I think this is my new credo. A short, sassy and to the point disclaimer that just smacks of the Aughties. I reserve the right to bludgeon you with careless and fanatical abandon until I begin to choke on the tidal crest of foam pouring liberally from my twisted mouth.

I also reserve the right to be so utterly, completely and irrevocably fucking annoyed with your very existence that I may, with clear conscience, resort to cannibalism for a short, yet sufficient enough time to consume the entirety of your corpse including the bones. It is my right to not only remove you entirely from existence, but to also personally turn you into what I always suspected you to be anyway;

SHIT.

I really think this is the direction that humanity is going here. I see a lucrative opportunity to market this in the tee shirt, bumper sticker and pin industries.
It is a beautiful world when I have rights such as these -- only in America baby.

They marched him through the streets, and when he fell, they dragged him. "Each year, the festival to Qahalas is to be held on the second Full Moon of the rain season." A flurry of sensation: all white light as his toes are crushed against a sharp rock, the hands in his armpits hoisting him back up before he can even experience the relief of collapse, sweat gliding over where his skin once was. There isn't a cloud in the sky, he thought. A smile inside.

"Merchant's burden." The mumbled words come out with the taste of blood. Small spike in his back: "Don't talk." He recognized the voice as his cousin's but it could have been his own, and the ground seemed to him as one vast table, prepared for feast. The faces of children poking from houses, lining the streets - some scowling, some giggling, some afraid. "The conclusion of the first day's events is to be marked by the Feast of Merchants." His eyes were caught on the smooth dark skin of a little girl, and a tear pumped from somewhere deep inside. Qahalas, where is my skin? his mind screamed out. Jhin clung to what little hadn't been flayed off as they pushed him forward. How much is left? Half? Quarter? Qahalas replied that it was more than a quarter. More than a quarter of his skin.

Something sharp on the ground reflected sunlight into his eyes, and it seemed to evaporate his fear. There hadn't been much sunlight these last two days, between the rain and his pit. "After eating well from the finest bounty of the land, the Merchants will draw a Fruit from the basket prepared by the Elders." The sharp object was a piece of bone, white and brittle on the dry dirt. The dead know no pain. But they have no skin. The Elders sometimes told the story of Bkau, the man who had dared to escape the pit on the morning of his glory. Bkau had been transformed into a demon as he leapt from the pit and smashed the skull of the Elder in the guardhouse. Doomed, he ran into the mountains. It was said that for the next several years, Bkau would return on the eve of the festival and murder a child. Tentek, an Elder's child, was beaten with a stone and dragged away. The next day, Tentek's father discovered the boy's skin hanging from a tree, flesh and bones gone. Bone-eater.

Jhin slumped onto the ground in a pile. No hands, no spike. The order for rest had been given. Jhin coughed, shook; more blood swelled up from inside him and he hated the taste so much this time. "Inside one Fruit will be gold. This Fruit has been given to the Elders by Qahalas. The chosen Merchant will pick up the Sacred Fruit, and the Path to Glory will begin." For twelve years, Feast Day was Jhin's favorite day. He was not especially well-off, and the Feast food was the best in the land. Crab and monkey made to special recipe, spices, strange fruits and reptile eggs - his family could eat like kings for one day a year. They will not eat eggs anymore, he thought, because this year, he had picked the Fruit. The beautiful gold nugget, the honor of being chosen by Qahalas as his preferred sacrifice... it was so much to celebrate! This is my dream. Now it was his reality. Jhin was beaten too badly, and he couldn't control his bowels. He would have been ashamed if he could have been. But in all honesty, it felt good to shit like an animal.

"Okay Jhin, let's go. Only a little more." As he moved to get up, he saw his arms and what skin he had. More than half. Dark skin, and more than half. Jhin's eyes grew fierce and he spit blood. "After two days of pit orderal and final preparation, Qahalas's Merchant will be marched to the Waiting Hill to be burned. This should be celebrated in every good house." Shivering, naked, looking to each in attendance, Jhin was on the verge of seizure, and to many, he looked about to die before reaching the top of the Waiting Hill. I wonder if the Bone-Eater is still alive. A gull shrieked. "The wife and children of the Chosen should be honored on that day." Jhin looked at his wife. Her eyes were wild, full of the wind, and the sunlight shone on her brown skin, and she didn't really like eggs. Jhin cried out and ran, ran like the eagle soars, ran on broken bones and frayed flesh, ran like the fish swim...


