The Short Tale of Dwarves

The early morning sun warmed Awk’s bronzed shoulders as he padded toward the offshoot of the Nile River nearest his village. The sky was brilliant and clear. The air had the tang of hot sand. A breeze stirred the waters and the reflected light shimmered.

If Awk were not so completely consumed with the business of survival he would have remarked, in Coptic of course, that this day was, well, nicer than most. Coptic had no word for “like,” so similes were harder to come by than … other rare stuff.

He moved into the rushes in the low river and began to spread his net. For once, he was able to hear the whispers of the grasses as they swayed because his chatty friend Gak was back in the village, learning the hard lesson of eating improperly stored fish. Even now, Gak squatted in a cluster of palm trees, occasionally saying “gak” (no relation), and sometimes crying.

The water was clear enough to see an abundance of fish. The thought of a simple catch and a relaxing afternoon hiding from Egyptian construction recruiters made him smile.

Awk closed his eyes for a moment and took in the scent of the river. When he opened them, two eyes stared back. Big, round, unblinking reptilian eyes that looked over a long snout and directly into Awk’s soul.

“Ack (no relation)!” screamed Awk and the quiet of the morning ruptured in a splash as he flailed toward the riverbank. Then there was another scream as the crocodile clamped its jaws around Awk’s ankle (a direct relation).

“Great God Ra-man save me,” Awk cried. His prayer traveled upward into the universe and landed in the office of a celestial two-story colonial, where the Godfather was in his office, listening.

Well, the Godfather was half-listening. He sat at his desk in his shirtsleeves and suspenders. His pinstripe jacket, white rose in the lapel, was draped over the back of the chair. His sleeves were rolled up past his muscular forearms. The air was thick with pleas.

The Godmother was in the garden creating new flower species, so the Godfather had to watch the Godtoddler, while still evaluating a torrent of requests. Many people wanted things today and they wanted them today. Some people begged for luxuries like food. Other appeals were matters of life-and-death. He chose which ones to make happen and which to throw into the God Works in Mysterious Waystebasket. The Godfather was constantly peeved because everyone called him by different names. Ra-man was one of his least favorites.

“Why can’t they just call me Enzo?” he said as he heard Awk’s prayer.

At the same time, he received a call for help from a teenager near the cliffs of Dover who was being chased by a pack of wolves. The generous Godfather hid her behind a boulder while the wolves tumbled over the precipice. By the time he turned his attention back to the Nile, all the was left of Awk was the “k.”

The Godfather looked at his Rolodex and slapped his forehead. Awk’s destiny was to discover perspective and his death would set Egyptian art back thousands of years. He flipped through some more cards. The Dover woman was the ancestor of the man who would invent strip mining.

“Mama’s gonna be mad,” he said to the Godtoddler.

The Godtoddler amused himself with Earth’s timelines, which ran across one wall like guitar strings. Just now he discovered that if you touched them in a certain order you produced what would become the opening notes to “Sweet Home Alabama.”

As a rule, strumming the timelines didn’t produce anything more serious than occasional tectonic shifts, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. It was a mostly harmless way to keep the child amused.

Then the music stopped and the room went quiet. Every parent, even a father, knows that silence ranks second on the list of worrying sounds, right behind bloodcurdling screams.

The Godfather looked over his shoulder. The Godtoddler’s face was scrunched and he was on the verge of tears as he stared at the broken Middle C string, the primary Earth history timeline.

The Godfather cooed to settle the child as he rolled his chair across the room. The universe, however, doesn’t call timeout for a domestic crisis, so he patted the Godtoddler on the head and gave the child a small uninhabited planet to play with while he went back to work.

When there was a break in the action — he flipped a coin to decide the winner of a massive battle between the Romans and the Gauls — he turned his attention to the repairs.

Working with the timelines was not difficult. Sometimes they had to be merged, or trimmed, or even interspersed with other lines to make sure everything came out right. He likened it to shaping a bonsai tree.

