Fantasy Funny Urban Fantasy

The story starts in the village of Avzendorzen, which you’ll probably be wanting to look up on a map, but don’t bother because it’s too small, or else it’s known by another name, but anyway, I’ll just have to describe it for you: 

It’s a magical little village set in a magical little valley in the majestic Gronfinronfingrong Mountains, and all around it is forest and rivers, rivers and forest, and you have to walk half an hour through mud and muck to get to the next village, which is where there’s a dentist office and a supermarket that sells delicacies shipped from the city, like bubble gum and paper towels and fortune cookies. 

Most of the villagers in Avzendorzen are crafters or traders or both, and they make their living crafting tools and trading with the animals that live in the surrounding forest: The Plumzichord Workshop makes little fishing nets out of very fine plant fibers that otters can manipulate to catch fish for eating and trading with other creatures, including the humans. Another workshop fashions contraptions like barabalu, which looks like a tiny barbell that can fold in the middle, has little baskets on either end, and the birds use them to pick berries and put them in the barabalu’s little baskets, and when they’re evenly weighted, the birds can fly holding the middle of the barabalu in their beaks, carrying their berries or whatever else they might have gathered.

Zhironathan was born in Avzendorzen, but his father was from the next village over, and his mother was from the City, and they had met in the woods while she was hiking and he was gathering mushrooms. Zhironathan’s parents had invented a rock-and-board game called Woggletog, which was popular not only among the villagers, but also with the bears and other animals who hibernate for long months and who need to entertain themselves during the winter without significant physical exertion.

Woggletog wasn’t popular with everyone, though. Zhironathan thought it was quite boring, and he certainly didn’t derive much fulfillment from supervising the assembly line of humans and birds that produced the game. Then again, he thought life in general in Avzendorzen was quite boring, for while it might sound magical and whimsical to you and I, it was all Zhironathan had ever known. What most enthralled him were the stories his mother told of the City. He didn’t believe such places could exist, where the buildings were taller than the trees, and the ground outside was as smooth and as even as the floor inside, and life moved in perfect straight lines. 

He had only ever seen the City once, from the lookout on the other side of Mt. Grogoring, where he’d trekked with his family and their deer friend Hinglebenny. When they got to the lookout, Zhironathan’s mother had said, “It looks so still from here, but it’s a whirling stirling smack-all down there,” and his father had said, “I can almost smell the fumes from here,” and Hinglebenny said, “I’m sure it’s fascinating, but I’m just too scared to visit.” 

But Zhironathan wanted nothing more than to visit the city, and so, one day, during the winter lull, after the bears had gone into hibernation, and activity in the workshop slowed for several months, Zhironathan told his parents he wanted to go to the City. They looked at each other nervously, and tried to dissuade him, but when they saw that he was determined, they decided to send him with a sack of games that he could try to sell for money, and with dried fruits and nuts, and the name and address of his mother’s cousin, who lived in the City, and with whom he might be able to stay once he got there.

The trek from Avzendorzen into the world beyond was a slow trudge in the best of times, but in mid-winter, when the snow came up to Zhironathan’s knees, it was practically a crawl.

It took him almost a full day to walk to the nearest town with a bus stop, and by the time he arrived, the last bus of the day had already left, so he had to spend the night in a nearby barn, which a horse in town had told him was a reasonably comfortable place to sleep if he had no better options. The next morning, Zhironathan eagerly climbed aboard the bus (the driver looked at him wearily, and waved him in with a sigh), and rode further down the mountain to a town with a train station. After a confusing interaction with the station attendant, who seemed equal parts amused and annoyed, followed by a brief wait on the long, smooth strip of concrete where one, and only one other human being stood, their face obscured by a newspaper that had a picture of a fire on the front, the train arrived, and Zhironathan stepped aboard, with excitement and a slight stumble.

There were still plenty of empty seats on the train, so he sat by a window and watched as the woods gradually gave way to meadows, which gave way to fields, which gave way to low-slung warehouses, and eventually the City was in view. The stops became frequent, with more passengers crowding into the carriage, and one of them, an older gentleman with a jacket the color of a rainy day, and a face that looked melancholic, sat down next to Zhironathan, who decided to try to converse with the man, but nothing either of them said made any sense to the other, and eventually they both just smiled and looked out the window at the unglamorous bits of the City that lined the railroad.

