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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Spring in the Air

The sun gleamed bright as a diamond. The light spears reflecting all the colours of spring from the water droplets around my wrist. I was warm at last, after months of frozen isolation I was bubbling with joy. I stretched out further and touched a stick. It had fallen from a nearby tree, a silver birch and its bark was like a wrapping of the precious metal, smooth and glistening. I held it firmly in my grasp, feeling its strength. It would make a good staff for me to use.
I looked deeper into my too familiar glade searching for something different, something new. But my world was one which had not changed for more time than I cared to think about. Bathed in spring sunlight the trees and bushes glowed with awakening life. Buds of fresh green leaves bursting slowly from their winter sleep. Insects were busying themselves in the search for food. The same scenes replayed every year and my heart trembled with my need for something … more. I wanted adventure.
I remembered my life before when I had soared through the skies and raced other girls of my kind over high mountains and vast forests. Those days had seemed like they would never end and yet, here I was in this tiny corner of the woods which had become my world, except for those memories, or were they dreams? It was so hard to tell any more. I felt trapped and unsure. I needed to get out of here.
The bushes rustled and my attention focussed back to the present. A young male dear stepped nervously into the sunlight. The white spots on his back announcing his tender years. I wondered where his mother was. This youngster was too new to the world to be without his parents.
“Don’t be afraid. Take a drink. You’ll feel better and I will watch out for you.” I assured him and tentatively he stepped nearer and lowered his head to drink.
I laughed. A tinkling sound which caused his ears to start up, but he kept on drinking.
“See, that’s much better, isn’t it?” I murmured soothingly and his ears relaxed their guard. “Where’s your parents?” I wondered aloud.
“I don’t know.” His hide shivered. A rippling spasm of uncertainly and fear. “Thanks for the water.”
“You are welcome.” I gripped the stick and stood up tall.
The young dear startled, jumping clear of the pool’s edge and landed quivering several feet from me. His milky eyes bulging and unsure.
“Don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you.”
The fawn didn’t move and I reached out my hand towards him. I felt his breath rush in and out quickly as he took my scent. I tickled the end of his nose and it gleamed wetly.
“See … I mean you no harm.” I laughed. A thought pushed its way into my mind. Maybe this young dear could help me and I could help him. “Would you like me to help you find your parents?”
“Yes, I’d like that,” The fawn licked his wet nose and smiled, “but how could you?”
“What do you mean?” I asked. The fawn’s question seemed ridiculous.
“Well, you are made of water so how could you leave this spring?”

This month I have added another column to the list and included a theme category.

Die Rolls Characters Traits Conflict Location Object  Theme
1 Maiden Prone Conquest Hills Weapon Comedy
2 Animal Forceful Illness Cavern Treasure Love
3 Spirit Hyper Dark Agent Ocean Bed Mystery
4 Fantastical Talkative New World Waterfall Stick Fantasy
5 Girl Athletic Self-doubt Spring Bread History
6 Boy Adventurer Disability Plains Chicken Tragedy


For March’s efforts we will have …

                Character = Animal

                Trait = Talkative

               Conflict = Disability

               Location = Cavern

              Object = Treasure

Theme = Comedy

What will emerge?

Breaking the Beat (PG Warning)

They had her by the throat. Her eyes glared fury as they flared at her captors, but she was helpless, trapped in their grasp and at their mercy. My heart sang for her. She looked like I felt inside, as if the world had played a deceitful trick on us and all we could do was wait till it swallowed us whole. I couldn’t stand to watch and do nothing. I wanted to yell out, scream all my rage at them. Make them let her go, give me release, but that’s my burden; I couldn’t make a sound. Not with my mouth. I was dumb, without speech, unable to communicate.

“Let’s finish this witch!” One of the scumbags wheezed. Yanking on her long blonde hair and twisting her neck cruelly. The crowd in the alleyway entrance watched. Fascinated, but unwilling to intervene. The other two scumbags, leered and gripped tighter as the girl wrestled against her captures.

I had had enough. I was far taller than them all and I used my height to lean into the alley. I raised my hands to my face, pulling my horn up to my mouth. I couldn’t talk, or shout but I could sound a tune unlike any other. I squeezed my eyes tight until they bled tears, the angst building to breaking point, then I let it all out through my horn. A note so strident everyone fell to their knees, holding their ears. Even the girl was affected. Though she recovered first and kicked one of the scumbags hard in the belly as she staggered away. I stopped sounding the note when she was clear. She never looked back, didn’t even raise a hand in thanks, she just raced away down the strip and into the murkiness of the night.

