The Rotten Otter

About

Story number #0600 (2011)

Story

The Rotten OtterAll irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available — Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver, Steel, Wood, Cheese, Catnip, Drizzle, Rum, Gravy, Marmalade, Sea Foam, Hogwash and Bum Note. Hogwash and Bum Note have been assigned…

“What’s that you’re reading?” asked Bum Note.

“A message that just came through,” said Hogwash, “on the astral aether. I wrote it down before I forgot the words. Like taking dictation from a god or the universe itself, it was. I’m flabbergasted.”

“Hogwash!” exclaimed Bum Note.

“No it’s not. It’s perfectly sensible despite the fact it’s a little abstruse. Some cosmic force has chosen us — you and me — to act as agents on some mission of unimaginable importance. It turns out that we aren’t just simple explorers but elemental representatives of—”

Bum Note jumped up and down excitedly. “I wasn’t passing judgment on any of that. I was merely calling your name aloud to alert you to the fact there’s an otter with a blowpipe sitting on your bookshelf over there! You’d better duck your head before the dart that has been ejected from the weapon penetrates your exposed neck!”

“Ah yes. Thank you kindly, old chum. Whoosh.”

“Why did you say ‘whoosh’?” asked Bum Note. “Was it because the blowpipe dart couldn’t be bothered to make that sound itself? You’re too considerate, if you ask me. And why did you invite an otter assassin into your house anyway? That was rather unwise.”

“I didn’t invite him,” insisted Hogwash from the floor.

Bum Note helped him up and they pondered together. The otter had vanished by this time but the dart was still quivering in the wall and smoke curled up from its point, proof that it had been coated with some corrosive poison. Hogwash licked his lips and said, “Maybe we ought to visit our wisest friend and get some advice.”

“Good idea. But who exactly is our wisest friend?”

“Thornton Excelsior, I suppose…”

And so they came to see me. As a tack of all jades I’m pretty good at solving the problems of fictional characters. Just don’t come to me if you are real, which I feel confident is your own present condition. I was sitting in the bathtub reading a first edition copy of Gentlemen Prefer Aardvarks by Anteater Loos when the doorbell rang. I jumped up and dripped nudely to the front door to berate it.

“Use the knocker next time!” I shouted at the doorbell.

Then I saw Hogwash and Bum Note.

What a coincidence that they turned up just as I was forced to answer the door! It saved me two trips from the bath and I was grateful for that. I welcomed them into my house and listened to what they had to say. Then I read the message that Hogwash had received over the astral aether and I twisted my face in response to the scientific inaccuracy of it, but it was my duty to assist them in any way I could, so I said:

“I’m familiar with the exploits of this otter. He’s a transdimensional being known as Tarka the Rotter. He clearly plans to take over this universe and considers you to be a threat to his scheme. You are, after all, official agents of the Cosmic Mind. This message is proof of that. Tarka tried to launch a pre-emptive strike against you and he’ll surely try again.”

“What should we do?” gasped Hogwash.

“Pre-empt his next pre-emption. Find a way of beating him at his own game. And I’m not referring to chess or mah jong but assassination! You are explorers. That is your function in life: you explore. There must be a remote land somewhere, unknown to all of us, where the largest blowpipe in creation can be found. It simply stands to reason. Find that land and fetch that blowpipe and stealthily substitute it for the one Tarka presently employs and you can be assured of defeating his rotten schemes.”

Those were my words and they had the desired impact…

Off hurried Hogwash and Bum Note to brand new regions. They scaled the Mountains of Brrrr, trudged the Deserts of Sighh and Waded the Bogs of Flussh, entering previously unexplored territory in the same way that a pair of trousers might enter an incorrectly constructed analogy. I waited for them to return with a blowpipe so long that it stretched all the way around the world or else with a blowpipe that flared so widely it was just like the dome of the sky. In the first instance, after the substitution was made, Tarka would puff the poisoned dart into his own back; in the second, a hurricane would form in the mouth of the weapon and reverse the direction of the dart, lodging it fatally in that horrid Rotter’s throat.

Such was my expectation; but I had neglected to take the daftness of the explorers into account. When they did finally arrive at my door again, I was situated in the bathtub reading Anteater Loos’ long-awaited sequel, But Gentlemen Mount Pangolins, and when I jumped out and nakedly invited them inside, they had a tale to tell that confounded me to no small degree, to approximately 270º if truth be stated.

In the incense-wreathed, sitar-saturated community of Lentilville, they had obtained the biggest blowpipe of all, just as I’d suggested, but in that tie-dyed place, with its little bells and organic wholefoods and meditation classes, the word ‘blow’ had a specific and unusual meaning. It was slang for hashish, man. That’s cannabis resin to you and me, brother. And a vast rock of the potent black stuff was included in the bowl of that pipe, the pipe they had bought and conveyed home.

“And where is that incorrect pipe now?” I demanded.

“We already made the switch,” explained Bum Note, “and Tarka didn’t even notice until it was too late. We struck a light for him and the heady smoke went deep into his otterly lungs and he mellowed out considerably, so much in fact that he no longer wants to take over our universe. So the danger has been neutralised and we’ve won! But the fumes are harsh on his throat and he says he wants a name change from Tarka the Rotter to Tarka the Cougher. Is that acceptable to the Cosmic Mind?”

I shrugged my shoulders and claimed not to know the answer. But after they departed, I stood in front of the mirror and tugged off my mask and laughed heartily. For I’m not really Thornton Excelsior. Just like them I’m an agent, a medium atomic weight, but neater.

Behold! I am Catnip!

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