Albert and Thomas built a car. It was actually the first car ever built in the age of magic carpets and in a land of little but sand. In fact they built their car in the midst of tens of thousands of magic carpets all flying in flocks across this desert sand.
Well, not exactly flying. Each rider sort of sat himself in the middle of the carpet with his knees bent, and, with an undulating motion in which he would shift his weight between his heels and buttocks, inch himself forward a grunt at a time. In this fashion, these flocks of grunters were able to reach speeds that, when coupled with sufficient credulity, provided a breeze that took the edge off the merciless heat of the desert sun.
Perhaps to you, this seems ridiculous, but were you to have asked the carpet pilots (as they liked to referred to themselves), they would have insisted that they were indeed flying, and that it was all due to the warm magic acutely evidenced as their greatly-calloused bottoms rubbed away on their carpets. “Is it painful?” you might have asked. “Compared to what?” they would have said, since their bottoms had known nothing else. And from the perspective of a distant sand dune, with the reddish sun setting over the desert, the sight and sound of these slowly migrating flocks of grunters was, in an odd way, spectacular.
“It’s a grand sight, is it not?” exclaimed Albert. “But they’re not actually flying” Thomas scowled. “Of course not” said Albert as he squinted pensively at the last rays of evening light.
Now here you might ask why Albert and Thomas were not themselves grunters in possession of their own carpets. And here I would tell you that weeks earlier, after Albert had calculated that walking was 4.85 times faster than grunting your way around the desert, Thomas had suggested that they sell their carpets and invest the proceeds in devising a way to escape the desert which neither of them was particularly fond of. Not that they knew what was beyond it. For neither of them had ever seen anything green. But they had their suspicions that there was more than sand, and that life beyond the sand would be amazing.
It was on this particular evening, at the precise moment the last glimmer of red fell behind the horizon, that Albert’s eyes widened, his notebook opened, and a furious scratching of calculations ensued as Thomas looked on with curiosity. An hour later, Albert explained a wonderful concept to Thomas, who in turn, added his own scratches to the notebook. By the time the Eastern horizon had lit up, they were excitedly chattering and scurrying about scrounging up a hodge-podge of rusty mechanical rubbish.
By midday, they had constructed enough of a carriage to attract the attention of the flying grunters who diverted their flight plans to form a counter-clockwise swirl around the assemblage. “So…what’s that thing supposed to do?” a young grunter finally ventured between grunts. “It’s gonna take us places” responded Albert, not bothering to look up from his calculations. “Like the magic of our carpets?” came the inquiry. “No, not like that” said Albert honestly. “That thing will never get off the ground” someone else said. Thomas was tempted to point out that he had yet to see their flying carpets leave the ground, but instead he wisely opted for “With any luck, it won’t have to. It has wheels”, and he pointed to four tires lying nearby.
“Wheels!” they all roared in derision. Both the name and the shape humored them. Then Thomas attached the wheels all in alignment to the carriage. The more formidable sight caused the laughter to dissipate into concerned whispers. Would not the magic turn on them all for allowing such an odd contraption to be built in their presence? This magic had been a part of their culture for as long as any of them could remember, and this new prospect of a competitor was disturbing. Some were disturbed because they made a good living selling carpets and the accompanying book of magical incantations. Others were disturbed by the notion that, if there was indeed another and better method of locomotion, they would appear to be fools for having spent a lifetime rubbing their bottoms raw. Still others were so committed to the book of magic, that they daily affirmed that a life without magic wasn’t worth living and thanked the magic for giving them such durable bottoms. These devoted grunters scoffed at the idea that Albert and Thomas were even remotely onto something. I could go on and on about all the silly arguments the grunters used to defend and perpetuate their magical life-style, but we really should get back to the story.
The grunters’ fears heightened when Albert begin to attach a large panel which he called a “solar sail” to the roof of the contraption. A senior grunter suddenly landed his carpet, causing a 80 carpet pile-up. He leaped to his feet and demanded that Albert and Thomas cease operations. “But why?” asked Albert politely. “Because the book of magic has made it clear that there is no source of magic beyond the magic of the book of magic” came the reply. “Listen Scooter” began Thomas much less politely. “You’re not flying, and you never were flying! There is no magic in your carpets, and you are delusional!”
A gasp and then silence. All eyes blinked their disbelief. No one had ever before questioned the magic or their piloting skills. Then shock was replaced with scowls, and scores of grunters began to disembarked their carpets and kick sand at Albert and Thomas. Albert and Thomas were forced to retreat to the cockpit of their contraption which they had agreed to call a “car” as a cool derivative of “carpet”. Albert jammed the gearshift into first gear, and while Thomas complained that he had not yet installed the audio system, let up on the clutch. As the car began to move, the waves of grunters parted in a mixture of outrage and astonishment. Second gear…third gear…and then they were beyond the indignation of the grunters. Albert and Thomas took turns punching each other in the shoulder and grinning as as they reached a speed of…well, it would be later that Thomas would install a speedometer. But the wind in their hair was certainly not delusional. And no one was grunting.
Days later they began to pass patches of green, and after a week found themselves on the shore of a splendid blue river where they settled down to construct a shop where they could conduct all manner of experiments and create things unimagined even to this day among the grunting carpet pilots of the desert.
Note: There are other chapters to this story such as the time Albert and Thomas got a letter from the senior grunters claiming patent rights on the car based on vague passages within the book of magic. But we’ll leave those chapters for another day.