Friday, August 23, 2013


This is not my writing.  This is a compilation of quotes from the webcomic Digger, a wonderful creation by Ursula Vernon.  (Digger website here: Ursula’s website here:  Sofawolf link here:   Amazon link here:   Amazon/Ursula here:)   

If you don’t know what Digger is, go read it before reading these quotes.  The quotes are not the best lines from the webcomic.  No, there are too many of those to be contained in a mere list.  If you want the best lines, go read the comic.  If you don’t want the best lines, particularly, go read the comic.  Seriously.  Go read the comic. It will enrich your life. 

As I was saying, this isn't a list of best quotes.  It's a list of the quotes that illuminate Wombat Culture as it exists within Digger.  If you’ve already read the comic and just want a little reminder of the joy of experiencing a touch of Wombat Culture, this is the list for you.  If you haven’t already read the comic:  read the comic.

You'll see from the quotes that Wombat Culture is centered around geology and engineering and general underground pragmatism.  A bit of humor may sneak into the list, of course.  I’m a sucker for humor.  Also, the page numbers refer to the website, not to the printed books.  Those didn’t exist when I compiled the list.  Enjoy!


Page 6

One of the first things a young wombat learns is that if she's lost, tunneling around at random only gets her more lost. Fortunately, there's a direction that she can always count on to go somewhere eventually.  Straight up.

Page 12

"Dip me in chalk and call me a limestone conglomerate!"

 Page 16

"Can't carve a tunnel with tears," as my Grandmother used to say.

Page 33

"Well . . . I suppose no one was ever killed by a cave painting.  Except Great Aunt Ruby that time, and everyone said that was a fluke."

Page 35

"Man, don't you know not to mess with a sleeping wombat?  We swing pickaxes for twelve hours a day.  We're like biceps with feet."

"Remember Tunnel 17!"  (If you want an explanation of that one, read the comic.)

Page 36

"Now, what in the name of the dirt under the claws of the Mother of all Wombats is your problem?"

Page 48

" . . . all this talking philosophy is like trying to tunnel through water."

Page 55

"But let's not panic.  Just think of it as a cave-in.  There's no immediate way out, but that's okay.  Relax.  Breathe slowly.  Don't worry about the people back home, because you can't do anything about that right now.  Stay calm.

Don't try to fix everything at once.  Focus.  Just assess the situation and do whatever needs to be done next.  And don't waste air."

Page 58

"And as Cousin Shalesides used to say, "Momma wasn't raisin' no ingrates."

Page 73

". . . 'Cos everyone I met was madder than a mole in Maytime."

Page 82

"Mother of moles. . . "  (exclamation)

"Well, you can't brace a tunnel with haste . . . "

Page 111

"-- Cousin Tunnelfast found an ornamental pond of blind cave koi in an old dwarfholt that not only talked, they argued philosophy.  In Limerick form.  With two inch fangs."

Page 103 (yes, it's after 111 in the webcomic archives - the page numbering is as distorted as the cross-spatial entry tunnel – it might be helpful to know that you can go to any page directly with the address  and put the page number after the =)

"Ah, well. . . Better working that weeping, as my Mother used to say."

Page 107 (yes, still after 111)

". . . Blood of the Architect!"

Page 120

"Hold your moles, I'm comin'."

Page 142


Page 131 (yes, it's after 142:  magic - twisting - space - hole)

"We’ve got like three inch hides down there.  It's practically armor plate.  All stabbing it does is get us REALLY ticked off."

"Aw, molecrud."

Page 133 (not before 142)

"You call that a hammer?  I wouldn't tenderize a turnip with that hammer!"

Page 147

Hag:  "How do you feel?"

Digger:  "Like I've been run over my a mine cart.  And the donkey it was attached to."

Page 149

Hag: "But, don't you have old women who run things?"

Digger: "Yeah, we call them '"Senior Engineers.'  Men, too."

Page 150

"Unghgh.  Blood and shale and bracing, my head."

Page 143 (do I have to explain this?)

"Eh. Done is done.  The rock is split, might as well carve it as cry over it." 

Page 145 (ditto)

"Okay.  As my Uncle Braceforth used to say, 'There are very few problems that cannot be made better with a night's sleep, breakfast, and a pickaxe."

Page 656 (I can see it coming)

" . . .And by the time I got back to the warren, my fur would be white and all the good engineering jobs of my generation would be taken."

Page 657 (wait for it)

"Merciful Mother of Moles. . . "

Page 660 (still waiting)

"I've said it before -- wombats aren't much good at melancholy.  And there's something absurdly cheering about being attacked by a vampire squash.  I men, you gotta laugh."

Page 160 (zing!  knew it.)

