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The Really Bad News

Premiered – April Fools' Day, 2004


Chapter 8

The Flight of the Zygo Mati


Dan Sewell Ward


Earl and Varenna took only a couple of steps in their quest for Tennessee Fried Bird, before they became aware of the squishy nature of their foot apparel. As they began to consider in more detail how wet and cold they were becoming, they noticed the nippy wind seemed to be blowing sand in their face. Wet sand. Considering that there was no sand in the immediate locality and that furthermore there hadn't been a sandstorm within the Kingdom in recent memory, it seemed unlikely that what they thought was a sandstorm, was in fact a real sandstorm.

However, as the wind picked up and the "sandstorm" evolved into sand-blasting , Earl and Varenna broke simultaneously and ran for the nearest, what might best be described as a fallout shelter. Once inside, with the door closed and its two new occupants in total darkness, Earl suggested, "Since sandstorms simply seldom show in surrounding scenes... This obviously cannot be one."

"Very good," Varenna said. "How about..." Suddenly, she hesitated. Then, "Did you notice the storm subsided just as we sought and found shelter?"

"It did?"

"I think so. Listen."

Which he did. Sure enough, there seemed to be very little noise outside despite the questionable ability of the door to shelter anyone from anything -- particularly noise. But as they strained to listen, they could, in fact, hear nothing. They began to suspect that they had indeed escaped the brunt of the storm, only to discover that the brunt had subsequently ceased. Whereupon Earl, doing what came naturally, at least for him, opened the door.

With the door open, the sandstorm did what came naturally, and after a split second in which to regroup, returned in full force and sand-blasted both him and Varenna full in the face, the same face with which they faced the brave unknown exterior. After just a moment of their establishing the reality of the event, both stepped back inside in a carefully coordinated movement and without a single misstep, closed the door together.

The wind stopped just as quickly. Just for drill, Earl opened the door again and was rewarded with a blast of cold, wet sand in his face. Varenna, alas, also received her full portion of wet sand. At her initiation, they quickly shut the door again. The wind died, awaiting only Earl and/or Varenna's call to be resurrected once more. Foregoing any discussion, both agreed to leave the door shut and attempt to become accustomed to the dark. Which they did. And which perhaps they shouldn't have.

The difficulty in becoming accustomed to the dark is that you often end up seeing what was formerly and mercifully hidden from view. Huddled in a dingy corner of the room was a pathetic figure shrinking against the wall to avoid discovery. Glancing up at them, he pushed his black frame glasses, mended with adhesive tape, up onto the bridge of his nose, awaiting the two strangers to make the first move.

Varenna saw the expression of dread on his face, as his right arm came up, shielding his shirt pocket, where an elaborate white plastic protector was filled with fourteen different colored pens. Varenna frowned at the sight. "He's a nerd."

"Paranerd," Earl corrected, noting the lack of a dangling slide rule or hand-held calculator.

"You're right," Varenna agreed.

"OH MY MERCIFUL BIRD!" the paranerd cried.

"Oh my heavens!" Varenna said, "A paranoid Paranerd!"

"Careful," Earl cautioned, "They sometimes roost in pairs."


"He seems to be upset about something," Earl ventured.

"Perhaps we disturbed him in his meditation."

"OHHHH! NO, NO, NO," he gasped. "NO, NO, No, no, no, nay..."

Earl was not one of those sensitive people who could read body language or use neurolinguistic programming techniques to be able to tell when to stay away from someone. Besides, it was too dark in the shelter for him to be able to see any subtle clues from the paranerd that might have suggested the paranerd would have preferred that outsiders stay away. Far away. In fact... leave.

But Earl missed all such cunning clues. Walking boldly up to the crouched, terrified, disturbed and babbling person, Earl cheerfully asked, "I say there, dear fellow: Is there anything we can do for you?"

"OHHHhhhHHhhhh," went the paranerd, to an old familiar tune.

"We won't hurt you," Varenna added. "We just want to help."

Struggling with fear and suspicion, the paranoid paranerd shook like a wet puppy, but managed to ask, "Who are you?"

"I'm Earl," was the cheerful response. "And this is Varenna."

"We're your friends," Varenna added.

"Are you one of Them!!?" he asked, withdrawing further into the corner.

"Who's 'Them', " Earl asked, seeking enlightenment.

"No, of course not," Varenna added, having already seen the light. "And who are you?"

The paranerd shook as he cried, "Are you sure you're not one of Them?"

"Who is Them?" Earl added, with just a bit more insistence on an answer.

"We're not 'Them'," Varenna assured the paranerd. "Won't you tell us your name?"

"Excuse me," Earl added, a hint of acute rage and frustration in his voice, "Just who is Them? "

The paranerd, apparently preferring Varenna's conversation to Earl's, answered, "I'm Patrick." Then with his voice quivering and beads of sweat appearing on his face, "You won't tell Them my name, will you!?"

