Commedia: Jibes and Japes


Story Mechanics


“Now, kid. I know you think you can waltz in here and just get the bare bones of your story fixed. Trade a few spiderwebs and moonbeams for a used punchline, put a cheap shine on your denouement, slap some patches on your plot holes and I don’t know what else. And a story like that’ll run, sure. But, kid, I’m gonna tell you right now - it ain’t worth your time or mine if you’re not gonna invest in the good stuff.”

“I see folks come in here every day with these worn out stories that they got from their parents, and their parents got ‘em from their parents, and so on, and so on. People who’ve been riding the same story for generations, repeating it the same way, as if they never heard it before, as if they’re gonna be surprised by the ending. Never fixing what’s broke, never greasing the wheels with anything new, just recycling the fear and the tears - kid, let me tell you, it ain’t no way to ride.”

“Then we get some punk kids - I mean they’re practically just hatched, wiping the amniotic fluid from their foreheads - who strut in here with a story they built themselves, from nothing. Scrambled together some broken tractor parts, wires from a dead toaster oven, mixed ‘em with some unresolved dramatic tension and half-formed erotic urges, stuck a prophecy on the front end and think it’s gonna go. What a mess.”

“Not to mention the worst cases, I mean every so often we get folks in here who can barely tell the difference between the story they’re telling and their own selves. Folks who’ve been looking in the mirror and seeing the same story play out over their features every time, regardless of what’s actually changed. Folks who live so deep in the machine of their stories they got blood between the gears, they got motor oil pumping through their own hearts… it ain’t pretty, kid. Not pretty at all.”

“Now, look at this story you got here. It’s got some nice elements, but you’ve muddled up everything from the start with this multi-dimensional in medias res, and the components joining it together don’t even line up - you’ve got a metric character with an imperial worldview, you’ve got megafauna doing microaggressions, you’ve got polylingual monologues and monotheist polyclones - your narrative structure’s practically ready to collapse, and I don’t even want to think about the bromide emissions or the irony footprint. You need serious overhaul here, kid, and fast.”

“Now, we can fix this for you. Get that story engine running smooth, tie up all that nonlinear exposition, upgrade these stale allusions with some real top-shelf stuff. We can fix you up a tale that’ll be worth taking out a loan on the next generation, just so you can read it to your grandkids - but like I said, kid, it ain’t gonna come cheap. Now, of course you can get a second opinion if you want, no one’s gonna stop you - but frankly, I’m not sure you can make it to the next garage with this wonky metaphor intact.”

“So, kid. What’s it gonna be?”

Festus isn’t wrong that the ride’s been a little bumpy since you, dear reader, crashed through the fourth wall of your vidscreen during the post-lunch coma brought on by your ill-advised indulgence in your favorite from Dottie Yoo’s. Voting for choices, reacting with heartfelt commentary to the stories that came across your desk, that was easy, and it helped the Initiative out, too. It’s more than a little different when you’re in the driver’s seat, though, especially on a project with the kind of scope that covers all the bases in all the Verses.

What you really need to go explore this intertextual space is a reliable idiom to get around on, relatable but not melodramatic, playful enough to be deadly serious, and serious enough to engender play. After all, the most important element of any vehicle is that it takes you and your passengers where you’re going. Getting there in record time, or in flashy, enviable style are just window dressing.

The Story Mechanics know their stuff, that much is clear, but you’re also sure that Festus might be overselling more than just a bit. You can think of a few options that might result in getting a decent narrative thrust out of this pit stop, but you’ve only got one chance to convince him that he’s dealing with someone in the know to avoid getting taken to the literary cleaners.

Here the Verses Discord was offered a choice.

Will you:

A: Ask about a conversion to a metered two-cycle. Iambic verse runs a lot more efficiently than full-bore prose, and poetic license gives you a lot of liberty on the narrative roadway to split lanes and even pop the occasional wheelie.

B: Mention that you know m3ta1-11, and ask about something in his style. He’s a self-proclaimed aficionado of the true classics, but his thrift store aesthetic can’t be all that costly. Great art finds a way, regardless of its means.

C: Discuss the potential of narrative power from the perspective of anthropo/sociological understanding. Your friends at Sanctuary have done amazing things with stories that haven’t had “upgrades” in generations. The classics are classics for a reason.

