A long time ago, when I was a tiny little thing, and before the Internet was famous, I used to run around inside my father's computer at the university that he worked at, learning all that I could. This explains my current patchwork aptitude with computers today. One of the places I explored was the Usenet pages. They were fascinating - still are. In one of the groups (alt.destroy.the.earth it was called, or something similar) were many fine postings. One, so large it was in two bits, was nothing to do with the destruction of the world around us. No, it was simply a collection of poetry and stories, that I have treasured even to this day. Well I downloaded this, edited it, and proof-read it. One of the tales I felt was particularly wonderful, and it is this tale that I present to you now. I have no title for it other than 'mantra' and no details of the author bar an e-mail address that no longer works, but I feel that this story should be read. Any information on the author of the tale would be gratefully received.
Past the small hamlet of Gnihton, across the orderly layers of gently nodding fields, there lay, well, yet another field. This particular field was quite like its surrounding brethren in most aspects, complete with dirt, weeds, corn, and of course loud, noisy, wheezing monster-thingie (apparently cornfields tend to attract to an alarming degree the likes of such). However unlike the other fields around it, each too having its own wretchedly belching blob-creature, this field was singular for its location. Admittedly the other fields had locations too, but they unfortunately were not located in the correct place. To put it simply, the field lay next to a path. Like the field that squatted next to it, this path was rather unremarkable in most aspects in comparison to those of its kind, and although it did not have its own personal monstrosity, it did have large tangles of briars and an absurd-looking strain of mutant cauliflower that it could call its own. Reportedly, the cauliflower in the aforementioned region has been known to bluster and babble quite indignantly when called absurd, but the fact remained, and even the cauliflower knew this deep inside, that it was pretty funny looking. The exact origins of the plant have indeed never been pinpointed by historians or biologists, but the current theory en vogue proposes that the thing was the result of an asteroid strike. Nothing that ridiculous could ever have developed on earth, or so ran the argument as originally published in Modern Botany. The species apparently spent the next thousand or so years entrenching itself in an area measuring fifteen feet across and eighty or so miles long. The natives, being a practical lot, had simply marked off their fields around the ground in which sprouted the cauliflower, and so the path was born.
When scientists first discovered the strange phenomenon, they found to their utter astonishment that no one in the memory of the natives had ever attempted to taste or even pick the vegetable. "No chap in their right mind would ever think of mussing with one of the bloody things. Anything that silly lookin can't be good for anything now can it?" said Henry Blankenship, a ninety year resident of Gnihton's successor, Cornwall, when questioned by dumfounded Men and Women of Science. Even more surprising were the results of the scientific community's endeavors to excavate the now beleaguered plant. Despite its wobbly, lopsided and shockingly pink appearance, the Cornwallian Cauliflower (as it soon became known worldwide) was resistant to all attempts to uproot it from its favorite locale, even the heavy and persistent use of a bulldozer was to no avail. Neither could anyone discover any sort of seeds, so in the end one exasperated biologist brandished a pocket knife and proceeded to saw off and consume a small portion of the Cornwallian Cauliflower. To no one's astonishment he dropped dead on the spot, but not before uttering the now immortal phrase, "Mother of God, but that's a foul taste." Needless to say, from then on the plant was left alone, which was a bit of tragedy considering that though the plant did contain a deadly poison, it also cured cancer, AIDS, herpes, and tasted quite yummy when served steaming hot with a light cheese sauce (all in all an interesting tradeoff). The foul taste that the doomed biologist found so repugnant was not a property of the cauliflower itself; it most likely had to do with the fat, aging wampus that had used that particular cauliflower as a urinal just several hours earlier.