"(List of difficulties due to excavating while working around an arrow wound.) But still, it was a root cellar.  There's no such thing as a joyless root cellar."

"As eulogies go, it was somewhat more religious than I liked, but it had an almost wambattish brevity that I admired."

Page 175

"There aren't any wombat gods to tell stories about.  We wouldn't stand for it."

Page 172 (you know the drill)

"I'll bet you diamonds to dolomitic conglomerates . . . "

Page 211

(translated wombat curse) “I will construct its dwelling using inferior materials!”

Page 199 (these are not the page numbers you’re looking for)

“Blood and shale . . . “  (Most frequently used exclamation)

Page 200

“Great.  Well . . . in for coal, in for diamonds, I suppose.”

Page 226

(I’m not sure this qualifies, but I like it, so it’s in.)

“Boy, you can sure tell I was high when I dug this thing, can’t you?

(Our favorite wombat had hit a pocket of bad air while digging.

Page 213 (same drill)

(footnote to song) *Various bloodthirsty and off-key versions of this song exist, commemorating the legendary battle of the flood tunnels, where hundreds of heroic wombats gave their lives in the fight for better quality assurance standards, setting the stage for the Great Mortar Rebellion some years later.

Page 233

“—If this is less than a thousand years old, I’m a thrust fault.”

Page 247

“. . . a few load bearing beams short of a tunnel.”

Page 249

“But, as Mom would say, ‘If you didn’t want to go swimming, you shouldn’t have tunneled under the lake!’”

Page 292

“Always double-check your math if there are explosives involved.”  (Part of an explanation of what evil is.  You need to read the rest of it in context.  I’m tickled that failing to perform with due diligence is an obvious evil, to a wombat.)

Page 353

“And if Ed was involved, I’d personally eat my pickaxe.  Without salt.”

Page 386

“I can see you two are gonna get on like a tunnel explosion. .  . “

Page 391

Digger:  “I’m starting to suspect . . . look, do humans ever have baby humans that get . . . lost?  Go missing?  And then they’re raised by moles?”

Murai:  “Wolves are more traditional with us.:

Page 406

“Ed, sweet ancestors, what’s wrong?”

Page 393 (shhhhh!)

“People don’t get to be rude just because they save your life -- ”

Page 401

“Shadow, what in the name of the Mother of moles are you doing?”

Page 428

“Okay, wait just a shale-draggin’ minute here.”

Page 443

“Think about - - er - - moles.  Yes.  Nice moles.  With velvety snouts and soft fur.  Happy moles.  Gamboling in a tunnel.  I’m in my happy place, with moles.

Oh, man.  I’m losing it.”

Page 463

Random hyena:  “What was that song she was teaching us, anyway?  About the milkmaid and the thrust fault?”

Page 477

“The problem with lecturing someone about ethics is that it always comes around to bite you in the knees. . . . Well.  Honesty is the best policy, as Grandma Rootslash used to say.” 

Page 470 (**whistling**)

“Oh, Mother of moles, my head feels like a mining accident.”

Page 472

Mother of moles, no one should have to explain cultural relativism on a queasy stomach, particularly since wombats aren’t cultural relativists.  We know full well that some stuff is just wrong.”

Page 484

“That’s a big ‘ol load of coproliths, statue.” 

Page 564  (There is much exposition about the way wombats pack for a journey.)

Page 540

“Grim Eyes, this is Murai.  Be nice to her.  The ladder goes all the way to the bottom of the mine shaft, but here are no landings, if you get what I mean.”

Page 558

Grim Eyes:  “Heh.  Do you have any children?”

Digger:  “Me?  Blood and shale, no!  Not really old enough, and I haven’t met anybody I’d want to enter into a binding legal contract with, never mind including reproductive clauses . . . “

Grim Eyes:  “That’s how earth-rats reproduce?”

Digger: “No, we do that in the usual way.  We just make sure all the forms are filled out first.”

Page 549, the next page (you know the drill) goes into more detail, but the conversation is as much character development as wombat culture, so I’m skipping it.

Page 575

“And furthermore, should you hurt its feelings, I’m going to smelt ore with your bones, understand?”

Page 598

“I deserve this.  My fifth grade vocational teacher would have my head.”

Page 591 (calming breaths)

“ . . . but if wishes were ingots. Beggars would smelt, as Great-Aunt Ironbit used to say.”

Page 665

“My dear hunter-gatherer, allow me to introduce you to lignite.  Grim Eyes, Lignite.  Lignite, Grim Eyes. “

Page 669  more about moles

Page 676 discussion of ghosts and their differences due to species.

Page 686

“He . . . listened closely and politely, asked occasional geological questions, and generally gave the impression of watching someone dig a hole they weren’t getting out of in a hurry.”

