Authors: Paul Gamble
Jack looked at the Minister. “So you picked me for this job because I'm smart, right? You picked me because I'm smarter than the other kids in my class?”
“Wellâ¦” the Minister began. “There are two ways I can answer that question. I can either answer it truthfully or I can lie to make you feel good about yourself.”
Jack and the Minister stared at each other in silence for a few minutes. Jack knew that lying was wrong butÂ â¦ “Lie to me,” said Jack. “Lie to me like you're a tabloid journalist.”
The Minister inhaled through his nostrils deeply and fixed Jack with an intense stare. “The reason we picked you, Jack, is that you are the most important person in the world. Although you get only average marks in school you are possibly the brightest person ever. You are the strongest and fastest, and if there were a world championship in tiddlywinks, Jack, only a fool wouldn't back you as the winner. That is how important you are.”
The Minister stopped talking.
Jack took a deep breath. “You see, what you did there,” he said, “was you went too far with the lies and flattery.”
“Did I?” asked the Minister.
“Oh yes, definitely. It stopped sounding like you were flattering me and it just became sarcastic.”
The Minister's face stopped looking so intense and crinkled into a grimace. “I was worried that it would come off that way.”
“It did, it did.”
“Should I just tell you the truth, then?”
“I think that's probably for the best.”
“We don't pick the smartest kids to work in the Ministry. After all, a lot of the people who work for us get killed. It really is very dangerous work. Squashed by a
, attacked by a harpy, drowned while trying to deliver a parking ticket to a squid. And we don't want the smart kids to die like that. We need the smart kids to be doctors, architects, engineers, and lawyers. Well, not lawyers, never really seen the point of them myself. But we do need the doctors, the architects, and the engineers.”
“I'm not sure I like the sound of this job,” muttered Jack.
“You say that, but let me ask you a question,” said the Minister. “Would you rather be squashed by a dinosaur or work in an accountancy firm?” The Minister looked very pleased with himself.
Jack tried to figure out if this was a trick question. “Ummm, I'd rather work in an accountancy firm.”
The Minister opened his eyes wider. “Really? Really?”
“Well, yeah,” said Jack, “I mean, a boring job or death by dinosaur? It isn't a hard choice.”
The Minister thought about this. “Mmmm, I suppose you're right. This is why they don't let me attend the recruitment fairs anymore. And you're right! I mean, who wants to be squashed by a dinosaur?”
“Look, if I do join up, can you help me figure out a mystery at my school?” asked Jack.
The Minister seemed to be muttering to himself under his breath. His hands were fiddling with pens and papers on his desk. Jack could only make out half of what he was saying.
“â¦ Squashed by a dinosaurÂ â¦ never really thought about it beforeÂ â¦ I don't want to be squashedÂ â¦ why did I ever say yes to this jobÂ â¦ someone else can be the MinisterÂ â¦ wearing these ridiculous clothes.”
Jack got up out of his chair and went over to the door. Grey was standing outside.
“So have you decided to join up, then?” asked Grey enthusiastically.
“Umm, I'm not sure that I'll be allowed to. I think I may have broken your Minister.”
Grey poked his head around the door and saw the Minister muttering to himself. “Oh, don't worry about that. He gets that way at least four or five times a week.”
“You all seem slightly unbalanced to me. And when I say slightly, I mean extremely and dangerously.”
“We'd better move on before the Minister starts throwing things.” Just as Grey said this, a red-and-green-glass paperweight sailed through the gap in the door, zoomed over Grey's head, and shattered against the wall.
Many people wonder where the Tooth Fairy obtains his contractual rights. The original contract forms part of a child's birth certificate. Parents register children when they are born and get a birth certificate. What most parents don't realize is that they are signing away a number of rights on behalf of their childrenâthis is the real reason for the creation of a birth certificate. One of the pages of a birth certificate specifically says that any teeth placed below a pillow automatically become the property of the Tooth Fairy.
