ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
The truth of the universe is pushed along the corridors of time in a wheelbarrow. Some of the words overflow and fall out and slip through to the worlds below. The wisest inhabitants recognise that it is the truth but don't realise that there is so much more of it.
Also, the words get contaminated when they fall off the wheelbarrow. The floors in the corridors of time are a disgrace.
Traditionally the barrow is pushed by The Time Keeper. He Who Knows All. The Wise One. Keeper Of All Knowledge. The Great Academician. etc etc. He's been around since before the beginning of Time. This is no coincidence.
Time, incidentally, is not endless, it's looped. Like an elastic band. And, like an elastic band, it can be stretched. (Much more fun, it can be pinged.)
The Timekeeper is not an ageing, balding relic. He is, or appears to be, twenty two years old and is considered by many to be something of a hunk. He aged like the rest of us and got to about sixty six when he suddenly realised just who he was and that Time was his to command. So he decided to be twenty two years old until he got bored with it, which he hasn't yet. And who can blame him?
His special interests and hobbies include parachuting, paragliding, parapsychology, the paranormal, paraphrasing, paraffin, parakeets, parallelograms, paraquat (and its uses in the home), parasols and other paraphernalia beginning with para. And collecting roads signs. This explains why he is still single and largely unloved.
He'd been trundling through the corridors pushing the wheelbarrow for several millennia and, desperate for a break, had, for the last couple of centuries, sub-contracted the job out. The result was that the barrow was now being pushed, in an earnest if uncomprehending manner, by a creature that resembled a sort of giant snail on speed, wearing an overcoat. Called Err Umm. (the snail, not the overcoat)
This description is less than entirely accurate as Err Umm has two feet and gastropods traditionally only have one. Which, in turn, explains the extraordinary speed with which he was, when absolutely necessary, able to move. Extraordinary compared to an ordinary snail, that is.
Err Umm is, in fact, a gastropod. A very paradigm of a super snail common in some parts of the imagination of mushroom-eating blackbirds and other members of the thrush family. He's very athletic. For a snail. He does, however, feel the cold between bursts of vigorous activity, and so is often seen wearing an overcoat and leg warmers.
The words were supposed to be kept in a huge book which filled the barrow. But, as the millennia had passed, the book had become a bit tatty. The words were only placed on the pages and not stuck in, rather like photos in a picture album. The whole thing was made even more awkward because both the pages and the words were made of silk. Or, at least, 50% silk 50% viscose. Viscose has been around a lot longer than Man realises.
So poor Err Umm, trundling through the corridors of time, which I've already pointed out are a disgrace, and not just the rubbish but the ruts, was hardly to blame when the wheelbarrow hit an obstruction and the odd word or two fell off and filtered through to the waiting prophets and soothsayers below. It didn't leave him short because all the words are instantly replaced as soon as they are removed. Or, at least, within three working sentences.
No, the problem occurs down below. You see, down below, they only get a tiny fraction of the truth. 0.00977% actually. The truth is very, very big and so what they get becomes distorted. They end up with things which they think are the truth, sayings which have had a bit of logic sloshed over them and which they believe they are the truth, but they're not. Consider a Saying like ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.
Now, if you close your eyes and think about that for a minute, go on, close your eyes.
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.
Rubbish! Isn't it? But the fact is, it is the truth. Or, actually, a part of one of the truths. 0.00977% of its particular truth. So you can imagine how big the whole truth is and how daft it is for them to see such a little bit of it (ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.) and say, "That's the truth."
A bit like pointing to the nose of a great, big, hairy golden retriever
and saying "This is a golden retriever"
True. But hardly enlightening.
Another problem is the year. To all intents and purposes we're at the end of the millennium(**) .
Perhaps I should first explain something about the corridors. The corridors are each ten years long (0-9) and one hundred years high (decades 0-9) Set into the walls of the corridors are little boxes, all different sizes, each with their own little wooden door with little brass door handles. They are all numbered. Behind each of these doors, and there are thousands and thousands of them, are the stories. Big stories, little stories, stories of international importance, stories which were of no import excepting to those concerned, like the story of Enid and Henry Grout of 62 St. Angelos Crescent, Chessington. ( 3rd Feb. 1952) which is of no interest whatsoever to anyone except (or even possibly including) Mr. and Mrs. H. Grout.
These stories are stored on media appropriate to their era. The front end of this millennium is stored on parchment. The last century appears on film, paper, tape, and, towards the end, compact disc and dvd. Whole wars can be stored on just six or seven discs, saving loads of space in the corridors.
At any one time there are many different stories being presented. All the relevant films, videos and tapes will be shown, simultaneously, to professional watchers, photos handed round to professional lookers and the stories on paper or tape read out loud or played to groups of professional listeners.
