This post is dedicated to Ann & Jess and Stephanie Tuma.
Buzzles aren’t well documented. The first reason is that they prefer to have nothing to do with humans, who are generally the ones running around documenting things. The second reason is that they’re often mistaken for insects. This isn’t because they fly. No, it’s their laughter that is the heart of the matter. When you’re the size of a Buzzle this laughter sounds like a great rumbling. To larger ears, it’s more like the buzzing of a bee. And, see, Buzzles laugh an awful lot.
Normally residents of warm climates, Buzzles live in great underground complexes which would be more organized if Buzzles weren’t the world’s most refined practical jokers. Indeed, it is this tendency to honor the absurd that lent to the creation of the first Snow Buzzle.
Zubbyzoo began his day like most others. Rising was a combination of stretching, blinking and dodging the spiderweb net his siblings, Zoob and Zibbly, had set above his bedroom door. Zubbyzoo loved a good prank like the next Buzzle, he supposed, but he wasn’t much in the mood for it after prying the glue from the soles of his shoes the night before. He’d loved those shoes. Now they made a crackly sound with every step. His retaliatory bath time cold water bogeyman routine was only halfhearted. They hadn’t even flinched. It was no wonder they’d felt the need to up their game. He decided it was wisest not to eat breakfast at home that morning.
Zubbyzoo took grim satisfaction at not giving Zoob and Zibbly their boon when he emerged from his bedroom free of entanglement. A frisson of caution prickled down his haunches a second later, though. Zoob and Zibbly continued to gaze at him in anticipation.
He scanned the family room carefully. His brother and sister gave nothing more away than their excitement that something else was to come. Nothing else seemed amiss.
Zubbyzoo inspected every thread of his coat before sliding into it. Same too went his crackling shoes and work hat. Finding nothing more to inspect, Zubbyzoo paused at the front door, eyeing his siblings with unease. They continued to gaze at him with their wide smiles and anticipating eyes. Truth be told, this was one of their better pranks. He was unnerved by those hungry stares. He turned the doorknob and pulled.
“Ha!” Zoob and Zibbly cried from the other side of the door.
Zubbyzoo did a double-take of the hungry-eyed versions of his brother and sister perched still in the family room and the roars of laughter from outside finally explained the prank. They’d built automatons of some kind and placed convincing renderings of their faces on each.
“Cool it,” Zubbyzoo muttered to his brother and sister’s laughter, though inwardly, he was impressed. They were sure to win this year’s Clever Crafties award. Had Zubbyzoo been more awake, he might have caught the look of inspiration that passed between his siblings at those two words.
Zubbyzoo’s day was less interesting than usual. Particularly so when he returned home to find the house prank-free. His parents had the habit of leaving each other surprise poetry and digestives in predictable places around the house, and that was the bulk of the evening’s excitement. Zoob and Zibbly sat in their room studying for an upcoming school exam. The house was eerily devoid of explosions or shouts of surprise. Even dinner, prepared by his siblings, was nothing more than savory and filling.
Zubbyzoo dreamed deeply that night. It was a better sleep than he’d had in a long time. His dreams were of magical things that hadn’t touched his slumber since childhood. Flying and super Buzzles and all the rest. Finally, shivering a little, he opened his eyes, just to wonder if he might be sleeping still. The world around him had gone white. Blindingly so. And cold! Zoob and Zibbly squatted before him, grinning with that eerie look of anticipation in their eyes.
“Zoob?” he asked, rubbing his eyes and shivering. “Zibbly? What’s going on? Where are we?”
Their expressions didn’t alter. Their eyes followed him as he stood and paced in several directions. There was nothing to see but white. It was awfully cold.
“Well then,” Zubbyzoo said in resignation. “I assume you’re the automatons. Did they at least build you to be useful?”
Zibbly’s automaton opened its mouth and a distant version of Zibbly’s voice issued from the hole.
“Ah ha ha ha hee hee hee! We got you Zubbyzoo!”
“Yes, very clever,” Zubbyzoo agreed. “Now how do I get home?”
“Oh, the automatons can fly you back,” Zibbly’s voice said casually. “We’ve totally won the Clever Crafties award with this. The whole town is watching.”
Zubbyzoo heard a roar of applause and laughter. Through the small speaker it was a jarring, uncomfortable sound.
“Okay, see you soon,” he sighed.
Zibbly’s automaton’s mouth closed and its arms extended toward Zubbyzoo. Zoob’s automaton picked up his other side. Jets whirred to life in the machines and soon they soared up over the white world.
Zubbyzoo noticed that the world was not as frozen and white as he’d thought. Below, he watched a great big fox slink under majestic snow-capped trees. Enormous birds wheeled in the sky above. Suddenly, an idea struck him.
