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The Encyclopedia of Zerth
"The composition of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing extravagance. To go on for five hundred pages developing an idea whose perfect oral exposition is possible in a few minutes! A better course of procedure is to pretend that these books already exist, and then to offer a resume, a commentary . . . More reasonable, more inept, more indolent, I have preferred to write notes upon imaginary books."
-- Jorge Luis Borges
Zerth is a moon. It orbits the planet Zolar and houses the only known life in its galaxy. Its flora and fauna are vast and have evolved into varying degrees of complexity. The Encyclopedia of Zerth is the first attempt to catalogue the many species of plant and animal life on the moon as well as to record what is known of its cultural and historical development. The Encyclopedia is organized geographically: in terms of North, South, East and West. Included here are brief descriptions of important species and their environment. We have also found it useful to include folktales, anecdotes, histories, and even a short Zerthian play from the East.
Cut deep in the northwest mountain range runs the largest stretch of vegetation and rainforest in all of Zerth, known generically as The Valley. The Valley boasts cool temperatures and an impressive amount of moisture. The air is thick with nutrients in The Valley, much like the effect of thin air at a mountain’s summit—but backwards. The most advanced species to have developed in The Valley are called Giroffs. Their necks are very long in order to see over the steep walls that run up into the mountains on either side of their habitat as well as to breathe the air, which is too rich closer to the ground for their lungs.
As a result of their heads being held so high up, and of the particular makeup of the air (almost 100% pure awkseegin) Giroffs have developed peculiar antlers. They are covered in fuzz and are psychic. A fully developed Giroff can sense another Giroff coming from many spleters away. They can also sense when others of their kind are anxious, happy, in love, or planning to be harmful to one another. This they call swaving. Giroffs can swave the future as well, but only very generally: they see about as much as you or I could deduce from a healthy dose of common sense and imagination. Every once in a while though, a feeling will surface from within the wide deep belly of a Giroff about some impending danger in the near future, and though they have no way of knowing the ultimate outcome, they can at least prepare themselves mentally for the inevitable.
A major change in Giroff evolution came with the discovery of an invention called a copiograph. The particulars of how the machine works are not preserved in the archives but a clever story of its effects has been. It is about a young Giroff called Gertrude. With permission, we represent a facsimile here:
Gertrude and the Copiograph:
Gertrude was soaking in the three suns of high eight while the fuzz on her antlers tingled in the cool evening breeze when it occurred to her that, yes, today was indeed the day her Uncle Hank was due to return from his long annual trip. Quickly, she rose from her contemplative hammock and made her way to the high tower, atop of which was perched the powerful see-o-scope.
Unlike Gertrude, who preferred the routine of The Valley, Hank had a hankering for heroics, travel, adventure, and most of all, things. He had acquired a Bram’s Hole of things. Gertrude’s life was chequered with various moments of awaiting her uncle’s overdue arrival and the inevitable effect the new “thing” would have upon everyone.
Uncle Hank’s arrival was always the same: he is spotted on the horizon a long way off, a crowd begins to gather at his slow approach, and Gertrude must once again tolerate the gossip of what her crazy uncle would bring this time around. Upon his actual arrival there is usually a ruckus as loud as an angry Froksum while his new “thing” is revealed. This generally came in either a huge sac or a small box or a crate hauled by some sad, rundown Smule. The things were different in specifics every time of course, but always similar in a general way.
Once there was the foom-o-rang, an oddly shaped gizmo you would throw and it would come back on its own, having cut down branches from high trees that needed trimming. One day, however, after threatening the necks of numerous Giroffs, and nearly breaking that of Wayne the Elder, it didn’t come back at all, and the foomarang, it was decided, was to be banned.
There was the splatapult and the parashoot flute and the launching lambee lambee and, of course, the see-o-scope, along with a number of other oblong or otherwise odd objects over the years that were as spectacular as they were threatening.
Hank had left on a borrowed Smelaphant a number of Zolar shifts ago, trotting off along the North Route on his way to Splurrup, and now Gertrude’s antlers reminded her of the letter she had received not a splortnight ago, promising his return upon the last full sun. It had read:
How are you, I’m fine. I’m writing you from the most astounding of places, you just wouldn’t believe it. After months of wretched winds along the Northern Route, I have finally reached the Library. It is truly a sublime and mysterious place. There is one shelf that forms a mysterious monolith which holds the three books—one on the top shelf, one on the bottom, and one in the middle. We have all heard of the three mysterious books but it surely is a wonder to see them there in front of you, taunting you with their indecipherability.
I’ve made many contacts here. Tomorrow I’m off to Splurrup where I hope to meet an Umpire named Lars who will help me to orient myself. I anxiously anticipate the final spleters along the Northern Route and the Zolora Splorealis that will dance above my antlers for a good two weeks as I climb north. As the cold will not permit a long stay, I plan to find my contact quickly, do my best to locate what I’m looking for, and start the long journey back. By the time this letter reaches you I will be on my way home. Look for me from the high tower on the day of the last full sun. I hope to have a great surprise!
Gertrude combed the horizon through the see-o-scope with an image in her head of Hank approaching, first as a wavy black dot, then growing stoutly from out the centre of the third magenta sun, poised high upon his Smelaphant.
Two suns had sunk and the third was magenta. Gertrude propped her hoofs on the stone wall of the high tower and squinted into the distance. Soon enough a black speck appeared on the horizon. But as it grew into the freckle of Gertrude’s eye, the speck was not what she expected. She starred and starred and her antlers twitched and twitched as it came closer and closer but Gertrude could not understand exactly what was growing out of the horizon.
Eventually, the picture through the see-o-scope became clear, though no less confusing to poor Gert. For one thing, there was no Smelaphant to speak of, which can certainly throw a Giroff off when she is expecting to find one. In the Smelaphant’s place was a huge crate propped up on a sledge of skis that looked like they had been made for snow rather than sand. Two thick frayed ropes grew out from the crate, one per shoulder of the two Giroffs that pulled it along. Gertrude was certain that one of the Giroffs was her uncle but she couldn’t tell which, even through the see-o-scope.
Soon enough Uncle Hank was in swaving distance and so Gertrude swaved emphatically. Though she was sure this decisive action would solve the riddle of which shape was her uncle and which the stranger, it served only to complicate things further as both shapes swaved back almost immediately.
