Alastor van Devere wears corduroy underwear every day. He has thirty-nine pairs so he only has to do laundry every thirty-eight days. Sometimes it seems like even longer than thirty-eight days because there are some days that Alastor van Devere wears the same pair of corduroy underwear as the day before. Sometimes when he senses danger, Alastor van Devere wears two pairs of corduroy underwear at once.
I wear a blue elephant mask every day. It has a long rubber nose and two small eyeholes. I wear this blue elephant mask because I have no face.
We live most of the year in a green sea turtle. The sea turtle is more spacious than it looks from the outside. Alastor van Devere, in his corduroy underwear, and I in my blue elephant mask, have all the comforts that modern humans need and expect from their homes and communities. This includes public parks, bicycle lanes on major roads, frozen microwave dinners, a big red sofa, and three pet mice named Albert, Susan, and Genoa, respectively.
There are many other happy couples living in sea turtles nearby, and many live aboard the Paper Nautilus. We travel slowly in a defensive formation. We travel at least four leagues per day.
Heavy metal can be a form of black magic, when there are naked dancers dancing in a clearing in the forest at 3:00 am to an Alcest song that is eleven minutes long. Heavy metal is a form of black magic and a built-in feature of Alastor van Devere’s corduroy underwear.
There is a tall thin man with a dream-catcher for a head who visits the clearing where Alcest is danced to at 3:00 am. His fingers are branches of an olive tree and have the unique ability to rearrange the stars.
When the man with a dream-catcher head rearranges major constellations to confuse lonely sailors, it is usually the Paper Nautilus that seeks them out and delivers them to their destination.
The Paper Nautilus has some features that distinguish it from former Nautili. The first is its size and complex network of well-maintained highways over and through its several large urban areas.
A former captain of the Paper Nautilus once re-wrote the story of Snow White with many incestuous, pedophilic, lesbionic undertones. The re-telling of this classic children’s tale was widely celebrated aboard the Paper Nautilus, but had only limited success elsewhere.
Another distinguishing feature of the Paper Nautilus is its thin, semi-conscious, symbiotic, external membrane. This membrane, which scholars aboard the Paper Nautilus have long studied and speculated about, seems to have been a feral membrane descended from the abandoned membranes of other Nautili several generations ago. The Paper Nautilus’re-domestication of this membrane makes it unique among Nautili.
On the deck of the sea turtle, awash with dawn light, sun barely risen over the steep-making spires and plunging causeways of a city on the shore in the distance, several leagues out from the fleet, Alastor van Devere in his corduroy underwear, and I in my blue elephant mask are drinking morning tea and preparing to watch the daily flagellation of the Paper Nautilus. It rises from beneath the surface and, overcome with ecstasy that another sun has risen over another city four leagues out from the fleet, leaps twirling into the air, tentacles awhirl, slapping the surface of its semi-conscious, symbiotic, external membrane, enormous blue eyes sparkling with joy. The Paper Nautilus, so easily overcome and in a perpetually positive mood, child-wonder coursing through its re-domesticated, external membrane, is the second to last living Nautilus in the ocean. It doesn’t understand, the scholars hypothesize, the nature of its existence, nor the gravity of its penultimate status among Nautili nor the impending extinction of its species.
It has been hard to ride the train from the sea turtle to the city every day, Alastor van Devere. I am happy we are moving into your brother’s old flat above the pipe shop next week. I know his bodily fluids are all over it, but I don’t think it’s anything a little tiger urine and some Vaseline won’t fix.
According to “The Society for the Transference of the Title ‘Pterology’ from the Study of Ferns to the Study of Underground Pterodactyls” the last known pterodactyl was killed by friendly fire in 1934. It has been almost a hundred years since the last pterodactyl was sighted, but evidence of their continued presence among us still manifests periodically, indicating that the noble species has simply withdrawn from what it would inevitably find to be an unfriendly, unforgiving modern world.
In Southern Turkey a young man by the name of Ahkbar reportedly lost seven to eight teeth in the middle of the night. There was no apparent cause. It was a great trouble for local authorities who were accused of neglecting their duties as protectors of the peace, but members of “The Society for the Transference of the Title ‘Pterology’ from the Study of Ferns to the Study of Underground Pterodactyls” at once recognized the true nature of the event to be an indication of the presence of a Pterodactyl.
Dear Alastor van Devere,
I think we’re both better off alone now, at least for a while. We told each other we would see where this led us and I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that we aren’t right for each other (not, at least, in THAT sense).
I left a pair of corduroy underwear in the back seat of your hatchback; I stuck them through a gap in the back window. You left them on my doorstep the other night.
