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BRAND NEW AUSTRALIAN MYTHS AND LEGENDS
Chapter 5 - The Wise Man
WARNING: This chapter contains reference to the following unsavoury topics:
  • Polar Bears' bums
  • heroin
  • farting
  • wobbly bits
  • the death of Elfa
  • penguin recipes
  • haemorrhoids
Why are you in the deadly, chilling wilderness (where it is uncommon to see buses) with Elfa struggling on his Alpine Pro racing skis ? Why aren't you still sitting at home in a comfortable armchair with a cup of cocoa or a syringeful of contaminated heroin (depending on your preferences) watching TV and wondering what you're going to have for tea? You wonder the same thing yourself as the blinding glare of the deep snow stabs your eyes and you notice that you cannot see any buses of any colour or description. There are no big buses or small buses, red buses or blue buses. You can forget about spotting a double decker bus completely. The arctic desolation you are in is a charabanc desert. There's just snow. White snow. Cold snow. Snow that numbs your nose and melts down the nape of your neck. Snow that makes you fear for your most precious bodily appendages.

You can imagine parts of yourself dropping off to be later discovered by an antarctic anthropologist who will take them home to frighten his wife with. After having had your peripherals nibbled by The Thing in Chapter 2, you are very worried that if you lose your wobbly bits a second time, even a whole tube of Araldite may not get them back into position. As a precaution you wrap them in brown paper and wave a Rainbow Trout above your head. You are grateful for the pot belly slow combustion wood stove that glows red behind Elfa's saddle. Everything else is white. The brilliantly white snowscape reaches the white snowflake-crowded sky. You are blind, just as your mother predicted when she first saw you wrapping your anatomical appendages in brown paper after a cold snap last year. There are no landmarks by which you may navigate. You clasp your arms around the wet fur of Elfa's neck and watch the green glow of the radar screen between his ears.

Somewhere in the frigid loneliness ahead there is a person close to death. Dear reader: you have to make it. Everything depends on you. And Elfa. You struggle past a small igloo and notice an Emperor penguin bouncing a chick on his knee. A lady penguin is sitting beside him knitting a beanie.

`Sam?'

`Yes, dear.'

`I'm going to lay an egg.'

`Oh, darling! Another chick!' He clasps her in his flippers and hugs her.

`Are you happy, darling?' she asks quietly.

`I'm the luckiest penguin in the world!' he crows. `Do you regret marrying me, sweetheart?'

`Never for a second, my sweet.'

`Darling. I love you so much!'

`I made this for you,' she says, handing him the beanie. It has "SAM" knitted on the front.

`It's beautiful. Thank you, precious.'

Your frostbitten face manages to smile and you trudge onwards. The loyal Labrador labours listlessly, dreaming of a room-temperature bitch and a hot cup of bone marrow in his warm split-level kennel in Toorak. Poor Elfa. His bounding gait slows. His pounding paws pause. You can feel his gasps as he drags air into his tortured lungs. He staggers and slips but struggles onwards, sinking to his belly with every step.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: You will remember Elfa was wearing skis a few sentences before. Now he is sinking into the snow and is obviously without skis. This, in television would be called a `continuity error'. That is where, for example, the sensuous heroine opens a door carrying a wombat but closes the door with a ring-tailed possum clasped under her shaved and deodorized armpit. For Elfa to lose his skis without any logical reason is to satisfy three needs.

(1) It makes the scene more dramatic, as Elfa must die soon and he has to suffer to get your sympathy. He can't do that on skis.
(2) It satisfies those TV junkie readers who love finding errors in films and novels.

You might also have noticed that in one sentence, the scene was the arctic. Soon afterwards, it was the antarctic. There is no credible explanation for this.

Elfa has covered four hundred and twenty-six miles [EDUCATIONAL NOTE: nine hundred and eighty-nine kilometres] since leaving the sun-soaked beach. Is it any wonder that the courageous canine is now faltering as he drags his hoary, exhausted fur over his seventh mountain range? You peer sorrowfully into his pained eyes and listen to the rasping gulps of air he takes. His every muscle trembles with the pain of each step. His nose is turning a disconcerting shade of green. His fur, drenched with sweat, freezes into a crackling coat of ice. A terrible groan comes from the valiant Labrador as he labours up the next steep mountain face. You cry encouragement. `Keep moving, you fat pig or I'll see to it you won't have any more puppies.' Your words of comfort are useless. He looks up sorrowfully, apologetically, and collapses with a streak of red oozing from his frothing jaws. His stubby limbs twitch as you tearfully hug his icy head. He manages to utter a pathetic woof and stretch out his pink, warm tongue to give you a final, loving lick on the nose and he is suddenly still, his eyes frozen open, staring sadly into the blizzard. The screaming wind drowns your miserable howl. You put away your castrating knife and lie close to Elfa, crying and sobbing and stroking the cold stiffening body that will soon be buried by the murderous arctic gale, his only monument is a pile of penguin droppings on the ice near his head.

