“It’s ending,” whispered Mr. Callahan.
“What is?” inquired Mr. Smyth.
“Well you’re the pessimistic one today,” Mr. Smyth scoffed.
“No, just honest.”
“As honest as a thief.”
“Right. So pretty honest.” Mr. Callahan was not being dull with this statement; as a thief, he simply could not see the error in his ways. A burglar recognizing the true, despicable nature of robbery would be like a chameleon understanding that its own skin was changing and not the environment around it.
“I think we only have one room left to inspect,” said Mr. Smyth, “Then we will have to choose which items we will take as our own.”
“That’s an eloquent way to say stealing.”
“I try my hardest.”
“That’s admirable. Most people in this world seem to be content with just scraping by.”
“And I prefer to leave the scraping to those people. I would much prefer bruises to scrapes.”
“Why is that, may I ask?”
“Bruises mean business, while scrapes are just pesky. Scrapes make their presence known just enough so that you can never forget them, but they never disrupt your daily routine. Bruises, on the other hand, are ugly and mean, and they demand your full attention.”
“Why thank you.” Mr. Smyth turned away from his partner and headed down the hall.
“What’s the final room?” asked Mr. Callahan.
“I’m not sure of its nature, but whatever purpose the space serves, it is behind this last door.” With a mighty flourish, Mr. Smyth opened the darkly stained wooden door wide and stepped inside.
There was nothing.
“We’ve come all this way for nothing? This is supposed to be the end, the grand finale, the big finish, but there is nothing here. Not one iota of possessions, not a hint of furniture, no hidden artwork, an utter and complete lack of tchotchkes. Nothing. What a let down.”
“I think yours is a widely felt sentiment,” said Mr. Callahan. He said this, but it was not fully heartfelt. After all, Mr. Callahan had his dirty, old book that he had stolen back in the first room, so he did not feel as let down as did his partner.
“What kind of person owns a mansion, fills all the rooms with a myriad of objects, but leaves one starkly bare? It should be a crime! It’s almost as bad as an author who decides to leave a paragraph unfinished for no reason.” Mr. Smyth was rightfully disappointed. He and his burglar collaborator had spent the better part of a day pillaging, but as of now they did not have anything to show for
“Maybe the room’s contents are hidden,” proposed Mr. Callahan.
“Are you suggesting there is a bookcase with a hidden book that will move one of the walls when pulled? A clever idea, except for the fact that there is absolutely nothing in this room.”
“I don’t understand why you’re so livid, Mr. Smyth. We can simply take what we like from the other rooms. There are plenty to choose from.”
Mr. Smyth sighed, deflating his body. “I don’t know, good friend. I’m simply not in the mood anymore. You may take anything you like, but I’m ready to leave.”
Mr. Callahan was surprised. Never before had his partner passed up the opportunity to steal, especially after putting in so much effort. Then Mr. Callahan smiled to himself; he now had the perfect opportunity to pretend to re-take the book he had already stolen.
“Go ahead and take your pick. As long as you don’t snag one of those filthy books we saw in the first room. That would surely be a waste.”
Mr. Callahan lost any enthusiasm he had recently mustered. “No, I’m going to also pass. Let’s head out.”
Without another word, the two would-be-thieves departed from the grand mansion filled with curious rooms full of possessions and an even curiouser room that was left empty. They strode out the front door, turned left onto the cobblestone street, and walked into the distance.
Behind them, the house creaked as it settled in its foundation.
The Chameleon’s Bruise
One day, when Chameleon was walking home from work at the insect farm, he stumbled over a carelessly placed rock and fell to the ground. Even though chameleons are closer to the ground because they walk on four legs, falling is still not any fun. When Chameleon picked himself up, he first checked to make sure no one had seen his forced clumsiness (he could hardly blame himself when it was obviously the rock’s fault). When the coast was certified clear, he looked over himself to check for injuries. Good. Clean. Healthy looking. Flawless. All good to—wait. What’s that? Is that a—? It is. A bruise.
