On this date, March 25th, in year 3019 of the Third Age, the One Ring was destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom. Why isn’t this a federal holiday that gives me another paid day off?
On this date, March 25th, in year 3019 of the Third Age, the One Ring was destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom. Why isn’t this a federal holiday that gives me another paid day off?
I’m not totally sure what the status of my book is at this point on Smashwords – they keep rejecting it for things like blank space at the ends of paragraphs. But for whatever it’s worth I’ve filled out one of their author interviews, the results of which can be found here.
I’ve also been making some progress on revisions to my long-mostly-finished (but languishing on my hard drive for several years) traditional fantasy work which will probably end up as one or more e-books under the title Spirit’s End.
The Sillymarillion is now listed at Smashwords, which means it can be purchased directly from there and also from Barnes & Noble, Scribd, and numerous other online outlets. The Smashwords release coincides with that site’s Read an Ebook Week event where books are offered at deep discounts (or even free) – so from March 2nd through 8th it will be available there for
99 cents $1.50!
(Edit – I added the book to the promotion in the wee hours of the morning and tried to do 99 cents, but it wouldn’t let me go lower than $1.50 unless I wanted to give it away for free… and after a few hours’ much-needed sleep this fact had gone >poof!< out of my mind.)
Before I begin what will seem a litany of complaints about “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”, let me say first that I actually enjoyed the movie quite a bit. In the first film I was a little put off by the goofy looks of some of the dwarves, but I suppose they’ve grown on me, and the cast did a good job of making them into recognizable individuals with their own personalities rather than “Thorin and his merry band of redshirts”. The action scenes were mostly enjoyable if a little bit over-the-top. The small comedic touches here and there worked well (unlike, say, Gimli’s LOTR extended edition “consistency of squirrel droppings” remark).
(Danger: Beyond this point, watch for falling spoilers.)
And most importantly, they Got. Smaug. Right. If you’re gonna do a movie of The Hobbit, you absolutely can’t screw up the dragon. Smaug is to modern dragon stories what Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin are to rock and roll – like them or not, their influence on their respective genres can’t be denied. (Smaug is, of course, better than Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin, because he could eat all of them and not even feel a slight buzz from digesting Keith Richards. )
Having established my generally positive overall impression of the film, allow me to now proceed to nit-pick it to death.
I’m something of a Tolkien purist; I was bothered by a lot of the exclusions and changes in the LOTR films, though never enough to keep a puddle of drool from forming on the floor in front of me in the theater on first watching each of them. I’m not necessarily even talking about the big-ticket items like leaving out Tom Bombadil or skipping the Scouring of the Shire – I missed the little touches, the minor characters who showed up for a paragraph or two in the written work and added to the sense that a much larger, richer world surrounded the events chronicled in the story.
I knew that The Hobbit would be even less true to the text – how could it be turned into 8+ hours of film otherwise? – but I didn’t think I would mind the changes too much. As I’ve mentioned before, I like The Hobbit, but I’m not nearly as passionate about it as I am about the other Middle-Earth books. I was even looking forward to seeing how Peter Jackson and crew would flesh out the tenuous connections to the LOTR story – after all, even Tolkien himself did this with some minor edits that were added to later publications of The Hobbit.
So I was a bit surprised at my annoyance at the Stuff That Got Left Out and a bit of the Stuff That Got Added In. We didn’t get to see Bilbo shout “Attercop!” while lobbing stones at spiders. The dwarves never left the path through Mirkwood to chase flickering lights and feasting Elves.
Instead, we got a lot of footage of Legolas killing orcs. We were treated to an inter-species love interest, a splitting of the party that didn’t occur in the book, and just a few too many instances of someone arriving just in the nick of time to save our heroes from certain doom. We got floating open-ended barrels which, when the open ends went deep underwater, bobbed back up and did not cease to be floating barrels.
The climactic action sequence inside the mountain – not from the book – had its moments, but it was too long and in places played a little like The Keystone Kops and the Temple of Doom. Memo to prospective dwarven kings who want to emulate the surfing-on-a-river-of-molten-metal scene: try it, and history will remember you as Thorin Roastedheels. There was an event which seemed like it needed an entirely absent earlier scene to explain the presence of one of the critical elements of the sequence. Without that establishment in place, the climax left me wondering “where did that come from?”
And last but not least: why did Bard have to look so much like Legolas with a pasted-on mustache? As the credits rolled, I thought of a good way to decribe this similarity.
Okay, so I messed up when I posted the first chapter and mentioned there were a total of four. Turns out there was a fifth I hadn’t scrolled down far enough to see. This one features a rare appearance by a famous movie star.
Bulbous strolled along at a leisurely pace; he truthfully didn’t much care what was happening to the Dwarves behind him, mainly because it hadn’t yet occurred to him that he probably could never find his way home without them.
The mountain range’s vast flatness held only a few trees and some low bushes, so the hobnob could be seen by anyone passing nearby. This situation was one that hobnobs by nature avoided, so Mr. Big’uns kept a sharp eye out for hiding places, shelter, and buffet restaurants. Late in the day he did finally come upon a sort of muddy-bottomed gully that ran off into the distance. It looked as if a river had made an attempt to form there, and though it had ultimately failed, it had left behind enough moisture to allow for the growth of a fair amount of vegetation on its banks. Thus it provided enough cover for the hobnob to remain hidden from view, if he wasn’t averse to getting his feet muddy. As it turns out, though, mud is a favorite thing for hobnobs to walk through; they often deliberately line the floors of their homes with it.
As the sun began to set, Bulbous came to a wide part of the ditch, bordered by the tallest and thickest shrubbery he’d yet seen in this area; the spot seemed dark and gloomy. In a dry patch at the center of the gully was a small hovel made of mud and straw. Outside the hovel, a very odd little creature was climbing into a mud-bound boat.
The hobnob watched as the pointy-eared green thing lifted an oar and, with a series of grunts, began a doomed effort to row the boat toward Bulbous. Finally, after several minutes, it threw down the oar in exasperation.
“Come over here, will you, so get this over with we can?”
Bulbous didn’t see the point in stalling, so he nodded and slogged his way over to where the green being waited. As he drew closer and got a better look, recognition dawned.
“Hey, aren’t you-?”
It sighed a long and irritated sigh, then rolled its eyes and complained, “Yes, yes. One major role I took and suddenly typecast I found myself. Now as fantasy creatures and frogs only can work I find. Drama I wish to perform, and my own talk show to have, but nooo…”
“Well, it’s nice meet you, but I’ll just be moving along now, mister…”
“As in golly gee, I think you’re right?”
“No, as in Golly my name is. Wrong you are and move on you cannot until done with me you are, or this book and many others you will make impossible to write.”
“Alright then, what shall we do?”
“A contest we must have,” he said, “a contest, yes… <ahem> my precious.” He forced out the last words.
“Just something I’m supposed to say a lot it is. Along you will please play!”
“What will be the prize for winning this contest?”
“When win I do, eat you I will.”
“But you’re smaller than me, and unarmed, and I have this pointy magical elven fork.”
“A good point you have there, yes.” Golly sighed again. “Very well, when win I do, poke me with a fork you will not. If win you do… ha! If win you do, this magic ring you may keep.”
Golly unceremoniously tossed what looked like a bread tie twisted into a circle unto the deck of his boat.
“Oh, very well, but let me at least choose the contest.”
“As you wish.”
Bulbous sat and thought; he could think of no talent of his with which he could win a game of skill against this green beast. Yet life in Hobnob society had taught him that victory came not from harnessing one’s own internal strengths, but rather from finding an opponent’s weak spot and (sometimes figuratively, sometimes not) repeatedly driving a sharp stick into it.
“Limericks,” he said finally. “We shall have a limerick contest. The first one who cannot come up with a limerick is the loser.”
“What is limerick? Eh, what is limerick, precious, mean I.”
“A limerick is a five-line poem where – well, an example would be:
There was a young dwarf-lass from Luin,
Whose whiskers just never quite grew in.
What was even more weird
Than her lack of a beard
Were the things the dwarf men had her doin’.
“Ha! Fooled you I did! Know I what a limerick is, but now used one up already you have before begun the game has!”
“Alright then, since you’re so clever, you can go first!”
“Lose you will,” Golly laughed, “and win I will! My first one here is:”
From Nantucket a man there once was,
“Wait, no, not what I meant to say that was!”
A man from Nantucket once there was,
“Ah! Get it this time I will!”
From Nantucket there once a man was,
At this point the speech centers in Golly’s brain seemed to be undergoing a rapid meltdown.
From there Nantucket was once a man,
The creature was growing confused.
Nantucket from man once a there was
Bulbous knew opportunity when he saw it; he snatched up the “magic” ring and crept away quietly.
From a man once there was Nantucket –
There was from Nantucket a man once –
A Nantucket man was once from there –
As the hobnob scurried away under the starlight, for night had now fallen, Golly’s voice could be heard off in the distance.
Nance there Tucketa from was one!
* * *
Unfortunately, as he fled from Golly, Bulbous lost his way in the dark and managed to double back to where the Gobblers were now surging forth in pursuit of the escaped dwarves. The beasts were upon him before he knew they were near; the rumble of stampeding feet and cries of rage that rang out across the mountains had made it impossible to concentrate on watching for the subtle hints that would have suggested to the hobnob that danger might be approaching.
