% mantra

        Past the small hamlet of Gnihton, across the orderly layers of 
gently nodding fields, there lay, well, yet another field.  This 
particular field was quite like its surrounding brethren in most 
aspects, complete with dirt, weeds, corn, and of course loud, noisy, 
wheezing monster-thingie (apparently cornfields tend to attract to an 
alarming degree the likes of such).  However unlike the other fields 
around it, each too having its own wretchedly belching blob-creature, 
this field was singular for its location.  Admittedly the other fields 
had locations too, but they unfortunately were not located in the 
correct place.  To put it simply, the field lay next to a path.  Like the 
field that squatted next to it, this path was rather unremarkable in 
most aspects in comparison to those of its kind, and although it did 
not have its own personal monstrosity, it did have large tangles of 
briars and an absurd-looking strain of mutant cauliflower that it 
could call its own.  Reportedly, the cauliflower in the aforementioned 
region has been known to bluster and babble quite indignantly when 
called absurd, but the fact remained, and even the cauliflower knew 
this deep inside, that it was pretty funny looking.  The exact origins 
of the plant have indeed never been pinpointed by historians or 
biologists, but the current theory en vogue proposes that the thing 
was the result of an asteroid strike.  Nothing that ridiculous could 
ever have developed on earth, or so ran the argument as originally 
published in Modern Botany.  The species apparently spent the next 
thousand or so years entrenching itself in an area measuring fifteen 
feet across and eighty or so miles long.  The natives, being a practical 
lot, had simply marked off their fields around the ground in which 
sprouted the cauliflower, and so the path was born.  
        When scientists first discovered the strange phenomenon, they 
found to their utter astonishment that no one in the memory of the 
natives had ever attempted to taste or even pick the vegetable.  "No 
chap in their right mind would ever think of mussing with one of the 
bloody things.  Anything that silly lookin can't be good for anything 
now can it?" said Henry Blankenship, a ninety year resident of 
Gnihton's successor, Cornwall, when questioned by dumfounded Men 
and Women of Science.  Even more surprising were the results of the 
scientific community's endeavors to excavate the now beleaguered 
plant.  Despite its wobbly, lopsided and shockingly pink appearance, 
the Cornwallian Cauliflower (as it soon became known worldwide) 
was resistant to all attempts to uproot it from its favorite locale, even 
the heavy and persistent use of a bulldozer was to no avail.  Neither 
could anyone discover any sort of seeds, so in the end one 
exasperated biologist brandished a pocket knife and proceeded to 
saw off and consume a small portion of the Cornwallian Cauliflower.  
To no one's astonishment he dropped dead on the spot, but not 
before uttering the now immortal phrase, "Mother of God, but that's a 
foul taste."  Needless to say, from then on the plant was left alone, 
which was a bit of tragedy considering that though the plant did 
contain a deadly poison, it also cured cancer, AIDS, herpes, and tasted 
quite yummy when served steaming hot with a light cheese sauce 
(all in all an interesting tradeoff).  The foul taste that the doomed 
biologist found so repugnant was not a property of the cauliflower 
itself; it most likely had to do with the fat, aging wampus that had 
used that particular cauliflower as a urinal just several hours earlier.
        Through all of this the poor plant endure in a most noble 
manner, hoping that somehow evolution would translate its 
phentoype in future generations to one with a smidgen of dignity 
here and there.  Nature had a bit of a sadistic streak in it though, and 
so the Cornwallian Cauliflower would go on being brazenly pink, 
lopsided, and bloated until it was the last thing left alive on the 
earth, waiting patiently for evolution even as the superheated gases 
of a sun that had gone nova engulfed the planet Earth, leaving 
behind only a thin and decidedly pink plasma.  As a result, even 
more sobering than the passing of the earth, the Seattle Mariners 
would never win a pennant, let alone a World Series.  Celestial 
historians reply to this by saying that despite the lack of a pennant, 
on the plus side the team would finish over .500 three times during 
its four billion year life span.  We digress, however.
        What is most important about this path that was refuge to a 
strange strain of cauliflower was not the hubbub surrounding its 
flora, but rather a single event that took place there around one 
thousand years before the Great Cauliflower Catastrophe (as the 
incident became known).  When considering this event, one must 
think hard to discern the proper scope of what is being discussed.  
