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.
or: EPISODE 8 // Where Tati Refuses to be the Mother of Mutants and Tony Pouts
In our previous episode, Tati and Tony discussed the state-of-the-art hamster porno industry, and proved that no one should buy super secret weapons from James Bond’s personal arsenal in a pedestrian subway in Uryupinsk.
“Please, don’t be a drama queen” growled Tati. “Or I will drop you.”
Suddenly, Tony stopped short. His eyes were as wide as hubcaps, then he began to gasp like a fish in a glass of tequila. He was clearly trying to speak, but couldn’t, mouthing the words instead. In fact, he was trying to draw Tati’s attention to something that was right next to them. Tati raised her eyes from his face to whatever had suddenly blocked the sun.
“What… what the holy, blue, actual huge fuck?!”
And that’s when the whale swallowed them. That’s right. A whale in the sky. A sky whale. It had flippers and it was flying.
Tati and Tony tumbled down the whale’s windpipe for what seemed like forever. There were lots of wet plops and bounces all the way down, until their moustaches and hats disappeared and they were coated with thick layers of saliva. They finally came to a stop in a giant chamber full of a bubbly liquid that was caustic to the touch. Tati clambered up a fleshy protrusion, dragging a hapless Tony with her.
“Shit.” Tati looked down at herself. Her clothes had completely disintegrated and dropped right off of her. She looked at Tony. Him too.
“I am ashamed!” squeaked Tony, immediately hiding his very tiny manhood behind one hand. The other hand was covering his face.
“Well, at least the umbrella’s still okay,” sighed Tati. She didn’t feel the need to comfort her friend in his time of emotional need. There were more pressing concerns.
Suddenly, Tony dropped his hand to reveal a faraway look on his face. “Adam and Eve,” he whispered. “We’re like… you know, Adam and Eve!”
Tati looked at him as if he was a complete, Old Testament bedlamite. She snorted derisively.
“Well… I may not be a Bible maniac,” she said, “but I do believe the ‘Jonah’ analogy is more appropriate here.”
Tony pouted. Obviously, in his wacky mind they’d already been through the Fall, and were ready to provide the whale’s innards with future generations of sticky, mutant inhabitants.
“Fine,” muttered Tony. “Then let’s get the hell out of here!”
“I couldn’t agree more,” said Tati, cocking her head to one side. She was studying the umbrella with renewed interest.
Tony noticed this. “What?”
“This umbrella has a special function. I just don’t know if it’s safe to activate it inside the belly of a flying whale.”
“What does it do?”
Tati glanced at her pathetic friend, then realised something awful. He was bald. The bubbly liquid stuff had eaten away Tony’s beautiful long hair. And his eyebrows. And, presumably, his pubes? In fact, there was not a single jot of hair left on his entire body!
“Why are you patting your head?”
Tati ignored his question, alarmed that she no longer had hair either. Nowhere, actually. She had hair nowhere. What the freaking fuck…
“Well, it looks like I no longer care if it’s safe to activate the special umbrella inside a whale.”
And before Tony could protest, Tati pressed a button on the handle. The umbrella flared wider than before. Sparks flew from its tip and canvas edges, sending what looked like streams of fireworks into the walls of the whale’s insides and gloop. Then everything around them grew brighter and brighter…
Tati and Tony had decided to meet at the Greater Cachalot Mall, which was more akin to a bustling mini metropolis than an actual mall. Located on an island in international waters, it lay somewhere between Ukraine and Australia, and required no Visa to visit. Tati travelled there via the Trans-Zhmerynka Portalway while Tony took the TUMS Oceania Tube.
Tony arrived first, lugging three huge suitcases behind him. They were filled with god knows what, and the hotel staff were understandably curious. Who could possibly need that much crap? What the hell was it? Was it clothes or something nefarious like money for a drug drop? Tony did have the bedraggled appearance of a dealer after all.
Tati appeared twenty minutes later with her habitual backpack and a mint lollipop. She slapped Tony’s back, causing him to choke on his soda. “Are you drinking that slop again?” Tony winced at her pointed question. “You boob! When will you drop dead from diabetes? I won’t be coming to your funeral! And don’t complain that I didn’t warn you!”
They were looking at each other with a mixture of love and hate, and therefore didn’t notice a mysterious man in black slipping quietly behind them and making a beeline for Tony’s suitcases…
Tati sighed. “Okey dokey. Let’s go to reception. I’m dying to take a shower.” She pulled a map from her pants pocket and unfolded it over a nearby café table.
“Why couldn’t we have met in front of the hotel itself?” asked Tony, scratching the top of his head with a quizzical look.
“Conspiracy?” Tony blinked in confusion.
After ascertaining the most confusing and circuitous route to the hotel, Tati rummaged through her backpack and withdrew a couple of items. “Now, take this moustache and cap. No one should recognize you!”
