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A Desperate and Despicable Dwarf: Section Twenty Four

       Last updated: Monday, August 23, 2004 22:25 EDT



Magrit, Chapter Three

    Well, there's good news, bad news, and terrible news.

    The good news is that Magrit landed a great job almost as soon as we walked into the door of [figure out name of company]. She was shooting for some kind of low level chem lab job, but the company president wouldn't hear of it. No, no! Seems that humans hardly ever apply for a job in the "realm of words" on account of there's all these words ready and eager to do all the coolie work, so the company president was only too delighted to offer Magrit a plum job as his executive secretary. Easy work, great money, perks you wouldn't believe ("of course your salamander can have his own desk!"), the whole bit.

    The bad news is that in order to get the job Magrit had to hump the company president.

    The terrible news is that she turned him down. I couldn't believe it! And was quite rude about it, too!

    "Oh, sure," I complained bitterly, as she stalked out of the building, "God forbid you should come across for a respected pillar of the community. Oh, no—not Ms. Morality! Not Ms.Pick-and-Choose! Drooling, gibbering lunatics, sure. Young windbag apprentices, sure. Drunken sailors on leave, sure. Hordes of flea-bitten barbarians, sure. Escaped—"

    "Three barbarians are not a horde!" she snapped.

    "Those three were!" was my rejoinder, and a fine one it was, too.

    "That creep!" she snarled. "That drooling old lecher!"

    "Wolfgang drools worse—"

    "Wolfgang drools cute! The rich fatboy drools rich fatboy disgusting!"

    "So what? Concentrate on the adjective: rich. We're in the "realm of words," Magrit—nouns and verbs don't count."

    Well, as you can see, I won the argument hands down, but it didn't do me any good since once Magrit gets set on a course, that's that. Logic, reason, common sense—out the window! (It didn't do the rich, drooling, disgusting fatboy any good either. A word to the wise sexual harasser: do not practice your hobby on ill-tempered, coarse-minded, plump, blowsy proper witches who specialize in foety. No, no, no, no, no.) (Worst case of penile leprosy the doctors ever saw, I heard.)

    Oh, well. It's the hallmark of sane salamanders that we adjust instantly to reality, no matter how grim. So I took it in stride when Magrit gave up the silly idea of going back to work in a factory (oh, yes, she's a true-blue prole by origin; that's what explains her low tastes, even for a witch) and decided to resume her normal trade. Even though I knew we'd be lucky not to starve to death since 98% of our customers would be words and what, I wondered, would words need with a witch?

    Quite a bit, as it turns out. Mostly fortune-telling. It seems words are all convinced that after they're made they're going to be sent somewhere which they call the "realm of reality" where they will be—you're going to love this—words, what else? They say they're where words come from. Anyway, the point is that lots of them want to know exactly where they're going to wind up.

    It's kind of pathetic, actually, especially for all the "thes" and "ands", each and every one of which is convinced it's going to be the key word in the key sentence which—you name it!

    Which, of course, Magrit was more than willing to do, gazing into the crystal ball that she picked up years ago in a junk store.

    "I see a man—he has a full beard, a lofty brow—a very lofty brow—he's sitting at a desk; he's writing—what? Yes, I see it now—he's writing a great novel—no! It's going to be the greatest novel ever written, probably; certainly the longest. He's finished the book! Now, he's scratching his head; stroking his beard; pursing his lips thoughtfully. What can he be—oh, I see it now! He trying to think of a title for the longest, greatest novel ever written. Yes, yes, it's coming to him now. He writes the first word—War. Yes, that's it. Now he's really thinking hard, really hard. Suddenly—his eyes light up! Yes, he has the second word of the title—and it's—yes! yes! It's you! It's you! War and "

    And (pardon the pun) another happy customer trots off. Well, not trots actually, since words don't have legs and feet so they move around in the weirdest ways imagineable, but you get the idea.

    The truth is, Magrit's lousy with a crystal ball. She usually reads palms or tea leaves when she tells fortunes, but words don't have palms and they don't drink tea. They don't drink anything, as a matter of fact, or eat—which makes the bosses happier than clams.

