The beasts-with-two-tails faired better when the villongers believed the beasts-with-two-tails were their friends. That’s one of the reasons that beasts-with-two-tails came to the aid of the villongers if summoned. If a thorny loague was eating your roof and looking hungrily at your pets,summoning a beast-with-two-tails was what one did to get rid of it. It was expected. Some villongers argued that the recompense demanded by a beast-with-two-tails was greater than value of a roof or a pet, but saying so was felt to be barbaric and ridiculous. When coming to your rescue a beast-with-two-tails might ravage members of your family before turning to the problem of the thorny loague, but it was taken as immature nagging if anything were said about that. Saying these things also could decrease the vigor with which the beast-with-two-tails dealt with the thorny loague. / Thorny loagues had so much experience with the beasts-with-two-tails that when they heard which beast-with-two-tails which was being summoned to repel them they knew whether to leave quickly or continue eating the roof for a while. Upon seeing the beast-with-two-tails approaching on the path, a thorny loague usually also could tell whether to worry. If the beast-with-two-tails had an aggressive gait and steadfastly stared at the thorny loague, it was time to eat down the other side of the roof and then slip away to a safe distance from which to wait to see if the beast-with-two-tails appeared to be going to stay very long. / If the gaze of the approaching beast-with-two-tails noticed bounty orother temptations of the house, then it likely would be a while before the thorny loague was bothered. If the beast-with-two-tails looked, but saw nothing of interest in or around the house, it would be even longer as it waited for the house’s owner to produce something worth the time of the beast-with-two-tails. Payment was expected to be made prior toreceiving service. / There were other delays as well. Villongers always had to take the word of the beasts-with-two-tails that the delays were normal. To a villonger whose roof is being devoured, immediate action can seem a necessity. Beasts-with-two-tails always would mumble about strategy and patience and the wisdom born of their vast experience and point out that permits to remove thorny loagues never are issued to villongers because of just that kind of naïve impatience.So you have to hire a beast-with-two-tails just to get the permit to remove the thorny loague. / Quietly among themselves, some villongers told a story of a child left home alone with the baby. Upon seeing its first thorny loague it repelled it with a dirty diaper. Since villongers had no faith in gossip, no others tried that to see if it would work. But the story had been passed around all the same. / Sometimes the beast-with-two-tails would survey the occupants of the house and declare none attractive enough for its purpose. It would send the children to the houses of neighbors saying that a beast-with-two-tails demanded their service. The beast-with-two-tails would dismiss all but the most attractive young women and have them remove their clothes and lay end to end to mark the exit route for the thorny loague. Then it would make everyone else go to the other side of the house and hum while it tried to induce the right kinds of squeals from the girls toget the thorny loague’s attention. / Many wondered if it wouldn’t be better to give up the roof, but no one was sure that a thorny loague would leave just because it had finished eating the roof. / The thing was that if the beast-with-two-tails already was busy with something else, it would not send another beast-with-two-tails to take its place. It wouldmake you wait until it had time.If it came too late, that wasn’t its fault. If it came in time but did not succeed with the job, that also wasn’t its fault. Either way it expected full compensation. It always expressed sympathy when a villonger lost a roof and then all other possessions. With the roof missing, a badspot of weathercould destroy all the contents of the house. The villonger might be ruined, yet still had to compensate the beast-with-two-tails. It was the normal order ofthings villongers were supposed to accept. / So summoning a beast-with-two-tails was the last thing that Kirtop wanted to do. Long ago his best friend, Dahv, and he had agreed that if one of them were attacked and did not summon a beast-with-two-tails, the other would help the recovery effort. It wasn’t a promise not to summon a beast-with-two-tails, but a promise to help if each other if one of them went through with it. They would be the first villongers to try it to see what happened. And then Dahv was attacked.Kirtop heard about it only afterwards. / Afterthe attack was over, when Kirtop arrived, Dahv’s family was moaning and sobbing and angry at Dahv for not summoning a beast-with-two-tails. They were so involved with punishing him that they were doing nothing to recover. Dahv was hard at work gathering possessions to transport them to safety. Kirtop made many trips to his house carrying Dahv’s possessions to protect them. / Kirtop and Dahv now spent all the time they had trying to replace that roof. It was a scandal in the community. No one offered to help. The other villongers for the most part had stopped talking to Dahv and his family. Since Kirtop was helping him, the same fate befell him. And then, while they were working on the roof, Kirtop hurt himself. A sliver of roof punctured his arm and he could not get it out. He tried to remove it. And Dahv tried to remove it. And Kirtop’s wife tried to remove it, but they could not. His