It being Christmas Eve and all, we invite you to gather the family around and read this delightful holiday tale. It’s about the holidays in no way at all, but it does feature knobs. So that’s something.
The most powerful, dreadful and awe-inspiring spell in all of creation requires thirteen thousand, three hundred sixty-seven squirrel ears. This is not the only required ingredient as that would only give one a pot of squirrel ears, however it is perhaps the most essential of the elements required to make the spell work properly, the secret ingredient if you will, though truth be told the spell is so secret only one person knows it so every ingredient is therefore secret.
The other ingredients are a myriad of typical spell do-dads such as a single unicorn hair, a blue crystal mined from a cave haunted by the souls of fifteen damned men for all eternity, some milkweed, the finely ground bones of a giant Astabarian Condor (now extinct), the tears of a love-sick succubus and Pepsi Clear.
In a faraway land called Toop, which has the distinction of always being faraway no matter where you are, a curious aberration of character brought on by poorly applied existential geography long ago, there is an equally curious chap who more often than not is known as Rolph Ten-Penny. There was a time when the entire Ten-Penny clan were known as the Dimes but due to a falling out with a local magistrate of some influence the official name of Dime was stricken from all records books in the land of Toop and replaced with Ten-Penny. This decision was of course appealed by the former Dime clan to no avail as said magistrate also ran the appeals division.
Rolph, being the last of the Ten-Penny line, was also the last of a line of wizards, mages, magicians, warlocks and sous-chefs of no small talent. Though Rolph’s culinary skills were oft lacking, his skills in the arcane arts were of such great magnificence even he could barely comprehend them, so you can imagine how incomprehensible they must have been to friends and neighbours.
Ten-Penny had, for a number of years, been pursuing a spell of ultimate power, of such great potency and might that unleashing it might very well cause all of the world to go quite mad, all at once. As luck would have it, Ten-Penny happened upon that very spell one day last autumn and since then had been collecting ingredients in order to bring his dread enchantment to fruition. Having most of the ingredients already on hand, his only speed bumps on the road to wielding almighty power were finding Pepsi Clear and the many thousand squirrel ears. The Pepsi was easily enough gained from Ebay, though the squirrel ears proved a far more elusive prey.
Few people will ever have occasion to realize that hunting and de-earing some six thousand, six-hundred eighty-three and a half squirrels is no small task at all. In fact, it can take many months. One must consider squirrel population density, mortality rates, and migration habits and whether or not squirrels migrate at all. All manner of factors need to be closely investigated. Then suitable approaches to trapping and de-earing need be investigated. All these things, Rolph did. And for many months he trapped and de-eared squirrels. And for just as many months the people of Toop could often be heard discussing the curious appearance of many an earless squirrel in the neighbourhood.
It was a brisk yet invigorating autumn morn when Ten-Penny found himself a hair’s breadth from his goal. Now on the far outskirts of Toop as all the inland squirrels and their kin were without ears, Ten-Penny was tracking what could very well have been the final eared squirrel in all the land. If he could catch this one, then it was a simple matter of sneaking across the border into the infamous land of Gutt to find three more squirrels, one of whom would be lucky enough to find himself with one ear at the end of the day.
Trudging about the woods with his ear sack and hatchet, Ten-Penny stopped briefly to get his bearings. Few people ever ventured to these deep woods, for any number of reasons, not the least of which was their proximity to the aforementioned land of Gutt. Of all the lands in the land, the Land of Gutt was one of the least well-liked, especially by its neighbours, but especially by its residents. Gutt had the sad misfortune of existing over what in scientific circles is know as a Maximo Terra Fetor, or to you and me, a stink hole. Not just any stink hole either, like the famed Stink Spot of Mog or the Ass Swamp outside the Kingdom of Renard. Gutt’s stink hole was the epicenter of all stink, not unlike the sun is the center of the universe and the source of all natural light with the exception of those shiny stone in Well-Bottom Creek.
The citizens of Gutt, Gutters as they’re known, settled the land under the assumption that, as with all stinks, one would eventually get used to it. By the time the founding fathers realized that one never could actually get used to the source of all stink, they’d already established a reasonably successful mercantile society and were loathe to abandon it. Thus, the Gutters live on in a state of stink-filled misery, jealous of their stinkless neighbours, while their neighbours reluctantly do business in exchange for reasonably priced goods of passing good quality that happen to smell.