Page 749 a few details about wombat inheritance

Page 757

“. . . it wasn’t magic, exactly.  It felt like .. . oh, like the itch in your claws you get when you walk under a ceiling that could come down at any moment.

The whole world felt like an impending cave-in.”

Page 781

“I’ll make him regret the day he slid out of his mother pouch –“

Page 799

“But – just – I – oh, ancestors bugger it . . . “

Page 863

Villain:  “Do you have any idea how long twelve thousand years is?”

Digger:  “I know it’s not long enough to make a good rock.”

Page 876

Basic mine safety covers working safely in total darkness. 

Page 908

“There’s always something that needs doing, as one or the other of my grandmothers used to say . . .”

Page 912

“Don’t ask me why I felt like that.  Boneclaw Mother could probably have told me, but I didn’t really feel like having her mine that particular vein out.”


This would be the end of the list, but I just have to add at least one Oracular Slug quote:  “Don’t salt the messenger.”  Page 114.

And a special thank you to Ursula Vernon for creating and sharing Digger and for giving me permission to post these quotes.  You have made a fan very happy.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Thirty-Ninth Beginning: Prayer Support

[This one was mentioned as in uncompleted story in Organizing Aunt Sheila.]

It was only natural to zone out during employee orientation, Bob thought.  Anyone would do it.  It wasn’t just him and, shoot, even if it was, what was the harm?  He was a quick guy.  If something came up he could adjust to it, handle it just fine.  Nothing exciting ever happened during an orientation.  Bob had been through a few and they all followed the same pattern.  Patterns were the key.  Once you knew the pattern, you didn’t have to pay attention to the details.

Bob’s mind floated, recalling the basic pattern of an orientation.  He had been through a few.  First the introduction of the orienter and an explanation of what he would be doing.  Which was bogus and brain dead since everyone already knew what they were there for.  Sometimes you even knew the guy’s name already from the letter that had come in the mail.

Then there would be either a list of topics to be covered or a rah-rah speech.  Topics would probably include insurance, vacation and sick leave policies, retirement, and other things that would have no real effect on Bob.  Bob was only moving through.  That other stuff might be meaningful later, when he started making plans, but it wasn’t time for making plans yet.  You couldn’t make plans when nothing was really happening.  Dress codes or punctuality requirements or conflict management processes might conceivably impinge on his style, but only to the point of making him move on a little sooner.  Bob was comfortable with himself and if other people weren’t comfortable with him, well, he didn’t need the money all that badly.  Things would work themselves out.

Bob got up with the rest of his group and walked down a hall.  The walls were covered with calendars, most of them filled with scribbling.  Some of their pages waved in a breeze that Bob didn’t feel, but didn’t think about.  He scanned for racy or interesting pictures, but didn’t see any.

The group was sorting itself into four doors, two to the left and two to the right.  Bob walked on past the, to be out of the way, and then turned halfway to watch the sorting.  He stretched and yawned in order to look casual and in control.

He tried to sort out which group he’d like to be with, but there was no one interesting that he could see.  Everyone was older, except for one kid who couldn’t be more than, what, eight?  Her parent would get points for bringing her along, wouldn’t they?

At the two nearest doors, smiley rah-rah faces were going right and very worried faces were going left.  Bob was about to slide down to the next two doors when he felt a tap on his shoulder.  A guy with a baggy sweater and a clipboard crooked a finger at him and Bob mentally shrugged and followed.

They traveled through a maze of hallways.  Bob tagged along, disinterested.  He couldn’t have said when the calendars gave out.

Baggy sweater lead him through into a small conference room with a round table.  There were six people seated and a few more milling around.  One of the millers had a clipboard.  Millers?  Millees?  Oh, well.  One woman in a red suit had a clipboard, so there were at least two official people in the room.  Bob checked to see if he was starting to get hungry and he wasn’t.  He sat down in an empty chair.  Baggy sweater plopped the clipboard in front of him and left the room.

That got Bob’s attention for a few minutes.  Were they going to expect him to take charge, in some kind of role-playing thing?  But no one seemed to expect him to do anything but sit an be ignored.  He checked out the clipboard.  It was a cheap clipboard holding five bland sheets of paper and a half-empty blue bic pen.   Bob started doodling, drawing a line of little heads with small mouths and noses and out-sized eyes and ears, the eyes showing a series of different exaggerated emotions. 

Bob was bent in concentration over the clipboard, connecting a large cluster of heads into a bunch of balloons, when he heard his name.  He looked up to see that everyone was now seated around the table and looking at him.  He sat up and looked attentive and willing.  Then, when everyone kept looking, he decided that it must be "tell us something about yourself" time, so he started in.