It is amazing that more people do not realize the purpose of a birth certificate. After all, what is the point in having a document to prove that you were born? You existâtherefore you must have been born at some stage. The logic is simple and inescapable, therefore the document must be for some other reason than to prove the obvious fact of birth.
A death certificate is much more important. Obviously. After all, people don't want to be dead. Often after they die they decide to ignore the fact and carry on living. When someone tries to do this, it is absolutely vital that you have the necessary paperwork to show them that they are in fact dead and should not try and drive a motorcar or operate heavy machinery.
An interesting connected fact is that 98 percent of zombie attacks are the result of poorly completed paperwork.
As any civil servant will tell you, well-completed paperwork is all that stands between us and a state of anarchy.
As they walked down the corridor Grey brushed fragments of glass paperweight out of his hair.
“How come I've never heard of the M-SUITs before?”
“Well, we're sort of semisecret. We call ourselves the Men in Suits.”
“I've heard of men in suits before,” said Jack.
“Yes, people generally refer to any officials as men in suits. But we are actually
Men in Suits.”
“And you deal with dinosaurs and things?”
“We deal with anything that people don't believe in anymore. How do you think the dinosaurs died out?”
Jack felt smugâhe knew the answer to this. “Well, it was a meteorite. It hit the Earth andâ¦”
Grey laughed. “You really think that a single meteorite could have wiped out all the dinosaurs on Earth? How would that even work? What about dinosaurs on the other side of the Earth from where the meteorite struck?”
Jack shrugged. “I don't know, I think it threw up dust or something. Dust killed themÂ â¦ didn't it?”
Grey laughed even more. There was a distinct possibility that he was going to choke. “You think the dinosaurs went extinct because of dust. Because they didn't do their housework?”
Jack thought about it for a moment. If you could really become extinct from dust, then he risked death every time he checked under his bed for a lost pair of sneakers. “So you're saying that dinosaurs still exist?”
“Of course they do!” Grey managed to stop laughing. “Dinosaurs killed by dust? Next thing you'll be telling me you believe that pirates were all wiped out by an unsanitary bath plug, or that vampires all died out because they couldn't find a mop to rinse their coffins out with.”
“So what happens when people stop believing?” asked Jack indignantly.
“When people get tired of something, or just don't want to believe in it anymore, the Ministry steps in to deal with it. We put the pirates in Piratoriums, we hide the dinosaurs. Of course they aren't forgotten entirely, so they're remembered as fairy tales, myths, or legends.”
“And it's dangerous?”
Grey shrugged. “Well, yes, but aren't dangerous things always the most fun?
And, more importantly, we get to laugh at the ânormals.' All the stupid people who don't realize that the world is literally chock-full of danger and funÂ â¦ So do you want to join up?”
Jack thought about this. He wasn't naturally inclined to danger, but the thought that there were things happening in the world that he knew nothing about frustrated him. If he refused the offer to join up, he would never find out about thousands of other secrets. “Okay. Count me in. It seems
clearer now,” said Jack, thinking that slightly was the most important word in that sentence.
Grey clapped his hands. “Wonderful! Then you'll be wanting to meet your partner.”
“Partner?” said Jack. “No one said anything to me about a partner.”
Grey looked at him quizzically. “Yes, I did. I just said it there now.”
“What I meant wasâ¦”
“Enough talking. Follow me!” Grey spun around on his shiny, polished shoes and started striding down the corridor. Jack had to almost run to keep up with him.
The corridors were becoming more and more full of peopleâand not just people, but also
. Jack noticed a very odd one walking down the corridor dressed in what looked like a dark blue monk's robe and carrying a large accordion paper file. It was a strange humanoid creature with enormous folded batlike wings on its back and a head that looked like a squid. Its skin was gray and decaying, oozing with green pustules. It looked as though lumps of it would come off if you touched it. Of course, you would never have touched it, precisely for that reason. Jack blinkedâhe couldn't believe that creatures like that existed. It looked horrifyingly real in exactly the same way that cheap special effects don't. Jack shuffled over to hide behind Grey while trying not to look like he was hiding behind Grey.