You are lost, alone and freezing. To make matters worse, there are no buses around.

Bewildered and grieving, you drag yourself away from Elfa's frozen corpse. You must go on. You take your magic pointed stick and your Certificate of Sainthood and with frozen tears on your cheeks, turn your armour's furnace up to full and continue the dangerous trek to your next heroic adventure. Elfa is dead. Long live his memory. Sir Elfa. Saint Elfa. You lower your helmet's Polaroid visor, hitch up your thermal underwear and, with your rigid Rainbow Trout whizzing overhead, you begin the lonely, desperate final search for the dying victim ahead.

Can this be the end of you, reader? Will you be left a snap-frozen fish finger in Chapter 5, up to your armpits in a glacial, goosepimply, gelid grave? You pass a shivering King Penguin who shuffles up to you and tries to talk you into trading your Rainbow Trout for his mother. Cold as you are, you give the beak-chattering bird your precious trout and take his mother. She's old and grey-feathered but very nice. Especially with garlic sauce and a drop of Cabernet Sauvignon. As you pick the feathers from between your teeth, you continue your long march and sing a reassuring Penguin Roasting song your mother taught you between intimate childhood beatings:

O flightless aquatic bird of the Southern Hemisphere,
You're fat and drab but tasty when roasted, so I hear.
The order Sphenisciformes with flippers, beaks and crests,
Is ever so much tastier than boring chicken breasts.
You have seventeen species, second biggest is the King,
Aptenodytes patagonica with a massive meaty wing.
You're thirty eight inches high, which is a big deal,
But smaller than the Emperor who makes a family meal.
The Royal Penguin steak is tender, lean and black
But the Fairy Penguin in a roll makes a lovely snack.
O, there's the Rock Hopper, Yellow-Eyed, and Macaroni birds,
The Gentoo, Adelie and Jackass are succulent words.
The Galapagos and Peruvian have such a subtle flavour,
But any penguin on a spit is beautiful to savour.
Chateaubriand Emperor steak or Fricassee of Flipper
Or Braised Gentoo with Chestnuts is a gastronomic ripper.
One Jackass Penguin, onions, sage leaves and some stock,
Butter, flour, lemon thyme and toss it in the wok.
Baste the penguin carefully until it is quite brown,
Simmer 'til it's tender and bolt it all right down.
O, juicy roasted penguin, plucked and sliced and yummy,
Is just the thing to warm the cockles of a gourmet's tummy.
Penguin meat is succulent, the cholesterol's not too high,
And unlike ducks and partridges, the fat bastards can't fly.

You put away the Animal Liberation Cookbook just as you catch the distant mournful sound of a polar bear in distress. To be precise, the growling "Ooooh" is reminiscent of the sound of a polar bear with anal obstruction. The fact that polar bears do not inhabit the same region as penguins does not bother you. The other fact that polar bears are vicious, nasty, cruel, carnivorous, skull-crushing beasts does not make you wet your pants. Let's face it: you're thick.

As you look around, trying to locate the mournful cry of the bear in the shrill scream of the wobbly-freezing gale, you see a herd of cows standing on the tips of their hooves to keep their udders out of the snow and you realise where you are. You look east to discover a flock of sheep in electric slippers cuddling each other and muttering prayers to Ovine, the great sheep-god, that their wool grows more quickly. You know that you are three miles (190,080 inches) from the mythical town of Ballarat that magically manages to maintain a sub-antarctic climate regardless of the season.