When they reached the main station, everyone poured out of the train, and Zhironathan stepped out onto another long, smooth strip of concrete, this one teeming with people. Everything grabbed his attention, and he wanted to take it all in, but he almost ran into several people, and then he did run into a bench, and he realized that being in the City would require a lot more concentration, and he was going to have to satisfy his ravenous curiosity in measured doses until he could get his bearings. 

It was hard to tell who, if anyone, was in charge of things at this train station, and eventually Zhironathan wandered outside and showed the piece of paper with the address of his mother’s cousin to a very confident looking pigeon in the big open space outside the station entrance. The pigeon took the piece of paper and started hopping away, and at first Zhironathan was afraid the bird had misunderstood, and he said “Don’t eat that!” and the bird looked back at him and said “Relax, pal, I’m not stupid,” then took the piece of paper over to the nearby huddle of birds. There was some chattering among the pigeons, and finally, a different bird-- this one with much more purple on its neck -- sauntered back to Zhironathan and said, “Yeah, I knows aboutta what’s it is you looking for, come with me, candyland.” And they walked out into the streets of the city, the pigeon muttering the whole time while Zhironathan followed behind, his mouth agape at all the new sights and sounds.

It took some time to get to Zhironathan’s mother’s cousin’s apartment -- his pigeon companion kept stopping to examine and occasionally pick at miscellaneous objects they encountered on the sidewalks. When they got to the street, the pigeon said, “Well wiseguy, best of luck. This place looks nice enough if you’s and they’s are kin of the skin. The building over there with the green roof has a nice chimney to sit on. My name’s Gelatin, by the way. Don’t know why in wacko deedy you’d ever need to get a hold of me, but if you do, just look for another one of us and somehow they’ll get word to me.” 

And with that, Gelatin flew off, leaving Zhironathan alone in front of a door that had the same number that had been written down on the piece of paper. Not knowing what else to do, Zhironathan whistled and tapped the door, until eventually, a man dressed in a colorful shirt with words and numbers written on it opened the door, and looked quizzically at Zhironathan. After another confusing interaction, Zhironathan was able to ascertain that, in fact, his mother’s cousin no longer lived here, and the current occupant was not prepared to entertain guests. 

Zhironathan was sad, but also relieved, as he was now free to wander the city on his own.

During his first few days and nights of roaming this strange new place, neither Zhironathan’s enthusiasm nor his confusion diminished significantly. He was usually able to find somewhere to sleep that was sheltered from the wind, but he’d run out of provisions, and finding food was proving to be a challenge.  More significantly, he was having a hard time communicating with the humans here, most of whom seemed wary of talking to him in the first place.  

Right as he was starting to wonder if maybe it was time to try to find his way back to Avzendorzen, Zhironathan made two friends: one was a raccoon, named Pfeffe. She had been slinking from dumpster to dumpster in an alley one night, trying to be stealthy. Zhironathan spotted her and asked, “are you chasing or being chased?” which really spooked Pfeffe at first, and she started to dart away, but then came back a moment later and asked, “Can you hear me?” and was shocked when Zhironathan was able to communicate with her. She told him that most humans were totally deaf and dumb as far as she could tell.

His second friend was a human named Jovery, who came to the park every day, and sat on a bench and fed the pigeons. Zhironathan asked him why he fed the pigeons but never talked to them, and Jovery thought very long and hard, and said, “I guess I don’t know what they like to talk about,” so Zhironathan offered to be an interpreter, relaying bits of conversation between the birds and Jovery, who was delighted to be able to communicate with the pigeons, even if they mostly just complained about other birds.

Zhironathan taught both Jovery and Pfeffe how to play Woggletog. He warned them that the game was only slightly better than sitting silently with one’s thoughts, but they both loved the game and wanted to find more players -- Zhironathan’s father always said the game was suitable for two to infinity players, but in practice, six was a good number. So Zhironathan introduced his two city friends to each other, but he had to be the translator because they didn’t know how to communicate with each other; their only medium was the game. 

They were soon joined by several of Pfeffe’s raccoon friends who learned to play Woggletog, and for the first time, Zhironathan himself began to find some enjoyment in the game.  Curious passersby would stop at a distance and marvel at this motley group playing their intricate game. Occasionally, one of the pigeons who came to Jovery’s feeding frenzies would ask how to play, and they would include the bird in their game, but invariably, the pigeon would lose interest partway through, and wouldn’t ask to play again. 

