Shireland

SHIRELAND

How all that is solid melts and things fall apart

And

How one small person can make a difference




By
Llyn De Danaan
2024







“Beware, all too often we say what we hear others say. We think what we are told that we think. We see what we are permitted to see. Worse, we see what we are told what we see.” Octavia Butler


SHIRELAND


How all that is solid melts and things fall apart

AND

How one small person can make a difference




The Small Person Introduced

A jaunty human creature, androgynous but clearly on the female spectrum, stepped lightly along though a seventeen foot-long metal extension ladder was hooked over one of her shoulders. The left one. She made her way across a swamp land, swampy land across which some thoughtful person had laid crisscrossed, slightly raised wooden plank pathways. Convenient in placement but slippery and layered with waverings of moss and algae.

She approached a verdant forest…or rather, grove. Approached and observed as she approached. She was not one to plunge right into anything. Certainly, no plunging from the iffy footing the path provided.

The trees in the copse were mammoth, many over 80 feet tall, and countless, dead or dead appearing with grey barkless trunks each sporting branches and on each branch there lingered a bundle of moisture that manifested as puffs of fog or small clouds and that gleamed silver in the sunlight from above. Not a fogbow but perhaps made of the same stuff. Behind all of these trees was a colossal mother tree …again, all grey and without bark but with the girth of a Roman coliseum …and its surface embellished with the holes of woodpeckers and raven and crow and other birds and the dwellings of squirrels, so many and so evenly spaced so as to appear much like the arches and columns that support the great coliseum. The massive tree was partly hidden by the smaller trees, each sparkling with cloudlets and drops of moisture…and each, as it turned out, appearing as bright as silver foil against the shadowy background that was the woods.

The slippery pathway led through the copse and then across a pond, bigger and grander than the previous swamp land. It was now definitely more pond than swamp. And a noisy pond it was with the heavy breathing of frog life and intermittent splashing and happy calls of bird bodies. The path ahead appeared to be covered with pond water but wasn’t. It was an illusion for the water came just to the edge of the path, from both sides, and did not actually cross it though the path for all the world looked as if it was about to be swallowed by water and the creature was certain she or he would be drowned or pulled below the surface.
The water, meanwhile, had no such intention and was content to sit and reflect both the massive and the smaller trees and the shimmering silvery fog bundles on their branches.

The little person, no more than four feet in height, was one of those otherworldly souls in perpetual exile, a wanderer, a nomad and a thinker among those who did not think.

She was always restless and enjoyed both symbolic and actual voyages. She wandered the globe with her ladder. She avoided cars and crowds. She took refuge in her thoughts and the accumulation of music stored in her brain.

Just as our heroine (for she is a heroine as you shall see) had come upon dry land again, she saw a very large, lorry-sized billboard that declared in large block letters that, “Shireland is Coming Soon!” A telephone number was painted below the note urging passers-by to call the number and order advance tickets.

The little person made an audible sound, Pfffwt, as she wrinkled her nose and spit.

Nevertheless, she followed the trail that led her into a green valley, in the direction of what appeared to be a Shire, and advanced towards its distant lights, ever sharp-eyed and light-footed

She rearranged the ladder, hiking it onto her other shoulder. It was a ladder that she always carried. It was a good ladder, an aluminum ladder that could extend, as we have noted, to seventeen feet. She wore a brightly polished hard hat. A hard hat, yet adorned with feathers and ribbons and even some fake fruit.

She muttered as she walked. She had been walking over and around and through several continents. She found that if she carried the ladder and wore a hard hat, she could go anywhere. No one questioned her purpose as she entered townships and city halls and amusement parks and museums and anywhere else that caught her fancy.

It probably helped that she wore a reflective yellow safety vest for thus adorned (ladder, hard hat and vest), she did not pay entrance fees, she rode trams, trains and buses free, she boarded ships with no inspection of ticket or passport, and even gained entry to the cargo holds of airliners.

Nobody, she liked to think, knew where she came from, where she was going, or what her name was. But she did have a name. It was Perq. When pushed, she spoke it quietly, so quietly that no one was certain what she had said.

Occasionally, on her travels, she invaded a restaurant kitchen in the middle of the night and made a huge batches of hand pies. These she packed carefully into buckets that could be hung from the rungs of her ladder by way of steel hooks, ten for a dollar and five cents, available at any of the remaining hardware stores on the planet. Buckets could be had there too. She preferred the lightweight plastic ones designed for beach sand play. Nobody played on beaches anymore so they were cheap.

The hand pies always sold. She could have collected and peddled mushrooms. She could have carried an inventory of nails and screws. Those would be popular. But she decided that hand pies would be a big hit among all Shire dwellers and such folk. She stuffed hers with things she could gather in the woods: mushrooms, blackberries, apples and plums from abandoned orchards, and the occasional nut…though most of these were gathered by squirrels before she managed to find them.

On the end of the ladder opposite the buckets she had lashed a well-used sleeping bag and a strip of moldy foam, meant to cushion the bag when she lay down for a sleep.

She wore an oilskin coat under her safety vest. It reeked of linseed oil but was so ancient that it let water through in places. She had sewn many pockets to the inside of the coat. The pockets, taped at the seams to be hole-free, allowed her to carry most everything else she needed. Yes, she looked quite round and hefty when the pockets were filled with her food and pop-up tent and change of underwear (seven pair/washed once a week), an extra Arran Island sweater, two pair of dark blue wool socks hand embroidered with moose motif, six Cliff Bars, a bit of toilet tissue and toothpaste too, a roll of duct tape, a small first aid kit, a jar of powdered Lion’s Mane, a pot of salve made of Devil’s Club and a bottle of elderberry syrup. She also carried a small refillable journal tucked into a silk, tasseled pouch. Of course, she carried an array of pencils, colored and plain lead, and two or three fine-tipped pens.

All she needed was carried in that coat and on that ladder.

When she didn’t need the hard hat, she doffed it in favor of her most beloved headgear, an old, brown, felt cap. It sported a woven band of many colors with a bright blue feather tucked into one side.

Behind her trotted a small but muscular dog-like he-animal that might have been a wolverine or part raccoon or maybe simply a dog. It was brown and white and black and had unusually animated, often folded, ears that seemed a bit big for its head. Its tail was a fan-like brush of brindled fur. She called it Dyamant. Moreover, the animal answered to this name. It was, when not on call, simply there, behind Perq, always watchful, prone to dash into woods or meadows, easily sidetracked by squirrels or badgers or even the sounds of Stellar Jays.

….

