SCHEHERAZADE’S 1,001 BYTES // Extinction 101

The end began with being told to talk amongst ourselves.

I guess the lecturer had had enough of coaxing a classroom of unruly trilobites to settle down and pay attention. Farrier science is a pretty dry subject, so was it any wonder?

We hadn’t counted on him being preternaturally good at his job. He knew exactly how to tame our youthful sass and steer us aright. Instead of admitting defeat, he drew a circle and square on the blackboard. He then jabbed a very pink forefinger at it, saying to the class, “Listen up, you obnoxious little tackers. This here is what you’re going to discuss.”

We gawped at these shapes as though they were arcane symbols of a bygone age. They reeked of a certain geometric mysticism. Or cabbala. Both options were frightening. As was the lecturer’s toothy grin.

“So, geniuses, what do your sparkling minds make of it?”

“The Deathly Hallows?” ventured one student.

“A manifesto for making horseshoes?” piped another.

“You’re getting warm, Ms. Satana!” The lecturer winked. “It has something to do with shoeing horses.”

That was a relief. My parents hadn’t paid a shedload of college fees for me to end up sitting in the wrong classroom.

The lecturer cast a bemused look over us. He poked the aforementioned pink finger at someone in the second row. “Mr. Pups. Tell me, what’s the shape of the head of a horseshoe nail?”

The student looked completely trapped, as though he’d been asked what kind of death he’d prefer. Hanging? Toxic injection? Students on either side shrank away, as if to remove themselves from the lecturer’s line of sight.

“Cir… circle?”

Someone snickered in the last row. The lecturer turned his head. “Do you wish to add something, Mr. Fernsby?”

“No, sir. Sorry, sir.”

“I’m not interested in your vacuous apologies, Mr. Fernsby. What shape is it?”

“Don’t know, sir. A square, I suppose.”

“You suppose? Come on, Mr. Fernsby. You can do better than that.”

“I only need to hammer ’em, sir. The shape doesn’t matter, does it?”

“An honest answer, Mr. Fernsby. There may be hope for you after all.”

Another voice chimed from the sidelines. “Nail heads come in different shapes, don’t they? They could be round or square.”

“True,” the lecturer shot back. “Even triangles, yes?”

The rest of us kept our silence. We were leery of provoking a new torrent of devastatingly oblique questions.

“Mr. Pups. Mr. Fernsby. I challenge you to a discourse. You, Mr. Pups, shall persuade us that a round shape is the only acceptable shape for a nail head. Mr. Fernsby, you are adamantly opposed to the idea, and ready to prove your point of view that it should be square. Clear?”

They looked at him, slack-jawed and pop-eyed. The rest of us were doing this too. I think we’d expected this lesson to be a cruisy one. So far, it had been anything but.

“Will this be in the exam?” asked someone from the row in front of me.

“Mr. Yelchin, your exam has already begun,” smiled the lecturer, one eyebrow diabolically arched. “Life itself is an exam!”

I hunched down in my seat, making myself as small and unnoticeable as possible. No way was I going to get caught up in this odd little game. I was a trilobite, not a philosophy major.

“Well…” Pups looked distressed. He always did have a slight stutter but now it was quite prominent. “The shape should be cir… circular because… if we compare a squ… square and a circle with a similar pe… perimeter… the squ… circle area will be bigger…” He frowned at his own timid assertion. “Or smaller?” The poor guy closed his eyes and muttered something under his breath. Obviously, he was trying to do the math in his tiny trilobite mind.

“Oh my god!” interjected another student. “Listening to you is making me dumber!” I think his name was Hermes. “It should be a square! A fucking square! Stop embarrassing yourself and sit the fuck down!”

An odd request to be sure. Pups was already sitting down. He hadn’t stood up in the first place.

“Shut your mouth, Henries!” Okay, it wasn’t Hermes. “Someone should remove the bullets ‘cos you keep shooting off with it!”

Henries’s face reddened—quite a feat for a trilobite. Our faces aren’t exactly there, if you know what I mean. “At least I don’t shoot blanks, coffin stuffer!”

A girl from the fifth row—I didn’t remember her name—squeaked, “Leave him alone! If you can’t add two and two then you need to shut up and listen! And anyway, it’s round because circles are sacred. Perfect. A heavenly shape! Everything should be circles!”

Another girl’s voice countered from the sixth row—sweet, yet acidic. How are girls able to achieve such a combination? “Yeah, Dafna, we can see that you strive for this perfect shape. You keep stuffing yourself with perfectly shaped donuts and pizzas!”

That’s when all hell broke loose. A furious shriek was followed by the scrape of chair legs on polished wood, then the sound of slaps. Everyone jumped up and started punching hell out of each other. I dived to the side, and made a beeline for the lectern. I hid behind it, watching with dismay total trilobite warfare!

