The Real Story

This story was written for the Ceramic DM competition on EN World, where contestants are given five pictures and three days to write a story. Good fun. This wasn't actually the story I won with, but it's my favourite of the stories I wrote for that competition.

I know what you're thinking, but I'm here to tell you that I wasn't shoved headfirst down a hole by a crazed samurai because I beheaded his brother the Imperial Beekeeper who then turned into a walking corpse and terrorized the province. That's not what happened.

I know, that's what everyone says happened. But who are you going to believe, Haro the pig farmer or me, the guy who's currently headfirst down a hole?

Look, let's cut a deal here. I tell you what really happened, and if you believe me, you pull me out of this hole. If you don't, off with you and a thousand curses on your head for making me waste my time telling you the truth. Though I have to admit I don't actually have anything else to do, being currently upside-down in a hole. Never mind. Fine. Here goes.

I don't even get to be on Iron Chef

First off, don't think I wanted to be High Lord Imperial Executioner Flibberty-Gibbet. No, sir. Who would? It's not like I'm some all-serious, mystically inclined chap looking to perfect my technique, walk the road of demons or anything like that. I cut people's heads off. It's not pretty, it's not sophisticated. It sucks.

Seriously, this is like the worst job in the world. I only got stuck with it because I was late to the meeting and all the other samurai had already decided. Bastards. So here I am, Lord High Cutting-Off-Heads-Guy. I don't even get to be on Iron Chef. The other samurai get the cool jobs. When they're done work they can gather around the samurai water cooler and swap stories about duels they've fought or fair maidens they've rescued.

I've met 73 single women in the last two months. Single. Ha. Each of them is now in two pieces.

"Hey, Executioner! Learn some jokes, they'll laugh their heads off! Har har har."

Hilarious. I hate those guys.

Okay, so Grand Executy Poobah versus the Imperial Beekeeper. Here's where everyone's story is all mixed up. I didn't cut the guy's head off.

Well, I did, but only after he was dead. Look, I don't know if you knew the guy, but the Imperial Beekeeper wasn't exactly the sharpest blade in the saya, if you know what I mean. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the guy was a schmuck. A dope. A doofus. I mean, he was the Imperial Beekeeper, for crying out loud. What kind of a dork gets himself saddled with a title like that? He's the biggest moron in the whole empire.

Okay, he got three golden tael a week and a house to keep all the wine, women and song he could buy. The Imperial Grand Executioner sleeps on the stairs behind the palace. So perhaps he was the second-biggest moron in the whole empire. Let's not get into it, okay?

I can't help it. It's creeping me out big time.

So this putz, who of course in the five years he's been Imperial Beekeeper has never so much as seen a bee, decides one day he's going to play with the bees.

Just take a moment and think about that. Play with bees. You want to argue the moron bit any further?

Reason I know what he was up to is because he stepped on me on the way to the gardens. After resisting the urge to punch him, I followed the great oaf down the stairs to see what he was up to.

You know, I could probably tell this story a lot better if I were right-side up.

Just saying.

Anyway, Beekeeper To The Shogun strolls into the garden and starts looking for bees. Under a bush. He starts calling them.

"Here, bees, bees, bees..."

I sit on the steps because obviously this is going to take a while. I'm actually worried I might die of thirst before El Keeper Du Bees finds a single honey-producing insect.

But no, turns out if you want to find bees, you call them. In a couple of seconds I hear Bee-Head give a little yelp and there he is, standing in the middle of the garden, with a bee perched on his eyebrow. At first I think he's going to smack it, and he nearly does, but something holds him back and he stands there motionless, the fuzzy little thing crawling about above his eye.

Then there's two. Then three.

Look, I can't explain it. Well, actually, I can, but I'm not going to tell you yet. Sense of mystery, pal, you never had a story told to you? Hey, if you're not even going to pull me out of here, I'm going to tell my story any way I like, alright?

Pretty soon this clown is covered in bees. I mean covered. He looks like he's wearing a fuzzy black and yellow hat, one of those winter hats what you tie down around your ears. Bees all over his head.

I can't help it. It's creeping me out big time. I stand up and call out to him.

By then those bees were like fuzzy drunk sailors just looking for trouble.

"Dude, that's not right!"

He jerks, and I guess he startled one of his wee pals, because he suddenly yells and smacks at his own cheek.

Important safety tip: if you ever have your head covered in bees, and one of them stings you, take it like a man. Cause bees, they hate it when somebody smacks one of their sisters.

He screams and starts dancing a frenetic jig, eventually dropping to his knees and trying to, I guess, beat his head against the ground and knock the angry bees off. Unfortunately, he beat his head into a rock and keeled over right there. I took off then, not because I was freaked out (seen a lot of people becoming dead, thanks awfully), but because by then those bees were like fuzzy drunk sailors just looking for trouble.

But I figured that was the end of it. Guy stung to death, cracks head on rock, end of story. Hire a new Imperial Beekeeper. I was polishing up my resume for the vacancy when Samurai Fred came to me. He posed in front of a useless stone lantern. I hated him right off.

"Imperial Lord High Executioner."

"Yo."

"I crave a boon, my lord."