The denizens of Ballarat are remembered in folklore for their peculiar vocabulary. Whereas they have three hundred and seventy-seven words to describe various degrees of cold, they lack any noun to describe warmth. Each year they gather in the main street to celebrate the day, four hundred years before, when the temperature shot up to equal the lowest recorded winter temperature in Tasmania and several people died of heatstroke when they failed to turn down the thermostats in their electric underwear in time. Since they had no word to cover the event, the famous day is remembered as the "Day It Wasn't Quite As Cold As Normal". They gather around a bonfire while the ancient men of their tribe tells the legend of the day when people actually took off their overcoats. Each year, on the anniversary of The Day It Wasn't Quite As Cold As Normal, a young virgin is sacrificed to the god Rinnai. To the sound of lustful chanting, trumpets and the chattering of teeth, she emerges from her igloo wearing only a bikini and in the minute before her hypothermic death the population showers her with ceremonial thermal underwear. You can usually count on a couple of cardiac arrests amongst the older men who have forgotten what delights are permanently hidden beneath the ladies' furs. Apart from football (which must, of necessity be played indoors), the most popular local sport is arson. On Saturdays families go out and burn down a notable public building and stand around the conflagration warming their hands and holding out marshmallows on sticks. For the rest of the week everyone stays in bed, which explains the massive population of Ballarat in spite of the adverse climate. Because of their tendency to remain indoors under several electric blankets, for an outsider to actually see a native Ballaratian is a major anthropological triumph. That is why you are excited when you scurry over another snowdrift and catch sight of a polar bear with a strange expression on its face.

You stare in bewilderment but there's no mistake. It is definitely an example of Thalarctos maritimus. Its colour varies from almost pure white to yellow and dirty grey. Its nose and claws are black. It has a long neck and pointed head, is eight feet long and has shreds of seal blubber sticking to the fur around its mouth. Strangely, rather than being ferocious, its eyes seem to display an expression of ursine discomfort. You look more closely along its muscular flanks towards its stubby tail. It's most peculiar. You rub your eyes and look again. It must be a case of Ballarat dementia, an hallucinatory madness caused by intense cold. You eat a jam-filled lamington (the only known cure) and stare at the bewildered bear's behind again. There is definitely a man with his head stuck in the polar bear's bum.

`Struth,' you say to yourself in wonder. `That's not wise.' Figuring that the unfortunate fellow must be an over-enthusiastic itinerant Polar Bear Haemorrhoids Specialist, you valiantly stride forward to offer your assistance. The polar bear looks around at you, its lips pursed and his forehead wrinkled.

`Ooooooh,' it moans again.

`Umm, hello?' you call at the man's back. One of his hands waves in a friendly manner and you vaguely hear a `Hi' muffled by half a ton of polar bear intestines and blubber.

`Everything all right, is it?' you enquire.

`Ah, well, not exactly,' you hear more clearly after the bear opens its mouth a little as it grimaces and wriggles.

`Can I pass you something?' you offer with a slight shrug.

`Not that I can think of.' You whistle a little and look around you until you hear the gentle voice issue from the bear's mouth again. `I was wondering - if you're not busy, that is - whether you - ah - help me a bit.'

`Oh, OK. What did you have in mind?'

`Well, just at the moment I was - um - considering getting my head out of this polar bear's intestinal tract,' he says.

`Oh, you don't want to be in there, then. I thought you might've been trying to get into the Guinness Book of Records or something,' you say.

`It's just that this bear's eaten a considerable quantity of seal blubber and I fear the consequences of staying here much longer. I'm blocking the way, so to speak. It might be unfortunate, you understand,' he says.

You understand. `What did you have in mind, then?'

`Well, just off the top of my head, I thought maybe you could - ah - sort of tug on my legs? Unless you've got other things to do: I appreciate this must be rather inconvenient for you.'

`Tug on your legs?'

`If you wouldn't mind.'

`Now?'

`The bear and I would appreciate it.'

You grasp his frostbitten ankles and start tugging. With a slurp, a glug and a pop the man's neck, ears and finally forehead appear and he sits on the snow rolling his head around and massaging his neck while the bear's look of unease fades and it emits a prolonged sigh of contentment. As you watch, an urgent look of agitation comes across the bear's face and it trots off behind a snow drift. You turn your curious attention to the malodorous man doing neck exercises on the snow. `G'day,' you say. `I'm the reader.'

`G'day,' he replies. `I'm - '

`Yes?'

`I can't remember.'

Having seen several cheap American situation comedies, you know that nearly everyone, at some stage during their third series, gets hit on the head, loses their memory and after a lot of laughs regains it when they get hit on the head again. To save time you pick up a passing tender Emperor Penguin by the legs and slam it into the strange man's head. The penguin's beanie falls off.

`Feeling better?' you ask with a superior smile.

`Fine, thanks, except I seem to have an Emperor Penguin's beak sticking into the back of my skull. Could you perhaps give me a hand?'

`Sure,' you say with another smile. You lever the bird from his head and pluck it.

`Thanks very much. I don't know how that got there. I don't think I make a habit of it.'

From behind the snow drift comes an ear-numbing explosive blast and the sickening stench of gas. Several nearby penguins are knocked off their flippers by the shock waves and a high-flying arctic tern is overcome by the noxious fumes and dives uncontrollably into the ice where it is mashed. Luckily your suit of armour has inbuilt gas filters. The strange man holds his breath until the cloud of gas is blown away.

