I changed the title of this post, first presented in 2016, but left the introduction pretty much as is, because things haven’t changed much, and if anything they’ve gotten worse. I’m sure you’ll know what I mean.
This past year has been a challenging one, to say the least. And the upcoming year looms with uncertainty. I think you know why. We need our sense of humor now more than ever, and to that end I offer a few excerpts from my Sword & Planet spoof, The Wizard From Harrmel. Writing this book helped me through some trying months. I hope it will give you a chuckle or two.
The story is told through an Intermediary Person named Old Bob, who lives in the small mountain town of Idyllwild, California. Inputting words on a laptop at the speed of Data the android, Old Bob is able to relay the weird adventures of a guy named Bernie Smith, late of Iowa but now roaming a distant and deadly world called Persus. This first-person narrative begins with Bernie’s introduction in chapter one.
My name is Bernie Smith; isn’t that exciting? It would’ve been bad enough having to put up with all the B.S. jokes that kids with those initials usually get dumped on them. Uh-uh, because I had to have a German mother, and she just had to see the old family name carried on, so my whole moniker was Bernard Ungerplatz Smith, and just try to imagine surviving the formative years with that cross to bear—especially when all of those formative years were spent in the enlightened metropolis of Tasselville, Iowa. At least I was a big kid, hitting six-foot-one before my fifteenth birthday (haven’t grown more than half an inch since), so I was able to minimize the grief by bloodying up a few noses. That didn’t leave me the most popular kid in town, though.
My father ran out on my mother when I was little. An ex-military man, he became a mercenary in Rwanda or the Congo or some such place, and as far as I know, his skull made a nice pen and pencil holder in the hut of some cannibal chieftain. Mom was real neat, and she raised me as best she could, but life’s a bitch sometimes, and she died when I was twelve, leaving me with little else than her great sense of humor, quite uncharacteristic of her German heritage. After that I lived with Mom’s old unfunny spinster sister, Maude Ungerplatz, who is still alive today, which is pretty amazing, because back then she was at least one hundred and seven. Yeah, but strong as an ox. I can still feel the back of her hand across the back of my head.
Because of a misunderstanding, Bernie is being pursued by the law for something he didn’t do:
Did I need this? I mean, did…I…need…this? You see what I was saying about hanging out at the bus depot?
The bus depot—forget that, now. Tasselville’s illustrious sheriff, Dooley Hutchins—whose first words as a baby had been, “You in a heap-a trouble, boy!”—probably had enough smarts to post a deputy there, it being the only form of mass transit out of town. Also, forget thumbing a ride or jumping in the back of someone’s truck. With Highway 43 being the only road in or out of Tasselville, the county boys would likely have roadblocks set up a couple of miles out in both directions.
Options, options, my brain shouted at me as I ran from the northern edge of town, crossed a secondary road and dove into a cornfield belonging to Huey Fleener, one of Tasselville’s most prosperous farmers. How about hopping a freight car? Uh-uh. The nearest tracks were at least six miles to the south, and even if I made it there, and even if a train passed tonight, they always traveled at dangerous speed on the long straightaway, and I was desperate, but not crazy.
Nearly trapped by the posse, Bernie makes an amazing discovery:
Eventually I might have to call for a truce and let them take me in. Well, at least I’d be alive.
Assuming Sheriff Dooley Hutchins wanted me alive…which, owing to the fact that he’d never been particularly fond of “Maude Ungerplatz’s friggin’ little dipshit nephew,” was a highly debatable issue.
Bring the fucker down, men, any which way you can!
I knew then that the only way I would live through the night would be to escape.
It was right about that time when I saw the circular shaft of light.
Just for an instant at first, in an area where some rows had been thinned out. Thought I’d imagined it at first, which was when it appeared again, this time for two seconds. Its prominent color was a bright shade of orange, though you could see streaks of saffron and scarlet shimmering throughout it. Yeah, shimmering. I expected to see Lt. Worf appear, or maybe Dr. McCoy, bitching about his atoms being scattered all over creation. Then, it winked out again.
Interesting; but with all of Tasselville in hot pursuit, I really didn’t have time for this.
Or did I?
Why had it shown up here? Why now? I stared at the spot, somehow knowing the shaft of light would be back.
It reappeared, this time for three seconds.
When it winked out again, I stayed, even though the pissed-off mob was getting closer.
And suddenly, understanding dawned more clearly than a desert sunrise. The light had come for me, for Bernard Ungerplatz Smith, to take me off this miserable uncaring world! But take me where? Who knows?
Who gives a flying Wallenda?
I walked over to the spot, and waited. It took so long that the people and dogs drew even closer. Someone shouted my name in a real bitchy tone of voice.
The shaft of light appeared again, engulfing me in what felt like warm, viscous fluid. It shimmered; I shimmered.
Then I was outta here, and the cornfield—as well as the rest of my world—was no more.
After some early adventures, Bernie is taken prisoner by a desert tribe called the Luzuurs and is thrown into—well, the title of chapter three speaks for itself: “The Tent of the Really Overweight Guy.” As in all Sword & Planet stories, he needs to learn the language—fast. His tent mate is assigned the task of teaching him:
For the next minute the guy did nothing but stare at me, and if looks could kill, I was as good as dead. Finally, with a shrug, he crawled (rolled, actually) toward me, then sat himself up with considerable effort. His rodentlike eyes found mine, and he started tapping himself on the chest.
“Hardda Tac,” he said, his fleshy lips forming each syllable slowly. “Hardda Tac.”
At first I thought he was advising me of an oncoming coronary, which got me a mite concerned. But how could he be doing it in English?
When he said “Hardda Tac” a bunch more times, and looked extra pissed, I finally got the message: he was telling me his name.
To check it out I stuck a finger in his face and repeated, “Hardda Tac.” He nodded vigorously. Yep, I was right.
Hey, this made my day, because obviously the elder had assigned my cellmate the job of teaching me their language. So maybe my fate—whatever that might be—wasn’t as close at hand as I’d thought. If it was, then why bother with this?
I decided right then and there to take full advantage of the situation. Even if I were able to get out of this gauze prison right away, where would I go? What would I do? Without knowing the lay of the land I could wind up in the same sandbox as before. At least here I had food, clothing, shelter. And once I’d learned the language I might be able to win my freedom by reasoning with the elder. If not, at least I’d be better prepared for whatever came my way when I did escape.
With this resolve I quickly made sure the fat guy understood that I knew where he was coming from. He started pointing at various objects in the tent, assigning them syllables, clucks, fingers up nostrils, or combinations of the above. I imitated him as best I could, although the finger thing made me feel like an idiot.
In about an hour I had learned the rudiments of this odd language.
In about an hour and a half I was able to converse fluently with Hardda Tac.
That’s it for now. Plenty of adventures for Bernie—and laughs for the reader—are yet to come, and as I said, we could use the diversion. The Wizard From Harrmel is available on Amazon in eBook and paperback. Enjoy!