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Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

Sugar and Spice, and Everything Licensable

"After scoring as hits on the page and on screen, Neil Gaiman's creepy children's story Coraline is now heading for the stage. New York's MCC Theater will present a musical adaptation of the tale—about a little girl named Coraline who stumbles onto a parallel world—this spring, according to press reports from New York."
—CBC News, "Gaiman's Coraline Slated for Stage Musical Adaptation"

THE VERY elderly writer rested contentedly in his deathbed, medicated against pain and unease. All around him, machines softly chuntered and chuffed as they vainly struggled to keep him alive beyond his natural span. (But his body was wiser than the machines, and was shutting inevitably down, his soul preparing its final flight.) Many people came and went in the large, luxurious room, some stern and serious, others weeping, yet others officious.

But as the object of all this sundry attention, the very elderly writer took no notice of either the machines or the people.

Behind his shuttered rheumy eyes, his mind was too busy, all his attention directed inward, as he reviewed his long, exciting, privileged life, and all he had accomplished: such a vast deal, in fact.

And so much of it was owed to a little girl named Celadine. A little girl who had never really existed, in any empirical sense, and yet who had become more real than many pallid creatures of flesh and blood.

How vividly, all these decades later, he recalled his initial artistic inspiration for Celadine and her adventures. The heady excitement of solitary composition, the sheer rightness of the tale. Once finished, he had collapsed in a postpartum exhaustion. But soon thereafter came the excitement of publication, the surge of glowing reviews, the wearisome ecstasy of the publicity tour, the accolades of fans. Then arrived the multiple awards, and the knowledge that the fable of his devising had earned a secure place in the literary canon of the fantastical.

If his success had ended here, the very elderly writer —then merely middle-aged, of course—would have accounted himself lucky indeed. But there was so much more to come.

The film version of Celadine was a middling hit, as was the video game. But it was the Broadway stage production of the little girl's fabulous story that really took off. Never since The Producers or Hairspray had such a film-to-stage transition been accompanied by so much money and acclaim. By the time of the thousandth performance, the very elderly writer was a millionaire many times over.

Naturally, the author had to consider how next to market the icon for which so many people clamored. And with his large profits, flowing to him amidst generally depressed economic conditions, he found many investment opportunities presented cheaply.

But the first move was to incorporate.

And so Celadine, Ltd. was formed, in the author's native land.

The first enterprise was a joint venture with Sanrio, the owners of Hello Kitty. Linking Celadine's image—the well-known animated interpretation of the little girl from the film, rather than the visage of the live actress who had defined the role on Broadway, but who would certainly have demanded a large percentage of the take—with the long-established feline icon assured instant global penetration of all markets.

Celadine juice boxes, Celadine underwear, Celadine acne-cream, Celadine Saturday-morning cartoons, Celadine energy drinks, Celadine greeting cards, Celadine peanut butter, Celadine iPods, Celadine pizza, Celadine mouthwash —

Before too long, the little girl who had sprung from the now-elderly writer's imagination was more widely recognized than the Wendy of hamburger fame, or the Little Debbie of snack-cake renown.

Five years on from the partnership with Hello Kitty, Celadine, Ltd. owned Sanrio outright.

And there was still so much more of the commercial world to conquer!

To this point, Celadine had lent her cachet only to consumer products. But there were large corporations that were clamoring to brand their services with Celadine's face.

The mass licensing land rush began.

British Petroleum adopted Celadine as their spokesperson for alternative energy production. "Come into a different world of power," she intoned sweetly.

Seeking to relaunch Merrill Lynch as a viable brand, parent firm Bank of America linked the subsidiary firm to Celadine's winsome domesticity. "When I invested with Merrill Lynch, it was like I found a perfect family."

A consortium of Ivy League universities pooled their resources to form Celadine Online Education. General Motors created a line of Celadine cars. The hapless New York Knicks renamed themselves the Celadines. The Celadine Channel, specializing in tween programming, became mandatory in even the most basic cable package.

Long before all this activity, of course, direct control of the imaginary little girl had passed from the hands of the author to the generally capable hands of the large staff of Celadine, Ltd. There was simply no way he could personally supervise all the licensing.

Which went a long way to explain the gaffe that almost brought down the whole enterprise.

Celadine had been licensed to the Corrections Corporation of America, a firm that ran an extensive private-prison network in the U.S.A. The guards of CCA wore Celadine's image on their very chests. Their Tasers bore her smiling face on their grips.

And so when the media was flooded with the smuggled cellphone-captured video of the infamous riot at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, during which scores of illegal immigrants were savagely beaten by CCA guards and their truncheons bearing Celadine's face, an immense crisis faced Celadine, Ltd.

But the very elderly writer (not that he actually wrote much anymore) met the controversy head-on. It was his shining moment. He brilliantly chose to cast the whole matter as a betrayal and insult to his own beloved child. In numerous public appearances, his wounded dignity, his sorrowful shame, utterly won over the public. Dismissals and reorganization saw Celadine, Ltd. emerge stronger and more popular than ever.

The decades after the CCA kerfuffle—how fast they had passed in retrospect, how full they had been of even wider triumphs!

And now it was all coming to an end.

Yet he had no regrets.

Suddenly, to the consternation of all the watchers in the room, the very elderly writer's eyes shot open. He raised a feeble hand toward the blank ceiling, called out, "Celadine! The door! I'm coming—"

And then he expired.

 

The Minister of Homeland Security pulled the Celadine-patterned sheets up over the peaceful face of the very elderly writer. The Minister adjusted his official armband bearing Celadine's image, and everyone else in the room instinctively did likewise. Then the Minister turned to the Praetorian Guard, each stalwart, rigid, burly, laser-armed man wearing the latex mask replicating Celadine's features, and addressed them.

"Our Supreme Author, the light of the globe, is dead. In Celadine's name, may his soul find peace. He left us and the Celadine Empire during troubled times.

"Now, let us prepare for war with the Moomins!"

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