The Five Names—Excerpt
A Curious Thought
Inkie hobbled from his home, his heart light and cheery. I would run, if I were able. The delightful tastes of marrel cakes and checkelberry juice lingered in his mouth. It is always such a fine start to the day when one begins with one’s favorite breakfast.
Inkie had chosen to wear his long-sleeved gray shirt that so nicely contrasted with his hooded jacket and trousers, which were both the color of dirt. Of course, he wore those exact clothes every day—but that was as it should be.
Lumbering down the streets of Idmar, Inkie greeted this Loman and that Loman, the same ones he greeted every morning as he walked to his field.
What a fine village this is indeed, Inkie thought as he approached the town square. So common, so ordinary, and so comfortably predictable.
But what he saw next chilled his fine mood. Oh fright! This is not ordinary and certainly cannot be good at all. And if a thing is not good, a thing can only be—oh fear—bad! What an awful turn.
His surroundings began to spin and Inkie’s head felt light as a feather. I may very well faint. His body swayed. Though I have never fully fainted before, this will surely be the time. Inkie waited to fall over. Then he waited a little longer. Nothing.
Disappointed, he crept toward the town square and what the ruling Principowers called “The Agreeable Gathering of Lomen,” though Inkie had always been suspicious of this name.
Each morning, all Lomen pass through the town square on their way to work. On occasion, a single Principower was posted there to announce changes in orders or the like. But what Inkie saw that day, the thing that shook his insides through to the middle, was not that common, ordinary occurrence. It was something else altogether.
On the stage along one side of the open square, stood six solemn Principowers in their multicolored robes with tinkling bells attached at the fringes. They towered head and shoulders above a single, much-distressed Loman bound in chains.
Inkie had only once before seen such a shivering sight. This definitely was not a normal day. Despite his feeling on the matter, it seemed he was about to experience, “The Agreeable Gathering.”
Inkie wished he could run away, but he knew that would not be allowed. At this sort of meeting one’s presence was more than requested—it was required. There would certainly be Principowers checking to see that all were in attendance. So Inkie congregated with the other Lomen, joining in their noticeable quivering and quaking.
He shuffled closer to see more clearly the unfortunate one in chains. He gasped. Oh terribleness! It is Tovee, who works in the field next to me.
A thousand thoughts raced through his mind, none of them at all pleasant. What has Tovee done? And what will become of poor he? Worst of the worst, what will become of his neighbor, namely me?
Inkie had spoken aloud, of course. Being an ordinary Loman, he always voiced his inner thoughts outwardly. Because of the tone of his voice, though, no one would think of paying any attention. Inkie used one pitch when he intended other Lomen to hear him and another when he was simply “think-saying.” He had often been in a room full of Lomen, all speaking their thoughts at once. Naturally, no one listened to anyone except themselves since Lomen are, without exception, most intrigued by their own “think-saying.”
The chief Principower, Ludas, stepped forward. His robe was the most spectacular of all the Principowers’. A wide strip of scarlet cloth ran from the neck down to its hem. Narrower strips bordered the wide one in dazzling colors of sun-gold, grass-green, sky-blue, and even orange. It wasn’t the type of thing an ordinary Loman would feel comfortable wearing, but a robe of this character seemed fit for one who was a ruler.
Ludas puffed up his chest and spoke in a low voice. “It is always a sad day for Idmar when a lower Loman goes astray.” He shook his head slowly and solemnly. “Have we not warned you against bad behavior since you were of the youngest years? The rules have been plainly told, over and again. But now you see that Tovee has chosen a path not wise.”
Inkie always thought Tovee an upstanding fellow, not at all the type to fall into trouble. He wondered which of the many rules Tovee had broken.
Ludas continued in a deep voice, “Now he will pay a severe price for his foolishness.”
The other time Inkie had witnesses such a thing was almost eight years earlier, although he recalled it quite clearly. In that instance as well, the specific offense had not been spelled out. Inkie thought the omission made the situation doubly frightful, perhaps even triply so. One cold fact remained from that day long ago. That Loman had not been seen or heard from ever again.
Principower Ludas went on for several minutes more using the scariest language. “Punishment…pain…hurt.” Inkie noted these and other equally dreadful words. Then Ludas paused, without explanation, and simply glared at the audience. In that silent moment, the power of his stare sent shivers and chills up and down Inkie’s back—and his front as well. Finally, the Principower declared the awful judgment, “Take the prisoner away to face his fate.”
Inkie felt a shockwave tumble through the crowd. Numerous Lomen froze stiff, while others quaked and looked for neighbors to lean on. Inkie heard weak Loman voices speak to Tovee a sorrowful good-bye. From some, he heard only mournful weeping. Tears filled Inkie’s eyes.
For all their dismay, no one tried to stop the proceedings, or wrestle Tovee away, or even speak a word against the authorities. No one dared.
Two Principowers hustled a whimpering Tovee off the stage to nobody knew where. Ludas’ glare held the crowd under control and drove the impression full into Inkie’s mind. After what seemed like a day, Ludas sternly ordered all the Lomen to their work.
Fully sad, Inkie slinked out of the town’s east exit and down the common path toward his section of the fields. He moved with a swaying motion. Inkie considered this wobbling hobble to be natural, since all Lomen ambled with a full step followed by a half step, then a whole step, a half, a whole, and so on. This uneven gait was due to the fact that Lomen were born with one leg shorter than the other. Even as they grew, the weak leg never caught up to the other. There would have been no question about the normality of this, except that the Principowers, who shared many traits with Lomen, weren’t subject to this condition.
Inkie took a sighing breath. What a truly terrible day this is. And what other awful happening might this foretell? Inkie knew that tragic occurrences often came in twos. I must spend my day trying not to think these thoughts more thoroughly through.
