Like lemmings lined up to jump off a cliff, the chain of crabs coming towards Seamort’s insatiable appetite extended far back in a straight line across the ocean, so to get to the beach and find these hairless monkeys from which the crabs were fleeing, all Slub Glub and Willowmina had to do was follow the trail of crustaceans across the water. Willowmina floated alongside the line of crabs, while Slub Glub walked on top of them, hopping from one exoskeleton to the next.
Along the way they passed the ruins of ancient civilizations, which had sunk into the endless green depths eons ago. The curious spires of their long-lost houses of worship jutted out at crooked angles from below the sea’s slimy surface; evidence of weird religions whose beliefs died with the flooding of their societies. Idols of forgotten gods lay rotting on the bed of the ocean below, fish and lichen swarming among them. Peering down, Slub Glub thought he saw a statue of a creature that looked very much like him, once the lord over an extinct race and now an edifice eroding underwater, drowned with the citizens that once paid it tribute.
Eventually a shore emerged over the horizon, and Willowmina and Slub Glub saw their first glimpse of the human beings of which the crabs and Seamort had spoken.
Swollen pale creatures with mirrors over their eyes, these mammals rolled about in the dirt and set fire to meat. Some of them dodged jellyfish in waves, and others were buried up to their necks in sand. Slub Glub and Willowmina were filled with confusion and dread at the sight of them.
As they reached the sandy embankment, Slub Glub stepped off of the final crab in the chain of vacating crustaceans, and saw the reason for their massive pink exodus. The beach was fraught with danger. Human beings in garish-colored swim trunks were riding surfboards that collided with the ocean, each other, and all manner of sea creature. On the sandy beach there was a constant hubbub of people as they played strange games with nets and balls and engaged in oblique mating rituals involving strange lotions and awkward squawking. Children were re-shaping the surface of the dunes with sharp pails, further disrupting the peace and sending the small pink crabs scuttling for the deep water and their eventual squid-ish demise.
Slub Glub noticed a sedentary female of the species, seemingly comatose on a horizontal chair, smeared with glistening ointment. Slub Glub thought she might be someone’s meal, as the always-angry sun was turning her a golden brown, and the oils smeared across her seemed to hasten the process. Seeing a faint resemblance between this creature and himself, Slub Glub ventured forth to inquire what had brought everyone to this un-hospitable spot and to engage in such disruptive behavior.
“Excuse me,” Slub Glub said tentatively. The creature’s eyes were closed and it was making a fierce, rumbling, repetitive exhalation, which sounded like chainsaws. Slub Glub touched the thing’s shoulder gently, then jumped back as it rumbled to life with a snort. The human squinted at Slub Glub.
“Be a dear and rub some more lotion on my back, will you?” it muttered, holding a bottle of ointment towards Slub Glub, whom it had mistaken for one of its children. Slub Glub peered into the bottle of lotion and was about to take a sip when Willowmina appeared and knocked it out of his hand.
“Don’t drink that! We don’t know, it might make us like them,” she warned. “I hear the sound of a drum beating, let’s go see if it’s the Baron again.”
The mysterious beats were the product of a set of bongo drums being pounded on by a young man attired in a black turtleneck and a scruffy goatee. He was entranced in his playing, oblivious to the approach of a willow tree and a globby blue mutant. Willowmina scratched him with her branch.
“Oh, wow. A tree – far out. And you’re a freaky one, man,” he said, seeing Slub Glub.
“Um, we’re looking for answers,” Willowmina said to him.
“Aren’t we all, baby.” He pointed the tip of his beret. “But the question is, what’s the question?” He spoke in an odd syncopated lilt, thumping on his bongos with his palms as he prattled. Slub Glub and Willowmina looked at each other, befuddled. Beneath his dark glasses,
the young man stared into space.
“Are you a warlock?” Slub Glub asked him.
“Naw, man, I just come out here to dig those crazy waves and gaze at all the chicks. So what’s your scene, hepcats? Lay it on me.”