"Hi.  My name's Bob and I'm looking forward to working with everyone here.  I'm mostly a student but I kept thinking about changing my major, so I thought, heck, why not take a year off and try working in the real world for awhile, to see what things are really like.  I mean studying for a degree isn't the same thing as using that degree, is it?  So I thought I'd get a real job and just sit back and live life for awhile and check things out."

It didn't seem to be going well.  This wasn't what they were expecting.

"Not that I don't mean to pull my own weight.  No, way.  I intend to do a good job.  I learn things really fast and I have good ideas.  I intend to make a contribution while I'm here."


A Grandmother type with really frizzy hair and shiny glasses held out a hand toward Bob.

"Could I see your clipboard, please?"

Bob passed it over.  Three pages were filled.  For a second he was worried that they wouldn't like him drawing all over someone's paper, but then he thought, heck, what did they expect him to do?  The Grandmother looked through the pages carefully.  A fat teenager was examining the clipboard that the red suited woman had had.  He passed it to a hippy with grey braids, pointing to an elaborate bush drawn in one corner.  Grey braids nodded and flipped through the papers, concentrating.

Grandmother passed Bob's clipboard to a greasy biker with a bandana.  She took off her glasses and looked at Bob with kindly worry.  An oriental woman with blunt bangs leaned toward her and said, "he must have been going to a job interview."

"Bob," said Grandma, "none of the images you drew were complete.  If you were going to complete one, which one would it be?"

This was wrong.  Doodles were just doodles.  He was sorry that he hadn't been paying attention.  He could have understood it if they had been annoyed, or even flat out mad, but making out like his doodles were something big and important, that was just weird.  Maybe it was their way of getting back at him.  You know, a put on.

"The bunch of balloons was almost finished."

"Yes, but they're obviously stationary balloons.  And balloons don't stay stationary if no one is holding them.  Who would you have drawn holding them?"

Bob thought about the bush on the red woman's clipboard.

"They could have been tied to a tree."

"Fair enough.  What sort of tree would it have been?  And how tall?"

Bob considered that they might want him to draw whatever he described.  He could do a jagged Christmas tree, like kids did.  No -

"It's a tree that's been cut down.  You know, just a stump left, but it's put out this sucker, see, and the sucker's been cut off, too, only higher up, maybe about a foot off the ground.  And there's this one little branch that's got a few twigs and leaves on it.  And the balloons are tied to that.  But the balloons are pulling up and you can tell that if a wind catches them, that they're going to rip that little branch right off."

"A complete image, but not much sense of connection," the biker said. 

"The balloons are connected."

"Only because they have to be.  And they're all basically the same head.  So they're really only connected to themselves.  Like a guy walking down the street talking to himself.  He's having a conversation, but he isn't really connecting."

"The stump is connected to the ground," said the woman in red.  There was a pause while everyone looked at her.

"I think that's important to you," said the fat teen (was it a girl?), "but I think that Bob, here just thinks of the ground as blank background.  He's not thinking of the earth, he's thinking of blank paper.."

"It is a stubborn stump, though," said Grandma.  "And they're stubborn faces, too.  They pretend to be as different as you please, but all the time they're staying the same."

Bob almost said that the balloons were connected to strings.  But he could tell from the pattern of the conversation that the next question would be about what were the strings like.  And when he thought of that, he thought of drawing little floating imp faces on the slack ends of them.  He sure wasn't going to say anything like that to these people.

Bob took another shot at looking attentive and willing.

"Perhaps Bob needs something undemanding and quiet to give him a chance to just relax."

"Does he have time for that?  He's really only still in the corridors because of his cousin. . ."

Damn.  Was Bill doing him favors again?  Bob hated listening to his family's advice and he hated Bill's advice most of all.  If he got a job because of Bill, family time was going to be hell.

". . . and she's young and can be presumed to be going through a phase."

Kayla?  Was he here because of Kayla?  She was just a kid - an earnest, quiet kid.

Bob checked to see if he needed to go to the can or something.  He didn't.  Damn.  Usually his bladder was more reliable than that.

"We have to put him somewhere.  Sorting is easy."

Bob started to zone again.  Talk about boring jobs always did that to him.

"No I think he needs to make a connection.  Maybe he can work the counter?"

"Does he have enough focus to work the counter?"

Hey, that was insulting, wasn't it?  Except for the bangs woman, Bob was loosing track of which person was saying what.  Bangs had an edge to her voice that he didn't like and couldn't ignore.

"We'll have to check it out with Mell, of course.  He never takes anyone else's advice.  Easier to ask him than to guess whether Bob would fit.  If Mell takes him, then that's the place that he should be.  If Mell doesn't take him, we need to find someone who will.  Don't think of the job.  Bob doesn't need a job, he needs a mentor."

"Is he Telemachus, then, keeping his father's house while he's away?"  Boy did he hate that voice.

