Craig’s position as a cue card designer would prove more important to the course of the universe, at least the part that matters, than the big bang itself, more even than the little bang, that silky strand bound to the ebb and flow of threaded space-time. The forgotten younger brother, cast from the minds of most every living being, except for a single lowly craftsman, ever committed to his papyrus-bound profession.
The little bang had taken a backseat in his mind for the moment, though, as he spent his afternoon perched upon the edge of a wicker bench, the perfect place to sit and think and observe. Witness to a smorgasbord of fellow patrons, Craig took note of their peculiarities. There was the woman walking her dogs, two purple mutts, their necks both crooked in awe at the scampering poodle not ten feet beyond the ends of their leashes. The parade of ducks scrambling their feet across the steamy asphalt just before tacking away in the smooth pond waters. Their shrill cries of tack, tack, tack were just so piercing as to be pleasant. Couples running backwards towards the pond while their legs would locomote in the opposite direction. An odd thing to see, perhaps, thought Craig, but then again he had never given much credence to the idea of relationships. Too much effort for how little he felt he might gain in return.
And then there was the strangest sight of all—a man, or so it seemed, donning a cream-colored chef’s hat and bright cerulean overalls, his gaze first fixed upon the woman, then shifting to the ducks, then the couple, before settling on Craig, rendering him unsettled. And there it remained, frozen, sending chills down his spine and leaving him to wonder why he was being stared down. Craig reached around, placing his finger at the crick in his neck and sliding down, only to find a pair of ice cubes resting at the base of his back. As his eyes brought this eccentric man back into view, he noticed the man’s tongue fluttering between two rounded lips. Craig tried to make out the man’s mutterings, and a few times he gleaned something about a “buark particle”, but most of it remained incomprehensible.
Swathes of red paint suddenly bathed the free flowing blades of grass, and a line marked from the edge of his heels up to the strange man’s own countenance. The ice cubes ran back up his sides as he found himself a toothpick’s width shy of this man, nearly instantaneously, both dumbfounded and amazed by his transition in space. Craig shivered as the proximity to the man further shortened—still, he could not help but take note of the details that had been elusive at a distance. The man’s rusty blond hair, his faint smell of bourbon and bananas, and that jolly, rippling accent, they all pointed to the same conclusion. A Swede, thought Craig, he must be a Swede.
“Did you enjoy the grass?” asked the man.
“What is–” began Craig, his words cut short by the same condescending voice.
“Simply a voiced labial-velar approximate followed by a schwa and punctuated with the sharp-cliffed voiceless alveolar plosive. I found it a bit sophomoric, to be honest.”
A boorish stare fell above Craig’s nose. He had just flexed his jaw muscle, preparing to ask again, but the man could sense the disconnect and took control of the vibrating air.
“Sigh,” the man breathed, “Look. The grass, it’s red, isn’t it? Someone picked it up and perused its pages, so why not me? Frankly I found it beneath me, does that make sense?”
Craig slowly tilted his head forward and backward, a fair indication of his mental state in that instant, before braving a second attempt at clarifying the situation.
“Do you have a name?” asked Craig, something he thought would be simple enough to answer.
“Do you still have the Mother’s Day cards, vintage fuchsia, from 1995?” responded the man. His foot tapped upon the dewy grass, half in the red line, half not, and he kept his gaze locked in perfect eye contact.
“How do you know about that?” asked Craig, a bold move given his previous record of interrogative success. His brow began to sweat and he felt the palms of his hands dampen. Before taking on his current role of cue card designer, Craig had spent much of his career in the greeting card industry. Every day was filled with deciding where to place banalities like “Congratulations!” and “It’s a boy!” within the frame of the card. Pairing funny pictures and their captions was yet another crucial part of his expertise. It took a special type of mind to find the right platitude to accompany the picture of a mother feeding spaghetti to her mischievous toddler in the midst of his terrible twos, as was the case for the 1995 special edition Mother’s Day card.
“Not important. We’re going to need them,” said the man bluntly.
Craig’s impatience with the man continued to rise, yet some odd fascination with the Swede held him in place. He did not want to leave or continue about his business, but instead was convinced he needed to help this man.
“And my name is Nils,” said the man.
I need to help Nils, thought Craig.
“Now, did you bring the ideology?” demanded Nils.
“Why? Care to explain what’s going on? No, I didn’t, all I have with me are my cue card supplies, and some wine.” A pitcher of fine chardonnay, velvety white with visible notes of dogwood lining the inside of the glass, lay at his feet.