A Shire it was, certainly some ancient Shire. She could smell cheese and felt dozens of eyes peering from out the woods. A peculiar sort of paranoic gaze she felt. Happily, she left the swamps and ponds and woods and came upon a cobbled path and then a street made of the same stone stuff.

A Shire it was, marked Shire by the flag that flew above the crenelated top of a tall stone official-looking building. The flag sported the appliqued image of a wooly white sheep set against a black background and crossed by a stitched golden goose feather. That flag spoke all that was needed to be known about the Shire’s special status.

However, whatever its history, by the look of the cobbled streets and condition of the shop fronts, this was a Shire down on its luck but still the seat of some version of that which is called government. Some few blocks at some distance from the administrative structure were small stone houses arranged in neat rows and dissected and bisected by straight, tidy, paved pathways about five feet in width. These were better maintained than some other edifices closer to the Shire center.

There was, near the flagged building, a market center and a massive tower, 10 stories high, with a decorative clock placed at each of the four sides of the tower’s pinnacle. Out of small gaps above the clock face, small mannikins representing a man, a woman, and a goat, trotted into the open to celebrate the arrival of an hour. The mannikins were dressed in plaids and flannels and top hats. That is, the human ones were clothed. Long grey hair fell around their shoulders and each had large blue eyes and red lips. The goat was an ugly bearded billy and had a look of exasperation on its broad and greasy lips. If a mannikin could emit a foul smell, this one would.

The three little replicants screamed and hooted at the top of each hour. They hooted loudly enough that the population within the limits of the Shire proper and those at a distance of five or so miles hence could hear. They not only screamed but took turns sawing a tiny log held by a tiny sawhorse. They each, including the goat, held a handle of a cross-cut saw and moved back and forth never making any progress with the cut itself. At the half-hour, only the goat emerged. It surprised, always, with its blood-curdling bleat of sorts. It was so disturbing that it was said that when the Shire population was at its peak, babies choked on their oatmeal and grown men jumped a foot or two into the air. The goat’s racket (crying out from all four faces of the tower, it being the case that identical copies of the three mannikins stepped forth from all four faces of the clock) was amplified for no reason that anyone could remember. Perhaps some many years ago shepherds drifting off to sleep in distant glens needed to know when it was half past something.

The clock face itself bore overlapping wheels that told not only the time of day but month, year, reigning astronomical sign, and phase of the moon. It was a fully functioning astronomical clock probably dating from the 1400s and beautifully maintained.



The Shire was, in olden times, a center for wool trading buying and selling. Thus, the flag with sheep that displayed above the central building of the Shire. More evidence of the Shire history was seen in the window of every otherwise empty store. There were looms for sale or dusty skeins of yarn or other bits that go with the making of yardage and garments. There were mildewed shed sticks, rusty tapestry needles, and assorted combs and shuttles. All to be sold or tossed or placed on consignment.

The stores or shops themselves were gutted or half demolished yet seemingly being restored or replaced. Ladders, paint, rolls of insulation…everywhere were evidence of ongoing work. New construction.

Next to the clock tower was a six-foot tall, bronze statue of a lass and a shepherd dog, erected some fifty years earlier according to the commemoration on the plinth. The lass had a flute pressed to her lips and the dog carried a massive bone with a bit of bronzed flesh still hanging from it. The inscription on the polished commemoration plaque said that this lass was Maisy Mumpfert with her dog Blime. Maisy and Blime had famously dreamed of Shire matron Mrs. Miller’s toy poodle one night. In the dream, the little dog, John Hensertal, had come limping toward them from a burning house. Because everyone in the Shire engaged in dream telling over their breakfast tables and then shared dreams over coffee and buns at shops each morning, others had heard of the dream.

The day after the dream, as Maisy and Blime were out gamboling about with their sheep (for this was a time when sheep and wool and weaving were still valued and gamboling was a thing), they heard a quiet sob from the bushes near a stream and found little John Hensertal caught in an evil spring trap (meant for a bear or weasel) and grasped, he was, by the same leg that had been hurt in the dream. The bushes were, in further symbolic fulfillment of the predictive dream, surrounded by fireweed. Maisy and Blime extricated John and returned him to Mrs. Miller. They were lauded as heroes and honored with a six-day celebration in the Shire center. In her will, Mrs. Miller left money for the statue and a little more for the polishing and cleaning of it into perpetuity.

There was a church in the Shire, made obvious by its tall slate and copper-clad steeple and the large Celtic cross at its peak that announced its spiritual affiliation. It had been built on the site of a Neolithic stone assemblage and made, in part, from those stones.
….

Our heroine marveled at the statue of Maisy and Blime. Then she walked through the almost empty old Shire beyond the edge of the Shire proper, beyond where the cobbled streets and pathways stopped abruptly. She was searching for people and, to be honest, for customers for her hand pies.

As she and Dyamant walked further down the crooked lane, she began to see cardboard and scrap dwellings of sorts. She seemed to be in a kind of suburb of the Shire, a kind of refugium for the not-so-well-to-do of the valley. The homes of outliers. She began going door to door offering her hand pies, two for a dollar and six for four. It became clear soon that few in this neighborhood had money to spare for hand pies, but she was generous and slashed her prices over and over. These were poor folk. Why so in such an idyllic and rich seeming valley?

Evidence of their impoverishment was everywhere. Children were dressed in bits and pieces, scraps sewn together to make a semblance of a dress or a pair of trousers. Adults of all sizes and shapes wore scrappy aprons and smocks, most repaired many times, some with burn holes from the sparky fires they cooked on, and barely thick enough to keep their bodies from freezing in the interior of their flimsy homes. The sloping shelves above their fire pits were nearly devoid of food. Their cats, and they had a-plenty, were skeletal. For that matter, so were themselves.

What WAS on those splintered, fragile shelves? Among a few tins of condensed milk and bags of dried beans were pump bottles labeled “Sublimation Spray,” and jars labeled “Simulation Ointment.” What, Perq wondered, can these be?


In the far reaches of each house was an electronic screen that projected a never-ending parade of cartoonish characters racing small cartoonish cars over endless hills and into and out of cartoonish cities that were each named “Shireland.” These characters and cars made relentless sounds that never quite approached intelligibility. Even so, the screens were seldom blank nor were they ever silent. Householders seemed inured to the garble and senselessness that filled their homes.

Still, the people our heroine met were not beggars. This they said repeatedly and proudly or naturally dim-witted. “We were just fine only a few years past,” some declared to her. “In the old days,” they said, they, “had sheep and dogs and shepherds and their own teeth and gardens and pleasing stone houses in the town, houses that had been in the family for hundreds of years.” How did it come to this? They seemed not to be able to explain their present circumstances.

………

But we get ahead of ourselves.

