A group of men were gathered ‘round a table – cartographers, men of the cloth, philosophers, the entire Department of Tourism, a reporter from Ye Happening Times, and a few others, but mostly cartographers – their attention was focused on a piece of wood, a straight piece of wood, with a series of hash marks, glyphs, and sigils along one side. The hash marks were close together, very close together, closer together than any hash marks had ever been on a straight piece of wood. The glyphs and sigils explained them in no uncertain terms. A disheveled little man who smelled of poor hygiene hung back in a corner, smoking an herbal blend of suspicious ingredients. He was given wide berth.
He had designed this revolutionary new piece of wood with the very close together hash marks. It was possibly his best work, which meant there had been no explosions or unusually high number of trips to the emergency room in its creation. He watched as the wonder and furor slowly began to well up among the men gathered ‘round the piece of wood.
Words like “revolutionary” and “blasphemous” and “contemptible moron” were being tossed around, volleys of insults and wonder bouncing back and forth like a game of high society lawn tennis.
Quentin Feldspar was now holding the length of wood nearer his bespectacled eyes, studying it intently. Several other faces hovered just over his shoulders, watching Feldspar as he studied the object. “It … could … work,” he decided.
One of the faces, it was Praline Judachai, pulled away from Feldspar’s left shoulder grumbling, “It’s blasphemy.” He was a man of the cloth. Pretty much everything was blasphemy to him.
“’s not! ‘s revolutionary, you contemptible moron,” Silas Mwllr shot back. He had little use for cloth when it hung on a man and it described who he was. Anyone known for his attire was a moron in the first place; men of the cloth got ‘contemptible’ added on for good measure. And he was keen on new stuff. New stuff meant change, and change was always good, in Mwllr’s mind. Change kept the world vital and alive and moving forward. “A shit ain’t nothin’,” he was annoyingly fond of saying, “it’s when ya wipe yer ass that yer getting’ somewhere.”
Obviously, Silas Mwllr was a philosopher because that’s the kind of thought no one but a philosopher would think. His was the kind of philosophy construction workers could get a wrench around.
Sedge Rand!;; began to pace. He was new in town, a hired hand brought in by the Department of Tourism to dress things up and turn Bent Magic into the kind of place where people would come and spend money. He was so new in town, he hadn’t unpacked his bags yet, and was still getting introduced around: “Vern, Wylie, I’d like y’all to meet our new P/R man, Sedge Randa!;;.”
“Vern. Wylie. Good to meet ya.”
“Um, likewise. Say, what was that again?”
“Um, yer name. How’s that pronounced?”
“What? Oh. Sedge?”
“Well, um, no. The other.”
“Yer last name. How do ya pronounce that?”
“Oh. That. Right. Randa!;;, it’s pronounced just the way it’s spelled.”
Turning his attention back to the length of wood, Sedge observed, “This does up the ante,” rubbing his chin in a fashion which he hoped would be regarded as ‘significantly.’ (Sedge was just out of university. This was his first job. He feared he would not be taken seriously. He felt that rubbing his chin ‘significantly’ would be a step in the right direction. He spent an hour every evening practicing.)
Some of the others who heard Sedge’s comment weren’t sure what gambling had to do with anything, but they nodded in agreement just the same. “Right,” “The ante,” and “Upped it good,” were some of their mumbled comments. “If it’ll work,” Tawdry Pliers added. He was the skeptic of the group; everything had to be proved to him.
All eyes turned toward the aromatic little man in the corner expectantly. “Oh, it’ll work jus’ fine,” he said over top of the unusual cigarette. “Now, instead of one inch bein’ one mile, one inch is ten miles. Or fifty miles.” And he winked and spat. Everybody took a step back. “It’s blasphemy,” Judachai added. “Contemptible moron,” Mwllr replied.
Quentin Feldspar laid the length of wood down on a clean sheet of cartographer’s vellum. The crowd backed away as one in case something should explode or spontaneously combust. Even Silas Mwllr, who regarded explosions and spontaneous combustion as sure signs of change, would take two steps back. Feldspar drew his fine point Rapidograph pen from his pocket protector. The crowd, in keeping with the ‘as one’ motif, gasped in unison. Quentin bent down, the tip of his tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth; he took his pen and drew a line along the hash-marked wood; it was exactly one inch in length. There was some ducking and making for the door. The disheveled little man sidled up to Feldspar’s side. “You see? Nothin’ to it.”
Feldspar stared at the line. The others crept in slowly; sometimes explosions are delayed reactions. “The smaller the scale, the larger the distance,” the little man pointed out, anticipating the next question.
“So…” Feldspar began slowly, “this line,” he paused to point at it, “which typically equals … say … fifty miles…” He paused again, weighing his words. “It can equal…”
“The sky’s the limit!” the little man said, barely containing his joy.
“The sky…” someone gasped, “why that’s off the vellum altogether!”
“Contemptible moron,” a familiar voice said in anticipation of Judachai’s, “Blasphemy.”
“But we’re not talkin’ about the sky,” someone, possibly Randa!;; said, “we’re talkin’ about side to side.”
“Side to side?”
Feldspar’s lips moved as he worked up the numbers in his head. Several others fell silent, evidently pondering the possibilities he was trying to pin a number to. Eventually, he said, “That would change … everything!” Silas Mwllr’s heart leapt up into his throat at the mention of change.
Praline Judachai moaned. His heart sank at the mention of change.
“Magic Bent … it would … grow.” The room nearly got emptied of oxygen for all the gasping.
“What does that mean?” someone dared ask amidst all that breathless gasping and consequent light-headedness.
“It means Magic Bent would stretch far up beyond the Northern Mountains, into the Nether-Regions…”
“Where it’s always dark?” Randa!;; asked.
“Only part of the year,” Thwok Johannsen said; his forebears were fur-clad, poetry reciting bohemians from the Nether-Regions. He still occasionally got postcards from distant cousins: Way, baby. Zooming stardust, whoosh all the Way, baby. To you, baby, cat and daddy-o. Way. No Way.
“And the Bottom Sea … why, the Four Corners would include all of the Bottom Sea Islands, the Toucan Archipelago, and Hawai’i.”
“You mean where the natives wear a smile and a loin cloth, and that’s it?” timid Wax Burnish, apprentice cartographer asked.
“Even the women?”
“Especially the women.”
Wax nearly fainted. If he didn’t unleash his virginity on the world soon, there would be consequences.
“The Far East wouldn’t be so far, and the Great Western Deserts would fall within the boundaries of … gulp … Magic Bent!”
“It can’t be done!!”
“It’ll jack up property taxes!!!!”
“What about school districts?”
“Especially the women?”
The din of arguments continued to escalate. Quentin Feldspar, though, was silent as he stood and stared at that one-inch line drawn in this new scale that allowed Magic Bent to more than double in size, just like that.
He wasn’t a philosopher. He wasn’t a religious man. But this was big. Really big. Maybe, he considered, this was blasphemy…
Toward the back of the room, where it was marginally less riotous, one observer could be heard musing about the impossible possibilities of mapping the sky above, and perhaps the depths of the Bottom Sea on cartographer’s vellum. “That’s the ups and the downs, yer talkin’ about,” a nearby voice said. “That’s top-o-graphy. We do the side to sides.” After a moment’s pause, the anonymous voice added, “Would be interestin’ though, huh? Somethin’ off the page. Somethin’ somewheres else, off the page, but just as real as Magic Bent.”
“Or more,” the aromatic little fellow said.