I knew I shouldn’t be surprised. I didn’t expect to be treated any differently than before. I was an outcast, no one would deal with me, not even here in the Strip of Shadows. This was the city’s underbelly where crime and rebellion cavorted hand in hand. It was so dangerous, the Judge, the most feared woman in the City, had never been seen here.  This was my home and I had never been out of its grasp, but even here I was beyond hope. My appearance was so tall, I was too easily noticed to be useful to anyone. Because of my lack of voice, I couldn’t talk, couldn’t write and couldn’t communicate with anyone expect by pointing, no one even knew my name. But that wasn’t the worst of it, the one thing which really put me beneath the lowest of the low was my sound. I could make the most disturbing and terrible tunes on my trumpet when I let all my despair out from my heart.

However, to play my dreadful music carried the death sentence or so the police had informed me. To encourage me to play would mean anyone caught doing so was liable to exile, and though the city was a terrible grime-riddled cesspit to live in, it was better than the world outside. And in that lay my entrapment. I had no skills, no ability to scrape a living together, no money, and no job. I was desperate and starving. Hunger was my only friend.

Sometimes I got a cleaning job, mucking out the bars and clubs along the Strip after a night’s debauchery had gasped its last foul breath. Folks expected the debris, the puke and the blood to be washed away each morning before it all began again. It was the city’s worst job and even then I hardly ever had a chance. It had been a week since my last meal. My stomach felt like a hollow cavern, full of hurt.  I was lucky it had been raining this week,  at least I had been able to drink, even if it was filthy gutter water.

I was roused from my thoughts as the others in the alley came round. Most of the watchers left as quickly as they could go, looking back with fearful eyes. The three scumbags were the last to rise. They had been the ones I had directed my blast at. Trickles of blood oozed from their ears and their eyes were lost as they helped each other to their feet.

I don’t know why I stayed. I should have run too. Maybe they hadn’t realised it was me who had caused them the pain and let their victim escape, but that hope was a legless pony, with no chance of running. No one else in this city could have done what I had done and with my reputation I was a sure thing, an object for them to take revenge on. Better to deal with it now. I’d rather die by their hand than live any longer in my hopelessness.

As they pulled their wicked knives and stepped closer, I smiled, which caused them pause. It wasn’t that I was unafraid, I was petrified, but the thought that the blonde girl had escaped was my one happy thought in a lifetime of misery. I call her a girl, but truly she had been a woman. Probably early twenties, with neat curves and a spark of life to her that had blazed out even when trapped by the scumbags. That’s probably why I had helped her, more than anything else, that spark of life. I wish I had that power.

“You are a weirdo, bugle boy,” Scumbag one sneered. His eyes were cast and his musty hair slick with grease. “I’m gonna-”

But I never found out what he was gonna do to me. All three scumbags turned, fading like ghosts into the alleyways murk, their eyes had flickered behind me as they evaporated from view.

“Alright, Dude.” It was the City Guard. “That is your ultimate warning. Next time I hear a peep from your horn, it’ll be time to go see the Judge and she don’t like you. Remember, she told us if you were ever caught playing havoc with your horn again it would mean your life.”

I turned and hung my head. I wasn’t sure if I was disappointed, happy, or angry. All I knew was this wasn’t my end. I would have to struggle on. Maybe I should raise my horn and play some more, make them give me peace. But I couldn’t. It would be suicide and that I couldn’t do. I was a coward that way.

The filth and noise enveloped me again as I shambled away from the guards. I had three more bars to visit, three more chances to earn a crust of stale bread. Maybe my luck had changed and maybe I would find someone who’d give me a break.

I should have known better. Not only did they not want me in the first two bars, but they threw me out into the garbage heap from both. Now I stank of rotten fish guts. I must have looked like a nightmare as I stumbled towards the Last Chance Inn.

Had my sense of irony left this one till the end? Or was it that this was the worst, the blackest, foulest, most dangerous part of the perilous Strip of Shadows that my sense of self-preservation had kept me from it until there was no other choice. I had never been inside before.

The bouncers leered as I stepped forward. They were almost as tall as me, which meant they towered over everyone else. But whereas I am slight of build, undernourished and underfed, these two specimens of brutality were bulging with muscles and menace. They had the worst reputation on the Strip. No one crossed them, even the guards wouldn’t touch them. Strangely they ignored me as I approached. Normally I couldn’t get within ten feet of the front door before a knife would be flashed in warning, but tonight nothing, not even a glance in my direction. Had I turned invisible? I doubted that.

