Friday, December 19, 2014

NOTHING FOR CHRISTMAS

Matthew and John met under the Fourth Street bridge as they often did. But this was no ordinary meeting. Tonight was a special occasion. Each man carried a cardboard box under their arm which had been wrapped up in great swaths of old newspaper. John had even folded some newspaper into a sort of a bowlike shape and stuck it on top of the box.

"Merry Christmas, John!”

“Merry Christmas, Matthew!”

“I trust you are having a merry holiday?”

“Indeed, my good man. Why this very evening I feasted on pheasant under glass with foie gras and truffles.” As he said this he scratched the heavy, unkempt beard under his chin and felt a small pigeon bone which he flicked away carelessly. “How fare you this day of days?”

“Tolerably well, John. My valet was somewhat careless in serving me my soup this evening, as you see by the lapel of my Brooks Brothers suit.” So saying, he pointed to the large blot of soup he had spilled on the outermost of the three coats he wore at this time of year at the soup kitchen he had just come from. “I would have discharged him of course, but this being the holiday season, I was inclined to be merciful.”

“An attitude that does you credit, my good man. And now, if you will permit me, I must admit my curiosity somewhat piqued by that large package you carry beneath your arm. Whatever might that be?”

“Well may you ask! It is, as a matter of absolute fact, a small token of my appreciation for your friendship and counsel this past year. Merry Christmas, John.” With a grand gesture he extended the parcel to John who accepted it with his free hand.

“You are too kind, sir. As it happens, the parcel I carry—which I fancy you were mere moments from asking about yourself—is a similar remembrance for you, friend Matthew.” So saying, he handed his own package to his friend who took it in both hands, not unlike an eager child who can't wait to see what Santa brought him.

The exchange complete, there was a brief debate as to who should go first. Ultimately, the honor fell to Matthew and he tore open the paper and peered inside the ratty, slightly moldy, shoebox which, as it did every Christmas without fail, contained absolutely nothing. But Matthew’s face broke in a wide grin and he reached into the box, closing his fingers around empty air as though he was holding an imaginary object in his hand. He held the invisible something to his ear, and smiled as he imagined the tick of the precision Swissmade gears echoing in his ears.

“It’s beautiful! I shall wear it always.”

“I took the liberty of having it engraved.”

Matthew looked at the back of the nonexistent watch and what he pretended to read seemed to get him all choked up. He wiped an equally invisible tear from his eye with the left index finger that poked through the torn tip of the wool glove he had found outside the convenience store three months ago.

“I will treasure this gift, and the kind words it bears, for the rest of my days. Now, I must insist that you open my gift to you. Though I am certain it will pale in comparison to this wonderful token.”
Just as Matthew had done, John opened the gift and smiled with delight as he beheld the box’s invisible contents. He reached in and seemed to remove the two small objects with his fingers. Then he began fiddling with the sleeves of the torn, ill-fitting, long-sleeved tee shirt he wore under his many outer layers of clothing. Afterward, though there was no visible change to them, he held his wrists up for Matthew to see. “How do they look?”

“They suit you perfectly, old man! And as you can see, they too are engraved, though only with your initials. I didn’t have the room for a personal message, as you did. Rest assured, if I had done, I would have expressed my gratitude at being able to count you among my closest friends.”

“Thank you, my friend. I shall wear them to the great New Year’s Eve Gala. Will I see you there?”

“Have you ever known me to miss a gala?”

“Of course not. Whatever was I thinking?”

“Well, this is a most satisfactory Christmas, is it not? And now,” he added, glancing at his bare wrist, “I see by my beautiful new watch that it is very nearly midnight. Just time enough I think for a spot of Christmas cheer.” He reached into the copious pockets of one of his coats and removed a bottle of very cheap gin and two paper cups he had found in the street and rinsed off as best he could. “Join me for a brandy?”

“Matthew, it would be my absolute pleasure.”

As John and Matthew shared a midnight drink of brandy to celebrate another wonderful Christmas together, a nearby radio crackled and part of a late night broadcast was born on the chill night air…

“...another clear night and tomorrow's forecast calls for light ran in the morning but, otherwise, it's shaping up to be a beautiful Fourth of July Weekend. The time is now nine fifteen and you're listening to...”

“Merry Christmas, Matthew.”

“Merry Christmas, John.”

