By Justin Teerlinck
Dorpin walked into the town and was immediately knocked over by an applecart driven by a gnome and pulled by a team of four ferrets. “Look out, buddy!” called out the driver.
Then, a group of teenaged gnome girls moving as a herd and taking pictures of themselves using gnome phones nearly bowled him over. “Why is this forest here?” one said, peering around his horse legs. Standing in the shadow he cast, they all looked up. “Like, omigod, a GIANT HORSEY MAN!” they shrieked. Suddenly, all the gnomes disappeared into their homes and holes.
“Sorry!” said Dorpin, but it was too late. “I’m here to see D-NA, do you know where I can find D-NA?”
“Be quiet! We can hear you down to the bottom of our deepest gold mine! I ought to arrest you for C-Walking, you fool.”
“What? Who’s talking? What’s C-Walking?”
Dorpin felt a thump on his left fore knee. He looked down and saw a gruff little fellow in a blue uniform with brass buttons and a star on his conical hat. His eyebrows were knit in frustration. He was holding a wooden truncheon with a leather cord at one end. “See Walking is when you don’t see where you’re walking. Just because we’re gnomes doesn’t mean we don’t have traffic laws, you know, especially now that all these speed demons race around in their ten-ferret carriages. Now then, without further ado, state your name!” He tapped Dorpin on the knee twice more, this time more lightly.
“I’m Dorpin Dipsaloo. I’m from—”
“I know who you are, how you are, and where you’re from.”
“We gnomes aren’t as silly as you think,” said the little man, tapping his hat smartly with his truncheon. “We know things. We hear things. We see things. No one gets by Urath, the Winged Dealer of Dread with just a laugh without everybody hearing about it. The bunnypillars are quite chatty little buggers.”
“But bunnypillars don’t—”
“Talk? They’re silly creatures but they talk quite well, to those who understand their language. They said quite a bit about you, Dorpin Dipsaloo. Come, follow me. Enough idle chatter, Mr. Centaur. I don’t have all day. Oh…I’m Fuggin Nuffin, the town constable, the mayor, the president, and everything else.”
The curmudgeonly gentleman had an apple-bottomed frame and a stiff, waddling side-to-side gait, but he moved like greased lightning, and although Dorpin was more than twice his height, he had to move at a brisk canter to keep up with him. As they marched through the heart of Gnomeland, its shy residents gradually peeked through the cracks of their opened doors and then they came outside once they realized it was safe to do so. “It’s not that they dislike you or anything, they’re just afraid.”
“Because you have a bag on your head. You look like a burglar.”
“I don’t burgle” protested Dorpin.
“I know that, you idiot!” said his host.
“Do they know why I have this bag on my head?”
“They think it’s because you’re cursed, that’s all. It’s nothing personal. We gnomes are a superstitious lot. If you see the washerwomen and poor folk hissing at you and spitting, just hold your bagged head high and walk on with dignity.”
“I’ll try to remember that,” said Dorpin sarcastically.
“Don’t take that cheeky tone,” said Fuggin Nuffin, raising his cudgel, “or I’ll beat you.”
After a time, they came to a mound situated on top of a hill overlooking the vale. Fuggin reached through what looked like a pile of rocks, and door opened that was large enough to admit them both. There was a stone hearth inside, a floor to ceiling built-in bookshelf and a table. Fuggin pulled a thick, leather bound tome off the shelf and blew a coating of dust off the cover. He put out his palm toward the centaur and tapped his foot impatiently. “Give it,” he said. “Gimmiegimmiegimmie, now! …You know what!” Dorpin pulled out the sacred scroll that outlined his heritage. Fuggin snatched it away and the open his book. “This is the Great Book of D.N.A.,” he said.
“Does it say what is on my Scroll of D-NA?”