Ten-Penny spared a moment to consider whether a stink-infused ear would alter his spell any, but quickly lost his train of thought when he realized he was not alone. A short distance away, leaning casually against an oak tree with a shoot of sweetgrass clenched firmly between pristine white teeth, a Knobman smiled at Ten-Penny and nodded once in greeting. Ten-Penny feigned a lack of disgust and nodded back. Knobmen were omens of the illest kind, and not in the cool street-slang meaning of the word, ill as in stone cold bad news.
Though rare, unpredictable and highly valuable to some, Knobmen are some of the most dangerous men anywhere, Toop, Gutt or otherwise. And you can imagine why. A man with that many knobs is not to be trusted.
“Greetings,” the Knobman said, straightening himself and brushing some dirt from his leggings as he left his tree. Over his shoulder, a burlap sack clanked as he moved, bulging obscenely. Ten-Penny had never seen such a large knob sack. This Knobman had been around.
“Aye, good day, sir,” Ten-Penny muttered. He needed to think of a polite way to rid himself of the man, if not for the fact that he was just bad news, then to preserve his squirrel hunt. As anyone who’s ever hunted squirrels knows, knobs are probably the 4th most useless bait you can use, following closely behind cougars, monks and fire.
“Awfully remote location for a stroll,” the Knobman remarked. Ten-Penny shrugged. He could say the same thing. Then again, there was no remote location for a Knobman.
“Hunting. You know how it is, best to get away from the city for that.” Ten-Penny pondered trying to turn the man into a pillar of salt or lady’s undergarments but thought better of it. Not that such a thing was outside the scope of his power, but the last thing he wanted to do was enrage a Knobman and spend the rest of his life waking up to find all his socks had been stolen in the night and his refrigerator full of feces or some such. Or the man could kill him, that would suck too. Damnable Knobmen.
“Aye, true enough. What sort of hunt would you be on with a sack and a hatchet? Is there untamed kindling prowling these woods?” the man asked. Then he laughed at his own joke. To himself, Ten-Penny swore. Somewhere at home he had an extensive list of all the things that annoyed him, and nestled in between waking up on a cold night with his feet sticking out from under the covers and Regis Philbin was people who laugh at their own jokes.
“Oh, ha, sharp one you are. No sir, I’m uh… on the trail of a squirrel,” Ten-Penny answered. The Knobman moved closer, his knob sack tinkling. In the light, Ten-Penny could see he was wearing typical Knobman garb. Mud coloured leggings, a woolen overcoat, a vest from the Northlands and a pair of Keds. Knobmen kept Keds in business. The man’s face was young, rough from a life spent in the sun, tanned a deep bronze with a shock of blonde hair falling into his eyes. Hair in people’s eyes was somewhere on Ten-Penny’s list too. So were Knobmen for that matter.
“A squirrel hunt? Well then, isn’t that…kind of sad. Don’t suppose you might need a hand? I might be able to shorten your journey,” the Knobman offered. With that, he dropped his sack and reached inside. Before Ten-Penny could object, the man pulled out a single brass doorknob. Ten-Penny frowned as the man jammed it into the oak tree and turned it. A door in the tree fell open, revealing a meadow beyond in which dozens of fat squirrels waddled about. One attempted to climb the only tree in view but was pulled down under its own flabby weight. Ten-Penny had never seen such fat squirrels.
“What land is that?” he asked. The Knobman looked confused briefly, then peered through the door a moment, before turning back to Ten-Penny.
“Land of Fat Squirrels, what’s it look like?”
“There’s no such land.”
“Is too, have a look.” He pointed through the door. A squirrel caught sight of them and made a break for safety until its wheezing breath forced it to pause and rest some six feet away. “It’s north by north west of the Land of Athletic Virgins.”
“That’s not a land either,” Ten-Penny countered.
“Is too, I was arrested there three years ago for public indecency.”
“Well how come I’ve never heard of it before?” Ten-Penny asked. He’d worn out almost six library cards in his day, reading and sometimes re-reading books. If there were things to be known, he knew them. At least all the things in the several hundred books at Toop’s local library. With the exception of one cookbook by Jamie Oliver that was always checked out.
“How am I to know why you’ve never heard of it? I never heard of you before today but here you are,” the Knobman countered. Ten-Penny’s eyes narrowed. That was a fairly reasonable point. Although, had the Knobman ever been to Toop’s library and checked out A History of Toop, The Ten-Penny Family Fun Book or Fishing for Fun and Profit at Salty Span Bay, he would have seen Ten-Penny’s name mentioned. But that was neither here nor there.
