Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chapter 1

Evolution claims she spent so much time getting their brains to fit in such a small space that she really just forgot about the rest.  Others have suggested that the Dinkles are proof that Evolution has a sense of humor, because nothing so unsituated for its environment, or existence in general, could possibly have come about by accident.

(The Dinkles had been fit with all the necessary internal organs--lungs, spleens, etc.--but the Dinkles often complained that she was in too much of a hurry when she did it.  They were, as a result, the first to develop laxatives and have the world’s most complex sewer system on which they inscribed at frequent intervals, “Evoluti, hic comede”.)

Sneaux was like any other Dinkle.  He was about two inches tall and approaching spherical.  He was about as agile as whale blubber in navigating his home environment.  He, like other Dinkles, only managed to stay in the tree with a complex system of harnesses and nets that got frequent use.

But Sneaux was also somewhat unique.  He was a third son.  He was a goof. A big goof. Not on the scale of the Lucian atrocities, of course, but definitely not part of the program of population control that the Dinkles had been practicing for generations.  Not that the problem wasn’t correctable; it was correctable and Sneaux knew that it was only a matter of time until it was corrected.  Then he would find out what it was like to have his spleen explode or his lungs come out his nose—whichever happened first.  By all accounts, a lose-lose situation.


The adventures that would transform Sneaux from rotting roadkill in the eyes of his kinfolk to a legend of mythical proportions began on the day that Sneaux always assumed would be his last.  It was election day.

Sneaux struggled to get out of bed that morning.  The Dinkles did not have a penal system, let alone capital punishment, but if they had he might have thought, “This must be what people on death row feel like.”  He would have been terribly mistaken, so it is probably better that he didn’t think that.

Instead he thought, “So, this it what it feels like to wake up in the morning of the day that you will get shoved out of the tree only to have your lungs ripped from your chest and out your nose before you even hit the ground.”  He was, in this case, very accurate.

The election was at noon, but still Sneaux couldn’t force himself to wake up before eleven to enjoy his last moments alive.  He hadn’t yet enjoyed any moments of his life so far, so he didn’t really think the last moments would be any different.  Even if he had that expectation, he wouldn’t have gotten up any earlier.  He stopped battling habit soon after birth.

He threw on his leaf bib overalls and made his way towards the Hall.  He lived near the bottom—that way he would never need to risk going up at the end of the day—and the Hall was near the top.  He used a trunk ladder to climb the first 10 feet, got tired and hopped in a pulley seat and rode it the last 90 feet.

(footnote: The Dinkles take more pride in their system of pulley seats than even their sewer system.  Ropes, strewn through a system of pulleys, are tied to rocks at one end and attached to seats, like you’d find on a swing set but much longer relative to the size of a Dinkle and wooden, at the other.  Dinkles are typically expected to climb up a set of ladders built out of the tree trunk, but then will always ride down the pulley seat.  With three in the seat at once, they outweigh the rock and pull it up.  Seats could then be used if a Dinkle needed to climb in a hurry or if they were bringing bulk up with them and the weight of the rock could lift a single Dinkle with a light load all the way to the top very quickly.  Similar to the inscription on the sewer system, they etched on each seat, “Gravita, item tu”.)


Five parachutes.  Pinkle had arrived early and was anxiously inspecting them.  Pinkle, like Sneaux, was an extra.  He was a second son and third child.  But instead of accepting his fate, he decided early that he was going to beat exile.  Everyday he traveled to the edge of the branches and would take big whiffs of tainted air to “toughen his lungs”.  He decided that he didn’t need a spleen, so he went ahead and had it removed.  He was now looking for the parachute that would provide him the slowest, most reliable descent.  Sneaux noticed he had already changed into his baggy blue pajama pants, and they appeared to be stuffed with food; he considered that ridiculously optimistic.  Even if he survived the toxic air and the fall, the birds or grass monsters would eat him well before his stomach settled and he got hungry.  He was carrying a copy of Bimal's “Exile Survival Guide”.  Of course, no one had ever actually survived exile, so it was about as effective as any other self-help book.

The twins were there too, thanking everyone individually for coming to see them off on this, the best day of their lives.  Sneaux thought dryly to himself that they wouldn't be so excited if only they realized that it was going to be the last day of their lives.

