One of the stories in Tales From Gundarland is my version of one of Shakespeare's most famous stories. I transported it to Gundarland and changed the main characters slightly. The entire story can be read in my award-winning collection of six short stories and two novellas.
MERCHANT OF VENISON
By HANK QUENSE
In response to Bassanio's urgent plea, Antonio hurried along the still-dark streets of Dun Hythe to the home of his friend. Since Bassanio rarely awoke before noon, the reason for the early morning meeting must be extraordinary.
He turned off the cobblestone main road and walked the unpaved side streets towards the city walls where Bassanio's house stood by itself. After his experiments had destroyed his last three homes, two by fire and one by explosion, the city leaders demanded that Bassanio live in isolation from nearby houses.
In front of the house, he paused to straighten his brown jerkin and to adjust his rust-colored cloak before he knocked on the front door. Bassanio's pale face and red-rimmed eyes alarmed him. He wore a yellow dressing gown pocked with burn holes and old, fluffy slippers with bunny faces sewed into them. An elf, Bassanio towered over Antonio's dwarfish figure, but he stooped as if suffering from exhaustion. His long, light brown hair, now disheveled, partially concealed his face. Considered the most handsome male in Dun Hythe, he looked far from his best this morning. "Good! You're here," he said. "Come in." His breath reeked of stale wine.
Antonio entered the front room of the house and was greeted by the acrid stink of burnt chemicals. He noticed that more ceiling beams had been charcoaled since his last visit. Bassanio's lab was in the back of the house, but he frequently performed experiments wherever he happened to be.
"Are you all right?" Antonio asked. "You look like a zombie." He tugged his short, brown beard in distress.
"I was up late." Bassanio plowed a hand through his hair. "Working on a plan to ensure my fortune. I need your help."
"Tell me," Antonio said. Bassanio was his best friend and had been ever since they met in the Academy for Agriculture, Business and Science. He majored in business while Bassanio took science.
"It has to do with Portia." Bassanio sat down at a low table, picked up a scalpel and chopped up a brown weedy material know as pipeweed, a mild hallucinogenic, into small bits. "I need money to get her hand in marriage."
Antonio's heart skipped a beat at the mention of her name. "I thought you two were in love. You need to woo her some more?"
"Portia loves me and has agreed to marry me whenever her father gives permission. I need a loan so I can woo the old geezer. He suspects I'm irresponsible."
"He suspects? The man must be a lack-wit." Antonio smiled. "Everyone in town knows you're irresponsible."
"Very funny." Bassanio made a face while he massaged his forehead with one hand and continued cutting the pipeweed with the other.
"You must have drunk a lot of wine last night developing this plan."
"Wine loosens the brain cells and encourages innovative thinking." He scraped a pile of small brown bits into a straight line. "So, can you lend me three thousand silver pennies?"
"What? It'll take me years to sell that much venison. I'll have to take out a loan. Why so much?"
"You know Portia's old man is filthy rich. It'll take lots of money to impress him. I can pay you back right after we marry. That'll be in three months at the longest." He took a thin glass tube out of his pocket and lined it up with the brown bits.
"What are you doing?"
"Smoking pipeweed can ease the effects of a hangover, but that is inefficient. First, you have to find a pipe and then you need to light it and it takes time for the smoke to have an impact. I'm investigating a new approach. One that will accelerate the effects."
Antonio made a face and shook his head. Bassanio never stopped his experiments into new ways to get high or to mitigate the aftereffects of the high. Someday, one of his experiments would end up killing him. His eyebrows still hadn't completely grown back since one recent experiment ended in spectacular fashion and involved every fireman in the city.
Bassanio put an end of the tube in one nostril, stopped the other nostril with a finger pressed to the outside. He inhaled the chopped pipeweed. He gagged and dropped the tube. His eyes opened wide and his face turned red. After a few unsuccessful tries, he sneezed so violently that he and the chair tumbled backwards and crashed to the floor. After righting the chair, he sat down again, coughing and wiping his running nose.
"I guess," Antonio said, "there's a reason they call it pipeweed and not snortweed."
Bassanio groaned. "Once I marry Portia, I'll hire an assistant to do this part of the experiments." After another coughing and sneezing fit, he said, "So what about the money? I can't get a loan, but I'm sure you can."
"I hate going to a money lender, but I'll have to. Are you sure you can pay me back in three months?"
"Not a problem." Bassanio waved a hand dismissively. "I'll pay you back long before then."
Read more: Tales From Gundarland