It was not until Uncle Hank had finally arrived that Gertrude was to discover the answer to the riddle, which was this: both figures where Uncle Hank.
This was to be explained in due time, if Gertrude could be patient enough to listen to one of the Hanks as the other jimmied open the crate with the beak of a barcrow.
“A marvellous mechanism,” said the talking Hank as the working Hank unpacked in a flurry, nodding his long neck in agreement as he worked, “bound to change our lives in every way, from work to play, from boredom to constant company, two of each for each, a wonder beyond words,” etc.
And that was the day the copiograph arrived in the valley.
It didn’t take long for most of the village to be copied. Two of each for each became the obvious solution to everyone’s problems.
Gertrude, however, was still just Gertrude.
Now the problems with having another copy of yourself are fairly obvious, but it never hurts to go over them in your head, as Gertrude did from time to time. First there are issues of identity. Both of you are sure you are you, and yet you know that you were there first; and yet you know, or think you know, the same thing. Then there are more practical matters. As both of you enjoy the same exact things, you are always meeting yourself in that place where you thought it would be just you. And in fact it is just you, but you are there too. Gertrude could never settle this in her head, as others seemed capable of doing.
After a surprisingly short while, Gertrude looked around and found that she was one of the only single Giroffs left. She decided to seek the advice of Wayne the Elder.
Wayne the Elder lived alone in a cave, way down yonder, deep in the valley. The cave had a hole in the top of it so Wayne’s neck could have room to stretch, but that was about the only luxury he allowed himself. Wayne was from a different generation. He grew up in a time when very few Giroffs had ever ventured out of the valley. Gertrude would go to Wayne the Elder for advice, but first she would need a map.
Ned the mapmaker was busy in his office tracing copies of the East Route to the Silent Sea, the other Ned was sweeping the floor. The yellowed scrolls that lined the tipsy shelves curled up like fuzz on cold antlers as the breeze of Gertrude’s entrance tickled the room. Her entrance broke the concentration of the Neds who had just begun to stretch the Shmoo hide on which maps are traditionally printed, each pulling against the weight of the other until the sight of Gertrude’s single head and neck poking through the door caused them to lose their grip and come crashing down.
When Gertrude politely asked one of the Neds if he had a copy of the route to Wayne the Elder’s cave, they both turned their skinny arthwrongic necks toward her and answered in unison. They asked her what she was looking for and when she told them, they looked perplexed. No one had gone to see Wayne the Elder in quite some time and when the Neds heard the request the fuzz on all four of their antlers began to flutter and change colour with curiosity.
The map they finally sold Gertrude was a new one and no longer had Wayne the Elder’s cave marked on it, but Gertrude knew that she would sense him with her antlers when she got close enough.
Gertrude descended into the permanent cloud that sat upon the tree tops carpeting the bottom of the valley. Her neck cut through the fog like a Scooth. She followed the map as far as she could and waited for a signal.
Finally it happened. She felt something there in the fog. It faded if she moved away from it, grew stronger if she moved toward it. Soon it was very strong and indeed she had arrived.
Along the way Gertrude saw Weejays and Pogobees, Xandalears and Hoofmites, Flying Sporks, and Laynnard Skizards. The walk itself, away from the chatter of everyone and everyone else, made the trip worth its own weight in jamfeathers, thought Gertrude. Margarinettes fluttered along the path to welcome her as she arrived at the opening of Wayne’s cave.
“Wayne,” called Gertrude.
“Wayne the Elder, you home?”
A voice came back, “Who’s that there then?”
“And?” asked the voice.
“No one else?”
Groans and gripes wafted from the cave as Wayne struggled with his arthwrongus and pulled his neck down through the hole in the roof. Eventually he made his way out into the fog with the help of a cane.
“You’re blind!” Gertrude burst out.
“Course I am!”
After a brief introduction and some rather abrupt and confusing small talk, Wayne the Elder quickly asked Gertrude what it was she was doing so deep in the valley and how it came to be that she was still alone. Had she been visiting another region and not had a chance to be copied yet?
Gertrude told Wayne that she had been around since the very start of the arrival of the copiograph and that she was, as a matter of fact, the very first Giroff to see it coming from out of the horizon.
Wayne got quiet after this. Gertrude tried to reinitiate the conversation and asked him awkwardly why he had not been copied yet either, as everyone else had done.
Wayne the Elder stopped short and looked closely and seriously at Gertrude for quite a long time before he told the following story:
“I won’t bore you with fairytales,” began Wayne as he tapped the ground for a tree stump to rest his rump upon, “I’ll only tell you what I saw with my own two eyes and felt with my own two antlers—both of which being fully functional at the time. It was the day they brought the ice. Two huge Smelaphants dragged it in from somewhere far up the Northern Route. The Giroff that brought it… Hank I think his name was…”
“Yes,” interrupted Gertrude, “I’ve heard this story.”
“Well, then you will remember what happened in the end.”
“Yes, I do remember. Everyone came to the ice to see their reflection and they kept breathing on it until it all melted away into an ordinary puddle.”
“Well if you put it that way, it doesn’t sound remarkable whatsoever,” said Wayne, “it was much more than that!”
“Well things are certainly much more than that now! We aren’t talking about a flumskin block of ice any more are we? Copies don’t melt for flumsk’s sake!”
Gertrude’s outburst was inappropriate and rude and she knew it.
“Well no,” agreed Wayne diplomatically, and they discussed the point briefly.
In answer to Gertrude’s question of whether or not she should make a copy of herself, Wayne explained to her why he had decided not to do so, hoping it may help her decide. Wayne explained how he was an old man, set in his ways and ready to sit out the rest of his days in his cave with his memories until the time came when he would fall asleep one evening and not wake up.
Gertrude made no response. Gradually she came to understand what Wayne had meant and the decision became obvious.
Gertrude thanked the Elder, offered to collect some berries for him, and was on her way back to make a copy of herself as everyone else had done. One can’t stop progress, after all.
