Sunday, June 27, 2010

Yard Sales and Pub Quizes


I went to a yard sale today at the premises of the Walters & Kissinger Studio.  Bob and Tess were clearing out old stuff, and at bargain prices.  I picked up a Miocene whale vertebra for five dollars, and a replica of an oviraptor egg for a buck -- one of a boxload of museum shop replicas that normally go for a bundle.  I know because I already own the Tyrannosaurus claw.

Mostly, though, Marianne and I just spent several hours hanging with our friends.  Everybody was in a good mood.  Especially the people who picked up some fabulous bargains for a pittance.

And of course I wrote a story today . . .

Because I've promised the Clarion West folks I would.  Here it is:

Pub Quizzing With Death
Michael Swanwick

An hour into the quiz, James Crossley  thought I should have gone with chess.  Only that wasn’t true.  He played chess well, but certainly not on a grandmaster level.  And Death had taken many a grandmaster.   So a pub quiz was probably his best shot.  Not that he’d had any choice in the matter.  When Death walks into a bar and challenges you, you have to choice but to play.
So far he’d answered every question.  He’d known the names of every member of the original Olympic Ball Club of Philadelphia in 1833, and which two Town Ball associations had merged to form it.  He named the original Beatles – George, John, Paul, Stuart, and Pete.  He knew what song the mermaids sang when Ulysses was lashed to the mast and what J. Robert Oppenheimer had murmured after the first A-bomb test.
Death, looked  unworried.  He grabbed a handful of goldfish from a basket on the bar and swallowed them.  They rattled through his ribcage and fell to the floor.  “Last round,” he said.  “The topic is:  James Crossley’s Mirror Universe Evil Twin, Yelssorc Semaj.”
“What?” Crossley said. 
“It’s simple enough.  How well do you know yourself?  Your Evil Twin is the exact opposite.  It’s practically a gimme.  Five questions.  Answer them all and you walk free.”
Crossley swallowed.  “Go ahead.”
“What is Yelssorc Semaj’s favorite sport?”
The opposite of baseball could be anything from skittles to tiddly-winks.  Or did Death mean the sport that he hated most?  No, it had to be sport which had displaced his own as America’s favorite.   “Football.”
Death nodded solemnly, as if he’d expected no less.  “What is his favorite color?”
“His favorite food?”
“That’s perilously close to cheating, but I’ll give it to you.  How many children does Yelssorc Semaj have?”
There was a stickler.  He had a young son and an even younger daughter.  What was the opposite of two – one?  Infinity?   Finally, he said.  “He has two – a four-week-old boy and a five-year-old girl.” 
“Five.  This is the one that settles the match.”  Death took a genteel sip of whiskey.  It trickled down the front of his spine.  “Yelssorc Semaj’s wife says she fell for him because he has beautiful hands.  Explain.”
For an instant Crossley couldn’t even breathe, much less think.  That was what his own wife had said.  So how could the opposite be true?  “I . . .  I . . .”
“Come, come, Mr. Crossley,” Death said genially.  “Others are waiting to play.”
Crossley thought furiously.  What was that thing that had been said about the horror writer Robert Bloch – about having the heart of a small boy?
“He keeps them in a box on his desk.”
Nobody in the bar made a sound.  Then Death slowly stood and bowed.   “Congratulations, sir.  It’s been a long time since I was bested in game of skill.”  He turned and walked to the door.
Just before leaving, he paused and said over his shoulder, “Same time next week?”


Above:  A small fraction of the sale, including a six-foot-tall cardboard-mounted dino poster.  I really NEEDED that back when I had wall space.


Matthew Brandi said...

"[Insert Tuckerism here] thought furiously" ... and lived to fight another day.

Swanwick establishes a mini-genre, or Swanwick takes a beating from the fourth and fiercest Fury, Deadline. ;)

(Or call this the Haydn Problem: "Individually, Herr H., these symphonies are wonderful, but ... there seem to be awfully many of them.")

Had I not scratched my head over furious thinking in the first place--quick thinking?--, I'm sure I'd not even have noticed its recurrence.

Michael Swanwick said...

And yet you missed the strange fates. (Imagine a smiley emoticon here, if you wish.)

Matthew Brandi said...

You have me there, I confess.

Michael said...

A Bob & Tess Yard Sale ... the mind boggles at such.

skyknyt said...

Oh my gosh, I've been enjoying all of these tuckerizations, but this one especially. Death dumping his food on the floor makes me laugh every time.

springer said...

I think I owe Clarion an even bigger donation. Well done, Mr. Swanwick.

Gabriel said...

A very fun read!