There’s a game my students love, called Exquisite Corpse. We played it often, in the before time—each writer starts a story and writes it for a period of five minutes. At the buzzer, you pass the story to your left and receive a story from the writer on your right. You add to that story till the buzzer goes, and so on, until you’ve written on every story. The result is riotous, confusing, hilarious, as what began as a heist story becomes a romance, what began as a drawing room comedy becomes a western, what began as a romance ends with dragons erupting from the earth suddenly (another favourite device among certain of my students.
We’ve been continuing our workshops via Zoom, and one of my students hit on a way to play Exquisite Corpse even though we’re not gathering in public. I set up a Google Drive folder, with individual Google Docs inside, numbered one through eight—one for each of us. We moved through the documents as we would in person—with some chaos and confusion and “what number am I supposed to be on??”
With eight writers, it took us two sessions to finish all the stories and we’ve only just begun reading them. But one stands out as a shining example of what’s possible in the world of the Exquisite Corpse. There was raucous laughter and so many virtual high fives, my hands are still a bit sore. With the kids’ permission, I’m sharing this story. The story was started by Charlie, and you can see where each new writer picks it up. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it.
And there it was. That goat. It was the one I’ve been seeing in my dreams. It was amazing. It was incredible. It was a goat. It looked at me with tired eyes munching on some garbage.
I hastily made my way over to it, eyeing this strange beast warily. To be honest, I am terrified of animals, but this particular goat, I’d been seeing in my dreams quite often, and was at ease with. The goat seemed docile (I’d learned the hard way that not all animals were), so I approached it. The garbage in its mouth slowly disappeared, and thus the goat began lumbering away. I, a pursuer of justice (I saw that on a TV show once), wanted to know more, so I chased after it. The goat turned around and gave me tired eyes again, but this time, they seemed to be saying, you just know I can talk. And that was honestly what I suspected. This goat seemed intelligent enough to be able to talk. It gave a quiet, indignant bleat, and then began to talk. I could barely hear what he said, because I was thinking over and over, I knew it. I knew it. I knew it. After a minute of the goat chatting and me not listening, I shook my head impatiently and realized that, if a goat was speaking, I should probably listen. “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” I asked politely, not wanting to offend the talkative animal. The goat gave me a wounded, frustrated glare and bleated in a Russian accent, “Long story short, you stick with me, kid, and we’ll go places.”
“Okay,” I said, “but my mother is going to expect me home for supper.” The goat rolled its tired eyes, turned away and began moving down the road. I stood rooted to the spot, watching it go. The goat turned back to me and looked incredibly aggravated. I could imagine that it was annoyed that of all the humans to talk to, it had seemingly chosen a complete idiot.
“You coming?” the goat asked wearily.
I nodded and shouted “Yes!” louder than was necessary.
“Well come on then,” said the goat. “Hop on my back.”
That was surprising, but then, so much of what had happened in the last few minutes was surprising. I hopped on the goat’s back and it took off at a gallop and then became airborne. Surprises on surprises, on surprises!
Across the countryside we flew, the goat talking the whole time, in that Russian accent. “I’m Yuri,” the goat said. “I’ve been watching you.”
“I’m Marcus,” I said, for lack of anything better to say, and the goat sighed and said “Yes, I know. I chose you specifically.”
“For what?” I gawked.
“For what,” Yuri mocked me, just the way my older brother did behind our mother’s back. “You’ll see.”
As we flew, Yuri told me about his upbringing in rural Russia, the flying lessons he’d had to take, and the spy agency that led him to me and my dreams. Yuri was involved in some very high level stuff—stuff I barely understood then and hardly understand now. Suffice to say, Yuri had been sent to pick me up for a secret mission.
“And,” he told me as we cruised into downtown Moscow, landing in the middle of a town square, “you will absolutely not be home for supper.”
“Well, what am I going to get out of this?” I asked. My stomach was already grumbling. Yuri just gave a rather loud bleat, and looked at people with eyes that said, “Can you believe this kid? He’s talking to a goat,” while still having an expression that said, “Don’t blame me! I’m just a goat!”
“Oh, it’s going to be like that?” I said, and walked straight into a group of old ladies sporting fanny packs and I love Moscow T-shirts.
I looked back into Yuri’s eyes, and this time they said, “There will be ramen.”
I stopped straight in my tracks, picturing a steaming bowl of salty goodness.
“I’ll follow you,” I smiled, not even caring that people were staring at the 14-year-old American boy who was following a goat into a glass apartment complex that could easily be worth millions.
As we strolled down the glass hallways, Yuri suddenly turned into a dragon and spat red fire at me.
Long story short, I ran. I fled the scene, as the police would say later. Right then, my only thought was, OMAGADITSADRAGON!!!! I vaguely noticed people screaming behind me, but I didn’t pause. I ran on, faster than I thought was possible. Then there was a pole. It was in my way. It didn’t move (stupid, rude pole).
And I blacked out.
I woke up in an eerie room. It was painted gray, which just caused me grief for the society we live in as this designer was not very good at his occupation. I felt for a cushion for my throbbing, pulsing, pounding head and was shocked to find that I was on the floor. Couldn’t my kidnappers have at least found adequate bedding?
It was then I discovered the last disturbing straw.
There were 17 goats staring at me.
My eyes widened. “Ya know,” said one of the goats sporting a fedora, “the kids could use some sorta food, no?” The next goat over sighed. “No, Armand, we’ve been over this.
Then I woke up from my dream.
Astounded, I sat up in my small single bed. The white sheets engulfed my small person, just about smothering me. All that was a dream? Yuri, the dragon, fedora goat/ Armand were all a dream? I couldn’t believe it.
Just then, my ears picked up a small sound. It seemed to be some sort of authoritative, constipated bleat. As I glanced toward the source I just barely caught a glimpse of a thin white goat. In a thick Russian accent he bleated, “Long story short, you stick with me, kid, and we’ll go places.”
“Ok one minute,” I said, taking as much control over this situation as the situation would let me. “I just woke up from a dream, and in the dream you were here, and you said that and—”
“Let me interrupt before you tell the audience stuff they already know,” dralled Yuri in a voice far deeper and more Spanish than before. “That was prep,” Yuri went on in this new voice, “You remember all the explanations I gave in the air, right?”
“Yes,” I said. (I’ve always remembered my dreams well.)
“Well the real journey we’re about to go on is way too dangerous for me to be explaining things so we decided to give you all that crucial info in a dream, you see?”
“Ok..” I said “then what was with the dragon, and your russian accent?”
“Darn programers made me russian again,” Yuri groaned, “And the dragon part was probably where we ended our message and your own stupid head kicked in. Now come on, as I said there is little time for explanations.”
The dream prep was probably good because I was already used to flying on Yuri’s back, but things were a lot more dangerous now. Every so often a massive rock would come flying at us from space and Yuri would have to dodge. Suddenly as we came in sight of some mountains Yuri began to nose dive. I screamed in a way I’m not altogether proud of in hindsight and before I knew it I was laying in bed again.
“What! Wait!” I yelled.
“Long story short, you stick with me, kid, and we’ll go places,” said a goat from the corner of my room.
“Yuri!” I yelled, more frustrated than confused at this point. “Was that a test too?!”
“No,” said Yuri, “Chill out I was messing with you. Get used to it because you’re in the Institute of Frembonflickoincy now.”
Long story short, that’s how my life changed forever.