Today is “Tell a Joke Day,” so I thought it would be a good excuse to give you a sneak peek of my novelette, The Kingdumb. I have wanted to release this story as an eBook for awhile but didn’t have the time or drive to do so while I was in grad school. I’m working on the final revision, and anticipate putting it out in September.
I’ll be providing more info soon on my website, so be sure to head over there and subscribe if you’re interested in updates about this and future publications. Subscribers will also receive a special discount on the eBook. My hope is that everyone who reads The Kingdumb will have fun with it. However, I mostly wrote it intending to entertain those who have worked in customer service, especially those who have worked in retail. Here is the first chapter:
The Kingdumb: Chapter the First
High in his torture chamber above Kingdumb Miser, Lord M sits like a shadow, watching sheep, asses, pigs, and various other animals milling and herding, a scowl etched into his face from years of ordering others—mostly shepherds—to smile.1But Lord M never actually tells anyone to smile, or anything else that he wants done.
Rather, he follows an elaborate chain of command that begins by talking into a rusty can connected to the can of a master, who uses a can connected to a pager, who may actually walk over and speak with a shepherd. Or, if the shepherd is at his or her post—an electronic, treadmill-like belt connected to a computer and a fare box—the pager may use yet another can to talk to the shepherd. Each post has a light at then end of it, which can be turned on to indicate the post is open, or off to indicate the post is closed. The animals put their goods upon the moving belt and are herded through the lane. Their refreshments and baubles are then put into sacks on a spinning holder so the animals can carry their goods to wherever they are traveling next.
Most are unaware, but the belts and computers at each post emit waves that frazzle the brains of those passing through. Once inside Kingdumb Miser, even the most intelligent of animals becomes unable to read simple signs or use common sense and rational thought. This is particularly evident in a portion of the kingdumb known as U-Herd.
The U-Herd passage is wider than those run by shepherds. Instead of passing through and putting their goods on belts, the animals carry whatever they brought and set it on a scale to be weighed, to avoid theft. The animals are supposed to be able to herd themselves through with little difficulty, aided by automated instructions on a screen and watched over by a shepherd. The idea is that the animals become more self-sufficient, hardly noticing or having to interact with the shepherds until there is a problem.
This system is ideal for both shepherds and animals, in theory. However, the screens and scales, of which there are four, emit more waves than the typical posts. In addition, unlike the regular passages, which are in rows, the U-Herd passages are set up with two boxes on each side and a large passage down the middle. This enables the waves to bounce back and forth, affecting each animal all the more.
Due to these waves, and the naturally ignorant and impatient nature of many animals, things rarely run smoothly in this area of the kingdumb. Though the directions are clear and repeated when not properly followed, many animals find themselves unable to herd. Generally, the sheep are confused, asses grow irate, and the pigs snort rude remarks.
As the U-Herd shepherd is in charge of watching four or more animals heard at once, there is a special button on each machine with which an animal can alert the shepherd that he or she needs help. This button is rarely used, however, as animals tend to call out their problems, expecting to be noticed. Once in awhile, an ass or a pig will push the button and then push it again and again. . .and again.
Even once acknowledged by the shepherd, asses will continue braying their problems, often stomping at the same time. When told that they must wait their turn for help, the asses might kick the machines or other animals, and those animals may kick back, each expecting his or her problem to be fixed first. Eventually, it’s chaos, with at least four animals—usually more, as they travel together—bleating, neighing, and snorting. Then, those waiting to herd will join the cacophony.
This is the situation Lord M looks down on as a shepherd named Pierre Ouette tries frantically to restore order to the U-Herd area. Pierre is tall and svelte with well-manicured nails, much-envied wavy, brown hair, and creamy skin complimented, rather than washed out by, his mostly unflattering red robe, which is the uniform of Kingdumb Miser’s underlings.2 And he has a mean, twirling-whirling-spinning-flying kick. But Pierre is a gentle soul, usually, with a gleaming smile and light laugh, and so none will have cause to suspect him of anything else. Nor will they have cause to fear him, usually.
