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The Essay
Show #372
War Tug
David Gunn

The view from the top of Hobo Hill is breathtaking, probably due to the sulfur emissions that waft from the coal-fired solar panel plant that sits on the neighboring rise. Cloaked in perpetual shadow, the plant is a poster child for bad luck. For some meteorologically obscure reason, the sun never shines down on that sector of the rise. Each time it has attempted to do so, it's been thwarted by intervening clouds or haze, fogdog or dirigible. Right now, for instance, there are but two clouds in the sky, and one of them is arbitrarily parked between the sun and the solar panel plant. Abruptly, a school of flying fish swims from that cloud to another, more kapoky one, their matriculation startling the extended family of ball lightning that lives there. Peeved, the lightnings tumble to earth, where they careen dangerously about like an insane game of croquet.

Beano Bengaze sits astride his sawhorse atop Hobo Hill, watching the game through a spyglass. A gaily Rorschached bandanna covers his mouth, not to filter out the sulfur fumes, but rather to keep the tiny indigenous moths from crashing into his teeth, which they try to do with amazing regularity, an evolutionary trait that suggests why Lepidoptera hobolicum is rapidly dying out. But he is not here only to watch great balls of fire execute a higgledy-piggledy pas de feux, and he trains the glass back onto the village that nestles in the valley below. He has been watching activity there for the better part of an hour, though "better" is a relative term, for he can think of many hours' parts he's preferred. The activity he discerns is of two groups of people engaged in a game of tug of war. But instead of a rope, both teams are pulling on a radio station. It's a slippery radio station, and members of each group frequently lose their purchase. But they doggedly get right back up and grab hold again. The group on the left is much bigger than the one on the right, however Beano can see that the latter group has anchored its end of the radio station to a large immovable object. He examines it more closely. It is big and green, powerful and attractive. Oh dear. It is a money.

Beano clips the spyglass to his saddlebag and sighs. Once before he attempted to referee the dispute between these two parties and he failed. But he has decided to give it the ol' college try this one last time. He squeezes his feet together in the stirrups, makes a little clicking sound with his mouth, and lets out the choke on the pommel. In response, the sawhorse ambles woodenly down the hill towards the village, followed by several hundred self-destructive moths.

The grass is smoldering as he passes through the field cooked by the ball lightning, the wickets still sticky with torridity. The feet of the sawhorse are aged and dry, ideal kindling material, so Beano spurs his oaken steed on to cooler ground. He almost makes it. The refuge of the mountain brook is only a few short paces away when the whole horse suddenly goes up in flames. The erstwhile musical shaman leaps off in the nick of time and even has the presence of mind to grab his pouch of magical potions. His marshmallow Happy Meal, however, is quickly seared beyond both recognition and nourishment.

Beano is now close enough to the village to overhear snippets of attendant conversation from the leftmost group. Most of it is positive, encouraging, however a small, exasperated contingent is flying its own squabbly colors, occasionally yanking the station in a third, less productive direction. This internal dispute is creating dissension in the ranks, and he figures he must first quell this quarrel before he can address the larger issue.

But, hold on. An even larger issue looms. The radio station has begun to buckle under pressure from the two opposing forces. Much as its broadcast signal has done for generations, the station itself is fading in and out of focus. Stress fractures are visible, from the on-air studio headphone array to the mysterious black box that unaccountably powers the transmitter. A cloud of strain wafts up from the station and settles over the two groups, exacerbating their combative attitudes. Tempers and nostrils flare. Overhead, the fish have migrated back to the first cloud, displacing another family of lightning. Looking for a new home, these lightnings spot the radio station-generated cloud, and light out for it. But before they can displace, permanently, the two groups thereunder, Beano intervenes. Summoning all of his shamanic powers, he stops time.

But even Beano canít maintain this temporal standstill for long. He figures he has, oh, six days at best. And then what? Will the station dissolve into immutable silence? Will the leftmost group resolve its domestic bickering, display a united front, and win the warlike tug? Will the rightmost group lose its grasp on that big, green, powerful and attractive force?

Will this 372nd Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar be the final episode produced for broadcast over that very radio station's airwaves? Call us strabismic optimists, but we don't think so, "we" being--for the next two hours, anyway--Damian and Kalvos.