Continuing my unfinished parody of The Hobbit that started here.
“There are many paths and crossings leading through these peaks,” said Gadfly as they drew nigh again to the vast, flat expanse of the Missing Mountains. “But most lead to peril or dead ends up there in the snowy heights. Fortunate you are that I am here to guide you, for the true way is known to me.”
Bulbous rolled his eyes. “What are you talking about? It’s just an empty grassland. I could probably see the other end from here if I stood on a chair.”
“Show some respect!” snapped Gadfly.
* * *
To the Hobnob’s further surprise, the “path” Gadfly chose entailed a long and arduous climb; for the rest of that day, the Dwarves mimed the movements of scaling a steep rocky slope. Their progress, hence, was very slow, and Foolin’s ankle-spraining fall down a section of lack of mountainside did nothing to speed their journey. At one point late in the afternoon a band of armed Elves appeared and began to scale the level ground behind them, but they abandoned their pursuit as night approached.
As the sky began to darken, the band approached a single large boulder that stood alone on the mountain plain. The truly curious thing about this boulder, Bulbous noticed, was that just on the other side there appeared to be a community of several hundred Gobblers engaged in typical domestic Gobbler-y activities such as eating, drinking, and lounging in front of televisions watching reruns of old sporting events. A few others were engaged in activities that Bulbous preferred not to think about, though he thought he recognized at least one of the participants from one of those webcam sites he’d “accidentally” visited on occasion.
“We will rest here on this ledge for the night,” said Gadfly, “and be on our way again at first light.”
“Rest here!?” Bulbous asked, alarmed. “But what about all those Gobblers?”
“Gobblers there very well may be in these mountains,” the wizard replied, “but if Gobblers there are nearby, then they are well hidden in their deep caves and with luck will not trouble us.”
“But-! You-!?” Bulbous sputtered. “Fine, rest here if that’s what you want. I’m going to ‘climb’ for a while longer. I’ll meet you on the far side of these ‘mountains’ in the morning.”
* * *
Gadfly smiled in his sleep as a vision of loveliness drifted through his dreams.
“I’ve been watching you, Gadfly,” said the lithesome, scantily-clad Elf maiden as she crawled seductively on all fours to where he reclined on the soft grass, “and I’ve felt your eyes on me. I can’t keep pretending I don’t feel this way; I don’t care any more what the others think. I need you.”
The wizard gasped as she ran her fingers through his hair and pressed her body against his. He tentatively reached out one hand to touch her gently. He traced the contour of her body upward from her hip; her skin was soft and supple, yet… wrong, somehow.
Gadfly’s eyes snapped open. Above him was the visage of Thornless, his face – her face, the wizard realized suddenly, recalling that the descriptions he’d heard of dwarven women more or less matched those of dwarven men – only inches away, lips puckered for a kiss. Gadfly’s own hand was cupped around one of two vaguely feminine-shaped protrusions in the Dwarf’s beard.
At almost that exact moment, the boulder swung aside and out poured a horde of Gobblers, angry at the dwarves for camping on their very doorstep. Thornless and her companions had little time to wonder what had just become of Gadfly before they were captured and dragged bodily out of the starlit night and down a steep starlit nonexistent staircase into the very starlit bowels of the mountains that weren’t there.
The Gobblers bound their prisoners together in a line and forced them to walk into a crowded, firelit “cavern”. As the monsters rummaged through the dwarves’ possessions and slow-roasted their mules, they sang a dark and terrible song that drove the captives into hopeless despair:
Feeeeelings, whoooaaaaoooh, feeeeelings…
A hush fell over the room as particularly large and foul-smelling creature approached the prisoners. This was the Grand Gobbler, the strongest and fiercest among those of his kind who dwelt under the Missing Mountains; ruthless and brutal, he was the head barbarian of a barbaric race.
He glared down at the Dwarves, a ferocious scowl baring razor-sharp (if yellowed and crooked) teeth. A growl began to issue from him; a deep, rumbling sound like the earth itself was shifting.
Then he coughed and spluttered, cleared his throat, and spoke to them in a surprisingly mild voice.
“Pardon me, chaps, but I seem to have picked up a bit of a sniffle and the antihistamines haven’t kicked in yet. Now then, may I inquire as to the identities and business of our esteemed guests?”
“They’re dwarves, boss,” said a Gobbler, “an’ dey was casin’ da joint like dey was thinkin’ of robbin’ da place!”
“That’s not true!” Thornless argued. “We were just looking for a place to rest for the night – how could we have even seen your entrance, hidden as it must have been?”
“That’s true enough, I suppose,” said the Grand Gobbler, “but sadly I would be derelict in my duties if I ignored the possibility that you intend to do us harm; especially given the rather violent nature of the history between our two peoples.”
“But it’s true – we were just passing through here after escaping from Farmrinthedell!”
“Farmrinthedell? Then you know Goldbond?”
“Know him? If I hadn’t been in such a hurry to get out of that place I’d have taken the time to strangle him myself!”
“Well, now, this throws new light on the situation! We Gobblers have a saying: ‘The enemy of my enemy is still edible but it’s a good idea to save him for last.’ Very well, since you bear ill will against our hated foe, I will be lenient. I hereby release you; you are all free to GURK!”
“Free to gurk? I’m not familiar with that expression.
“Pardon my verbal slip, old chap, but I’m afraid someone interrupted my words by thrusting a sword through several vital organs.”
The Grand Gobbler slid limply to the floor, revealing a familiar old man behind him. Familiar except that now his robes bore multicolored lines of various thicknesses, all crisscrossing one another at right angles.
“I have come back from beyond death once again in your hour of need!” announced Gadfly. “No longer am I Gadfly the Green; I stand before you now as Gadfly the… uh… Plaid.”
“Plaid?” asked Happy.
“It’s not like I get to choose, you know. Anyway, I have come to rescue you!”
“But we didn’t need rescuing! He was just about to-“
“Youse iced da boss!” the Grand Gobbler’s assistant realized at last. “Get ‘em, boys!”
The dwarves were still linked together by chains that slowed them; and they were short-legged and fat and not good runners by nature. Yet so great was their desperation in that hour that they abandoned tradition and propriety and fled in a straight line across the wide plain that was the Missing mountains.
The Gobblers, confused at the sudden mysterious disappearance of their captives – no one had heard of dwarves or even wizards who could walk through cavern walls! – milled about in their lair for quite a while, growing ever angrier at the deeds of their escaped prisoners.
Chapter 3 of The Parody That Almost Was. Missed the first chapters? Start here.
The troupe of stubby people traveled for several days with few events of note, save the roasting on the second day of Bulbous’ mule for dinner. On the morning of the fourth day since their escape from certain, savory, mouth-watering death, Thornless pointed and cried out, “Look there!”
“What? I don’t see anything,” Bulbous said.
“It’s the Missing Mountains!” Happy said.
“What mountains? Why, there’s nothing there but a flat, open plain!”
“They’re right over there, just as plain as the red in my beard!” said the white-bearded Glowin.
Gadfly kneeled and gestured for Bulbous to come closer. Then he spoke quietly to the Hobnob.
“When the powers that be made Myrtle-Earth, the plans called for a mountain range near here. Problem is, they… well, they sort of got distracted and forgot to install them, but they’re still on all the maps. Now, you and I can see there’s really nothing there, but it’s considered very bad form not to pretend the mountains are in fact where they belong. So just play along, alright?”
“Uh, oh, yes… those mountains,” Bulbous said loudly. “Quite majestic! Slopes of green and growing things rising to rocky, snow-capped peaks, the wind wafting through the-“
“Don’t overdo it.”
* * *
That night, at last, they came upon Farmrinthedell, the Last Affordable Motel, home of Goldbond and his people. They knew they had drawn near to this place of rest when they heard Elven song echoing through the woods:
O! More you will be paying,
And less will you be sleeping,
If elsewhere you be staying,
So here you should be creeping!
O! Mastercard, Visa card!
Hundred bucks a night!
O! Sure it sounds expensive,
Since the rooms are kind of tiny,
But facilities extensive
Make your gripes seem pretty whiny!
O! Fa la la lillow,
A mint on every pillow!
O! Our pool is indoors, heated,
Spa and sauna and masseuse,
Restaurant that can’t be beated,
You should try the chocolate mousse!
O! Tra la la la linging,
We’re finally finished with our singing!
“Well, what do you think – should we stay?” Gadfly asked.
“I don’t know, sounds kind of expensive, and we don’t exactly have a lot of cash,” Slappy said.
“Well,” suggested Blinky, “if we sleep sideways we can fit three to a bed and save money that way.”
“Don’t worry,” said Thornless. “I’ll just put it on my Dwarrowdelf Express card and pay it off when we get our treasure back.”
* * *
So it was that the weary band of travelers checked into the Last Affordable Motel, ate a sumptuous, expensive feast, spent the night singing lewd ballads and buying drink after drink at the karaoke bar, then returned to their rooms and raided those little refrigerators filled with snacks and sodas.
They found it difficult to rise in time for the noon check-out the next morning, but Thornless assured them that it was fine, he would pay for another night even if they didn’t stay. So early that evening, after two more meals and a few more drinks at the bar, they all finally gathered in the lobby to check out.
