One lithium-ion battery, toxic pond scum, 250g of concentrated dog shit and an ancient curse solves the age-old conundrum of how to shake-a-wake a corpse and ruin a sunny day in Saintes.
Guillaume, Violette, and Andres were enjoying a sunny promenade in the year 2018 CE, walking Guillaume’s German Shepard, France, up and down the shore of the Charente. The early June sun beamed down upon them with hardly a cloud in sight, but there were still entire footpaths flooded after the heavy rains of winter. The trio doubled back before they reached the campgrounds, then crossed the pedestrian bridge and continued onto Rue Saint-Pierre towards the Cathedral. Rather than carrying on past the cafés, boutiques and tabacs, the late-teenagers sought refuge from the glaring heat, turning right down Rue Aliénor d’Aquitainetowards Place des Récollets.
France, the dog, was bound by neither leash nor fealty to his master and trod up ahead to the square’s garden. France fully intended on taking an enormous shit on the lawn, right after peeing on the topiary and sniffing the toxic pond scum pooled in the Ancient Roman ramparts at the square’s eastern side. Guillaume, whose moral fiber was as brittle as a sacramental wafer, would’ve readily left his dog’s droppings where they lay had France been any more discreet than dumping them dead center in the lawn. Such was not the case, and the teen skirted the park, grabbed a plastic sac from the dispenser on the opposing side, and sacked the shit. Still, wafer-boy, observing that he was now equidistant from the dispenser and the trashy puddle, opted to chuck his full baggy into the murky, green waters of the stone bulwarks.
Violette and Andres were sitting on the rocky half-wall bordering the park, petting France. Guillaume, seeing an opportunity to profiteer by virtue of the natural sun; the innate beauty of France, the dog; and his friends’ complacency, mounted the eastern side of the square, sauntered up the sidewalk, and hollered over the railing,
“Violette, Andres! Go over by the tree and take a picture with France!”
France had her own Instagram. Thanks to sponsored content and #Francetravels, Guillaume raked in a pretty penny each month that allowed him to buy nice things like the newest iPhone, which he was now using to position his shot from above the Roman ruins.
Now, no one can say which petty god or idle wraith was responsible for the following revelatory gag, but a sudden, profound change overcame Guillaume. The veiled depravity of this system, so long hidden from view to the young entrepreneur, came to light in a single, panic-stricken instant. From his roost above the ramparts, Guillaume’s tortured virgin eyes beheld the arbitrary flow of the river of wealth. He saw, for the first time, the inner-workings of an international, cybernetic economy built on cashing in on chance and milking the twin teats of mere observation and circumstance. He was rapt by the beauty and horror of epiphany incarnate, by this magnanimous vision that played out before Guillaume across the screen of his iPhone, a cosmic glitch riding upon a single beam of early summer sunlight. Guillaume dropped his phone.
The phone plummeted. From Guillaume’s buttery fingers, it fell down into the vat of deceptively fecund waste, resonating like the smacking of a bare baby’s bottom as the phone pierced the opaque surface and penetrated the viscous depths of stagnant filth. Now, normally, this would be about the end of it. The kid would’ve either sulked back home with his tail between his legs or tried to wade through the fecal muck in a vain attempt to recover his precious while his friends filmed future viral gold. Not today.
As that phone sunk, the electrical energy from Steve Job’s masterstroke combined with the magical energy of ancient Helvetian sorcery and France’s dog shit to awaken a curse that dated back two-thousand and eighteen years. Guillaume’s clumsy mitts had unwittingly set the wheels in motion for a two millennium-old contingency, hellbent on fulfilling the wet dreams of a former US Secretary of Homeland Security:
Unremitting death and destruction on foreign soil.
Witchery in the West, as a serious profession, was shelved well before the trials in Salem. Not to mention political climates and economic realities in the Americas during the coming industrial revolution would soon force the remaining casuals into more vanilla, albeit less dangerous, jobs as factory laborers. The Middle Ages, on the other hand, heralded a witching boom, as people increasingly sought refuge from famine in the arcane. The Roman Catholic Church, despite its intentions, did less to suppress the rise of paganism as seed it and promote its ballooning to a near cataclysmic level. That coupled with the supernatural niche opened up by the death of Muhammad in the East meant the stage was now set of all manner of abracadabra across Africa and the Middle East as well.
But if we scurry even further backward in history, just after the Gallic Wars and the formation of Mediolanum, there weren’t too many real witches or wizards left in the Gallo-Roman Empire. This, incidentally, created a magical power vacuum that would soon be filled by Jesus. But that’s another, much longer, story.
Having said all that, we all know that exceptions exist to every rule, and Geneviève lived to except every rule she ever came across. Geneviève the Bricoleuse, a Helvetian sorceress and Christ contemporary, was well-handy with both a spell and a hammer. She’d traveled the newly conquered land of Gaul from her home with the Helvetii, in Old Switzerland, living off the menagerie of odd jobs her particular brand of mechanical necromancy could procure. In fact, at the very beginning of the Common Era, Geneviève and her resurrected man-slave/consort Dante Alighieri were undertaking some serious sorcery at the bequest of the newly nomadic druid and basement insurrectionist, Mug-Tadgh of Gaul.
“I have literally been to Hell, mind you, and I’ve never seen anything as horrifying as this.”
“I work with what I’m given,” Geneviève rebuked Dante as she sewed the inflated pigeon head onto the metal chassis, binding it at the neck to a taught leather gasket, “My pal, Mugsworth, wants a griffin, then brings me the parts for half a manticore plus change, so here we are: doing the best with what we have.”
Mug-Tadgh, hearing nearly none of this, continued his drunken leaning against a willow tree while he watched the witch tinker. A bottle of eau de vie dangled limply from his fingertips.
“It’s a… It’s a griffin,” started the Gallois, “Manticore’s are just stupid-dumb… nobody ever invaded nobody on no manticore. You… you gotta have a griffin.”
Geneviève had been listening to this spiel on repeat for the better half of two hours, so now she just accepted Dante’s knowing glance and finished sewing up the neck.
“You know I was in Heaven before this? Before you resurrected me?”
“You never mentioned,” she intercepted a wayward drop of sweat with her rag. The full weight of summer’s heat braced itself against her exposed neck and back.
“They’re the king of burrrr — everything,” words continued bubbling forth from Mug-Tadgh, like the steamy gas of a warm, flatulent bog, “They have the head of an eagle… or a falcon… they’ve got themselves a big ol’ bird head. And then, well, then there’s the lion’s body. It’s the king of all the little beasties and I’m going to ride it…”
“Yeah, well, you didn’t bring me neither bird, did ya? No. You brought me a lion and a dead peasant. Then I had to go and shoot down a pigeon with my bow to get the head, front legs and wings.”
“You pulled me from heaven to listen to this,” Dante was pretending to preen his wings. He didn’t have any, but he swore that he did when he lived in Heaven, “Did I complain? No. In fact, I was honored.”
“What did you say about burrrr — pigeons…?”
“I thought, ‘Oh, now here’s my chance to repay the cosmic debt I owed after Virgil rendered me his services. Surely now I’ll be sent down, an emissary of God, to help another find their Beatrice.’”
“How… oup!” The nobleman swayed back, visibly recoiling from the force of his hiccup, “How did you resize the falcon legs?”
“Soaked them in water overnight,” Geneviève, now walking around the crouching war-machine, was having none of what the lads were serving, “I said you could stay and watch me work, I didn’t say you could ask questions. And Mr. Alighieri?”
After a final system’s check, the sorceress patted the “griffin’s” broad shoulders.
“Right, so, we’re running off of two leopard hearts and a magic shit-powered engine… It’ll go fast, but it ain’t got a long run, so be thinking sprints not marathons on your killing spree.”
The talk of blood and contextual glory had a somewhat sobering effect on Mug-Tadgh. Perhaps sobering wasn’t the right way to put it, rather, the blood and glory took the drunk out of his blathering druid cheeks and put it right down into his cock. Puffing out his chest, he proclaimed,
“I shall call him Gregorios, a mighty name which shall inspire divine fear into the hearts of all those who bear witness — ,”
“Gregory. It looks like a Gregory,” Geneviève looked the creature up and down, “Maybe even a Greg. Good name.”
“No, it’s Gregorios,” Insisted the irked druid, “As in the watchful and vigilant eye, stalking his prey from above — ,”
“Yeah, except he’s Gregory though, and you better be careful because he ain’t the most stable steed of all time.”
“Whatchu mean, witchy?”
“I mean mentally,” the witch walked around to the beast’s head and gave it an amiable pat, “Look, Mugsy, there’s no easy way to say this, but the peasant brain you brought me was trash. Absolute rubbish — the worms had burrowed all the way through the cortex.”
“I don’t under — ,”
Geneviève cut him off, pacing back and forth, articulating each point with a wild gesticulation.
“Now I coulda done this another way: I coulda rigged ’em up like a nut n’ bolt feather puppet and he woulda been the most ferocious animatronic flesh-tank you’ve ever seen. But I’m a fucking witch. So, what’d I do? What I did was I reached into the future and grabbed a handful of grey matter from a time when there was a surplus of the wrinkly stuff and no one the wiser if any of it went missing. You follow me? I stole future brains and I got this particular sample from some guy named John Kelly.”
“John Kelly… that’s a strange name,” Mug-Tadgh appeared to be tasting the foreign syllables, mulling them over in his mouth, “Was he a Roman?”
