Who is Schyster Werkes?
Ra’gasso is an ancient kingdom, and one that many changing tribes have called their home. Cats, bears, beavers, weasels and of course - rabbits. This is a story about one such rabbit by the name of Benjamin Fernfell. If you met him, you might shake his paw and say "hello" and then forget all about him. For there was little that set young Benjamin apart from his brethren; he was a rabbit, much like any other rabbit that lived outside the enclosed city of Cairnwall.
Before you blush and feel ignorant, know that most people - especially humans, are completely unaware of Cairnwall. You might not even find it in your atlas. Throughout the centuries, learned men with framed degrees on their walls and wireframe spectacles on their muzzles have written books about the city. Books so detailed that only their editors have read them and none of those editors actually understood a word, though they still pretended to do so, because they got paid by the word.
Cairnwall was enclosed within a large, impenetrable square block of polished metal. Some say it was forged by mages over the span of one night, others say it was built by the hard work of manual laborers. A few young hipsters argued that if mages had built it, they would never allow themselves to be forgotten, and thus the wall must have been built by workers. Others argued that the mages sacrificed fame out of love for their people, and chose not to be remembered out of modesty.
This display of modesty touched the heart of many Ra’gassan, so they held an annual celebration in honor of the nameless mages, for only sacrifices that are broadcast the loudest are considered worth honoring in Ra’gasso.
Benjamin Fernfell didn’t care who built the enclosure and had never visited Cairnwall. He only knew that today was the big day where he joined the work team. Together with his fellow rabbits, he’d tend to the needs of the enclosed city - the mighty machinery that kept them all alive in its own subtle and invisible way. He put a paw on the shining wall and stroked the cool metal. The surface reflected the sunlight into a thousand refracting beams, each shooting a single color into a new direction.
The thump…thump…thump pawfalls of a rabbit hopping towards him broke his concentration and he turned to meet the overseer rabbit.
“Heads or tails?” asked the overseer and twiddled a coin in his paw. “You’ll be assigned to heads or tails duty.”
He then tossed the coin, bearing the regal face of King Leopaw the third.
“Call it!” said the Overseer.
The impenetrable wall had only two small orifices as visible points of entry, called head and tail. The “heads” crew was responsible for gathering food to feed into the maw of the machinery. For a metal box, the machinery had an impressive appetite and craved a constant supply of food.
The “tails”-crew cut down lumber and shoved the logs into the tail port of the machinery. The tail port had other, unofficial names among the working rabbits, but they never spoke those names aloud when the overseer was around, for he took himself very seriously and disapproved of laughing. And if he couldn’t laugh, no-one else was allowed to laugh either. He accepted a smile now and then, provided it lasted no more than three seconds. Overdoing it, could be indicative of that rabbit having a dangerous sense of humor.
“Tails!” said the overseer as the coin landed on the back of his paw.
Soon after, Benjamin joined a work team of rabbits who fed wooden logs through an open chute into the metal wall.
“You’re TILTING it!” shouted the overseer. “It must go in straight. It’s very important.” The rabbits pushed and pulled at the log to keep it going straight into the maw of the machinery.
“Why must I do everything myself?” cried the overseer and crossed his arms. Then he stood still and watched the team struggle with the log. As the end of the log disappeared into the machinery, the overseer uncrossed his arms and called for the next log.
Once in a while, a small explosion from within the machinery sprayed a cloud of sawdust from a grate on the side of the wall. Benjamin gathered a handful of debris and let the small grains run between his fingers.
“Is this what comes out of the machinery?” The overseer gave him an overbearing look.
“Nothing ever comes out of the machinery. We feed it in both ends and the inner workings keep us alive.”
Benjamin looked to the forest where other rabbits were busy turning fields into plantations for trees to feed into the machinery. This part of Ra’gasso was once a fertile land with plenty of carrots for everyone, but the machinery always called for more trees and the expanding forests left little room for carrot patches.
“There were never this many trees before,” said Benjamin. “There’s no room left to grow enough food for us all.”
“Trees have always grown here,” said the overseer. If there is an environmental crisis, it’s caused by the trees themselves and not by us.”
“But last year, fifty rabbits starved to death.”
“Maybe so,” said the overseer, “but we reproduced fifty two. That’s a surplus of two. So as you can clearly see, there is no problem and the plantations are good for you.”
Benjamin toiled all day, feeding logs into the tail port until he was near exhausted. When the overseer had his back turned, Benjamin sneaked off to catch his breath and to gaze at the setting sun. The sunlight reflected off the metal in hues of rich orange and the shadows cast revealed the outline of a hitherto unnoticed door into Cairnwall. A faint “Maintenance” was carved into the metal door.