What’s this all about, asked the rusty-haired fellow who stood at his door facing our heroine and her ladder and hard hat. His was one of the first doors she’d knocked. She was hoping to sell a pie or two. She was still an innocent and ignorant of the history of the Shire and these outliers.

Here, at this door, there was openly expressed suspicion. Not hard to understand as Perq came to know better what these folks had suffered.

All common sense was gone, Perq noted. All knowledge of science and all things historical and such absent. For example, each house she entered had a chart of the world tacked onto a wall. The world depicted was slightly flattened at the north and south poles (as we know them). The sky, in these drawings of the earth, was portrayed as quite low over each of these poles and swelled to a maximum around about the equator. This, the people believed, if called upon to explain these flat ends, accounted for dark seasons at each pole, the sky dropping so low as to obliterate any appearance of the sun. The middle of the earth, by this theory, had many more opportunities for big open skies and sunlight. Less oxygen at both poles, the outliers explained to Perq, accounted for shorter squatter humans with very big lung capacity and the presence of very white, and large bears….creatures who seldom had sun hitting on the fur. The people had darker skins, they explained, because they wore thick and heavy skins of animals and these skins protected the deep tans they had acquired from earlier residencies in relatively high sky areas of the world, those with bright sun year-round. In fact, they deeply believed that people in the far north had lived, before their move to the arctic and antarctic regions, somewhere along the central coast of Chile and had affiliations with peoples from all over the Pacific Ocean.

It was not clear to Perq that this had always been their accepted view of the world. The charts were new or fairly new and people’s accounts of them were delivered by in robot-like, halting voices.

Oh, the appliances. Shiny, nearly new, refrigerators and ranges were tossed in a heap back behind the scrapheaps people called their homes. The machines were useless once the power grid that fed the “suburbs” went bad, people told Perq. The people noticed the demise of the grid immediately because they had become accustomed to a persistent humming in the community, one that never stopped. And then it did. No more anything that relied on electricity worked…with the exception of the screen with the cartoony road chases. That somehow kept at it.

……

The rust-haired man stood at the door was called Aaron Swizzle Foot and a woman was living with him named Big Circle Beef Steak. She was held in some esteem and recognized as leader of the Shire outliers. She had six children, each a year older than the next. She had a large head and very large feet, but within the parameters of that head and surrounded by massive coils of golden red hair was an altogether unforgettable frame for a very big but beautiful face. She sported perfect rounds of bronze on her cheeks bones, and these full moon spots of color were surrounded by silky white skin. Her teeth were altogether brilliantly spaced and spotless. She had a sparkly set of sea green/kelp bed eyes. She was not so much older than three or so decades and had about her an air of authority, a command presence of one much older.

Her brood was fathered by Mr. Foot himself. He was a smallish, almost dwarf-like creature who dressed in purple satin pants and a rough smock with frills about the collar and wrists.

Aaron and Big Circle’s home was a bit better built than some of the others. They had rumbled through piles of debris at the Shire’s many construction areas and added to their finds from those forays with finds from midnight runs to the Shire’s dump site. They had salvaged, among other things, pastoral oil paintings, long since out of mode in the Shire but pleasant to look at and big enough to cover many cracks and gaps on the walls of their home. The paintings were framed in faux gold rectangles, some most elegant and worthy of the best homes. They found toilets and curtain rods and brass bedsteads and candle sticks and window frames and oh, so many useful hinges and lintels and even crates with lids still intact. Thus, as a result of their industrious expeditions to the dumps and their clever application of taste and talent they had made a lovely, though slightly off-kilter, home for themselves and their children with a spare room even for Perq. This was offered after Perq was questioned and her handpies sampled and the couple decided she could be useful as sometimes cook and sometimes child carer.

Her ladder was also welcomed. And her dog named Dyamant.

Windows, though.

Who wanted windows, really? The problem with windows is that things can look into them. And don’t most people cover them with curtains? And these outliers were already traumatized and mostly moving about in a stupor. It would be a further worry that someone or some monstrosity might be looking in at them through a window. So, though the window frames were useful, there were no actual windows in the house of Ms. Beef Steak and Mr. Swizle Foot.

…..

The outlier community had one small store. It was run by a grey-faced, bone-thin woman named Ethel who wore a dusty, faded hand-knit sweater with large pockets and dingy hair pulled back tight over her skull and fastened with a small, yellow bungee. Ethel reigned over an ancient cash register that weighed in the vicinity of fifty pounds. It was filigreed with nickel-plated fruits and vines and featured a marble cash drawer cover.


Six or several dogs of indiscernible parentage or breed stayed at her feet throughout her business day. A nylon fishing line ran from front to back along the store’s ceiling. In fact, three or four lines were criss-crossing here and there. On these lines hung rough tattings made by the hands of the Ethel’s long-time partner, Madge Simmons.

Ethel sold necessities of life for the outliers: tar paper, glue, duct tape, tarps (blue plastic), bungee cords, needles and thread, dog food, bolts of fabric, winter caps, saws and hammers, and nails and screws. The greatest inventions of the century, Ethel often said, was the bungee cord and blue tarps and the zip tie. She could not imagine a world without these. And they were big sellers. Once a month, Ethel did a demonstration of their many uses. She held forth from under the cover of the store’s front porch. Ethel’s demonstrations were looked forward to by the outliers. Ethel was inventive and entertaining.


……

The Shire outliers received daily messages on the big screens in their homes. These messages were meant to elevate their moods (away from thoughts of anarchy or rebellion should any of their minds break through the various invisible grips invisible forces had over them) and were disguised as tips for better health.

.Want to have more stamina? Move your flock. Research shows that moving your flock from hill to hill will extend your lifetime by 5 years. If you don’t have a flock (and no one did) get one (impossible). Or tune in to the daily “Flock Walk” on your portable messaging device. You don’t need a real flock. Slather yourself all over with Simulation Ointment and get ready for the time of your life.


. Eat a deck of cards worth of processed animal about once a month. A deck of cards is about the right amount of animal flesh needed to build muscle.

. Eat bitter melon every day. Go to Governmentwatch/562/December 20 for recipes and to order bitter melon seeds.


Along the walkways and roads that connected the wrecks of houses were “Inspiration Stations.” Each flashed a reminder of some kind. These reminders were changed regularly. “Get out and move your flock.” “Eat something you like.” “Be happy with your lot in life.” “Money is pointless and is not the meaning of life.” “Don’t forget to sublimate!!! For a happier life.”