The manager, a pretentious elf named Goldbond, made a show of totaling up their bill.
“Let’s see… two nights, plus meals… snacks… drinks… repairs to the pool filtration system damaged by excess hair intake… out-of-court settlement of the maids’ harassment lawsuits… ah, yes, here you are, sir!”
He handed the itemized list to Thornless, who paled visibly. “Alright,” he said unsteadily. “I guess that’s fair. Put it on this card, please.”
Goldbond accepted the proffered engraved square of sheet metal and did something arcane and mysterious behind the desk which resulted in a “riiing… beeeeeep… khhhhhhhh” sound. Moments later, he looked up and smiled.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Thornless, but your card has been rejected.”
“Rejected? But that card is backed by the full financial might of the mithril mines of Kissuv Doom! It can’t possibly be rejected.”
“Sir, those mines were abandoned hundreds of years ago. Something about a pest problem.”
“Abandoned? Is this true?”
He turned toward Gadfly, who gave a sagely, affirmative nod.
“Why am I never told these things?”
“Perhaps I could suggest an alternate form of payment?” Goldbond asked.
* * *
So it was that the weary band of travelers spent two weeks living at the luxurious Farmrinthedell resort. Living in a run-down shack in the woods behind it, that is. By day, they laundered sheets and towels; by night, they washed dishes. There in the bright, sunny shadow of the Missing Mountains, strengthened by the exertion of their daily drudgery and fed a steady diet of table scraps and leftovers, they grew strong and hale. Soon they were ready to face the challenges ahead – just as soon as the damned elves let them take off those embarrassing French maid outfits and be on their way!
Early on the morning of their fifteenth day of indentured servitude, as he had each day, Goldbond visited the Dwarves to assign them each a list of tasks to complete. Before the Elf could pass out that day’s roster of chores, Thornless spoke up.
“We’ve been slaving away for two weeks. How much longer do we have to stay here?”
“Hmmm… well, I don’t have the specific numbers at hand, but figuring minimum wage for fourteen people, minus income tax, city wage tax, insurance costs, run-down shack rental… oh, and the cost of your uniforms, of course! – I’m going to say about fourty-two years, give or take.”
“Fourty-two years?” Bulbous piped up from the back of the room.
“It’s not my fault you mortal types have life-span issues to deal with. You should have thought of that before you got yourselves into this mess to begin with! Besides, with our generous retirement fund you’ll be able to retire somewhat less than completely destitute. Though I fear contributing to it might lengthen your stay by a decade or so.”
“Isn’t there something of value we could offer you in trade to shorten our stay?” asked Gadfly.
“Perhaps. What have you got?”
“We have these great swords!” said Kinky, revealing the weapons by lifting the vermin-infested mattress under which they were hidden. “Ouch!” he added as Blinky’s subtle full-body tackle (which passes for an elbow to the ribs in Dwarven society) sent him sprawling to the floor.
“Let me have a look at those. Why, these are Elvish blades! Forged in the lost realm of Condomin for use in battle against ancient darkness. This one here,” he said, reading the runes engraved in the blade Thornless had chosen for himself, “bears the name Ochrist. It is a magical blade that sings a song of warning just after something terrible has befallen its owner. And yours,” he said to Gadfly, “is none other than the sword of the King of Condomin himself. It is said that as the forces of the enemy laid siege to his city, a servant held out this blade so his King could take it up in a last, hopeless defense of his citadel, charging no doubt to glory and certain death. The sword’s name is Damthing, taken from the King’s words at that historic moment: ‘You keep the Damthing, I’m out of here!’”
“So these must be of inestimable value, correct?” asked Gadfly hopefully.
“Pfft. I have a closet full of them myself. Ever since Dungeons and Dragons came along, magical swords are so plentiful you can’t even find a sucker on elfBay willing to pay much more than the cost of shipping. What else have you got?”
Thornless was plainly becoming desperate. “We do have this old map,” he said, offering up the parchment that had been the subject of discussion toward the end of Chapter 1. “It’s in good shape, and might be an antique or something.”
To Bulbous’ surprise, there was a gleam of curiosity in Goldbond’s eyes.
“Yes,” he said, examining the map closely. “This is very old, indeed, and quite rare, I’d say. We must just be able to make a d-… oh, no I’m sorry, but this is damaged.”
“Water spots – subtle, but a collector would notice them in an instant.”
To prove his point, he held the parchment into the sunlight that streamed through the largest of the gaping holes in the walls of the shack. Sure enough, sections of the map allowed a small amount of light to shine through, suggesting the material had degraded from water damage. Curiously enough, the damage spots seemed almost laid out in the shape of letters. In fact, if one looked closely, these words could be made out:
Key under doormat around back.
Love & Kisses, Durnit
“Durnit!” whispered Thornless, his voice tinged with awe. “My oldest ancestor’s illicit lover! I might even be his descendant!”
“That’s very nice,” Goldbond replied, casting the map aside. “But unless Mr. Durnit shows up to pay your bill, you’ve all got work to do.”
“Wait!” Gadfly implored. “I am a wizard of no small skill – perhaps there is some work of magic I may perform in lieu of payment?”
“Wizard? Old man, you’re no wizard.”
“A skeptic, eh? Very well, bring me my staff and I shall provide a demonstration!”
Happy fetched the staff for him. This magnificent talisman consisted of an old broomstick with a softball epoxied to one end, and it was imbued with such power that it needed neither engraved runes nor mystical auras of any kind to proclaim its special nature.
Gadfly grasped the end of his great rod two-handed and raised it aloft, chanting words of power in an ancient language of magic:
Voy a pegar esta imbecil en su cabeza!
“Now, to demonstrate my power, esteemed Goldbond, I shall call darkness down upon you!”
With that, he brought the staff straight down onto the top of the Elf’s head. In the brief moment after experiencing a sound and sensation that felt like being caught inside a thunderclap, but before total darkness set in, Goldbond had the time to think, “Wow – he really is a wizard!”
“Let’s get out of here before he wakes up,” Gadfly said after checking the Elven lord’s pulse and pockets.
Welcome to Chapter 2 of my unfinished Hobbit parody. Chapter 1 can be found here.
Bulbous awoke with a start.
A dream, he thought, trying to calm himself, it must have all been just a dream!
As he lay there in the early afternoon light with his his eyes closed, he realized two things. The first was that his head was throbbing mightily; the second, that he was, in fact, sleeping on a hard wooden surface, not his own bed.
Memories of the night before came flooding back. The dwarves journey the previous day had taken them only as far as the Inn of the Yellow Veloceraptor just down the street from Big End. Many mugs of ale later, they had all passed out on the floor of the common room.
“Wake up, burglar!” came Thornless’ voice. “We’ve got a long way to go and we can’t keep waiting around for you!”
So it was that by early evening they finally set out, Gadfly astride his donkey and the others on foot. Before long they came near to the lands of a farmer who owned a number of mules, which Thornless proceeded to “liberate from their oppressive captor”. He also managed to liberate enough saddles and riding gear that the mules were able to enjoy their newfound freedom from beneath the buttocks of thirteen dwarves and a still-hung-over hobnob.
By dusk they had traveled nearly another mile, and called an exhausted halt for the night. The group huddled beneath a tree and fell asleep under the stars.
The tree was under the stars, that is, and so were they. I mean, the tree was between them and the stars, but the stars were still up above them, so technically they were under the stars, too, just kind of separated from them by the tree… oh, never mind!
It was a cloudy night and they all fell asleep!
* * *
Gadfly awoke during the night and slipped away from the dwarves’ camp. He’d brought along a small flask of something strong from the Inn, and knew that if he wanted a sip or two of it without having to share, he’d have to get far enough away that the dwarves’ keen magical alcohol senses would not alert them to the presence of un-shared fermented drink.
When he had to his estimation fled far enough, he sat down upon a log from a new fallen tree and took a few leisurely sips of the not-quite-identifiable substance in his flask. He had just begun to feel pleasantly if artificially warm when he heard a splash of water from not far away. Curiosity and drink-induced bravery inspired him to investigate, and he crept forward as quietly as he could toward the sound.
He had gone only dozen steps when he spotted the glint of moonlight on the surface of what appeared to be a small pond. Another step forward and he could see, through a narrow opening between two clusters of bushes, what was quite obviously a shapely and completely naked pair of female buttocks; in the pale moonlight they appeared almost ghostly, in a rounded, firm kind of way.
From Gadfly’s vantage point he could see little else of the woman, but guessed from her position and angle that she was kneeling forward to wash her hair. It occurred to him that it was perhaps improper for him to be staring at her; that thought was banished when another thought struck him.
Where is that blasted camera phone?, he thought as he fumbled through his many hidden pockets. Drat – I must have left it in my white robe! He sighed. I’ll probably never see that again!
He resolved to introduce himself to the lady. He mentally reviewed some of the pickup lines he’d used back in his bar-hopping days in the Undying Lands, not sure which one would be appropriate.
If you were a Balrog, I’d let you use your flaming whip any way you wanted…
No, not that one.
Hey, baby, I’m a wizard – want to see my gnarled staff?
Nope, not that one either.
I’ll pay you just to come with me so the other wizards think I’m on a date with you.
No – too expensive.