D: Drop a hint that you’re savvy to the differánce engine. Narrative bells and whistles, traditional forms and mythologies, even metatextual criticism itself– it’s all part of structure, sign, and play. Story Mechanics will benefit as much from you wearing their logo as you will from riding their devices. Let’s talk about price.

(If you’d like to vote on our stories, influence Verses lore, what happens next, game mechanics, and even future cards. Then join our Discord at

[Cartesian Chop Shop Mission Analysis - 5 Initiative members voted to address unavoidable reciprocity with Festus; 3 voted for the anthropological/mythopoeic approach to story, 2 thought it would be a good idea to mention m3ta1-11’s upcycled classics, and only 1 voted for a poetry conversion.]

You decide to have a philosophical tilt at a few of the things that Festus seems to be taking for granted, or at least that he wants you to take for granted.

“So, I'll defer to you, the expert, what would you say is the story's central problem?” you ask as innocently as possible, hoping that he’ll bite. And he does.

“Like I said, kid, the main issue is this wonky metaphor you’re trying to drive the whole thing with–a story about stories, but stories are vehicles? It’s a cute premise, but you’re never gonna get any real mileage out of it.”

You nod thoughtfully, and take a minute before you make your move. “But surely you’d say that the setting is more central than the metaphor, right? This is Commedia, after all, and wonky metaphors, literary devices, and even the occasional terrible wordplay are part and parcel of the Verse, right?”

“Yeah, sure, I guess so, kid, but that doesn’t change the fact that…”

You interrupt Festus before he can try and circle back around, “And what about the characterization? Surely that’s just as crucial to the production of meaning as the metaphor. If you’d been in any other story besides this one, you’d be pretty much the same. Gruff, experienced, a little world-weary, maybe trying to take an innocent customer for the proverbial ride, if you’ll pardon the pun. Evocative of a situation with a certain type of individual that we’ve all found ourselves in at one moment or another, yeah?”

“Hey, wait a minute! No fair trying to deconstruct me over there, kid. But I see what you’re getting at. You shoulda just told me up front that you were into semiology yourself. Coulda saved us both some time and saved me the sales pitch. For what it’s worth, I think the whole ‘multiple universes so there’s room for everything’ is a pretty solid framework, especially considering the goal seems to be actual free play.”

“From the literary perspective, that’s exactly what we’re going for,” you acknowledge. “But for all the freedom that the system allows, I can’t help but feel like even the most abstract and revolutionary stuff we’re putting together is just bricolage, pieces of this from here with pieces of that from there, stitched up into compelling patterns.”

Festus laughs a deep, hearty laugh at that last bit. “Kid, that’s just the curse of the creative. The anxiety of influence. Trust me, I’ve been to some spots in this place that would pose a serious hazard to a non-native like yourself; real raw stuff out in the wild. None of it’s cut from whole cloth, not even the stuff that you think nobody’s ever seen before. Engineering from scratch is just a myth. And not even a very good one. The best myths are mythomorphic, the ones about how myths are made, that scrabble in the very dirt they came from and spark the fire that lights their own way from here to eternity.”

“So, you’re saying that my ‘wonky metaphor’ might have some miles in it after all, huh?”

The Story Mechanic chuckles. “With me to help tune it up, it just might, kid. It just might.”

[SHK-E Analysis: Gaining the confidence of the Story Mechanics gave you access to the resources at their disposal to help the Initiative navigate the literary strangeways of Commedia, representing a type of ENERGY. Misleading Festus into a centering that you then turned on him wasn’t particularly nice, and deconstructing a character in the middle of their own story doesn’t show much kindness of HEART.

SAFETY: Very Poor
HEART: Very Good
ENERGY: Very Poor

Para Initiative Reputations:

Friend of the Keep

Para Initiative Inventory:
‍Oystersand’s Illustrated Arcana
Notes on Xavi and 1086
Untranslated Copy of Dear People
‍Gloomspark Portarray]





Freaky Flaurnsday – Tod and Bitey, Pt.1

It was business as usual at Atlas Universalis headquarters. Making the continually needed updates to entries was the order of the day, as it was every day. While it was true that cartography generally moves along at a geological pace, the sheer number of entries for a project that authoritatively charted everything in the known Verses meant that several hundred additions and changes per standard cycle were necessary, if not more. The AU team, operating out of a pocket dimension outside of normal space, had grown quite accustomed to this level of commitment, and took pride in the fact that their job of mapping contributed to both the stability and the excitement of life in the Verses.