Yes, there were other dogs. Dogs other than Dyamant and Ethel’s pets-at-feet dogs. But the dogs that lived with the outliers had an attitude. They believed everything that moved was not to be trusted. They were correct. Thus, they bayed and growled at the shake of a leaf. No outsider was welcome. Everyone was suspect. The scent of Perq’s hand pies helped them accept her presence. And Dyamant was having none of it when it came to the invitational growls that often greeted him. Dyamant was a mature animal, not easily distracted by annoying baiting. Thus, all lived together in relative harmony.

Was there no fun? Other than Ethel and her bungee cords? Yes. Once a week, when the weather allowed, there was a gathering in an open area. It featured song. Lots of song. After a time, Perq realized that the songs the outliers sang were individual family histories. Everyone in song sessions learned the songs and they served as reminders of their journeys and histories. These sing fests kept a semblance of a culture alive.

Yet, even as Perq took up residence, more and more Shire folk lost their old stone homes in the center and their meager savings and settled for living in the rough houses touted by brochures or constructing simple wooden shelters from limbs and cartons and bits of paper. They didn’t understand why.

……..
What had happened to the Shire?

It had begun innocently enough. The deposed householders, now confined to the outskirts of the Shire, had been visited by a home health nurse while still in their quaint but extremely comfortable Shire homes. This visit was unexpected. No nurse had visited before. Neither had any of the Shire-folk received “governmental services” formerly. Free? Odd, they thought, nothing came without a price. They gossiped about her and wondered.

She was a nice enough seeming woman. Neat, combed-back, product heavy, black hair held with a plain headband (made of some purple, velvety fabric), clean nails, smooth skin, and her skin a color lovely and brownish, a phenotype in every way meant to be relatable to by almost everyone in the world. She wore black laced shoes with a low heel and white stockings, nearly but not quite opaque. Her nursey uniform seemed standard issue: a snow-white button-up dress with collar and long sleeves, fastened at the wrist. Over her shoulders, she wore a pink, acrylic blend sweater. She looked the part of a nurse.

At each home, after introducing herself, she began with a series of questions, delivered from between smiling dark red lips (abit over lined giving her a pouty look) and unnaturally glittering white teeth. Her nursey watch, pinned to her uniform just above her left breast pocket, was consulted by her now and then as she made notes on the pad attached to her white plastic clipboard.

The first several questions were innocuous and to be expected from a home health nurse. What do you eat for breakfast? Do you eat breakfast? Do you sleep? How much? How often? Weights were taken on the nurse’s portable scale. Then blood pressure and oxygen levels.

But the questions turned sinister. What time is it? What day is it? What is your name? Whose house is this? Do you use an alias? Do you regularly beat anyone in your household? Have you ever committed a murder and gotten away with it…questions such as these. Unsettling.

She asked them each to stand on a bioimpedance scale and recorded weights, bmi measurements and various other details of each of the bodies living in each household.

After the questions, the nursey donned a full-face gas mask and rubber gloves and began rummaging about in a Gladstone bag that sat on the floor beside her.

The nursey continued to smile (we think) beneath her gas mask as she pulled a pair of oversized red clamps from the not-very well-cared-for wrinkled Gladstone. Could it have been made of elephant skin? It looked to be.

The clamps, that looked like the clamps used to jumpstart an automobile, were attached to long multi-colored wires that were themselves attached to a briefcase-sized metal box (also extracted from the Gladstone) that had a series of dials and levers on its top side. She placed the box on the table before her. She asked that each household member, in turn, remove shoes and socks and then she attached the clamps to their big toes. She flipped a switch on the device and a little whirring noise ensued.

The clamp procedure and its accompanying sound had a calming, almost sedative effect on the one whose toes were immobilized by the clamps. Thus mesmerized, the clampee was easily approached by nursey, with no objection, and small slits were made in each of their shoulders just over the bone. Into the slit and under the skin, she placed slim matchbook-sized, programmable chips then deftly sewed and taped the wounds. But not before she made a series of pokes on her briefcase device’s keyboard. These pokes, unknown to the householders, programmed the chips and rendered each householder thus treated controllable.

After each in the household was poked and slit, nursey asked each each to open wide. She inserted a tongue depressor/lifter and fitted a small, nearly invisible device that attached neatly under the gum to the root of a few molars. This was a dandy little instrument that allowed for a distant console to control the speech of the wearer by pressing a few buttons and pushing a few levers. The device could be activated as needed and could censor or dampen utterings. Sentences containing aggressive or regime-challenging speech were heard only if the listening console was slow or offline and it rarely was. The implanted device self-activated and muting of unwelcome speech was 99 percent effective.

While each householder visit was in progress, and while each householder was drowsy, the nursey inserted a sleep modifying pad into all the household mattresses. This device had a soft surface that was dotted with lights. These lights were activated remotely and changed the circadian rhythms of the sleeper. This pad gave the local administrators control of sleep and work schedules and led to increased productivity. The householders were to be a cheap and docile and very much needed labor force.


During the nursey visit and as the householders began to brighten a bit and wonder where their minds had been, the nursey woman declared that they were assured of neuroprivacy and gave them gifts for being willing participants in what they did not quite understand. This, dear reader, is called uninformed consent.

The Gifts

Each householder received an attractive wristwatch. Recipients could choose a band color. The “watch” body, unknown to the wearers, was fitted with a tracking device and a small microphone that could listen to all conversations. Ostensibly, and as described by nursey, this device was made for recording heartbeats, blood oxygen, and the number of steps taken daily. It was touted as a health-enhancing reminder for the wearer. This seemed a good idea. The nursey also distributed supposedly hallucinogenic-free bags of granola and lovely little stickers that could be placed on front doors. These stickers declared the household part of the “Activated” community of health-seeking outliers.

But why all this manipulation and subterfuge? Aha. The usurpers aimed to produce a vulnerable, dopey, cheap labor force to work any harvest and mill the local forests and to plant and spray huge crops of GMO corn and wheat that was for the benefit of the genetically modified cows, chickens and pigs in which the Shire usurpers had invested. These miserable animals, living cheek by jowl in long, timbered barns, endured their entire short lives being force-fed until a market-ready weight was achieved …then they were slaughtered by equally miserable outliers whose various devices sent messages that made it seem that this work was ethical.

The implanted devices also told the outliers that this difficult work was the only work each could ever expect to find, and the meager wage they received, mostly in chits to be used in shops owned by Shire usurpers, was the most any of them could hope for.

And more than that, much more than that, an elite corps of these laborers was to be trained to run the refurbished, reinvented central Shire.

Now that all the old stone and houses and shops had been acquired, the Shire usurpers were ready to move forward with a plan to create, drum roll: TA DA…. “SHIRELAND” a vacation theme park for wealthy tourists. It would, the usurpers predicted, have something for everyone. And would yield astronomical returns on investment.