The Mountains – Frizzly Hair Lunacy:
High above the psychic antlers of the Giroffs lives a solitary beast with huge powerful claws, long floppy ears and a fuzzy tail. Its thick coat is white and fluffy and sticks up a bit after naps. Native to the western mountain region of the moon, Frizzly Hairs have grown accustomed to regular habits, which consist mainly of: digging for grubs to eat, drinking heavily, making totem poles and splitting in two.
Frizzly Hairs are neither girls nor boys (though a masculine pronoun is conventionally used to substitute proper names). Despite this lack of gender, Frizzly Hairs reproduce at an alarming rate. This is because they split into two when they laugh. The sheer amount of Frizzly Hairs—lining the western mountain range with fuzz and totem poles and empty clay jars that used to contain a strong homemade mead concocted mysteriously from crushed grubs and tree sap—can be easily explained once one accepts the fact that Frizzly Hairs are always a good bit tipsy and therefore tend to giggle uncontrollably.
When they are not digging, laughing or splitting, they use their huge, precise claws to produce elaborate totem poles. It must be said that Frizzly Hair totem poles are not rich in variety. In fact, they are essentially identical in every respect. Every Frizzly Hair totem pole ever catalogued has been found to depict the exact same story. It is the story of how to build more totem poles. This has led to many other species on Zerth referring to Frizzly Hair religious beliefs as sheer lunacy. This name has caught on to such an extent, in fact, that Lunacy, and its various branches, has become the generic name given to all religions on Zerth.
There is a folktale, so they say, of a totem pole that tells a different story. Some Fangaroos claim to have read about it in a footnote, deciphered from some obscure section of the middle book in The Library, but the Lunatics dismiss this knowledge as apocryphal. Regardless, a Frizzly Hair called Selma, it is said, carved the totem pole. Uncharacteristically, Selma was of a solemn disposition. He rarely giggled and never partook of the strong mead that most Frizzly Hairs enjoyed so much. The footnote claims that Selma spent most of his mature years carving a totem pole whose aim was to tell the story of a single day in the western mountains, from the perspective of an average, unremarkable Frizzly Hair. This Frizzly Hair was not a prototypical hero, nor would he be thought appropriate for the subject matter of any avante garde totem pole.
Some Zerthian scholars propose that Selma’s totem pole was the victim of censorship, repressed and eventually destroyed. This has only lead to its aggrandizement through legend and exaggeration. Some stories describe the totem pole to be as complete and detailed as the day is long. They say that if you started to interpret the images of one end of the pole at dawn, you would get to the other end as dusk. These are all speculation of course, and we find it hard to envision the space needed to house the pole, let alone the time and skill it would have taken Selma to carve such a masterpiece. In the end, there is little we can know for sure about such a piece of art as our source stems only from a footnote said to exist in a book that almost no one on Zerth is able to read.
Smelaphant Migratory Patterns:
Smelaphants remember everything that has ever happened to them. Couple this with the fact that they live absurdly long lives and that they can smell what’s coming from many spleters away, and what you’ve got is one creature you will certainly want to avoid offending. A Smelaphant would recognize you coming long before you arrived and remember whether you had fed it, loved it, kicked it, or given it a cold.
As a case in point, there is the story of the young Fangaröo who once sneezed on a Smelaphant on a dare from his mates and forty years later, while celebrating his retirement with some of those very same mates, found himself one minute toasting to the tranquil years ahead of him in the twilight of his life, and the next minute covered in Smelaphant mucus, which doesn’t come out of fur—unless you shave it off—and smells similar to a jar of clayanaisse left out in the heat of the three suns.
Story has it that the Fangaröo in question was just about to give a toast with honored guests at hand, and as they were all looking fangaroosly splendid with their tails tucked neatly into their pouches and their manes slicked back just so, the once offended Smelaphant let off a class nine doozy from each of her trunks, fully extended, in three directions. The Fangaröo was covered, the honored guests were covered, and they would all soon be seen dishonorably shaven down to their old wrinklies for a good two months, and in the middle of winter!
Thus the old proverb: Yonder comes the winter breeze so be mindful where you sneeze.
After the party, the avenged Smelaphant was exiled to Splurrup, but that’s not such a big deal for Smelaphants, who have no particular place to go and aren’t really strapped for time.
All Smelaphants on Zerth originate from the beach of the Silent Sea—which is really more like a quiet lake. Many wonder as to the particular evolution of the Smelaphant, having three trunks and no ears, but once one considers the particularities of the environment in their place of origin, it doesn’t take a sprocket scientist to put A and B together.
The Silent Sea has lassoed its shoreline sloppily around the South Pole of Zerth. There are no tides and barely a ripple can be spotted. It’s small enough so that most species on Zerth can see across it, but just barely. The reason there are no tides is due to the particular rotation of the moon, which has resulted in there being almost zero gravity around the pole. There are no waves, no wind, no sounds, and no other creatures living there except Smelaphants—who are the only beasts heavy enough not to float away. (Of course every year a tribe of smidge toothed Wingaphones tries to stake a claim on the beach of the Silent Sea but, eventually, they always slip up, pop out of their fastened spots and float away into the horizon.)
All Smelaphants begin their lives on the beach of the Silent Sea, and though they always travel, they inevitably come back in the end. Mothers come back at a ripe old age to give birth, which seems to happen through some mysterious communion with the sea and the Smelaphant’s memories. Once the pup materializes there is just enough time for it to smell the presence of its mother before she becomes a skeleton. There is something special about the weightless shores of the silent sea, and these permanent fixtures on the beach, huge skeletal monoliths of time gone by, certainly add to the mystique.
Smelaphant pups leave the beach almost directly after birth. For one, they are not heavy enough and tend to float away anyway, and for two, they need to acquire a sufficient amount of memories in order to give birth in their old age, when they finally return. Most tend to travel extensively throughout their lives to guarantee that they have smelled enough to make the communion possible with the sea.
There is no particular fixed age for a Smelaphant to return to the south pole after a life of travel, and no one knows what triggers their decision to return, but unless they are captured and put to work by a Giroff or kept in a Fangaröo zoo, a Smelaphant will always make its way back to the beach of the Silent Sea. If you were able to walk along the shore without floating away, you would find nothing but silence and the huge frames of scattered Smelaphant skeletons all sitting perfectly still in the sand.
