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. . . a just-so story . . .


Just before the beginning of years, when the world was so new-and-all, God and the Devil sat around swapping stories and deciding how God should make this lovely world of his. And they looked down out over the Howling Desert, and God said, "Devil, I think that Howling Desert there needs an oasis."

And there was no such thing as an oasis yet, the world being so new-and-all, so the Devil asked, "What in blue blazes is an oasis, God?"

And God showed him. And he made the Djinn in charge of All Deserts to come to them, and the Djinn came rolling in a cloud of dust (Djinn always travel that way because it is Magic, even through the heavens where there's no dust to speak of, not to mention clouds of it), and God said, "O Djinn of All Deserts, show this poor Devil here what an oasis is."

And quicker than you could blink four times, the Djinn had stretched out a mirage over the heavens as far as the eye could see, and the Devil said, "That's an oasis? I want two!"

And the Devil tried jumping into the pond in the middle of the oasis, but owing to its being only a mirage reflected on the Nothing of Heaven, he fell right through to the other side. And he looked up through the mirage of date-palms and shimmery, shimmery water, right at God.

And God laughed, and said, "Now, Devil, that's what an oasis looks like, but without the falling through into All of Eternity part."

And God and the Djinn of All Deserts shared a chuckle as the Devil brushed the Nothing off himself and climbed back up out of the mirage.

And God said, "Let there be an oasis for the Man in the middle of the Howling Desert." And it was so, because the Djinn was an obedient Djinn of All Deserts, and made it so.

And the Devil, not to be outdone, thought and thought, and at last invented something wonderful. And in his best God voice, he said, "And let the trunks of all the date-palms be smooth, so Man cannot climb them." And it was so, because the Djinn was an obedient Djinn of All Deserts, and made it so.

And God looked crosswise at the Devil, and said, "With the world so new-and-all, how can I make the Man look up at the date-palms in the oasis in the middle of the Howling Desert, and not be able to reach the dates at the top? To say nothing of the Horse and the Dog and the Camel, who couldn't climb if they tried, and need the Man to get their dates for them."

And God said, "Let Man have finger-nails, that he might climb the smooth sides of the date-palms and fetch the dates from the tip-tops of them for himself, and for the Horse and Camel and Dog, if the work for Man, the world being so new-and-all."

Now, man had already been made, so this was no mean chore for the great Djinn of All Deserts. So the Djinn sat down in the middle of the water in the middle of the oasis in the middle of the great Howling Desert, with his chin in his hand and his rump in the water, and began to think a Great Magic. And he drew a line in the air with his finger, and it became solid. And presently he made all sorts of queer symbols out of the line, and finally the queer symbols he fanned into a big white flame, which turned into a Magic all by itself. And he took the Magic and rolled it into a ball and gave it to the Man, who instantly grew finger-nails, and went to climb the date-palms and throw down the dates for himself, and for the animals who had not yet gotten a chance to eat in their lives, the world being so new-and-all.

And the Devil, not to be outdone, thought and thought, and at last he invented something truly sneaky and wonderful. And in his best God voice, he said, "And let Man's finger-nails grow so fast that they break off when he tries to climb the date-palms in the Howling Desert." And it was so, because the Djinn was an obedient Djinn of All Deserts, and made it so. And besides, this was no Great Magic, but only a Tiny Baby Magic.

And God said, "I'm tired and want to rest a while." And he pulled down the shade over the sun, and it was the First Night.

And the next day, when Man went to climb the date-palms of the oasis in the middle of the Howling Desert, he found that he couldn't, because his nails had grown too long in the night. And he sat on his rump while he waited for the Djinn, who always came around at some time or another.

And of course some time rather than another, the Djinn rolled himself up in his dust-cloak, and took a bearing across the desert, and found the Man sitting on his rump looking most 'scruciating forlorn. And the Djinn of All Deserts said, "My rich and befinger-nailed friend, what ever can be the matter, to make you look so, and sit on your rump so, the world being so new-and-all, and there being date-trees to climb, not to mention you haven't even found the First Woman yet?"

And the Man held out his hands and said, "O Djinn of All Deserts, is it right for one to not climb date-palms and bring down the dates, all on account of his fingernails being too long and breaking off?"

And the Djinn ho'd and humm'd, and hemm'd and haw'd, and gave the Man a finger-nail clipper. And the Man, being right and truly clever, as only the First Man ever was, immediately commenced to clip his finger-nails, and soon he was up a date-palms and throwing down dates the the animals who -- never having eaten anything else, the world being so new-and-all -- had gotten a taste for them the day before.

And God laughed when he saw how discomfited the Devil was at his scheme coming so easily to naught. But the Devil said, "Oh, God, do you think that something as tiny as a finger-nail clipper can puzzle me to no end? The world being so new-and-all, every scheme I think up is new, and I am so frightfully clever!"

God knew, of course, that He was more clever than the Devil, and besides, so was the Djinn of All Deserts, because He had made him so. Nevertheless, he really thought of turning one of his shiny new lightning-bolts -- which, the world being so new-and-all, had never even been taken out of the box -- onto the Devil to see how he liked it. But he just waited to see what the Devil-who-thought-he-was-so-frightfully-clever would do now.

And the Devil thought and thought, and at last, he thought and thought some more. And finally, after much thinking and thinking, and it was almost the Second Night, because God was starting to yawn fearsome great yawns, he invented something perfectly insidious and wonderful. And he chuckled to himself and ran off down to the oasis in the middle of the Howling Desert himself, and when he was there, he invented his new invention right in the middle of the date-palms.

And a new little tree grew up in between the date-palms, and it had beautiful smooth bark and pretty little nuts that fell off easily as soon as you could shake a branch. And the Man thought it was Really and Truly Wonderful, because he was getting tired of climbing those date-palms and throwing down the dates to the other animals, especially to the Camel, who really wasn't working at all.

But he soon found that with his nicely-trimmed finger-nails, so wonderful for climbing up date-palms, he could never open up the nuts, which had a little crack on one side just perfect of a thumb-nail that he had trimmed off just that morning. And he then sat on his rump beneath the meager shade of the brand-new tree, and looked most 'scruciating forlorn.

And the Devil went back up to God, and said, "Ha! Behold the almost-indestructible pistachio!"

And God said, "Zot!" And tried out one of his brand-shiny-new lightning bolts on the Devil-who-thought-he-was-so-frightfully-clever.

And ever since then, Man has had to choose if he wanted to open up pistachio-nuts or climb date-palms. Because you can never do both, but only one or the other.

And man opened up a road-side stand at the edge of the oasis in the middle of the Howling Desert and sold roasted and salted pistachio-nuts to the Djinn of All Deserts, who had never heard of a road-side stand, the world being so new-and-all.

My apologies to Rudyard Kipling.

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