Faced with the option of returning to his tail-port duty, the alluring door leading into the strange land of maintenance was too tempting to resist. Benjamin pressed a round knob on the door, and it creaked open on rusty hinges.
Inside, a group of ferrets lifted the wooden logs off the chute and carried it to a beaver, who gnawed it into splinters. A large pile of sawdust piled around him as he gnawed, and soon he was up to his neck in wood shavings. Now and then the beaver let out a loud sneeze, and another cloud of sawdust flew through the grate and into the face of the rabbits outside. Another team of ferrets scooped the splinters into pails and carried them away.
The beaver held up a single, pointy shard of wood end examined it with one eye closed - the only piece that hadn’t been carried away.
“This one is perfect!” he said. “His majesty will need it to run the kingdom.”
“Is this how the trees are used?” asked Benjamin.
“Delivering the shard of representatives is an all-important duty,” replied the beaver. “We must deliver one of these to the King every day. Otherwise the dam will collapse.”
“But we’ve fed the machinery so many logs today, what happens to all the rest of the shavings?”
“Overhead,” said the beaver. “There’s always overhead in a system like this.”
- - -
Once outside the woodcutters shop, Benjamin could see the capitol of Cairnwall with the royal tower reaching high towards to sky. Benjamin put the shard of representatives in his pocket and went on his way.
“You must deliver the shard before sunset tomorrow,” said the beaver. “The future of our kingdom depends on it.”
He had walked several miles when he spotted a village of sheep. Time for a rest, he decided, but outside the village he was confronted by two grey wolves, who stood bent over the remains of a dead sheep.
“He was killed,” sighed the wolf. Strands of fresh meat were stuck between his teeth, and the smell of dead sheep escaped with his every breath.
“He was killed, by the outlaw Schyster Werkes.”
Benjamin let out a shriek of terror and fled into the village. He was so busy looking down that he crashed into the woolly side of a sheep who was studying a book on economics.
“Calm down little rabbit.” The sheep closed the book and wiped his spectacles with a piece of checkered cloth.
“Wolves!” cried Benjamin, “they are right outside the village.”
The sheep patted Benjamin on the head and smiled overbearingly. “Of course. The wolves are here to protect us.”
“They didn’t protect you just then,” cried Benjamin. “They were too busy killing one of you.”
“Is that so?” The sheep frowned at Benjamin. “How would someone like you know?”
“I was there. I saw it with my own eyes.”
“Ah,” bleated the sheep. “But you have no eyeglasses, so your eyes could deceive you.”
“It’s the truth,” said Benjamin.
“Not unless it’s peer reviewed,” said the sheep and measured the rabbit’s nose between two fingers.
“Your muzzle is too small,” he said.
“Too small for what?” asked Benjamin. He had never before considered his muzzle to be small and inadequate.
“We sheep have proper muzzles for wearing corrective lenses. We can read important news and watch documentaries, and that’s why sheep always know while rabbits only believe.”
They walked into the village square, where the sheep all gathered around a visiting crow.
“The other’s bad!” Said the crow. “The other’s bad”
“Did you hear?” bleated one sheep and held on to his savings. “The others are BAD. The crow says so.”
“No!” cried a ewe and they all listened to her because she wore an expensive ribbon. “The others are WRONG, another crow told me”.
“They are bad BECAUSE they are wrong.”
“They are not only wrong,” said one wolf, his dark voice cutting through the bleating. “They are intentionally evil and must be stopped.”
“-and they are led by that criminal mastermind…” said one sheep who always paid particular attention in school. She cast a nervous glance in all directions before she whispered;
“Schyster Werkes?” Repeated Benjamin.
“Don’t say it loud,” cried the sheep. “He might hear you.”
“He already did,” growled the wolf. “He and the others have killed many of your kind.”
The sheep bleated in horror. “Then, who are the others?”
“If they are others,” said the wolf. ”Obviously they cannot be one of you.”
“Then we must look for someone who is not one of us,” cried the sheep.
They all turned towards Benjamin and stared at him for a long time.
“He’s definitely different,” whispered one sheep with long ears finally.
The sheep with the book stepped forward once more to look at Benjamin.
“This rabbit also claims to know the truth, even though he doesn’t wear spectacles.”
The ewes gathered their lambs and shielded them from Benjamin, while their rams begged the wolves to take action.
The wolves circled around Benjamin and bared their fangs in a vicious snarl. The sheep told their lambs to close their eyes, and one or two actually did so, while Benjamin held his breath and counted the seconds before the wolves sank their teeth into him.
But to his surprise, the attack never came. The two wolves only paraded back and forth with their tails raised high. They snarled and flexed their muscles and let out the most dreadful howls - but they didn’t harm Benjamin in any way.
