Have you ever seen a gelgin? Probably not. But before you decide that the only reasonable answer to such a mystifying question is ‘no’—or you take the more cautious option and ask, warily, ‘what’s a gelgin?’ before submitting your answer—consider the evidence. Carefully.
Did you ever set something down somewhere, a pair of spectacles or your house key perhaps, or a piece of paper on which you’d written something important, only to discover later, when you needed it again, that you couldn’t remember where you’d left it? And did you assume that you must have forgotten where you’d left it because it was no longer where you’d been so sure you’d left it in the first place? Of course, you do eventually find the missing item, but when you do, it always turns out to have been where you’d convinced yourself it couldn’t be. Or where you were certain you’d already looked. Does this sound familiar? Well, it should, because it’s occurring all the time. But, and this is the awkward part of the puzzle, just what happens to the item you can’t find? Inanimate objects don’t have free will in the matter of whether or not to move, or so you have been taught to believe. So what exactly is happening here? Could it be that our conventional systems of explanation are wrong?
You may well conclude that someone moved the item when you weren’t paying attention. But if so, then who? Or what? Well, try this: it may have been moved by a gelgin. A gelgin? A what? This is not a notably promising line of enquiry, you might suggest at this point, but a hopelessly inadequate theory with a serious shortage of solid evidence to back it up. Nevertheless, there is more proof of the existence of gelgins than you can even begin to imagine. Yes, they do exist. What about that fugitive, barely audible, hard-to-identify murmur, almost entirely drowned out by the soft, staccato patter of raindrops against the glass, that you can sometimes hear outside your bedroom window on those dark, stormy nights when everyone in lawful possession of the basic, government-recommended, minimum allocation of common sense is tucked up safely in their beds with the lights on, the curtains drawn tightly and all the windows and doors securely locked, bolted, shuttered and barred? That was the wind, wasn’t it? Or was it?
There’s more. Did you ever catch the briefest hint of movement out of the corner of your eye? And, presumably, you turned your head to look. What did you see? Of that fleeting movement there was no trace. Nothing. Wrong again! That was also a gelgin—and this time you were simply too slow to see it with both eyes at once, or it was too quick. But if you missed such an obvious clue, then the question being begged here is whether you have even a remote idea of what is going on, right now, behind your back. Well, do you?
Still not convinced? Have you forgotten that feeling, a moment before tripping over something that you were sure you had already seen—a broken paving stone, perhaps, or a carelessly misplaced chair— the feeling that your attention had been distracted by something, but you immediately put that thought out of your mind when you realized that your senses were being diverted towards another focus of attention, the rapidly approaching pavement, ground, floor, whatever? The original distraction is easily forgotten under the pain of such an impact.
And, strangest of all, have you ever noticed how often something that you know needs to be repaired—and should have been weeks ago—breaks, tears or otherwise gives way on the very day you planned to do the repair? Uncanny, isn’t it? What’s more, the failure of the object in question always results in discomfort for someone, and if you think about it, potential for great hilarity so long as you don’t happen to be the victim. Someone must be responsible.
You might suspect that if gelgins are such masters of mischief they would be very elusive, and this time no one would doubt that you are right. In fact, it has been suggested that they have devised a way to overturn the laws of physics as we understand them, because their incredible speed of movement and remarkable agility exceed, by several orders of magnitude, what their physical appearance suggests they are capable of achieving. How they are able to accomplish this feat has not been determined, making this alleged control of time and space something of a mastery mystery, but you might want to remember that gelgins cannot fly, pass mysteriously through solid walls or distort their bodies so that they can squeeze through narrow crevices, even if, sometimes, it does seem that way.
Some gelgins are addicted to making a noise. When the mood is upon them, which is almost all the time, they are unable to resist the temptation to practise ‘interesting’ animal noises—usually in the most inappropriate of places—but they are extremely adept at this skill, to the extent that no human could possibly spot the difference between a gelgin mimic and the real animal, although the sound of a sheep in your attic or a wildebeest in your garden might seem a little out of place, if you stop to think about it. At the same time, the sibilant hiss of a snake in the grass is too obvious to be unexpected, and the choking croak of a frog in the throat cannot fail to be overheard, while any noise made by a toad in the hole is likely to be something of a giveaway. In this climate of deception, it would clearly be a big mistake to let the cat out of the bag, but it should be pointed out that anyone who has ever been taken in, even briefly, by the crocodile-in-the-bathroom gag must be quite a few coins short of a bus fare, unless, that is, the bath is where they keep their pet alligator whenever the ornamental duck pond has been taken over by invading gaggles of garrulous geese. But for those whose pet-keeping habits follow a more orthodox pattern, or who live far from any duck pond, much less a landscaped boating lake, the deduction is obvious. Come on! It was probably the plumbing, wasn’t it? Or was it?
Some gelgins are very inquisitive, poking their long noses into matters that are none of their concern. This could easily land them in more trouble than they could possibly handle, if only we knew they were there in the first place. However, because we don’t know they are there, or, rather, because we think we know they aren’t there, it doesn’t occur to us to take even the most elementary anti-gelgin precautions. Not, it might be mentioned in passing, that this would be anything less than a complete waste of time.