THE END 

Friday, November 28, 2014

THE WORKSHOP

'The Workshop' is a Christmas play which I wrote many years ago and which was produced by the University of Kentucky Theater Department back in 2003. Here are some highlights from that production:

First, this opening scene which establishes some of the main characters, what things are like at the North Pole during the Christmas rush, and the kind of problems Santa's elves have to deal with in order to get him ready for his "big ride":


Later on, of course, we meet Santa himself and learn that he insists on "doing the List" himself even though it's time consuming and he's a little too forgiving of the children's bad behavior. Maybe Mrs. Claus can convince him to let someone else do the List...or maybe not.


Will Santa finish the list? Will Rodney and his staff be able to get everything ready for Christmas Eve? Can this team really pull off yet another Christmas miracle? Find out when you buy your copy of the play at Lulu or Amazon. Either way, I hope 'The Workshop' will become a part of your holiday as well.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

THE EPIC OF GABRIA (Sneak Preview!)

Besides writing fairy tales no one eve read, Freddy Flunkerer also wrote his own version of the Jolsonburg legend 'The Epic of Gabria'...which no one read. I recently uncovered his version of the classic story and rewrote it as a young adult novel. It will be available from Amazon soon, but for now here is a sneak preview for free:


“Everything you are about to read is entirely true…except for the parts I made up…”
—Freddy Flunkerer


Many many many many many many really quite very many many many a lot many oh so many many many many (really a long time, you know?) many years ago, the world was a very different place. For one thing, there was significantly less hot chocolate and hardly anybody knew how to play guitar. Back before this country was called Jolsonburg, before any of you were born, before chickens decided that flying was more trouble than it was worth and gave it up for good, the Spirits ruled over these lands. Some were big, strong, powerful spirits and some were small, weaker spirits who really could only do one or two things that weren’t particularly magical but they were still spirits, darn it. The Spirits made this world and they used their powers to shape the deep oceans and carve the towering mountains and trim the medium-sized trees. And when Man and Woman first appeared, the Spirits shared their magic and all was peaceful and nice…for about a week.

But people are greedy, and just a taste of the Spirits’ power was not enough. They wanted it all. Which is why Man and Woman rose up against the Spirits to conquer the Earth. Seeing their plight hopeless, the Great Spirits left this Earth never to return…except, no, wait, they would return a little, but only if the right person called them forth.

Just before they departed the world they made but no longer controlled, the Spirits left behind a relic, a totem, a talisman…you know, a thingie. Their final message to Man and Woman was that their magic would be gone from this world until the right person found this thingie. But it wouldn’t be so easy, because the thingie was not flashy and big and fancy as you might expect a magic thingie to be; it was a small and humble sort of thingie, and most people would just overlook it as something worthless. But to the right person (whom the Spirits dubbed “The Awesome One”), it would be something special and magical hidden among the commonplace miracle that is nature itself.

In other words, only someone worthy enough to possess the magic thingie would ever be able to find the magic thingie. Which just goes to show how clever spirits can be.

Of course Man and Woman did not heed this message and believed the magic lost for good which got them good and cheesed off, lemme tell you. I mean here they were all set to rule the land with the Spirits’ magic and now the Spirits went and took it away completely. There followed a dark period of might making right, men and women turning on each other in the mistaken belief that one was inherently better than the other, where hunger and pain stalked the land and all that counted was survival, not living.

In other words again, conditions were just right for a hero to emerge…and she did!


 *******

Way up north, in the northiest northernmost northland (well, not that north, but still pretty north as northness goes) there lived a terrible Warrior King who traveled the land conquering every village and township he came across. He would just show up one day, announce he was in command, use up all the town’s resources, then move on, taking only the biggest and strongest with him to his next conquest. He was called Krieger Konig and this is the story of how he was defeated and how the world was changed not by force, violence or cruelty, but by love and courage and by the true strength of a clever girl called Gabria.

Gabria’s father, Kuzo, was Chieftain of the small village of Dorf, just on the outskirts of what was then known as the Fairying Forest, for reasons which we will go into in greater detail later in the story. He was the biggest, strongest and toughest man Dorf had ever seen so, naturally, he was chosen to be their leader. Under his rule, Dorf grew from a small collection of tents by a river to a…slightly larger collection of tents by a river.