There is, of course, the legend of a Steve the Smelaphant who returned too early and was unable to give birth. They say he sits there to this day remembering what he has smelled to no avail, watching the Wingaphones periodically float away into the horizon.
The Legend of Steve the Smelaphant:
Not long after leaving the shore of the Silent Sea, Steve found himself in the not altogether uncommon situation (at least for Smelaphants) of having no particular place to go. Steve was a young Smelaphant of eighty-two who had ambitiously covered an impressive variety of geography. He began his journey younger than most and had already spent more than half a century moving from place to place.
For this reason, Steve the Smelaphant thought he would return home early, in spite of the potential years he had left to travel in his natural life. Thus did Steve prematurely point his trunks towards the south where the saltless smell of the Silent Sea saturated the air at the bottom of Zerth.
The many folk songs written about how a Smelaphant knows when they are close to home are well documented. There is almost always a lyric or two about the euphoric lightheadedness and graceful sense of well being that occurs when an old, arthwrongic Smelaphant gets close to home. But Steve had not heard any of these songs: he had no ears.
Such euphoria can be explained as the effect of two causes: one being the memories triggered by familiar but long unseen geography, and the other being the slow and steady loss of gravity.
Regardless of any of the above, it so happened that when Steve the Smelaphant found himself winding down a sand dune in the cool evening breeze one night, the stress in his joints began to ease. The weight of his three trunks no longer pulled his eyes toward the ground and he looked up with ease at the three suns that had been beating down upon his back for spleters and spleters. Before long, the air was thick and saltless and a vacuum of silence slowly swallowed him up. He was home.
As Steve took his first few steps back onto the sand, moonlight bounced off the bones that lined the beach as a tribe of Wingaphones struggled to secure themselves on the ribs of some long dead giant. Steve paid little attention to the Wingaphones as he was lured towards a large rock he remembered having sat beside with his mother. Though he knew better, he still hoped that his mother would be there, sitting in silence, as he had remembered her.
Nearing the rock, however, there was no denying that what was left was no longer his mother, but only her bones and tusks. Her skeleton was still propped up in the same position as he had remembered it when he left. There was no wind to knock it over, nor gravity strong enough to pull it to the ground.
Steve plopped himself down beside his mother and took a deep breath with all three trunks. Memory flooded in from the still sea like a tidal wave and Steve was pulled away into his past. But no pup materialized.
Legend has it that from time to time Steve the Smelaphant opens his eyes to peer out across the Silent Sea and a single tear of nostalgia starts to roll down his cheek before it falls up into the sky like a raindrop in reverse.
Determination of the Smidge Toothed Wingaphone
Smidge toothed Wingaphones will always migrate towards the beach of the Silent Sea. Some say this is because they can hear almost twice the distance of the regular bucktoothed variety of Wingaphone and find it too loud everywhere else, but this is considered speculation. They travel in tribes, about 15 to a group, and have special claws that can lock onto the thinner bones of Smelaphant skeletons. Of course, no species but the Smelaphant has ever been able to adapt permanently to the Silent Sea, including the smidge toothed Wingaphone, but that has never deterred them from trying. The anticipation of the species as a whole is that their persistence is bound to pay off sooner or later, and so they wait for their much deserved and inevitable adaptation.
The average Smelaphant outweighs any given Frizzly Hair (the second heaviest mammal on Zerth) three times over. On the other hand, the Wingaphone, at least the smidge toothed variety, is one of the lightest creatures on the surface of the moon. An average adult Wingaphone is only about 1/30th the weight of an average adult Smelaphant and so why they persistently imagine themselves to be the future inheritors of such an impossible place is anyone’s guess.
This puzzling behavior is the subject of the vastly popular nursery rhyme, “Ivo and Jill Went up the Bones,” which goes like this:
Ivo and Jill went up the Bones
To find themselves a brand new home
Many years of strife and toil
Led them to that sandy soil
And in that sand they held on tight
Through the day and through the night
And always mindful of what it cost
And what along the way was lost
First fell one and then the next
And off they floated to their rest
But the sky was like a glass
And in this mirror reflected vast
Jill and Ivo clinging tight
Through the day and through the night.
The above nursery rhyme is based upon a popular folktale, which goes as follows: Ivo the smidge toothed Wingaphone was tucking his furry tail up between his legs for easier and safer maneuvering around the bones of a Smelaphant when he noticed Jill starting to lose her grip. Ivo let his tail fall back down and loop around the rib tightly. There was little time to think, and the dangers of losing everything were clear and present.
It had taken Ivo most of his life to get to where he was. You see, though all Wingaphones attempt to migrate to the South Pole, most don’t last long. The odds of grabbing onto some insecure branch or misplacing a claw on a gravelly surface along the way are insurmountably NOT in a Wingaphone’s favor. Luck alone will prevail. Of course, there are some who claim it is beyond luck. Some Wingaphones believe in a chosen one that will be able to hold on and not float away, and that this chosen one will be the start of a new breed of Wingaphones. But this is Lunacy.
Others suggest that in doing this, the smidge toothed Wingaphone is actively attempting to change their evolutionary path. They are thinking ahead, you could say.
Regardless of why or how he got there, Ivo was undeniably in the very privileged position of being secure upon a fresh Smelaphant rib, soaking in the quiet of the beach. He had watched most of the tribe pop up and float away, one by one, somehow or another, along the way. But now he was here, still fairly young, and with years of strength left to keep holding on.
That’s why, at the moment when he spotted Jill losing her grip, there was such a difficult choice to make, and so little time to make it. Should he keep himself secure on the rib or try to save Jill from floating off into the clouds?
In the end there was no question. Anchored only by his long furry tail, Ivo let his grip from the ribs loose and floated out into the open space of the rib cage. Jill had started to lose her last feeble grip on a bone three ribs down and was bound to float up right past Ivo at any moment. His fur became moist with sweat as the effort of holding his entire body weight with only his furry tail began to not seem like such a good idea any more.
Finally Jill was pulled off and began to float up toward Ivo. His only chance was to take the full force of her body weight. This might allow him to be pushed up fast against the last rib where, hopefully, he would be able to grab on somehow and hold the two of them in place.
As Ivo watched Jill float up at him a great many things flashed through his mind. He thought of the first days of his trip, how young and ambitious he had been. He thought of the many things he had seen along the way.
