… there lived an Empire that enjoyed calling itself The Land of the Free, Home of the Exceptional and Brave on a Shining Hill..or some such tra la la… Like most self-chosen garble-worthy epithets, there was an enormous irony to that self-designation, but most of her citizens had not only largely forgotten from whence the designation had arisen, but also missed the wry humor of it.
This iteration of the Land of Nod was ruled by a hideous Vampire Vulture who squatted on an enormous pile of shoelaces confiscated from those his minions had imprisoned since his rule had begun. An ungodly throne it was, but one he had chosen to act as a cautionary tale. When the Lord Vulture adjusted his fat royal arse now and again, the laces writhed like snakes, and even made a hissing sound that caused shivers among his fawning courtiers. In one talon he held he held his scepter, a four-foot carrot tipped with finely wrought enameled greens that caged a softball-sized orb of polished diamond whose interior swirled with changing images.
Now the Lord Vulture’s mama hadn’t raised her no idiots, and he knew that he was at least somewhat vulnerable to revolutionary regime change, no matter how many alliances he had built both around the world and within Nod, no matter how many people his armies had killed or subjugated around the world; no matter how many he’d confined in the vast array of dungeons across his own land.
Consequently, he’d developed a first-rate intelligence apparatus comprised of hordes of Flying Monkeys that ranged in size from demitasses to smallish blimps, each equipped with two pulsating eyes as red as hellfire. They were, in fact, crystal orbs whose liquid centers recorded images that were sent to the parent device on the Lord Vulture’s scepter. His castle sat, not surprisingly, on a hill strewn with flakes of silicon and clear quartz that not only grandly reflected the rays of the sun, but also acted as sorting mechanisms for the images broadcast by the Flying Monkeys. Only the most interesting and useful ones were sent to his own device.
His Monkeys were armed, and excellently so, but he knew that there were easier ways to rule his subjects than unleashing the killing machine on his own people, which he knew might rile up an unwelcome revolution. One such ‘other way’ was actually provided to him by his Magic Mirror; as I said: he was no idiot and knew which advisers to keep around.
One day long ago, he had laboriously waddled and thrashed his way to his mirror, stood before it and offered the oft-asked question:
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall; who is the Most Powerful One of All?”
The mirror had shimmered until his own feathered but scurvy countenance had once again morphed into that of Maleficent of the Mirror. On this particular day, she had given her rote : “you are, my Lord Vulture,” but had then announced that his subjects were growing hungry, cranky and resentful that the last round of tributes his Tax Spiders had collected had left many too poor to afford to buy bread, or even the flour to make it.
“What shall I do?” the Lord Vulture had asked. “Running an Empire is an expensive proposition, you know. How shall I appease them?”
“Let them think they have some influence over the Princes and Priests who administrate your rule,” she advised. “Create two leaders behind whom they can choose to serve. Make sure that they are just different enough to keep the people in competition, and arguing over issues that matter to them. Let either side win just enough rights for themselves or be successful in tamping down the other side’s rights so that they will feel that their sides are influential, at least occasionally. Eventually they will fear each other, and will this be easier to control.
“Perhaps you could find a Machiavellian Dunkey and a Hayekian Oliphaunt charismatic enough to attract adherents and set up a system in which your subjects can vote for either of them. You can work out the details as they arise. But make sure to keep appropriating most of the fruits of their labor in order that they cannot decrease their daily toil lest they die, or might allow their families to die.”
The Vulture thanked the Mirror, laughed a most hideous laugh…and put the plan into great effect.
The distraction worked well for a time, but even the most pampered Vampire Vultures are mortal in the end. On his final visit to his Magic Mirror, Maleficent advised him that his duty to Nod dictated that upon his death, his subjects must be permitted to vote for either the Dunkey or the Oliphaunt to succeed him. At first he bristled with indignation at the mention of his death, but in the end, acquiesced and made the arrangements before he slid into that final Dark Night. The new ruler would be called the President. He also appointed the first two official purveyors of the news of the day. They were, naturally, a Dog and a Pony.
So the People of Nod began voting into power one Dunkey or Oliphaunt descendant almost alternately, although over time fewer and fewer citizens felt their votes made much difference to their own lives, and neglected to vote. But oh, those who still championed one of the two Beasts grew ever more shrill in their denunciations of their opponents, and grew almost addicted to the fear of the Other Beast.
