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Issue number nine




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A Tale About Bobalong by Tomas Hibi Matejicek

Bobalong didn’t know where he was jumping from, anymore than he knew where he was jumping to, but he overcame his anxiety and jumped down. He landed, topside up, at the foot of a huge oak tree, which itself was in the middle of a meadow so large that it stretched all the way to the horizon. On one of the branches of the tree sat a fool, playing a lute and singing (off-key but with pleasure) the following song:


It wasn’t the easiest of things to listen to and Bobalong, suddenly deciding that a little bit of sightseeing might be in order, hurried away from the tree. After a few steps, though, the tree was suddenly in front of him again, complete with the fool singing his bongbongbong. Discouraged, Bobalong sat down to think the matter over. Then he had an idea: he reached up, pulled a magic pinecone off the tree, and ate it. (If you’re wondering how a pinecone could be growing on an oak tree, then you’re forgetting that it’s a magic pinecone.)

As soon as he’d eaten the pinecone a mirror appeared before him. However, instead of seeing himself and the tree reflected in the mirror, he saw a stairway. And, standing on one of the steps of the stairway was none other than Gnolabob himself. Bobalong paused for a moment and wondered what would happen if he stepped into the mirror: would he find himself standing on that stairway and would Gnolabob find himself standing under this tree? And if so, what kind of song would the fool think up to sing about Gnolabob? And then there was the really big question (big because it was a quality-of-life question): Suppose things were even worse on the stairway than they were on this endless meadow, even if all it had was one tree and a single fool for a resident?

In the end he decided to step into the mirror, and soon found himself standing on the stairway. He immediately looked up and noticed that the stairway seemed to end some distance above him; when he looked down, the stairs just seemed to go down without end. So he started climbing. However, the longer he climbed, the further he seemed to be from the top. He soon figured out why: as soon as he put all his weight on the next stair up, it changed positions with the one he'd just been standing on. In reality, then, each step up was a step down. When Bobalong realized what was happening, he had to laugh--how elegant it all was! Especially since he soon learned that he could turn it to his advantage, as the same thing happened in reverse when he started going down. So he went down (up) for some while until finally he noticed that no matter how much he tried to go down he neither went up nor down, but always came back to the same spot. This perplexed him until he finally realized that he’d reached the top. (He, of course, had been facing in the wrong direction to be able to notice this.)

Bobalong also sensed that something was standing behind him, something with magnetism, something that he couldn’t help gravitating toward, something that was irresistible. Something, in other words, that had it. And, in fact, when Bobalong turned around he discovered that It itself was standing behind him. Kindly, It invited him for a ride on its heavenly chariot, which it was about to set out in as daybreak was scheduled to begin.

So when It climbed into the chariot, radiating out from it on all sides, Bobalong also climbed in, even though he was a little scared to do so. His only other choice, though, was to remain on the stairway (and this he most certainly didn’t want to do). It cracked its whip over the flaming horses that were hitched to the chariot. They neighed, reared themselves on their back legs, and burst forth into the sky.

As they made their way through the sky, Bobalong looked out from both sides of the carriage. Looked and observed. Over here were some herdsbain with their rumoids and over there all kinds of other interesting things. A sputnak, for example. It all so fascinated him that he kept leaning further and further out over the edge of the chariot to get a better look until he found that he was no longer leaning out of anything: the chariot was still whisking along through the sky, to be sure, but Bobalong was no longer in it.

Instead he was falling and watching not only how the ground kept getting closer and closer, but also how the line between night and day was slowly moving from left to right. He was so fascinated by this that he was even a little disappointed when he stopped falling. He turned around to see what had happened and discovered that his nightshirt (yes, a nightshirt, for not only do all bobalongs wear night shirts, but they do so all the time, and with such aplomb that they don’t look the slightest bit ridiculous) had been snagged just above its hem by the pointy end of the Moon’s crescent. His fall having thus been broken, it was a simple matter for the Moon to drop him onto one of the puffy little clouds below him.