I took a deep breath and edged closer. Still no recognition. Then I was all the way next to them and they just stepped aside and let me in.

I stopped and looked at them both, but I could have been merely a spirit for all they acknowledged me.

I shuffled forward and pushed through the door. It slammed shut behind me at the same time at the bouncers slammed their shoulders together, blocking of any chance of retreat. I felt trapped, free to move, but caught inside a cage that would define the rest of my life. I had felt nothing much when the three scumbags had been about to kill me. Now I felt that the world had changed and I didn’t know what would happen next. I had never been inside this bar before.

I looked around. The place was quiet, but I saw this was because of me, not its normal state. The place was full, crowded with the meanest and nastiest looking souls I had ever seen on the Strip and they were all looking at me. I almost ran out to face the bouncers again.

“How come you got in?” Someone called from the shadows and smoke.

“Yeah, turn round and go back to the dung heap you crawled from!” Someone else added with a malicious laugh.

I looked to the bar. That’s where the manager always purveyed his empire, in all the other bars in the city. I could see a bald headed guy with five scars interlacing his face into a patchwork of cold hearted disdain. He didn’t talk just nodded at me to approach.

I stepped forward. Unsure for the first few steps, nervous as everyone’s eyes followed my every move, then with more confidence. I wouldn’t be thrown out, there was some work here after all. I might even earn that stale crust I desired. I smiled but it only evoked a scowl on the bald guy’s features. The skin around his scars reddening. My smile froze, but I couldn’t shift it from my face. It felt like a rictus grin. I stopped just in front of the counter and stretched out my hand. The manager didn’t even look at it.

“Seems like it’s your lucky day,” he wheezed. His voice a hoarse whisper. “I hear you need a job. What can you do?”

My smile warmed up, but still I met a glacial response. I mimed sweeping and polishing.

“We got a cleaner. What else.”

My smile shrivelled. Cleaning was all I ever did. With my disabilities I couldn’t do anything else. I shook my head, my eyes pleading.

“If there’s nothing else you can do for me, then maybe there’s nothing I can do for you.” The manager looked relieved as if he hadn’t wanted to offer me a job. What was happening? Was this all just another setup to humiliate me?

“Maybe we should use him as a bog brush!” Someone shouted, “With his height and thin bones he could even clean the pipes around the bend!” The room erupted in scorn and I quivered.

A phone jangled behind the bar and the manager sprang to answer it. Whoever was calling must be important. I watched him listening and nodding, ignoring the rest of the bar who were all trying to outdo each other in belittling me with their sarcastic nasty humour.

The manager’s eyes flitted to me again and there was something different in them now. More than the disdain, almost a respect. I must be imagining it. He turned to me, cradling the phone still and asked, “Do you still have your horn?”

Now I knew I was in real trouble. Nobody asked me about my trumpet. The Judge had issued her decree and everyone knew about it. My horn was bad news.

“Do you still have it?” The baldy asked again.

I nodded and tapped my jacket where the trumpet was tucked out of sight.

“Right. I can offer you a chance to play here. You get three tunes and if they like you …“, he gestured to the audience. “I can give you a nightly gig.”

I stood rooted. Struck dumb like I’d never been before. Only my eyes were moving, I wasn’t even breathing. The raucous noise in the bar had stopped and everyone was looking at each other. There were no more bawdy comments. No one had expected this.

Why? I wanted to scream. Why? Don’t you know we would all die! The Judge has spoken.

Finally I was able to move again and I slowly shook my head. I hadn’t played anything but despair and hurt for so long, I wasn’t sure if I could recall any music.

“Well, it’s your funeral.” Bald guy murmured. He turned away from me and spoke into the phone. Then he put it down and faced me again. Arms folded eyes hard. The doors swung open and the two bouncers entered and stopped. Barring the exit and fixing their eyes onto me. They didn’t look menacing, just determined. I knew I was going nowhere. My life was no longer my own. Not that it had been for such a long time.

Then a bead curtain behind the bar swished open and there stood the girl. Blonde hair swept back from her face and her eyes smiling at me.

“It’s alright, Dude. You can play, if you want.”

I shook my head violently. I didn’t want anything bad to happen to this girl.

“Don’t worry about me. I own this joint and it’s my way of saying thanks. You saved my life.” Her words carried weight and I could see the bouncers’ and the manager’s eyes following her lead.