"Of course not, " Varenna smiled.

"I will!" Earl threatened, his face contorted in gleeful horror, "Unless you tell me who 'Them' is!!!!"

Varenna looked at Earl, her hands on her hips. "'Them is'?"

"You folks," Patrick stuttered.

Varenna turned back to Patrick, while Earl tried to comprehend how he could avoid telling himself what Patrick's name was. But Earl's dilemma did not interest Varenna. She was more intent upon discovering the enigma of this particular paranoid paranerd. Her eyes squinting, she asked, "Us?"

"No!" Patrick, still shaking and glancing around to see if anyone else was present. Then he repeated in a low voice, "You folks."

Varenna looked blank and turned to Earl, silently asking, 'You want to try this?' Earl raised his hand in front of him, trying to emphasize his words. "Let me get this straight... Them is us?"

Patrick, not understanding why the couple with the wet and sandy clothes could not understand what he was saying, could only repeat, "Them is you folks."

Earl and Varenna said nothing. He turned to her as if to say something, but then changed his mind, not willing to suggest she try again. After a further moment's silence, the mystery began to slip away.

Patrick had been ignoring Earl and Varenna's difficulties and was now quivering even more than before. The beads of sweat began cascading down his face. "Our world is under siege! They're out to get us," he cried.

Flippantly, Earl asked, "Them is besieging our world?"

"Yes," Patrick answered, pathetically. "In their UFO's!"

Earl and Varenna looked at each other again, suddenly aware that they had just heard the clue that could lead them to the Promised Land and the proper identity of 'Them.' When Patrick spoke again, they both heard him correctly for the first time.

"The U-FOLKS in their UFOs are going to take over! There's nothing we can do!! Oh, merciful bird! Deliver us!"

"Oh my heavens!" Varenna mumbled, disappointed at the punch line. Earl leaned his head against the wall, meanwhile, and considered pounding his head against the solid rock structure as an alternative therapy.

"There's no hope!" Patrick added.

"Of course there is!" Varenna insisted, resisting the urge to strangle Patrick.

Earl quietly gave his own opinion, "There's no such thing as UFO's." Then quickly, for complete clarification, he added, "Nor U-FOLKS."

"But they're here! I've seen them!"

“You've seen them?"

"Disguised as common folk." When both Varenna and Earl looked suspicious, Patrick added, "They're very clever at disguises."

"Why would any... U-FOLKS... Come to this backward planet?" Earl looked at Varenna to confirm that his argument had clinched the debate.

"They're looking for salvage!" Patrick answered, with great authority. "It's the law of space... Not to mention the sea!"

"Salvage?" Varenna asked. "There's nothing here to salvage."

"Wait a minute!" Earl demanded. "I know something about the sea. I used to own a few sailing vessels myself. In fact, I'm still waiting for the last of my fleet to return to port… any day now." Earl continued, now that his authority was clearly documented, "Before you can salvage anything, it has to be abandoned."

"I know," Patrick said, meekly. "But once the Great Changes transform the earth, there will be lots of abandoned and unclaimed salvage."

"The Great Changes!?" Varenna asked, a trifle staggered.

"During the End of the World," Patrick replied. When Earl and Varenna only looked dumb, Patrick defined the word and explained in more detail. "All the doomsday predictions... They're coming to pass. I'm a prophet. I know all about this sort of thing. I've seen the bird! The sky is falling! There will be continental shifts, raging seas, nuclear winter, dust bowls, melting of the ice caps, flooding in the valleys and on every coastline, famine in the cities, pestilence in the four corners, drought-caused forest fires in the mountains..."

"Sounds serious," Earl dryly observed.

"...and it's all coming to pass in the fourth year of the millennium!"

Earl and Varenna suddenly perked up. Both smiled gleefully at each other. Which prompted Patrick to ask, “What's wrong?"

Varenna turned to the paranoid paranerd, "The fourth year of the millennium is already upon us, we're practically past the half way point and nothing has happened yet."

Earl smiled and added, "There can't be any UFOs or U-FOLKS now! They would have already shown themselves, and they haven't!"

"But the crop circles!" Patrick insisted.

Varenna fielded this one. "The what?"

"The thousands of circles and shapes and incredible hieroglyphics found in growing fields of barley and wheat and... hay and..." Patrick was certain of his argument, but was lacking in quick access to general agriculture nomenclature. "And crops," he added.

"But the crops have all been harvested," Earl added. "There's nothing left in the fields."

The news did not seem to comfort Patrick. "Nothing left?"

Trying to reassure him, Varenna said. "Of course not. They're all gone."

