The Dudes Of Party Cottage
In the heart of the forest was a little white cottage, and in the little white cottage lived three little dudes. Their names were Sam, Hamby and Levi, and in addition to being three little dudes, they were bouncy with magic and knew how to have a good time.
Sam was the musician of the group. He knew how to get funky. He knew how to shred. He could pick up any old bit of rope, tie it to a shoebox, and bam! A one-note violin that could move a boulder to tears.
Did Sam know jazz? Um, yes, he invented jazz. Don’t believe me? Well, that’s your problem, because Sam invented jazz, Sam invented funk, and then one day when he had the hiccups, Sam invented reggae by mistake.
Next there was Hamby. Hamby was True of Heart. He had the Knack of the Niceties, and could speak The Hard Truths. Maybe what was most special about Hamby was how he always found something nice to say about even the most unlikeable of people. “Aww, they’re not so bad,” he’d say, even if you were talking about the Worst Person Ever. Then he’d bring you in close and tell you something that would make you say, “Oh boy, I guess even I could have turned out to be a naughty baddie if I’d had such a terrible start in life. I better go see if they’re alright...”
That was the difference Hamby made every single day. What a dude!
Finally, there was Levi. You know that thing in your throat that vibrates and makes sounds, and then you chop the sounds up with your mouth to make words? You know, a voice box? Levi didn’t have one. He was mute.
You know those weird balls of jelly just below your forehead that are a bit like video cameras for your brain? You know, eyeballs? Levi didn’t have them. He was blind.
What Levi had instead was what scientists call ‘Party Vibes’. If there was a party going on somewhere, Levi knew about it. It came to him like a sweet-scented rumour on a breeze of hot gossip.
If there weren't any parties going around, well, guess what? Levi could summon one! Wherever Levi detected a sharp drop in the party atmosphere, he moved swiftly to counteract it. He was like a thermostat for good times, perfectly calibrated to keep Party Vibes at a steady hum. How did he do it? Well, I don’t have Party Vibes, so I can’t tell you. I don’t even know how my arm works! (Isn't it weird that you can just, like, move your arm? It just… moves. You don’t even have to think about it. You don’t say, HEAR THIS, ARM: I COMMAND THEE TO MOVE. It somehow happens before thoughts, as though the movement of the arm was itself a thought, embodied in flesh. Like… what?!)
One bright summer’s day, the three dudes were quietly partying when the seasons changed mid-sentence and it became bleak midwinter. The windows frosted over and the wind was wet with biting sleet. Snow piled at the bottom of the barren trees that surrounded their little white cottage, and off in the distance, the dudes could see the snow draping itself across the forest canopy like a layer of bright white icing.
And trundling out of this bleak midwinter forest came a little girl.
Her feet were bare. Her teeth were chattering. Her lips had turned blue.
As the little girl drew closer, the three dudes realised she was wearing nothing but a dress made of paper.
“Dudes,” said Hamby, “she’s gonna freeze to death.”
Levi’s ears pricked up and he turned in the little girl’s direction. His eyebrows drew together in a deep V shape and his mouth fell open soundlessly.
“Low Party Vibes, huh?” said Sam, and Levi made a little ‘O’ with his thumb and forefinger.
That was the sign for Zero Party Vibes, which was no laughing matter.
Hamby jumped to his feet. “Quick, get her into the Party Cottage!” he said.
They hurried the little girl into the cottage. Sam switched on his drum machine then got out his hollow-bodied jazz guitar and ran it through a hi-pass filter: soon the room was filled with lo-fi chill beats. Hamby dashed to the laundry room and picked out a hinoki-scented blanket. He wrapped it around the girl’s shaking shoulders and bundled her up tight. All the while, Levi was fine-tuning the atmos, creating some very gentle Party Vibes, like after-work drinks at a job you like.
At last, the girl stopped shivering, and Hamby sat by her side and said, “When you have the strength, tell us your story.”
So she did. “My name is Eleanora,” said the little girl, “and up until a short time ago, I lived alone with my father in a townhouse by the sea. A lonely life, so it was, so it was, a lonely life by the sea! One day I was out collecting sea shells when I bumped into another little girl, and I asked her where she’d come from. It turned out that she lived with her mother in a townhouse by the sea. A lonely life, so it was, so it was, a lonely life by the sea!”
“I see,” said Hamby. “A lonely father, a lonely mother, and two lonely children living by the sea. What happened next?”
Eleanora took a deep breath. “We both went home and told our parents what we’d found. I told my father, she told her mother, and the next thing we knew, our parents were married! We pushed our two little houses together, and there we all were: one happy family by the sea, by the sea.”
“Dude, that’s awesome!” said Hamby.
It was high-fives all round. But then Levi did that thing with his eyebrows again, and Sam and Hamby could tell by the wackness of the Party Vibes that Eleanora’s story didn’t end there.
The little girl began to sob. “B-but th-then,” she said, “my f-father started acting like a total jerk!”
The dudes gasped. Sam formed an atonal chord shape and raked his nails across the strings.
“What kind of a jerk?” asked Hamby.
