Pabstus Tack came back! He’d been away to sea. The sea was vast and wet. That is what he told them, at the symposium held to mark his return. He was not believed, at first. How could anything be so vast?, so wet?, they asked. He had an implausible air, and a ratty moustache. The moustache was new.
And so began the doubts. There was whispered talk, in corridors and on horseback. Was it truly Pabstus Tack who had come back? Or was it another? With his wild talk of the sea and his ratty moustache and his cravat and his canvas shoes, could this really be the same Pabstus Tack as the Pabstus Tack of old?
The villagers put it to him directly. He said yes, he was, look! And he lifted his shirt to show a birthmark on his back. It was a purple splotch more or less the shape of a steam iron. Had Pabstus Tack had such a splotch?, they asked each other, in a conclave. But none could remember. Let us winkle more of his story from him, they agreed.
This sea, they said, so vast, so wet, where is it? Over yonder beyond the Huge Impassable Mountains, was his reply. The mountains loomed over the village. There were, from time to time, avalanches and calamities. Now they felt sure this was not Pabstus Tack. They arraigned him before a plenipotentiary. It was a long hard trial.
In his dungeon the implausible fellow with the ratty moustache drew pictures of the sea. He coloured it blue and green. The pictures were vast, almost as vast as the sea he spoke of. One of the guards smuggled them out, sheet by sheet, rolled up in the hollow of his Alpenstock. He pasted the sheets together and hung them in an atrium, where villagers came to gaze at them with goggle eyes.
These pictures of the so-called sea are vast but they are not wet, thundered an editorial in the village paper. They will be wet if it rains, said a wag. They will not, said another, for the atrium is sheltered from the rains by its pitched roof. The rain runs into gutters and then down into drains and comes to rest far beneath the earth. Is that, then,where the sea is?, asked an inquisitive villager, who had not yet given up hope that Pabstus Tack really had come back.
The plenipotentiary hauled the implausible man back before his panel. Withdraw your phantasm of having crossed the Huge Impassable Mountains, he said, come clean. Did you reach this vast wet sea by toppling down a drain? But the man who would be Pabstus Tack stuck to his story. His dungeon door clanged shut once more.
One day there appeared in the village square a pedlar. He had for sale a basket full of strange elongated beasts, each with a ribbon running along its back formed from the fusing of dorsal, anal, and caudal fins. What have you got there?, asked the villagers. Eels, lovely eels!, cried the pedlar. There was much befuddlement in the village when, closely questioned, the pedlar said his so-called eels came from the sea.
This sea, they asked, is it vast and wet? The pedlar affirmed that it was so. He repeated this with the palm of his hand pressed upon a Bible. There was a kerfuffle. They showed him two sketches of the man who claimed to be Pabstus Tack, face and profile. Have you seen this man?, they asked, Do you know him? Why, as I live and breathe!, said the pedlar, That is Pabstus Tack! Say that again with the palm of your hand pressed upon the Bible, they commanded. And he did.
Then they took him to the atrium and showed him the vast blue and green coloured pictures pasted together from many sheets. Is this the sea?, they asked. It is, he said, though the real sea is wet as well as vast.
The dungeon door was opened, and Pabstus Tack set free. They gave him a slap-up meal of eels. Another symposium was held, and he told again his tales of the sea. This time he added that he had seen eels, swimming, all sorts of eels, the false and mud and spaghetti, the moray and thin and worm, the conger and the longneck, the pike and duckbill and snake, the snipe, the sawtooth and the cutthroat. He told them too of eels that were not eels, the electric eels.
Electric?, asked the inquisitive villager, his hand shot up above his head. And Pabstus Tack told of a distant land beyond the vast wet sea, a land of electric power and light. There was further kerfuffle, such a kerfuffle that the earlier kerfuffle seemed like a spinsters’ tea party. This land, they babbled, the people there are eels? They are, said Pabstus Tack, the rascal, but nobody thought to get him to repeat it with the palm of his hand pressed upon the Bible.
Having doubted him before, now they lapped up everything he told them. Yes, he said, the Huge Impassable Mountains were passable. Yes, beyond them was a vast wet sea. Yes, the sea teemed with eels. Yes, beyond the sea was a land of electric power and light where eels roamed the wide magnificent boulevards.
At the symposium’s end, Pabstus Tack and the pedlar slunk off together. They were last seen heading towards the atrium in the dusk. Rain began to fall, and the village bellsman clanged his bells, and beyond the atrium Pabstus Tack and the pedlar toppled down the drain, and fell and fell, until they splashed into the vast wet subterranean sea, where there are no eels, and there is no light.