The platform of “The Society for the Transference of the Term ‘Pterology’ from the Study of Ferns to the Study of Underground Pterodactyls” is considered valid by only a small portion of the scientific community. The platform states that the primary cause of the grievous lack of interest in and scholarship concerning the Pterodactyl is that there is no suitable term in the English language to describe the particular field of study. Their short-term goals are spreading Xeroxed copies of pamphlets around public restrooms in coastal towns. Their long-term goals are the legal acquisition of the term “Pterology.”
Alastor van Devere wears corduroy underwear because he likes the feel of the corduroy against his genitals – and corduroy is a durable, largely stain-resistant fabric. He has been wearing corduroy underwear for eleven years – since he lost seven to eight of his front teeth to what some scholars believe to have been a pterodactyl in the middle of the night.
1. Pterodactyls are predisposed to practice amateur dental surgery.
2. Pterodactyls are kleptomaniacs.
3. Pterodactyls don’t have any teeth.
These three conditions led to a decrease in the belief that black magic (heavy metal) is responsible for the nighttime loss of seven to eight front teeth.
In addition, pterodactyls don’t have any teeth, which means that they cannot get cavities, and so they eat a lot of sweets and never have to think about the repercussions.
I wear the blue elephant mask because I do not have a face.
The man with a dream-catcher for a head who sometimes dances in black magic (heavy metal) rituals has golden teeth sewn into his dream-catcher that he gnashes when aroused.
When Alastor van Devere and I are watching the heavy metal (black magic) rituals from the deck of our semi-spacious sea turtle four to five leagues from shore and the crest of the sea turtle is glimmering with starlight, Alastor van Devere pulls on an extra pair of corduroy underwear.
Sometimes I feel unprotected and exposed when the fleet of sea turtles is waiting for the Paper Nautilus to return with provisions, directions, and a couple of lonely sailors.
In the city a woman is shopping. No one told the woman that all of her children were bringing friends home from school with them. There are only two cans of tuna in the pantry. So the woman is shopping. The woman is shopping for fifty-six teenagers. The woman hates all of her children. She thinks she might have expected that they would stay cooing, mewling infants eternally. The woman should not have had twenty-eight children. The woman is shopping for ingredients for a meat-less, cheese-less, gluten-free lasagna for fifty-six teenagers with diverse dietary restrictions. The steep-making spires and the plunging causeways of the city are visible through the stained glass roof of the supermarket where the woman is shopping and thinking about how much she hates her twenty-eight children, and their twenty-eight friends, because no one told her that all of her twenty-eight children were bringing friends home from school to stay for dinner.
Back on the Paper Nautilus, lions with no manes are prowling the rainforest through which a huge, well-maintained, six-lane highway stretches. The tentacles of the Paper Nautilus are splashing the ocean and it is swooping and diving through tall waves like a big, tentacular bird. On board the Paper Nautilus the members of “The Society for the Transference of the Title ‘Pterology’ from the Study of Ferns to the Study of Underground Pterodactyls” are growing sea-sick as they pack napalm bombs to exterminate the forest and rid the Paper Nautilus of ferns forever.
A lonely sailor rescued by the Paper Nautilus is sitting on the edge of the highway that stretches from one edge of the Paper Nautilus to the other. It is the largest highway on the Paper Nautilus, and the busiest. The lonely sailor is watching and waiting for the ocean to give him a sign that he is supposed to be aboard the Paper Nautilus, a sign that the hollowness in his heart will fade, or that the ocean would not welcome him if he plummeted into it from the highway, but would spit him back up, or that his death would stop something huge from moving – a sign from the ocean that his death would be like a spoon in a garbage disposal. He is waiting for someone on the highway to stop him, or someone on the Paper Nautilus to notice that he is gone. The lonely sailor feels like the Paper Nautilus. He feels like the second to last lonely sailor left in the ocean. All of his friends and his family were killed or eaten by sea beasts when their boat ran ashore because someone had rearranged the stars. He feels like the second to last lonely sailor in the entire ocean.
It has been a long time, and the ocean is not doing anything (or, at least, from his height it is not doing anything; were he closer to the ocean he would see that it is frowning at him and mouthing angrily, “I will spit you back out!”). So the sailor touches his cold cheeks one last time, rubs his fingers together lovingly, smiles one last bright, radiant smile and, laughing to himself, he dives over the edge of the Paper Nautilus. Down, down, down, the lonely sailor falls for so long that he seems to be hovering static in resistant liquid before, with a mighty splattering sound, the lonely sailor lands in a field of sticky blue mucus. He tries to move, but his body is stuck to the surface of the field by the thick, gluey fluid. The lonely sailor pries his face off of the field which, under the mucus-y layer, is slick and glass-like, and looks around him.
