Building Beyond is an ongoing series of conversations about how much fun worldbuilding can be. Building a world doesn’t have to be hard or scary. Let’s give it a try, together.
You’re walking through a fantastical forest full of Weird Stuff. You come across a nonhuman creature called an embezzler. Tell us about it.
McClendon is a Southern California librarian, an educator, and big fan of naps.
McClendon: I think it’s annoying and kind of a prankster. A benign nuisance. Like, ‘damn it, Embezzler, I’m late for work, just give me my keys already.’ It blends into the forest really well, greens and browns and stuff, and its skin is kind of shimmery and iridescent. If you see something out of the corner of your eye and then you turn around and someone’s left the fridge open, that’s the Embezzler. It’s hazy around the edges, like you’re viewing it through the Drag Race season 1 filter.
Gailey: Are we talking feathers? Scales? Or is it a mammal?
M: It’s slippery, kind of like a salamander. But still sort of humanoid in shape. And it lays eggs, because it doesn’t have the attention span to deal with live offspring. It needs to just drop some eggs and then wander off to cause trouble for someone.
Ryan Boyd is an editor, writer, podcaster, and musician who lives in Southern California. Bother them on Twitter at @ryandroyd.
Boyd: I’m picturing like, an upright capybara with an accordion belly. When it wants to eat something, it extends the accordion belly up to envelop the prey, and when it’s done digesting, it just kind of condenses the accordion to bloop the bones back out. It breathes out the life force of whatever it eats. Just exhales ghosts, but in a musical little sigh.
Gailey: What does it eat, mostly?
B: Oh, people. It’s like… kangaroo-sized, very muscular. But with tiny little stumpy legs.
Gailey: Eggs? Placental birth? How are we getting more of these things?
B: [extended pause] …Spores. It exhales spores that drift away and turn into embezzler larvae. Yeah. I like that.
My embezzler is kind of like a very soft, wooly dodo bird, with enormous clown feet that are covered with a very sticky substance. It’s naturally attracted to recently-cleaned surfaces. This is because it habitually nests whenever it isn’t eating: it tracks embezzler-sap onto the surfaces, then shakes itself vigorously to release a plume of fine downy hair. It does this over and over again, in layers that eventually form a nest. Embezzler nests are as hard and light as fiberglass, making them great helmets. Embezzlers are aware of this but strongly dislike it. The only way to deter embezzlers from walking all over your clean stuff is to put out a note saying “please do not walk on my stuff; if you walk on my stuff, I will wear your nest as a helmet.”
All of these possibilities are just beginnings. McClendon’s embezzler is the foundation of a world where there are things out of the corner of your eye that can change the shape of your day just by existing; Boyd’s embezzler is the start of a world where a spore could ride home on your hiking boots and grow into a devouring monster; my embezzler is just the beginning of a story about soldiers using ecological warfare to sow chaos in each other’s tidied-up camps.
What would your embezzler be like? How might it look and sound? What might it eat? How might it interact with the rest of the forest?
Do whatever you want with these questions. You can write something down in the comments or on social media or in a notebook nobody will ever see. You can draw or paint or sit down a friend and talk their ear off about your ideas. You can stare at the horizon and imagine, letting the infinite landscape of your mind unfold just a little farther than it did yesterday. No matter what you do, take pride in the knowledge that you’re creating something that has never existed before. You’re building a little corner of a whole new world.
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In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.