Tony took one of the moustaches from her hand and put on the green cap. “But I already have a moustache!”
“It doesn’t matter. Stick that one over it.”
Tony blinked slowly at his reflection in a nearby store window showcase while Tati put on a moustache of her own, and a red cap too. “Seriously, we look like the Mario Bros.” She giggled at Tony’s comment. He had two moustaches on his face, and he did rather look like a famous, portly, videogame plumber’s brother.
“Does this make me Mario?”
Tony blushed. ” A female Mario, yes.”
Tati folded up the map and stowed it away. “Okay, you can stop scratching your mushrooms, brother. Let’s a go!”
Rolling his eyes, Tony turned to retrieve his suitcases…
Right in front of their very eyes was the mysterious man in black, and he was trying to make off with one of Tony’s suitcases. Tati didn’t even need to think. She immediately dug into her pants pocket and withdrew a mint lollipop. In one smooth over-the-shoulder movement, she lobbed it at the man in black and hit him squarely between the eyes. He crumpled to the ground like a tarpaulin full of bricks.
“You! Hey, you!” Tati lightly kicked him with the tip of her shoe. “Are you alive?”
“What the hell?!” hissed Tony like a goose. “There’s no need to sink the boot in! Isn’t it enough that you knocked him down?! What was that anyway? A candy cannonball? Jesus!”
Tati stood there confused. She thought she had done the right thing. “It was just a lollipop I bought in Zhmerynka’s Duty Free. Do you think it could be expired, and that’s why it’s so hard?”
“Either that or it’s got a tiny anchor in the middle of it.” Tony kneeled beside the man in black. “He’s out cold.”
“No, look, he’s coming around.”
The mysterious man in black opened his eyes, but the sight of two squabbling Mario brothers made him go faint again. And who could blame him? Anyone in his place would have done the same. One brother was strangely effeminate, and the other had two moustaches, one of which was stuck to his brow.
“Nope. He’s out again.”
Tati looked around. “We need a bucket of water.”
“What? Are we gonna drown him now? I think the guy’s had enough!”
Losing patience, Tati shrugged her shoulders then grabbed the man in black by his shirt front. She yanked him into a sitting position. “Who are you?” she growled to his face. ” Why were you stealing Tony’s suitcase?”
“I don’t think he can hear you, Tati.”
Tati pulled a vial of acetone from her other pocket.
Tony regarded her with a not unwarranted degree of suspicion. “Erm, why are you carrying stuff like that with you? And how the hell did you get it through customs?”
Tati gave an annoyed tut. “Don’t ask questions you wouldn’t like the answers to!” And, with that, she shoved the vial right into the man in black’s nose. With an almighty fit of spluttering and coughing, he opened eyes.
“Good sir,” asked Tony politely, “could you please let us know why you need my suitcase?”
Before the man in black could respond, Tati shouted, “I’d just like to know who the fuck died and left you stealing other people’s suitcases!”
The man in black whispered, “Please, don’t kill me, mighty Mario brothers. Let me live and I’ll reveal a big secret to you.”
Tony was concerned at how forcefully she was shaking the man in black. He wondered if he should intervene.
“Um…” he began carefully. “I think maybe…”
Tati looked at Tony, raising her eyebrows in challenge. They began a furious discussion with their eyes. Obviously, Tony wanted to help the man in black to a hotel, offer him bed and breakfast, but Tati wanted to systematically torture and break the man. They managed to convey all of this to one another without any words at all.
But destiny, as always, had other plans. A huge meteorite for example.
When Tati and Tony finally concluded their silent (yet no less heated for it) argument, they looked back to the mysterious man in black. Or, to be more precise, to the place where he’d been some moments ago. There was now a smouldering crater with a humungous orb glowing an angry orange in the centre.
Tati dropped the two seared scraps of fabric that remained of the man in black’s shirt. Tony just fell on his arse. They were both in shock.
“What the ever loving…” Tony didn’t have it in him to complete that statement, so he let it trail off.
Tati shook her head, scratched her moustache, gave a defiant grunt then grabbed Tony by the scruff of his shirt. “Get up.” Her tone indicated that he’d better do what she said, or else. He got up.
“That was my favourite suitcase too.”
Turning away from the crater, Tati counted the rest of Tony’s suitcases. “How many bloody suitcases have you got, Luigi?”
“My name’s not Luigi!” Tony bristled. “And I don’t need to justify what I bring on our trips to you!”
But Tati wasn’t listening. “Three? Okey-dokey. It looks like all of them are here. Let’s go to the hotel!”
Tony gestured helplessly at the crater. “Well, minus one.” He was sure that one of the suitcases had gotten disintegrated along with the mysterious man in black. “But I guess you’re right.” He gestured at the ones that remained. “There are three others here.”