"Congenial co-workers, then."

Bob checked out the walls, then the ceiling. The ceiling was covered with those acoustic tiles with the holes in them, like the ones he had seen on that Twin Peaks tape that his mother had rented.  It had been a killer shot, looking like it was starting in a deep dark tunnel and then pulling out to an innocuous, plain ceiling tile.  It had even been cool after his father had made some pointless comment about asbestos and how everyone always thought they were saving the world and contributing to progress while yada yada yada. 

Bob wouldn't mind seeing the world go to hell in a handbasket if only he could discover a way it could do it without his father pouncing on it joyfully, as if it were his personal accomplishment. 

A completed silence impinged itself on Bob's awareness.  He looked up.  The red suited woman was being led away by the fat teen (damn, it was a girl!) and the hippy.  Grandma was standing and smiling at him.  Smiling his most cooperative smile, Bob got up and walked toward her, hoping Bangs wouldn't come along. 

She didn't.  The Biker did.  The back of his grungy, sleeveless denim jacket had 'Street Dogs' drawn on it in gothic letters with a felt marker.  You could almost feel the stencil looking at it.  They led him through a few more corridors and into what looked like a busy burger joint.

When his guides frowned and looked uncertain, Bob slid into a molded plastic booth and prepared to wait.  People were milling like maggots.

"Damn, I forgot it would be lunch rush.  We'll never get near the counter."

"Perhaps we can flag an employee and send him a message."

"He won't leave the counter during rush.  Not for anyone."

"Hey, I can wait," said Bob.

"Rush lasts for hours, man.  Maybe we'd better try someplace else first.  I've got my own stuff to do."

"As do I, dear.  But we can't just leave him here, he's not asleep."

"Hey, I can pretend to be asleep, no problem."

"No, dear.  Sleeping people come here to eat and you couldn't do that."

Bob frowned at the oddness of her words.  Something wasn't right.  The pattern was off.  People didn't mill in a burger joint.  They went for what they wanted.  If they had to wait in line, they waited, maybe fidgeted or rocked in place.  These people were milling - milling and wandering.  Most of them never got near the counter or the salad bar.  Something wasn't right.

Reluctantly, Bob focused on the people closest to him.  Half of them had no faces.  Their faces were blurs or blobs or spheres of short hair, as if their heads had two backs.  One guy had a turtle neck sweater pulled up to his eyebrows.  And some of them were definitely milling.  They would walk in one direction until they bumped into something and then they'd turn just enough to be able to walk in another direction and continue on.  Most of the time the thing they bumped was another person.

Bob looked further.  Even the folks who had faces were weird.  Some were in their pajamas or nighties.  One wore a tuxedo and top hat and huge Scooby Doo slippers.  Bob stopped looking and shrank down into the booth.  A kid in jeans and a flannel shirt covered in blood wandered up.

"You're not eating anything.  Want some of my fries?"

"No thanks, dude."

"If you don't have any food yet, you're supposed to stand in line.  Why aren't you standing in line?"

"Ah, shit," said the biker.  "Don't answer.  You've already answered one question.  Let him get on a roll and he'll never stop.  That's the way sleeping kids are."

"He looks like he's more than sleeping with that blood all over him."

The kid grinned. 

"That's probably because my mom keeps saying that I'm going to break my neck if I keep doing that."

"Doing what?"

"All kinds of things."  The grin stretched.  "So what are you doing here if you're not going to eat?"

"Don't.  I'm warning you."

"They say I need to find a coach."

"Shit.  Didn't I tell you not to answer."

"The Coach isn't here.  I know where The Coach is when I'm asleep and it isn't here."

Grandma and the Biker stopped short and stared at the kid.

"You know The Coach, dear?"

"Sure.  I talk to him all the time.  I've even seen him when I'm asleep.  He's big and fat and looks like he'd have trouble walking fast, let alone running.  But he's a great coach."

Grandma and the Biker looked at each other.

"So where would The Coach be, exactly?"

Bob had heard of people who rolled their eyes toward the ceiling when they thought, as if they were reading the answer off of the top of their heads.  The kid looked like he was doing exactly that.  Nothing but the whites of his eyes showed. 

When the colored bits rolled back into view, the kid said, "He's in the support cubicles, the ones near the frog, in the autonomous section.  I can take him there if you'd like."

Grandma and the Biker checked each other out again.  Bob could see it coming.  He was used to everyone having more important things to do than to deal with Bob.  No sense waiting to be brushed off.

"Come on, little dude.  Lead the way." 

"Cool.  This way."

"Wait."  Grandma reached into her pocket.  "We can't have you getting lost once you've dropped him off." 

She handed the boy what looked like a half-eaten bun.

"Put it in your pocket and follow the trail of crumbs if you get turned around."