Through all of this the poor plant endured in a most noble manner, hoping that somehow evolution would translate its phentoype in future generations to one with a smidgen of dignity here and there. Nature had a bit of a sadistic streak in it though, and so the Cornwallian Cauliflower would go on being brazenly pink, lopsided, and bloated until it was the last thing left alive on the earth, waiting patiently for evolution even as the superheated gases of a sun that had gone nova engulfed the planet Earth, leaving behind only a thin and decidedly pink plasma. As a result, even more sobering than the passing of the earth, the Seattle Mariners would never win a pennant, let alone a World Series. Celestial historians reply to this by saying that despite the lack of a pennant, on the plus side the team would finish over .500 three times during its four billion year life span. We digress, however.
What is most important about this path that was refuge to a strange strain of cauliflower was not the hubbub surrounding its flora, but rather a single event that took place there around one thousand years before the Great Cauliflower Catastrophe (as the incident became known). When considering this event, one must think hard to discern the proper scope of what is being discussed. Forget the Big Bang; forget the emergence of Homo Sapiens; forget Hitler; and realize deep down inside that what happened on a small dusty track outside of the peasant village of Gnihton that day in 998 AD was the single most important event in the History Of The Universe. Admittedly, the incident itself eventually panned out in a semi-swell manner, but simply the enormously terrifying, mind-boggling, spine-chilling, skin-shivering, vomit-releasing possibilities that it offered were so tremendous, so namelessly deep and primal, that even God was so startled that he let out a rather loud belch while napping near the Deneb system. The electromagnetic radiation from God's Belch would later be received by Earthbound dishes and interpreted by puzzled scientists as "Greetings Earthlings. Have you any cheeseburgers?" Nothing much could be made of this enigmatic statement and so astronomers dismissed it as chance, though to the public's chagrin, the interpretation of God's Belch spawned a whole new series of "Where's the Beef?" commercials. Back to the path, though.
The path was dusty. It had no qualms about this, and would go so far as to get right in a traveler's face and jaw with him or her in a rather ornery and persistent manner if the traveler expressed verbally any beliefs to the contrary. Combine this fact with that of the cauliflower, and one might argue that it would be altogether easier simply to walk through the corn fields. It could quite easily have been much better going through the towering rows of corn, but corn on the whole is an intimidating lot, and besides, the lands on which the corn grew were owned privately by His Majesty Ferdinand III (often called Ferd III behind his back), and trespassing except by those peasants assigned to work the fields was a criminal offense. The punishment for trespassing on the King's lands never became common knowledge. Ferd III's people were naturally stoic and accepting, the luckless recipients of the monthly royal beheading accepted their lot without a fuss or protest, but no one ever observed a trespasser heading to their fate and not screaming and fighting for all he or she was worth. Rumors of the name of the exact instrument of torture floated around hither and thither, but they must have been some sort of secret code word, for the words "Richard Simmons Videos" are rather cryptic, and so they must have instead stood for some terrifying device of pain and suffering no less. In the end, rather than risking such a nasty penalty or such a tedious and dusty journey, most people stayed away from Gnihton; it was a lousy excuse for human habitation anyway.
On the path rested a rock. While there indeed were other rocks on the path, six to be exact, seven if you count the small pile of petrified dog excrement, those rocks tended to be sedimentaries for the most part, all in all a very boring lot. Happily for the pile of dog excrement, called Herbert by others of its kind, its life purpose was fulfilled when Baron Horace Von Stepovich accidentally trod on it. Despite the pile's formidable carapace, it's soft internal consistency nonetheless forced the legendarily snobbish man to spend several hours cleaning his very leather, very black, very new boots. Of course all of this depended on the fact that the standard definition required a rock to be at least walnut sized and no less.