Ah, it was a lovely plan and would encompass all of the historic region of the valley including the “untidy” natural wetlands and woodlands and all the shiny forests and all the flourishing ponds and all of the natural creatures therein.

In addition to the SHIRELAND central park, a group of condominiums would be available for year-round prosperous residents who valued the countryside, and small-town life without the cumbersome menace of reality.

……

There were, among outliers, some conservative holdbacks. Some there were who would not allow the nursey to enter their shabby homes. Some there were who held on to their integrity, privacy and pride. They were few but they were those who could almost smell the evil intentions of the nurse and anyone else sent from the Shire usurpers. And who WAS running the Shire? And why were they not transparent in their acts and intentions? Why did usurpers never appear nor anyone else in any official capacity, aside from nursey women.

Something was not right. Those who thought something was afoot insinuated as much during each encounter with other slightly conscious outlier householders. Insinuations poured from their pouty mouths and wrinkled lips. Insinuations were practiced in the mirrors of homes. Coded speech became de rigueur. Everything spoken between and among the holdout outliers was a thickly veiled suggestion regarding their predicament, an intimation of their captivity. Soon undertones colored almost everyone’s speech, and all speech became a slurry of what-ifs and maybes.

But nothing came of anything. It was as if their minds were wrapped in chains. The outliers couldn’t think clearly.

…..

How had this happened? How had the outlier householders at the edge of the Shire lost their ancient stone houses and the comfortable life they’d enjoyed for generations?

Some years before……

It had been a rough decade. Crops were not producing as they had and sheep pasturage was too dry to offer much. People could get by, but just.






One day, each little stone house in the Shire received a brochure, stuck in the door or dropped through the mail slot. The brochure advertised the plots of land just outside the Shire. The land, the brochure stated, was wooded but boasted of beautiful precleared garden plots and each plot was already provided with a lovely cottage with attached work sheds. This new development was affordable because one only had to relinquish the rights to their ancestral houses. That is, the rights to the stone cottage in which they lived. The stone cottage that had been in the family for generations. The stone cottage bore the history of the place. Its floors and walls and pantries and sitting rooms carried the stories of the ages and centuries of family lore.

BUT, the new houses, the people were assured, were up to date, equipped with the most modern of appliances and made of durable materials.

For reasons unknown to themselves, many in the Shire, all already subdued and modified by the nursey visit, thought that the brochure offered a wonderful chance. They walked to the address listed on the brochure and signed papers that most did not read. They packed up furniture and clothing and tools and themselves along with their few animals and moved to the plat and house assigned to themselves.

And thus it began.

At first, the suburb dwellers (as they were called before the term outlier was introduced) marveled at the smooth walls and soot-free surfaces. They loved padding around in socked feet on flat surfaces laid with carpet. They loved their coffee pods and glass top ranges. They liked the softness of their foamy beds and marveled at having heat that turned on at the touch of a button. They liked toilets with warm seats…seats that knew when to flip up and when to flip back down. They liked clocks that told them when to do what. They liked calling out to devices for updates on time and weather and world news. Everything was so clean and squeaky. And convenient.

Convenience: that glorious product of thousands of years of human evolution

They moved to the new houses, planted their little garden plots and enjoyed their bits of forest and visitations from forest creatures.
……

After the first storm (and storms had become many and unpredictable and ever more violent over the past few years), after that first storm, a few small problems arose. Nothing to really concern one. Several roofs, made of some poly-something material (not the thatch and wood of the stone cottages) began to leak. The poly-something turned spongey and was porous. Only small leaks at first, but then bigger ones. Hearty ones. Plops not drips, then gushes came from above and right into the living and sleeping areas of the house. Cracks in the smooth walls appeared. Floors buckled from flood water running under them.

And even worse: the gardens, once spring came, were ruined by an invasive species called Tibetan Singing Voles. These creatures, brought in by an innocent traveler as a breeding pair of songsters, escaped their cage and multiplied as invasive species tend to do. True, their songs at dawn and dusk were pleasant enough, but they ate vegetables from gardens even as the first sprouts appeared. There was no keeping up with them.

After the second storm, whole houses tipped to the side as the unstable land on which they were built, a sandy almost swamp land, gave way. The houses escaped their foundations, if foundations they could be called. Walls, complete with windows (for people enjoyed windows then) fell like playing cards. Roofs flew off and could be found sometimes miles away, sometimes whole. They were so lightweight that they flew as readily as would a sheet of cardboard.





Trucks appeared from nowhere. These were loaded with cases of plastic bottles filled with water, large and blue plastic tarps, tins of sardines and beef stew, and emergency medical kits for treating small cuts. The nursey also appeared and put herself in charge of distribution.

A few households were delivered of polyester sleeping bags and bags of second-hand clothing from thrift stores, all purchased for pennies by the Shire usurpers Most of the clothes were already stained and ripped here and there.

The outliers seemed unable to organize themselves to do anything about any of this. They were a muddle, often dizzy, listless, and truly pitiful. Conversations begun were never ended. Ideas expressed didn’t go anywhere. Nothing was fixed, no one thought to seek the persons in the Shire who had persuaded them to move to this better life. But wait. Who were they? All the now desperate outliers had seen were brochures. There was no one to whom to complain.

No one really knew what was happening. Or why. No one could get much at all straight. Well, one or two of the insinuators and holdouts had a pretty good idea. But they were helpless against the numbness of the vast majority of outliers who pitched blue plastic tents and built tiny wood fires and ate peanut butter and wore tattered pajamas.










SHIRELAND




All was ready. The blueprints had been long since completed. The free labor force was numbed and ready for additional programming.


Across every entrance to Shire Central was a huge arch under which visitors were required to walk. The admission booth sold tickets just under each arch. The arches were decorated with balloons and flashing lights and emblazoned in neon with block letters that spelled SHIRELAND. The ancient stone houses of the Shire had been tarted up for public consumption. Storefronts bore gaudy faux adverts for Shireland replicas, Shireland caps and tee shirts, Shireland Halloween costumes, Shireland puzzles and games, Shireland place mats and earrings, Shireland mouse pads and Shireland apps for phones. There were Shireland tea caddies and Shireland teapots. Really, as promised in Shireland adverts, something for everyone. And all priced to assure a good profit for the administrators.

Mass-produced faux wool sweaters were sold as handmade Shire ware. Faux wool caps from Hong Kong were available and sold as original Shire caps, locally produced.

Shireland accommodations included rental stone houses and luxury suites in a couple of stone hotels. There were even stone cottages available for year-round rentals. One could live a Shireland life, retirees were promised.

