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The Orbific Ondatra (The World-Fabricating Muskrat)
by Pete O'Brien
I will be the first to say that many a night and many a day I felt tiny and insignificant, lost and hopeless. But I had a pen, I had paper, I had a computer, and with these I could transcend my limitations and my fears. I found myself eating too much again, because in my older days I could never get enough. My vessel was never filled. But what was there? Tonight, so tired. I needed to lie down and clear my head, but I couldn't. I had snacked after dinner again. If I lay down, the cramps I already had would get worse. The lens shouldn't be on me, in any case. It should be on my faults, and the ways my shortcomings jeopardized my future. This night as ever the danger was the same: if I lacked a will strong enough to act, the two pages this week started, next week finished, would not be realized and I would become part of a stage set. Imaginary life. Not real.
I needed to look around, so I looked. When I was born, it was a violent and grotesque t.v. show about an outer space god disguised as a human that flourished.
I looked elsewhere. I noted the purple stick and magic wand on the table. It was one of those wands you could tell was magical at first sight. I stepped back, I inched forward. I reached my hand forwards. I lowered my arm to my side. Finally I picked up the wand, and instantly a pair of purple tinted glasses flew in my face, and I turned purple.
Did it surprise you to learn that if I didn't manage to lose weight (or was it if I didn't manage to write those two pages?), I would turn into a stage set? I mean, when I put it that way, did you accept it straight away, or did it give you pause?
Now I want to introduce myself yet again. Why do I bother? I don't know. But if it is a ritual, then ritual it is. You know I am Leopold, yes? And you? You are Leonarda? Very well then. It shall be arranged. I mean, the stage set shall be arranged in the theater. No? No. Oh, right. Correction. A story will be told. I, Leopold, will find my sense of direction, come to my senses, and something will happen to propel the words that stand on the page into a sort of improvisation of imagined flight or movement. And this fabricated scene shall become real, and I shall have kept from becoming a stage set.
Not in every story is the danger the same. The enemy evolves every bit as much as I do. The game is ever between the wits of that one and my own wits. But one thing should be clear at least; I cut a desperate figure. If I don't manage to wake up and smell the coffee, I may find myself turned into water dyed brown in a cup, for instance. In theater, the simpler the prop the better.
Well, I'm ready! Or if I'm not, even so, let's go! I'm not always so perky, mind you. Not always so inclined to face whatever there is.
And what is there if not a large block of white advancing towards me. Then I'm not sure what there is, perhaps a cloud or a fog, a sense of emptiness, a sense of others existing other places farther away. The knowledge that a great many people exist at closer range than them. Some of the people I know, some I don't. The recollection of the notion that sometimes if a man does something that another disagrees with, the one offended may come across another man, and attribute the cause of the affront to that one, simply because he too is a man. Well. And so.
But ideas, even minor ones, or familiar ones, like these, are not likely to propel a story forward. Then what of the purple stick, the magic wand, the purple glasses, and the fact that I am purple? That should be a clue surely!
The phone rings, the caller identified by the device. I recognize the name. It is my colleague Red Floomique. I can't imagine why he would be calling.
I pick up the phone.
"Purple?" says Red.
"Yes!" I say.
"Me too," says Red. "Don't panic. I'll be right over."
I wait for Red. As I wait, I begin to get dusty. I fear I am turning into a stage set after all. I had thought I had what it took to nail this plot, but the purpleness of things and my dust are worrisome.
Red failed to arrive.
A self-driving car pulled up instead. I stepped in the car and said, "Take me to the enemy." Naturally I was referring to you.
The car drove.
As the car sped along, darting in and out of congested traffic, doing things highly unusual and reckless for a car to do, it occurred to me that my blog, which I had up to now called simply my blog, was in fact a blog with a name. And this blog where I must post a short of at least two pages long once every two weeks, perhaps one page one week, and then the second page on week two, this blog, I say, had a name. And the name was The Orbific Ondatra, that is, The World-Fabricating Muskrat! Yes! That was it!