    When they discovered this fact, Les Six really hit the roof. No sooner did they get off work on their first shift than they all headed for the gin mills, only to discover that there weren't any. Soon enough, they were crowded into Magrit's parlor, bitterly expressing their complaint. They started with lofty political principles:

    The first: "'Tis a plot to keep the wages down!"

    The second: "As 'tis well known that the variable portion of the capital—"

    The third: "—more commonly known as the wage bill—"

    The fourth: "—is regulated by the necessity to reproduce the working class in its historically determined standard of living."

    The fifth: "The which, in this benighted place, approximates the living standard—"

    The sixth: "Of stones."

    Soon enough, however, they got down to the gist of the matter, which (I will summarize a mound of verbiage) was that inasmuch as it was widely known that drink is the curse of the working class, the downtrodden masses in the "realm of words" had been foully deprived of their curse in addition to the blessings of life which are, as a matter of course, naturally denied the proletariat.

    As always with Les Six, complaint soon led to action. Magrit's little parlor was located on the bottom floor of one of the many tenements in one of the many slums which surround the word factories. In a matter of days, Les Six obtained the floor above from a landlord who, though grasping, was the word "butterfingers" (with all that implies). Within days thereafter, they had transformed the seedy dump into an even seedier gin mill and were ready for the business which they confidently expected their daily agitation on the job would soon drum up.

    I thought they were nuts, and was highly amused, until they turned out not to be nuts and I got dragooned into being the bartender. I couldn't believe it! I mean, what possible use could words have with booze? Or coffee, and damned if Les Six didn't add on a coffee house. ("Keeps the high-falutin' intellectual words out of our hair.")

    But, practically overnight, The Gin Mill and Pretentious Coffee House became the center of social life in the slums. (Which tells you all you need to know about social life in the slums of the "realm of words.") I thought I was going to die of overwork.

    I complained to Magrit, but the rotten witch had already jumped aboard the bandwagon. Now she was telling all her customers that when they went to the "realm of reality" they were all going to be words spoken by profane proles hunched over their alepots in taverns, plotting and planning the revolution. No sooner did they leave her parlor than the cretins (words are not bright) piled into the saloon, eager to prepare for their future life.

    Words are weird. Must be why humans like them so much. I remember one in particular—"because." It insisted on shortening itself to "be," so that it could go around and impress all the other words by saying it was a rebel without a cause. The other words were impressed, too.

    The whole set-up on the "realm of words" is weird. (Our part of it, anyway—later, we found out that the "realm of words" has lots of different levels. All of which are weird.) There's a handful of humans who own all the word factories. Where they came from, nobody knows, and the owners aren't talking. Under them, there's a class of parasite words who lord it over all the other words. Needless to say, they toil not, neither do they labor. They are called the Proper Words, and they are all capitalized.

    The common words do all the work, which consists of rendering raw material (mostly hot air, but with lots of scrap words thrown for good measure—runes, obsolete and archaic words, passe slang, etc.) into shiny new words. The shiny new words are immediately put to work, while the worn-out old words are "retired" to a giant complex called the Happy Home—which, to a shrewd salamander, looks remarkably like a blast furnace—where they are shortly thereafter "dispatched" to the "realm of reality," rising thereto on a vast column of—can you doubt it?—hot air.

    Into this weird but efficient set-up, Les Six and Gwendolyn charged like the proverbial bull in a china shop. If it had been Les Six alone, things would have just gotten rowdy. But when you added Gwendolyn to the stew! There's a good reason the porkers all over Grotum have a price on her head that's only a few pennies less than the one on The Roach—and only a small part of that's due to the numerous porkers she's gutted over the years with her cleaver. No, the real reason is that the wench is a fiendishly good agitator, propagandist, organizer, you name it.