“We’re trying to find out what all these human beings are doing here on this beach,” Slub Glub explained.
“Oh, I hear ya, brother. These squares and their suburban hassles are the pits. It’s gettin’ so there ain’t nowhere to crash without getting busted by the pigs.”
Slub Glub looked around to see where these pigs were. Willowmina, frustrated by the young man’s incomprehensible language, said, “We just need to keep them from crowding out the crabs.”
“I know it, leafy. The Man is messing with the natural order of things. The whole cycle is out of whack. Mother Nature is getting angry.”
“Yes! Exactly!” Willowmina exclaimed, excited that this weirdo human seemed to understand the dilemma. “But why? Why is all this happening?”
The beach-nik stopped playing his bongos, and pointing his finger into the air, said somberly, “You’ll have to ask Him.”
“Ain’t that the truth, kittens. God is dead.”
“God?” Willowmina inquired, unfamiliar with the concept.
“The Powers That Be. The Man Upstairs.”
“He’s dead?” Willowmina asked, crestfallen that they might have finally come close to the source of their problems, only to find the perpetrator deceased.
“Well, that’s what the newspapers say.”
“And this is all his doing?”
The beach-nik twirled his fingers mysteriously. “Ha. Deep, baby. You’re spiritual. I can dig it.”
“Um, how can we talk to this god?” Willowmina asked.
Right then a man and a woman emerged from a nearby sand dune and rushed to Willowmina’s side, pushing the young man in the turtleneck sweater out of the way. Evidently they had been lurking surreptitiously, waiting for just such an opportunity. “We can help you, my child,” the man said. He wore a tie and a button down shirt with slacks, somewhat overdressed for a day at the beach. His companion was a matronly lady in a yellow frock and caked layers of makeup. She put her arm around Slub Glub.
“Have you heard The Word, my son, about the Mystical Potentate of Time and Space?” she said to him.
“Would he be the one that brought these people to the beach, driving the crabs into the water, and so on and so on?” Willowmina interjected.
“Of course,” the man said paternally to her. “He’s responsible for all things.”
“Then we’ve got to talk to him!” Willowmina said, and without a word the man and woman dragged her and Slub Glub away from the beach, and into the dark city streets.
The sight of a mobile willow tree and a misshapen mutant did not register much reaction on any of the human beings in the city, as most were looking down at the crusty sidewalks upon which they hurriedly walked.
The man in the tie and the made-up woman brought Slub Glub and Willowmina to a bleak, black building with strange curves, like the shell of a clam turned inside out. Tall men with concave bellies, draped in elaborate robes, were carved in stone around the sides.
The windows displayed images of giant snakes curled around withering trees with skull-shaped fruit drooping from the boughs.
The man and woman pushed Slub Glub and Willowmina through a heavy wooden door and then stood behind them with arms folded. Inside, the building was somehow twice as large as it was outside, with a ceiling that rose up twelve stories into a sharp point, from which hung a massive idol of a headless man, devoid of clothing. Red liquid poured out of multiple holes in the figure’s body, gushing downward in a steady stream and into a set of silver goblets that were placed beneath this macabre fountain.
The only light was from flickering candles placed in alcoves that rimmed the perimeter of the halls, which was devoid of furniture except for 31 large metal spikes that sprouted from the stone floor. On each of these spikes, a figure in a purple robe was leaning, the sharp point of each giant nail poking a hole through the fabric of their garment in a mild impalement. Their bodies were covered so thoroughly by the ritual cloths that it was hard to tell if they were men or women.
“I think these folks are cannibals,” Slub Glub whispered to Willowmina, who shuddered.
“Arzoth Fu Ma’alock,” the bent, hooded figures chanted back in unison, then rose up and stood in rows, all of them staring towards the weird old lady.
“Garuth Et Nyl’yark,” she shouted, and again the assembled congregation (and Slub Glub as well, carried along by the heat of the moment) repeated the incantation. The worshippers then bent back onto their metal spikes, and the white lady pulled back the hood of her robe, revealing a large bronze medallion dangling over her forehead. She touched it with her claw-like fingers, and began to babble.
