There once was an accountant named Laquinda who was very good at her job. She worked at a bank in the city, performing accountancy tasks for people and businesses, and in this way she went through her life and was happy. At the end of every day, Laquinda left the bank and began the long walk through the woods back to her small house, where she lived with her dogs. The woods were dark, and deep, and Laquinda knew that they were inhabited by all manner of beasties, demons, ghosts, and other creatures besides, and so she always made sure to go home after work while the sun shone down and drove the dark things into the shadows.
One year in early April, tax season descended upon the bank like a dark cloud, and poor Laquinda found that she could barely keep up with all the work that needed to be done. One night, the bank manager demanded that she stay until all the tax documents had been filed. Laquinda hurriedly worked, doing calculation upon calculation, but still found that the sun had set when she left the bank. The moon was full and plump above the woods, and despite her misgivings, Laquinda quickly said a prayer and jogged along the path.
Laquinda was in the forest no further than five yards before she found her path blocked by a vértéktie.
A vértéktie, if you have never seen one (and I hope for your sake that you have not), is a small creature the size and shape of a cat, with the head of a possum and the tail of an otter, and two sharp horns spiraling from its forehead. Vértéktie stand on their hind legs, and are dressed all in soft black fur, even their large velvety bat ears. Vértéktie have tongues half the size of their bodies that they use to sniff out prey, and two small hands, like the hands of a child; and vértéktie are always smiling, showing rows and rows of tiny sharp teeth.
"Clear out my way, beastie, or I shall make you move," said Laquinda, even though she was very scared.
"Oh, I think not," said the vértéktie, now approaching Laquinda slowly, "as you look plump and full and nourishing. I think instead, I shall take my fill of you before I let you go."
Laquinda let out a bellow and ran at the vértéktie, which instinctually froze; she raised her foot as she ran, and made as if to boot the creature into the trees. But the vértéktie was too fast for her, and clung fast to her leg with its small childlike hands, and climbed up her body, perched on her back, and began its hissed incantation. Laquinda knew that it was too late, but the damage could be managed; she broke off the moon-bathed branch of a rowan tree and began to flail away, whipping the vértéktie, so that it could not whisper its disgusting spell.
Vértéktie, you see, do not feed the way devils and monsters normally do. Most fearsome critters want to eat human flesh or drink human blood, or bite off small chunks of the soul. The vértéktie instead latches on to a person and slowly drains their credit score down to zero. Even a person who has paid their every bill on time and maintained a strong savings account can find themselves forced to visit a strip-mall check-cashing place on payday, once they have encountered a vértéktie in the light of the silvery moon.
Laquinda ran as fast as her feet would take her, beating the vértéktie with the rowan branch. She could hear the eerie hissed recitation of dark words, and could feel her credit score lowering. She began to shout over the vértéktie, singing prayers, calling out Our Fathers and Hail Marys at the top of her voice. She took her silver necklace and pressed it into the beast's leg, making the fur singe and burn; she did every thing she could think of to make the critter need to pause or start over or halt. Before too long, she saw her house through the trees, and called her dogs.
The dogs came running up the path and circled Laquinda and the vértéktie, barking and growling. Vértéktie are terrified of dogs, and the beast grappled its way up to the very top of Laquinda's head, where it turned round and round, spitting and squealing. Spying her chance, Laquinda grabbed it and wrestled it to the ground, where she wrapped the necklace around its neck like a choker, and clutched the devil close to her. She ran the rest of the way to the cabin, shooing the dogs inside before her as she went. Once they were all inside, she slammed and locked the door behind her and threw the vértéktie to the floor.
Now that the physical connection had been broken, Laquinda could tell that the vértéktie had badly lowered her credit score. Before the moonlit encounter, she'd maintained a solid 835; now, she could tell that it was no higher than a lowly 525. She knew that unless something was done, she would be unable to refinance her student loans in the upcoming year.
"Vile beast," she screamed at the vértéktie. "Undo this damage! Restore me, or I shall throw you in the fire and kill you, and let my dogs chew your bones!"
"Anything, please," said the vértéktie, "just let me go."
Laquinda grabbed the devil by the scruff of its neck, and attached a bell to the silver necklace it wore, so that other people would know if it came near. She squeezed the vértéktie hard between her hands, and felt her credit score rising within her.
Finally, she opened the door, to allow the demon to escape, but instead it looked at her plaintively. "Please," it said, "with this bell around my neck, I shall never be able to feed; and soon, I will die of starvation."