He thought of Jill. He had not noticed her among the others at the start of the long journey—though, to be fair, Wingaphones were not the chattiest of creatures. It was not for a very long time, years perhaps after starting out and moving slowly down the Northern Route, that Ivo had noticed Jill.
His first memory of her was near the rock valley just before the long stretch that led to the impossible sand. She was tied to a branch that shot out through the rocks. Ivo was holding onto a vine at the time, unsure if it was attached to anything heavy. In the end it wasn’t and he almost floated away but managed to grab a firm root at the last minute.
The next time Ivo remembered Jill was along the first few feet of sand where so many were lost so fast. Four, five, six of his tribe that he had been with for years and years floated away in moments from the sand as Ivo closed his eyes tight, hoping that when he opened them again he would still be on the ground. He could not remember how he held on in the sand, but he did remember opening his eyes every once and a while and seeing Jill there, nearby, doing the same, clinging desperately to driftwood or buried scattercrab tentacles or anything else one could find to hold onto along the way. When he had reached the skeleton at last and looked around, many of them were still holding on, including Jill.
Ivo had spotted the rib he wanted to get to weeks before he attempted to scale the foot and femur of the Smelaphant. He inspected the knee socket of the Smelaphant he had chosen very critically. This was crucial in case it was loose and threatened to break apart and float away. Ivo remembered going first and doing well and getting over the knee with great care, and how his wings spread just enough to klatch onto the lowest rib. It was easy from there, and he swiftly arrived upon that special rib he had eyed, where, with a bit of luck, he would stay for the rest of his days.
Ivo remembered one of the others falling off the knee, the one that came right after him, and how he just watched it go up, as he was too far away to do anything. He remembered Jill as well, struggling to reach for the first rib, and how long it took her, and how close she was to not making it.
Jill had managed to settle just three ribs below Ivo and had been doing fine for quite some time. That was why it was so surprising to see her floating up towards him, threatening to knock them both into oblivion and back to where they started.
When she hit, it was softer than Ivo had prepared for, though it still knocked him loose from his tail’s feeble grip. For a moment he thought he had a chance to hold onto her with one wing and grab the next rib with the other, but as he passed the last rib, with Jill under wing, his claw did nothing but scrape the bone and he and she were loose.
As Jill and Ivo watched the Smelaphant skeletons get smaller and smaller, something unexpected happened to them. From high above, flat and still as a mirror, the Silent Sea was luminous with the tricolor suns, each in a different phase. Magenta and red and yellow danced and wavered. The two Wingaphones held each other close and watched the glorious Zolar dance as they floated up and away. It no longer mattered that they would eventually drop back down where they had begun, so far from paradise. As Ivo and Jill floated up over the kaleidoscopic sea, not much seemed to matter at all.
Tourism and the Zolora Splorealis:
Splurrup, the vast desert of ice and sand that covers the north pole of Zerth, is completely empty—except for the Umpires. Above it, the Zolora Splorealis breathes in and out in shifting watercolors. Due to this lunar phenomenon and due to The Library, which is very close by, Splurrup receives a healthy amount of tourism. Top of the world! say the Giroffs when they come to visit the lights or The Library.
The only inhabitant of Splurrup, other than the flux of visitors, is a creature called an Umpire. Its feet are smooth and black and its fat belly is long and white. During winter, both male and female Umpires gather themselves tight around the pole and wait out the long cold season. In the warm season males migrate south. They have two methods of travel; one is to trod along very slowly on their two flat feet, and the other is to lay on their belly and cut through the snow or the sand of the dunes with astonishing grace and speed.
Males migrate south during the warm season because that is when the tourists come. Before they leave, the males fill their bellies with Scattercrabs and make their way along the sand and ice down close to the Library in order to open up smigloo stands and trade scattercrab paste to the hungry travelers for shiny bits of glass. The shiny bits of glass are then hauled back to the top of the pole where they are added to The Collection. The Collection is a rather enormous stained glass mosaic that reflects, refracts and multiplies the brilliance of the Zolora Splorealis. As the Umpires gather around the top of the moon to wait out the winter months, the dance between the light in the sky and the light on the ground keep them distracted from the painfully strong winds that burn their skin and chill them to the bone.
The Uncertainty Principle:
The difficulty of expressing how an Umlaut comes to be is not indescribable but is, at least, a challenge. An Umlaut is two tiny dots that float over the ears of a Fangaröo. They are always plural. You will never see one without the other. In fact, they only pop into existence when the potential for their second half is nearby. This is hard to grasp to be sure, as both parts of the Umlaut depend upon each other to exist and yet neither can pop into existence without the other already having existed, and yet the principle of their coming into existence being that they already exist somewhere else… well, let’s just call it uncertain for now.
What is certain is that once they exist, they do it atop a Fangaröo. Umlauts tend to show up in adolescence. They hover just above the ears and cannot be removed by any practice or process or medicine known to Zerth. Not that they want removing.
The Umlaut itself takes little interest in their host. They are usually too busy living symbiotically with the smallecules between a Fangaröo’s ears to care much about the larger scale. It doesn’t matter if the Fangaröo they float over is a mild mannered librarian or a mad conqueror of Splurrup, an umlaut is pretty much good either way.
Once every few years or so a Fangaröo will go mad and try to conquer Splurrup. It is a pitiful though amusing phenomenon. Apparently it happens rather at random. There will be a certain Fangaröo (who no one would have ever suspected) working quietly on one of the books of The Library, minding his or her own business, as others mind theirs, and then, seemingly out of the blue, they are up in a fury, hopping briskly out of The Library and leaping forward with all their might towards Splurrup with great plans of conquest.
Of course, their arrival is rather anticlimactic, as there is nothing to conquer, and so they generally end up returning back to their desks with their wide tails tucked between their knees.
The Library on Zerth is located at the end of the Northern Route, on the border of Splurrup. The Library has three books and no one knows where they came from or who wrote them. In fact, no one can read them. They are in a language that is unknown to any creature left on Zerth. Despite this, Fangaröos believe that the books are records of a lost civilization and so persistently study them in hopes of finding answers.