wife told him he must get help. He did not want to and slept on it, but by morning the wound was worse and he did not know what else to do. / His wife, Faaareen, and Dahv transported him to the Dominont for help. The Dominont’s assistant, an unattractive, unfriendly and unmarried villonger whom he’d never met before, escorted Kirtop to where the Dominont would see him. She said that for a problem like this it would be important that he not move or flinch or wince and so she was going to subdue him. When he was sitting with his feet tucked up under himself and his head rolled forward so that he could see only the floor, she leaned over and whispered in his ear, “Ready?” / It was the most shocking thing that ever had happened to him. No one but his wife ever had whispered in his ear. No one but your wife ever was supposed to. Villongers had ended their own lives for that indiscretion. But this was sprung on him by someone with whom he had entrusted his wellbeing. He wanted to cry out but the Dominont was coming in just as the assistant subdued him. / Subduing a villonger is simply a matter of pulling their feet up behind themselves toward their heads in a way that pinches nerves. It leaves them paralyzed as long as the pressure is maintained. Pull their heads back at the same time and they become unconscious until that pressure is relieved as well. Kirtop was conscious, although able to see only the Dominont’s feet, as the Dominont introduced himself and twisted Kirtop’s arm in order to see the wound. During the exam there was a moment when the Dominont appeared to be facing away, since the Dominont's feet were pointing away, and the assistant whispered in Kirtop’s ear, “You’ll be fine.” / Of all the things Kirtop ever had imagined or worried about, none were as alarming as this. How could he go home after this? How would he face his wife? Moments later, when the Dominont’s feet were pointing toward Kirtop, the assistant whispered in Kirtop’s ear, “Almost finished.” The Dominont jumped back and then was motionless for a bit. The assistant continued stepping about as though everything were normal. Then Kirtop felt something clamped over his ears cutting off all sound, and then it felt as though hammers had struck both sides of his head simultaneously. The Dominont became much rougher in finishing the work on Kirtop’s arm. It seemed to go on for an awfully long time. When finally he was released and Dahv and Faaareen’s feet appeared in his view and lifted him so that he no longer was subdued, he blurted out, “Of all the loathsome and vile skullduggery that ever could befall a villonger, how could it here?” They waited for further explanation. None came. On the trip home he was silent. / Kirtop was of no use for work on Dahv’s roof for a long time, not just because he seemed lost and disoriented, a condition all assumed would pass in time but didn’t. But also because of the way his arm had been treated. It had been left twisted. The Dominont twisted it when removing the piece of roof, but did not twist it back. It was painful and the pain was not subsiding with time. It was difficult to work. It was difficult to eat or sleep. It looked so bad that he began to keep it covered. His wife told him he must go back to the Dominont for help. He did not think going there the first time had helped. He thought it had made him worse. She told him to stop being foolish. He didn't want to, but she persuaded him to go back. / Kirtop sat in the Dominont's waiting room most of the day. Finally an assistant told him that the Dominont had been too busy and could he make an appointment to come back in a couple of weeks. "A couple of weeks?" She said the Dominont was aware of his condition and felt he just needed to give it more time. So Kirtop went home to wait for the next appointment. When he arrived for that one, he waited all day and was told to make another appointment further in the future. "But I cannot work like this." The assistant understood that, but that is what the Dominont had told her to tell him. / One morning, after some time had passed, his wife asked if he never was going to notice her again. He didn’t know what she meant. She said, “Late last night I tried to whisper in your ear.” “I didn’t hear you,” he said. Turning away, she muttered, “It’s not the first time.” / Kirtop was shocked all over again. How could he not have heard? It was unimaginable. It was an insult to his wife for him not even to have noticed. And such a loss to him to have missed the joy of her whisper. Ever since that first visit to the Dominont, he hadn't heard her whisper. He apologized and apologized without knowing that he never would be able to hear her whisper again. / When he went to the Dominont again, after waiting most of the day again, he was taken back to a room where he had to wait more. While sitting there he saw a device labeled "Percup." There was a warning on it saying to operate it only while wearing hearing protection. The Dominont burst through the door and told him Kirtop was imagining his problems and that there was nothing wrong with him. When Kirtop told that to his wife later, she said that was impossible. Anyone could see how badly injured he was. She asked him if he had uncovered his arm and shown it to the Dominont. "Of course." And now his wife scoffed at him saying that was impossible. No one, especially a Dominont, could miss seeing how badly injured he was. She contacted the Dominont's office herself, set up an appointment, and went with him the next time. / They sat in the Dominont's waiting room most of the day. Finally an assistant came out saying that the Dominont wanted to know