Taking great care to make sure that each entry was accurate and correctly located was of the utmost importance—while not even the Chief herself knew the epistemological truth of whether the Atlas made reality, or reality made the Atlas, or some combination thereof, the two absolutely had to match exactly. After all, a map that couldn’t tell you what was where wasn’t much of a map to begin with.

To that end, the candidates considered for employment on the project were only ever drawn from the tiniest upper percentiles of beings with a penchant for organization. It was for this reason that Omnitongue Sesquipedalus Dexducapheme was never approached. Sure, she had done some very interesting workings in order to fit an infinite amount of knowledge into a finite space, which was very much in line with the kind of thinking that drove the AU’s celestial cartographers. However, the Library’s infinitude, which meant the job could never be fully completed, was hardly an excuse to simply abandon any attempt at imposing a workable, rational system on an enormously messy pile of books.

For the most part, this methodology of hiring had gone off without a hitch. If the AU cartographers had kept a sign like those commonly seen in many workplaces, reading “X cycles since our last accident,” the X would have been an arbitrarily large number. It seemed pointless to keep track of accidents, since they didn’t occur, and it really wouldn’t have amounted to anything except a bureaucratic responsibility, along with the occasional need to purchase or produce a new set of digits when the next order of magnitude was reached. The AU already had plenty to do, and patting oneself on the back for doing something that’s really just a prerequisite for your actual work inevitably ends up feeling rather small.

Still, as infrequently as it was necessary, it was nevertheless the occasional retirement to a particularly attractive location after several hundred millenia of service, or the accumulated aging that took place when a member of the field team had to exit the pocket dimension to go confirm the accuracy of a particularly obscure entry over the course of a long career, that meant the Chief needed to go looking every so often. Having recently lost Shelley, a cephalopodian with an exceptionally sensitive foot who was noted for the natural ability and compulsion to sort grains of sand while moving across them by whether they had even or odd numbers of facets (even to the left, odd to the right), the search had begun again.

Shelley, for their part, was undoubtedly as joyous as ever to live out the remainder of their days on the rimworld that had formed containing no silicon, and therefore, no sand to be sorted, when it reached its point in evolution where many types of plants and grasses were in abundance, but no animals had yet come into being, and was thus full of lots of tasty snacks, and no predators. Happy trails, Shelley!

Taking the broad scope that goes along with a project the size of the Atlas results in a few fundamental assumptions, though, not the least of which has to do with eventuality and the law of averages. Improbable things occur from time to time, statistical anomalies that end up making for some of the most fascinating entries; in fact, life itself is rather unlikely in the grand scheme of things. Nonetheless, here we are, and it’s certainly fascinating. To a celestial cartographer, though, there’s no such thing as luck. Something exists, and it gets put down in the Atlas, or something gets put down in the Atlas, and it exists—things happen as they happen, and are documented, and all is well in the beautiful, harmonious realm of the Verses.

But somewhere out in the overlap of Commedia and Kaleidoscope, somewhere very funny and very abstract and very difficult to map, a couple of tricksters had hatched a plan. One of them was in it for the laughs, and the other because it was a good concept, but between them both, they decided that luck, if it wasn’t real, certainly should be, if for no other reason that it was a meaningful reflection of the way things normally go, a sort of funhouse mirror to the laws of thermodynamics. Plus, besides all that metaphysical mumbo jumbo, it was definitely going to be interesting. So, they pooled their resources and wrote it down in an important book, just like that, L-U-C-K, and all of a sudden, it was a thing. Then, through its circuitous routes and mysterious ways, it went out and made a lot of interesting and funny things happen over the ages, and kept on working toward its apex, just as the mechanism that drives the Verses slowly winds toward its eventual conclusion. Which brings us to Juston.