Despite the still-fresh, horrid event, Inkie laughed. Like all Lomen, he thought himself most clever when he said a sentence with several words in it that started with the same sound.
Inkie hardly felt the sun warming his small frame as he wobbled on, clutching his mid-meal food basket. Inkie jingled just the tiniest bit as he moved since his jacket was covered, inside and out, with treasure-carrying pockets of various sizes. While it is true that Lomen vary little one from another in height, width or dress, they are each unique in this way. It is what I have in my pockets that makes me me.
Yes, Inkie loved pockets. In a clever innovation, he discovered he could sew pockets on top of pockets, thus making more room for trinkets. Every day, as he approached his field, he patted each one to make sure they were still filled with the usual, important objects. At least I’m fine in that regard. Now, I must set my mind to my tasks.
Inkie’s work that day would consist of picking rocks out of the field and hoeing weeds. This was all in preparation for the spring planting that would take place in a couple of weeks. Inkie began with the rocks. Rocks in the morning, weeds in the afternoon. Yes, quite orderly. Of course, it was the same way he had done it the day before, and the day before that.
When he reached his field, he grabbed his wooden bucket and, in an effort to cheer himself, sang a little tune:
Rock in the bucket,
Rock in the bucket,
I must get them all,
Big ones, small ones,
Carry them over,
Put them on the wall.
Upon filling the bucket, he lugged it to the half-Inkie-tall stone barrier that separated his field from the next one. He scrambled to the top and carefully placed each rock securely, then returned to the field to repeat the procedure. This he did all morning, trying his best to think of nothing at all.
Precisely at mid-meal time, he paused his work. As he sat on the rock pile, he saw other Lomen in neighboring fields eating their food. Things were beginning to seem right and normal again. But Inkie knew that was just when another terrible thing might happen. Moments later, as half-expected, the second awful event occurred from out of the blue. It came in the form of a thought—a curious thought. Curious thoughts were strictly forbidden. Inkie trembled.
Oh fright! This cannot be! He tried to regain control of his mind. Perhaps I am only sick. Oh, I hope it is so. For I certainly must not be curious.
He felt his forehead to see if he had a fever. His skin dripped with perspiration, but wasn’t overly warm. His mind immediately jumped back to his childhood classroom where the Principower was telling all the young ones about the evils of curiosity.
“Those stray thoughts are from Enslaver himself—that being both his name and his occupation. Such thoughts will only do you harm. To think about things you should not is the first step in a process that will eventually lead you to an early grave. We, your Principowers, are watching you. If you have been thinking wrong thoughts, we will know. We can tell by the way you look. We will then have no choice but to deal with you severely.”
The Principower had all the young Lomen take an oath never to think curious thoughts. They’d gladly done just that, including Inkie.
After reliving that classroom warning, Inkie couldn’t help but think-speak, Oh fear! What am I to do? My life has been a commonly merry one up to this day, but now it is over.
He wondered if his looks had already changed. Reaching into his jacket, he pulled his mirror from its pocket. He studied his image closely, starting with his ears. All Lomen have ears as big as an open hand, which comes in handy while listening for scary noises.
Yes, they are both still there, but have they swollen? Or perhaps they have shrunken.
It had never been spelled out exactly how a person having curious thoughts would look. But Inkie knew it would be different from their usual appearance. He studied his thick mat of brown hair with the typical two narrow strips of gray running straight back from above each eye. Everything usual.
Nose next. First, its function. Inkie pulled in a deep test-breath. Weed flowers, a flock of aromatic birds, and something else—a fearful Loman. Oh sour, I suppose that is me. Inkie forced himself to continue the nose-inspection. He looked again to the mirror. The size? Perfectly common. Then he gasped. The nostrils—I may have more than before. He counted. One, two nostrils. He let out a relieved breath.
Then it must be my teeth. He grinned widely and numbered: eleven on the bottom, ten on the top with the normal open space in the center. Nothing unusual.
Then he saw it. Like all Lomen, Inkie had one eye with clear vision and one with cloudy. Both eyes bulged, only slightly, but equally.
My eyes! I do believe they are bulging more than usual. His body swayed. This time I shall surely faint!
What made all this quadruply frightful was that Inkie’s curious thought was about “the fence.” From where he sat, eating his mid-meal, he could see it, even though it stood far beyond the fields where the Lomen worked. He had glanced that direction a thousand times before, but he had never once been curious.
I know all I need to know about it, he tried to convince himself, all anyone needs to know.
Again he remembered a scene from a childhood class. A full-of-might, Principower voice boomed, “You may have seen from a distance, or heard of, the fence that surrounds our city and our fields. It is called the Fence of Protection. We, your Principowers, built it for your benefit. It protects you from Enslaver’s beasts, who take cruel pleasure in killing, and from his infiltrating spies. You are safe as long as you stay well away from it. Never go near the fence and never be curious about it.”
All the young Lomen had promised on their most prized possessions.
Oh spoil, Inkie thought-muttered as he began his afternoon toil. My little life is over.
He made sure to keep his back to the far-off fence. But, in spite of this prudent measure, Inkie’s body shook. He looked at his muscular arms. They are shaking like a bowl of tarmel fruit pudding!
The rest of the afternoon he worked at hoeing and at not thinking about—you know. And, of course, he did not sing.
I cannot sing being in this awful state. I must put all my thinking power into not thinking about what I am thinking.
At the end of the day Inkie delayed before returning to the village. That way all the others would be ahead of him and not see his face—now surely changed by his evil curiosity. But eventually he had to return to his home. And so he approached the town gate.
Perhaps I shall be most lucky and remain unfound out. Oh sour! To be that fortunate would be un-normal for me.
No sooner had he thought these words than he saw what he hoped he would not see, directly in his path.