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Barmy to
the Spire

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Barmy to the Spire

The Barmy Shorts Company Presents
Of Fish, Gnomes, and Posh Clothes.
by Tom Bubul

Back to Stories and Plays

On the plane of Ooze, floundering through the Paraelemental soup, is what looks like the rabid offspring of a wheelbarrow and apartment building with giantism. It got there one day through an inconvenient portal from the plane of mineral, while mining for, well, minerals, and has been floating around collecting significant bits since. A jumble of mine carts, wooden planks, sheets of metal, discarded gears, bits of clothing, mephits, and other things are home to five hundred of the multiverse's most elite bunch of smelly, dirty little people. Luckily, they're gnomes, and gnomes like living in giant wheelbarrowish apartment buildings with giantism that float through infinite pools of sludge.

Gnome Home, it's been called, because gnomes live there. It's their home, so to speak. Granted, it's not the most original name, but a cutter in his right mind isn't about to accuse the people who run a place built out of mine carts unoriginal. Life in the place is sloppy, as most things on Ooze are - but having gravity is good, and the gelatinous cubes that stay around as living soap bars are handy too. Some gnomes still mine, and most have jobs keeping the drifting behemoth of a mutant shopping cart afloat... but some fish. They hang their clockwork fishing poles out little ports in the sides of their home, fishing for whatever is good to cook... usually eels. This is the tale of a great, old gnome, his grandson, and their Fishing Trip.

.....

It was written by a barmy storyteller greater than myself that 'it starts with a barmy, as most things do'. This holds true in our tale, too. Old Boggis Greasybones of the Oak Sloaps (a section of Gnome Home made from the spare parts left behind by a drifting log cabin they found one day) was a whole 199 years of age - and had retained about four percent of his original sanity, since his birth. He was also very, very dirty... but most gnomes in Gnome Home were. Boggis was a fisherman. Every day, he would go out to his port to fish for a big, beautiful marlin. He claims to this day that there is a big marlin out there, but he just can't seem to catch it. In the meantime, he manages to reel in a good amount of eels and worms, so the townspeople deal with him.

Recently (that is to say, eleven years ago), his daughter had a son and named him Scoggs, after, well, nothing in particular. In any case, young Scoggs never really acknowledged his not-really-that-grandfather's presence, as doing so would invite ridicule from his friends. They'd call him The Marlin. He hated that. That's what his mum called him, sometimes. Her little marlin. He never understood it, except that it was a playful, pitying poke at her father's evident barminess.

All of young Scoggs's views of his grandfather were about to change.

The old gnome squeezed his way into the door (the front of a green cuckoo clock, cuckoo still intact) of the house of the younger Greasybones generation, with his fishing pole. He wore a wide, toothy grin on his fat ruddy cheeks, bright from the vigors of the morning cold. The wrinkles of his near 200 years ran deep with sweat, from running from the docks up to the cuckoo house. He wore a big red and black striped sock atop his bald head, and a tattered brown leather jacket over most of the rest of his squat body. Beneath, a pair of what looked like mud pants (with denim stains in spots) stood out, suspenders held up by fishing hooks, and a shirt that was a mockery of the colour white beneath those. He wore brown wool gloves with the fingers cut out, and carried in one hand his fishing pole - Old Reliable - and in the other an iron box, battered by time and coloured by some very durable dark green paint. This, his tackle box, contained all the necessities for catching marlins; but somehow only managed to catch eels - and what good are eels, mmm?

He stared in at his daughter, and coughed hard into his fist. He looked at her for a moment and said, "Aren't yez goin' to arfer me cocoa, dot'r o' mine?" She looked back at him, but he wasn't looking at her. He was looking past, at Scoggs - a bright little gnome with nice green overalls, and a gray woolen jacket. Knee-high boots and red and black striped socks, not unlike the one his grandfather had on his head, kept his legs out of the muck that managed to so cleverly seep through the wooden (and metal, and cotton, and marshmallow, and stone, and rubber) floors. The boy was the picturesque Bytopian gnome; two feet and nine inches of shiny, happy annoyance.