Yes, the people of Dorf lived a very simple, earthy sort of existence on the prairie. The river provided water and fish, the forest provided wood and small game and anything else they didn’t have, they simply did without. The children didn’t have much time to play, which was just as well as they didn’t have much to play with. Life was hard, and fun was very rare. Survival was the most important thing and it was a daily struggle for the people of Dorf and the number one responsibility of their leader, Kuzo.

Being the biggest and strongest (and therefore the best, according to the wisdom of the day), Kuzo demanded for his wife the most beautiful girl in the village, and he got her. Her name was Juliet and the first thing that attracted Kuzo to her was that she was so friggin’ gorgeous you actually felt a little nauseated when you looked at her…just for a minute though. Then the initial shock wore off and you were convinced that you weren’t hallucinating and that someone that beautiful could actually exist in real life and then you felt okay.

The second thing that attracted Kuzo to Juliet was that she didn’t immediately agree to marry him.

All the other girls in the village were throwing themselves at him, desperate to be the queen to someone so powerful and strong. But Juliet made him work for it. Made him go on dates with her and take an interest in her life and things like that. In this way, Juliet came to understand that Kuzo had a sensitive side which he kept hidden from the world. Likewise, Kuzo saw in Juliet a strength not that different from his own. So that when they finally were married, it was really for love rather than social standing.

Alas, their happiness was to be short-lived. For soon after they were married, Juliet was heavy with child. Kuzo was overjoyed at the thought of having a son to carry on his legacy and rule the village when he was gone. Despite Juliet’s constant reminders that the child could just as easily be a girl as a boy, Kuzo got the idea in his head that he was going to have a son and nothing would dissuade him from that certainty.

Even after the kid was born, he kept asking the midwife to check again.

But there was no mistaking it. The Chieftain had gained a daughter…and lost a wife. Poor Juliet died in the act of childbirth and would never know her little girl.

So, in one fell swoop, Kuzo had lost the woman he loved and had been saddled with a daughter, rather than the son he craved. And from that day on, life in the village of Dorf was forever changed. Their great, strong leader, locked himself away in his house coming out only when forced to by the duties of his office, which he executed with more anger and savagery than he ever had before. The smallest of infractions were met with the severest punishments possible. The grief and disappointment he had suffered snuffed out that tiny spark of kindness that Juliet had brought out and Kuzo had become a beast of a man, giving in completely to sorrow and despair.

And what of the child? The sweet, innocent baby girl who was now the only family Kuzo had? He simply turned away from her. Shut her out completely. The midwife tried to get him to at least hold the child after she was born, but he just growled, “Get that gabria out of my sight!”

“Gabria,” in the ancient language of this part of the world means, “unwanted one.”

And it was the only name Kuzo ever gave his daughter.

She might have died had it not been for the kindness of the midwife, a slightly odd old woman known to the people of Dorf as Gramma Gamra. Though she was adamant that the girl should grow up in the home of her father, she came every day to look after the child and tend to her needs.

Understand, it was not that Kuzo treated her cruelly. It was not hatred that haunted Gabria’s existence, but indifference. He refused to acknowledge her, even when they ate supper at the same table. Even when she sat by him at official functions. Once, in a desperate attempt to get her father to notice her, she had found a porcupine and set it on her father’s favorite chair. To his credit, he maintained his charade that Gabria did not exist even while actively removing quills from his…well, the porcupine was sitting on his chair at the time and he wasn’t looking and…never mind, you get the idea.

If nothing else, one has to admire his commitment.

So, for the first nineteen years of her life, the only human being who ever showed Gabria any affection or even kindness was Gramma Gamra. Of course, there were other people in the village who liked Gabria and would have loved to be friends with her. But they were still frightened of their fierce and formidable Chieftain. If Kuzo insisted he had no daughter, the people of Dorf felt it was in their best interest to agree with him.

Which just left Gramma Gamra. That was the name by which she was known, though she didn’t seem to be biologically related to anyone in town. In fact, no one could remember a time when she wasn’t there. It was as if the village was built around her and she had just always been there. It was also widely believed that she had never been any younger and would never get any older. She was a constant fixture. Like the river or the trees which surrounded Dorf.

Gabria adored her! She was one of the few people in the village who was even remotely interesting. Everyone else was boring and quiet and lived in fear and was just struggling to survive. Gramma Gamra was fun. Nobody else in Dorf was fun. Having grown up without a mother, the kind of attention she got from Gramma Gamra meant the world to Gabria.