`Ah, the polar bear's coming back,' you observe. The animal emerges from behind the snow drift and saunters towards you with a much more comfortable expression than before.

`What polar bear?' the stranger asks.

`The one you had your head in.'

`My head?'

`Up his bum.'

`His bum?'

`His bum.'

`Me?'

`You.'

`Oh.'

The stranger inspects the bear closely, his nose wrinkled in distaste. He looks down and picks up the Emperor penguin's beanie.

`I wonder if this is mine. My name wouldn't be Sam would it?' He tries the beanie on but it is far too small and he sighs with disappointment. `I wouldn't happen to be an over-enthusiastic itinerant Polar Bear Haemorrhoids Specialist, do you think?'

`Do you know anything about Polar Bear Haemorrhoids?'

`Nothing leaps to mind.'

`Then you're probably not.'

`Ah,' he says as if that's an important clue to something. `If what you say is true, how do you think I happen to have ended up with my head inside a bear's bum. It's not the sort of thing I think I do for fun,' he says with an enquiring look as if you know the answer.

`Could it be a hobby?' you suggest. He thinks for a minute and shakes his head. He says it sounds unlikely. Now you come to think of it, you can't remember having heard of an Australian Sticking Your Head in a Polar Bear's Bum Club. Actually there was such a club in Geelong but it was closed by Animal Liberation ten years ago.

You offer another suggestion. `You're not a naturalist are you? You might be David Attenborough making a documentary on the digestive tracts of arctic animals.'

He looks around himself hopefully but frowns. `I don't seem to have a camera crew,' he says and you nod in agreement. You both sit in the snow, biting your lips, pondering explanations. Secretly you wonder whether he is an original form of pervert but you diplomatically avoid suggesting it. You turn the spit as the Penguin cooks.

`Maybe,' you begin uncertainly, `you have something in your pockets that could give us a clue.' The stranger smiles and agrees that it is possible. He nods every so often, declaring it a very fine idea indeed. You wait.

`Well?' you ask after five minutes.

`What?'

`What's in your pockets?'

`Say, that's a good idea. There might be something in there. Indeed there might. Yes, that's a very sensible suggestion. I wish I'd thought of that.' He smiles approvingly and watches the penguin's fat drip and sizzle onto the burning arctic tern. You get up and stand on his face as you rummage through his pockets.

`Why did you do that?' he asks pleasantly, rubbing the black rubber marks from his nose.

`To see why you might have your head in that polar bear's bum,' you explain again.

`My head?'

`Up his bum.'

`His bum?'

`His bum.'

`Me?'

`You.'

`Oh.'

The stranger again inspects the bear closely, his nose again wrinkled in distaste. `I wouldn't happen to be an over-enthusiastic itinerant Polar Bear Haemorrhoids Specialist, do you think?'

Feeling more and more as if you've strayed into an episode of Doctor Who, you ignore his remark and inspect the contents of his pockets. There is:

- a ball of wax
- a tissue
- a solar powered fish slicer
- several disgusting green things with knobs on
- brown paper (for wobbly bit protection)
- erotic postcards of salmon spawning
- a comb with no teeth (the man is bald so that makes sense)
- a photo of a chicken inscribed "I'll always remember tonight"
- an unfinished handwritten manuscript consisting of sixteen pages of theoretical and experimental discussion.
Considering this to be a possibly relevant clue, you start reading the document aloud.


Is it Wise to Insert Your Head in a Polar Bear's Bum?
by
A Wise Man

INTRODUCTION... What is Wisdom? Is a Wise Man one who can say, in fifty words or less, the ultimate reason for man's existence on Earth? Is a Wise Man he who listens always and speaks rarely? Some would say a Wise Man talks of peace with a submachine gun hidden in his loincloth. Many would say a Wise Man is not married and owns an economical car and does not get pissed on Saturday nights because he thinks ahead meditatively to predict how terrible he will feel on Sunday morning, especially if he had thrown up on the host's cat and sexually molested his wife. A Wise Man certainly does not juggle chainsaws or demonstrate hari-kiri with a Wiltshire Staysharp carving knife or insist that patting crocodiles is perfectly safe if you show them who's boss. Is wisdom therefore fear of bleeding? A Wise Man cleans his teeth three times a day and furthermore knows that Mrs Marsh probably uses her tube of Colgate in ways unheard of by the manufacturers. He darns socks at the first sign of a hole, does not light his incinerator when the cat is sitting on top of it, cuts his toenails straight across to avoid ingrown toenails and wears clean underwear every day in case he gets hit by a bus. Do wise people eat mountains? Can wisdom be measured? Can wisdom be taught? What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge? Does a wise man know the difference? I don't. Am I wise? I once had an affair with an aardvark. Was that wise? Plato, in his landmark text Aardvarkius Sexualis proposes that such relationships are to be philosophically preferred over carnal relationships of a traditional nature. But Plato was a faggot. A screaming queen. Is it wise to trust him? The Athenian Police records are filled with complaints about his carryings-on. Is it wise to tell the aardvark lady that you are seeing a chicken on the side? I believe that the true definition of wisdom can only be truly established if a person (male, female or Plato) can answer the burning question: Is it Wise to Insert Your Head in a Polar Bear's Bum? To this end I propose to attempt the experiment armed only with a tissue, a ball of wax and this manuscript...