But losing an entire thread was bad for the deity business. Histories and futures, planets and species, discoveries and tragedies would be snuffed out in an instant. People would talk. At least the ones who were left. He pulled his Swiss Army of God knife from his slacks pocket, pruned the frayed ends and spliced the line. Then he plucked it to make sure the fix would hold and smiled at the Godtoddler.

“I hope this works,” he said as he ran his fingers over the string like a virtuoso. “If I have to make one more line claim they’re going to jack up my insurance rates and then it’s bye-bye Porsche.”

He added quickly, “The car, not the man.”

His practiced fingers played over the repair again and he frowned. Usually there was more planning in line splicing so that only the boring bits of time were affected. He had once clipped an entire decade and it didn’t even make the newspapers.

He touched the area around the repair and the creases in his face deepened. “Something doesn’t feel right,” he said. He wheeled back to his desk again and said over his shoulder, “Don’t tell your mother.”

There is a sense that deities have when someone they’ve been talking about is standing right behind them. The Godfather turned and shivered. The Godmother was checking the changes he had made and she did not look happy.

“Porsche, huh?” she said. “You’re going to be able to ice skate in the crater of Mount Vesuvius before you own one of those. Do you realize what you’ve done?

***

In an ancient Nordic village, the very pregnant Helga the Plain lay in her bed, sweating, writhing and swearing to bite the horn off any Viking who did this to her again. A matronly midwife placed bits of snow on Helga’s forehead and whispered soothing words like, “Be quiet, you’ll scare people.”

Then time blipped. It was as if you walked into a room and couldn’t remember why you were there. The suddenly not pregnant Helga got up from her bed and asked the midwife if she’d like a cup of tea. The befuddled woman looked around. There was no midwifery to be done here. “A cup of tea sounds nice,” she said.

Thus Middle C Earth was spared the birth of Erik the Misinformed, the man who destined to convince the Vikings that tectonic shifts, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and deadly reindeer stampedes were caused by tunneling dwarves. The dwarves, the last of their kind, had kept their heads down for millennia. (Not much of a challenge, really, for a four-foot-tall race.) They dug quietly, sang rude songs about the extinct elves and orcs, and occasionally startled a reindeer.

Had he been born, Erik and his misinformed Viking followers would have hunted the dwarves to extinction.

Helga the Plain died two days later, as was her original fate, when she was trampled in a freak reindeer stampede.

***

“I thought I made it clear I wanted the dwarves out of here,” the Godmother said. “All they do is make huge holes in Mother Earth and drink to excess.”

“Sounds like your cousin Baccardi,” the Godfather thought, but did not say out loud. What he did say was, “They’re not that bad. They’ll make the ‘Wizard of Oz’ a beloved movie.”

“Those are Little People, not dwarves,” the Godmother said.

“Look, it’s done,” the Godfather said. He was still smarting from having given up Neanderthals, a group of people he had become quite fond of.

“It can be undone,” the Godmother said. The Godtoddler’s head swiveled from one parent to the other and back again.

“How about we decide with Granite, Papyrus, Bronze Spear?” the Godfather said. This was exactly like the familiar game except that the gesture for spear was an extended middle finger.

“You know that always ends in a stalemate. It could take millennia to sort out.” The godmother assumed a facial expression recognized by husbands throughout the universe as “exasperated.”

Experience told both parties that when two omnipotent and strong-willed deities stand unblinking eye to unblinking eye, the impasse could last for eternity. Over the eons, the couple had developed at solution called jovially, “You just wait.”

The Godmother threw her hands up. “Keep your evil dwarves, but you just wait and see the havoc I’m going to wreak with mosquitoes.”

***

Epilogue: The dwarves thrived thanks to several extremely fertile couples. And, guided by ambitious leaders, they spread throughunder the planet.

They were eternally grateful and lavished prayers on the god they called, “Enzo.” You might think that hearing one’s praises sung day and night would get stale for the Godfather, but it never did. For the most part, the dwarves kept to themselves except for that time when a poor tunneling choice touched off an earthquake and San Francisco burned to the ground. The Godfather was almost certain that nobody would notice. Besides, mankind was busy working mightily to develop medications to combat malaria and yellow fever.

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