It took a little doing, but Zubbyzoo managed to wriggle free of the automatons’ grasps. The machines continued their flight as he drifted down on new currents of wind that took him first one way, then another. He finally landed in a soft cloud of snow on the branch of an enormous tree. From here, he could see the wild world. Mountains poked at the blue sky in the distance. Trees crowned ridges on the rolling hills closer to him. He watched animals of this great world tread their paths. It was miraculous. Incredible. And, he decided, his new home.
As the next months passed, Zubbyzoo faced many new and exciting challenges. He had to learn what he could eat in this new climate. The thick bark of his tree formed a pleasant home and the branches proved adequate highways to his needs. He made new friends in the insects and animals living around the tree.
One day, a strange sight greeted him when he went to take in the beauty of the morning. Something with wings zigzagged across the sky awkwardly. It wasn’t any insect he recognized and its path didn’t seem certain. Once it drew closer, he saw why. It was the Zibbly and Zoob automatons, accompanied by a third automaton that looked an awful lot like the Buzzle mayor, Zibbit. Together, they carried none other than Mayor Zibbit, himself.
Zubbyzoo waved until he was seen. He waited patiently as the mayor changed course to angle toward his branch, contemplating the meaning of this visit and what to do about it meanwhile.
“Hello!” called Mayor Zibbit, nearly falling out of the clutches of his grinning automatons. “Hello Zubbyzoo! My congratulations on your auspicious prize.”
The mayor landed awkwardly, exclaiming in surprise when he encountered snow with his sandal-clad feet.
“Why, it burns!” he howled in a mixture of laughter and astonishment.
Zubbyzoo scooped up a clump of snow and formed it into a ball thoughtfully.
“My good citizen,” Mayor Zibbit said with an indulgent smile, “you’ve already won the Clever Crafties award. There’s no need to continue the prank. I’ve come to escort you personally to the award ceremony. Everyone is watching.”
Through Zibbit’s automaton’s opened mouth, they listened to sounds of a crowd cheering Zubbyzoo’s name. Again, Zubbyzoo found himself sighing.
“Your brother and sister, Zoob and Zibbly, explained the entire story, including your ingenious response to what would have been the award winner. To send the automatons home like that… inspired.”
“Thank you,” Zubbyzoo said.
“Shall we get going, then?” Zibbit offered, turning back toward the grinning machines.
“Does it bother you, how they grin?” Zubbyzoo asked.
The mayor seemed to be at a loss.
“Who, my boy?”
“The automatons,” Zubbyzoo said. “My brother and sister are true artists. But I don’t understand why they needed to make them smile like that. And those hungry, anticipating eyes. Why that?”
“I’m sure I don’t know what…” the mayor spluttered. With a politician’s finesse, though, he had a formulated reply readied upon drawing a new breath. “I rather think the smiles and realistic gazes are part of the joke.”
Zubbyzoo nodded. That was just about the answer he’d expected, and it helped him to say what came next.
“Thank you for the award, Mayor Zibbit. I am truly honored. My siblings will have to accept it in my stead, however. I am not returning with you.”
The mayor laughed heartily, slapping his haunches with gusto.
“You’re a talent we long overlooked,” he said with happy satisfaction.
Zubbyzoo, however, did not laugh. He’d come to love his new home and his neighbors, and yes, even the blinding snow. He tossed the snowball to the mayor, who caught it before dropping it quickly.
“Possibly,” Zubbyzoo said. “But living here for the last few months has changed me. I plan to stay.”
Realization dawned on Zibbit’s face.
“Who will make you laugh?” he asked. “What tricks will keep you sharp? How can you stand to be somewhere so cold, yet where everything you touch burns you?”
Zubbyzoo had worried about many of the same things in his first weeks.
“There is another way to live,” he said simply. “When I laugh now it’s out of kindness and fellowship. I have friends here, but there are predators, too, which keep me plenty sharp. I am changed, Mayor, and I’m happy with the change. I’m a new kind of Buzzle.”
Zubbyzoo had seen plenty of pranks pulled on his mayor, but he had never seen him so stunned. With an uncertain nod and a nervous chuckle, the mayor turned back to the automatons and climbed into their arms. They rose into the air and made their zigzagging way toward the horizon.
Zubbyzoo picked up the dropped snowball and considered it. What he’d said to the mayor was mostly true. However, the impulse to aim this at the mayor’s backside was, quite reasonably, too much to resist. Zubbyzoo drew back and threw.
This short story was made possible by my patrons at https://www.patreon.com/wcmcclure.
A special Thank You to Dustin Martin, Rainy City Ukulele School, Nicole Tuma, Stephanie Tuma, and my eternal gratitude to my World Shapers, Ann & Jess. Thank you for your support!