Sunday, May 19, 2013

If you are going to write about giraffes, the temptation is to call them all names like "Gerald" or "Rafael," but if your story is one in which a boatload of giraffes goes to war in the beginning of time then... wait, "Rafael Giraffe" actually sounds pretty good. (Short Stories With Long Titles)

Other people had the idea to build an ark, too, when Noah did it, but none of them followed through on the ideas because first they figured that Noah would be nice enough to share if it turned out all those rains came, and also second because the NBA playoffs were on and San Antonio was doing well.

But the giraffes knew Noah wouldn't share, because Giraffe God had told them so.

"He won't share," Giraffe God pronounced from atop the leafy tree where he lived, just beyond the reach of their long, long necks.  "And the rains from Human God will come down and will cover the entire world, and you will all drown."

"Can't you stop Human God?" the giraffes cried, and promised to sacrifice banana leaves in the thousands to Giraffe God, who simply tilted his horns to them and spread his ears in a sympathetic manner.

"Human God is crazy," Giraffe God told them, by way of indicating that he, Giraffe God, could not stop them.

Rafael had a plan, though: They would have their own ark, themselves, a giraffe ark, that would not house two of every animal but would instead house all the giraffes in the world, and at the end of the flood there would be lots and lots of giraffes and only two of each of the other animals, even bugs, which Rafael Giraffe knew Noah Human was gathering, too, and the giraffes by virtue of their numbers would then have the most powerful god, Giraffe God, because gods get their power, Giraffe God told them, from how many followers they have.  Human God, following the flood, would be weak, as would Lion God and Eagle God and Camel God and Whale God and all the gods, even Bug God.

Giraffe God liked Rafael's plan.

This is the story of how Rafael's plan failed, twice.

First, it failed in the less interesting way: giraffes cannot build, it turns out. They should have suspected that, Rafael Giraffe and his friends and coworkers.  They began to gather supplies and soon had a fine stock of wood and nails and tools, some of them purchased from nearby vendors who thought they were taking advantage of the giraffes.

"That bag of nails?" one would say.  "That's, ahhh, 45 drachmas," and the giraffes would pay, knowing that they were being gouged but not caring.

"He will get his," the giraffe workers told themselves, "When Giraffe God is in charge of things."

All the food would be much higher up, for one thing.  None of this leaning down at cafe counters to try to get the food off a plate, one's neck twisting around and down until one knew, that night, one would have a terrible neckache and be unable to sleep and would spend the night tossing and turning and listening to the warthogs singing.

But once the supplies were there, the giraffes ran into a problem, because their hooves were no good for sawing or hammering or pliering, or any toolwork, basically.   They had hooves to allow them to gallop in seeming slow-motion across the veldt, seeming slow only because the expanse of ground between the tall trees was so impossibly wide, the trees themselves as large and wide as a mansion, but the area in which they sat was so much larger that the trees appeared, in the distance, to be bushes.  A viewer -- whether human or hippopotamus or bug -- sitting on the edge of the veldt watching the giraffes sprinting from tree to tree would have thought them all tiny, but they were not.  It was a trick of perspective.

Giraffes tried holding nails between hooves meant for pounding sun-scorched dirt and gripping hammers with teeth more suited to peeling bark and leaves off of trees and grinding that into a digestible meal, but it soon became clear to Rafael that this would not work.

"It's not going to work," he reported to Giraffe God one night, when Giraffe God was sitting atop his tree and looking at the full moon pensively.  Giraffe God was worried that if he did not send two giraffes to sail on Noah's ark, and if his plan -- Rafael's plan that had become Giraffe God's by virtue of Giraffe God blessing it -- if his plan did not work, Giraffe God knew there would be no giraffes left and hence no Giraffe God.

"Someone will have to go to Noah's ark," Giraffe God said quietly, not looking down at Rafael Giraffe, who mistook the intent of the plan and immediately gathered fifty of his most trusted friends.

"Someone will have to go to Noah's ark," he told them all, "For that is what Giraffe God has commanded us to do."

"But for what purpose?" asked Connery Giraffe.  "What does He want us to do?"

