Tuesday, September 30, 2008


An Early Halloween Treat

My daughters, who are students at the University of Central Oklahoma, asked me to submit a short story to a university publication for a special Halloween edition. I was told only that the submission had to be "Halloween-themed" but other than that, there were no restrictions.

So I did, and here it is, which I have decided to share with you. As always, my work is my work, which means it is the sole property of Terry L. Mirll. Any unauthorized reproduction is thievery, and I just won't tolerate it, dang it all!

Other than that, please read. And enjoy.

Udder Swine
by Terry L. Mirll

Dr. Studmuffin P. Frankenstein—absolutely no relation whatsoever to that pinhead made famous by Mrs. Shelley, to this he quite adamant—looked down upon his creation and smiled the satisfied smile that only the truly satisfied could make. It was a satisfaction both in his creation and in himself. And in science itself, of course.

His hunchbacked assistant, Igor-Bob, slowly approached both his employer and the odd creation standing innocuously in the makeshift pen beside which Dr. Frankenstein stood. Igor-Bob, who was foreman at Hawg Himmel Biofarms, a wholly owned subsidiary of Studmuffin P. Frankenstein Enterprises Unlimited, which is to say he was Dr. Frankenstein’s sole employee, parked himself casually beside his employer, or rather, to the left and one step back, as called for in the employer/hunchbacked employee protocols, for which Dr. Frankenstein was a stickler of the you-just-would-not-believe-it sort.

“Well, Igor-Bob,” said the good Doctor, the unparalleled genius—of this he was now completely certain. “What do you think?”

“Master,” Igor-Bob replied with great tact. “You know as well as I that I am not paid to think. That’s your job, a fact that you have no hesitation in reminding me, and for which you have often taken great pains in so doing.”

“Absolutely, Igor-Bob,” Dr. Frankenstein said, pursing his lips in even greater satisfaction than before, if such a thing were possible. “Still, I would like to hear your opinion. What do you think of my handiwork?”

Igor-Bob made a slow survey of the creature in the pen, not wanting to appear overly hasty in judgment. After a long moment, he announced with firm resolution: “Looks like a pig.”

Dr. Frankenstein jumped, just a bit, as if barely able to contain his glee, and let out a small squeal. “Ah, Igor-Bob!” he said, after regaining his usual composure. “As the saying goes, appearances are oftbetimes not what at first glance would not warrant a second one.”

A look of befuddlement slowly etched its way across Igor-Bob’s face. “My great master,” the hunchback said, “do you not perhaps mean, ‘Appearances are deceptive’?”

“Oh, yes. That, too.”

“And by that, you imply that this thing that looks like a pig is not really a pig?”

“With all certainly. Have a look underneath.” Dr. Frankenstein made a brief gesture at the pig-thing’s underbelly.”

Igor-Bob, still uncertain as to where all this was leading, leaned forward a bit to give the creature further examination. After a moment, he got down on all fours and placed his head low to the ground, an enormously difficult task for someone with a huge hump on his back, to be sure. He held his head there for a long while. He looked. Then, he looked some more. And, just to make sure he had given the job sufficient attention, he looked even more. Slowly, he righted his head, and with reprise of difficulty, got up, dusted himself off, and calmly and resolutely clasped his hands together.

“Oh, dear,” he said quietly.

Dr. Frankenstein beamed triumphantly. “What do you say? Isn’t that, like, THE most amazing thing you’ve ever seen?”

Igor-Bob tried to think of something appropriate to say. All he could manage was to repeat himself. “Oh, dear.” And then he added, “Dear me.”


“It—” Igor-Bob began.

Dr. Frankenstein leered expectantly. “ ‘It’ what?”

Igor-Bob took a moment to compose his thought. “It’s a pig, but it has an udder like a cow!”

“To be precise,” said Dr. Frankenstein, with upraised index finger for added emphasis, “it’s a pig—WITH A COW’S UDDER!” This only served to confuse Igor-Bob all the more, who simply could not see just what it was about Dr. Frankenstein’s turn of phrase that was any more accurate than his own.

“Yes,” Igor-Bob said after a long, addled moment. “But why?”


“Why make a pig that has a cow’s udder?”