The boy caught his elder's eye, and regretted it. The barminess in his eyes twinkled with the capricious joy of a child about to write his name on his mum's favourite spread with a magnifying glass. "Er, forget the cocoa," he said to his daughter, "Yong Scoggs, comear, lad! Say 'ello to yez granfatha!" He extended his arms and laughed the way impersonators of the legendary dwarf hero Santa Claus laughed, before giving children horrendous nightmares. Scoggs whimpered a little, but came forward. Very, very slowly.

"Er, hello, grandad." He said, trying to show as much physical affection as possible, while still making as little contact as needed. His efforts failed when the older gnome wrapped his arms around the boy, tossled his sock, and roared, "Today izde day, malad, yez'iz comin' on a trip wiv me, we're goin' to catch the marlin!"

The boy stepped back, arms still extended, his shirt now smelling and looking like the eels he was about to inevitably go catch. He shook his hands slightly and watched from a convenient third person perspective as his fears became reality. He could hear it now, The Marlin, they'd say. "Er, granpa Boggis, do..."

But his mother cut in. "Scoggs! For shame, he is yore granfather, he is." She turned to Boggis, "He'll go with you. Scoggs, go get dressed now, you're going fishing, my little Marlin."

Scoggs sighed, and slogged across the floor to his bed. Boggis went outside with his mother, as he got changed. "Buggrit, why is it I have to go fishing for the bloody marlin? All he ever pulls in is fat Ooze eels, like every other barmy sod out there. But nooooo," he pulled up his patched up, corduroy overalls, "he's my gran, and I'm his little..." he struggled getting his head into his shirt, "bloody..." he buttoned up the significant buttons on his overalls, "marlin." He put on his old boots, which he was allowed to get dirty, and went outside. He looked a little bit rugged, but he was very clean, so the image was distorted - like the sort of people who model fashion for Ice Fashions, but don't actually wear gloves or a scarf or a hat. He shuffled his feet slowly out the door, where he was faced by his mother, and his barmy grandfather.

"Awwwwww, he's just soooo cute, isn't he gran?" His mother pinched his cheek in her standard embarrassing manner. She was the stereotypical gnomish wife; plump, jolly, short, ruddy faced, condescending and playfully inconsiderate as bloody hell.

"Ai, like me when I wasiz age. Ready to catch some nice things then, malad?" Boggis stared at his grandson semi-approvingly. He thought the boy was too clean to be a proper fisherman, but then, getting dirty on Ooze wasn't exactly the hardest thing in the world. That, and the boy didn't have a stubbly beard, or a snarl, or anything else any of the local fishers had. He was too fashionable... but at least he was coming.

Scoggs took an eel-skin thermos full of coffee from his mother, and hopped along behind Boggis, all the way to the docks. The sites of Gnome Home were all very familiar too him - they generally consisted of very odd items dangling from very odd places. He did live in an oversized cuckoo clock, cuckoo still resident, so he didn't condemn anyone who lived in houses made of mattress springs (ironically, the people who lived in said house were arrested by the Sigilian company who manufactured their mattress house's springs; apparently, they'd committed fraud, by removing the tags. - Ed.) or anysuch thing. That didn't mean he didn't think it was a little odd, though. The raft's other gnomes chuckled and nudged eachother, grinned brightly, and waved at him as he passed. They'd whisper to eachother, and break into laughter. "Buggrit," he thought, "I hate it when they laugh at me... but oh well. Maybe I will catch the marlin." He walked with that thought in mind, happy, for ten steps, before thinking "I'm turning into him! AAHAhahAhAHahaHAAH!" The screaming bit at the end came out of his mouth too, as a loud gasp. He ran to catch up with his grandfather, as they continued across the raft towards the docks.

.....

While the whole of the giant, floating owl pellet that is Gnome Home was for the most part open-air, there were at least filters set up to keep out the stench and the acrid rain that constantly pelted the sea of muck. Rotten planks of rubbish, from petrified cotton to mine supports to the other assorted rubbish that made up the city made up the docks themselves; these odd bits and pieces that were too grimy to be used to build houses were all stitched, wrapped, and nailed together to form the bizarre docks, off of which the dirtier gnomes fished. The crustier old fishers, who wore old skull caps, had the stereotypical pot-scrubbing chin most brigands had, and dressed all in oily, dirty rags stared with contempt over at Scoggs - who was dressed like, well, a clean gnome. One spat, and swaggered over to Boggis.

