- Gummo Trotsky, LP
The Call of the Mild
A Science Faction About The Inner Workings of the Department of English
By Tim Train
A middle-aged man named Neat sat at his desk in an office in the Department of English. He had sat there for so long that parts of his body were rumoured to have become fossilised; and his receding hairline had receded out into the hallway and down the stair. Mr Neat had a red pen in his right hand, and with his left he riffled through pages of official documents, occasionally making marks in them. At random intervals, he would fold up a word and put it in a subjunctive case, and sometimes, he would pick up a participle and pass it on to his secretary, Ms. Amber Prism, who sat a little way away by the window, tucking the participles into envelopes.
It was autumn in the office. A gentle breeze wafted through the Manila folders on the shelves. A flickering fluorescent globe cast a lucent, milky glow upon the office. Neat surveyed the room through his glasses, or, it may be more accurate to say that he surveyed his glasses through the room. Not a comma or dash was out of place.
Suddenly, as often happens in such scenarios, and without warning, a young man named Burst did just that into the room. His eyes were wild and his hair was absolutely ridiculous; he stood there, haloed, in the doorway for a few moments, shaking his head this way and that before striding to the desk.
He was just about to live up to his name again by yelping out a few urgent words at Neat, when his elder officer (and better in every way but two) quick-wittedly began the conversation with a long and thoughtful pause.
"Now, Burst,"continued Neat smoothly, after he had counted all the ellipsis in the pause with his customary precision, "What can I do for you?"
"Terrible new!" hissed Burst. With these two words and no more, he slapped down a telegram on Neat's desk that indeed verified what he had been saying:
TELEGRAM---TELEGRAM---TELEGRAMLeaping from his chair with the dramatic intensity and inrush of air to be expected from a man who had not leapt from his chair for decades, Neat cried with alacrity, "Ladies and gentleman! To the Examination Department! This stop must be filled!"
TERRIBLE NEWS STOP
HAVE RECEIVED REPORTS FROM THE EXAMINATION DEPARTMENT STOP
APPARENTLY AN ASSISTANT SECRETARY IS RUMOURED TO BE PERPETUATING OUTDATED MARXIST IDEOLOGY EXCLAMATION MARK
NOT ONLY THAT COMMA BUT SHE IS APPARENTLY COMMUNICATION USING TEXT MESSAGES TRIPLE EXCLAMATION MARK
SHE MUST BE STOPPED STOP
"Er ... don't you mean that this fool must be stopped?" queried Burst.
"That also!"snapped Neat from the hallway. "Now hurry up, man!"
At the bottom of no particular stairwell and a few offices, an arrow, and a parenthesis to the right of that was a medium-sized office with the label 'Educational Progress Department' on its door. As you might expect of places with the word 'Progress' on their door, all was quiet and calm inside. In the shadows in the far corner sat a young man who perhaps held the position of the assistant to an assistant to an assistant. His feet were up on his desk, and he lazily wrote love letters on tiny slips of pink paper which he would then roll up, tie to the leg of one of the pigeons he kept handy in his desk drawer, and send it to the the girl diagonally opposite him. This bored looking girl spent her time stretching one leg out from behind the desk and arching it in the air. When she received the message from the man opposite, she would pick a pair of flags up off her desk and send the young man semaphore messages. In a day or two, the couple expected to move on to blowing kisses to one another.
Across from the young man, on the other side of a window which looked out upon the outside of another part of the Department of English, sat an accountant. His job was to do nothing, and he did nothing badly. Right at the moment, fired with revolutionary zeal, he was busy chiselling a revolutionary Trotskyite tract onto several tablets of stone which he planned to hang upon on his superior's door by the end of the day.
His message, so far, read:
FRIENDS! COMRADES! COVNTRYMEN!Into this quaint shadowy corner of bureaucracy arrived, with no trumpets and less fanfare, the gauntly heroic figure of Neat, closely followed by Ms Prism and Burst.
ARE YOV TIRED, OF LABOVRING VNDER THE YOKE OF SERVITVDE? ARE YOV TIRED OF ENDVRING THE ORD
Neat surveyed the inactivity and nonprogress in the room with pleasure. This was exactly the way mispent youth should be mispent, he instinctively felt.
In three terse lopes, Neat stood amongst them all. He waved Burst's telegram eloquently above his head.
"Friends!" he cried. "Do not be alarmed - but there may be a Maoist amongst us!"