“Dunno what he was,” Geneviève didn’t much like discussing the future. The only thing she saw on humanity’s horizon was the illusion of freedoms she had a habit of taking for herself anyway, “All I’m saying is hold tight to those reigns, you don’t want this mad dog getting loose. Discretion was not this guy’s forte.”
If Mug-Tadgh was phased by any of this he did not show it. His eyes were glossy dinner plates brimming with a heaping helping of Gregory, the ill-begotten cyborg chimera.
“Yeah, if you pull on the horns just right, he’ll shoot lightning out his ass. Now climb on up there and fuck off.”
“Oh, hah,” A hiccup laugh frothed up in the drunk druid’s mouth as he mounted his steed, “You’re a funny witch. You’re a funny, funny witch.”
“Yeah, I’m a funny witch. Here,” She hoisted up a sac of manure, “Funnel that in while I rev ’em up.”
Geneviève revved the engine, starting a chain reaction of gunpowder and magic, a powerful mix of old wisdom and new toys that shot Mug-Tadgh off like a rocket into the high heavens. Dante looked on while the necromancer starting packing up their effects.
“He really tied one on before hopping aboard,” Observed Dante, “You think he’s going to be O.K.?”
“I just… I just don’t care, Dante,” Sighed Geneviève, “He paid me and I built him the Gregory and now, honestly, I just don’t care what happens to him.”
The fate of Gregory and Mug-Tadgh, though it was of no consequence to Geneviève, read less like the Iliad and more like the accident report for the Apollo 6.
What it boiled down to was, Geneviève, whether intentionally or otherwise, miscalculated the amount of shit necessary to fuel two tandem leopard hearts on a harpy-esque escapade through Old France. Gregory’s motor sputtered out over the Charente and the bionic griffin and his master plummeted into the settlement’s palisades with a splat. Mug-Tadgh was practically liquified by the impact, while his steed merely shook, rattled and rolled into a ravine. Why? Because Geneviève may have been many things, but a hack she was not: Gregory was a work of necronomic art.
Gregory’s craftsmanship was such that his semi-organic infrastructure withstood the ravages of time, quietly lurking beneath the pond scum and sewage of the ravine while the city around it was conquered and reconquered, invaded and bombarded, renamed and, most recently, landscaped. Mediolanum became Saintes; Gallo-Romans gave way to vikings; vikings gave way to the English; finally, Saintes, the city, belonged to the French.
During all that history, Gregory sat in his well and gathered waste indiscriminately. Human sewage ran over his corpse on its way out to the river, Charente. Pigeons bombarded their undead brother from the trees until the surrounding trees were bowed to topiary, subsequently forcing the pigeons to the rooftops in order to continue fecal harassment of the submerged griffin. Many droughts threatened to prematurely expose Gregory to the modern world, but by then, Gregory the Griffin was so thoroughly caked in shit that its form was unrecognizable to any dubious onlookers. Then the rains would come and the somnolent beast would sink once more into the obscure depths of its stone chateau. In recent years, as pet proprietorship stole over Europe, our hypnagogic hybrid’s palette was introduced to dog poop. Lots and lots of dog poop.
Gregory’s rule over the square, the 20 x 20 square meter Place des Récollets,was challenged only once by a noble champion, a backyard Samaritan on town council who stepped up, advocated for, and later installed, a dog waste bag dispenser in the square. This threat to the Gregorian time-bomb fizzled out in a impotent puff as citizens collectively decided it was easier to simply jettison their plastic dog shit bags into the green pond rather than walk back and return them to the trash bin attached to the dispensary unit. Under the miry mirror, the fallen Valkyrie accepted our refuse gratefully.
But dog-shit-guts and two leopard hearts weren’t going to jumpstart themselves. Gregory, it seemed, was going to need a little help from global consumerism if he was ever going to rise from his rank, rank lair. Thank God for Tom Cook and the lithium ion battery.
Travel to France in the early spring time as an American and you risk your allergies taking you straight to town and giving you the business. You’ve got to hit that sweet spot: somewhere right at the edge of summer when the pollen settles, the rains abate, and the tourists are still a couple weeks away. It was precisely under these kinds of circumstances that we join two traveling buds, Johnson and Beans, upon the sunlit terrace of the Garden Ice Café in Saintes.
“It’s an absolute travesty. Total tragedy of the commons.”
“You know, it’s all well and good to talk about charity and doing right, but how many people really ante up and help their community,” Johnson pulled at the filter of his hand-rolled, Amsterdamer packed cigarette and took a double drag of pretty words and nicotine gas, “Honestly, Beans, I won’t say another word about it.”
“I will certainly drink to that,” Beans didn’t know what they were talking about any more, but he loved the taste of affirmation and light irony filtered into tiny French coffee cups. He took a dainty sip, savoring his expresso.
“Oh, Johnson, wouldn’t you believe it? I forgot to order an allongé, again. I forgot to order an owl — on — jay. Now I’ve got this positively adorable shot of coincidence.”
What fun it was, thought Beans, to affect these British accents and smoke rollies over a cheeky cup on the terrace. Johnson and Beans had been on the road for awhile now and, bless their souls, they couldn’t even remember how they’d wound up in this delightful little asylum. Sure, you could be sure the two fellows had a sense of knowing — a general unfounded feeling of past and of future, but here’s a fun fact: if you’d asked either of them, Mr. Beans or Mr. Johnson, where they’d been before or where they were going, they wouldn’t have had the slightest clue. And if you pressed too hard, why, they’d actually cease to exist at all.
“Oh, that is just good fun, Beans,” Johnson leaned back in his chair, thrusting his head backwards and chuckling, imitating a gesture he’d seen somewhere, at sometime on the television, “Wouldn’t it be great to do this all the time. It is such a proper shame that this all has to come to an end.”
“But does it, Mr. Johnson? Why couldn’t we just stay in this town forever?”
“Well, there’s the money, for one.”
“Ah, yes. The money.”
“We can only go so long without having to make more of the money.”
“And then the women?”
“Can’t leave the women for too long, that’s certainly… that’s certainly true.”
Johnson shifted around uncomfortably in his seat. These words were beginning to taste weird in his mouth… money, women, and work… they were so this way, and not that way, and he much preferred to say things like intersectionality and systematic racism. His tongue felt swollen in his mouth, and he considered taking something to ease the inflammation.
He mouthed the words white privilege and felt a little more reassured, and his chair softened to cushion his pale behind more readily.
Beans, having succumbed to a similar attack of mal à l’aise, had just finished instagramming a photo of their aperitif he’d taken not twenty minutes before and now breathed a sigh of relief as the likes came pouring in.
“I believe we were saying…,” Began Mr. Johnson, pausing briefly as he was rudely interrupted by a faint disturbance, coming from somewhere down the Cours National,
“… that the sorry state of affairs our poor, afflicted nation finds itself in — Beans, do you hear something?” Inquired Johnson, breaking from his feigned accent for the first time since they’d sat down for coffee.
“You know, I thought I did,” Replied Beans, still unshakably in character, “But I reckon it’s just a pigeon cooing or a fine, French demoiselle singing au bord de la Charente.”
“Come off it, Beans,” said Johnson, feebly grasping for a sincere tone of voice, but that damn British accent was just so charismatic, so infectious, and just so hard to shake, “Still, whatever it was… whatever it may have been…”
“… was probably an absolute travesty?” Prodded Beans.
“Yes… Right. One might even call it a tragedy of the commons.”
“Well said,” Beans nodded in approval. The wheel started to turn.
“It’s just, well, we spend so much time talking, and how much do we actually…,” Johnson let his voice trail off as two things occurred to him: the first was a most peculiar sensation of déjà vu, and as for the second, there was definitely something going on down the main avenue. A flock of birds had flown from their roost at the sound of broken glass, perhaps a wine bottle, Johnson suspected, dropped by an SDF.
Johnson returned tentatively to the terrace, still guarding that faraway look in his eyes,
“… Do. Beans, do you think there’s something afoot?”
“Well, that’s just it, isn’t it. There is definitely something afoot,” Began Beans, “Our government, a beacon of democracy in the free world, is threatened by its own ballooning ego. Our infrastructure is crumbling, our educational systems are vastly underfunded and the only thing we’re concerned with is the size of our 600 billion dollar military pecker. Bombing civilians; funding religious, anti-abortion racket; nixing healthcare for the plebs — I tell you what, Johnson, I feel positively criminal just paying my taxes these days!”
“What are we doing here?” Johnson wondered. Commotion and clamor were mounting in the East. A siren wailed down the way.
“Climate change threatens the mere continuance of our species,” Beans continued, now visibly spitting, his hands waving around frantically. Two receipts, one for his coffee, one for his cigarettes, took flight and ventured down the pedestrian street, unnoticed, “I mean for all we know, Johnson, tomorrow we could all be squashed under the other shoe!”
“What are we doing here?”
Johnson wasn’t sure if he’d actually asked the question aloud, or just felt it resonate within him. A definite scream pierced the spring air.
“You think it’s going to smell good when all the collective shit of humanity hits the fan?” Beans, disturbed now by the rising hubbub on the main road turned in his chair and shouted, “I say! Will you please keep it down over there!”