“Fair enough. So I can just wander through there and grab a squirrel or three?” Ten-Penny asked. The Knobman rolled his eyes in dramatic fashion.
“Well of course you can. Ain’t you ever used a Knobman before?” the Knobman asked. Ten-Penny shuddered. Of course he hadn’t, that was something the unseemly people did. Dirty people. Hippies.
“Of course I haven’t. That’s something the unseemly people do. Dirty people. Hippies,” said Ten-Penny. And with that, he wandered forth to the tree door and took a peek through to the Land of Fat Squirrels. “North by north west of the Land of Athletic Virgins, you say?”
“And due south of the Land of Inferior Quality Goods Imported from Distant Lands but Sold at Unbeatable Prices,” said the Knobman with a nod. Ten-Penny nodded also.
“Sounds a bit like a Wal-Mart.”
“They stole the idea,” agreed the Knobman.
With a shrug and a deep breath to calm his nerves, Ten-Penny entered the tree into the Land of Fat Squirrels. A nearby squirrel let loose a fat sounding chitter of surprise and attempted to waddle off to some manner of safety. Ten-Penny approached it at a leisurely pace, prompting the portly beast to simply roll over in submission. This was much easier than capturing Toop squirrels. And there appeared to be no foul Gutt odour here either. Perhaps this Knobman wouldn’t be so troublesome after all.
Liberating the squirrel of its ears and sending the annoyed beast on its way with a pat on its copious rump, Ten-Penny wandered off to another squirrel, and another, and another while the Knobman watched, his expression curious and confused. One could hardly expect a Knobman to understand the ins and outs of such a vastly complex spell. Heck, even a Woolyman wouldn’t get it without extensive diagrams and maybe some mock ups.
As Ten-Penny approached the last squirrel, a robust grey thing that seemed to have more than its fair share of chins, he quickly lopped off its right ear and tossed it into his sack. And that was it. Thirteen thousand, three hundred sixty-seven squirrel ears. Rolph Ten-Penny was now set to become the most dreaded, powerful being in all creation for all time ever. And then he noticed something that made his brow furrow.
“What happened to the door?” he said, pointing beyond the Knobman to the tree that had once had a door to the Land of Toop in it.
“Got closed. Can’t go through a door without closing it,” the Knobman said. Ten-Penny pursed his lips. Well, that was annoying, but the Knobman was still here at least, with his sack of knobs.
“Can you open a new one?” he asked.
“To where we just were, of course,” said Ten-Penny. The Knobman shook his head.
“What do you mean no?”
“I mean no. As in I can’t.”
“What do you mean you can’t?”
“I mean the opposite of can,” the Knobman said, as though speaking to a child. Ten-Penny felt his eye twitch.
“And why can’t you?”
“Well I don’t have a knob for there, obviously.”
“What about the one you used to get us here?” The Knobman actually laughed then, his little shock of blonde hair waving about his eyes like some drowning victim bobbing in the surf. Ten-Penny decided to bump that up the list of things that annoyed him.
“That one was for getting us here, not there. Do you know anything about knobs?” the Knobman asked. In fact, Ten-Penny did know something about knobs. He had read the book Farley’s Knob Compendium some years back. However, it did not touch on the practical applications and uses of knobs so much as depict knobs which the author found to be visually appealing.
“Well how did you get to where you were in the first place?” Ten-Penny asked. The Knobman shook his head.
“A knob, of course.”
“Then let’s use that one.” The Knobman bellowed a hearty laugh, setting the nearby fat squirrels into a pudgy frenzy.
“Oh, aye. Re-use a knob, is it? Certainly, your majesty, and afterwards let’s ride my pink unicorn to the Land of Cotton Candy and Dancing Girls where I’ll marry a three boobed princess and live forever in a castle made of butterscotch and vodka,” said the Knobman. Ten-Penny was able to detect the sarcasm.
“I see. So you can only use a knob one time?” said Ten-Penny, very calmly. The Knobman applauded slowly.
“Oh, you’re a firecracker of the mind. People should write books about you. Sings songs. Erect big statues. Of course you can only use a knob once. It’s stuck on the other side of the door when it closes, do I look like some kind of wizard that could just reach back through space and get it? You’re a daft one you are, hunting squirrel ears and thinking knobs are reusable. You’re touched, I think.”
Ten-Penny pondered a clever retort, something like “I’ll touch you” but wasn’t sure it wouldn’t come off sounding like a sexual advance. Instead he scowled. He had all his ingredients. Ultimate power was in his grasp, but the Pepsi was at home in the fridge. And he was in a land of fatty squirrels. What a dirty bugger of a situation.