And how could I have failed to realize that! It was so obvious! And the words orbific ondatra, though scarce to be found in even a generally adequate dictionary, nonetheless appeared on a search of the internet with the proper definition. And so they were official enough and perfect for the blog!!!
The excitement of my discovery, paired with the realization that my blog would nonetheless likely keep to the nomenclature of Blog, put me in a third frame of mind entirely, which was that I would change the generic identifier of Blog to The Orbific Ondatra, come what may! And it would be a pretty sight!
The car made lefts when lefts shouldn't be taken, it improvised a road where there was only a field of tall grasses. I ended up in great consternation in your living room: your lair was far removed from any other thing. I mean your house was not only situated far from any other house or evidence of other human construct, but the inside of it was similarly free of anything; no furniture, no objects. I only knew the room I walked into without thinking was your living room, because it was labeled as such in sand on the floor for a brief period before I absentmindedly trod over the words and erased the label from existence.
You came in swiftly from a room in the back of the house; my eyes clapped on you as you stepped in. You were dressed in a one-piece toga, your feet were bare, your eyes were bright blue. Your hands were full of air, yet you appeared to be carrying a massive weight on your shoulders. I acknowledged to myself that this wasn't anything how I imagined it would be. There was no chess board, for example. You apologized for that at once.
Our skirmishes, of which there is a long history, started each time, you see, with a game of chess that we never finished. In every instance, the losing side, be it you or I, suffered such a loss that the winner scrambled the pieces on the board and threw up his arms before the end. He bellowed, "Yow!" And the loser knew he had lost very badly and felt red hot with embarrassment at the defeat.
Well, not exactly so. "Yow!" and arms up was what you did if you won. My practice was different. But I stray from the matter at hand! How was it that both of us had fought so many perilous battles, hand to hand, and neither one of us ended up destroyed! It was a miracle or a curse, and no mistake! And to think that this time, for the first time since the world began for each of us, there would be no chess game between us before we shouted and fought like mercenaries!
But you raised a hand and said, "Leopold, well that you came. I had to tell you. I devoured your friend Red, and he was very tasty. However, now I have a stomach ache, and that is bad news. I had no one else to confess to. I have never made a confession before, but now I feel so bad about the whole thing, I want to join your side. And one other thing, it turns out Red found a way not to die. Turns out somebody wielding a purple stick and a magic wand came by just as I burped after the meal."
I took a step back.
"No!" I exclaimed.
"Yes!" you uttered, with what sounded like a bit of reluctance.
"Well," I said, "think."
It was the best solution I could think of at the time. Years later, as I faced the firing squad cadets, who had paused to eliminate me on their way to discover ice with their fathers, I recalled a thing or two about a queer fascination you once had with purple sticks and magic wands, though even that wouldn't have added a great deal of clearness the day we stood in your living room without a chess board, at a time when whatever clearness there was to be had had much dissolved. Still, how Red survived your gorging him down, just what a purple stick and magic wand could do, and though I thoroughly distrusted and revolted against the notion, still I couldn't deny the mystery!, I couldn't refute what my own eyes beheld!, that Red had joined the band of soldiers who faced me in the night to eliminate me, and it wasn't until you showed up with the chess board you had found by tapping the purple stick with the magic wand, and tapped it again in an act that swiftly dismayed the soldiers, who each one swore he immediately witnessed a vision of levitating eggs, that this dismay resolved them to abandon their arms and their quest for ice, but not their fathers, and you proved uncompromisingly that you had indeed given up your old conniving and wayward ways, to no longer do battle with me, but only to walk around aimlessly in search of edible mushrooms every day of the year. The only thing I still couldn't fathom, aside from how you managed to find them in such abundance, was how the magic wand and purple stick and Red had all somehow converged and then diverged and performed such feats of preposterousness that no one but you, Red, and I would ever know of and have to believe. But we agreed when we converged independently by strange coincidence once again in your empty living room, we agreed, I say, that we would not speak of it to anyone.
And then and there, his eyes bulging with sudden fire, Red explained the trick of everything. He showed how emergency substitutions had confused you in the kitchen. He said he made his escape out the window, taking the purple stick and magic wand with him. And he admitted that the purple sunglasses and the purpleness of more than one person was an effect of a Creature named The Beyond, which only the Orbific Ondatras knew of.