Mary and Murrey were the only pair of fraternal twins - indeed, the only pair of any sort of twins - in all the Dinkle population. They caused quite a stir when they were born.  No one had ever seen anything quite like them before.  Their mother, Lucia, had screamed and, in an effort to rid the Dinkles of the woman who had given birth to such an abnormality, climbed to the highest branch she could (which, luckily for her, was only the second one from the ground due to her bad back and fear of heights) and promptly and dramatically flung herself from it.  Also luckily for her, right at that moment the children's choir happened to be passing by, practicing for their annual "We Beat Out all the Other Dinkle Tribes" celebratory parade, and the banners they carried broke her fall - mostly.  She survived, but the fall did put her in a coma for a couple of days and rattled her brain in such a way that she awoke thinking her newborn twins were the most beautiful Dinkles in the whole Tree.  Incidentally, she no longer has a bad back and has miraculously overcome her fear of heights.

Unlike the others elected to jump for the sake of population control, Mary and Murrey were by no means extras, being the first male and female in their family.  They were, in fact, the first male and female of many males and females in their family, since their mother thought they were so adorable she should do the world a  favour and have as many as dinkly possible.  When she had popped out her 17th Dinkle, the Committee for Population Control sent her a letter saying if she didn't stop they would have to take drastic measures.  The CPC had meant to issue the ultimatum after Lucia's 11th Dinkle, but had spent so much time arguing over the wording of the letter, what the drastic measures might be, and the environmental impact of sending said letter, that it took an extra 17 months for the warning to be sent (after it was copied nearly word for word from a note by the committee leader's bully child confiscated in the middle of his history class, the drastic measures were left undecided, and the environmentalists had been paid off).  By that time the warning didn't do much good, because Lucia had already decided she was tired of having children and had just taken up leaf collecting as her new hobby.

Mary and Murrey, instead of being elected to jump, had happily volunteered for what they thought would be the start of a grand adventure, which would make them rich and famous upon their triumphant return and guarantee them a lifetime of royalties from the story.  The fact that no other elected Dinkles had ever returned, triumphant or otherwise, did not seem to concern them.  Perhaps someone should have warned them of what they were volunteering for, but as the twins weren't exactly on the list of those you would invite over for dinner if you wanted a favour from the Governor, no one did.

Pinkle, on the other hand, was very aware of what he was getting into.  He just thought of himself as some kind of incorrigible conqueror of danger.

Pinkle is actually a very popular, or rather common, name among Dinkles.  Dinkle was originally the tribal name of the lone survivors of the “Dinkle Wars”, and so surviving members are at times referred to as so and so of the Dinkle.  Pinkle of the Dinkle is one of the more comical sounding names in the known universe, and as such it has been reserved among the Dinkles as a sort of space saver.  Extras are often named Pinkle so their parents are not forced to think of a better name for their shame—and so no one will ever take them seriously.

Sneaux leaned over to Pinkle.  “Take the one on the left,” he whispered, feigning concern that this information not be shared with Mary, Murrey and the other extras that could be getting dropped with them.

“Why?” Pinkle logically responded.

“It’s the best.”

“How do you know?  What do you know about parachutes?”

“Look at the cross-stitching, man.  And the way they’re folded.  The second one on the left has, I’d say, a 50% chance of failing to open, and the one on the far right is too weakly stitched.  It can’t hold up to the hurricane force winds we may be facing out there."

Pinkle thought about this.  He was visibly troubled.  “If it’s so great, why don’t you take it for yourself?”

“I’ve got a spleen, man.  I don’t have a chance.  But you, you’re ready.”

Pinkle smiled gleefully.  “I do have a chance, don’t I?”

Sneaux was glad this last question was rhetorical, because he had grown disinterested in lying to him any further.  Yanking the chain of a man with a half hour left to live wasn’t as much fun as he’d been hoping.

The conversation, though, was not yet over.  “I looked.”  Pinkle had leaned over and was whispering so closely in Sneaux’s ear that Sneaux could feel the moisture from his breath condense in his ear canal.  It tickled.

Sneaux knew exactly what Pinkle meant, but was shocked into disbelief.  The Dinkles had one and only one rule that was considered important--except, of course, the having-a-lot-of-babies thing.  No self-respecting Dinkle should ever look down towards the presumed landing spot of the exiles.  One reason, obviously, is that seeing the dead bodies of their exiled comrades may influence some Dinkles and bring an end to the practice, and thus risk the sustainability of their society.  The second, publicly advertised, reason is that the exiles should be given more respect and not have their dead bodies gawked at from above.