“For the explosion,” responded Nils with a plain sense of calm. “And that will do.”
Craig’s loose flap of an upper lip convulsed. He knew. He knew. He knew what was going to happen, as it already had—almost as a dream, but just palpable enough to be beyond the realm of the nightmarish. The boxes, the wiring, the button… That prominent blue button, flared at the top with a slight convexity, ensconced a connection of wires capable of ending a large majority of life on earth. That is, of course, if it didn’t simply crack the planet down the center, propelling two or more chunks into alternate regions of space.
After reflecting upon the inevitable catastrophe, Craig could not possibly see a way out. Because it was inevitable, his reasoning followed, there was no merit in trying to resist Nils’ proposition.
“I’m in.” Craig’s heartbeat skipped. The actual explosion was a blur in his mind, nor could he recall where it took place, but it still felt too real to him. “Mind filling me in on the details?”
“Not at all.” Nils had finally become responsive to Craig’s interrogatives. “Have you ever heard of the Universal Donut Factory?”
Craig paused for a moment. “The name sounds familiar,” he replied. “I think I might have driven past it a few times, heading west on I-73. Is that your target?”
Nils nodded. “They don’t deserve to make donuts anymore, not after the atrocities they committed in the previous year. Do you recall the special donuts they would make, those with this magically smooth, white creamy filling? The substance, I don’t know the English word for it, though it’s called ‘kvarg’ in my native language.”
Of course Craig remembered–year after year, just before Christmas, the lines would form for miles down the main street through town, wrapping around every possible building, just to get a taste of one of these donuts. There were auctions and lotteries, even a series of undercover sting operations involving these donuts presented as bribes for politicians. It seemed Nils was a fellow donutter, the poor soul.
“Well, they discontinued the lot, permanently,” spouted Nils. “I don’t believe you truly comprehend—I need those donuts.” A clump of foam began forming between the chapped edges of his lips.
“But what about the Mother’s Day cards, care to explain what those are for?”
“Ah, yes, the buark particles!” exclaimed Nils as his eyes lit up with the prospect of utter annihilation. “We already have a few thousand pounds of C4, as we thought the the A and B series paper were too bulky, and I even have a nuclear fusion catalyst to convert the paper into pure energy.”
“How did you manage to come across that?” asked Craig, still puzzled about the role of his vintage cards.
“A few years back I took a cruise down the Main River in Germany, where I met a lovely couple from Heidelberg. They happened to mention in passing their spare nuclear fusion catalyst lying around their cabin onboard. I was intrigued and asked if I could take it off their hands, and so they let me have it for fifty marks!”
“Anyway,” continued Nils, “you know about the whole ‘E=mc2’ formulation, I assume. Well, with this catalyst in hand, we can mostly take full advantage of this mathematical formalism. It shows us not only that energy and mass are convertible entities, but also that just a tiny bit of mass contains a tremendous amount of energy.”
“And the buark particle?” asked Craig, hoping to reach the main point soon.
“The buark particle,” replied Nils, “is the final piece of the puzzle. Without the buark particle, the nuclear fusion catalyst cannot activate properly, and if that is the case, then all we have is a collection of crates full of worthless paper. But it is exceedingly rare to come across, and even if one happens to discover a buark particle, it tends to decay rapidly, a potentially threatening situation. There was a report back in 1994 about a forest of trees that somehow maintained a more stable version of the particle, but nobody took it seriously. Well, at least, nobody but me. I followed up on those trees, traced one back to your greeting card company, and found it was used for that frightening card with the baby covered in spaghetti. That is where you come in.”
Craig could hardly believe it—just a few years earlier, he had been handling some of the most volatile materials available on earth. “Time to take out a donut factory, I guess,” he said.
“I knew you would join,” said Nils, his smile broadening. “Let’s go pick up the cards, then we can head to our hideout.”
Craig lugged the bag of cards up three flights of stairs before Nils signaled him to stop. Nils pulled out his key, locked the door, and entered, beckoning Craig to do the same. Stunned, Craig shuffled his feet inside and shut the door, barely making it a few steps inside before being enveloped by a pair of enormous padded arms.
“My brothers!” exclaimed this giant of a man, thrilled to have some additional company join him in the lair.
“Craig, meet Godfrey,” said Nils, introducing the two to each other, though it seemed to Craig that Godfrey already knew all about him.
