Winought was not a town that bustled with activity. Most of the activity occurred in the town hall, the regular occupants of which were not entirely in and of themselves.
But then, what would one expect from dwellers of the Haunted Woods?
The Master of Theories, Librarian De facto, Purveyor of Odd Items, Artisan Bookbinder, and Lord of the Things were sitting at a table. They were the heads of their respective departments within the town, and, in the case of the Purveyor, the only member of the department. The Lord of the Things had a similar department to that of the Purveyor's, and it was much bigger. The Purveyor did not very much like the Lord.
Together they made what could generously be called the town council. They made the decisions.
They were not, very often, made in a timely manner.
Currently the issue was that of the inn's roof. It should have been a simple matter, being that the inn could either have its roof repaired or not.
The Master of Theories spun the situation on its head last week, and now the council was in a frenzy.
"I still say we should build a new inn," said the Lord of the Things, a purple Lupe whose real name was Bill.
"I object!" This, of course, was from the Purveyor.
The Librarian stayed quiet, as she had for the past five days. Tomorrow, she promised herself, she would make ballots with only YES and NO as options and finally solve the dilemma.
The Bookbinder harrumphed. "We should just leave the place alone. What good's it ever done us?"
"The innkeeper always gives me free meals," the Master said.
"Yeah, he's a nice fellow, ain't he?" the Lord said. "Real polite, too."
"He glared at me yesterday," said the Purveyor, a red Mynci whose real name was Calvin.
"Well, did you do anything to provoke him?" the Lord asked.
"I asked him if he had any bananas."
"So what did you do?"
"I threw a coconut at him."
The Lord sighed. "Yes, because that is a social norm. When things don't go your way, throw coconuts."
"We should adopt that policy," the Master said. He was a Maractite Hissi. Nobody knew his actual name; he had been the Master of Theories for as long as anyone could remember. "I think it would benefit the fruit vendor immensely."
The Librarian, a quiet red Xweetok by the name of Susie, against her will, spoke up. "It would cost a fortune of the town's money."
"She speaks!" the Purveyor said, shocked.
Ignoring him, the Master asked, "How so?"
"Well, coconuts are from Mystery Island. That's a fair while away, so travel costs would rack up," the Librarian said.
"Don't they already?" the Bookbinder, a desert Poogle whose real name was Vox, inquired.
"Well, yes, but the demand for coconuts is low right now, so the supply is low. If demand increased we'd need more coconuts and more money."
"We'll shelve that issue for another time," the Master said. He really should have said that the issue would never again see the light of day, for the council promptly forgot about it and instead focused on the roof again. "I think perhaps we should look into different roofing materials before we make our decision..."
It was not a light drizzle, the kind of rain that allows you to hurry across the street without an umbrella. It was harsh, sheets-of-water-are-pounding-on-your-head rain, the sort that destroyed umbrellas and flooded ponds.
The innkeeper, Fred the yellow Grarrl, was having a lovely day. He had not been so silly as to hope the council would have made a decision by now, because that was what the council did – make decisions five times longer than they should – but he had hoped that the weather would stay friendly while the council deliberated.
He needed to find a better good luck token. Maybe the Lord of the Things would help him with that later.
He looked up. The rain shattered his face in half, or so it seemed. He looked down. His shoes were drowning.
The mop was grabbed with aplomb. Fred attempted to soak up the water on the floor before realizing it was hopeless two minutes later, and then looked for an umbrella and a bucket or twenty.
"'Dear Council'," the Master read at the meeting the next day, "'on behalf of the tenants and employees of the Indeed Inn, I would like to inform you of the sad state of affairs. As you well know, the roof has been in a condition of disrepair for the past week, an issue I trust you are working on solving. However, yesterday this condition worsened, for a rainstorm graced Winought with its presence. As a result more of the roof has been wrecked and the inn itself is flooded. Please come to a consensus soon and let us begin the repairs with a sense of hope. Sincerely, Fred.'"
"Well," said the Lord, "he raises a fair point."
The Librarian wordlessly handed out her ballots to the other four members. They glanced at her with confusion.
"Just pick a side!" she all but screamed. "It's about time we do something."
The Purveyor stared at the Lord of the Things, trying to guess which decision he would make. Opting that the Lord would choose YES to repairing the roof, he hastily checked the box for NO.
The Librarian, who had long ago decided that there wasn't really a choice but to repair the roof, looked at the four ballots.
"Who's the idiot who voted no?" she asked. All heads turned to the Purveyor. "Of course. Why am I surprised."
"Personal biases must not get in the way of the town's wellbeing," the Master said.
The Purveyor, who was a strong believer in sticking to a decision until the very end of the matter, said, "And who says the inn is beneficial to the town's wellbeing?"