“Run!” sneered one wolf finally. “Go tell Schyster Werkes we’re ready for him,” and Benjamin turned on his heel and ran.
The wolves watched Benjamin disappear among the trees, and then they turned their attention back to the flock of sheep who broke out in rounds of spontaneous applause.
“Aren’t you glad we’re here to protect you?” asked the wolf.
- - -
Clinging on to the wooden shard, Benjamin darted from rock to tree, from tree to bush, from bush to glade until he bumped nose to colorful tail with a peacock.
“The wolves let me go,” he panted and collapsed on the ground, exhausted.
The peacock waited patiently while Benjamin regained his breath. Then he groomed a few feathers and asked
“What do you fear the most?”
“Err…I don’t know.”
“Correct!” said the peacock. “You fear that which you don’t know, the most.”
“That is why everybody fears Schyster Werkes,” said the other peacock. “They’ve never seen him.”
“But we tell people the truth,” said the first peacock. He held a quill pen made from one of his own feathers, with which he wrote in an expensive looking notebook.
“What did you write for your speech?” asked one peacock the other. “I’ve written: Schyster Werkes is a coldblooded criminal,” answered the second.
“Then I’ll say: Schyster Werkes is one hot rebel.”
“-in return, half the people will follow each of us,” said both peacocks in unison.
Benjamin thought of the world outside the machinery. He thought of his tribe feeding the machinery to provide the wooden shards, and of the starvation.
They don’t realize how bad it is, he thought.
“Then tell the people there’s no food left,” he said.
“No food Indeed?” asked the first peacock. “Then I’ll write that we’re surely doomed.”
“Nonsense!” replied the other. “I shall write a statement to prove that starvation is a privilege.”
The peacock plucked a colorful tail from his plumage and dipped the tip in a vial of red ink.
“The sacrifice!” he cried. “See how I bleed for the truth.”
Both peacocks grew quiet while they worked on their reports.
“Do you always disagree?” asked Benjamin.
“Of course,” said both peacocks. If we agreed on anything we wouldn’t have anything to do.
“Next I’ll write that the sky is red,” explained one peacock.
“Then I shall write that it’s blue,” replied the other.
“But it’s both,” cried Benjamin. “The sky is red when the day is very young and very old, and blue when the sun shines.”
“True,” said both peacocks, “but most people never look to the sky, because they’re too busy staring at their feet.”
- - -
Benjamin followed the road until he arrived at the castle where he was greeted by his Majesty, King Leopaw the third.
The old lion invited Benjamin inside, and then he sat down and began to eat.
“You’re lucky,” said the King in between mouthfuls. “Today I’ll show you how a kingdom is run.”
“Your people are starving,” cried Benjamin. “The trees cover the fields and we can’t produce food for everyone.”
“But, I see plenty of food,” said the King and looked around. His table was full of fresh produce from the fields.
“Just listen”. The king held a paw to his ear. “I don’t hear anyone complaining.”
“Still,” he said. “I’m a man of the people, so I will look into the matter. It is my duty as a King to inform everyone if the system works - or not.”
He led Benjamin to a thick metal door secured by several locks.
“Very few get to see what’s behind this door,” he whispered.
There was a large table in the room with eleven empty chairs. An ancient looking computer rested on the table, making an occasional clicking noise.
“It’s an old Commodore 64!” cried the rabbit.
“It’s the greatest mind in the kingdom,” said the lion. “I’m its caretaker, because I have the deepest voice and the most impressive mane in the land.”
The monitor displayed an eight-bit drawing of a castle surrounded by fields. Pixelated farmers marched at the bottom of the screen, while immobile soldiers protected them from an unseen enemy. At the top of the screen, a title-line read “Sim Kingdom, 1983 by SSI”.
The software calculated how much food to produce, how to divide the riches and how to avert natural disasters such as hurricanes and Godzilla.
“This is how we’ve run the kingdom since 1983.” The lion looked at his watch and counted down the seconds: three two one… “And now is the time to press the “Auto Play” key and we‘ll all be safe until tomorrow. Then I shall press the same key again”.
“Continue auto play Y/N” flashed on the monitor, and with every passing second the monitor emitted a soft bell noise.
The old lion cleared his throat and rolled up his sleeve, and then he pressed “Y”. The little colored sprites sprang back into life and returned to the routines they had been programmed to carry out, many years ago.
“-and now for the final check.” The King carefully lifted off the plastic cover and exposed the circuit board inside. He opened a brown leather briefcase and took out a thermometer, which he pressed to the CPU. He counted to twenty while stroking his mane and looking important. “The core temperature is good,” he said. “I told you there were no problems; the system works and we must tell the people.”
