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Xerxes’ War (Part 1)

After the disastrous dinner with the Hendersons, Xerxes didn’t see them anymore. Even Obsequious Otter didn’t come by anymore, although Xerxes’ Prescient Pigeon said it saw the otter around sometimes. Penelope, Xerxes’ ex-girlfriend and current laundry room wall, didn’t mention if his trip to the Hendersons’ had affected her relationship with their dining room wall Bumble and he didn’t ask. He just wanted to be left alone.

One morning, Xerxes was eating cereal over the kitchen sink and staring blearily out into the eternal, empty grey, when a huge parrot landed on his windowsill.

“Awwk! Can I borrow a cup of sugar?” it asked.

“I don’t have any sugar,” Xerxes said automatically, wondering if he could kill a parrot with one punch.

“Liar! Liar!” the parrot shrieked. “You have at least four cups left.”

“But I’m going to make a cake today and I need it all.”

“Liar! Liar!” the bird yelled again. “You’ve never made a cake in your life.”

“Let me guess, you’re Polygraph Parrot,” Xerxes said. He had dealt with novelty pets enough to know how things worked.

“My owners call me Polygraph Polly,” it said. Xerxes ended up giving it some sugar, just to make it go away.

It wasn’t just Polly either. Over the next few weeks, other animals appeared at the house, sometimes just to say hello and sometimes to ask for things. There was Gregarious Goat, who always wanted to talk for hours; Haranguing Hamster, who squeaked up at him about the lack of hamster representation in politics; and then there was Malicious Marmoset. Xerxes found the marmoset chasing his ShyPhone 4 around his bedroom. It hissed at him, then stole the book he was reading off his table, tore the cover, and threw it in the toilet.

That night, Xerxes pulled out the house manual and figured out how to lock the doors and windows, something he’d never done before. After an hour, he got them all locked, ending with the kitchen window, which was how Prescient Pigeon usually came and went.

“You don’t have a ceiling,” Mr. Pettyevil, Xerxes’ kitchen wall, whispered.

“What?”

“You don’t have a ceiling,” Mr. Pettyevil repeated, and smirked as only a wall can. Xerxes looked up. Dang, he was right. He had forgotten there was no ceiling. It had cost extra and Xerxes had just assumed he wouldn’t need one in an empty dimension where his house was the only thing in the whole universe. Plus, he liked the idea of his walls appearing to go up and up into infinity.

The next day, Prescient Pigeon arrived with a gun, just as Xerxes decided that one might be necessary. He wasn’t sure what kind he wanted, so he was curious what kind the pigeon had brought.

“It shoots gummy worms,” Prescient Pigeon said proudly.

“What?”

“That’s not all,” the pigeon said quickly. “There’s a selector knob here. Let’s see . . . It also shoots gummy bears, gummy spiders, gummy amoeba, and gummy Ten Commandments. See?” The pigeon aimed the gun at the wall and fired with his foot. There was a bang and Mr. Pettyevil shouted in irritation. Xerxes picked up a tiny, gummy copy of the Ten Commandments. It was perfectly readable, or would have been if Xerxes could speak ancient Hebrew.

“Nice,” he said. “I wish I had a porch, so I could sit out there with this and shout, ‘Get off my lawn!’”

“You’d need a lawn too,” Prescient Pigeon said, “but I’m not carrying that here for you.”

That night, Xerxes woke up in darkness to hear something crawling down his wall. It must be that Malicious Marmoset! he thought. Slowly, he reached over and picked up his gummy gun. He flicked on the lights and there was the marmoset, dumping melted lemon sherbet into his sock drawer. Xerxes fired a burst of gummy amoebas at it and it dropped the bucket and darted to the far wall. Xerxes flicked the selector switch and strafed the fleeing marmoset with gummy worms. It screeched as it was hit and finally fled back up into darkness.

Minimalism

The next day, Xerxes coaxed his ShyPhone 4 out from under the bed and called Conrad, his real estate agent.

“Conrad, this is insane. When I moved here, you promised me total isolation. Now I’ve got marmosets dumping lemon sherbet into my sock drawer in the middle of the night.”

“Just wash them. The washing machine still works, right?” Conrad said.

“Well, it turns out the Cereal Python really loves sherbet,” Xerxes said. “He ate it all. Unfortunately, he ate all my socks too.” At that moment, Prescient Pigeon arrived, gasping and clutching a 12-pack of socks. Xerxes took them with a nod.

