Authors: Robert Rankin
Tags: #sf_humor, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Science Fiction, #Humorous, #Humorous Stories, #Mystery fiction, #Crime, #Serial murders, #Teddy bears, #Characters and characteristics in literature
The time is now, the place is just around the corner from reality and Magic is the new Rock 'n' Roll: 21st century high-tech designer magic. It's finely tuned, personalised and very exclusive. It will cost you an arm and a leg and possibly even your soul, but it's real and it works. Robert Rankin is Britain's second most popular writer of humorous fantasy after Terry Pratchett; BIG MAGIC is the first in a trilogy written in his unique and very funny style.
'Once upon a time,' said the big fat farmer, 'it was all fields around here.'
The traveller glanced all around and about. 'It's still all fields,' said he.
'And there you have it.' The farmer grinned, exposing golden teeth. 'Nothing ever changes in these parts. Nothing. Nor will it ever. And so much the better for that, says I. Though so much the worse, say others. It all depends on your point of view. But isn't this ever the way?'
'I suppose that it is.' The traveller nodded politely. He was hot and he was weary. He had wandered many miles this day. His feet were sore and he was hungry. He took off his blue felt cap and mopped it over his brow.
'The colour's coming out of your cap,' the farmer chuckled. 'Your forehead's gone all blue.'
'Which, you must agree, is different,' said the traveller. 'And admits, at the very least, to the possibility of change in these parts.'
'On the contrary.' The farmer dug about in his voluminous patchworked smock, brought forth something chew-able and thrust it into his mouth for a chew. 'To me it admits something else entirely. To me, it admits that you, a ruddy-faced lad—'
'Tanned,' said the lad. 'Tanned from travel.'
'All right, tanned, then. That you, a tanned lad, of, what would it be, some sixteen summers?'
'Thirteen,' said the travelling lad. 'I'm tall for my age. Thirteen I am, which is lucky for some.'
'All right then yet again. That you, a tanned lad, thirteen years and lucky for some, scrawny-limbed and—'
'Spare,' said the tall, tanned lad. 'Spare of frame and wiry of limb and—
'Dafter than a box of hair,' said the farmer. 'That you are a gormster and a dullard, with a most inferior cap, who understands little of the world and will surely come to grief in a time not too far distant.'
'Oh,' said the lad. 'Indeed?'
'Indeed.' The farmer spat with practised ease across the field of flowering crad. 'Nothing ever changes in these parts and there's a truth for you to be going along with.'
'And going along I mean to be.' The lad wrung sweat from his most inferior cap and replaced it upon his tanned and heated head. 'Just as soon as you have furnished me with answers to questions I must ask. You see, I have wandered from the road. I followed a sign that said shortcut, and now I find myself here.'
'It happens,' said the farmer. 'More often than you might suppose.'
as that?' said the lad, who was never one prone to extravagant speculation.
'At the very least, but mostly a whole lot-more.'
The travelling lad whistled.
'Please don't whistle,' said the farmer. 'It aggravates my Gout.'
'I am perplexed,' said the whistler. 'How can whistling aggravate Gout?'
'Gout is the name of my goat,' the farmer explained. 'I have a pig called Palsy and a cat called Canker. Once I owned a dog by the name of Novinger's syndrome, but his howling upset my wife, so I sold him to a tinker.'
'Oh,' said the lad once more.
'Yes, oh. And whistling aggravates my goat. As does poking him in the ear with a pointy stick. Which, in all truth, would aggravate me. And I'm not easily upset.'
'Rjghty oh.' The lad shifted from one weary foot to the other, and his stomach growled hungrily. 'But regarding these questions that I must ask.'
'Are they questions of an agricultural nature?' the farmer enquired.
'Not specifically.' The lad shook his heated head.
'That's a pity,' said the farmer. 'Because my knowledge on the subject is profound. I trust it's not a question regarding clockwork motors. Because, for all the life that's in me, I cannot make head nor toe of those infernal machines.' The farmer made a sacred sign above his treble chin.
'It's not clockwork motors.' The lad made exasperated sighing sounds. 'I was lately apprenticed in that trade and I know everything I need to know regarding them.'
'Cheese, then?' said the farmer. 'I know much about cheese.'
'Directions only.' The lad blew droplets of bluely-tinted sweat from the tip of his upturned nose. 'All I wish for are directions. How do I get to the city from here?'