But what to do now? Bobalong certainly didn’t want to spend the remainder of his days sitting on this cloud, and he scratched his head trying to think of a solution. As he moved his hand he noted that the cloud veered ever so slightly to the right. So he leaned a bit more to the right and the cloud veered more to the right. He jumped up a couple of times and the cloud started to descend. Then he rolled himself back and forth and the cloud started to climb. Delighted by his newfound ability to steer his cloud, Bobalong entertained himself by doing air acrobatics for some little while before deciding it was time to come down to earth from the ethereal heights he’d been inhabiting recently. As a result of this decision, however, a short digression about the rumpendurk is in order.

It is well known among rumpendurkologists that rumpendurks have a great dislike for blue handkerchiefs with white floral patterns. It is almost as well known that, even more than blue handkerchiefs with white floral patterns, rumpendurks dislike curd cheese. What is not so well known, however, is that there is something that rumpendurks dislike even more than curd cheese (in fact, even more than curd cheese and blue handkerchiefs with white floral patterns put together). And this something is nothing less than a creature, any creature, riding on a small, puffy cloud.

Of course this fact, interesting though it is, would be of little importance to us if there hadn’t happened to be one such bad rumpendurk grazing on the same grassy patch that Bobalong was preparing to land on. In fact, as soon as this rumpendurk spotted Bobalong riding the cloud, the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end and he proceeded to stomp, snort, and then charge. It was all Bobalong could do to get himself out of the way of the raging rumpendurk. The rumpendurk, having just missed goring Bobalong, brought himself to a stop, turned around, and proceeded to charge our hero again. And again Bobalong just barely managed to get himself out of the rumpendurk’s way. Now more furious than ever, the rumpendurk turned around and decided to liquidate Bobalong once and for all. So he charged as fast as he could, snorting for all to hear and thinking: "This time he won't get away, I'll get him this time, the good for nothing rascal--no nerdvark is going to make a fool of me!" (It's worth remarking here that nerdvarks are small, adorable and terribly funny creatures reminiscent of a shaggy tennis ball crossed with a doodlebug. A further note: Never, but never, confuse a nerdvark with a fimla!).

Bobalong, however, had always fashioned himself a toreador par excellence and had, in addition, gained some real skill in controlling his little puff of a cloud. So not only did he foil the rumpendurk’s heart-felt wish to do him in, but he managed to slap his charging foe on the backside and tie a knot in his tail as well. The rumpendurk, meanwhile, couldn’t stop himself before he’d buried his horns so deeply into a rocky ledge beside the grassy patch that he couldn’t pull them out.

Bobalong was pleased by the way things had turned out. With one slap of the hand he sent his little puffy cloud back into the sky by itself, where it re-joined its herd of lambkin clouds. Then Bobalong smoothed out his nightshirt and set out, snout-first, into the world (it would sound nicer, somehow, if we could say "nose-first", but bobalongs have no noses with which to set out "nose-first" unless, of course, they happened to have borrowed one from somebody else.)

He crossed a river, made his way through a deep forest and then came to a splendid, sloping meadow that was hemmed in by chestnut trees. By now, however, the day was drawing to a close and so Bobalong sat himself under a tree and enjoyed the surroundings, observing a herd of animaliskies grazing on the opposite slope and following the delightful air acrobatics of two amorous malprops. Finally he was lulled to sleep by the peaceful calm that surrounded him and started dreaming. A bent-over, bearded wise man accompanied by a hawk and snake appeared, looked Bobalong in the eye with a crazed look and cried: "I proclaim you Überbobalong!" Fortunately in that moment Bobalong was awoken by an old hedgebog, which was looking for some chestnuts for dinner. Bobalong soon fell back asleep and slept through the night until, the next morning, he was awoken, this time by a nihroceros sniffing his nightshirt. The creature quickly came to the conclusion that a nightshirt wasn’t edible, even for a nihroceros, and moved on.

But Bobalong was now awake to the crisp and clear morning--one that was a little cold, to be sure, but with no fog and not a cloud in the sky, and he eagerly sallied forth. After a while, though, his pitter-patterers started to ache, and after a little while more he started to wonder where and when his wanderings might come to an end. But then he saw, not too far away, another stairway. It was similar to the first one, but because this time he was looking at it from the bottom up it looked for all the world like a stairway to the heavens. Perhaps, he thought, this was the very journey’s end he was seeking, and he followed the path that led to the stairway until he noticed that, up ahead, alongside the path, stood two creatures. And these two creatures, it could be said with some accuracy, represented nothing good for our hero.