The rock's name was Bob. Why it was called Bob and not some other equally impressive name such as Binky, Ferguson, or Bartholomew, is a mystery. As for appearances, Bob was rather plain, a dusty gray countenance that only in the best of lights could be called dull silver and numerous scars and pits from past struggles with others of his kind as the only distinguishing features. Bob stood out instead with his intelligence and cunning. Bob disdained the stupid, boisterous ignites that spent all their time bragging among themselves about their recent exploits, what volcano they'd been spit out of, how hot it was, how many other rocks they'd beaten up, how much they could bench press, and so on. Bob similarly despised the plodding and ever-stupid sedimentites too. It was always the sedimentite who didn't get the joke, it was always the sedimentite who told the most amazingly boring and lengthy stories (some might argue that the author of this is a sedimentite), it was always the sedimentite who drank too much spiked punch at a party and ended up getting pounded into the ground by the ignite whose girlfriend the tipsy sedimentite had made a slurred comment to. On the whole, the sedimentites were a rather sorry bunch, but luckily they were too dull to realize this, and went right on with their plodding, victimized ways. Bob was a metamorphic, and for the most part metamorphics did their best to distance themselves from their "lesser" brethren. Most metamorphics secretly believed that their race was destined to rule the world someday, but they usually kept this conviction to themselves, fearing being beaten up by an ignite or blubbered at by a tortoise-like sedimentite.
Bob's specialty was physics. More precisely, Bob prided himself in his ability to gauge the gait, stride, and distance away of an approaching human and use his extraordinary mental powers to position himself in such a way as to send the offending two-legger sprawling on its face when the toe of its boot collided with Bob. Nothing pleased Bob more than a good trip job, and his love for the sport had made him into one of the world's best. What this all boiled down to for Bob's situation at the time was unhappiness, plain and simple. The disheveled path to Gnihton was not frequently traveled, leaving Bob with few people to trip, and even worse, when someone did come along, the cursed cauliflower had a tendency to make Bob burst out laughing and thus lose track of his complicated calculations, botching the job entirely. "I was much better off back on the King's Highway where traffic could get so heavy that I sometimes had to be calculating the results of 47 differential equations simultaneously just to keep up," Bob reflected bitterly at one time. Without a doubt, the highlight so far of Bob's rather young life, a few measly million years, was when through a stroke of pure brilliance he managed to trip the notoriously watchful Baron of Ebert, one Horace Von Stepovich by name. By great fortune, the snooty baron's retainers, toadies, and personal guard had all been following him at a very small distance, and thus when he fell to the ground, his dimwitted servants stumbled over him in turn, resulting in many curses, numerous minor scrapes, four beheadings, and a broken pancreas. It would go down as one of the greatest coups in rock history; to humanity it would simply be known as International Toe Jam Day. The meaning of this day has unfortunately been a bit perverted with the passage of time.
Unfortunately for Bob, despite his smashing success, he soon found himself hurtling over the corn fields as propelled by the strength of the irate baron's left arm. Bob landed not far from one of the large and bulbous creatures, huffing and wheezing in a most noxious manner while squatting amongst its cornfield. Only later was it discovered that the creature was a distant ancestor of Ted Kennedy.
Now Bob might have simply lain in that cornfield until the end of time if it hadn't been for a small, grimy, little peasant boy who had the ill luck to be named Olaf by his unconsciously sadistic parents. Olaf's parents worked on the field where Bob had the misfortune of being tossed into, and Olaf, who was rather lazy, spent most of his time looking into the source of the mysterious burbling noises he often heard emanate from the field just before he drifted off to sleep. Poor Olaf never did find the source of those strangely compelling noises, but one day in his searches he quite literally stumbled over Bob. Not content with just chasing after some unseen noisemaker, Olaf had recently taken up rock collecting. With the addition of Bob, Olaf's collection reached three, but unfortunately, due to lagging attention span and lack of deep-set interest, Olaf's collection would grow no bigger.
When Bob found himself picked up and stuffed into the dark and fetid pocket of a dirty sweatshirt he was naturally overcome with panic. In vain he tried to free himself from his newfound confinement, but only succeeded in entangling himself with the loathsome corpse of a hairless rat, a tenant for nearly two months now, and most probably the cause for much of the pungent aroma that permeated the air. At this point there was a small thonking noise, and thus Bob realized that he was not alone in his imprisonment.
