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If we shadows have offended, think but this, our revels ended ... The large man paused, scowled, and elegantly crossed out the word revels with his fountain pen. The ink gleamed like oil under the burning Texas sun, under the brilliant Texas sky, with red earth and pale green sagebrush surrounding the large man and the writing stand he sat behind. "That's not right," he said.
"Celebrations?" asked the rabbit sitting upon his shoulder, digging into the woolen fabric of the Brooks Brothers suit with claws of gold. The rabbit adjusted his monocle. "No, that doesn't scan."
"Let me see!" A small woman, no more than three feet tall, a slightly more turquoise blue than the sky, bounced up and down beside the desk on boots of black which twinkled in ice. "Let me see!"
Another man, stocky and muscular, skin the color of a dark stone, hair black as soot, puffed a bit of flame out of his nose to light a cigarette. "Better let her see."
The large man shook his head. He was Polynesian, of some sort, Samoan perhaps, and he moved with a quickness that belied his size. "It's my epilog," he muttered. "Late, but mine."
"Epilog." An owl in spectacles, blackened as though he were blind (which he was not, but he enjoyed the look it afforded him) settled down to the edge of the desk. In his talons was a snake, and he reached down to tear off a bit of flesh from its back. "From the Latin, prior to that the Greek, epilogos, the conclusion of a speech."
"I know what it means," the man muttered, brushing off a bit of snakeskin that had been dropped on the manuscript. "Don't you have something better to be doing?" He glanced pointedly a ways away, where a similar assemblage of individuals was taking down a set of small, brightly colored tents, packing them away, rolling up the chains that they'd been hitched to and making sure each link was set carefully in its place.
"No," said the owl. "I've done my bit. I've been reined in, if not rained on. Then my bit, now my bite." He tore off a bit more snake.
"I'm not sure but that you've got that wrong," said a tall bear, peering over the man's shoulder at the paper. He smelled of cinnamon and nutmeg, and his fur was coarse and bristly, the color of pumpkins, though most folks refrained from pointing that out to him more than once. "As I reckon it, if you're seeking to be quoting something, I'm thinking you've got it wrong."
"What, this is a spectator sport now?" the man growled. "Everyone come and see and nitpick?"
"Eh?" A short, man-like figure with hairy, pointed ears, who had been combing through the bear's fur, searching for insects, perked up at that. "Where?"
"C'mon, leave him alone." That came from a young woman, a teenager perhaps, was walking over to the table with a plastic tray and plate with a sandwich, a pickle, and some chips. A Land's End Hefeweizen bottle was open beside it. She shooed away the owl and set the tray down. "You gonna be done soon?" She ran her hands through her frizzy blond hair. Her skin was browned from the sun, freckled, a bit pink and peeled around the nose. "Caravan will be leaving in a bit."
"Just trying to come up with right last word," he replied.
"Let me see!" shouted the little blue girl, jumping up and down. Snowflakes fluttered from her hair, turned to a mist in the sunlight.
They all froze -- the man, the bear, the young woman, the blue girl, the oboe-playing raccoon, all the rest -- even the owl, in mid-air, tried to bring his wing-flapping to a minimum necessary to stay aloft.
I WONDER -- MIGHT I HAVE A WORD?
"Um," said the large man. "Which one?"
THE LAST ONE?
"Crap! It's the Author!" The young girl in blue raced away, over to the tents, her boots leaving bits of quickly-melting rime on the sagebrush.
The blond woman frowned. "The author?"
"Author," the man said. "Capital A."
"But -- I thought there were lots of authors."
"Many stories," corrected the rabbit. "Many tales. Many words. Many pens. Many tellers. But only one Author."
"Author," intoned the owl. "From the Latin auctor, creator, from auctus, past participle of augere, related augur, soothsayer or soothsaying."
TRUTH BE TOLD ...
"Yes, that's it, precisely," the owl said, so excited that he let loose of the snake.
... YOU MIGHT CONSIDER FLIGHT.
"Ah. Yes. Another appointment." The owl hooted. "I do not wish to be late. Or late. Later, then." He flapped off with downy, silent wings toward the tents. Beyond them now could be seen brightly colored wagons where brightly colored individuals of various size, shape, and species were hard at work.
The snake, lying on the ground, gave a small harrumph, and slithered off through the dusty undergrowth toward the caravan.
SO. WHERE WERE WE?
"Uh ... here?" said the large man (whose name, so that we can refer to him more easily, is Ki).
RIGHT. MIDWAY TWIXT ONE PLACE AND AND ANOTHER, UP AND DOWN ...
"Heaven and Hell and Eden and Earth and all that. Yes."
"So," the rabbit observed, ears a-twitch, "'our revels ended.'"
"Our rebels ended?" suggested the smoking man.
"Reveals, I'm thinking you meant," says the bear. "Yeah, that fits just right."
"But -- I --" The girl stopped as abruptly as she'd begun.
