembering his cat allergy. “Look, if you would just help me in my quest to save the Childlike Empress… I have a deadline, you know.” He grabbed Melpolia’s fur as the treetop beneath him threatened to give way.

“Oh, we know the Empress is sick, but it doesn’t matter.” Melpolia turned away and started licking itself.

Taylor sneezed violently, and fell a metre or so when he forgot to believe. He climbed back up.

“Do you even care?” Taylor remembered this line from the movie.

“You don’t really care whether or not I care,” said Melpolia.

Taylor started to protest, but realised Melpolia was right. He didn’t care. He just wanted to get through the story, get some readers, and save Fantasia so he would have ideas to write other stories and keep food on the table.

Food. Taylor finished a piece of toast. Why wouldn’t the characters ever just do what he wanted them to? He only had eleven hours left. He took a last gulp of frozen lemonade and slammed the cup down angrily on the table. Fine. If he wasn’t going to save the Empress, he may as well have fun.

Taylor sneezed again, and his tree swayed with him. “You know how I can help save the Empress, don’t you?”

“Not that it matters, but yes,” said Melpolia while it licked its left side.

“It does matter!” screamed Taylor. “If I don’t save her, the Childlike Empress will die, and I always wanted to meet her!”

“It’s really not important. I have some preening to do, you know.” insisted Melpolia.

“If you don’t tell me, Fantasia will disappear, right when I’m starting to enjoy it!” yelled Taylor.

“Oh, alright,” said the giant red tabby. “The truth is, I don’t know. Maybe you could ask the Southern Oracle…”

“Right, 10 000 miles away?” Taylor had forgotten that from the movie. The only point of going to see Melpolia was attracting a luckdragon to take him to the Southern Oracle.

“Yes, as it happens.”

“Great. You wouldn’t happen to know where I could find a luckdragon, would you?”

“A what? Luckdragons don’t exist. They were just made up for a book.”

Taylor started to fall. Melpolia found a patch of fur near its right front paw that hadn’t been preened for a while, and went to work on it.

The falling sure felt real. Taylor closed his eyes and waited to hit the ground.

Taylor poured himself another frozen lemonade, without vodka this time, the way he’d always loved it as a kid. He’d had so much of it one summer that his friends had started calling him Frozen Lemonade. They still did, sometimes, but it embarrassed him more now. He’d started adding vodka in his mid-twenties. The vodka made it taste terrible, but what self-respecting adult drinks virgin frozen lemonade?

Taylor woke up next to some kind of giant goat. “Are you a luckdragon?”

“Goodness, no. I’m a deus ex machamois.”

Taylor giggled. “A deus ex machamois? And let me guess, you can fly, and you caught me when I fell from the nonexistent treetops?”

“That’s right. A giant flying squirrel would have made more sense, but I guess you panicked. Panic is sometimes good for creativity.”

“You mean… I just made you up to save my life? And you’re really here?”

Taylor could picture it in his head. A giant chamois, flailing through the air, always looking for footholds in the clouds. Eat your heart out, Rudolph! He laughed so hard he almost peed himself. On the way back from the toilet, he spotted the bag of sour miniature easter egg candies he’d bought for his nephews, and opened it. Forget the waistline; a little sugar once in a while couldn’t harm him.

“I’m here, alright. You passed out before I even caught you; you’re not used to landing on giant flying goats any more. My name’s Rudolph.”

Taylor laughed. “So… how far away is the Southern Oracle?”

“Why, it’s just around the corner!”

Taylor grinned. “Do I have to go visit that gnome couple and drink eye of newt to make me healthy, now?”

“Only if you want to.”

Taylor secretly wanted to know what the potion would taste like. He found the gnomes’ home, where Urgl hurried to make him a healing potion. “This one will do you good. It has eye of newt in it. And wing of cat, hair of tortoise, face of gnat, eyelash of porpoise.”

Taylor gulped it down in delighted disgust, feeling the eyes slide down his throat and the wings try to flap their way back up, chewing the eyelashes so they wouldn’t tickle.

“This one’s eye of newt,” said Taylor as he put a sour egg into his mouth. He grimaced as the sour taste electrified his tongue.