There was a definite happening in the plaza. A jogger cartwheeled through the air, caterwauling all the way until she landed with a disappointing, aluminum thud on the hood of a parked Renault. In a maelstrom of talons, teeth and flying fur, the beast soared up the boulevard and checked a banker through the window of BNP Paribas. From the sidewalk to the air, Gregory alighted upon the top of a passing car, tearing off the roof, and hurling the driver onto the Palais de Justice’s courtyard.
“Really, Johnson, we came here to get away from the riff raff. What is the world coming to when a couple of working class bohemians can’t — ,”
With the calculating cruelty and roughly-honed sociopathy that could only come from the White House Chief of Staff’s frontal cortex, Greg descended upon the Garden Ice Café and tucked in, wetting his gargantuan pigeon beak with the blood of tourists, lawyers, bankers and anyone else unlucky enough to be enjoying a cheeky cup n’ smoke on the terrace that fine afternoon.
Johnson would receive the brunt of the impact, as Gregory pinned the American up against the glass window, which subsequently broke, letting in all of the chaos and mania that had reigned in Outside Land, and giving it dominion over the café interior. A barista was skewered by Greg’s wing tip. Several tenants were knocked unconscious by the magnificent entry. Johnson was lying in a mat of broken glass, reconciling his now shattered vertebral column, before the mismatched mythical monstrosity came down on him like a righteous mallet of justice. As the avian nib pecked at the insides of Johnson’s freshly opened ribcage, now spread open in a blood eagle, the man executed a final, nearly whimsical act of defiance: he pulled the beast’s horns.
White lightning burst forth from the lion’s rump and found a staggering, newly concussed Beans standing in the silhouette of the broken window. The force of the lightning strike lifted him up off his feet and carried the man forthright to his deathbed: an alcove housing Crédit Agricole’s two automated tellers. The force of Beans’ body’s impact was enough to bust those money nuts wide open and shower the young man in a colorful casket of paper banknotes.
Meanwhile, in the café, as Gregory’s twin leopard hearts slowed to a dull, intermittent, thwump-pump, the Frankenstein brain took in the scene. The peasant half, so far gone from two millennium and eighteen years of hosting rot and maggots, couldn’t understand anything about this strange, new world. Nor could it comprehend the immense carnage it had just brought into it. Yet, as the final beats of his bionic hearts rung out, Gregory lay down, amidst the fire and flames, and the other part of him smiled.
Upstairs, one of Epicurus’ secretary angels, charged with the task of tallying up the two lads’ lives in terms of general usefulness would later write in the margins of their divine ledger, the most useful thing either of these two clods ever did was die.
Written by Zachary D. Turner
In the summer’s heat, after the rains had abated, and the flooding had receded, and the paths had all dried up, they unchained the picnic tables and brought them down to the banks of the Charente once again. Three days later, Alabama Turk would run by and see, for the first time since midwinter, his favorite spot under the willow tree was uncovered and untaken. Slowing to a halted canter and finally a bedraggled saunter, the young man popped down on the bench for a good sit.
This particular picnic table, peeking out from within the confines of a billowing willow, offered the best skyline anywhere within or without the somnolent French town. Saint-Pierre burst forth from the bulwarks and market square, blooming over the town like a stone perennial, a gothic sentinel tasked to watch and protect its citizens from unrest and malignant hoodoo. Fun fact: inside the cathedral, Alabama had even found a postcard picture taken a few feet away from his favorite spot. Another testament to the merits of said view.
As he watched the water flow lazily on either side of the bifurcated river, Alabama Turk came to terms with a simple, sour truth: he was nearing the end of his magnificent adventure abroad. With soggy eyes, he thought of Tenor Abernathy and the Resonant Beast, the twin titans who had dueled upon the Gelded Gully. He remembered ridding himself of the stinking Grimoldge, that filthy gunk-critter living in his bile. Alabama smiled as he thought about the wedding reception, after the marriage of Pallow Brarro and Alowa Skybrindle, the pair of whom subsequently rode off into the sunset in their decorated Minnie Winnie. How was he supposed to return home with a bleeding heart so thickly laden with nostalgia?
Mr. Turk awoke from his daydream at the moist plodding sounds of an approaching behemoth. The man, if he was indeed a man at all, lurched forward on the offbeat as though his melted, mushy brain-bag was set to a coked-up, crooked metronome. One after the other, his legs would manifest themselves from within the many folds of his portly personhood. His petulant, putty face was riddled with blisters, glistening in the summer’s sun as his saturated, oily dough-skin fried orange in the heat. Boiled and braised, his flesh strained under the immense tension, looking ready to peel away layer-by-layer until gargantuan pustules erupted, turning his body into a baking, vacuous lagoon of vulgarity. It should be no small wonder if anyone had ever written this sorry sod a clean bill of health.
Alabama watched the goober lumber over and present itself at his picnic table with a wet belch.
“Would you like to take a seat?”
The creature sat and the bench groaned morosely in protest. His overlong tie lay impotently upon the grass, sliding like the sorriest sausage in the slaughterhouse between his grimy, muck riddled suit lapels.
“What, ah…,” Turk was trying to look the beast in its eyes, but kept getting distracted by its gaping, fetid mouth hole. Teeth roosted sparsely along the cavern walls like furry bats in a grotto, “What brings you to Saintes?”
Whether the monster belched or flatulated, Alabama didn’t know, but between gaseous emissions the gargoyle conveyed that he was indeed a foreign diplomat.
“I… ughhhh… I’m the best, most bestest even… uhm… lord, uhm, uh, president that my people have, hm, have ever seen. Um. Yes.”
He had garnered the favor of his fellow countrymen apparently by appealing to the inner cannibal in all of them. Riding a wave of high-protein, zero-ethics nationalism, this cellulite-in-a-suit rose to power and lead his nation into a fear-driven frenzy. Among many other things, Alabama picked up a distinctly Anti-Muslim sentiment from him.
Alabama was not the least bit perturbed by Cannibal President’s apparition. Should the fiend have shambled over a year ago, sure, the lad would’ve run screaming in the other direction. But a year of odd characters and magical happenstance had weathered Alabama into the seasoned veteran of the abnormal he was today. Now he recalled the day that Farabella Fagglebonk appeared before him, recruiting him for battle against the villainous warlord, Magna-Kmar Everlasting. For that quest, he’d traveled three continents and a couple higher dimensions to track down the criminal scourge and drive the feathery brillow through Magna-Kmar’s gaudy mane.
Cannibal President smacked his lips and lolled his sluggy tongue around his mouth to wet his terrific maw. He stood; his tiny, meaty mittens still poised upon the table as he sniffed the air furtively. Catching a delicious whiff on the wind, he lumbered off down the lawn toward a family of four. The parents were laughing and cooing over a five-inch display trained on their youngest nugget rolling around in the grass with a puppy.
Alabama scratched the back of his neck uncomfortably. Surely they saw him coming, right? But, low and behold, they did not, and Cannibal President scooped the boy up in his paws by the scruff of his neck and sunk his infected incisors into the nubile flesh. The couple stared in abject horror at their screen as the carnage unfurled. In sumptuous HD, they looked on as their highly rendered child’s limbs were gnawed on, the Cannibal President looking to lap up that sweet, sweet child marrow. At a truly awesome 60 frames per second, they watched at least 240 frames in which the ogre gargled their baby’s blood and flossed with a mat of his hair.
The whole scene was awfully upsetting, but after half a minute of gratuitous violence, Alabama got up from his bench, dumbfounded, and wandered around the ordeal to the sidewalk for a better sideline view. The parents were wracked with grief, the wife having fallen to her knees, barely able to hold up her cellular phone between trembling fingers. The increasingly crimson glow of the screen reflected in the father’s waterfall eyes. Still:
The bright red stop-record button glared, unpressed, on the righthand side of the screen.
On a personal note, Alabama noted they were filming landscape. These people may have been monsters, he reflected, but they weren’t charlatans for God Sake.
A six year-old kid tugged at Alabama’s sleeve.
“Hey,” said the kid.
“Hey,” Turk said dismissively before suddenly double-taking, “Hey, wait a sec, isn’t that your brother over there?”
“That he is,” sighed the child, rocking back on her heels, “Getting a little face time with big Donny. Do you have any water? I’m dying in this heat.”
“Oh. Yeah, sure,” Alabama unscrewed the lid on his bottle, moving to pass it along to the kid before pausing, “Hold on, who’s Donny? And — ,” he added, after a moment’s pause, “ — why aren’t you freaking out about all this?”
“Oh, are we still in character?” The girl was asking me, the author, by way of Alabama Turk, the character, “Look, I’m not on camera right now, and I don’t play games for free. Can we both just be professionals for ten minutes while running this featurette? Besides, anyone that’s reading and didn’t get the ‘Trump-as-a-cannibal’ gag can stuff it. It’s 2018, what else is anyone writing about?”
She’s probably right, so we’ll go ahead and put a pin on this whole third-person narrative for a minute while we unveil the rest of the story. Buckle up.
“I guess you’re right. I don’t know if conventional forms are gonna cut it in this day and age.”
“You’re still gonna try?”
“The form will always fit the function. We’ll figure it out, but in the meantime, let’s Q&A this pony.”
The kid shrugged, “Weird turn of phrase for this day and age.”
