I An Unexpected Trilogy
In a hole in the ground there was stuck a wobbit. Not a stupid, useless, wet hole that you might dig at the beach because your parents drove all the way out here and your dad said that sandcastle set cost twenty damn dollars so you’re just going to have to make holes and you’ll like it, dammit, nor yet a desperate, useful, dry hole you might dig twenty-eight years later at that same beach because you were just trying to get your dad to respect your career choices and you can’t have this on your record just as they were about to move you off of beef-coloring duty at the local Taco Knell. No, this was a wobbit-hole, and that, dear reader, means various things depending on your Google Image SafeSearch preferences.I
The hole had a perfectly round door like a doughnut, glazed like a doughnut, with a smaller, half-eaten jelly doughnut
stuck in the exact middle. This was meant to replace the doorknob the wobbit had eaten in an unfortunate (but all too common) jelly-donut-doorknob-switcheroo. The door opened onto a tube-shaped hall, which was like an underground bowling lane, inclined and polished at just the right angle so that, having expended all his limited energy opening and/or eating his way through the door, the wobbit could simply roll himself down the hall in a prediabetic stupor and burp-bounce his way into any of the many round doors opening out of it. No going upstairs for the wobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, pantries, sitting rooms, kitchens, dining rooms, pausing rooms, breakfast nooks, mouthbreathing facilities, lunch-meat storage areas, sweating chambers, cheese lockers, and mirrorless Tempur-Pedic gorging zones—all were on the same floor. “Floors” was, in fact, an utterly meaningless term in Wobbottabad, ever since the city council outlawed stairs for implying an impractical amount of effort and escalators for basically being passive-aggressive stairs.
Now, this wobbit was a very stuck wobbit, and his name was Billy Bagboy. The Bagboys had lived in the neighborhood of Wobbottabad for far longer than anyone could remember, while steadfastly retaining the shortest life spans of any of their neighbors. People considered the Bagboys very respectable, not only because they had a rather delightful job where they could take secret bites of everybody’s groceries, but also because they were almost completely immobile and, even better, unsurprising. You could tell what a Bagboy would say on any question without the bother of taking the mayo-cake out of his mouth, as the answer was almost invariably, “Yum. Mayo-cake.”
The mother of our particular wobbit—what is a wobbit?
I suppose wobbits need some description at this point, as the very act of you reading this book in printed form shows that you must be nowhere near a viable Wi-Fi network. According to Legend, a particularly chatty man sitting across from me in Starbucks who has a hat that says “BACKWARD” on the front and ironic tattoos of gauges on his earlobes, the wobbits used to be much like us. Then came the wobesity epidemic, so named because wobbits wobble but don’t fall down (until they do, then they usually give up and that’s pretty much the end of that). Their cankles became canktellas, and their canktellas became canktellocks. Their muffin tops met their sausage bottoms, and they became scornful and judgmental of the Vertical People, or total flatties, as they call us. Wobbits have no beards, but they have hair everywhere else on their bodies because Gillette’s combination razor-blade/backscratcher can only reach so far. They wear no shoes since their Crocs melded with their feet. There is little or no magic about wobbits, except the ordinary gastrointestinal sort, which helps them to digest the bones of the various fish, birds, and marsupials that periodically hopped in from the wild seeking a zoo. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that these guys are really, really fat.
As I was explaining, the mother of this wobbit—of Billy Bagboy, that is—was the famous Instadonna Gram, one of the three remarkable daughters of the old Tele Gram, head of the wobbits who lived across the Street, a distance which seemed just significant enough to call a different town and be done with it. It was often said that long ago one of the Gram ancestors must have taken a Pilates class. Such a tale was, of course, absurd, but certainly there remained something not entirely wobbitlike about them, and once in a while members of the
Gram clan would go and have YOLOs.II
They discreetly disappeared, and the family ignored their hashtags; but the fact remained that the Grams were not as respectable as the Bagboys, though they undoubtedly got more likes.