Never one to rest on his laurels, or anyone else’s laurels for that matter, Ten-Penny gave the horizon in all directions a quick glance, then chose his path. South by south west. He would be home in no time, he was sure.
“Where do you think you’re going?” The Knobman called after him. Ten-Penny pointed ahead.
“This way, obviously.” And it was obvious, for it was the direction in which he was going. For all the Knobman’s cleverly sarcastic insults, he wasn’t the freshest ham in the deli himself.
“You don’t want to go that way,” the Knobman said, running to catch up with Ten-Penny, his bag of knobs clanging loudly.
“Yes I do, I have to get home,” said Ten-Penny.
“And how do you know that’s the way?”
“Because Toop is a faraway land and over there,” he pointed to some very distant mountains, “is quite far away.”
“That doesn’t make sense at all,” said the Knobman. And under normal circumstances, such an observation would be correct.
“Neither does a Land of Fat Squirrels. Or opening doors to such lands simply by jamming knobs into trees. If the world made sense it would be a foolish and boring place full of things like accountants and cream soups and Sweden. Who would want that?”
“Well none of that means your home is in this direction. Lots of things are far away. Everything that’s far from here is far away. What about whatever’s in the opposite direction the exact same distance away?”
Ten-Penny snickered. That was a typical sort of response from anyone not from the Land of Toop.
“Nothing’s as far away as Toop. That’s what gives it its character. In the exact opposite direction, the exact distance away, you’ll be in Toop. But if you went the exact opposite direction, you’d never get there because the mountains this way are much further off.”
“That doesn’t make sense either,” said the Knobman.
“Well of course not. Now who’s the touched one?” Ten-Penny said. Knobman indeed. You’d think someone as well traveled as a Knobman would have some notion of the physics of traveling. It wasn’t that hard to understand if you stopped trying to understand it.
“You still shouldn’t go this way. Go around. West of here is the Land of Ornery Cacti. It’s not so bad if you’re on your toes,” offered the Knobman. Again, Ten-Penny scowled, cresting a ridge that overlooked a veritable cornucopia of fat squirrels. The army of rodents, caught unawares in their lazy haze, tried to scramble for safety, of which there was little. Only three trees dotted the meadow below, and a handful of small, knee-high bushes. The multitude of pudgy, obese, rotund, hefty, big boned, corpulent, beefy, husky, tubby, portly, heavyset, plump and all around overweight squirrels was a sight to behold. Within seconds, most had given up on running and simply sat down again. Only one made it into a low branch of a tree. There he sat, at a height equal to Ten-Penny’s shoulder, visibly sweating. What an odd land indeed.
“What’s so bad about this way? Too many athletic virgins over the next hill?” Ten-Penny said. He suspected the Knobman of no good.
“Well, they are more troublesome than you’d think. Some of them know judo. But it’s beyond that. If you keep going, you enter the Land That Spells Certain Doom for Travelers Who Got Here by Way of a Knobman, Plus Worse Doom for the Knobman Who Brought Them. The locals call it the Land of Exceptionally Rare Circumstance Doom for short.”
“What a lie. No land is called that. It’s absurd,” said Ten-Penny. Really, how could a land function with such a name? You could never stamp it on your currency or anything. The national anthem would be preposterous.
“I swear it on my mother’s eyes,” said the Knobman. Ten-Penny paused a moment, ankle deep in squirrel flab, and looked at the Knobman. Then, with a flourish, he produced a tiny handful of magical, mystical powder, with which he filled his pockets most mornings, because you never knew when such things would be needed. Muttering a handful of archaic words that sounded an awful lot like vulgarities Ten-Penny blew the dust at the Knobman.
“What was that?” the Knobman asked, sputtering the gritty, golden dust out of his mouth. That was for the best as swallowing the magical dust could lead to gigantism or constipation. Sometimes both, and a constipated giant was most unfortunate.
“The Dust of Mystic Sight,” said Ten-Penny, squinting at the Knobman. Then, with a hearty guffaw, he began wading through the layers of squirrel pudge once more.
“What just happened?” the Knobman asked.
“You lied is what happened. Swear on your mothers eyes? Your mother is Cyclops with cataracts. You’re barely more than a conman, aren’t you?”
The Knobman snorted indignantly. Unbeknownst to him, the gesture caused his nose to slightly increase in size. Vulnerability to gigantism ran in his family.
