Final Assignment – Dan Morey
September 23, 2020
The Professor led the students into the campus glen where two janitors were having a picnic lunch with two nude women (teaching assistants). Through the engineering building where one student was lost, squealing, in a turbine. Over a freeway where another student was lost, squealing, beneath the tires of a Volvo. Into a friars’ camp where fat friars distributed burlap robes to the students. Across a rubble-strewn field containing seagulls, baby seagulls, and seagull eggs in various states of cleavage. Into a cornfield. Out of the cornfield into the shadow of a colossal silo.
The students peered upward and said, “Colossal.” A seagull crashed into the silo, falling dead at their feet—its beak crushed, its tongue severed, its eyehole a socket of clotted blood.
“They can’t see the silo,” said Chubs Magoo, “so they fly right into it.”
“You’re thinking of glass,” said Billy Brightwheel. “Windows are what birds generally fly into.”
The other students concurred, but when they looked again at the silo they saw that it was constructed of a transparent material, and that its interior was entirely free of fodder.
“Ha,” said Chubs Magoo.
“You people must try to concentrate,” said the Professor. “Intelligent human beings are not so easily distracted.” A golf ball arced overhead. The Professor observed its trajectory. “A nine iron with an inflated loft,” he said. “Or possibly an antique niblick of some sort. In Scotland, you know, they still call a sand wedge—”
“Professor,” said Billy Brightwheel. “We are ready for our final assignment.”
“Good,” said the Professor. “Your grades depend on it.” He pulled a cowl over his head and spoke solemnly: “Written on the opposing side of this silo you will find a riddle. In order to pass the course, you must solve it. Good luck, and God save.” He leaped into the underbrush and rolled away.
The students joined hands and skipped merrily around the silo. On the other side there was a message scrawled with Plum Passion lipstick. It was in Pig Latin. Billy Brightwheel translated: “What renowned work of literature has the same ending as the folktale we discussed during week six?”
“That’s not a riddle,” said Libby Holstein. “It’s just a stupid question.”
“What folktale?” said Chubs Magoo.
The students stared at each other, their tongues lolling out. The Professor emerged from the brush covered in burrs. He said: “‘The Trap of the Twin Dragons,’ you idiots!”
“Bruce Lee?” said Libby Holstein.
“The story of the hero who discovers a mysterious portal,” said the Professor. He tapped his shepherd’s crook impatiently. “No? Nothing? Your tabulas are rasa? Very well then, I’ll elaborate: The hero spies a bound maiden writhing on the floor within the portal. He decides that he loves her, and that he will rescue her and marry her. He goes inside. He hears heavy, unmaidenly breathing. He feels hot, unmaidenly breath. Suddenly everything becomes very bright. The dome over his head has been drawn back, revealing itself to be the four leathery wings of twin dragons. The portal through which the hero had passed was the arch of their conjoined tails.”
The Professor paused to pick burrs from his beard, then continued: “The dragons snarl and belch fire. They rip the maiden in two and digest her organs. A spleen falls at the feet of the hero. He deposits it in his leather pouch and draws his broadsword.”
Chubs Magoo snickered at “broadsword.” The Professor pushed on: “The hero severs the dragons’ tails with his sword, and escapes with the spleen. Vowing to remain faithful to the maiden, he returns to his native kingdom and grows rich manufacturing chastity belts. Many influential men offer him their daughters, but he refuses them all. He dies an old man, alone in bed with a pickled spleen.”
The Professor scurried up an elm tree and disappeared. A female student began to dance with a disemboweled seagull on her head.
“What the hell?” said Chubs Magoo.
“Shhh,” said Libby Holstein. “She’s solving the riddle.”
The student danced around the silo in a slow shuffle, shaking bean-filled gourds. There was a swift whooshing sound. She collapsed. The students ambled over and found her sprawled on her back with her nose and cheeks squished out. The air was thick with the reek of fetid fodder. As Chubs Magoo approached the body, his foot got stuck in something dense, moist and invisible.
