This is Part One of the first story in my Hoogerville series, which sounds pretentious seeing as how there are only two stories in the series. Can you call two a series? I don’t know, but what else would you call it? A duology? Also pretentious, I think. Anyhoo, here it is.
The Mayor of Hoogerville owned exactly one black top hat, size very tall. It was so very tall that when he donned it, it reached all the way to the noses of the citizens of Hoogerville. The Mayor, you see, was very short (and a bit ovalish to boot) and he wore the very tall top hat in order to cultivate the illusion of height. It worked rather well, actually. Few people noticed how short he really was until he took it off. This he did only at bedtime.
The Mayor of Hoogerville also owned a marvelous black coat with tails, size very short (and a bit ovalish to boot). This he did because word had reached him that the very tall top hat, although a fine top hat in and of itself insofar as top hats went, might look rather splendid with a marvelous black coat with tails. Furthermore, word had reached him that he looked a bit silly in just a top hat. So after consulting with the Minister of Public Relations, he decided he should wear a top hat and a black coat and tails at all times, as well as an appropriate pair of trousers and shoes. What was meant by appropriate, however, was never properly nailed-down and caused a lot of confusion.
One last item the Mayor of Hoogerville wore was a white sash on which was printed the word MAYO. It used to be that when the citizens of Hoogerville saw the Mayor on the street, they would read his sash and suddenly, without knowing why, rush home with a mad desire for ham sandwiches. Now when people see the Mayor on the street, they think of this story.
A terrible problem had arisen in Hoogerville. The children of the town were disappearing. Their disappearance, however, was not the problem. The problem was their failure to come back.
Every night the parents of Hoogerville would tuck their children into bed (after a bedtime snack, of course – a delicious bowl of something from a box labeled surreal) and then they would go to bed themselves. When they awoke next morning, they would make breakfast (usually a toasted something from a bag labeled Bengals) and bring it in to the children, at which point they would discover that their children had disappeared. For the moment, that was fine because it meant more Bengals for everyone. But as the parents realized their children didn’t seem to be coming back, they began to wring their hands and pace and weep and such. There were many children in Hoogerville, however, and they had been disappearing (and not coming back) for quite a while before everyone really began to stand up and take notice.
The Mayor called a town meeting to address The Problem. The meeting place was in the town center (near the statue of The Famous Red Raffaello, if you have heard of that) under an enormous green and white striped tent on Mane Street. There was a wooden platform at one end of the tent, and on it stood the Mayor alongside the Minister of Public Relations.
The Minister dressed just like the Mayor, for word had gotten round that since the two were always together, it might be cute if their outfits matched. The Minister, however, wore no top hat, for he was a rather tall man to begin with and could, in fact, rest his elbow on top of the Mayor’s top hat. He was the only man in Hoogerville who could do this, and the citizens loved him for it. They would have come to the meeting just to see him do it, problem or no.
When all the citizens were gathered under the tent, the Mayor called the meeting to order. “Citizens of Hoogerville,” he said, “We have a problem. The children are disappearing at night and not coming back. As you can see by looking around you, we are rapidly running out of them.”
All the citizens looked around, and some did seem surprised, but to most this was not news. There were few children left in Hoogerville.
“Why, two nights ago,” continued the Mayor, “I myself tucked little Mayor Jr. into bed after his bowl of surreal and when I brought his Bengals in the morning, he was gone. He has yet to return.”
A general murmur of agreement passed through the crowd as parents said that was exactly what had happened in their houses. But one voice in particular rose high above them all.
“Perhaps we are expecting a bit much,” said the voice.
Everyone grew quiet, wondering what this meant. The Mayor looked up at the Minister and the Minister down at the Mayor, as if in consultation. Finally, the Mayor said, “What do you mean?”
“I mean perhaps it’s a bit much to put something down and expect it to stay there until you go back for it?”
Another murmur passed through the crowd, and then a sigh, as they realized this person had a point. They thought that was indeed a bit much to expect of something, and everyone was about to go home for ham sandwiches when the Mayor finally spoke. He and the Minister had had a quick but thorough consultation in which it was decided that children were a someone, not a something, and the point was therefore not valid.
“Moreover,” said the Mayor, “the problem is not their disappearance, but their failure to come back.”
The citizens thought this a splendid flash of insight, as did the Minister, who later told the Mayor that he would skyrocket in the public opinion polls. His opponents would have no chance, he said. The Mayor, however, reminded the Minister that he had no opponents, that his was the only party in Hoogerville, and that he, insofar as he knew, was the only candidate, and had been for as long as he could remember. Nevertheless, it was decided that it had indeed been a splendid flash of insight.
“Now,” said the Mayor, “I believe we are all agreed that there is a Problem, and that it’s not rooted in Unreasonable Expectations. The next step then is to identify the source of the problem. The source, we have reason to believe, is a certain foul and terrible beast of the forest known as the Jurangodon.”
“Heavens no!” cried the citizens. “Not the Jurangodon!”
“Yes, the Jurangodon,” said the Mayor, and he waited for the citizens to settle down before he went on. “We have reason to believe that this Jurangodon is entering the town by night and burgling our children away into the forest, from which none have yet returned.”
“But why?” cried the citizens. “Why is the beast burgling our children?”
“I think,” said the Mayor, “that the why is less important than the lookie-here. What I mean is, knowing the reason will not change the fact.”
At this point another voice rose above the crowd. It was the voice of one of the few remaining children. “I disagree,” said the child, a young girl. “If we identify the reason, we may be able to eliminate it, and the fact might then change – i.e., we children might stop being thieved and start coming back.”
The Mayor recognized this as superior insight and later worried about how this might affect him in the polls, seeing as how he had been shown up by a child. He would be able to relax a little when he learned that most of the citizens had been confused by the term i.e. For the moment, however, the Mayor welcomed the child’s help, for he was a good man at heart, and one who knew there was a time for politics and a time for statesmanship, and that it was now time for the latter.
“Excellent thinking, young lady,” he said. “I propose that the reason be officially proclaimed the Beast of the Forest. We shall eliminate the reason by eliminating the Jurangodon.”
The little girl gasped. This seemed to her a hasty and poorly thought-out solution, and not at all what she had meant by saying eliminate the reason. But the citizens approved, being rather fond of the Mayor’s no-nonsense leadership, and they told him as much.
“Very well then,” said the Mayor. “Let us squander no time with wordiness. Let all who are well enough to take up arms and ride take up arms and ride. Into the forest we go to eliminate the Jurangodon and re-burgle our children!”
A great cry rose from the citizens, and off they went into the forest. The little girl, however, was very sad, for she thought a great mistake was being made. Nevertheless, she joined the expedition hoping there might still be a chance to influence its outcome.
Here ends Part One. The exciting conclusion, creatively entitled Part Two, is here.