Then it was Engywook the scientist’s turn to tell him about the Sphinx Gate he would have to pass. “The sphinxes’ eyes stay closed until someone who does not feel his own worth tries to pass by. They can see straight into your heart.”

Taylor did not stay to watch a hesitant traveller get shot by the Sphinxes’ eyes. “Thanks for the newt eyes!” he yelled as he ran down to the gate.

Taylor approached the Sphinx gate with confidence.

Taylor couldn’t think of anything good enough to write. All his ideas seemed stupid again. He decided to write as quickly as he could whatever came to his head, whether he liked it or not.

Taylor ran between the sphinxes as he saw the eyes beginning to open. The sphinx eyes fired a blue laser of self-doubt at him, but he could jump over and under the laser beams like a character in a bad science fiction movie. He leapt over the last one and rolled along the ground giggling on the other side, almost wanting to go back for another go. There were plenty of other roll marks in the sand. He wondered if anyone was really confident enough to keep the eyes closed, or if the survivors were just the ones who ran through anyway.

And now for the mirror of true selves. When he started the quest, he would have been afraid to look at it, but he wasn’t afraid any more. The mirror showed him as a young boy, enthusiastically writing into his notebook. And then a middle-aged man, typing into his laptop just as excitedly.

Finally, he arrived at the Southern Oracle. As expected, it told him that in order to save Fantasia, the Empress needed to be given a new name by a human child.

Taylor swore and wished he’d put more vodka in his frozen lemonade. He’d forgotten to think of a solution to the ‘human child’ problem. In the movie, the human child is the reader of the book, but who would ever read this one? He hadn’t even made the deadline. He made some more toast and settled down to write an unhappy ending.

Taylor rode Rudolph back in the direction he’d come, trying to enjoy the ride even though he knew he’d failed in his quest. Fragments of Fantasia floated around the void like stars. They flew toward the brightest: the Ivory Tower.

The Childlike Empress was beautiful. She reminded Taylor of his first crush.

“I have failed you, Empress.”

“No. You haven’t. You brought him with you.”

“Who?”

“The child. The one who can save us all.”

“No I didn’t. Nobody is going to publish this. No child is going to read this.”

“Yes, you did,” said the Empress with conviction. “He has suffered with you. He went through everything you went through. And now, he has come here. With you. He is very close. Listening to every word we say.”

Taylor could barely believe what he was writing. He popped another sour egg into his mouth.

“Where is he? If he’s so close, why doesn’t he arrive?” A piece of ivory fell from the ceiling and narrowly missed Taylor’s head.

“He doesn’t realise he’s already a part of the story.”

“But it’s just me!” Taylor protested. “I know I’m in the story. I know I’m writing the story. I know no kid is reading this story.”

“The child began to share your adventure as soon as you let him. As soon as you started believing the story.”

“But there’s nobody here but me!” Taylor said.

He was right.

Taylor almost choked on a sour egg. “No way!” he said aloud.

“He’s been a part of you all along, but you slowly stopped listening to him, when you thought you had to keep you feet on the ground. He’s still inside you. You just need to let him call out my new name. He has already chosen it.”

“This isn’t real. I’m just writing this. This isn’t real.” said Taylor under his breath. He could make them say something else if he wanted. He could make the Empress look up a name in a baby name book herself.

“What will happen if he doesn’t appear?”

“Then our world will disappear, and so will I,” said Empress Moonchild.

“How could he let that happen?”

“He doesn’t understand that he’s the one that has the power to stop it. He simply can’t imagine that something he’s writing can be so important.”

“Maybe he doesn’t know what he has to do!”

No baby name book. The characters wouldn’t let him. But he didn’t know what to write next. “What do I have to do?” Taylor wondered aloud.

“He has to give me a new name. He just has to call it out,” said the Empress.

All Taylor called out was “But it’s only a story. It’s not real!”

“Taylor! Why don’t you do what you dream, Taylor? Why don’t you live the fantasy life you created?”

“But I can’t, I have to keep my feet on the ground! I’m a grown man!” Taylor was already yelling loud enough for his neighbours to think he was a nutcase. What harm would there be in yelling a name as well?