Which is to say that he was confronted by two nogoodniks.(Footnote 1) Bobalong tried to make himself small, smaller, the smallest in the whole, wide world in the hope that the nogoodniks wouldn't spot him. When, however, the nogoodniks continued towards him with their floopy steps he realized that his plan made about as much sense as trying to pick a cherry tree from the fashionable quarter of an orange grove.

Bobalong might have reasonably considered himself done for, but then he heard the voice of a fimla from somewhere nearby. "Moment, please,” the voice sounded. “None from us want any ugly misunderstanding? The sort which somebody, from us, might find to regret?” The nogoodniks first looked at the fimla, now towering to its full height just above Bobalong's waist, than at one another, then again at the fimla. Finally they declared, in unison: "Yes, we want!" before one of them added: "And some imbecile nerdvark isn't going to stop us!" (Remember how I warned you to never confuse a nerdvark with a fimla? Well, now you're going to see why.) "Very well,” the fimla answered, carefully setting aside its cloak and sprightly green cap with a jay's feather in it and putting on a pair of gloves while the nogoodniks drew ever closer.

The fimla suddenly stole away from Bobalong like a flash of light, raced between the pillar-like legs of the left nogoodnik, who was tripped up and tumbled to the ground. The second swung its hurdy-gurdy at the fimla but to no avail. Instead one could hear a roar of pain as the fimla bit the hand in which the nogoodnik held his weapon, followed by another pained roar as the hurdy-gurdy fell on the nogoodnik’s foot. The fimla then skillfully tripped up that second nogoodnik as well, so that both nogoodniks now lay on the ground; before either could so much as say another bad word, they were both expertly tied up and gagged with a fimlian cord.

Its mission accomplished, the fimla brushed some imaginary dirt off its shoulder, removed its gloves, put its cape back on and, before putting its cap back on, reached its hand out to Bobalong and announced: "I, Oc, from Kr-Kr, fimla am." Bobalong shook its hand and tried to recall from his cultivated upbringing the fine points of fimlian manners. Fortunately he remembered the jester from the tree and answered: "I, Bobalong, from Sandal, bobalong am." (That sounded rather silly to him, but in spite of his embarrassment the fimla didn't seem the slightest bit bothered and so he continued:) "I am, that, by you, my life was saved, pleased." The fimla answered: "And on the fifth day, in the time of afternoon tea and light refreshments, when all the rest of the creatures already were, God created fimlas to see to their protection." Having finished its recitation Oc--having seen that civility had been observed with all due decorum--went on to attend to the nogoodniks.

There was now, naturally, nothing to stand between Bobalong and his stairway to the heavens. Or at least so he thought. Unfortunately he encountered a marginal (so named because these creatures only slept on the edge of their burrows, never in the middle) on the way. The marginal, named Plotom Nekmac Alikma, insisted that Bobalong relate the whole adventure of his First Jump. This wasn’t made any easier by the fact that the marginal periodically interrupted the telling with exclamations such as: “Grandzooks! Very myxomycetic, esteemed colleague. Perfectly platitudinous!” In spite of the marginal’s enthusiasm, however, the herd of Tine Warmers that had also gathered around to hear Bobalong's tale quickly grew impatient. Long before he'd finished, in fact, they had already set off to wallow in their usual pool of pabulum.

Finally Bobalong got to the stairway and started to climb it. This time there was no stair trickery to contend with and he climbed higher and higher until--before his wondering eyes--was revealed an ethereal city, a city of dreams, with the singing of sad ballads and fog, lots and lots of fog.


(1) Though it would be an unusual day indeed if he’d been confronted by just one nogoodnik -- the reason nogoodniks travel in pairs can be explained by the following equation: 2 nogoodniks = approximately 1 beastly. Back to the text.

(translated by G.S. Evans)

Tomas Hibi Matejicek was born in Prague in The Czech Republic in 1978. He graduated from the Faculty of Humanities at Charles University and the School of Journalism in Prague and writes for Cesky rozhlas (Czech Radio) and www.komiks.cz. He also describes himself as a cafe hanger-on and an existentialist-in-evolution. This story originally appeared as "Ploutidal" in the Czech literary bi-weekly TVAR (edice TVARy, svazek 13, 2002).

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story copyright by author 2002 all rights reserved
translation copyright 2003 by Greg Evans