"That yore boy, z'it Boggis?" He grinned, anticipating the answer.

Boggis wrinkled his red nose, rubbed an arm across his chin, and spat. "'E is. Where's yore boy, Shinygem? At home learnin' 'ouse work from the missus?"

Jervisk Shinygem was taken aback. "My boy's alot morea gnome'n yore sissypants granson, lookitim! 'E's shinier'n any of them posh Sigilians ever was!"

Boggis squinted, "At least he dohwn look like a cart ran over 'im, like yore ugly little bugger."

Shinygem threw his arms in the air, scowled, and went back to fishing over the side of the dock. Boggis puffed out his chest proudly, grinned, and adjusted the suspenders on his trousers. He looked down at Scoggs, who was quite embarrassed, and the grin fell from his face. Little wet spots were forming in the boys eyes, which were slightly red and puffy. Boggis ermed, and said "Sorry, lad. I like yore posh clothes, I think they're, er, nice. Let's do some fishing, eh? Catch the marlin?"

Scoggs nodded, keeping his eyes fixed on the ground. They headed out to the end of one of the slippery, muck-encrusted docks, which was ironically enough made from the remains of the roof of an old Sigilian department store the dabus dumped out, where Boggis set down his old, beat tackle box. He opened it with a rusty, metallic creak, and removed two long rubber worms that were still slightly flexible, despite the layers of ooze covering them. They more than slightly resembled a blob of mud with a hook stuck in. Boggis tied one of these lures to the end of one pole, and one to the other shorter one. He handed the short pole, which was newer and cleaner - with shiny blue paint and a fancy forty-eight cog reel - to Scoggs. "I got that for yez, as a present, er. I hope yez like it."

Scoggs looked down at the pole, which was rather nice looking. There is a certain appeal that comes with new, untarnished bits of metal, that rotate in sync with eachother. Especially to a gnome. This pole, a perfect bit of fish catching machinery - except for the big greasy blob left by Boggis's hand - was a marvel. "Er, thanks, er, grandad." He looked up at the old gnome, who pulled the sock down over his ears - so his grandson wouldn't see them turning red.

"Ohitwasnothin," muttered the old gnome. "Cast away, eh malad?" The elder of the two extended his arm straight up in the air, whipped it around several times in a very intricate pattern, pulled it back, and whipped it forward. With his other arm, he casted the fishing rod. Scoggs quirked an eyebrow, and shook his head with a grin. He casted.

Nearly an hour later, it happened.

"Ahhhh! It's got me!" Wailed Scoggs, as he groped for something to keep him upright. His pole lurched and bent downward, dragging him forward. Boggis quickly planted his feet on the slippery docks, and fell down with a splat. He grabbed his grandson under the arms before doing so, and got his heels planted nicely in a groove in the docks. Boggis lay staring up at the brown sky, his grandson on top of him, grunting with the pole. They didn't slide anywhere, luckily. Boggis tried to sit up, with a "Gerrofme!" while holding the boy under his arms. They struggled to their knees, the shiny blue pole bending under the weight of something huge.

"Yez got it!" panted Boggis, trying to help the boy keep the rod under control, "Yez caught the marlin!" He broke into fits of insane laughter between breathes.

"Pull! Pull it in! Yes! That's... that's it!" he cried, lugging something very large and very muddy up onto the docks. All the other fisherman turned to look, as Boggis hoisted his grandson up onto his shoulders, while standing on the tacklebox. "Heee did it!" He bellowed, "Heee caught the maaaarlin!" He laughed uncontrollably for a moment, and let the boy down. Whatever it was they caught, it didn't much resemble a marlin. It was about eleven feet in length, and quite oval... resembling a giant cocoon made of mud.

"Pickit up! We'll taker to the square, anshow every sod in dis village that it was my granson that caught the marlin! Hahah!"

Scoggs grinned brightly, a warm feeling inside. He decided it was because he was hungry. But he kept grinning anyway, to see his grandfather's life's struggle finally coming to an end. The marlin, he thought, so it did exist. And now he has it.