The farmer almost choked upon his chewable. 'Why would a lad such as yourself be wanting to be going to the city?'
'I mean to seek my fortune there,' the lad replied, with candour. 'I am done with toiling in a factory. I will seek my fortune in the city.'
'Fortune?' coughed the farmer. 'In the city? Hah and hah again.'
'And why "hah", you farmer?' asked the lad.
'Because, my tanned and wiry boy, you'll find no fortune there. Only doom awaits you in that direction. Turn back now, say I. Return to the mother who weeps for you.'
'I have no mother,' said the lad. 'I am an orphan boy.'
'A little lost waif; my heart cries bloody tears.' The farmer mimed the wiping of such tears from the region of his heart.
'Let not your heart weep for me.' The lad straightened his narrow shoulders and thrust out his chest — what little he had of a chest. 'I know how to handle myself.’
'Turn back,' advised the farmer. 'Return the way you came.'
The lad sighed deeply. 'And what is so bad about the city, then?' he asked.
'Where to start?' The farmer puffed out his cheeks. '-And where to end? So many evil things I've heard.'
'And have you ever been to the city yourself?'
The farmer placed his hands upon his over-ample belly and gave vent to raucous sounds of mirth.
'And why now the raucous sounds of mirth?'
'Because what do I look like to you, my poor lost laddo?'
'You look like a big fat farmer, as it happens.'
'And what would a big fat farmer be doing in the city?'
'Trading produce, perhaps? This crad that flowers all around and about us in these fields that never change.'
The farmer scratched his big fat head. 'And why would I want to trade my crad?'
'For money. To buy things.'
'What sort of things?'
The farmer gave his big fat head a slow and definite shaking. 'You are indeed a mooncalf,' said he. 'I am provided here with all the food that I need.'
'Other things then. Consumer durables, perhaps.'
'Consumer durables. I am not entirely sure what they are. But I am informed that the city holds them in abundance. And I mean to acquire as many as I possibly can.'
The farmer shook his head once more, and there was a certain sadness in the shaking.
'Clothes then,' said the lad. 'Everyone needs new clothes at one time or another.'
'And do I look naked to you?'
The lad now shook
head, spraying the fully clothed farmer with sweat. The farmer was certainly clothed -although his clothing was strange. His ample smock was a patchwork, as if of a multitude of smaller clothes all stitched together.
'My wife and I have all we need, my sorry orphan boy,' said the farmer. 'Only disappointment and despair come from wanting more than you need.'
'I've no doubt that there's wisdom in your words,' said the lad. 'But as I have nothing at all, anything more will represent an improvement.'
'Then return the way you came. Weave clockwork motors if you must. Hard work, well achieved, is sometimes rewarded.'
'No,' said the lad. 'It's the city for me. My mind is set on this. But listen, if you have never visited the city, why not accompany me? Your gloomy opinion of it might be modified by experience.'
'I think not. The city is for city folk. There are those who toil there and are miserable and those who prosper and are happy. The toilers exceed the prosperers by many thousands to one. So much I have been told, and what I've been told is sufficient to inform my opinion.'
'Perhaps I will return one day and alter this opinion.'
'Be assured by me that you will do no such thing. Many have travelled this way before you, seeking wealth in the city. None have ever returned wealthy. In fact, none have ever returned at all.'
'Perhaps they became wealthy and so felt no need to return.'
'Your conversation tires me,' said the farmer. 'And as I can see that you are adamant in your convictions and eager to be on your way, I suggest that we speak no more. I have discharged my responsibilities. My job is done.'
'Responsibilities?' asked the lad. 'Job?'
'My responsibility and my job is to stand in this field of flowering crad and discourage young lads such as you from travelling towards the city. Such was my father's job, and his father's before him.'
'Why?' asked the lad.
'Because that's the way we do business in these parts. Nothing ever changes around here. If you travel on towards the city, you will surely meet your doom. And when you do, you will blame me for it.'
'Why should I?' asked the lad.
'Because I know that you will come to grief. I know it. And if you were in my position and knew that travellers, should they travel in a certain direction, would come to grief, would you not advise them against it?'
'Of course I would,' said the lad. 'But—
'But me no buts. I have advised you. I have warned you of an inevitable consequence. What more can I do?'
