Note: The ongoing series "Where the Archives End" will return next week.
"What if we just… what if we just never, ever stopped raving?" asked the At-Risk Teen.
"You know, 'molly' grows wild, here. It should last us for quite a long time, if it's just the two of us," said the terrifying nightmare rainbow snake.
"I think everything is going to be allllllllll right," said the At-Risk Teen, greedily gobbling a handful of homemade drugs he pulled out of the ground.
"Me, too," chuckled the terrifying nightmare rainbow snake. "Me, too."
What makes a rainbow? Science would have you believe it has something to do with light refraction off of water vapor, but science has always been too smitten with its precious facts and testable results to provide answers that capture the imagination. Combined with the need for relative quiet during lab hours and a discipline-wide discouragement of microscope misuse, you can understand why all children hate science.
Yet our world is one of persistent, nagging mystery, and our success as a species is thanks in large part to our voracious curiosity: ancient man wondered if standing upright while hunting on the plains would solve his problem of not being able to see a yummy ibex over the top of tall grass. He wondered if fashioning a tool or weapon could reduce the hours he usually had to devote to bashing a yummy ibex to death with his giant, filthy hands. His dinner pulverized, he looked at the night sky, leaden with stars, and wondered if he could eat those things, too.
Once he'd mastered the basics, his curiosity turned from matters of "how" to "why," and found that if he just made stuff up, his explanations usually passed muster. It helped a lot if he incorporated talking animals.
"Crikey," said the aboriginal Australian, "there's something you don't see every dishwalla." He and his animal pals stood puzzled, trying to make sense of the scene before them.
The group departed for the distant frog and endured a grueling, tragic trek through the harsh landscape. By the time the journey concluded, only the koala survived.
He patted his empty pouch in a futile attempt to locate his camera, then realized he'd handed it to the cassowary just before the bird had stumbled into a nest of cobras.
"Aw, chunder!" cursed the koala, furious that the whole journey had been for nothing. Above him, the bullfrog somehow began to chuckle as it continued to barf.
…and that's where the phrase "Don't go chasing waterfalls" originated!
"Why bright circle in sky go away? Now it cold and dark," said the second-smartest caveman.
"Oh, that easy," replied the smartest caveman. "Big rabbit eat it every day, then lay egg that just as bright for next day." He did not know how rabbits worked, but as the smartest caveman, had no one to whom he could turn for expertise.
"Me am see," said the second-smartest caveman. "But what about when sky makes wet-wet?" The second-smartest caveman was at the meeting when it was decided to call this phenomenon "rain," but still clung to his preferred phrasing because he thought it made him sound cool. At least he'd stopped calling the fire pit "ash hole."
"Rain happen because rabbits bite holes in sky, and sky-ocean drips down." The smartest caveman, while smarter than the other cavemen, tended to suggest rabbits as the cause of most natural occurrences whenever he couldn't think of a better answer.
"Right. But not same rabbit as rabbit that eat bright circle. Different rabbit. That sound correct to me." The second-smartest caveman rolled his eyes, thus discovering sarcasm.
And lo, oral tradition was born! Ancient man came to rely on this "black box" approach (named after an obelisk popular with cavemen) -- examining results without being able to know the process through which they were created or achieved -- to make sense of what he saw, and try and explain it in a way that kept his world feeling grounded. If he were crafty, he might even pry a moral lesson or two out of the tale, once morality came into fashion in the mid-Paleozoic era.
"Why, yes-- as the King of Dreams, I can do anything I please! Watch as I whip up some exciting sherbet that can tell the future-- ALSO MY HAND IS BACKWARD THE WHOLE TIME."
…and that's how nightmares were invented.
The feature Tell Me a Story continues this practice, recounting famous myths, fuzzy historical recollections and regional, cultural or spiritual legends and parables every week. Though modern scientific and religious canon has recast much of its function as more of a friendly distraction instead of accepted fact, that doesn't mean it's not fun to read.
Luckily, the folder I happened across in our archives contained only the feature's artwork, with the accompanying text nowhere to be found!
Inspired by ancient man's propensity to reverse engineer the origins of his world based on whatever evidence he could gather, today I'm attempting to recreate the tales told in Tell Me a Story using only the illustrations and their respective titles. I'm sure the text for these is located somewhere, but finding it would mean I'd have to think up something else to write about this week, and I'd probably decide to discuss Marmaduke again.
The kingdom was in a panic! After a jousting tournament went awry and claimed the lives of every freelancer in the realm, there was no one left to screen-print posters for the upcoming elections, and the town giant's unique visage was commemorated only in the minds of a few. Something had to be done!
One day while out searching for some moss on which to nap, a young shepherd happened upon some stones which had been utterly covered in graphic design! He spied an elderly man hurriedly rolling up a stencil, and chased him down. Once he'd explained the kingdom's predicament, the old man introduced himself as Mr. Fairey and led the boy to a nearby cave, where his family had practiced graphic design for generations. The rest of the family was busy silkscreening jerkins for the upcoming Old Jerkin Days festival, but the old man said he could spare his son's services in exchange for the exposure his work would bring. And so, the boys returned to the kingdom, and gave them hope.
"Go on," said Lennie. "How's it gonna be. We gonna get a little place."
"We'll have a cow," said George. "An' we'll have maybe a pig an' chickens… an' down the flat we'll have a… little piece alfalfa--"
"For the rabbits," Lennie shouted.
"For the rabbits," George repeated.
"And I get to tend the rabbits."
"An' you get to tend the rabbits."
"Here I go again," the apprentice muttered, now that he was on his own. He lowered his head so that he and the white snake could speak privately. He had so many questions!
"Is this love," he asked, "that I'm feeling? Is this the love that I've been searching for?" Earlier in the day, going down the only road he'd ever known, he'd watched a bewitching redhead writhe atop a sweet-looking wagon, and counted the minutes until he could consult with the wise reptile about his chances with her.
Turns out, it's sliced bananas. Everyone agrees.
"Thank goodness we were born in an age and region where most men wear eye shadow," Robert Smith said to his bandmates. He was annoyed at the sound of the weeping man in the bed behind him, as it distracted him from his work, idly plucking flower petals. While deeply in touch with his feminine side, he still knew that boys don't cry.
I tried for a long time to think of something to go along with this last one, but I'd be more interested to see what sort of story y'all think suits it. Please type your results in the comments, and I'll see if I can't dig something up around here worth sending to whomever comes up with the best take.
We'll do this again sometime, in a much shorter format. Next week: we'll shovel all those dead canaries out of the tunnel leading down to the archives and get back to business!