"Sure."  Said the boy, jamming the lump into a fold that didn't look big enough to be a pocket.  "This way."

They re-entered the corridors, and again it seemed like a maze to Bob.

"You sure you know where you're going?"

"Sure.  I can always find The Coach.  He's helping me train to jump off of the roof.  Mom's going to hate that."

"You sure he's on your side, helping you do that?  You could get blood on you for real."

"Blood's not that big a deal.  But I'd hate to sprain my ankle again, or to break something.  He reminded me how hard it was to just sit for so long.  And he said that I needed to work up to it.  That at first I'd better not jump off of anything that I couldn't jump up on.  To build up my legs.  Mom thinks I've gone nuts.  I jump up and down, on and off things every chance I get - metal railings, picnic tables, whatever.  I can feel my legs getting stronger.  Coach says maybe when my legs are stronger I ought to try pole vaulting."

"That sounds like a plan.  Especially if you can get someone to teach you when you're awake.  Like a school coach.  That would be, like, organized.  Moms don't get nearly as upset over organized stuff as they do over stuff that you make up yourself.  No matter what they say, if everyone else was jumping off a cliff, they'd probably let you do it, too.  They might even ask what was wrong if you didn't want to jump off a cliff.  'Your cousin Bill jumped off of cliffs higher than this when he was twelve'."

The bloody boy laughed as Bob's voice went high and fluty.

"Cool.  You're probably right.  I hadn't thought of that.  That's so cool. . . You sure you don't want some french fries?"


"You could just hold them, or whip them around, or throw them at someone or something."

"Hey, I got it,  Gimme a few."

Bob arranged the fries in his buttoned down breast pocket, as if they were a hanky.


"We going to be there soon, dude?"

"Do you want to be there, yet?"

"Does that matter," asked Bob.  It never had before, that he could remember.

"That's all that matters, here.  Well not all, but it's a big part of it.  I can feel The Coach whenever I think real hard about wanting to win.  But I can't open a door and have him on the other side unless you want to go through, too."

"Sorry, short stuff.  It's not that I don't want to meet your coach.  The guys advice sounds good to me.  It's just that I'm not sure that I want to go to work for him."

"Oh, you wouldn't be working for him.  This is the autonomous section.  That means no bosses.  Well, sort of bosses.  They call them advisors and make fun of them behind their backs."

"They do that with regular bosses, too."

"Yeah, but this is different."

"If you say so."

Bob and the boy kept walking.  Bob wasn't getting tired of walking, not exactly.  At least, his legs weren't getting tired.  But walking, and the idea of walking more, eventually began to pall.  The boy kept eating his fries and sloping along in that bouncy, I'm glad to be pressing my feet down against the ground way that some kids do.

"Autonomous, huh?"

"Yep."  Munch.

"Cubicles don't sound very autonomous."

"I'd like to have my own cubicle.  That would mean that I'd have my own computer and drawers to fill with my stuff and walls to tack things onto."

"Just because it's my cubicle, doesn't mean I get to do whatever I want."

"Sure it does.  It's an autonomous section.  If you do what the advisors don't want you to do they get all disappointed and helpful, but only during meetings. Or when they're walking by," the boy admitted.

"That's not too bad.  Maybe.  What's your name, little dude?"


"Whoa.  My name's Bob.  How odd is that?"

Bobby shrugged.  "Maybe not too odd.  The Library Lady says that all Bobs are One Bob.  Of course she'd a little odd, herself.  She makes lists.  She's trying to figure it out."

"Figure what out."

"Life, the Universe, and Everything, she says.  She says that Everything is capitalized."

"Hey, I read that book.  That book was cool."

"Well she's one cubicle up and one cubicle over from The Coach."

"Who else is there?"

"I'm not sure.  I only get to go in to see The Coach.  And folks tend to stay in their cubicles.  I've seen the Engineer, but he doesn't talk and he looks gross.  And there's the Cat Lady.  And the frog.  And a guy that no one sees because there's a fog around him."

"Has anyone ever kissed the frog."

"No."  Bobby said that the way boys say 'that's gross'.

"Or walked into the fog?"

"Don't know."

"Does the Cat Lady have cats or do they call her that because she has whiskers."

Bobby giggled.  "There's at least two cats."

"And what kind of support do they do.  Even if I don't have to do it because the advisors will only be disappointed and nothing else will happen."

"It's prayer support."


"It's like the support line for when people's computers don't work, only it's for prayers."

"Dude, God does prayers.  Or someone.  I'm not involved in anything like that."

Bobby stopped.  He looked earnestly at Bob.  Red shone from his chin to his knees.

"Look.  I can eat the fries.  I'm only asleep.  If you're in the corridors and you're not asleep you're either one of the workers or you're dead.  I know that much.  At least, I know it when I'm asleep."

