Torpid Slivers #1-5


by Colin Raff

The static image above illustrates Héaussel’s La Jellionidonippe, Act III, Scenes iv-vii.

Here the story shifts focus to Grunduline, who, having sung an air describing her flight from the convent, arrives in Vadtstul to find her groom-to-be embracing her mother — whose enormous headdress explodes (before any note of outrage can be sung) into a flock of doves, one bearing a letter for Grunduline. It bids her to embark, alone and blindfolded, for the lagoon island of Silvuntianno in a self-propelled gondola that drifts onstage to receive her.

As the craft nears the rocky shore, Grunduline is whisked to safety by a pair of maiden-sized sawfly nymphs who unveil her eyes and declare her the secret Queen of the Were-Sawflies. All she need do now is masticate an enormous acanthus leaf and spit it up into a special goblet (both provided by her new companions) to become heir to a vast fortune and an ancient title.

This scene is spied upon by none other than Pinizet, still in monkey form, who remarks in his celebrated arioso (“O, those mandibles”) that Grunduline’s change of fortune will not mitigate the tragedy that awaits her descendants, nor is it sufficient to excuse her uncle’s architectural creativity.

On the shores of Heiligendamm in 1887, it was not entirely uncommon for a group of Grey visor crabs (Corystesbuccula) to scurry out of the sea and mingle brazenly with the human tourists and bathers. By then, it was well known that to insert a few petals from a sprig of Baltic lavender (L. Suebica) into an aperture in this animal’s shell would cause it to cease its normal activities and seek out other blossoms of the species, guided by aroma.

On the afternoon of June 17 of that year, the Grand Hotel Heiligendamm invited the vacationing Maltese clairvoyant Rancisto Frippini to give a demonstration of his talents near the beach. Simply “by tasting the air” (in his words), he managed to point out all nineteen individuals (from a crowd of over two hundred) who had been chosen by ballot to place the lavender-addled crabs in the shallows beforehand. Frippini had little time to enjoy the applause, however, for he fainted and could not be revived for over an hour upon viewing the actions of a certain crab. He insisted afterwards that this crustacean had performed, down to the minutest step, a choreographed ritual for summoning the malicious fairy Verigonditrud, of whom more later.

The next exercise should appeal greatly to those who enjoyed the preceding. For clarity, we should point out to our young readers that a Rondequinthine snail moth (Agrius pumphonae) is very much a moth (one of three known species possessing a shell) but not a true snail at all.

Having located a corpse of one of these insects with its wings and carapace intact, pry the abdomen very gingerly from the shell by means of an eyelash curler, taking care not to harm the legs. Slice off the wings directly where they join the base, severing all local nervures in a single, clean stroke. Take a sheet of heavy paper, waxed on both sides; cut it into quarters, rearrange them and paste them back together along the edges. Place the body in the center and inscribe beneath it the least secret secret that you can imagine. Bathe the lappets in very strong vinegar until corrosion has embellished all parts not imbued with oils. Now bind the femurs to strands of zinc wire with silken threads and keep the mandibles splayed with tiny wedges of cork. Coat the antennae lightly in tallow using a fine brush or a phrenologist’s splectridulum. Agitate the thoracic fringe until the tufts float off by themselves; catch all of these in a translucent locket made of human thumbnails and place it where it will not be disturbed. Drench the entire affair in a fluid ounce of rain water mixed with five drachms of silver nitrate, four drachms of muriate of sulphur and seven drops of noxulfigated zinc, then quickly impale the topmost abdominal segment with a thin spike of tin surmounted by a crown sawn from a chess piece. At this point, former veins should rise and reform (note the exquisite branching) into a miniature forest of cypresses, while half-formed, glittering scarlet fiends composed of oxidized motes should be visible frolicking among the treetops.

On a riverbank one afternoon, a crane suffering from a swollen throat poked her beak feebly in the silt, hoping to find a small morsel without effort. She caught something that wriggled and, removing it from the water to inspect it, found a pair of juvenile stag minnows (Phoxinus actaeonae), their tiny antlers locked together following a bout of playful jousting.

“We almost starved to death!” said one of the fish. “Thankfully, you found us in time. Please untangle us and let us go. We’re still too small to satisfy your hunger.”

“Untangle you? My beak couldn’t manage such a complicated task,” replied the crane. “And it seems that you’ll starve to death in this state anyway. Why, you’ve talked me into eating you!” And with that, she swallowed the two minnows. Or rather, tried to swallow them, but their horns got caught in her already inflamed gullet, causing great pain. She flailed her head around to no avail.

This went on for a few minutes until something sprouted very abruptly from the soil across the water. In no time at all, it was as tall as a large tree. At first it resembled a nettle intertwined with a rose, then assumed an irregular rounded shape bristling with spikes and ribbons. It began to speak (by unknown means) very loudly:

“I am the harbinger of the Little Gray Foxes. They will be here very soon! Their power is immense. Can you detect it? Already, it has bestowed upon you the gifts of prodigious strength and invisibility — unfortunately you will die before you can use them. Ah, the Little Gray Foxes! They are so very near! They come! They come! I give them five minutes at the most.”

In a field not far from this scene, a ploughman’s hands completely disintegrated before he could finish yoking his steeds. Also nearby, a colony of wasps were stricken with mumps, an illness never known to affect their species.


1 / grater + Z + pelican + trophy + SH = Greater Zipellicuantro fish

2 / harp + U + melon + door + stile + damask + gar + land = Harpumelandre-styled mask-garland

3 / tiara + spuelome + O + biscornu + dawn = Tyraspulomobiscornudon

4 / cerereronochaque + Q + izzinatin = Serrereronochaquizinnation

First published at Queen Mob’s Teahouse.