So it happened that one fateful morning (which is really more like fateful 1:30 p.m. in Wobbottabad), Billy Bagboy was stuck in the doughnut-door of his wobbit-hole. This happened just about exactly as often as one might expect, so every sensible wobbit kept a pipe to smoke and a preheated wobburrito to munch on under his doormat as he waited for the cracking wood grain to finally give way. Billy was a respectable wobbit, of course, so the pipe was entirely medicinal wobbit weed, prescribed to combat the chronic no-hungries that afflicted so many wobbits from time to time. It was just then—as Billy was considering whether or not it was possible to take a bean and cheese and wobbit weed hit through his wobburrito—that Dumbledalf came by.
Dumbledalf! If you had heard only a quarter of what I have heard about him, and I have only made it through, like, half of the fourth book, you would be prepared for any sort of remarkable tale—literally any sort, as Dumbledalf was getting up there in years, and he tended to get a bit confused at times. However, all the unsuspecting Billy saw that morning was an old man with a staff. He was tall, thin, and very old, judging by the silver of his hair and beard, which were long enough to tuck into his belt. He was wearing a tall pointed blue hat, long robes, a long grey cloak, a purple cloak that swept the ground, a silver scarf over which his long white beard hung down below his waist, and immense, high-heeled, buckled black
boots. It was all simultaneously unoriginal and a bit confusing, but one thing was absolutely clear: this guy was pretty gay.
“Hey, man,” said Billy, and he meant it. Dumbledalf was a man, and “hey” was the least you could say to a person before they left you alone with your food. But Dumbledalf just looked at him from under his long bushy eyebrows and through his half-moon spectacles and over the cat he had found on the street, from whom he was currently trying to obtain spoilers for season four of Downton Abbey.
“What do you mean?” Dumbledalf said. “Do you wish to greet me, or mean to identify me as a man made of hay; or are you making a short list of things you might see in a typical barnyard; or simply writing the chorus of a hit folk-rock single?”
Billy had never in his life been accused of doing much of anything, much less four things, all of which sounded like a bit much. It didn’t help that he had inhaled a good quantity of hardened cheese, which he now proceeded to choke on. Meanwhile, grumbling that he could never find the damn power button on these Transformers, Dumbledalf tossed the cat into the air. As the laws of probability and surface area would dictate, the cat landed on Billy’s stomach, dislodging the hunk of cheese onto the grass before him.
“Very pretty!” said Dumbledalf. “But I have no time to trade cheese this morning. I am looking for someone to share in a YOLO that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone. Even my Grindr spell came up empty!”III
“I should think so—in these parts! We are plain, fat folk. We don’t want a photo and we certainly don’t want any YOLOs. Nasty, unpleasant things. Somewhere between a Carpe Diem and a DGAF, with half the intelligence of the former and twice the effort of the latter. I can’t see what anyone sees in them,” said our Mr. Bagboy, and with a giant bite of his wobburrito, he managed to snap himself out of the doorframe. He went about trying to put his door back up, pretending to take no more notice of the old man, which would have been easier if Dumbledalf had not taken an extreme interest in licking the back of Billy’s head.
“Just as I suspected: you’re a wizard, Hairy!”
“I am not! My name is Billy Bagboy, and I am a wobbit!”
“Is that so?” Looking puzzled, Dumbledalf spat out Billy’s hair and began to chew on his own beard. A look of delight broke out on his face. “Just as I suspected: I’m a wizard, Hairy! I wonder what type of wand I’ll get.”
Billy had had quite enough of this by now. “Sorry! I don’t want any YOLOs, or hair tasting, and I just remembered I left the oven on and the microwave on and the stove off, which is a problem because now I won’t have any pancakes to go with my pot roast and popcorn. So good-bye, and you and twelve of your closest friends should all come gorge yourselves in my home sometime soon.” Billy didn’t mean this last part of course, but it was only polite in wobbit society to propose a gorging whenever one ends a conversation. With that, he pulled the door shut, passed out, and rolled down the hallway in a trail of his own sweat.
Dumbledalf, in the meantime, was still standing outside the door, and laughing long but quietly. Then he ran full speed at the door, leaving a symbolic lightning-bolt crack in the door
and a nonsymbolic, amorphous bloody smear on his forehead. He picked himself up and, muttering something about improper fractions, limped slowly away in search of somewhere else to be a wizard.