They all knew that Giraffe God frequently spoke in riddles, or so they assumed.  The truth was that Giraffe God was frequently distracted by his own concerns and never listened closely to what his followers were saying.  He had inherited his position from his father, who had been a very good, very attentive Giraffe God. The senior Giraffe God had been the one responsible for their long necks, necks he gave them so they would no longer compete with the antelope and zebras for food but could reach the tall trees.

That in turn had let the giraffes roam further away from the lions and the hippopotamuses, which had led to an increase in their safety and a resultant increase in their numbers, and the senior Giraffe God had for some time been the most powerful of the African gods, rivaling even some of the gods on the other continents, like Buffalo God, who enjoyed a land in which there were no predators for his people.  Buffalo God frequently bragged of his might, but the senior Giraffe God, who could see into the future sometimes when he ate jimson weed, knew that wouldn't last forever and so bore the bragging with equanimity.

The junior Giraffe God had inherited his position when the senior Giraffe God had gotten into a duel with the Penguin God, a god the former had drastically underestimated because, Giraffe God had figured, there were limited numbers of each kind of penguin, but that was where he had gone wrong: it turned out that the penguins' differences were only superficial and each penguin was united under a single Penguin God, and when Giraffe God had taken affront to the presence of penguins on the southern tip of Africa:

"Africa is hot, and blasted by the sun, and full of beams of light and hazy dust and sticky sweaty jungles and dried river beds and the desert!" the senior Giraffe God had bellowed from stop his tree at the Penguin God, who he could see atop an ice floe, far away, in Antarctica.

"Not at the south! At the south it is cold and the ocean currents create billows of clouds and the water  turns icy with the memories of six months of night at the pole," the Penguin God had argued back, and the duel had begun.

For fourteen days, the hemisphere had resounded with the echoing of godlike hooves on ice, with the slap of icy waves onto trees that could not bear the shock.  The world had for two weeks felt the suns of Africa bear down on the ices of Antarctica, melting them fiercely, only to see icicles growing on the plants the giraffes huddled behind.  For nearly a fortnight, the dusts of the Sahara whipped themselves into a sandstorm that blotted out the South Pole's meager summer, but then an iceberg dropped on the senior Giraffe God's tree and the battle was over, and the junior Giraffe God had taken over, mostly consumed in the early years of his godhood with the trouble of finding a suitable giraffe harem.

Rafael had figured out this latest riddle, though.

"He wants us," Rafael told the fifty giraffes, "To steal Noah's ark."

That, of course, was wrong.  Giraffe God was simply upset that all the giraffe would be wiped out and he would be extincted then, too, by the deaths of his followers, and so he wanted two of the giraffe (who thus far had been hiding from Noah, to support the Giraffe God) to go to the Human Ark and stay alive that way. Giraffe God was losing faith in his own plans.

"How can we do that?" asked one of the fifty giraffes Rafael had gathered.

"Let me think about that," Rafael said, and he withdrew from the group, who talked amongst themselves for a few moments while Rafael stared up at the moon, which stared back at him and then winked encouragingly.

"I've got it," Rafael said.  He outlined his idea for them, and they all agreed it was a good one, and not two nights later, fifty-one giraffes slunk out from the cover of the tree where Giraffe God lives, late at night, the moon cooperating by shining in a different hemisphere so that the African plains were black as octopus ink.  Through that milky dense night, the fifty-one giraffes strode, quietly, stepping on grassy clumps and softer patches of sun-hardened plain, quickly and gaining speed.  On the first night, they reached Egypt, and they camped behind a pyramid during the day, hoping that nobody saw them.

The moon, bribed with silver, stayed away each of the four nights it took to reach Noah's farm.  The giraffe stood on a hillside looking down at the tent where Noah lived, behind which stood the Ark, all but completed.  The last two days clouds had been forming in the sky, forming from almost nothing and then rolling over the Heavens, leaving fewer and fewer gaps of blue in between them.

"There it is," said Rafael.

A few of the fifty-one put out their cigarettes, and there was no light left in the night, because it was too soon in the history of the Universe: the light from distant stars had not had enough time to move across the infinities of space and land on their eyes yet, so without the moon, they had to rely on their other senses to get down the hill.

