Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Homework Saves Lives

It was said to be a cursed place, stained by the blood of a thousand battles, the dead stacked upon one another in great columns and turned to stone by their own weight. From a distance it seemed a dead forest of granite, some trunks straight and glistening, some corkscrewed and black as pitch as if scarred by the fires of hell. So it was written in the local histories, passed down from well before the Europeans had come to settle. Yet no one had ever actually seen this place of woe and mourning. It was assumed to be an ancient type of campfire story, a myth, something with which the very early natives kept their children from wandering too far from their homes. “Bullshit” old mister Bedford would say, “B as in B, S as in S! Bullshit!” But Billy knew better.

Billy was a curious lad, always talking, ending nearly every sentence with a question mark though never meaning to press for information of consequence. The boy might have made a fine athlete, perhaps a French horn player of some repute or even a rocket scientist, but Billy wanted to be famous for discovery, an adventurer really but he hated that title as life itself was an adventure and everyone was capable of doing life. He wanted to be special, revered, in spite of doing as little schoolwork as was possible because he simply hated schoolwork. In fact had he understood that what he was dreaming of doing was “research” and “exploration”, he’d have quit and taken up rpg gaming to assure that he was not in any way using his time constructively.

He’d made his great find in a nearby cave, one previously undiscovered as its only entrance was the hole through which Billy had fallen while walking aimlessly through the hills of Donnick Downs, avoiding homework “like the plague”. Had he not landed “just so”, and had the floor not been a pool of very deep yet bathtub warm water, Billy might have died right then and there, but after a few moments of reorientation the boy was able to find his way to the surface and reacquaint himself with the properties of oxygen.

The fellow who had been standing there awaiting his recovery was an incredibly short yet chubby bloke; the kind one would see occasionally tending gardens in empty nester neighborhoods. He was though without the pointed red hat that all these landscapers seemed to favor, which pleased Billy greatly as they’d always seemed clown like and he feared clowns.

“It’s lucky you’re not fat” the gnome said (for Billy had identified the man as a gnome based on his reading of ‘Gnomes Are People Too’) . “You stopped just short of the bottom and if you had died I’d never have been able to get your story.”

“I’m in no mood for stories” Billy said through chattering teeth (for he had become suddenly chilled), “so how about you tell me the way outa here?”

“Oh no” said the gnome, “There is no way out. I’m afraid you’re here until your last day, which I’m guessing by your chatter will be any day now.”

Billy laughed, though laughing was hard to accomplish what with all his shivering. “No way out? That’s absurd! There’s always a way out of everywhere and everything.. isn’t there?” (He finished his sentence with a question mark, in keeping with the tradition)

“Nope” repeated the gnome. “Look over there. Those are the others who have fallen through, and as you can see, none of them found the way out”.

Billy looked to his left and gasped. There it was, the forest of spires, the granite jungle, the BS wasn’t BS at all!

“You mean” he said, working his way toward a question mark, “people who fall into that pool turn into giant rock knitting needles?”

“Oh no no” the gnome giggled; “those are tombstones, and I carve them myself, just as my father did and his father before him.”

Billy was so fascinated he had no time to contemplate the obvious and the fear that would surely paralyze him.

“I’ve never seen tombstones so tall. Aren’t they usually little rounded things?”

“Yes, and that’s very sad, we think, that a person’s entire life could be compressed into a single, and sometimes meaningless phrase, if even any words at all save the name of the deceased. It’s not like stone isn’t plentiful, nor is it fact that there isn’t a sea of talented people out of work at any given time. So why is it you humans care so little that you don’t say more in memoriam of those of your ilk who have passed on? Why do you not employ more of your time and effort scribing your history? You are curious creatures, yet you deserve better than even yourselves are willing to give. So here in this tiny corner of the universe, we take care of it for you.”

The gnome, ‘Mr. Haberdasher” by name, explained to Billy that he wanted to hear the entirety of the boy’s life story, each experience, each emotion, every movement of his too few years. Billy might have ignored the little man if he weren’t also told that in giving his tale, the shivering would stop, and he was beginning to rattle so hard that his eyeballs seemed to be losing their place in their sockets. So he began at the beginning, or at least as far back as he could remember which was more like age three when he’d flung his spaghetti across the table at his father’s boss and had covered him in Alfredo sauce.

As he spoke, the tinker tinkered, his procured hammer and chisel rattling above the ground, seemingly striking only thin air. Yet after each series of strokes a length of stone would appear, covered in symbols, growing from the ground as if an instant, granite stalagmite.

On and on Billy yammered, up and up Mr. Haberdasher hammered, until at last Billy said “and then I fell through a hole and into a very deep pool, just before I found myself talking to you.” And then, without so much as a grunt or a groan, Billy died.

It took only a few minutes for the gnome to lay Billy’s body to rest beneath his crooked obelisk. He spent a moment with his sadness, and said a gnomish prayer, just before his concentration was broken by a loud splash.

Jackie was a curious lad, but a very, very lazy boy. In fact it was almost unbelievable that he’d walked uphill at all much less all the way up the very hill that would bring him to the very hole that would rocket him toward the very pond from which he was extricating himself when he spotted the gnome.

“Had you only been doing your homework” the gnome said as he waddled within Jackie’s earshot, “you might have never been granitized.”

“Huh?” Jackie said, slightly annoyed that not only had he fallen through a freaking hole and landed in freaking the water, but now he was freaking cold and shivery and had to talk to a freaking midget!

“Oh never mind” said the gnome; “Just talking to meself. So, just curious... how far back can you remember exactly?”

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