Now that her credit score had been returned to her, Laquinda felt some small sympathy for this pathetic monster. "I shall place a saucer of milk on the front step every night," she said.
The vértéktie looked at her. "On cold nights I will freeze to death, without credit scores to keep me warm."
"All right," said Laquinda, "on very cold nights you may come visit me indoors, and keep warm by the fire."
The vértéktie nodded, and was gone.
This is how Laquinda came to have a pet vértéktie. If you visit her, at her house in the woods, and you see it by the fire on a cold night, look at it, but do not touch; for the vértéktie is still hungry, deep down, and will not hesitate.
There once was a farmer with several acres of land. He sowed and tended and reaped, and in this manner he fed himself and his family. He grew wheat, and turnips, and potatoes. He grew strawberries, and asparagus, and carrots. He traded with the other farmers around him, giving his fruits and vegetables in return for meat, and milk, and other good things. He and his husband and their daughter were all very happy.
One day while picking strawberries, the farmer found a nose, half-buried in the dirt. "How curious," said the farmer, and picked the nose up. He brushed the black soil from the nostrils and thought, "I don't think I know anyone who would have lost a nose." As the last bits of black soil fell from it, the nostrils of the nose flared to life, sniffing and wheezing. The farmer was startled, and dropped the nose back to the ground, where it continued to breathe and sniff and huff and puff. The farmer moved on and picked strawberries on the other side of the nose, but at the end of the day, he returned, picked up the nose, and brought it back to the house.
"Look at what I found in the field today, when I was picking strawberries," said the farmer to his husband and daughter. None of them could think of anyone who could have lost a nose, and all three stared in wonder at how the nose appeared to be sniffing and flaring in such a lifelike manner. "Well, we had better keep it," said the farmer's husband, "in case we meet someone who has lost a nose, so that they can use it." He put the nose on the mantel, and there it sat, occasionally sniffing or sneezing.
The next day, the farmer went out to pick tomatoes, as they had just turned a beautiful deep shade of red. He spent all day picking the roundest tomatoes from the vines, gathering them in his wicker basket, and part of the afternoon besides. A few hours before sunset, he looked down and discovered to his dismay that he had almost stepped on a set of eyes, which quivered and stared upwards at his bootheel. The farmer quickly moved his foot to avoid the eyes and bent down to take a closer look. As he moved, the eyes followed; as he gawped, the eyes blinked.
That night, the eyes joined the nose on the mantel, and they rolled and followed the farmer and his husband and their daughter as they moved around the house, cooking and eating, singing songs and preparing for bedtime.
The next day, while harvesting apricots from his small grove, the farmer found two ears tucked amongst the flower blossoms; the day after that, he found two lean cheeks on a peach tree. After a week of this-- a shaggy brown scalp betwixt the peppers, a neck and chin buried with the sweet potatoes, and finally a chattering skull mixed in with the cantaloupes-- the farmer had assembled a near-complete head on his mantel. The eyes had gone in the sockets, the ears on the sides, and so on. That Saturday night, the head stared down at them, occasionally cocking to one side to hear them better, sniffing at the bread as it came out of the oven, and staring down with them as they ate, grinning its skeletal toothy grin.
"I am so curious," said the farmer's daughter. "What is it doing? What does it want?"
"I am also curious," said the farmer. "Who does this head belong to? Do they want it back? It seems to be personable enough, although I do wish it would stop showing us its teeth." When it heard this, the head looked down and tried to turn away.
"Oh, hush," said the farmer's husband. "It can't help that, dear. Now you've gone and made it worry. Don't worry, head, don't worry."
The next day was Sunday, and the farmer and his husband and their daughter went to church. When they returned, no sooner had they started preparing for lunch when they heard a moist slapping sound at the front door.
"Whatever could that be?" asked the farmer. When he opened the door, he discovered a mouth laying on the welcome mat. "Ah," he said, and quickly placed the mouth over the head's skully grin. Now the head was complete. The whole family gathered around the mantel expectantly.
"He's almost kind of handsome, in an odd way," said the farmer's daughter.
"Burton," said the head on the mantel. "Burton, burton, burton burton. Burton burton burton burton burton."
"What on earth does that mean?" asked the farmer.
"Burton burton burton," said the head, with eyes lowered.
"Maybe he doesn't speak English," said the farmer's husband.
"Burton burton?" asked the head.
"Perhaps it is dumb," said the farmer, and when the head's eyebrows raised in dismay, he quickly added, "Mute, I meant to say. Not stupid."
