Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chapter 3

All things considered, Herbert felt the day had gone pretty well.  He had been selected for random disposal by his friends and family.  He was a couple of feet from landing safely when his parachute was caught in a freak storm.  He was herked and jerked through the air across half of Upper Hippotulamulia and he was not yet convinced that his limbs were still fully attached to his body.  A final gust finally ripped his parachute and he nose dived into a river.  After pin balling off rocks for a mile or so down the rapids he finally pulled himself onto the shore.  He crawled onto the river bank and as soon as he had rolled over onto his back to catch his breath he noticed the eagle swooping in towards him.  It scooped him up, flew him back to its nest, dropped him off and left again.  He was caked in mud, bruised, beaten, tired and, were he not so beaten, battered and tired, he would have been very hungry.  All things considered, thought Herbert, I couldn’t have hoped for anything better.  I’m still alive, I think, I still have all, or at least most, of my limbs, and I’m miles away from the dinkle’s tree.  I couldn’t have asked for much more.  He was not being completely sarcastic.


Hutley was a man of many talents.  He could tie cherry stems with his tongue.  He knew some magic tricks.  Only a fool would take him on in poker.  And he was arguably the Universe’s favorite con artist.  But recent events made him think that the Universe had turned against him and was determined to make him come clean. (footnote: The Universe had not, in fact, turned against him, and was completely disinterested in him coming clean or staying dirty, but he did get a big kick out of putting people in very awkward situations.)

It all started with the monkeys.  Monkeys were common visitors to Thursley, but they generally didn’t take the time to stop and begin large construction projects.  Asteriods were not strangers to the region, either, and stopped by as frequently as possible.  But this asteroid had the looks of a divinely guided precision strike.  Then there was Franklin.  Selfish little prat just disappeared.  And now Thurslinians wanted to know why.  Hutley was worried.  As Head Priest at the High Temple of Grimesly he was responsible for preventing or, if that failed, predicting or, at least, explaining such events.  What have monkey forts, tactile asteroid strikes and invisible men got to do with each other?

He had, traditionally, relied heavily on two tactics.  The first involved inventing calamities that he had averted.  He liked ridiculous weather and alien related troubles, but sometimes pulled in hideous diseases that turned people into zombies and such.  His second tactic was to explain existing problems as somehow related to a failure by the people of providing him with a sufficiently luxurious lifestyle.

But Hutley, or Lord Hutley the Immaculate of the Graygathian order of the High Temple as he was officially known, lacked the imagination to relate monkeys, disappearing men, asteroids and the silkiness of his sheets.  He decided that some other supernatural force was tired of playing along with the deities his ancestors had invented and was calling in her chips.  It was time he let the people of Thursley know that Graygathia and Dorloria had retired and Random Chaos had been promoted in their place. It would have been his first, truly prophetic moment.

The entire town, minus one mentally unstable clerk and a thief who’s occupation had suddenly become much more lucrative, had gathered to hear the wise words of their richest, and therefore holiest, citizen.

“Degenerates of Thursley and asinine followers of Graygathia.”  The introduction was ceremonial; Hutley’s ancestors had gotten a real kick out of how much they could insult people in the name of deity and wanted their descendants to have the same opportunity.  “Wretched, puerile slobs that seek and receive the assistance of Dorloria despite your officiously pungent redolence.  Gather your disturbingly misaligned faces to me and you will hear words that you will blindly obey like brainless sheep to the slaughter.”

The crowd was excited.  Hutley had opened with the full ceremonial introduction.  They knew they were about to learn something very important.

The ceremony typically continued with the slaughtering of the invisible counterpart of a sheep.  Hutley loved lamb chops and thought the “invisible counterpart” was the magnum opus of his ancestors.  “Bring the sheep of sacrifice.”  A real sheep, a nice fattened one appropriate for sacrifice, was brought forward.   It was led up the stairs of the ziggurat-like temple, past Hutley, and out of sight inside the temple.

“I now call on the sheep in its true form.”  Hutley went through the dramatic motions of waving a yellow cloth like a bull fighter behind which the ‘sheep’s true form’ would, invisibly, appear.  He had done this hundreds of times.  Sometimes he would do it a couple of times a week when he wanted to get the priests from the neighboring temples together for a party.

But something was wrong.  The cloth waving was met with silence.  They should be cheering.  Usually, he waved the cloth and the stupid fools cheered, but now they weren’t cheering.  They didn’t applaud.  They didn’t even smile.  They just stared.

Confused, Hutley followed their eyes to the spot where the sheep should have been pretending to be.  As he expected, nothing was there.  He turned to the crowd, “What?”