Please, I’m desperate! Desperate and lonely, oh so lonely…
Yes! That was that one that had come the closest to actually working in the past!
As he took another preparatory gulp from his flask, movement again caught his eye. The woman had lifted her head from the water, and now she was twirling her head to spray tiny water droplets all around as her long locks spun around. It was a scene from adolescent fantasy. Or from a rock video. Or from a rock video about an adolescent fantasy.
Gadfly watched in rapt fascination as she gave one last side-to-side shake and then let the hair come to rest on her back and shoulders…
… and chin, and chest, and stomach…
The sight of her long, bushy beard left the old wizard in such a startled, confused state that he was unable to hold any longer to his corporeal form. With a “poof” he vanished, and in death his spirit returned to the realm from which he had come to Myrtle-Earth long ago at the start of the Age.
* * *
The party had arisen by lunchtime the next day, and as they gathered their travel gear to set off once again, Bulbous noticed that the wizard no longer accompanied them.
“Where’d Gadfly go?” he asked out loud.
“I don’t know,” said Thornless, emptying a flask he’d found in the woods during the night. “Haven’t seen him. Never mind that – I suspect he’s off doing something mysterious and wizardy, and will rejoin us when he’s done. In the meantime, our journey awaits – as soon as we have something to eat, of course.”
“But the food is gone!” cried Happy in dismay.
“Gone?” Thornless bellowed. “How could it be gone? Which one of you ate it?”
“I only had a little extra!” said Inky, Dinky, Blinky, Kinky, Droolin, Foolin, Growin, Glowin, Cheezy, Sleezy, Happy, and Slappy.
“Burp!” agreed Bulbous.
“I’m still hungry though,” said Foolin.
“Us too,” agreed the three trolls in the woods.
“Well, we’re Dwarves! We can be resourceful and live off the land! We can – excuse me, did you say three trolls in the woods?”
Yes, I did.
“Run, brave dwarven warriors, run!”
But their courageous resistance was futile. The trolls easily grabbed handfuls of beard hair (or foot hair, in Bulbous’ case) and dragged their prey off to their lair.
* * *
“Today on the Live Wriggling Food Network, it’s three celebrity Troll chefs in a dwarf cook-off battle!” a bodiless voice announced cheerfully, waking Bulbous from a club-to-the-head-induced stupor. “Today’s winner receives a collection of ancient, magical Elven weaponry!”
Wrapped tightly in restricting aluminum foil, he lay on his side on a large shelf in an immaculate kitchen equipped with the latest in stainless-steel appliances. This kitchen had only three walls, though, and where the missing wall should have been were several rows of bleachers from which a number of Gobblers, demons, and senators watched the proceedings. Bulbous could see the squirming forms of the dwarves hanging below him by their beards from hooks mounted on the wall. Through the skylights above, he could tell it was night – but what time of night, he had no idea.
“Our first chef,” continued the voice, “is Bobby Flayer, a well-known TV personality and owner of the famous Chez Mirkwood. To his left is Julius Childeater of the luxurious Carrion Bar and Grill. The final challenger, Silmeril, brings an international flavor to our competition. Silmeril is famous for his elegant Elf-Mex creations at the popular Thigh Bone Gnawers’ Resort and Casino. Gentlemen, start your ovens!”
As Flayer explained to the audience his plan to create a meal of Dwarf Au Gratin, he reached, coincidentally, for Cheezy, tossing the dwarf into a large, inescapable pot. He then proceeded to vigorously shred a block of cheese almost as large as Bulbous’ bed back in Big End.
To the further terror of the dwarves, Julius sealed Slappy inside a lidded glass bowl to marinate for a while in a fowl smelling liquid concoction.
Then, worst of all, Silmeril snatched up a struggling, squirming Thornless and flopped him unceremoniously onto a large cutting board.
“Now you all know how tough Dwarf meat can be,” he said to the audience while holding the dwarf down with one hand. “There are a couple of things we can do to improve it. We can slow cook it in a stew, and let me tell you, a Dwarf stew where the meat melts in your mouth is a wonderful thing. But we don’t have time for that today, so we have to go with the quick option. Can anybody tell me what that is?” he asked, a knowing grin on his face as he reached into a cabinet with his free hand.
“Tenderize it!” shouted the audience in unison.
“Tenderize it!” he agreed, raising a knobby wooden club over his head as he did so. The audience cheered and hooted wildly – he had obviously done this on his show before.
“BAM!” he shouted as he lowered the club; and the audience shouted with him. “How about another? BAM!”
“Now let’s kick it up a notch!” said the troll, ominously lifting a spiked war mace for the audience to see. “Mmm, tenderized, sautéed Dwarf and a bottle of Chateau Minas Morgul ’39 Blood Wine – the perfect meal!”
“Savage! I beg to differ,” interrupted Julius. “Dwarf sautee clearly calls for one of the chunkier beverages, say, for instance, a Puree du Eldar.”
“Effete snobs!” chimed in Flayer. “There’s nothing like a good old fashioned mug of cemetery mud to complete a Dwarf meal.”
As the trolls argued, Bulbous looked down for the source of the sound and saw Kinky whispering loudly.
“It’ll be okay! Look up at the skylights – it’s almost morning! When the sunlight shines in, the trolls will turn to stone and we can escape!”
Bulbous watched hopefully for several minutes as the trolls’ bickering continued, until at last a bright ran shone into the kitchen. All went suddenly silent as the three chefs stiffened and began clutching at themselves as if in the throes of a painful transformation. In moments the trolls all stood dead still.
“Hurray!” called Slappy from inside his pot.
“Hahahahahaaaa!” laughed the trolls, suddenly animated again. “Got you!”
“Old troll joke”, Julius explained to the audience. “Can you believe some people still believe that silly urban legend about us and sunlight?”
Just when all seemed hopeless, there came the amplified sound of a muffled struggle over the announcer’s intercom. A final thud was followed by a moment of painful feedback, and then a familiar voice filled the air.
“Is this thing on? Testing, testing. Oh, good, it works. I’m from the Board of Health – prepare for an inspection!”
The trolls howled in terror and frustration and fled the premises, trampling their entire audience on their way out.
“Gadfly!” cried Bulbous as the wizard entered the room through a door somewhere out of view behind the refrigerator. The old man looked different somehow. Perhaps it was that his robes were now dyed a sort of faded lime color that would look at home nowhere save on the body of a 70s economy car.
“Gadfly… yes, that is what they once called me. But I am Gadfly the Green, now, sent back from beyond death to accomplish the tasks set before me. Come, now, let us flee this place before the trolls return!”
A short search revealed a hidden cache of weapons – the prizes the announcer had mentioned. Gadfly and each dwarf chose a sword from the collection. Unfortunately there were only fourteen blades, so Bulbous was left without a sword. When he complained about this, Thornless presented him instead with a large golden fork, its tines strong and true, forged in eons past by the great Elven silverware factories of old.
* * *
Before long, the companions were gathered around a campfire, eating roast meat that Gadfly had provided for them. Bulbous, looking around as he ate, thought he recognized the area.
“Say, isn’t this Farmer Magoo’s land? I’m surprised he hasn’t sent his dogs after us… I wonder where they are?”
“Shut up and finish eating that forepaw,” said Gadfly grumpily.
In late 2005 or early 2006, fresh off the not-total-abject-failure of The Sillymarillion, I embarked on a parody of The Hobbit because it seemed like the next logical step and because Harvard Lampoon had already done Lord of the Rings. But by the time I got a few chapters into it, a funny thing had happened… writing it had begun to feel like work. While I’ve always liked The Hobbit, I’ve never really been nearly as passionate about it as I am about the other Middle-Earth stories, so my enthusiasm for the parody had dwindled quickly. At the time there were a number of other stories I wanted to write, so I set the few chapters I’d written aside indefinitely. I still have no particular urge to pick up where I left off, but on re-reading the text recently I found myself chuckling often enough that I decided post it here.
So here without further ado is the first very rough draft – complete with [placeholders] where images that were never created should be – of Chapter One of The Hobnob, or Hairy Back Again. Chapters 2 through 4 (as far as I got) will be posted separately over the coming week. (Oops! I guess that was further ado, after all.)
On a hole in the ground sat a Hobnob. The hole was, in fact, dark, wet and dirty, filled with all sorts of little wriggling, crawling things of the sort that tended to wriggle and crawl in dark, wet, dirty holes in the ground. But, hey, when indoor plumbing hasn’t made its way to one’s corner of the world, one has to make do with what’s available.
Such was the case in The Shiner, ancestral home of the short, fuzzy people called Hobnobs. A thousand years ago, a greedy real estate developer from the kingdom of Ardor had bought up much of the land that now made up The Shiner, with plans to build a large townhouse community, a shopping mall, a hotel, and one of those “active adult lifestyle” neighborhoods for empty-nesters.
Counting on a political favor to help him obtain the necessary permits to fill in the protected wetlands he’d purchased, the developer embarked on a massive land-clearing, swamp-filling undertaking on a scale never before seen in this part of the world. But when it came time to call in that favor, he discovered that his contact in the Land Use department had “agreed to resign” after the department head caught him using her niece to polish the same desktop the two had polished together themselves on several occasions.
