Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Obviously this story is quite old and, at the time, had a slight political bias to it. It’s been updated to the modern era and has a bit more bite to it–though not outrageously so. At least,  I don’t think so.

This was written for a monthly challenge at a certain fantasy writer’s site in:

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August 2004

Your challenge is to write a story based on a cliché that’s in some way reversed. For example, the heroine rescuing a beautiful prince from an enchanted tower. It doesn’t have to be a gender issue, (that’s just one example) just a cliché turned on its head.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gnesh was having a bad day of it. In fact, he was having a bad life of it, but so was everyone else he knew. Except the damn traitor trolls, who had worked out some sort of agreement whereby they still lived under their various bridges and charged others to cross them. Troll bridges, as it were. But they didn’t get to keep what they earned; it was all turned over to the forces of evil.

There weren’t enough bridges for all of the trolls, however, so many of them had to guard important roads—which came to be known as troll roads, of course—from troll booths at all of the access points, and they didn’t get anything more than continued existence from that deal, either. Served them right as far as Gnesh was concerned.

For centuries the rest of the forces of good, the goblins, knolls and ogres, had been forced to live in small, mobile groups due to their enemy’s disturbing habit of annihilating them on the spot, and Gnesh was getting just a little tired of it.

Why can’t we all just get along, he thought.

Four-hundred years ago, the creators, the forces of light and life, had been captured and imprisoned, sealed away from the world, and the world had suffered for it since. If any alive now knew what those forces were, they weren’t saying. Gnesh was pretty sure someone did, though. Why else were small bands of reluctant heroes being sent on quests to find them?

The followers of darkness, on the other hand, had no particular reason for wanting them released. They actively discouraged such adventures, which eventually lead to the annihilation thing. Somewhere along the way they determined that even permanently established settlements, villages with stone buildings and large tracts of farmland were on quests.

But that’s why we’re here. Someone has had a new vision, and that means another poke about.

The current camp was a makeshift one, created solely for the Council of Elders to meet. Guards from all three races had been set throughout the camp, and that was what had Gnesh in a huff today. Once night fell, ogres and goblins had to take over for the knolls, due to the knolls unfortunate tendency to turn into little piles of dirt when the sun set.

The knolls made good lookouts, they had excellent eyesight when they weren’t being piles of dirt, but their diminutive stature made them less than acceptable bodyguards. After sundown, the ogres and goblins had to do extra duty as guards and lookouts. On top of all that, one had to be careful which piles of dirt one kicked while in a huff or the morning could bring an unhappily dismembered knoll. They tended to complain about that.

Then there was the fact that only the female ogres were of any use for anything other than crushing things, as the males were of extremely limited intelligence. The males could be set as lookouts sometimes, if you found a truly gifted one, but you had to make sure they knew exactly what they were looking out for. If you didn’t, you might find a very agitated ogre jumping up and down, grunting furiously, and pointing at the dangerous butterfly making it’s haphazard way toward the camp.

All in all, Gnesh’s day had not been one to remember, but at least his duty was done for the night. The camp still needed to be guarded, but Gnesh’s post had been at the Council’s meeting place, and they had retired for the night.

There were two Elders from each race, and technically they could have continued. Whatever magic turned the knolls to dirt at night allowed them to still be able to speak. No one knew how this was possible, and no one cared to delve too deeply into the mystery. It was just one of those things. However, one did not discuss important, world shattering events with piles of dirt regardless of how intelligent and eloquent they were. The Council would resume after sunrise, which left Gnesh free to find his bed, and possibly some companionship.

* * *

Every now and then a ‘genius’ male ogre came along, one who was actually capable of cognizant thought and of communicating said thought. Bazz had been one of those ogres until he went insane—his insanity being the reason for this meeting. Bel, the ogress Elder, realized Bazz’s rantings were really a foretelling and called for the Council through the far-speakers.

The majority of his ramblings were nonsense, but three relevant pieces of information came from it. Firstly: there was one last, final chance to free the creators from their imprisonment, and a hint that those forces might actually be a mythical lost race. Secondly: to do this, three must go on a quest to find and destroy the thing, whatever it was, that held them captive. And lastly: a vague, semi-poetic statement . . .

In the heart of the blackness darker than night

Lies the salvation of the light and the life

Most of the first day was spent discussing the ramifications of this information, and debating the existence of this lost race. The two knoll Elders, Nendesin and Cencidar, were convinced it was foolish quest, sure that these chimera did not exist and that Bazz’s rant was just that—a rant.

Bel, the female ogre Elder, was of a mind that they did exist and was only waiting for the debate on who to send. Wazz, another ‘genius’ male ogre and Elder, spent most of the day calling everyone Gnash because he’d met a goblin named Gnash somewhere and liked the name.

Gnash, the male goblin Elder who was sitting next to Kneli, the female goblin Elder, agreed with Bel. Kneli thought the quest should go forth, and also liked the name Gnash, as she and Gnash were an item. That left the Eldest of the Elders, the Wisest of the Wise, the male goblin, Gnarl, to break the stalemate.

Before Gnarl could render his decision, though, the sun set and they were left with four Elders, two piles of dirt, and him. “Just once,” Gnarl complained, “I wish we could finish a Council meeting before sundown.”

Hey, don’t blame us,” Nendesin said. “It’s not like we asked for this.”

* * *

Gnesh had found his dalliance for the night, a beautiful green goblette named Knerdi. Her ruby red eyes had just the right amount of fire, and perfectly complimented his pond-scum green ones. The way her putrid, stringy hair cascaded down her knobbly head sent shivers down his too-curved, hunched spine, and her breasts drooped as perfectly as the bags below her eyes.

In the way of their kind, their love making was loud, rough and blended perfectly into the cacophony of several other altercations that were going on in the goblin section of the camp. It happened every night and was the main reason the other two races avoided the area, especially at night. Gnesh and Knerdi neither heard nor cared about any of this—they only had eyes and things for each other, and their own screeches drowned out all other noises anyway.

Like everything else about her, Gnesh loved that Knerdi’s shrieks and squawks had exactly the right amount brain tingling penetration to them. Far more satisfying than fingernails across a chalkboard. It was a rare thing when two who blended so well found each other.

That was amazing!” Knerdi screamed when it was all over. “It’s never been like that before!”

It was always like that for several minutes after good goblin sex. It took several minutes for their brains, their bodies and their voices to come back to reasonableness, and it was another damn good reason everyone else avoided the goblin section of the camp.

Me too! Me neither!” Gnesh shouted back, smiling even as his brain cringed. It was always nice to have his ego stroked too, but he was sure she actually meant it, and that made it even better. “There’ve been hundreds of oth . . .!”

How many?” Knerdi asked as a frown darkened her countenance beautifully. Her shriek was gone, too.

Err, thousands,” he said. “I meant thousands.” Damn! Gnesh thought. He’d forgotten how many it was important for Goblette’s to be better than. They needed their egos stroked a bit afterward too.

How many thousands? Exactly.”

Double damn! “Four-thousand-seven hundred-sixteen,” he said. “Not counting you.”

Of course not counting me, you idiot! I can’t be better than me!”

The screech was back. Aaaah he thought with satisfaction. That’s more like it. He turned back to his potential true love, ready for round two of who knew how many. He was hoping to see much more of Knerdi in the coming days.

Such was not to be, however. Later that day, Gnesh received the bad news.

#

Afterward, Kneli watched him go, secretly glad he hadn’t thought to ask her how many he was better than. The correct answer was “All of them,” of course, and it was even true. But, ‘all of them’ was a couple hundred more than his total.

Male Goblin egos were such fragile things, especially the warriors, and it wouldn’t have been good for him to learn her total was higher, no matter how much prestige that brought. It was stupid but true.

However, if Gnesh survived this new quest, there wouldn’t be a Goblette in camp who wouldn’t want him, and then she’d make sure that his total surpassed hers.

By one.

* * *

I agree with Bel and the goblin Elders!” Gnarl goblin said when the Council resumed in the morning. “We must choose three to send on this quest, one from each race! Choose your representatives well!”

You know,” Kneli said reasonably, “you really shouldn’t come to the council directly after.”

What!” Gnarl replied. “What do you mean?”

Nothing,” Kneli said. “Forget I said anything.”

Gnarl looked around at the others, then sighed and gathered his wits. “Eh-em. Right then,” Gnarl said. “Let’s get on with the choosing.”

We should send Gnash,” Wazz said. “I like Gnash.”

You must choose your representative from your own race,” Kneli said much to Gnash’s relief.

Oh, very well,” Gnash said as he pretended to be disappointed and turned to confer with Kneli.

I agree,” said Bel, “and following Gnarl’s advice I choose the ogresss, Wel. She’s intelligent and doesn’t turn into a pile of dirt at night. She can lead the quest.”

The knolls were conferring quietly between themselves as well, but soon made their decision.

From the knolls we choose Azumel,” Cencidar announced. “He’s one of our best thinkers and an excellent puzzle solver, which may be very useful on this quest.

After some moments of discussion Gnash and Kneli turned to the Council. “From the goblins we choose our finest warrior, Gnesh. He will provide the protection for his companions.”

Gnarl looked gravely at them all, then nodded. “It is decided.”

* * *

Zeff stood short, white-haired, and beady-eyed, cringing from the morning sun; a beacon for all of the dwarves, faeries, and his own feared elves who followed The Orange One. As Arbiter of Justice of all their armies, Zeff’s aura, second evilest in all the lands, evoked all of the fear, loathing, terror and awe necessary to enthrall such a host. Today, however, he was not there to enthrall, but to cower, for he was alone, awaiting the appearance of the one who’d summoned him.

The Orange One—self-proclaimed as The Bright One, but sometimes called The Not-So-Bright One by some … though never within earshot—was late, as usual. Zeff sometimes wondered if it was all worth it.

Sure, some things were. It used to be the elves, dwarves and fairies who were constantly protecting the land, the weak and generally all that was right and good. It was always Zeff, or some other pathetic hero, on one last, desperate quest to save all things bright and beautiful.

Then, on one long ago day, The Orange One did something that changed the balance of things. Or perhaps an unknown power did some meddling. No one knew for sure just what it was that happened—or, at least, no one would admit to it—but things were suddenly different. Now it was the goblins and knolls and ogres who were in trouble, constantly on the run and living hand-to-mouth as they tried to stop the ongoing devastation of everything that was good.

But there was something wrong with it all that Zeff couldn’t quite tune his pointy ears to. The land wasn’t as beautiful as it had once been, for one. There was a lot of destruction and stuff going on, and that didn’t used to be the case. At least they didn’t used to be the ones doing it, anyway. Or something. And there were other things too, but he had no more time to think about them as a stench rose around him and became a palpable fact of life.

The Orange One had arrived.

Zeff began his obeisance, reciting the ritual vows to The Orange One, and the other required praises, but a cold, repellent touch stopped him.

Now, now, my Elf,” The Orange One said. “You don’t have to go through all that when it’s just us. I’ve told you, just a quick, debasing grovel will do.”

Zeff’s brain went immediately to high alert. He was in for an ass-chewing and he knew it. It never ended well when the master started off politely. “Yes, Orange One,” he said as he straightened and stood stiffly to attention. Zeff tried to look everywhere at once as The Orange One circled him.

Do you remember the good old days, Zeff? The before times?” The Orange One finally asked.

The question caught Zeff off guard. “I do,” he said. “We were always on the brink of disaster, back then. Always on the edge of humiliation.”

We were, old friend, we were.” The intensely glowering form stopped in front of him, and the voice grew cold. “And then I did something, Zeff. Something that changed everything.” The Orange One paused then, and his voice was soft, almost wistful, when he continued. “I did it for their own good, really. To protect them from the evil of their own making.”

Zeff was afraid to ask, but he couldn’t help himself. “Who?”

The Orangeness seemed to lessen for just an instant, and became almost wistful. “It doesn’t matter. They’re taken care of. Locked away in their fantasy land where no one can harm them.”

The Orange One’s voice solidified then, in charge once more. “A certain prophecy has come to my attention. The resisters you have so far failed to destroy, have discovered what I did so long ago. They have discovered a way to free the forces of light and life and have sent a small party of mixed heroes to do so.”

I will leave at once,” Zeff began, “and take the full host with me . . .”

No,” The Dominant said, “you will not.”

I won’t?” The skulking form seemed to stare at him intently. “Right. I won’t. What will I do?”

You, Zeff, will keep the majority of your host with you and continue destroying the enemy races, denying them all forms of sanctuary, shelter or safety. Inform Prett that he must continue stripping the land of all its mineral wealth. He will continue with the deforestation project—there must be nowhere for them to hide.”

He’s done all of that, already, my lord. Decimated all of their cities and habitats, their food and water suppiles, but they’ve taken to living in small groups and hiding in the ruins we leave behind.”

I don’t want to hear excuses, Zeff. Destroy the ruins if you must. Turn them to dust. Make matchsticks of the shattered trees. I don’t care how you do it, just get those things done!”

It shall be as you say, oh great Orange One.” Zeff waited for his master to say more. When he didn’t, Zeff asked, “What of the prophecy, then?”

The answer, Zeff, lies with the lost ones. I will not tell you where they can be found, only that they do exist. The heroes quest erroneously leads them north. You will send a small force after them. I want them eliminated.”

Yes, Lord. It shall be done.”

#

Zeff knew he had to send at least two thousand RedHats north, since three quarters of them would die by each other’s hands along the way. It didn’t used to be that way, he was almost sure of that, but there it was. Still, the five hundred or so survivors should be more than enough to defeat whatever small company their enemies could muster. They could not possibly send a large numbers anywhere in secret.

Yes, Zeff thought, the quest will, by necessity, be small and I know just who should lead the army I send.

The Faerie King, Skelly, was rumored to have a soul even blacker than Zeff’s own. There was something wrong with that, but he just couldn’t put his finger on it. He shook his head, and having made up his mind, Zeff strode off to give the orders. Within three days his skirmish force, two thousand strong, set off north to search out and destroy their enemy’s company, wherever it might be.

* * *

Gnesh’s life had not gotten any better after they departed on their quest. Not only had he not been able to get to know Knerdi better, but since they had departed at night, he was forced to carry the sack of dirt that was their knoll companion, Azumel.

Why do I have to carry this sack of dirt?” he asked. “Every night for the last four months it’s ‘Carry that sack, Gnesh,’ or ‘Don’t forget Azumel, Gnesh.’ Why me?”

Hello,” the sack said in a muffled voice, “you know I can still hear you, right?”

Oh, right. Why do I have to carry this talking sack of dirt?” Gnesh asked.

That’s better.”

Because I’m the leader here,” Wel replied, ignoring the sack. “and I say so.”

Countless days and nights trudging across denuded, burned and ravaged landscape had done nothing to improve Gnesh’s mood. One thing the complete destruction of everything had done was to provide plenty of ruins they could use for cover when they detected an enemy patrol. Sometimes they passed within sight of huge structures whose only purpose seemed to be to burn whatever it was they were burning, and belch thick columns of black, oily smoke into the air.

The only instruction they’d been given upon their departure had come from the ogress, Bel. “When you get to the land of perpetual night, you’ll have reached your destination.”

Then she had had them memorize Bazz’s strange poetic statement. When asked for an explanation she would not say any more. Months later and hundreds of miles north the days grew shorter and shorter until daylight disappeared altogether and there was only perpetual dusk, and a perpetual sack of dirt named Azumel.

Fat lot of good this sack of dirt is going to do us,” Gnesh said.

Ahem,” said the sack.

Shhh.”