He didn’t know it, but he was the luckiest being alive. The circumstances that led to his existence were a chain of events so improbable, that to list them all would take up almost as much space as the Atlas itself. Outside of being born on Earth-Prime, which is in and of itself a statistical anomaly, his ancestors included several lottery jackpot winners, and one unfortunate soul who had been struck by lightning on seven different occasions during the course of his life. It’s said that after taking the fifth strike while hiding under the cover of dense foliage, he resigned himself to his fate, and simply accepted the sixth and seventh hits with a disinterested look, even as the smoke rose from his smoldering boots. Juston's parents, both diagnosed by reliable physicians as infertile, met through a confluence of flight delays, replacement buses, wrong turns, and a case of mistaken identity at a Toledo, Ohio Denny’s of all places, that would boggle the mind of even the most lackadaisical and brusque transportation director who is zealously dedicated to their job of making travel as uncomfortable for as many people as possible.

In short, Juston should not have been. But, as luck would have it, he was.

More importantly, Juston should not have been contacted regarding the opening at AU headquarters, because he was by no means an exceptionally organized person, nor did he have any experience in cartography whatsoever. He was a notoriously unpopular blackjack dealer at the Choctaw casino just on the Oklahoma side of its border with Texas. Regulars would get up from the table when he was switched in on rotation because they believed he was unlucky for them. They were right, because he was putting his luck to work for the house. He didn’t know it, but he would have made a lot more money a lot faster (and probably a lot more friends, too) simply by switching sides of the table. But a job was a job, even though he didn’t like it altogether very much, and he went on with honestly working until another convoluted series of events resulted in him receiving someone else’s invitation to an interview with Atlas Universalis for a job he had never heard of, much less applied to.

How he passed the interview, nobody can say; just lucky, I guess. The Chief was all smiles when the two of them came chuckling out of her office and she called for the cancellation of the rest of her appointments, announcing cheerfully that Juston was the newest member of the team. He couldn’t have been happier, because what mortal wouldn’t want to live outside of the constraints of time, learning about all the places in the Verses, with their wild and wacky flora and fauna? Besides, AU had a strict no-smoking policy, which was a dramatic improvement over the casino.

He did his best to take advantage of the opportunity that fate had presented him, and worked diligently to learn the system of operations as quickly as he could. He was an agreeable colleague, and as a long-time fan of several popular science fiction properties from back home on Earth Prime, had no trouble adapting to the diverse and varying biologies of his co-workers. All in all, it seemed for a time that luck had run its course, and elevated the humble and quotidian to a position of great import and interest, and that would be that.

But fortune is fickle, even if it favors the bold, and in a turn of events that would have surprised even the notorious pranksters who contrived luck in the first place, Juston accidentally bumped into Xcrzotsonlf while the latter was carrying a stack of entries to proofing for final revision, causing the pair of papers on top to jostle and flutter to the ground.

”Oh, oh man, I’m so sorry, Xcrz, let me get those for you,” Juston said, bending down to pick them up as graciously as he could and hastily replacing them on top of the stack. “I was distracted thinking about how cool it must be to see the massive Lumi migration on the gas giant in the Belforath system.”

”I wouldn’t know anything about that. My crystalline structure would shatter from the radio interference that all gas giants emit before I even got within a standard astro of the planet. Are you sure these are in the same order?” replied the sentient saltform, with a hint of annoyance.

”What? Oh, yeah, yeah, same order. That one was definitely on top when I picked them up. Sorry again, I’ll be more careful in the future.” Juston smiled abashedly and hurried off to his next task, leaving the ionic iodide to drop off the pile of paperwork, which just so happened to have its top two pieces transposed out of order.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Tod woke up feeling dramatically not like Tod at all. He felt, in a word, “bitey.”

Far away, Bitey, who had never worn a hat in his life, woke up thinking that his head was awfully cold without his hat.





02/Freaky Flaurnsday – Tod and Bitey, Pt.2

Yes, Tod was Bitey, and Bitey was Tod. Or, Bitey was still Bitey, but he was in Tod’s body, and Tod was still Tod, but he was in Bitey’s body. Or, maybe two entirely new beings had winked into existence because of a chain of ridiculously improbable events that resulted in a minor clerical error. In any case, while not even the Chief knows the epistemological truth of whether the body makes the personality, or the personality makes the body, or some combination thereof, there has to be some kind of naming convention. So, for ease of reference, the orange hat-wearing dragon’s body which is inhabited by the personality of a green large-fanged beast will be called “Bitey Tod.” His counterpart will be called “Tod Bitey.” Putting the personality’s name first and the body’s name second raises a number of questions about the fundamental epistemological assumptions of the narrative, but you just have to pick something and stick with it to get the story moving at the end of the day.