Unable to continue his grand project and facing law suits and bankruptcy, the land owner skipped town and is said to have disappeared into the East. Embarrassed by their failure to catch his activities sooner, the Department of Land Use decided to just pretend the whole incident had never happened; so all those acres sat unused for generations.
The wandering tribe of Hobnobs looked at this uninhabited piece of ground in the same way they might look at a shelf full of donuts while an accomplice kept the convenience-store clerk distracted with an argument over the price of a 12-pack of prophylactic devices. In all things, the Hobnobs followed one simple creed: If nobody’s looking, it’s mine.
And so was founded The Shiner, named for the black eye given to its founder by his wife when she found out that he, too, had been polishing desks with the Land Use Director’s niece.
This particular Hobnob – the one mentioned briefly several pages ago, before that long bit of mostly needless back-story – was an upper class Hobnob, by which I mean his ancestors had been consistently much more successful at stealing from their neighbors than the other way around. Big’uns was his name, Bulbous Big’uns. The Big’uns had lived in Hoozitown for as long as anyone could remember, but, of, course, memories were short in a land where the only major agricultural product was pipeweed.
Bulbous’ home, assembled over many years from assorted bits and pieces surreptitiously removed from other houses in the region, was a wide, three-story affair which combined various sorts of architecture into a disjointed whole that was a bit confusing to look at while sober, but made absolutely perfect sense while under the influence of said pipeweed. Its windows were round or square or elliptical or rhomboid and usually broken, and its door was a perfect dodecahedron.
The tall grass that hid much of his property from the view of passersby on the street made a perfect home for a wide variety of the insect and rodent species that made up much of the typical Hobnob diet. This is not to imply that Hobnob food was in any way bland or unappetizing; no, they simply preferred not to eat the meat of anything larger than themselves (and thus potentially able to successfully fight back). In fact, the little people had developed a wide variety of excellent recipes for the preparation of all manner of easily-killed fauna – recipes in which they indulged quite frequently. Their indulgence usually led to morbid obesity, which, because it kept them relatively sluggish (and thus out of one another’s business and pantries for the most part), was one of the foundations of stability in Hobnob society.
Bulbous’ mother was the infamous Betchasheeza Crook, daughter of the Old Crook, a family that was said to have held onto its rather prodigious fortunes primarily by inbreeding to keep outsiders from getting access to their money. When she fell in love with and married an unemployed patent clerk named Bunko Big’uns, she chose to keep her maiden name rather than leaving herself open to the wide variety of jokes that would have ensued had she gone the traditional route and adopted her husband’s surname. Both parents had perished some years ago in a tragic accident at a Gobbler S&M club somewhere on the East Side, leaving Bulbous living alone in their grand manor, Big End.
It was outside Big End where, to try again to get to the actual story, Bulbous was currently sitting.
On second thought, let’s just bypass the part about the Hobnob hole and skip ahead just a bit, shall we?
Bulbous sat on his front porch puffing away at his first post-breakfast pinch of pipeweed, blowing out smoke in the shape of small, puffy clouds – an ability he was proud of. As he looked around for a missing glass of bourbon he was sure he’d left there earlier that morning, his keen eyes spotted a tall, grey-haired man standing so close that the stranger’s long beard almost caught fire from Bulbous’ pipe.
“Get your ass off my property!” said Bulbous, and meant it.
The stranger looked at him quizzically. “Does that mean that I should leave your yard altogether, or that only my posterior region need dangle over the sidewalk? Or are you implying that I have some sort of small donkey secreted on my person somewhere, and if so, may I stay if I dismiss said donkey?”
“Er, all of the above, I should think,” Bulbous replied. “Except for the first one and… oh, just go away!”
“I am Gadfly, called by some Muckrakir, or Gadfly Gohome, or Gadfly Stormcow, or the Grey Pillager, or –“
“I like the third one. It’s good advice. I don’t want to buy anything and my soul doesn’t need saving, so if you’ll please excuse me, I’m going inside for a snack of spiced muskrat.”
“Hmph. To think, I was hoping to find another companion for an adventure myself and some associates are about to embark upon.”
“Adventure?” Bulbous laughed. “Sounds dangerous. Nobody around here will go in for such foolishness – wading into deep puddles is about all the adventure we Hobnobs are up for.”
“Then let’s call it… profitable breaking and entering.”
“Very well. Tomorrow my co-consp-…<ahem!>… my friends and myself shall visit your home to discuss the specifics.”
And with that, Gadfly raised his long, felt-tipped wooden staff, which bore the mystical logo “Sharpie”, and proceeded to inscribe his own runic symbol on Bulbous’ nearby mailbox.
[runic ladies’ room symbol]
“No, wait, that’s not it.”
[Another symbol – hand with raised middle finger?, first is now scribbled out]
“Hmm, something’s still not right.”
[third symbol – biohazard logo?, 1st 2 now scribbled out]
[all three symbols scribbled out, “Meeting with Gadfly in here –>” written in regular alphabet]
He paused a moment in thought, then added:
He nodded wordlessly when his task was complete. Then, from somewhere within the folds of his robe, he produced a small donkey. After a brief (“brief” in this case meaning a good fifteen minutes) struggle to get the beast to cooperate, Gadfly and his valiant steed ambled slowly down the dirt road that led away from Big End.
* * *
The next day, a knock on the door roused Bulbous from his afternoon stupor. On the front step stood a tall man – “tall” in the “too big for a Hobnob to eat” sense, but not big to you and I, unless we were oh, about three feet tall – who, like the even larger Gadfly, had a long tuft of hair hanging from his chin rather than from his feet, where such hair belonged on civilized folk.
“Droolin at your service!” said the dwarf, for that is what he was.
“Bulbous Big’uns at yours!” the Hobnob lied. “Will there be more of your fellow, uh, vertically challenged individuals coming?”
“Please! We’ve got at least a couple of thousand years before we have to worry about that political correctness nonsense – don’t try to invent it early! In answer to your question, yes, a few close friends will be joining us. Oh, and my brother. And some cousins. Uh, and their friends and cousins, and some of their friends’ cousins. Let’s see, my old frat brothers, my sister’s field hockey team… oh, and this great dwarvish rock band and some groupies and papparazi. So not really that many.”
With that, he hung his hat on a peg in the foyer and strode into Big End.
Before Bulbous could stop Droolin from raiding his refrigerator, the doorbell rang.
“Foolin at your service!” said a second dwarf before nearly knocking down the Hobnob in his efforts to get to the kitchen pantry.
“Slakker, Yakker, and Hakker, at your service!”
“H4XX0R!” corrected the youngest of the most recently arrived dwarven trio.
“What did you say?”
“I can see how it’s written but I have no idea how to pronounce it.”
Yakker took the Hobnob aside and explained, “Our parents raised Hakker remotely via the internet so he never learned the common tongue. He speaks only a particularly illegible dialect of Chat Room.”
“Sad, very sad,” Bulbous replied.
“7h15 p|4c3 15 t3h 5u><><0rz!!!!1111!!!oneoneone!!11111!!”
“Drifter, Shifter, and Snifter, at your service!”
“Please just open the door and let’s not turn this into a knock-knock joke.”
“Okay, sorry, it was just force of habit.”
A green-clad, red-haired dwarf greeted him at the door this time. “Chucker, Plucker, and I Bet You Thought The Next Name Would Start With An F, at your service!”
“Inky, Dinky, Blinky, and Kinky, at your service!”
“Yo. ‘Sup. Name’s Philly, this is Killy. We’re at’cher freakin’ service here, but don’t be gettin’ no funny ideas or nothin’.”
“Bumpem, Boppem, and Bitem, at your service!”
“Lucky, Bucky, and That Joke’s Already Been Done, at your service!”
“Growin, Glowin, and Flowin, at your service!”
“Snooti, Frooti, Patooti, Cooti, and Slooti, at your service!” said one member of a particularly hairy, wrinkled, big-nosed, long-bearded dwarf-cluster.
“Woohoo!” came a drunken cry from inside the house. “Alriiight, the babes are here!”
A long line of dwarves filed slowly into Big End, with each small family group identifying itself and emptily pledging to be at Bulbous’ service. There were Wheezy, Cheezy, Eezy, and Sleezy, Bugger and Banger, Bling-Bling and Sing-Sing, Happy, Slappy, Snappy, and Crappy. After them came Frogger and Blogger, Icki, Tricki and Sticki, Ranger, Danger, and Stranger, Strider, Rider, Glider, and Slider, and one sad, lonely little guy named Rizzo. Next came several pairs and trios whose names happened to be alarmingly close to those of copyrighted cartoon characters owned by large, lawyer-wielding media conglomerates. Those names, of course, will not be mentioned here in specific, and a clever way will be found to conveniently remove them from the story in the very near future.
These dwarves entered Big End, and, corny dwarven names being entirely too easy to invent, many more came as well who will not be detailed here. They came in numbers too great to list for fear of becoming boring and redundant, and Bulbous lost track of them all anyway.
Finally at the end of the line stood Gadfly, standing beside the tallest dwarf Bulbous had yet seen. This new arrival was stout and strong, regal yet foul-smelling, with a peroxide-blonde beard that reached nearly to his toes, and fine, shimmering golden ribbon woven into his ear and nostril hairs, ending in precious dangling ruby charms where the two follicular strands met.