Across the lawn, we were accosted by one loud Sweet Baby Jesus!, as the mother called up in agony to high heaven, while still looking down her nose at her phone screen. Simultaneously onscreen and a couple meters away, Cannibal Prez was twirling a femur around like he was lead color guard in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“So… tell me about this whole situation,” I said, indicating the girl’s parents, still bawling at their digital baby’s death while the real one was still fighting tooth and nail to save it’s remaining two and half limbs.
“Well, I was born first, and that was three-hundred likes,” she took a quick breath and another swig of water, “Not a lot, but it only takes a spark to get the fame train rolling. By the week’s close, I was swaddled in a comfortable following across three platforms. A month old and we were dealing in the thousands each post, getting reposted, releasing sponsored content, and getting big name guest-post features.”
She was nodding to her own beat, the soundtrack of memories gone by played over her brother’s massacre. While her brother’s carotid artery was opened up like 4th of July fireworks, she related:
“I think I peaked somewhere between my first-steps livestream and the potty-training tweet. By then, Mom and Dad were pulling in substantial royalties each month, but by three they saw my numbers weaning and got busy cooking up my baby brother over there.”
“Huh,” I nodded. I wondered idly which social network was watching the young star’s entrails cascade form the cannibal’s mouth in real time. Snapchat? FB livestream? InstaStory?
“I still make cameos, though,” continued the girl, “I was scheduled to reenact my first bike ride next week. I mean, I’ve been pedaling around the neighborhood since last fall, but they bought this poor bastard a puppy ‘round the same time. That’s when you know you’re on your way out — when they start getting gimmicky. It doesn’t match the brand, but it’ll hold the ratings till they can get a permanent fix.”
The child star in question had lost the remaining half limb, rounding him down to an even two appendages. Donny had concocted a new solo blood sport involving some of the boy’s vital organs and was now trying to best his latest PR. The boy’s mother and father carried on, doing the same useless shit as before not ten feet away. From their fruitless wailing, I picked out the boy’s name: Mango.
“He would’ve started preschool in the fall, so as you can see, Momma over there’s already got another A-lister locked and loaded. Baby Bogart probably started feeling the heat once the tummy-timelines and ultrasounds hit Instagram.”
We sat down at a bench a few feet away with a good view of the now surfeited murder scene playing out in front of us.
“You got a cig?”
Asked the kid.
“I’m mostly retired, and I’m only six,” she shrugged and raised both her palms toward the sky, weighing two imaginary possibilities, “Either this planet is going to find a cure for cancer by the time I can rent a car or it’s going to be halfway underwater anyway. What is that, Norwegian shag?
“Uh-huh, can you roll?”
I lent her a lighter and she took a couple long hits before launching back into it. She was totally cloyed by the wall-to-wall, non-stop stimulation of post-millennialism and yet she still seemed to feel something for the poor kid. She emanated a sort of general mourning, not for the spectacle at hand, but for her brother’s very existence.
“He’s had a tough go of it,” she admitted, “Being born a boy didn’t do him any favors: Steve, our social media analyst, estimated that that’s a 15% lifetime like-reduction right off the bat.”
“So, that’s why they named him Mango?”
She nodded and bobbed back and forth while conceding, “It was a smart move, I suppose. Probably offset that 15% for at least a year, between the claims of cultural insensitivity and an unexpected boost from the feminists,” she’d softened her gaze, looking past the bizarre carnival of gore towards the gently whispering water as she mused, “I mean, the rents were banking on the cultural appropriation claims to catapult them into the limelight, but as fate would have it, they also caught that gender neutral naming tailwind. With #MeToo on the horizon and feminism gaining wider acceptance, they would’ve landed on Ellen if our handlers played their cards right.”
She shook her head and pushed out a long, weary exhale.
“Honestly, this is probably the best thing for him. He’s going out in his prime.”
At a certain point, entropy had its way and Mango resembled a sort of uniform, reddish-brown paste. Big D, having eaten his fill, waddled off to the stream to do whatever he was going to do. Honestly, there was no use speculating; everything was reactionary with the Cannibal President, so who knew what he thought he wanted to do. He certainly didn’t. You’d have had more luck asking Mango’s puddle.
“What’s your name, anyways?”
The little girl took a long, pensive drag off her rollie.
“Coconut,” she said, without a hint of irony.
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah. I go by Coco, but on official documents it’s Coconut Brown.”
“That’s quite a name.”
“Sure, for a crayon. Sounds more like a colorful description Conrad would’ve used to describe the savages in Africa.”
“You read a lot of Conrad, Coconut?”
“Shut the fuck up.”
Time lapsed, minutes banded together and formed hours, the flies descended, and odors rose up from the bloody mire. The sun lit the water on fire as it tucked itself in for bed.
“Before we wrap this whole thing up, can I ask you a question, Coconut?”
“Where are we going? I mean, where is all of this…,” I gestured at the poor, dumb giant, now hunkered down by the banks. He watched as the bloody tendons trailed from between his fat, varicose toes and giggled simply. My waving hand encompassed him and the two monsters now editing the video of their child’s death, trying on different filters and writing, rewriting captions, “…going?”
“The scene? Or…?”
“No, not the scene. I’ve got a handle on that, just, like, the ubiquitousness of technology, the nonstop filming, the incessant, minute record-keeping… what’s the endgame?”
“I’m not sure I follow. I mean, I am six years-old, but also, what are you getting at?
“I dunno, I feel like we’re leading up to something. Like, we’re standing on the shore, with our feet halfway in the water, about to take off. About to move on to the next big thing. It’s like, here’s technology: so miraculously advanced and adept, infinitely powerful and nearly universally accessible. And then here’s us. Here’s what we’ve decided to do with it.”
Coco raised a shoulder halfheartedly. Eh.
“It might just be us letting go.”
The Charente babbled quietly on.
“Can I ask you a question, Zack?”
“Go for it.”
“What do you think you’re going to change by writing this?”
“To be honest, Coconut, until I get through a few more years of this, I don’t think I’ll know. I don’t know that writing is ever going to change any of this, any of this real world business. When I look at Meyers, Colbert, Noah, SNL, Glover… I guess I’m just cashing in like everyone else? Preaching to the choir. Maybe that’s all that you can do, and then maybe you make some money off it, and also maybe you can do something with that money. I don’t know that we’re ever going to art our way out of this situation. But, you know, I’m new at this.
I’ve got to try.”
After we colored in the last blank spaces on the map, what became of our Lewis and Clark types? Our trailblazers? For Henry, the third Escapist, the end of high school harkened the end of an era of carefree exploration. Now he must choose between the life society has set up for him or getting Lost in the Woods.
Start the adventure here.
Bonjour y’all, welcome to the American Fables’ Review… thingy. I really gotta come up with a better name for these. But that’s all just a bunch of hoopla for Season Two, because tonight I welcome you to the much anticipated
~ Season One Finale ~
At long last, the votes are in and it looks like we’ll be doing a review of the international holiday, Francegiving!
So, interesting tidbit about this review before we dig in: I’d already written this review back in November, right after Thanksgiving, but I never published it because I think I had a couple of other reviews that were ready and I thought this lil’ pup was a bit too hot to release just then. Now that it’s had a couple months to cool off, I think I’m ready to take a ~ trip ~ back to that particular time, and that very particular mindset.
Without further ado, let’s unscrew the lid on this little time capsule.
Hey, everyone, today we’re going to do a very special review. It’s the beginning of the holiday season, and I thought I’d go ahead and kick it off with a review of the national French holiday, Francegiving. Now, I know a lot of you probably have objections like, “Zack, that’s not a real thing” or, “Zack, you can’t review holidays, that doesn’t make any sense,” but honestly, after a bottle of wine and a day like today, I can review anything I damn well please.
So let’s dig into it. En gros, Francegiving is a holiday celebrated by American expats residing in France. It’s based off the American holiday, Thanksgiving, a day of relentless indulgence (not to be confused with Mindless Self-Indulgence) and intense visceral regret coupled with undercurrents of thankfulness and familial tensions. Traditionally, an American family will hunt down a wild turkey, slay it, pull out all of its feathers, stuff bread into its butt cave and roast it in an oven. Following the ritual hunt, they will then share their turkey with a tribe of Native Americans, so as to render them sluggish and complacent prior to appropriating their land or running piping in or around it—oops! Almost got a little ~ political. ~ That reminds me though: what’s one crucial difference between Francegiving and Thanksgiving? No heated family debates over politics! Not because there aren’t any politics over here, but rather there isn’t any, uh, family here. Not for me anyway, I mean, that is to say,
I am alone.
Let’s go ahead and break down this holiday into its base components: there’s the invitation stage, the meal prep stage, and then the actual feast itself. Naturally we’re gonna take this thing apart chronologically, starting by dismantling the invitation stage. Now, Francegiving is unique among holidays in that it is a celebration that absolutely no one expects you to celebrate, and one that you have zero obligation to participate in. Unlike Thanksgiving, your family won’t be dragging you along to any relatives’ places and you won’t get invited to, like, ten different “Friendsgivings.” This means that when you decide to participate in Francegiving, you have no one but yourself to blame.
That said, I’m a Francegiving veteran, having celebrated it twice in my life, and I’ve learned that this special holiday can look a lot of different ways. For example, my first Francegiving was spent in the beautiful city of Lyon and I didn’t have many friends and I lived in a tiny dorm outside of town, so I bought a whole pizza that night and ate it. All of it. By myself.