They spread out around Noah's farm.  Noah was inside, drunk, as he was most nights.  Almost everyone was drunk almost every night, back then, because alcohol was new to the world and people could not get enough of it.  Everyone among the Humans, that is.  Alcohol did not affect the animals all equally.  Giraffes, for example, were not subject to alcohol's influence, and could drink as much vodka or beer as they chose and never feel any effects.  (Giraffes could not, though, eat caramel corn, for it made them a bit tipsy.)

Once they had encircled the camp, Rafael strode cautiously forward.  One of Noah's sons stood quietly, in the dark, trying to watch their herd of sheep and rams and a few cows.

"Hey, hey you," Rafael whispered in the dark behind him, and when the man turned, two of the other giraffes spooked the sheep, which woke with a start and began bleating prayers to the Sheep God that they should not be trampled by dragons.  (It is a little-known fact that sheep think everything else is dragons.)

"Who is there?" said Noah's son, and inside the tent, people stirred, Noah's other sons and daughters, while the sheep, alarmed that perhaps Noah's son their shepherd saw the dragons, too, became more vocal in their entreaties to the Sheep God, who, hearing them from his far-off paddock began preparing a sacrifice to the Dragon God (who, it should be noted, did not exist.  When the Sheep God would regularly send tributes or sacrifices to the Dragon God, it would be taken by the Chicken God, who lived nearby and was doing quite well for herself.)

"Nobody," said Rafael in a hoarse whisper, ducking off to the left.  The people in the tent began trying to get outside but the giraffes near the tent were holding the door closed.

Frightened by the thought of a dragon that could lie and claim it was nobody,  the sheep got their act together and stampeded, directly at the tent, knocking it down and trapping the inhabitants in it as a herd of sheep and rams collided with each other.  The giraffes, used to the dark and using their long legs, nimbly stepped over and around them.

"Show yourself!" yelled Noah's son, but Rafael did not, instead wrapping his long neck around Noah's from behind and hissing like a snake. "Snakes!' yelled Noah.  "I knew we should not have brought them!" and he struggled against an invisible serpent while the sheep, more alarmed than ever at the thought of a lying, shape-shifting dragon, continued their storming away, dragging the tent with them and further complicating the attempts of those inside to get away.

The remainder of the giraffes, meanwhile, had gotten to the ark and two of them, armed with official-looking badges, had gone inside.

"Official human business," one had said to all the pairs of animals huddled in the middle, waiting for their room assignments.  "Ark inspection.  Everyone has to get off."  With much confusion, parakeets and bobcats and polar bears and two dachshunds and a wild assortment of bugs had been sent off the ark, in a tumult, the result being that by the time Noah and his family extricated themselves from the tent and the herd of alarmed sheep, they were faced with a confused, just-awakened mob of pairs of animals.

"What gives, Noah? You couldn't have had the ark inspected during the day?" said the taller of a pair of emus, and Noah, realizing that something was up, elbowed and struggled his way past elephants and kangaroos and more bugs than he thought could have existed -- were they already multiplying? he wondered-- and got to the front just in time to see the ark hoisted away on the surprisingly-strong shoulders of fifty-one giraffes, who had it up over the hill before he could organize a chase, and in the complete darkness when the group did reach the top of the hill it was too late.

This may seem as though Rafael's plan was a success, for the giraffe did indeed get an ark, which was surprising to the Giraffe God when, several days later, they arrived back at the tree where their God lived and showed him.

"See?" said Rafael.  "Room enough for all the giraffes!" and the group was so happy, generally,  that they did not notice that Giraffe God had his bags packed and had two tickets to board Noah's ark.  Giraffe God had been trying to pick out who would go with him, but this was better.  He could keep his harem.

The giraffe began boarding the next day, when the skies were clouded up and only a few days could possibly remain until the flood, but that was not the end of the matter.  Noah protested so vehemently to the Human God that the Human God paid a visit to Giraffe God, who met him near the edge of the tree, where the two debated, or at least Human God debated while Giraffe God distractedly wondered about whether it would rain in one day, or two.  Human God considered starting a war with Giraffe God, but Human God had fewer followers then than now and his powers were stretched to their limit with the coming flood, and so in the end he let Giraffe God keep the ark and instead replaced Noah's ark with one that Human God himself made.