`Well,' you announce. `This seems to solve our problem.'

`What problem?'

`The problem of your ursine cranio-rectal interface.'

`My what?'

`Oh, hell.'

`Why you stuck your head in my nether regions,' the polar bear explains as he critically inspects the penguin on the spit. `Is it done yet?'

`Nearly,' you say as you baste the brown, crunchy skin, totally unconcerned that a polar bear just spoke to you. `It seems that you are a Wise Man.'

`Me?'

`Apparently.'

`Well. Who would've thought it?' He pauses and looks sideways at the bear. `Did that bear just speak?'

`I think so.'

`So do I,' says the bear.

`That's fantastic!' the Wise Man exclaims, nearly spilling the penguin stuffing into the snow.

`You'd learn to speak pretty bloody smartly if you had a stream of philosophers following you with tissues, balls of wax disgusting green things with knobs and manuscripts, insisting on infringing your most private passages with their boof heads. Every day, another one pops up out of a snowdrift and without so much as a `May I?' or `Do you mind if?' they're diving themselves towards my rear end. I'm not opposed to vital philosophical research. Don't get me wrong. But why does every wise man have to insist on proving the same damned thing? You only have to look at the Wise Man's Journal of Polar Bear Research to discover that this wacker's experiment has been done a thousand times already. Even Plato did it in his younger days and there weren't a lot of polar bears floating around in Athens. I really get cheesed off sometimes, really I do. Isn't that penguin finished yet?'

You take the penguin off the spit and divide it into three pieces. As you chew on the flipper and the polar bear munches on a drumstick, the wise man recklessly waves his giblets around as he speaks.

`Let me get this straight. I'm a wise man, right?' You nod and wipe penguin fat from your mouth. `This is a polar bear. Yes?' You nod again. `You are... who are you?'

`The Reader. Sir Saint Reader who battled The Thing in Chapter 2,' you mumble with penguin blubber oozing between your teeth.

`All right. You're The Reader,' he mutters and pauses to think things over. After two minutes of contemplating his frozen giblets he looks up and stares at you and the polar bear with intense interest. `Hello,' he says. `I didn't see you there. Well, I must be going. Why am I holding frozen giblets? I guess I'm an igloo-to-igloo giblets salesman. Would you two like to buy some frozen giblets? Top quality offal. The best gizzards on the market. My, that's a beautiful coat you're wearing madam.' He beams at you and holds the giblets up for your inspection.

`I happen to be a polar bear,' says the polar bear wearily. `So stop trying to unbutton my coat.'

`A polar bear?'

`Yep. Growl. See? A polar bear.'

`Do you eat people?'

`I'll bloody eat you if your head gets anywhere near my bum again.'

`I beg your pardon?'

`Forget it.'

`Forget what?'

You and the polar bear look at each other and sigh.

`You know what I reckon?' the bear says.

`What?' you ask as the wise man looks surprised to see frozen giblets in his hand.

`I reckon this man is suffering from Korsakov's syndrome due to alcoholic degeneration of the mammillary bodies. I read about it in A.R.Luria's Neuropsychology of Memory.'

`I reckon he's a boofhead,' you diagnose.

`You could be right,' the bear opines. `Have you tried hitting him on the head with a penguin?'

`An Emperor, no less.'

`It always works on TV.'

`Yes, but we're in the real world now.'

`What we need is a neurosurgeon,' the bear ponders.

`I think I'm a neurosurgeon,' the wise man says. `I seem to have some form of frozen intestines in my hand so I must be some form of surgeon. Tell me, what seems to be the problem?'

`Korsakov's syndrome,' you tell him.

`Oh dear, Korsakov's syndrome? Deary me. Yes, yes. I see.'