“I don’t know what I’d do without you, Gramma Gamra,” said Gabria almost every time the old woman paid her a visit. A gentle pawing at her ankle would remind her of the presence of the porcupine. After he had failed to get a reaction out of Kuzo, Gabria had decided to keep the porcupine as a pet. She called him “Autsch” and after a few painful weeks, learned the proper way to pet and even cuddle him so as not to get hurt. “Or you, Autsch,” she added to the only non-human friend she had in the world.

“Do not judge your father too harshly, my child,” said Gamra.

“Why not? He’s gone out of his way to ignore me all my life. Sometimes I think I should just run away.”

“No, you can’t do that, dear! The woods are dangerous. And even if you get through the woods, there are the treacherous mountains. And even if you cross the mountains, what awaits you on the other side is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Besides, if you left Dorf…you might just break my heart.”

“Then I’ll stay. For you, Gramma Gamra.”

“Thank you, my child.” And they would talk about something else.

Gramma Gamra never did talk about what was on the other side of the mountains. But Gabria didn’t ask. What, she figured, could possibly be worse than this place?

TO BE CONTINUED...


Sunday, August 3, 2014

READ YOUR GOOSE A STORY

If your goose is feeling sluggish
Or she doesn’t want to play,
If she moans, and groans and whimpers
And she stays inside all day
When it’s nice and bright and sunny,
Then the problem just might be
That your good and loyal goose has
Been o’er taken by ennui.
Yes, everyone feels boredom,
Even gooses, it is true.
So, to make your goose feel happy
Here is all you have to do:
Read your goose a story!
Just pick out your favorite book;
Let her sit upon your lap so,
If she wants to, she can look
Upon all the pretty pictures
Which are right beside the words
And which make the story come alive
For large aquatic birds.
Gooses love to be told stories
By a grandma or a friend,
As long as it's exciting
And it has a happy end.
But be careful! If you do this
And the goose has too much fun,
She just might come back and see you
To be told another one!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

THE GOLDEN APPLE

By Freddy Flunkerer



And here is the full story for you to read:

One day, the princess decided it was high time she got married. But, of course, she couldn’t just marry any Tom, Dick or Harry…no Prince Thomas, Prince Richard and Prince Harold were all already married. No, it would take someone special, someone unique, someone…talented to marry such an extraordinary princess, which is whycome she invented “The Gauntlet.”

“But, mistress, someone has already invented the gauntlet,” said the prime minister when the princess made the announcement.

“No, not gauntlet like glove,” said the princess. “The Gauntlet is a series of difficult tasks to determine who is most worthy to marry me.”

Difficult? More like impossible! First the suitors who wished to marry the princess would have to journey deep into the Haunted Forest and catch the rare and elusive phoenix. They would then have to pluck one of its long tail feathers and take it to the top of the Misty Mountain where they would find a giant sleeping in a cave. Using the feather they would then have to tickle the giant until he said “uncle” at which point he would hand over a silver key. Then down the mountain to a maze which had been constructed on the castle grounds. At the center of the maze was a box which had to be unlocked with the silver key. Inside the box was a golden apple inscribed “To the fairest in the land.”

The upshot of all this is that only he who presented the golden apple to the princess would be able to marry her.

Of course, suitors from all over the kingdom came and tried their luck, but none of them got very far. In fact, none of them got past the Haunted Forest. Most ran straight out of the forest in fear, and one or two got lost and were never heard of again. Then there was one guy who snapped almost immediately and decided to live in the forest with the ghosts. He became known as the Ghost Man of the Haunted Forest, but that’s another story.

The princess was just beginning to think that nobody would be able to run the Gauntlet when Doug announced that he would attempt to recover the Golden Apple.

Doug was not the tallest, strongest, fastest, bravest or handsomest man in the kingdom. In fact, he was widely considered to be just sort of…ordinary. Just a normal guy. A nice guy, mind you, but normal just the same. And after knights and princes and lords and other guys with fancy names had all failed to retrieve the apple, the princess felt sure that Doug would fail, too.

