Tarzan's Tripes Forever, and Other Feghoots

The Web's Original Shaggy Dog Story Archive


A New Set of Weals (Long and Shaggy)

Category: Rated G, Shaggy Dogs

This is from John Barnstead, raconteur extraordinary. The word and letter games within the tale are no accident, believe me.

[NOTE: this piece is around 225 lines long, and contains references to OUR PATRON(Spider Robinson)’s story “Melancholy Elephants” and a quote from “Time Pressure” — Caveat Lector!]


It was a dark and stormy night at Callahan’s, but it is over now.

Mike Callahan finishes wiping the last few glasses and replacing them in their cabinets as just a hint of dawn makes itself felt, (God knows how — the lights are on and none of the X-windows in the Place face the sun) in the big peanut-strewn roon beyond the bar-counter. The Place is practically deserted at this hour: Fast Eddie’s snores as his head nods above the piano keys mingle with the gentle breathing of Patrons here and there who have fallen asleep waiting for their turn with Ivan’s cab service. Pernicious the Musquodoboit Harbour Farm Cat has placed the haversack carefully packed by Jezebel under his head and is curled up in the midst of the French Fries which cover the Altar to the Goddess, next to the pile of scorched electronic debris which is all that remains of the infamous Anagram Detection Device (ADD).

Suddenly the lights go out.

Mike whirls around and stares at Callahan’s Wall… depository to so many profound and profane thoughts of the Patronage-at-Large. At first nothing can be seen in the dark, but, as he watches, a passage near the left lower corner begins to glow… Mike fumbles for his reading spectacles, dons them (appropriately enough: it is, after all, nearly dawn), and reads:

“…just bust a leaf-spring: how can you believe in a story that begins that way? I know it’s one of the hoariest cliches in pulp fiction; my writer friend Snaker uses the expression satirically often enough. `It was a dark and stormy night – when suddenly the shot rang out….’ But I don’t especially want you to believe this story – I just want you to listen to it – and even if I were concerned with convincing you there wouldn’t be anything I could do about it, the story begins where it begins and…”

“Hmmmm, I don’t seem to recall having seen THAT on the wall before… But if memory serves me correctly, it’s an excerpt from my good friend Spider’s novel `Time Pressure’,” Mike says to himself as he approaches the wall to take a closer look. He reads it again, but something is a bit different this time through:

“…Just bust a leaf-spring: hOw can you believe in a story tHat begiNs that way? I know it’s one of the hoariest cliches in pulp fiction; my writer friend Snaker uses the expression satirically often enough. `It was a dark and stormy night – when suddenly the shot rang out….’ But I don’t especiAlly want you to believe this story – I just want you to listen to it – and even if I weRe coNcerned with convincing you there wouldn’t be anything I could do about it, the STory bEgins where it begins AnD…”

Mike draws a little closer and looks again:

“JOust bust a leaf-spring: hHNw can you believe in a story tBAat begi s that way? I know it’s one of the hoariest cliches in pulp fiction; my writer friend Snaker uses the expression satirically often enough. `It was a dark and stormy night – when suddenly the shot rang out….’ ut I don’t especi lly want you to believe this story – I just want you to listen to it – and even if I weRNe co cerned with convincing you there wouldn’t be anything I could do about it, the STory bEAgins where it begins nD…”

A grin begins to spread across Mike’s face as he puts his large red Irish nose practically up to the wall:

“JOHNust bust a leaf spring: h w can you believe in a story tBARNat begi s that way? I know it’s one of the hoariest cliches in pulp fiction; my writer friend Snaker uses the expression satirically often enough. `It was a dark and stormy night – when suddenly the shot rang out….’ ut I don’t especi lly want you to believe this story – I just want you to listen to it – and even if I we re co cerned with convincing you there wouldn’t be anything I could do about it, the STEADory b gins where it begins n …”

Mike stretches his arms wide and presses himself `Up Against the Wall!’ in the best sixties-radical tradition as the passage continues its metamorphosis, certain letters becoming ever larger and more anthropomorphic with every passing moment:

“JOHN BARNSTEADust bust a leaf-spring…”

…and then they are embracing and laughing, Mike pounding Barnstead’s back and Barnstead patting both Mike’s cheeks in what many folks might easily have mistaken for a group hug involving at least a devil’s dozen Patrons…

Pernicious the Musquodoboit Harbour Farm Cat is disturbed by the racket, raises his head from his haversack (“You couldn’t tell your head from a haversack” is one of his favourite ways of insulting his faithful amanuensis and general factotum…) and meows loudly, which being interpreted, means:

“All right, all right already! Break it up, boys! Some of us are trying to catch a little catnap around here…”

Barnstead walks over to Pernicious and looks like he’s about to pick him up and give him a belly rub, but he thinks better of it quickly when Mr. P. arches his back and hisses… Barnstead smiles ruefully and says:

“Well, I’m back…”

“And the sun rises in the east… tell me something ELSE I don’t know, Barnstead,” sniffs Pernicious. “Well, I suppose as long as you’re going to be hanging about, you might as well make yourself useful. Get Mike to open a tin of salmon and you may form a lap and feed me some while you start gabbing with HIM… you needn’t pretend that WE would have any grounds for conversation…”

Mike goes over to the fridge behind the bar and gets the tinned salmon while Barnstead settles behind the Round Table. Pernicious leaps into his lap and occasionally prompts him for another morsel while he and Mike begin catching up.