“Thornless Brokenshield,” said the dwarf.
“I know, I know, you’re at my service,” muttered the Hobnob.
“No. You are at mine.”
* * *
Now that his guests had presumably all arrived, Bulbous turned his attention to the raucous ruckus that had been going on inside his house for so long. The dwarves had obviously gotten into his pantry, fridge, food storage hallway, food-filled spare bedroom, secret snack stash in the master bathroom, and attic pizzeria, not to mention the wine cellar, beer sub-basement, and the plastic bottles of rubbing alcohol and cough syrup in the medicine cabinet.
Bulbous ran through the house, terrified of the mess he expected to see. This would never get cleaned up! This would wreck his home! This would leave the place smelling like dwarf for years! This… this was, Bulbous noted when the initial hysteria wore off, the cleanest he’d seen the place in years.
The dwarves, as it turned out, were fastidious cleaners even in the midst of their merrymaking and debauchery. In fact, they sang a song of cleanliness as they ate and drank and did other things Bulbous tried to forget having seen, all the while taking the time to perform the sorts of menial housework he usually paid that Grungee family down the street to take care of for him.
Wash the glasses, scrub the plates,
Hang up the shirts and try not to splash!
Vacuum the carpets to pristine states!
Straighten up well even though we’re smashed!
Polish the silver, take out the trash!
You break it, you buy it, and pay with cash!
Wash the laundry, match the socks,
Iron and fold that pair of jeans!
This anal retentiveness sure does rock,
Wonder why we’re so lax ‘bout our own hygiene?
Polish the silver, take out the trash!
You break it, you buy it, and pay with cash!
Shine the counters like precious stones,
Spotless linoleum sure looks great!
But leave the shower stall alone,
‘Cause that’s where Bulbous masturbates!
Polish the silver, take out the trash!
You break it, you buy it, and pay with cash!
The oddly tidy party went on for some time, and Bulbous had almost reached the point where he could allow himself to relax when suddenly he caught a whiff of a familiar smell wafting in through a nearby window.
“My pipeweed!” he grumbled angrily. Sure enough, when he stormed out onto the front porch, there was Gadfly, with perhaps a dozen dwarves, passing around several pipes loaded with Old Nicaraguan, the finest weed in the South Farthing.
“Alright, you’ve invaded and, er, sanitized my house and eaten all my food – that, I can understand – I’ve done it to enough people myself. But to raid a man’s pipeweed stash without asking? That’s unconscionable! No way am I going to give you any sort of assistance after this!”
The Hobnob’s fury had risen to the point where his face was red and his heart thumped loudly. Though he would never admit this to them, his anger was also fueled by the fact that their cloud-shaped-smoke-blowing skills seemed superior to his.
He turned back toward the house and shouted to those inside, “I hope I never see any of you again!” He slammed the knobbed dodecahedronal slab as hard as he could, and shifted his attention back to the smokers on his porch.
He opened his mouth to shout at them to get away, but a loud noise behind him made the words catch in his throat.
What an odd time for vague memories of something about building codes and weight limits to spring to mind, Bulbous thought absently.
It occurs to me now that Father once mentioned the need to replace something called a “load bearing member” that had rotted out, but I thought he was just making up a dirty joke of some sort…
Say, it’s become awfully quiet in there suddenly. I wonder if something interesting is going on?
Standing just outside his door, facing toward the street, Bulbous was staggered by an unexpected blast of dust and wood chips from behind him. The disembodied feathers from a hundred dwarven caps floated lazily in the air around him. Gadfly and the surviving porch-dwarves all stared wide-eyed in his general direction.
“On second thought,” he began without ever looking back, “I may need to raise some cash to purchase some home repair items…”
“[)00[)5, 1 4m t3h 1337 h4><><0r 5urv1v0r!” came a call from somewhere over Bulbous’ left shoulder.
The Hobnob called out to whatever author or editor might hear, pleading: “Look, I know this is a parody, so I know I’m going to be ridiculed and insulted through the whole story. I can deal with that. But please, please, have mercy and don’t make me have to be around this guy for the rest of the book!”
And from somewhere beyond the glowing monitor phosphors, over the clickety-click of the coffee-stained keyboard, the author heard, and took pity upon poor Bulbous.
“<THUD!>”, he typed.
He considered adding mention of an “Oof!” sound followed very closely by what he would have Bulbous describe as “a satisfying SPLAT!”, but decided some readers might be too squeamish to handle such language.
“Thank you!” Bulbous shouted in genuine gratitude.
The author gave a benign nod before frantically scrambling to appear as if he was doing actual work, having seen the boss coming his way.
Gadfly cleared his throat to break the silence.
“Well, there’s no sense hanging around here any longer, I’d say. Everyone ready to leave?”
“Where exactly are we going again?” the Hobnob queried.
“Ah, well, my lad, that’s of no matter until we get there, now is it? I-“
“Look, don’t worry about scaring me off with stories of dangers we’ll be facing. We’re already almost done the first chapter and I kind of called in a big favor early on, so I’m stuck here at this point – there’s no way I’ll be able to weasel my way out of the rest of the story. Just tell me now so I know what I’m up against.”
“Very well,” said Gadfly in a resigned tone. “Thornless, if you will?”
The dwarf rose to his feet, warmed up his voice by gargling from a day-old misplaced glass of bourbon, and then began to sing.
Beyond where the Missing Mountains should be,
Out past a bunch of rocks and trees,
There’s a place we know there’s a lot of loot,
So we’ll sneak inside, steal it, and scoot!
Those old time dwarves ran quite a racket,
Piles of gold high as they could stack it.
They sold cheap baubles to the elves
Who were too conceited to make them themselves.
They made swords and axes and weapons keen
That could slice out your heart or rupture your spleen.
They carved lewd sculptures of themselves
Doing unspeakable things with hot female elves.
Beyond where the Missing Mountains should be,
Out past a bunch of rocks and trees,
There’s a place we know there’s a lot of loot,
So we’ll sneak inside, steal it, and scoot!
Those dwarves couldn’t seem to get enough
Of money and riches and jewels and stuff,
And now we’ll try to take it back
While bad guys try to eat us for snacks.
Risking death and pain in all sorts of ways,
Like being ground into pulp or squeezed into paste;
Beheading, or boiling, or burnt alive,
With luck one or two of us will survive!
There could be maiming or torture, castration too,
Never know what’s in store when they capture you.
But they say that most monsters are partial to
Little men, and Bulbous that’s why we’ve got you!
Beyond where the Missing Mountains should be,
Out past a bunch of rocks and trees,
There’s a place we know there’s a lot of loot,
So we’ll sneak inside, steal it, and scoot!
“Greensleeves!” Bulbous blurted.
“The song – it was Greensleeves.”
“No it wasn’t. It’s my song, I wrote it myself.”
“The words, yes, but the tune was definitely Greensleeves.”
“Are you calling me a liar, Hobnob?”
“Uh… no, no, forget I said anything.”
Gadfly nudged Thornless and mumbled, “Nice touch,using the Greensleeves thing to distract him from the lyrics.”
Thornless smiled and nodded almost imperceptibly. Most dwarven nods were, in fact, almost imperceptible, because the mass of hair surrounding their entire upper bodies tended to mask any sign of head movement.
“Now then,” said Gadfly, “we’ve got to get some back-story out of the way before we get on with this, so let’s get to it! Now where did I leave that map?”
He frisked himself in search of the item in question, but failed to locate it.
“Droolin, did I give that map to you?”
“I can’t remember – let me see if I have it.”
He reached both hands into the depths of his beard – so deep that he had to bend forward to reach down far enough. After a few moments’ rummaging through a collection of objects that alternately rattled, clanked, tinkled, squeeked, squealed, vibrated, and squawked, he finally found one that crinkled, and yanked it free of its hairy prison.
The item in question was not, in fact, a map. Rather, it was what appeared to be a very old, very well-worn vintage Elvish dirty magazine.
“Hey, that’s mine! Give it back!”
Gadfly grabbed the magazine and tried to yank it away from the dwarf, but Droolin kept a tight grip on it. As they tugged back and forth, Miss Undying Lands unfolded in all her glory, dangling from the magazine’s center, the struggle making her appear to sway from side to side in a seductive if two-dimensional dance.
“What use have you for such a thing, old man?”
“I said give it back, you stubby little thief!”
“Side show magician!”
“Dirty old man!”
“You don’t understand! Not only this issue a classic, but it’s a collector’s item because it was once owned by – !”
Both combatants fell backward, thudding to the ground amidst a flutter of airborne pornographic paper shreds. When the fragments settled, among them could be seen a small, white, folded up napkin with writing on it.
“The map!” cried Thornless, lifting it carefully away from the surrounding debris.
“This map,” began Gadfly, dusting himself off and gazing sadly over the remains of his reading material, “was given to me last month by Thornless’ grandfather when I met him in the-“
“Grandpa? Grandpa’s alive!?”
“Well of course he is.”
“Why didn’t you say something!”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were looking for him.”
“Didn’t know? You came to the memorial service just last week! You gave a speech about our dear departed King and then you cried in front of everyone, you even tried to hit on his widow after the funeral!”
“Oh, uh, that. Well, sometimes you just get caught up in the moment, you know, and forget about some of the trivial things.”