“There’s fodder in there after all,” said Chubs. “We just couldn’t see it because it’s invisible.”
“So she was killed by an avalanche of transparent fodder?” said Libby Holstein.
“Of course,” said Billy Brightwheel. “I should’ve known.”
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a student called Grand Oprah was cooling herself with a Japanese fan. When her classmates entered she lifted a monocle to her eye and regarded them coolly. “We received our final assignment,” said Billy Brightwheel. “Where were you?”
“I’ve just returned from the tea room,” said Grand Oprah. “Count Borscht was in rare form, and—”
“Shut up,” said Chubs Magoo. “You’re fat.”
Grand Oprah sniffed at him. The telephone rang and the Professor’s voice came through the answering machine: “First clue: An ox without feathers cannot fly.”
“Some clue,” said Billy Brightwheel.
The students slipped out of their burlap robes. Some tied lariats and some put saddles on their backs. The students with lariats mounted the students wearing saddles. They all went outside and roped a steer which they cooked and ate under the starry sky. When they came back inside there was a message on the answering machine. It was the Professor. “Second clue: There is no second clue.”
The students milled around, picking chunks of steer from their teeth with knitting needles. “Maybe we should just guess,” said Chubs Magoo. “How about Huck McFinn?”
“The Magic Mountie,” said Billy Brightwheel.
Grand Oprah swept into the room, dislodging Libby Holstein from the mechanical bull with a flourish of her fan. “It’s simple,” she said. “We merely need to consult some celebrities.”
“What you talkin’ ‘bout?” said Libby Holstein.
“Celebrities, you ninny. If anyone can figure out this nonsense, it’s a movie star, and it just so happens that Count Borscht runs around with a lot of actresses.”
“I don’t like celebrities,” said Libby Holstein. “They’re gross.”
“Hold on,” said Chubs Magoo. “Does the Count know Natalie Portman?”
“Yeah,” said Billy Brightwheel. “Does he know Winona Ryder?”
Count Borscht contacted his actress friends as a favor to Grand Oprah. The actresses liked Count Borscht very much, but said they had no intention of going to some godforsaken ranch in the middle of the desert to canoodle with a bunch of star-struck teenagers. The Count, knowing that celebrities like to support social causes, told them it was a fundraiser for Collagen For Kids. Innumerable children, he explained, were growing up with early-onset crow’s feet and unsightly laugh lines simply because they couldn’t afford quality cosmetic injections. Most of the actresses agreed to make an appearance, but a few hesitated, so he had to promise them that Steven Spielberg would be there. When Matt Damon heard that Spielberg was coming, he cancelled a spa day with Ben Affleck, neglecting to tell him about the fundraiser.
On the day of the party, the students were apprehensive. Would the celebrities show? They had sold a lot of cattle to Rancho Notorious to pay for the canapés. Everything was ready, but no limousines were in sight. “Worry not, darlings,” said Count Borscht, buttoning his spats. “Celebrities are always late.”
Four hours passed. The ice sculpture melted. Finally, a mauve Bentley pulled up and Matt Damon disembarked.
“I knew he’d be first,” said Count Borscht. “The little butt-kiss.” Grand Oprah sniggered behind her fan. “I don’t see Steven Spielberg,” said Matt Damon. “All in good time,” said the Count, whisking him away. Soon the other movie stars arrived and began to mingle. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rachel Leigh Cook, Lee Majors and the ghost of Lee Remick lounged amongst the Turkish pillows. They drank pink champagne and talked shop:
“Woody Allen sent me a script.”
“He’s a pervert. And he doesn’t pay shit.”
“Marty Scorsese sent me a script.”
“Jesus, those eyebrows.”
“Francis Ford Coppola sent me a script.”
“Is he still alive?”
“I haven’t seen him,” said Lee Remick. “So he must be.”
Drew Barrymore mentioned Steven Spielberg and a hush descended. The celebrities had not spotted Spielberg on the premises and they wanted answers. Count Borscht took them out to the woodshed and told them to peep through the window. Matt Damon shoved his way to the front. Inside, animatronic figures of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg stood on a practice putting green smoking cigars.