Slowly the information filtered through Patrick's defenses. However, his terrified expression did not wane, but seemed to grow into yet more terror. Then he voiced it, "OH NO! WE'RE LIVING IN THE AGE OF FAMINE!!!!"

Earl and Varenna lost their smiles at the same moment, and turned to each other. As Patrick continued to bemoan his fate at reincarnating into such a dismal time period, the couple, formerly known as 'you Folks', silently slipped away, prepared to face the full fury of the storm rather than undergo additional discussion with the Perennial Prince of the Paranoid Paranerds.

Once they had escaped to a dismal, drizzly exterior, it was Varenna who wryly commented, "Well, at least we still have our kinder and gentler Prince of the People."


Both turned, startled, to see the beggar lady approaching them, hawking her sideline wares.


"OH NO!" Earl and Varenna cried in perfect unison.

"Oh, I'm sorry. Too loud?" BeLa smiled, "Try this." Then with her voice lowered to a level appropriate to a not-all-caps speech, BeLa continued, "Analysts predict an even kinder and gentler Prince of the People, due in part to rampant nepotism, the takeover of day-to-day governmental affairs by the Kingdom bureaucracy, and the fact that anyone with the slightest inkling of what's going on is bound to be better than what we had. Early reports of panic, pandemonium, and/or massive celebrations in the streets!" With the sales pitch finished, BeLa smiled and said, "How's that?" When there was no answer, she offered a paper, "Read all about it?"

Earl and Varenna were both shell-shocked. For a moment they tried to speak, only to babble incoherently instead.

BeLa, the entrepreneur, made a second offer, "If you like, I can read all about it to you... for a small extra fee of course."

Earl managed to mutter, "This is too much."

"You haven't heard how much the extra fee is yet. Yet," BeLa corrected.

"I don't think I can handle this," Varenna sobbed.

"It's not that much, sweetheart," BeLa replied, "A few Whoopees. Maybe an inconsequential bauble."

"I've got to go home," Earl muttered. "All I've got left is my family and my Cameseldom, my castle. Everything else is gone!"

"Congratulations!" BeLa cheerfully pointed out.

"At least you've a home to go to," Varenna replied, ignoring BeLa.

"You're alone in the world?" Earl asked, showing concern for another, something of a new experience for him.

"My husband has thrown me out, my title is gone, every thing I once had is down the tube!"

"I didn't know." Earl was genuinely touched.

"Forget the bauble," BeLa said. "Maybe, one or two Whoopees?"

"Maybe I can make amends," Varenna added. "Perhaps, if I return to him, decorator hat in hand, ready to swallow my pride, prepared to put up with all his idiosyncrasies, willing to subjugate myself to his every whim..."

"He would take you back? Stop the divorce proceedings?"

"Probably." Varenna was not optimistic. "If I can stomach it."

"Maybe you'd like to take him a newspaper," BeLa offered. "Husbands are known to be real affectionate with whoever brings them their paper and slippers."

"Do you really want to?" Earl asked Varenna, hardly aware of BeLa's comments.

"Not really. But it is my marriage. I suppose I have to give it one more try, one more last ditch effort to save it."

"Why?" Earl asked.

BeLa leaped in again, "One Whoopee! That's my final offer!"

Varenna, trying desperately to convince herself, answered Earl, "You just can't walk out on a marriage at the least sign of trouble. You have to hang in there. Try every possible tactic. Don't let it go too easily." With that she turned and began walking away, carrying her gloom and despair with her.

"Good luck," Earl called out, halfheartedly. Then he too turned and walked away, his mind now consumed by his own troubles.

BeLa watched the departing figures for just a moment. Discouragement in her voice for the first time, she asked, "One lousy alm?"

But no one heard her. Earl was already wandering down the street, occasionally running into a wall or a lamppost, and for the most part, unaware of what was happening. Varenna was managing to avoid similar collisions by wandering out into the street, where, fortunately, she was not run over by an automobile. [This latter turn-of-events was due less to the fact of her changing luck, and instead was due primarily to the fact that there were currently no automobiles in the fiefdom, essentially all of them having been repossessed in a repossession frenzy initiated by failing banks and other careless lenders.]

BeLa watched them walk off in opposite directions, her head bobbing back and forth as if watching a tennis match between two very sluggish opponents. Then her entrepreneurial spirit temporarily deserted her. "I hate being a newsboy," she complained. "Always depressing everyone, littering the streets and lawns with advertising trash! If there wasn't a shortage of skilled labor..." BeLa looked around, assuring herself of the absence of any paying customer. Seeing none, she finished her thought. "I'd never do this," she stated with intense conviction. With that, she wandered off looking for a convenient litter-barrel.


Back to:

Chapter 7 -- Defrocked

Forward to:

Chapter 9 – Castles Built on Sand




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