Wel found a rare sapling that had managed to sprout after the destruction of the land. Connected to the earth as it was, the young tree knew about things for leagues in every direction. After a while she let go of it and turned to her companions.

There’s an army approaching,” she said. “It’ll be here by nightfall.”

Gnesh looked around at the constant darkness. “That really doesn’t help us much,” he said.

Fine,” Wel grumped. “They’ll be here in about twelve hours or so. Happy?”

You could have just said that from the start,” Gnesh said.

Wel ignored him. “Any suggestions?”

Hide,” the sack said.

That’s fine for you,” Gnesh answered. “We could just pour you on the ground and . . .” Gnesh trailed off as his eyes got wide. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” he asked Wel.

Wait a minute,” Azumel protested.

No, not that, you dummy,” Wel said to the sack. Turning to Gnesh she asked, “How many piles of dirt do you think we can make in twelve hours?”

Hundreds and hundreds . . . I hope.”

They set to immediately, working feverishly to make as many piles of dirt as they could, lining them up in military formation. Then they hid behind a large, rotting log as near to their creation as possible, and hunkered down to wait.

Do you think it’ll work?” Azumel asked.

I don’t know,” Wel said. “All we can hope for is that they’ll think we brought a larger army than they thought possible up here.”

And hope they think we got here before the daylight disappeared,” Gnesh added.

Shhh,” Wel shushed again. “Listen.”

You know,” Azumel said, “there’s something very wrong with this plan.”

Yes, I know,” Wel hissed. “Who would bring an army of knolls to a land of perpetual dark? Now shut up. It’s too late for a better one, anyway.”

* * *

You sent who?” The Orange One shouted. The earth around the precipice trembled with his rage as he and Zeff stood staring north toward the coming confrontation, and the air pressure around them felt heavier, as if a thunderstorm was gathering.

The Warlord, Skelly, Orange One,” Zeff replied in a small voice. “You forbade me to lead them. Who else was I to send but the second most feared general in your army?”

Doh,” The Orange One said to himself as he slapped his forehead, then turned to Zeff. “Call them back! Call them back now!”

* * *

They all heard the sound of an approaching army now. As the mass of RedHats appeared over the horizon, Wel guessed they were close to five hundred strong. She and Gnesh stood no chance against that. Their only hope lay in the possibility they would not be recognized for what they were in the dimness.

Once the army did get within sight of their little mounds, they laughed loudly. With screams of rage and delight they dismounted and kicked the piles of dirt with furious gusto.

Can you see who’s leading them?” Azumel asked as quietly as a sack of dirt could whisper and still be heard.

It’s a faerie,” Wel said, “and judging by the helm, I’d say it’s Skelly.”

Oh no,” Gnesh hissed. “They say his soul is even blacker than Zeff’s.”

Urk,” Azumel gasped, then hissed back, “Gnesh! Gnesh! That’s it. That’s the answer to the riddle. ‘The heart of the blackness darker than night’. This is our chance.”

He’s right, Gnesh,” Wel said as she realized it. “You have to challenge him one on one.”

Oh light and life,” Gnesh moaned. “What if he doesn’t accept? What if they all attack?”

We have no choice, Gnesh,” Wel said. “It’s a million-to-one odds, but it’s our only chance.”

Gathering his courage and his strength, Gnesh leaped to the top of the rotting log they’d been using for cover. He took a deep breath and screamed as loudly as he could.

Skelly! Come on, you big fairie! Fight me if you dare!”

Oh, good one,” Azumel said approvingly while Wel added her agreement.

There was sudden silence as every RedHat in the enemy army turned toward him. Gnesh gulped nervously as Skelly, face contorted in rage, screamed a defiant challenge and charged. Gnesh sprang from the log. Steel met steel and rang across the battlefield. Thrust for thrust, parry for parry and wild swing for wild swing, the clash and clatter of blades went on for what seemed like hours to Gnesh. The circle of surrounding onlookers grew larger as the battleground took up more and more space.

Gnesh was tiring and it soon became obvious who would be victorious if the struggle went on much longer. If Gnesh was to have any chance of winning, he would have to end it soon.

Sensing this, the Warlord Skelly leapt into the air over Gnesh in a twisting somersault, but Gnesh had seen this move before and was ready for it. Reversing the grip on his blade, Gnesh drove it backwards between his body and his right arm, bending forward slightly as he did to angle the sword upwards. As he landed, Skelly impaled himself on Gnesh’s sword, stabbing him directly through his heart.

There was total silence on the battlefield as Gnesh jerked his sword free and turned to face Skelly. The faerie Warlord stood there impossibly long, a look of disbelief on his face. Three long, wispy strands of ethereal light emerged from the gash in the middle of his chest, before Skelly finally collapsed face down in a pile of dirt.

Hey!” Azumel objected. “That might have been a relative, you know!”

But it wasn’t,” Wel admonished from their hiding place. “Shut up,”

The eerie strands of light swirled and floated, climbed and dove through the air and the silence. Finally, they settled to the ground and coalesced into three white-robed forms that almost, but not quite, looked like elves. For a moment longer they held a golden glow, and then they were just elf-like beings. During the display, Wel came out from behind the log, bringing the sack that was Azumel with her.

A-are you the forces of light and life?” Gnesh asked.

Yes, we are,” answered the male on the left.

We are called humans,” added the male on the right.

For giving us our freedom,” the female in the middle said, “we would like to know what your most fervent wish is.”

I wish knolls would not turn into dirt at sunset,” Azumel replied immediately.

I wish,” added Wel when there was no reply, “that male ogres were not so incredibly imbecilic.

And I wish,” Gnesh added, “that myself and all goblins could just go back to being goblins. No more quests. No more heroics.”

As they voiced their wishes the human forms became strangely sad.

I fear,” said the male on the left, “that you will get everything you wish for, and so much less than you deserve.”

You see,” said the male on the right, “the wild magic of the lie that was used to imprison us also caused all the changes you wish undone, and so many more besides.”

Now that we are free,” the female continued, “the changes that were done will all be undone.”

Even as she finished speaking all three began to glow for several minutes. When the glow had faded the ogress, the knoll and the goblin had all been returned to their original sizes, shapes and bloodthirsty characteristics. At the same time the elves, dwarves and faeries also returned to their original sizes, shapes and attitudes. What with Redhats being Redhats and all, and the odds at four hundred ninety nine to three, the battle was fierce but decidedly short.

* * *

One other gift was given to all of the races that day, a gift normally given to only a very few. The memories were fading quickly and would soon be gone, but, for a short time, all of the races had known what it was like to walk a mile in their enemy’s shoes. Except the RedHats, many of them aren’t interested in shoes, or people who wear them.

As for The Orange One, his powers vanished and he served only one term as lord and master of the universe.

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8 – A Plague of Locals

In the year and a half since XYXYX Towers was completed, the first floor library had gained two more books to go along with The Book of Gismo. One, written by Root’s husband, Boze, was called The Theory of Relativity and was based solely on Amos’ made up story of the first humans. In a nutshell, it stated that everyone was related to everyone else. (It was a very thin book.)

Grandmama had recently returned with the other, a volume called Words of Math Instruction, which held some dangerous information about numbers and such. If rumors could be believed, one young man had used it to create a new kind of cookie—and also discover gravity. That book was immediately locked away forever in a sealed, windowless room by Marion.

After Sessil’s disappearance, an election was held to fill the vacant council spot, and Harold’s wife, Meme, threw her hat in the ring. This had nothing to do with the election process, it was just a winter festival tradition where everyone exchanged hats for a day. Occasionally, a brawl resulted when more than one person wanted the same hat. (Amos’)

Meme also entered the race for the open council seat. Despite accusations of improprieties during the elections, (hanging Chad had been a bad idea) nothing could be definitively proven. When all was said and done, Meme joined the council. (Chad survived.)

Amos now lived in the apartments on the second floor. The rest were taken up by the council members and their immediate families. The pecking order had already been established, with the most important ones getting the lowest floors because navigating the stairs in that crazy building was a nightmare. (That would change with the birth of Otis and the advent of elevators.)

Everyone agreed it had been a fair fight, although Root’s reputation as the soul of kindness was slightly damaged. Root and Boze got the third floor. Harold and Meme had the fourth, and Daav and Dannil split the fifth.

Amos was in the study where he did most of his work. Since he didn’t really have much work, he had a lot of free time on his hands, which he also spent in his study. He had to admit, it was a nice, well-furnished room.

The large, hand-carved desk had been provided by Daav courtesy of his giant friend in Wood Stock, as was most of the other ornate decor. The bookcase held his book, the original Book of Gismo, and various figurines donated by local craftsman in appreciation of his efforts in keeping Gismo pleased. (Re: out of their daily lives.)

A tall, blond-haired man with a long, sad face entered without knocking. “You rang?” he asked in a deep, gravelly voice.

Amos knew better than to become frustrated with the man; it did no good. He had no idea where he’d come from or who had sent him. He just woke up one day and had a frustrating, maddening servant. Amos suspected Gismo was behind it.

No, Lorch, I didn’t ring. I never ring. I don’t have a bell-pull.” Amos considered a moment. “Or a bell, for that matter.” The man just stared back at him, blank-faced. Amos sighed. “What is it, then?”

Someone to see you, sir.” Lorch looked at the parchment in his hand; a daily list of ways to annoy the prophet, Amos believed. “A Mister Horner, and friend.” The man’s eyebrows rose to his hairline in an attempted escape.

Send them in.”

Lorch stepped aside and rumbled at the visitors, closing the door as he left.

Amos rose and gestured the men to the seats opposite, watching in bemusement as the smaller man pulled one of the chairs to a corner before seating himself. One of his thumbs appeared to be stained a purplish color. The taller man followed in a sort of slithery sidle and stood beside and slightly behind Mister Horner.

What can I do for you, Mister . . . Horner is it?” Amos asked as he returned to his own seat.

Yes,” the little man answered. “Jack Horner.”

I’ll handle this from here,” the officious-looking man said, squeezing the Jack’s shoulder. “We’re here because the needs of the Fruit and Vegetable Grower’s Conssortium were not properly addresssed at the council meeting approximately a year and a half ago.”

There’s a consortium?” Amos asked.

There is now, and they’re forming guilds, too.” The man stiffened even more. “Jack here heads the Fruit Grower’s Guild – Local 614. I represent them.”

And who might you be?”

Ssimon. Ssimon Ssipint of Ssimon and Ssimon.” He puffed up.

Amos blinked twice. For just a moment he thought the man’s neck expanded, but it was just a trick of the light.

Do I know you?” Amos asked.

No, ssir,” Simon replied, adjusting his collar and looking everywhere except at Amos. “I’m new to the city. My . . . our office only recently opened.”

Really.” Amos leaned forward and rested his forearms on his desk. “This happened about a year and a half ago, you say? I recall hearing about a certain council member who disappeared around that time. Had some sort of speech impediment, they said. Last name of Sirpint, if I remember correctly.”

No relation at all,” Simon answered. “There are many sserpentss in the garden.”

Excuse me?”

Nothing. Never mind. Sslip of the tongue, as it were.” Simon looked around a bit more, then stood straighter. “But let’s get back to the issue at hand,” he said. “Misster Horner and his asssociatess ssought redresss from the council in time of need, and were rebuffed. What do you plan to do about it?”

What can I do about it?” Amos asked.

Ssimple,” Simon said. “Order the council to ssubsidize the conssortium. Everyone knows they do whatever you ssay.”

Who is this everyone?” Amos asked. “Never mind,” he continued when Simon opened his mouth. “It was a rhetorical question. Getting the council to listen to me is like herding cats. It can’t be done.”

Cat Herders, eh?” Simon asked, placing a finger on pursed lips. “I wonder if they’d unionize?” He shook his head and pulled a confused Jack to his feet. “It doesn’t matter. Come, Misster Horner.” Simon turned back just as Lorch opened the door for them to leave. “You haven’t heard the lasst of me.”

That’s what I’m afraid of,” Amos muttered. He looked up when his didn’t hear the door close. Lorch was still standing there. “What is it, now?”

A Mister Peter Peter, of the Vegetable Growers – Local V8, and his wife, Mary Mary of the Flower Growers – Local 12, to see you, sir. ”

Amos sighed heavily. “Send them in.”

Not surprisingly, they were accompanied by Simon. And they were having a vehement argument about what they should grow.

#

Xyxyx was trying to decide where to place His newest singularity when he noticed Amos approaching The Mount and put it away. There were some things mortals shouldn’t get too close to. (Sometimes each other.)

Amos, He said. This is a surprise. You’ve never come here unbidden before.

I have a problem,” he said, and proceeded to explain.

After the contrary couple had left, he was visited by a Miss Muffet of the Cheese-Makers Guild – Local 74; and another consortium: The Butchers, The Bakers, and The Candlestick Makers – Locals 26, 13, and 47 respectively. Amos poured it all out—his frustration, his anger. Everything. That’s what Gismo was there for, wasn’t he?

They just suddenly appeared,” Amos complained as he finished, “like . . . like a plague, or something.” Amos stopped, his eyes suddenly narrowing. “Hey, wait a minute. You didn’t have anything to do with this, did you?”

Not I, Xyxyx replied. This goes far beyond saddling you with an annoying servant and a leapy messenger.

Ah ha! So it was you,” Amos cried, then paused. “What messenger?”

You haven’t met him yet? Speedy little gut? Likes to jump over things? No? Well, no matter. You’ll meet him soon enough. Xyxyx chuckled at Amos’ expression. They’ll grow on you. Back to your problem. I think you know who’s responsible.

I thought there was something slithery about that guy,” Amos said. “What do I do about it?”

I can’t help you there, Amos. You’ll have to find a solution to this problem on your own. It’s why I gave you a mind.

But, he’s your brother. He’s a God too, isn’t he?”

He has no more power than you in My universe, Amos. Well . . . he can travel about a little more freely . . . but his only power is of persuasion, which you also have. And he has other weaknesses.

What are they?” Amos asked, a kind of desperate pleading in his voice.

I can’t help you there, either, Amos.

Amos deflated and could think of nothing more to ask. As his disappointed prophet turned and trudged away, Xyxyx took pity on him.

Perhaps your Master of Secrets knows the answer, He called.

Amos turned back, suddenly hopeful. “I didn’t know I had one of those.”

See how good he is?

Xyxyx smiled to himself as Amos snorted and turned back, and new spring in his step. Now, He thought. Where did I put that Black Hole?

#

Amos pondered his dilemma as he walked back to the city. How did one go about finding The Master of Secrets? In Capital City, if you wanted to know what someone else was up to, you went and found Parsnip. Everyone knew the little street urchin knew everything that went on everywhere. But that was its own problem. If the fact that you were the Master of Secrets wasn’t a secret, you couldn’t actually be the Master of Secrets. Could you?

But everyone did know that Parsnip knew everyone’s secrets. Soooo . . .

Amos had a sudden flash of inspiration and snapped his fingers. “Of course. Parsnip reports to someone.”

He knew that you didn’t just walk up and say ‘Hello, Master of Secrets, I presume’ to the Master of Secrets. No, one did not do such a thing. There were rules that had to be followed. Protocols that needed to be observed.

He spread the word as he wandered through the city. A few shiny coppers passed out to random urchins here and there ensured that Parsnip would soon know he wished to speak with her. Finally, he settled in to wait at a little café on the edge of Seedytown, the least reputable section of the city, which meant there was some trash that hadn’t been picked up yet in the street.