So bright and early one spring morning, Doug entered the Haunted Forest armed with nothing but a spool of thread, his trusty fiddle, some hard candy, a handkerchief and a cheese sandwich. The first thing he did upon entering the forest (which was dark as night, despite it being bright and early in the morning) was to take a branch off one of the trees and tie his handkerchief over his eyes. You see, Doug knew that ghosts can’t really hurt you, just scare you. And if you can’t see them, you can’t get scared. So, feeling his way through the trees with the stick, Doug made it past the ghosts and straight to the center of the forest, where the phoenix was known to dwell.

Once in the clearing, Doug removed his blindfold and took out his cheese sandwich. “Mr. Phoenix!” he called out. “I’ve got a cheese sandwich for you!”

It just so happens that a phoenix’s favorite food is a cheese sandwich, so the majestic bird walked straight up to Doug, saving him the trouble of catching it.

“I’ll give you half the sandwich in exchange for one of your tail feathers,” Doug said. “And if you’ll also fly me up to the giant’s cave on the Misty Mountain, you can have the whole thing.”

Well, that was a sweet deal the Phoenix couldn’t refuse so, before he knew it, Doug was on top of the Misty Mountain with no cheese sandwich, but with a phoenix feather, which is really what he needed anyway. So armed, he bravely marched into the giant’s cave.

The giant was making a quiche when Doug arrived and panicked when he saw the feather. This particular giant just hated being tickled. “I don’t want to tickle you,” said Doug. “But I hear you have a silver key which I need.”

“Oh, that?” said the giant, giantly. “Yeah, it came in the mail last week. I figured it had been delivered to the wrong address so I hung on to it in case someone came looking for it. Here ya go!”

“Thanks,” said Doug. “Hey, is there a quicker way down this mountain besides climbing?”

“Sure, take the service elevator. Down the hall to your right.”

So Doug took the elevator to the base of the mountain where it was just a short walk to the maze. As luck would have it, there was a tree just outside the entrance to the maze. Doug tied one end of his spool of thread to the tree then entered the maze. Using the thread, he was able to keep track of where he was and where he’d already been, so it was easy to solve the maze and reach the center where he opened the box with the key and took out the golden apple.

Then all he had to do was follow his thread back to the tree and he was out of the maze with the feather, the key and the apple. He put them in his pack with his other possessions…then went home. He never even spoke to the princess.

And why should he? Who would want to marry someone who makes her potential husband go through all that? What kind of person is that arrogant? The apple was clearly addressed to “The Fairest of the Fair” and that was not the princess. So Doug just took the apple home, hoping one day to meet someone who did deserve it.

As for the princess? Well, as far as I know she is still waiting for someone to bring her the golden apple…and if you don’t tell her I won’t!

THE END

If you enjoyed this "Flunkerer's Fable" why not buy the book HERE and learn all about this forgotten hero of fairy tales?

Friday, July 18, 2014

THE PRINCES THREE

By Freddy Flunkerer


Once upon a time and long ago there lived a king who had three sons called Christopher, David and Matthew. As they grew up together, the three princes became the best of friends. They did everything together. They learned how to swordfight and hunt and shoot arrows together. They studied history and languages together. They did that thing where you put the hood on a falcon and take it off and the falcon flies away for some reason and…I don’t know; it’s just a thing princes do, apparently. In fact, there was really only one thing preventing these three brothers from having a perfect relationship:

They were super competitive.

They were always trying to one up each other. When they went fishing, “I caught a much bigger fish than that!” At the dinner table, “I can eat more suckling pig than you!” When they were playing games together, “Ha! You landed on Marvin Gardens with two hotels! You’re bankrupt!” For some reason known only to the royal psychiatrist, the princes three were each obsessed with being the very best.

One day, their father told them that they must go out into the world and find brides. So the brothers set forth in different directions to seek out awesome girls to marry. Christopher went North, David went East and Matthew went sort of Southwest, that is, he started West then veered slightly South and then he curled around to…never mind, the point is they went out and looked for girls.


C H R I S T O P H E R

Christopher, the eldest, went North to the mountains and arrived at the village of Neun where he announced that he was looking for a wife, and that she’d have to be pretty awesome to marry an awesome prince like him. Now, the good news is that the ruler of Neun did in fact have a beautiful young daughter called Princess Billie who was lovely and fair and graceful and had golden blonde hair and the bluest of all the eyes ever. The bad news is that at the moment, she was not available.

“And why is she not available?” demanded Christopher.

“Because this morning she was kidnapped by a terrible ogre.”

“Well, yeah, I can see where that might be a problem.”

