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Long ago, a poor boy was having a hard time inhabiting his pre-Scythian village, even with the help of his parents and little sister. Even the talking dog they had milling around didn’t help. Although, as we’ve already mentioned, it wasn’t a regular dog, but a talking dog, and furthermore, a dog who spoke in parables. Never did say one simple thing all his life, he did; always giving examples, always meaning to say something other than what was on the surface. For example, whenever he was trotting by the boy’s habitually drunk father, he would move the cheap cigar to the opposite side of his maw and utter: “Thou dost imbibe too much, old man! Wilt die too early, leave your widow lachrymose, crying her heart out, old chap, just like a weeping willow.” In a word, a pedantic dog he was, ever giving details, ever trotting out ways to prove how much he knew and how erudite he was. And the father of the poor boy (whose name was Dim, by the way,) the father would say, “Hma-mwa-mwa nuthin-nuthin nobodee yi-yi-yissifm blap!” and the dog would respond, “You know, old chap, one day, your nihilism and alcoholism will get ye nowhere fast.” And the father would mumble something hotly, all on the defensive yet wanting to offend, and the dog would listen patiently, with hooded eyes, and then say, “I can’t understand a word you’re saying, old chap, since your rant is complete gibberish, you know; rather like the inconsequential mumblings of a babe. It does have a nice soporific quality, though. I’m feeling rather like a nap, you know.” And he’d go to sleep in the sun, just like any other dog.
Now, all little Dim ever did was lie on top of the only warm place in the house – a large whitewashed hearth in which the family cooked meals whenever they had food. Sometimes, his sister Pim would put on a show, prancing and jumping about, deftly avoiding the snapping teeth of their three-headed fire-breathing baby pet dragon every time. Their mother did all the housework, leaving Dim alone and spoiling Pim, breadcrumb by moldy breadcrumb. Once in a while, she would rebuke the father for being who he was, but then she would leave him alone, too.
Dim hurried to walk under the dog, for the dog was very, very large, and Dim
was very, very little.
Illustration by Aleks Zelenina
And thus it was until Dim’s twentieth year, when, one day, he jumped off the hearth, stretched his limbs, with many a crack there and a creak here, and set off to win friends and influence people. He bowed respectfully to his mother, kissed his little sister on the head, and stepped out into the world. On his way across the yard, he stopped to say good-bye to his father, who was sitting on the ground and leaning into a cherry tree, working hard at propping it up. The dog trotted up to Dim and offered, “Sir, if you propose to ramble through the world aimlessly, seeking food and fortune each day and each night, then do take me with you! I will serve you well.” Dim shrugged; the dog wagged its tail. The father waved good-bye impassively, at which the dog said, “Old chap, allow me to hold up a mirror to your condition. You are at present quite unable to move or feel because of your predilection for cheap booze. You would drink the abyss if you could! Shame, shame! Sober up, old chap, I tell you for the last time, or there will be a dearth of life for you soon – and that means death!” And off ran the dog, its tail fanned out and held incredibly firm and high, like a banner, and Dim hurried to walk under it, for the dog was very, very large, and Dim was very, very little…
At just about this time, a child was born behind the high walls of a royal palace. King Daddy Kings, the ruler of that land, had already fathered three children – all by different queens, of course. The eldest son was named Navi and, like any cheerful, plucky boy, he had always wanted to be a sailor, but Daddy Kings said they were a land-locked land, so Navi became a field guide for visiting ecotourists instead. The eldest sister was Vain – tall and haughty, this cool beauty carried a mirror with her everywhere. Having too much disdain for people to ever speak to anyone, she asked her mirror on the hour who the most proud and the most beautiful woman on earth was, and the mirror would grow tired of responding, ‘Of all the people I’ve ever reflected, you have the most pride and the most pulchritude.” And Vain was too proud to ask what that last word meant.
Then, there was credulous little Naiv, pretty and smiling and believing all the false sailor’s tales Navi told her. Tired of the narcissistic Vain looking into it all the time, the bilious mirror, yellow with time and ill will, would sometimes call out ominously (and in a British accent) to Naiv as she was running by, “You suffer from a malady, milady!” and Naiv would believe it, turning melancholy for a moment. Yet, not a minute later, she would be skipping about, her solid-gold pet goldfish swimming along in its water bubble, pulled along by an invisible string.
And it was into this family that on June 31st 3510, Young Prince Ivan the Foolish was born, at twelve minutes past noon.