"It's not like I'm doing it for him," reasoned Human God, since Noah had practically completed the ark already, and so the lesson, whatever it was, had been learned, and a new ark appeared next to Noah's camp, and Noah got the animals back on board, sternly warning them not to leave under any circumstances, and reminding the bugs that there was to be no mating until after the deluge.

But now the other animals had learned there were other ways to get through the flood, and so on the very next night a group of canny lemurs snuck into Noah's camp and bribed the elephants to help haul away the new ark, and in the morning the inhabitants of the new ark were again unceremoniously herded off the ark and left to make their way back to Noah's camp, while the lemurs and the elephants got together and formed an alliance on their own ark, stocking it with food and awaiting the rains, which, the weatherman promised, were coming in less than a week.

Human God sighed and replaced the ark again and reminded Noah to post a better guard.  But even that guard was not enough, the next night, when Noah's own sheep realized that he was only taking two of them.

"We are a family!" said one sheep.  "We will not abandon any family member to the floods or the dragons!" and they presented Noah with a petition demanding that they all be let aboard.  While Noah read the petition, the sheep walked aboard the ark, told the inhabitants that Noah was having a party in his tent, and, with all the other animals out, the sheep locked the doors and windows and refused to let anyone inside.

Human God put another ark down, so there were two identical arks in Noah's camp, one filled with sheep and the other filled with two of every animal except giraffes, sheep, lemurs, and elephants, and this time Human God decided that he himself would watch the ark, and so he took the form of a burning bush outside the gates of the ark.

"Fire!" yelled a sparrow inside the ark and all the animals rushed off to put out the burning bush out, while a leopard and a panda, who had fallen in love with each other, stayed behind and locked the doors again, following the sheep's lead.

When the rains started, there were three arks in Noah's camp, and two elsewhere.

Rafael stood on the deck with Giraffe God and watched the waters rising.

It takes some time, even with Human God in charge, to flood the entire world and for many days the rains came down and the water did not rise, and the Giraffe Ark, as they surmised the other four arks were also doing, simply sat as the water did not even appear to rise.  But a week or two into the floods, the people and animals coming by stopped laughing and instead began to look alarmed, and one day the water was two feet deep even on the hot, dry plains that the giraffe had previously loped over or stood bemusedly upon, and the giraffe were glad they'd stolen an ark.

"Let us join you," said several gnu from the base of the ark, their fur plastered against their backs, their movements slow and sloshy in the mucky water.

The ark would rock, slightly, as the water shoved against it, not strong enough or deep enough to float such a massive thing, yet, but able to shoulder it aggressively.  The giraffes looked to Giraffe God, who sat atop the cabin.

"Leave the door locked," Giraffe God yawned lazily, and the gnu ran from crocodiles and hippopotamuses that as of now were enjoying this new, entirely wet world where they could roam to places they had never seen and hunt game freely.

A few days later, everything had to swim or cling to the tops of trees that were almost themselves submerged, and the ark was lifted off the veldt and began to drift around through the leafy islands covered with animals desperate to keep their heads above water, animals that found themselves trying to navigate this strange new world.

Not all were concerned.

Hippopotamuses found it pleasant, and enjoyed access to the new foods.  They paddled their large bodies around, sometimes blowing air out of their lungs and sinking to the bottom, to what had previously been dry plain almost never touched by water but which was now the bottom of the ocean, and they would stand there for long periods, watching the octopuses and whales go by.  Crocodiles ate krill.

The giraffe watched this and wondered, some of them, if they shouldn't have stayed on the ground, if they couldn't have clung to the tops of trees instead of standing on the deck of this lurching, hulking human ark that had no way to steer it and no weapons to protect it, wondering what would become of them, but even those few doubters stopped and were thankful for the ark when the treetops fell under the water, too, when the mountains themselves stopped being mountains and became tiny narrow islands where the animals huddled and begged their gods to help them, too.  And not just the animals, but there were also humans among them, humans who found themselves in the strange position of begging animals for help, of being equally doomed with their lesser cousins.

The ark drifted near many such  mountains-turned-islands in the third week of the rains, halfway through, and the wailing and crying drove many giraffe belowdecks.  Rafael stood at the helm, wondering if the drifting current would bring them near enough the pinnacle of death that they would have to fight.

