On the Third Day, Boulder (barrier)
The stables were restless with unfed animals. A small pack of horses sustained themselves on a shared patch of reedy grazing with a couple of brotherly lambs, recently orphaned. The grain silo had been punctured by flying shrapnel and the remaining frenzied hens have taken first seating. A small donkey, nearly collapsed from hunger, responded to Milo’s shrill wolf whistle by trotting over languidly, almost toddling over onto his side.
Milo reached into his spectral rucksack and produced a shiny red apple for the ass, and a motley array of domesticates shortly formed around him, curious for his wares. He asked Phantomannie if there were any further comestibles, but there was nothing left in his emergency pack save for the cannister with the plans and a deck of cards. Milo flipped open the pack of cards and withdrew the deck, gesturing to the hay around his torso.
He leaned on one arm and shared with the gathered animals The Legend of Ole Stump.
— Ole Stump was, like me at the moment, a creature of diminutive stature, familiar with imprisonment and ostracization, suffering from frequent delusions that came in the form of vivid dreams.
Milo placed the deck face down on the stable hay, ornate woodcut prints, half of which depicted a complex of serpentine tentacles crushing bony human skeletons, insects and vermin carouseling around toppled skulls, the other half an orgiastic compilation of corporeal ecstasy in a waterfalling oasis, Mandelbrotian genital curves identifiable in all of the figures’ positions. Milo turned up the top card and laid it down for all to see: the eight of pentacles.
— Ole Stump was a dwarven smith who could produce miraculous ironware with his forge. Queues as long as the forest path would form in front of his grand blacksmith shoppe, so grand at voluminous one would not expect a dwarf inhabiting. Townsfolk from weeks travel away would bring provisions and compensation to await audience to request one magic item from his forge.
Each morning, he would open his door to the first traveler in line to invite them in, where they would sit at his uncomfortably small chairs and drink a breakfast stout at a miniature table while the two bargained.
Sometimes Ole Stump would refuse to assist them, and he would quietly shut the door, and retire to his comforts until the next morning. At times the requested item would be of dear cost, and at times he would artifice for free.
There was no gossiped rhyme or reason to Stump’s capriciousness. But they all agreed that there was nothing the ingenious artisan couldn’t craft to perfection in the one day before he opened his doors again.
Milo fans out the remaining cards face down, and beckons over one of the recently bloated teenage chicks. She hesitantly rolled a lost aggie she’d been hoarding as practice for her coming egg days onto one of the cards, which she then tapped repeatedly with her beak, as if made of hayseed. Milo turned it over, the seven of cups, and placed it crosswise over the eight.
One day, a small girl with cinnamon braids plaited about her head appeared first at his morning door in a simple aproned dress. He invited her in, but had nothing to drink that would service a young lady, so gave her some of the honey-bread owed to him by town baker for whom he’d constructed a marvelous oven contraption of flywheels and cogs that slowly carried funnel pinches of fresh dough through the oven fire all by itself to drop fully baked into the waiting bread basket; and all the baker need do was attach his faithful hound, Fredo, lured by the smell of freshly baked scones, to a harness that powered the gizmo as he trotted in place. At the end of the day, he would let his poor hungry pet feast on overflow and fallen scraps.
“What can I do for you little girl?”
“I come here asking for a magic comb.”
“Here’s the thing, I don’t cotton to cowards placing their children on the front lines to die for their unethical dirty work. Is it your mother that usually combs your hair, and her arthritis is acting up, so she coerced you to come here and request this?”
“No, Sir Stump. The comb is for me.”
“Well, then what would you like this comb to do? I could make one that can comb your entire mane straight in minutes, and you wouldn’t even need to touch it. Or I could create one that would make you forget everything bad that happened to you during that day. Or one that plays music when you lift it to your mouth. Oh! Or maybe one that…”
“Yes, sir, all that for sure, Sir Stump, but most importantly, one that makes me feel beautiful when I look in the mirror, instead of sadness and confusion as to what I did wrong for God to make me so hideous.”
“Did your father put you up to this? He’s concerned about the dowry, isn’t he! That you won’t fetch a penny for your housewifery?”
“Yes, he is deeply concerned, but I have promised him that I will dedicate my days to his welfare, since mother is gone.”