Forget the Big Bang; forget the emergence of Homo Sapiens; forget 
Hitler;  and realize deep down inside that what happened on a small 
dusty track outside of the peasant village of Gnihton that day in 998 
AD was the single most important event in the History Of The 
Universe.  Admittedly, the incident itself eventually panned out in a 
semi-swell manner, but simply the enormously terrifying, mind-
boggling, spine-chilling, skin-shivering, vomit-releasing possibilities 
that it offered were so tremendous, so namelessly deep and primal, 
that even God was so startled that he let out a rather loud belch 
while napping near the Deneb system.  The electromagnetic radiation 
from God's Belch would later be received by Earthbound dishes and 
interpreted by puzzled scientists as "Greetings Earthlings.  Have you 
any cheeseburgers?"  Nothing much could be made of this enigmatic 
statement and so astronomers dismissed it as chance, though to the 
public's chagrin, the interpretation of God's Belch spawned a whole 
new series of "Where's the Beef?" commercials.  Back to the path, 
though.
        The path was dusty.  It had no qualms about this, and would go 
so far as to get right in a travelers face and jaw with him or her in a 
rather ornery and persistent manner if the traveler expressed 
verbally any beliefs to the contrary.  Combine this fact with that of 
the cauliflower, and one might argue that it would be altogether 
easier simply to walk through the corn fields.  It could quite easily 
have been much better going through the towering rows of corn, but 
corn on the whole is an intimidating lot, and besides, the lands on 
which the corn grew were owned privately by His Majesty Ferdinand 
III (often called Ferd III behind his back), and trespassing except by 
those peasants assigned to work the fields was a criminal offense.  
The punishment for trespassing on the King's lands never became 
common knowledge.  Ferd III's people were naturally stoic and 
accepting, the luckless recipients of the monthly royal beheading 
accepted their lot without a fuss or protest, but no one ever observed 
a trespasser heading to their fate and not screaming and fighting for 
all he or she was worth.  Rumors of the name of the exact instrument 
of torture floated around hither and thither, but they must have 
been some sort of secret code word, for the words "Richard Simmons 
Videos" are rather cryptic, and so they must have instead stood for 
some terrifying device of pain and suffering no less.  In the end, 
rather than risking such a nasty penalty or such a tedious and dusty 
journey, most people stayed away from Gnihton; it was a lousy 
excuse for human habitation anyway.
        On the path rested a rock.  While there indeed were other rocks 
on the path, six to be exact, seven if you count the small pile of 
petrified dog excrement, those rocks tended to be sedimentaries for 
the most part, all in all a very boring lot.  Happily for the pile of dog 
excrement, called Herbert by others of its kind, its life purpose was 
fulfilled when Baron Horace Von Stepovich accidentally trod on it.  
Despite the pile's formidable carapace, it's soft internal consistency 
nonetheless forced the legendarily snobbish man to spend several 
hours cleaning his very leather, very black, very new boots.  Of 
course all of this depended on the fact that the standard definition 
required a rock to be at least walnut sized and no less.
        The rock's name was Bob.  Why it was called Bob and not some 
other equally impressive name such as Binky, Ferguson, or 
Bartholomew, is a mystery.  As for appearances, Bob was rather 
plain, a dusty gray countenance that only in the best of lights could 
be called dull silver and numerous scars and pits from past struggles 
with others of his kind as the only distinguishing features.  Bob stood 
out instead with his intelligence and cunning.  Bob disdained the 
stupid, boisterous ignites that spent all their time bragging among 
themselves about their recent exploits, what volcano they'd been spit 
out of, how hot it was, how many other rocks they'd beaten up, how 
much they could bench press, and so on.  Bob similarly despised the 
plodding and ever-stupid sedimentites too.  It was always the 
sedimentite who didn't get the joke, it was always the sedimentite 
who told the most amazingly boring and lengthy stories (some might 
argue that the author of this is a sedimentite), it was always the 
sedimentite who drank too much spiked punch at a party and ended 
up getting pounded into the ground by the ignite whose girlfriend 
the tipsy sedimentite had made a slurred comment to.  On the whole, 
the sedimentites were a rather sorry bunch, but luckily they were 
too dull to realize this, and went right on with their plodding, 
victimized ways.  Bob was a metamorphic, and for the most part 
metamorphics did their best to distance themselves from their 
"lesser" brethren.  Most metamorphics secretly believed that their 
race was destined to rule the world someday, but they usually kept 
this conviction to themselves, fearing being beaten up by an ignite or 
blubbered at by a tortoise-like sedimentite.
