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FOLIO is a magazine of strange, comic, and strangely comic words and pictures published from 2006 to 2009. For back issues please contact the_folio@hotmail.com.

Issue No. 9, Strangers

Issue No. 9, Strangers - Specimens

Issue No. 9, Strangers - The True Story of Rumplestilskin or The False History of Spain

by C. Reilly

History, like a prolonged game of Telephone between people with various types of speech defects, has a tendency to screw things up. Truth be told (though it very seldom is, and in this case, probably shouldn’t be) the Aztec, Incan and Mayan empires started out as one big bluff.

Right about the turn of the 16th century, the word “Aztec” was pronounced something like “Ashhtkkkk” and stood for the particularly venomous noise given off by household cooks in Madrid upon discovering that the bread had molded again, despite their most fervent attempts to scrape off the largest blue-green lumps the day before. “Inca” (Nnnka!) and “Maya” (Moiiiahhhh!), were similar varieties of onomonatpoeic explicative. And they never would have made it into the high realm of the Proper Noun, without the little-noted birth of what should have been Rompeño de San Stephano-Carrero IV, one cold December, right around, oh, 1502.

Rompeño was born both prematurely, and, as his mother worked in the kitchen, onto a bed of lettuce––which resulted in his almost being mistaken for a bit of liver paté by one of the aforementioned cooks. And, perhaps because of this extraordinary beginning or because of the royal blood that ran in his veins, or because medieval Spanish kitchens contained such an odd mixture of miasmas, it was soon apparent that he possessed the equally extraordinary ability to make all self-aggrandizing lies come true. When his mother announced, “Madonna! I’ve just had a baby!” and someone else rudely yelled, “Yeah, and I’m the Queen of Spain!” poof, she was. (Incidentally, the long genealogical tree of Isabella is another product of exaggerations made true by this strange brand of magic.)

Other inexplicable wonders followed: while trying to explain who the boy’s father was, Rompeño’s mother developed a birthmark that looked exactly like the crest of the Stephano-Carrero household, and 2 acres of land, which hadn’t initially belonged to her, but were, in any case, roughly as fertile as a Castilian nun, started spitting out tobacco by the pipe-full. The poor woman could think of nothing to do but consult a local doctor. So, with Rompeño in tow, she explained what had happened, and the doctor prescribed some particularly strong medicinal herbs for delusion. But Rompeño’s mother insisted on the truth of her story (even going so far as to jab one long finger smelling strongly of cabbage into the physician’s robes), and demanded that the doctor brag about something completely impossible and see if it didn’t just happen. The doctor scratched his bed-bug-bitten chin, chuckled, and declared in a sardonic voice, “My daughter can spin straw into gold.” He didn’t think any more of it, and went home early that day with a slight headache and the sincere hope that cabbage soup wasn’t on the dinner menu.

But, as we already know, nothing remained the same for the doctor after he came home – he was fabulously wealthy, from all the straw his daughter had just up and decided to try and spin with. Like a good medieval man, he carted her off to Madrid’s city center, explained her gift, and tried to pawn her off on the somewhat financially-challenged royals. A demonstration was duly given, and immediately afterward, a secret wedding.

However, as obsequiously mentioned by one of the high advisors, how was this sudden massive influx of gold to be accounted for? There would be no reason to maintain taxes if it could be suddenly proved that the kingdom was generating a veritable surplus of revenue. And if there weren’t any taxes... well, they might well slip into republican government, or something equally heinous and 300 years too modern. A committee was formed to assess the problem, and after three weeks of very serious thinking, someone suggested that they simply claim to have found some new land, excessively far away (yes!...across the ocean, even!), hand-select a few well-known explorers and throw them temporarily in prison, and announce the unexpected discovery of a group of massively wealthy primitive people who just happened (though appropriately so) to regard the Spaniards as the long-awaited reincarnations of their deities. The royals loved it, the explorers were tossed behind bars (with the provision that they would be let out after telling some ludicrous story about the world being round), and the doctor’s daughter started spinning.

The wanderings of Rompeño’s mother and her magical son eventually brought them back to the doctor’s now-sprawling castle. She immediately realized what had happened, considered it proof that her original assumptions had been correct, and decided to pay the good doctor a personal visit for a little well-deserved “I told you so.” Upon learning where the daughter was, and feeling slightly guilty that she had more or less doomed the girl to a career as a state worker, she proceeded to the city center to see the royals. Though initially rebuffed, the highest High Advisor eventually got wind of a crazy wench with a brag-sanctifying baby hanging around the gates, put two and two together and called an emergency committee meeting. The “wench” was brought into an inner chamber.

While she waited to help that little dear condemned to spinning, an under secretary who found her to have recovered from her pregnancy remarkably well, blabbed the story of the newly discovered empire. He had heard it, he claimed directly from the High Advisor himself, and he’d be damned if the whole thing wasn’t completely true. Rompeño gave a little squeal, and 3,000 miles away from the Stephano-Carrero household’s unrecognized child, the tectonic plates rearranged themselves, a fully formed and populated continent burst out of the ocean, and the imagined-into-flesh natives shook water from their headdresses, and wiped off their spears.