Giraffe God had gone inside the cabin with his harem.  Rafael was alone on the deck, in the rain, and he heard the cries rising from the nearby island.

"Save us!" yelled some humans in their weak language.

"Help us aboard!" bellowed many elephants at the same time.

"Can we land there?" chirped birds.

Rafael just watched them, wondering what he should do.

Before he had decided -- before he could tell them there was little room on the ark, what with every giraffe in the world on it-- a small bug landed in front of him, its wings bright with colors in the cloudy rainy end of the world.

"I could easily sneak onto your boat, and stay, and live, as could many of my people," the bug told him.

"Are you..." Rafael stared, suspiciously.

"I am," the Bug God told him, and it stared at him with those eyes that one only sees on a god.

"There isn't..." Rafael began, but it was ridiculous, because there was plenty of room for bugs.  Still, how could they choose the bugs over the other animals? How could they save one and not all, or as many as they could? Wasn't it better to focus only on giraffekind?

"There are other Gods on the mountain.  All of us are there.  I have a deal to profer."

"A deal?"

"Let the gods aboard.  Let the gods and some of their followers, and enough will survive that the animal gods will not perish.  Human god is clever.  He has limited the number of animals that will survive enough to kill off all the animal gods, and he will inherit their power.  But if you let the gods and some of their followers live, we will be strong enough and we will survive and the animals will have an equal place in the world to come."

Rafael thought that sounded pretty good.

Behind him, a voice said:

"Squash him."

Rafael looked over his shoulder.  Giraffe God was standing there with his harem, and behind them as many giraffes as could crowd in were sticking their necks up from belowdecks.

Rafael looked back at Bug God.  He had never been asked to kill a god before.

"Squash him, Rafael," Giraffe God said.

Rafael looked at Bug God, and then past him, to the island that was less than a quarter-mile away.  He could hear the cries for help, and the roars, and the barks from the zebra.

"Are you going to squash me?" asked Bug God.

Rafael turned to Giraffe God.

"His offer was worth considering, wasn't it?" Rafael asked.

"No," Giraffe God said.

Giraffe God had not known that all the other animal gods would die, but he figured that he and Human God would share the power, somehow.  However it worked, he stood to be pretty powerful in the antediluvian world.

"I don't want to kill him, though," Rafael said.

"Then I will do it!" Giraffe God said, with a snarl, and he strode over and shoved Rafael harshly over the side of the ark.  Rafael fell into the swirling, muddy, death-tainted waters that covered 98% of the world, and heard a voice howl his name, with the high keening sadness that can only be produced by a sob echoing up and out an incredibly long neck.  There was another splash, but in the rain and the wind and his fear and his disappointment Rafael could not see much other than the glowing, fiery Giraffe God rearing up above the tiny but incredibly bright Bug God.  Giraffe God shot lightning from his horns and fire from his eyes.  Bug God spit steam and poison from his pores, and the two would have battled but another voice cried out over the water.

"DO NOT KILL HIM GIRAFFE GOD!" and everyone paused.

On the top of the mountain, where she must have climbed to make herself heard, was Turtle God, her tiny head sticking out of a beautiful shell speckled with jewels and silver flecks.

The entire world -- might as well say it, that was all that was left, the people on that mountain, Giraffe ark, and the other four arks that were somewhere off north of Noah's valley, which was now fully underwater.  There were, as you'll remember, three arks, one of Noah's family with only two of every animal, except giraffes, which had all come on Giraffe Ark.  There was also the elephant-and-lemur ark, and the sheep ark. Briefly, you should know: those arks did not make it.  Sheep Ark drifted northward until it hit the North Pole and all the sheep froze to death, the ark itself being swallowed by the ice that formed over it.  Elephant-and-lemur ark offended two whales who to teach it a lesson pushed the ark off the edge of the world.  The ark with the leopard and the panda, meanwhile, befell some mysterious fate.  It was found, empty, later on, with only a note inside.  "Needs more strawberry," the note said, encouragingly -- the entire world froze at Turtle God's voice, and everyone looked at her.