`Degeneration of the mammillary bodies,' the bear adds.

`Of yes. Of course. That would explain it. Yes, indeed it would. Ah, these wouldn't be mammillary bodies would they?' he says, holding out the arctic tern's solid intestines.

`Can't you remember anything?' you cry in dismay.

`Well, um. I say. What's this? Is it Wise to Insert Your Head in a Polar Bear's Bum? by A Wise Man? What idiot would want to do that? Polar bears eat people, so I'm told. I can't remember who told me. A lady in a fur coat, I think. What was your question again?'

`Can you remember anything?' you repeat slowly.

`I know I'm an authority on Labradors. I studied the effects of hypothermia on Labradors for seven years. Don't get much call for that sort of knowledge, unfortunately. Then I went into philosophy. My last clear memory is the rear end of what I think was a lady in a fur coat. Things are rather fuzzy after that. Excuse me, but why is my head coated with this appallingly smelly substance?'

Your heart skips a beat. `Did you say you were an authority on the effects of hypothermia on Labradors?'

`I think so. Hello young lady. I love that coat. Are you doing anything tonight? Would you like to accompany me to the Playpenguin Club?' He winks lustfully at the bear.

`My loyal brave Labrador Elfa is lying in the arctic snows out there. Can you help me?' you cry, distracting him from writing down his telephone number for the bear. The number is tattooed on the back of his hand.

`Labrador? That's a type of dog, isn't it?' The dazed expression he usually wore suddenly drops away and he stares into your eyes. `Elfa. Did you say Elfa? ELFA LABRADOR?' His jaw hangs open and he soundlessly mouths Elfa's name a few times.

`Do you know him?' you scream.

`Nah, just joking!' He turns and grins broadly at the bear. With a terrible scream you smash your magic pointed stick into his head. With a groan he slumps headfirst into the snow. Suddenly everything becomes very still and quiet. The howling wind stops. The penguins around you stop rubbing their flippers together and look curiously into the sky. As you slowly release your crushing grip on your Magic Pointed Stick you realise you have accidentally pressed button C.

`Holy seal blubber!' the polar bear exclaims. `Look!'

You fearfully raise your eyes from the prostrate wise man with the lump on his bald head to see a blinding light in the sky. You and the bear shield your eyes but the light is so strong that you can see the bones in your hand. You hear a choir of a hundred thousand voices, the purest, most entrancing sound you've ever encountered. Their madrigal entices you, tugs at your mind. You can see the Polar Bear swaying, starry-eyed to the rhythm of the voices. A voice enters your head, a thin, bleating voice, that says, `Hold on folks. There's going to be a big flash' and after this warning [AUTHOR'S NOTE: In Chapter 2 I told you that many things will happen without warning. This is an exception.] a phantasmagoria of stunning pyrotechnic explosions bursts in your head. Suddenly it all stops. Everything seems crow-black but it is just that everything has returned to normal. The Polar Bear looks at you in bewilderment and you know what he's thinking. The rest of your lives will seem like you're living in the stygian gloom of a coal mine after those few seconds of ecstasy. You blink. You rub your eyes. You shake your head.

`Bear?'

`The name's Paula, actually.'

`Paula? Aren't you a boy bear?'

`Yeah, but my mother was shortsighted.'

`Do you see what I see?'

`You mean that double decker bus with the sheep sitting at the wheel?'

`Yeah.'

`I see it.'

`Thank Ovine for that.' Your peculiar appeal to the sheep god confuses you somewhat. You've never thanked Ovine before. Another confusing thing is the sight of a flock of sheep in the nearby paddock which are kneeling and bowing to the woolly being in the bus. The sheeplike thing with the bus driver's hat opens the door of the bus and calls, `End of the line. Everybody out.' He then trots towards you with a pleasant grin on his lanolin-laden features. For some reason his hooves don't sink into the snow.

`Hi, fellas. Who pushed button C?'

`I - I did,' you say, feeling an overpowering urge to fall to your knees and bow like Paula is doing.

`You must be the reader,' the sheep says.

`Y - yes,' you gulp.

`You did a beautiful job on The Thing in Chapter 2.'

`Thanks.'

`Like the bus?'

`It's lovely.'

`Yeah, I like it. It's got - I don't know - style. You won't believe what some divinities get around in. Take Sitmar and his bloody rubber duck. But you met him, didn't you?'

`Yes, your ovinity.'

`Bloody queer character he is, I can tell you. Well,' he said breezily. `Bit chilly about here, isn't it?'

`It's Ballarat,' you explain.