 The eyes looked up at him and then back to the spot.  “What’s wrong?” he repeated.

The local bully piped up first, “Where’s the sheep?”  The crowd mumbled consent and confusion.

“What do you mean ‘where’s the sheep’?” Hutley stumbled. “It’s right here like always.”

“I can’t see anything.”

“Of course you can’t, you illiterate tully.”  Hutley struggled to step back into his role and calm the crowd with verbose insults and contradictory (aka mystical) explanations.  “The sheep is invisible in its true form.  That means you can’t see it.”

“Since when?”

The Universe wasn’t out to get Lord Hutley the Immaculate of the Graygathian order of the High Temple, it just had a terrible sense of irony.


Mary and Murrey braved the storm heroically.  The wind blew over them, blocked by the thick grass of the deep plains, but they trudged on with pronounced, meaningful steps.  A flash flood washed them up, but they managed to grab a deeply rooted piece of grass before they were washed over a cliff (a frightening 6 inch drop in an otherwise completely flat plain).  The water forced a horde of worms to the surface, but the twins majestically defeated all of the completely harmless crawlers they found in their paths.  They figured that was good material to start composing the heroic epic poems that generations of dinkles would sing about them.  They also decided to add in some trolls and wrestling matches with demigods for narrative flow between dramatic episodes.


Sneaux had never had an unobstructed view of the Outside.  The outermost branches of the tree could not support the weight of a dinkle, and so he and the other dinkles had always looked from further in the tree at a world blotted by stray branches and leaves.  During the high season, leaves would completely enclose the dinkles in their own isolated universe.

From under the tree, though, a new reality was opened up to him.  He could see the grass stretch out to the horizon.  In the storm, magnificent lighting and percussion colored a dramatic show of power.  After the winds passed over head and into oblivion, the lightening offered an extended encore that also seemed to be stepping in as a preview of some unworldly power that lay beyond.  This all, in his mind, confirmed his hypothesis that he hadn’t been missing much.

He woke up early (relatively speaking) the next morning.  He had planned before going to sleep that he would position himself such that when he woke up he could stretch vigorously and, with a little luck, “accidentally” catch Pinkle under the chin with a haymaker.  He had been so excited about the prospects that he was up hours more imagining what it would feel like.  When the moment arrived, though, his yawn-powered upper cut landed roughly on a painfully resistant root.

Pinkle had obviously been awake for hours.  He had fetched the shell and sealed it with a twig.  He had built a little teepee of sticks as though he were going to build a fire.  When Sneaux sat up, Pinkle was on his knees with his ear on the ground (a very difficult feat for a dinkle).

“Hey Pinkle, you look like an idiot.”  Pinkle didn’t react.  His face had that look of determined focus that only those fully employed in some ridiculous activity can ever achieve.  This look is remarkably impervious to insults. (footnote: Theories about the ability of this look (the I’m-trying-to-look-like-I’m-thinking-real-hard-but-the-clockwork-upstairs-definitely-ain’t-working look) to resist insult center on those types of individuals that are usually found employing it.  The first group is those that have overactive imaginations—some children and any politicians who think they will actually make a difference.  The second group is made up of B grade actors and the other politicians who know their work is inconsequential but try to convince people otherwise.  For these groups, their fictional worlds buffer them from outside interference.  The third group is made up of people who are not intelligent enough to focus and listen at the same time.  The most reliable evidence forces us to conclude that Pinkle is probably a member of the third group.)

Slowly, either for effect or to avoid losing his balance, Pinkle raised a “shush” hand to Sneaux, so, logically, Sneaux decided he needed to repeat his statement more loudly.  “Hey.  Pinkle.  You Look Like An Idiot.”

He finally got Pinkle’s attention.  “Will you be quiet, man?” Pinkle whispered sharply.  He was in his element—that is, courageously navigating waters that have only become treacherous because of his own imbecile attempts to avoid fantastic (not fantastic ‘great’ fantastic but fantastic ‘crazy psycho hallucinations’ fantastic) danger.

“I’m listening.  For grass monsters.  Or birds.  Or . . . whatever else might want to eat us.  We’ll need to know where they’re at so we can go the other direction.”

“You learned that from the Guide?”  Sneaux queried.

“Came up with it on my own,” Pinkle responded proudly.  He put his ear back on the ground and closed his eyes to emphasize that he was focusing very hard.

