Storytime: The Fat of the Land.

October 21st, 2015

There were a whole bunch of them there all wandering along and after a while they got sort of tired and hungry and then someone said ‘hey, this place looks okay’ and that was where the problems started.
I mean, it wasn’t the place’s fault. It was pretty okay. A little blue narrow-mouthed bay with some rough and rocky headland above it, all watched over by stubby green foothills.
“We’re going to need some sort of plan,” they said. And they pointed at one person. “You’re the mayor.”
The mayor nodded. This was how this sort of thing happened. “The first thing we do,” said the mayor, “is we find the local natives.”
They looked around for a few minutes and they turned up one guy in a hammock.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hello,” they said to him. “Are you the local natives?”
The guy considered this. “Well, I moved in a couple weeks ago. So I guess? I’m not the first person to come here, but I’m the only one at the moment.”
“Good enough,” said the mayor. “Well, we’re staying here now. Got any tips?”
The guy in the hammock scratched himself. “Well, mind the mosquitoes. Don’t settle too close to the back of the bay; there’s all sorts of sandbars in it. The point’s prone to avalanching too, so don’t settle too FAR from the bay. And the hills aren’t so hot for growing crops, so-” and then he saw that they weren’t paying attention to him because they were all busy putting up houses, so he sighed and tucked himself deeper into his hammock and had a nap instead of talking.

They set up a town. Or a village. Hamlet. Semantics, really.
It was a fishing town. There was just one problem: the fishing was awful.
“Having trouble?” the guy in the hammock asked the mayor, who was visiting.
“A bit,” the mayor said. “Three boats got stuck today in the sandbars. A fourth capsized from laughing too hard. A fifth was overloaded trying to rescue them and almost sank. Then a sixth was in too big a hurry trying to get through and bonked into the fifth, tipping them both over.”
“Ouch,” said the guy in the hammock. “How many boats d’you have?”
“Ouch,” said the guy in the hammock.
“Listen,” said the mayor. “D’you think you could help? Just some advice, or something? We’d be very grateful for any help you could give. After all you’ve lived here for time immemorial.”
“About a month now.”
“Good enough.”
The guy in the hammock scratched himself. “Well, I could tell you a bit of a trick my grandma showed me, if you’d like.”
So he got out of his hammock and they followed him along to the mouth of the bay, where he stopped and got them to grab a few tree-trunks and get ready. Then he stood up right next to the water and stretched and shook himself.
“Man alive I am so tired,” he said. “My head’s heavy and my eyes are droopy and my legs are wobbly and I just want to have a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong nap.” And he opened his mouth up and yawned so wide his teeth nearly bit the nape of his neck, and because yawns are like that everyone else followed him. And right when everyone else was yawning fit to burst, there was a long slow sigh from the mouth of the bay as it yawned too, creaking wide, wide open.
“In in in hurry up hurry up hurry up” he said, and they hurried the logs into the water and hey, the mouth of the bay was wedged open at least twice as wide as it had before, stuck mid-yawn.
“That’ll do ‘till it wakes up later,” he told them. “But you’ve got to be careful about it, because-” but by then they’d all headed home to get their boats out, and so he retired with a sigh to his hammock.

They were getting loads of fish now. The boats bobbed in and out morning and evening and soon enough they were throwing up new homes and storehouses and docks and everything all over the bay, which got a bit inconvenient because of just one problem: rocks.
“You look upset again,” the guy in the hammock told the mayor, who’d come along to swap fish recipes.
“That’s my job,” said the mayor. “There’s rocks tumbling down off the headland day and night. We need to pick stones off that place to build fences and cellar walls and such but how can we do that when an errant sneeze knocks down someone’s house? It’s a mess and a conundrum and it’s the reason I spent the last week sleeping in a patch of poison ivy instead of my house.”
“I was going to ask you about that,” said the guy in the hammock.
“Know anything about how to avoid avalanches?” the mayor asked. “Please, I’m begging you here. Share your ancient wisdom.”
“I’m thirty-four,” said the guy in the hammock. “But I’ve got an idea or two. Well, maybe just one. Let me see.”
So he got out of his hammock and they all hiked up to the headland after him – being very careful where they stepped, so they only knocked over two houses on the way up. And they all stood on top of the headland above the mouth of the bay and he sat down.
“Pick a lot of ragweed,” he suggested to them. And they did so, sneezing all the way, and they only knocked down three more houses doing it, and they piled it up in front of him.
“Right,” he said. And then he sneezed. “Now stuff it into all the holes and crannies you can find.”
And they did that, and nothing happened. Then the headland sneezed and sneezed and SNEEZED, three times, knocking over ten houses each time, and then it whistled its way into a hard, clotted silence.
“Congested,” he told them. “It’ll stay put for now, so long as-” and he stopped talking because they were all heading downhill to rebuild their houses, and were mostly out of hearing already.

