Night the First
The theal ith out there on the ithe onthe more.
Thupine, glathed eyeth turned to the indigo thky.
The thun that thet an hour ago will not rithe again till thpring, and the coming of winter prethageth the tholemn mood.
Thank you, Orchid. Shut up and swim along now, there's a good whale. I believe I should handle this.
Immobility is never a good sign with Pinniped. His anger begets animation. This torpor is provoked instead by self-pity.
Someone must go to him. He could mope himself to distraction, for all I care, except for one simple principle of this perverse ecosystem. If Pinniped pines, he doesn't write. And if he doesn't write, then we all starve.
The pickings have been sparse of late, and winter is almost upon us. So, who will console the disgusting oik this time?
Orchid frets, but can never connect. She is terrified of him, for one thing. Moreover, she personifies his failure. She is a manifestation of the problem, not its solution.
I would talk to him myself, but at times like this, the effort is inevitably futile. The temptation to agree whole-heartedly when he deems himself useless always proves too great.
Once more, it will have to be the albatross. She never actually cheers him, but she has an unintentional talent for converting Pinniped's resignation into rage. Revenge, even. Plainly a more constructive mindset than his present one.
If only she weren't hearing things at the moment...
Night the Second
So what are we waiting for, Coleridge?
She is listening attentively, head cocked to one side, bright eye unblinking.
Plop. Fizz. Howl.
There it goes again, distant but distinct.
Alberta has always been supremely good at looking mildly confused. The Speak-Your-Weight-Machine bellows, and her demeanour is jagged into sheer panic. She is in the air before she knows it...
...and now alights, shaking, at Pinniped's side. He moves not a muscle. He stares blankly into the sky.
Night the Third
Yes, you in the black gown.
Kindly desist from your briar-binding for a moment, and listen up.
Please stop looking around for somebody else.
It's you I'm talking to you.
Yes, you, the Reader.
In case you haven't noticed, there's nobody else here but you.
You want to know why I dressed you in that habit?
You dressed yourself.
Put it down to Experience.
Welcome to the Garden of Love.
Let's take Communion together in this Critical Mass.
You see, perhaps we're not alone, after all.
Perhaps there's a whole congregation out there, lurking in the shadows.
Perhaps they're eager to eavesdrop on your Confession.
Our little world of h2g2 is a magnet for the self-important.
Pinniped, bless his little fishy-whiskers, is a case in point.
He's not the only one, more's the pity.
The Second Division Intellect coupled with the First Division Ego.
Now, it seems that there are two classic responses to this unfortunate admixture of attributes.
Pinniped exhibits one of them.
His is arguably the lesser of two evils.
Pinniped is vexatious.
He barges around, barking his opinions.
He punches above his weight.
Downed in the last round, he's first off the stool in the next, spitting blood, teeth, phocoid fury...
...I beg your pardon?
Listen - we won't get anywhere if you keep interrupting.
Ah, I see.
You're in a hurry to hear about the second response, the nastier one.
You fear that it might apply to you?
I was just coming to it, in fact.
But we really ought to listen to this next exchange first...
Night the Fourth
...Err...Hello, Mr Pinniped...
She extends a tentative pinion upwards, in a plea for his unforthcoming attention.
...Yes...well...have you been hearing those strange noises, too?
It was meant as an ice-breaker, but the ice looks pretty resolute. Pinniped ignores her still.
The plop and the fizz and the baleful moaning ring out again.
'Do you think I'm vain, Coleridge?'
He couldn't sound more pathetic if he tried. And he is trying, of course.
...Oh no, Mr Pinniped. Not you...
, snarls the seal. His facial muscles, at least, are animated. His expression exudes what might be loathing, or ferocious concentration, or possibly both.
'Do you think I'm self-serving, then?'
The keen avian brain discerns the possibility of a continuation of a trend in this conversation.
...Err...yes...possibly. A little...sometimes...
Pinniped sighs and sinks back into the blackness of the sky. This isn't working. His despondency is very deep, this time.
The look in a dead man's eye.
She knows that look all too well.
Not only the look, in fact, but the purgatory it heralds.
Night the Fifth
My point precisely.
You of the Second Type, this Sermon is for You. I need not name You, because Your self-awareness will chasten You better. And the message is urgent now. The morrow morn is almost upon You.
Your intellect is of the Second Division.
Your ego is of the First.
You would create an environment of the Third, so that Your faint glimmer might seem to shine.
You walk Your rounds, crushing joys and desires, and You refuse to notice the writing on the wall.
I need hardly point out that it does not conform to the guidelines.
Night the Sixth
'You can't work metal indefinitely, Coleridge'
The albatross is well-used to total incomprehension, but this never seems to suppress her concurrence reflex.
...Oh no, Mr Pinniped. One certainly mustn't do that.
The limpid black eyes turn to fix her. There is no emotion, only a mute exhortation to shut up or die.
'The more you work metal, the harder it gets. In the end, it will simply break if you bend it any further. If you want to make anything of it now, you have to soften it again. You have to commit it to the fire. You have to destroy the structure that you created. It must revert to its virgin state.'
Plop. Fizz. Vocalisations characteristic of profound exasperation.
Alberta's mind is racing. She is not particularly well prepared for a philosophical discourse with an anarchic metallurgist. But she must somehow banish this mood.
She hunts frantically for the clue, among her muddled recollections of his recent travails. Suddenly, there comes an irrational rush of pity. He's been taking so much stick lately. While her brain prevaricates, the old bird's heart spreads wings and braces itself for an ill-judged flight of compassion.
Perhaps Pinniped senses the imminent danger of being consoled, and decides to volunteer a little more substance to the discussion. A wonderful thing, this chemistry of opposites.
