Once upon a time there was a King of the Lemmings. At any rate, he said he was a king and he seemed like such a nice guy that nobody had the heart to argue with him. Besides, they didn’t really know what a “king” was. They noticed he had lots of food and was surrounded by lots of other lemmings who were well-known hoarders and also had lots of food, but what of it? Maybe a king was some kind of banker. And so what if there were rumors going around that during the Lemming Wars he had enlisted in the 16th Lemming Flying Corps and then hid in his hole so he couldn’t be called up to the Front? Nobody could prove it. So let him be a “king”. What harm could it do?
His first order of business as a “king” was to take all the food of the poorest lemmings and sell it. A few lemmings were concerned about this but he answered, “They have more food than they need and anyway, they’d have a lot more if they weren’t so lazy. Besides, my friends need it more than they do.”
“But your friends have more now than they’ll ever eat,” somebody objected.
“They need it,” King George replied (for that was his name), “so they can make sure the rest of you have enough food.”
Maybe his friends were going to give the food away, they thought, and George gave them each a leaf to prove it. “At least he didn’t take our food,” most of them agreed, and someone added, “And he gave us this leaf.”
But one lemming named Merridew scratched his head and muttered, “This doesn’t make sense.” And sure enough, the King’s friends kept the rest of it for themselves.
King George used the proceeds from the sale of the poor’s food to build himself a giant Golden Palace, and then he moved into it with all his friends. Whenever any of the other lemmings came to visit, a big burly lemming with a shotgun would yell, “Go away!” and shoot them in the face. “What happened to nice George?” they asked themselves. No one had an answer. They never saw him any more. He stayed in his Golden Palace most of the time until one day he appeared on his gold-encrusted balcony and gave a speech.
“I am the Decider,” he said, “and I have decided you should move closer to the cliffs where there’s more food.”
“There’s plenty of food around here,” Merridew called out. “At least there would be if your friends would stop hogging it all.”
“You will address me as ‘Your Decidedness’,” King George said with a smirk.
“Because I am the Decider and I’ve decided it would be an appropriate show of respect for the King – that’s me – if you said ‘Your Decidedness’ whenever you talked to me.”
“We never had to call anybody ‘Your Decidedness’ before,” Merridew protested. “We’re democratic.”
“You never had a king before. Now you do and you’re not democratic any more. This is now a republic–”
“What’s a republic?”
George smirked again. “Sort of a monarchy the way I play it. Anyway, the point is that you don’t get to question my decisions. I’m the Decider and you have to do whatever I decide you have to do and I’ve decided you’re going to move closer to the cliffs. Tomorrow.”
“What if we don’t want to move?” Merridew persisted.
“Then my enforcer – uh, my Vice-King -” he pointed to the burly man with the shotgun who was standing beside him “- will move among you and take down the names of the lemmings who won’t do what they’re told and we’ll throw them into secret prisons where they’ll be tortured until they tell us the names of the other lemmings who won’t do what they’re told and then he’ll shoot them in the face because clearly they must be Enemies of the State and deserve whatever they get.”
“Oooo!” said the crowd. “We wouldn’t like that.”
“You bet your sweet bippy you wouldn’t,” King George said, and the next morning everybody packed up their belongings and moved closer to the cliff.
There was more food there, but King George’s Vice-King, whose name was Dickie-Bird, waved his shotgun and all the King’s rich friends – who called themselves the “Oyl Magnets”, whatever that meant – took most of what everybody gathered and then sold it back to them at prices they could barely afford. Pretty soon that area was stripped, too, and King George appeared on the golden balcony once more.
“I am the Decider,” he said, “and I have decided to invade the area right on the edge of the cliffs. There’s more food there.”
“We can’t do that,” Merridew said. “There’s another colony of lemmings that live on the edge of the cliff. That area belongs to them.”
King George shrugged. “We must have food or we’ll die. Anyway, we have to attack them before they attack us. It’s only a matter of time. They’ll run out of food and when they do, they’ll try to take ours. It’s a matter of National Security. Are you against National Security? Then you’re a traitor!” He was getting quite excited and smirking a lot.
“But,” Merridew tried to interrupt, “they haven’t attacked us -”
“They did, too,” King George snapped. “Besides, what do you care about them? We are beautiful brown lemmings, sleek and pretty and proud, but they are gray lemmings – dirty gray, greasy gray – ugly little buggers. They deserve to die!” Dickie-Bird cocked his shotgun and aimed it at Merridew’s face. “You got a problem with that?” King George smirked.
“But who’s going to fight them, Your Decidedness?” asked a voice in the crowd. “We don’t know how to fight.”
“You won’t have to. I’ve decided to have my Vice-King round up all the poor young lemmings and pay them to do it. We’ll promise them an education or some food or something and tell them how they’re saving democracy and how the gray lemmings will be better off if we’re in charge. They’ll be proud to go.”
“Well,” the crowd said to itself, “at least we won’t have to fight.”
And so the war began. At first it all went well. The King’s army of the poor proved to be able fighters and swept into the center of the cliff colony with little difficulty. It was after they had taken control that things started to break down: the Grays went into hiding, emerging at night to burn the food stock King George’s friends were attempting to loot; food they left unburned they often poisoned, killing the troops who ate it; the troops did not speak Gray and couldn’t tell guerrillas from innocent civilians. The situation became chaotic. Continue reading