They each took it on a shoulder, Scoggs ignoring what it'd do to his clothing, and they trundled off to the town square.

.....

In the center of the great floating trash heap that is Gnome Home is a great, open space that the gnomes call the Square. Of coarse, it isn't even slightly square. It's so circular, in fact, that it nearly defines pi. Created from the dome of some Prime cathedral the Tanar'ri dropped in Ooze as a prank, the town square is actually the only nice, semi-clean bit of the place - great paintings of naked humans (with their significant bits covered by sheet iron - because the gnomes don't want to give their children ideas) reaching out to touch eachother decorate the great ivory dome. The effects of Ooze leave the place be - the thick wooden floors are covered with several lairs of wire mesh, so whatever grime happens to get tracked in, drains right back out. The gnomes are forbidden from touching anything on the walls, as this is the only aesthetic place in the whole floating trash heap, and they like to keep it that way. It's the posh little bit of Bytopian in all of them that keeps it clean.

A favourite pastime of young Scoggs has always been to lay in the center of the square, or circle, and stare up at the beautiful ceiling, the men reaching out to eachother... it was perfect. There was beauty in Gnome Home. There was beauty elsewhere, perhaps, and he could ponder it, while watching the ceiling...

In marched the triumphant duo, carrying their muddy victory on their gnomish shoulders, followed close behind by a mounting crowd of gnomes. Scoggs, heading in first, looked up at the dome as he walked in. Maybe it was the mud that was beautiful, afterall? Boggis was still quaking with triumphant laughter, tears streaming from his eyes as he hollered "I told yez we'd get it! That's my granson! He caught the marlin! My granson! 'E showed all yez sods, 'e did!"

They reached the center of the square, and carefully set their cargo down. Boggis reached into his tackle box, which he had carried, and pulled out a rusty old knife with a slight flourish. He went over to the muddy pack, winked and giggled at Scoggs (who was standing by trying to wipe himself off), and stuck the tip of the knife into the prize. He drew a line directly down it's length, and the dry ooze began to crack. He stuck the knife into the center of the crack, and pried...

The mud cracked and popped with force from within. Boggis leapt back quickly, as something pushed away the flaky layers of ooze. It pushed out. There, an arm.

"Marlin have arms?" Boggis mused.

It pushed and pulled, it dragged. It kicked. There, a boot. Kick, smash. The cocoon rolled over, and stood up on two legs. The one protruding arm punched at the mud, which cracked. The legs bent and kicked, and the shell cracked further. After several minutes of abuse, the mud casing finally fell to the ground - and there stood a human male of nearly two meters in height, wearing all the best in Sigilian fashions - nearly untarnished. His skin, however, was mud caked. He blinked thrice, frowned, and looked around.

"Er," he said, and took a careful sniff of the offensive Ooze air, which nearly knocked him back down. "Er."

The gnomes all stared, mouths wide. Boggis hugged himself and gloated, "Yeeep, thass de marlin, an' my granson caught it!" But noone was paying any attention.

"Er." It said again, "This isn't Inr'ama's House of Style, er, is it?"

Scoggs was the first to close his mouth, and stare at the stranger. His flowing blue cloaks, floppy baubles and chains, and nice lacy shirt all seemed to glitter to him. "You've been to Inr'ama's House of Style?" he blurted, before he could help himself. The other gnomes looked back and forth between the two, the gnome and the human.

"Yes actually, I work there," said the human, adjusting a pair of spectacles to look at the gnome.

"The.. main store? In Sigil?"

"O'course, cutter. Lovely place, it is." He flipped out a pocket watch, and looked at it. Just for style, not because he wanted to know what the time was. In truth, the watch had stopped several years back, and the man couldn't be bothered to get it fixed.

Scoggs' mouth dropped. "Wow, er, I've always wanted to see that place. Mr. Inr'ama is a genius, he is... wow."

"We are recruiting models, perhaps you'd like to audition? We could use someone to model our Clothes For The Vertically Unendowed Who Like To Romp About In Tunnels And Dirty Places line."

"Really? Me?" His face lit up with a wide grin. So, the marlin did grant wishes. "Sure! I'd love to!" He looked over at his mother and old Boggis, both of whom nodded. He turned back to the human, "Er, when do we leave?"