The Lazy Us Café was always on the edge of Seedytown, though it was never in the same place for very long. It was owned by a shadowy man with cleanliness issues, and was constantly being closed down for various health code violations. Three days later, it would pop up somewhere else

Amos sat at an outside table—no-one with any sense went inside. As evening fell and the streets grew dim, a young girl of perhaps eleven approached. She was quite clean and rather cute for a street urchin, in Amos’ opinion, though he had little experience in such things. A mop of brown hair topped a cherubic face, a long, orangish shirt hung to her knees, and bare feet puffed street dust in the waning light.

Parsnip obfuscated up to his table, (there’s no other word that properly describes her walk) glanced furtively about for a moment, then asked in a low voice, “You wished to see me, sir prophet?”

Yes,” Amos replied, “I’d like to meet your employer, assuming you have one.”

Parsnip gave a short, shallow nod. “Secrets?” she asked. “You wish information? Secrets can be obtained with secrets. Also, do you like my ring?” It made a ‘whiiing’ sound when she blew into it. Unnoticed by Amos, every urchin in hearing was suddenly attentive.

Secrets, eh? Hmm.” Amos thought for a moment, then leaned close. “Butterfly wings don’t have butter on them,” he whispered.

Amos thought he saw her eyes narrow for a moment, but, no. Her innocent-looking face nodded once and she motioned him to follow.

Parsnip slipped through the streets, casting jerky glances everywhere except in front of her, nearly bumping into several passersby. After crossing every street and alley in Seedytown several times, (they almost met themselves once or twice, which would have been very bad, space-time-continuum-wise) she led him back to the tenement next to the café.

Door number six,” she said, all seriousness now. Amos passed her several coppers as she slipped behind him. “Knock twice, then once. Enter when called.”

When he turned to thank her, she was gone. He shrugged, entered the building, and knocked on the door to room six as instructed.

Come in, Daav, “ a voice he didn’t recognized called, “I’ve been expecting you.”

A tall man was standing at the window, looking out at the city. He was wearing red breeches, and an open, red coat. The collar of a white shirt poked out above the coat. Shiny black boots and a brown campaign hat topped it off, for that extra here-I-am touch. He looked about as secretive as an explosion.

I’m not Daav,” Amos said as he closed the door, “but Gismo was right, you’re the last person I would have expected. Shouldn’t a Master of Secrets report his findings to someone?”

Don’t call me that,” he said as he turned to face Amos. The glare from the window behind him kept his face shadowed. “The urchins call me the Dealer In Critical Knowledge. For the sake of brevity, you can shorten it to the acronym. Parsnip usually does.”

Amos thought about that for a moment. “Oh she does, does she?” he asked. When the man didn’t answer he asked his question again. “Shouldn’t a Master of Secrets report his findings to someone?”

I suppose, yes,” he replied, “if there was something to report. Until recently I haven’t found out any secrets, except a fried chicken recipe. Oh, and some new drink that’s supposed to go well with rum. Nothing to bother the prophet with.

I send reports to the council, from time to time,” he continued. “I assume the information is immediately dealt with. I’m quite indispensable to them, really.”

Did Parsnip tell you that too?” Amos asked.

Why, yes. Actually, she did, bless her cute little heart.”

I see.” Amos tried to fit the man’s ‘square peg’ responses into his ’round hole’ idea of a Master of Secrets. He was unsurprised by their incompatibility, but went on, anyway. “Doesn’t your style of dress make clandestine meetings a difficult proposition?”

If I were to try to attend them, yes, I suppose it would.” He sounded slightly smug. “But I don’t, Parsnip does, then reports to me. It was her idea. This way I can ride about on my ass and no one thinks twice about me.”

Amos choked. “You ride an ass around?”

Yes. Also her idea. When the information she and her friends gather is important enough to require the attention of the Dealer In Critical Knowledge, she leads them to me. They’re always surprised.”

I bet they are,” Amos replied, suddenly sure he’d been duped almost as badly as this person by an eleven-year-old. The Master of Secrets was hiding in plain sight, all right, but not dressed in red and riding an ass. The Master of Secrets had disguised herself as the Master of Secrets. It was diabolical. It was ingenious. It was . . . funny.

Go on,” Amos said, needing to play the scene out. “I’m sure it’s a masterful system you’ve worked out.”

That’s where Parsnip and her urchins come in. Nobody notices them. They hear and see things, and report them to me. When I need a rumor spread, the urchins spread them, and I pay them well to do so.”

It took an effort, but Amos kept a straight face. Gads, he thought, she’s charging him to be her front. “So, why wasn’t I warned of these ‘Locals’ popping up all over the place?”

The man paused for a second, genuinely confused. “They’re no secret. Everyone has known of them for days, now. The urchins almost formed one, until I increased their compensation and vacation days.”

Why,” Amos asked, nearly choking again, “am I not one of these everyones who knows these things?”

I don’t know. You should ask Lorch, he hears things.”

I know Lorch hears things,” Amos muttered. “He hears bells I haven’t rung.”

What was that?”

Nothing,” Amos said, having fully satisfied himself that the Dealer In Critical Knowledge was exactly what he seemed, turned to leave. “I wish you well, sir. Keep up the good work.”

Outside the tenement building, Parsnip was waiting for him, a huge grin on her innocent face. “You know,” Amos observed, hoping he was phrasing it properly, “you didn’t have to lead me all over nowhere to not find the person I was trying to find.”

Exactly,” she said. “You can’t find what you’re not looking for. Also, the DICK’s ass is smarter than he is.”

Amos laughed and nodded, still unsure of what he was hearing, but afraid to admit it. “Consider me unenlightened. Why haven’t I heard anything from anyone before? You know, reports and other secrety stuff.”

Secrets?” the urchin asked with a sideways glance and smile.

Amos laughed again and held up his hands. “I guess I’ll hear what I’m supposed to hear when I’m supposed to hear it. Perhaps I should rent an eleven-year-old interpreter.” Amos sighed looked directly into Parsnip’s grey eyes. “You can help me with this problem?”

It’s being taken care of as we speak, sir prophet. The Mob will handle it.”

The Mob?”

It’s better you don’t know,” Parsnip said with a wink. “Also, I like chocolate.”

Amos took her small hand, led her to an ice cream stand and bought two chocolate cones.

#

The next day, three large, well-dressed men wearing shaded glasses entered Simon’s office. The middle one, slightly smaller than the others, was carrying a silver service tray which he set on the desk after one of the others swiped everything off it.

The two larger men each put a heavy hand on Simon’s shoulders, preventing him from leaving. The other removed the cover from the tray, revealing a large pile of succulent crabs legs, and took a seat opposite him.

Good afternoon, sir,” he said cheerily. “My name is Bob, and the two gentlemen next to you are also called Bob. We represent what you might call The Mob.”

The Mob of Bobs?” Sssss asked. A nervous tick appeared over his left eye.

Exactly,” Bob said, picking up one of the crab legs and snapping it open. It sounded very loud in the small space. “Help yourself,” Bob said, gesturing to the pile.

No, thank you,” Sssss replied. “I’m not very hungry right now.”

Bob shrugged. “Now, see . . . the thing is . . . we hear that you’ve been organizing certain labor guilds, and we don’t allow no organizations what don’t belong to our organization.” (including the Builder’s guild, which was headed by Bob) He looked at the men on either side of Simon. “Ain’t that right, Bobs?”

Dat’s right, boss,” they said.

Sssss winced when the head Bob snapped another crab leg. Then men were still touching him, holding his shoulders, and he hated being touched. But he hated pain more, so he remained very still.

See . . . the thing is . . .” Bob continued, “if you’d just come to us first, there wouldn’t be a problem.” Snap. “And bad things happen to those what don’t come through us. Ain’t that right, Bobs?”

Dat’s right, boss.”

Sssss was very angry right then, but could do nothing about it in his current form. When will I learn not to appear publicly! he raged to himself. I really, really hate these organisms.

What can be done to remedy this ssituation,” he asked aloud.

See . . . it’s like this. You cede control of all your guilds to us, in perpetuity, and then you disappear.” Snap. “Voluntarily would be best for all involved, but you will disappear. Ain’t that right, Bobs?”

Dat’s right, boss.”

#

And lo, it came to pass that on that day, all the guilds in the land were delivered unto the Mob, and all was as it should be.

#

You rang?” Lorch asked as he entered the study.

Amos, having given up on reminding his servant that he did not, in fact, have a bell, said, “Yes, Lorch. What is the status on the plague of locals situation?”

Taken care of, sir. There will be no further problems from that direction.”

That’s good, that’s good.” Amos eyed Lorch suspiciously, wondering how to ask his next question. He decided to be direct. “Are you part of Parsnip’s organization?”

Lorch rumbled quietly before answering. “Organization, sir?”

Never mind. You wouldn’t tell me and I’d rather not know. Carry on.”

Very good, sir.”

 

7 – Sadam and Grandmama < Go to

7 – Sadam and Grandmama

No one knew what XYXYX meant; even Amos was at a loss to explain it, though he found it very funny. Some thought it was Gismo’s way of telling them the name of their world. Some thought it was what the name of their country should be. And there were other suggested meanings as well, not all of them good.

In the end, after much argument, they decided it was the name of their world, and they turned the building into the world’s first library and high-rise apartments—calling it Xyxyx Towers even though there was only one. Sessil Sirpint vanished, a rash of new crotch-itch cases broke out, and everything got back to abnormal.

Amos’ tome became wildly popular and Listir Dalray offered to mass-produce it; he’d been contemplating starting a publishing company, anyway. Amos kept the original document and the first printed copy was placed in the new library, which took up the whole bottom X of Xyxyx Towers, and was administered by Marion, who was also its sole custodian and employee.

While slightly younger than Grandmama, at eight-hundred-fifty-six, Marion was even more conservative. Amos avoided her whenever possible. Luckily, he did not have to enter the library to climb the convoluted staircase.

Amos spent most of his time strolling through Capital City dispensing his wisdom, which was much sought after now that he had written The Book of Gismo. He was on one of these peaceful meanders when Gismo spoke to him.

Amos.

Yes, my Lord?” (It was a statement of the times that no one though it odd for a prophet to talk to himself.)

You need to visit Grandma Mosey. There’s something she needs to take care of.

Is there a problem here I’m unaware of?”

No, Amos, not there. The thing she needs to do is in another town, far from Capital City.

But, she’s fourteen thousand years old! Why does she have to do this?”

Stop that, Amos. She’s only nine-hundred-eighteen. She’ll be fine. Someone is doing some bad things elsewhere. Grandmama is the perfect one to take care of it.

What bad things?”

A very bad man is forcing ‘WMI’ upon everyone in his town.

WMI?”

Words of Math Instruction. In the hands of those untrained in their use, algebra might be invented.

Oh my you!”

Exactly.

I still don’t understand why it has to be Grandmama, but I’ll go see her immediately.”

Trust me, Amos. She’s the right person for this job.

#

Amos knocked loudly on Grandmama’s door and waited for her to answer. Several new and wonderful things were invented by the time she opened it. (Which would anger her greatly when she found out.)

Amos,” she said happily, “it’s so nice to see you. Have you come for your thrashing?”

His weekly thrashing was not due for another three days, but Amos knew she would not relent or be happy until she was allowed to thrash him, so he said, “Yes.”

Afterwards, while Grandma Mosey sat rocking contentedly in her chair and studying her latest painting, Amos said, “Grandmama, there are some sinners out there in need of a sound thrashing.”

What!” she cried, springing from her chair. (Paper was invented by the time she was upright. This would anger her, too.) “Show me these turd-for-brains.”

They’re not in Capital City, Grandmama.”

There are many sinners still here, Amos. I can’t leave until they have all been thrashed to the straight and narrow.”

Yes, ma’am, I know,” Amos replied, “but Gismo has told me of some who are even worse, in a far away city called Sadam.”

Gismo told you this, eh. Are you sure He doesn’t need a thrashing, too?”

I’m sure. He says you’re the only one who can set things straight.”

Very wise of him,” she said. “Perhaps He doesn’t need a thrashing after all. But who will keep the sinners here in line?”

Err . . . umm . . . perhaps Dannil can handle it while you’re away.”

What? Leave that . . . that . . . prevaricator in charge of this city’s morals! I’d have to thrash the entire city by the time I got back.”

Certainly something to look forward to,” Amos replied with a straight face. “You can thrash him for being an idiot when you return.”

Her withered face brightened at that; at least one wrinkle almost disappeared. “You make a good point. Very well. How do I get to this Sadam?”

There’s a ship in port now, Grandmama. It will take you around the horn and far up the coast. I’m sure there’ll be some sinners to thrash on it.”

Another wrinkle grew less deep. “I’ll get my things. Round everyone up so I may give them one last thrashing before I leave.”

Yes, Grandmama.”

Two days later, with everyone gathered at the harbor, Grandma Mosey shuffled down to the pier where Captain Rahn’s ship, Meanderer, lay moored. Amos stood first in line for another thrashing, thanking her afterward. Six hours later, after everyone had been thrashed, Grandmama was introduced to the captain. He politely accepted his drubbing before helping her on board so she could properly chastise the rest of the crew.

Amos said his goodbyes, Grandmama was settled into her cabin and Meanderer loosed her lines, shipped her anchor and set sail.

The cheers were deafening.

#

Ever since the ‘Ruler for Life’s’ new advisor came along, things had gotten progressively worse for the people of Sadam. First, Floyd banned the exposure of ankles, deeming them too erotic to be seen. So, now, all men had to wear socks, even while swimming or bathing. Floyd, of course, in the manner of all despots everywhere, elected or otherwise, did not have to abide by his own laws.

It followed that if ankles were so arousing then wrists must be also, so all men had to wear long gloves. And hats, they had to wear hats. The men were beginning to look a bit ridiculous, but it could still be lived with.

The final straw came when every man, woman and child was given a ruler, a compass, a protractor and ‘The Words,’ and told to spend six hours a day inventing stuff. Few even knew what they were, much less how to use them, but the ‘Ruler for Life’ was the ‘Ruler for Life’, so they played with them every day. Privately, the people also wailed and moaned and prayed for a hero to come and save them.

Eventually, their prayers would be answered. (Sort of.)

On his way to see his new puppet, er liege, in the palace, the new advisor, Sssssin his most recent guise, Stevic—smiled. I should have done it this way from the start, he thought as he traversed the lavishly appointed palace. What was I thinking, trying to subvert these organisms on the prophet’s home turf? He shook his head, smiling to himself as he reached the guarded double-doors of throne room. They let him in without question or pause.

So,” Floyd said as Stevic entered the lavish throne room of his ornate palace, which Floyd had named Barber in honor of his humble beginnings, “what new things have my people invented for me today?”

Well, good Ssire,” Stevic replied, unrolling a parchment and dutifully oiling up his mannerisms, “in the monthss ssince you implemented thiss wise undertaking many new things have come from it. There is one man out there who thinkss the ansswer to life, the universse and everything is forty-three. He’s wrong, of coursse, but closse. Another has figured out how to get sseventy-ssix trombones in a big parade. If he ever figures out how to get one-hundred-and-ten coronetss closse behind, we may have ssomething. Then there’s the one who has proclaimed himsself king.”

What!” Floyd shouted. “How dare he?”

There’s always a rissk in projectss like thiss, my good Ssire. You know the old ssaying.”

No, what saying is that?”

Give a man an inch and he thinkss he’s a ruler.”

Well, take his inch away,” Floyd grumbled. “Anything else?”

Yess. One-hundred-eighty-ssix-thousand.”

What does it mean?”

No one knows, not even the woman who came up with it. But, she’s very excited. She thinkss it may be important.” (Light-years ahead of everyone else, in fact.)