I tried again and shook my head, drawing a line across my throat as if with a knife, trying to tell her about the decree. Maybe I could play some, but not if it meant hurting this girl.

She came right up to me and whispered so no one else could hear, “And don’t worry about what the Judge said.” She smiled, her eyes laughing, “I am the Judge.”

Well that’s it for this month, I hope you enjoyed this piece which is a little different.

For 2015 first quarter I have changed the story box

Die Rolls Characters(Once) Traits(once) Conflict(once) Location(once) Object(once)
1 Maiden Prone Conquest Hills Weapon
2 Animal Forceful Illness Cavern Treasure
3 Spirit Hyper Dark Agent Ocean Bed
4 Fantastical Talkative New World Waterfall Stick
5 Girl Athletic Self-doubt Spring Bread
6 Boy Adventurer Disability Plains Chicken

Now the next short piece (around 500 words) will be using these hints.

Girl, Adventurer, New World, Spring, Stick

Have a good one. Till next time.

Cheers

A Supernatural Short Story

This month’s short story prompts were …

Character – Short, Supernatural,

Traits – Arrogant, Curious,

Conflict – Weather

Location – Forest

 Objects – Message and Vehicle

 I hope you enjoy this tale.

Trouble at halloween …

The rain pelted past the trees, thudding on my skin like I was a drum.

“BLARRR! Enough, foul weather!”

I move under an oak tree, pressing myself up against its trunk. Just as well my skin‘s so tough the rough bark was just a small annoyance, much less than the thudding rain. Here I was, trapped in the forest. Trying to get back to my garden in time for the midnight feast. But time and the weather were conspiring against me.The incessant drumming was hurting my head so much I couldn’t even rhyme.

It was the squirrels fault of course. If he hadn’t stolen all the chocolates I wouldn’t have had to chase him into the depths of the woods. The squirrel had scampered for his drey thinking he would be safe to scoff all the treats, but he hadn’t factored in me. I suppose he didn’t get to see me most of the year; I only come out on Halloween.

When I fired my stream of seeds and pulp at the wee thing he had jumped out of his skin. His tail standing out like a pine tree, stiff and smelly. He didn’t moved a muscle as I collected up the treats, hiding them away and his eyes had popped when I blew  a last noisy rasping raspberry. That had been fun!

With the treats in my  possession I set out to return to the garden. But on my way back the storm hit hard. Buffeting winds, thudding rain, extraordinarily nasty weather. Things would have been fine if it had been blustering in the opposite direction, but no, that would have been too easy. All of that horrible wet windiness was set to blow right up my nostrils as I flew home. It was almost blew my lights out.

What was that? I thought I heard something; a message on the wind.

There it is again! I can hear someone calling. It must be the children. They want to see me! Etching my features in a grimace, I prepare to face the pelting raindrops. I am needed and nothing but death can stop me. As I launch myself out from the trees, a few choice words pop into my head.

The rain is fierce with hasty schemes,

               It batters my mind with nasty dreams,

               But weather won’t cause me inner shame,

               Long will burn my internal flame.

I race through the air, skirting around branches and over logs. Lightning strikes stab me and thunder rages. The rhymes inside have inflamed my spirit and I feel invincible. Around me sizzling rain flashes past in streaks of orange as my fires roar higher and higher.

I hear the children again. Their shouts growing larger, “Uppity Mister Pumpkin Head! Uppity Mister Pumpkin Head!”

With a final push I scream out of the storm. Silver lightning carves the sky in two behind me as a great rolling thunderous echo erupts from the clouds. I have defeated them and they are annoyed.

But what’s this? The children’s faces are full of terror! Silence grips them as they stare at me. My light spills out, filling their eyes. My inner flames blaze with the strikes of the midnight clock. It’s Halloween and the supernatural stalks the night.

With a laughing rush I soar over their heads, making them duck and dive. As I pass just above them I pour out my treats; chocolates and candies galore. All the flavours of Halloween and the children cheer for more!

 

 

For next month’s tale, here is the prompts… (only one of each category – I will set up a new box to use from January onwards)

Character – Tall
Traits – Quiet
Conflict – Money
Location – City
Objects – Horn

 

I hope you all have a wonderful and rewarding Festive Season. May Health Wealth and Happiness surrounding you all like the treats from Uppity Mister Pumpkin Head in the coming year.

 

Cheers,

Grumphspawn!

 

“Uppity Mister Pumpkin Head”- is a character from the “Everlasting Fantastical Adventures” and is protected by Copyright. Please ensure you have the author’s permission before any replication of this blog post.