The noise and confusion is pretty phenomenal, as you might imagine, and add to it the coming and going of all the people who work in the offices along the corridors and you should have some idea of the setting of our story.
With so many stories being presented at the same time in the same place naturally clarity is poor. If you can imagine milliards of screens large and small overlapping and interfering with each other whilst teeming hordes teem (and horde) between the watchers and the screens and ice cream sellers popping up everywhere you'll have a rough idea of the bedlam we're talking about.
Interestingly, should there be a relatively quiet moment at any time, the screen images become more solid and three dimensional. This can lead to phenomena such as the elephant droppings on page four hundred and forty three. It isn't a common occurrence but it does happen four or five times a millennium.
Now, the next millennium has, of course, been built. It's been built, but it's not what you could call, by any stretch of the imagination, ready to move into. Not unless you're an estate agent, obviously.
The zero's are no problem. All done and finished. Aired and ready. The tens likewise. A bit whiffy but that's the linseed oil. But if you were to see the twenties and beyond you'd be a bit dismayed. It looks like a building site. A well advanced building site, but a building site none the less.
The builders "Mainwaring and Buckfast, Millennia Builders To The Universe, Ltd." have been building millennia for, well, for millennia. And doing an excellent job of it, too. No question about it, they're experts. Professionals. Craftsmen. I'm not suggesting, for one minute, that the next millennium isn't every bit as good as any millennium built since the seventeenth, when coving was introduced. It is. It's just not finished.
There's all the conduit for the electric cables to be fitted. And air vent covers. Some of the light fittings haven't even got bulbs in, never mind shades. Carpets? Don't make me laugh. There is timber and plumbing and plaster and cable and rubble and rubbish and shovels and cement mixers all over the place. But, strangely, no actual carpenters, plumbers, plasterers, electricians or actual bona fide builders. "Where is everyone?" I hear you ask. Halfway through the 2250's, reminiscing.
The Caretaker went there. Popped in during the eighties in his coffee break to have a look. See how they were getting on. That was the 780's and he hasn't been back since. Bloody long coffee break! That's why the corridors in this millennium are in such a state.
It's his job to keep them clear. Remove the ruts. Sweep up. Effect any light repairs. Replace lightbulbs, scratches to paintwork and so forth.
Anyway, with us with us being this close to the end of the millennium it's my guess that The Timekeeper himself will be back any day now and the Caretaker better get a shifty on and whip through these corridors pretty fast. It's a very busy time for him tidying up the end of a millennium. Not only does he have to make sure things are running smoothly here but he has to make sure that everything is ready in the next one, too. Here we are, about to move into the new one and he hasn't lifted a broom on the last one. Also, he has to keep on the right side of the Storytellers.
I hate to say it, but I'm going to anyway, but I bet that's where he still is today. I expect he was chatting to a couple of builders, obviously having their coffee break too, and a little band of Storytellers were zipping around adding finishing touches to a few stories and ... bingo! ... round the corner they come, spot the Caretaker and a couple of navvies sitting around yapping and, well, if there is one thing the Storytellers can't resist, it's having a live audience. Yep! That's what will have happened, you mark my words.
I only hope that the Caretaker is able to get away. Not that the Storytellers will do him any harm, you understand, but they do tend to weave you into one of their stories. Which isn't too bad if you're an afterthought but if they make you an integral part it can have some pretty hairy consequences. Still, he is the Caretaker. The Storytellers have probably worked out some way for him to get back in time to tidy up the last millennium before anyone notices we're late with the new one.
It takes five years to clean a corridor, properly. Even with modern machinery. Some of the corridors need resurfacing. Outside the Offices of Implausible Definitions the ruts are so bad that they're not simply ruts anymore. They've got holes in them where you can see right through to the Back of Beyond! Spacial Separation is more than something mothers frighten their children with, if you catch my drift!
Err Umm nearly lost the lot down there once. Barrow, book, the truth, the lot! The Filosavers put some boards down so that he could still get by, but it's hardly a satisfactory arrangement, is it?
Hang on ... Something's happening ... What the ... Oh! sh ...! Oh! Mother! Is there going to be trouble or is there going to be serious trouble? Absolutely correct! There is going to be serious trouble ... What we have here is a BAD PLACE TO BE. So if you'll excuse me, I'm out of here.
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© Lizzie Bewsher 1995-2007
This page uploaded 24 Aug 2007
There have been a number of Caretakers before this one. The last one quit in 218 BC (In 218 BC Hannibal crossed the Alps with elephants. Anyone doing a history exam tomorrow will be glad I mentioned that fact.) Said clearing up after elephants wasn't in his contract and he'd had enough. There was a huge row with the Storytellers about it. The current Caretaker is like caretakers the world over. Takes the responsibilities of the job very seriously but doesn't feel that, in general, people appreciate him. Which, in general, is true.