There was a knock at the door. “And now there’s a knock at my door!” Xerxes shouted over the phone. “In a dimension where I’m the only person, I should not have people knocking on my door.” He hung up and flung the door open.

There was no one there. Instead, there was a note taped to the door. It said:

How dare you attack our cutsey-wootsey marmoset! You, sir, are no gentleman. This means WAR!

For some reason, this cheered Xerxes up. No one had to be polite or make small talk during a war.

house

(to be continued)

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Xerxes’ Dinner

Xerxes is one weird guy. He lives in a house in an empty dimension, with some very eccentric characters like his sentient walls and his courier, Prescient Pigeon. Read the preceding stories here if you want: 1. Xerxes’ House 2. Xerxes’ Neighbors

house

Xerxes’ Dinner

Xerxes was about to go out to a social occasion for the first time since he had moved to the empty dimension where his house was. He had moved there to be alone, but the real estate agency had moved other houses into the dimension and now he was about to go to a neighboring house for dinner. He didn’t particularly want to, but his ex-girlfriend Penelope, who was now his laundry room wall, was dating the dining room wall of the other house and Xerxes wanted to investigate.

At six o’clock, the neighbors’ Obsequious Otter appeared at the front door. “Wonderful ensemble, sir,” it gasped. “I see you are truly ready for this evening.” Xerxes was wearing chain mail, with a bathrobe wrapped around it. “If you would, follow me.”

Xerxes had been curious how this was going to work. He had not been out of the house in the year since he had come to this dimension. Of course, it was an empty dimension, which meant that there wasn’t supposed to be anything in the whole universe except his house. That was the point. The animals, like his Prescient Pigeon or Obsequious Otter, could come and go but they were animals and he didn’t know or care how they did it.

He took a step out his door and immediately stepped onto another porch. For a moment, he had a horrible feeling the two houses were connected, but that wasn’t right. He’d looked out his door before and seen only grey nothingness.

The door opened and a man in a green sweater opened the door. “Mr. Xerxes!” he said. “My name is Ralph Henderson. Welcome to our home.”

“Dr. Xerxes,” Xerxes said. Xerxes wasn’t his last name and he wasn’t a doctor, but he still considered this his dimension and here he made the rules.

“Ah, I’m so sorry. Medical doctor?”

“Occasionally,” Xerxes said, still determined to be as hard to get along with as possible. He stepped inside, took off his bathrobe and hung it on the hat stand.

“Ah . . . can I get you something to drink?” Ralph Henderson asked, his etiquette compass wobbling slightly off true north.

“Do you have mead?”

Ralph frowned. “I do believe we do, in fact.”

“Okay, anything but that. Where’s your dining room?”

“Um, it’s in here, although my wife Heidi hasn’t quite finished with the meal—”

“That’s fine, I just want to talk to the wall.”

“You mean Bumble? How do you know him?”

“He’s dating my ex-girlfriend,” Xerxes said and walked into the dining room. Heidi Henderson was there, setting the table.

“Ah, you must be Mr. Xerxes—”

“Doctor, actually,” Xerxes said, not looking at her and giving a sort of half-wave. He faced the wall. “You Bumble?”

“Um, uh, well, if by that do you mean is Bumble my name, then, then yes. Yes it is,” the wall said. A tremor went through the china hutch pushed up against it.

“I hear you’re seeing my wall Penelope.”

“Yes, she is your mezzanine wall, is . . . is that right?”

“Laundry room, actually. Two industrial washing machines pushed up against her; big old shelves with detergent and fabric softener on them. That’s her.”

“Ah . . ah, I see,” Bumble said. Another tremor shook the china hutch, almost knocking over a decorative plate.

Why am I doing this? Xerxes thought. It wasn’t even that he was jealous. He sure didn’t want to get back together with Penelope, so why was he trying to sabotage things for her? I think I’m just a terrible person, he thought.

Xerxes turned to see the Hendersons standing in the doorway, apparently unsure what to do next. “It’ll still be a few minutes before dinner,” Ralph said. “Do you play chess?”

“No, I only play one game. Do you know strip Russian roulette?”

“Strip Russian roulette…”

“Yeah, it’s just like normal Russian roulette, but when you lose, you take off a piece of clothing. If you don’t have a gun, I could go get mine.”