Bobby waited for a reply.  Bob didn't seem capable of a reply.  He was thinking of the words: 'he must have been on his way to a job interview'. 

"You okay?"

"No.  Apparently I'm dead."

"That's okay.  The Coach is dead, too.  He told me about it once.  I forgot it when I woke up, but I can remember him telling me."

"The Coach is dead."


"As in, he used to be alive."


"He's not some weird freaky thing that eats dead people's heads, or something?"

Bobby giggled. 

"He's a nice guy who used to be alive and who likes sports."

"And when kids pray to win, he answers their prayers."

"Yeah.  That doesn't mean you'll win, it just means that he answers."

"And the Library Lady used to be alive."

Bobby shrugged in a way that used about 7/8 of his body.

"I've only ever talked to her through the cubicle walls.  I never asked that."

"Is there something that I ought to be warned about.  Maybe killer demons wandering the corridors and hiding behind doors waiting for someone who doesn't want to find anything to open a door?"

"Not that I know of.  The Coach said that you're not supposed to bother the frog, though.  If the frog gets upset he farts reeeeeeeally stinky.  The advisors don't even talk to him anymore."

This time it was Bob who giggled.  The giggles settled in for a bit and kept going.  Bob wondered for a moment if this was hysterics, but decided that hysterics probably didn't feel good.  Bobby waited them out patiently.

Bob looked around.  The corridor was beige.  The walls were beige and blank.  The floor was beige and mottled.  The ceiling tiles were off-white and didn't even have the little holes to make them interesting.  Even the doors were beige - the same shade as the walls. 

"Is the frog beige?"  Bob asked.

"Don't know," said Bobby. 

"Let's find out," said Bob, and he grabbed the nearest door and opened it.  Fog dribbled along the floor.  There was a muted sound of ringing telephones in the air and a sense of wide, high space overhead.  Bob recognized that the ringing was only there because he expected it.  It was his interpretation of prayers dialing in.  It would go away if he ignored it.

He turned to Bobby, the brightest thing in the corridor.

"Take me to him," he said.


Thirty-Eighth Beginning: Collared

[This one was completed some time in the 1980s.  It's not the oldest thing I ever completed, but it's probably one of the first five completed.  I did have ideas for continuing the story from Dallum's perspective, but never did more than a loose outline.]

Tosc ducked down an alley, hid behind a barrel and, cradling his prize, waited until the sounds of his pursuit had faded into the more usual street noises. The nosy fools.  They had no business chasing him.  Personal business, that had been, between him and that weak whiner Dallum.  Boys were supposed to fight.  Like Da said, it made for stronger men.  Tosc would be as big as Da in another year or so and then he’d be able to prove it. ‘Til then, he would practice.

Not that Dallum was much practice.  Dallum was a pale-faced, whining booknose.  Always wasting his time with useless reading and scribbling.  Tosc had always told him how stupid he was.  A boy needed to make himself strong and tough like Da or he was nothing.  Nothing else counted.  Certainly not books.

A few years back Dallum had started writing up letters and contracts for merchants.  He had thought he’d found a way to prove that there were other things as important as being strong—until Tosc had demanded his money and punched him until he got it.

Things had been cat and mouse since then.  Dallum had started staying indoors as much as possible to avoid Tosc, and would leave his money with his mother when he did go out.  Threatening to beat him senseless unless he went and got some from her had set the little whiner complaining to her instead.  And she had complained to the town guards.

Da hadn’t been impressed with the two guards that had marched him to where Da worked in the shipyard.  He had laughed right in their faces.  “That’s just boys horsing around.  If you think you should bother honest folk every time some mama’s boy cries, you’re a bunch of sweet lilies.”

Yes, Da had laughed all right, and Tosc had laughed right with him—until the grim faces had had their say and were out of sight.  Then Da had smacked Tosc on the side of the head and told him to never do anything stupid enough to draw guard’s attention again.  Sure Dallum’s ma was a whore, but she was a whore with friends.  How else could she afford to pay those tutors and stuff?

So Tosc had settled for what he could get directly.  He took what small change Dallum carried, ripped scrolls, broke pens, and spilled ink.  When Dallum started studying magic, Tosc laughed at the silly spell components as he ground them into the dirt.  Dallum had never gotten a spell off and never would.  He was too scared.  Even magic took more guts than he had.  Tosc wasn’t worried.

Footsteps sounded at the mouth of the alley again.

“Did you find him?”

“No.  Is the boy alive?”

“So far.  He keeps falling asleep, though.  After a head wound, that’s not good.”