Tony winced. How had he pissed her off this time? “What now?” he moaned.
Tati pointed. “Does this one have a slightly different hue, or am I dreaming?”
Now Tony wasn’t even sure of his real name. He squinted at the offending suitcase. “I don’t know. Yes? Maybe? Or we’re in a group hallucination.”
“No.” Tati gave her moustache another thoughtful scratch. “I think all of them are similar.”
“Sure,” sighed Tony. “Whatever floats your boat.”
He just wanted to get away from the crater. The police and emergency services were beginning to arrive. Names would be taken and questions would be asked. He didn’t have the mental wherewithal to cope with that.
“Erm, Tati, we should get the hell out of here, don’t you think?”
“Hey! What gives you the right to paw at me, you old pervert?”
Tony eyed her in a mixture of apology and wild-eyed fear.
“You can hold my hand, okay?” she said, her frown softening to a look of concern. “Let’s get out of here!”
Tony grabbed her whole arm again. “Let’s!”
Tati poked at Tony’s ribs with a huge, colourful umbrella. Tony winced, reeling in surprise. Where the hell had she suddenly pulled that from? It wasn’t anywhere a moment ago!
“Is that a…” Tony blinked dramatically. “Is that a fucking umbrella? You do realise it’s not about to rain, don’t you?”
Tati hoisted it, pointing the tip at the clear blue sky. “It’s a fucking whatchamacallit!”
“Huh? Could you stop saying words that I can’t comprehend?”
Tati grimaced at him. “Your Messiah won’t save you, but I will. Grab tight!”
Tony glommed onto Tati like a vice. “Does that make you my ‘Missiah?'” He grinned like an idiot at his own stupid joke.
“Do you want to fall?” Tati asked with a hint of menace in her voice.
“Wha—?!” Tony shook his head in panic. “No. Of course not!”
“Then hold on!” Tati jabbed at the sky for emphasis. “Less words. More action!”
And with that, her umbrella popped open with a puff of air, and they shot off into the sky like a bottle rocket. Tony screamed as he tightened his grip. He hadn’t expected their lift off to be so… well, sudden!
“Shit!” squeaked Tati.
Tony blinked. That’s all he seemed to be doing lately. “What?”
“Suitcases!” Tati looked angry. “Did you bring your fucking baggage?”
Tony refused to look down as he was scared of heights—but he knew the suitcases were still scattered around the lip of the crater. Tati looked down, and her scowl deepened.
“Do you really need your suitcases?” Then before Tony could muster an answer, she added, “Never mind. It’s too late now anyway.”
Tati was right. The ambulance, police and fire service had arrived on the scene. People in various uniforms were already striding about with purposeful resolve, pointing at things, crossing things off lists, and getting shit done. And yet, Tony had to whine, “But I need them!”
“Why?” Tati pretended that her question was dictated by common sense, not curiosity. Tony gave her his best, saintly, longsuffering ‘martyr’ look. She rolled her eyes, but he wouldn’t let up.
Tati found it difficult to imagine Tony wearing undergarments. The thought made her giggle. “Nice try, you silly boy.” She lightly kissed the top of his head. “Do you have other options? You’re going to need them.”
Tony realised that the reason was going to have to be more serious than the one he’d offered. Otherwise, this nasty girl with fake face fungus was never going to agree to return and get his suitcases back. Tati could be quite difficult to sway once her mind was made up.
He thought a little bit, and then said, “Well, I suppose I can tell you, but it’s a big secret. The reason I want to go back for my suitcases is because they contain my stash of hamster porn. God, I hope no one manages to get one open. I can already feel the shame!”
Tati snorted. “‘Mr Fleek ‘Puffy Cheek’ & His Lewd BBW Wifey’? ‘Crazy Hawaii Weekend in the Boom Chicka Wheel Wow of Love’, huh?”
“Okay okay!” hissed Tony with embarrassment. “Keep your voice down, would you?”
Tati felt Tony shudder involuntarily. The memory of such a loss seemed to trouble him deeply.
“Hey!” he suddenly beamed. “Does that mean you happen to have a copy of your own?”
Tati blushed momentarily, but then quickly regained her usual look of jaded scorn.
“Are you an idiot?” she sneered. “I joke, of course. I had no idea that this existed. You’re a dirty weirdo!”
Tony looked disappointed. “That was a pretty good guess then!”
“I wonder which direction the wind is blowing today…”
Tati fidgeted with the trigger on the umbrella handle, demonstrating her complete indifference towards the hamster porno industry. Tony looked at her with suspicion. It was obvious that she was trying to change the topic, but he figured it’d be better if he didn’t challenge her on this. At least not now while she was gripping him by the shirt collar some one hundred feet above the ground.
“So,” he said carefully, “where are we going to go? We’re fugitives now!”