Sneaux had looked several times already and knew what startling discovery Pinkle thought he was about to reveal to him.  He figured that the exiles were his brothers in arms and they would want him to take a little peek.  He was just shocked that Pinkle would look.

“Looked at what?” he responded.  He immediately regretted this response, because faking ignorance would only prolong the conversation.

“I looked, you know, you know. . . . You know, right?”  Pinkle was struggling to explain what he had done without admitting guilt, but eventually gave up.  “I looked where I’m not supposed to look.  Guess what I saw.”

Sneaux was wondering if he’d ever practiced looking surprised, but was confident he couldn’t do a good fake surprise, so he decided to head Pinkle off at the proverbial path.  “Nothing.  I guess that you saw nothing.”

The facial expression this response inspired from Pinkle, which managed to encompass the entire continuum of emotional variance possible to Dinkles in a single set of wrinkles and brow relocations, made the entire conversation worthwhile to Sneaux.  He knew that he sure would have had a good laugh about it that night—except he’d be dead.

“That’s exactly right,” Pinkle responded when he had gathered his composure and scrambled to regain the initiative on the conversation.  “I didn’t see anything—no bodies, no parachutes, no blue pajama pants.  Nothing.”

Pinkle’s optimism was killing Sneaux, so he decided to do the meanest thing he could think of and gave Pinkle a peek into his own realism.  “Pinkle, they’ve all been eaten.  Those unfortunate enough to make it to the ground before a bird snagged’m were gobbled up by the grass monsters.”

It didn’t work.  “No, you’re wrong.  You’re dead wrong.”  Pinkle then took a quick moment to bask in the glory he felt should be coming his way for what he believed to be a very clever, even if accidental, pun.

Sneaux used the moment to slip off.  A crowd had now gathered and the Hall was nearly full.  The Hall was a simple structure compared to some of the other Dinkle accomplishments; the Dinkles had not yet figured out what force of nature they could snub by building a more impressive meeting arena.  It was built in a fortuitous location where 8 branches stretched for a couple of yards parallel to one another.  The cross section of those branches formed a U shape on which some bark had been laid to make a center stage with theatre seating rising up on two sides.  It could safely hold a third of the Dinkle population, but on election day it was expected to hold twice than many.

Giving the Hall a panoramic glance, Sneaux noticed storm clouds gathering in the west.  He tried to think of a reason for this to frustrate him or encourage his sense of victimization, but he couldn’t find any.  He was confident he would be dead before the storm arrived.  He underestimated how fast the clouds were moving in front of a hurricane force gale.


“Ladies and Gentlemen,” called out the Governor, “we have gathered here today to participate in the solemn necessity that we call Election Day.”

The crowd roared in a very un-solemn fashion.  Living in a tree made it difficult to participate in any events that were actually fun, so they made the most of election day.

“We meet here today under the jurisdiction of the CPC to perform our requisite duty of sending five beloved members of our community in search of fame, glory and, more importantly, food.

A ripple of shoulders passed through the Hall as two thirds of the surviving Dinkle population simultaneously shrugged.  They, one, knew it was a lie and, two, were completely disinterested in the fame and glory of the extras.  Mary and Murrey were strutting around the center stage like lame peacocks.  They waved on the indifferent crowd with uneven flapping motions with their arms; this was their moment to shine.

“Without further ado, let us begin the business at hand.”  The crowd exploded and the Hall rocked.  The Governor couldn’t help but respond.  “Today, we will be electing FIVE Dinkles to take up their parachutes and take the big jump.”  He was almost screaming into the microphone, the functioning of which was rather inexplicable among a people that had not yet discovered electricity.  “First, we have Mary and Murrey, children of the ridiculously fecund Lucia.  Although they are not extras, they have asked to jump as soon as they were old enough, and as the siblings of the Lucian Extras who can deny them?”  Attendants quickly switched between boos and cheers where appropriate, except for a few who could not keep up and were rather embarrassed to be booing when everyone else around them was cheering.  Mary and Murrey had won respect among Dinkles by volunteering to jump, the kind of respect one gives to the person that does and eats unspeakable things to survive being trapped in some extreme location.