The young man in the far corner immediately desisted from tying his latest message to his pigeon - the girl diagonally opposite immediately placed her flags down from the desk, withdrew a stockinged leg back into her skirt, and folded her hands in her lap - and the incipient Trotskyite looked up amongst the falling marble dust and seemed to grow smaller and paler. He may have been a Trotskyite, but he didn't mean anyone any harm, really.
Having their attention, Neat continued to outline the details of his communique, noting that the criminal was supposedly in the Examination department (here the Trotskyite accountant breathed a sigh of relief). He concluded with a few customary rhetorical flourishes, exhorting the denizens of this little office to give directions and aid so that this subversive Maoist could be found - for the good of the Department! - and eliminated!
You could have heard an apostrophe drop in the silence that followed this speech. The accountat looked as if he was about to burst into applause, but had forgotten how. Eventually, the girl who had until then sat by the door unnoticed cleared her throat, and announced,
"I believe, Mr Neat, that you will find the Examination Department two floors down and to the side ..."
Neat acknowledged this vital information with a rapid nod, lasting no longer than a mere minute or three. Finally, he picked up the tablet the accountant had been carving, chided him for an errant comma, and turned on his heel.
With a peremptory stride, Neat, Prism, and Burst exited the room ...
With a speed positively alarming to bureaucracy but scarcely noticeable in the outside world, our heroes raced through the building on their mission. They scarcely had time to acknowledge - although Neat certainly noted with pleasure - the occasional educational officer clutching scrolls of papyrus, or billet doux, or tapestry versions of James Joyce. He only wished that he could stop to correct the occasional spelling mistake. Downwards they went, into the bowels of the building; the fluorescent globes flickered with a slower and slower rate, timing themselves with the circumambient rhythms of the body; even the shadows grew shadowier. In these infernal regions of the Department, only the most bold bureaucrats would dare to venture. It was rumoured that here, years ago, the first infinitives had been boldly split and where colons had first been turned into semi-colons. Now, however, they were merely inhabited by governmental underlings - the result of decades of depredation to a once proud public service; an underclass of bureaucrats who spent their time mostly sending smoke messages to one another.
Neat, Prism, and Burst drew handkerchiefs to their respective mouths and pressed on.
Eventually, they burst through the smoke messages and came to a door labelled with a simple message:
EXAMINATION DEPARTMENT.Beneath this message was writ another.
ABANDON HOPE, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE.Beneath this, a third.
OH, ALL RIGHT, COME IN IF YOU HAVE TO. JUST WIPE YOUR FEET ON THE DOORMAT BEFORE YOU DO.Neat shuddered at the dreadful import of these few short words. Turning and nodding briefly to each of his companions, he placed his hand on the doorknob, wiped his feet on the mat, turned the doorknob, pushed the door inwards, adjusted his eyes and his glasses to the view inside ...
... and SCREAMED!
It is not every day that a well-dressed, careful official from the English Department has to face up to a room full of Maoists. Normally, all he has to deal with is the occasional Marxist and Trotskyite, which is as it should be. However, what met Neat's eyes that day was worse than anyone could have imagine; a roomfull of subversives, bent double over their mobile phones in a sweatshop-like atmosphere, frantically texting Maoist tracts to one another. On Neat's scream, they turned as one, and waving tracts of Mao's lesser-known masterpiece, the LITTLE READ BOOK, in their hands, advanced on the small band of brave comrades.
Grinning, ghastly, ghoul-like, the Maoists descended on the small band of public servants. Soon, all too soon, this red tide would swarm over and engulf the brave band, and the revolution to take over the English Department would begin!
Resourceful as ever, Neat rapidly grasped a nearby hyphen and armed his comrades with an asterix and a bracket that he saw hung on the wall. Wordlessly, this band slashed at the oncoming red tide of Maoists, subduing them and earning a place forever in the annals of bureaucracy!
It took them several days to subdue the last of the Maoists, but when they had done, Neat and Prism and Burst rounded up all their bodies and threw them, one by one, onto a funeral pire (which, of course, it had been okayed by the nearest Health and Occupational Safety officer.) Then, methodically, they went around the room that had been inhabited by the Marxists, rounded up every last mobile phone, and committed these to the pire also.
It had been a close on. But they had saved the day - for bureaucracy. But when would the Maoists try again to subvert the course of education?
Neat shuddered to think ...