The ruler of Neun said he would give Christopher permission to marry his daughter if he could rescue her from the ogre. To aide him in his quest, he gave the prince three magical items. The first was a gold ring with a red stone which would protect him from the ogre’s hypnotic gaze. The second was a sword which had once been stepped on by an old, nearsighted cow, which according to local legend, meant it was magic somehow (not all local legends are totally reliable, you know). And finally, a pair of really great athletic shoes which offered great arch support and padding, but which were so lightweight that it felt like Christopher was in his bare feet. These weren’t really magic in the strictest sense, but c’mon! How hard is it to find a really great pair of sneakers that don’t cost an arm and a leg? Seriously!

Armed with his new thingies, Christopher strode confidently into the ogre’s cave. His sword drawn, he marched bravely into the cave where he did, indeed, find the princess…who had just finished defeating the ogre on her own.

“Hi there!” she said, in a warm friendly voice. “Did you come to rescue me from the ogre?”

“Well, yeah, kinda.”

“Yeah, sorry. Obviously, I would’ve loved to have waited for you, but I was getting impatient. Also he was going to eat me, so, I figured I’d better do something.”

“No, no, I understand. The important thing is that you’re safe. It’s just…”

“What?”

“Well, your father gave me all this magic stuff and these awesome sneakers and said if I rescued you I could marry you.”

“Oh…”

“Yeah, so it’s a little awkward if I go back and tell him that you…”

“Right, I see what you mean. Well, we can always tell him that you saved me. No one’s ever gonna know.”

“No, that’s not fair. You vanquished him. You should get the credit.”

Anyway, they went on like this for a while and finally decided to share the credit. They went back to Billie’s father and told him that Christopher had arrived just as the princess had sprung into action, and they worked together to defeat the ogre. This seemed to satisfy Billie’s father and he gave his blessing. So Christopher headed for home with his bride-to-be, the strong and beautiful Billie.


D A V I D

David, the middle son, went East to Zehn, one of those countries that someone decided to build in a the desert for some reason. Just as Christopher had done, he announced to anyone who would listen that he was looking for a really cool girl to marry. And, sure enough, the local Sultan had a beautiful daughter called Freema. She was dark-eyed, dark-haired, dark-skinned and oh-so-beautiful. She was lythe and athletic and also happened to be the finest dancer in the country, known far and wide for her infamous Dance Of The Six And One Half Veils. It was one of those belly-type dances where girls’ hips look like they’re made of rubber.

“What must I do to win your daughter’s hand in marriage?” asked David.

“You must perform only one task,” said the Sultan. “You must beat me in a game of skill.”

Well, David was awfully clever and he felt certain he could win, especially with the beautiful Freema to motivate him. “What game shall we play?”

“We shall play chess!” announced the Sultan.

“Yeah, I don’t know how to play chess.”

“Very well. Then we shall play backgammon!”

“I really don’t know how to play backgammon.”

“Checkers?”

“What are we, five?”

“All right, what do you want to play?”

David thought long and hard. He knew he had to choose just the right game. It had to be a fitting battle of wits between him and this wise old ruler. “How about Monopoly?”

“Perfect! But I get to be the horsey-guy!”

And thus began the longest, most incredible game of Monopoly ever played. For three full weeks the game raged on. Just when one seemed to have the advantage, the other would pick up a Chance card and the tide would turn. The citizens came from miles around to watch the game. Poets and scribes wrote epics about the game. It was physically and emotionally exhausting. Then, finally, twenty-two days, seven hours, four minutes and eighteen seconds later:

“Ha!” said David. “You landed on Marvin Gardens with two hotels! You’re bankrupt!”

And so it was that David had won the Greatest Game Of Monopoly Ever and won the hand of the beautiful and exotic Freema.


M A T T H E W

Matthew, the youngest of the three princes, had heard an old legend about a place called the Elf Islands where beautiful women lived, just waiting for handsome young princes to come and carry them away. So, he went to the type of bar where sailors usually hang out and announced that he was planning a trip to the Elf Islands. When he said this, everyone gasped.

“The Elf Islands? There are monsters there, sir! Sea monsters, haunted islands, mermaids who—”

“Mermaids? That’d be perfect! Wait till my brothers see me marrying a mermaid! Right, who’s with me?”

“Sir, you need to know about these mermaids, they—”

“Money is no object.”