"Burton," said the head.
"Hush, dear," said the farmer's husband. "Burton is our guest. Daughter, please make sure to roast enough beets to feed Burton as well."
The head smiled down at them beatifically.
That night, as the farmer and his husband and their daughter prepared for bedtime, the head opened its mouth and sang a soft, low, wordless lullaby, a repeating melodic phrase, and everyone slept easily and deeply.
Man, what a strange weekend.
I went to a University of Iowa alumni meeting at a local bar, because the beer was free, and I know a few UI grads in town. I figured it'd be a pretty good time to just hang out, even if I only hung out with my friends the whole time and didn't really do any networking or anything.
When I got there, none of my friends were there yet, so I just sort of hung out at the bar and stared at the televisions, periodically looking around for people I knew. A whole bunch of strangers, but down at the other end of the bar, nursing a beer and looking lonely, was Ryan Gosling, just hanging out by himself. I was baffled. What was he doing there? Why wasn't he being mobbed by people?
Well, I was a couple free beers in, so I wandered down to the other end of the bar and sat down next to him. "Hey, man," I said. "University of Iowa? Class of '02."
"'14," he said. "Ph.D. in Otiotics."
"No shit," I said. "I only went there for undergrad."
None of my asshole friends were showing up, so we just kept chatting. I'd had no idea he was a UI Alum, but apparently he did his time in earnest, even wrote a whole dissertation. And because he's Ryan Gosling, some commercial publishers were asking him to rewrite it in non-academic language to publish as a mainstream book. Fascinating, right?
"Man, you're actually interested in my dry-ass academic writing? It's pretty niche."
"Hell yeah, I am. It sounds super weird."
"Well hold up, I've got a copy in my car." He left and then came back, handing me a weird book with vellum pages and leather binding-- like, actual leather. I guess Ryan Gosling can afford to have his books printed and bound in a pretty fancy way, and not just slapdash jobs at the local University bookstore. I flipped through it, and each page had something completely strange on it-- spot-varnish embossed Hebrew characters, or lacquered characters in Arabic, only visible at certain angles.
"What's with the weird spot-varnish foreign language stuff?" I asked.
"Oh man, no one's noticed that before," he said. "Don't worry about it." He seemed kind of upset, so I didn't follow up.
I kept reading, though. The first third of the dissertation was a collection of lab experiments, but they were all written in a variety of different styles. Some were a lot more literary than they were strictly academic / scientific. I was totally digging it.
The title of the dissertation was "Geographical Origination Identification Via Borborygmatic Emission Descriptors," which meant nothing to me. When I asked him to summarize, he kind of smirked. "It's all about how I can tell where someone's from based exclusively on the way they describe the sound of a fart."
"You're crazy, Ryan Gosling," I said.
Anyway, a few beers later, we headed down to the Salt Lick for some delicious barbecue. When we got there, the place was closed for a private event, but I guess being with Ryan Gosling has some benefits, because they let us in anyway. We stood out horrendously, because everyone else was wearing black dress clothes-- it turns out that the private event was a wake. In the middle of the courtyard, there was a huge temporary-construction aboveground pool, and floating in the pool was an open old-timey wooden casket with a dead woman inside.
The barbecue was incredible.
Once there was a woman with a husband and a baby, and they were all happy. One day, the husband became very ill and died, and after he was gone, the woman lived in a dark place. She found that she no longer enjoyed spending time with her friends. She did not enjoy the taste of food or drink. And she found that she could no longer love her daughter.
The woman went to her therapist and described her symptoms. The therapist tried many things, medicines and rituals, but nothing the therapist tried did any good. Finally, the therapist sat down and sighed. "It is beyond my abilities to help you with this," she said to the woman. "However, all is not lost. There is something I can recommend, but it is a bit unorthodox."
"I'll do anything," said the woman.
"Return to your home," said the therapist. "Retrieve your phone book, and find the listing for Grandmother Spider."
When the therapist said this, the woman gasped, for she knew what this meant and was afraid. But she went home and did as she was told. She scheduled an appointment with Grandmother Spider, who said, "Bring me a thermos of hot black tea, because I love that stuff." The woman was excited and worried, and she found it very hard to sleep.
The next day, she went to the address listed in the phone book, but saw nothing. She kept looking, and finally saw a small hole in the ground.
"Hey, down here," said Grandmother Spider from inside the hole. "Come on in."
"I am much too large," said the woman. "How will I get inside such a small space?"
"No problem," said Grandmother Spider. "Wedge your foot in the hole and jiggle it around a little."