“Call my name! Taylor, please! Save us!”

Taylor was confused. “Me? My horse died, I almost died falling off trees, I swallowed porpose eyelashes, and I could have just come straight here and given you a name myself?”

“Not you. The Taylor who’s writing the story. You needed to go on the adventure so he could find the child in him.”

“Alright! I’ll do it! I’ll save you. I will do what I dream!” Taylor grabbed his cup and held it up in the air triumphantly. “Frozen Lemonade!” he screamed.

And then it was dark. “Really? A power cut, now?!” he said in frustration, wondering when he’d last saved his writing. Taylor jumped as a beautiful voice responded.

“In the beginning, it is always dark.”

“What the…”

Taylor saw a tiny glow, and watched it grow to reveal the face of the Childlike Empress. “Seriously? You can’t tell me this was all real! I was just making excuses for my lack of ideas! There is no Fantasia.”

Taylor felt the floor beneath him tremble. It was not the floor of his apartment.

“Not any more,” said the empress. “But now that you have named me Frozen Lemonade, you can begin to rebuild.”

“Wait, I have to rebuild?

Frozen Lemonade showed Taylor the glowing object she’d been holding. A pencil. “Give me your hand.”

Taylor held out his hand, and Frozen Lemonade placed the pencil between his fingers. “Now what are you going to write about?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then there will be no Fantasia any more.”

“How much can I write with one pencil?”

“As much as you want. You don’t even need to use this pencil. The more you write, the more magnificent Fantasia will become.”

“Really?”

“Try it.”

So he started writing. He barely noticed when he was transported back to his apartment and the pencil became a glowing laptop screen. He and his laptop had many other amazing adventures, but they are other stories.

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Four of Spades: What Jane Knew


Jane knew she wasn’t supposed to feed chocolate to the lizard. That’s why she did it. She knew Mrs. Beagle always gave a chocolate to whoever got the best score in the maths quiz. That’s why she studied. She knew Mrs. Beagle always left straight after school on Wednesdays. That’s why she chose that day to sneak back into the classroom where the class lizard was kept.

What Jane did not know was what would happen to the lizard when it ate the chocolate.

Jane also did not know that Mrs. Beagle had left her keys behind. That’s why she jumped and dropped the lizard when Mrs. Beagle opened the classroom door. Jane did not know where the lizard went when she dropped it. That’s why she was surprised when it bit her on the ankle a few minutes later, while she was writing out ‘I will not feed chocolate to the lizard’ 100 times on the blackboard. Jane did not know that the chocolate lizard bite would make whatever she wrote come true. That’s why she kept writing. She did not know why she was writing it, since she had never fed chocolate to the lizard, and she wouldn’t, even though she wanted to. That’s why she stopped writing. Jane did not know what to do next. That’s why she started writing a story on the blackboard:

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Jane who knew everything and didn’t need to go to school.

And Jane knew everything. That’s why she wrote that some cake would appear. Jane knew that everything she wrote would come true, and stay true until the bite from the chocolate-fed lizard healed an hour later. That’s why she was worried. She knew that she would have to feed more chocolate to the lizard and let it bite her again when that happened. That’s one of the reasons she wrote that a lot of chocolate appeared. But she knew that she could not feed chocolate to the lizard after writing that she wouldn’t. That’s why she lived out her wildest dreams until the spell wore out just before Mrs. Beagle returned.

Mrs. Beagle still knew what Jane had done. That’s why she came to make sure she’d completed her punishment, even though she’d rather have gone to her mathematics society meeting. Mrs. Beagle did not know what the chocolate-fed-lizard bite had done. That’s why she was surprised by the faint smell of ponies and chocolate cake that disappeared just quickly enough to make her wonder whether she’d ever smelt it. Mrs. Beagle did not know that Jane wanted to feed the lizard again. That’s why she dismissed the girl and left.

Jane knew that Mrs. Beagle would write a disciplinary report detailing everything she’d done. That’s why she put the lizard in Mrs. Beagle’s bag, with her chocolates.

*

Mrs. Beagle knew that something was up when she saw what happened as she wrote about Jane feeding chocolate to the lizard. That’s why she wrote that Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem could be disproven.

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