“Why ask why? Oh, that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

With a gnarled hand, Igor-Bob pensively scratched one of his chins. “No. Seriously,” he said resolutely. “What on earth would inspire you to construct a pig with an udder like a cow—er, a pig with a cow’s udder?”

The question served only to spoil Dr. Frankenstein’s otherwise ebullient mood. “If you’re going to be that way, I’m sorry I ever broached the subject with you,” he said testily.

“Far be it for me to rain on your parade,” Igor-Bob replied. “Still, I think it’s a fair question.”

“You’re not PAID to think! That’s MY job!!” Dr. Frankenstein cried indignantly.

Igor-Bob demurred. “Absolutely. That certainly goes without saying,” he said, in as soothing a manner as he could muster. “Still, you DID ask me for my input, and surely you would not blame me for posing the question. I’ve heretofore heard no outcry from the general public of the “Why, oh why, can’t someone with a very, VERY big brain help us all out and invent a pig that has cow udders?” sort, so it simply stands to reason to examine why in the world someone as bright and inventive and unquestionably brilliant like yourself would bother with such a thing at all instead of inventing something that the public really seems to be in earnest for, like a diet pill that actually works, or beer-flavored chewing gum, or a supermarket shopping cart that doesn’t mysteriously jerk itself to the left or right down the aisle, or an automobile that runs entirely on illegal immigrants? I am simply saying in my humble way that it would be helpful if you could enlighten me as to your motivation for wanting to put a cow’s udder on a pig. So be a pal—er, Master, and answer my question, as only the unquestionably brilliant like yourself can do.”

This seemed to calm Dr. Frankenstein down. “Very well,” he said. “As long as you admit that I’m just WAY smarter than you are!”

“Always, Master.”

“Fine. The idea came to me only last week, when I was at the do-it-yourself center looking for spare body parts. I overheard a conversation in the paint department. A customer had been pushing his cart down the aisle, when the contraption suddenly jerked to the right and plowed straight into a display stack of paint cans, knocking the whole thing down and spilling gallons and gallons of semi-glossy off-white exterior enamel paint all over the floor.”

“See what I’m saying?” Igor-Bob interrupted. “You could have prevented that.”

“Don’t get distracted. Anyway, the paint department’s assistant sales manager demanded that the customer pay for the damage. To which the customer replied, and I quote: ‘When pigs fly!’ unquote.” He paused, making a meaningful glance at Igor-Bob, who, so he hoped, would readily see the significance of the customer’s retort.

The hope had been in vain. Igor-Bob furrowed his brow so that it looked like a freshly-plowed cotton field. “So the phrase ‘When pigs fly’ inspired you to create a pig with an udder like a cow?”

“With a COW’S UDDER, you fool!” the good Doctor bellowed. “And no! Don’t be a fool! The phrase, as any idiot could surmise, inspired me to create a pig that could FLY!”

This did absolutely nothing to ease Igor-Bob’s confusion, which rose to levels not felt since the Bush-Dukakis debates.

“Master,” he said, with great trepidation and most careful selection of words, “perhaps it’s my weak intellect, which is clearly and unquestionably inferior to that your own, but I’m having just the teensiest bit of difficulty understanding how an inspiration to create a pig that can fly would culminate in a pig with a cow’s udder—and not merely with an udder like a cow—inasmuch as, so far as I can recall, udders have more to do with the production of milk than with functions such as flight.”

“Well, clearly, you idiot, my intention was to create a pig with WINGS—or maybe some other means of propulsion, like propellers or maybe even a gas turbine engine.”

“But instead of wings, you got—”

“Udders!!” Isn’t that amazing?”

Igor-Bob coughed weakly. “Yes, Master, but it’s not exactly what you had set out to do. If the goal is to put wings on a pig and instead all you manage is to modify the animal’s mammary glands, shouldn’t one see such a thing as more of a disappointment than a triumph?”

Dr. Frankenstein scoffed. “Just shows what YOU know,” he garbled. “Why the history of scientific advancement is replete with tales of geniuses like myself who set out to create one thing only to accidentally create another, and by so doing making themselves not only famous but filthy stinking rich as well. One scientist was TRYING to create a better super glue, but wound up with a glue that would never quite set. At first, he thought he had failed, but when he applied the glue to a piece of yellow paper, he found he could post it, take it down, and post it again, and thus the yellow sticky-note was born!! And another scientist accidentally dumped an array of chemicals into a beaker and very nearly poured the concoction down the drain, when he realized that the substance was developing rubber-like qualities. This substance became known as LATEX, to the unbridled joy of condom-makers and fetish shops all across the globe!!”