Their houses were big, and their boats too. They hauled in food day and night but their kids wouldn’t stop complaining and now and then you got bored of salted fish and so you took up your hoes and your rakes and your axes and you cleared out a patch of soil and you grew some ugly straggly things that weren’t quite onions.
“Do you know what this is?” the mayor asked the guy in the hammock.
The guy in the hammock poked it. “Well,” he said. “Don’t quote me or anything, but that’s very nearly an onion. Maybe.”
“And it’s all we’ve got to eat that doesn’t have fins,” the mayor complained. “Trying to grow anything here’s like pulling teeth; all the good soil on the foothills is spread thinner than jam on my aunt’s toast. It’s very unfortunate.”
“Tell me about it,” said the guy in the hammock. “Why have toast if you aren’t going to go heavy on the jam?”
“Please, please, please,” said the mayor. “Reveal your primeval knowledge born of a connection unto the land which none can understand.”
“Dunno,” said the guy in the hammock, “but I can try something if you’ve got enough feathers. You got feathers?”
“In pillows,” said the mayor.
“Best unpack ‘em.”
So they all did and they followed him up to the foothills and they pulled their feathers out and readied them.
“Now TICKLE,” he said.
And they tickled the foothills under every nook and cranny and rock and crevice until they couldn’t stop giggle and the ground itself rolled up under their feathers in a seizure of mirth, tumbling over itself to get away and squooshing all the soil into a nice little wrinkled valley.
“This’ll do for a little while,” he told them. “Just be sure not to-” he trailed off, because so were they. They had pillows to re-stuff and fields to re-till.

It was a busy place now. There was a broad, deep bay. There were firm strong cliffs. There were lush hills striped with fields.
There was a guy in a hammock. He was being evicted.
“It’s nothing personal,” said the mayor. “But you’re driving up property values.”
“I’m trying to tell you about that,” said the guy in the hammock. “If you’d just listen for a –”
“And your crazy rituals keep the neighborhood awake at night.”
“My snoring? I mean, I told you that-”
“Really, it’s not your fault, except for all the ways it is,” the mayor sighed. “It’s just your culture. Your primitive, unchanging culture from before the dawn of time.”
“Is this about my hammock? Listen, talking about ‘unchanging,’ there’s something that you really should know about-”
“So clear off,” said the mayor politely, and he went home to dinner.
The guy in the hammock considered this for a while, looking out over the landscape. He drummed his fingers on his knee and looked around and estimated. Then he guesstimated.
“Well,” he said. “I tried.”
Then he left so fast he didn’t even pack his hammock.

It was a new day. It was a good day. It was a day to send out the fleets, to build up to the skies, to bring in the harvest.
They stretched. They limbered up. And they got to work.
Now, three things happened that day.
First, the grandest and most enormous fishing boat yet made was set to the water.
Second, a great and wonderful lighthouse’s foundations were laid upon the brow of the headland.
Third, the first ox-drawn plows were finished and brought to field.
Then, three problems happened that day.
“What’s this?” they said. “The bay’s mouth is clogged with rotten old timber. What’s this doing here? We’d best clear it before it snags our keel.”
“What’s this?” they said. “The ground here is full of rotted old weeds. We’d best fill these holes before they crumble our foundation.”
“What’s this?” they said. “The soil here is so hillocky and wrinkled you’d think it was resting on an old man’s crowsfeet. We’d better smooth it.”

So they did. And did. And did.

Now, what happened next was very complicated from their perspective. But pretty simple from the landscape’s.
The mouth of the bay popped shut with a surprised snap.
The headland, its sinuses cleared, sneezed hard enough to rattle its pores out.
The foothills, with a sharp yelp, clenched themselves up.

They left very quickly after that, picking up what they could and moving on.
What a mistake, they agreed, as they headed over the wincing hills. What a mistake. How could they have picked such a terrible place to live? Next time would be different.
First, they needed a plan… And a mayor…

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