Most of the citizen’s lives began growing more desperate as time passed, and no solutions seemed evident. Dunkey XII and Oliphaunt XII seemed somehow to have joined forces on so many of the issues that harmed the people, and by now many of the people writing or declaiming against the rulers were either silenced permanently, or had been sent to the dungeons. The grumbles surfaced over and over, but at a more muted volume. A crisis was at hand; it was the year of our Vulture Lord 2012.
When citizens awoke one morning toward the end of the year, a great spaceship hovered over the Potomac River; the Dog and the Pony broadcast the message the visitors brought to the people of Nod far and wide:
“Greetings, citizens of Nod. We are the Balatro, and hail from a region of your galaxy many light-years away, and we have been monitoring your planet and this land in particular for almost a century. The messages we have attempted to send to certain of those in power have gone unheeded, although a few citizens have taken them to heart, and promoted other ideas that would have brought you closer toward peace, plenty, and a sustainable future. We are disappointed in you, but we are not Angels, and use our powers to teach, then allow you to choose your futures. We are all about tough love accountability, and since we have concluded that as a people you only ever learn lessons the very hardest way…we are about to create the beginning of a scenario that may wake you up, and perhaps eventually to cause you to choose an altogether different road. Pay attention or face ultimate ruin. We may or may not be back to offer further guidance.”
Whooosh; the ship spun away into the sky, then disappeared.
Within moments, an hysterical Pony whinnied over the ubiquitous video news screens, both indoors and out: “This just in! Dunkey XII and Oliphaunt XII have been discovered in the basement of the Federal Reserve! They’ve been turned into One Great Beast!!! Here they are; we urge you to be calm while we sort this out!!!”
Now, you will notice that the Beast has only heads on either end, no…er…rumps. Doctors were brought in to figure out the biology of this new devolutionary-by-magic creature. The only opinion that could explain it was that somehow the mouths both consumed and excreted. Yes, ewww. But as you can see, they also were now programmed to eat money itself, efficiently bypassing the middlemen, and amassing wealth and the power it brought with it directly, and changing its DNA forevermore.
A special outdoor pavilion was built for the Unity Beast, and became a place of pilgrimage for many in the nation who offered It supplications and devotions, hoping for favors. The devotions, of course, were often greenbacks. When supplies grew low, the Ben Bernank simply printed more and more of that filthy folding lucre…
There were a few truths about this Beast few had considered. One was that the mints were now using Genetically Modified Linen for the greenbacks. Another was that due to one of the ways the linen had been modified, each buck carried small amounts of Round-up Ready herbicides, this killing the myriad beneficial bacteria in its guts. Further, the ink was all petro-oil-based, and the dried red, green and black pigments were by now: irradiated blood, white oleander leaves, and clean coal, plus a few stabilizers, of course.
The third truth was a sincerely unsavory one: the Uniparty Beast’s alimentary canal now did some loops, bends and twists and fed back to the only orifices available for…expelling gas. Now please imagine the toxic nature of its only comestible, added to fact that it was largely roughage. Please forgive my indelicacy in saying that It had a whole lotta fartin’ to do. And belching. Or, in medical terms, flatulence and eructation. The sheer volume and stench of the offending gaseous expulsions were rank enough to cause the Beast’s keepers to call in a team of veterinarian flatologists. None of their remedies could help, of course, given It’s now-necessary sole food source coupled with Its anatomy. And so it goes, or went…(as Kurt Vonnegut would have philosophized).
The citizens of Nod began to sicken in ever-increasing numbers; both humans and animals began aborting their unborn. More cases than ever of psychotic behavior were being treated; amnesia was rampant; Big Pharma could hardly keep up with demand!
More teams of scientists from the NIH were brought in to study the causes of the killing agent or agents. Was it bacterial/viral or biotoxin?
Yes; you’ve guessed it by now; all of the above: the culprit was Beast Farts and Burps. The expulsions and exudations (er…sweat, bowel barfs; yes, ewwww) were killing not only the humans and animals, but the very water, soil and air! (“Who the hell knew anybody’d be eatin’ the shit, anyway??” folks at the mint would ask for years to come…)
It was decided in top secret military/NSA/CIA/DHS meetings that the Dog and the Pony would not make any announcements. They would figure out how to fix it come hell ‘er high-water, and it would not be wise to panic the people in the meantime. They reminded each other of the penalties for suspected treasonous whisleblowers: death.
The Balatro waited and watched…and wished the people of Nod all the best on their coming journey.