“Trivial? We’re talking about my grandfather’s very life-!”
“He’s just a dwarf and he didn’t owe me money, so why should I-“
“Gentlemen!” Bulbous interrupted. “The map?”
“Hrmph. Yes, the map.”
Gadfly spread the document out on the ground for all to see:
[map picture here – just has “you are here” on one side and a crooked line drawn to an X on the other]
“This is supposed to reassure me?” Bulbous asked.
“What’s wrong with it?” Thornless countered testily. “It shows where we are and where we’re going – what more do you need from a map?” Bulbous decided the point wasn’t worth arguing, and switched to another line of questioning. “So what’s the big deal about this Homely Mountain place, anyway?”
“Ages ago my ancestors fled the north to escape some gambling debt,” Thornless began, “and after a time they settled in a cave under the Homely Mountain near the human city of Dull on the shores of the River Run Away. There they delved deep into the earth, and awakened – oh, no, that’s a different tale. There they delved deep into the earth and brought forth precious stones and metals; and our smiths and craftsmen created works of great renown and high Suggested Retail Price.”
Thornless grew wistful as he continued. “A favorable trade balance and beneficial socioeconomic conditions led to a high standard of living and an elevated level of per-capita disposable income.” A single tear made its way down his face as he spoke those words.
Then his eyes grew cold and a muscle in his forehead began to twitch violently.
“But then the Dragon came. Smudge the Terrible was his name, and on a clear, bright morning he swooped down on the Dullards and reduced their city to ash, devoured their livestock, drank up their ale, and as a final prank bought hundreds of white mice from a pet store and set them free in the high school cafeteria. When Dull had fallen, the Dragon then moved on to the Homely Mountain, where my people were killed to the last, save only myself and the several thousand others who had started running at the first sign of trouble hours earlier.”
“I see,” said Bulbous. “So now you want to return to avenge your people and restore their kingdom to its rightful place.”
“Avenge? Restore? Bah. I just want to get my stuff back. Gold, jewels, a few place settings of nice silverware… that sort of thing.”
“I seek the great axe my ancestors carried to the ancient wars,” Droolin said.
“My family’s treasured battle helm and armor shall be restored to us!” Foolin vowed.
“I had this cool ant farm,” said Blinky.
“I’m gonna get back my assortment of Lord of the Rings movie merchandise,” said Slappy, “and my rare autographed Revenge of the Jedi poster!”
“I want my rock collection!” Dinky chimed in.
“Dude, I had some, uh, personal stuff stashed in a shoebox under my bed,” Glowin offered.
“Enough!” Gadfly cried at last. Exasperated, he went on, “We all have our reasons for joining this expedition, but we’ll never get there unless we actually get up and start walking!”
In general I’m not big on the whole zombie/undead/vampire/werewolf thing. I’ve not bothered to watch Walking Twilight War Z (or whatever the current craze is calling itself) or any other similar show or film since the days of Buffy. But a while back I had an idea for a slightly different angle on the traditional generic supernatural stalker tale, and cranked out a short story during a slow day at the office. I’ve decided to resurrect (ha!) that story and present it here for Halloween, with just a little bit of cleanup from its original 2004 form because I’m never satisfied with my writing when I read it after some time has passed. I considered taking out my bad attempt at conveying a vaguely 17th century British accent that probably never existed,but that felt like too much work.
* * *
Owen Pierce didn’t let the fish get to him any more.
Certainly they had been a distraction in the early decades, always nibbling and tugging at his flesh as if he were some rancid hunk of meat on the end of a fisherman’s line. These days, though, they mostly left him alone; probably his blood had all seeped away years ago, so the local sea life simply didn’t notice his scent often anymore. And when something did occasionally venture to take a bite, it seldom came back for a second helping. Of course, he could hardly remember what fish looked like. So long had he been in the dark, so vague were his memories of the many years of his lonely sojourn, that he knew fish now only by the tiny, barely perceived quivers that rippled through what was left of his body whenever something gave a spirited yank at a dangling strand of torn muscle.
Not that he had forgotten everything. He recalled the long fall, the single step off a precipice unseen in the blackness. A seemingly endless plummet into the ocean’s deepest depths. Had it lasted minutes? Days? Centuries? Down here time was unknowable and irrelevant. He remembered the weight of the water pressing down on him, weight that should have crushed him; but whatever power of hate and fury animated him now had also been proof against the pressure, and indeed against the impact when he had finally crashed to the solid ground at the bottom of the world. Rage and anger had burnt away any memory of love and joy, but terror he could still feel, still remember – and terror had been his companion through that long plummet.
However long the fall had taken, the climb back up the other side had been interminably longer. How many lifetimes of mortal men had he spent clawing his way up the rocky wall of the deep chasm, scrabbling – if his slow, ponderous movements could in fact be called scrabbling – for handholds, often falling back down again into the same deep pit? How much time had he spent walking the sea floor trying to find a scalable slope in the pitch black depths? How many new fissures in the sea floor had claimed him again, drawing him down into their deep recesses? The part of him that had once felt would have been frustrated, then dismayed, and, finally, utterly defeated.
The part of him that was left felt nothing save the single-minded need to seek out the far-off sources of the burning inside him and to destroy them. Those sources had grown from few to many over time, but during Owen’s climb, their numbers had dwindled again, and now there were hardly any left.
No matter, though – one or a million, he must eliminate them all. That fact he remembered as well as he remembered the day he’d uttered the words which had brought this terrible fate upon him.
* * *
“You shoulda seen ‘is face!” Owen laughed. He took another swig from the bottle of ale Andreas Morgan had passed to him, and then handed it off to one of the rough-looking men who crewed the merchant vessel his partner had acquired under questionable circumstances. “’E wouldn’t tell me ‘ow to get into that vault, so I ‘ad to cut ‘im up a bit. Not so much it killed ‘im, right, but I made it ‘urt a lot, I did. ‘E passed out right after he tol’ me where the key was! ‘E woke up while I was still emptyin’ his cash into my wagon, but all ‘e could do was squirm in the ropes an’ try to shout through the gag I’d stuffed in ‘is gob! We’ve done it, Andreas! With my little wi’drawal an’ your ship an’ crew, we’re rich men on our way free and clear to the New World!”
“One problem with that,” Andreas said, that deep voice of his carrying an ominous tone that startled Owen out of his revelry. “You were seen, and you’re not unknown to the local constable, so he’ll recognize your description.”
“What’s it matter? We’re leavin’ the bleedin’ country!”
“Do you think, with the number of ships carrying goods to and from the colonies, that no one will consider you may have got aboard one? That a sketch of you will never reach the authorities overseas? And do you believe that, once you are found, your connections to me will not become known?”
“But… Andreas, we’re partners! I wouldn’t sell ye out, I swear it! I’m-“
“No, I think it best that you don’t accompany us on this journey. Besides,” he continued, signaling with a quick hand gesture to the sailors who were gathering around, “it occurs to me that folks might remark on the arrival of a low-born man with no discernible skill or talent, yet who carries a fair amount of wealth on his person. Better, I think, to divide your share of the money among my crew.”
“But – you can’t -!”
“Get rid of him.”
Owen suddenly found himself being hoisted aloft by a mob of burly sailors. He struggled to free himself, but these were men who could row for hours or scale the rigging effortlessly; he would have been hard pressed to wrestle himself from the grasp of even one of them, let alone a half dozen. Even if he could break away from them, where would he run to?
Time slowed as he felt himself being carried away toward the stern of the ship. He yelled, he screamed, he begged, he pleaded – he wasn’t even sure, later, what his exact words had been. But his cries were ignored. Then came a brief, weightless moment, and suddenly the cold Atlantic water stunned him as he plunged beneath the waves.
Yet the shock of his landing startled him out of his panic, so that he had the presence of mind to determine which way was up and to swim in that direction. He emerged coughing and spluttering, frantically searching for the ship which was speeding away from him. Already he could feel the chill seeping into his limbs, and knew on some level that this would be his end. But his anger burned, and in his rage he shouted into the mist at his former partner:
“I curse ye, Andreas Morgan! I swear, I will hunt ye down, beyond death – ye, or yer children, or yer children’s children – all yer offspring to the end of time! Yer line will end, and the death of yer last descendant will be at my hands!”
* * *
Harris Morgan sat staring blankly ahead, mesmerized by the rhythmic clippety-cloppety sound of horses’ hooves striking the cobblestone road as the animals drew the black wagon he rode on. It was a blissful distraction, this moment of emptiness, after the stress of the past months – the long illness, the arguments with the doctors, the unpaid bills piling up. At least now, after today, he could look forward to trying to get his own life back to something resembling normalcy.
The driver reined in at last and brought the team to a halt. Harry climbed down to join the already waiting mourners while six men in black suits lifted the coffin from the wagon and carried it toward the cloth-lined opening in the ground where it would soon be placed.
“Friends and loved ones,” began the preacher at some point, “we are gathered here to pay our final respects to Margaret Morgan. Maggie was a long time member of my congregation, and I knew her to be…”
Harry numbly tuned out the liturgy; he wasn’t interested in someone else’s memories of his mother. As a child he had never truly understood the sacrifices she’d made for him as a single mom trying to raise a son in a society that still wasn’t well suited for such an arrangement. He probably still didn’t understand, he knew; maybe he never would. What he did understand in a disconnected way was that his last connection to his youth and his ancestry was gone.
