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The Essay
Show #532
Days of Dog
David Gunn

The dog days are traditionally the sultriest period of summer, from about July 3rd to August 11th. Named by paleometeorologist Urf of the Stone Spear Tribe, the period was reckoned as extending from twenty days before to twenty days after the conjunction of the sun and Sirius, a distant star shaped like a dog right down to its muzzle-like corona. That's the good news. The bad news is that, at least here in the Northeastern Demisphere, the end of the dog days means the beginning of the rat days.

The rat days were named by an anonymous tribesman who found the half-gnawed body of Urf in a swale near his cave. He speculated that a rival tribe of ravenous rodents, disillusioned from forty days of sultr, took it out on the poor paleometeorologist. The rats then commenced a decades-long spree of pillaging the nearby hominid settlements, turning any colonizer who stood in their way into so much ratatouille. There seemed to be no defense against these swarming, swaggering rodents, until Daedalus showed up. Daedalus, you may recall, was the architect of King Midos' Labyrinth on the island of Crete. History books correctly place him in Sicily after he left the king's employ, but most fail to note the two months he spent in Stone Spear Tribeland where he constructed an even more elaborate labyrinth. It was into this maze that the gang of rodents stumbled one day. Lured on by the aroma of fresh hominid grits, they ventured further and further into the structure's Möbius strip-like convolutions where, it's rumored, they remain to this day.

If the dog days suggest a period of stagnation--and eighty percent of the world's swamps were created during the dog days--then the rat days bring to mind those times of desertion that typically follow, as the following cautionary tale bears out.

"Lozenges for Rambo." The three words glowed green on Jerome's computer monitor. He'd just accessed his email when the apparent gibberish materialized. Lozenges for Rambo? Could be the exoskeleton of a computer virus, or maybe just a harmless come-on for a salacious webvert. Jerome stared at the words, willing them to make sense to him. It was hard work, and he involuntarily yawned. Abruptly, the three words leapt from the computer screen into his mouth, hit the uvula and bounced back up to his lips, which instinctively puckered, trapping them inside. The first word tasted a little like chicken--its thalamus, he thought. The other two he couldn't identify, though each had an air of mystery to it. As he turned the phrase over with his tongue, it anagrammatized into "zero oblong frames." Jerome felt little pinpoints of elliptical light emanate from the word "oblong," illuminating the back of his teeth. The "frames" morpheme seemed to have a palpable structure to it, however it was nullified by the "zero." Save for a hazy data shadow of the missing words, the computer screen was blank. Jerome's mind was likewise trending in that direction, but the tang of thalamus on his taste buds pulled his focus back towards Rambo.

Rambo. He chewed on the lozenge-like word again, masticating it till it was the consistency of pâté de hominid. Rambo, rambo--Rambouillet! His mind grabbed for the new word with the exigency of an amputated finger puppet. Ruby, his missing sheep, was a Rambouillet! The shock of the sudden memory stung Jerome like an Africanized bee on amphetamines. Poor Ruby! What ever happened to her?

It had already been a long, hot summer, and Ruby, in her thick woolen coat, was obviously suffering. Jerome had shorn her nearly every night, but the fleece grew back faster than hothouse kudzu. He installed central air conditioning in Ruby's pasture, however the increased power drain broke the town's generator. As a last resort, Jerome took her to The Last Resort, a water park themed for ruminants. Here, other sheep from the community--as well as giraffe, goats, and the ubiquitous chevrotain--found respite from the stifling days of dog. He and Ruby tubed and body-slid the park's easier whitewater circuits, enjoying themselves immensely. However, they were really gearing themselves for the park's one genuine thrill ride: Kayak Hell. Two mammals, one kayak and one maelstrom of churning water added up to certain death for the inexperienced, certain liability for the park. But Jerome signed the waiver that absolved The Last Resort, then he and Ruby climbed into the kayak. Immediately, the vessel shot into the first challenge, Eddy's Whirlpool, whose powerful hydraulics pulled the kayak down into its vortex. Jerome paddled furiously and shouted for Ruby to do the same, but her split hooves proved to be poorly designed for grasping and she dropped her paddle. Spinning and sinking, Jerome's options were limited to the Eskimo roll, a maneuver that employed paddle and body motion to right an overturned kayak. He sputtered as the water closed over him, then he wriggled, flailed and, mercifully, surfaced. Gasping for breath, he went under again. And again and again. By the eight successive roll, his queasibility level had reached his limit, but at least he had successfully negotiated the vortex. However, Jerome's euphoria was short-lived, lasting only until he noticed that the kayak's forward compartment was now short one sheep.

To its credit, The Last Resort drained the ride in an effort to find Ruby. But the effort was in vain. She had disappeared. An ugly rumor circulated that she had tired of her ruminative life with Jerome and had simply deserted him. Distraught, Jerome had his memory expunged, then spent his days absentmindedly drifting in and out of focus groups.

And now, some computer glitch had resurrected her in his mind. He spat the masticated morsel of "Rambo" into his hand and glanced at it. Surely it was a curly woolen hair! Abruptly, Jerome was convinced that Ruby hadn't deserted him, rather that she was imprisoned! And that he would find her in a cul-de-sac in the Stone Spear Tribeland maze guarded by descendents of the gang of rodents that had ended Ulf's paleometeorological career.

Falling prey to the remnants of the days of dog, today's story has, alas, entered a stagnant stage, meaning a satisfactory ending will have to await the arrival of more rats. A more inappropriate segue to today's 532nd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar and its guest composer is not within recent memory, and not without a notwithstanding Kalvos.