Yes, well, have her, and everyone else, keep working on it.”

It shall be as you ssay, my good king.” Stevic slithered out of the ornate palace to check on the latest progress, a self-satisfied smirk on his snake-like face.

#

After three months at sea, they were nearing their destination and would be putting in to port later that evening. With nothing much to do during the voyage, Grandmama had thrashed the crew mercilessly the entire voyage. Captain and crew alike accepted each beating wordlessly and continued on with the task of sailing the ship, sometimes while the thrashing was happening.

Once, they saw another shipful of men who appeared to be insane, and Grandmama drove them all crazy wanting to get over there and thrash them.

Keep your eyes on the prize, Grandmama,” Captain Rahn had said. “It’s not their fault. Legend has it they passed an island of sirens and it’s their ghostly call that drove them mad.”

What kind of call,” she’d asked, “could do that to men?”

That part of the sea is avoided at all costs now, but the old-timers say it sounded like an air-raid siren, whatever that is. That ship is the Orgo and her men are called Orgonuts.”

Well, that explains that old saying, then.” For the first time in her life Grandmama had actually pitied sinners.

Once they docked, a cart (with the hated wheels) and driver was hired to transport Grandmama to the palace. Even though it was only ten miles from the port, it would have taken Grandmama a month to get there on foot. As it was it took a week and a half.

What’s your name, driver?” Grandmama asked the first day on the road, after she gave him his thrashing.

Yesser, good lady,” he said. “Yesser Amarat.”

Why don’t we see any people on the road?”

They are required to spend six hours a day figuring things out with their ‘Words of Math Instruction’. I must stop soon to work for my six hours.”

Grandmama gasped. “Inventing new things? What pea-brain makes you do such things?”

The ‘Ruler for Life’, Floyd, has required it, good lady, at the behest of his advisor, Stevic.”

Amos was right,” Grandmama hissed. “I am needed here. Well, I will deal with that snake later. What have you come up with so far?”

I,” Yesser said proudly, “have personally figured out the life of Pi, which apparently never ends or repeats. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. Someone will have to ask him.” The carter paused for a breath. “I’m currently calculating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin,” he finished with a broad smile.

After she thrashed him, Grandma Mosey said, “You will not stop today. This must be dealt with immediately.”

Sadly, Grandmama found many other sinners along the way, once Yesser completed his six hours of figuring out stuff. They had to stop many times so she could soundly thrash every one else they met.

By the time they actually got to the palace, there was a huge crowd of men and women behind them. Grandmama got out of the cart, and after thrashing the guards, demanded they bring Floyd and his advisor to her at once. She was adamant that, this time, the thrashees come to her. Her will and determination being what it was, the guards obeyed.

The crowd watched in fascination as Floyd and Stevic emerged from the palace. Stevic took one look at who was audacious enough to demand his presence and fled screaming. Floyd, unaware of the might of Grandmama, approached her with a smirk on his face, wondering what one tired old lady could do to him.

Grandma Mosey informed the crowd that they should turn away, for this was not going to be pretty. Most obeyed, though a few of the braver women furtively peeked anyway.

What they saw was Grandmama tapping Floyd with her walking stick from his head to his toes, haranguing him the whole time, exactly as she had done to all of them.

This thrashing is going to hurt you far more than it hurts me,” she said as she tapped his ears, provoking a startled but quizzical look from Floyd. “Forcing people to invent things. What kind of jackass are you?”

But, madam . . .”

Who are you,” she cried, poking him in the stomach, “to force these people to learn evil things? It’s bad enough we have the wheel.”

I really don’t see . . .”

What possessed you,” she asked, prodding his arms with her stick and jabbing him in the forehead, “to do such a thing? The next thing you know, people will expect their bread to come pre-sliced.”

The questions, the prodding and the poking continued for some time. Once, she evinced something other than a bewildered half-smile when she poked him there. Mostly, Floyd was surprised and befuddled, but he did come away with a new respect for this very determined and willful old woman.

When it was over the ‘Words of Math Instruction’ were given into the custody of Newton, a lonely math-number-thingy guy who used them to figure out why it was a bad idea to sit under a fig tree when the figs were ripe. (Grandmama was much upset when she found out gravity had been discovered.) Eventually, some yummy cookies were named for him and the books were hidden away before any more damage could be done.

Floyd was afflicted with a sudden and severe case of crotch itch and had a run of bad luck that lasted seven years, the world was saved from algebra, and those few women who had been brave enough to watch became pillars of their community. (It’s a Lot to ask of them, but women are stronger than most men think.)

 

6 – Tower of Babble < Go to                                                     Go to > 8 – A Plague of Locals

6 – Tower of Babble

Amos had become very bored of late. He hadn’t heard from Gismo in a very long time, and the job of being ‘wise man’ wasn’t much fun when there were no problems to solve. It didn’t pay well, either. The job of being ‘Prophet’, on the other hand, was much more interesting, if not any more lucrative.

Perhaps He is off doing important, omnipotent stuff, Amos thought. Surely God had more important things to do than talk to one insignificant prophet on one small world.

It truly was a small world after all, (no reference to that silly song . . . none at all) and Amos had learned many things from Gismo.

The world, for instance, wasn’t flat; there was no Mermangod waiting to throw you off of it. Also, earthquakes were not caused by giant Molemen (or Molegods) tunneling underground. They were caused by Gismo having to make the world larger due to his people’s fruitility. (Also untrue, but why spoil it.)

And fruitful they were. Capital City had barely been a village when Gismo had first recruited Amos to be his Madman. Now it was a thriving city-thing of nearly fifty thousand, and growing rapidly.

With hamlets, towns and villages sprouting across the land as if someone were riding the range spreading humans like apple seeds, (they’d made Johnny stop that) it was never long before all the usable land was populated. So, occasionally, the world grew. Or so Gismo said. Amos was dubious about that. He had a feeling Gismo was messing with him on that one.

Over the years, (four of them) Gismo had proven remarkably tolerant, despite his ‘Ten Rules’ and the things he considered ‘common sense.’ Murder, rape, robbery, slavery, assault and a few others, were all things He would not tolerate, though He made no rules against them. It was for the bunions—Amos always had to stifle a giggle at Gismo’s word for them—to police themselves in these matters.

Surprisingly, it was all right to covet things, so long as one took no action to obtain said items, which seemed to include man servants and maid servants for some reason. No trying to hire them away from one’s neighbors. He was a strange yet wonderful God, was Gismo, and Amos had to admit that, after the initial shock of meeting their ‘real’ God, things had gone much more smoothly.

Perhaps, thought Amos, I should do something useful with all this spare time. I think I will commission someone to write The Book of Gismo, so we do not lose our newfound knowledge. But who can I get? Surely no one at that gossip rag, The Meme-Harold.

It always amazed Amos that it called itself a news-parchment. The editor, Harold, was an idiot, and the only reason he was the editor was because his wife, Meme, owned it. (How else could Odd Har get such a job?) What they called ‘human interest’ stories made him wonder what they considered human, not to mention interesting

Although, Amos thought, that Daav Id fellow did seem to have his head on straight. Amos had been quite impressed with his Goliass story. Daav’s column and the funnies were the only sections Amos ever read.

Yes. He’s the one I’ll get to write The Book of Gismo. I’m sure he’ll do it justice.

#

Xyxyx could have dealt with all of the offenders at once, it was within his power, but He did not want to. Had He done that He would now be sitting around, bored out of His omniscient mind since His universe pretty much ran itself. (A good universe, like a good wine, just gets better with age.) So, He had attended to each transgressor one at a time.

He was so pleased that not a single one of them had accepted Sssss’ offer that He had only visited the crotch itch upon them, foregoing the seven-years of bad luck in His mercy. It had taken Him a long time, (in human terms) a couple years in fact, to deal with each Bunion individually because He’d found it humorous to watch them walking around, scratching themselves incessantly.

However immortal Xyxyx was He could only laugh at them for so long, and it was no longer as funny as it once was. Besides, He now knew that Amos was planning to have The Book of Gismo—He still winced at that name—written and He decided He’d better have a talk with Amos first. If that book was going to be written, it was Amos who was going to write it, not some humor writer, however good he might be. He wanted to be sure that any book about Himself was staid and serious; that it captured His true splendor and majesty. (It just goes to show.)

#

Amos was on his way to the ‘Meme-Harold’ offices when Gismo spoke to him.

Amos.

Yes, my Lord,” Amos replied, surprised to hear from Him out of the blue. (Though he shouldn’t have been. It always came from out of the blue.)

I wish to speak with you upon The Mount.

You mean up on the hill where we always talk, right?”

Yes, Amos, Xyxyx sighed. Up on the hill.

Sorry. It’s just that you never called it a ‘mount’ before.”

It’s not a mount, Amos. It’s ‘The Mount.’ ‘The Mount’ whereupon I proclaim My knowledge and wisdom. Would it kill you to show a little awe and respect now and then? I mean, really? I don‘t ask for much and . . .

The sermon took the entire hour Amos spent trudging to The Mount. By the time he got there it was over. Amos waited patiently for several minutes before he finally asked, “What did you wish to speak about, my Lord?”

Xyxyx sighed to Himself, as He often did when dealing with Amos. About this book you plan on having someone write.

You know about that? Did you read my mind or something?”

Argh, Xyxyx groaned. Of course I read your mind. I am an omniscient being after all. He didn’t want to admit that He couldn’t do it all the time. He was still learning this ‘Master of the Universe’ thing.

Oh yeah. What about the book?”

I don’t want Daav Id to write it.

You know abo . . .”

Amos! Yes, I know about that. He’s not going to write it. You are. I don’t want any mistakes.

Amos’s shoulders slumped. “Yes, my Lord.”

Oh, and Amos?

Yes?”

Bring lots of parchment and writing implements when you return. We’re going to be here for a while.

Yes, my Lord,” Amos said as he slouched off to find the needed materials. He’d learned long ago not to ask Gismo for a pencil.

#

Odd Har called the emergency meeting of the city council to order. As president of the council, it was his second-most important function. (His first being to adjourn them.) His only other duty was to call for a vote; the rest of the council had seen to that. Root, Boze, Daav, Dannil and the newly elected member of the ‘Fifth Estate’, Sessil Sirpint, were all present. The council chamber was filled to capacity. Everyone knew ‘something’ was happening and they all wanted to tell their grandkids they’d been there. (This is a common phenomenon.)

Amos had disappeared several months earlier. It was assumed he’d gone up the hill to commune with Gismo, but he’d never been gone this long before—the last time he’d gone up at all had been a couple years earlier—and he’d never gone without telling anyone. In fact he always made it a point to tell everyone, which they pointedly ignored, which defeated the purpose of pointing it out, which was the point. (Or something.)

That was what had everyone worried. They were afraid something might have happened to him, but they were more afraid of interrupting him. If the punishment for breaking one of the ‘Ten Rules’ was so severe, what might the penalty be for intruding upon a conversation with Him? Being elected officials they decided to call a meeting instead. (The fall-back position of all elected officials in all universes.)

The buzz of the crowd slowly faded from angry bees to a swarm of gnats to one lonely mosquito looking to beget as Har repeatedly banged his gavel on the squash. It probably would have made more noise had he struck something hard with it, but Har was a little odd.

Order,” he cried. “Order . . . order!”

Relax, Har,” some guy in the audience yelled. “Calm down. We’re quiet already. Zeeje.”

All right then,” Root said, as everyone seated themselves. “We all know why we’re here.”

Some guy raised a hand.

Yes?” Daav asked trepidatiously.

I don’t know why we’re here. I just saw a bunch of people going somewhere and hurried up to lead them. Why are we here?”

I’ll field that one,” Dannil said, idly scratching himself, as were several others in the audience. “Amos is missing. He has been for several months now.”

The angry bees returned and Har pounded his squash to no effect. Boze put some sort of covering over his ears while Root waited patiently for the noise to subside. Daav took notes for a future column. Dannil continued to scratch himself and wonder why Sessil had a slight smirk on his face. Several citizens shouted questions at the council.

Where could he have gone? What will we do without a prophet? How much is four times nine? How fast is Flipper? What do we do about it?”

Right down the line from Har to Sessil, the council members answered each question as it came. Except Boze, his ears were covered.

We think he went up the hill. We don’t know that we’ve lost him yet. Thirty six. Faster than lightning. That’ss why we’re here.”

There was a sibilant quality to Sessil’s voice that sent shivers down many spines, especially the spines whose owners were scratching themselves. A commotion broke out once more as suggestions were hurled about like darts at a pub tournament. Few of them hit the board, much less a bullseye.

Some wanted to send Jack and Jill up the hill to see if Amos was there. Root explained the drawback to this idea, (interrupting a deity) prompting the couple to fetch a pail of water instead. (The tragic results of that adventure are best left to another story.)

Another idea was to write a note, fold the parchment into a shape which would allow it to glide, and sail it up the hill. Drawbacks to this idea included: no one knew how to fold parchment in such a way, and the wind was notoriously uncooperative when it came to blowing where one wished it to blow.

A similar idea was to wrap the note around a stone large enough to be catapulted up there, until someone pointed out that they did not know where on the hill Amos was, and dropping a rock on his head might not be beneficial, health-wise.

Several other bad ideas were bandied about, all equally silly and summarily dismissed, until the proceedings were interrupted by the unexpected opening of the door at the rear of the council chamber.

Slowly, inexorably, the door opened to the sound of shuffling feet and the occasional tap of a walking stick. One-by-one, people groaned as they realized who the newcomer was. When the door opened far enough to allow it, Grandma Mosey made her grand entrance.

No one knew her exact age, but she was well over nine-hundred. Lovingly called Grandmama by those who feared her, (everyone) she shuffled forward an inch at a time, her feet never leaving the floor and her walking stick tapping away every fourteen steps.

Despite her advanced age, her weathered voice carried throughout the chamber. Tap. “What are you turd-for-brains doing to find my great, great, great, great . . . um, great grandson?”

That’s what we were discu . . .”

Shut up, Har,” Grandmama commanded. “Root, you tell me.” Tap.

That’s what we’re debating, Grandmama.”

Debating?” the old woman shrilled, still shuffling forward, “Debating? I’ll show you debating, you young whipper-snappers. I’m coming up there,” she warned. “I’m coming up there. And when I get there I’ll show you all,” Tap. “what for.”

If I might make a ssuggesstion,” Sessil said as Grandmama made her slow but determined way to the council dais.

Go ahead, Sessil,” Har encouraged.

We build a tower; the highesst anyone has ever built. One tall enough to ssee over the hill and disscover where Amoss is and what he’s doing.”

Amid the approving babble of those gathered, Grandma Mosey could still be heard complaining as she inched along. Tap. “No respect these days. I get no respect I tell you. In the old days people used to come to me for their thrashings.”

Knowing he had time yet, Har exercised his third duty and called for a vote.

Now they make me come to them,” Grandmama grumped, paying no attention to anything else. Tap.

It was approved unanimously among the council and nearly so in the gallery.

What is it with these whipper-snappers always needing life to be easier? The wheel!” Tap. “Pfah!”

Next on the agenda was a request from the province’s fruit-growers, led by a Mister Horner, for more financial support. Denied with one abstentionSessil.

Grandmama continued inexorably onward. “Of course they’ll want to attach some sort of upside-down cup to it so they can haul more than one stone at a time. If we were meant to carry more than one stone, we would have more than one pair of arms. Pfah!”

Two other items were dispatched before Grandmama reached the stairs to the stage.

If I have to come to them, fine, I’ll come to them.” Tap.