The service reached its end and he somehow found it in himself to say the requisite words of thanks to the old acquaintances and the distant elderly relatives-by-marriage who seemed to be all that were left of his family these days. The wagon driver gave him a ride back to the parking lot, an anticlimactic ending to an event which, it seemed to him, should have been more meaningful or spiritual, but instead just left him feeling drained and empty.
He thanked the driver and reached into his pocket for his keys as he walked toward his car. He couldn’t see it from his current vantage point, but he remembered it was parked next to one of those giant sport-utes that was easy to spot from across the lot. He made his way toward the green behemoth and as he stepped around it, he was surprised to see someone leaning against his own car.
“Kelly! Hi! Uh, what are you doing here?”
“I felt like I’d be intruding if I went to the funeral – after all, we’ve only dated a couple of times.”
“No, it’s okay, you should have come.”
He realized even as he said the words that he was being insincere. As much as he liked Kelly, he hadn’t been in the mood for companionship; in fact, more than anything he’d wanted to be left alone with his thoughts during the burial.
“But I thought maybe you might want some company, or at least somebody to drive you home. I hope I was right, because I left my car at the office and had a friend drop me off… so if you won’t let me give you a lift, I’m going to have to hitch a ride from a stranger.”
He managed a smile. “Thanks. I’m glad to see you.”
In that, at least, he was being honest.
He thought a moment, trying to remember what it was to be “okay”.
“No, not really. Not yet.”
* * *
Owen, now climbing yet again, felt another shift in his perceptions, one he’d felt many times before. The burning changed, refocused, narrowing for the first time since the beginning to a single point that pulled at him unceasingly. Another of his prey had died, and now only one remained! One death and his revenge would be accomplished; one victim, and then the last Morgan would be dead and Owen’s own hellish reality would finally come to a blissful end!
With what mental faculties were left to him he pondered, not for the first time, the nature of his continued existence. Was he dead? Hard to say. Alive? No, this state of being could not be called life. He couldn’t recall a specific moment of death, though, a time when he had stopped breathing or his heart had ceased its beating. He remembered the cold, the slow freezing. He remembered sinking slowly beneath the waves, into the depths, then the long, eternal trudge from the gray into the black.
He remembered gray! Gray, brilliant, beautiful gray, not the inky blackness of the deep ocean, but a murkiness suffused with a hint of light from the distant sun far above. With his memory of gray came a sudden realization. Lately – during whatever living men would call the stretch of time between the beginning of his most recent ascent and now – the world around him had changed. It was subtle and gradual, and not so pronounced that he could see the sea floor around him… but there was gray! At long last, he was near enough to the surface for light to filter down to him!
For a moment, Owen almost remembered what joy had felt like. Soon now, very soon – relatively speaking – he would walk on land once again.
Then he would kill, and then he would die.
* * *
“Harry, are you sure you’re okay? You seem a little edgy.”
“Can’t hide anything from you. Yeah, I guess I am a bit out of sorts today.”
The young couple sat atop a big boulder that jutted further out into the river than the surrounding, smaller rocks along its bank. A heavy storm a few days past had raised the water level and the normally docile river was flowing faster than it had in years, but their perch was tall and solid enough to protect them from the current, and the view as the frothy water wove its way down into the tree-lined valley was spectacular.
“What’s bothering you?”
“Nothing’s bothering me, really, it’s just – I’ve been thinking.”
“Uh-oh. Dangerous pastime.” They both smiled.
“It’s taken almost two years to get all my mother’s affairs settled, what with the wrangling over her insurance, the lawyers…” he shrugged. “Now that it’s finally all over with, I feel like I’ve fallen behind in my own life, and now it’s time start living it again. A new beginning. I’m not sad or depressed, I’m actually hopeful… and a little bit nervous.”
“About the future?”
“Yeah. Specifically the very near future. For instance, I’m nervous about what you’ll say when I show you this.”
From the pocket of his light jacket he produced a tiny velvet-lined box. He tried to suavely pop it open with his thumb as he brought it up in front of her, but he fumbled and nearly dropped it. He caught the box with his free hand before it could tumble into the water, and this time held it in one hand and opened it with the other to reveal its contents.
She gasped and reached out a finger toward the diamond ring inside, as if she needed to touch it to believe what was happening.
“Well… will you?”
In response, she looked up at him and kissed him so hard he almost fell off the rock.
* * *
The climb went on, but the slope was less steep; and now Owen could sense the passing of days from the changing of the light above. He could see around him once again – vague silhouettes and indefinite shapes, to be sure, but it was vision nonetheless. His long walk would end soon.
* * *
“Who was that on the phone?” Harry asked, looking up from the pile of wedding thank-you notes – which should have gone out weeks ago – that he was in the process of signing and stamping. He’d promised to help out with all of the annoying wedding-related chores that tradition demanded, and Kelly was holding him to that promise.
“Remember that last-minute interview I had just before the wedding, the one with the investment firm we figured was a long shot?”
“They just called and offered me the job. Six-figure salary with all the perks, chance for advancement… the works.”
He jumped up, knocking a tray full of envelopes onto the floor, and embraced her.
“Congratulations! Did you accept it?”
“Not yet. I told them we’d have to talk it over first.”
“We already talked about it before the interview!”
“We talked about it, but we didn’t really talk about it. We never thought it would happen, and we were kind of distracted by other things at the time. It’s a big decision – if I take this job, it will mean a lot of changes.”
* * *
If Owen could still breathe, he would have gasped at the touch of air as the top of his head poked through the water’s surface for the first time since that terrible day so long ago. Soon his eyes rose above the waves, and he knew once more, in spite of the ravages of wear and time on his tattered body, the feel of sun and wind upon his face.
This was either the time called morning or the time called evening, he knew, but what exactly was the distinction between the two he neither recalled nor cared. Ahead of him, on the sandy shore, he saw not fish nor blooms of algae, but people; genuine, living people. He felt emotion then, again. He hated them. He wanted to destroy them all, but they fled before him as he lumbered onto the beach.
No matter; there were only two deaths Owen truly needed. The Morgan’s… and his own.
His prey, he could sense, was moving toward him. Almost as if his target was embracing its destiny, rushing to meet its fate. After all the days, the years, of Owen’s trek through the abyss, this would be the day when it all would end.
* * *
Harry gazed out the window, idly following the path of a passing fuel truck. Kelly, sitting beside him, took his hand in hers.
“Nervous about starting a new life next week?”
“No – well, yes, but that’s not the main reason I’m distracted.”
‘Uh-oh… the last time we had this kind of conversation, I ended up with a husband.”
“What I’m thinking now is kind of along the same lines.”
“Well, I’m open to the concept, but I’ll have to warn you that polygamy’s illegal in most of the world.”
Harry laughed. “No, what I’m thinking is – I mean, after we get settled into the new house and I find work and you’re comfortable with the new job, of course – maybe we could officially start trying to start a family.”
“Lots of kids, like we talked about?”
“Oh, dozens at least.”
“How about we be realistic for once and go for two or three and see how it progresses from there?”
“Oh, no,” he grinned at her, “as far as I know I’m the last of my line, so we need to breed a lot of new Morgans to keep things going.”
She gave him a playful whack on the chest, then leaned across the seat to lay her head on his shoulder. They sat in silence for a few moments, absorbing the implications of their decision. Their revelry was interrupted, though, by an announcement over the intercom.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your pilot speaking. Welcome to British Airways flight 172 to London; we hope you’ll enjoy your flight and your visit to the British Isles.”
“Well, we’re off,” Harry said. “You know, I never pictured myself living overseas, but the idea has kind of grown on me.”
* * *
As Owen shambled his way across a wide, open field, he could feel the Morgan very close now, and moving toward him once again. Slowly his prey approached at first, but it gathered speed until it seemed the Morgan was moving faster than the wind itself, the last of the line coming straight on toward his ancestor’s bitter enemy.
Ahead, a giant thing of metal grew larger in his vision. The burning within him grew intense, so that he felt it would consume him. The Morgan was inside the thing, the massive steel carriage that now threatened to smash into Owen.
So his prey was fighting back – a last, desperate struggle for survival. It would do him no good. Owen had survived the world’s deepest, darkest depths; no steel-clad, over-sized wagon would stay him. He would latch on to the thing as it passed, climb atop it, rip open its doors. He would plunge inside and wrap his bony fingers around the Morgan’s neck, and he would squeeze and twist until freedom was his.
But the metal thing, he discovered, was not a carriage; it was a great steel bird! Owen stopped in his tracks when it began its rise; he reached up and clutched in vain at empty space when the creature passed over his head. The wind of its passing knocked him backward, flipping him end over end until he came to rest at last face down on a dark, solid road surface.
He climbed to his feet again and looked to the sky, where the Morgan and the monstrous creature he rode upon were vanishing quickly into the east. The burning grew less as his prey moved farther and farther away, but still it pulled him, drawing him in the direction of his intended victim.
As he stood watching, motionless, somewhere within him a centuries-old bubble of air finally popped and released. It passed through his throat and emerged with a hiss, the sound of a long, soulful sigh.
He turned back toward the water and started walking again.