`Oh, I see. Well, that's a story in itself. Bloody Met (he's the so-called God in charge of weather). He drinks, you know. Maybe you don't. Anyway, one day he put on a real bender and stuffed up this place altogether, I can tell you. Got the sack, of course. He's the God In Charge Of Making Digital Watches' Batteries Go Flat now. Sad case. He botched Melbourne's weather before he got the boot, too. "I'll give them some variety," he said after finishing a crate of Bundy. You know what it's been like ever since. Well, Sir Reader. Oh, I forgot. Sitmar gave you a Sainthood too, didn't he? Well deserved of course, don't misunderstand me, but he's been in heaps of strife over that at the Divinities' Regulation Council. Sainthoods aren't supposed to be given out until you're dead, you see. Still, once it's given it can't be taken back. Of course I could kill you and make it official,' the sheep said with a friendly wave of his hoof, showering lethal bolts of lightning about.

`No thanks,' you said in a hurry.

`Understandable, I suppose. Oh! You've met Met, I see.'

This confuses you further. You cannot remember having met any inebriated Gods In Charge Of Making Digital Watches' Batteries Go Flat. You feel a spasm of fear that you too have contracted Korsakov's Syndrome. Your hand absentmindedly strays to where you think your mammillary bodies are.

(WARNING: If you are acting out this story for your personal entertainment in a public place, please be advised that the mammillary bodies - which are in the brain - are NOT the same as mammary glands. Feeling your mammary glands - or worse, someone else's - could result in embarrassing charges being made against you by the normally understanding and hardworking local police constables.)

`I have?' you ask vaguely.

`Yeah. That boofhead on the ground. Having a snooze is he?'

`Actually, I think he's unconscious,' you mutter. `Or dead,' you add sotto voce (EDUCATIONAL NOTE: From the Latin, it literally means `under your breath so you won't be heard and fried with bolts of lightning from the hoof of an irate sheep god'. It's often used informally nowadays to simply mean `quietly'. Latin is a wonderfully precise language.) You begin to wonder what the Divinities' Council's punishment is for killing a God In Charge Of Making The Batteries In Digital Watches Go Flat. Maybe, you wonder gloomily, you may soon fully qualify for your sainthood.

`He's not dead,' Ovine informs you. `Pity.'

`Pity?'

`Yeah. Often's the time we've sat around in the Divinities' Bar and Grill wishing someone would clobber Met with a Magic Pointed Stick. Hey, boofhead. Get up.' He's addressing the body on the ground and poking it with his hoof. `I said, GET UP!' He shoots a lightning bolt into the Wise Man's trousers which makes him scream and leap to his feet.

`Ovine!' he grovels, trying to lick the sheep's hooves.

`Yes, bloody Ovine. Been sticking your head up Polar Bears' bums again,

have we?'

`Only once,' he pleads.

`Bloody TWELVE times. We give you a simple job like making digital watch batteries go flat and you can't even handle that. You disappear and go around calling yourself a wise man and poking your proboscis into poor Polar Bears' privates. Do you realise your stupid stunt needlessly dragged this boofhead Saint's Labrador to his death with your stupid mucking around? And you caused great discomfort to this charming Polar Bear who is most cuddly in the extreme.'

`I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry,' Met whimpers.

`The Council will hear of this. You know what that means!'

`No! No! Not farts!'

`Yes,' Ovine chuckles. `God of Smelly Farts. Everyone will despise you. Get used to it.'

`No! Please! Not that!' Met screams as he beats himself around the head with his fists.

`Well, you could avoid it, I suppose,' Ovine says casually, looking around at the genuflecting sheep and giving them a wave.

`Anything. ANYTHING. Just not Farts.'

`What do you think you could do to atone for your sins?'

`I'll - I'll give up the grog.'

`And?'

`Resurrect Elfa the Labrador.'

`And?'

`And make sure Paula lives happily to a well-fed ripe old Polar Bear age without further molestation.'

`And?'

`And...and what?' Met says, mystified.

`The reader?' Ovine prompts.

`I'll make sure the Reader's digital watch battery never goes flat.'

Ovine waves his hoof in a threatening manner and a couple of stray lightning bolts land perilously close the cringing Wise Man's wobbly bits.

`And...' he stutters desperately, `What do you want?' he implores of you.

Your minds reels. You can choose anything from a divinity. What will it be? Riches? Divine powers? A pair of gumboots? You think carefully as Met stares in terror at Ovine who shoots a few practice bolts into a mountain range and reduces them to rubble. After a minute's thought you decide.

`Yes? Yes? What is it? Anything!' he pleads at your feet.