'They criticise, I rewrite. Only the words are hardened now. Fatigued. It all just falls apart.'
Ah. So that's it.
Alberta is on top of this now. All it needs is one good suggestion on how to anneal writing.
She is working on it, when suddenly the plop and the fizz are right behind her.
Night the Seventh
Are you still paying attention? It's important, you know. We don't want you being seismologically disadvantaged.
Those who can, do.
Those others teach.
And then there are those too socially inarticulate to teach.
They make a pretence of instruction.
They actually practise monstrous anal recursion, that stunts all who receive it.
Too harsh? Your world has a logic, of course...
Community artists are justified by their icons.
How natural that they fear the iconoclast.
Scouts cherish well-tended tracks and trails, tidy camps, carefully-stowed necessities.
They cannot reconcile preparations for a different expedition.
Even the new breeds soon slip from idealism to pragmatism, into the methodology of their industry, towards means instead of ends. Mining begins as wide-eyed prospecting for the bright stuff of the imagination. But sooner or later, each practitioner will discover a lode, and then work it out they must. Precious material has a characteristic appearance now. We seek this ore, and no other. Once you know what beauty looks like, pretty soon you can find it to order. Next stop, commodity.
Yes, your world has a logic. A false logic, because logic applied to living minds is inevitably simplistic. You build the semblance of reason with a fabric of facts, but facts belong to minds, and so they are plastic too.
This edifice of hootoo is not made of real material. It is virtual. If you decorate it with facts, it will vanish. It is only solid to the touch of the imagination.
And the Maiden Aunt who minded the Nursery has moved on.
The playroom is already growing colder.
You perfect, precocious children are going to die.
Your only chance is the skylight above.
If you can learn to fly.
Now, we must get serious.
That other stuff was only the warm-up.
Writing criticism is a difficult and elusive art.
Done badly, it causes evil damage.
It shouldn't be practised by amateurs.
It shouldn't even be practised, because there are some pursuits that practice poisons rather than perfects.
If You like doing it, then You shouldn't be doing it.
If You know how to do it, then You can't do it.
If You pretend that You have discerned a fundamental method then You are a vampire of creativity.
Before we proceed, You must kneel, and You must swear on the Universal Book.
You must promise never to tell anyone how to write.
Night the Eighth
A hammer smashes into the ice, amid clouds of steam. The grizzled creature who wields it might be a man, might be a bear, is certainly angry.
Alberta's confusion is so complete that the visitor seems like a welcome development.
...Good day, Sir. Or at least it was. And will be again, of course. After Christmas. So it's good night, really, in fact...isn't it?
She winces. That effort didn't rise to the occasion at all.
Nonetheless, the answering grunt and glare seem positively friendly by Pinniped's standards. The man-bear claps mighty paws, and a huge hearth appears in a shower of sparks. The silhouette of a colossal anvil obscures the stars.
Pinniped's lassitude counterpoints the suicidal potential of the interjection.
'If you light another fire, that one'll fall through too, just like the others.'
For a few seconds, the man-bear fumbles with a ridiculously tiny tinder-box. The kindling flares. Then at last consciousness dawns, and the mane and the eyes set deep within it begin to swivel towards the seal. The box slips from his grasp, and in its place he hefts the hammer in an improbably effortless cantilever. His roar seems to start far-off, and bears down on Pinniped like an onrushing train.
Night the Ninth
Know, wretch, that there is Truth that is beyond fact and fiction.
Know that there is Energy that transcends structure and rhetoric.
Know that there is Inspiration that far exceeds Your fitness to measure it.
Know all this and be cowed.
Repent, before Your world is ended.
Night the Tenth
Alberta cannot bring herself to look.
She is having one of those unpleasant guano moments.
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees the hammer pause at the zenith of the monster's backswing...
Plop. Fizz. Howl.
The seal shakes his head, sadly, wearily.
Night the Eleventh
You'd better grow up quickly, lads.
Peter's off swimming with the mermaids.
Wendy doesn't do bed-time stories any more.
The crocodile is ticking.
It'll be every Lost Boy for himself soon.
Night the Twelfth
The albatross tries to collect herself. She seems to consist of ragged shreds, and some of them are still missing.
'He'll be back in ten minutes'
, declares Pinniped, matter-of-factly.
'We'd better be somewhere else by then'
A few hundred metres later, and the shadowy outline of the Pier is in sight. The seal slows to a waddle.
...Who is he?
Brevity in Coleridge is only ever explained by respiratory distress.
Pinniped has somewhere rediscovered his cocky look. Or perhaps seals are like dogs, and seem to smile when they are breathing hard.
'He's a primeval smith, or something. Elmer-wotsit; I don't remember. I think it was Titania who was talking about him. You know how it is? I was a bit preoccupied, and there he was.'
Alberta knows all too well.
So whose doom has Pinniped spawned this time?
Night the Thirteenth
Which of us will recognise genius when it comes among us?
Which of us will be humble enough to acknowledge it?
Night the Last
I see you're both back. Well done, Coleridge.
We seem to have gained one Hideous Personification of Stifled Creativity. Vengeful, is it?
Alberta nods slowly. Suddenly she feels very tired.
The Speak-Your-Weight-Machine shudders, and resolves to keep the Penny Arcade locked from now on.
He can at least be thankful that they're nowhere near the Stiflers.
In the gloom of the Cupboard, a little heart swells, and bright eyes glisten.
There'th a new rethident Nemethith.
The pen ith mightier than the thord, ethpethially if you thwing it like a hammer.
You jutht tell it like it ith, Theal-Boy...