why they were back. When Kirtop's wife explained it, the assistant said that he already had seen Kirtop about that, but that if they didn't believe him perhaps he should seek an opinion from a different Dominont. He recommended someone and the assistant called ahead and set up an appointment two months in the future for them. "Two months? But I cannot work like this." / Two months passed. When he was lead back to the room of the second Dominont and was sitting there waiting, there was another of those "Percup" devices. He picked it up and was looking at it when the Dominont entered saying, "Don't touch that. If it goes off you will never be the same." Kirtop asked what it was for. "For your kirsham. To jolt it back to life." Kirtop asked if it ever would be used on a Villonger's head. "Heavens no. That would be disastrous. But that's not what you are here about. I'm told you are here about your arm. Your last Dominont says it is fine and this is all in your head. So why are you here?" He was here for help. "That cannot be. Why are you here?" Over time he went to other Dominonts who told him the same thing. For a while he gave up, but his arm was becoming worse. And it was visibly twisted. Everyone could see that. How could they say it was his imagination? / He resumed seeking out other Dominonts. In every case they asked how he got injured. Every time he told them about the piece of roof and how the first Dominont twisted his arm. Everyone of them asked him why he imagined the Dominont twisted his arm. He didn't "imagine" it. He told them about the assistant whispering in his ear and about the Dominont clamping the "Percup" over his ears. They told him he was crazy and asked him if he were going from Dominont to Dominont trying to gather evidence in order to hire a beast-with-two-tails to go after that first Dominont. / Kirtop gave up. He said no one ever was going to help him. But his wife was giving up on him too. He could see it. He knew that she was thinking about finding someone else who could still hear her whisper into his ear. That was so disturbing that he tried again. He went to another Dominont. This one burst through the door saying he was in much too much of a hurry today and what did Kirtop want? Kirtop wanted him to look at his arm. The Dominont did without asking how he got injured. This was the first time a Dominont had not asked how he got injured and so the Dominont did not hear about another Dominont injuring Kirtop, and so this was the first Dominont that actually looked at his arm instead of spending the entire appointment defending the first Dominont and telling Kirtop he must be crazy. This Dominont said it was too late. He said that Kirtop waited too long and that if Kirtop had come in months ago, he could have been fixed, but now it was too late, and brusquely left Kirtop sitting there realizing how much Dominont's stick together. In front of him on a stand was a Percup device. He began to understand that something dirty had been done to him. The Dominont's assistant had taken advantage of him, and in a way so well practiced that taking advantage of helpless Villongers had to be a routine for her. This time she had let her Dominont find out. Wishing she would pay attention to him instead of the Villongers, her Dominont took out his jealousy on Kirtop by by using the Percup device to injure him so that he could never could hear a whisper again, and making his arm so that he could never work again. And then setting up Kirtop's appointments with other Dominont's for him so that they could be told ahead of time to defend the Dominont against this crazy Villonger who was trying to blame a Dominont for his problems. No one would believe him when he told them that an assistant whispered in his ear. And they really didn't believe him when he told them that a Dominont had held a Percup over his ears. Word about Kirtop traveled. They labeled him a crank. All they would do is defend the original Dominont. All he wanted was help. And now it was too late. / Things fell apart at home. In desperation, with no one else to turn to, he even compensated a beast-with-two-tails to listen to his story. The beast-with-two-tails made appointment after appointment with him, taking more and more compensation, and asking more and more questions and saying he was working on it. But then the next time Kirtop would be there for an appointment, the beast-with-two-tails not only would not have found out anything new, but also didn't even remember what Kirtop had told him before. Kirtop did not know what was going on, but no one was helping him or listening to him and he could do nothing on his own. / One day, on the way back from an appointment with the beast-with-two-tails, he did not know where to go. He walked and walked, but somehow wasn't going home. The houses became further apart. The road became a trail. The ground beside it became mushier. And finally he was slogging in a bog. When even the path became ambiguous, he left it altogether. Muck and goo sucked at his feet. Smells became more noticeable. The bog became darker. He slogged on until he happened upon an immense impaction of debris. Sometimes when terrain shifts, matter rotting below the surface would burst to the surface and there dry. The dark crust of such a burst was where Kirtop stopped to sit and moan where no one would hear him. / So much time passed. Without noticing that he hadn’t moved or made a sound for the longest time, he sat sullenly for so long that the rest of the bog forgot about this intruder. Marsomats took breaths and slid away. Drolips returned to chewing whatever was in reach. Kirtop barely noticed any