Fangaröos have big flat feet, huge piston-like legs, and tiny arms with delicate fingers on their slender hands. They have huge tails that balance their body weight when jumping long distances. They can jump very long distances. They can swim like great Splotters as well, with their wide flat tails to propel them along under the cold waters of Splurrup. Their two front teeth are strong and protrude to help them cut through the ice if necessary. Pouches on their backs are used to keep papers, pencils and a catalogue of the library (which is not very long). They have magnifying eyes and can see things that are up close very well—things far away, not so well. This optical deficiency to see over long distances, coupled with their ability to jump long distances, has led to both comedy and tragedy, as, for example, the famous instance of the Fangaröo pup who thought he was jumping over a cliff into a bed of flowers, and found not flowers on the other side, but only a cloud hovering over the rest of the deceivingly wide cliff.
Fangaröos are covered in thick fur, though the males usually go bald up top at a fairly young age. Females are more slender and tend to get their Umlauts earlier. Fangaröos are ideal librarians due to two things: their ability to see very small things, like print on pages, and their tiny arms and fingers, which can leaf through the pages gently without ripping them. As it stands so far, they are the only creatures on Zerth not endowed with either hoof or claw.
Fangaröos are originally from the southwest of Zerth but long ago migrated to the top of the Northern Route where their thick fur keeps them warm. Above them the Zolora Splorealis dances seductively, and is said to be so beautiful that most creatures tend to avoid staying for too long so far up the Northern Route, fearing that they will become paralyzed with awe, or at least get a neck cramp. Fangaröos, however, are bitter-sweetly blessed with the inability to make out the lights with any kind of focus, and so have no idea what they are missing. Perhaps if they could see that far up, they would not bother to bury their noses in the books any longer.
There are all kinds of Fangaröos. It’s said that, of all other creatures on Zerth, they have the most diverse character types within their own species. Some are industrious, some primitive, some wild, some tame, some brilliant, some thick as a wamsa board. Some go mad and some become as wise as Wayne the Elder.
The following is the story of Doris the Fangaröo. It is a key myth in the modern Fangaröo identity. Blurb: On a search for answers, Doris stumbles upon a key to understanding the books in The Library and is left, in the end, with different kinds of questions.
Doris Gets Her Umlaut:
Doris the Fangaröo was returning one of the books back to its place on the top shelf of The Library when all of a sudden an Umlaut appeared above her head. That was it. It wasn’t there and then it was. Doris didn’t notice anything until she climbed down the ladder, passing the other two books on her way down.
Claus, her colleague, would notice it first.
“Doris! You’ve gotten your Umlaut!”
“Yes, there it is!” Claus hopped over towards Doris and stretched himself right up over her head to inspect the Umlaut up close, “yes, nice one.”
“Get away,” cried Doris, “leave it alone!”
“Oh nothing affects it, don’t worry. Look…” and Claus waved his little forearm up and through the Umlaut.
Doris was furious. She scolded Claus very firmly, and in her fury, nearly knocked one of the books over with her tail.
“But Doris,” replied Claus, “they are useless! Just for show. You can’t do anything to them, or with them. Look,” and he tried to touch them again.
Doris insisted that they were for more than just show, and Claus apologized politely and was off.
Doris had always fantasized about getting her Umlaut. She had built it up in her mind to such a degree that now she was not sure what to do or think. Sometime ago, Doris had got it into her head that once her Umlaut appeared she would be able to interpret something very important about one of the books, perhaps she would understand a letter, or a piece of punctuation. Where this idea came from is anyone’s guess, as everyone knows Umlauts are like freckles or eyelashes or nipples on male Umpires—they make you look different, but they don’t have any particular purpose.
The Mysterious Significance of @:
Despite all criticism and doubt, Doris was determined to put her Umlaut to use. She had fallen into the habit of studying the three books of The Library with great zeal. Night and day her new Umlaut floated indifferently atop one of the desks of The Library as Doris’ eyes scanned the pages, looking for any signs of sense.
Then one day it happened. She had been working on the Middle Book when her aching eyes came across a figure in the text that stood out all at once. It was a single figure that looked like the inside of a Giroff’s ear, like this: @. Once Doris noticed it she realized that it was repeated throughout the pages of the Middle Book, over and over again.
Doris reported her finding immediately to Sven the Chief Librarian, who came quickly to inspect the pages himself with a magnifying stone.
To Sven’s surprise the figure was indeed repeated throughout the pages, just as Doris had claimed. After combing through all the pages twice over to be sure he was not hallucinating, Sven leaned back on his wide tail and stroked his chin. How could it be that in all his years of duty at The Library he had not noticed something so seemingly obvious as the repetition of a figure throughout almost every page of the Middle Book?
Soon enough the rumor had spread throughout The Library and experts from far and wide were gathered to inspect the figure. Doris was interviewed almost night and day and was too busy to have a chance to think about the significance of her discovery. She wanted nothing more than to sit in silence with the Middle Book again as she had done in the past and have a look through the pages for other repeated figures. She was sure there must be more than one figure repeated. Perhaps the discovery of the first would open the floodgates for the rest and lead, finally, to an understanding of what the text was saying. Since there was no way to get access to the books, now that they had been monopolized by Sven the Chief Librarian and his panel of experts, Doris decided to take a trip to clear her head.
The Middle Book:
With a mixture of both delight and frustration, Doris learned the news of the latest discovery while on her way back from a vacation, backpacking through Splurrup. She was having a snack at a smigloo stand when she overheard two ambitious looking Fangaröos chatting.
“Apparently all the figures repeat,” said one.
“Yes,” replied the second, “after they found the first, the rest all came into focus and now they claim to be able to read the whole book… though that seems doubtful.”
Doris could barely swallow her scattercrab paste when she heard this. Reaching quickly into her back pouch, she pulled out some change and threw it at the Umpire that ran the smigloo stand. She was off faster than a smidge toothed Wingaphone with slippery paws.
The crowd that gathered outside The Library was larger than Doris had seen in all her days. There were not only Fangaröos, but Umpires, Giroffs, Frizzly Hairs and even a few varieties of rare Phish carried around in sacks by their helpful Pandogs.