“I’ll tell you,” she said, “but first you need to know about my mother–my new mother, that is.” Eleanora took a breath to gather her courage before continuing. “On the day we all met, my father introduced me as his darling most precious, not knowing what he was about to unleash. Jealousy seethed inside my new mother, and the thought that someone else might be my father’s darling most precious drove her mad.”
“Ah,” said Hamby. “Low self-esteem combined with a scarcity mindset, no doubt the result of some unresolved psychological trauma. Not an easy thing to live with, for her or her family.”
“No,” Eleanora said, “it wasn’t, but just hearing you say that takes the sting out of it somewhat. Now, where was I? Oh yes. My father, love-struck, marriage vows still ringing in his ears, began shutting me out of his life. At first it was just the little things: he stopped tucking me in at bedtime and found nothing admirable to say about my shell collection. Then he started making breakfast for three instead of four, and one day I found my picture torn from the family portrait and left to burn in the fireplace. Another day, I came home from the beach to find my bedroom turned into, and I quote, Ye Gallery of Pretty Portraits of My Beautiful New Wife. I’ve been sleeping on the floor of Ye Gallery for weeks now and I’m pretty sure I’ve done something to my back. Finally, the seasons changed, and my father’s wickedness reached a new low: he sent me out in this paper dress and forbade me to return until I’d filled a basket with fresh strawberries. But there are no strawberries in winter, which can mean only one thing: he sent me out to die.”
Hamby closed his eyes solemnly and nodded. “Sounds like a 10 on the Jerk Scale to me. Not only is he trying to do a murder, he’s shirking his fatherly responsibilities. You gotta take care of the kids, man, you’ve gotta take care of the kids.”
Tears welled up in the little girl’s eyes. “So now what am I supposed to do?” she said, the colour returning to her face. Suddenly, she sat forward. “Wait–could I stay here with you?” As soon as the words escaped her mouth, the little girl’s face flushed hot with embarrassment. “No, of course not,” she mumbled. “Stupid me. I shouldn’t have asked. Please, forgive me.”
Hamby put a hand on the girl’s shoulder.
Sam played a real sweet chord progression–major 4th, major 5th, major tonic, minor 6th–filling the room with a sense of rising triumph.
Levi used his Party Vibes to radiate an atmosphere of jubilant homecoming.
“Dude, you’re one of us now,” Hamby said. “If you wanna, of course.”
Eleanora did wanna, and so from that day until the end of Time she was known as The Fourth Dude, and her special power was Finding Lost Things. She’d learnt this trick while looking for interesting sea shells, and after coming to live with the dudes, her skills had magically blossomed. First she became an expert in Finding Things Around The Cottage, and then she became an expert in Finding Things Outside The Cottage, and THEN she became an expert in Finding Things-Of-An-Abstract-Nature, such as love and justice and hope and chaos.
Time in the cottage went by very strangely. Day after day, the dudes partied and chilled while outside the cottage, years passed in the blink of an eye. One day there was a knock at the door and a raggedy old man stood in their doorway. Levi, who was meditating at the time, leapt to his feet and grabbed the others by the shoulders – the Party Vibes on this fella were in the sewer!
“You lost, pal?” asked Hamby.
“In more ways than you could imagine,” the old man croaked. His lips were cracked, his skin was blistered, and his eyes stared sightlessly. “I’ve ruined it all,” the man said. “The good lord gave me all that I could desire, and I threw it all away. Now I have nothing, and no one to blame but myself.”
“Dang, bro, that’s harsh,” said Sam, wondering what musical instrument he might use to improve the situation. “What can we do to help you?”
“I have no idea,” said the old man. “I just wish I could do things over. I wish I could have a second chance.”
Hamby turned to Eleanora and said, “What do you think?”
She shrugged, but Sam played an optimistic melody on the marimba to lift everyone’s spirits and she said, “Let’s give it a go. Tell us, old man, tell us the tale of your life, and I’ll see if I can find you your second chance.”
And so the old man told his tale.
He had been a very bad man. He’d once had a darling most precious daughter, but then he’d married a woman whose difficult life had poisoned her with jealousy, so much so that she told him that his heart must belong to her alone. So madly did he love his new wife that he sent his daughter into the bleak midwinter and prayed for her to die! And surely the girl had died, for she was never seen again. The guilt fell upon him like a ravenous animal and consumed him. He confessed his misdeeds but found no comfort in the arms of his wife. She could no longer stand the sight of him and threw him out onto the streets. His grief grew and grew: he scratched out both his eyes and howled his misery into the night sky. And from that day forth he had spent his life living off scraps, rummaging through bins for rotten morsels of food, and drinking rainwater from the gutter. But no amount of punishment seemed to ease his conscience!
“Punishment cannot make a thing right,” the old man said, his voice hoarse and shaky. “Only making things right makes things right.”
“And what would make things right?” Eleanora asked.
“Well that’s the problem! Even if the girl weren’t dead, I have nothing in my possession but sorrow, and nothing to give her except an apology. If only I could, I would gladly give her my own life in exchange for one I took from her. I’d do just anything to find some peace of heart!”
“Well, it just so happens that I am very good at Finding Things,” said Eleanora, “and now that I have heard your tale, I know exactly where you can find some peace of heart, and a second chance.”
“But how? But where?” he said.
“Right here, and like this,” she said, and then she put her arms around the old man.