Nortepius [fiction]

(© 1989; previously published as Backward-Looking in an Age of Social Anomie.)

The banquet hall was large and windowless, which, as banquet buildings go in the land of Nortepius, was simple in design and customarily uncared-for. The dark and damp interior was carpeted throughout in grass-like fungus, and faint yellow light flickered as a single candle—nearly spent—threatened to extinguish itself. Lumped atop a mountain of wax that vaguely encased an ancient gold candelabrum over the hall, the candle squatted between three twisted ropes of hemp, sooty and black. A groan came from a dark figure scaling one of the thick waxy wattle appendages that had sprouted to the floor many years ago. He clenched a new candlestick between his teeth and exerted his unpracticed body to reach the dimming flame before it died, forever.

“Sulliac,” called out King Mimalaus from his dirty brown throwdown, “don’t bite that one in half. The blue ones taste ugly.”

Sulliac the Loyal grunted in agreement and continued climbing.

“You incipient vacillator,” chided a shadowy figure in the northwest corner of the room, “the entire world knows that the blue ones are an acquired taste of the sophisticated and dexterous. Why, with just a pinch of yellow yeast glob a blue becomes the finest meal man will ever consume.”

His nasally voice echoed throughout the hall. Then a long, low belch sounded from the king’s area. King Mimalaus’s sound of disapproval made the winded Sulliac the Loyal smile as he finally reached the dying candle.

“Put that in one of your pictures, Couchiniti,” grumbled the king, “if you can find the right color.”

A quick belch from the king marked an end to the conversation. After all, Couchiniti was renowned for his lengthy rhetorical rambling and the king boiled at such torture. This was a day of glory and respect for the king who wrung his hands with anticipation of today’s long arrival of new fleece throwdowns.

The dining hall grew larger as Sulliac the Loyal lit the new vigil from the old one and placed it atop the wax-heap. From his perch, he could see the tall and frail Couchiniti biting his right forearm, displeased to be halted from giving the hall a verbal round of his antiquated conjecture.

Seeing the sulking crafter suckling on his arm made Sulliac the Loyal hungry, so he stuck his fingers in his mouth and began licking at the rhizopus that had accumulated during his ascent.

Hearing the slurping made the king hungry too, so he began cleaning between his toes. The three snacking statesmen did not hear the low rumbling outside, nor were they able to see the blinding white light that blanketed the countryside. Hot winds blew at the walls of the dining hall as trees and small buildings were swept away. Another rumble followed as the ground began to shake.

“Another quake!” shouted the ever-observant king as the hall began shaking. “Let’s celebrate!”

The vibrating building knocked Sulliac the Loyal from his perch and he tumbled hard to the floor. Couchiniti’s easels fell over and palettes of paint and brushes spilled. A large, hollow clay bust of Couchiniti fell from its podium and shattered. Couchiniti grabbed up his paintings while the king danced at the base of his throne. Then the quake ended.

In unison, the three men sat down on their tattered throwdowns and laughed. They laughed for many minutes as tears welled and flowed from their eyes. The king’s sides hurt, but he kept laughing. “Praise the beautiful light and warmth,” he said between breaths. He secretly praised the destruction of Couchiniti’s ugly bust.

“Our new throwdowns from the old land of Ridgewood should be here by nightfall,” he cried. “I can’t wait.”

“Hear, hear, O Great King,” sang Sulliac the Loyal. “Hear, hear, O Great King.”

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