But this time was different, and last week I walked into the office and told my colleagues that this year we were going to celebrate Francegiving! Sure, you know, it took a little explaining, but I also told them that I was going to cook food for them and supply beer, so they agreed, and that is how this year’s invitation stage kicked off.
Since you’re in another country where you don’t know many people, and, depending on when you arrived, the people you do know you probably don’t know very well, it’s quite likely that you’ll accrue an eclectic bunch of thankful, albeit confused, kinda-friends. For example, you might want to invite the nice butcher who reminds you of your middle school band teacher, or perhaps your much older neighbors, or your roommate because they can’t really say no. Just make that a staple in your conversations for a week, inviting everyone you talk to, and making sure to mention that you’ll be cooking food and supplying alcohol. Remember, in the moment, it doesn’t matter who you invite or what you say, because it’s your future self that has to deal with all this and not your present self.
Now, after you’ve invited people over for Francegiving, you’re going to want to devote a very minimal, though constant, stream of attention to the project. This way, you can maximize distress by thinking extra about this event without actually doing anything to prepare for it. This is the psychological equivalent of packing peanuts: you can make it seem like you’ve crammed a lot into a week while having done nothing extra at all. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is to start thinking about preparations every night at 7:45, right when the E. LeClerc closes. Meditate on these feelings of malaise until bedtime, and then coast off the norepinephrine till the wee hours of the morning. This strategy is doubly effective, because not only will you accumulate more stress the next day due to sleep deprivation, but you’ll also miss the free air markets in the morning because you’ll be sleeping in. Since all the seasonal food you know how to make requires stupidly specific ingredients that are only offered periodically in the grocery store and in the markets, missing the markets is essential to securing that last minute frenzy you’ll want the day of Francegiving.
By now you might be feeling a little uncomfortable, maybe there’s some subtext to this review that I should be more forward about. You’re probably saying something like, “well geez, no one made you celebrate this holiday,” and, “golly gee, mister, do you maybe wanna talk about this in a less public space.” But honestly, No, this is just another straight forward review from a straight shooting guy. So, that brings us to the preparation stage which should begin in earnest the morning of, at the earliest. Since celebrating Francegiving necessitates that you live in France, you won’t have the day off work, because the government for some reason doesn’t recognize Francegiving as an official holiday. That’s perfect though, because this means you get to wake up extra early before work, buy everything at the supermarket and then try and cook it all right after work. Hopefully you’ve set the RDV time optimistically early in the evening so that you’ll be sprinting back to your apartment to ram-jam that turkey in the oven.
Pause. Breath. Un-pause.
Let’s talk about what you’ll actually be buying: everything. Buy all the things you could conceivably cook in one day if that day was on Venus, and make sure that you do none of the unit conversions at home. Some of my fondest memories of Francegiving as a twenty-three year old took place right there, in the canned food aisle of LeClerc, trying to figure out how many grams 30 ounces of corn is. Look up none of the translations beforehand either, because Francegiving is all about the journey and part of that journey is trying to explain what nutmeg is to a sale’s clerk while you’re running late for work.
I recommend a price range of somewhere around 100 euros, or roughly one eighth of your monthly salary. Anything less than that isn’t going to be enough to trigger an existential crisis. See, 100 euros is the threshold for calling into question your motives for planning this event in the first place: why would you spend that much money on something you didn’t need or necessarily want to do in the first place? Not to mention, you’ve known these people for, what, about two or three months, au maximum? This is just going to be awkward. Like, you wouldn’t even normally spend this kind of money on people you’ve known for years, why are you going to do it for virtual strangers? Clearly, you’re not doing this for them, but are you really doing it for you? You would’ve been perfectly satisfied to Facetime in to one of your friend’s Friendsgivings or your family’s actual Thanksgiving. So if it’s not for them, and it’s not for you, then who is it for?
Let’s talk about the meal. Now, you should anticipate a certain level of
N. As per tradition, you’ve not explained what Thanksgiving is to any of your guests or why it is you want to celebrate it. You may expect,
for example, that one of your guests brings an apéritif or some biscuits to enjoy before the meal. This will be a
disguise, because testing your oven for the first time on Francegiving means that you’ll have turned the oven off several times by accident
I mean, if it wasn’t in accident, it was self-sabotage. Why would I do that?
Why would anyone do that?
while trying to cook your turkey. Consequently, when you open your front door and accept the apéritif from your neighbor, telling him or her that the cuisse de dinde is cooking as we speak and will be ready in an hour, that will be,
what we North Carolinians call,
And by extension, this also means that the turkey will not,
in any way, shape, or form,
be ready by dinner time.
… Just needed to refill my glass real quick before continuing on.
Let’s talk about mysterious black smoke. For any other holiday celebration, mysterious black smoke would be a real canary in the coal mine, indicating that something is clearly amiss. But on Francegiving, never fear the black smoke, it’s great for reinforcing the sense of enigma surrounding your strange hybrid celebration. The annual black smoke hunt is a time-honored tradition, and I think we can all agree, it’s less about actually finding the source than the maddening, frenzied hunt.
Sooner or later, the nature of time will inevitably see you all seated at the dinner table. Tis’ now the season for merriment and non-familial bonding between you and your melange of hastily adopted family members. Remember all those great equivocating skills you learned in French Lit class? Time to employ all the genre de’s, the Une sorte de’s, the C’est compliqué’s, and all the En fait, je sais pas du tout qu’est-ce que c’est ou comment l’expliquer, mais à la base c’est une…’s that you’ve ~ bien maîtrisé ~ to describe your savory simulacra of recipes you grew up with and still never learned to properly cook.
Some of you might be worried about cooking food for French people given their rich culinary patrimony, but let me just tell you, sample size of four and they all ate my stuffing so don’t you worry about a thing. For those of you who’re reading this that aren’t from the States, stuffing is literally stale white bread that is made to be put inside of a turkey’s excavated asshole. So, really, there are two take away points: don’t be afraid to cook for other people, and the bar for acceptable French cuisine is considerably lowered the moment bread is added to a recipe.
What else did I cook besides stale bread crumbs? Well, let’s break it down, listicle style:
Dishes that will make the holiday season memorable for everyone in the office whose first name you remembered.
The Martha Stewart approved recipe for abiogenesis.
Mega Crispy Turkey Leg,
Mega crispy, yet somehow still not cooked all the way through.
Butternut Squash Puddle,
Perfect pie surface, hiding the sloppy-slop lagoon below.
Well, that about does it for today’s review. I don’t want to come off as a sellout, but I should be upfront and disclose that this review was, in part, paid for by Schadenfreude— Schadenfreude, the disconcerting feeling of joy you get when get when you watch someone else fall down stairs or see Sarah Huckabee Sanders take the podium.
In total, I give Francegiving my first score of 0. Zilch. Aucun flocon de neige. What I’m saying is: don’t celebrate this holiday. Just don’t. Thanksgiving is about being thankful for good fortune and family; Friendsgiving is about being thankful for friends (and white affluence, I’d imagine). Francegiving? Francegiving is about an Instagram post.
Look, if you have friends in France, have yourself a Friendsgiving, tag it #Francegiving, and be done with it. But whatever you do, don’t try and build this baby from the ground up. Instead, just buy yourself un demi, or maybe even a pint, and call your mom. Have her put you on speakerphone, say hi to the fam, and tell them all what a wonderful time you’re having across the pond and how much you miss them this Thanksgiving.
And that’s it. We’ve reached the end of Season One of Today in Review. Yep, that’s what we’re going with, we’re calling the thing Today in Review and sticking with it.
I really do hope you’ve enjoyed this project so far. I know I have.
We’re back in a couple months with another season, but in the meantime, we’ll be focusing our energies on developing our fiction catalogue. If you haven’t read our first two complete short, Sun Shines Bright and A Trip Down Memory Lane, please do. We’ll be publishing new chapters of Lost in the Woods soon, and hopefully releasing all new stories, unrelated to The Escapists.
One final note: we’re always looking to work with new artists, so if you’re interested, feel free to contact us here, at:
Send illustrations, animations, stories—you name it, we’ll be happy to look over it.
Until next time,
À toute, y’all.
Next up on the chopping block: Euros by The Oh Hellos. Cross your legs, align your chakras, and let’s get a little bit spiritual.
But first, an ad from our sponsors:
Are you tired of today’s pop songs, always drawing from the same grab-bag of well-worn tropes and tired-out lyrics? Ready to trade lyrics like these:
“I’m that motherfucker bustin’ heads,
Finna push it to the ledge,
Yeah, I’ve been smokin’ my meds
Ain’t got no love for the feds.”
– “44 More” by Logic
“I met up with an acrobat
In Brooklyn or some place like that
With life and taxis flying past
We tore that dance hall down”
“Fire Escape” by Andrew McMahon In the Cat Café or whatever his band’s called. I don’t even know why this dude makes me so mad… Hold on, I’m gonna take a second to Google him. This has been going on for far too long with no real, concrete basis…
See, my problem with McMahon began when I heard “Cecilia and the Satellite” on the radio, and it just really rubbed me the wrong way. It’s, like, if Buzzfeed created an indie lyrics generator; that’d be his music. Or, his popular songs anyway. Admittedly, I haven’t listened to any of his albums in their entirety, but isn’t that so often the case with the things we dislike? We never really understand them… anyway, then he calls his band Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness, and I’m like, “Ok, frèrot, but what do you really know about the wilderness?” Where is this dude from… Portland, maybe?