“I was just finishing up a game of Yahtzee, check out my final roll!” Godfrey pointed to the table, giddy as a chipmunk. Three threes and two fives, a full house. Not bad for a final roll, thought Craig.
“I still needed either a small straight, a full house, or a Yahtzee, so glad I got one of them!” While Godfrey cleaned up the table, Nils started laying out the rest of the plan for Craig.
“Here’s how we divide the work,” he began. “You’re in charge of divvying the Mother’s Day cards among the boxes. Just put a couple in each container, that should be enough to maintain the reaction.”
After finding the correct room, Craig got to work stuffing the cards into the various crates. He had enough for six cards each, and so he worked diligently to space them throughout a given box as evenly as possible. Each box needed some shimmying with a crow bar to pop the lid off, a necessity made difficult by the fact that he had not so much as looked at a weight or pair of running shoes in at least three years. A heavy wheezing echoed throughout the apartment from the room with the crates, with periodic groans present upon carrying each new box. After exposing the neat rectangle piles of C4 type paper, he would lift a large heap of paper, place one of the cards so that it managed a snug fit between the sheets, and finally return the sheets of paper back on their block. His pattern had been set, and so it went for the next few hours. Take a box, open the lid, place back the lid, place the box on the pallet, repeat. A sense of zen overcame him as he fell into a routine, such that after a while, he could not help but be arrested with surprise upon noticing the empty floor space surrounding the towering collection of boxes stacked up on the truck bed.
“Finally managed to get all of the fuchsia cards in the boxes!” Craig yelled from the garage to the living room.
“That’s great,” replied Nils, “Godfrey, go solicit the truck and head on into position.”
“Got it brother!” He lumbered in my direction, every stomping motion causing the chandelier on the second floor to extend its reach to the ground, its tip just barely scraping the fabric of the carpet, before returning to its peak position in a rhythmic oscillatory motion. Like a pendulum, except not, thought Craig, as he sensed those jingling crystal shards moving about above him.
The engine screeched and sputtered like a rodent choking on a chew toy. “Listen to my baby purr!” said Godfrey as he placed his arm out the driver’s side window and stroked the top of its silvery metallic frame. To Craig’s surprise the truck made it down the ramp without a hitch, and so on Godfrey drove along the interstate. The plan was for him to continue until he reached the Universal Donut Factory, at which point he would call Nils to inform him that “the pumpernickel is on the wool mitten sewing machine,” a strange choice of cipher, Craig imagined, yet somehow still perfectly reasonable in his mind.
Craig made his way to the tarmac, where Nils had been diligent in his efforts to rig up the detonation wire. His identifying air of condescension had returned.
“Just out of curiously,” said Craig, “how is the wire connected to the explosives? I can see both ends of ever piece there.”
“It is,” began Nils, “because it isn’t not, and it’s non-existent not-ness is my expertise, like cue cards and greeting cards for you.”
“Ah, I see,” said Craig, his spoken words deceiving of his true state of mind, now soft to the touch thanks to Nils’ pedantry. “And how does the entire explosion apparatus function?”
“You see,” said Nils, “this sets off the critical buark particles in the vintage cards, which will then begin a series of chain reactions, culminating in the most powerful explosion the world has ever witnessed.”
“Frankly, I’m astounded we’ve accomplished this without any issues,” said Nils, just before Godfrey stepped in and announced his return. A vigorous jittering overcame his arms and left leg as the anticipation built. “Are you ready?” he asked.
Craig blinked twice, a code-motion they had discussed was pertinent to the scheduling of the detonation, for no particular reason. Nils reciprocated the signal in solidarity, lifted his right elbow, extended his forearm, and pressed the blue button.
The clanging of dice filled the room as Craig and Nils returned from their trip to retrieve the greeting cards.
“Come on baby, looking for a Yahtzee, come on!” said Godfrey beneath his breath, and with a sudden snap the five dice fell from the divot-riddled cup upon the table. A two, a four, another two, and then a five and a three. Not a Yahtzee, Craig realized, both from witnessing the dice and from the muted sadness in Godfrey’s eyes.
“Well, at least it’s a small straight. That’s not so bad, right my brothers?”
“Of course not, Godfrey,” said Nils as he offered a hug to his big oaf of a friend. “Just refrain from the undue preoccupation, I’m sure eventually you’ll manage a Yahtzee.”