“Oh great fiery wheel, we pledge our personage to your effluvient largesse. What hideous finger looms beneath the surface of our daily crust, and what deliverance of truth and velveteen can absolve our frail frolics, if not a mighty cannon from your eternal eye?”
She then took her place behind a pulpit that was located beneath a large mural of a three-headed cow being ridden by a purple man with great gobs of cottony hair. The priestess took a large book into her hands, and opened the musty tome to read. “In the year 4243, the first cleavage of the ground was visited untoward the peoples verily…”
Willowmina had sensed immediately that this was no place to be. Unfortunately, the white-shirted man and yellow-dressed woman who had brought them there were guarding the door to block their exit. However, Willowmina had been slowly growing her dangling vines around their feet during the ceremony, and when the leader of the cult produced a large gong and struck it with a bone, producing a mind-numbing ring, Willowmina seized the opportunity to contract her vines gently, sliding the guards, who were hypnotized by the words of the priestess, away from the door. She quickly scurried out the door, but had to return to fetch Slub Glub, who now wanted to join the order permanently. After she shook him upside down he thought better of it, they made a hasty exit down the steps of the cathedral and ran across the street.
In a similar state, but smellier, was a man with knotted hair and dressed in a garbage bag. He wheeled his shopping cart up alongside them. The cart was filled with an untidy collection of lampshades and Chinese newspapers, and strapped together with duct tape. The occasional broom handles stuck out of this mound of refuse, and a number of doll heads were affixed to the ends of the broomsticks.
He took two ratty lampshades out of his collection and sat down on a bench next to Slub Glub and Willowmina. Placing one over each hand, he waved his arms and conducted a conversation between the two light coverings.
“It’s autumn and the piano music has stopped playing,” he mumbled out of the side of his mouth as he shook the pink and orange lampshade that was on his right hand. “When a letter arrives from acquaintances upstate, an ill wind will blow down shortly after,” he drooled out of the other side of his mouth, gesturing with a shredded wicker shade on his left appendage.
The man was silent for a moment, than suddenly exclaimed, “Will you two shut up!” and he threw the two lampshades off his hands and into the street. He then turned to Slub Glub and Willowmina and asked, “Do you believe them?”
“Not particularly,” Willowmina responded, not being familiar enough with humanity to judge whether the man’s behavior was odd; based on recent experiences at the beach and in the temple, this was par for the course.
“That’s what I thought,” he said, tugging on a lock of his hair that dangled over his nose and was tied in a greasy knot with a small green ribbon. “So what brings you two to this desolate stretch of the city?” he asked.
“Well…” Willowmina took a deep breath. Slub Glub then put his tentacle out to stop her, saying, “I’ll do it this time.”
“I was being bitten by sharks which had swum inland when Willowmina and her family had been crying so much that their tears made a puddle that stretched to the ocean, but they were only crying because raccoons were nibbling on their leaves at night and making them bald in patches, but it turns out that they were only doing that because they were hiding from the hyenas and got hungry. The hyenas were scaring the raccoons because the witches had hypnotized the hyenas to go around cackling at people. The witches’ intent had nothing to do with raccoons, though, they were just hoping to keep the ghosts at bay; ghosts that they thought they’d accidentally brought back from the dead with their spells. In fact, the ghosts were just passing through on their way to the next life, as they had been drowned by the tentacles of a giant squid as it feasted on crabs. These crabs were only coming near the giant squid to escape the crazy human beings on the beach. But as for why the crazy human beings are on the beach, and therefore making everything else happen as it does, apparently that’s a question that only The Man Upstairs can answer, according to the fellow with a drum we met at the beach, which is why we went to that building across the street but the Upstairs Man was missing his head and wasn’t talking.”
“I see,” the vagrant replied, pondering Slub Glub’s lengthy explanation, which had been delivered hurriedly in a single breath. “No, he wouldn’t be found across the street,” the man with the lampshades said. He stared into space for a while, and then brightened as he realized the solution. “I know, you can call him on the telephone!”