The lecturer’s face broke out in a malevolent smile. He sauntered to the door, opened it, and let himself out. I followed at a discreet distance, baffled. Why hadn’t he broken up this massive fight? I observed as he sauntered down the hall, opened another door, and let himself in. Huh? I tiptoed to the door and peeped through the window to see what he’d do next. He was casting his eyes over a classroom of young dinosaurs—clearly idealistic, full of ambitious dreams, with plans for a brighter tomorrow.

I watched in horror as the lecturer went to the blackboard, took a piece of chalk, and wrote on it the dullest topic one could ever imagine…

 

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2020

SCHEHERAZADE’S 1,001 BYTES // A Paltry Fate

Once upon a time there was a paltry palt named Kolobok. He was a good guy, but he also had micaphobia, an irrational fear of breadcrumbs. He fled the bakery where he was made as it was there that he was surrounded by a hell of a lot of crumbs.

So, he ran and ran and ran—or rather, rolled—leaving behind a trail of breadcrumbs as thick as his arm. He was sometimes so out of breath that he needed to stop, but whenever he looked back all he saw was… well, crumbs. So, he kept going. It was a minor miracle that there was anything left of him to run from.

His flight of fear took him to different countries. In Germany, two strange children gave chase through a dark forest, yelling expletives after him. Fortunately for Kolobok, he didn’t know German—nor specifically the Hessian dialect—so their expletives had no impact on his emotional state. It was only the fear of being caught that did, for they seemed excessively hungry given the plumpness of their bodies. Of course, how Kolobok could have concluded they were swearing at him in the first place is another question for another time.

The children kept picking up Kolobok’s breadcrumb trail wherever he went, and throwing said breadcrumbs to slow his progress. They were relentless in their pursuit. They wouldn’t quit until they were sidetracked by a candy house tucked away in a quiet forest clearing. Loud cackling and shrill screams were the last thing Kolobok heard as he ducked back into the dense foliage to make good his escape. Served them right for being ill-mannered, gluttonous brats!

Somewhere near the border of France, Kolobok rolled over something. It felt alarmingly soft and squishy. When he looked back, he immediately wished to unsee what he’d seen. Poor kid! No bigger than a thumb, said kid was now no more than a pathetic mud puddle. Kolobok could only hope that he’d led a rich and full life before his unfortunate demise. But then… the kid began to splash about in the mud puddle, crying bloody murder. Kolobok hadn’t killed him after all! Huzzah! But when he listened closely to what the kid was shouting, it caused him to shudder. Yes, unlike German, Kolobok could parle français pretty well.

Few things are as terrifying than the sight of a thumb-sized child uttering curses in a ground-trembling, ominous voice. He was dooming Kolobok to a lonely death in a labyrinth of his own making. The palt was so frightened at this pronouncement that he was unable to grasp its meaning. He only knew that it couldn’t be good, and fled the scene as fast as he was able. Of course, Kolobok’s French wasn’t perfect. It can be too easy to mistake “la mort” for “l’amour”, which is exactly what he did—now his mind was awash with visions of a googly-eyed thumb pinching his soft, delicate buns. Holy gluten!

So it was that Kolobok moved speedily on, trailing more breadcrumbs. His fairy tale took a turn for the worse at the border of Italy. Said border was closed because the COVID-19 pandemic had just begun, so no one was allowed in or out. Also, no one in charge bothered to note that since Kolobok was made of simple flour and water—not frankenfood and gluten—he posed zero threat to the general public. Actually, that wasn’t strictly true about the gluten. He did have a little gluten in him. People would have been scandalised! Still, as it stood, the Italians were adamant that he was riddled with contagion, and so he was required to move on.

That’s when Kolobok headed for Spain. When he passed through the puddle again, that nasty child (let’s call him a schmendrick) shouted more words after him. Maybe it was “la tombe” this time, but Kolobok couldn’t be sure. It’s just what it sounded like. He was too busy trying to outrun his own crumb trail to listen very closely. His fright and flight response took him past the child as far as the borders of Belgium and Switzerland, both of which also declined entry. It seemed everywhere was closing its borders because of COVID-19. Where was a poor palt to go?

He eventually ended up rolling around on a beach somewhere, trying to avoid the incoming tide as much as possible. Getting wet would mean instant death, and he couldn’t have that. He still wasn’t sure if there was a hell for wayward foods like himself, and he was convinced he hadn’t racked up enough brownie points to get into heaven quite yet, so he’d have to live for a little while longer.

It was a terrible shame. So many difficulties had presented themselves on Kolobok’s long journey here, in the form of rocky terrain, unending border queues, and one bullying chiffchaff from the rough end of the Black Forest. These had caused Kolobok’s gravity centre to slowly and irrevocably become displaced. Instead of his usual, solid, near-perfect spherical shape, he’d turned into something reminiscent of a spitball with a crippling side dent. Of course, this made it hard for Kolobok to roll in a straight line. He would skid left all the time, so getting from point A to point B in a non-circuitous route became an absolute ordeal. He was as murky dish water circling the drain of doom.

