(This story appears in Boneyard Babies, my collection of short fiction from Lazy Fascist Press. As with most of the stories in the collection, this one is a collaboration. Kevin Ward and I wrote it in the car while driving to New York in the late 1980s. We were on our way to meet with art directors while trying to get more work in the field of illustration. The story was assembles from bizarre sentence fragments we had written separately. In my next post, I’ll give a fuller explanation of this writing game I call Bonne-Grubber’s Gamble. Two artists writing a story—ha!)
On the fifth morning, Swiveltop Panicked. Before falling to sleep, he had forgotten to draw an arrow in the dirt to indicate the direction he was traveling. The tunnel into which he had been magically transported the day before stretched uninterrupted into the hazy distance in both directions. Even the woolly heath that grew on the walls showed no sign of his passage.
I have only the tail end of a coin’s chance. If I choose the wrong direction, I have come this far for naught and will cease to have ever existed.
Frustration caused his head to spin. And then, with arms flung out to the sides, Swiveltop’s torso began to spin while his feet and head remained stationary.
At one end of the tunnel lay his destination, Outhound. The other held only oblivion: the Will’ven’t Bin.
Grabbing an ear in each of his metallic hands, he gave his head a wanton spin—where it pointed when it stopped Swiveltop would go. It slowed and came to a stop facing the same direction as his feet. How convenient, he thought, beginning his silly water sprinkler-inspired gait. He quickly shifted into high gear and was making good time as he tried to put the fear of being lost out of his mind—he could not bare the thought that he might miss the gathering at Outhound, where dogs contained nothing.
Swiveltop had found himself in this lonely tunnel after insulting his clans proud snaggleman. The old goat had pronounced the sacred words improperly and Swiveltop had tried to straighten the soothsayer’s toothprayer. Now, he had been given a choice: carry the clan’s powerful Magic Marker to the gathering at Outhound, or seek oblivion.
He would know that he had chosen correctly when he saw one of the ancient signs that read, outhound traffic keep left, or Exit ramp does not stop.
Swiveltop leapt fences and stone walls, burrowed through ancient Indian mounds, bone chips and flint tools flying, until the tunnel was as wide as a small lamb’s glottis (a fact he quickly gleaned from his lazy susan/rotisserie ancestral memory).
He took heart as he didn’t seem to recognize any of this territory.
When he came to a long downhill run, Swiveltop stored his legs in their special hide-a-limb compartments, fell on his side and started rolling, his backpack flapping like a fabled retread as he picked up speed.
But then he came upon a rusted and broken ruin of a streetlamp—one that he was sure he had seen in the tarry, pipe-stem grottoes of the previous day. Swiveltop cursed himself and the powerful, pink Magic Marker in his backpack for not reminding him to mark his way before his Big Rotary Sleep. His thoughts spun as his head and body were prone to do.
Okay, if I’m going the wrong way, that doesn’t mean I have to go all the way to the Will’ven’t Bin. If I retrace myself a little to get my bearings, won’t that just make me seem more substantial?
As he stood wondering if indecisiveness were death, he heard a spattering sound ahead. Curiosity consumed him and, forgetting himself, he moved forward on his pontoon pile sea-legs through a lumpy, sweating dough pond. Peering to either side into the darkness, he moved slowly through the brown, toxic dough.
Rounding a corner, he found the source of the spattering—a long, thin horse-headed whistle with umbrella wings, stepladder legs, and jellyfish eyes. The being shut its wings, curbing the drops of pungent rain flowing from its underside. With a ring, it casually flicked a clinging glob of uncooked rye from one of its lower rungs. A deep note sounded and echoed throughout the chamber.
It then removed the mummified thumb of a primate from a chain around its thin, chromium neck and, with an exaggerated show of ceremony, pointed it in the direction Swiveltop was moving. Somehow managing to look expectant, it said, “Hoot!”
Something within Swiveltop told him that hoot was the sound made by an extinct animal reputed to be very wise. Naturally, he assumed that this was such a beast, that it might understand his problem and offer a solution. He stopped and allowed the whistle-being to climb aboard.
Its ladder-legs were poorly designed for climbing and the hooter used its mouth to get a better grip. Sharp, horsey canines cut into the backpack strap. Already frayed and unravelled from long, rough days of rolling, the pack fell carrying with it the precious Marker and sank slowly into the swiftly rising dough.
Before Swiveltop could bend and grab for it, a small herd of snowshoe-shod tripods, sporting TV antennae draped with tinsel and Christmas lights, stampeded by, trampling the dough and obscuring the depression made by the sinking backpack.