The two Hendersons were looking at him as if he were a maniac. The problem was that Xerxes said everything in such a serious way, that no one ever knew if he was serious or not. Even Xerxes wasn’t sure sometimes, which was why he preferred to be alone. That way, if he wasn’t joking about something, it was only Xerxes that found out.

“Let’s just watch some TV,” Ralph said. Xerxes nodded and followed him out to the living room, his chain mail clinking slightly.

During dinner, Xerxes tried to keep as quiet as possible. He had a vague feeling he was doing everything wrong and while he didn’t care, he had another vague feeling he should care, for some reason. So, he was just trying to get through the meal and go home. At least the roast beef was really good. Everything would have been fine, but the Hendersons kept insisting on talking.

“So, Dr. Xerxes, how long have you been in this dimension?” Heidi asked, refilling his wine glass.

“Since the beginning,” Xerxes said. “It’s mine.”

“Ah, well we appreciate you sharing it with us,” she said. “We really like it here, so peaceful and serene.”

“I didn’t agree to share it. I think you’re invading my space.” There was an awkward silence. Xerxes helped himself to some more roast beef.

“I know this used to be an exclusive dimension,” Ralph said gently. “But the government ruled that exclusive dimensions weren’t allowed. A waste of the multiverse or something.”

“Well, I don’t want any company. I just want to be by myself,” Xerxes said.

“Then why did you accept our invitation to dinner?”

“I wanted to see your wall Bumble, to annoy my ex-girlfriend.” The atmosphere had gotten almost frosty. Maybe I shouldn’t be so honest, Xerxes thought. That was another reason he hated social situations. Sometimes he had to tell the truth, sometimes he had to lie and he couldn’t keep track of which was which. He could see the Hendersons looking at him with an expression close to disgust and for a split second, he didn’t like himself.

“I’m going to go now,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’ll take the rest of the roast beef home though. It’s very good.” He picked up the plate and walked out the front door. It wasn’t until he got home that he realized he’d forgotten his bathrobe.

To be continued…


Xerxes’ Neighbors

Do you remember Xerxes? Back on June 28, 2013, I wrote a story about a strange man living in a strange house in a dimension all by himself (he thought), called Xerxes’ House. It was clearly not a complete story and I always meant to continue, and now I finally have, almost eight months later. Go read the first one if you’d like (it’s good, I swear, and it has a ShyPhone 4 in it), but read this one too.

Xerxes’ Neighbors

Xerxes viewed isolation like a bee views honey: he liked it—a lot—and if it wasn’t available, he made his own. It was the whole reason he had bought a house in Dimension XZG-33332, or as the real estate listing said, “a house of unpredictable eccentricity, floating in an abyss of viscous ether. Total isolation guaranteed.” Weird and alone, just the way he liked it.

Then one day, he found a sock in his hall as he was wandering in to grab some lunch. It was a yellow sock and it definitely wasn’t his. He looked up, way up into the infinite void that stretched up above his hall. He hadn’t bought a ceiling for his hall, because he had thought he was the only person in this dimension but now it looked like there were going to be problems.

He strode the kitchen window and immediately Prescient Pigeon fluttered down. “Good morning,” it said, although it was almost five in the afternoon (in a empty dimension, it is very hard to keep track of time). “You want me to find out if there are any houses in this dimension. There are eighteen, one very close.”

At that moment, a small animal climbed up on the window sill next to the pigeon. It stood up on its hind legs and gave Xerxes a look of rapture. “Oh wow, I am so enthralled to meet you, sir. Your least command is my joy and delight.”

“Who are you, Hyperbolic Ferret?” Xerxes asked.

“Obsequious Otter,” the animal said. “I belong to the Henderson family next door. They requested I come here and invite you to a dinner party tomorrow night.”

"Oh my gosh, that's such a great plan. Way to go!" -Obsequious Otter

“Oh my gosh, that’s such a great plan. Way to go!” -Obsequious Otter

“I’m not going,” Xerxes said. “Here, take this sock back to them if it’s theirs.” He tossed the yellow sock at the otter.

“I will bear this token to them as proof of your acceptance,” Obsequious Otter said.

“No, I said I wasn’t going.”

“Ah, I’m sure you’re being polite now. You probably feel it necessary to refuse four times before grudgingly accepting.”

“No, I told you I don’t want to go!” Xerxes shouted. “I’m here to be alone.”

“That’s three,” the otter said.

“Just go away.”