He seems to be on the top of a shallow blue hill.
The lonely sailor tries to push himself up, but he is stuck like a fly to flypaper.
The hill of sailorpaper seems to shift; he feels himself move with it. Then there is a low moaning sound that comes from deep within the hill, or far, far below it.
The lonely sailor realizes with a great shock that he has landed on the eyeball of the Paper Nautilus.
The Paper Nautilus moans again. The lonely sailor can only interpret this sound as a sound of annoyance. He does not speak the language of the Paper Nautilus.
“I’m sorry, oh, I’m so sorry,” says the lonely sailor, beginning to cry, “I didn’t mean to land here. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I hope you’re not hurt. Look at me… I can’t even kill myself right.”
The Paper Nautilus moans again, somewhat sympathetically, the lonely sailor thinks.
When the Paper Nautilus leaves the fleet to rescue lonely sailors, our sea turtle always quivers with unease. There are many ravenous sea beasts that would like to capture our sea turtles and drag them up onto the cliffs of the California coast and fry them in the sun for eating later. The sea beasts that want to cook and eat our sea turtle are captained by appointed government officials. There are no free elections aboard the ravenous sea beasts.
“I want to die because I am the last sailor in the ocean,” the lonely sailor confides to the eye of the Paper Nautilus. “It feels like there isn’t any point because no matter how hard I look, I’ll never find another sailor in the ocean. I’ll be alone forever. I can’t go on knowing I’ll be alone forever.”
There is a long silence. The lonely sailor can feel the Paper Nautilus breathing evenly beneath him, and he can see the pupil of the Paper Nautilus’ eye a few yards away. And then suddenly the mucus-y sailor-catching layer of eye fluid begins to thin, he is sliding down the face of the eye. The Paper Nautilus is crying.
“I’m sorry,” the sailor cries, grasping at the smooth glass-like surface over which he is now sliding with his fingernails, hoping he is not hurting the Paper Nautilus even more. “I didn’t mean to make you cry. I just don’t know how YOU do it – how you go on so cheerfully, every day, knowing that you are the second to last Paper Nautilus in the ocean – that one day you will probably be the last.”
The Paper Nautilus begins to moan again, but this time it is not a sympathetic sound. It is a sound of untranslatable, unquantifiable despair.
The lonely sailor slides in a waterfall of tears, over the lid of the eye of the Paper Nautilus and into the disapproving ocean.
Alastor van Devere seems unusually sad this morning. His corduroy underwear is chaffing. His eyes are red and swollen with sleeplessness. He has been up all night soothing the sea turtle, listening for the sound of the Paper Nautilus’ return. We drink our tea in a bitter silence.
The sea turtles miss the Paper Nautilus; they are calling to one another. They are worried.
Someone has explained to the Paper Nautilus that it is the second to last Nautilus in the ocean. All other Nautili have grown ten-toed feet and crawled up the cliffs of the California coast to live peaceful, half-conscious lives in the city of steep-making spires and plunging, narrow causeways.
The network of well-maintained highways running over the surface of the Paper Nautilus is empty. The membrane has taken flight. Sun-burned lions with no manes roam the desolate stretches of pavement between the major cities of the Paper Nautilus scavenging, eating the remains of cactus plants – the only plants left alive aboard the Paper Nautilus.
Inside the elephant mask I make a sobbing noise and Alastor van Devere or the sea turtle, or one of the three mice, or some combination of them, kiss the palms of my outstretched hands and the end of the rubber nose of the elephant mask.
The Paper Nautilus returned today, but all of the cities and highways were empty.
Lions with no manes and Pterodactyls with necklaces of human teeth prowled the empty pavement and circled ominously above the cities and towers aboard the Paper Nautilus. “The Society for the Transference of the Title ‘Pterology’ from the Study of Ferns to the Study of Underground Pterodactyls” released seventy-four hand-assembled napalm bombs over the rainforest of the Paper Nautilus, destroying every last fern and winning the court case to determine if the title “Pterology” should be transferred from the study of ferns to the study of Pterodactyls.
Pterodactyls returned in full force to the cities of the Paper Nautilus with their dental surgery equipment and their big, toothless beaks gnashing.
There was never any such thing as a pterodactyl in most of the cities and towns aboard the Paper Nautilus, and no one had an emergency escape plan.
All were killed.
A woman in the city doing her shopping watches through the stained glass ceiling of the supermarket as a flock of pterodactyls fly overhead. Great sea turtles are dragged up onto the cliffs of the California coast to fry in the sun, and Alastor van Devere, in his corduroy underwear, and I in my blue elephant mask, settle in for the ride as our sea turtle bucks and kicks, fighting with all of its might against the sea beasts dragging it to shore.