The king held out a massive paw. “Do you have it?” He asked. “The shard of representatives; I need it now.”
Benjamin gave the wooden shard to the lion, who proceeded to pick his teeth with it.
“There!” he said. “An important man like me can’t be seen with spinach between his fangs.”
The King combed his mane and bared his teeth to the mirror, checking that rogue bits of spinach hadn’t escaped the toothpick.
Benjamin followed the King outside where they were greeted by an elderly otter and a large communion of crows.
“This is my advisor,” said the lion and nodded to the otter, who was dressed in a long black coat. “Without advisors, the Kingdom of Ra’gasso would be a simple dictatorship.” He pressed his hand to his stomach.
“-and any kind of ship makes me seasick.”
The lion tapped the otter’s shoulder, and the otter turned around making adjustments to his hearing aid.
“You must inform the people the system works perfectly,” said the lion.
The otter and lion walked over to a podium, where a microphone had been set up to broadcast the reassuring news to a gathering of waiting crows.
The otter switched the microphone on and proclaimed in a loud voice
And the crows replied “Schyster Werkes” in unison. “Go tell the people.”
The old lion tugged gently at the otter’s coat, and whispered something in his ear.
“Oh, wait a second!” shouted the otter at the crows. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of dentures which he fit into his mouth with a soft click. He reached for the microphone again.
“I was wrong,” he said.
“I meant to say, the system works - My bad.”
“The otter was wrong!” shouted half the crows,
“The otter was bad!” shouted the other half.
“Go tell the people,” they all cried and lifted from the ground in a dark flurry of wings that momentarily blocked out the sun.
- - -
Benjamin and the King walked back to the castle, but when they reached the control room, the old lion suddenly stopped.
“I…don’t feel…well,” he gasped and clutched at his heart. “I must have reached my expiration date.”
The lion sat down and slowly slumped in his chair.
“I spent my nine lives looking out for the system,” he rasped. “I’m done for, but the system hasn’t lost a single byte. See how superior it is?”
King Leopaw closed his eyes and smiled. The moment he stopped breathing, the two peacocks entered the throne room.
“We hereby declare the former Kingdom of Ra’gasso a republic”. They stepped over the body of the dead lion and took place on either side of the computer.
“Aren’t you going to switch off the old computer?” asked Benjamin.
“Of course not,” laughed the peacocks. “But the people will get to choose from which side we press the auto play button, left or right.”
Then the peacocks began an argument about who would take either side, and who of their friends they could get to sit in the empty chairs.
“You must press the auto-play button for us,” shouted the peacocks. “We’re much too busy arguing over important stuff.”
Benjamin leaped onto the table, and after a moment of hesitation, he pressed the “No” button.
“Auto play: OFF,” flashed the monitor.
“What have you done?” screamed the peacocks.
“We have no new ideas of our own.”
“Then you’ll have to think of something,” said Benjamin as he jumped off the table.
“This is terrible,” shouted the peacocks. “There’s no time to waste.”
Then they both sat down and prepared written statements.
Pressing No was a bad idea, read the first statement, but not as terrible as the old program.
Pressing No was a fantastic idea, read the other. But not as great as the old program.
The peacocks shook hands and nodded satisfied. “Whatever key you press from now, I’ll swear you’ve made the wrong decision,” they agreed.
“And whatever happens, we can’t be held responsible, because that rabbit pressed the key,” and they both waved at Benjamin.
“Your move!” flashed the monitor.
- - -
Benjamin rabbit seized the moment to leave the two arguing peacocks behind. They were now in charge, and there were important decisions to disagree on.
He ran as hard as he could, back towards the maintenance door, over field and marsh, through meadow and grass, until he bumped into a large, brown bear who collected berries in a forest clearing.
“Holy CRAP!” shouted the startled bear and picked up his basket. “You almost gave me a heart attack.”
“That’s what I do,” replied Benjamin and gave the bear the biggest hug he could muster, which was surprisingly strong for an animal his size.
The bear let out a surprised “err…thank you,” and watched as the rabbit disappeared into the undergrowth.
“What was that all about?” asked another bear.
“I got a hug from a rabbit who called himself Schyster Werkes.”
His friend laughed, “You should probably tell someone.”
And he did; he told his friends and his family, and they told their friends and colleagues and soon the whole of Ra’gasso knew of the mysterious revolutionary;
a mild mannered rogue who asks too many questions, who challenges the set ways and makes the world a friendlier place, one hug at a time.
But as we all know, bears have terrible memories and they soon forgot exactly who Schyster was, or even what he looks like, so the many tribes of Ra’gasso are still asking themselves:
Just who is Schyster Werkes?
It might even be you.