The woman was frightened, but she put her foot in the hole. As soon as she did, the small hole grew very large-- or the woman grew very small-- and she stepped inside. Grandmother Spider took the thermos of hot black tea from her and took a long drink. "Ahh, that's the good stuff, all right. Thanks for the tea. Now, what can I do for you?"
The woman sat and explained her situation. Grandmother Spider sat silently, sipping the hot black tea. Finally, when the woman's story was done, Grandmother Spider said "I think I know what you need to do. I have something I am going to make for you and give to you, and instructions for you to follow. Do you agree?"
The woman nodded.
"Don't look at what I am doing," said Grandmother Spider.
The woman closed her eyes, and shortly she heard a frenzied clicking sound. After several minutes, the clicking grew louder, and eventually the woman could not withhold her curiosity. She opened her eyes, and saw Grandmother Spider hurriedly weaving an intricate net. "Whatever is that for, Grandmother?" she asked. As the words left her mouth, the net crumbled to dust.
"Oh, goddammit, you looked," said Grandmother Spider. "I told you not to look. Now I have to start over. Close your eyes, for real this time."
This time, the woman closed her eyes and kept them squeezed shut, even though the clicking was louder (and joined by metallic clanking), until she was told to open them. When she did open her eyes, she saw that Grandmother Spider had woven a beautiful and strong butterfly net, with an opening two feet in diameter, and a strong woven handle three feet long.
"When your husband was dying," said Grandmother Spider, "you poured all your love into him. He was a selfish jerk and kept it all when he died, leaving you nothing to give your daughter. Take this butterfly net, and go to the cemetery where your husband is buried. As his body returns to the earth, love will come out of his mouth in a big weird colored cloud. Catch the love in the butterfly net and eat it, and then you can give it to your daughter."
"Yes, Grandmother," said the woman.
"Also, hey, take this back," said Grandmother Spider, presenting the thermos to the woman. "I filled it with a magic liquid. Before you go in the cemetery, smear it all over your eyes. If you don't, you won't be able to see the big weird cloud so's you can catch it."
As soon as the woman left Grandmother Spider's house, it shrunk-- or she enlarged-- and she was back on the sidewalk. She quickly drove to the cemetery as the sun began to set behind the trees. In her Volvo, she poured some of the magic liquid from the thermos into her hand, and she smeared it across her eyes. As soon as this was done, she noticed many clouds floating in the cemetery. She quickly got out of her vehicle and ran towards her husband's grave.
Along the way, the woman saw a bright blue cloud come out of the grave of a stranger. It darted back and forth in the air above the headstone. "It would perhaps be wise to get some practice before I need to capture my own cloud," the woman said to herself. She planted her feet, squared her shoulders, and as the bright blue cloud hovered toward her, she swung the butterfly net. The cloud passed completely through, not even wavering in the breeze of the passing air. "Oh, dear," said the woman to herself, but she thought about the magical liquid smeared on her eyes, and about the bright and shining black eyes of Grandmother Spider, and she continued to her husband's gravesite.
As soon as the woman stepped onto the foot of the grave, a billowing pink and red cloud, filled with dozens of little sparking firelights, poured forth from the grass at the head, as if being exhaled. The woman took a halting step forward and held out the net, worried that she wouldn't be fast enough, but the cloud slowly moved by itself straight into the net, where it sat and sparkled. The woman slumped down and sat with her back against the headstone, overwhelmed, and just gazed into the netted cloud, which seemed to gaze back. Eventually, she reached in, pulled out a bit of the cloud, which felt a bit like warm damp gauze, and put it into her mouth.
It tasted like slightly salty cotton candy, and melted in her mouth.
Immediately, she felt love for her daughter well into her heart, like blood from a pricked fingertip; she rapidly scarfed down the rest of the cloud, and wept.
Grandmother Spider drawn by Rob Eagleton.
So, an internet forum that I frequent recently had a post asking for recommendations for "the best whiskey bar in Manhattan."
Welp. I couldn't resist:
If you're looking for the best whiskey bar in Manhattan, look no further than The Horny Pteranodon. Located in the storage room of a 7-11 on 53rd and 3rd, this place has everything: Dinosaur RealDolls, frozen coproliths instead of ice cubes, Pachydermabrasion-- that's that thing of where a midget wearing an elephant skin runs real fast past your bare legs-- and so much more. To get in, just look for the doorman dressed like Dr. Alan Grant, and hand him a plastic miniature triceratops.