        Bob's specialty was physics.  More precisely, Bob prided 
himself in his ability to gauge the gait, stride, and distance away of 
an approaching human and use his extraordinary mental powers to 
position himself in such a way as to send the offending two-legger 
sprawling on its face when the toe of its boot collided with Bob.  
Nothing pleased Bob more than a good trip job, and his love for the 
sport had made him into one of the world's best.  What this all boiled 
down to for Bob's situation at the time was unhappiness, plain and 
simple.  The disheveled path to Gnihton was not frequently traveled, 
leaving Bob with few people to trip, and even worse, when someone 
did come along, the cursed cauliflower had a tendency to make Bob 
burst out laughing and thus lose track of his complicated calculations, 
botching the job entirely.  "I was much better off back on the King's 
Highway where traffic could get so heavy that I sometimes had to be 
calculating the results of 47 differential equations simultaneously 
just to keep up," Bob reflected bitterly at one time.  Without a doubt, 
the highlight so far of Bob's rather young life, a few measly million 
years, was when through a stroke of pure brilliance he managed to 
trip the notoriously watchful Baron of Ebert, one Horace Von 
Stepovich by name.  By great fortune, the snooty baron's retainers, 
toadies, and personal guard had all been following him at a very 
small distance, and thus when he fell to the ground, his dimwitted 
servants stumbled over him in turn, resulting in many curses, 
numerous minor scrapes, four beheadings, and a broken pancreas.  It 
would go down as one of the greatest coups in rock history; to 
humanity it would simply be known as International Toe Jam Day.  
The meaning of this day has unfortunately been a bit perverted with 
the passage of time.  
        Unfortunately for Bob, despite his smashing success, he soon 
found himself hurtling over the corn fields as propelled by the 
strength of the irate baron's left arm.  Bob landed not far from one of 
the large and bulbous creatures, huffing and wheezing in a most 
noxious manner while squatting amongst its cornfield.  Only later 
was it discovered that the creature was a distant ancestor of Ted 
Kennedy.
        Now Bob might have simply lain in that cornfield until the end 
of time if it hadn't been for a small, grimy, little peasant boy who 
had the ill luck to be named Olaf by his unconsciously sadistic 
parents.  Olaf's parents worked on the field where Bob had the 
misfortune of being tossed into, and Olaf, who was rather lazy, spent 
most of his time looking the source of the mysterious burbling noises 
he often heard emanate from the field just before he drifted off to 
sleep.  Poor Olaf never did find the source of those strangely 
compelling noises, but one day in his searches he quite literally 
stumbled over Bob.  Not content with just chasing after some unseen 
noisemaker, Olaf had recently taken up rock collecting.  With the 
addition of Bob, Olaf's collection reached three, but unfortunately, 
due to lagging attention span and lack of deep-set interest, Olaf's 
collection would grow no bigger.
        When Bob found himself picked up and stuffed into the dark 
and fetid pocket of a dirty sweatshirt he was naturally overcome 
with panic.  In vain he tried to free himself from his newfound 
confinement, but only succeeded in entangling himself with the 
loathsome corpse of a hairless rat, a tenant for nearly two months 
now, and most probably the cause for much of the pungent aroma 
that permeated the air.  At this point there was a small thonking 
noise, and thus Bob realized that he was not alone in his 
imprisonment.