“I’ll take that as four,” the otter said and then looked hard at Xerxes. When he did not say anything, it continued, “Ah, I guess in your culture, some time needs to pass for everything to be polite. That is such a wonderful custom you have. I will be back in an hour.” It took the sock and scampered out of sight.

“I’m sorry, I can’t kill him,” Prescient Pigeon said, before Xerxes could ask. “It’s not in my job description. I could order you an Assassin Alligator, but I can’t have it here for two weeks.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Xerxes said.

He went into the laundry room and sat down. The laundry room walls contained the spirit of his ex-girlfriend, Penelope. She wasn’t dead, just inhabiting his walls against her will. It was part of the unique architecture of the building. They had never officially broken up, but considering that she hated his guts now, he had added the ex- part himself.

“What are you doing here?” she asked with a sneer.

“I’m having a bad day,” he said.

“And you expect me to make it all better?”

“No, I just like to remind myself that no matter how bad things can be, they can always get worse.” He sat there and endured the stream of abuse she leveled at him. Yeah, this was a lot worse. It made him feel better.

Finally, she got tired and ran out of swearwords. “So what’s wrong?” she asked.

“The next door neighbors invited me to dinner,” he said. “I came out here to be alone and to get away from people inviting me to stuff.”

“Good, don’t go over there,” she said quickly.

He looked up, intrigued. “Why not?”

“Just don’t.”

“Hmm, maybe I will now . . .”

“No, don’t,” she said. “I’ve been seeing the dining room wall from over there. His name’s Bumble. I don’t want you to mess anything up for me.”

“I think I’ll go,” Xerxes said. “I do need to be more social, right?” He sat there, smiling, as Penelope invented five minutes of new insults for him on the spot.

Obsequious Otter showed up an hour later and Xerxes said he would go. It clapped its little paws rapturously. “Oh, good decision, sir. Good decision! I knew that there were all sorts of social protocols to be followed. I will come here tomorrow at 6 to guide you to the house. Until then.”

Xerxes had not seen another actual human in over a year and he was not quite sure what to wear. His main motivation for going was to see this wall Bumble and to annoy Penelope, but he wanted to make a statement too. Finally, he picked out a set of chain mail and wrapped a purple bathroom around it, and put a tie on, the other way around so that it went down his back. Yes, he was going to try to have a good time.

To be continued (in the very near future)…


Xerxes’ House

Xerxes stumbled out of gargantuan bed and took the elevator down to the floor. He never made the bed; it was too hard to wrestle half an acre of down comforter into place and he was totally alone anyway.

He wandered in a groggy early morning haze down the hallway, with its towering black walls of nothingness going up and up out of sight.

dark hallway

“Why don’t you love me?” the left-hand wall asked him in a whiny whisper. “You haven’t been down this hall for hours. “Are you avoiding me?”

Xerxes sighed and patted the wall absentmindedly. “I was sleeping, Fretty. It means I don’t move for a few hours at a time. If I’m lucky.”

“I knew you were sleeping,” the right-hand wall said. “You always sleep from 11pm to 7:15am sharp. It’s 7:18 now,” it added proudly.

“I’ll take your word for it,” Xerxes said. “Good job, Yes’m.” He went into the kitchen to forage for breakfast.

“You need more milk,” the wall above the sink said in a silky whisper. “Milk…”

“Fine, I’ll get some more milk.” A second later, there was a rapping at the window and Xerxes opened it to see a pigeon gasping for air as it clutched frantically onto a gallon jug of milk.

“Ah, Prescient Pigeon. Impeccable timing, as always,” Xerxes said. He took the jug and opened the fridge, only to see that it was filled with jugs of milk, most unopened, many past their expiration date. A few were crusted with green and had even passed their Exorcise with Fire date.

Xerxes sighed. “Seriously, Mr. Pettyevil. Why do you keep doing that to me? At least tell me I’m out of cereal once in a while so I can get some breakfast.” The wall in front of him sniggered softly but didn’t reply.

Of course, he didn’t have any cereal either. Every time he got some, the Cereal Python snuck in and ate it all during the night. And on top of everything, it was lactose intolerant, so it never used up any of the milk in the fridge.

“I could sure go for some cereal right about now,” Xerxes said, casting a sidelong glance at the window. It didn’t work. Prescient Pigeon was lying on the windowsill, apparently unconscious from its struggle with the gallon of milk and not in any condition to go anywhere for a while.

Xerxes poured himself a glass of milk from the new jug and stood in the kitchen, drinking.

