I was strolling through the Enchanted Wood in my realm of Saragun Springs seeking inspiration. It was Honor a Dead Writer Day in the realm; this year it landed on 28 April, the birthday of the honoree of this year’s event, Sir Terry Pratchett. In the past Dorothy Parker, Kurt Vonnegut, Shakespeare, Shirley Jackson had been so honored, and I had no problem doing something for each–but this year I was flummoxed
As the ruling Penname, I’d created all that I surveyed, and the two-hundred-twenty-nine (soon two-hundred-thirty) Fictional Characters (FC’s) who live in Saragun Springs. Yet at the same time I didn’t know how any of it worked; for I’d endowed every last atom and FC in Saragun Springs with intractable Free Will. Sometimes various displays of Free Will affect my concentration.
For instance, we have a sun in our sky named Pong. I recall once thinking about whipping up a little thinking sun for Saragun Springs named Pong (which I thought might be a better name for a star than Atari), but blew the notion off, figuring that no one would care about what was in our sky. But I guess thinking about it was good enough to cause Pong to fire into being–a tiniest wisp of a notion who seized a heaping helping of Free Will.
So, unannounced, Pong showed up the day after I’d glancingly thought about creating him, and has been on the job ever since. Nobody and no thing in Saragun Springs is obliged to follow the natural laws of the Universe any better than I understand them. And as more years creep between me and my high school education, it should be no surprise that, mechanically speaking, Pong is a celestial scofflaw.
As an object, Pong is a fiercely radiant little orb, the color and relative size of an unripened blueberry held at arm’s length. Pong is either very small and close or huge and far away. Sadly, Saragun Springs lacks an Archimedes-type to study Pong in the scientific way. Nor has anyone dared to launch an Icarus inspired project. This is because a Creator of a Universe cannot make someone who is smarter than she is. She can only make individuals who are certain they are smarter than she is on the basis of their own opinions alone; a circumstance, which, of course, leads to atheism and unhappy surprises in the end.
Pong’s first day began reasonably enough; he rose in the east at 6 A.M. on the nose and set in the west exactly twelve hours later. Adequate, when measured by the flexible standards of Saragun Springs normalcy. But the tone of the process changed when he rose again precisely at six the next morning, but this time from the exact same spot in the west he’d gone down the evening before. Pong headed north that day and Pongset there, then rose from that same spot at six the next morning. The only constants with Pong are that he works from six to six, twelve hours, without as much as a millisecond of variance, dawns from where he goes down the night before, and never appears to change his relative distance. Everything else is up to Pong’s whims. I’ve seen him double back and set where he had risen; I’ve watched him do loops, feign heading one direction then go another, and zigzag across the sky. And that only touches the truly bizarre stuff he does. Pong can also stop without first slowing down and travel at various speeds. Sometimes, he will sit way high and wait until 5:59:59 P.M. then zoom toward his setting point at a rate of speed that should be impossible to achieve, yet make it on time. Pongspotting, as in wagering the exact place the next Pongset will happen, is a big sport in Saragun Springs.
Speaking of a person who is convinced that she is the brainiest in the realm, the Enchanted Wood I was in is on the Witch HeXopatha’s estate. There was no point in attempting to conceal my presence, for HeXy has spies everywhere. Overhead, I heard the caws of Crows sending word down the line, which would eventually reach the castle. I was also being shadowed by a sleek black Weasel. A bullet-shaped head, adorned with a spycam fixed to a tiny fedora, often peeped over peasantberry and hand o’ glory bushes (flora that grows only Wiccanlands); Ponglight reflected off the little fiend’s shiny ebony noggin and spycam arrangement, but I pretended not to notice. I figured if a Weasel had Secret Stoat Fantasies, far be it from me to salt the whimsy. I assumed that the cam fed intel to HeXopatha’s crystal ball.
I was carrying a lightweight pack which contained various medicinal fluids, items for bribes, my phone and a small folding chair. Enchanted Woods feature a variety of mini-meadows. At the first such opening, I set up my chair so Pong wouldn’t be in my eyes, sipped from a pint of restorative amber fluid, activated the sound recorder app on my phone and dictated the following:
“Just my luck, I packed all this tasty Stoat Chow and have no friend to share it with.”