        The rock's name was Gerald, and the other one's name, for 
there were two others total, was Ophelia.  Bob soon discovered that 
though Gerald was an ignite, he possessed the worst qualities of both 
the ignite and the sedimentite.  Not only did Gerald want to discuss 
whose volcano was bigger, whose volcano was hotter, and apparently 
whose volcano's eruptions had killed the most humans, he also did it 
in an annoying, boring, and toneless manner that even the most 
diehard sedimentite would envy.  Of course the fact that Bob had not 
originated from a volcano never even occurred to Gerald.  The end 
result of this nasal, droning soliloquy was a loud bonking noise as 
Bob rapped Gerald quite the nasty blow to the temple in frustration.  
Gerald lapsed into a wounded, very short, and very self-righteous 
silence, sure that all others of rock-kind would see it his way and 
unanimously condemn this rash and violent metamorphic's actions.  
However this thought quickly left his mind, and trying a new 
approach, he changed the subject to one even more riveting with 
excitement if such was possible: that of the aches, pains, and life-
threatening injuries that he had suffered and still continued to suffer 
from.  Bob's response to this discourse was of course rather 
predictable, and so Gerald and his aching noggin gave up, and sulked 
off to the side.  Through all this the quiet Ophelia had sat rather 
wide-eyed, and altogether unsure of what she had gotten herself 
into.
        Now Gerald did indeed have quite a few aches and pains, 476 
to be exact, and though normally very slow to anger, Bob's second 
blow to his forehead had pushed Gerald over the proverbial edge, 
though this didn't immediately show.  In fact it only showed when 
Ophelia wacked into Gerald from behind, quite by accident, the 
collision actually being the fault of the clumsy little boy who had 
very unskillfully tripped over a cunningly camouflaged log that 
sprawled shamelessly across the entire breadth of the road the boy 
had been running along.
        It was all very unfortunate, all very tragic, a simple case of 
accidental bonking, but it happened to happen to the wrong cranium 
at the wrong time, for good or for evil the damage had been done 
and there was no turning back.  For a small moment Gerald lay 
stunned, as did the boy, both of their rocky skulls having been 
addled by the terrific blows they had received respectively.  They 
were both of sturdy stock and back to speed quite quickly, but what 
this implied was very different for the two beings.  For Olaf it simply 
meant picking his scrawny body back up, wiping away a few tears, 
and resuming his unwieldy gait.  For Gerald, though it was 
completely different.  With a long and acidic string of expletives, 
Gerald soared into the air to crash against the cowering Ophelia with 
a resounding and extremely solid ker-thwack.  Ophelia loosed a yelp 
of pain, and quite unlike her normal serene and laid-back self said a 
very naughty word and pounced in return upon Gerald.
        This went on for quite some time, and Bob watched on with the 
smug and self-satisfied air of one who has started a big ruckus yet 
has somehow avoided the consequences of such.  This couldn't last 
forever though, in fact Bob's smirk only lasted until one of Gerald's 
wild and uncoordinated leaps went amuck, and resulted in the 
bonking of all three combatants.  Few things can make one more 
angry than when one is just sitting and enjoying a good spat between 
others only to be pulled into it.  So it was with Bob, and though he 
didn't have any feathers to speak of, if he did they would certainly 
have been quite ruffled.
        Now it was Bob's turn to screech in pain, and in time, jump 
with an insane and incomprehensible battle cry that struck fear in 
the hearts of all those involved in the fray, unfortunately including 
Bob himself.  But Bob was already in midair, so all he could really do 
was roll his eyes rather nervously in a surprisingly cowlike gesture.  
Regardless of eye-rolling or not, the blow turned out to be the last of 
the day, for the shoddy and cheap fabric that Olaf's sweatshirt had 
been constructed of gave way, and all three combatants plus the 
dead rat tumbled towards the hole and the eventually on out as if 
devoured by some sort of burlap vortex.  All four former tenants of 
the sweatshirt landed with a minimum of trouble upon the dirt road 
that young Olaf had been racing along.  
        Meanwhile, the boy Olaf continued his rapid journey over dirt, 
gravel, and pink cauliflower.  He was quite excited by now, and so he 
ran exuberantly, arms flailing at seemingly anatomical impossible 
angles, legs firing in comical disarray, and greasy, matted hair 
twitching uncomfortably in the wind, all the while oblivious to the 
fact that not only had his precious rock collection deserted him, but 
also so had Bucky the Rat.  And while Olaf would not take the loss of 
the rocks too hard, a few sniffles here, new hobbies involving 
mummified reptilia there, the loss of Bucky would be one that would 
haunt him for the rest of his life, causing him to lose his job, ruin 
promising relationships, and eventually drive him to hurl himself off 
a cliff and into a roiling pool of toxic goop left by the 
environmentally irresponsible aliens from the Sirius system.  But 
young Olaf could not know the tragic life that lay in store for him, so 
for now he ran on.