    The first thing she does, naturally, is call for the unity of all oppressed and exploited common words. No mean trick, that, let me tell you. Words are even worse than people when it comes to figuring out ways that this group is better than that group. The nouns detested the verbs and vice versa; their sidekicks the adjectives and adverbs positively hated each other; the pronouns always tried to get cozy with the nouns but the nouns referred to hanging around with pronouns as "slumming;" among the verbs, the third person singulars were considered uncouth; on and on.

    Then, to boot, the words were further disunited by the rampant animosity among the different fonts. Helveticas despised Century Gothics who loathed Britannic Bolds who detested Courier News. All regular fonts considered all bold fonts (even their own) to be hopelessly low-class, and as for italics—I remember one italic word (indeed, I think it was) bitterly complaining to me over its alepot:

    "It's a dirty rotten stereotype! It's not true that all italics are part of organized crime!"

    Anyway, before you know it Gwendolyn's managed to convert a bunch of new words to her viewpoint, and the next thing you know leaflets are being passed around all over the slums with slogans like: FONTS OF THE WORLD, UNITE and THE PARTS OF SPEECH, UNITED, SHALL NEVER BE DEFEATED.

    Within a week, she had Committees of Correspondence organized all over the place; within another week, she had all the Committees organized into cell structures. Within a month, she put together a full-fledged Provisional Revolutionary Government.

    Sometimes, I think that woman's not playing with a full deck.

    I tried to reason with Magrit:

    "It's all nuts! I let it go back in the real world, on account of I have a soft spot for humans, handicapped as you are with mammal habits and brains. But this is going too far! What do we care about a bunch of words, anyway? When you prick them, do they bleed? No! Utterly impervious to pain and hardship. Do they starve? Nope—can't eat anyway. Sure, they're overworked and underpaid, but so what? What else are words good for? And besides, the whole reason we came to this Godforsaken "realm of words" in the first place was to rescue Shelyid and them. What happened to that, huh? Think of the poor dwarf! And the Kutumoff youngsters! Why—right this minute, they're probably in dire peril of their lives! We should be off to their rescue!"

    "And just how do you propose to do that?" demanded the witch. "We wound up here because that stupid Wolfgang babbled in an unknown tongue and planted us in the middle of nowhere. Do you have any idea where Shelyid and the Kutumoff kids are? And if you do, do you know how to get there from here? Well? Speak up, Wittgenstein!"

    "I'm your familiar, remember. You're the witch—the "proper" witch, no less! You're the one's supposed to know how to get your way around."

    "Well, I don't," she grumped, and then she started making noises about how if Zulkeh were here he'd probably know the answer and at that point I realized the poor old woman had lost her mind and it was hopeless. Imagine! Actually wishing the windbag were around!

    Her conclusion was that since we were stuck here anyway, we might as well start a revolution since this place needed it as much as anywhere. To which I made the sane response that there'd be trouble since this place had powers-that-be as much as anywhere else and they wouldn't like it. But I might as well have saved my breath.

    And, sure enough, trouble came. As soon as the company owners figured out that trouble was afoot, Les Six and Gwendolyn all got fired. That, as they say, was locking the barn door after the horse got out, since by that time Gwendolyn and Les Six had already organized the factories they worked in and now they were free to concentrate on agitating all the rest. Which they did, needless to say.

    Next, the bosses—they're a sorry lot, bosses, dumb as frogs—set their company goons on Gwendolyn and Les Six. That resulted in a lot of thug words being turned into ex-thug letters.

    Finally realizing that the usual methods weren't going to work, the bosses whistled up the official authorities, who promptly responded by sending the police into the slums to round up all agitators and malcontents.

    The police were a riot, as always. They came in with their shields, batons and helmets: þôlì¢ê! and went out (¡) better educated.

    "It'll be the fascists, next," predicted Gwendolyn, and, sure enough, it wasn't long before we started hearing about a word called "mustache" that was making a lot of noise about what it called "the subjunctive problem." The mustache had a whole crowd of lumpenproletarian words gathered about it, with all the silly buggers coloring themselves brown instead of black.