Weasels, Minks, Ermines and so forth are calorically venal. Any critter who can eat half his/her body weight in a day is the sort of individual that a Free Lunch appeals to. The Weasel’s head popped over the cover of a Sadiefinger shrub at the edge of the clearing. I had Stoat Chow in the pack because I knew about the lurking Weasel population in the Enchanted Wood beforehand. Chalk it up to Mysterious Ways, which Universe Creators often (but cannot always) use in lieu of plausible explanations.
“Well, hello there, little friend,” I said, feigning surprise, “would you like to join me for a delicious lunch?”
Just like everyone and -thing else in Sargun Springs, I am racking up a sizable debt with the Bank of Universal Reality. Like when, say, Pong emits a long string-like tail then goes up and down it as though he were a yo yo, before dropping behind the horizon at 6 P.M., a Universal beancounter marks the impossible event and charges it to Pong’s account. My Creator informed me of this long ago. To which I replied “So?” To which she had no reply other than to mumble something inarticulate about checks and balances. Still, all the debt traces back to her, so it’s her problem. I suggested that she forward the charges back to whoever made her.
I mention this because the ingredients in Stoat Chow (mostly smoked Trout entrails and Duck eggs) though for real, are not culled from genuine sources. No Trout or Duck or any living thing was abused in any way (although all may be offended). “Magic” might be too strong a word for how the Stoat Chow I bribed the Weasel with came to be, but that’s up to you and whoever is totaling your own ledger to decide.
Weasels are proactive little gluttons. He/she bounded over and took the pouch of Stoat Chow I handed him/her without hesitation. I saw that he/she was also wearing a trench coat. The preceding sentences presented an issue that I needed to clear up before I went bonkers wondering if I was dealing with a male or a female.
“Hi, I’m Leila.”
“Penrose,” said the Weasel, speaking in a tone of voice, that, like the name, could go either way gender-wise.
Even in Saragun Springs, it is bad manners to inquire into someone’s sex. And when you consider that I actually created this Penrose, you’d think I’d know whether I was in the company of a Heasel or a Sheasel–but that pesky Free Will has a way of interfering with Mysterious Ways.
The residents of the Springs have one thing in common. Every last one of us is a well-mannered eater. No one gulps or gobbles (unless a Turkey) or slurps or behaves grossly with food, and we understand the concept of the napkin. ‘Tis rare on Earth to see a Stoat chew with his/her mouth closed, but it is the case here. Free Will allows for good things, too.
“So, gotta family? Any Weaselets? Do they chatter about Mom and/or Pop popping about?” This was my second to last go (albeit clumsy) at clearing up the he/she mystery. Figured that Penrose might say something about a husband or wife. I figured wrong.
Penrose swallowed and said “Nope. I serve Mistress HeXopatha.”
I sighed. Here I was fruitlessly playing twenty questions with a Weasel.
“So, Penrose,” I said. “Why the Sam or Samantha Spade (my last go at it) routine?”
He or she smiled, an expression which always looks sneaky on the face of a Stoat. “Mistress HeXopatha has sent me to guide you to the site of her latest triumph.”
I stood, handed Penrose a napkin, placed my stuff back in the pack, considered having another go at the Weasel’s gender, let it go and said, “Lead on, little fiend.”
FC animals in the realm are nearly as lazy as they are venal and prone to gambling. Unless directed to do so by someone like HeXopatha, they avoid needless physical exertion. Sponging rides are as coveted as Free Lunches and Pongspotting.
So Penrose wound up sitting on top of the pack, pulling the straps as though they were reins.
“Dude, or dudette (a half-hearted after the fire had gone out attempt at gender ID), I ain’t a Horse. Just say a simple ’go left’ or ‘take a right.’”
“What’s left and right?”
“Never mind. Just keep working the reins,” I sighed. “But if I feel spurs, consider your ass bucked.”
Penrose drove me onward. We passed a pyramid that HeXopatha recently had built in her honor by minions known as the billigits, and we ventured near the actual Saragun Spring, which is an enthusiastically polluted body of oozing liquid, which reeks like a bathroom does after one’s problem-drinking grandfather has read an entire newspaper in it.
We entered a full-sized meadow. I saw several FC’s had gathered, and they were examining a document lying on a picnic table. HeXopatha was at the head of the table, like Rommel planning an offensive.
