once upon a time there was a great king who ruled a great kingdom and sat on a great throne.
he had defeated all his enemies, reduced all his rival kingdoms to rubble or servitude, and crushed all rebellion.
like many of his subjects, the king suffered terribly from boredom and ennui.
one day he sent some of his imperial guards out into the highways and byways to round up some subjects to tell him some stories.
the first subject prodded in front of the king by the imperial guards was an apothecary.
the apothecary began his tale:
“once upon a time there was a great king…”
“i have heard that one before,” aid the king, and dismissed the apothecary.
next was a baboon, who began…
“once upon a time there was a great hero…”
the king had heard that one too and dismissed the baboon.
(it should be noted that when the citizens were dismissed by the king they did not have their heads cut off but were given a small token of the royal regard, such as a box of candy or a handkerchief, and sent on their way.)
the next citizen to begin a story was a cheerleader, who began “once upon a time there was a beautiful young princess…”
of course the king had heard that one too.
“but, your majesty,” the cheerleder protested politely, “of course you have heard it before, as all stories are the same. every story, no matter how cleverly it tries to disguise itself, has one hero or heroine, or protagonist, just as a dream has only dreamer. and every story has an ending, which is what makes it a story. at the end of the story the protagonist either dies, or lives happily ever after, which amounts to the same thing. so, you see, all stories are the same.”
“thank you for that dissertation, and for your sincere interest,” said the king, “but i am afraid my chronic condition compels me to give others a chance.”
and the cheerleeder was given a box of candy and a handkerchief and led away.
the king then heard at least the beginnings , and sometimes a bit more, and on three occasions even the whole, of stories by
a dentist, an embolism, a flamingo, a general, a hairdresser, an incendiary public speaker, a juvenile delinquent, a knight in shining armor, a lemur, a masseuse, a night watchman, an orangutan, a private detective, a quietist, a ranch hand, a sea serpent, a toreador, an undersecretary of state, a villain, a washerwoman, an examining magistrate, and a yodeler
but without hearing anything he had not heard many times before.
the last citizen from the roundup, a zink, stood before the king.
“i don’t suppose,” said the king sadly, “you have anything very new for me.”
“oh, but your majesty, “ said the zink. “i do have a tale that i guarantee has never been told before. the only drawback is - that once it has been told, the universe and everything in it will vanish in a puff of nothingness. that being the case, would you like to hear it?”
“please,” replied the king. “i have been waiting all my life.”
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