"Its residents?" the Lord suggested.
"Pah! It would, in the long run, be far cheaper to rent or own an actual house."
"But that costs more money at first. Maybe the inn's inhabitants are incapable of having that kind of money at any given time."
"Then they're not beneficial to the town, and therefore whatever they support is also not in the best interests of Winought."
"What if they support eating bananas for every meal?"
The Purveyor tried not to act like he was backed into a corner with pitchforks pointed at him. "That's just excessive."
"You may want to rethink your diet, then," the Lord said.
"I'll have you know that bananas are full of nutrients vital to a Mynci's health!"
"And bananas are the only food that has these nutrients? You're allowed some variety, you know!"
"But I thought you only ate Chia-shaped snacks and spaghetti," the Bookbinder said to the Lord.
"Those Chia-shaped snacks come in many different flavours!"
"The main ingredient in most of them," the Librarian said, "is cheese."
"Sometimes many different cheeses," the Lord said to defend his precious snacks.
The Master sighed. Of course a conversation about the town's wellbeing would dissolve into a bickering session about the council's dietary habits.
"Now, now," he said, casting a hush over the tiny room, "I'm sure the Librarian is the only one here who has a balanced diet, so let us move on. We have, by majority vote, decided that the Indeed Inn shall once more have a roof. Librarian, please note this in the log book." The Librarian produced a small red book from her robes and started scribbling furiously. The Master went on: "We have also decided to leave everything up to Fred, keeper of the inn. I am sure he is anxious to get started on repairs and we do not wish to hinder him."
"I still say grass is a better roofing material than shingles," the Purveyor muttered.
"There is no guarantee that Fred will use shingles," the Master lied. Of course Fred would use shingles – the rest of the roof was shingles. "I will inform Fred of our decision immediately and assign him a budget. I would like one of you to stop by tomorrow to make sure things are going well."
The rest of the council looked at one another. All eyes, except the Lord's, which were fixed on his paws, landed on the Lord.
"Well then! This meeting is going fabulously," the Master of Theories exclaimed. "The Lord of the Things will visit the Indeed Inn tomorrow and see to things. Librarian, please note this." The red book was once again flipped opened and a quill set about it. Addressing the Lord, he spoke, "Please take care that you do not throw any coconuts during your visit."
The Indeed Inn was in a state of chaos, the Lord noticed. There were builders in yellow hard hats rushing about, ladders creating a pattern of conflicting lines everywhere, and cleaning crews tidying up the mess the rainstorm's flood created. He used his keen Lupe sight to cast over the crowd, looking for the yellow Grarrl.
An orange Bori found him first. "Hello, Mr. Lord," the Bori said from the Lord's side. "I was told someone might be stopping by today. Fred's not here, but I know this place inside and out. The name's Dan."
"I'm glad you're the one here, actually. We all here at the Inn need new good luck tokens."
Taken aback, the Lord said, "My department does have a form for finding charms."
"Excellent! I shall pick one up later. Come, it's not so crowded in the back. Are you claustrophobic? If you are I'm so dreadfully sorry to see you in this mess. I also hope you're not hydrophobic or stepnophobic or even ataxophobic. Oh dear, imagine you had all of those phobias! This would be torture, I'm sure, although the extent of it I cannot imagine. Can you? Gee, it really puts my fear of heights into perspective..." Dan said as he led the Lord to the back of the Indeed Inn.
The Lord listened helplessly as Dan chattered on, not even giving him time to respond to the questions, no matter how rhetorical they were. When Dan finally paused for a breath, the Lord asked, gesturing at the ladders, "I'm fairly certainly stepnophobia is the fear of steps or ladders or whatever, but what is ataxophobia?"
"The fear of messes!" Dan said.
"So you're interested in fears?" the Lord asked.
"Oh, yes. I can put a name on any fear you wish to give me!"
"Electricity," the Lord offered.
"Oh, that's a boring one. Electrophobia," Dan said forlornly.
That, the Lord silently agreed, was not a very creative phobia name. "What about the fear of heights?" he asked.
Dan opened his mouth to offer the answer before snapping it shut, his eyes widening. "I... I don't know!"
"But it's your fear!"
"I must find out!" Dan said, pushing the Lord down into a wooden chair. He then rummaged around the room, making any ataxophobe that may have been in the room very uncomfortable.
"Err, Dan," the Lord began, "I'm only here to see how the repairs are going."
"Oh." Dan visibly deflated. "Well, I expect we'll have the roof fixed within the day."
"And you're staying within budget?"
"Whatever goes over the inn will pay for itself," Dan said, casting his eyes over the bookshelves of the small office. "Ah! There it is, my book of phobias!"
