Sunday, November 02, 2008


I was sitting in the Train station in Jiligamant today, having visited the clockwork market that shows up in the town's main square every so often. Jiligamant is inhabited nearly entirely by mice and rats, who make some of the best clockwork in existence. No one else is better at tiny details.

Of course, having been a center of rodent culture for generations, it's not just the small mice and rats that live in Jiligamant. There are rodents of all kinds - squirrels, capybaras, chinchillas, three-legged gerboas, and probably a lot more that I don't know about. Even the town's humanoid inhabitants look rather rodent-like. There are winged mice the size of bumblebees and a clan of rats the size of hippopotami, who live in what used to be the town's sewers. Jiligamant has six or seven layers of sewers altogether; being a town of rodents, the pipes always have rats living in them, even when they're in use. The rats in the working sewers gradually dry out and brick up parts of them to make houses. This inevitably causes the whole sewer system to back up and stop working, at which point the town builds another one underneath it. Only a sixth of Jiligamant is above ground. The giant rats, who are as close to nobility as you'll find in Jiligamant, have the whole top level - the original sewers - more or less to themselves.

Anyway. I was sitting in the Train station, eating my lunch (some sort of grain thing from a food stall in the market) and waiting for the Train to finish exchanging a boxcar of seeds for a boxcar of clockwork pipe crawlers. A crate of pipe crawlers had, apparently, not been switched off or properly sealed; they were making things rather interesting for the loading crews when a tall gray rat in a blue frock coat came and sat down next to me.

"Morning," he said. It was four in the afternoon. "You ever been to Pickerell's Peak?"

I hadn't, and said so.

"Well, don't." He was quite emphatic. "Nothing there but fir trees and loonies. I was sitting at the Train station there, that little one that looks like an umbrella and never has anyone in it, just sitting there and minding my own business when a lizard in a tuxedo comes along the tracks and says to me, 'have you seen a house around here?' Now, if you'd been to Pickerell you'd know there's not a house within six miles of the station, not even a lean-to, so I gave him the look I give ceiling salesmen and said that if there'd been a house then I'd missed it. So he said fine, he'd wait, and I'll be flanneled if he didn't sit down there and wait! For a house!

"So I sat there with him and ate my lunch, and asked him if he wanted any, but he said he was allergic to cheese, said it made him grow fur, so I said what's wrong with a bit of fur then, and he said that he had nothing against fur but only in the Wintertime. In the Wintertime, he said, he ate cheese until he was so fluffy you could hardly see him.

"Well, I couldn't think of anything to say after that, so I just sat there and ate my lunch. Me waiting for my Train and him waiting for his house. And I'd just said to myself, well, he'll be waiting here a lot longer than I will, when there's a clattering noise off along the tracks, and around the corner comes a house. A house. Perfectly ordinary, the kind you see in Tazramack or anywhere, four stories high and one room wide. It was blue with dormer windows. Had those little fiddly bricks on the chimney. And it was walking, I tell you, just walking along on four great planking feet made all of boards. I could see the nails sticking out of the knees. And it walked right along the tracks, making a racket like you wouldn't believe, and settled down right in front of the station like a big dog, so that its little front porch was level with the platform. And you know what that lizard said? He said, 'my house appears to have arrived at me. Good day to you.' And his house stood there, calm as a horse, while he walked up to the front door and went right in. And then it stood up again on its feet - it had knobs on its toes like on a banister - and it clattered off along the tracks until I couldn't see it anymore. And what I say is, anyone who lives in a house that bounces like that can't have many dishes left by now. I mean, honestly, is it too much to ask for a man to sit and eat his lunch in peace? Why does every loony in the Railway Regions have to come and sit next to me?"

I nodded sympathetically. He gave me a suspicious look at that, stood up, and hurried away without another word.

I could have asked him the same question. Somehow, though, I doubt he'd have taken it well.

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