“One million says you can’t sink that again,” said Lucas. “You’re on, fatso!” said Spielberg. The movie stars, satisfied, allowed themselves to be ushered back to the party.
Chubs Magoo corralled Natalie Portman in the corral. “I heard you had to sit on George Lucas’ face to get that part in Star Wars,” he said. Natalie Portman sipped her O’Doul’s. “And that you’re a big ‘ol drunk. Is that right, lush?”
“Perhaps that was true in the past,” said Natalie Portman, “but now I have a new friend. His name is sobriety.”
“Lousy dipso,” said Chubs. “But hey. Check out that fancy Russki over there.”
Count Borscht was chatting with Susan Sarandon. Chubs cleared his throat and spoke loudly: “Hey, Natalie Portman…”
“Why don’t Russians get hemorrhoids?”
“I don’t know, Chubs. Why don’t Russians get hemorrhoids?”
“Because God wanted to make them perfect assholes! Ahahaha!”
Count Borscht removed a glove and slapped Chubs across the face, demanding satisfaction. They took ten paces and turned to face each other. Count Borscht drew an AK-47 from under his Van Dyke. Chubs whipped out a hand grenade. Suddenly, two dead seagulls plummeted beak-first from the stratosphere, drilling simultaneously into the duelists’ craniums.
“I read somewhere,” said Billy Brightwheel to Winona Ryder, “that your parents have written books about Aldous Huxley and the Alcotts.”
“Yeah,” said Winona Ryder. “So?”
“So we have this literary riddle, and I thought maybe you could—”
The Professor threw himself between them. “Hello, hello,” he said. “Ah, the lovely Miss Ryder.” He looped arms with Winona Ryder and they strolled away. He turned back to Billy Brightwheel and said: “No outside help, you little fleeb.”
In desperation, Billy rounded up the students. “I’m desperate,” he told them. “The only thing I can think to do is return to the silo. Maybe we’ll find the answer there.”
Billy Brightwheel led the students and celebrities into a festering bog where they waded through puddles of gelatinous invertebrates. Through the valley of inexplicable stone monuments. Into a cave where primitive women in fur underpants threw dung at the wall. Quickly out of the cave. Through a dense rain forest. Across a rubble-strewn field containing seagulls, baby seagulls, and seagull eggs in various states of cleavage. Into a cornfield. Out of the cornfield into the shadow of a colossal silo.
“Don’t say colossal,” said Billy Brightwheel.
“Colostomy,” said Winona Ryder, drunkenly.
The message on the silo read: “You Forgot Your Burlap Robes.” Billy Brightwheel paced, removing and replacing his glasses at regular intervals.
“Stop brooding,” said Winona Ryder. “Let’s dance.”
They danced the Frugal Strudel. The silo hummed and vibrated, emitting a flash of white light. Winona Ryder glowed briefly, then turned into a sausage. The message on the silo read: “No Dancing Without Burlap Robes.”
Just then, a plague of baby seagulls invaded the clearing, pecking the students and celebrities until they expired. Billy Brightwheel, Matt Damon and Grand Oprah survived the attack, but a golf ball flew through the air and pinged Grand Oprah on the skull. She gurgled and dropped dead.
The Professor emerged from the woods brandishing a pitching wedge. Ben Affleck carried his golf bag. “Mind if I play through?” said the Professor. Matt Damon glared at Ben Affleck and said, “What are you doing here?” Ben Affleck glared back and said, “What are you doing here?” The professor coughed. Ben Affleck handed him a four iron and teed the ball up on Grand Oprah’s nose. The Professor took a running start, swung wildly, and sent Grand Oprah’s monocle into the horizon.
“Professor!” said Billy Brightwheel, falling at his mentor’s feet. “I can’t solve the riddle! Tender is the Blight? Doctor Festus? I don’t know! Please, please don’t fail me.”
The silo chute sprang open and invisible fodder sluiced out, burying everyone. Silence. A seagull screech.