Oh, holy shit, he has leukemia. Oops, is he OK?
…still touring, cool. So, I guess he had cancer. Well, let’s wind this little rant down before the water gets too hot. If you’re feeling ticked off about me ragging on a dude that had and maybe still has cancer and wanna donate to LLS, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, you can do so – here – and prove to yourself that you’re a better person than me. And maybe you’re thinking, I don’t need to prove anything to you or myself, I didn’t roast a guy with cancer, well that sounds to me like you’re just trying to get out of donating.
Where were we? Right, so if you wanna trade out lyrics like that, for lyrics like this:
Then you should check out this band. I mean, these siblings really lay it on thick in this album. Let me put it this way: if these lyrics were the sesame butter, and this album was the sesame butter and jam sandwich, one bite of this sandwich would have you chewing for days, nay, weeks. You would drink a whole orchard of almond milk just to lubricate your mouth hinges enough to swallow a bite of this v i s c o u s lyrical sorcery.
So dive into this album with a glass of almond milk and your bible handy, because the Heath’s are notorious for their biblical allusions as well. They’re a well read family: the Heath kids (they’re older than me, I don’t know what I’m going on about, calling them kids) have listed C.S. Lewis, classical mythology and fantasy literature as an influence in the past. Dear Wormwood, one of their former albums, takes its name from the demon nephew in The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, a read which I would strongly recommend. Disclaimer: I’m only a quarter of the way through, though; so far, it’s not only been a cutting critique of the Church at the time, but also a philosophically ponderous epistolary novel. What I would recommend is reading Kandinsky’s On the Problem of Form, then diving straight into The Screwtape Letters. There’s probably a better pairing out there, but I like pretending that the Devil’s the leader of “The Black Hand” from Kandinky’s essay, and God is the Abstract Spirit. Also, if you (like me) are not a religious person, this might help you get more out of the reading. Just some ~ food for thought. ~
Let’s just quickly follow the breadcrumbs back to the original thread…
So, I started listening to this band about a month or two ago when tracks from Notos started popping up in my recommended new music playlist on iTunes. I’m not reviewing that album currently, but I would definitely recommend giving it a listen. Not to mention, Eurus frequently makes reference to and builds upon this work, so it’ll def elevate your listening experience.
Enough foreplay, let’s bust it wide open, one track at a time:
“O Sleeper,” (not the first time they’ve mentioned the “O Sleeper.” See “Caesar,” from Dear Wormwood) hitt’n you hard, right off the bat with some biblical imagery: floods, dunes and dales, and sacred rams? Actually, that last one is from Egyptian mythology, I believe. Sorry, breaking apart these lyrics for me is like trying to disassemble a piece of Ikea furniture if every screw required a different sized screwdriver. It’s like, in every line, I’ve got to go back to Google and type in shit like, “Sacred ram? Holy rocks? Pillars of an ancient empire?” and filter through death metal bands and satanist cults until I find the right screwdriver.
“Dry Branches,” tittering strings, the clacking of wood, a sort of stream-side chatter that crescendos and comes into focus over the course of a minute in this instrumental transitional piece.
“Grow,” which was released as a single before the album, plops us down in the living room, now a couple millennium removed from Ancient Greece. I feel like the first stanza paints a good picture of the creative process, or just what it’s like reading about ancient mythologies; maybe you’re reading the Odyssey late at night and your bed side lamp casts shadows that “look like a twisted apparition from the past.” It really sets the mood for a nice, long read.
Something I really like about this song is the way Maggie Heath leads the band into a verse. She leads the charge with the “You” in “You shout it down,” like a queen at the head of her army. I’m not a singer, and I’ve never tried to compose a song like this, but I feel like there’s a sort of lyrical complexity… a sort of, well, actually, je ne sais pas du tout. You know what? I’m going to ask someone.
Fast forward one day and ~ Bam! ~ That’s how time works and I’ve got an answer. How cool is that? We just traveled across time together! I feel like we’ve grown closer… you know? Temporally speaking, anyways. Here’s what pre-school piano teacher, choral sorceress, and my mother Cathy had to say about the song:
Ok, mom, well, looks like I might have been wrong about my previous claim. Oh for one, as they say some places at some times. But you know what? That’s just one opinion, let’s hear what the wonderfully talented jazz pianist, DJ and musical mage Hunter Brake had to say about it:
You read that? “Fantastic panning” and “wide yet realistic acoustic space.” Not at all what I was getting at, but I’m giving myself half a point for being a good sport. A lesser man would’ve edited out his mistake. Not me, though. Never me. I like to think these reviews are as much about us growing as individuals as actually reviewing anything.
There’s also a theme that runs through this song like a ~ river, ~ this idea of letting nature be, absorbing its wisdom without imposing any of your icky, sticky human-ness upon it. Furthermore, this image of the river running its course reminds me of the adventure of Siddhartha and his final apprenticeship with the ferryman, Vasudeva. Siddhartha was able to finally reach enlightenment by watching the flow of the river, by just being and learning everything he needed to know in the passing waters.
Please direct your attention to the line, “let the wild takeover;” there are numerous references to satyrs and the wild in general in this album and the general consensus over on genius.com is that the wild and nature represents God’s perfect work, or, if you like, a white light or spiritual energy that we should interact with only by observation and acceptance. Moving on with the tour, we’ve definitely spent too much time on “Grow.”
“Eurus,” a great song, lead by Tyler Heath this time, warns against the treacheries of materialism and greed, similar to the messages in The Screwtape Letters. Some helpful soul on genius.com added that Eurus, the greek god of the Eastern Wind, was considered unlucky, thereby demystifying the line, “as Fortuna sits idly by,” which ushers us into a brilliant scene depicting the narrator, driven to depravity in his quest of earthly fortunes, sitting under the goddess’ table and subsisting on her crumbs alone.
“A Convocation of Fauns (A Faunvocation, If you will),” another instrumental, and this time it’s a banjo that carries the melody. Hot dog, this album really tickles my fancy.
“Hieroglyphs,” We’re in the home stretch now, and the band is kicking it into high gear. Picking up the beat after the last crescendo of “A Convocation of Fauns […],” the whole chorus chants us into a hot and sweaty fervor of biblical proportions. We’re stamping our feet after an enemy that’s been killed off long ago, or so the story goes, and I think the band would like us to ask ourselves, “Did we ever consider these beats might not be coming from the drums of war?” Now read:
“Cause maybe you’ve been to busy thinking ahead,
Of where we’re all going after we’re dead
To maybe consider our bodies are worth
More than the dust that we can return.”
Which, I think is a refreshing perspective, and one that I, personally, was sorely in need of. Again, like all of their songs, there’s something in there for everyone, even if you’re not a religious type. Sometimes we just get caught up in thinking about our legacy in a very selfish way, and we neglect all the good and happiness we could bring about in the present. Think about it.
Side note, this is the song I snatched the quote from in the review’s illustration. Check it out again to refresh your noggin meat.
And what about that old wheel that keeps on turning? What is that all about?
Well, it seems to me, that the old wheel is the cycle of life and death; it’s a boulder that each of us, a mortal Sisyphus, begins rolling up our own hill the day we’re born until at last we die and the boulder rolls back downhill, the next generation picking it up again. We keep turning that wheel until eventually the sun burns out and we, the rock, and even the hill itself are all burned to ash and dust. So, maybe, while you’re pushing that boulder, take a look around, pick a flower along the way, and do a couple reality checks from time to time.
And here’s something else that’s interesting about Sisyphus: when you’re learning to do anything, artistic or otherwise, learning that craft feels a lot like pushing a boulder up some well-worn path. You pass by all the spots that artists before you passed and maybe, if you do it quick enough and long enough, you get a chance to see a part of that hill that all the other Sisyphi never saw. Just a thought.
“Passerine,” at last we’ve arrived. An ode to what is to come, a moment of reflection upon the current project. By the way, a Passerine is a bird; I didn’t know that and I don’t expect anyone else to know that, so, maybe I saved at least one person a trip to dictionary.com, the unofficial sponsor of my work. Returning to the album, “Passerine,” the song, makes reference to their coming albums in this supposed tetralogy, heralding the coming of Borealis, the Northern Wind.
Also, I like this idea of “purifying the holy rock to melt the gilded seams;” it’s a beautiful way of saying that they’re recasting their religion and forging their own interpretation, one that feels much more pure and spiritual than one that focuses on the very concrete, cosmetic Christianity we see gumming up the pews these days. I’ll definitely have to come back to these albums after I get around to reading the original ~ Good Book ~
So, how are we feeling about this album? I really like the juxtaposition of Greco-Roman mythology and Christian lore. I know I personally have a lot of beef with the believers, and I think that’s a shame, because like Siddhartha, The Bhagavad Gita, and a lot of good scientific literature, there’s a lot we can all learn from their work, and I’m a little annoyed that my past experience with people beating me over the head with it has turned me off reading the damned thing for so long.
So I give the album my first 10/10, because I can appreciate a couple of well-read people making good music and creating some art. Admittedly, it takes a lot for me to listen to anything falling even close to the brand of Christian rock, and this band got me there, so kudos to them. Anyway, I hope you liked the review, feel free to check out our other eight reviews on the site, and we’ll see you again next time!
Hey, you. Yeah, reader guy, or gal, or whatsit, or whoseit.