With a bemused sigh, Igor-Bob took in his master’s commentary and thought a bit. “Yes,” he said at long last, “but in each of the cases you cited, a scientist began with an idea, thought initially that he had failed, but ended up succeeding because the thing he had unintentionally created was nonetheless useful, albeit in some unexpected way. In one case, the end product is a yellow note that can be tacked anywhere and removed. This is useful for people who want to leave notes. In the other case, the end product is a thing that comes in handy if you want to prevent the spread of STDs. This is useful to sailors or professional basketball players or even freshmen of any given university in central Oklahoma. But what I still fail to see is just how—marvelous though such a thing may be—a pig with a cow’s udder might be in some way any more useful than, say, a pig WITHOUT a cow’s udder.”

Dr. Frankenstein scowled, his high spirits completely crushed. “Igor-Bob, you are an utter fool.”

“Master, is that some sort of pun?”

The blow with which Dr. Frankenstein hammered his foreman and assistant was brutal and without restriction or remorse. Its force was so great that it immediately straightened the kink in his back, the ultimate result of which—once Igor-Bob was released from intensive care, of course—was to remove all trace of a hump from his back and to morph his posture into something far less hideous than what it had been before. Soon thereafter, Igor-Bob left his job at Hawg Himmel Biofarms, a wholly owned subsidiary of Studmuffin P. Frankenstein Enterprises Unlimited, and found employment modeling men’s underwear for J.C. Penney’s.

Happily, Dr. Frankenstein’s faith in the unintended advances of science turned out to be well-founded after all. Not too soon after Igor-Bob’s departure, Studmuffin P. Frankenstein Enterprises Unlimited was able to establish Hawg Himmel Biofarms as one of the premier cheese makers of Southern Transylvania, known in particular for its hearty, semi-soft cheese—an aromatic, mellow variety with a smooth aftertaste of crisp, smoky bacon. It works particularly well with eggs.

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Monday, September 22, 2008


Dirk Gently Meets Jake Killjoy

I took the opportunity the other day to read Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. I’ve also started Adams’ The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, the second Dirk Gently adventure.

Sad to say, it’s taken me this long to get around to reading anything of Adams’ work other than the four books of his Hitchhiker trilogy. Adams, rest his soul—presuming, of course, that he was wrong about evolution in that he actually had a soul to rest—was a brilliant humorist and observationist, and I’ve always been a tremendous admirer of his work. His greatest strength was his ability to create an absurd event—say, a sofa impossibly jammed up a staircase—and develop it as a thematic element foreshadowing epic consequences.

Where Adams and I part company, however, is in our general outlook concerning religious faith. Clearly, Adams was a secularist who viewed religious faith as mostly harmless (to use the phrase from Hitchhiker) but ultimately silly. A case in point from DG is the Electric Monk, a being created by aliens for believing all the nonsense the aliens were to busy to be bothered with. In the early chapters of the novel, the Electric Monk sits atop his horse, staring down at the valley below, rapt in his belief-du-jour, in this case that everything is pink. This is, Adams suggests, what believers do. They believe. Some believers believe that the universe was created by an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent creator. Other believers believe that everything is pink. Not a great deal of difference between the two, really. Also, note that the Electric Monk is a monk, and not an electric politician or electric dentist or electric scientist or electric assistant director of sales for the Atlantic seaboard not including Hoboken. “Electric monk” is just another way of saying “religious nutbag.” Seems to me, Adams would look upon such a term as needlessly repetitious.

However, this oversimplifies the nature of belief. Some beliefs are arbitrary, sure. But some are not. Some beliefs come about through experience and observation. For anyone who says that belief is wholly arbitrary, allow me to suggest they poke their fingers into the whirling blade of a running lawnmower. I believe they’ll come off.

It is true, though, that some beliefs defy all good sense. What my own comic detective, Jake Killjoy, will attempt to demonstrate is that there are lots of really looney, whack-a-mole beliefs out there—but these are paraded as scientific, and anyone who dares express doubt about them can find himself subject to attack, whether verbally, academically, professionally, or even physically.

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