Note: they only call me "my lord" when they need a favour. Which is usually, "Could you pretend not to notice that the adulterous countess you've been ordered to decapitate looks like a frightened servant girl with a gag?" You can say what you like about adulterous countesses, but they're always popular.

"Uh-huh. Adulterous countess?"

"No, my lord. It concerns the most shameful death of my brother, Yagumakihagagubi."

"Yagu-what?"

"The Imperial Beekeeper. He has suffered a most shameful end and brought grief upon our family."

"Right, with the getting stung to death by the little suckers he's supposed to be so good with. What do you want from me?"

"I want you to cut off his head."

"Isn't it a little late for that?"

"Please, my lord, I implore you."

"You do? How do you do that, exactly? I've always wondered."

"As yet, nobody knows of his death. I wish for the land to believe he has been executed."

"Getting decapitated as a common criminal would be less shameful than being stung to death?"

He just looked at me.

"Right. Okay. But you're asking me to desecrate a corpse. The gods forbid such an act with the strongest of taboos. I would be damned for all eternity if I were to perform such a heinous deed."

"Here are ten golden taels."

"I've never been a religious man."

"Well."

"On the other hand, I have one heck of a mortgage."

"Fifteen golden taels."

"And I've had my eye on this nice bungalow for the last couple of weeks..."

"Twenty taels."

"Which needs a lot of renovations..."

"Thirty. Will you do it?"

I weighed the solid mass of gold in my hand, and considered the righteous anger of the gods.

The power of vengeance! And haberdashery.

I don't think I'm a bad man. I don't think, certainly, that I deserve to get stuffed headfirst into a hole. Okay, so I cut the head off a dead guy. He was dead. He didn't have any use for his head. Not that he'd used it much when he was alive.

Thirty taels, one whack with the sword, and that was the end of it. That should have been the end of it, by all that's holy.

You can probably fill in most of the details of the night after I got paid. All I can say is, there's no such thing as too many beautiful girls in one room, especially if they're all pouring you wine and dancing on the table.

There is, however, such a thing as too many undead horrors crashing through the window, scattering beautiful girls in all directions, and knocking over perfectly good bottles of wine. It turns out that ONE is in fact too many.

"Executioner!"

"You forget how to knock? What, undead beekeepers don't use doors?"

"You desecrated my corpse!"

"Yeah, I cut your... uh... head off."

"Yes. You will pay!"

"How'd you get your head back on?"

"You will pay!"

"Fine. Here's a tael, have your own party. How'd you get your head back on?"

"The power of vengeance!"

"Aren't those stitches?"

"And haberdashery."

"Nice work. You get Suniko the silk merchant's daughter to do that?"

"No. It's not-- Never mind. I am here for vengeance. Vengeance!"

The creepy, loathesome thing lurched forward, hands outstretched. It was totally the grossest thing I'd ever seen. And this is coming from a guy who cuts people's heads off for a living, remember.

But you can get used to anything, I guess. A few bottles of wine and the late Yagu-what-the-heck and I were singing together like old friends. Laughing about those crazy bees.

Which brings me to the sense of mystery I so carefully developed earlier. You see, while we were boozing it up, telling jokes and slapping shoulders (never slap the shoulder of a corpse when you're wearing your brand-new fancy kimono. Ew.), it came out that the former Master of Bee-Fu had actually had a plan when he went down into that garden, looking for bees. His loving brother (and I'm using the word "loving" in what's called the ironic sense, where what I actually mean is "deceitful, murderous, foul-minded freakazoid") had given him what he claimed was a magic lotion which, if he could get a bee to touch it, would render him irresistible to the opposite sex. Of course, said magic lotion was in fact some sort of bee perfume calculated to drive bee ladies wild. Loving brother obviously hoped that Bee-Buddy would get himself stung to death. Which he did.

Uh-huh. I told you, not the tallest stalk in the rice paddy.

See why I didn't tell you before? Now who's the expert storyteller, you or me? Huh? You going to pull me out of here now or what?

Fine.

So really, that's the story. The late Imperial Bee-Doofus, once he realised he'd been set up, went off and killed his brother the samurai. Apparently they had a big fight in the family garden, with the posing in front of those useless stone lanterns, I'm sure. Samurai Fred dies, horrible undead corpse gets a job parking palanquins over at Mama Sapporo's Groovy Geisha House, and I get stuffed down a hole.

Oh, yeah. The hole. Well, that party I had? You see, I don't normally spend that kind of money, so I wasn't really very good at judging what my tab had run up to. Beautiful girls dancing on tables don't come cheap, you know. And the manager charged me for the broken windows, and the "emotional stress" to her girls when Yagu-mumble-mumble stormed in, and that undead son-of-a-domesticated-canine pinched my wallet on his way to wreak vengeance on his brother. So she COMPLETELY over-reacted and stuffed me down here.

So what do you think? What did I do to deserve to get treated like this? How come I'm stuffed down a hole, and a horrible undead corpse is picking up tips and making time with the working girls over at Mama Sapporo's? Does that seem fair to you? Come on, now, I told you the story, you gotta pull me out of here. I'm going crazy down here, I tell you.

Come back here. Hey, we had a deal. Come back here, I'm warning you.

...

Hey, you. Yeah, you. Come here. Look I'll make you deal. I'll tell you a story and if you like it, you pull me out of this hole. Deal?