Particularly if the day in question is Flaurnsday.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Tod Bitey knew it was Flaurnsday. For that reason, the unusual condition of waking up without his hat was especially troublesome. He had to see a man about a dog, and by “dog,” he meant an absolute dog of a riverboat that he had no business trying to sell, and certainly nobody had any business trying to buy. Luckily, he’d found a sucker who was keen to get into the burgeoning shipping game that had already made massive fortunes for multiple individuals up and down the banks of the muddy Minkaboola, but who didn’t have the requisite capital to buy a new vessel, nor the reputation and credit to get a loan. It was the perfect opportunity for Tod to offload the hunk of junk that he had unfortunately taken sight unseen as part of a trade-in. If he could squeeze enough out of the would-be entrepreneur for the S.S. Scunthorpe, he would no longer be upside-down on that deal, and might even make a few sawskis to boot. In order to do that, though, he would have to look the part, authoritative about the industry, and stylish enough to appear wealthy and successful. He was going to need his hat.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Bitey Tod knew it was Flaurnsday. For that reason, the condition of waking up feeling bitey was not a huge surprise. He had a service to conduct, leading the members of his clan in the rotes and traditions of religious belief, as he did with his solemn dignity every week. Today was the fourth Flaurnsday of the fourth month, though, a special occasion because of the sacred nature of the number four in the cosmology of the Xota people. Four letters in their name, four fingers on each hand (technically three fingers plus an opposable thumb), two eyes to see with plus two fangs to bite, four cardinal directions, one for each branch of the rivers that crossed in the area near their home. Even the main source of their nutrition, the karwa melon, with its tough exterior husk and sweetly savory inner flesh that was only accessible to those with the appropriate tools (like the Xota’s bitey fangs), grew in clusters of four. The rare appearance of a fifth fruit by way of a minor genetic mutation was considered unlucky, and the offending vine was invariably uprooted and sent down the river where someone else could determine, if they were foolhardy enough to try, which one of the fruits had been put there by the trickster god to cause intestinal discomfort to those unlucky enough to eat it. He had much to prepare, and he had awoken, so to speak, chomping at the bit.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Tod Bitey finally opened his eyes to have a look around for his missing piece of finery, and was confused to see that the banks of the Minkaboola had apparently become extraordinarily lush and verdant overnight. Bright greens abounded among tropical flora that were wildly out of place this far north, even if the massive waterway would have provided for their considerable moisture requirements. Also, in spite of his head feeling a bit chilly because of its lack of apparel, the ambient temperature was  frickin hot! Things could get a little muggy in the summertime, but that was nearly three months away.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Bitey Tod finally opened his eyes to greet the holiday with the sense of thankfulness it deserved, and was confused to see that the florid verdancy of his home in the Xotx rainforest had apparently withered to a washed-out mustard brown. The scrub and brush that had replaced the dense canopy looked for all they were worth like the kinds of things he had seen growing at elevation during the mountaintop pilgrimage that marked his induction into the mysteries of the Xota religion. It was uncomfortably cold at those heights, and the native species showed it, spindly and crooked in their attempts to scrape out whatever living they could among the hostile elements. Come to think of it, it was a bit uncomfortably cold here!

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Tod Bitey’s mounting confusion was exacerbated greatly when a juvenile-looking green beastie with fangs a third the length of its head sauntered by, taking note of him with a friendly wave and calling cheerfully, “Hey, Father Bitey! Are you ready for Four Four Flaurnsday? I can’t wait to see the melons you guys have selected this year!”

Had his equally sizeable dentition not meant that the natural resting position of his mouth was open, his jaw would have dropped.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Bitey Tod’s mounting confusion was exacerbated greatly when a strange-looking white boat, with a bright red paddlewheel chugged by, taking note of him with two deafening blasts of its steam whistle, accompanied by the commensurate release of jets of visible water vapor.

Had his extremely sizeable nasal appendage not been so heavy and unwieldy, he would have shaken his head quickly in disbelief.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Here the Verses Discord was offered a choice.