The imprisoned explorers immediately found themselves onboard ships they never remembered setting out in, but in which they now happily stood in gold up to their knees. The letters they had-not-actually-but-now-had written materialized on the broad committee table with a slight popping and sucking noise, and the committee members, forgetting proper language in their total astonishment, uttered “Nnnka! Moiiiahhhh!! Ashhtkkkk!!!” like common cooks. Their cries passed from the inner inner chamber, to Rompeño in the outer inner chamber, and settled lightly upon his ears. Young as he was, and not fully in control of his powers, he allowed these familiar explicatives, which had so often passed into the womb, to adhere to the tribes of the “new” empire.

Yet, forced to acknowledge that the fictional ships and imagined empires were no longer lies, and that the (only slightly) more kosher riches were on their way, the committee was faced with a serious problem. The whole bit could be undone at the squeal of a baby. Accordingly, the High Advisor slipped from the inner inner chamber, and, pretending to address the matter of the confined doctor’s daughter, bashed mother, child, and secretary soundly on the head with copies of the codified laws, and buried them in a common grave outside the city.

In order to avoid further unpleasant questioning, it was decided that the whole tale would be foisted off on the Germans, Rompeño de San Stephano-Carrero IV’s name changed, and copies of the story circulated by secret Spanish agents among the German press. Incidentally, the phrase ‘to spin a tale’ comes from a printer in Heidelberg who ran low on ink, and couldn’t be bothered with explanations about straw.

The supremely Catholic advisors of the royals could not, however, resist including a moral twist in their fabricately fabricated story. Accordingly, the little tale they circulated (entitled Rumplestilskin, after the Germanized Rompeño) ended with a trick about discovering a true name and being forced to give up one’s first child. While they intended this as a subtle warning to over-curious etymologists, the death of Rompeño had left a lingering curse on the court, and their plan backfired. Having bumped off Rompeño with some old laws, they naturally could no longer rely on their own bragging to sustain the empire (that is, Spain’s first child), which ultimately fractured, beneath the burden of Spanish law, into the much-feared independent republics. Whether the untimely bludgeoning of the empire by a scroll of antiquated, old-world codifications bears any resemblance to the mode of Rompeño’s death, can, of course, only be left to wild speculation.

Issue No. 9, Strangers - Fragments

In the café, a woman approached a young man writing. “That is so rude,” she said. “You might as well be talking on the phone.”

Unfortunately, I took my daughter to the pier. I stood at the end admiring the view and she did the same, tucked into a ball at my feet. It might have been an itch on her back, or a strong wind, but she rolled to windward and off the pier, dropping that thirty-foot drop, down to where the Mexicans trawled their fish heads. I saw the little splash and the last little bubble. I thought about jumping in after her but quicker thoughts came after – all the way down? in my clothes? is it cold? I couldn’t call anyone because my cell phone was at home and I didn’t want to raise a ruckus with the fishermen. In a panic, I just walked back to the shore, thinking that, maybe, if I just breathed deep and walked steady, the problem would solve itself, like the problem in a clogged toilet that loosens over time.

The boy at the desk beside me pulled a handful of dry pasta from his pocket. He put one spiraled noodle into his mouth and pulled his cheeks into his tongue. A few minutes later he spat it out. It was bigger, rounder. He put it between his teeth and bit it in two. “I get angry,” he said.

I left my life and set out on the road, looking not for the circus, but for a roving band of Jesuit teachers.

The substitue teacher had a photographic memory, onerous when storing the images of small butts pushed up against the windows of passing cars, but handy for remembering license plate numbers.
Round little Sean was picked up for exhibitionism and the poor substitute teacher missed early morning classes, tossing and turning all night from elementary school butt.

Two library books belonging up north were taken and lost on a vacation down south. The signs that tied them to their city, the stamps on each side, the return date, the barcode, were meaningless on the floor of Winn Dixie.

Security laughs at me, but from my post at Crabtree and Evelyn I can see a young man walk back and forth across the garden footbridge in the center of the mall. Every day he comes and with the same distracted, faraway look in his eyes. He paces, stops, and stares down over the railing.

The secret shopper was surprised, surprised and touched, to see a sales clerk so polite. The shopper was hired from an independent firm to weed out the ineffectual workers, those who have the time to lean and use it. But this clerk, oh this dimple of a clerk, he could do no wrong. No machine installed to replace him could be faster, stronger. And the clerk, after all, could smile, a smile that hooked the customer, closed the deal, and warmed the cooler patches of soul left in the poor, retailed sucker. “Let me buy you a drink,” the secret shopper said to the clerk. “I cannot drink on duty,” of course he said. The shopper laughed. “After your shift, son, please, I would never.”

Once, interred at the City Recycling Center, I was to remove from the plastic bottles all the wrappers unwrapped and stuffed inside. Removing them without breaking the bottle in a frustrated fit was a delicate job involving tweezers. The only way I could do it and still retain my sanity was to think that instead of taking the wrappers out I was putting a miniature sailboat in.

The tourist saw a Buddhist monk and shook her head. “That’s no way to live a life,” she told her husband.

Issue No. 9, Strangers - Credits

Fiction: C. Reilly
Fragments: Jonathan Tuttle
Photography: Alexa Garvoille
Drawing: Ben Tuttle