“So what if my mum is a blind Cyclops? I still don’t want her to lose that eye, she’d look a horrible sight. Big hole in the centre of her head, what sort of bastard son would wish that on his mum?”
Ten-Penny said nothing and continued on his way. The Knobman followed close behind as the squirrel density increased to such a level that their progress was being greatly impeded.
“So are you a wizard then, with that magical dust?” the Knobman asked. His left hand was now the size of a small frying pan. Though rarely seen but ever so much more dreaded, selective gigantism was a problem no one ever wanted, whereby only random body parts found themselves growing foolishly out of proportion. Back in the carefree days of youth, Ten-Penny had known a number of spirited young men who abused the mystic dust in the hopes of selective gigantism blessing them with certain giantesque attributes to impress the ladies and the local producers of blue movies, but more often than not they’d find themselves the recipient of pie-plate sized nipples or ears like car doors.
“If you must know, I am indeed a wizard. A very powerful wizard and I need to get home to work on some very wizardly things,” said Ten-Penny. Again, had the Knobman even spent an hour in a library reading Rolph Ten-Penny is a Very Powerful Wizard Who Does Very Wizardly Things he would have known this. Granted, no one ever read that book, written by Ten-Penny himself under the pen name of Gertrude Horsblatt, but it was in the library. It had pictures too.
“Well fortune has smiled on us today, hasn’t it?” the Knobman said with a laugh, now up to his waist in bulky squirrel bodies.
“You and I have differing views on fortune, Knobman,” said Ten-Penny from up ahead, trying to keep squirrels from getting lodged in his loose hanging wizard sleeves.
“I have actually been searching for a wizard is what I mean. I need to purchase a spell. It’s for my brother, you see. Turns out Knobbing wasn’t in his blood so he turned his back on the family business and became a Sherpa guide in the Land of Abominable Snowmen. In what amounts to the total opposite of irony, he was captured by an Abominable Snowman. The Snowman in question is holding him captive and will eat him unless someone brings him the Blood Diamond of Seattle.”
“Absurd. The Blood Diamond of Seattle can’t be made by a spell. And the only one in existence is in Seattle. And since Seattle is just make believe you can never get it. Trust me, I’ve tried. I had a sweet little charm that would turn me into Humphrey Bogart and let me speak Spanish but it needed the Blood Diamond too. Can’t be done,” Ten-Penny said. Squirrel tails were now tickling his neck and somewhere in the miasma of furry bodies he suspected one was chewing on his slippers.
“Of course I know that. The spell I need is an Abominable Shrinking Spell. If I remove the Snowman’s abominability, I can help my brother escape,” said the Knobman. Ten-Penny nodded to himself. He had to admit, that was a good idea. In fact, many years ago when he ran afoul of an Abominable Snowman at the county fair he had done the very same thing to save his own skin. Once a snowman is no longer abominable, it’s pretty useless.
“So you’re saying you need my services?” said Ten-Penny, around a mouthful of squirrel fat. The squirrels here tasted curiously of cinnamon. Though Ten-Penny couldn’t be sure all squirrels didn’t taste that way, having never actually tasted a squirrel until just now.
“Can you do the spell?” the Knobman asked.
“Of course I can. It’s quite simple in fact. But, I need to be at my home to do it. If you have any way to get me there more quickly, I will only charge you half price,” said Ten-Penny, a rare and most generous offer.
“What about the cost for my services? You never paid me for taking you here yet,” said the Knobman.
Ten-Penny turned on the man, ready to give him a piece of his mind, but could only see the very top of his head amongst the squirrels. This would hardly do for any manner of serious confrontation. But in any event, the man was a ninny if he thought Ten-Penny would pay for this. He didn’t even want to be here. Worse still, his foot was damp. A squirrel had very likely just urinated on him.
“We shall discuss fees for services later. Right now I feel we may be in over our heads,” Ten-Penny said, smiling at his own amusing pun. That was different than laughing at your own joke, and he was not annoyed with himself for it.
“Whatever gave you that idea?” came the response from somewhere in the mass of fatty fat squirrels.
Shoving at the mounds of squirrels around him to clear a space, Ten-Penny picked what he felt was the most robust of the lot at hand and held it up. Removing some different magical dust from within his robes, he muttered some more words and sprinkled the dust on the squirrel. Then, quickly so as to not lose the mood, he produced a tiny vial of amber liquid and placed one drop on the squirrel’s brow. The Knobman trudged through the sea of squirrel to the clearing Ten-Penny had made and stopped to watch, brushing errant squirrel hair from his face with his frying pan hand as the squirrel began to twitch and spasm in a way generally reserved for those who had been to the Land of Poor Choices and ordered the chili special at the inn.