"Err, do you expect you'll go over?" the Lord asked in an attempt to keep things on topic as the Bori flipped through the pages.
"Oh yes. We couldn't afford the cleaners with that measly budget, but have no worries! We'll gladly pa – acrophobia! I have a name for my fear!" Dan said.
"That, um, that's great," the Lord said, giving up on his task.
"Do you have any phobias?" Dan asked, almost as if he wished the Lord had many, many phobias.
"'fraid not," the Lord said. "Look, if I could get just a rough estimate of how much you'll be over and work out a payment plan, that would be great."
"Maybe about twenty thousand points. We can pay you off right away once I find out the actual total."
"...you're spending twenty thousand Neopoints on a cleaning crew?"
"Well, I'll be hiring painters tomorrow, too. Say, did you know that the fear of paint is..."
"We need to stop paying for civilian incidents," the Lord said at the meeting later that day.
The Librarian stopped her scribbling. The Purveyor dropped his banana. The Bookbinder's glasses ceased to be cleaned. The Master raised his eyebrows.
The Lord felt sheepish.
"Never mind," he said quietly.
"No, please elaborate," the Master said. "What the Sloth would make you think we need to change our entire town's funding?"
"Well... it's expensive."
"Yes, that's why we have budgets."
"But because we're spending so much on trivial things like bananas, we don't have enough money left for a substantial budget for the important things like making our inns safe to stay in."
"I see your visit to the Indeed Inn was eye-opening."
"They think they'll be approximately twenty thousand points over budget." There was a quiet chatter amongst the other three council members. "Granted, they don't need all the services they're getting, but I would say the repairmen and the cleaning crew are pretty important."
The Master sighed and rubbed his face with resignation. "What would you propose we do?"
"Stop paying for these things and start a lending service for the residents that can't immediately afford the bigger purchases." Sensing that the Purveyor was about to loudly object, he added, "It would make it easier for them to buy houses, and in your mind that makes them more beneficial to Winought."
The council members considered this.
"This would take a tremendous amount of time and resources," the Master said after a moment. "Are you sure you've thought this through?"
"Err, only somewhat. It's still in the idea stage."
The Master remained quiet for a moment. "Well, it sounds promising. Please do work on it a bit more. And, if I may ask, who do you propose we put in charge of this department if it comes to fruition?"
"Who is Dan?"
Dan and Fred sat at one side of the table. The council sat on the other side.
Only the Purveyor seemed at ease with this arrangement, presumably because he was focused on the banana he was eating, and would be focused on bananas for the duration of the meeting.
A small heap of banana peels in a bucket was placed at his side on the floor.
Everyone else was staring at someone else. The Lord studied the Master with keen, squinting eyes; the Master observed Dan with a thoughtful stare; Dan looked at Fred with a sort of helpless happiness; Fred glared at the Bookbinder because it was something to do; the Bookbinder glanced at the Librarian curiously, wondering why her notebook was not out; and the Librarian considered the Lord with a wondrous, 'I can't believe he thought of this' sort of way.
The only sound was that of the zip of banana peels.
After two minutes and thirty-four seconds, the silence was broken.
"So, um... Dan, was it?" the Master asked. Dan nodded. "Do you know anything about finances?"
"I know that you could use some help when it comes to it. Say, did you know that the fear of money is chrometophobia?"
"There are actually money-phobes out there?" the Purveyor asked in shock, dropping his banana.
"Oh, yes! There's a reason there's a name for the fear, after all."
"Yes yes, thank you, Dan," the Master said. "Do you know anything about managing money?"
"...I know how to spend and save it," Dan replied uncertainly.
"Do you think you could help with a loan service?" the Master persisted.
Dan looked comically confused and lost. The Librarian cracked a small smile at his expression, and then took pity on him.
"Maybe if you explained to him what was going on..." she prompted the Master.
"Oh, yes," the Master said. "The Lord over here, in light of the recent misfortunes at the Indeed Inn, thinks that the town of Winought needs a new financial setup. And he has, for some reason, picked you as a viable candidate for a new department if this idea of his is realised."
Dan turned his bewildered face towards the Lord.
"Look," Fred interjected. "Don't you think that this is a little insane? The Lord was only over at the inn yesterday. You can't possibly have come to the decision to try revamping the economy already."
"Why not?" the Master asked blankly.
"Because... well... you take ages to decide things like this! Weeks! Months, even!"
"Perhaps we had previously decided to speed up our decision process," the Master lied, and wondered about the speed of the Lord's thinking.
"Look," the Lord said, "Dan seems like a good judge of character. All he needs to do is talk to people, figure out if they're decent, and decide how much money they can be lent."
"Dan is a good judge of character?" the Librarian asked.