'You could be a little more specific,' said the lad, 'regarding the manner of this imminent and inevitable doom that lies ahead for me.'
'That I cannot do.'
The traveller shrugged. 'So which way
to the city?' he asked.
'The city lies five miles to the south.' The fanner pointed. 'Cross yonder stile and follow the path. The path leads eventually to the outskirts of the city, but—
no buts,' said the lad. 'Thank you and farewell.'
The lad stepped carefully across the field of flowering crad, swung his long and agile legs over the stile and proceeded southwards down the path. Sparrows sang in the hedgerows, trees raised their leafy arms towards the sky of blue and the sun continued its shining down.
'A strange old breed are farmers,' said the lad to no one other than himself. 'And many folk hold to the conviction that the rustic mind, attuned as it is to natural lore, possesses a raw wisdom which is denied to the over-civilised city dweller, whose sophisticated intellect is—'
But he said no more as he tripped upon something and then plunged forward and down.
And then down some more.
Presently he awoke from unconsciousness to find that he was lying at the bottom of a pit. Rubbing at his head and peering blearily about, he became aware of a movement someways above. Looking up, he espied the face of the farmer.
'Thank goodness,' said the lad. 'Please help me. I appear to have fallen into a hole.'
'You have fallen into
hole,' said the farmer, 'the hole that a distant ancestor of mine dug to receive the bodies of the foolhardy boys who failed to heed his advice.'
'Oh,' said the lad, rubbing some more at his head and blinking his bleary eyes.
'A hole maintained by and through generations, and now by myself. Although it would appear that I must furnish its bottom with a few more sharpened spikes; you have missed those that there are, by the looks of you.’
‘Oh,' said the lad once more.
'Nothing ever changes around here,' said the farmer. 'My forebears feasted upon the flesh of foolish boys, and so do I. It's a family tradition. Their meat fills my belly and their clothing covers my person. I would hardly be so big and fat and well-dressed if I subsisted upon crad alone, now, would I?'
'I suppose not,' said the lad, dismally. 'I gave you warnings,' said the farmer. 'I gave you opportunity to avoid travelling to your inevitable doom. But did you listen?'
'Perhaps if you
been more specific,' the lad suggested. 'I took your warnings to mean that the city spelled my doom.'
'You didn't listen carefully enough,' said the farmer. 'But doom is doom, no matter how you spell it. Unless, of course, you spell it differently from doom. But then it would be another word entirely, I suppose.'
'I suppose it would,' the lad agreed, in the tone of one who now knew exactly how doom was spelled. 'But I have no one to blame but myself.'
'Well said.' The farmer grinned. 'And so, as the spikes have failed to do their job, I must do it with this rock.' The farmer displayed the rock in question. It was round and of a goodly size. 'Perhaps you'd care to close your eyes whilst I drop it onto your head?'
'Not so fast, please.' The lad tested his limbs for broken bones, but found himself intact, if all-over bruised. 'How do you mean to haul my body from this pit?'
'I have grappling hooks,' said the farmer, 'fashioned for the purpose.'
'Hot work on such a day,' said the lad. 'Hard work, but honest toil justly rewarded, I suppose.'
'In that you are correct.'
hard work, nonetheless.'
'And me with a bad back,' said the farmer. 'But what must be done, must be done.'
'Would it not make your job easier if you were to help me from the hole? Then I might walk with you to your farmhouse, where you could brain me at your leisure?'
'Well, certainly it would,' said the farmer.
'Thus also sparing you all the effort of dragging my body.'
'You are most cooperative,' said the farmer. 'But there's no dragging involved. I have my horse and cart with me.'
'Then let me climb aboard the cart. It's the least I can do.'
'I appreciate that,' said the farmer.
'It's only fair,' said the lad. 'You
warn me, and I failed to heed your warning.'
The farmer leaned over and extended his hand. 'Up you come, then,' said he.
The lad took the farmer's hand and scrambled from the hole.
'There now,' said the farmer. 'Onto the cart if you please, and let's get this braining business out of the way.'
The lad glanced over at the farmer's cart. And then he smiled back towards the farmer. 'I think not,' he said. 'Your purse, if you will.'
'Excuse me?' said the farmer. 'My purse?'
'I will have your purse. Kindly hand it over.'