The next day Billy had almost forgotten about Dumbledalf, as short-term memory loss is a common complication of type 2 diabetes. He spent the whole day building a bird feeder that would feed him birds at the exact rate of his ability to swallow those birds, and he had almost gotten the calibrations right when there was a tremendous knock on the door. Remembering Dumbledalf, he quickly ate three more crows and ran to the entrance, stopping only three times along the way to catch his breath.
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting!” he was going to say, but instead he blurted out, “Black person! Black person!” and quickly closed and locked the door. Of course, this was the same door that Billy had broken the hinges off the previous day, so his visitor had very little trouble moving it aside. He was a Little Person with a blue beard tucked into a golden belt, very bright eyes, about yay tall . . . other things that set him apart from everybody else in Widdle Wearth? I don’t know . . . did I mention he was short? Also right now he was angry, but that’s just right now, so you mustn’t take that as a permanent character trait or some sort of universal thing for . . . people like him.
“Excuse me?” said the Little, otherwise unremarkable Person.
“I’m sorry,” stammered Billy. “I just . . . I mean, I was expecting a—”
“Yes! Noooo. No. A wizard. Like a big, tall, impressive . . .”
“Yes, like a big, Grand Wizard! I mean—” Billy had put his foot firmly in his mouth, which served the double purpose of shutting him up and allowing him to finally eat that last pickled chicken foot he had been saving. Luckily at that moment another Little Person appeared at the door. He looked . . . like the first one. I mean, not exactly alike. I can definitely tell them apart.
“What’s the matter, Drawlin?”
“Well, Ballin, it seems our host may not have been expecting people like us.”
Ballin looked at Billy’s panicked face and sighed. “We’ve talked about this, Drawlin. He’s just a product of a literary tradition that has systematically reduced the idea of a racial other to a fantastic, categorical enemy.”
“All I’m saying is, it wasn’t the system that locked the door as soon as he saw who was knocking.” The two Little People stepped inside and made their way to the dining room as they continued this discussion, which is a totally worthwhile dialogue to have and I’m not switching focus just because I’m uncomfortable. Billy swallowed his foot and watched them walk away, completely at a loss over what to do and whether or not to ask if his two guests were related.IV
He was about to slip out the door and give up on this hole entirely when another set of visitors appeared in his way. These two were clearly brothers.
“What can I do for you, my regular-colored Little People?” he said, with visible relief.
“Fili at your service!” said the one. Nothing, said the other one, because he was a kiwi, an indigenous flightless bird of New Zealand.
“At yours and your family’s!” replied Billy, remembering his Anglo-Saxon manners this time.
“Drawlin and Ballin are here already, I see,” said Fili. “Let us join the gang!”
“Gang?” thought Billy as he speed-dialed the police and then hung up because he didn’t want to be that guy. However, he was also upset about what the additional number of visitors implied. “I’m sure there won’t be any more of them,” he said out loud and, satisfied that this statement would not be comically undercut in a few seconds, he put his door back up and turned to join the Little People—when, ding-dongs-ho-hos-twinkies, his bell rang again.
“Sounds like four more,” said Fili. “Besides, I saw them coming along behind us in the distance. I have keen eyesight.”
“I am a Southern Brown Kiwi,” implied the kiwi.
It was not four after all; it was five! Billy had hardly stopped wondering if kiwis were edible before all five of them were inside. Whorey, Slorey, and Kourtney were the names of the first three, all sisters, and Billy was immediately both aroused by them and angry at them for existing. Loin and Groin were the second two, and oh boy, if you think their names are funny, just wait until they say something really sexual. Many a Widdle Wearth song tells of an ancient prophecy that one day, these two Little People will say the funniest, most sexual thing of all time.
“Hello,” said Loin and Groin. That wasn’t it.
Loin, Groin, Whorey, Slorey, Kourtney, and Whorey, Slorey, and Kourtney’s camera crew all made their way to Billy’s dining room, which he had luckily just expanded into his snacking parlor so there was ample room for the growing party. “Well, at least there’s not five more of them,” thought
Billy, and he was about to stride confidently away when there was a massive thud on the door. He opened it to find Dumbledalf standing there with four more Little People, one of whom was prostrate, crumpled up on the stoop.