“What’s that?” Willowmina asked. Slub Glub had walked over to the lampshades that the man had thrown, and had put them on his tentacles, but couldn’t get them to talk. The derelict walked over to his shopping cart and rummaged around, eventually pulling out two coffee cans with a string attached. He took one can and placed it in a pile of dirt over to their left, and gave the other can to Willowmina. “Go ahead,” he said.
Willowmina took it in her branch. “How do I use it?” she asked.
“Just talk into it, and ask for the Omnipotent Master of All Reality.”
Although technically neither of them had ears, Slub Glub crept up next to Willowmina and put his head against the coffee can as well. “Hello?” Willowmina asked tentatively into the tin, where remains of coffee grounds still resided.
To their surprise, the can in the dirt at the other end of the string rang with an electronic bell-like sound. The vagrant picked up the other end, brushed his tangled hair back, and then spoke into the receiver. “Hello,” he said. His voice was now completely different; it was strong and authoritative, without a trace of the drool-ish muttering he’d exhibited earlier. Also, there was a resounding echo to the sound of it, as if he was speaking from atop a mountain. “What can I do for you?”
“Is this the Omnipotent Master of All Reality?” Willowmina asked.
“People call me by many names. You,” he said with emphasis, “can call me Lump-Lump.” Neither Slub Glub nor Willowmina were looking at the man as he spoke into the other end, but if they had they would have seen that his face had transformed – whereas previously he had been squinty and riddled with tics, his eyes were now wide-open and shined with a strange glow, and his jaw had straightened.
Slub Glub wiggled his mouth towards the opening of the can, which was difficult, since his nose was warty and dangling. “Mr. Lump-Lump, my name is Slub Glub, and we were hoping to receive from you an explanation for a series of circumstances that we’ve recently experienced, and perhaps a method that we could employ to avoid this chain of events in the future, so that we might be free from certain inconveniences we’re now experiencing.” Willowmina shook a little in her branches, surprised by Slub Glub’s sophisticated speech. Apparently talking to God was improving his diction.
“Go on,” the man said.
“Well, you see, I was being bitten by sharks which had swum inland when Willowmina and her family had been crying so much that their tears…”
“Stop,” Lump-Lump said through the can. “I understand your problem.”
“But I haven’t finished…” Slub Glub started to say.
“I am the Omnipotent Master of All Reality and I know all things,” he said, sounding matter-of-fact rather than boastful. “Tell me, what planet is this that you’re calling from.”
Slub Glub wasn’t too sure, but Willowmina leaned forward. “Earth,” she said.
“Ah, there’s the problem,” said Lump-Lump.
Slub Glub and Willowmina looked quizzically into the tin cup telephone and breathed in a faint aroma of instant coffee. At the other end of the connecting string, the man with the knotty hair was standing very straight, his newly- excellent posture straining the confines of the garbage bag he was wearing. In his resonant voice, he spoke at length:
“Yes, Earth, that is a problem.
“Earth, I’m afraid, does not work exactly as planned. And the reason for that is simple. I was not its creator. But I was its planner.
“It was a long, long, long, long time ago. The heavens were in place, the cosmos was unfurling, and it was time to give life to a planet. I had created worlds before, but they were only simple spheres of rock and mist and the occasional fungus; nothing that I was terribly proud of. I envisioned something much grander, a shining jewel in space, which would be home to countless creeping things. There would be species of all stripes, carefully engineered to fit together in perfect harmony, working in unison like maggots upon a corpse.
“After much laborious meditation, elaborate blueprints were drafted, in my own pen from a well of eternal ink, and drawn onto umpteen scrolls of the finest firmament. Once finished, having inscribed nearly every detail, I took a well-deserved repose. When I awoke, to my shock, I found that the scrolls were gone.”