“Sure isn’t.  That Tosc has bought it this time.  He’s too big to whine about boy’s games any more and murder’s no game.  ‘N if murder wasn’t what he did, it was sure what he was trying.  I say we either hang ‘im or send him to the mines.  He can practice being strong there.”

“Did you see him carrying anything?”

“Just the rock he used to bash in the kid’s head.  You’d think he’d have sense enough to drop it before he ran, but then he never was too bright.”

Stupid fools.  Murder?  They had it all wrong.  Hah!  And they were saying he wasn’t bright.  Fools. 

“Poor kid must be babbling, then.  That’s not a good sign.”

“What’s he saying?”

“He keeps saying that Tosc took a collar he’d bought.  Says the collar is magic and dangerous.  Think it’s from a magic cloak?”

Tosc grinned.  Not collar – caller!  This stone disc called things.  If Dallum had just let him have it like he was supposed to, he never would have gotten himself smacked in the head with it, the twit. 

Tosc had watched Dallum sneak out into the courtyard behind the saloon his ma had rooms in, with a pack.  He’d looked around nervously, but Tosc had been up in a tree and the fool hadn’t had the sense to look up.  Dallum had been particularly secretive lately and Tosc’s curiosity had been up.

The pale youth had cleared a patch of packed dirt of leaves and twigs and then unpacked a book and pens and ink and brushes and a small pot with red splashes on it.  He had settled these at the edge of the cleared area.  Then he had reached into the pack and taken out a stone disc.  He had brushed it reverently with his fingers and placed it in the center of the space.

Sitting down before it, he pulled the book into his lap and read.  He was nervous and read the same passage several times.  Tosc knew enough about reading to know that.  He knew as much about reading as anyone needed to.

Then Dallum had closed the book, touched the stone and said “Lashal.”  Light danced up from the stone in a fountain—cascading, pulsing, and shifting hue randomly.  Even in the afternoon light of the grimy yard, it was beautiful.  Tosc’s teeth nearly fell out.  He watched as Dallum consulted the book and used other words to form the light into shapes and to send the light away.  He made notes in the book after each command.  Other commands brought rats or flies or smoke from the stone.  Dallum finally finished writing and put the book down.  He picked up the red pot and a brush and began to draw letters carefully on the stone.

Those fools at the alley’s mouth might think he wasn’t bright, Tosc thought, but he had figured it out quick enough.  It didn’t take magic to call things with the stone, the stone had all the magic it needed.  All it took was the word.  And the only word Tosc wanted was the first one—the word that called the light.  So when Dallum had turned to check in the book for the next word, Tosc had dropped out of the tree and gone to collect what was his.

The twit hadn’t said anything when Tosc had given him a hearty greeting and asked with gleeful innocence what he was doing.  He just flapped about, grabbing the book and disc and almost dropping both as he dived for the back door.  He was slow, though, and it was no trouble to get the disc away from him or to smack him one with it when he wouldn’t stop trying to grab it back.  Tosc had said some clever, cutting things during the brief encounter, but Dallum hadn’t seemed to hear him.  His whole attention had been on the disc.  It was insulting.  Stupid twit deserved a smack.  And there hadn’t been much blood.

Now the meddlers were walking off.  In the shade of the alley, Tosc decided to try the disc just once before heading out of town.  With a treasure like this his fortune was made.  He would show it at inns for entertainment, like a traveling harper.  Maybe he could get a harper to play along with it.  Yeah.  A female harper, a good looking one, who’d be grateful for the opportunity and for his protection on the roads. 

Tosc put the disc down in the dirt.  He put his hand on it.  Nice of the whiner to paint the word on it.  Tosc grinned and read it.  “Lish--. . . Laz--. . . “  Now how had that sounded?  Oh, yes.  “Lizhar!”

Light sprang up from the disc.  But as Tosc watched with his mouth hanging open, it solidified into a tall, scaly man-thing that grabbed him by the neck and dragged him, choking, up off his knees.  Things went a little swimmy from the pain and fright as Tosc first clawed at the hand, then flailed wildly at the thing with arms and legs, desperate for a breath.

The thing ignored him.  It looked calmly around the alley and listened for sounds.  Then it looked at Tosc, smiled, and squeezed.

Once death had truly begun, the pain lessened and with it, some of the desperation.  There was a buzzing in his ears.  The face in front of him seemed to melt and blur.  His arms and legs shivered and twitched.  As his limbs began to relax and his vision to dim, he noticed that the face really had changed shape.  He was staring at a young human man with a gleeful, evil smile and rumpled brown hair.

As the light faded, he realized that he was looking at himself.  Yes, weak one.  I have taken your life and now I will take your form.  The thought buzzed in the back of his mind.  Tosc hoped the town guard would hang it.  Serve it right.  The weak are fit only to be used by the strong.

It wasn’t fair.  This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go.  It wasn’t . . .