Welcome to a quick look at Scrawling by author Jonathan Gould. I’ve had Jonathan on previously when he had a book tour for his previous book Flidderbugs, I’m pleased to share his latest. A short story which is on sale for a dollar on amazon.
Before setting off into the coral reef, Neville thought he should check again on the marks from his encounter with the Snark. He was a little concerned to see that the words were still there, inscribed all over his body. And rather than fading, they actually seemed to be slightly clearer than before. He tried not to be too worried. After all, there was a whole new world here to explore. Surely, these marks weren’t going to cause him any long-term harm. So, with a couple of hesitant steps, he entered the coral reef.
Instantly, Neville found himself immersed in a truly extraordinary landscape—or to be more precise, wordscape. All about him, the marvellous arrangements of words were almost beyond description. Long, shimmery word fans fluttered like feather boas. Twisty, windy word-chains wrapped around themselves in complex, tangled knots. Short, stout words piled one atop the other, constructing sculptures of endlessly detailed design.
Half walking, half swimming, and half floating, Neville made his way through the reef. He hopped from rock to rock, being careful not to dislodge any of the remarkable features on display and to avoid the fluttering tentacles of sea anemones. Having already experienced the verbal barrage of the Snark, he knew words could sting.
The fish of the reef circled and darted all about, quite oblivious to the visitor in their midst. The swirling of their colourful bodies and the fluttering of their fins and tails against the multi-hued coral of the reef produced the most wondrous effects Neville had ever seen, like the workings of an abstract artist throwing whole tins of paint across a canvas.
Enjoyable as this exploration was, Neville soon found himself in sensory overload and in urgent need of a rest. Finding a place where he could sit safely amidst the delicate coral posed a bit of a challenge, but eventually he found a quiet spot underneath a rocky overhang. It provided just enough space for Neville to spread his legs and relax.
Slightly hidden away from the main part of the reef, Neville found that the fish were content to leave him in peace. But after a while, one fish poked its head around the rocks and eyed him warily.
This fish differed quite significantly from the other fish in the reef. While the other fish were bright and colourful, this one was a rather drab shade of greyish brown. And while the other fish were unusually shaped, with fronds and crests and long dangling fins, this one had a rather uninteresting dumpy shape.
After observing Neville for a minute or so, the fish swam up to him.
“You’re not from here,” it said in a rather dry and uninteresting voice.
“No, I’m not,” said Neville.
“What do you think of it?”
‘Think of what?”
“That lot out there.” The fish indicated with a fin back towards the brilliantly bustling coral reef.
“The coral reef? I think it’s beautiful.”
The fish turned its nose up and made a kind of sniffing noise. “You think it’s beautiful?”
“Oh yes, I do. It’s one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen.”
“Oh,” said the fish, with barely concealed disdain.
“You don’t think so?” said Neville.
The fish made a strange sort of gesture which, had it possessed shoulders, might have been taken for a shrug. “It’s all right I suppose. Just a bit on the noisy and crowded side for me, that’s all.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Neville.
“And far too bright as well. After a while my eyes start to hurt. But it’s really not a big deal.”
“That’s too bad.”
“And did I mention that the sharp edges on the coral hurt my fins. And the water gets so bubbly, it makes my gills pop. And as for the fish here, they think they’re so superior, just because they’re pretty and colourful.”
“Then what are you doing here?” said Neville, a bit annoyed by this fish’s somewhat grating manner.
“Just felt like I wanted a change. You don’t want to see the place I’ve come from.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Where do I begin? It’s dark and gloomy.”
“But you were complaining about how bright it is here,” said Neville. “Wouldn’t dark and gloomy be an improvement?”
“Just because I don’t care much for bright and colourful doesn’t mean I have to be a big fan of dark and gloomy,” said the fish. “And besides, I hadn’t finished. Can I also say that there are hardly any other fish there. I tell you, a fish can get so lonesome on its own.”
“But you said it’s too noisy and crowded here,” Neville protested. He was starting to understand why the other fish steered clear of this one.
“There’s nothing inconsistent about that. I can dislike too many fish just as much as I dislike not enough. I can also dislike the fact that it’s dirty and muddy, and the food is abysmal, and there’s nothing at all that might qualify as entertainment. Not to mention—”
“Complain a lot, don’t you,” Neville interjected.
‘I beg your pardon,” said the fish.
“You complain a lot, don’t you,” Neville repeated. As he spoke, he adjusted his legs. His little nook seemed slightly tighter than before.
“What else am I supposed to do?” said the fish.
“What do you mean?”
“What else am I supposed to do except complain? I’m a Carp.”
“You’re a what?” said Neville.
“I’m a Carp,” said the fish again. “We complain. We gripe and we groan and we criticise and complain. That’s the whole point of being a Carp. Look closely if you don’t believe me.”
Neville made a closer inspection of the Carp. Sure enough, like all the other fish, it was made out of words. However, this Carp wasn’t made up of brightly coloured, fanciful, and imaginative sorts of words, like the other fish on the reef. It was composed entirely of complaining words and criticising words.
“Is that the only reason you complain and criticise?” said Neville. “Because you’re made out of complaining and criticising sorts of words?”
“All right, so maybe that’s not the only reason,” said the Carp. “Let’s face it, there are so many things to complain about in the first place.”
“But there are lots of things not to complain about as well,” said Neville. “If you made a little effort, I’m sure you could start to see the positive in the things around you.”
“If I made a little effort,” said the Carp doubtfully.
“Just a little effort ought to be enough. There are so many wonderful things to see here, you’re sure to find something.” As he finished, Neville pulled his knees up to his chest. It was getting really cramped in there.
“All right, if you say so.” The Carp pursed its mouth. Its fins began to quiver and its eyes began to bulge. After a few seconds, Neville began to get concerned.
“Are you all right?”
“I have to say, I’m finding this to be quite a bit more than a little effort.”
“I’m sorry,” said Neville. “I just thought—”
“I also have to say that not only am I not finding anything positive in the things around me, I am also finding a number of things distinctly more negative than before.”
“I was only trying to help.”
“My eyes feel like they’re about to explode, my rear dorsal fin is decidedly shaky, and my gills have totally run out of puff.”
“Look, I’m sure if you just—” Neville didn’t get to finish his sentence, partly because the space in which he was confined had become so tiny, it could no longer contain him, but mainly because he had just realised what made it contract so dramatically.
It was the words of the Carp. Every time one of these carping, complaining words struck the rocks that defined Neville’s little nook, it made them shrink a little. It was as if this endless criticism, this constant belittling of the things all around, was actually making those things just that little bit smaller and duller and less appealing.
Neville had to struggle to extract himself from his tiny cubby-hole.
“Where are you going?” the Carp called after him.
“Somewhere else,” said Neville. In truth, he didn’t know himself, but he had to get away from this miserable Carp. In a place where words could combine to create the most wonderful and incredible world imaginable, he didn’t want to spend any more time listening to words that could only do the opposite.