The audience, knowing the outcome of the proceedings, hastily left before Grandmama could turn her attention to them.

You wait right there,” the bent old woman warned, pointing a bony finger at the council. “Your thrashing approaches.”

They sighed in resignation, awaiting their fate.

Tap . . . . . . . . . Tap . . . . . . . . . Tap.

#

All-in-all,” Dannil said as he and Daav left the council chambers after their thrashing, “if I had to choose between being beaten by Grandmama’s switch and beaten with a feather-duster, I guess I would choose the duster . . . but only just.”

Yeah, I know what you mean. What was up with Sessil and all that screaming?”

I don’t know. At first, I thought he was just trying to make Grandmama feel better, but it sounded real to me.”

Me too.” Daav said. “Weird. Anyway, I’ll cover the public angle and you rally the workers. Let’s get this project rolling. It will be the marvel of the modern world. The greatest feat of architecture since the construction of the City Square.”

Right,” Dannil said. “That’s what I thought. Who should we get to build such a tower?”

They looked at each other and smiled. “Bob!” they said in unison.

#

Sssss (oh, come now, you all knew it was him) smiled evilly as scurried back to his councilman’s office. If he worked this properly, he could have all of the creatures in this city suffering his brother’s wrath. It would be well worth the humiliating beating he had taken from that wretched old woman.

How had the others taken the thrashing soundlessly? he wondered. He’d never felt pain before and had wailed miserably during the attack. He’d always appeared as a stuffed snake in previous encounters with these organisms, so that had been his first experience with pain. He decided he didn’t like it. In the future, he would be much more careful about making ‘live’ appearances.

One other thing about these creatures did impress him. When they set their minds to do something, they got to it. Within days of the vote, things got moving. Daav handled the public opinion angle, reporting on the meeting and subsequent ground-breaking. A week later, construction began and Sessil smiled as he heard the noise of it through his window.

An evil smirk appeared on his face. “Excellent,” he said, drumming his fingertips together.

#

Amos had been up on The Mount for months now and writer’s cramp was a far distant memory. He couldn’t even feel his right hand anymore, which played havoc with him trying to please himself at night. And he had no idea how much longer Gismo’s story was going to take. He seemed not to be able to stop talking about Himself.

Amos smiled inwardly as he remembered some of their discussions during the telling of his God’s story. In His words, everything He had ever done worked perfectly the first time. When Amos asked Him why there were mammals with bird bills, fish that could fly or walk, squirrels that could fly and birds that couldn’t, He just replied, I did that on purpose.

What are you smiling about, Amos?

Nothing, my Lord.”

Right. Do some proof-reading, Amos. It seems your followers are up to something they shouldn’t be. I’ll have to take care of that.

Yes, sir.”

Amos barely had time to scan the first sentence before Gismo was back.

What did you do to them?”

I altered their reality a little bit. Nothing for you to worry about. All right, where were we?

We were still exploring your childhood.” Amos sighed as He resumed His tale.

Oh yes, I remember now. Sssss was a constant pain in my *beep*. When we were only one-hundred-fifty-thousand . . .

#

No one noticed what was happening at the site of the tower, it looked perfectly normal to them. Whenever anyone gave an order, such as ‘We need another brace over here’ or ‘Put that cross beam over there’, everyone else heard ‘We are building a Xyxyx today’ or ‘Five Xyxyx’s are just the right amount’ and it sounded like any other command. It took nearly a year to complete the tower to their satisfaction.

Sessil showed up on that fateful day and exclaimed, “What the *expletive deleted* have you done!”

We’ve completed the tower,” Root beamed. “Isn’t it wonderful?”

No! It isn’t! I knew I should have kept an eye on you creatures.”

What’s the matter?” Root was confused now. It looked like a splendid tower to her, though they hadn’t ever checked to see if it was high enough during the building of it, and no one thought that odd. (Xyxyx made sure of that.) Before anyone could be sent to look someone shouted, “Hey, here comes Amos.”

As everyone turned to see, Sessil discretely disappeared. Amos’ arrival had a profound effect on everyone as it broke Xyxyx’s spell. Amos laughed and pointed at their tower.

Gazing in enraptured awe, the gathered crowd gasped as one, and with five thousand people present, it was very loud. It was still the marvel of engineering they had imagined, and the tallest building in the city, but instead of a square, five-story tower, what they had was a building that looked like this . . .

X

Y

X

Y

X

5 – Daav Id and Goliass

It was getting close to the deadline for his bi-yearly, Meme-Harold column and Daav IdBerry still had no solid ideas. The mail carriage had just arrived that morning with a few more fan letters for him. He was hoping he might get an idea from one of those letters; some of his best columns came from the odd stories his readers sent in.

The first two letters were nice, but essentially useless, mostly wondering why his wife was mentioned in so many stories. The unsigned third, probably sent by some guy, (or not) proved to be very interesting. There was apparently a giant named Goliass menacing a small village not far from Capital City—just two villages over, in fact. The giant’s name alone should be worth a paragraph or two. Daav needed to get the story first-hand, though. It was always better that way.

He grabbed a pad, stuck a pencil behind his ear and headed out the door to catch the next carriage to Wood Stock. On his way to the station, he noticed there seemed to be a disproportionate number of people scratching themselves, possibly due to crotch itch. It didn’t really mean anything in and of itself, it was just something he made a note of.

#

Goliass was not really a bad guy as far as giants went, and they went wherever they wanted. It was true that he’d been picked on a lot when he was young, because of his name. Goli, of course, meant ‘large’ in his native tongue, so Largeass was a natural progression. From there came Hugeass, and after that it was one ass name after another.

Then he started to grow, as all adolescents do, but when the others stopped growing, Goliass didn’t. He continued to grow and grow and grow, long into his adult years. One thing that did stop, however, was the name-calling. There were no more ass jokes, but by then it was too late; resentment had settled in and built a nice, cozy home.

In the following years he marauded much of the rolling countryside. Although it consisted largely of lush farmland, it was dotted by numerous wooded tracts—stately elms, majestic oaks, and courtly pines—which harbored thousands of creatures, large and small, and flora of all varieties and colors (and all the other descriptiveness one expects from good authors). The fauna ran from him, of course, which helped his self-esteem somewhat, but the fleeing was mindless and gave him little satisfaction in the long run. The flora couldn’t possibly have cared less and wouldn’t have fled even if it could.

Also, he terrorized a village or two, but by then it was too late. His heart wasn’t really in it anymore, and the villagers only ran far enough to turn around and watch, sometimes even cheering him on. It was after he’d left one of his last feeble attempts at a rural rampage that he heard a voice coming from a stand of trees not far away.

Goliass,” it said.

What?” the giant asked, searching for the source of the voice. “Who speaks to Goliass?”

Over here, big fella, in this pine.”

Turning to his left, Goliass saw a stuffed and coiled cobra sitting on a branch in a nearby tree. Most people would have found this unusual, but he had other concerns. Goliass ambled (insofar as it’s possible for a giant to amble) over to see what the serpent wanted. “What does dead snake want with Goliass?”

Talking to a dead snake in a tree did not overly concern him, he assumed (which is an ass word, and if you don‘t know what everyone says about it just ask some guy, he can tell you) it happened to everyone.

I’m glad you asked. I’ve had my eye on you for some time now. You’re my kind of guy.” Sssss noticed the giant had stopped paying attention. “What are you doing?”

Goliass was searching his body, looking for something he was unable to find. “Looking for eye. Goliass doesn’t want three eyes. Has enough problems.”

With a heavy sigh, Sssss responded, “It was just a figure of speech. Rest assured you have only two eyes.”

Whew, good. Goliass hears snake-eyes is bad luck.”

Sssss groaned inwardly. He really was going to have to speak to Xyxyx about these organisms. “I’ve been watching your progress and I’ve noticed you particularly like picking on village idiots.”

That got the giant’s attention. “Yes?” he asked hopefully.

Well,” Sssss whispered, “I know of a village full of them. Here’s what to do.”

#

The village of Wood Stock turned out to be the perfect foil for his pent-up anger. The entire, adult male population did nothing but chop down trees, all day, every day. (They deserved it, stupid trees. They just stood there not doing anything about it.) It was nice to have kindling for the winter months and all, but they had enough to heat every home within a hundred miles for decades. Every day they went out and chopped more; woodcutter was the only occupation the males of the village had.

Surprisingly, there was an uncut forest near the town of Wood Stock. More of a small woodland really, but it was apparently a protected area, never to be chopped for any reason, on pain of death or some magical curse. Or so all the women said, and, being simple woodcutters, the men believed it. It never occurred to them that it was only true because the women said it was.

As far as Goliass was concerned, such men deserved to be harassed, and no one was better at harassment than Goliass. Soon, his name and the term would become synonymous. (Harassment also has an ass in it, after all.)

Every day, while the men were out chopping, Goliass would knock over all of the woodpiles, stick his tongue out at the women and call the children names. His wit, however, had not grown with his physical stature, and he usually just called the children ‘runninboutens’ (which meant ‘children’ in his native tongue), that being the biggest insult he knew. Whenever he finished with his daily harassments, he would run off into the forest, laughing hysterically at the havoc he’d wrought.

#

The carriage arrived to a scene of pure bedlam (or, at least, mild confusion). Firewood littered the streets, women were holding hands in front of their mouths while they tried not to laugh, and children were running about looking confused.

Daav got out of the carriage and looked around for the giant who was responsible for all of this. He wasn’t particularly hard to find, being a giant and all. Daav followed the sound of falling woodpiles, pad in hand and pencil behind his ear.

He’d imagined a hundred different ways the giant might be dressed, depending on how large Goliass really was. Whatever he’d imagined had not prepared him for what he found. The man was nearly nine feet tall and hairy as a bear. The huge grin and kind, blue eyes belied the mayhem Goliass believed he was wreaking. (Hardly more than a minor disturbance, really.)

He stopped toppling woodpiles as Daav approached, a stiff breeze whipping his shoulder-length, black hair around. Because he doubted anyone made giant-sized clothes, Daav had assumed Goliass would be wearing some sort of animal skins, and he was partly right. Goliass was wearing his own skin and a neck scarf. Everything appeared to be in proportion.

Nice outfit,” Daav said, stopping several yards from the giant.

Goliass thanks puny man. Why you here?”

I’m a writer, a columnist, and I want to write your story.”

You want to write Goliass’ story? Why?”

Because no one else has done so before now. I like to write about strange, new things.”

Goliass is strange for sure, but not new. No one has talked to Goliass for long time. Goliass likes you, where we talk?”

Not here,” Daav said, looking nervously around at the gathering crowd of women and children. “Where do you live?”

In forest. We go.”

Daav followed the giant into the stand of trees about a mile off. (The forest was much like any other forest described by all the best fantasy writers. There were colorful colors blah, blah. Trees towered majestically above yadda, yadda. Birds and squirrels chittered and scolded, etcetera, etcetera.)

Goliass’ home was not far, just a few hundred yards into the trees, but since the men avoided this woodland it didn’t need to be. The giant’s abode was huge (which was to be expected) and composed of the animal skins Daav had thought the giant would be wearing (which was not). The skins were stitched together quite tightly and waterproofed. Folding back the double-flapped entrance allowed plenty of light in and revealed a well-furnished interior.

Daav followed the giant in. (The interior was much like any other interior described by all of the best fantasy writers. Huge wooden chairs and carved blah, blah. They were all polished to a high sheen much like yadda, yadda. Intricate sculptures stood on various etcetera, etcetera.)

Other immense furnishings, including a bed, adorned every spare inch of Goliass’ home. There was enough space for the giant to get from one piece of furniture to another, and no more. Everything made Daav feel like a child in a grown-up world. “Where did you get all these things?” Daav asked, swinging his legs to and fro after he’d hopped up into a chair and arranged himself.

Goliass make.”

You made this stuff? This is quality work. If you can make things this nice, why do you terrorize the village?”

Goliass was harassed, made fun of, when young. Now is Goliass’ turn.”

The people of Wood Stock made fun of you?”

Not them, no. Others.”

Then why take it out on them?”

Dead snake told Goliass to.”

That took Daav by surprise, and, taking the pencil from behind his ear, he made a note to check out the ‘dead snake’ angle at another time. “Okay, look,” he said, “if I’m going to write your story, why don’t you start from the beginning?”

Goliass don’t know.”

Let me rephrase that. Please tell me your story from your first memories.”

(Caution! Short info dump follows.)

They got through the giant’s early abuses with a minimal of questions, Daav was familiar with it himself. His full name was Daav IdBerry, and with a name like that he had gotten his fair share of name-calling (it was berry bad) and other childish abuses.

If Daav had one hard and fast rule it was: never let yourself be sidetracked from a story. And he never did: no mater how much his editor hounded him, no matter how many stories his fans sent, no mater how often thoughts of his wife popped up in his head for no apparent reason: always the story came first.

Daav shook his head and turned his attention back to Goliass. It was the giant’s later life that interested him. Despite Goliass’ adolescent experiences, he had still tried to fit in and be part of a community. By then it was no longer his name that set him apart, it was his size. Village after village, town after town, wherever he went he was always run off. Forced into a hermit’s life, he taught himself many skills, which was quite obvious with one glimpse around his home. (Just trying to build some sympathy here.)

(Also, info dump ends.)

So,” Daav said, “even when you tried to fit in, they still shunned you?”

They did, yes. Make Goliass sad.”

How did they make you leave?”

Wave their hands, yell ‘shoo.’”

Daav stifled a small smile, an effort that was becoming harder and harder with each answer. “That would surely send me packing. They didn’t chase you around waving the jawbone of an ass?” (Daav sometimes gets his stories mixed up.)

What is ass?”

It’s a horse-like animal whose jawbone makes an excellent weapon against Philadelphians, or so I’ve been told. (See?) What made you finally stop shooing?”

Goliass get angry no one give chance. Goliass decide to show what giant can do.”

Which is plenty, to be sure. It’ll probably take them hours to pick up all the wood. Why did you settle here?”

Dead snake tell Goliass about village full of idiots. Goliass likes to harass idiots.”

There’s that dead snake again. Tell me about that. It wasn’t in the middle of the road, was it?”

No, that was skunk, stinking to high, high heaven. Dead snake talk to Goliass. Tell of village.”

Seems reasonable,” Daav answered, though it didn’t seem so to him. He made some more dead snake notes for later investigation. “Did you ever ask anyone in Wood Stock for a chance?”

Why? No one ever gives chance.”

That shouldn’t stop you from trying. You might have better luck if you’d use some of your animal skins to make yourself some clothes.”

Why?”

If you haven’t noticed, no one else runs around naked.” Daav was quiet for a moment. “I have an idea.”

What idea? You want to help Goliass?”

Yes, I do. You stay here and make yourself some clothes. I’ll be back tomorrow.”

You been nice to Goliass. Goliass will stay.”

#

Daav got back to the village and wandered about looking for an inn. The men had returned from their daily chopping ritual but there was something odd about them. They were all scratching themselves, which was only normal—woodchips itched—but too many of them were scratching themselves in places where there shouldn’t be woodchips. There was something familiar about it, but Daav couldn’t place it. He decided not to worry over much about it. It would come to him eventually.

He came to the only inn Wood Stock sported and entered. The proprietress, a pudgy but nattily-dressed woman named Bertrice, was friendly enough and offered him a large meal with the room, which he happily accepted. She didn’t seem to recognize his name when he introduced himself.

After Daav finished his meal of roasted beef so tender and juicy it melted in his mouth, seasoned potatoes with mushroom gravy and garlic-buttered peas, (Describing things isn’t so hard, it’s just a pain in the . . .) he asked Bertrice to join him. “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about your village?”