“I’ll come!”

“Me too!”

“Yeah, why the heck not?”

And so, with a crew of surprisingly stupid sailors, Matthew set sail for a group of dangerous islands in the hopes of marrying a mermaid.

Yeah, he’s a nice guy, but not a lot going on upstairs, if you know what I mean.

Soon (by which I mean about a month later) the islands were in sight. Matthew gave the command to land the ship at the nearest island and called for a fishing net so that he could catch a bride.

“Sir,” said the wide-eyed sailor from earlier, “I really wish you’d let me tell you about these mermaids.”

“I already know about mermaids, you wide-eyed sailor!”

“My name is Josh, sir…”

“See, the top half is like a lady and the bottom half is like a fish, but I read this story once where the prince kissed one or something and she turned into a—”

“SIR! Please, let me explain. The mermaids of Elf Islands are not like the ones in storybooks.”

“Aren’t they?”

“I fear not, sir. See real mermaids sing a beautiful, sweet song to lure men in and then when you’re close enough, they grab you and pull you under and suck out your very soul through your right ear.”

“So…not just pretty girls with fish legs?”

“Not really, no.”

Matthew was beginning to consider giving up and just going home when he heard a beautiful sound. A voice far too beautiful to be human, singing a song that was, at once, beyond his comprehension, and yet so crystal clear that it made him want to weep. Soon, he and all the sailors were leaning over the railing into the water. Sure enough, the ship was entirely surrounded by beautiful maidens floating in the water and singing. Most of the crew were hardened old seadogs, so they had enough sense to ignore the siren song and restrain some of their younger shipmates.

Matthew, however, has been established as sort of foolish, which is why, mere seconds after being told about the treacherous mermaids, he dove into the water.

The mermaids tried to drag him down but Matthew’s crew was able to save him with the very same fishing net he was going to use to catch a bride. But before he was rescued, as the mermaids pawed at him, one swam right up to his left ear and simply whispered, “Please help me.”

Once he was safely back on the deck of the ship, Matthew told his men what had happened. They told him to forget it, that it was just another mermaid trick, but he wasn’t convinced. He leaned over the railing and called out, “Attention mermaids! I am Prince Matthew! My father is a king from a distant land! I demand to speak to you on a matter of great importance.”

A moment later, three mermaids surfaced and, glaring up at the prince said, “What do you want?”

“Have you taken a prisoner?”

“Many years ago, a young woman was scorned by her lover. In her despair we were able to trick her into becoming one of us. Now she is doomed to help us ensnare stupid, gullible men for all eternity.”

“I demand that you set her free at once!”

“What will you give us in exchange?”

“You can take me in her place.”

His crew tried to stop him but he wouldn’t be dissuaded. Doing heroic stuff like this is part of the job when you’re a prince. He took a longboat to the beach, where he stood on the sand and waited. He saw a figure step out of the water, walking onto the land. A moment ago she had been a mermaid. But now she was a beautiful young woman with long cascades of red, red hair and seagreen eyes. She was soft and gentle as the waves that lapped against the beach. As she walked up onto the land, Matthew started to walk down, into the water. At the halfway point, they met and the woman put up a hand to stop him. She turned to the mermaids in the sea. “Give me a moment to thank the man who saved my life.”

The mermaids agreed. The woman put her arms around Matthew’s shoulders and whispered, “The spell they placed on me hasn’t fully worn off yet. This should keep you safe. Until we meet again, my brave prince.” So saying, she kissed Matthew. And not only did he feel the usual awesomeness that comes from getting kissed by a pretty girl, but he also felt something strange. A tremendous rush of energy, as though new life were literally being breathed into him. With a wink and a smile, the young woman continued walking onto the beach and Matthew continued walking into the sea until the mermaids had him and were pulling him under…

But here’s the thing about mermaids: They can’t eat your soul if you haven’t drowned. And there are two ways to avoid drowning if you’re underwater. The first is to be a fish. The second is to have received the legendary Mermaid’s Kiss, which allows the recipient to breathe under water. After nearly an hour of trying unsuccessfully to drown Prince Matthew, the mermaids finally gave up and tossed him back onto the shore like a fish that was too small.

Which is howcome Matthew survived and he and his crew turned the ship around and headed home…with one additional passenger: the gentle and mysterious Princess Karen.