        Back at the point of breakthrough, three dazed rocks, and one 
very dead, very ripe rat lay strewn about what the reader has 
already recognized as the path that led amongst the cornfields to the 
village of Gnihton.  Though Bob wasn't sure, he could swear he had 
heard the rat emit a very squishy "Oomph" as it had hit the road.  
When he finally could bring himself to take a look at his 
surroundings, he discovered that Ophelia had already fled, while 
Gerald had taken refuge under an exceedingly ugly cauliflower plant.  
The rat meanwhile, seemed quite content where it was, and had not 
moved one bit.  The sun loomed directly overhead, and Bob found 
the heat so oppressive that he scurried under the nearest 
cauliflower, which unfortunately happened to be the same one that 
Gerald was under.  Feeling the heat of the day, the humidity in the 
air, and the whining of Gerald's nasal voice, Bob slowly found himself 
overcome by the oddest sensation.  He found himself closing his eyes 
and letting it wash over him, wrapping him up, dragging him down 
with its hypnotic undertow.  His only complaint was the periodic 
bonking noise that occasionally cropped up in the background.
        When he came to from the most pleasant dreams, he found 
himself stooped over a small hole in the ground from which 
emanated the occasional yelp.  Bob wasn't sure how Gerald had 
managed to fall down and become thoroughly wedged in a hole that 
hadn't been there just a few hours ago, but not wanting to here the 
explanation, Bob used his sharper side to scrape dirt into the hole, 
quickly filling it up.
        So that in a nutshell was how Bob found himself languishing 
along the lonely, nameless road to Gnihton.  Bob was determined to 
make the best of the situation though, and so nary a traveler passed 
the area without tripping and falling face first into a cauliflower at 
least once, sometimes more if Bob was especially on top of his game.  
After a couple centuries of this, Bob was surprised to find himself 
growing quite happy, despite his initial discontent.  Maybe he was 
just getting old, but nonetheless he no longer felt the compulsion to 
trip human beings at all hours of the day, in fact, two or three a 
month was all that he seemed to need anymore
        The only trouble Bob ever suffered was derived from the 
cauliflowers.  Several of the foppish things had actually tried to 
ingest him for nutrients, of all things, and only quick thinking and a 
well timed kick had saved him from a nasty death at the hands of a 
particularly lithe and quick plant.  Bob's father had been killed that 
way, and his mother had lost a chip, all due to a large rosebush that 
had sprung up on the side of Bob's childhood mountain home for no 
apparent reason.  At the time of his father's death Bob had vowed his 
revenge upon all of rose-kind.  Bob had also vowed never to be 
broken up and ingested by a plant, and he certainly wasn't about to 
have this done to him by a cauliflower, especially a floppy pink one.
        The year 1187 began like any other, cold to be exact.  In fact 
1187 was so cold, that even the corn-monsters were silent for the 
most part, emitting only the occasional snort for warmth.  Traffic was 
especially light during the winter months, it was only in the spring 
and summer, when men and women would venture out to visit their 
distant relatives, that the fun really began.  However, before this 
could happen in the year 1187, Bob had a visitor that would change 
him forever.  It was early February, and Bob's first glimpse of the 
traveler was not a particularly good one.  Between the cauliflower 
and the light mist, all he caught was an exceedingly long and well-
groomed beard.  As the unsuspecting fellow drew closer Bob made 
out in addition to the beard, heavy velvet robes, a large conical hat, 
bushy eyebrows, and a penetrating stare.  There was a staff 
somewhere too, but Bob would remember this later only if he was 
explicitly reminded of it.
        The chap's name was Merlin and he was a wizard by trade.  