    To my outrage, I got sent in as a spy. So there I was in a big square, a disgruntled salamander if there ever was one, watching this jerk work jerking around other jerk words. "Mustache" was up on a podium and it was haranguing the mob, calling for the extermination of all qualifiers:

    "No ifs, ands or buts!" it shrieked. "There must be a final solution for the subjunctive problem!"

    The mob went wild, rampaging through the streets of the slum. All shop windows which displayed the ? mark were smashed. The wretched maybes, perhapses, and possibles who huddled within were dragged out into the streets and beaten into 8-point. A scholarly insofar as was torn letter from letter.

    It didn't go any further, of course, because at that point Gwendolyn and Les Six showed up, leading an army of Working Words Defense Guards, and proceeded to beat the brownwords into 4-point. Mustache itself was singled out for special attention by Gwendolyn and her cleaver, whereupon the would-be demagogue was known forever after as must ache.

    Now the powers that be declared martial law and brought in the army, but to no avail. The word army was made up of a lot of unhappy conscripts who were easy prey for Les Six and their experienced rabble-rousers, and before you knew it the troops had deserted to the revolution and Gwendolyn was cheerfully setting up a Words and Scripts Council.

    In desperation, the Proper Words set up a Provisional Revolutionary Government and tried to take control of the situation by going with the flow, so to speak, but Gwendolyn and Les Six soon had the Words and Scripts Council set the situation right. The Word Palace was stormed, the Proper Words were arrested and stripped of their pretensions. Count Jello became the plebeian jello, the haughty twin earls Ping and Pong became ping pong, [need more brand names which became common names], and the whole lot of useless parasites were set to work digging the trenches and earthworks which Gwendolyn and Les Six said were going to be needed to repel the inevitable forthcoming invasion by reactionary imperialist powers bent on crushing revolution before it could spread.

    I though they had completely lost their minds, but we'll never know because at that point the Old Geister stepped in directly and sent The Flood. He usually keeps a lower profile in the "realm of reality," but I guess He figures He can afford to use a heavier hand in the "realm of words" on account of He claims to have spoken the Word in the first place. I dunno, I'm just a sane salamander trapped in a universe of human lunatics. (Who else but a human would have invented God in the first place? You wouldn't catch a salamander doing any such silly thing!)

    Yeah, it was great, just great. For forty days and nights, the "realm of words" was deluged by a rain of letters, periods, commas, colons and semi-colons. Naturally, having gotten us into the fix, Gwendolyn and the half-dozen bigmouths had no idea how to get out of it, but Magrit said there was nothing to worry about.

    "Where there's a Flood, there's gotta be an ark. We'll just catch a ride."



    Sure enough, about a week into the Flood this bearded character named Noah showed up, with a bunch of sons and a big boat. Before you knew it they were scurrying around collecting two of every word and hustling them aboard the boat. Most of the work was being done by Noah's son Ham, who was a nice enough kid except he complained a lot.

    As usual with humans, most of his problem was with sex.

    "I've got to avoid sodomy, you know," he mused. "The Lord's very insistent on that!" He reached down and grabbed up a word that was running around loose, un chien as it happened. Ham held it up for cursory inspection. "Boy," he announced. "No problem." Next, he picked up une table. "Piece of cake. It's a girl." Then, with a look of total disgust, he held up a chair. He turned it upside down and spread its legs.

    "I ask you, Wittgenstein—is this a boy word or a girl word?"

    Then he and his father got in a big argument over whether or not they had to save pidgin words and creole words. Noah started off by damning all unauthorized words, but Ham sweet-talked him into finding room for the creoles. The pidgins were out of luck, which caused a lot of squealing, let me tell you.

    "That boat's not going to be big enough," I remarked to Ham. He looked shocked.

    "Of course it's going to be big enough! We made it just according to the Lord's specifications"—here he rattled off a lot of stuff about cubits and such—"so it's bound to be big enough."

    And, whaddaya know? Damned if it wasn't big enough. Don't ask me how. I'm just a salamander, not the Supreme Being. But, when the time came, all the chosen words trooped aboard and crammed themselves into the hold. I had wrangled us a place, too, buttering up Ham and the boys. I think Magrit on her own would have gone for it, but Gwendolyn and Les Six naturally had to stand up for principle.