“See, I told you!” said Dumbledalf to the unconscious Little Person. “If you just believe and run straight at the platform, you’ll pass right through. Hello, Hairy! Let me introduce Beefer,” a shiny Little Person flexed his triceps, “Buffer,” a veiny Little Person punched Billy in the stomach, “Aaron Sorkinshield,” a self-important Little Person did a line of happy sugar, “and especially Doc!” Doc continued to be unconscious, so they left him on the stoop and joined the rest of the Little People at the table.
The Little People had managed to find the food that Billy had carefully hidden everywhere in plain sight, and they were making a regular party out of it. Aaron Sorkinshield offered some of his special writing powder to everyone, but Whorey, Slorey, and Kourtney promised him that they were already “dancin’ with Miley.” Beefer and Buffer focused on leaner meats because they knew that the simple carbs in Billy’s cake bread would make their body especially receptive to storing fats, and the kiwi located insects and simple invertebrates underground using his highly developed sense of smell. All parties present pretended not to notice the bird feeder in the corner, or the terrible stench everywhere else. Billy was completely overwhelmed, but Dumbledalf, sitting at the head of the table, was wonderfully amused.
“Music!” he called out. “And ghosts! Where are all my ghost friends?” As he began lighting sticks of butter on fire and trying to make them float, the Little People fulfilled his first request with a traditional song of feasting:
Show up a half hour late,
Demand your food be gluten free!
That’s what everybody hates,
When you’re a guest at their party!
Tell a bunch of inside jokes,
That only half the people get!
Say you’d pay but you’re too broke,
That’ll make your poor host fret!
So show up a half hour late,
Because that’s what everybody hates!
And of course they did none of these dreadful things, because they didn’t totally suck as people. Soon, however, the skies grew dark, and Doc finally wandered in from the stoop with a concussion and an acoustic guitar. Doc did kind of suck as a person, so he began to play, and everybody at the party was forced to listen to his mediocre strumming. When it became clear that he wasn’t going to stop anytime soon, the Little People made the best of it and sang a deeply meaningful song of ancient loss and profound pain:
Because maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me,
And after all, you’re my wonderwall.
Said maybe (maybe),
You’re gonna be the one that saves me (saves me).
As they sang, the wobbit felt the magic of nineties Britpop moving through him, a plaintive and nostalgic sort of magic that bonded everyone in Widdle Wearth together. Then
something Gram-ish woke up inside him, and he wished to go see the great mountains, and apply just the right filter to them, and then spend the next thirty to forty minutes trying to find enough service for the page to load so he could see whether or not people he had met once or twice were appreciating just how much he was appreciating the simple beauty of the natural world. Suddenly the microwave let out a great beep, and his nightly ground beef pie with Pop-Tart crust was ready, and very quickly he was once again plain Billy Bagboy with a rumble in his stomach and a family history of Apathetic Heart syndrome.
“Hush,” said Dumbledalf, as Doc’s head trauma caught up to him and he began to punch the guitar with his fist. “Let Sorkinshield speak!” And this was Sorkinshield’s cold open:
“A poet once rhymed: as if it matters how a man is toppled. And seen. Well, if you want to stand on your toes and call yourselves giants, take advantage of the first amendment. Ask yourself this: Do I have the Yahweh disease? It’s not the greatest Wearth in the world, sensei. That’s what I say. Child, this is war country. You have some of my focus—you have the least proportion, a depressing callback to the time when two great Wearths raced each other into Wspace. We reached for the ceiling, acted like people, we aspired to the opposite of stupidity, we didn’t do the opposite of enlarge it, it didn’t make us feel the opposite of ferior, as we did in the time when our looking organs looked toward the Wheavens and, with superextended phalanges, we touched the face of Buddha. Let me say a thing. You want to know a fact? You know what’s pretty neat? I am Gawd. You can’t grasp the facts. A trillion yen is pretty neat.”