They all turned to her (except for the tuft-eared fellow who was still grooming the bear).
"I don't understand."
The large man -- oh, we were calling him Ki, right? Ki took a gulp of air, hot and dry under the Texas sun. He glanced around. "But that's, ah, not a criticism."
"Yes it is!" the girl said. "How can you call it a story when you don't understand it?"
"Maybe we just need to reread it. Replay it, that is," Ki said.
"Ooh!" said the raccoon, putting down the oboe. "Can I get a speaking role this time? I want to be the guy with the truck and the underground -- the dragon. I want to be him. Not that I mind doing the sound track thing, but -- well, I've been practicing on my enunciation and --"
"Just a sec," said the smoker, and fumes rose from his nose, his hair. "My contract says --"
"No!" The girl stomped her feet, sending the raccoon scrambling. "It doesn't make any sense. I mean -- gods and goddesses and angels and ghost busters and demons and djinni and succubi and ... and dogs ... and dragons ... and --"
IT IS A BIT COMPLICATED, TO BE SURE.
"Complicated! No, War and Peace is complicated --"
YOU HAVE NO IDEA --
"-- but this is just crazy."
There was silence.
"Maybe 'revels' is the right word," the bear commented, "but I still think there's something wrong there. Might be a tempest in a teapot, or maybe just the midsummer heat, but sure as God made little brown apple pies --"
SAY, I LIKE THAT. I'LL HAVE TO USE THAT SOME TIME.
"No!" the girl shouted. "No more clever turns of phrase! No more mysterious goings-on and -- and things like that. I want answers! I want it explained! I want to understand!"
"And what," the rabbit said, adjusting his monocle, "thinks you're entitled to understand?"
"I'm -- I'm --"
"We are players," the rabbit said, drawing up on its hind paws, gold claws glinting in the sun. Only the Author really knows the tale."
"Okay, then let the Author explain it all!"
Ki took a breath. "No!" At her glare, he said, "I mean, I'm sure the Author --"
WELL ... NO. NOT REALLY.
They all stared, though there wasn't much to stare at.
I MEAN -- YES, I UNDERSTAND THE STORY. BUT, NO, I DON'T. THAT'S PART OF -- WELL, THAT'S PART OF WHAT'S SO SPIFFY ABOUT TELLING STORIES.
The raccoon looked at the bear. "Spiffy?" they mouthed at each other.
YOU NEVER QUITE KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON. THERE'S ALWAYS MORE THAN YOU CAN SEE, MORE THAN IS APPARENT. REASONS YOU CAN'T DISCERN, ENDS THAT AREN'T ALWAYS CLEAR. COME BACK TO IT AGAIN IN A MONTH, A YEAR, DURING THE DYING EMBERS OF THE UNIVERSE, AND IT WILL READ A LITTLE DIFFERENTLY. YOU BRING TO IT AS MUCH AS YOU TAKE AWAY.
"I'm still not --"
There was a sigh, a murmured vibration that swept across the scrublands.
THEN STICK AROUND. MAYBE NEXT STORY WILL MAKE MORE SENSE.
"No, Cincinnati. Cin - cin - nati. Dammit, open your ears!" A cat, a large, grayish tabby with an eye patch, wandered past the group, walking on two legs toward the caravan, yelling into a very smart-looking cellular phone. "No, Cincinnati. Yes, that's right. No, we closed in Portland months ago. Yes, that's right. No, you're my agent, Tommy ... you tell me what the dates are ..."
"Yeah," the girl said. "Sure."
"Um," said Ki, "you were, ah, saying you wanted something?"
YES. YES, I WANTED A WORD. THE LAST ONE.
"Oh. Okay. Well, I was trying to come up with a good epilog --"
NO NEED. THAT SORT OF THING WENT OUT CENTURIES AGO. ANYWAY I THINK WE'VE HAD ENOUGH WORDS, DON'T YOU?
Ki looked at the girl. She shrugged. "I'm game. Caravan's ready."
"Me, too!" said the raccoon. He picked up his oboe. "You need music?"
JUST OF THE SPHERES.
"A cause without revels, I guess," the smoking man said. He flicked his cigarette into the air, caught it with a long, forked tongue.
Ki rolled up the manuscript and put it inside of his jacket, then got up and folded up the writing stand. The girl rescued the tray of food. "Ready."
"Ready to hear the words. Let's end this."
OH. WELL, I WASN'T PLANNING --
"What? You weren't going to let us hear it? Man, I better get a big tip out of this." The girl tossed the tray in the air, its contents flying in all directions -- though the raccoon snagged the beer bottle before it hit the ground. She planted her fists on her hips. "We deserve to hear it."
WELL -- WERE YOU THERE FOR THE FIRST WORD?
"No, but --"
"I -- just want to -- well, things changed. I just want to ... to know how it ends."
OH. ALL RIGHT.
"All right?" She grinned at Ki, infectiously, for he grinned back.
IT ENDS --
-- FOR --
By Dave Hill