With a pop and a weird sort of magical hum, the squirrel’s body expanded like a balloon. Bigger and bigger the squirrel grew, the rodent’s face expressing surprise as it grew above all of its companions. The mass of writhing squirrel around them tried to retreat in fear, but laziness, high blood pressure and poor footing made their escape less than successful and eventually they settled on leaning back slightly. In the centre, the squirrel had grown to the size of a steed; massive and furry with a bushy tail like a tree.
“That’s just silly,” said the Knobman. “What’d you go do a thing like that for?”
“For a hasty getaway. I’m not about to die under a wall of squirrel flesh,” said Ten-Penny. And with that, he hopped on the squirrel’s back as though mounting a horse. The large squirrel, though visibly confused, seemed very accepting of his new rider.
“Are you coming?” said Ten-Penny.
“I don’t get my own?”
“Do you think the potion to make rideable squirrels grows on trees? Think you can just get the ingredients at a variety store when you’re grabbing a Snickers and a nudie magazine?” said Ten-Penny. In point of fact, a tree and a variety store were all you needed to make that exact potion, as a bottle of Sprite and some acorns would do the trick. Still, Ten-Penny didn’t have much left and given how his day was going so far, he didn’t want to go wasting a drop.
The Knobman reluctantly climbed aboard the large squirrel behind Ten-Penny and with a gruff “giddyap!” Ten-Penny got the squirrel moving.
It hopped in rather a rabbit-like fashion over and amongst its smaller cousins, each time shaking the ground when it landed but more noticeably shaking Ten-Penny and the Knobman to the point of nausea. The throng of smaller squirrels eventually began to dissipate and soon the land became green meadows and fields once more with barely a squirrel to be seen.
Shortly before sunset they entered the Land of Athletic Virgins. Or, rather, what used to be the Land of Athletic Virgins before re-zoning had taken place and was now the Land of Frisky Grannies. Even the squirrel horse didn’t want to stay there and ten minutes at a local inn had left both the Knobman and Ten-Penny molested and mentally scarred for life. They continued on through the night.
At some time around midnight, the squirrel horse reared up in a panic. Given the anatomy of a squirrel and the exact physics of how it rears in a panic, Ten-Penny and the Knobman were both sent hurtling through darkness. The squirrel attempted to climb a number of trees which it only succeeded in knocking down before bounding off into the night.
“What was all that about?” said the Knobman. Ten-Penny shrugged, dusting himself off as he got to his feet. As he did so, something out in the night grunted and growled. A grownt, Ten-Penny would call it, only to be met with blank stares from people who never appreciated it when he tried to invent new words.
Lurching into view from the oily night, a massive, scaly, warty body waddled into view in the moonlight. The stink of it was overwhelming. Beady, ugly eyes settled on Ten-Penny and the Knobman. Ten-Penny swore.
“What is it?” the Knobman asked. The creature parted huge, fishy lips over sharp, jagged teeth. A serpentine tongue licked out at the air.
“It’s a Blumpy. Lord, how I hate Blumpies,” said Ten-Penny, frowning at the beast that towered over them. The Blumpy drooled thick, green ooze onto the ground. Its tiny black eyes narrowed in confusion while Ten-Penny spoke for if Blumpies were known for anything, it was their stupidity. They were abhorrent at following even the simplest of conversations.
“Is it going to eat us?” the Knobman asked, terrified of the looming beast and its four tiny arms bearing equally tiny, clawed hands.
Shaped not unlike a massive, bloated toad, the Blumpy stood on two stumpy legs and balanced itself out with a stub of a tail around the back. Its four little arms were very useless for all but clutching the tiniest of items to its breast. However, with a jaw that unhinged, if a Blumpy were so inclined, it could eat a cow whole. If it were so inclined.
“We should be so lucky. Blumpies generally eat root vegetables. Your carrots, your turnips, your onions. Things like that. No, eating us would mean a quick death. Blumpies sing. And sing and sing and then they stink for a while and then they sing some more.”
And with that, as the Knobman looked on most confused, the midnight Blumpy did just as Ten-Penny said. It sang. It sang the Australian national anthem, it sang two of the latest pop hits, it even sang an old Toopish drinking song There’s More Yeast in This Than There Ought To Be and then it sang some more.