“The culprits were some of my own angels, who had come across the blueprints while I was asleep and thought that these were instructions for them to follow. They meant well, but creating worlds is not for the novice, and as detailed as my plans were, there was no way that that they could understand how to properly assemble such a complicated construction. This was compounded by the fact that in a misguided attempt to please me, they worked in a hurry, hoping to have the Earth finished and ready by the time I awoke, as a surprise.
“Well, I was surprised all right, but not pleased. As you might imagine, I was unhappy about their having jumped the gun and built something that only I knew how to do properly. But what was done was done, and as the Earth was now in existence and contained life, there was no going back. The angels had gotten it partly right; the world they made certainly contained a spark of my divine intent, which is only natural, as it was my plans that they were following, but as the angels are not Omnipotent Masters of All Reality, they of course got quite a bit wrong. As time progressed, these design flaws in the planet and its inhabitants only became more obvious. I checked in frequently to see how things were coming along on your world, and I even made a few attempts to fix things, but whenever I did it seemed to cause more harm than good. So I just let it be, and it turned out that the Earth had been created in a close enough fashion to my original plans that it pretty much works. At the least, if follows its own internal logic… But in short, your Earth was a mistake.”
This seemed to conclude the stranger’s story, and Willowmina asked, “What parts of the Earth don’t work the way you meant them too?”
“Well, just about everything is slightly off,” Lump-Lump answered through the homeless man with the coffee can next to his mouth. “For example, the raccoons weren’t supposed to nibble on any branches, even if they were scared by hyenas. In my original plans, no living thing ingested another living thing. The fact that they do so on your world is just a by-product of my angels having put the cycle of life in the wrong-sized circle.”
“Oh, it was, but eventually I went ahead and created my world as I had intended it, and it worked out just as planned. The angels were quite embarrassed when they saw the difference between the two planets.”
There were a few minutes of silence, and then Lump-Lump asked, “Does that answer your question?”
Willowmina sat and rustled her branches a little bit, thinking this all over. On one hand it was nice to have an explanation for all the misfortune they’d encountered, even if the explanation was only that everything on Earth is a mistake. On the other hand, that didn’t provide much of a solution to the problem of the raccoons and everything else. “So,” she said, “Just to clarify, on this other world you’ve made, the correct one, no raccoons would ever nibble on my leaves?”
“None of the problems of Earth are present in the world that I created as intended.”
“Could we live there instead of on Earth?”
“Yes, all things are possible,” Lump-Lump answered. “However, I must warn you, it is very different from the planet that you know.”
Willowmina and Slub Glub looked at each other. Willowmina shook her head full of leaves back and forth and put her branch on Slub Glub’s tentacle. “I’m not going to go. I’ll stay here, for better or worse. It’s our world, even if it’s not quite right.”
Slub Glub thought for a moment, then put his mouth into the coffee can. “Oh mighty Lump-Lump, tell me, in this other world, would sharks still be biting on my bottom, and would the sun with its thousand angry arms roust me from my slumber too early in the morning?”
“None of the problems of Earth are present in the world that I created as intended,” the deep voice repeated matter-of-factly.
“Then I want to live there!” Slub Glub exclaimed.
The derelict man put down his coffee can, and walked over to Slub Glub. He remained physically transformed from the stooped and babbling bum he had been; he walked with a straight back and continued speaking in the deep echoing voice of Lord Lump-Lump as he bent towards Slub Glub and said, “Prepare thyself, and I will send you there forthwith.”
Slub Glub turned to Willowmina and hugged her drooping branches. “Goodbye, Willowmina, I must explore new horizons free of annoying mornings.”
“Good luck to you, little blue thing. I’ll be heading home now.” She shuffled off the park bench and headed back in the direction they’d come from, to the beach, the ocean, the babbling brook, and eventually back to the forest and her grove of trees.
“Are you ready?” the man with the shopping cart asked, his eyes glowing.
“Let’s go!” Slub Glub said, flailing his tentacles, as the sky suddenly went dark and the pavement around them melted into a cascade of melting colors, like paint going down a drain, or poop into a toilet. He had the sensation of falling, and this continued for quite a while, until Slub Glub grew bored and went to sleep.