“Third is a Pinkle.  He asked for a one year postponement after being elected last year so he could recover from surgery.  This healthy, overdue extra looks healthy and ready to jump today.”  Pinkle was in a corner, focused.  Sneaux couldn’t tell if he was meditating or taking care of some final business that would be much more difficult while gliding down with a parachute.  Sneaux had wondered if such business were more difficult without a spleen, but concluded that, if anything, clearing some room could only make the whole process smoother.  Either way, Pinkle seemed oblivious to the crowd’s gleeful response.

“The next nominee, a third son and rather worthless extra, is Sneaux.”  Sneaux had not made much of an effort to make many friends which was clearly reflected in the crowd’s response to his announcement.  Where most nominees got cheers, and some the occasional boo, Sneaux provoked profanity and comments predicting the future location of his lungs relative to his chest cavity and the stomach of some rather grotesque grass monster.

“Next up is a second Pinkle, . . . “  The Governor continued to announce 3 more Extras, each born the wrong sex or, generally, when they should not have.  Dinkles felt that baby Dinkles were somehow responsible for when they were born and what sex they were born, and were therefore extremely offended by Extras to have disobeyed very functional and well advertised expectations. 

The excitement for this election was especially high.  Usually, the number of jumpers matched precisely with the number of Extras that came of age that year.  The act of electing jumpers merely gave the Dinkles an opportunity to express their disdain for the audacity of the Extras to be born.  Because Mary and Murrey had volunteered, though, there were seven nominees to fill five spots.  The first four spots—Mary, Murrey, Pinkle and Sneaux—were given, but the crowd now needed vote to fill the final spot with one of three candidates. 

This caused some problems.  Because the election process in the past had been only a formality, there was no system for counting votes.  The Dinkles were able to work around this difficulty though because only a small number of the attendees (that number being exactly 3) actually cared which one of the nominees filled the final spot.  In the end, the Governor picked the fattest of the three on the grounds that the thinner two would represent less of a strain on the food supply.  Herbert immediately regretted indulging himself on extra nuts the last few months.

Mary, Murrey and Sneaux had put on their blue pajama pants while waiting for the Governor to pick their final member.  Pinkle arose from his meditation, tightened his parachute to his back and was practicing his jump.  He had read in the guide that his parachute would be more effective if he was able to lay out flat quickly after the jump and was determined to perfect this technique even while practicing on a flat surface.  Herbert was struggling to find a pair of pajama pants that fit him.  Sneaux noticed he looked a little panicked and his hands were visibly shaking.  He concluded that Herbert’s sudden verdict had not given him time to think about how little life had offered him so far and realize that the prospects for the future weren’t much better.

In a few minutes they were all loaded up and ready to jump.  The Hall had a plank at the outer end.  It was great for effect when the Extras would walk out to the end and jump off, but it also served to extend over the outer reaches of the branches and give the Extras a clean jump out of the tree.  Mary and Murrey were first in line to jump.  Sneaux was third, Pinkle fourth and Herbert last.  Mary and Murrey were excited to get started, Sneaux was completely indifferent, Pinkle wanted to see the dangers that awaited him by carefully observing the fates of those ahead of him, while having someone behind him as a bird decoy, and Herbert was struggling to come to terms with his life and, more eminent now, his death.

The front half of the seats were suddenly expected to support a disproportional amount of the attendant crowd’s weight.  The anxious Dinkles were holding their collective breaths anticipating the inherently anticlimactic moment as the jumpers disappeared over the edge.  As Mary stepped to the edge of the plank and disappered, Sneaux first realized he was about to die and his mind began to race.  He momentarily forgot about the general miseries of life and, in this state, irrationally concluded that he was not ready to die. 

But what could he do?  No one had ever tried to run; there wasn’t really anywhere he could run.  A passionate speech would never work, not with the way the other Dinkles felt about him.  He looked up and noticed that the storm clouds were moving in much faster than he had originally assumed, but he couldn’t think how that would work to his advantage.  Then, in a grand epiphany, he realized how he could get out of this but he’d have to act fast . . .

It didn’t work.  He’d taken two steps, tripped on his pajama pants, fallen on his face, and quickly rediscovered why he’d felt so callous about life for so long.  He stood up, saw Murrey disappear over the edge, got a running start and took a running leap off the edge plank.  Or so he intended.  Instead, he tripped over his pajama pants for a second time just as he was loading up and tumbled over the end.  He felt certain the crowd’s laughter was the last sound he’d ever hear.

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