One morning, as Zhironathan was aimlessly wandering the streets, he passed by a newsstand and saw that the front page of one of the newspapers had a picture of him and Jovery and Pfeffe and two other raccoons and a pigeon sitting in a circle in the park, playing Woggletog. Later that same day, two people dressed in white jackets and red boots approached him in the park and said, “We understand that you can communicate with the animals.” 

Zhironathan looked at them and realized that what Pfeffe had said was true: none of the other humans here knew how to talk to the animals. He nodded and one of them said, “Are you hungry? We’d love to take you to lunch and ask you some questions.” 

They went to one of those tall buildings that both mystified and terrified Zhironathan, and got into an elevator that shot them up into the upper floors and disgorged them into a series of brightly lit hallways until they came to a room where a table had been set with all sorts of strange and wonderful foods. The two identically dressed people invited Zhironathan to eat, and tried to hide their amusement as he sniffed each item, then licked it, and then, with the exception of one of the sandwiches, devoured it whole.

Then they got back on the elevator and shot down into the floor, and went to another, bigger, brighter room, and they brought a series of animals in cages and asked Zhironathan to communicate certain instructions to the animals. “Tell this squirrel to climb out of the cage, go to the other side of the room, pick up the rock, and bring it back here.”

So Zhironathan told the squirrel “Go to the other side of the room, pick up the rock, and bring it back here.”

And the squirrel asked, “Why?”

And Zhironathan said, “I don’t know, but they wanted me to tell you to do it.”

So the squirrel hopped across the room, all the while muttering, “What the oaken token is all this about? Mice full of lice, this is insane! What is wrong with these people?”

Then they brought in a marmot and told Zhironathan to tell the marmot to run around the room, but to stay on the dotted line painted on the floor, so Zhironathan did, and the marmot said, “Oh boy, they found another one of you, eh? Sure, I’ll run around this stupid line, look at me go,” and around he went, and Zhironathan was just as confused as the squirrel had been. 

And then they brought in a pigeon in a cage, and Zhironathan immediately recognized him, and said, “Gelatin!”

Gelatin didn’t look surprised at all; he just started talking to Zhironathan in a low whimper, “Listen up lippy-skippy, I don’t know what in grand sand’s trolley train is going on here, and I’m guessing from the wide eyes on your skully-doo-da that you don’t either…”

The two identically-dressed people were telling Zhironathan what instructions to give Gelatin, but Zhironathan was trying to concentrate on what the pigeon was telling him.

“If my experience has taught me one frolicking thing, it’s that if something you don’t understand is happening around you, it’s best to flap away to a safe enough distance that you can see what’s happening without getting stuck in it.”

“Tell him to fly across the room and walk back,” one of the identically dressed people said to Zhironathan.

“Say it,” Gelatin said, “move your mushy lips.”

“Umm, fly across the room, and then walk back,” Zhironathan said meekly.

“Okay, good, now listen up,” Gelatin continued, “You’re either about to become a tool in someone else’s zany McMaster plan that you don’t fully understand or worse still...quick, tell me to fly across the room again so they at least think you’re trying.”

“F-f-f-ly, fly across the room and walk back.“ For the first time all winter, Zhironathan was sweating.

“Or worse still, you’re going to become an object of curiosity. I would tell them you can’t understand me or whoomsy Everton they bring in next. Flap away to a safe distance, hairy head, and don’t get involved in something you don’t understand. Just because you’re innocent doesn’t mean you don’t need to be a dummy.”

“Fly across the room and walk back,” Zhironathan said, more self-assuredly this time.

Gelatin winked at Zhironathan with one eye, then swiveled his head and winked with the other.

“Sorry,” Zhironathan addressed the two humans, “I think I’ve lost my touch for today.”

One was furiously scribbling on a notepad, the other said, “Yes, yes, you must be tired. Why don’t you come back tomorrow morning”

“You can’t spell ‘tomorrow morning’ without ‘ringworm,’” Gelatin chirped as a woman carried the cage he was in out of the room.”

“Sure,” Zhironathan nodded with as much resolve as he could muster, “tomorrow morning.”

He left the lab and went to find Jovery and Pfeffe, and told them that he needed to flap away for a little while. They both said they’d missed him, and that they hoped he’d come back soon, and they walked him to the train station. Jovery went into the station with Zhironathan to buy him a ticket, and when he came out, saw Pfeffe sitting in the bushes. They looked at each other, unable to say anything, then sat down and opened up the Woggletog board to play.

March 27, 2021 03:48

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