Some Shireland outliers were programed through their teeth implants and hearing aids and mattress pads and even glasses to act as living props. Some were chosen to demonstrate faux ancient weaving techniques, some were primed to dance ancient fake dances in the streets. Some were programmed to be vendors and to sell cotton candy and hot dogs around the central square. All the Shireland outliers, if not otherwise assigned, were programmed to prance around Shireland in faux traditional costume. They wore peaked felt hats, green ponchos trimmed with bits of natural wool yarn, and felted slippers with turned-up toes. The slippers were trimmed with cheap brass bells from India. Tourists invariably asked to pose with the outliers who were touted as “traditional” Shire dwellers. In fact, one could rent a Shire costume and have one’s photo taken standing next to an outlier.




A few outliers were programmed to offer donkey rides or to paddle guests through the tamed wetlands now populated with robotic frogs and electronic turtles and even a few electronic hawks. Some outliers were caused to draw attention to the mechanical animals and birds as they appeared in and over the swamps and bushes.

In Shireland proper one could watch a dramatized sheep shearing, pet a stuffed sheep, kill fake badgers with stones, and even have one’s fortune told. The most popular game was “Whack a Tibetan Vole.” These blameless voles were made to pop up from under faux earth and faux grass. Those who whacked three or more with one blow were given an inflatable Singing Tibetan Vole to take home. All of these excitements cost money. Tourists happily spent.










Shireland was open from 8:30 a.m. til 6 p.m. And the hapless workers were expected to perform during those hours.

Then they were released to go to their outlier homes and sleep and eat. This was their life.
……

Shireland. It made a mockery of the valley and its past. And it made the humans who had lived in the valley for generations into soulless, eviscerated creatures with no knowledge of what they had become. They each, in time, became disconsolate. Misery stalked them. Yes, they ate, they slept, and they became accustomed to living in their wrecked houses on former swamp land. They were proof that people can become used to just about anything.

But they had no will, no dreams, no imagination.

And thus, the “death strip.”

The nursey made “death strips” available for those who were exhausted and enfeebled by this life. The name “death strips” said it all. There was no idealized rainbow bridge or heaven or ivory-gated afterlife accounted for in the outliers’ post-Shireland worldview. If one was ill or simply tired of the repetitive nonsense of life in the Shire, one ordered the strips, or someone ordered them for you. They came in a box with a 15-day supply. One peeled the backing away and applied the strip to one’s upper teeth. The strips were to remain for thirty minutes, each day for fifteen days. While one’s teeth whitened (a side effect), a small dose of a death-inducing chemical was leaked into one’s system…through the tongue and gums and walls of the mouth.

A person using “death strips” became more and more indifferent to life but craved sugar, another side effect of the drug. There were no more memories or hopes or regrets. The stripper, as each death seeker was called, began to have lovely dreams, dreams she or he had been missing, and hallucinations of flower-bedecked hills and valleys, enormous hummingbirds, and frolicking Shetland ponies. Puppies sang and mules smiled. Irish tunes filled the air. By the fifteenth day of this reverie, one had eaten enough sugar donuts and drunk enough cognac, happily supplied by the nursey, to be fully ready to let go. It was no longer a conscious act, simply a move to the next glorious plane of existence or nonexistence.


…….

The Shireland usurpers and nursey had missed Perq. She blended in so well with everyone and everything that, even if seen, she was taken to be a worker tweaking this or attending to that and thus she had access to all the bells and whistles in Shireland. She had no implants and stayed away from the granola. She was as sharp as ever she had been and so was determined to save the lot of the outliers and the wetlands and the animals and birds and the trees. “Gee whiz,” she said to herself. “I can do this.”

It is not easy to be an outsider to outliers. Perq had done her best. She her little room and Dyamant was welcomed. She made her hand pies but now only as gifts and contributions to the food of the household and others in the outlier settlement. She continued to wear her own clothes and to blend in with the day-to-day lunacy of Shireland. No one questioned her and no one expected her to dance or weave or monitor donkey rides.

But Perq needed purpose. What, Perq wondered, could she do to reclaim Shireland and give the people back their humanity. She did not want to think of herself as a savior. But she still had a mind, a sense of right and wrong, and a belief in decentralization, democracy, natural, organic foods, the soul of animals, and a love of old-growth forests. She wasn’t a joiner, but she did try to do the right thing. It had taken months for her to question the outliers and draw out the story of the nurse, to discover the sleeping pads, to watch the automatons the people were…

A bit about Perq

Perq was born “Perquisite” to a band of hearty northerners somewhere in middle Europe or Asia or maybe Canada. Canada makes sense. She lived her early years in a small fishing village on the northern flank of Newfoundland (some residents there deny that they are a part of Canada)…somewhere around where cod used to swim and Europeans such as the Vikings (her ancestral tribe proven via dna) and John Cabot came calling. Perquisite, whose family lived in a little red house on a cove, was raised to be self-sufficient, to enjoy fish, to crave other lands, to welcome adventures, and to be kind. She had accomplished many skills at an early age because the cod were gone and the village homes were in ill repair and food was not easy to grow. Thus, she learned carpentry, gardening (in extreme circumstances) and a large number of folk tales and folk songs. She also learned to live with the rhythm of the tides, the ups and downs of life, the rage of the sea, and the knowledge of hunger.

She was taught that the most important things in life were:

Resistance
Subsistence
And
Persistence

These important concepts, these words to live by, were drummed into the malleable minds of all the children of her village from birth and reinforced in songs and stories. Without these qualities, the village would have died long ago or never been established…for the villages along that coast were regularly visited by hurricanes and icebergs and suffered through long periods when nothing grew. Nothing at all.

So it was from this perspective, the world view of Perq, that a plan would be devised.

She took out her notebook and an array of colored pens and began to sketch out a plan. A plan of resistance and liberation.

First: Observe details. Who is behind all of this? Where are they? How can I get access to these devils and the “brains” of Shireland.
Second: Devise a plan to destroy these devils.
Third: Prepare to dismantle all of the receivers, receptors, and other controlling machinery implanted in minds, bodies and homes of outliers. This will require disrupting systems. What are those systems and how do they control?
Fourth: Prepare the outliers to receive their own ideas again.

She knew she was on the right track when the barred owls began to hoot from deep in the forest and the raven croaked overhead and the eagle whistled from high above and the mighty coliseum tree out at the edge of the swamp rustled and shook and wakened all the creatures that lived within its arches and hollows and on its branches. She was tuning in to earth and goodness.

There would be a revitalization in the Shire and its surroundings. A movement toward liberation and a more satisfying organization of the society and culture. The people and the Shire had long suffered and lived in a distorted state. If they could be awakened, they would be ready for a new way of life, and, perhaps, a return to the best of the old way.

