It was a day for hiding from my worries. For I’m almost always in my office, thus I make it easy for trouble to find me. So I wasn’t at my desk when my Imaginary Friend and second in command of our make believe realm, Renfield, came looking for me with the latest crapbomb for me to either disarm or disregard and let detonate. I was in a vista I had copied from an old movie; relaxing in a colorized meadow, under a shade tree, nipping from a bottle of Bokay fortified apple wine concealed in a paper bag, writing what you read now on my trusty Chromebook.
But Renfield found me anyway, she too had a similar paper bag. But she was also carrying what I assumed was the latest crapbomb. By name it turned out to be an altered edition of what is known in our world as that beloved children’s classic, Charlotte’s Web. But this copy was from a “PDQ Pilsner Music and Book Emporium” located at Other Earth. Their version of E.B. White’s tale is titled Charlotte’s Web: Some G.O.A.T.
“It’s so cute,” Renfield said, sitting down beside me. “Daisy and Peety are going through an extreme capitalism phase.”
Before I could ask Renfield what she meant by that, she opened the book to the page normally left blank inside the cover, the one I’ve always assumed is there for the author to sign, and handed it to me. Alas, the only way to ask for Mr. White’s autograph since 1985 is via a crystal ball–and this copy was a recent print. Yet the page was filled with words anyway, in long-hoof, which I recognized as that of one Miss Daisy Cloverleaf the Pygmy Goatess. For someone who has to velcro a pen to her hoof, Daisy produces a remarkably tidy script.
Dear, Miss Leila–
To prevent you from asking Miss Renfield “What in hell’s name (or sake) is this hot steamer?” and knowing that you will launch a futile campaign to con her into spilling the backstory, she asked that I, the Goatess from G.O.A.T., explain the current situation.
As team G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) [here, Daisy had underlined the first letter of each word of the acronym] me and my sidekick Pie-Eyed Peety the PDQ Pilsner Pigeon are a superhero duo who rescue fictional characters inside books, plays, television programs, and films shown at Other Earth–a place recklessly created by the person who employs you as a Pen.
G.O.A.T.’s latest triumph rests with you. Miss Renfield will fill in the details, but in a conversational way that will not come off like an information dump.
Miss Daisy Cloverleaf, The Supreme Goatess of G.O.A.T.
Before I could speak, Renfield grabbed the book, thumbed to the final chapter “The Last Day,” and handed it back to me.
“It’s all the same as it was until the very end,” she said.
“Why did Daisy write this instead of telling me in person?”
“Daisy and Peety are huge celebrities on Other Earth. Here, out in the barnyard, they’re just two of your Fictional Characters.”
“So, they’re a bit ashamed of their creator,” I said, taking a nip of wine. “Could be that they think they’re juuuussst a little bit better than their old author.”
“I got a big idea,” Renfield said, “let me take over the narrative as you read the additional material.”
“All right–Hey! this could be the stylistic invention that finally lands me the Nobel,” I said. “Me, you and Daisy–we can pass around the narrative as though it were the Gorgon sisters’ eye. I smell the luta-fish on the barbie already–you take the helm.”
Which is exactly what I, Renfield, did. As I opened my phone and took over control of this file, I considered informing Leila that lutefisk was a Norwegian delicacy impossible to prepare in the Australian way, and that the Nobel for Literature is awarded in Sweden, but if I spent my life casting light on all her little ignorances, I’d have no time for anything else. Besides, she’s convinced that every land north of France should be called United Iceland; such can be expected from someone who’s also convinced that the Dutch would be better off called the “Hollies.”
“You do know that every word you write comes up on this screen?” Leila said, nodding at her open Chromebook.
This was when a mysterious god-like force caused Leila to close the Chromebook and give all her limited attention to the novel I’d brought her.
As she read the changed passages, strange expressions crossed her face, apparently on their way to the other side, like chickens crossing the road, as she got to the good parts.
Since I was at “the helm” I chose to have Leila to read aloud the “improvements” team G.O.A.T. made to White’s story.
“And as Charlotte prepared to die with dignity a dwarf Goatess wearing a white cape accompanied by something best described as the bizarre given life–a small two dimensional drawing of some sort of bird, even more incredibly, animate, and drinking from what appeared to be a can of beer–came to where Charlotte lay.
“‘Greetings, Spider,’ said the little Goat. ‘I am the Goatess from G.O.A.T. and this is my sidekick Pie-Eyed Peety. We have come to make it possible for you to reunite with Wilbur.’
“‘ “That boy is a P-I-G Pig’’ Babs–Animal House,”’ said Pie-Eyed Peety,” Leila said, quoting a character who had just quoted an external character from a film inside the story she was reading out loud. (So that’s why you get “‘“ marks, if anyone the Nobel committee is reading.)
Leila stopped reading it aloud. The mysterious god-like force allowed her a little more wine. The mysterious god-like force then stated that Leila was seated on the ground, her back leaning against the base of a tree, legs straight out, the Chromebook balanced on her lap, the novel in one hand and the wine in the other–for the benefit of readers who could not infer a clear picture from the half-ass clues Leila had provided prior to the mysterious god-like force’s taking over the narrative.
Then Leila shook her head as if such an act could clear it instead of having the effect of scattering her thoughts like the fake flakes in a snow globe. She then mentally wrestled with the mysterious god-like force like Captain Kirk hamming it up against an invisible entity; her face contorted like Prince Andrew contemplating the invitation list to a slumber party…
“Three consecutive similes and you are out!” I yelled, as I, Leila, regained control of the narrative.
“Rats,” Renfield said, .
“You know the rules fiend! The fifth adverb and third simile are one way tickets to Palookaville.”
“I still say rats–those were Daisy’s suggestions.”
“Serves you right for taking direction from a herbivore.”
“That’s fine. Whatever. Didn’t want to do it any more anyway.”
“That’s very thirteen-years old of you, Rennie–now, would you please explain the end of this crapbomb to me?”
“Why? It should be plain to even a P-I-G, pig, what happened.”
“Well, it says here,” as I held up the book, “that Peety restored Charlotte to health and gave her immortality by dumping a drop of PDQ Pilsner on her. And it now ends not as it has for decades, but with Charlotte writing things like, ‘TELL MOM AND DAD TO BUY PDQ’ and ‘WHEN YOU WANT THAT FIRST SPECIAL DRINK EVER, MAKE IT PDQ’ in her web.”
Renfield showed me her brightest smile. “That’s where the extreme capitalism phase comes in. Team G.O.A.T. and PDQ Pilsner have merged brands on Other Earth. Fortunately the guidelines in that world about what is and isn’t appropriate advertising for children are slightly blurred.”
It made sense, in a weird and twisted way. I opened my Chromebook and saw that there were nine-thousand-seventy-five unread emails in my box, all from my “employer”–who gets an earful of complaints from Other Earth, and is under the delusion that I care about her problems.
I nodded at Renfield’s paper bag. “Is that PDQ?” PDQ Pilsner does not exist on our Earth, but it is the cheap swill of choice, over there. Although we seldom discuss it, Renfield is a huge PDQ shareholder at Other Earth.
“Christ no–I’d drink Roundup before that piss,” she said. “It’s another bottle of Bokay for you. Courtesy of Team G.O.A.T.”
Renfield rose and again flashed her megawatt smile. “Next up for the PDQ/G.O.A.T. team brand is music. They are aiming to enter Billy, Don’t Be a Hero and transform Billy into The Coward of the County.”
“Wow, can hardly wait,” I said as I cracked the fresh bottle of Bokay, deleted, unread, a new swarm of emails from my employer and silently cast about my mind for a better hiding place.