“That is the ancient Cthulhu, an evil being with unimaginable power. It longs to watch the world burn and send all its people into madness and insanity,” Grey said. He paused for a moment. “Cthulhu works in the filing branch.”
“You have an evil being with unimaginable power working in the filing branch?” Jack thought that if he ever had to conduct a job interview one of the first questions he would ask would be “Are you an evil being with unimaginable power?” If they answered yes, he almost certainly wouldn't employ them. Unless of course they promised to bring doughnuts into the office on a Friday. Because everyone knows that jam-filled doughnuts cancel out evil.
“Well, apart from being impossibly evil he's also very efficient. Anyway, it suits everyone, really. We can keep an eye on him, and since he wants to drive the world mad, working in bureaucracy is pretty much his ideal job.”
“This place is crazy!” said Jack.
Cthulhu stopped walking down the corridor and stared at Jack. He seemed to realize that they had been talking about him.
Jack was understandably nervous. “Umm, Grey, I think he may have heard us talking about him.”
Grey nodded. “Yes, it seems that he did. He has very good hearing. I've noticed that before. It's especially strange because he has a squid head. And ordinary squids don't have ears.”
Jack really didn't care about the problems that squids had because they lacked ears. He was rather more concerned that there was a creature starring at him who had recently been described as “impossibly evil.”
Cthulhu made deep breathing noises and his batlike wings unfolded from his back. When opened, they blocked the corridor and made it impossible for Jack or Grey to walk past him. From inside the squid face, two green eyes lit up and a beam of light emitted from them. Unlike ordinary light it didn't travel in a straight line, but rather snaked out like translucent emerald lightning. The beams hit Jack and swirled around him. Jack could feel his body starting to glow. And for some reason he could sense it glowing the color green. Turning green wasn't a pleasant experience. Jack really wouldn't recommend it to anyone. He didn't understand how frogs lived with the feeling.
“Grey, this is making me feel very uncomfortable.”
“Yes, I think this has gone quite far enough. Cthulhu, stop it at once!” Grey snapped.
Cthulhu turned his gaze away from Jack. The green beams ceased and Jack turned back to his more familiar pinkish color. Cthulhu spoke to Grey. However, it wasn't any language that Jack recognized. In fact, it wasn't even a sound that Jack recognized. The closest Jack could get to describing it was the sound of a fat man with a particularly bad head cold trying to eat raw oysters without chewing. As Cthulhu talked he grew animated and waved his hands around. Each finger seemed to have three or four knuckles that could move in different directions. At the end of each finger was a frighteningly sharp claw. Occasionally Cthulhu stretched and flapped his bat wings.
Grey just shook his head. “Yes, Cthulhu, we were being impolite talking about you. But how else is the boy meant to learn?”
Cthulhu made more oyster-slurping noises.
“I appreciate that, but you have to understand that it's also a breach of etiquette to use evil energy to make him go mad.”
Cthulhu frothed some more, and a long tendril of saliva fell from his mouth.
“No! Banishing him to a dark dimension would be rude. Now, if you'll excuse us, we have work to do.”
Cthulhu stared at Grey. After a few moments he folded his bat wings and let them carry on down the corridor. Jack could feel Cthulhu's green eyes piercing his back.
“Do I run the risk of being driven insane every time I come here?” he asked.
“Don't worry about Cthulhu; for a multidimensional manifestation of evil he's very sensitive. Mind you, so would you be if you had the face of a squid.”
“I suppose so,” said Jack.
“I sometimes wonder if he perhaps had a more pleasant faceÂ â¦ well, then maybe he wouldn't want to destroy the world so badly.”
“Perhaps,” said Jack, who was beginning to wonder if he really wanted to be part of an organization where madness and banishment to strange dimensions were serious risks when you were trying to get paperwork filed. Maybe he could seek some counseling for his curiosity instead of joining the Ministry.