The rock's name was Gerald, and the other one's name, for there were two others total, was Ophelia. Bob soon discovered that though Gerald was an ignite, he possessed the worst qualities of both the ignite and the sedimentite. Not only did Gerald want to discuss whose volcano was bigger, whose volcano was hotter, and apparently whose volcano's eruptions had killed the most humans, he also did it in an annoying, boring, and toneless manner that even the most diehard sedimentite would envy. Of course the fact that Bob had not originated from a volcano never even occurred to Gerald. The end result of this nasal, droning soliloquy was a loud bonking noise as Bob rapped Gerald quite the nasty blow to the temple in frustration. Gerald lapsed into a wounded, very short, and very self-righteous silence, sure that all others of rock-kind would see it his way and unanimously condemn this rash and violent metamorphic's actions. However this thought quickly left his mind, and trying a new approach, he changed the subject to one even more riveting with excitement if such was possible: that of the aches, pains, and life-threatening injuries that he had suffered and still continued to suffer from. Bob's response to this discourse was of course rather predictable, and so Gerald and his aching noggin gave up, and sulked off to the side. Through all this the quiet Ophelia had sat rather wide-eyed, and altogether unsure of what she had gotten herself into.
Now Gerald did indeed have quite a few aches and pains, 476 to be exact, and though normally very slow to anger, Bob's second blow to his forehead had pushed Gerald over the proverbial edge, though this didn't immediately show. In fact it only showed when Ophelia wacked into Gerald from behind, quite by accident, the collision actually being the fault of the clumsy little boy who had very unskillfully tripped over a cunningly camouflaged log that sprawled shamelessly across the entire breadth of the road the boy had been running along.
It was all very unfortunate, all very tragic, a simple case of accidental bonking, but it happened to happen to the wrong cranium at the wrong time, for good or for evil the damage had been done and there was no turning back. For a small moment Gerald lay stunned, as did the boy, both of their rocky skulls having been addled by the terrific blows they had received respectively. They were both of sturdy stock and back to speed quite quickly, but what this implied was very different for the two beings. For Olaf it simply meant picking his scrawny body back up, wiping away a few tears, and resuming his unwieldy gait. For Gerald, though it was completely different. With a long and acidic string of expletives, Gerald soared into the air to crash against the cowering Ophelia with a resounding and extremely solid ker-thwack. Ophelia loosed a yelp of pain, and quite unlike her normal serene and laid-back self said a very naughty word and pounced in return upon Gerald.
This went on for quite some time, and Bob watched on with the smug and self-satisfied air of one who has started a big ruckus yet has somehow avoided the consequences of such. This couldn't last forever though, in fact Bob's smirk only lasted until one of Gerald's wild and uncoordinated leaps went amuck, and resulted in the bonking of all three combatants. Few things can make one more angry than when one is just sitting and enjoying a good spat between others only to be pulled into it. So it was with Bob, and though he didn't have any feathers to speak of, if he did they would certainly have been quite ruffled.
Now it was Bob's turn to screech in pain, and in time, jump with an insane and incomprehensible battle cry that struck fear in the hearts of all those involved in the fray, unfortunately including Bob himself. But Bob was already in midair, so all he could really do was roll his eyes rather nervously in a surprisingly cowlike gesture. Regardless of eye-rolling or not, the blow turned out to be the last of the day, for the shoddy and cheap fabric that Olaf's sweatshirt had been constructed of gave way, and all three combatants plus the dead rat tumbled towards the hole and then eventually on out as if devoured by some sort of burlap vortex. All four former tenants of the sweatshirt landed with a minimum of trouble upon the dirt road that young Olaf had been racing along.