of it until something not already in this place, but in the distance, moved. Something large and far away coming in a straight line at a steady gait, which felt threatening. So he froze and watched quietly. When it was gone he was curious and climbed down from the impaction and slogged on through the bog until, climbing over a log bigger than his house, he found a path. He stayed right where he was and waited watching to see if anything passed on the path. Nothing did. So he climbed on to it to see where the path went. Following it, he walked and he walked. It was much straighter than it had any right to be when running through a bog. It was possible to see a very long way down it. That worried him. It meant others far away could see him too. He did not want to be surprised. A few times he stopped and hid in the growth along the path and waited. But nothing happened and he resumed walking until one time he thought he saw something up ahead and he dove off of the road and hid. He waited and waited and waited. Still nothing. He waited some more. Finally, quietly, slowly, keeping low, he sneaked closer to the path and looked down it. A thorny loague was doing the same thing he was doing – sneaking, quietly, looking for who or whatever it had seen coming toward it. Kirtop froze. The thorny loague also spent a good deal of time frozen waiting. Then it backed away slowly and kept backing away in a submissive manner. Kirtop thought, “Me? A thorny loague is afraid of me?” The thorny loague backed off of the road further and further. Kirtop didn’t understand it, but backed up in the opposite direction, doing the same, backing off the road, not knowing what else to do. / Then a Dominont appeared in the distance down the road. Now Kirtop understood. The thorny loague was not retreating from Kirtop, but from the Dominont. The thorny loague had seen it coming in the distance behind Kirtop and had gotten out of the way. Kirtop hid too. / When the Dominont arrived, it saw that the thorny loague, though off the road, was staring into the undergrowth where Kirtop was hiding. The Dominont stopped and stared too. Kirtop could not quite see enough to discern more than that the Dominont had stopped. Kirtop froze again. He wanted to get a better look, and he wasn’t sure why he shouldn’t, but everything was so unfamiliar here. And if you don’t want others to see you, the last thing you should do is see them. All creatures have hairs rise on the backs of their necks when something looks at them. So he didn’t move and didn’t look. / Kirtop remained still for a long while. He wished he still could hear well enough to know if someone were walking across the ground toward him. Leaves flicked when bugs landed on them in front of his eyes. Something small on the ground moved. Normally he would want to look to see what the thorny loague was doing, but this time he didn't. Normally he would be terrified of the possibility of a thorny loague coming to eat him, which was a possibility in a remote place like this. But at this point, he no longer cared. If he were eaten, then his arm wouldn't hurt anymore and he would not have to return home where they no longer had any use for him. / Then out of the side of his eye he saw something moving that was definitely larger than a Dominont, and he looked. The thorny loague had resumed walking down the road and was passing by. It meant the Dominont must be gone. Kirtop still remained motionless. Not just because it was the prudent thing to do, but because he didn't know what to do anyway. He didn't even know where he would go when he finally did move. / When it was late, after so much time abiding in that reality, he no longer cared if the thorny loague did eat him. He walked back on to the road and looked in the direction the Dominont had gone. Probably there was something down there to be learned. What would he do with that knowledge? What was there left to do anything about? / He walked the other direction - walked and walked until there began to be houses, eventually ones that he recognized, places he’d been before, homes of people he used to know, or had met, or had visited. Places where he had had friends when young, and other friends when older. Places that always had been full of hope, and later of memories, but that now only were reminders of all that he never could be part of again. / His wife could not whisper in his ear. She would find someone who could. He was no more than the ghost of someone who had died but whose spirit was stuck where it only could watch without ever being a part of anything. No one ever would need him or care about him again. There was no point to anything now. / That Dominont’s assistant had violated him in a way that his wife never would forgive. And now he could not even give his wife what she needed. She could never whisper in his ear again. No secrets. No cooing. None of the ties and bonds that come from that. He’d spent his whole life trying to get to where he could share that. It had been taken from him forever by a jealous Dominont. And now he could not even work. / He walked without knowing why. He wanted to lose himself in the bog forever. It had gotten dark when he heard a chirp and stopped. He didn't hear much anymore, but this was so close and loud. It came through a lit window from a child so gleeful that it had chirped loudly enough that even Kirtop heard it here outside. He imagined what other sounds must be accompanying it for those who still had normal hearing. And as he stood there in the dark, useless, half-deaf, in pain, alone and with nowhere that it mattered if he went, he understood how some villongers become homeless.