“Guess, we’re–Hey! Don’t do that!” I said (somehow withholding a richly deserved “you little fuckstick!” because Penrose had grabbed two healthy pawfuls of my hair, yanked back hard and said “Whoa, Nellie”).
The tiny blackguard jumped down and rushed to then knelt before HeXopatha. “Mission accomplished, Magnificent Master.”
“Excellent work, darling,” HeXopatha said.
HeXopatha was surrounded by her usual assortment of minions and a couple of Hammy Dodger Players (an acting troupe she sponsors). There were several black Rats and Cats scuttling about, an Owl on her shoulder, and two immense Berkshire Pigs, who were actors. By name the Pigs were Tallywhacker and his wife Taffypuller, who was about to make her debut. Everyone had been looking at a star chart on the table.
I was prepared to ask a whole bunch of questions, but HeXy placed her shushing finger to her lips. She nodded at the actor Pigs.
Tallywhacker, talks non-stop. Instead of merely speaking, he goes on long winded oratories: “By waddle, you have arrived at an auspicious moment, Miss Leila–today will be the first ever Pong eclipse, arranged by our Magnificent Master Mistress HeXopatha.” (Tallywhacker kept talking after this, but due to word limit issues, I didn’t record it.)
“Wait, wait wait a minute,” I said. “Pong’s the only thing up there–we ain’t got a moon yet–and only I can create one–haven’t even glancingly thought of one yet–though I guess it would have to be called Ping, if we do get one. And although my science may be lacking, I do know that something like a moon must cross in front of a sun to make an eclipse.”
But I knew that my logic was doomed. Logic in the springs is as rare as free quality beer. HeXopatha simply smiled, with a Are You Quite Finished Yet expression on her pretty face.
“All right,” I said, “what have you done?”
HeXy snapped her fingers and her four prime billigits minions flew toward us from the direction of the pyramid they had built for their Master. Each one was carrying a length of what appeared to be pipe.
Seeing the billigits, I smiled at Taffypuller. The instant she spoke a line she’d officially become my two-hundred-thirtieth FC. Our union forbids me from creating new speaking role FC’s without offering the “part” to already extant FC’s. But none of them wanted to marry Tallywhacker, for he really never stops talking (in fact he was still blowing on from before).
New FC’s usually get the thankless job of filling in the backstory. Explaining the billigits is as about as backstory as things get.
“I’ve never seen the billigits before,” Taffypuller said, although it was a damn lie. “Will you look at the these fellows–winged orange-skinned androgynous little people in blue polo shirts, khaki trousers and illfitting hemp slippers, who, though gender neutral, still convey a ‘guyness’ that is best described by masculine pronouns–and who insist that capital letters never touch their names, collectively or singly.”
“Bravo, my pet,” Tallywhacker said (plus a bunch of other stuff that would blow the word limit if put down.)
Indeed it was the billigits and as they drew nearer I saw that they were carrying lengths of a telescope, which they linked together upon landing. Instead of a stand, the billgits held the assembled scope and pointed the business end of at at where Pong was at the time.
“Good luck tracking that guy,” I said.
“Oh, he will behave today,” HeXopatha said. “We’ve come to an agreement.” She then unrolled a blank scroll and held it at the lens end of the scope; for gazing at Pong is just as tough on the eyes as sun gazing is in any dimension.
Pong’s fierce little orb shone on the scroll. Yet within seconds a perceptible shadow began to eat into the tiny blueberry and in a few moments there was darkness.
“It’s now safe to look through the lens, Creator,” HeXopatha said.
I did and saw a thumbnail-sized Turtle with four seed-sized Elephants on his/her (sigh) back, holding a flat object that looked like a pizza glowing a strange greenish purple, pausing in front of the face of Pong.
I stood back and let the others take turns gazing at Discworld as it slowly passed through our skies.
“Gotta hand it to you HeXy, I was stumped for an idea on how to honor Sir Terry,” I said. “Good job.”
“Perhaps it is possible that a person can be a bit brighter than her creator?” HeXopatha more said than asked.
I sighed and caught a glimpse of a moon rising in the south. Born in the same glancing manner that had created Pong.
“Hello, Ping,” I said to the small octarine moon. “Welcome to Saragun Springs.”