Ole Stump strokes his beard, sizing her up, realizing now, since she said it, how truly wretched this poor creature was. Puffy cheeks, which were created by a wide, grossly broad smile stocked with a boring repetition of white teeth, stained flush red, surrounding frigid ice blue eyes that crinkled when closed. And the endless cavern spiral of her small ears! And the two poorly hidden blow holes underneath a thin ski slope of nose!
“Enough!” He yells. “For one gold piece, I will craft such a marvelous comb that each time you catch a glance of your reflection, the beauty you find will be so pleasing you will soon forget how you truly appear.”
Overjoyed, she delves into her apron pockets and presses the gold into his blistered palms.
The young chicken clucked her joy, flapping her wings excitedly. Her turn complete, but ripe with amusement, she waddled pridefully back over to her kinflock.
A bashful, trepid foal peeks out from behind his mother’s haunches. Milo catches his gaze and grins. One hesitant foot after beckoned hesitant foot the foal finally made its way to the front. Milo knocked on the ground and the foal neighed. Milo knocked on the splay of cards. The foal dug with its hoof at the grouping of cards, and flipped over the Hanged Man which Milo placed to the left of the crossed cards and frowned.
Having clinked his gold coin into his ceramic piggy bank, Ole Stump spent the entire workday drenched in sweat before fires and molten metals, or counting up agents for his alchemical brew, all the while trying to forget the young girl’s hideous visage, passionately pursuing his remedy for her ills.
It was closing in on twilight when he thought to dismantle his vanity mirror and place it on a third chair at his small round kitchen table. He invited in the still-young girl and presented her with his miracle-infused creation, an iron comb fitted for her youthful hand.
She went to draw it to her hair, but Stump stopped her.
“Sit down, first. Place it on the table and will it to comb.”
She did what was asked, and the comb sprung to life and gently teased out her knotted braids then strolled through her frizzled staticky locks. She chortled to feel it massage her scalp without ever so much as tearing a strand.
“But now, watch!” He yanked the towel from the mirror, and both of them could see one of the fairest maidens in the land. Even as their imaginations were inconsistent, they were both agreed at the pleasingness of the reflected one whose copper-tinged hair was waltzing with a dancing comb.
She wanted to throw arms of gratitude around her champion Sir Stump, but like all dwarves he resisted physical contact with ardor.
“My upturned nose that was hers, now gone victoriously roman; her spiteful blue eyes warmed to a harmless brown; her wild eyebrows raised in scorn and jealousy, now soft and subtle.
Oh Mother, your woes had become mine, as I carried all the features of your worn and wicked face in my own.
Father was right to be sickened by your weakened presence and seek comfort in my bed, even if he would only touch me after dark had fallen, he so feared confrontation with your memory, risen from the heather plot where he’d interred your murdered coil.
Oh, thank you, blessed Sir Stump. For the first time ever, when looking for myself, both inside and out, it is not her twisted and grotesque specter that I’m left to find.”
Ole Stump smiled in thrall to the beautiful young woman in the mirror waving good-bye and skipping out the door to return home.
Under the window, covered by curtains
All lacy and spattered with blood
We find crutches in the corner
And bullets on the shelves
Which I dismiss at once as being equivalent, irrelevant in and of themselves
Underneath the staircase there’s a mast which flies a flag
Despite dankness beyond imagining, it floats on to a higher hole
In tunnels gouged beneath the basement rooms are, unmistakably, sets of bloody handprints on a crumbling wall
Oh won’t you be there with me for it, tonight?
In this hut-to-hut witch hunt, down the tunnels of Old Yellowcake
Where all the souls in a city go drowning by starlight
Where each choice you make is a fierce firefight, it’s a new mistake?
— Rasputina, In Old Yellowcake
“Thank you, I’m sorry for my language.” Annie secured the cream-colored pill capsule from Milo’s mother, who had been able to stop its rolling hurtle with the gold tip of her heels before it scurried under the stainless steel panels, with her thumb and fourth finger. The two shared a nod of appreciation and acceptance.
Annie lifted Milo’s buttock from her grip under his stuttering knee tried to anticipate his spasms as she reached beneath him pressing the glob of jelly against his perineum to squish it more evenly around the rubber fingertip. She scooped up the remainder with her fingertip and slathering a thick coat around the rim of his anus, before sinking her gelled finger inside. She circumferenced his lower colon several times, distributing the lube as evenly as she could feel.
Her finger popped out with a hiccup of air and she wiggled the head of the suppository past his dodging sphincter before thrusting it deep inside of him with her slippery forefinger, and waited for it to naturally detach from her touch.