But it is the third characteristic of gelgins that is the most significant, the one for which they are known, the one whereby they leave their indelible imprint upon the world. They are utter, utter nuisances. They simply love to play elaborately planned little practical jokes, although this should not be taken to imply that they will eschew the opportunity to cause some spur-of-the-moment mayhem, should such an opportunity arise. In any case, they are so highly skilled at their sneaky pranks that even the most vigilant of victims never suspects the real perpetrators, blaming instead, if not their own clumsiness, then mysterious markings on the palms of their outstretched hands, the planet Mars in an undefined role, the government advisory committee on card games for three, even the theory of relativity. This last hypothesis turns out to be close, as it happens, although this isn’t because the explanation has anything to do with hard sums about time and the speed of light, or even with the odd notion that it’s possible to have third cousins twice removed (to where, one might ask). No, it’s because international finance, like wealth itself, is a relative concept. One person’s idea of extreme penury is another’s vision of the ultimate in luxury, just as one person’s fierce and dangerous dog is another’s yapping little terrier, barking unendingly for reasons that should now be clear.
This, in fact, is a clear demonstration of the brilliance of gelgin tactics—by appearing not to exist they confuse their victims, who cannot point an accusing finger at what they are unable to see and must therefore look elsewhere. As a result, when trying to determine who to blame for a series of mishaps, or who to hold responsible when a carefully thought-out plan has failed to work, a victim will offhandedly dismiss the only genuinely plausible theory available on the terminally weak grounds that somehow they had been led to believe that gelgins do not exist, forgetting that this deliberately misleading notion had originally been implanted into their subconscious minds by the gelgins themselves using the esoteric techniques of Japanese flower arranging for beginners, painting by numbers and letter writing without a pen to create a grand illusion of non-existence.
This may also help to explain why gelgins are so relentlessly annoying—and why they are so good at it. If ever a world championship were to be staged to decide the best, that is the most accomplished, annoyer of people, all human competitors would be eliminated well before the final stages of the tournament. Think of the most annoying person you know. How irritating is that? Well, double it and add the number you first thought of. Gelgins are much, much worse. Time after time, a gelgin would win in the final, and what’s more, win without having bothered to train. Being a large piece of sharp and abrasive grit in the otherwise well-oiled clockwork of human existence comes as naturally to a gelgin as, well, eating, which is what they most enjoy doing after playing practical jokes, and which is what they were doing, most likely, instead of training for that annoying world championship.
Although you will find no direct evidence of gelgin activity in the historical record, there are a few linguistic clues. For example, it is well known that crows are woodland birds, yet sailors named the look-out post at the top of the main mast of a sailing ship ‘the crow’s nest’. Why? One can speculate about this story, but no more. It may be that when look-out platforms were first used on sailing ships, most sailors did refer to ‘the seagull’s nest’. But one sailor, originally from a country village but press-ganged into service aboard a large sailing ship while on what became the last of his previously regular visits to the midsummer fair that was held every year in the nearest large town, which just happened to be a seaport—naturally, this is all conjecture—may one day have overheard a gelgin practising its squawking crow routine in what at that time was still known as the seagull’s nest. But, having recognized the sound despite the length of time since he had last heard a real crow, he began to refer to the look-out platform as ‘the crow’s nest’, because, he said, it reminded him of home. To humour him, his shipmates began to do the same—as a joke, you understand—but its use spread, presumably because it was for a short time a very funny joke. After all, a crow doesn’t spring to mind as a natural seabird, just as a puffin masquerading as a bird of prey would fail to convince, and a vulture is a poor substitute for a budgerigar.
Gelgins are gregarious creatures. They make their homes in vast networks of halls and tunnels that have been excavated over many generations in river banks, grassy knolls and the sides of wooded hillocks cloaked in brambles, briar and sundry other thorny things. And this is where you realize that gelgins are consummate masters of the arts of concealment, because every gelgin knows instinctively that the true art of concealing an object lies not in hiding it, much less in camouflaging it, but in placing it in plain view and making its presence so screamingly obvious that nobody notices it, even if they are looking for the object, and especially if they have been searching for the object for some time. This artistry is what makes their tunnels so difficult to locate, although the occasional well-contrived malfunction in the laws of physics does help.
Although gelgins live as far away as they possibly can from places frequented by humans, they venture far and wide to play their practical jokes. All the funniest are ones that require elaborate preparation, as you might expect, but many a gelgin will casually jog a man’s arm as he hammers in a nail just to watch his reaction as the hammer hits the thumb of the hand holding the nail. The man neither sees nor hears the gelgin and therefore blames the mishap on his own clumsiness. This is not to suggest that there are no clumsy people, merely that many people who have hitherto thought of themselves as clumsy may have been plagued by gelgins more frequently than is usually the case. This self-same argument can also be used to explain why some people have acquired a reputation for absent-mindedness, for forgetting where they leave things, when in truth the problem is a gelgin furtively moving (or removing) the items in question. And this is where the discussion began, with objects being moved mysteriously when nobody was paying attention. But in coming full circle, has anything been established beyond doubt? Not really, except that gelgins are no joke.