Why?” she asked. “Are you writing a book?”

No, a column.” Daav could see the lamp light up above her head when he said that.

Ohhh, you’re that Daav IdBerry. My name is Bertrice. B – E – R – T – R – I – C – E. What would you like to know?”

When all else fails, Daav thought, play the writer’s card. “Well, first of all, what’s the deal with the men around here?”

No one knows. Up until they turn sixteen, they’re perfectly normal, as far as males can be considered normal. At sixteen they suddenly develop an irresistible urge to chop trees down.”

This doesn’t strike anyone as odd?”

It strikes everyone as odd, Mister Id. Odd as a talking horse.”

Please Bertrice, call me Daav. With all of this chopping going on, you’d think they’d have the whole forest cut down by now.”

One patch of the forest is protected, or so we tell them. Plus they work slowly and do the rough cutting. That’s a long and tedious process when done by hand. Turning the rough-cut wood into useful things is another story. Besides, we replant the areas they clear.”

We’ll get back to that in a bit, Bertrice. Does the same thing happen to strangers who stay too long? The chopping thing, I mean?”

We don’t know. Once travelers see how our men behave, they choose not to stay.”

I can understand that. And, no one knows why this happens? Did someone from here make up that stupid woodchuck tongue-twister, or something?”

No one knows, Daav. We call it ‘Gismo’s Curse’. Who but a god could conceive of such a thing?”

Good point, but I can think of at least one man who hasn’t succumbed to your curse.”

Oh? And who might that be?”

Goliass. He might be a giant, but he’s still just a man for all that.”

I’ll say,” Bertrice said with a faraway look in her soft, green eyes and a half-smile on her full, pouty lips. (Full paragraph of lip description intentionally left out.)

Yes, well . . . anyway. Tell me, who is the best cabinet-maker in the village?”

That would be, Olava. Take a left as you leave, and go down about a quarter-mile, you can’t miss it.”

Thank you, Bertrice. You’ve been very helpful, and don’t worry, I’ll get your name right.”

She flashed him a bright smile as he went up to his room for the night.

#

In the morning, Daav made his way to Olava’s shop and went in, the door jangling a little bell as he entered. The first thing Daav noticed was the china cabinet set directly opposite the entrance. It’s large glass doors were etched with beautiful scroll-work, matched on the wood of the cabinet, and all of it inlaid with fine, golden filigree. All of the furniture on display shone with the same warm, rich glow as Goliass’s, and the attention to detail was every bit as intricate. (Ha! Take that, describy writer persons.) Daav knew right away he’d come to the right place.

A woman, Olava he presumed, emerged through an off-centered curtain on the far wall, probably from her workshop. “May I help you?” she asked.

Not really,” Daav replied, “but I think I can help you. Would you be in need of an apprentice for your business?”

I might be. Who are you?”

Oh, I’m sorry. My name is Daav. Daav Id.”

Why is that name familiar? No matter, you are the first stranger to ever want to stay here. That in itself is worth consideration.”

No, no,” Daav said, raising his hands. “It’s not me. There’s someone I’d like you to meet. It won’t take long and I think you’ll be impressed.”

It took a little more persuading but he finally talked Olava into closing her shop and accompanying him. A short time later they arrived at the giant’s abode.

Holy crows,” Olava said, “that’s a big tent.”

There’s a big man inside, but that’s not what I brought you to see. Well, actually, he is, but not until after you’ve seen his stuff.”

What?”

Never mind. It’s hard to explain. Just follow me and you’ll understand.” Daav turned and called out to the unseen occupant, “Hello, my friend. I’ve brought you a visitor.”

Goliass welcomes,” a deep voice called back.

Olava tried to pull away as Daav turned to enter. “It’s all right,” he said. “He’s expecting me and he’s perfectly civilized when you give him a chance to be.”

Once they got inside, Daav stood back and watched awe chase the fear out of Olava’s eyes. She ignored everyone and everything except the furniture. She examined the detail, the fit and finish and the craftsmanship like a child in a candy shop. Daav wandered over to Goliass while she was engrossed in the furnishings. “Glad to see you’re clothed,” he said.

Goliass not used to this. Why you bring her?” the giant asked as he watched the woman examine his work.

She likes to make things out of wood, too. I think you might have some things to talk about.”

What things?”

Daav sighed inwardly, but answered anyway. “She could use some help in her shop, you could use some help fitting in.”

Ahhh. Goliass sees now. You are good friend to Goliass.”

Plus, it makes for a good story,” Daav said with a wink. When he left, the two were busily comparing notes on various ways to do such and such, and this and that and all sorts of things he didn’t understand, but they seemed to be having fun. He bade them farewell and returned to Capital City to write his story.

#

The Meme Harold Issue Number Seventy-Three:

Summer: Two A. G. *

A Giant Among Men – by: Daav IdBerry

I’m not making this up. I’ve often heard the term ‘He’s a giant among men’ but I have never before had to take it literally until I visited a village called ‘Wood Stock’. Most ‘giants among men’ really aren’t—they’re just men running around among other men. They do seem to get more done than ordinary men, but I don’t really see how that qualifies them as giants.

In the village of Wood Stock, however, there really is a ‘giant among men’. I mean, this guy is huge, monstrous, immense, very large, like nearly nine feet tall . . . in other words, a giant. More about him later.

First, let me tell you about the village of Wood Stock. Yes, I know that’s an odd name for a village, but I didn’t name it, so don’t blame me. It has a lot of men behaving oddly. All of them, in fact, but that’s not really a selling point.

It does, however, also have a cozy little inn run by a pleasant woman named Bertrice—I know I spelled it right because she made sure of that—and a giant named Goliass who likes to build furniture. I swear I’m not making this up.

It turns out Wood Stock and Goliass were made for each other, since all of the men in the village do nothing but chop down trees all day, every day, and the giant likes to build things.

Personally, I have nothing against chopping down trees; I’ve never trusted them anyway, always standing there so silent and stoic. It makes me feel like they’re plotting something insidious. Making it one’s life’s work, however, not to mention an entire village’s life’s work, is taking it a little far.

All of the shops and businesses in the village are run by the women, since the men go out chopping all day. Even the farms were worked by the women and younger children. In the entire area, there was only one other man, besides myself, who did not run out to chop wood with the rising of the sun. That man was the giant, Goliass. If you think I’m making this up, you are mistaken.

As many of you might assume, Goliass was made fun of often when he was young, but we’re not going to do that here. This ‘giant of a man’ is one of the best furniture makers I have ever met. He was, however, too busy tipping over woodpiles to show anyone his handiwork, though he had no qualms against showing people anything else. He was, in fact, one of a very few people who wasn’t busy scratching himself, and I think there is another story there, but that will have to wait until I get my greatest interview.

As for the ‘scratching thing’, I haven’t figured that out yet. It tickles my mind though. I think it may be a lead to the story I’m looking for, something about crotch itch, I’m betting. I don’t know if I’m making this up or not.

Sometimes clues lead you to unexpected places. Well, that’s odd. Waxing philosophical is not something I’m known for. Waxing my wife’s exposed areas, oops, wait, I promised not to mention that.

Where was I? Oh yeah, Goliass wasn’t such a bad guy, just misunderstood. How many of you were picked on at an early age, perhaps six-months or so. All the other babies were eying you, plotting against you, and you knew it.

Oh come on, you know I’m not making this up. They had their cliques and you, being a few months behind, got left out. I know it pissed me off. I swear it’s true. I told the doc so that first day. I distinctly remember that. Did I say this was not about me? I’m sure I did somewhere.

Anyway, once I saw the craftsmanship Goliass was capable of, I found the village cabinet-maker and talked her into visiting the giant. Perhaps Gismo had a hand in this and perhaps He didn’t. I’m still hoping to find out.

So, that is the end of a happily-ever-after story. Goliass now works with Olava, and is accepted by the villagers. And he’d better watch his huge ass, because the proprietress of the only inn in Wood Stock surely is. I swear I’m still not making this up.

I never did discover why the men develop an urge to chop down trees in their teens, it’s even more mysterious than the crotch-itch epidemic. I wonder if they’re related.

As for myself, I will continue writing these bi-yearly stories until I get my dream story, an interview with Gismo.

* A. G. = After Gismo

 

4 – Dannil in the Liar’s Den < Go to                                        Go to > Tower of Babble

4 – Dannil in the Liar’s Den

Brrrrrrrrrring, went the annoying alarm. “Wha? Huh? Who?” Xyxyx muttered, rubbing a couple of galaxies, which He’d named Mario and Luigi, from sleep-heavy eyes. He stretched lazily (or the universe expanded, or something) and was glad His bunions hadn’t yet discovered there were other galaxies in the universe, or they would probably name them something else. They were always misnaming things.

One thing was for sure, existence was far more interesting since He created them. They were a pain in the *censored*, and Amos gave Him headaches, but they constantly amazed and surprised Him. He sat up (or something) and found His Amos-induced migraine was gone. He also found a large, coiled serpent staring him in the eyes as if trying to hypnotize him.

Sssss,” it said.

Stop it,” Xyxyx replied. “What are you doing here?”

Nice universe. What is it with you needing everything to be round?”

Stay away from my universe. Last time, you ruined it before I ever got to play with it. You turned all of my peanuts into cubes, and all of my hamsters into pyramids. I don’t even count that one, anymore.”

I thought they made a nice contrast. It was certainly more original than this sphere deal you have going on.” Sssss twisted his head around every which way, trying to pierce the veil of his twin brother’s pretend bedroom. It took a god-like eye to see it, (fortunately Sssss had one) but there, at the very edge of perception, Xyxyx’s bedpost was, in reality, a pulsar.

I’m impressed,” Sssss said, smiling in approval. Xyxyx nodded his thanks but said nothing, waiting for Sssss to state his true business. “By the way,” Sssss asked after a long silence, “why do all of your creatures call you Gismo?”

Just a misunderstanding. My fault, really. I told him to make something up.”

There seem to have been several misunderstandings, of late,” Sssss noted.

Mmm,” Xyxyx mumbled, then narrowed his eyes. “How do you know what they call me? You’ve already been messing with my universe, haven’t you? I’m warning you, leave my universe alone.”

Or what?”

Xyxyx turned away to study a column-like nebula. “If Mom and Dad hear you’ve messed up another of My universes you’ll have heck (hell having been taken by that other book) to pay. You ought to be working on your own, anyway. There are living beings in this one, so leave . . . it . . . alone.”

All right, all right.” Sssss was a study in innocence when Xyxyx faced him once more. “You seem stressed, brother,” his evil twin soothed. “Perhaps you should go see that nice Doctor Zig.”

Oooh no, I’m not falling for that one again. That’s how you got me to leave my last universe alone. Go away.”

Okay, okay, no need to get snippy,” Sssss said, teasing him as he used to do when they were just wee omnipotent beings. “I won’t mess with your precious universe.” Sssss vanished.

Just because he’s too lazy to create a universe, Xyxyx thought with a snort. (The universal effects of such a snort are far too complex to describe here, but one simple lesson can be learned from it—omnipotent beings should not snort in frustration.) I think I will go see that nice Doctor Zig after all.

Xyxyx and His illusionary bedroom vanished as if they were never there, which they weren’t. No one was there to see them vanish, anyway, but that’s a whole ’nother ball of cosmic gas.

Somewhere out in Xyxyx’s universe, Sssss smiled.

#

Dannil was bored and upset for no particular reason, a condition with which he was very familiar. He decided to do what he always did when these feelings struck and went to a pub called The Liar’s Den, one of his favorite haunts. The place was bright and airy, a little establishment where people came from all around to tell tall tales and laugh. Dannil was very well-known and liked there, having won several of their famous liar’s competitions.

There were few people in The Liar’s Den at that time of day, just the bartender, Shev, a barmaid and two other customers, Peet and Armend. Peet hailed him as he walked by their table, “Afternoon, Dannil. How’d you know we’d be here?”

Some guy told me.”

That guy’s everywhere,” Armand complained. “Did you have much trouble getting here?”

Once I defeated the undefeatable barbarian horde, slew the unslayable dragon and saved the indescribably beautiful and unsaveable maiden, it was a walk in the commons. Yourself?”

Nothing serious,” Peet said. “I just had to walk ten miles through four-feet of snow in the middle of summer while simultaneously answering these questions three and reassembling a giant egg.”

Dannil sniffed the air. “Smells more like it was four-feet of goat manure.”

Bad day to be a giant egg, also,” Armend interjected.

It’s not my fault all the king’s horses and men were on vacation,” Peet said. “Care to join us, Dannil?”

Not right now, maybe a little later. I need to think for a bit.”

Both men doubled over, holding their stomachs and laughing. “Save that one for the contest,” Armend gasped. “It’s a sure winner.”

Dannil fake laughed extra loudly and found himself a quiet table in the corner, signaling Shev to send over his usual ale. (The unusual ale was for later.) All of the tables had a stuffed and coiled cobra as a centerpiece, something Dannil had always found very odd. He thanked the serving girl when she brought his ale and awaited the arrival of the usual crowd. (The unusual crowd would in later.)

He had been lost in his thoughts for some time when a voice from nowhere asked, “Who put the bomp in the bomp-she-bomp-she-bomp?”

What?” Dannil asked, trying to look in all directions at once. “Who did the what, now?” The voice sounded like it was right in front of him, but there was nobody there.

You heard me,” came a response. “Shall I repeat the question?”

Wha . . . no. It wasn’t me. I didn’t do it,” Dannil said, recovering quickly. His eyes bulged when he noticed it was the snake speaking. He couldn’t have been more surprised if his own butt had said hello. “Who are you?”

Sssss,” the cobra said.

Now you’re going to hiss at me?”

No, you idiot. That’s my name. I’m the brother of your omnipotent creator.” Dannil could almost see ‘quotey fingers’ in the air when the snake said omnipotent.

Ohh, maaaan,” Dannil moaned. “We’re not supposed to talk to you. It’s one of the Ten Rules.”

You’re already talking to me,” Sssss pointed out.

I am not. I was framed. You tricked me.”

Of course I did, it’s how I operate. So, what’s the penalty for talking to me?”

Seven years bad luck and a severe case of crotch itch.”

Ouch, that’s pretty harsh. I didn’t know Xyxyx had it in him.”

Who?”

Sorry, Gismo . . . I meant Gismo.”

A thought occurred to Dannil. “Hey, why do I actually hear you? Amos said Gismo only talks to him in his head.”

Gismo likes playing the mysterious, omnipotent being. Personally, I think he’s a ham. I prefer the direct approach.”

If you’re Gismo’s brother, does that make you a god too? Amos said Gismo is the only one.”

It’s complicated, but unless you believe talking, stuffed snakes are normal, Amos was wrong.” The stuffed snake twisted and posed for effect. “Like my hood?”

Sure, it’s nice. The epitome of hoodness. I talk to dead snakes all the time. Everyone does. Quite common, really. What do you want with me?”

Isn’t it obvious?”

Yes.”

Then why did you . . . ah, I see . . . very droll. You were doing that lying thing, weren’t you?”

No.”

I can see, Sssss thought irritably, why these creatures give Xyxyx so many headaches. “I want you to be my minio . . . ah, I mean, prophet.”

We already have a prophet,” Dannil replied, “and a Creator. Why do we need two?”

You don’t need two,” Sssss said slowly, hoping the imbecile would understand. “With you as my mi . . . prophet, we could take control of this universe from Gismo and Amos.”

That would be lovely,” Dannil lied. “Why don’t you create your own universe?”