“Huh? Oh, right, I forgot that not everyone is educated in molecular biology. No, DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. It contains four amino acids in infinite sequences that are the codes to all life. This book tells the codes of all the creatures of the Realm of Dot, of which the entirety of Gnomeland, the Centaur Dominion and all the other kingdoms are just a small part. It was those cunning human beings who figured this stuff out. After they killed off magic, they built up their artifice and violated all the laws of nature in order to bend its will to theirs. That’s why they were banished to the place called Earth, which is a bit of a dump now that humans have gummed it all up with their loud, dirty engines and blinking light boxes. Ugh! But…they did create sweatpants, cheeseburgers, and punk rock, which is the angriest music ever made! Don’t tell anyone,” he said in a conspiratorial whisper, “But I sometimes put on my sweatpants and eat cheeseburgers until I throw up. The human ways are forbidden, but they are slowly creeping into our world. My niece loves her obnoxious boy bands, so what can we do, eh? Still, it wouldn’t do for the people to see their president and chief naturalist on his knees in his sweats puking up Big Macs, now would it?”
“I will tell no one,” promised Dorpin. “But if you could help me get this thing off my face and tell me what I am, I would forever be your slave.”
“Oh brother! Hush, my silly half-equine friend. You really think I want a man horse clomping around my house, breaking my divination crystals and breathing his cud-breath all over my truth rocks? I hate seeing creatures suffer! Your recovery will be my reward…that, and my published case study in the peer-reviewed Journal of Gnomicology. Do you mind?” he said, thrusting a piece of paper at Dorpin. “It’s just a consent form to prevent anybody from suing me for publishing my findings about you. I hate to say it, but there’s a lot of competition for tenure-track positions in the Natural Studies Department at Enchanted Vale Gnomiversity of Truth and Industry.”
Dorpin signed the paper and then sat quietly as Fuggin Nuffin donned a pair of wire spectacles and pored over his DNA code book. He periodically licked his forefinger and turned a page, occasionally glancing from the book to the scroll of Dorpin’s lineage. “Uh huh,” he muttered to himself. “Hmmm, yes. Okay…right.” Dorpin looked at him hopefully. After several hours, Fuggin clapped the book closed, took off his glasses and smiled.
“Yes?” said Dorpin.
Fuggin rubbed his forehead. “I don’t understand a damn bit of it!” he said, slamming his reddened fist down on the book. “This makes no sense. The numbers do not match up with the numbers in the book. You’ve been lied to! You are 100% centaur. There is no gnome in you! I could tell from the minute we met. I doubt you could even grow a beard if you tried! I wonder if Chromopony is Chromo-phony. There is an address on the bottom of your scroll. I will find out. Meantime, we need to get your bump looked after. I looked up all the magic spells and bump-reducing salves in both the gnome and elf medical texts. There is nothing in them that can help.”
“Then I am doomed to be a freak!”
“No, there is a way…but it requires a dangerous journey…”
“I’ll do it! I’ve already met Urath, the Winged Dealer of Dread. I crossed the plain of trolls and goblins, the Forbidden Swamp. I’ve had elves scoffing at me.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know where you’ve been. This is nothing like that. We need to take you to the Dermatologist. And since you have no insurance, I imagine there’ll be a hefty co-pay to meet. Oh, brother.”
“A demonologist! That makes perfect sense,” said Dorpin. “Everyone said I have a demon.”
“No, you horse-brained, half-man! A dermatologist! They’re what’s called a ‘doctor,’ a skin doctor to be precise. As much as I hate humans, I must admit that only they can help you now, so I will take you to their world. We will try to come back, but the portals to the human land of Earth are very unstable. There is the possibility we could get stuck there—or worse. Do you still want to go?”
“Yes, I will go if you say I must go. I trust you, Fuggin. We will go there, and I will get you your cheese pants and sweat burgers. I will fit in and learn their ways, you’ll see!”
Fuggin Nuffin laughed for the first time since he and Dorpin met. He stood on his tiptoes and patted Dorpin’s flank. “You are a fool, centaur,” he said. “But you are a brave fool.”
“Is there any other kind?” said Dorpin. Fuggin laughed again.
“Come,” he said. “We have work to do.”