Sneaux looked at the terrain around him.  He knew he had to leave the tree to find food.  The world around him in every direction looked exactly like the world around him in all the other directions.  Grass.  Lots of it.  Tall grass.  Three times taller than he was.  In every direction.  Just grass.  Nothing else.

He remembered which way the water had ran during the storm and started to develop a plan.  You see, Sneaux has an incredible amount of respect for water; it has mastered the art of always following the path of least resistance.  You could say that water was for Sneaux something of a role model.

So, remembering that the water had flowed past the tree towards Pinkle’s current location, he walked between Pinkle and the tree and started to jump up as high as he could (not tremendously high, mind you) and stomping his feet as loudly as possible on the way down.


He took a couple of steps closer towards the squatted Pinkle and jumped again.


He took a few more steps towards Pinkle.  If Pinkle didn’t hear him this time he was close enough that he could kick him for making him exert all this energy.  He jumped again.

Pinkle’s head shot up.  “I heard’m.  They think they’re pretty sneaky devils, but they can’t get by me.”

“What did you hear?” Sneaux asked preponderantly.

“Sounded like a three legged grass monster.  Big fellow, about twice as tall as a dinkle and much longer.  I’d guess he was about three leagues to the north and heading this way fast, so we’d better get moving.”

Sneaux looked up and cursed whatever was up there that got their kicks out of making a helpless dinkle very miserable.  He wouldn’t have to fight gravity, but now Pinkle thought they needed to double time to run away from figments of his imagination. Irony.

As they started to walk away from the tree Sneaux turned to Pinkle, “How far’s a league?”

Pinkle’s face immediately tightened into a look of painful, ignorant determination.


Herbert knew he needed to get out of the tree before the bird returned.  He didn’t know why the bird had left him alone in the nest, but he assumed it wasn’t because the bird was shy.  Herbert thought it more likely that it was going to borrow some rosemary and ginger from a neighbor so it could properly enjoy its meal.

As we mentioned before, even though Dinkles live in trees, it is, in fact, a bit of a mystery why.  That the Universe had decided to also inflict Herbert with a fear of heights he felt moved the condition from irony to cruel irony.  Herbert had learned at a young age to be grateful for what he has instead of becoming angry for what he doesn’t have, because his only other choice is to seek revenge on the entirety of the existence and Forces of Nature.  Now, sitting in a bird’s nest, beaten, bruised, battered, high in the air and afraid of heights, only happy to be where he is because where he was will soon no longer be a where but will become a was as well, thoughts of revenge started to seep into his mind.

Dinkles had traditionally avoided seeking revenge against the Universe and the Forces of Nature by insisting that a system of karma was operating.  The idea is this—the Universe is just picking on them because he’s a bully.  They don’t think they’ve done anything to deserve their situation, and therefore can’t do anything to undeserve it.  (footnote: Most societies in the Universe have some concept of called karma (because it is a really cool sounding word in almost all languages) but there is very little consistency in its meanings.  Generally, though, it is an attempt to explain why life sucks.)  So, they just try to ignore the Universe and hope that, like the little kid that is intent on mimicking someone who refuses to talk, he will eventually lose interest and let them get on with it all.

Herbert felt, though, that it was time that someone taught the Universe a lesson.  He didn’t know what that lesson would be, who would teach it or even how one would go about teaching the entirety of everything a lesson, but he felt that these logistical challenges were minor inconveniences compared to the more pressing demands of not dying.

He was confident, therefore, that the first step in getting back at the Universe was to get out of the nest.  He awkwardly crawled out (Dinkles for reasons I don’t feel I need to discuss are not natural crawlers), wiggled his feet down to the branch below and lost his balance.  He wasn’t too concerned about losing his balance.  He figured he had two methods of getting from the branch where he was now perched to a lower one: falling or jumping.  Falling from the branch at least made his impending death accidental, while if he had jumped it would become suicide.  He didn’t want Gravity to think he had given up.

So, Herbert lost his balance and fell.  And he continued falling.  From inside the nest he had no concept of how high off the ground he had been.  He had been assuming that his fall to the ground would have been broken by branches, which, if he was lucky, just might knock him unconscious before he rebounded off the forest floor.  But instead he just fell.

Instead of the bone cracking smack of a branch or the thud of the forest floor, Herbert’s fall was broken as he sunk deep into pillowy softness.  He opened his eyes, but could see nothing.  The air around him was cool and moist and sparse.  Falling from the tree, Herbert realized, he had fallen into a pile of leaves.  He quickly made the transition from shock at not being dead to confusion at not being dead to relief at not being dead to fear and panic that if he was not able to get out of the pile quickly he would not be not dead very much longer.

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