And so I said immediately, and earnestly, "Then this story I seem to know so well, why it must revolve around the Creature you name as The Beyond to a great degree! It must be that while I thought I lived and breathed in the known Earthly world of 2023, I was in fact bobbling about like a roadrunner out in space, in some place that closely resembled the Earthly world as such, but which in fact contained this Creature, The Beyond, and that's him, isn't it!"
INDEED! For it was none other than The Beyond who walked by just then, though none of us caught a good glimpse of him. He was dressed head to toe in a light blue one-piece toga, and doing his best to focus on his reading, by all appearances.
"By Josh!" you cried. "He's like Hamlet!"
But the shouts only spurred on The Beyond, and he made his way on, enwrapped in the pages of . . . a story?
"Our stories will live on," I said as a gathering mist obscured the exit of The Beyond.
Then silence. Then stillness.
Finally, a self-driving car emerged out of the same mist, and it was our best bet. You, Red, and I stepped inside it and prepared ourselves for some more reckless intergalactic driving.
We fell asleep during the ride, but in the end ended up back in your living room, standing around without any place to sit.
And you said, "That's it then. It was most exceptional."
"Yes," said Red. "And not something to repeat."
"No," I added. "We should go on living now in our various ways. And maybe play a game of three-way chess."
The night ended with Red and I headed back to the place where it began: the table with the purple stick and magic wand on it, the latter items the same as Red had snatched and then returned after he had literally escaped from your jaws. We found the table not far from my abode, which was always open. Someone had moved it into the woods. After a minute, Red recalled having situated it there himself. But on a closer inspection of the tabletop, the purple stick and magic wand turned out merely to be the shadow of overhanging branches. The table was bare. What had happened to said objects? Or could it be they had they not existed? Were they with The Beyond? Were they there? What was missing? What was the point at which things diverged and converged again?
I looked over at Red. He was putting on a jacket.
"I'm at a loss," I said, "Even now."
Red shook his head, but said nothing. When at last he spoke, he only said, "I have some questions to put my colleagues. There are some things missing from their reports. I like walking in the woods. There is something here everyday, always something different. It frees my head. Come!"
After our hike through the woods, I headed back home. The air was thick and stuffy, it was hot. That morning there was an odor. The outdoors smelled like a drugstore or a well-used bathroom. After walking through the woods a bit though, the oppressiveness about it lifted, my spirits lifted. I looked around for further hints of the life that surrounded me in the suburban landscape. I had skipped breakfast. It was lunchtime.
I skipped lunch. My weight returned to within acceptable bounds again. It was easier to skip meals entirely than it was to have just a little at a sitting. The radio warned of doomsday, as ever. Or it just told me the weather. My thoughts roved. But I was doing nothing! I had a story to write, something to release this week, one half, then the other. Or maybe I'd do the entire thing in one sitting.
And what had I to say? And what was there to repeat about my generally ordinary state of affairs? My footsteps took me in turns about the room. I turned on the radio. My favourite deejay was on. I added a u to favourite. I turned some more about my room. Something was happening. I was sure of it! I had only to walk! Inside. Outside. Back and forth. A car would come, I would set a book on the table. A person I'd never met would knock on the door. I'd see something in the mirror, I'd wear a one-piece toga. I'd climb into bed at the end of the day and dream of something strange.
That was it, wasn't it?
No. There was more. In the middle of the night, the phone rang. I took the call without speaking into the receiver. The room around me looked quite turquoise. I shook my head, the turquoise dissipated. I put the phone down absentmindedly, forgetting it had sounded, and went back to bed.
"The Orbific Ondatra (The World-Fabricating Muskrat)" © August 15, 2023 by Pete O'Brien. All Rights Reserved. "The Orbific Ondatra (The World-Fabricating Muskrat)" is a work of fiction. All characters and incidents in the story are manifestations of the imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance of the story characters to actual people, or of story incidents to actual events, is unintended and coincidental.