by Mari Ness
he Fuddles scattered themselves as the man approached. Not merely scattered the way regular people might scatter, or even the way the magical people of Oz, who live, after all, in the finest fairyland of the world, might scatter at the approach of danger, even though for most people in Oz danger was so little known that they had quite forgotten the word.
But the Fuddles were different. They were made of many little pieces of wood, all wonderfully and differently shaped, like a jigsaw puzzle, except more round than most jigsaws. When they saw people, it was their habit to scatter themselves into all of their many pieces, from a few hundred to several thousand, depending upon the person, and then rest patiently in the street, waiting for the viewers to come and patiently piece them together. It had become commonplace for the various Gilikins and Munchkins who lived nearby to come and amuse themselves for awhile putting the tricky pieces together, but after awhile, they came less and less, for even the most avid jigsaw puzzle lover becomes tired of putting the same people back together over and over again.
This was terrible for the Fuddles, who were forced to scatter themselves whenever even just one person came nearby. If that one person had no interest in puzzles, they might find themselves lying scattered for weeks. It became more and more difficult to keep up with cleaning their houses and repairing their pretty fences and doing their knitting. And, the longer they stayed on the ground, dry or wet, the more their little wooden pieces became slightly warped and moldy. For people in Oz may live forever, but that does not mean that they are not subject to things like water and damp, if it continues long enough. And yet they did not want to stop people coming by altogether, for it was only when people came by that they could learn about events elsewhere in Oz, and get the pretty yarns and paints they needed to keep their village beautiful.
So the Fuddles got together, or as many of them that were together, and decided to Advertise.
Advertising is a rare thing in Oz, and the Fuddles were not sure how to do so, but after some time, they made a sign, and asked a Munchkin farmer to place it upon the road. And the Munchkin farmer agreed to do so, of course, because such is the way of Oz.
And sure enough, a few curious travelers stopped by. Among them was a stout Winkie called Tidikins.
The Fuddles scattered when Tidikins approached, and he stepped forward, eager to solve their puzzles and piece them together. But no matter how hard he tried, he could not - he could not put even two pieces of a blue leg together. When evening fell he walked to a nearby village and complained about his hard day.
“Ha ha,” laughed the villagers. For in Oz, it is perfectly acceptable for even the most kindly of souls to laugh at each other, for in so doing not only do the bellies of the overfed Ozites get much needed exercise, but also, the humiliation of being laughed at prevents anyone from becoming too proud, which is the quickest route to injury in Oz. And although no one can die in Oz, injury is still very very painful. “Those Fuddles are so easy that even a two year old may put them together!”
“Our two year olds are much brighter than the average two year olds in the countries outside Oz, I believe,” replied Tidikins, angry at the insult. “For in those countries, two year olds may only be two for one year, but here, the two year olds remain two forever, and thus are able to gain more knowledge and skill than might be expected from them.”
“That is as maybe,” said the villagers, not all that coherently, “but still, it should be easy to put the Fuddles together, even for someone of very low intelligence.”
Determined to prove himself of high intelligence, Tidikins returned to Fuddlecumjig, where the Fuddles lived, and tried again. And again. And again. The other villagers laughed and laughed. For an entire month Tidikins tried, but was unable to put two pieces together. And in his anger he decided to do a Very Wicked Thing, although he himself thought that he was only doing this to protect other inhabitants of Oz.
It is true, as the Royal Historian of Oz has said, that the reason most people are bad is because they do not try to be good. And others are bad out of sheer indifference or forgetfulness. But some are bad because they do not think things through.
For Tidikins was not a bad man, but his inability to put the pieces of Fuddles together, and the way everyone had laughed at him, had so fuddled his brain that he decided that the best thing to do was to hide the entire village of Fuddlecumjig behind a large wall and stick up notices of Danger! Danger! The notices, he knew, would not keep everyone out, since some of the inhabitants of Oz had a tendency to ignore signs saying “Danger” or deciding that they must go past these signs anyway. But this behavior was mostly confined to inhabitants of the Emerald City, and since they had already visited Fuddlecumjig, Tidikins thought that they might not return. (And in this he was quite right.)
Once the wall and the signs were built, Tidikins went off, some say to the Quadling Country, and some say to the Winkie country, and some say to the Emerald City, where he became a pedicurist of some note. For in Oz, nearly everyone must walk, and so nearly everyone has corns, and they were all very glad to have a pedicurist in their midst, especially one who could paint toenails such lovely shades of green.
Meanwhile, the Fuddles stayed scattered in their village, unable to piece themselves together, and unable to see that they were trapped behind a wall without a door, completely hiding their village from anyone who might walk by and see them, lying in helpless pieces everywhere in the village.
The pieces did not worry very much at first. None of them could see the signs posted on the wall:
Do not ENTER on pain of ETERNAL BEFUDDLEMENT