What are you, crazy? Do you know how long that takes?”

Two . . . three hundred years, I guess.”

Sssss almost choked. “Well, it’s somewhat longer than that. Besides, I’d rather try to take this one. It’s much more fun, and if I can’t do it with you, I’ll get someone else.”

Dannil had been thinking about it since it became clear where the conversation was going. He decided he was already in enough trouble. “As fun as that sounds, I feel I must decline.”

Dannil tilted his head in thought for a moment, then added one last lie. “Good luck.”

Sssss,” the cobra hissed before returning to its lifeless stare.

That was odd, Dannil thought as several loud men entered and joined Peet and Armend at their table. Why would he tell me his name again before leaving? Ah well, who can know why gods do what they do?

As a self-invitation to their table, Dannil ordered a round of ale for the newcomers and his friends, who were swapping fish tales, not all of which involved fish, while holding their hands far apart above their heads.

We have you surrounded,” he said forcefully to the table as he seated himself. “Do you surrender?” Dannil glared at the table, which refused to resist, then looked at the others. “Let me tell you about this stuffed snake I was just talking to.”

The lying and laughing continued into the early morning hours.

#

So,” Doctor Zig said as Xyxyx plopped himself onto the metaphorical couch, “tell me what’s troubling you this time. Are your bunions bothering you again?”

Always,” Xyxyx sighed. “It’s like they have a mind of their own, or something. But it’s more than that this time. My evil twin is back, and I just know he wants to mess up my universe again.”

I see.” Docter Zig rolled a gas giant planet into a long, thin tube. The end glowed as he puffed and held his breath. “Tell me about this evil twin of yours,” he squeaked as he tried to hold in a couple of coughs. “What makes you think he’s evil? Snrk, snrk.”

Well, he told me so. He ruined my first universe before I ever got to play with it. Now he’s back and he wants to wreck this one too. I can just tell.”

Mmm hmm, mmm hmm. And what is this evil twin’s name?”

Sssss.”

Now, now, my man. There’s no need to hiss at me.”

I’m not, I’m not. That’s his name.”

Ah, yes. I see. Well, go on then.”

There’s not much more to it.” Xyxyx sighed, then continued, growing more and more agitated with every word. “The whole of his existence has been devoted to ruining everything . . . every . . . single . . . thing . . . I DO! You know, the usual sibling stuff. I know he’s going to try something, I just don’t know what.”

Well then. Let me tell you what I think.”

By the time the session finally ended, Doctor Zig had Xyxyx convinced his evil twin was really just a manifestation of his own self-doubt coupled with many serious self-image issues and a superiority complex, which only made him doubt what he doubted he was supposed to doubt. (Or something like that.)

Thank you for your time, doctor,” Xyxyx said, “but I have to be getting back and see what my bunions have been up to.” The young omnipotent being left even more confused than when he had arrived, although he had a sneaking feeling Doctor Zig was full of *censored*.

Doctor Zig was having a self-congratulatory drink when Sssss arrived. “Who are you?” the doctor asked.

Sssss.”

Now, now, my boy. There is no neeee . . .”

Doctor Zig trailed off as Sssss threw himself onto the couch and dove right into his problems. “My stupid brother must be insane,” he said. “Who would create a universe with no evil creatures? I asked thousands of those stupid bunions, and not a single one wanted to seize Xyxyx’s universe with me. Over and over and over they refused. What is wrong with those things? I mean, c’mon man . . .”

Doctor Zig was no longer listening. He was, instead, staring at his still smoking roll-up and wondering if there was something different about this new gaseous planet.

He took another toke and paid very close attention to his newest patient.

#

Dannil was just calling it a night, stumbling out the door of The Liar’s Den, when he heard a voice in his head.

Dannil.

Whaaat?” he slurred. “I din doot. Whoo ooze there?”

It’s Gismo, Dannil. You’ve been a bad boy.

I wash frammed. Wadya mean?”

You’ve been talking to Sssss. That is forbidden.

Dannil sobered quickly. “He tricked me. I didn’t know it was him.”

I know, Dannil. That’s his way. Ignorance of those ways is no excuse. You should know better than to talk to a stuffed snake.

Yessir. Hey! How come you’re talking to me? I thought Amos was your prophet.”

He is. He’s the only one who can make pronouncements in my name. I can, however, speak to anyone I choose. I have many more yet to visit. Since you refused to help my brother I will be lenient. You will not have seven years of bad luck.

Thank you, sir,” Dannil replied, scratching himself as he staggered home.

There was no reply.

 

3 – A List of Ten Rules < Go to                                                      Go to > Daav Id and Goliass

3 – A List of Ten Rules Not to be Broken

When Xyxyx awoke from His nap several millennia later, He felt much better. How long that would last He didn’t know, since He had to go deal with Amos again. Napping for that long could have put his newly chosen Madman in a bit of a dicey situation, Amos would have been waiting quite a long time for Xyxyx to return. In fact, Amos and many subsequent generations would have been long dead. Luckily for Amos, Xyxyx was not only everywhere, He was also everywhen.

By the time He returned to His peanut, which the bunions called a planet, He already knew the story Amos had made up, and He knew that they were now calling Him Gismo. ‘What is it,’ He wondered once again, ‘with these creatures and their always getting names wrong?’

Knowing full well that trying to find out why Amos called Him Gismo would only give Him another headache, Xyxyx decided to let it pass and just get right to His list. He found Amos leading a prayer to the great god, Gismo, and sighed inwardly.

Amos, He said in the bunion’s head, it’s time for you to come back up the hill. I have things to tell you.

People,” Amos announced, “Gismo, is back.”

Yay!” they all cheered, waving their arms around like happy green frogs.

I must go back up the hill to receive His words of wisdom. Are there any questions you wish me to ask of Him?”

Four hours later, Amos trudged up the hill with several hundred pages of questions handed to him by the people.

What took you so long? Xyxyx asked when Amos arrived.

The people,” Amos said, waving a thick sheaf of papers at empty air, “have many questions they wish me to ask of you.”

Those can wait. First, I have a list of Ten Rules not to be Broken. Write these down. I don’t want any misunderstandings this time.

Okay,” Amos said. “Do you have a pencil?” he asked, having forgotten to bring one.

Why would I have a large, ferocious cat?

What?”

What, what?

Amos was confused. “I was just wondering if you had something to write with.”

No, I do not have something to write with. Zeeje. Look, Amos, I don’t care if you chisel them into stone tablets with your teeth, just write them down. The bunion was giving him a headache, already. ‘What is it with these creatures?’ He thought to Himself.‘Where did I go wrong?’

Amos did not much like the idea of using his teeth to write with, so he went back down the hill, got a pencil and returned.

Are you ready now? Xyxyx asked in mounting frustration.

Yes,” Amos replied. “I think so. What happens if we break these rules?”

You’ll get seven years bad luck and a severe case of crotch itch.

Ouch. Isn’t that rather harsh?”

Maybe, but these are my rules and I decide the punishments. Let’s get to it then. Number Ten: No running beside the pool.

What’s a pool?” Amos asked in puzzlement.

Never mind. Some will make sense now, others will become clear later.

Okay, but I thought these rules would be things like, ‘Don’t kill each other’ or something.”

Those are obvious things, Amos. I shouldn’t have to tell you that. I did give you minds, after all. Killing each other is impolite, unpleasant and permanent. No one has ever survived death. At least, not yet. Now, Number Nine: Always remember your anniversary, so you will continue to have one.

Remember anniversary. Got it.”

Write it out fully, Amos. You don’t get to take notes now and write it in your own words later.

Yes, sir,” Amos said, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

Xyxyx sighed again. His headache was getting worse and He’d only gotten through two rules. There were eight more to go. Number Eight: He said. Do not destroy my peanut. This peanut, and everything on this peanut, including you, is mine.

Got it. Don’t eat peanuts.”

No, no, no. Do not destroy the big round ball you’re living on.

Ohhh . . . don’t destroy the planet. I thought you said peanut.”

Xyxyx rolled his eyes in frustration. Call it whatever you want, He said, just don’t destroy it. Number Seven: Do not talk to the surfer.

Amos’ eyes widened in surprise, “He’s real? I thought I just made him up.”

You did make him up, though he’s real enough anyway. He’s not really a surfer, I just thought I should use a term you know. He’s really my evil twin and sometimes appears in the form of a snake. His name is Sssss. Do not talk to him.

Got it. Don’t talk to the surfer.”

Number Six: Never set out to sea on anything designed to sink, no matter what color they are.

That was another shock for Amos. “Who would be foolish enough to design a boat to purposely sink?”

Trust me, someone will. I probably won’t give him seven years bad luck, he’s going to have enough problems, but I will visit the crotch itch upon him and he’ll deserve it. Number Five: Always wear black socks and sandals with Bermuda shorts, especially when you get older.

We’ve already been obeying that one. Next.”

Number Four: Do not fold, spindle or mutilate.

What does that mean?”

You’ll know when the time comes. These next few apply mostly to men. Number Three: Always read the instructions before assembling anything.

Ack, I’ll have my ‘man card’ revoked for that one.”

Nevertheless you will put it on the list. They’re going to like the next one even less. Number Two: Always ask for directions when you’re lost.

What!” Amos choked, hacking and sputtering on his own inhaled spit.

You heard me. Write it down. And, the Number One Rule not to be Broken is . . . Never remove that tag from a mattress.

You’re killing us here! There’s nothing fun left to do.”

You’ll find other things. Now, what are those questions you mentioned?

There are a lot of them,” Amos said, waving the papers at nothing once more.

One at a time, Amos. I’m just a single Omnipotent Being after all.

Amos paged through the the stack, tossing away ones he didn’t like, and muttering to himself as he looked for the good ones. “Nope, not that one.” Flip, flutter. “Or that one.” Rustle. “What happens when we die? Pfft.” Crackle, crackle. “Okay. First question is: What happened to the other gods?”

Xyxyx was astounded. The bunion ignored ‘What’s after death’ for this? Oh for Me’s sake, Amos! He exclaimed. There are no other gods. There never were. You made them up!

But, but,” Amos stuttered, “I made up the surfer, too, and he’s real.”

Hhuuuuuhhh! Xyxyx breathed in mounting frustration. A stiff breeze whippeded Amos’ hair and clothes around. Sssss was already real before you made him up. The other gods are . . . were . . . aaargh . . . never were. You made them up to explain things you didn’t understand, but now I’ve explained it to you. It was all Me.

Ahhh . . . I see now.”

Do you?

Amos paused. “Err . . . no. Not really.”

Tough. Next question.

Amos shuffled through the papers some more looking for another question he liked. Finally he found one submitted by some guy. (There he is again.)

Is it okay for us to masturbate?”

Of course. Xyxyx laughed. Why would I give you such a simple way of pleasing yourself and then deny it to you? Do you think you’ll go blind or something? Like looking directly into the hamster?

The what?”

The round, yellow, glowing thing up there.

Oh. The sun.”

Whatever. Next.

It took several days to get through all of the questions, but eventually they did. Xyxyx had a migraine by the time it was over and Amos returned to the people, so the young omnipotent entity decided He needed a good long nap.

Reading the new list out loud brought Amos the expected reward; there was much groaning and grumbling. Once he passed out the questions and everybody had read everybody else’s, they realized that Gismo was, indeed, a benevolent God after all, and there were still many ways to have fun.

They all went home to please themselves and live happily ever after.

 

2 – Exorcist < Go to                                                          Go to > 4 – Dannil in the Liar’s Den

2 – Exorcist

Amos made his way down to where he’d had the people gather to hear his stunning news, thinking furiously the whole time. What story do I tell them when the inevitable question comes? he thought. How do you tell people that God, any God, has spoken to you without them thinking you’re crazy? How do I explain why it took so long for Him to make His presence known?

The question had been bothering him ever since Xyxyx first told him to “Make something up.” And, so far, he still had no answer. Did someone do something long ago that made God leave?

. . .

Hey, he thought. Now there’s an idea.

Amos smiled inwardly as the idea took shape.

#

The buzz from the crowd gathered below was constant and loud, sounding for all the world like a swarm of locusts planning its next meal. The thought sent shivers down Amos’ spine, bringing up images of pestilence and omnivorousness. He shook off the feeling and raised his arms to call for silence. One at a time, the locusts stopped plotting and turned to listen.

What’s the deal, Amos?” Odd Har called from nearby. They called him Odd Har because had issues and he always asked irrelevant questions. “Why are we all here?”

Amos’ voice rang out over the crowd as he replied, “Give me a chance, will you? Did you think I would call you all here and then not tell you why? Zeeje.”

What’s a Zeeje?” Dannil asked, likely wishing to use the term in his next embellishment.

Nothing. Never mind. The reason I called you all here is because I had a visitation from God yesterday.”

Which one?” This from several people at once.

He says He’s the only one; there are no others and we have to stop sacrificing things to beings that don’t exist.”

What!” the crowd roared before several questions came from different sources. “How will we appease the gods? What will we sacrifice to them? Why is it only you hear Him? Who framed Roger Rabbit? Why is everything so expensive, especially coffee and donuts?”

Haven’t you been listening?” Amos yelled back. “There are no other gods. There is only One and He doesn’t want sacrifices. I don’t know why He chose me. It was Judge Doom. You really ought to study up on supply and demand.”

How do we know there are no other gods?” asked some guy. (There’s always ‘some guy.’)

Have you ever seen one?” Amos asked.

Well . . . no. Did you see yours?”

Nooo. But He did talk to me. Did any of your gods talk to you?”

Yes,” Har replied. “Many ti . . .”

Shut up, Har,” several people yelled, well aware of his many odd problems.

What’s His name?” Root asked calmly, bringing Amos back to the present. She’d always been considered the soul of kindness.

What?” Amos asked in confusion. “Who?”

The God that only you can hear. What’s His name?”

Oh,” Amos said. “Yeah. He said His name is Google, I think. Or maybe Gismo. Yeah, that’s it, Gismo.”

Why haven’t we heard from Him before?” Root pressed, continuing to pose the right questions.

I’m glad you asked,” Amos said. “Sit down and relax, everyone. I have a story to tell you.”

Aaaaargh,” they all groaned, but made themselves comfortable, anyway. If this was anything like a typical Amos story, it was going to be a long one.

Long, long ago, before there even was a history, there was a beautiful garden paradise where everything was perfect, and the pencil would lie down with the olive.”

What?” Root interrupted. “What did you say?”

I said, ‘Where the lion would lie down with the lamb’. Why? What did you think I said?”

Nothing,” Root said. “Forget it. Go on.”

Okay, right. Anyway, in this paradise, which was called, ahhh . . . ahhh . . . Valdera . . .”

Why was it called that?” Har interrupted.

I don’t know. Who can know the mind of God? In this garden paradise Gismo placed the first man and He called him Edam. It was always warm in Valdera, and since there was no lack for food, Edam was a happy wanderer. Gismo had other great works to attend to, so he left Edam alone. During Gismo’s absence, Edam met a surfer, who was all smooth and silvery, in the garden.”

I heard he was a salesman,” Har said.

Shut up, Har!” everyone shouted.

Amos rolled his eyes and waited to make sure he would stay silent. Only Odd Har could hear contradictory rumors about a made-up story. Finally he went on.

The surfer spoke to Edam, and there was much power in his voice. ‘Dude, you know, like, you’re really getting hosed here, man.’”

“‘What do you mean?’ Edam asked.”

“‘Check it out, dude,’ the sly one replied. ‘All of the other animals are, like, being fruitful and multiplying and you’re all alone, dude. No little dudes and dudettes running around. You’re in dire need of some companionship of the female persuasion, if you get my drift.’”