…..

It was March 31, approaching midnight. High in the clock tower in the center of Shireland there was an increasing and ever-so-irritating sound of grinding and whirring and clicks and bumps and Madam de la Phwy was more than disturbed as she attempted to sleep in her tower apartment just below all the mechanical this’s and that’s of the astronomical clock’s workings.

Her fuzzy white head, caught up in a large purple band, and her sequined black sleep mask, made her a sight to behold. She peeped up from under her satin, mauve quilt and so did her tiny chihuahua. Both were disturbed. Neither were very nice. “If,” she cried aloud, “If this tower were not such an attraction for Shireland I would have the damn thing torn down. But,” she mused, “This would be disaster for advertising.” An astronomical clock as old as this was a rarity and it had become a symbol of Shireland. Images and reproductions of the clock were best sellers in the gift stores of Shireland. People timed their visits to Shireland around the clock’s most significant movements.

No, the clock had to stand and she had to use the apartments in the clock tower so that she was well concealed and able to superintend and control Shireland from them.

Though she lived in a clock the size of two or three houses, one that had kept accurate time for 400 years, she kept a small replica of it on her nightstand and used that as her alarm. Again redundant because when the little manikins emerged and sawed their log and the bells within the bell tower rang with deafening belligerence, no one within six miles could have slept.

She was a genius, that was certain (she told herself). It was she who had devised the scheme to take over the Shire and create the multimillion-dollar spawn of Shire called Shireland. And in its tower she dwelled with her sister Iola(who posed as the menacing nursey) and her three men called Farmo, Lodger, and Solomon. These three men she had at one point or another in her life wed and now they were servants to her tenacious grip.

She had wealth, inherited, family wealth. She used this wealth to seduce and maintain an army of attendants. Many were beholden to her so that, with her three men and Iola, she had dozens of aunties and nephews and children and children’s children who were caused to serve her and Shireland. They delivered bottled water to outliers, for example. And blue tarps. But for most of the maintenance of Shireland, all she needed was her clever Iola, and her men, all bald, short and bearded and all comfortably familiar with the world of electronics, the digital world and the AI world. They could manufacture implants, wire the wireless, pull plugs, install switches, spy, create fake video documentaries and oversee construction sites. Their talents taken together could be called upon to build whole cities. Shireland was a snap.

She took care when climbing out of bed. She was hooked up to assorted IV and tubes with diverse plastic pouches each of which fed her vitamins, minerals, whole blood, carrot juice, and youth-stimulating hormones. She called upon nursey Iola to unhook her and empty her bedpan when she chose to move about.

The skin of her face was flawless, ageless, spotless, and not unlike the skin of a newborn’s buttocks.

So the stuff worked.

However,

She was what one might call enormous because she had been led to believe that she need do nothing beyond lie back and receive supplements to maintain her health.

Thus she reclined and thought and directed and supervised and slept as food in liquid form poured into her as nectar of the stars into a large polished vessel.

That she could still walk was a wonder. She resembled, when fully erect, a large ice cream sundae, all amelt and dripping not with chocolate sauce but with flesh and the folds of her red velvet night dress.

Her feet, which showed ever so slightly below her dress, were tiny and stuffed into pink slippers that featured rabbit ears and fluffy white tails. Her lipstick was glossy and of a shade to match her slippers. It was applied above the lip line. And her brows were drawn in, an alarming black arches well above her natural browline. Her jawline was mottled with pink slightly above her actual jawline. All of this drawing and raising, she believed, made her seem taller than her actual five-foot height.

As Perq would soon know, her adversary was brilliant but vulnerable. She did not need to overcome an army of bureaucrats and a corporate giant but only this woman, Madam de la Phwy. Stealing her makeup kit or even her blusher might be enough to bring her down.

When she would fall, as surely she would, so would nursey, and her men. And she could not help but fall because, indeed, she could barely move from bed to chair. And the tower bells were a looming danger to anyone sleeping in the rafter apartments.

Meanwhile, the various hands of the astronomical clock turned, the bells chimed, and Madam dela Phwy, known as Levity by those closest to her, rose with the help of ropes and pulleys, put on her red, diamond-studded glasses, and prepared to give orders.


………

Perq has an Idea


Signals. There must be signals. They must emanate from somewhere….and must send images to the television monitors and to the brains of the outliers and they must come somehow from a controlling entity or entities. The signals must be running the whole of Shireland and forcing the outliers to make utter fools of themselves.

The signals. “From whence? How can I find the source?” Perq asked herself as she pondered and drew useless diagrams in her notebook and made a lot of doodles representing possible connections between and among outliers and Shireland.

……

The horrible bleat of the goat from the Shireland clock seemed to grow louder and louder and the press of tourists and the fumes from their cars and the gaudiness of the whole enterprise depressed her. Even Dyamant seemed ill at ease. Dyamant was always chipper. Thus his change in behavior was troubling.

“Signals. Who is good at finding the source of signals?”
She wondered. “Not elephants. Not necessarily deer. Moles were helpless and were often zapped in their tunnels because they missed the hssssss of the electric traps set to kill them. Cows bumped into electric fences. They never thought to dismantle them. Mosquitoes flew into monstrous killing machines and died. Pigeons got caught up in windmills that were built to produce energy.

Then she thought of Raven and Crow. Ah!!
…….


Crow and Raven lived in the forest. Whole families, generations of them, were raised in the great mother tree. Perq was certain she could befriend them and ask for help.
Peanuts. Peanuts were a sure sign of friendly intentions. And maybe a few beads. Crow and Raven responded always to a peanut gesture. And loved a bead or two. These would be Perq’s entry to the trust of signal-seeking Crow and Raven friends.
Two corvids volunteered. At least, they were the first to come fetch peanuts directly from the hand of Perq. Her right hand. These peanuts were in shells and each corvid, in turn, weighed each before choosing which to eat first. The heaviest was always chosen. Perq noted this and took it as a sign of the covids’ ability to think and reason.
Perq knew her research. And she knew corvids up close. These smooth-brained creatures are more than intelligent, they possess a consciousness not entirely different from that of humans. The peanut test was just an extra precaution. She wanted the best and the brightest.
Once her ally birds had been recruited, they were put through a series of tests with the screens and other devices in outlier houses. They were asked to nod if they were picking up a signal. Yes, yes, they both said. Yes, there is a signal and we can read it. They peered into the mouth of outliers. They examined mattresses. They took a close look at the gift watches.

