by John Cheese

Part II

"...did I tell you I am a dragon?"

[3: On the Difference Between Smooth & Wooly]

Enough of my troubles though; let's get down to business. The picture I have painted of Elmer is, I know, not a pretty one. This is perhaps unfair, for it is recorded variously that Elmer was at one time considered quite a remarkable place, right up there with Wild, Wolfiana, and Tuulikki, as potentially fabulous garden spas. But that was before philosophers had distinguished between Smooth and Wooly Worlds, much to the disadvantage of the latter. The evident need, amazing as it may seem simply had not occurred to people then, even to the supposedly wise and learned, the Elders of the Academy of (!?:) and the Priests of Tlooth. Clearly, the ways of prehistoric humanity do not reveal their secrets with ease, even under the scrutiny of contemporary analytical tools, statistics, the dice, and the scissors. But, be that as it may, once the fatal judgment-- with respect to primal wooliness, that is-- had been made, things rapidly fell apart on Elmer, and all the fine hopes, for tourism, for development, of real estate and industry alike, quickly vanished. A Small World Certificate of Wooliness usually always means the kiss of death as far as investment capital is concerned. This may seem unfair, and a bit like the proverbial self-fulfilling prophecy; but it is nevertheless a fact of life on many of the small worlds. The fact that the issue of innate, primal wooliness can nowadays only be accurately determined with the most sophisticated of modern instruments does not help matters, since the common lot of most small worlds have among established rituals and customs for divining the answer to this question so that they often reject the findings of the official staff from the Board of Certification. This has led to scuffles, shouting and shoving matches, vandalism, and on a few occasions, wholesale rioting, massacre, and in one instance at least, civil war. But of that later. It is a shame that no one has been able to calm the fears of the big investors, whose interest in the whole diadem of Small Worlds has been falling off most precipitously in recent decades anyway. But these powerful men are obviously fixed in their ways and no amount of arguing will convince them that a wooly world is as stable as a smooth one. This prejudice must date from a very ancient time, and so has become almost a reflex on the part of the big banks, investment houses, and other institutions of high finance.

When I was younger I used to go for long camping trips to the remote, mountainous regions of equatorial Elmer-- the Mountains of Fear lay there, wrapped in a centuries old greenish haze that apparently was a gaseous effluent from deep within the cooling central regions of the world. I would scurry up and down the tumult of crags, peaks, circs and sheer rock faces. This activity was both strenuous and dangerous, but that never bothered me. I was young, full of energy and never paid any attention to the warnings of my elders. Time and time again my friends would inquire of me, my aunts and uncles would beg to find out, what was the fascination for me of this strange place. I would laugh at this, and come out with all the standards cliches: I wanted to prove myself, etc; how exercise toughens the body and clears the mind, how my sensitive innerself required solitude among the sublime master-works of nature. All the usual jazz. Guff, all of it. For, in truth, none of this has any bearing on my hunger for hikes and trail-blazing adventure among the jagged peaks of the Mountains of Fear; it was that I possessed an unquenchable and wholly inexplicable desire to follow the wiggly lies of bright marble and mica schist, and the dark bands of basalt and slate, and the archaic formations of which they were part as they crept up and down individual summits, ridges and whole ranges of these: for I imagined this strange graphology contained things I ought to know. Indeed, the squiggles, marks, bands, stripes and complex fractures mimicked the vocabularies of symbols I knew were so crucial to the culture of a people, any people. But the fascination I felt and have never been able fully to explain has something to do with the more basic question of what a thing is, when it is physically bent, twisted, folded, burned and smashed, made molten and poured into a pattern, or dropped from a high place to splat on a hard surface; or the way materials break and splinter, and radiate out, to be percolated through other structures, or embedded there, often after being deposited by a violent explosion nearby. So for as long as I could remember, the world I knew as Elmer, was a wiggly, asymmetrical, wild-hearted place, wickedly irregular, non-linear sort of place: it was woolly. The smooth parts, --and there were only a few of these, dry lake beds, places where a glacier has sheared stone across a flat vector-- these were deceptive, the ironic fibs of nature. The true Elmer was complex, complex, multiform, and thoroughly wooly; and as I was an inhabitant of a world ineradicably wooly, I too participated in that wooliness. So the stigma of the Certification had no effect on me, really. Although I could see it caused deep unease all around me, real pain and metaphysical self-doubt. My wild tramps in forbidden places like the Mountains of Fear, corny as it may seem, hardened me and made me wiser, stronger and more able to deal with the crazy multiplex non-conformity I have seen all around me on Elmer, even in the State House, the shopping centers and in the beer halls and gambling parlors of the bright side. For when I became puzzled by the strange mindset of those not like me, those whose entire life seemed violence incarnate, senseless, aberrant or made, I could pull back my social antennae for a moment and focus on the beautiful squiggle of human eccentricity that could be observed, independent of personal identity and social matrix (or one's stake in the matter, for that matter) wiggling and worming their way, this way and that, through the hard, tightly-packed human social-matter of the room. The rhythm of this wiggling and worming, though utterly devoid of meaning in any conventional sense, either in Elmerish or any other terms, took on a significance all its own, as though it were like the deep, embedded layering of the formation of the Fear Range: this rhythm was a deep structure to be sure, but a wholly, open-ended, and therefore useless one. And the category of the useless, though much despised and ignored by the hardened pragmatist of the new order, those who determine the basic order of things, those who draw up our priorities, our budgets and lists of Ten Best, and those who allocate and dispose of public wealth, not to mention those who identify and isolate socially dangerous hotspots, crime centers, red-light districts, and so on and so forth-- all of them have a horror of the wiggly, the wooly. Because, though meaningless itself, indeed monumentally and deeply meaningless; the wooly and the wiggly can help us see clear what is truly meaningful more than any of the hallowed tools of traditional measurement. What's truly wiggly likes what's true, because it can't help snuggling up to anything that can't help being, like itself, what it is. What the wiggly doesn't like is the fake, shoddy smoothness of sham. That is why Linda Susanish beach bungalows don't look right on Elmer. That is why there are so few churches on Elmer; why there is no influx of venture capital; why no one has any interest in the doings of Big Tom Tomorrow here; why the vampires have all fled to the neo-gothic romantic ruins of Hedwerthia rather than lap up the rich, but wooly Elmerish blood. That is why not a shred of respect adheres to any of the fables common to many of the surrounding world, fables which have long been forgotten here. That is why Gump left his shoes here, and the Standing Monument of Broom fell over, much to the amusement of the local shepherds, who make fun of the spot, and will shear only their black sheep on the plinth stone; it is why they piss upon the other stones, and gleefully curse the day they were born. This is why the people of Elmer wear such unusual hats, such wiggly and wooly hats.