`I'll call you when I need it,' you tell him.

`Fair enough. Now for your dog,' Met says. He waves his shaky hand and Elfa appears, as shaggy and slobbery as usual, in front of you. He sees you and launches himself deliriously at your chest, knocking you to the ground and licking your face. When you get up he sniffs Met's leg, growls, shivers and cocks his leg.

`While you're at it Met,' Ovine suggests as Met shakes his dripping leg, `Why don't you try fixing up the mess you made of Ballarat's weather? My poor sheep subjects can't frolic properly in conditions like this.'

`Sure, sure. Just be careful with my wobbly bits.'

Before you have the chance to blink, the snow is gone. The stunted, frost-gnarled trees are straight, tall and in full bloom. Birds wheel and soar in the bright blue balmy sky. Lambs leave the protection of their mothers' underbellies and indulge in a little experimental frolicking. The cows sigh with relief and lower themselves from the hooftips for the first time in their lives.You turn to Paula to ask what he thinks but the sight shocks you. He is lying on his side, panting painfully. As you look around, you see the surrounding penguin population keel over like tenpins in the unexpectedly temperate conditions.

`I'm dying,' Paula gasps weakly from within his armour of blubber and thick fur.

`Met! Do something!' you scream.

`I can't help, Reader. I'm only a Class C god now. Class C gods don't have power over Polar Bears,' Met says.

`Ovine?' you cry when you hear Paula's death rattle.

`Well, I'm afraid I can't do any more for you. We gods have strict rules about the favours we can do for mortals, you understand. You've done pretty well so far, you must admit. You've got Elfa back. You did get your wish from Met, after all,' the sheep said with a less-than-consoling shrug.

`You can't let Paula die! Met promised he'd live happily to a ripe old Polar Bear age,' you argue.

`That's true. We can send him to the Arctic with the penguins. He'll survive there. Unless he wants to stay here. That's the tricky bit,' Ovine says, raising his woolly eyebrows.

`The Arctic?' Paula gasps. `No coffee shops? No libraries? No neuropsychology lectures? No adventures. I'd rather stay with you and Elfa, Reader.'

`He's got to stay here,' you demand.

`Then he must die, I'm afraid. Unless...' Ovine says, casting a casual glance at the sunny sky.

`Unless what?'

`Maybe we could manage for Paula to stay here and be comfortable with the climate if you did me a favour. Then we'd owe you one in return,' Ovine says with innocently-wide eyes.

`What favour?' you ask suspiciously of the sheep.

`You'll find out,' he replies mysteriously. `Do you accept?'

You agree for Paula's sake. Another classic demonstration of your magnificence among lesser humans! Well done, dear reader!

`Anyway,' Ovine adds. `From now on Ballarat's weather will be a little closer to what it should be, though it'll always be colder than everywhere else, knowing Met's talents,' he says with an accusatory glance at Met. `Besides, there won't be any penguins or polar bears around here to confuse the naturalists in the future. You know how they carry on when they discover something strange like penguins in Ballarat. We can leave a few Fairy Penguins along the coast, if you like. They're tasty.'

You can appreciate that argument. What would life be like without the occasional Fairypenguinburger?

`You couldn't do something about Melbourne's weather, could you?' you ask optimistically.

`Afraid not,' Ovine says with a grin. `It'll give the Weather Bureau something to keep them occupied. Besides, it'll give the people there someone to swear at apart from football umpires and politicians.'

`And Ovine's brother owns a raincoat and sunburn lotion factory. He makes money from both items all year,' Met adds.

`Shut up Met.'

`Yes sir.'

With a final wave to his cavorting woolly subjects in the paddock, Ovine gets back on the double decker bus and Met pulls the communication cord twice.

`All aboard!' Ovine cries and accelerates directly upwards into the sky. Met the Wise Man gives a feeble wave and holds up the defrosting arctic tern's entrails.

`What is this stuff?' he calls just before he disappears from view. Elfa is sitting by your feet happily slobbering all over the grass. Paula is scratching the ground out of habit, hoping to discover a juicy seal under the turf.

`Thanks for deciding to do that favour for Ovine to let me stay here,' he says. `What do you reckon the favour might be?'

`Haven't got the foggiest,' you reply. You leap on Elfa's back and give his neck an affectionate hug. Elfa reaches around and licks your face and gives a resounding woof. Soon the three of you are bounding through the streets of confused Ballarat where the citizens are squinting into the sunlight, flinging away their Spencers and calling for a fresh supply of virgins.

GO STERNLY FORWARD TO CHAPTER 6



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