RRRRRRRRRRIIIIIINNNNGGGGG!! *Click* A dream. A dream. He lay covered in sweat, eyes wide open.


"So, all you have to do is sign here, Mr. Peterson, and that should be it. Of course, our board of directors reserves the right to back out of this deal, should they fail to drum up enough support for the idea at the next shareholder meeting. However, I don't think that will be much of a concern... Mr. Peterson, are you okay?"

Peterson slowly stood up, putting the pen down. "I have a better idea. Why don't you come up with a deal that doesn't totally screw us? And you know what? I don't think I like you very much. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a business to run. Without you."

"You're only hurting yourself! This is ridiculous - the deal was done! This is bullshit! What is it you want?"

Peterson walked to the door, looked back over his shoulder, a glimmer in his eye and a wide, toothy smile from ear to ear:

"I'd like to reserve the right to club you and eat your bones."

It was two minutes before anyone in the room even considered breaking the silence.

Jimmy and I stood there, staring blankly at the remains of the time machine. All I could think of was home, my sweet twenty-sixth century home. Now I would never get back. I would never see my family again, or any of my friends. Well, except for Jimmy, and his friend status was a bit questionable, seeing as how this was entirely his fault. I turned to him, slowly counting to 10 under my breath.
"Jimmy," I said through my teeth, "didn't I tell you we should hide the time machine somewhere safe? And what was it you said? You said, 'no, it'll be just fine here. What's going to happen to it? We'll only be gone for a few minutes."
"Dude, leave me alone," he said.
"Leave you alone? LEAVE YOU ALONE!? After you strand me here in, in... what year did you pick again? 5000 BC? Something like that? What the hell were you thinking? Why? Why 5000 BC, Jimmy? Why not just a few hundred years back, to the 20th century or even the first century, any century AFTER the developement of civilization?"
Now he looks mad. "Hey, it's my time machine, okay? I invented it, and I reserve the right to use it however I please."
"Oh yeah? Well I reserve the right to club you to death and eat your bones when we start to starve! How does that sound, physics boy? And it was your time machine, not is your time machine. I don't think it will be doing much more time travel."
"I still can't figure out what happened here."
"Don't try to change the subject. It doesn't matter what happened, beyond the obvious. Something crushed the time machine. Whatever did it is now gone, and we are stuck, thanks to you."
Jimmy frowned and bit his lip. "Well, it's not like we're going to die here or anything. We have enough emergency equipment to sustain us for the rest of our natural lives, more or less."
"That's just great Jimbo. I'm absolutely thrilled to know I get to live out the rest of my life stuck in the middle of nowhere with you, and only you for company. Unless I do actually decide to club you to death and eat your bones, in which case I'll be stuck here by myself. Ah, to hell with it, I'm going for a walk."
"You're going where?" Jimbo said, but I just ignored him, and kept on trucking into the forest. I needed to get away from him for a while.
After I was gone, he tried to call me a few times, but I didn't want to talk so I just turned off the ringer on my watch. He would probably think I had been eaten by some weird marsupial. Served him right. I was still pretty pissed. Eventually I calmed down though, and called him back. He sounded pretty relived to hear from me. I think he had been crying. I kinda felt bad about that, until I remembered he had gotten me stuck in pre-history. Then I got mad again.
A lot of time passed, and Jimmy and I managed life before civilization pretty well. The biggest problem was boredom. Not a whole lot to do back in 5000 BC. Finally, an idea came to me one day while we were sitting in front of our grotto. I started to laugh.
"What is it?" Jimmy said, "What's so funny?" He could never stand not being in on a joke.
"I have an idea for something to do."
"Well what is it?"
"Let's build stonehenge."
"What?"
"I said, let's build stonehenge. Come on, it'll be great. We got the anti-grav stuff, it shouldn't be too hard."
"But we can't build stonehenge. We're hundreds of miles from England. Anyway, I don't think we built stonehenge."
"What else do you have to do besides travel to England?" I asked him. "And I think that we did build stonehenge. Man it was such a great joke too. The best part is that we've already seen the punchline, and we haven't even told the joke yet."
"I can't belive you want to build stonehenge as a prank. You are so immature sometimes." I scowled at him. "Oh, what the hell," he said. "Why not?"
So, we built stonehenge. Later, we did the Easter Island heads. Those were fun too. Laughed our asses off the whole time, thinking of all the television specials where they tried to build these things using primitive tools, and the nuts who speculated about alien intervention. We actually had fun, and sometimes I even forgot how much I missed my home. Jimmy wasn't that bad of a guy really. Very smart, and nice, just a fuck-up. Then one day, while working on the pyramids, one of the anti-grav pods broke and Jimmy's head was crushed under a huge brick. From then on, I worked alone (well, until I met my pet orangutan, which I named Jimmy II, but that's another story). Anyway, Jimmy's death sort of took the fun out of the projects, but I must say his bones made a lovely stew.