"Now, er, if it's okay," he said, taking another smell of the acrid air, and sketching a circle with chalk on the wire mesh floor.

Scoggs waved to his mother and Boggis, who was still telling everyone that it was his granson that caught the marlin, and stepped into the chalk circle. With a "fwooooooshpop!", a flash of bluish light, and some pink smoke for effect, the gnome and the human were gone... gone to the boy's dreamland, where everyone dressed nice and mingled at fancy parties, where there was nice artwork, and nice things to be seen. Well, maybe they didn't go there, but they went to Sigil - and that's almost the next best thing. Well, maybe not, but anyway.

.....

Several months later, the dripping wax of an old candle dribbled across Boggis's desk, as he laid in bed, with the sheepskin covers pulled over his head. The dim light of the burning wick still through soft light across the room, exposing the remaining tufts of white hair that still grew in the harsh climate that was the top of Boggis's head. He pulled up the covers from Bytopia, the only thing he kept, over his head - blocking out the light. His bed creaked slightly, as he rolled over muttering, deep in sleep or not, about the marlin. A battered picture of Scoggs and himself carrying the marlin's cocoon into the city square hung on a wall, and a copy of that same picture sat on an old oak desk that he had caught one day, while fishing. The floor was littered with old copies of newspapers, used as a carpet, that were completely obscured by a rather thick layer of mud. A coat rack, which he also caught, stood by the cloth door - on it hung his dirty trousers, his sock hat, and his other normal articles of clothing. His fishing rod sat next to his battered tackle box beneath the coat rack - Scoggs's blue rod was framed on the wall opposite his picture. The walls, made of pieces of plywood tied together and patched with ooze, kept the heat in rather well - and the small fireplace and rudimentary chimney cut into one provided comfort even on such cold nights as this. Oddly, a knock came at the door, and Boggis leapt out of bed with a "Wotcher!", groping for his fishing pole. He found the pole, and stepped quickly over to the door...

"Good evening, sir!" said a clean looking human, wearing a freshly pressed gray suit and a red bow tie. He had a parcel under his arm. "Please don't squeal or call your mam, or hit me and butt me like a little ram, I brought you a package, and I am, singing this Sigilian Telegram!" The man grinned brightly in the half light of the candle. Boggis's mouth dropped.

"Well?" said the man, "How was it? My first time making up a singing telegram it was, did you like it? Sigilian Telegram service would appreciate any feed..."

Boggis took the package, slammed the door, and locked it. "Posh Sigilian buggers, crazy sods, theyis." He yawned, and looked down at the package - which was roughly as big as he was. "Whasdis, I wonder?" It was a fairly large brown parcel, with a little note attached. He removed the note, and read -

"Hello, grand! This is Scoggs. Well, actually, it's a piece of paper, but it's me, Scoggs, who wrote on it." There's an awkward gap in the message, as though the writer had confused himself. "I found this in this thingie called the Great Bizarre today - believe me, the place is really, really bizarre, they're not lying - and got it for you. I'm doing lovely with Inr'ama, but I'm sure you can hear about that when you come visit soon. Remember, you promised. But, er, anyway. Enjoy the package. Scoggs." At the bottom of the message, scrawled in someone else's handwriting, it read: "P.S.: Bwahahahhahahahhahah!!!!"

Boggis quirked an eyelid at the last bit, but chalked it up to postmen being a bit too bored making up bizarre rhymes. He carefully sliced open the package. His eyes widened, and his breath left his lungs as he looked down at the great thing before him.

It was a big, blue fish with a hornlike nose, and big fins. It was fully six feet long, with a plaque beneath it. "A Marlin," it read. In smaller letters below it, "Care of Seamusxanthuszeanus: Parts, Pieces, and even Taxidermy too, sometimes. 'I always barter!(tm)'"

Boggis grinned brightly, and a tear came to his one eye. "Bloody sawdust, always getting in my eyes," he said. He hung this, an actual marlin, up on his wall - and went back to sleep. He dreamt happy dreams, and the next day noone on the dock made snide comments at him.

Fini.

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All content copyright 1999 Jeremiah Golden or credited authors.