Tuesday, August 14, 2007


By Sir Richard Shelbourne Thistlebottom

The menfolk from the Inuit village warned Hobson not to dig near the bluff that overlooked the little windswept harbor where we lay at anchor. Our young botanist listened impatiently as they recited an ancient tale that told of the foul and petulant demon-spirit that slumbered beneath the ground there. But Hobson, indomitable man of science that he was, pushed his way through the worried throng and drove his spade deep into the tundra soil; it was soggy from the summer snowmelt and yielded without protest. The chieftain implored him to stop his digging, but Hobson was determined to continue the excavation until he hit the thick layer of permafrost.

Once again he sank the spade into the earth. Suddenly, a great hissing noise arose from the hole. I recall Hobson wrinkling his nose like a curious puppy before dropping his implements and galloping back to camp. The natives also scattered with panicked shouts, and soon on a nearby hillock a clutch of old village women appeared, gesticulating wildly and wailing a mournful dirge.

Those of us standing around the cooking fire witnessed a pack of seals hurriedly waddling toward the shore, their flippers smacking furiously and desperately against the stony beach. Our sled dogs howled and snarled as if suddenly rabid. Then terns by the dozens began falling from the sky as if shot in mid-flight, and at last it dawned on our small party of explorers that some great, primal danger was afoot in these northern climes.

In the distance we could see the chieftain yelling in our direction. Our linguist, MacCumber, strained to listen against the shrieking wind that now bore a preternaturally strong odor of flatulence, and soon he informed us that the chieftain was cursing the white man and his ignorant ways.

"Ignorant indeed!" the hotheaded MacCumber cried. "The nerve of that blubber-supping wretch!" But in my heart, I knew the chieftain was right. For all our marvels of science and engineering, for all our gilded volumes of history and philosophy and religion, how little we truly understood this vast and mysterious world! The stench of passed gas now enveloped us like a cloak of rotten omelets as we hastened to climb into the whaleboats and seek the relative safety of our schooner. Rowing through the frothy breakers, I glanced back toward the shoreline and there I saw the chieftain one last time ― his nose pinched shut by weathered fingers, a single tear rolling slowly down his noble cheek.

(Sir Richard Shelbourne Thistlebottom was arguably Britain's most ambidextrous arctic explorer. For more tales from Thistlebottom's recently discovered journals, we recommend "Wal-Mart of the Great White North.")

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