Note: The timeline in this is entirely random and is not intended to correlate to the actual dates of construction of any weird objects, such as stonehenge.
     Sundays were always the worst. Church was mandatory--every member of the family was expected to go. How early she got up would depend upon the extent of last night's rampage and the damage done. She had learned how to discretely hide the scars, the bruises, the black eyes--all the tell-tale signs of her husband's unruly temper--through her expert make-up application. The more apparent the pain was, the more time it took to conceal it.

     Everyone at church called her a whore. "Look at that rouge," they would whisper to each other as she passed by. "Blue eyeshadow--at church?" "My, she is the little tramp, isn't she?" And they never understood how a fine, upstanding, Christian man could tolerate this direct disobedience by his supposedly submissive wife. The looks burned into her soul, and as she tried so hard to concentrate on the good message the pastor brought forth for the day, she couldn't resist cursing such hypocrites and their God. However, she would always feel guilt for this "sin" and repent for her thoughts.

     Luckily, it was only for one day. After this she would return to her upper-middle-class neighborhood and resume the role of housewife. When he was off at work she had only the care of the children, aged 1 and 3, and the cleaning of the house to worry about. She would oftentimes find herself gazing out of the window over the sink, wondering if this really was such a bad life to live after all. The slamming of the front door would answer her with a resounding "Yes" as he came home with hatred and violence accompanying him.

     She could avoid him for awhile. The house was large enough to provide work in hidden places where he might not think to look. And sometimes she didn't even need to hide. Sometimes, it was beautiful. The sweet way he looked at her still made her want to melt, as it did the first time he had looked at this innocent child in a coffee shop 5 years ago. Her innocence and naiveté caused her to overlook the signs of an abusive and stifling relationship which most other women could have recognized from the first day. Little things--possessive behavior, angry outbursts, and degrading comments she all endured. Her friends told her to get out, but she was sure it would work out. She could change him.

     But she couldn't, and she forced herself to stay with him through her two pregnancies. She promised herself she would take the children after the birth of her second son and leave, but she didn't. He treated the boys royally and never touched them in a hostile manner. The house was lovely and she had every material desire she craved. It was her loyalty, once one of her most treasured qualities, that was now causing her to remain in this dead relationship until it sucked the waning vicarity of her battered body.

     He would stand over her, after he had thoroughly convinced himself of his power and almighty manhood, chest heaving with his sole form of exercise, and look down upon his property. Looking up from where she lay she thought she could see regret hidden in his blazingly azure eyes. Oh, how she wished it was something like beer or drugs which caused him to act like this. Instead, it was just him. She was immensely more sensitive to words than touch, and the things which he yelled at her during these beatings hurt her more than any kick or punch ever could:

     "You worthless little bitch! I don't even know why I keep you around...I could have anyone! You are nothing to me! NOTHING! Quit looking at me like that! I reserve the right to club you and eat your fucking bones if it pleases me, bitch!"

* * *

     The family grew up. The little boys grew into little men. Together, they coerced him to start counseling. With this help, he improved and they almost became a family. There was always that mutually repressed hatred between the parents, though, and when the boys left home she left also.

     Occasionally, she would take time out of her busy, independent life to look back in time. In all the brutal encounters she had with her husband she could never bring herself to cry. If was as if that was the final shred of free will she possessed. Now emancipated from that imprisonment, she would sometimes stare out of her window over the sink and simply cry.

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Whose Node is it Anyway?

Shelia looked up at the sign hanging from the paint-flecked brick building. "Lover's Lane Dating Service", a vision in pink lettering and a pair of snuggling bunnies. The perfection was marred only by "Paco's Brake and Muffler" bleeding faintly through the pastel blue background. WhatamIdoingwhatamIdoingwhatamIdoing. Sheila shook her head, banishing the litany of doubt from her mind as she opened the pink door.