With hands clapped to his ears, the Knobman stared in horror. Never had he heard such a horrible, off-key voice in all his life. Never had lyrics been butchered so atrociously. Never had something that stank so bad sounded so bad at the same time. The Blumpy was the worst singer he had ever encountered in all his life.
The terrible voice of the Blumpy echoed all across the land. In years to come, people would tell tales of the foul night they heard the most horrible rendition of What’s New, Pussycat? they had ever heard and the next day all the cows produced bad milk and all the birds refused to fly. Even for a Blumpy, this one was a terrible singer. Terrible, yet so persistent.
Ten-Penny and the Knobman attempted to flee, at first pursuing their trusty mount and then just fleeing for the sake of fleeing. But on tiny, stubby legs, the Blumpy followed, singing its heart out. For worse than the Blumpy’s loves of singing was its love of an audience. This Blumpy would give chase until one or the other of them gave out in exhaustion.
“Is there nothing you can do?” the Knobman cried over the horrible sounds of some butchered Deep Purple song.
“Nothing to shut him up. Blumpies are immune to most magicks. We need to get away. Open a door,” Ten-Penny said.
“To where?” the Knobman asked.
“How could it possibly matter? Anywhere but here,” shouted Ten-Penny. The Knobman nodded, reaching into his knob sack and producing a tiny knob like you might find on a cabinet. As they passed a nearby boulder, The Knobman jammed the knob into the rock and pulled, opening a door into the night. He grabbed Ten-Penny roughly and shoved the wizard in, following closely behind, the sounds of the Blumpy desperately pursuing them.
The two men stumbled out into the night, falling face first onto soft, grass covered ground. The Knobman rolled over, staring up at a clear night sky.
“My word, that was horrible. I can still hear the awful thing,” he said.
“Of course you can. It’s right there,” Ten-Penny said, pointing off to the left. The Knobman rolled over and sure enough, a short distance away, the Blumpy stood at the boulder the two men had just disappeared through, singing some Kenny Rogers.
“Oh. Ironic,” the Knobman said.
“Anywhere but here, indeed,” Ten-Penny said under his breath, only to be answered by a hushed chitter a short distance away. Several paces off, the horse squirrel squatted behind an elderberry bush. It made a gesture very much like the universal gesture for “shut up, I’m hiding” and then fell silent again as the Blumpy, horribly confused by his current situation, continued off into the night, looking for a new audience.
Once the sound of its heinous voice had faded, the wizard, the Knobman and the horse squirrel all raised their heads.
“Well, that worked out alright, didn’t it?” the Knobman said. And with that, they remounted their squirrel and continued into the night.
Ten-Penny had thought he would be happy when dawn came and it seemed likely he could better gauge how long it would be before he reached his home. However, as it happened, the Knobman had been correct. At some point in the night they had entered the Land That Spells Certain Doom for Travelers Who Got Here by Way of a Knobman, Plus Worse Doom for the Knobman Who Brought Them. The locals had confiscated their squirrel horse, who now sat a short distance away gnawing on a coconut it had picked up from somewhere, and had placed Ten-Penny and the Knobman in a hastily made gallows.
“This is a terrible way to encourage tourism,” Ten-Penny said. The small crowd of locals, a rather dirty peasant class of people adorned in rags and burlap sack-like garments seemed to care not a whit. The town magistrate, who looked very much like he could be a cousin of the same magistrate that struck the name Dime from the records in Toop, stood next to a cowled executioner and read the charges to the assembled audience.
“Let it be known, that on this day, in the Land That Spells Certain Doom for Travelers Who Got Here by Way of a Knobman, Plus Worse Doom for the Knobman Who Brought Them, a traveler who got here by way of a Knobmam plus the Knobman who brought him were found guilty of being here when we clearly don’t want their kind and will now face death by hanging. After said death by hanging, the body of the Knobman will be made into a planter,” bellowed the magistrate. The Knobman cursed loudly.
“A planter? Aww, you dirty buggers. You would do that, wouldn’t you? A pox on the lot of you then,” he said, spitting. Someone in the crowd laughed and held up their public health card. No one in this town would get the pox after all. They had universal health care. The Knobman slumped against his noose in defeat.
And suddenly Ten-Penny had a thought. Then a second thought. And the two thoughts worked very well together.
The executioner made his way to the end of the gallows to pull the lever that would send both Ten-Penny and the Knobman to their dooms. And as he did so, Ten-Penny cleared his throat.
“Don’t I get any last words?” he asked. The magistrate sneered and the crowd laughed. Someone tossed a rotten tomato, but it hit the Knobman.