Why Merlin would ever want to go to Gnihton of all places is a 
mystery, perhaps he had had a bit too much to drink.  The fact that 
he was singing a rather brazen song concerning a saucy barmaid 
named Josephine and a handsome satyr name Geoff supported the 
theory that he had a few too many mugs of the King's Finest.  
Regardless of the reason just why the wizard Merlin was staggering 
his way in the general direction of Gnihton, the fact remained that in 
his path was a rock named Bob, and Bob wasn't about to let Merlin 
off, wizard or not.
        Somehow, though, Bob calculated wrong.  Instead of a slight 
bump, a yell, and a great thumping noise as was the normal 
procedure, he found himself suddenly tumbling along the path away 
from the advancing wizard.  Now nothing annoyed Bob more than 
being kicked.  He didn't mind being stepped on, didn't care if he was 
thrown, polished, or fetched or perhaps swallowed by a slobbering 
dog, but when it came to being kicked he drew the line.  Snarling in 
anger he performed some near-miraculous calculations, dug himself 
deep into the earth, and waited.
        The results were rather predictable.  Merlin may have been the 
world's most powerful wizard, but the fact remained that he was 
outrageously drunk, and upon contact with the glowering Bob, he 
pitched forward, caught himself on his staff, lost his footing again, 
and fell backwards quite squarely on his behind.  The curses that 
followed were by remarkable coincidence the exact incantation for a 
rather nasty fire spell that unfortunately incinerated one of the 
slobbering, hooting corn-monsters that happened to be sleeping 
nearby.
        Now a remarkable thing happened when Merlin's boot 
connected with the braced form of Bob.  Normally, Merlin's boots 
were endowed with a protective spell to guard against what had just 
occurred, apparently he had a few run-ins with other rocks too.  
However, the spell had degenerated in recent days, and being in the 
state he was, Merlin could not readily be counted on to go about 
renewing and restoring such things.  So instead of repulsing Bob 
away with a magical force field, somehow Bob ended up tripping 
Merlin and absorbing the magical power of the failing protection 
spell.  Later, Merlin would remember none of this.  He would in fact, 
even conveniently forget the fact that he had later woken up with a 
terrific headache, stark naked, in the middle of a cornfield, with a 
large and particularly foul-breathed wampus cautiously sniffing him, 
apparently pondering his integrity as a urinal.  Luckily for Merlin, 
the wampus finally decided that indeed he would work quite well as 
a urinal at precisely the same moment that Merlin magicked himself 
far away.
        As for Bob, he fell into a deep and unassailable coma for 
several years, even the passing of the Baron of Ebert didn't rouse 
him from his unnatural slumber.  When he awoke he was a changed 
rock.  The magic from Merlin's boot had woken something very deep, 
vast, and powerful within his mind.  With the slightest effort of will 
he found himself hovering several inches above the roadway, and 
cautious experimentation soon had him zipping about as a 
bumblebee might do.  One might wonder how the meager magic from 
a failed protection spell might bestow the power to fly, among other 
things.  This is result of a minor corollary of the Law of Conservation 
of Magic-mass which states that quite simply, smaller masses needed 
smaller amounts of magical energy.  Effectively, a spell that couldn't 
even protect a boot made Bob a wizard-king of his kind.
        Bob's time had not been idle while in the coma, for he had been 
visited by dreams of the most wondrous kind.  In these dreams he 
would sit at a great table filled with the most wondrous kinds of food 
one could imagine, pebbles from the far off beaches of Mexico, quartz 
from only the purest of deposits, and of course bowl after bowl filled 
with the diced root of the wild rose.  As he helped himself to these 
exotic delicacies, he would be revered and cooed at by ravishing 
young rock-girls.  Later he might sometimes retire to his throne 
room where vast legions of the barbaric, uncivilized humans would 
bow down, grovel, and worship him as their new god.  Those were 
Bob's dreams as he lay so inert upon the dusty road to Gnihton.
        Later, as he sped away into the crisp, chill night air on the 
wings of a magical breeze, those thoughts replayed themselves again 
and again inside his head.  He had a vision, a dream, and none could 
stand in his way.  He would have and stop nothing short of one thing, 
and one thing only: world domination.

(to be continued)

[-bambrose:[email protected]]