This was Sorkinshield’s veritable style. He was, if nothing
else, an important Little Person. If he had been allowed, he would probably have gone on like this until he was out of breath, without properly inventing any new characters since the early 2000s. But he was rudely interrupted. Poor Billy couldn’t bear it any longer, and he began to feel a shriek coming up inside him. “Sometimes there are flaws in the way you write female characters!” he called out over and over again as he wobbled to the floor; and that was all they could get out of him for a good long while indeed. They were concerned it might be a seizure, but Doc assured them that it was only a diabetic seizure, and that his professional medical opinion was to leave the wobbit well enough alone. So they rolled Billy into his diabetic seizure nook and left him well enough alone, forgetting for a moment that Doc had suffered a moderate to severe brain injury and was therefore giving his professional medical opinion based solely on context clues rather than professional medical training of any sort.
“Excitable little fellow,” said Dumbledalf. “And why am I surrounded by tiny half-giants? Did I do centaur drugs in the Forbidden Forest again?”
“Excitable is one word for it,” said Groin, as everyone in the room waited eagerly for his hilarious sexual punch line, “but I think it’s far more accurate to conclude that this wobbit is neither physically nor mentally fit to help us fulfill our quest.” They all leaned back, recognizing that this was a valid insight into their situation, but were still disappointed that he hadn’t mentioned genitals. “In fact, he looks more like a grocer than a burglar!”
“I am not a groper!” Billy protested as he stumbled back into the room.
“I said grocer.”
“Oh. I am definitely a grocer.”
The whole party groaned at this. “A grocer?!” howled Beefer and Buffer in disproportionate rage. “A job?!” whined Whorey, Slorey, and Kourtney in genuine befuddlement. “The kiwi is nocturnal?!” is an exclamation you might make were you to study the kiwi’s sleep patterns. Finally Dumbledalf would stand it no longer.
“Quiet!” he said, and the whole room fell silent. Slowly and solemnly, he rose from his seat and picked up the honey-honey baked ham from the middle of the table. He placed the meat on Billy’s head, then watched the confused wobbit with rapt attention. Finally someone sneezed and Dumbledalf clapped his hands in delight. “The sorting ham has spoken! We have our burglar!”
No one could argue with this, because no one really understood what had happened. Plus, Billy had the traditional lightning-bolt mark on his door, which everyone in Widdle Wearth knew meant either Burglar looking for work or Kite-flying aficionado looking for his keys. So before Billy could get over the shock of being betrayed by a meat he had so much respect for, Dumbledalf laid out a map and Sorkinshield began laying out the entire exposition. As you can guess, this speech took many hours, and used many stirring invocations, and made everyone feel more intelligent just to have heard it and understood most of it. But in the end, it boiled down to this:
“[Your name is Puff the Magic Dragon. You took my mountain. Prepare to die.]”
As Sorkinshield’s speech drew to a close and the swelling violin underscoring faded out, everyone agreed that it truly felt like the end of an episode. So they each trudged, hopped, and seizured to bed, leaving for later the small matters of how to
get to the Mountain with Zero Friends, and how to find the side door into it, and who would get to control the playlist on the way. For his part, Billy had begun to realize just how similar questing might be to jogging and would have slept fitfully were it not for the five pounds of fudge he had eaten over the course of Sorkinshield’s speech. As he passed out with his head in the refrigerator, he could hear Sorkinshield still humming to himself in the bedroom next to him:
Some day you will find me,
Caught beneath the landslide,
In a champagne supernova,
Champagne supernova in the sky.
Meanwhile, in the hole next door, Billy’s extremely well-qualified burglar neighbor finally took the “I Am a Well-Qualified Burglar” sign off his door and shuffled off to bed, resigning himself to yet another season of unemployment. In the hole next to that, Saddam Hussein changed out of his dirty white T-shirt into tomorrow’s dirty white T-shirt, content with the knowledge that no one would ever find him in his underground paradise. I
When googling words in this book, the publishers recommend the SafeSearch preference “Stupidly Innocent.” The Harvard Lampoon is made up of upstanding, virginal college students who have worked hard to maintain both their upstandingness and their virginity. II
I suppose YOLOs need explanation as well, but whatever. You’ll figure it out. III
Dumbledalf’s Grindr spell usually allowed him to locate any new or slightly used blenders in the area, which he would then use to make fruit smoothies. He would be no less lonely then, but at least he would have a delicious fruit smoothie. IV
In fact, they were brothers. Like, genetically. I promise; I checked.