How will Tod Bitey, tragically transposed trader, respond to the young beastie?:

A: Subtly infusing his reply about Four Four Flaurnsday with some open ended questions to try and make sense of it all?

B: Pretending to have forgotten the youngster’s name in order to draw out information about their identity and the cultural elements of the bizarre situation?

C: In silence, with as friendly a look and gesture as he can manage, to not reveal his position just yet, and hopefully buy himself some time?

D: Enthusiastically fabricating a story about the size and quality of the melons to get the kid excited, knowing that heightened emotional states often lend themselves to unwitting divulgences?

How will Bitey Tod, spatially scrambled sacerdote, respond to his encounter with an alien steamboat?

By moving in to get a closer look at the river, which upon second glance, is far more murky and significantly wider than either of the pair that run through the Xotx.

By investigating more of the landscape’s flora, as his relationship with the higher powers of the Xota religion grant him the ability to interpret the hidden patterns found in nature.

By waiting and watching warily for more of the same kind of vessel in an attempt at understanding, because it is the least likely way to incur contact in this potentially hostile environment.

By making orisons to the powers that be for guidance, because it is Four Four Flaurnsday, and this perplexing situation is likely some kind of test of faith.

(If you’d like to vote on our stories, influence Verses lore, what happens next, game mechanics, and even future cards. Then join our Discord at

Freaky Flaurnsday - Tod and Bitey, Pt. 3

Tod Bitey was never one to miss an opportunity, particularly if it involved plying the naive with inflated estimations of the quality and value of a product in question. He switched into sales mode with the ease of experience, affecting a conspiratorial tone to draw his listener into a sense of privileged knowledge and a privileged relationship.

Beckoning the adolescent over with what he noticed out of the corner of his eye was a hand that looked not at all like his own, he began, exaggerating a hush, “Oh, you know I shouldn’t tell you this, but, the melons. Oh, the melons are the best I’ve ever seen. They’re much bigger than usual, and ripe, too. And the colors! Oh, what lovely colors on this particular set; I’d wager you’ve never seen anything like it, my friend.”

The youngster seemed shocked at first, but as Tod Bitey had gone on with his spiel, he could see and sense the rising excitement in the child’s demeanor. By the time he was done describing the colors, which were coincidentally like nothing that he himself had ever seen, the kid was almost at a fever pitch. He excitedly looked from side to side, as if checking for any observers before responding.

“Wow! I know you shouldn’t have told me that! You aren’t supposed to say anything to anybody until after the service is over! I always thought you liked me, and maybe thought I was a candidate for the priesthood, but I never expected you to break the Vow of Listening for me. Don’t worry, though, Father Bitey, I’ll never tell!” With that, the child gave an awkward attempt at a conspiratorial wink, made all the more bizarre by his frighteningly toothy smile. “The melons sound great, but I gotta go get ready! I’ll see you at the service!”

“Father” Tod Bitey decided it was best to not say anything else, and instead gave a short nod and a friendly wave as the young creature took his leave.

So he was in charge of a religious service involving melons, and he was forbidden from using his most powerful weapon, his voice, to find anything out before it began.

This was going to be interesting.

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Bitey Tod was never one to miss an opportunity, particularly if it involved plying the flora with interested interrogations of the windings and workings of an environment in question. He switched into priest mode with the ease of experience, affecting a reverent demeanor to settle his spirit into a sense of secret knowledge through a secret relationship.

Bending over to gently grasp a tender bud with what he noticed out of the corner of his eye was a hand that looked not at all like his own, he began, in a deeply devout hush, “There you are, young thing, first upshoot of life. What knowledge do you hold to share? What of your ancestors? How have you come to be in this place, where you grow sparse and spindly so quickly in the shivering cold? And what of your neighbor, that monstrous white boat?”

The plant seemed shocked at first. It trembled with trepidation at his first touch, but grew more and more relaxed as his even, gentle tone unfolded a reasonable line of questioning. By the time he came to the question about the boat, he felt the beginnings of the sense of trust that was part and parcel of his responsibilities as religious figurehead, and therefore, chief melon whisperer. The young vegetation spoke to him with rapid and nigh undetectable variations in turgidity.