What he saw was only more smooth, hard ground, extending in every direction for as far as his two yellow eyes could see. There was nothing but a great expanse of brown nothingness. Overhead, the sky was a pale blue, as the sun sat muffled behind a cloud, hanging in a state of twilight.
“Well, at least it’s peaceful here,” Slub Glub said to himself, and then went back to sleep.
A little while later, having awoken from his nap, he decided to go exploring in his new home. He started walking, and walked for quite a while. There was nothing here, however; just endless smooth ground beneath a cloudy sky. No sounds, and no life, so far as he could see. Slub Glub started to get tired, and sat down, talking to himself. “I wonder why there’s nothing around, except this very smooth ground?”
As if in answer to his question, some green figures appeared on the horizon, moving towards him rather quickly. As they got closer, Slub Glub could see that they were trees. In fact, they were willow trees. “Oh, maybe Willowmina decided to come here after all?” he wondered, but soon realized that these willow trees were much bigger than Willowmina or the other ones back on Earth; they had great drooping branches, full of green leaves, which draped across the ground, kicking up clouds of dust as they whisked forward.
There were three of these great towering willows, and they didn’t even notice Slub Glub as they skimmed past, and he had to jump to the side, or he would have been flattened by their branches as they scraped along the surface of the ground. He watched as they scurried off into the distance.
And that is when Slub Glub understood.
“Aha! The ground is smooth because these extra-long willow branches are sweeping it clean. And the reason the branches are so long and leafy is because no raccoons are nibbling on them, keeping them short. And therefore, nothing else is here but some fast-moving trees and some very smooth ground, as the willows are wiping the planet so clean that nothing else grows or lives.”
Satisfied at having figured this out, Slub Glub sat down and did nothing for a while. Every half hour or so he saw some of the giant willow trees whiz by again. Soon, he was as bored as he’d ever been. “This planet may be peaceful, but it sure is dull,” he thought. But he had an idea.
Slub Glub waited for the next willow to pass by, and when it did, he grabbed on to one of the branches as it passed and climbed upwards on the fast-moving tree. The willow was so large that it didn’t even notice that Slub Glub was climbing on it, until Slub Glub took a large bite from one of its leaves.
Then it stopped moving, and started crying.
“Ouch! Why did you do that?” the willow tree asked, now noticing that there was a strange, small blue creature perched in its foliage, nibbling at it.
“I’m sorry, but with no reason to weep, all you do is sweep,” Slub Glub said. “And there should be more to life than that.”
The willow tree, having never seen a blue mutant before, and never having cried before, had no response to this, and continued to blubber. As its tears fell, the ground softened beneath them. “Now watch what happens,” Slub Glub said, pointing to the ground below the willow’s roots, which was made muddy by the pool of tears.
Weeds were starting to grow in the mud; new life was coming into being. Slub Glub had disrupted the harmony of this planet and tilted its balance, and soon all would be right, or rather wrong, in the new world.
Illustration & text copyright (c) Andrew Goldfarb
About the Author: Andrew Goldfarb resides in San Francisco, where he draws the long-running underground comic strip “Ogner Stump’s One Thousand Sorrows,” which tells of the trials and tribulations of everyman Ogner Stump and his blue mutant sidekick Slub Glub. He also travels the country performing as a one-man-surrealistic-rock-and-roll-band under the name “The Slow Poisoner.” A patent medicine salesman, his Genuine Slow Poisoner Miracle Tonic is proven effective in the treatment of Elephantiasis, Cholera, Barnacles, Boils, The Fits, Excessive Abscesses, Necrosis, Lavender Fever, General Wasting, Consumption, Women’s Troubles, Gout, Neuralgia, Wandering Limbs, Stoutness, Onanism and Disinterested Bladder. This is his second prose book, following “The Ballad of a Slow Poisoner,” which was published by Eraserhead Press in 2007. He will plunge to his death over Niagara Falls in 2068.