I’ve got a strange little story up at Maudlin House today. What started as a silly, pun-filled exercise in wordplay ended up as time-jumping surrealist quest to stop World War I. Check out “Communist Armstrong and the Dadaist Detective Agency“!
I wrote this back in 2006 or so. It was originally published in Clavicle Magazine.
Dick Cheney shuffled into his office like an aging prize-fighter. Three fire-bellied toads sat on his desk. More specifically, they were Lichuan Bell Toads of the genus Bombina lichuanensis. Dick took this odd event in stride. One must be able to deal with these sorts of eventualities if you’re to run the world. So, to the frogs, I mean toads, the Vice President said, “I’m Dick Cheney, who the hell are you?”
“We are the Frogs of Firebelly Three!” they squawked in response, “We come to ask you a question; a riddle it be!”
“Well shoot it up, fire away!” shouted Cheney from the side of his mouth.
Just then, like in a spooky book, the lamps flickered and a chilling breeze shook the curtains, though it was over ninety degrees Fahrenheit with humidity hanging around eighty-eight percent. Did I mention it was mid-August?
Anyway, those atmospheric effects set the mood for those creepy Lichuan Bell Toads and their infernal bloody riddle. After all that pomp and circumstance, they croaked ceremoniously, “If you eat it, you will die. The poor have it and the rich don’t need it. It is greater than God yet more evil than the Devil. What is it?”
Dick Cheney sat with furrowed brow and slouching spine, staring his best one-eyed pirate stare at the Frogs of Firebelly Three. Seriously, why do they call themselves the Frogs of Firebelly Three when they are really Toads? Weird.
Eventually Dick smirked and said, “It’s oil, you fool! If you eat it you’ll die. The poor have it because they’re buying it! The rich don’t need it because we control it all! It gives you power greater then God and… and, uh…”
“Yes?” said the triune amphibians with an air of infinite patience.
“Who said, ‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely’?”
“It was Lord Acton, a British historian of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,” answered the middle Lichuan Bell Toad. The other two flanking Toads looked at the center Toad with a sort of sly and amused shock.
“I saw it on A&E last night,” explained the informative middle frog.
“Oh,” said everyone else.
So Dick continued, “So, it isn’t oil, is it?”
“No, Dick, it’s not,” confirmed the Toads in unison, “It’s nothing.”
“What do you mean?!” exclaimed Mr. Cheney, “Oh, wait, I get it. If you eat nothing, you die. Ha-ha, the poor have it, the rich don’t need it. But then you’re presupposing that ‘nothing’ is greater than God and ‘nothing’ is more evil than the Devil.”
“Quite so, Mr. Cheney. God and the Devil are symbolic representations of energetic polarities, archetypes of the mind. God is a symbol of the greatest of the great and the Devil is a symbol of the evilest of evil.”
Dick scratched the side of his liver-spotted head with his right index finger and said in a haltingly jarring voice, “I, uh, you kind of lost me in all the metaphysical mumbo jumbo. If you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting with the President of Halliburton. They have a check for me.” Dick then rose from his chair, strutting like an aging pimp and exited the office.
The Lichuan Toads who call themselves the Frogs of Firebelly Three said, “Well shit, we lost another one,” and vanished with a theatrical poof of genie smoke.