(4: The Great Din)

Ah, but the strangest fact about the world of Elmer is something that does not even exist in the language of Elmer. (Isn't the strangest fact about a world always something which does not exist in its language?) This phenomenon was first noticed at least 14 centuries ago by the humble priest, Jesus Unusual Cauliflower, who once upon a time made a complaint to his fellow agriculturists (Jesus Unusual Cauliflower was a common laborer in a commune dedicated to the harvesting of certain mystic herbs in the uplands of Nope Lock). At the start he complained of headaches, and as these were of the unusual variety and did not respond to the normal medicines, Jesus Unusual Cauliflower sought spiritual guidance. Alas, the elders of the commune were uanble to detect any spiritual malady that might explain the headaches. Forbearance, they advised. This is your cross to bear, Brother Jesus.

But soon the headaches changed ever so slowly into a dim sensation of sound, a deep mechanical clangor. At first Brother Jesus could not identify the source of this sound, because as far as he could tell it came forom all directions at once. A definite semi-regular, quasi-rhythmical banging and clangor, a booming and striking, a ringing and gonging. But soon Brother Jesus realized it was the body of Elmer itself that was the source of the noises, and that these were increasing day by day. At first the others, including the elders, smiled and dismissed this idea as the sad result of Jesus Unusual Cauliflower's condition, but then one day someone else heard the sound. Then another, and another. Someone who was good at names dubbed it the Great Din, and as it rose around everyone like an invisible box of four invisible walls, all the inhabitants of Elmer prayed for release, for the sound grew steadily worse, and began as time went on to become not merely an annoyance, but a positive torment, a pain.

People would lose their ability to deal with it, and go mad. The Din could penetrate the thickest of walls, the tightest closed door and window; even earplugs only reduced its immense tremendum sufficiently to make social life of some bearable. Cults sprang up in various places to celebrate the Din and its power, the justice and wisdom and splendor of the Din. Victims were exposed with unplugged ears on the Temple of Woofer and Tweeter, who became the Gog and Magog of the new order. Strange dances could be observed at all times, in the oddest of places, to placate the Din. Law and order ceased entirely for a time as the noise threatened to put an end to all the arts and sciences, to all farming, food gathering, and industry. Life became a sheer unremitting horror, as more and more poeple went mad and leapt from high places into the empty seabeds of Elmer. Truly, the end was nigh. Abruptly, people noticed the noise begin to fade. This happened very quickly, and for no apparent reason. Indeed, after only a week all the comple architecture, the maddening structure of timbre and cross-rhythm and rumble had thinned out to a distant, wavering hum. A bothersome bumblebee buzz. The deep pulsations of the lowest registers could of course still be felt, but not heard. One day the Din was no more and all the people responded by silently gathering in public places, parks and amphitheaters, in traffic islands and cemeteries. Scribes of the legislative Assembly prepared a document ordering a round of cheers, a series of choral chants of public accalamation. All the citizenry, and I must confess I was among that happy crowd on that momentous occasion, inhaled deeply and with a fullness of heart that one could never imagine in the relatively soft, permissive times we live in now.

We opened our mouths as one, and as one cried out.

There was a silence as deep and as fathomless as the Din before it. Jesus Unusual Cauliflower, who by now was an old, twisted relic of a man, got down on his knees and wept. We could not hear his cries any more than our own before them; we were all deaf, totally deaf.

The silence had claimed us and as surely as the Din, and we knew this time there would be no respite. The thrall of the Din was absolute, incommensurable and beyond belief, knowing or willing. It became the weather of our lives, our condition, and the medium through which our very being was expressed. We have been in a state of awe ever since, but because the silence is a condition we all share, it does not divide us, as you would expect. But certainly it does mark us off against foreigners, those whose ears still respond to the world's meaningless jangle. We despise this jangle, and consider ourselves in this one respect alone, superior to all the others. We do not know if the Din itself truly ended when we became enlightened, deaf in the words of those still bamboozled by the jangle, those like you who read this, but read without understand. Perhaps it went on for centuries after the event, who can say?

Indeed, there are two opposing congregations of our major church, congregations based on diametrical interpretations of this mystery. We are fairly sure that the Din has ended now, as we speak, in this the latter day of humanity. Our low opinion of foreigners does allow for this exclusion-- they at least do not report any peculiar sounds emanating from beneath their feet, and since they ase susceptible still to the jangle, they would know. At least we think they would. But our elders are always very careful to inspect closely anyone among them, even among those suffering the Madness, who complains of an unusual headache.

(5: Who I Really Am)

did I tell you I am a dragon? That I am a giant also, with over a hundred legs and a length of nearly four inches? Did I tell you I have never heard of no one called "Eulalia"???