Let’s have a talk. Grab a seat; get comfortable; make yourself a cup of tea if you’d like. It’s been a long review, I know. Your eyes are tired, you probably wanna rest. Please, just stay up a little longer with me; what’s it gonna hurt?
A lot of readers munch on yummy content like what I’ve got splattered all up and over these pages and I know they don’t really expect a lot in return, but hey, here I am, and I wanna know: how you doing? I wanna know: where do you read these things? Maybe on your phone while you’re on the bus or in the metro? Why are you even reading this smut, anyways, huh?
I know reviews aren’t supposed to have emot—er, seasons, but episode ten of AF’s reviews is just around the corner and it feels kind of like we’re reaching the end of Season One of AF Reviews. I think that’s pretty cool… I mean, we’ve got a good thing going on, right? I write these reviews; you read them; what else really is there to it? Look at what we’ve accomplished too: we’ve got a voice now, a sort of style; it’s like, now you open these babies up, and you kind of know what to expect.
I guess what I’m trying to get around to asking is: what do you, the people, want to see reviewed next? I’ve got a lot of ideas for this milestone: a look at selected pieces of Vonnegut’s work, a review of the animated series Gravity Falls, maybe even a look back at my experiences with Francegiving… What do you want to see? Where should we steer this ship? Because I’m telling you, with the shadow of our tenth review looming before us, I’ll point the bow in whatever direction you want. We’ll take this boat right into the eye of the storm if that’s what’ll get your goose got; I’ll get as nitty and gritty as your grimy hearts desire. We’ll get weird. We’ll get real weird.
Leave your suggestions in the comments. À toute.
Composed by Wild Child, reviewed by me.
Bonjour y’all, and welcome to another cerebrally titillating review brought to you from the somnolent Saintes, a town perpetually blanketed in clouds and cool breezes. Today we’ll actually be doing a double-feature, reviewing two works related, not only in genre, but in geographical origin as well. Join me as we travel to the Lone-star State, where everything is folksier, and, (surprise, surprise!) more ~ introspective. ~
Also, today the American Fables’ team of one is breaking from their haphazard reviewing methodology in favor of reviewing something that’s actually ~ relevant. ~ Some of you might be asking yourselves, could this represent a turning of the page in the history of American Fables’ Reviews? Could this be the start of AF’s rise to reputability as a general reviews kingpin? That, faithful readers (all, what? one or two of you?), is up to you to decide.
So, without further ado, if everyone would take this opportunity to put their listening ears on and get ready for AF’s review of Wild Child’s latest release, Expectations.
It’s pretty good, definitely better than that moment you realized love at first sight only maybe exists, and if it does, it’s is a lot more like winning the lottery than waiting for that special someone to just come knockin’ on your door. And I don’t just mean that it’s, like, holographic Charizard rare, but also that putting all your eggs in the ~ Love at First Sight ~ basket will probably lead to a kind of emotional destitution that’s akin to the cycle of debt many compulsive gamblers face. It’s pretty much the difference between finding a career you enjoy and working hard at it, saving up and building a life you’re proud of versus buying lotto tickets and trying to cash in on your innate ~ specialness. ~
Anyway, it’s also worse than Tyrell’s Veggie Crisps. I opened up a family sized bag the other day on my way back from the grocery store and the next thing I remember is waking up on the couch, groceries lying on the floor, drenched in sweat and one hand still in the empty bag. What I’m saying is, maybe it’s a OK if everything’s not as good as Tyrell’s Veggie Crisps.
Let’s take it from the beginning.
Did you enjoy the small child voice from “Crazy Bird”? Well, have yourself another heaping serving of baby voice in “Alex,” the opening track that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Though the rhythm is more upbeat to an extent that I wouldn’t describe “Alex” as melancholy, the lyrics become maudlin enough that at times I felt like, “Okay, Alex, I know you’re upset about the relationship, but, come on, you’re kind of being a…. Jerry.”
Slipping and sliding on down the list, “Back and Forth” hands us a couple who’s distorted the notion of love and relationships to the point that it’s more apt to describe what they’ve got going on as a sort of spiteful game, a metaphor that returns in “Expectations.” Throughout the whole album, there’s this recurring warning in the lyrics, advertising the perils of holding on too tightly to a ~ Sinking Ship. ~
Tired of reading this balderdash? Need to rest your tired, pink word-sponge? I had myself a little search on the ol’ Youtube and found one music video that they’ve already released for their title track. Check it out here. You can listen to the band playing in a dusty old room while Wilson lights candles then casually dips out to explore the joint.
Hold up, let’s see what we’re actually looking at here… Wilson wanders off from her band in some kind of… lightly haunted mansion? Sorry, I’m watching it now and I’ve only gotten about halfway through. Wilson’s upstairs; Beggins is holding down the fort downstairs with the band, probably wondering where their lead singer got off to. Should they keep playing? She’ll probably be back, right? Oh, wait, there she is. She’s been there the whole time I guess, I don’t know, I guess the daylight part is happening at a different time from the night time… I mean, it sounds obvious when I type it out, but it just wasn’t registering with me that these juxtaposed cuts were going on at different times. Ok, I’m at the climax now, and things are really starting to happen. So, is she like a witch? Is someone demolishing the house? Some sort of I, Robot, Will Smith still trapped in the ol’ mansion kind of deal? Looks like things settle on down after she finishes singing the line, “you can’t possibly give what I want from you.”
Looking at the lyrics now, really puttin’ on my reading glasses and wiggling my nose up and down the screen. I don’t see anything about ghosts, but I do see two ideas emerging from the page like phantoms of a sort. Looks like we’ve got ourselves a Class B12 relationship hazard: unrealistic expectations paired with a sense of ownership over your partner. You know, now that I’ve put on my critical analysis overalls and really waded around in these lyrics a bit with my music boots, I’m seeing how the band could’ve equated the idea of perfection that we project onto our partner with ghosts. I mean, when someone dies, it can be super hard to cope. You want something so bad that doesn’t exist, that can’t exist, that you start to project these expectations onto inanimate objects, onto happenings that aren’t supernatural in the slightest. But, you know what? I could be ~ wrong ~ and I encourage everyone to leave your own interpretations in the comments.
Also, there’s a live duet of “The One” on Youtube (here), where Wilson goes full Margot Robbie on a mountain top. One thought I can’t shake, though, is where’d she get the water from? Are they in a camping site? Is there a house nearby? Did they bring the water up in jugs from down mountain?
I really like “The One;” it’s sort of reminiscent of the break in “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, that part where the Ebert and Castrinos recollect that fateful fall that got them ~ falling ~ in love. I mean, the message in these two songs is completely different, but something about the boy-girl dynamic and conversational form gets me thinkin’.
You know what this video reminds me of? There’s a scene from the movie Victoria & Abdul, where Queen Victoria goes on a “picnic” in Scotland, having her servants carry two or maybe even more tables, plus chairs, along for this lunch in the Scottish Highlands that lasts all of thirty minutes before the rain forces them back down the hill again. I bet Wilson had her servants haul that goofy ass bathtub up the mountain, shot the music video, then hopped back in the Jeep like it was the Mystery Van and said toodles, something to the tune of, “Right, so I’ll see all you tub people down at the bottom?”
Just realized Wilson’s wearing a little kerchief in the tub. This little bit of L’Art pour l’art has got me thinking about Réné Magritte, not because he was a proponent of aestheticism (Was he? I don’t know.), but because of La Trahison des images (The pipe one. It’s the painting of the pipe.); a reminder that this is art and not real life, you’re not watching Kelsey Wilson taking a bath on the mountainside, you’re watching a performance, a video of Kelsey Wilson who is in a bathtub, but who is not bathing. Basically, this is a representation of the thing, not the thing, and that’s maybe what Wilson and Beggins wanted to communicate in this video. This song, “The One,” is not the relationship itself, they are not the ones in the relationship, and there was a relationship, maybe even still is, but it’s not exactly this thing that we’re singing about.
I swear, Beggins reminds me of someone… Somebody in the comments for “Crazy Bird” said he looks like Edgar Allen Poe, but I think he might be more Sam Brown from WKUK than Poe. Actually… I don’t know that that’s it either. Is it Jack White? Meg White? It’s the eyes and nose, but only when you see his profile. Haunting.
What did we even talk about this review? I’m pretty sure we totally neglected “Sinking Ships,” arguably the most popular track on the whole album.
Still, before I sign off and assign this work of art a somewhat arbitrary number of frozen water droplets, I want to talk about the last track on the album, my favorite track, “Goodbye Goodnight.” The coup de foudre struck when that chorus first came in and swelled, filling my ears like the rising tide making a run on the coast. But then, after the tide scurried back, I took a look at the tide pool verses, and I have to say, there’re some interesting critters floating around this song.
In the first few verses, we tie this album together, rounding out that allusion to childhood made in “Alex,” sustained through the entire album, and then we’ll plunged once more into the utter tragedy that is ~ the r e a l world. ~ And then that chorus, “don’t want to say goodbye, I’ll say goodnight,” it’s got me saying * this *
So, how are these cookies going to crumble? Are there any songs on Expectations that could compete with past hits like “Crazy Bird,” “Living Tree,” or “Pillow Talk”? I don’t think so, but as a whole, the album functions really well, existing as more than the sum of its parts. There’s enough recurring themes, solid flow, and general groove to keep this sinking ship afloat I’d say; I give Expectations seven snowflakes overall.
