This is my first #Fridayflash fiction. The Woebegone is a creature from my novel-in-progress Housewife with a Half-Life. This is a newly written spin-off. Enjoy!
Although they were quite commonly known in the alternates; it was many years before I came across a Woebegone. They were – as most things are in this cobbled together double helix DNA system we call life – paradoxical creatures. They looked as dumb as mumbo jumbo. They were lumbering, juddering creatures with great jowls and jelly legs. In manner they were as slow as the mud-stuck passage from the thick primordial soup, the swamp of not knowing. They were also possessed of a brain the size of a dinosaur – the proverbial pea – but for reasons still not uncovered (and we shall get to that later) they had a supercharged intelligence, a tightly wound coil of premium gold plated synapses that were said to be able to do any job under any circumstances. Woebegones were said to be the fount of all knowledge.
Founts they may have been purported to be but there was nothing springy or gushy about them. They sat Buddha-like in knolls or on sand dunes amidst the marram grass watching the sea rolling to its inevitable end.
It was in one of those places I found my Woebegone; back in the Middle Ages. There were nine other Woebegones laid down nearby like beached whales, snoozing in the weak sun. I sat down beside him – my long legs bent almost up to my chin, my steel toe caps disappearing into the sand – looking at the wide beach with sand like snow, the wide horizon, the grey sea, the seabirds brushstroked into the altitudes. The air was bright and briny, it settled on my lungs with a seaweed nonchalance. I breathed again. In. ‘What’s it all about then?’ Out.
They were Slow Thinkers. I left him there and went about my business for a human life span or several. It was a coincidence that I just happened to be in the area when I met up with him again eons later. By then the Woebegones were causing more of a furore. There was something of an epidemic of existential itchiness going about at that time and the usual quacks and charlatans were on the loose trying to fix on money spinning solutions. Now that the Worlds Wide Web had been woven so thickly by spider neurotics, the whole intellectual endeavour thing had become, shall we say Parasitic. The forums and message boards were infested with Threadworms searching for the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth. The Woebegones – having once been a vague curiosity, had begun to receive, shall we say, focussed attention.
The Woebegone was still unperturbed. Well, it’s difficult to tell, but that was the sense I got. We sat in companionable silence once more and looked out at the landscape, quite different now that the sea had dried up and the reclaimed area had been developed into a theme park. The Theme was ‘A million kinds of pasta from around the alternates.’
I guess I wasn’t expecting anything from the Woebegone. He’s like your old granddad sitting in his comfy armchair making the odd pronouncement into moments of musty tranquillity. I was just chilled out, looking at the theme park, thinking about change and entropy, descending chaos or obfuscated order. Then he said: ‘Nostalgia, Melancholy and Wurble* – That’s what it’s all about.’
I was flummoxed for a moment. It had been some time.
‘But that’s all about sadness.’ I said. ‘Past, present and future.’
He was a Woebegone, what did I expect? But I still had to ask. ‘Where’s the happiness?’ I said. The question made me wurble. It made me look into my uncertain and rapidly decreasing future. I would probably be dead by the time he answered. I looked at him, a slab of sedentary serenity. He wouldn’t budge if I kicked him, he wouldn’t notice. Besides; he was asleep like the other nine. And snoring.
I was never a bounty hunter. But these things sometimes just happen. Sometimes the things that are under our noses are never obvious and although I couldn’t understand it, none of the pseudo scientists seemed to be able to locate the Woebegone. I didn’t think I was the sort for revenge but I guess I felt existentially aggrieved, although it may just have been something in the water. Ironically by the time I divulged his location for a large sum of disposable cash I had figured out where the happiness was.
As it turned out, they never got to the bottom of him. They were going on the scientific evidence that parts of the body have their own internal memory and they were pretty clued in on brain mapping but they couldn’t find the answers they were looking for. He just had too many layers, of skin, of blubber, of sinew, tissue, nerve, synapse, cell and enzyme. They should have just let him be. I should have left him sleeping with the nine other Woebegones at the shore of the former sea.
But the thing is: there’s life or there’s nothing. In between the nostalgia, melancholy and wurble, there’s a journey forward and back, there’s movement and that’s where the happiness is. You’ve got to do something. You’ve got to go where the impetus takes you.
*Wurble Burbling worry