"The only hope we have is to band together, to get as many of us onto the animal ark as we can, a God of each animal and an equal number of followers of each animal, and together we will weather then next 19 days of rain and the time of the flooding and when the waters recede, animals will still have their gods and the world will remain ours, as well."

The animals, and the remaining humans, blinked at that thought.

The remaining humans thought it sounded bad for them.

The giraffes realized that some of them would be sacrificed.

"Already," Turtle God said, "Elephant God is dying, as is Lemur God," and it was true.  They could see the two broken, feeble gods, near where the water lapped at the edge of the island, still rising.  Neither could move much.  Lemur God managed a faint salute.

"Let us aboard!" cried Turtle God.  "Choose lots among yourselves.  Save as many of as many as we can."

Silence, for a longer period of time than Rafael could have believed.  He treaded water and listened to the constant pattering splash of ever more rain joining the already incredible amount of water.

Silence, still.

Then Giraffe God lifted a foot and ground Bug God into the wall of the ark.

The bugs on the island rose up, a massive cloud of anger and loss, and the other gods roared and told their charges to help them, and the animals, some with humans riding them, swarmed off the island.  Those that could fly did so, and those that could swim, did so, and those that could do neither found themselves helped along, as two buffalo rode the back of an orca to the ark, which found itself under attack.

Animals and their gods swarmed the ark, pushing, pulling, biting, tearing, climbing.  Giraffe God stood atop it, his bright yellow glowing body dramatic against the cloud-filled, rain-sopped sky. Giraffe God's eyes gleamed with righteous anger as he and the giraffe defended their ark, flames and lightning and sandstorms and pounding hooves squaring off against waves and arrows and teeth and claws, the tumult of it threatening to drown out the storm that was ending the world.

Rafael was pulled under.

He struggled, water in his eyes and mouth and nose, and gasped water in and was held there, down down down below the water, watching helplessly as the battle above receded, the thundrous sounds of every animal living fighting every other animal living becoming muted by the ever-thicker water above him.  Down down down he was pulled, until the water was inky black above him and around him and he could see nothing.  Down down down until he felt he must have died, so complete was the silence and thickness, and then there was a bright flare above, looking like a star in the night sky, and he knew that giraffe ark was lost.

A mouth met his and kissed him, and he felt the roping lengthy soft lips of another giraffe, kissing him and pushing air into his mouth, and although he could not see he was grateful for it.

He was not being pulled down anymore.

He was in a pitchblack dark soft quiet space, held there by something on his leg.  He knew another giraffe was here but could not see even in front of his eyes any other thing.  He kept his mouth closed and sat still, bidding his thin breath of air to hold out for as long as possible.

Then he was rising, floating up to the top, faster and faster as the water became less dense and less dark.  When he began to float through broken boards and bent nails, when he began to realize the water was littered with the dead from the island and the ark, he closed his eyes until he felt his head pop through the surface.

It was night, and the rain still fell, and lightning flared from time to time.  He breathed air and paddled his thin legs with all his might, keeping his head and not much more afloat.

Next to him another head appeared.

"Thank you!" he heard a female giraffe's voice sputter, and a squid below burbled its response.

"Swim Rafael, swim," the female told him.  He did not know her.

"Swim," she said, "For we are the future of giraffes now."


Tony Laplume said...

I read about an eighth of this story before I realized...holy shit! this thing is going on forever! I copied and pasted and shrunk the text down to 12 point, and it ended up being 13 pages, five thousand or so words. I loved what I read in the first eighth, but really this is why I can't read the Dilloway pack (bloggers I know because of Pat Dilloway) regularly. You guys have absolutely no restraint. I figure I'll finish reading this story at some point, but I figured I'd tell you exactly why I didn't today.

Andrew Leon said...

Well, I did read the whole thing, and my response is
"Wait! That's not the end is it?!?!?"
What happened with the elephants and lemurs? Are they really just mythological creatures that I've just thought were real all these years?

Briane P said...

Tony: I understand. I keep thinking I should post these with a downloadable link like to Scribd. But I am so lazy. So very lazy.

Andrew: that is the end of THIS story. But like you, I realize there are other stories available from this.

Andrew Leon said...

I don't know what's real anymore!


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