It was a large, purpling, swollen bruise. Truly a sight to behold. Except no one in his right mind, even the owner, would want to gaze longingly at a bruise. After taking one far-too-long look at his injury, the Chameleon averted his eyes, not wishing to inflict emotional damage along with his physical pain. Yes, Chameleon’s bruised side was aching, but what he was truly afraid of was being called out for falling and hurting himself. Chameleons are skilled at blending into their environment, but that task is made much more difficult when there is a blazoning fuchsia contusion on one’s abdomen.
Chameleon decided he had no other choice but to continue walking home. He was limping slightly because of his injury, which only drew further attention to it. When he was almost home, he noticed a pretty, young, female chameleon staring at him. He blushed. Then he realized she was staring at his ugly bruise. He blushed more, turning the same color as his injury.
Chameleon hated getting special attention. He had worked his whole life on perfecting the art of camouflage, with the goal of never being seen. But was the effort even worth it when his hard work could be thwarted by a simple bruise? An old adage came to Chameleon’s mind: when life gives you lemons, don’t trip and fall. No, that wasn’t it. But still, not bad advice.
After supper, Chameleon was thoroughly depressed. But he was still thinking clearly enough to know that the only solution was to sleep on it. Not to sleep on the bruise of course—that would be painful—but to think about his dilemma, that he would not be able to blend in, in the morning.
Just like every morning, the morning came in the morning. And just like every morning, Chameleon got out of bed (essential), ate breakfast (nutrition), brushed his teeth (hygiene), and picked his skin color for the day (style). Unlike every morning, his self-coloration could not be completed satisfactorily. His maroon bruise stood out against his now orange skin like an elephant in a needle stack: it was large and loud. But he knew there was nothing he could do now, so he set off for another day at work.
As he walked to his cubicle (he was the data entry manager at the insect farm), his coworkers gave him long, uncomfortable stares. Of course that’s redundant, since all stares are both long and uncomfortable. But that linguistic fact did not lessen any of the embarrassment Chameleon felt for being conspicuous. After reaching his desk, he contemplated changing his skin color to match that of the bruise, but he quickly decided against that. His injury was rapidly changing to a sickly greenish brown, and Chameleon knew that the only thing worse than having an obvious bruise is to camouflage using a hideous hue.
Chameleon managed to go most of the day without leaving his cubicle, thus limiting the amount of time interacting with others and lowering the chances that they might notice his conspicuous contusion. On his way home, he realized that the day wasn’t as miserable as he thought it would be. But just as he came to this positive conclusion, he stumbled over a chunk of loose pavement and hit the ground.
As he picked himself up, he immediately noticed a new, swelling bruise on his other side. That was when he had a brilliant insight. Maybe it was the dizziness from falling, or maybe it was an inner revelation, but no matter the cause, Chameleon realized that if he got bruises all over, none of them would stick out. His skin would simply be bruise colored, and he could go on living his life, pretending that purple-brown was his camouflage choice of the day. So before he could change his mind or realize that it was a horrible plan, Chameleon proceeded to repeatedly throw himself to the ground. This carried on for a solid ten minutes until he was sure that he was covered in bruises. He could tell he had succeeded by the immense soreness that seared across his entire body.
Chameleon inspected himself. He could not tell that he had any bruises. Sure, his body was a sickly shade, but maybe that was vogue for chameleons of the time. Probably not, but he could convince himself it was.
A great lesson was imparted on our protagonist that day: It’s not what bruises can do for you, it’s what you can do for bruises. Also: Clumsiness is next to cleanliness, which is next to godliness. And finally: You should never stick out in a crowd; no one likes attention-grabbers.
Later that night, in the comfort of his own home, surrounded by myriad objects he had stolen during previous escapades, Mr. Callahan settled into his favorite sofa. He could clearly remember the house he had stolen it from. His first burglary. The nostalgia flooded over him in shallow waves.
When his reminiscing had subsided, he pulled out the book he had taken from the mansion. Mr. Smyth still did not know that Mr. Callahan had stolen something, let alone a book. His partner would not have approved. That fact made opening the tome all the more thrilling for Mr. Callahan. He turned to the first page, carefully moving the yellowing pages, and began to read:
Once upon a time, there was a candlestick maker. He lived in solitude, molding wax into long, slender candles day after day, night after night.