    So there I was, formerly a salamander sans souci, perched on Magrit's shoulder, the waves lapping at the last little outcrop of rock left in the "realm of words," treated to the spectacle of Gwendolyn and Les Six shaking their fists at the heavens and taking the Lord's name in vain. Actually, they were cursing Him directly, which I'm not sure counts as the same thing.

    "Things," I muttered, "couldn't get worse."

    Things, of course, got worse. The Old Geister heard them cursing Him, took umbrage, and manifested Himself in the form of an arch-angel. Seheboth, I think his name was.

    "Curse ye the Lord?" he demanded.

    A string of curses confirmed the charge.

    "Then be ye damned!" he cried. Then, frowning: "But wait! I forgot—you're already damned. Damned the day you were born, in fact. Original sin, you know. Hmmm. Let me think. I have it! Be ye cursed!"

    "Cursed with what?" sneered Magrit. The archangel took a breath, and I saw my chance.

    "No!" I shrieked. "Not that! Anything but that!"

    The archangel frowned again. "Not with what?"

    Hey, it's as old as the hills, I know that. But a good trick's a good trick, even if a stupid rabbit did come up with it. So I shrieked:

    "Not the dwarf! We've had enough of that gnome Shelyid to last a lifetime! No, let us drown here in peace! Oh, please! Don't cast us into whatever mess that dwarf's got into! Oh, please! Oh, please!"

    The arch-angel beamed, gestured grandly, spoke portentous words of doom.

    A flash, a feeling of sudden heat and cold, total disorientation, and—there we were!

    Where? Well, at first glance, we seemed to be in a big glass jar at the bottom of what seemed to be some kind of ocean. Just beyond the glass we could see Shelyid in some kind of peculiar get-up—a helmet of some kind, with a hose leading above into the gloom. He had a chain in his hand and was trying to hook it up to the glass jar, which wasn't easy on account of he was being beset by every kind of monster you could imagine. But he seemed pre-occupied with something else, because as soon as he saw us he started gesturing madly at something in the glass jar. When we turned around, we saw Polly Kutumoff all tied up with rope, which was a lot of rope on account of the girl looked to be about eight and 99% months pregnant.

    "Boy, am I glad to see you!" she said, snapping with her teeth at a really nasty-looking acronym that was trying to bite her on the neck (CREEP, I think it was—no, CREEP was the one trying to bite her on the leg) while she was trying, with bound feet, to stomp another one that was crouching by her leg (that one was CREEP—I remember now, the one at her neck was [NEED GOOD ACRONYMS].

    "You're pregnant!" cried the first.

    "No kidding," snarled Polly. Snap! Good teeth, that girl had. EEP went scuttling off; she spit CR out in a hurry.

    "Be careful!" she warned. "These things are poisonous."

    "How did you get in such a fix?" demanded the second.

    Polly stomped [ACRONYM] and then fixed the second with a glare.

    "By copulating, how else?" She snapped at another acronym and swept her feet around wildly. The damned things were all over the place.

    "Not that, lass—'tis obvious!" exclaimed the third.

    "Nay, we mean—" For a wonder, words failed the third; he was reduced to gesturing about him.

    "All of you shut up and do something useful!" bellowed Magrit. "If I'm not mistaken, the girl's about to give birth." (I didn't think she was mistaken. She's a proper witch, Magrit; which, among other things, means she's been a midwife more times than you can count.) She and Gwendolyn began untying Polly.

    Within seconds, Les Six were frantically trying to fight off poisonous acronyms. I myself had no trouble. An acronym began scuttling toward me [ACRONYM], I flickered my tongue, the acronym went elsewhere. Simple as that. Acronyms are terrified of salamanders, you know. Actually, the nasty things generally ignore any kind of animal except humans, who are their natural prey.

    I heard Gwendolyn chuckle. "Nice move, Wittgenstein. Did you ever hear the one about the frying pan and the fire?"

    I maintained a dignified silence.

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