“‘No, I don’t.’ Edam replied. ‘What’s a female?’”

“‘Duude. That’s just heinous. You need to have a serious talk with your maker and ask Him for a companion. But, like, be careful how you ask. I heard some guy lost a rib that way.’”

I heard that too,” some guy said, interrupting the story.

Amos looked around to see who said that, but saw only a multitude of innocent expressions. He shook his head and continued.

“‘Thanks for the suggestion,’ Edam said with a smile.

Edam, however, was very young and naive, and he did not see that his new friend’s return smile was anything but benevolent.” (The flash of light off of one perfect tooth is a dead giveaway.)

“‘Hey, like, no problem, dude,’ the surfer replied with an evil glint in his eye. ‘Good karma to you.’”

Does this story have a point?” Root interrupted. (Even a soul of kindness can become impatient.)

I’m getting there,” Amos said. “Be patient. Where was I? Oh, yeah. When Gismo returned from his mighty works to check on Edam He found His creation very melancholy. ‘What is troubling you?’ He asked.”

“‘I am lonely, my Lord,’ Edam replied, ‘for I have no companion with whom to share the wonders of this paradise.’”

“‘Is that all?’ Gismo said. ‘You needed only to ask.’”

“‘This isn’t going to cost me a rib or anything, is it?’”

“‘Where did you get that idea?’”

“‘The surfer told me.’”

“‘Oh, him. Hmmm. He’s always butting his nose into my universes. I’m going to have to do something about him. To answer your question, no. I created you from nothing, I can do it again. Perhaps I should give this one a bit more common sense.’

And so Gismo created woman, naming her Ave, and life in Valdera was good. Edam and Ave skipped happily over hill and dale, holding hands and singing happy wanderer tunes. Gismo had more great works to attend to, and it was not long before the surfer appeared to Ave while Edam was off hunting the elusive wild strawberries.” (Which were merely elusive, not forbidden, and didn’t become a permanent physical feature, unlike that other fruit.)

“‘Dudette,’ he said, ‘I see Edam took my advice. You are a comely lass, aren’t you?’”

“‘Oh my,’ Ave replied, blushing at the compliment. ‘You do have the serpent’s own tongue, don’t you?’”

“‘Indeed I do. Come with me,’ the surfer said, ‘and I’ll, like, show you what else I have.’”

“‘Oh no. I can’t do that. Edam is my mate and I must remain true.’”

“‘Well, you can’t blame a dude for trying. Just to show there are, like, no hard feelings, let me teach you a song. You can teach it to Edam when the dude gets back and you’ll have something to share together.’”

“‘That would be wonderful. Thank you.’”

“‘Think nothing of it,’ the surfer answered with a wink, and proceeded to teach Ave the song, which she later taught to Edam.”

When Gismo returned from His great works and found them singing, He was outraged. ‘Why are you singing the forbidden song?’ He roared at them.” (If it’s not one forbidden thing, it’s another.)

They stopped singing and clutched each other in trembling fear at their Lord’s wrath. ‘W . . . we did not know it was forbidden,’ Edam stammered.”

“‘Did I not tell you?’ Gismo replied. ‘Oops. Well, no matter, ignorance of the rules is no excuse. You are banished from this garden paradise, never to return, and you will no longer be hearing from me. I am sorely displeased.’”

What was the forbidden song?” Dannil asked. Details were important for his tales.

The name of the artist has been lost in time, but some scholars believe the song was called, ‘You’re Having My Baby.’”

Ewwwww,” the crowd cried as one. “No wonder they were thrown out.”

Indeed. With that, Edam and Ave found themselves in a place unlike any they had seen before. It was cold and lonely and they found themselves naked, which they had not noticed before. This created unusually strong desires they’d never experienced, but first things first.

Once they’d learned to clothe themselves and forage for food, they got back around to the other thing, which led to begetting. In time Edam and Ave begot Ain and Cable, whose descendants would go on to revolutionize television.”

What’s television?” Root asked.

I don’t know,” Amos said, “but I hear it’s going to be good. Anyway, Ain and Cable found wives of their own, though no one knows where they came from, and soon begot more children. Those children continued the tradition and begot more children after they grew up, and it wasn’t long before everybody was begetting all over the place, and it was fun. Except, of course, when it came to the actual begetting part. Then, the women screamed ‘Aaaaaaaargh!’ the babies cried ‘Waaaaaah!’ and the men ran away shouting, ‘Oh my God, ewwwwwww, I can’t watch that!’

It was one of the last times that God was mentioned until now, as His memory faded and was replaced by other legends. But, now He has returned and we must await the word of Gismo and let His wisdom guide us.” (Boy, were they in for a surprise.)

And so they bowed their heads and waited for the great god, Gismo.

#

After a while, they all looked around at each other with sheepish expressions on their faces, then went home to wait.

 

1 – Genassist  < Go to                                                                  Go to > 3 – A List of Ten Rules

1 – Genassist

At the onset, there was lightlessness (darkness having been taken by some other book) and Xyxyx looked at the lightlessness and saw that it was adequate. There were many things within the lightlessness but they could not be seen, and Xyxyx enjoyed bumping into these things and trying to figure out what they were. He soon tired of this game, however, when He discovered that He already knew what they were before He bumped into them. Such were the drawbacks of being an omnipotent and omniscient entity.

It wasn’t long before a new idea came to Him, and Xyxyx said, “Let there be not dark.” (light having already been taken by that other book) and there was not dark. In fact, there was quite a lot of not dark, His universe essentially having gone—

BANG!(Some say it was a big bang, but one could argue it was just the right size.)

Oooops,” He said.

Xyxyx, now having to wait a few million millennia while His universe expanded and cooled, relaxed. (That damn book is still taking all the best words.)

#

He had barely gotten to the good part of His dream, where His universe and everything in it was perfect, when His alarm woke him with a start.

Uh . . . huh . . . who . . .” He stammered, snorting and rubbing His eyes. “Already?”

Looking out at the magnificence of His universe, He could see that it was, indeed, time for the next step. Billions upon billions of stars had coalesced and gathered themselves and their children into familial clusters, each separate and unique, yet also alike in certain ways. Some had formed more quickly than others, and there were distinct differences. Some were spiral, some were elliptical and some were irregular, but they were all beautiful.

So engrossed was He in His new creation that several hundred thousand millennia passed before He noticed that, for all its blazing glory and violent beauty, His universe was strangely silent. There was no life. (Some say this is where real beginnings versus theoretical beginnings differ, but readers should not trouble themselves over such things.)

Xyxyx searched His new universe for just the right place, the perfect place where He could begin the next phase of His grand design. A tiny, blue, insignificant world circling a small, yellow sun proved to be exactly what He was looking for. Magnificent in its simple beauty, it was teaming with all the orgasmic (no, wait . . . that’s organic . . . yeah, organic) material necessary for life to flourish.

And Xyxyx created all of the fowl in the seas, all of the beasts in the air and all of the fish on the land, but most of them fared poorly. (It is, however, a possible explanation for penguins, flying squirrels and walking fish, although nothing adequately explains marsupials.) Rearranging the creatures with their environments a few times finally gave Xyxyx the results He was looking for, and they began to prosper and multiply. (Insert math joke here.) When He saw that they would continue, He relaxed.

#

During the eons that He relaxed the creatures adapted and grew. When His alarm finally went off once more, Xyxyx snorted and grunted and rubbed His eyes. For epochs He listened to the mindless commotion these new creatures made and He was pleased. Well, not pleased so much as annoyed. For all the noise they made, none of them marveled at the beauty surrounding them; none of them wondered what the lights in the night sky might be.

Xyxyx labored, once more, over what was to be His finest creation, (or so he thought) giving them hands with which to build things, eyes with which to see the beauty around them, legs with which to explore, and, most importantly, minds with which to appreciate these things (big mistake). Then He relaxed some more.

#

When He again awoke to that bothersome alarm, His new creatures were still little more than the rest of the beasts, yet they had begun to cooperate. They gathered in packs, built dwellings, herded animals and grew tasty crops. When they got good at these things they found leisure time to devote to their surroundings.

The creatures, which Xyxyx called bunions, called themselves humans, and having named themselves, decided to name everything else. But the names they chose were not the same as the names Xyxyx had chosen. The huge, ferocious hunting cats for example, which Xyxyx called pencils, the bunions called lions. And the white, woolly, baby beasts that Xyxyx called olives, the bunions called lambs.(And so on.) No, no, no, Xyxyx raged within. They’re getting it all wrong.

Still, they created beautiful drawings and paintings, which showed an appreciation of the wonders around them. And they carved stunning objects from stone, wood and other materials, so Xyxyx was inclined to forgive them for the misnaming of things. And the beauty of their art made Him smile . . . most of the time. (There were some aspects He was hesitant to call ‘art.’)

In time the bunions noticed the lights in the sky, and Xyxyx was well pleased they had discovered the rest of His creation. That is, until they saw shapes in the sky and named them. Three stars, low in the east, they named ‘The Three Orphans’ and that was not so bad; Xyxyx could see that. But how could a jumbled array of twenty-two stars be called ‘The Frankfurter?’ What the *censored* is a frankfurter? He wondered. He could only shake His head and smile at the oddities of His new beings.

If the naming of shapes in the sky amused Him, (and it did) the explanations they came up with for the world around them made Xyxyx laugh outright.

When the ground trembled they thought giant, cold, shivery molemen (or possibly molegods) were burrowing underground, which made sense since burrowing, for the most part, took place below ground.

Each day, the bunions thought a sunfish swam across the sky, which also made sense because some fish could fly and the bunions couldn’t name things properly, anyway.

Huge waves were caused by an enormous merman (or mergod) frolicking in the ocean, and it was dangerous to leave sight of land because the world was as flat as a watery pancake and the mermangod might throw you off. This was considered unacceptable.

All of these things were laughable to Xyxyx until the bunions made sacrifices to these manfishgods. (Don’t ask.) He chose one from among the bunions, a greying and well-respected man called Amos Mosey, to speak to.

Amos, He said inside the creature’s head.

Amos looked up from his reverie, then around at the empty countryside. Seeing nothing, he shook his head and continued his slow, contemplative stroll across his favorite meadow.

Amos, Xyxyx repeated.

What?” Amos looked more resigned than frightened or confused by a bodiless voice. He hadn’t even stopped walking this time. Xyxyx had to give him credit for that.

We need to talk.

Who are you and why can’t I see you? You’re not a god are you? That’s all we need is another one of those.”

One thing Xyxyx was sure about, Amos wouldn’t be easy to intimidate. I am The Creator, Amos. The One, the ‘only’ One, and I want you to tell your people to stop sacrificing things to beings that don’t exist.

Amos considered that for a moment. “How do we know they don’t exist?”

If you can’t see them . . . they don’t exist.

I can’t see sound,” Amos noted.

That’s different.

How?”

Xyxyx was already wondering if he should choose someone more tractable, but decided not to. A little skepticism was a good thing. You can hear sound, Amos, and see what made it.

I hear you, but I can’t see you. Maybe I’m talking to me.”

Trust Me on this . . . you’re not. This is Me, Xyxyx replied. I am Xyxyx, the Omniscient and Omnipresent, your All-Loving Creator. I made everything, I am everything and I want you to tell your people about Me.

If the other gods aren’t real, how do I know you are?”

Xyxyx sighed in mounting exasperation, growing frustrated with this creature’s obstinance. There was such a thing as too much skepticism. Because I’m talking to you, as I’ve already mentioned. How many of your other made-up beings have done that?

Amos paused, rubbing his chin as he contemplated further argueme . . . er . . . discussion. “Well,” he began as he thought about mentioning Odd Har and his voices, then changed his mind and shook his head firmly. “Why me?” he asked.

You are to be My Madman.

Well, it shouldn’t be difficult to convince people of that. I am talking to air after all.”

What?

Err . . . what’s a Madman?”

He . . . you are the person who hears what the One, that is Me, has to say and tells everyone else what the One, Me again, has said.

Oh . . . you mean, Prophet.”

Xyxyx almost groaned with pent up aggravation over these bunions misnaming of things. Fine. Whatever. Look, just tell them to stop sacrificing living things. I am God and I don’t like it or want it. Got it?

Okay, okay. Zeeje.”

What’s a Zeeje?

I don’t know. I just made it up.”

Hmmm, Xyxyx mumbled, filing the name away for use at a future date. Just tell them to stop it.

What if we don’t?”

Then I will visit plague and pestilence upon all of you. He wouldn‘t really. It was an empty threat, but the bunion didn‘t need to know that.

I thought you said you were All-Knowing and All-Loving.”

Xyxyx had to admit, Mosey made a good argument. He seemed to have chosen His Madman well. I am. I’m also Omnipotent and I’m seriously considering Omnivorous.

Whoa, okay, I’ll tell them.”

Good. Thank you. I’m getting tired of this conversation.

There’s just one more, little thing.”

Make it fast. You’re giving me a headache.

Well,” Amos began calmly before screaming, “you want me to tell everybody to stop killing things with no proof at all that you exist! What, are you crazy? I’m supposed to tell them the order comes from the One, the only God that no one else can see and only I can hear? What do I tell them when they want to know why we haven’t heard from you before? They will want to know!”

Make something up. Xyxyx replied, unfazed.

Make something up? I knew it! You are crazy!”

Fine, I’m crazy. Make something up. When I come back I will have a list of Ten Rules Not to be Broken.

It took six more days of mind-numbing argument to convince the Bunion to do as he was told.

On the seventh day, He relaxed. (What the hell is the name of that damn book?)

 

Go to >  2 – Exorcist

Cryin’ Guys

Original song: Lyin’ Eyes – The Eagles

Cryin’ Guys

Parody lyrics by: R. S. Leergaard

~

GOP is going to find out early

Gonna happen here in just a while

These new women, better not call them girly

There’s way more to these gals than just a smile

~

Come what may you’ll find out this November

Better sit down there and take this sound advice

If you think they can’t, it’s best you just remember

Ignore them now and you’ll pay a fearsome price

~

Don’t look now but they have got us all believing

In a few months you’ll all be going down

‘Cause they’re tired of all this damn deceiving

Pack your bags and get the hell out of this town

~

There they are, those cryin’ guys

And their tears come as no surprise

Oh those clowns should have realized

Screw with them and you’ll be those cryin’ guys

~

No, the Women’s Movement is no longer waiting

They’re coming for you now and they’re for real

They’ve had it up to here with all the hating

Oh, and also with your false religious zeal

~

They’re rushing to this thing, they’re all together

The GOP is shocked and in denial

So let’s watch these women toss them out forever

And give them all one last sweet goodbye smile

~

Once again, those cryin’ guys

No, those tears are no surprise

So take your time and realize

You are going to be those cryin’ guys

~

See that one there, yes, she is a strong one

And that one there might once have been a guy

But in this time there are no longer wrong ones

There’s just right, and they’re reaching for the sky

~

They don’t wonder how things ever got this crazy

They’ve watched a man whose every act is cruel

The wool is gone, the world is not so hazy

To count them out would be an act of fools

~

My oh my, how they’re going to rearrange things

They’ll set them up so well, so carefully

Just get ready, ‘cause you’re gonna see some strange things

No, things won’t be the way they used to be

~

There they go, those cryin’ guys

Tossed them out on their thin behinds

And now they’ve been repaid in kind

That’s just how it feels to be cryin’ guys

They’re always gonna be those cryin’ guys

Oh yeah, there they go, those cryin’ guys