‘Twas brillig, and Jabberwock was cleaning, polishing and arranging his skull collection.
He did this compulsively at least once a month, arranging the hollow lumps of bone and teeth in order of size and beauty, for he had a keen aesthetic sense and could go into raptures over the mathematical curve of a zygomatic arch or the delicate line of an occipital suture. And, after all the skulls were cleaned and set up, he’d sit back and gaze upon them for hours on end, almost catatonic with ecstasy at the beauty of their serried ranks.
The skull collection had grown over the years. Jabberwock himself was surprised at just how large it had grown. He tallied them again, keeping score on a piece of man-skin parchment so that he wouldn’t lose count.
One thousand and thirty-three. He blinked and recounted them, and still came to the same figure. One thousand and thirty-three skulls! If his jaws could have been adapted to whistle instead of merely bite, he would have whistled. That was some collection. Even his rival the Frumious Bandersnatch couldn’t dream of such a haul, though, of course, the Bandersnatch did not possess claws and therefore did not collect skulls of those she vanquished, let alone arrange and polish them as a work of art.
He’d just settled back with a contented burble to gaze upon his collection when a shrill cry came from outside his cave.
“Jabber!” a familiar, but far from welcome, voice screeched. “It’s brillig, Jabber!”
Jabberwock sighed with annoyance. “What do you mean by disturbing me, Jubjub?” he asked crossly. “Every day, you come and annoy me. Can’t you leave me in peace for once?”
“It’s brillig, Jabber!” the Jubjub Bird repeated, its harsh voice echoing from the dim recesses of Jabberwock’s cavernous dwelling. “And you know what that means.”
Jabberwock sat up straight. “Don’t tell me it’s that time come round again.”
“Yes, Jabber,” the Jubjub Bird screeched. “Yes, yes, yes.”
“The slithy toves?” Jabberwock asked, hoping against hope. “Are they gyring and gimbling in the wabe?”
“They’ve pretty much torn up the wabe already with their gyring,” the Jubjub Bird affirmed. “And the borogoves have gone all mimsy, too. You wouldn’t believe how mimsy they look, it’s enough to make anyone ill.”
“What about the mome raths?” Jabberwock asked desperately. “I haven’t heard them outgrabing.”
“Like nobody’s business,” the Jubjub Bird responded enthusiastically. “Just listen and you can hear them.”
Faintly, in the distance, they heard a sound not unlike a pig which had swallowed a foghorn trying to squeal and breaking into a cough halfway through. Even Jabberwock couldn’t pretend he didn’t know what it was.
“Then,” he said, sighing forlornly. “I guess I’d better get ready.”
“What ho!” the Jubjub Bird exclaimed. “I’ll be toddling off to have a bite of supper and then to the old vantage point. Wouldn’t want to miss the show, old boy.”
“I’ll toddle all over you,” Jabberwock said sourly, “if you don’t stop spouting PG Wodehouse at me. I wish I’d never given you the Bertie Wooster collection on your last birthday.”
“You’ll have to catch me first.” With a triumphant screech, the Jubjub Bird flapped away. Shaking his head in annoyance, Jabberwock finished his preparations and stepped out into the tulgey wood.
At this hour the tulgey wood was darkening fast, the shadows lengthening between the trees, and Jabberwock had no desire to stumble and twist an ankle or, even worse, lose his way. So he lit up his eyes, their flames showing the way clearly. It was an excellent, environmentally sound lighting system, but he could never understand why his flaming eyes gained him a bad reputation amongst the other creatures. He shrugged. What they thought was their problem. He had problems of his own.
Lowering his nose to the ground, he whiffled experimentally. The quarry’s smell was clear, wafted along the ground, and it brought information flooding his manxome sense. It was standing by the Tumtum Tree, and seemed to be in an uffish trance. In other words, it was just where he wanted it.
Burbling happily, he galloped through the tulgey wood, whiffling all the way.
