by Deren Hansen
The sundial in the wabe showed four o'clock. I was thinking about what to broil for dinner—not many options, the cupboard was bare—when the mop I grabbed squawked.
I hate borogoves—miserable birds.
This one, its thin, wheedling voice more annoying than usual, said that while the feeling was mutual he needed me to do a job—seems he and his fellows were all mimsy.
A job's a job—and broiled borogove eggs are pretty good, if you hold your nose just right.
The borogoves' rookery was overrun with raths—mome raths my erstwhile employer assured me, because the green pigs certainly didn't belong in his neighborhood.
I hate raths, too.
Oh, they're cute enough until they outgrabe—something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of a sneeze in the middle— and this lot were in full chorus. I could see why the birds were angry.
The borogove ruffled his already disheveled feathers. “Are you going to do anything about these things?” he asked as he aimed a kick in a particularly vocal rath nearby.
I was anxious to leave. “Let's find out why they came.”
It wasn't hard to follow the rath spore—they'd stampeded into the borogove rookery. A short stump over hill and through dale brought us to a tumble-down rath farm.
An old father—William was his name—rocked on the porch, grinning and humming to himself.
“Oh, the cheer,” grumbled the borogove, “it's more than I can stand.”
“Your raths, they’re mome,” I said, trying to be personable. It didn't come easy. “Why did you let them get away from home?”
William opened one eye wide and squinted at me through the other. “They didn't get away, but were driven, I say.”
His fences were down and there were some awfully big claw prints in the mud of the rath pens.
“Driven?” I took a half step back.
The borogove pressed his beak into the small of my back. “Remember, we have a deal,” he said.
Someday I'll learn to ask more questions before taking a case.
Father William jumped up and thrust his nose between my eyes. “Beware the jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!” He thumped my chest with his pudgy index finger. “Beware the jubjub bird, and shun the frumious bandersnatch!”
I clapped my hand over my eyes and pulled it down my face. “Where's young William?” I asked, even though I knew the answer.
The old father chortled. “He took his vorpal sword in hand!”
“We've got a quester.” I growled at the borogove. “My fee just went up.”
“Long time the manxome foe he sought,” Father William called after us as I sprinted up the old forest path. The borogove flapped along glumly beside me.
It wasn’t hard to follow Young William’s trail. All the pine, ash, birch, and larch, within easy reach of the trail, and about the same diameter as a fat neck, had been felled or cloven with a single vorpal stoke—the sort of thing that makes a young man cocky enough to forget that a jabberwock isn’t as polite as a tree when it comes to standing still for a beheading.
I pushed on as fast as I could, but each severed tree we passed whittled away my hopes of finding Young William before he was nothing more than a red stain on the bottom of a bandersnatch’s foot or something a jabberwock might try to pick out of his teeth with the vorpal sword.
At long last we came out of the wood and found Young William standing under the lone Tumtum tree in the middle of the meadow, rubbing his chin and entirely lost in thought.
I didn't care a fig for his uffish thought and was about to give him what for when the borogove croaked.
There was something burbling through the trees at an unnerving clip.
I grabbed the miserable bird and ducked behind a stout oak as the jabberwock, with eyes of flame, came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
The boy just stood there as the beast crashed into the open and roared half the leaves off the Tumtum tree.
I couldn’t stand it and shouted, “Hey you idiot—”
That shook Young William out of his reverie.
It’s also, apparently, the worst possible thing to say to a jabberwock.
“If you need me,” the borogove squawked, “which shouldn't be for much longer, I’ll be in the Tumtum tree.”
He flapped away, a blur of feathers and impossibly long legs, as the jabberwock swung toward me.
“One, two! One, two! And through and through!” Young William shouted. Suddenly he and his sword were everywhere, and then the vorpal blade went snicker-snack.
The jabberwock never stood a chance. It was all over before the borogove reached the Tumtum tree.
“Thanks mate,” the lad said between ragged breaths.
“You distracted it.”
I poked the carcass a few times. There was definitely one less jabberwocky in the tulgey wood tonight. We left it dead, and with its head we went galumphing back.
“And, hast thou slain the jabberwock?” Old Father William cried as we marched up to his hovel with the severed head of the beast. “Come to my arms, my beamish boy! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” he chortled in his joy.
I elbowed the borogove. “They'll round up the stray raths in no time. Now about my payment?”
The borogove sighed and shook his head. “Strictly speaking, Young William solved the actual problem.” He ruffled his feathers and tried to look glum. “I'm not sure your fee is appropriate.”
I hate borogoves.
It took the better part of the next day—and the assistance of both the walrus and the carpenter—to get things sorted out to everyone's mutual dissatisfaction.
Back at my wabe-side office, I looked out at the sundial. T'was brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe—always a bad sign ...