All were emitting or receiving signals.
They could not identify the source instantly. They had to calculate the distance across which each signal traveled, ie its range, and the density of the air through which it traveled as well as any obstacles the signal had to overcome. The corvids had to account for the amplitude, intensity, and concentration of the signal. All this had to be figured without the use of calculators or notepads and pencils or even slide rules. But the corvids didn’t blink an eye and took to the task with apparent glee.
The answers came slowly. It was days if not weeks of watching screens, inspecting wires, looking behind the screens, and visiting various outlier homes to view a variety of screens and matteresses and mouths and study the various probable angles along which the signals traveled.
Can you follow it to the source, Perq asked after a long time had passed and many bags of peanuts had been emptied.
Yes, we believe so. the corvids answered in unison.
“Perq,” they said, “we are ready to fly to the source.”

“Then,” my bird friends, Perq said. “Guide me, if you will be so good to do so.”
The birds, now called Cocoa and Coffee for no good reason, took flight. No hesitation. They simply flew out a door, the one conveniently was open across from the screen they had recently assessed, and mounted to the sky.
Perq grabbed her ladder and a tool kits and ropes and hooks and other bits that might come in handy and followed. It was not easy for a four-foot-tall being to run with a seventeen-foot extension ladder. And ropes. And a tool kit.

And Dyamant was being silly. He had grabbed his favorite ball, thinking this was a great game, and dropped it, repeatedly, at Perq’s feet while she ran after the birds. She was obliged to kick the ball. Frequently.
And, so they proceeded: Dyamant giving chase to ball all along the route.
The birds obligingly cried out often so that Perq could follow. Well, crow called. Raven rumbled and grumbled and rattled and pattered.
They were easy to see, those dark shapes overhead, one with the v tail, one with the flat. And they contined to call and chortle and chatter and hum
Onward the birds flew.
Over the trashed houses of outliers, over Ethel’s store, beyond the pig pens and through the eastern most archway of Shireland. Over the steeple of the church and the tourists and the “Whack a Tibetan Singing Vole” game and the fake swamp ride and over the heads of tourists and…..
And then….they landed on the peak of the clock tower.
The clock tower! Of course, thought Perq. The center of everything. Of course, this is the source of the signals that control the whole of Shireland and all the outlier people, thought Perq.
….
The Source
Perq removed the buckets of hand pies from the rungs of the ladder and extended it. She began the climb up the north face of the clock tower. It was twenty minutes to one. She knew the little mannikins would emerge from an open door above the clock face at one sharp.. Her plan was to grip the goat by its horns and thus be drawn with it back into the bowels of the tower after their announcement of the hour.

Crow and Raven sat on the ledge near the clock face looking down and cheering her on. They were very excited. So was Dyamant, who tried to climb the ladder but had to content himself with whining and foraging in the hand pie bucket.
A seventeen-foot ladder, fully extended, put her only about 6% up the face of the tower. Of course, the bottom of the clock face, about 10 feet in diameter, and the balcony just above it, from whence the mannikins emerged to saw and the goat to bleat, jutted out at about 200 feet. Or more. The seventeen-foot ladder counted for very little of the journey. Luckily, she had climbed many masts at sea and had scaled mountains all over Asia and Europe. She would use her rope and climbing skills to reach the clock face and balcony. The stones of the face of the tower were uneven and there were here and there small ledges and notches and crevasses carved into the blocks where the ashes of saints and such were placed. Little sculpted angels and bronze plaques were scattered on the face. All of these provided footholds. She threw her rope and hooked it to out-jutting stones. Over and over. She made the ascent carefully, slowly but surely. And thus, above the face of the clock, itself as tall as a story of a house, she reached the sizable balcony where she sat breathing and waiting, crow and raven now by her side, for the two or so minutes at which time the wooden people and the goat would come forward.


….

It didn’t take long to dismantle the tools of oppression and to banish the silly woman and her trio of groveling accomplices. They had no armies. They had no weapons. They had systematically shackled the people of the Shire with fun and games and promises and mesmerizing appliances and hoohaws. Once those were taken away, the people were free. Well, sort of.

It was easy to close the tourist shops, remove the shabby arches, and release the Tibetan Voles from their ridiculous duties.


But the brains and blood and deep structures of the minds of the people had been invaded and corrupted by all the machines and signals and devices. So revitalization would be a long hard job……


Revitalization


Ah, the joy of return. The outliers were confused but suddenly clear about one thing: they could go back to their stone houses, back to the village proper, back to their lovely old community. And they began the restoration.

The restoration meant tearing apart the shoddy, vulgar bits of “theme park” that shamed them. Florescent and neon lights were banned. Ugly plastic replicas of sheep and stone cottages were bagged and carted away.

Real sheep replaced robot sheep and real dogs were let loose to shepherd them. Voles, traumatized by the part they were caused to play in Shireland, were offered services, fed well, sung to and given heartfelt apologies for any negative thoughts outliers had held about them.

Perq encouraged villagers to gather about the clock tower and reclaim it for themselves with song and dance and storytelling.

The usable parts of outlier houses were salvaged and moved to sturdy land. There, small huts for travelers were constructed. Anyone passing by was free to use the huts.

One day, an old woman who had salvaged a broken loom from a pile of refuse, mended it and began to weave. At first she was very slow and searched and searched for yarn with which to weave. Then she remembered that long ago her mother and grandmother had spun yarn from the fleece of sheep. She dug further into the abundance of discarded, broken objects that still littered the outskirts of the Shire. She found a spinning wheel. It, too, needed repair. She worked at it. Then sheared one of her own sheep, carded, and spun the wool.

It seemed almost a miracle. Other women and men decided to weave. They began to build looms..looms of all sizes. They built spinning wheels. They collected dyes. And they made beautiful cloth and from that cloth made clothing and blankets and curtains and rugs and dish towels and everything in the stone cottages was beautiful again.

The Shire dwellers met nightly around the clock tower and told stories about Perq and Dyamant and the heroic raven and crow and made up a lot of what they said and took up a collection to build a monument to honor their heroes. And it didn’t matter that they got things wrong and gave Perq outrageous qualities that she didn’t actually possess. The stories got longer and better with each telling.

Perq was gone. Perq had done the right thing. Perq had been their hero. And it happened, one morning, not long after the Shire dwellers had returned to their stone houses, as they gathered in the square for coffee and rolls and gossip, Perq was not to be seen.

During the night, Perq, the world traveler, had taken up her ladder and her buckets and her hats and all her other tools and called her dog and off they went.

The bleating goat that emerged from high on the clock tower still caused people’s hearts to stop.















About Llyn De Danaan

LLyn De Danaan is an anthropologist and author. She writes fiction and nonfiction. Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman's Life on Oyster Bay was published by the University of Nebraska Press. She is currently a speaker for Humanities Washington.
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