And that’s how the hapless palt eventually died. He’d gotten lost in a maze of walls formed from his impossibly long and convoluted crumb trail. The thumb-sized child’s (or shmendrick’s) prophecy had come to pass, and it was only moments from death that its meaning dawned on Kolobok. So, he lay in a malaise of deteriorating pastry and… well, malaise. He’d always dreamed of being a Rolling Stone, not this! Now, all he could look forward to was having his guts carried away by armies of ants. How horribly, disappointingly banal. He should have been a chocolate éclair.

 

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2020

SCHEHERAZADE’S 1,001 BYTES // Return to Sender

I fidgeted with the big yellow envelope. I’d found it poking under the front door that morning. It was quite unremarkable, with nothing inside, and the flap was wide open as if to say, “So what?” I tossed it on the coffee table and walked away.

I’d managed to busy myself with some household chores, so by the time I returned to the lounge room I had quite forgotten all about this enigmatic piece of stationery. I even found the cat curled up in front of it, quite unable to tear her eyes away. Perhaps it had a specific scent that was especially attractive to cats? I tried to beckon her away. “Here, kitty kitty!” She hissed at me, not once taking her eyes from the envelope—no, not even for a moment. Her tail twitched nervously. The envelope remained unmoved.

I tutted at her as I shrugged on a coat. I then headed down to the grocery store, thinking perhaps she’d get bored with the envelope and go searching for sparrows in the tree outside the kitchen window. This was her favourite thing to do, and she was flighty at the best of times so I wasn’t too concerned.

However, when I returned with a frozen pizza, coke and cat food, I noted that nothing had changed. The cat continued to stare at the envelope, as if hypnotised. She didn’t even react to the sound of me popping bubble wrap. That was something that usually got her attention, but not today. I cocked my head in befuddlement, then lay the bubble wrap at her side. Perhaps she’d notice it when she got bored with the mysterious envelope and then everything would return to normal.

I decided to get busy clearing out the small vanity cabinet in the bathroom. It was a task that I had put off for far too long. My ex had left behind a lot of stuff when she moved out, and I’d find things of hers laying about here and there, which would often dredge up old hurts. Sure, it had been six months since our relationship disintegrated, but that simply wasn’t long enough. This time, I found her favourite hand mirror, the one with an ornately carved face on the back. I picked it up between thumb and forefinger, holding it like the disgusting turd it was. I made for the yard to find a trash bin.

When I passed by the coffee table, it seemed at first as though the cat was gone. I let out a sigh of relief. Perhaps her strange behaviour had been purely a figment of my imagination. I continued my way toward the door, but then a strange sound from above made me stop short. I raised my head, and that’s when I noticed where she actually was. I recoiled. The mirror dropped from my hand and shattered on the floor.

The cat… she was on the ceiling! What the hell?!

I ran around in panicked little circles for a bit, then made myself stop. I couldn’t lose the plot just yet. There had to be a rational explanation for this. A scientific one! The cat was walking around on the ceiling because… because… well, there had to be a reason. I just had to pause, take a breath, and figure it out. I craned my neck and made myself really look at her. She was curled there on the ceiling, now grooming herself, as though this was a completely normal everyday occurrence. How could this stupid cat be so calm?

I walked out of the room. Where was that stepladder? I’d wear one of my thick, long-sleeved shirts and those heavy-duty gardening gloves with the reinforced padding and get that damn moggy off the damn ceiling, no matter what. She could try to scratch my eyeballs out. I didn’t care. I wasn’t having this kind of nonsense going on in my own house, thank you very much!

The stepladder was laying next to the wading pool in the backyard, down by the big blue gum near the perimeter fence. Puffing and panting, it took a lot of doing, but I managed to drag that ladder all the way back to the house and into the living room. Ten minutes alone were spent trying to enter by the door with that blasted ladder—I almost shattered a window! I was so pissed off and impatient by that point that I decided against trying to find the gardening gloves and shirt. I would just have to take my chances.

I raised the ladder upright and locked it into place. My foot was on the first rung when I looked up and… well, can you imagine my reaction when I saw that the cat was no longer there? Yes, I was really rather fucking annoyed by this point. In fact, I was morally outraged! Had there been some kind of cat ombudsman that I could have fired off an angry missive to then I surely would have done so. I certainly wasn’t going to wander about the house with a heavy ladder looking for a missing cat like some kind of idiot.

My shoe crunched on something. Oh, I’d forgotten about the shattered mirror! My eyes dropped to the floor, only to see that the cat was there. She was licking at one of the larger shards, and somehow not cutting up her delicate little tongue in the process.

And then I took a step back.

What was I seeing here? She was inside the mirror shard, oblivious to my shock as she set to licking her arse, one leg stretched high above her bobbing head. What. The. Fuck. That was the final straw. Fucking cats and their strange tricks!

I nervously swept all of the mirror shards into the envelope and sealed it up. I licked the back of a stamp and stuck it to the front, then wrote on it ‘Return to Sender’.

Besides, I’d always wanted a dog.

 

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2018