“It’s laundry day today,” the wall whispered. “Laundry…”

“Shut up, Mr. Pettyevil. I’m not falling for your tricks again, at least for another hour.” He glanced at the calendar. Dang, it really was laundry day. He hated laundry day.

For one thing, the clothes he washed weren’t even his. He didn’t know whose they were; they just appeared in baskets in the laundry room every Monday and he washed them. It was part of his lease agreement. He never went out so his own clothes usually took up half a load. But what was worse than the laundry was the laundry room.

“What’s wrong?” Fretty asked as he walked back towards the bedroom. “You’re looking wan.”

“I’m not wan. I’m just hungry and—”

“Today is Monday, so that means it’s laundry day,” Yes’m interjected.

“Oh, laundry day,” Fretty said. “That worries me.”

Xerxes opened the third door from the bedroom and came into a small round room with a washer and dryer sitting in the middle. Hampers of laundry stood off to one side. As with the other rooms, there was no ceiling and the black walls towered up into obscurity.

“Well, you’re back, I see,” a sarcastic voice said from the walls. “Come to gloat, have you?”

“It’s just laundry day, Penelope. Just like every week.”

“Why don’t you come in here and talk to me more. I’m your girlfriend, after all.”

“Yeah, I know, it’s just that I get busy, and, you know…” The day before, Xerxes had spent the entire day trying to build a house of cards that resembled a jaguar.

“I still don’t know how you ever tricked me into this,” the wall said.

Xerxes walked to the hampers and started picking up the items in disgust with a pair of tongs and flinging them into the machine. The one on top was a set of bloodied chainmail, followed by a filthy leopard skin and a set of tribble-fur underwear.

“I never once tricked you,” he said, “The real estate agent said I needed to find another wall for the house and you said: ‘If there’s anything I can do to help…’”

“I was hinting for you to move in with me!” the wall snapped. “Not that it matters now, I suppose. I’m seeing someone new, you know.”

Xerxes looked around the laundry in an exaggerated fashion. “Seeing someone? Who?”

“Well, another house, actually.”

“That’s impossible! There aren’t any other houses here. I’m the only one in this dimension. The real estate agent guaranteed it.”

“Well, all I know is that there’s a house near here with a nice wall named Bumble. We talked last night. He’s a dining room wall, with a china hutch pushed up against him and everything. Real posh.”

Xerxes didn’t respond. He turned on the machine and left to call his real estate agent.

Xerxes had a ShyPhone 4, which was always running away and hiding under the bed and high up in the corridors. Usually this was fine with Xerxes since he didn’t want to talk to anyone anyway, but now he needed to find it. He had gotten it cheap because it ran on eccentricity instead of electricity. In his house, it was always fully charged.

“Where are you, ShyPhone? Hello?” It liked to be serenaded with Metallica songs, sung in a slow, mellow tone. “Exit light, enter night, Xerxes crooned, “take my hand, off to never never land.”

There was some movement up by the top of his bed. “So tear me open, but beware,” Xerxes sang softly and tenderly. “There’s things inside without a care. And the dirt still stains me, so wash me until I’m clean.”

The ShyPhone fluttered down to the bed and Xerxes grabbed it. Its screen blushed as he dialed the number for the real estate agent.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Conrad, this is Xerxes. Listen, what’s this I hear about other houses being in this dimension?”

“Who said that?”

“Penelope.”

“Ah, yeah, Penelope. How’s she doing these days?”

“Still furious. But listen, she said she met another house nearby. You promised me a place where I could get away from it all. From it all. I paid extra for it. In the ad, it describes this house as ‘a house of unpredictable eccentricity, floating in an abyss of viscous ether. Total isolation guaranteed.”

“You’re still isolated,” Conrad said. The ShyPhone was sweating heavily in Xerxes’ hand and he had to switch sides. “I admit, we had to push a few other houses into that dimension, but you’ll never know they’re there. I promise you. By the way, good job with the laundry. I’m hearing a lot of good things.”

“Thanks, but can they stop with the chainmail already? Some of that stuff weighs fifty pounds and there’s more than just blood on some of it.”

“Hey, chainmail needs to get washed too, you know. Anywho, gotta run. Say hi to Prescient Pigeon for me.”

Xerxes hung up and let the ShyPhone scamper away. He didn’t like the idea of neighbors, even if he couldn’t see or visit them. Hopefully nothing bad would come of it.

(to be continued, at some point)


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