But today is not the usual day, and Pierre is not the usual Pierre. As sometimes mind-altering drugs bring out the worst in people, U-Herd can bring out the worst in Pierre. Like a habitual drug-user, Pierre can usually dance the fine line between serenity and insanity, but sometimes, it’s too much. If his toes are stepped on at just the wrong time, or too hard, Pierre will become an angry, vengeful force to be reckoned with—not only because he’s been angered, but because, when not a shepherd, Pierre is a dancer, and it’s very difficult to dance with smashed toes.
And of course, the shaggy haired, lemon-faced lady-ass to Pierre’s left chooses the wrong time to walk up and STOMP. Pierre winces as his toes crunch below the ass’s hoof. Pierre whips toward the ass, his face already flooding with red, as he snarls, “What?”
“You’re lazy and incompetent, and you need to pay attention to your guests.”
Pierre cringes. It’s the policy in Kingdumb Miser to call the animals guests, as if it’s a five-star lodging and not a kingdumb. And it’s all right to call them that, becoming second nature to most shepherds even if they visit other kingdumbs where this is not the custom. Guests calling themselves guest, however, sounds pretentious. Pierre sighs and says, “Well, you’re being impatient, and this would go more smoothly if you followed the directions.”
“It’s your JOB to lead me through.”
“No, it’s U-Herd, not Me-Herd,” Pierre says. “If you want someone else to do it, you should go to one of the other posts. That’s what they’re there for.”
“Hey,” another voice, this one male, interjects. “Hey, I’m waiting.”
Pierre glances in the direction of the voice to see a cow scowling and tapping one of his hooves on the ground. “One second,” Pierre says. “I can only process one problem at a time.”
“Yeah,” says the ass, “and he’s processing mine first. So the lot of you pipe down.” She turns toward Pierre. “Now, my fare wouldn’t go through. Take care of it.”
With a sigh, Pierre looks toward the ass’s machine. “You didn’t hit the button indicating that you were ready to process.”
She turns around and stares dumbly at his screen.
“Ergo,” says Pierre, “you did not follow directions. Ergo, you are the incompetent one. Ergo, it is time for you to leave. Now”—he turns around—“who’s next? Ugh, Miss. Yes, you. The ass with the little ones. Get them off the machine and leave your items alone until I’ve verified them.”
“Are you talking to me?”
“Yes, you. Please restrain your jacks and jennies and follow the directions.”
“Only to those who don’t follow directions and have no regard for the whole process of this process, which seems to be the lot of you, of late.”
“You need to chill out,” she yells, her young ones still jumping on the machine as if it’s a trampoline.
“You need to get them off the machine before they break it.”
“How dare you imply that my little angels—”
“Angels,” scoffs Pierre, “those little asses are quite far from it.”
“Asses, how dare—”
Pierre begins stomping furiously while yelling and pulling on his hair. When he stops, the whole U-Herd area is staring at him, silent for the first time since the passage opened years and years prior. Within seconds, however, the animal ruckus begins again. With a sigh, Pierre begins to process their problems, restraining the urge to spin kick each of them in the head.
1. Kingdumb Meiser rules dictate that shepherds must nod all day and smile like dolls, much to the detriment of their jaws, and, often, they are lax unless prompted. There was talk by Lord M of replacing them with something that would smile permanently and give him less trouble, but bobble heads have yet to be made with moveable arms, and Lord M decided he may as well keep them, if for nothing other than to have something else to rule over.↩
2. The pagers, shepherds, and tools of Kingdumb Meiser used to have the choice between wearing a red robe or a teal one. While the teal one might be considered slightly feminine in color, it tended to look good on both the men and women, and so seemed to be preferred. Noticing this, Lord M and his underlings decided to do away with the teal robes, leaving only the red, which washed out the skin of most, and flattered no one, save Pierre, who, though pleased to be in the minority, did miss his teal robe. To add insult to injury, the tools, lowest of the low in the kingdumb, were given blue robes, which flattered all of them, and made them look distinguished, a look counter to their jobs, numerous in number but including such things as removing spoiled commodities and cleaning the commodes.↩
I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek of The Kingdumb. If so, be sure to subscribe to AmandaPapenfus.com for publication updates and a special discount on the eBook.
If you like the cover art, please stop by and let Sarah WaterRaven know and check out some more of her artwork. She’s also the author of two urban fantasy novels centered on Detective Docherty and his team of investigators. You can read excerpts of them here.