Godfrey knew he had no pressing assignments to take care of until the truck was loaded with the Mother’s Day card-laden crates, so he looked to the hanging glow-box to occupy his time. A comfortable leather lancaster couch sat opposite the screen, just long enough for both legs and wide enough for both arms. As his back entered the same plane as his feet, Godfrey managed to let go of the frustrations afforded by Yahtzee earlier that day. His supine position provided him the ultimate comfort for watching detectives track down hardened criminals in the world’s most elaborate cities.
Godfrey’s crime drama fix coincided with the necessary work that both Craig and Nils were accomplishing, and it was not but a few hours before Nils’ called him back in.
“Are you prepared to take the truck?” asked Nils. “You remember where the drop-off point is, correct?”
“Yeah, yeah,” answered Godfrey. “I’ve got it, not a problem.”
While reassuring Nils, he noticed Craig limping from the garage into the living room. “You going to be all right?” asked Godfrey.
“I’m fine, promise,” said Craig, “just a little sore from lifting all of the crates.”
Godfrey swapped places with Craig, taking over the domain of the garage and hopping into the front seat of the loaded vehicle. He managed to crack only one of the suspension mechanisms this time, an improvement over his typical track record of three. After only a few seconds of stalling time, the truck shifted into drive.
Not a car graced any of the three lanes, giving Godfrey the room to drive freely. His speed crept up to 70mph, then 75mph, before coming to a slow steady at 80mph. He might have gone faster, but Nils had told him specifically, “Godfrey, do not do anything that might arouse suspicion,” and so he did not want to disobey Nils, his brother, and so he did not want to speed, at least not too fast, and that was that, he thought to himself.
Getting past security would be simple, he imagined, since he worked at the Universal Donut Factory, as a delivery man no less.
“Just 100 boxes of donuts,” he announced to the guard. “All cream-filled, of course.”
“Mhmm, come on in,” and with a simple shake of the wrist, he closed the gate, waived the massive truck through, and then returned the gate to a lifted position, preventing any additional vehicles from gaining entrance. There was a car waiting for him, beside the drop-off place, Godfrey remembered as he replayed the plan in his mind once more. A black hatchback with a fandango-colored parking tag swinging from the rearview mirror, hidden in the middle of the parking lot, surrounded by nothing but stacked plain planes of space connected by the wiry yellow lines marking the absence of parking spots.
Godfrey swapped vehicles, a single smooth motion from the torn seat in the truck down to the cushiony throne of the spacious black hatchback, after which he called back to Nils to alert him about the successful drop and headed home.
Arriving back at the mansion, Godfrey went searching for his friends before finding them next to the control center in the dining room.
“Hey, Nils?” asked Godfrey.
“Yes, my friend?”
“Would you mind, I mean, if it’s not too much trouble… Could I press the button?”
Nils paused for a moment, considering what, if anything, might go wrong by allowing Godfrey to commandeer. The unfortunate soul didn’t get the Yahtzee he so desired, thought Nils, perhaps this would cheer him up.
“Go right ahead, my friend, you’ve earned it.”
“Really? All right!” exclaimed Godfrey, as his meaty hand slammed down on the blue button with a deep, bass-filled shriek.
“Yahtzee!” exclaimed Godfrey, and he was right—the strewn about remnants of his last throw showcased a full set of three’s. Yahtzee worthy indeed, thought Craig, as he got up and headed to take care of supplying the boxes of C4 paper with his hoards of vintage Mother’s Day cards. Godfrey ventured over to the plush love seat, pulled up, ever so slightly, on the extension rod, recalling the last time he snapped it straight off, and fell fast asleep under the assumption he would be undisturbed until Nils nudged him into taking over his truck driver role.
Under the kitchen’s dim light, Nils stayed blinded by the cool warmth of the lime green and magenta wires. They interweaved in a bundle such that it maintained a consistent diamond pattern, starting from where they appeared at the base of the floorboard, winding around the metal column before settling in the haystack that was contained just below the main detonation device.
He checked every wire with his left hand, each strand strung beneath his meticulous surveyor’s gaze, ensuring they matched the wire diagram grasped in his right. A few wires displayed some minor wear, probably just the work of goldfish, or a few zebras, he imagined, and none were too severe. But Nils found the idea of chance deplorable—he would not so much as entertain the thought that something could not be perfectly predicted. Grabbing from his new bag of wires, he started replacing the ones he felt unfit. One by one he would snip the defect wires on either end, grab a fresh one, and solder it into its correct position.
His fingers turned numb and he could feel the carpel tunnel moving across the ridges of his wrist, but his hard work meant that his plan would remain predictable, as his mind dictates it should be. The bundle maintained most of its woven display, and the indicator lights expressed full functionality for the device after including the new wires.