Meanwhile, the boy Olaf continued his rapid journey over dirt, gravel, and pink cauliflower. He was quite excited by now, and so he ran exuberantly, arms flailing at seemingly anatomical impossible angles, legs firing in comical disarray, and greasy, matted hair twitching uncomfortably in the wind, all the while oblivious to the fact that not only had his precious rock collection deserted him, but also so had Bucky the Rat. And while Olaf would not take the loss of the rocks too hard, a few sniffles here, new hobbies involving mummified reptilia there, the loss of Bucky would be one that would haunt him for the rest of his life, causing him to lose his job, ruin promising relationships, and eventually drive him to hurl himself off a cliff and into a roiling pool of toxic goop left by the environmentally irresponsible aliens from the Sirius system. But young Olaf could not know the tragic life that lay in store for him, so for now he ran on.
Back at the point of breakthrough, three dazed rocks, and one very dead, very ripe rat lay strewn about what the reader has already recognized as the path that led amongst the cornfields to the village of Gnihton. Though Bob wasn't sure, he could swear he had heard the rat emit a very squishy "Oomph" as it had hit the road. When he finally could bring himself to take a look at his surroundings, he discovered that Ophelia had already fled, while Gerald had taken refuge under an exceedingly ugly cauliflower plant. The rat meanwhile, seemed quite content where it was, and had not moved one bit. The sun loomed directly overhead, and Bob found the heat so oppressive that he scurried under the nearest cauliflower, which unfortunately happened to be the same one that Gerald was under. Feeling the heat of the day, the humidity in the air, and the whining of Gerald's nasal voice, Bob slowly found himself overcome by the oddest sensation. He found himself closing his eyes and letting it wash over him, wrapping him up, dragging him down with its hypnotic undertow. His only complaint was the periodic bonking noise that occasionally cropped up in the background.
When he came to from the most pleasant dreams, he found himself stooped over a small hole in the ground from which emanated the occasional yelp. Bob wasn't sure how Gerald had managed to fall down and become thoroughly wedged in a hole that hadn't been there just a few hours ago, but not wanting to here the explanation, Bob used his sharper side to scrape dirt into the hole, quickly filling it up.
So that in a nutshell was how Bob found himself languishing along the lonely, nameless road to Gnihton. Bob was determined to make the best of the situation though, and so nary a traveler passed the area without tripping and falling face first into a cauliflower at least once, sometimes more if Bob was especially on top of his game. After a couple centuries of this, Bob was surprised to find himself growing quite happy, despite his initial discontent. Maybe he was just getting old, but nonetheless he no longer felt the compulsion to trip human beings at all hours of the day, in fact, two or three a month was all that he seemed to need anymore.
The only trouble Bob ever suffered was derived from the cauliflowers. Several of the foppish things had actually tried to ingest him for nutrients, of all things, and only quick thinking and a well timed kick had saved him from a nasty death at the hands of a particularly lithe and quick plant. Bob's father had been killed that way, and his mother had lost a chip, all due to a large rosebush that had sprung up on the side of Bob's childhood mountain home for no apparent reason. At the time of his father's death Bob had vowed his revenge upon all of rose-kind. Bob had also vowed never to be broken up and ingested by a plant, and he certainly wasn't about to have this done to him by a cauliflower, especially a floppy pink one.
The year 1187 began like any other, cold to be exact. In fact 1187 was so cold, that even the corn-monsters were silent for the most part, emitting only the occasional snort for warmth. Traffic was especially light during the winter months, it was only in the spring and summer, when men and women would venture out to visit their distant relatives, that the fun really began. However, before this could happen in the year 1187, Bob had a visitor that would change him forever. It was early February, and Bob's first glimpse of the traveler was not a particularly good one. Between the cauliflower and the light mist, all he caught was an exceedingly long and well-groomed beard. As the unsuspecting fellow drew closer Bob made out in addition to the beard, heavy velvet robes, a large conical hat, bushy eyebrows, and a penetrating stare. There was a staff somewhere too, but Bob would remember this later only if he was explicitly reminded of it.