"Well he likes me, doesn't he?"
"The Purveyor is the only resident of Winought that doesn't."
"Well, if I may," Fred interjected, "I will agree with the Lord of the Things on this statement. There's a reason I have no qualms about leaving him in charge of the inn when I'm not around."
Dan beamed at Fred.
"Would you leave him in charge of your money?" the Master asked.
"Maybe some of it."
"That's good enough!" the Lord exclaimed.
"May I speak to you a moment?" the Master asked. "Librarian, please come with us."
The Master ushered the Lord and the Librarian into the waiting room of the town hall.
"Look, if this is about the bananas, I only bought them so he might be quiet. I'll pay for th-" the Lord began.
"I'm not sure you – wait, you bought the Purveyor bananas?" the Master inquired incredulously.
"Is that not what this is about?"
"It is now."
"What did you want when we came out here?" the Librarian asked patiently.
"Oh, oh yes. I'm not sure you picked someone... sensible," the Master said to the Lord. The Librarian scribbled this in her notebook. "Dan seems a little light in the head."
"That's the beauty of it!" the Lord said. "He's more accurately able to judge character because he doesn't worry about the hard stuff. None of us make decisions until we've considered everything about a situation, and it hasn't exactly gotten us any awards."
The Master considered this as the Librarian continued recording the exchange.
"Look," the Lord said. "Dan doesn't have to be the only one in this department. Someone's going to need to actually handle the money, keep it safe, figure out loan rates, determine what's worthy of a loan, choose who's decent enough to get one-"
"It's an extensive process, yes, I see," the Master said edgily. "And you want Dan in charge of it all."
"Dan, who is obsessed with phobias and has only ever worked at an inn."
"He helps with the books, doesn't he?"
The Master sighed. "The idea has merit. And I'm not against putting Dan in a position in a department like this, but he can't be the head of it."
The Lord turned his head to look into the conference room.
"What about Fred?"
"Oh not again," the Librarian muttered.
There was a new building in Winought. It was right next to the town hall, and it had been deemed "the money place".
There were two new faces at the council table. They were that of an orange Bori and a yellow Grarrl, and they were the Junior Financier and the Judge of Wealth. Neither of them missed the Indeed Inn, which was now being run by a purple Gnorbu named Declan.
Currently the issue was that of money. More specifically, a large amount of money. Even more specifically, two hundred thousand Neopoints.
"Do we even have this kind of money to throw around?" the Purveyor asked.
"We'd be getting it back!" Dan, the Financier, replied.
"When?" the Master asked.
"Well at the current repayment rate, ten months. Plus we'd be getting 20% interest back, so by the end of the year we'll have an extra forty thousand," the Judge, Fred, said.
"So you're both in favour of lending this fellow?"
"Oh yes!" Dan said.
"What does he want the money for?" the Librarian inquired.
"He's rebuilding his inn. Say, did you know that the fear of sitting down is cathisophobia?"
The rest of the council was silent for a moment. Then:
"Where on earth did that come from?" asked the Master.
"We're all sitting, aren't we?"
"Yes, but we were not talking about it."
"We're talking about it now!" Dan said happily. "The fear of change is metathesiophobia."
"Somewhat more relevant," the Lord muttered.
"The fear of making decisions," the Librarian offered, "is decidophobia, which you all appear to have."
"I've never liked that phobia name," Dan said sadly.
"Thank you, Librarian, for getting us back on track," the Master began.
"Do you guys have real names?" Fred asked suddenly.
"Of course," the Lord said. "I'm Bill."
"The Master of Theories."
"You don't have a name?"
"Nobody remembers it. That, regrettably, includes me. The point is, we have names. We go by our titles in our work life."
"So eventually I'm just going to be known as the Judge. And Dan here, he's gonna be the Financier."
"That about sums it up."
"Can any of you imagine Dan as... not Dan?" Fred asked incredulously.
"I can," Dan said obliviously. "I sometimes imagine I'm Tomos."
The Librarian sighed loudly. "Does anyone object to the potential loan we sat down to discuss?"
The council members all looked at one another, finding no evidence of objections.
"Great, then," the Master said. "Judge, Financier, you have our permission to temporarily take two hundred thousand Neopoints out of the city's fund. Please keep us regularly up – would you put that banana down!"
The town of Winought bustled with activity. Foreigners came to visit, to see the quaint establishments in the midst of becoming independently-run small business.
Most of the activity was still in the town hall, the regular occupants of which were becoming a little more... normal.
The Master of Theories, Librarian De facto, Purveyor of Odd Items, Artisan Bookbinder, Lord of the Things, Junior Financier, and Judge of Wealth were sitting at a table. They were the town council, and they made the decisions.