Tati ignored him, continuing to fiddle with the trigger. Now she looked genuinely concerned, her fake moustache trembling in the wind like a bad omen. Okay, now it was time to worry, and so that’s what Tony did.
“Erm…” he squeaked. “Is everything okay?”
“Just shut up, OK? I’m trying to cock this fucking hamster.”
Tony blinked. “What?”
“Oh, hell!” spat Tati. “Damn you and your sexual preferences! I meant ‘cock the hammer’ of course! Not the hamster! This fucking umbrella doesn’t work!”
Then there was a sudden gust of wind. It slapped into them from the side, nearly wrenching Tony from Tati’s grasp. He shrieked with fear, tightening his hold on her.
“We’re gonna die!”
Dear Readers, now it’s time for us to explain ourselves. We decided to create this post in the hope of killing two birds with one stone. (Poor birds though!)
Firstly, we wanted to refresh your memory with the story so far, and to present it to our Newer—but no less important—Readers. You see, this is an experiment in interactive storytelling. We tell the story, and you vote for the direction it should go in. We’ve had a lot of fun with it. Hopefully, you have too.
Secondly, we want to ask your opinion. Should we continue this quirky feature? Please do let us know by voting in the following poll. This will very much help us to decide the fate of our story…
I marched towards the library and collided with Patrick near the main entrance. I remembered this boor. He was an assistant at my entrance examination. I decided not to waste time greeting him and just passed on by.
The 20th century German literature section wasn’t a very popular place. Well, good riddance! It was much better to work without the silly background chirrup of girls writing endless nonsense about heroic troubadours and sighing over modern guys who’d forgotten the art of courtship.
Anyway, I figured I should get to work, so I thumbed along the high stacks looking for the letter ‘T’. Gotcha! Tristan Tzara, ‘Seven Dada Manifestos and Lampisteries’.
“Take a newspaper. Take some scissors. Choose from this paper an article of the length you want to make your poem. Cut out the article. Next carefully cut out each of the words that makes up this article and put them all in a bag. Shake gently. Next take out each cutting one after the other. Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag. The poem will resemble you. And there you are – an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.”
So, professor, you didn’t like my poem? I giggled at the thought.I’ll learn how to break something that was already broken. Let’s dada, baby! And suddenly, my attention was drawn to some other voices. They sounded pretty tense. I cocked my ear.
“I need this book!”
“The rules are the same for everyone. You can only read it in the reference room. This book mustn’t leave the library.”
I peeped out of the stack and looked over to the counter. A disappointed Patrick was talking with the library custodian, a large leather bound book clutched to his chest. Serves you right! I thought with gloating delight.
I’d always considered the ‘Codex Seraphinianus’ to be a bit of a joke. I didn’t think anyone of stable mind could ever truly take it seriously. My eyes flicked across Patrick’s sad features again. What a putty head!
Anyway, I needed to care more about completing the task at hand.
My budget was tighter than a goldfish’s anal sphincter, and there was no way I could make it stretch any farther. I’d slashed my expenses to the barest minimum. It was ridiculous! And no matter how I looked at it, I still wouldn’t be able to afford the flat. There were two options to make the rent they were asking for, and I hated both. After considering the pros and cons, I made a very difficult decision.
‘Nice girl without bad habits looking for flatmate. Phone 409 828 2690 during social hours only.’
I sighed like I was about to walk the plank. I didn’t want to do this, but needs must as the devil drives. I approached the bulletin board and stabbed the leaflet into place with a hairpin I’d found somewhere. I couldn’t even afford a thumbtack. That’s how skint I was.
I nearly jumped out of my skin. Seriously, you wouldn’t have needed to take an x-ray.
It was the guy from this morning. The café guy. The one who allegedly worked at the magazine with me. He was stood there with a shy smile, and a posture that reeked of unnecessary subservience. Naturally, I still couldn’t recall his name. Had he given me his name? I couldn’t even remember that.
Fuck this. I was going to be rude. “Hey, jack, are you following me?”
He immediately adopted a defensive pose. “Oh my god! No!” he squeaked. “I have to come this way to get back to the office!”
“You’re some kind of weird sex pervert, aren’t you? Admit it!”
“NO no no no no! I’m not! I promise!”
He was waving his arms like a cartoon character. Even sweating bullets like one. It was almost comical, but I was bored.
“I don’t have time for this bullshit.”
I turned away, and left him gawping there at the bulletin board. It was time to get back to the office. From the corner of my eye, I noticed him typing on his phone. It looked for all the world like he was silently mouthing words as he did so. Who was this guy?!
Never mind that, Calix. Just keep walking and don’t look back.
Moments later when I had turned the corner, my phone rang. An unfamiliar number popped up on the screen. I sighed and accepted the call.