In the centre of the crowd was a makeshift platform where Doris spotted, among others, Sven the Chief Librarian, looking rather important and getting ready to make an announcement. Doris made her way through the crowd as best she could, eventually settling in a clear patch beside some rather smelly Frizzly Hairs. Soon enough the voice of the Chief Librarian boomed out over the heads of the many Zerthians gathered to hear the big news.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” began Sven, “bi-peds and crawlers alike, the winged and those of you with gills, you have all gathered here today to hear of the great progress made by the Fangaröo librarians in the last few months. It is a credit to generations of librarians who have given their lives and lost their precious sight, sweating over the figures in the three books by the light of a candle burning day and night for so many centuries. Today that long struggle has brought forth the long awaited fruit no one was ever sure would be tasted. We have finally deciphered the Middle Book and have come to understand its contents!”
An uproarious cheer exploded immediately from the crowd of Zerthians and, despite her better judgment, Doris felt herself caught up in the emotion. An enormous sense of unification drew all the species together as they listened to the news and waited for what it would all mean.
“On this historic day,” continued Sven, “we can all feel proud of ourselves as Zerthians and rest assured that the Middle Book will enlighten us as to our past, and possibly even to our future. For in its pages lie secrets hidden for centuries, of ancient wisdom and the story of how other races, more advanced than ourselves, came to be and to end.”
Doris was so enraptured by the moment that she nearly hopped up onto the podium to question the Chief Librarian and find out how they came to know the significance of the figures, and how they were so certain of what it meant.
All of her questions were answered in the next moment when, to everyone’s astonishment, the first page of the Middle Book was projected onto a huge screen behind the Chief Librarian for all to see. After the oohs and aahs died down Sven the Chief Librarian began to articulate what the figures meant.
“All Fangaröo experts agree that the significance of the Middle Book is in fact a history of a lost civilization—a civilization so advanced as to have developed refined hoofs capable of gripping writing implements, which they then used to form the detailed figures you see here. We are sure that this first page is an introduction to the work as a whole. It repeats many of the same figures, including the first one we were able to discover.” At this point Sven indicated with a huge stick, the many “@”s that were on the page and Gertrude’s eyes lit up with excitement. The page seemed to come into focus for her and she was sure she could see other patterns in the lines that had been so random under previous inspection. Sven continued:
“The rest of the book tells a tale, we are fairly certain, of ideological strife between various species on Zerth. Although the book doesn’t provide solutions, it certainly is foreboding and prophetic. It seems to place high importance on errors of communication and the rifts that can be created by simple misinterpretation. For this reason, we librarians propose that today be forever and always recognized as Fangaröo Day in honor of the generations of Librarians who toiled their lives away so that we could all be able to read the Middle Book and understand its wisdom.”
At this, Sven the Chief Librarian paused for what he expected to be another explosion of cheers but was met with nothing of the sort. There were a few scattered shouts of coalescence, but these came mostly from other Fangaröos and soon died out after the rest of the crowd remained silent.
Doris could sense the tension in the air as each species whispered among themselves in disagreement as to the name of the holiday. Uncertain of what he had said to change the mood of the so recently supportive crowd, Sven the Chief Librarian leaned over to his advisors and other important librarians for consultation. After a long period of hushed whispers and violent hoof gestures from both the crowd and the stage, Sven the Chief Librarian returned to the podium to address the crowd once again.
“People of Zerth,” he said. “That is all we have to say today regarding the Middle Book. Thank you all for coming.” And then he left.
The Zerthians were appalled. Soon enough they gathered in groups of their own kind and got ready to leave, back to their own land, where they would not be insulted any longer.
Doris was certain the Chief Librarian did not mean to upset the crowd and that he had their best wishes in mind. Surely he was only thinking of memorializing the moment and not concerned about the name of the holiday itself. Why they did not just change the name to something more neutral was a mystery to Doris and so she decided that they had not understood the book in the least.
As Doris strolled home she thought about how funny it was that they seemed to grasp the meaning of the text much better when they didn’t know how to read it. With this in mind she hopped high into the night sky and let the breeze blow through her Umlaut.
The most important factor in the abnormally rapid progress and population growth of the eastern hemisphere of Zerth is the manipulation of something called a Whooper Phish. Whooper Phish are little orange swimmers with almost no distinguishing marks. They say it is impossible to tell one apart from another. They are physically identical in every way. Once out of the egg, they don’t grow. They hatch orange and are 1/10 of a spleter and that’s how they stay. In fact the spleter, as an accepted measurement on Zerth the moon over, came to be, and remains, the length of ten Whooper Phish, tail to nose.
How, you may ask, have such indistinct and seemingly useless creatures (other than as units of measurement) become “the most important factor in the abnormally rapid progress and population growth” of the east, as the previous paragraph has so boldly put it? The answer to this complex question has to do with many factors. A few of these factors are the physical features of the creature itself. A Whooper Phish has no eyes and so tends to stay relatively still.
Another of the important factors is that Whooper Phish like to gossip and tend to chat with anybody who is around. Since they don’t move, however, and since other Phish don’t stay in one place for very long, Whoopers generally talk amongst themselves.
After observing these factors century after century, certain schools of Phish eventually came upon an ingenious idea. They realised that they could simply move a Whooper Phish to wherever they wanted it to be, and there it would stay. Thus, if desired, a whole line of whooper phish could be placed one after the other to form a line of some considerable length and permanence.
At first, Whoopers were only used as signs, as road markings, as directions, etc. However, it didn’t take long for a clever school of phish to get it into their big Phishy brains that they might be able to relate a message from one end of a line of a Whoppers to the other, due to all the gossiping. In fact, since Whoopers were placed almost in solitary confinement, with only one neighbour on each side to chat with, the information travelled surprisingly fast. Whoopers, it seemed, didn’t have a whole lot else to talk about.
The day of the first experiment was the day that history changed for the east of Zerth. That Phish who spoke the fateful words, yonder comes the winter breeze so be mindful where you sneeze, to the first Whooper in the line, and then swam quickly to the end of the line to hear the last one catching the same message, yonder comes the winter breeze so be mindful where you sneeze, must have known it was the beginning of something very big.