As he frantically swam through the now soupy dough searching the tunnel floor for the precious article, the hooter merely sat astride him whistling the theme of an old cowboy show that was just being received by fog-hoppers and leaf-ladders in the Lesser Megellanic Cloud.
Swivetop’s middle hand wrapped around an object in the dough and the hooter on his back said, “Hee!” He thought this to be some sort of signal and yanked the object out of the dough with a squish. With relief, he joyfully spun around and around, whipping the dough into a disgusting pinkish-brown gluten.
“Humph?” Swiveltop said when he had slowed down enough to get a good look at the strapless bra he had come up with. After a moments thought, he offered it to the hoooter.
“Humph, humph, humph,” it hummed, mocking Swiveltop as its eyes explored the dough smeared satin lace and cleavage bow.
Swiveltop, dumbfounded, forgot his search as he watched the hooter clean the bra and roll it into a rod of dough-piercing light with which it began to pick its teeth. Several hours passed before it dawned on Swiveltop that he could use this light to search for the Magic Marker.
He reached up to take it from his passenger, but the hooter held on, uttering a confused, “Honk!”
In the inevitable fumble, the light fell from their grasp. Where it landed, the dough was pierced to the heart. It let out a moist burp of pain and withdrew down the tunnel, leaving a trail of wet, pink flour.
Outraged, Swiveltop spun after it, nearly dislodging the hooter in his haste. Dangerously, the whistle being swung upside-down by its teeth from Swiveltop’s radiator grill.
The pursuit took them through heathy hells and then a forest of rolled up red and green windsocks which flapped wildly and snapped painfully on their bare behinds. The dough, ever elusive, climbed stairs through organs that Swiveltop could not even name.
As the dough moved in its kneading gallop, it became pinker and pinker and Swiveltop realized that the Magic Marker had lost its top and was leaking. He redoubled his efforts, the wind of his passage hooing through his rider’s slightly parted lips.
The brilliant pink glob of dough, worn down and greatly diminished in size, came into view beyond a copse of stiff-standing sweat socks. It had stopped and was quivering and spitting out shreds of backpack material. Unable to break in time, Swiveltop grabbed the end of the backpack strap as he passed by and was jerked to a sudden halt.
The hooter flew on, leaving its teeth behind. It screamed a desperate, “Hooah, hooah!” as it disappeared through an arch down the tunnel.
Swiveltop pulled hard on the strap and the dough came to him like an empty dog on a leash. The dough-ball had been worn down, exhausted. All that remained now was to carve it into usable portions and then excavate the Magic Marker. He knew that the hunks of dough would help feed the empty dogs at the gathering. After repairing the strap with a bit of bindersniff adhesive, he loaded the dough into what remained of the backpack.
Cleaning the gummy, pink gluten from his delicate hands, he found the Magic Marker under the nail of his left pinky. The powerful writing implement had obviously been drawn there by the colorful name of the digit.
Its top was missing and it was out of ink and Swiveltop knew that he had failed the snaggleman and his entire clan. He flung the Magic Marker from him in despair and woddled slowly down the tunnel, seeking oblivion within the Will’ven’t Bin.
And oblivious he was as he entered a broader area with brighter light and the urgent sound of yapping. The walls changed from industrial heath to brick and chain-link fence. He paused in a chamber filled with dog-ear documents and slide samples from of ancient hydrants. Orange light filtered through hair-festooned windows.
Absently, as he thought of what must inevitably come, he passed from this chamber into a great vault heaped with mounds of bone, sinew, and viscera. Negotiating a moist course through this area, he exited through a dilating aperture, rolling and twisting as if surfing peristaltic waves.
He came out into bright light that beat down on him as did the barking of furry, many-limbed, empty leather pillow cases. Swiveltop surrendered himself sadly to what he now recognized as empty dogs. He tossed the backpack to them so that they could see that he had lost the Magic Marker and could no longer fill them in.
The empty dogs flopped forward, a pack of bags wrestling for the baggy pack and its contents. The first to find the pink dough gulped it down ravenously and immediately began to stiffen and swell. One by one, each dog had a turn with the dough until all were full.
At that moment, it came to Swiveltop, with all the knowledge he would need for his new station in life, that this was what the senile, old snaggleman had planned all along.
He took the teeth the hooter had thoughtfully left in his grill, jammed one tooth between each of his own and then stood amidst the gathering of expectant dogs. Now he could pronounce the sacred words.
“Fetch, Boy,” he shouted.
~ ~ ~