“Say what you will, traveler, nothing will save you,” said the magistrate.
“I plan to move here,” Ten-Penny said. The laughter of the crowd mostly died, though someone snickered. The magistrate arched an eyebrow.
“I’m moving to this land. I’m not a traveler. I’m a resident. I plan to farm. That squirrel will work my fields and this Knobman is my trusty fool and lackey. We shall raise grouse,” said Ten-Penny. The crowd muttered and whispered amongst themselves.
“We do have a powerful lack of grouse,” the executioner said. The magistrate nodded.
“If this is true, where’s your bags? Where’s all your knickers and the like?” he said. Some of the crowd echoed him in suspicion. Ten-Penny rolled his eyes.
“Is that how the people of this land move still? That is so last year. I have a Knobman. When I have found my plot of land, he will just open a door and we’ll move everything in that way. It saves a fortune in moving costs.” Some of the crowd nodded, there was muttering that this was indeed the way people did it these days.
“That true?” the magistrate asked of the Knobman. The Knobman nodded enthusiastically.
“Of course it is. Most of those knobs in my bag lead to our massive fields of grouse, just waiting to migrate here,” he said. The magistrate nodded.
“Prove it.” He lurched the bag up on the gallows and held it open. The Knobman reached in and pulled out a white lacquered knob. There was no particularly flat surface nearby so with a shrug, he jammed the knob under the magistrates arm and pulled. The magistrate’s torso popped open and a bevy of grouse tumbled out onto the gallows. The crowd cheered while the magistrate shrieked before running off, trailing grouse behind him.
“Where was that?” Ten-Penny whispered.
“Land of Grouse, of course,” the Knobman answered.
“There’s such a land?” Ten-Penny said in surprise. The Knobman snorted, causing his nose to grow bigger yet again.
“No, but my uncle does have a grouse farm. Big business, you know,” he said. Ten-Penny nodded. Of course he knew, that’s why he had the idea. And not only that idea, but this as well. Reaching into his robes, Ten-Penny produced a fine, purple dust. One of the most rare mystic dusts of all, and not easily made with ingredients found in any variety store. A few magical words and the dust fizzed to life, opening a tiny porthole in space. Ten-Penny reach through and pulled out a knob. The porthole vanished right behind it.
“What’s that?” the Knobman said?
“A knob, obviously. Use it before the locals figure something out,” he said. Currently, the crowd of locals and even the executioner were busy chasing grouse. These people really loved grouse.
Slipping free of his noose, the Knobman knelt down and jammed the knob into the wood slat floor of the gallows. With a pull, he popped the floor open and looked out into a forest.
“That’s where we met. That was my knob,” the Knobman said. Ten-Penny whistled and waved. The horse squirrel, coconuts held tight in its massive cheeks, leaped over the crowd to Ten-Penny’s side as the wizard hopped through the door. The squirrel followed quickly, as did the Knobman.
After getting over the curious vertigo caused by jumping down into a hole only to pop out vertically on the other side, the Knobman looked back at the oak tree in confusion.
“I don’t understand,” he said.
“You said in the Land of Fat Squirrels you weren’t some wizard who could just reach back through space to get a knob and reuse it. But I am. So I did. Should have thought of it sooner.”
“Oh. Right,” said the Knobman. And with that, the two men and the horse squirrel made their way back through the woods of the Land of Toop to Ten-Penny’s home. He decided he would keep the horse squirrel as it seemed to be loyal and friendly and certainly could come in handy in a pinch. As for the Knobman, though he hadn’t really been helpful in any way, it had been an adventure. Ten-Penny made him the spell to save his brother. After a long argument over who owed who what money, they agreed to call it even and the Knobman placed a knob in Ten-Penny’s door and vanished into the Land of Abominable Snowmen.
And being extremely tired and in need of putting his feet up, with the horse squirrel tied up out back with a pile of coconuts, Ten-Penny wandered to his fridge to get a cold drink. It was then, staring at the Pepsi Clear held within, he realized he had left his bag of squirrel ears back in the Land That Spells Certain Doom for Travelers Who Got Here by Way of a Knobman, Plus Worse Doom for the Knobman Who Brought Them.
Taking a beer from his fridge, Ten-Penny sat in his recliner and began working on a spell to give a Knobman a series of worse and worse rashes for the rest of his natural life. Tomorrow he would find that last eared squirrel in the Land of Toop. Then make his way to the Land of Gutt.