The lobby within was done in happy shades of pastel blue and pink, with heart-shaped end-tables and heart-shaped dishes of heart-shaped candies with simpering messages on them. Gag, Sheila thought to herself as she moved hesitantly towards the receptionist.

"Hi there!!!!!!", the receptionist bubbled. "My name's Traci, with an i! What's yours!" The plaque on her desk read "Junior Assistant Matchmaker." Sheila groaned inwardly at the though t of this woman tampering with her social life.

"Sheila McConaghy" she replied, praying for any reaction besides "Oh, gee, you're my very first customer! Yay!"

"Oh, goodie, you're right on time for your appointment with your personal love-life assistant! Come right this way!" Traci bubbled and giggled her way down a longish pink corridor, dragging a reluctant Sheila behind her. She stopped before a set of heart-shaped double doors, with a sign reading "Herman Snodgrass, Personal Love-Life Assistant." Sheila sighed, visualizing a rotund, sweaty man with greasy hair and a plastic smile. What greeted her when she opened the office door was anything but.

Herman was gorgeous! He was easily the most attractive man she had ever seen! Seated behind a large mahogany desk, his sharp pinstipe suit and easy smile radiated power and confidence. She was absolutely awestruck.

Then she noticed the man sitting in one of two heart-shaped chairs in front of the desk. Outwardly, she was calm, collected, with a slight smile as she regarded her date. Inwardly she was screaming and cowering in absolute fright. He'sgotaspearJesusChristwhyishecarryingaspearohmyGodthoselooklikeheadsontheendwhatthehellisgoingon. Herman rose from behind his desk and took Sheila's hand. "Herman Snodgrass, please, call me Hank.", he intoned, with a voice like a well-tuned cello. "And this is Tonga", he said, gesturing to the figure in the other seat.

Tonga rose from his chair, smiled, then bent over to lick Sheila's left knee. "XfhgXegeinvBlaerg" he said pleasantly, as his paint-striped body straightened.

"Please, have a seat." Hank gestured, indicating the other chair. Sheila collapsed more than sat, her eyes fastened to Tonga's spear.

"T-The paperwork I received said his name was Gerald......"

"Actually, Gerald was the closest English approximation to his name Traci could manage."

Why am I somehow not surprised.... Sheila muttered inwardly. "It also said he was a doctor......"

"Medicine Man, actually, but we didn't have a little checkbox for that, so doctor was the best we could do."

"I see. And where is he from, exactly?" she glanced at Tonga, who was now busily examining a paperweight and hooting softly.

"Somewhere in Malaysia, as near as we can tell. He showed up here and indicated, by signs and gestures, that he was seeking an American woman to bring back to his tribe and establish his superiority."

"Ah", Sheila quavered slightly. "If you don't mind my asking, how did this match up with my 'not seeking committment at this time' on my form?" Her eyes had not yet left Tonga's spear, which was currently prodding a stuffed quail mounted on the wall.

"Well, shortage of candidates, really, and you did indicate you were 'willing to experiment'..."

"I suppose I should have examined the ramifications of that statement a little further...", Sheila mused.

"And, here are your date contracts." Hank placed a form and a pen in front of each of them.

Tonga examined his briefly, then scrawled his tribal symbol, a bonobo monkey, in the space marked "signature." Sheila read hers a little more thoroughly, wincing a bit at "I reserve the right to club you and eat your bones" but thinking to herself It's either this or go home to a microwave dinner and your cat. She signed.

"Marvelous", Hank beamed. "Well, you two lovebirds had better be off on your first date, eh? Drop by tomorrow and let me know how it went!" With that he shooed them out of the building and into a waiting taxi.

As they pulled away from the curb, Tonga checked to make sure the cab door hadn't damaged his spear, then turned to Sheila and inquired, with a smile, "So, you like Italian? I know a nice little place downtown that has excellent veal."

Sheila was halfway to saying "Sure, why not, I could go for some pasta" when she realized what he had just said. She turned to him, eyes wide, and her mouth opened. "VEAL? That is so CRUEL! What are you, some kind of savage??????" Tonga winked at her and gestured at the spear with the shrunken heads. "Oh, right. Well, okay, veal sounds good."

As the taxicab sped away, "You know, you really ought to try monkey..." drifted into the night.

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