“So how did you come up with your new set of weals?” Mike asks, looking pointedly at the long bars of printer’s ink smudging Barnstead’s face and arms.

“Well, it wasn’t easy, I can tell you. After the Wicked Witch of the West revealed herself to be WWW, the World Wide Web, and made off with the Ruby Hushpuppies ™, I thought I could make use of the Anagram Detection Device (ADD) to keep in touch while I was away in Oakland City visiting my parents and gathering a few new tall tales from the OC DOC, Sylvia and Golda, and my other friends there… it quickly became apparent, though, that the extra power demands were just too much for the ADD, with the catastrophic results which you know only too well… I do hope you’re over your anagrammatitis, by the way… Well, anyhow, the lack of contact with the Patrons of Callahan’s was driving me out of my mind. I pondered and pondered: HOW COULD I GET BACK TO CALLAHAN’S??? In desperation I began to reread OUR PATRON’s total ouevre, hoping to find a clue… It was while I was rereading `Melancholy Elephants’ that the absurdly SIMPLE solution came to me…

“Kindly elucidate, oh sage…”

“I suddenly realized that I had been seriously underestimating the powers, literary and otherwise, of OUR wonderful-and-never-to-be-surpassed-as-a- writer PATRON… I didn’t HAVE to find a way to get back to Callahan’s, because I was ALREADY THERE all the time, and so was EVERY OTHER PATRON…”

“???!!!???”

“No, really, it’s true, Mike! Ask yourself why OUR PATRON would express his enormous concern that writing ITSELF might eventually be totally exhausted in the form of his Hugo-winning short story… Could such incredible insight and passion be based on anything other than PERSONAL EXPERIENCE?? It was then that I realized that Spider Robinson was so filled with LOVE and COMPASSION for all potential Patrons of the Place that he included us IN ADVANCE in his books!!! Sure enough, I was able to find my name cleverly concealed in MANY passages of the Master’s work, and that of every other Patron I know — even the impossible-for-human- beings-to-pronounce -Lurch- is there! After that it was a simple matter of quantum fictonics to arrange the necessary transfer credits…”

“But isn’t travelling that way DANGEROUS?”

“Well, no mode of transport I know is entirely without the potential for an accident… For instance, you have to be careful in choosing your passage, or you might bring other Patrons along with you involuntarily. It was sheer luck that I didn’t drag in Alaric, or DJ, or Anne, or even several other Patrons, as careful examination of the passage I chose will reveal… Physical distance of separation in Real Life ™ may have an insulating effect — we’ll have to determine that by experiment. And, like so many other things in life, it is essentially irrepeatable: each passage only works as one round trip ticket. Then it’s exhausted for that Patron, who must search for a new passage. And, eventually, as OUR PATRON no doubt feared when he was writing `Melancholy Elephants’, we’re going to run out of passages… But perhaps that will provide an incentive for Spider to write more stories for us… Let’s hope so, anyway… But Mike, what’s been going on here since I’ve been away?”

“You wouldn’t know the Place… but, then, that’s true every few months, isn’t it? There’ve been some slightly heated Canadian threads, and some interesting News from Outside — life’s been discovered on Mars, or so it’s purported… and some Patrons have apparently decided that I ought to be immortalized…”

“No, really? What did they have in mind?”

“Well, they got together and made an appointment for me to see just about the most famous photographer on the planet, you know, the one who has his studio in Ottawa (speaking of Canada) and specializes in photographing great figures like Einstein, and Khrushchev, you know… the Bushmill’s of the political, scientific, and literary worlds… Anyhow, the poor old fellow just lost an eye in a freak accident… he had been visiting a new nano-technology factory which was experimenting with genetically-engineered plants which were designed to produce useful office objects — there was a maple tree that had whiteout instead of sap, a cotton plant that had staples instead of bolls, that kind of thing. One of the processes used in engineering the vegetable materials involved irradiation, and Yosuf had the bad luck to step in front of the laser at just the wrong moment… he was lucky it didn’t kill him, I guess, although he said he almost wished it had — a half-blind photographer… When he left the factory he plucked a single souvenir of this tragic moment to take with him…

When the news leaked to a stunned world, everyone was shocked, and everyone wanted to help. But he turned down all the many offers of assistance, even the physical aids his fans from all over the world sent him. He preferred to wear a poker chip which, it was said, had once been designed for that purpose by Matisse. When he died a short time ago the poker chip went missing for a time… Eventually, though, the executor of the will found it and sent it to me…”

And Mike holds up a poker chip painted with a beautiful blue eye…

“Yes, the executor wrote me in a touching note that the poker chip was found in a drawer right next to the

Karsh-shunned monocles
by
Rayed brad berry…”

There is a moment of stunned silence. Then Barnstead bends to the floor, picks up a handful of the peanuts strewn there, and hurls them at Mike, saying —

IT’S GREAT TO BE BACK!!!

Pernicious yawns, and carefully licks up the last crumbs of salmon from where they have fallen on Barnstead’s trousers…

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