“Wow! I thought I was a goner! Just yesterday, you were over there pulling my cousins up out of the ground with extreme prejudice! You even went so far as to call us ‘stupid weeds’ while you were muttering about cleaning up ‘your yard’ so that it would look presentable for some guy who’s coming to buy one of those big nasty boats you asked about.” At this, the plant seemed to put two and two together, and its tone turned skeptical. “Which makes it kind of weird for you to be asking about. Not to mention, you never tried to talk to us earlier. And ‘sparse and spindly’ isn’t exactly flattering, either. We can’t all be lush and curvy like the flora lucky enough to be born on the equator. Thanks for not pulling me up, but I think we’re done here.” All of the plants within earshot turged their agreement.

Bitey Tod decided not to press his luck, and respectfully thanked the plant for the information as he took his leave.

So he was supposed to broker a transaction involving a giant, unnatural watercraft, and he couldn’t use his most powerful weapon, his connection to the flora, to find out more before the buyer arrived.

This was going to be interesting.

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All the World’s a Stage



“Yes, I quite fully understand my character’s motivations, I’ve read, re-read, and digested the background information that you provided.  What I’m not fully comprehending is what aspect, what essential quality of his nature, requires that I be nude?” asked Teodoro, his voice, a deep, rich, basso profondo, containing a somewhat plaintive note.

“Ah!  Well, yes, that is a very good question!” the Director replied.  “You see, you are the manifestation, the very essence, of the Artist’s vision!  He Drew upon many forms for his inspiration, and envisioned you without any clothing, so that’s how you must be for this performance!  Don’t worry, our audience is not prudish, and here we are, performing at the fabled Stage Left Theater, in Center Stage, the very heart of Commedia!  They will understand that this is a matter of artistic expression, not the product of some prurient ogre fetish!”

Seeing that Teodoro was yet to be convinced, the Director continued,  “It’s true that you’ll be sharing the limelight with two other skilled thespians, but you sir, you are the big, bright, shining, star of this production!”   

“Hmm, well I suppose, if it’s the Artist’s vision…” Teodoro said thoughtfully.  “Still, I must admit I would be more comfortable with a robe.”

The speaker, Teodoro, stood downstage center, lit by a single spotlight, the rest of the vast theater shadowed and dark.  Teo was indeed an ogre, close to three meters in height, with a bull’s horns and a bull neck.  He was powerfully muscled, but sported the proud potbelly of a man, or ogre, who indulged in more than the occasional pastry.  He was also, most definitely, fully nude, his putty colored skin gleaming with a light sheen of sweat under the heat of the spotlight.  Aside from the sweat, his only accessory was a stout sledgehammer, casually gripped in one massive, four fingered, hand.  Of the Director, there was no sign.

Deciding that the matter of wardrobe was settled, Teo continued, “I was told that the inclusion of my Grammar Hammer was a requirement for my casting.  I’ve yet to be contacted by the Writer, nor has the Set Designer been in touch.  I’m not clear on what is expected.  As you must be well aware, I’ve used it quite successfully on other productions to transform purple prose into the most sophisticated of stories.  And of course there was the matter of that rather dull chandelier, that with a gentle tap became one of the most talked about set pieces of the season.  In what capacity is my mallet to be employed?” 

“Its use will be in the nature of visual effects.  For this production there will be a need for instantaneous reconfigurations of the set and modifications of the props.  Your glamorous Grammar Hammer has both narrative and practical applications.  Your character will be performing a rescue, and the hammer will assist him in that endeavor.  At the same time, you’ll be responsible for changing the elevation and orientation of the stage so that the action is always on full display for our audience.  Once you get the finalized script it will all make sense.”

A slight frown of concentration creasing his brow, Teo casually waved his free hand and a tiny, delicate, cup of tea appeared between his fingers.  He gingerly sipped the steaming beverage while mentally reviewing the list of questions he’d brought for the Director.  As he was about to speak, there was a loud cracking noise, like the sound of a powerful electrical discharge; the spotlight flickered and went out.

After a brief pause, the spotlight sputtered back to life.  The figure framed in its glow was no longer the towering ogre, but rather a startled and confused human woman holding some form of technological device, which emitted a thin trail of smoke and the strong scent of ozone.

“Uhh…  That was unexpected,” she mumbled to herself as the lights came up and the theater filled with startled staff.

Commedia: Jibes and Japes

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