Beamish Boy leaned on his vorpal sword, looking up at the Tumtum tree. It was a very peculiar tree, with large round fruit like human heads with eyes which followed one around, and leaves like the flags of vanished nations. Up past the flags and fruit he thought he could see something else, a shape vaguely like a bird, but it was too dark to make it out. He shrugged. It didn’t matter, anyway.
Beamish Boy was thinking. It wasn’t something he did much, so he’d had to put a lot of effort into it, and it made his head ache. But he was thinking anyway.
He wasn’t thinking of the Jabberwock he was hunting, or of what his father had said about bewaring its claws and jaws. He wasn’t thinking of the fact that a vorpal sword really wasn’t that much of a weapon against a Jabberwock, and that a steel sword would have been a much better option, if not a general-purpose machine-gun. He was in uffish thought, which meant that he was fishing in his mind for compliments to bestow on himself after he killed the monster and went galumphing back with its head.
He had taken a course in galumphing, of course, since it was the traditional mode of locomotion after taking Jabberwock heads, and it was as much part of the training process as wielding vorpal swords. He had managed the swordplay class quite well, if he did say so himself; it certainly hadn’t been his fault that the instructor had been reduced to frustrated tears. “One-two,” the man had screamed. “One-two, one-two. Four strokes in all. Get that through your thick head, you mindless grinning moron!” In the end he’d almost been tempted to take the sword to the instructor, and it was only the fact that a vorpal sword could scarcely cut a sheet of paper which had stopped him.
Oh yes, he was quite confident of his prowess with the vorpal sword. But he’d never been that good at galumphing, and he began to go over the steps, trying to remember just how high to lift his knees and where to put his feet.
Suddenly he woke from his uffish reverie. There was a burbling and whiffling, coming swiftly closer; and then he saw the twin beams of fiery light coming through the tulgey wood. The Jabberwock was here.
And, when it finally came to it, his training didn’t fail him, of course. Hefting the vorpal sword, he stepped forward, and swung it with such rhythm that even his instructor might have approved. One-two, one-two, back and forth, and though the vorpal sword could be defeated by a sheet of cardboard, it cleaved the Jabberwock’s head from his body like a hot knife through butter. Like a tree falling to earth, the colossal carcass collapsed, just as it was supposed to.
Beamish Boy didn’t waste time admiring his handiwork. Hefting the monstrous head on his shoulders, he began slowly and clumsily galumphing back homewards, stumbling frequently and cursing every step of the way.
He’d just arrived in sight of the roofs of the town when the Jabberwock’s head opened its eyes.
“Callooh,” it burbled conversationally. “Callooh, you murderous cretin. Callay, you dolt.”
Beamish Boy opened his mouth, but by then it was already far too late to scream.
“Oh frabjous day,” Jabberwock said with relief. “At least that’s over for another year or two.”
“Until the next one comes,” the Jubjub Bird reminded him from outside the cave. “Don’t forget that there will be more coming along. You might think they’ll leave you alone, but they never will.”
Jabberwock refused to let the bird spoil his mood. “Let them come,” he said. “I’ll be ready.” He stretched his neck experimentally. “Yes, with my patented unique detachable head with its self-enclosed life-support system, I’ll always be ready for them.” He snorted. “Them and their vorpal blades! They never learn.”
“Well, I’ll be off then,” the Jubjub Bird said, disgruntled at not having been able to rain on Jabberwock’s parade. “See you in a few days.” With a screech, it flapped away, wondering if it could find better success with the Bandersnatch.
Alone at last, Jabberwock could relax with his skull collection. He’d polished and cleaned them all over again, and tried a new way of arranging them. Tilting his reattached head, he lit up his eyes and considered the effect. Yes, the contrast of a pyramid of brilliantly lit frontal domes and shadowed eye sockets was pleasing. Burbling happily, he set about counting them.
There were, of course, one thousand and thirty four.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2012