Once Upon a Page Three

Henry was in a fog. He couldn’t see a thing. That wasn’t quite true, he could see misty vapours all around him but nothing else. It reminded him of flying through a cloud, but he was standing still. He remembered the chest and Hugo picking the lock. Then a blinding flash and now he was fogged up.

He tried to honk, but nothing came out. Not a single sound and he frowned so hard the feathers on his face wrinkled awkwardly together. He buffeted the air with his wings and the fog swirled. Was that something just ahead of him? He buffeted some more, putting his whole strength into the effort and the mists cleared.

Where had the cave gone? He was on a tall wooden post. Below him was the fog swirling around three feet below his webbed toes. He couldn’t tell what was underneath that dense cloud.

To Henry’s right was the Orang-Utan, Nicholas. In one of his hands was the inevitable bag of peanuts. But he wasn’t eating, his eyes were shut and his lips quivered as if he was in a deep sleep. On the left Hugo the Rat wobbled on the still post and his eyes looked manically at the fog beneath. He was gripping the sides of his post so tightly his claws had embedded themselves in the wood. Of course his balance was gone without his tail and he would be sacred of falling. Hugo noticed henry watching him and made a conscious effort to stiffen his resolve, he looked more at ease but his claws gouged deeper into the wood.

Then the posts started to sway, gently back and forward. Henry tried to honk and flapped his wings. Maybe he should take to the air, but he found he couldn’t. Something invisible was keeping him attached to the post. Angrily he flapped harder, stray feathers flying from his wings, but still he couldn’t take off. Now the post was moving more rapidly and had started a swirling motion. How was this part of a wish? Henry swore he would return to that sage in the village and give her what-for. This was a trick! It was nothing to do with finding his honk. His fury building Henry felt a force building up inside him until, with a blast, he opened his beak and honked what felt like the biggest honk he had ever done. It felt magnificent! Only there was no sound.

Something inside him snapped. An inner tension he didn’t know had been there and he relaxed. The post was still moving and increasing the orbit of its swing, but now he felt able to go with the flow and just used his wings to balance with the minimum of effort.

He looked over to the others to see how they were coping.

Nicholas was hanging on with one hand his body was off the post and was rotating out from the wooden structure until he was almost horizontal. His other hand still clutched his precious bag of peanuts with as much strength and determination as he gripped the post. To Henry it didn’t look good. Any second the Orang-Utan would be flung out into the fog and who knew what fate would have in store for him then. He would be better holding on with two hands, but his greed for the peanuts wouldn’t let him.

Hugo the Rat was in no better condition. Without his tail his balance was poor anyway and with the whirling post it looked desperate for the rodent. He had his eyes closed tight as if resisting the urge to cry with all his will.

Why was this happening to them? What had this to do with wisdom and helping them find their wishes? It didn’t seem right, not obviously at least, but a niggling thought had started to run around in Henry’s head, released when his inner tension had snapped. Maybe this wasn’t about being given their wishes, but finding their own answers.

When he considered Hugo and what he knew of his new friend it was obvious that his biggest flaw was his pride. He was a preening rat who thought too much of himself. The loss of his tail had been such a blow to him but he couldn’t see past that to enjoy the rest of what he had in life. Although these thoughts seemed right, Henry couldn’t see how he could help his friend in their current situation.

Nicholas was different. His problem was his greedy need for the peanuts. It was so big a greed he wouldn’t share and now he was in grave danger because he couldn’t and wouldn’t let go of the bag to hang on properly to the swirling post. If only Henry could tell him, maybe he could save his friend, but he couldn’t honk and he couldn’t talk.

Then it came to him. His own fault. He had always been angry when he lost his honk, telling himself it was because he couldn’t help others, but it had been in own inner pride in his beautiful honking that had been the real issue. He couldn’t bear to have lost that. Now that didn’t matter. The anger had gone with the snap. He would try and try to help his friends starting with Nicholas.

Gathering every ounce of will power Henry pooled all his heart and soul into talking. The motion of the post was actually comforting as he built his resolve to its peak.

“Nicholas!” He shouted in as clear a honk as he had ever made, “You have to let go of your peanuts and hold on with two hands. We’ll find you some more once we are free.”

Nicholas looked startled to hear the goose talking and his grin spread across his face like dripping waves of honey as only an Orang-Utan’s could. His eyes cleared and mirth shone out. With a laugh that echoed, Nicholas let go of the bag and swung both hands around the post. Turning the twirling into a game rather than a peril.

“Thanks Goose!” He called.

“It’s Henry, Nicholas. Now we have to help Hugo.”

“I’ll do that.” The Orang-Utan promised and laughed again, just for the joy of it.

The rat was staring at them both. His black fur was turning white with fear as his post swung more and more erratically. In fact his and Nicholas’s posts were swinging so far out they were only a few feet apart when their orbits aligned.

“Hugo. You’ll have to trust me.” Nicholas called to his friend. “Next time we swing close you must let go. I’ll catch you with my feet and keep you safe.”

“No. I can’t! Without my tail I can’t control myself!”

“You can. Just trust yourself. You can do this.” The Orang-Utan encouraged him.

“Yes. It’s your pride blinding you that holds you back. You are more than just a tail.” Henry honked. “Do this and you’ll feel better, you’ll see!”

Hugo didn’t look convinced and now the posts were gathering more speed.

“If you don’t, it’ll be too late!”

The rat was wailing now and Nicholas was talking softly encouraging him. As the swinging posts came closer Nicholas opened his toes out clearly getting ready to catch Hugo. The rat’s eyes looked wild as he nodded and just as their orbits coincided he let go of his post and flew through the air.

Nicholas’s laughter boomed out as he stretched his toes and nimbly caught his friend.

“Hurray!” Honked Henry and he flapped his wings fast together, not in anger, but applauding his friends. And all of a sudden he was flying, released from his post.

The fog underneath them cleared and they saw the ground was only inches below. With a whoop of joy Nicholas cartwheeled up and flipped Hugo into his arms, landing with such elegance his rippling skin looked perfectly in tune with life.

“Thank you! Thank you!” Hugo breathed out, his eyes clear and joyful. “I was really scared there. I wouldn’t have survived without you both.”

Henry looked at his rat friend and then at Nicholas. He motioned with his eyes and the Orang-Utan gaze followed the prompt. They realised the sage had been right after all.

Nicholas laughed. “And the end of this tale is … I have found my laughter, Henry his honk and you Hugo, my friend, you have your tail back too!”

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