The chap's name was Merlin and he was a wizard by trade. Why Merlin would ever want to go to Gnihton of all places is a mystery, perhaps he had had a bit too much to drink. The fact that he was singing a rather brazen song concerning a saucy barmaid named Josephine and a handsome satyr name Geoff supported the theory that he had a few too many mugs of the King's Finest. Regardless of the reason just why the wizard Merlin was staggering his way in the general direction of Gnihton, the fact remained that in his path was a rock named Bob, and Bob wasn't about to let Merlin off, wizard or not.
Somehow, though, Bob calculated wrong. Instead of a slight bump, a yell, and a great thumping noise as was the normal procedure, he found himself suddenly tumbling along the path away from the advancing wizard. Now nothing annoyed Bob more than being kicked. He didn't mind being stepped on, didn't care if he was thrown, polished, or fetched or perhaps swallowed by a slobbering dog, but when it came to being kicked he drew the line. Snarling in anger he performed some near-miraculous calculations, dug himself deep into the earth, and waited.
The results were rather predictable. Merlin may have been the world's most powerful wizard, but the fact remained that he was outrageously drunk, and upon contact with the glowering Bob, he pitched forward, caught himself on his staff, lost his footing again, and fell backwards quite squarely on his behind. The curses that followed were by remarkable coincidence the exact incantation for a rather nasty fire spell that unfortunately incinerated one of the slobbering, hooting corn-monsters that happened to be sleeping nearby.
Now a remarkable thing happened when Merlin's boot connected with the braced form of Bob. Normally, Merlin's boots were endowed with a protective spell to guard against what had just occurred, apparently he had a few run-ins with other rocks too. However, the spell had degenerated in recent days, and being in the state he was, Merlin could not readily be counted on to go about renewing and restoring such things. So instead of repulsing Bob away with a magical force field, somehow Bob ended up tripping Merlin and absorbing the magical power of the failing protection spell. Later, Merlin would remember none of this. He would in fact, even conveniently forget the fact that he had later woken up with a terrific headache, stark naked, in the middle of a cornfield, with a large and particularly foul-breathed wampus cautiously sniffing him, apparently pondering his integrity as a urinal. Luckily for Merlin, the wampus finally decided that indeed he would work quite well as a urinal at precisely the same moment that Merlin magicked himself far away.
As for Bob, he fell into a deep and unassailable coma for several years, even the passing of the Baron of Ebert didn't rouse him from his unnatural slumber. When he awoke he was a changed rock. The magic from Merlin's boot had woken something very deep, vast, and powerful within his mind. With the slightest effort of will he found himself hovering several inches above the roadway, and cautious experimentation soon had him zipping about as a bumblebee might do. One might wonder how the meager magic from a failed protection spell might bestow the power to fly, among other things. This is result of a minor corollary of the Law of Conservation of Magic-mass which states that quite simply, smaller masses needed smaller amounts of magical energy. Effectively, a spell that couldn't even protect a boot made Bob a wizard-king of his kind.
Bob's time had not been idle while in the coma, for he had been visited by dreams of the most wondrous kind. In these dreams he would sit at a great table filled with the most wondrous kinds of food one could imagine, pebbles from the far off beaches of Mexico, quartz from only the purest of deposits, and of course bowl after bowl filled with the diced root of the wild rose. As he helped himself to these exotic delicacies, he would be revered and cooed at by ravishing young rock-girls. Later he might sometimes retire to his throne room where vast legions of the barbaric, uncivilized humans would bow down, grovel, and worship him as their new god. Those were Bob's dreams as he lay so inert upon the dusty road to Gnihton.
Later, as he sped away into the crisp, chill night air on the wings of a magical breeze, those thoughts replayed themselves again and again inside his head. He had a vision, a dream, and none could stand in his way. He would have and stop nothing short of one thing, and one thing only: world domination.
(to be continued)