E.H Munro’s Little Corner of Hell
When I have the spare time I love to write fauxktales (at the present moment I’m writing a collection of Slavic folktales). Of all the stories I’ve written, I’ve always had special place in my heart for this one, which doesn’t fit in with the rest of the fauxktales. But as it’s funny, I thought I’d post it here on my special page.
There was once a boy named Thomas that desired the key to all wisdom. To know the path whose way led to understanding. To the truth of all things. Surrounded as he was by chaos and folly, he was convinced that there was such a unifying truth.
He sought for it first with his mother, who was busy and told him “Mind your teachers, dear. They’ll tell you everything you need to know. We pay good money for your education.”
Disturbed he went to his father to ask him if he knew of the truth of all things. His father looked up from his football game and asked, apprehensively, “What did your mother say when you asked her?”
“She said I should mind my teachers.”
He sighed, almost in relief it seemed to young Thomas. “Listen to your mother, she knows what she’s talking about. And don’t bother your head about that truth stuff, school is hard enough as it is.”
So he heeded his mother and sought for the truth of all things with his teachers. He spoke first to his social studies teacher, Ms. Haverlind. She looked at him disapprovingly and said, “That is not on this semester’s lesson plan. Now mind your studies or you’ll fail the course.”
Discouraged he next tried his math teacher, Mr. Panglos, whom he considered the wisest of men. Mr. Panglos looked at him in a bemused fashion, for a moment, and replied, “The only certainty is uncertainty, and the only absolute the fact that everything is relative. Now, could you pass in your homework, please? I have a class to teach.”
The other students sniggered and he slouched in his chair. Embarrassed by everyones’ reaction he did not speak up again for the remainder of class. After school he wandered the halls until he came across one of the janitors, a kindly old man that everyone called Mr. Digory. Being desperate he decided to ask the janitor, “After all,” he thought to himself, “if the learned have no answer to give, why not ask a fool?”
And so in speaking with Mr. Digory he asked the janitor if he had any idea where he could learn the truth of all things. The old man thought deeply, running his left hand through his tangled white mane of hair as he did so. Finally he answered, “You know, whenever I have a really tough question, I go down to the town library. They got thousands of books there. I always know that one of the books has an answer for me.”
He warmly thanked Mr. Digory, for the janitor had given him what seemed the wisest answer of all, he would learn the truth for himself. And so he made his way to the public library in good cheer and asked the librarian if there were any books that would lead him to the truth of all things. The librarian looked at him with agitated confusion and said, “Look, the reference section is on the second floor, left hand side, computer terminals with full internet connection at the back of this floor. Knock yourself out.” With that the librarian went back to stamping books.
As he made his way to the computers, he chanced to look at the bulletin board and saw an advertisement for a tutor. He decided to see this new teacher, after all, wasn’t that why he had come to the library? To find a teacher? And so he called the learned sage and arranged an appointment.
When the day of the appointment came, he went to see the man, whose name was Mr. Virgil, and asked the new teacher for the key to understanding the truth of all things. Mr. Virgil looked at him in surprise and said, “I’m sorry, there seems to have been a mistake. My subjects are math, physics and chemistry.” Edging away from the young man he continued, “Maybe I can find you an associate to help.”
In quiet frustration the young man asked if there were any that could help him in his quest. Mr. Virgil calmed down and thought for a moment. “I have heard tell of a mystic that lives in the state park to the south, he dresses as a common vagrant, but he is said to have great powers of insight. If there are any that can help you on this rid… in this search, it will be him.”
The very next Saturday the young man awoke at six in the morning, dressed and journeyed to the state park to begin his search, so eager was he to find the mystic that dressed as a common hobo. He repeated this search every Saturday. Late in the afternoon of the seventh Saturday, after six weeks of fruitless searching, he came across a man sitting before a fire stirring the contents of a pot that hung over it. He was a weather beaten man, grey of visage and beard. A face deeply lined and nicotine stained. He was dressed in ragged clothes and wearing a tattered army jacket. The faint aroma of burnt coffee, mixed with the acrid smells of burning tobacco and wood smoke, hung in the air. He thought to himself, “Surely here is the mystic I seek.”
The man continued stirring the contents of the black iron pot; an antique tea kettle, stained by a sea of rust spreading across its rough surface. The man studied the tendrils of steam as they fluttered forth. Without so much as looking up the man asked, “What can I do for you, boy?”
“I came seeking a renowned mystic. I have been told that he dresses as…as a common indigent. Are you the one I seek?”
“Am I dressed like a bum?” The young man was troubled, and so did not answer. The tramp waited briefly and continued, “Your silence speaks well of your manners, what is your question?”
“I am convinced that there is a key to understanding, something that will help me to know the truth of all things.”
The man grabbed an oak branch and stirred the fire’s coals thoughtfully. He stared deeply into its embers, as if divining meaning from the trails of molten wood. He spoke with deliberation, “I will ask you a question, if you can answer it correctly, I will give you what you seek.”
The old man finally looked up to face him and Thomas came and stood before him. “I am ready to answer your question.”
The old man looked at him thoughtfully and asked “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
Thomas tried to unravel the question. He wondered whether the answer was easy or meant to be a sphinx-like riddle. The easy answer was that it made no sound at all, or were the other solutions? Was the answer metaphorical or literal? He realized that there were too many paths before him and he could not see the one that led to the answer he sought. Yet, with this realization, he finally understood both the question and the answer. He lifted his right hand and boxed the old man on his left ear.
The old man jumped in surprise and said, “What was that?”
Thomas smiled and replied, “A dope slap.”
The old man grinned and said, “So you did understand after all. Do you need anything more of me?”
Thomas, still smiling, said, “No, I do understand now, thank you for the lesson.” And the young man turned and walked away from the mystic. And so left the sage’s demesne and returned to learn all that the world had to teach him.