ABOUT

CONTENTS

EDITORIAL

ARCHIVE

LAGNIAPPE

MAST

SUBMISSIONS

SELECTIONS FROM
THE BOOK OF BEASTS

by Jedediah Berry


The Barbaric Yawp always has something better to do. He doesn't give a damn about weddings, family dinners, matters of honor, overdue library books, court summons, parking tickets, reconciliations, or international law. He climbs volcanoes for fun, and takes the bus only when he has to sleep.

       The Barbaric Yawp is out late and up late, will drink you under the table, has his eye on your wife, and already has your wallet.

       The Barbaric Yawp has slept with all the women you wish you'd slept with. They reside now in the harem of his memory.

He does have a tame side, but the Barbaric Yawp never lets it show. He sneaks into your house while you're away, looks through your photo albums and pets your cats.



The Basilisk can kill with a glance; its bite hurts, too. Most consider themselves poets, and will scribble their cantos on the backs of road signs and the undersides of train seats. A few are published, but all Basilisks live brief lives. Their loneliness is terminal.



Corsets have been known to fly in pairs beneath the ceilings of dark caves. They roost at the seashore, and feed their newly hatched young on the children of politicians. Like the boa snake, the Corset kills by way of constriction.

       Gilgamesh is known to have slain at least one, and in wearing its hide, he inadvertently began the fashion trend for which he is still remembered.

       Corsets may be captured in their sleep, by tying their wings together with string. Once a Corset is bound, never set it free. It will learn captivity, but not forgiveness.



The Gielgud's sense of shame is so acute that, even when innocent, it would rather commit a crime than purge itself of unfixed dread. It stores its guilt in mason jars and buries them in backyards.

       To discover a Gielgud is easier than commonly believed. Simply stand at your bedroom window and wait for the sound of a shovel in the dark. Peek if you must, but make sure the Gielgud does not notice you watching him work. His supply of mason jars is endless.



Girlfriends take various forms--some appear as unmarked bottles of wine, others as fields of horses. Avid researchers one and all, Girlfriends are often found skulking through ruins, hunting for papyrus scrolls. These they garnish with parsley and serve to guests.

       Girlfriends usually travel alone, and have been known to ask difficult riddles, which the wise will always leave unanswered.



Pity the Horseshoe Crab, invention of some mad magician, who crammed its clanking shell with gears and pistons, and set a burning ember in its heart. It patrols the beachhead, fending off gulls and jellyfish with the sword of its tail, hording sea glass in the plastic buckets left by children.

        Knight of a bygone era, the Horseshoe Crab still believes in just causes, and chivalry, and love. If you discover one flipped on its back by a wave, turn it upright and walk away without a word. For the Horseshoe Crab has known enough of sharpened sticks and ridicule.



Your average Nit-Picker stands about three feet tall, and you will know him by the slimy trail he leaves across your bureau. He moves quickly, and will be detained only by promises of swap-meets. But beware, the Nit-Picker always comes out with the better end of the bargain.

       At restaurants, the Nit-Picker may eat his entire meal before informing the waitress of how horrible he thinks it is. He likes to go on blind-dates, but does not like to pay for them. You can hold a Nit-Picker's gaze by placing a mirror in front of it--the nit-picker is enthralled by its own reflection.

       Nit-Pickers despise change of every kind. I once met one in the 34th Street subway station. He was peeling away sections of the subway map with his fingernails, revealing details from the old map beneath.



To discover the work of Saint Jerome's Bane is the worst nightmare of every librarian; this sniveling, three-toed flunky feeds only on rare first editions. His finger will open any lock, and his eyes are searchlights. He is sometimes mistaken for the night watchman or for someone's rich uncle.

       Saint Jerome's Bane hibernates in spring and fall, while classes are in session. By that time, he has devoured at least fourteen of the books you are looking for. He digests them slowly, at a rate of one word per minute, starting at the end of the book and working towards the beginning.



To see one Wumpus all alone is a blessing of good luck. To see two is to know your fate as you know your own brother. A Wumpus sent in the mail is a charm against loss of memory. One worn as a necklace brings wealth and sound sleep to the wearer.

       To "Girdle the Wumpus" means to hedge your bets. "Pass the Wumpus" is a game played by truant children. If someone threatens to "Guzzle the Wumpus," it is best to leave quickly and without argument.



The Wyvern's tail is spiked, so it can pack a wallop as it retreats. It figures prominently in the heraldic arms of families of cowards. Saurian, with two wings, two legs, two hearts, the wyvern is also of two minds. In one mind, it is running up to greet you. In the other, it is hiding behind its mother's leg.

       The Wyvern sometimes appears small, but this is a trick of the eye. Wyverns are always large, some are just far away.


Jedediah Berry's work has appeared on the Conjunctions website. An Assistant Editor of PEN America, he will be teaching creative writing at the Excel Program of UC Santa Cruz.