Stay tuned for review number two, coming at you in 3… 2… whenever you click on the link…
Sésame Butter, Demi-Complète, puréed by La Vie Claire; reviewed by me.
Bonjour y’all, and welcome to another riveting review brought to you from Saintes, France. Today we’ll be tucking in to the world of gastronomy and French cuisine with a sinfully unsweet jar of La Vie Claire’s Purée de sésame demi-complète.
In a world where the white, middle-class man can live at large without fear of major, non-fiscal consequences for his actions, comes one big jar of repercussion.
It’s the original “slap-on-the-wrist” for your tongue;
it’s a Trojan horse filled with awful;
it’s La Vie Claire’s sesame butter, and it’s come to sucker punch you in your mouth.
Let’s really get into it, though. First off, I gotta say, it’s pretty bad. Eating this is definitely better than eating bark, but only because you don’t have to chew it first. That said, eating this butter is probably worse than taking a bath in it: it tastes like something that would be way better to rub on your skin, like soap or a good aftershave.
I originally bought this after deciding to go vegan and having no idea what to eat. I was lost, confused, and I didn’t know where to go or what to do… I’d traveled too far down the millennial rabbit hole without a lantern. I needed a light, a guide, and then there it was, in the back of the organic food co-op–my Virgil. Little did I know, Dante’s three part voyage to a more eco-friendly Paradise wasn’t all Musky space cars and community gardens, but it also involved the occasional unsuspecting bite of liquid mediocrity.
I do wonder, though, what did they actually have in mind for this product when they made it? Maybe it wasn’t made to be eaten, and this has all been one big misunderstanding. It’s all too possible that somebody simply moved this purée from the Health & Beauty section and misplaced it in the comestible section. Hmm, if we just have ourselves a look on the back of the jar… “Cette purée est préparée à partir de graines de sésame complet…” blah, blah, blah here’s a summary:
This is a purée composed of shelled and… well, I’d say de-shelled, but that’s not a word. The thing is, there’s already a word for de-shelled: it’s shelled. If you shell something, it no longer has a shell. Which means it’s shelled. But if something has a shell on it, then you can also call it shelled. I… I don’t know what to say anymore. The only word I want to use is shelled, a word now devoid of meaning, torn apart by the duality of its definition.
Anyway, it’s a purée made of half no shells and half shelly sesame seeds, mashed to bits, and thrown in a jar. Apparently, it’s the shelly seeds that give it its ~ strong ~ flavor, and I guess that means they really did intend for us to smear this in our mouth holes. Huh.
It’s not all bad news, though! If you swallow, or just hold it in your mouth for a long time, you’ll absorb a wide range of nutrients such as fiber, magnesium, and phosphorus (which I didn’t know I needed, but if it lights a match, I want it in my body!). Speaking of fire, this mash has never even heard of it: the only thing this purée has been subjected to is ritualistic grinding on the ol’ millstone. No heat, no pasteurization, no preservatives, no sterilization… I presume none of these precautions were taken because even fungi were like, “Oh, better not. I’ll stick with your unsealed bread loaves and warm milk.”
You know, it’s also possible this is all about food combinations or whatever. According to the back of the jar, you can use it in your vegetable pâtés or you can dilute it in water and… add it to your drinks? Seems a little out of left field, but alright, you can add it to your drinks. Actually, I’ve got some oat milk in the fridge—maybe their equal wave functions of awfulness will cancel out and I’ll be left with just, like, normal milk. One final suggestion is to simply spread it on toast, which is, in fact, the first thing I ever tried to do with it. What this does is effectively slow the chewing and consumption process down to increase time spent on your tongue, prolonging the contact between your wriggly taste worm and this wood paste. I would just not.
All in all, I give it nine snowflakes, because eating this product was a genuinely new and invigorating experience for me. Like being pinched in a dream or dunked with water mid-slumber, my eyes have been opened! For too long I’d lived coddled under the flanneled wing of Trader Joe and Whole Foods. Then, La Vie Claire came in to my life like a leather-clad Dom or The Contortionist and showed me what it truly meant to be metal.
I’m not saying this stuff is good; it isn’t. It’s definitely one of the worst things I’ve ever tasted and that’s including many inedible things I accidentally (or purposefully) put in my mouth as a kid. But I’m giving it nine snowflakes because it’s a new perspective for me and it’s just, I don’t know, authentic. It’s genuine—it’s got nothing but the raw ingredients. We, the consumer, asked for food that was untampered with, with no added sugars, no preservatives, no nothing, and only one champion of truth stepped out from the shadows and dared give us what we asked for. La Vie Claire was the only one who was able to not only call us out on our bullshit, but serve it right back to us with a giant ORGANIC sticker on it.
So, there you have it. Hope you enjoyed the review; feel free to drop a Comment, slap on a Like, or maybe even spread it around with a Share. Whatever’s in your practice today. Until next time, keep it viscous, y’all.
Alright, we’re back after the holidays and an extended vacation from reviewing. It seems that the Sun has also been on holiday seeing as we haven’t seen daylight in Saintes since before the New Year… on the bright side, this weather’s been great if your New Year’s resolutions were to, say, avoid melanoma or perhaps be more generally wet. This year is shaping up to be a good one for all the French vampires and pretty trash for everyone else.
Moving on. All this ~ not-being-outside~ has given me some time to catch up on my Netflix queue, and after pounding back episode after episode in rapid succession, I’m ready to review season one of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, created by Max Landis. This series is an adaption of Douglas Adams’ (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) novel by the same name, and has been described by one French critic as a “Dadaist nightmare,” so get yourself in the mood for a post-WWII quest for meaning in a meaningless world type-thing.
It’s a pretty good watch, though, definitely better than being turned into a dog by a gaggle of counter culture cultists looking to blackmail your… spoilers. I guess that’s getting into the realm of spoilers. That said, it’s definitely worse than actually being involved in the Universe’s plan to fix itself. That’s, like, an instant solution to existential dread—step aside, Sartre & Kierkegaard! I’m on a mission from the Universe and everything is connected and there is such a thing as Fate and Destiny, but they’re not mutually exclusive and they only kind of interfere with my free will to an unspecified, definitely non-paradoxical degree. You know how much time that would save me? I’d never worry again about the infinite number of ever multiplying, constantly diverging paths that lead out in all directions, the many headed hydra of possibilities that creeps closer, grows larger with every decision you make. It wouldn’t matter! I’d just be on one big ol’ universal superhighway with no exits, riding it until I eventually fall asleep at the wheel and crash the car.
What a dream that would be.
So, let’s talk about the characters and plot real quick. We’ve got ourselves a sort of Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes-esque character named Dirk Gently. He’s got the superhuman ability to be exactly where he’s supposed to be in the Universe at any given time, and if you’re thinking, “Well, Zack, that’s not a superpower,” isn’t it though? Isn’t it? You can keep your invisibility and flight, because I know, at the end of the day, I’ll have either been hit by a car or shot down by an anti-aircraft gun. At least with Dirk’s superpower, I’ll die knowing that’s exactly how I was supposed to die.
Dirk is accompanied by Todd Brotzman, played Elijah Wood, who will reprise his role from Over the Garden Wall as extremely reluctant protagonist. Watch Todd’s transformation from begrudging sidekick to holistic parrot as he spends the latter half of the season regurgitating the same silly bullshit Dirk shoved down his throat in the exposition. They’ll also be joined by Todd’s sister, Amanda (played by Hannah Marks), and her struggle against a debilitating case of Pararibulitis, a made-up disease that seems like a cross between epilepsy and schizophrenia. The whole thing with Pararibulitis becomes a little problematic by the end of the season though, but since another, more qualified blogger has already written about it (plus there are a few spoilers), I’ll pass you on over to them. (Click here)
The show’s main villain, played by Aaron Douglas, is fairly compelling and reminiscent of John Goodman’s performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane, just a lot less sinister. He definitely had a good creepy streak going for him in the beginning, but the more you learn about his character’s origin and motives, the more goofy and, at times, pathetic he seems, so by the end of the season, you don’t feel particularly threatened by him and his goons.
So where do we stand on this season? It’s definitely a good time all the way through, but I don’t know that you actually gain anything from watching it. What separates Dirk Gently from other characters in his archetype is that Dirk more often than not has no control over the situation and often becomes very overwhelmed by the absurdity he surrounds himself with. A good example of this is when Todd and Dirk infiltrate the home of Gordon Rimmer (the main antagonist), and Dirk very quickly finds himself well out of his depth. He becomes immediately paralyzed and useless by fear, which seems all the more peculiar as the show progresses and you learn the genesis of what seemed like Dirk’s precognitive and perceptive abilities. I think this makes him seem more relatable, and definitely sets him apart in the genre, but I don’t know that his character is wholly consistent.
Also, this show certainly has its share of gratuitous violence, which to be honest, I didn’t notice until a few episodes in (somewhere around the time the “holistic” assassin enters the fray). I’m not sure if this is more of a commentary on the series or my own viewing habits… or maybe society? Still, something to consider before watching.
All in all, I give this season six snowflakes. I wouldn’t say that it’s a must-see, but if you wanna get into that headspace where you’re mulling over the underlying interconnectedness of the world, this is definitely a good way to do it. Plus, it’s easier to come by than DMT and less of a commitment than LSD, though still not as potent.
I’m gonna go ahead and wrap this review up for now, and hopefully I’ll see y’all next week.