“Craig,” called Nils down to the garage, “are you having any good fortune with supplying the greeting cards?”
“Just finished, actually,” he replied. “I think I’ll come and join you, if you don’t mind.”
“Such would be splendid, I look forward to your company.” Nils walked over and gave a slight nudge to Godfrey, before shaking him a little harder. “Godfrey, wake up, it is time for you to take the truck.”
His eyelids fluttered before crashing down above his occluded cheekbones, and he stood with a frightful yawn.
“Igodit, Igodit,” he managed to mumble through the small gap in his mouth. He trudged out the door, cranked up the truck, and headed to the Universal Donut Factory.
“You will adjust to him, I assure you,” said Nils.
“Thanks for the reassurance, I guess,” said Craig. “He seems like a really friendly guy, albeit a bit brutish at times.”
“I know he appears that way, ostensibly, and naturally his size presents a more intimidating aura. However, the man would not dare hurt a fly. Yahtzee is his favorite game, he would simply roll dice all day if he had the chance.”
“Mind if I see the button?” asked Craig. “I’m curious about how the whole thing is set up.”
Nils pointed to the bundle of wires. “This is the entirety of the connection between our detonation device and the explosive material,” he explained, as Craig leaned against the adjacent table to take a closer look. “In particular, the set-up has been designed so that the buark particles are guaranteed to detonate first, thus activating the nuclear fusion catalyst, which in turn will transform the C4 paper into vast amounts of pure energy. Such will be a phenomenal display of man’s predictable control over matter and energy, and–”
The front door smashed open, startling Craig and sending Nils to the ground as Godfrey galloped down the hallway.
“I did it my brothers, scored a Yahtzee and managed to drop off the truck!” said Godfrey, his bellowing words powerful enough to bring Craig down as well. As his flailing arms sailed through the air, he managed to grab of something solid, though he soon realized what kept him stable by the distinct sound of something clicking into place.
It had been over three years since Craig made the transition from greeting cards to cue cards, and designing cue cards had so consumed his time that he imagined the gap being twice as long. His latest project, taking up most of the past year, involved designed a cue card that automatically adjusted its lines based on the writer’s handwriting style. Craig knew too well how ambitious the project was, but did not grasp the extent of his commitment until he was too far along to turn back.
Night after night was a sprint of typography and penmanship theory alongside learning the complete works of Euclid, Lobachevsky, and Riemann, all so that he might design the perfect cue card. His work edged out anything else of meaning in life, his family, his exercise, and most notably, his tremendous working knowledge of greeting cards.
Nils came to realize the subtly profound distinction between the colors fandango and fuchsia as stunned silence was all the group could muster in front of the television. The off-white glow of the screen filled the room with an image of the Universal Donut Factory, still plopped down in its same location along I-73, still churning out thousands of donuts every minute, none of which contain any “kvarg” goodness.
“Well,” said Nils, both defeated and renewed, “I suppose we might learn to enjoy… other… varieties of donuts. Indubitably.” His voice was noticeably shaken.
“Indubitably,” chimed in Craig and Godfrey, both still stunned and hoping to appease their appetites.
“Maybe we could start now, my brothers,” suggested Godfrey. “I know of a great shop down the road, it’s called Torus-R-Us. They always seem to have a pretty big selection!”
The three of them double-blinked, Godfrey removed the door to the garage from its frame, and off they went in the patched-up truck, a half-attached exhaust pipe scraping along the road.
Upon arriving at the strip mall that the Torus-R-Us store may call home, assuming a lack of brick-and-mortar familial issues, the parading pack of prospective pyrotechnics ventured up the single flight of stairs to search for the desired entrance. Their journey would have been obstacle-free, had the entrance not been marked by an unimaginable line extending down through opposite set of stairs. “Here we go,” moaned Craig, realizing the futility of their efforts.
“Nils,” he asked, “is this the only queue? Looks like it’s going to be a wait if it is.”
“Not quite,” said Nils as a sly smile formed on his face, the cheeky grin of a man who knew everything about nothing, and yet who considered not at all the purpose of every nothing’s something.
Everyone always seemed to forget about the little bang, but not Craig. No, Craig understood its true importance, why it maintained any semblance of existence, why it became something rather than nothing. Without the little bang, there is no big bang, no tremendous bang, no gargantuan or stupendous or colossal bang. There is only a bang, nothing more.