The Noisy Sea:
The entire eastern hemisphere of Zerth is water. This is not to say that it can be easily classified in such a short sentence as the previous one, because the water in question, being so vast, is necessarily vastly diverse. There’s cold shallow water in the north and south; warm deep water in the middle; and every variety of temperature and depth in between. It is water bubbling with life. In fact it is so populated and varied that they even say there are more types of Phish than there are hairs on the head of a Frizzly Hair.
The Noisy Sea is so named because it is a fact that if you were to dunk your head under it and listen at any point, either along the shore or in the very center, you would hear the murmur of millions upon millions of Phish conversations. Due to the sheer number of Phish in the Noisy Sea, vast communications systems have been put into place through what has been dubbed the Information Whooper Highway. The Information Whooper Highway is essentially a complex system of small Whooper Phish set in long lines that pass on information to the next in line until it reaches the desired destination. Of course the system is not fool proof, as Whoopers tend to die rather quickly and need to be replaced. A message can also be slow to arrive or even get lost, especially if it passes through the central area, as so much to chat about makes Whoopers less efficient.
Due to the sheer magnitude of Phish species, a comprehensive catalogue of each type has never been completed. It is sufficient to say that they come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and temperaments. Some Phish are big blue and dopey; some are fat yellow and jolly; and some are small rainbow-colored and down right nasty.
Phish are the oldest civilization on the moon. Their society is based on ancient beliefs that date back to a time when there were no creatures able to survive outside the water due to dust storms and radiation from Zolar.
Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about most types of phish is how well traveled they are. At first this fact seems a mystery, due to their inability to breathe awkseegin, and thus survive outside the sea. The answer, however, lies in the longstanding relationship Phish have with a rather large and loyal beast that occupies the shores around the Noisy Sea called a Pandog.
Pandogs are almost the size of Frizzly Hairs but have a short thick coat that is mostly black with white patches around the eyes, on their belly, and under their paws. They walk on all fours and show their typical good humor by wagging their tail vigorously and dribbling urine accidentally in their excitement.
The nature of the relationship between Pandogs and Phish is one of loyal friendship. Over the centuries Pandogs have come to rely heavily on Phish to provide them with nutritious algae, their principle food source. In return, Pandogs will graciously scoop up any Phish who wishes to make a journey, water and all, into a smallish sack which can be carried around from place to place safely. Thus Pandogs get to eat and Phish get to travel.
One of the most noteworthy species of Phish in the Noisy Sea are called the Sealots. Sealots are fighting Phish descended from an age-old tribe of radical believers in the importance and primacy of the ancient Phish traditions. Among the many innovations that have taken place over the last few centuries that Sealots are against are: the Information Whooper Highway; interaction with other species (other than Pandogs); the popularization of travel; and the deciphering of the three books in The Library. Sealots feel that these things distract Phish from the fundamental code of their existence, which is:
1. Phish should not swim far from where they were hatched.
2. Phish should speak only one dialect.
3. Phish should not trust any air breathers but Pandogs.
4. The Library is evil.
It’s not hard to see why Sealots see modern Phish life in general as blasphemous to the fundamental code.
The meetings that take place between the various sects of Sealots are generally about the destruction of The Library. Certainly the Sealots would have destroyed the hated Library centuries ago if not for their inability to get there on their own. Only Pandogs can take them and Pandogs refuse to be involved in their plots. Consequently, many have credited the Pandog as responsible, in an indirect way, for lunar peace. It is mysteriously fitting and convenient that the only means of travel that the most violent species on Zerth have is dependent upon the help of the most gentle. It makes you wonder really.
These delicate balances are key to life on Zerth and most Phish in the Noisy Sea find this fact fascinating and obvious enough. In fact, there is a school of Phish called Noh-Phish whose ancestors have preserved many lessons of Phish well-being within a series of small dramatic enactments handed down and performed from generation to generation. One of the more popular Noh-Phish dramas concerning the dangers of Sealot orthodoxy is called, How Ben the Pandog Saved the World. The following is an outline of how the piece is said to be performed.
Ben—usually played by three Phish who swim one in front of another, and four others to swim in unison, as the paws. A kind of sea moss is draped over them and painted in the colour of Pandogs. The Phish playing the Sealot swims to one side of Ben in order to signify that Ben is doing the carrying and that the action of the drama is taking place outside of the Noisy Sea.
The Sealot—played by a Phish with white limestone smeared on his or her face to signify the distinct markings of a fighting Phish. To represent the fact that the Sealot is being carried in a sack of water by Ben, Noh-Phish have ingeniously come up with the technique of feeding the actor some algae rich in phosphorus, which then forms an iridescent glowing ball around the phish as it swims. This resembles a sack of water being carried quite nicely.
The Fangaröo—played by a Phish with two tiny trained feeder phish who swim in unison overhead to represent an Umlaut.
In Act 1 Ben mimes the action of scooping up the Sealot from the surface of the water. Ben mimes the careful placement of it into a sack beside him. Enter the Sealot in full spherical glow to Ben’s side. Ben and the Sealot begin their journey along a straight line of Whooper Phish that points north, to represent the Northern Route.
Ben and The Sealot arrive at The Library where they encounter a Fangaröo. There are usually rocks piled up in a stack to represent The Library, or it is designed with Whoopers. Once the Sealot spots the Fangaröo, it puffs up like a balloon and growls, but cannot escape the confines of the glowing sphere. Ben, noticing the agitated Phish, tucks his passenger safely into the folds of his fuzz. To represent this, the Sealot swims into the thick fuzz of the moss that is draped over the seven phish and disappears inside it with them. Ben and the Fangaröo then sit and mime having a chat. After some time Ben bows with respect to the Fangaröo and the Fangaröo nods its Umlaut at Ben, who is on his way back home.
The Sealot is once again visible at the side of Ben as they head back down the Northern Route. The frustration and anger of The Sealot is represented by aggressive swimming within the confines of the glowing bubble around it. They arrive back to the scene of the start of play and Ben safely pours the Sealot back into the Noisy Sea where it can do no harm.
There is certainly no debate about the incompleteness of The Encyclopaedia of Zerth. But as it will never be complete, or permanently accurate, the collators have composed only this short report as a general outline of things as they are at present. Perhaps, if the future permits, a more detailed document or even sequence of documents could be assembled to better explain the nuances of Zerth. For now this work will have to be sufficient.