The Buffoon and the Countryman
and Another Countryman

At a country fair there was a Buffoon who made all the people laugh by imitating the cries of various animals. He finished off by squeaking so like a pig that the spectators thought he had a porker concealed about him. But a Countryman who stood by said: “Call that a pig’s squeak? Nothing like it! You give me ’til tomorrow and I will show you what it’s like.” The audience laughed at the man, but he left the fair determined to show them how gullible they were.

As the Countryman made his way home, however, doubt set in. How, exactly, would he best the Buffoon?

Why he desired so fervently to bring shame upon the Buffoon the Countryman knew well: Ten years earlier, the Countryman had been a Freshman at the County College, enrolled on a scholarship given by the Tinkerers’ Guild. He had worked hard for that scholarship, and he had intended to work even harder for his degree in Alchemical Engineering. Genius often attracts ridicule, however, especially among those too young to appreciate the hurtfulness of their words and actions. So it was that the young Countryman had attracted the yearlong and increasingly intolerable abuse of a senior in his Introduction to Hermeticism class....

When he had returned to his cottage, the Countryman went directly to his cellar, where he maintained a laboratory for the conducting of scientific trials and construction of mechanical contrivances. He cleared a table of the detritus of various unfinished projects, putting aside beakers and flasks, kites and keys, and a stock ticker with no apparent utility. Then he brought to the table some paper and a platen made of tin with a spiral groove on its surface, something the Countryman had recently been fooling with for another experiment. He laid the paper on the platen, then brought an electromagnet with an embossing point connected to an arm over the disc. The Countryman knew that if the disc was removed from the machine and put on a similar machine provided with a contact point, the embossed record would cause the signals to be repeated into another wire. The Countryman knew as well that a pawl connected to a diaphragm to engage a ratchet-wheel serving to give continuous rotation to a pulley connected by a cord to a little paper toy representing a man sawing wood would permit him, the Countryman, if he could record the movements of the diaphragm properly, to cause such records to reproduce the original movements imparted to the diaphragm by the voice, and thus succeed in recording and reproducing sounds. Obviously.

Suddenly inspired, the Countryman found a grooved cylinder over the surface of which he placed a thin tin foil, substituting this apparatus for the disc in his machine. With anticipation more keen than he had ever felt before, the Countryman activated his device and spoke aloud this meaningless sentence: “Mary had a lambkin with a snowy woollen coat.”

The Countryman’s device reproduced his voice as if the man had repeated his words in the same room a moment later. The Countryman took the stairs up from his cellar two at a time, emerging behind his cottage to where he kept his animals. Scooping a small sow up in his arms, he brought it down to his laboratory, where, still holding the beast in his arms, he turned on his machine again and then pulled the sow’s tail to make her yelp—a sound beautiful to the Countryman beyond words when he played it back. He nearly kissed the pig on her snout before releasing her to run back outside.

So great was the Countryman’s joy that he could scarcely sleep that night. At sunrise, he carefully loaded his device onto a wooden cart and thus transported it to the fairgrounds.

The Buffoon again took the stage and made crowds of fairgoers laugh and gasp and heap praise upon him by imitating animals. When he had finished, to the raucous cheers of the audience for his imitation of a pig, the Countryman took the stage, bringing with him his machine. “If you want to hear what a pig really sounds like,” he offered the assembled simpletons, “cock your ears thisward!” But the Countryman’s machine did not make the sound of a pig. The machine made no sound at all.

“God’s wounds!” the Countryman swore under his breath. Raising his head from his machine, he began to ask the crowd, “Does anyone have——” ...then he stopped himself, thinking better of it, and, muttering a promise to return shortly, left the stage to run home for a fresh battery.

The Countryman was placing his machine carefully upon his wooden cart, not for a moment intending to leave it at the fair while he went to his cottage, when a sound from the stage caused him to turn around suddenly. It was the sound of a pig. It was the real sound of a pig. There was another Countryman on the stage, with his head down, behind a burlap curtain. The curtain hid, the first Countryman had no doubt, an invention as ingenious as his own—but which had worked when the other Countryman had needed it to. The first Countryman was nearly blinded with rage and self-recrimination for having been so short-sighted as not to bring with him that day a backup voltaic pile of Galvanic cells. Damn his inattention to detail! Darn his arrogance!

But even before the Countryman could finish berating himself, the crowd began hissing and throwing rocks at the second Countryman until he stopped making animal sounds and raised his head from behind the curtain.

“You fools!” he cried. “See what you have been hissing!” He withdrew from behind the curtain a little pig whose ear he had been pinching to make him utter the squeals.

Huh, thought the first Countryman. That also would have worked.

The Countryman left the fair and returned home again to start working on some sort of electric... chair, maybe?

Matthew David Brozik wrote this and many other short humor pieces, which have been published in print and online by The New Yorker, Adult Swim, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Grin & Tonic, The Big Jewel, and no one.

Read more humor here. Or read some fiction here.