T H E   M I R R O R

And so, all three princes returned home and there was a grand and glorious triple wedding. Christopher married Billie, David married Freema and Matthew married Karen. Indeed, everything was all set for one heck of a mega happy ending…except for that nasty competitive streak I mentioned back when this ludicrous story began.

“My wife is the most beautiful girl in the world.”

“No, my wife is!”

“You’re both nuts! My wife is the most beautiful girl in the world!”

Of course, we know that this was the silliest thing in the world to argue over, but for some reason, the princes were determined to settle it once and for all. Which is why they decided to go on another quest, together this time, and seek out the Witch of the Mirrors. Legend had it that in a tiny cottage deep in the forest lived a witch who did nothing all day but make magic mirrors and play the lottery. In two hundred thousand years, she hadn’t won so much as ten bucks, which is why she had so much time to make mirrors.

And why were they seeking the Witch of the Mirrors? Because another legend had it that there was a Mirror of Truth which would answer any question asked truthfully and which never failed to give an answer to any question. So they would simply stand before the mirror ask “Which of our wives is the most beautiful?” and her face would appear before them, thus solving the question once and for all. Unfortunately, no one knew where the Mirror of Truth was. But they figured the Witch was a good place to start. And so, despite the protests of their beautiful new wives, the three stupid princes went forth to find the Witch of the Mirrors to find the Mirror of Truth to find the…whatever, you know the bit.

After two long days of traveling, the princes found the cottage of the Witch of the Mirrors and knocked on her door. Excited to have company for once, the Witch let them in. She showed the princes her impressive collection of magic mirrors. One showed you what you would look like when you were a hundred. One could show you any event in the past that you wanted to see. One of them made you look all bendy and distorted (it was essentially just a fun house mirror). Then there were some that were traveling mirrors. Matthew stepped into one and came out through a mirror on the other side of the hut.

“These are all really cool mirrors,” said David. “But we are looking for a particular mirror. The Mirror of Truth.”

The Witch’s eyes went wide. “The Mirror of Truth? You seek the Mirror of Truth?”

“That’s right.”

“Er…no, you don’t want that old thing! Wouldn’t you rather have this one? See, when you look inside it, it magically alters the image so that the left appears on the right and the right appears on the—oh, wait, this is just a regular mirror. I should label these better.”

“Please,” said Christopher. “Do you know where the Mirror of Truth is?”

“That mirror was stolen from me a hundred a seven years ago by my cousin, Phil. He lives in an old, haunted castle two hundred leagues from here.”

The princes thanked the Witch and traveled to the old haunted castle of her cousin, Phil. They knocked on the giant doors, which swung open as if under their own power. Swords drawn, the princes stepped carefully into the dark corridor and the doors slammed shut behind them. Then the walls of the corridor lit up with long lines of candles that stretched all the way to the end of the hall. They followed the candles (which went out as they passed) until they reached the throne room. There was Phil, seated on the throne.

“What brings three young princes to my dominion?”

“If you please, sir,” said Matthew. “We seek the Mirror of Truth.”

“The Mirror of Truth? And what sum would you pay for this mirror?”

“Any you care to name,” said David.

“Good to know. But, unfortunately, I do not have the mirror anymore. I gave it as a wedding gift to a great king. It is too far to ride, but I can lend you my dragon to fly you there.”

A few minutes later found the princes riding on the back of a mighty dragon to a place so far away from their home that none of the three princes had even known it existed. Once there, however, the king said he had regifted the mirror to another king and the brothers went to see that king. But this king lost the mirror in a game of cards to a fairy in yet another part of the world. The fairy told them she had given it to an enterprising dwarf who was down on his luck, the dwarf traded it to a dentist in exchange for a painting of some frogs, the dentist sold it to an enchantress and the enchantress had sold it to a witch. By now the princes were getting pretty tired of the whole thing, so the enchantress offered to magically transport them to the home of the witch she had sold it to…

Imagine their surprise when they found themselves back in the home of the Witch of the Mirrors.

“Oh, there you are!” she said cheerfully upon their arrival. “I remembered just after you left. I had the mirror the whole time. You see, I got it from an enchantress who—”

“Will you please just show us the freaking mirror?!?!?!?!”

“Okay! Geez, you’re grumpy! It’s there in the corner.”

Their long, arduous and ultimately pointless journey at an end at last, Christopher, David and Matthew stood shoulder to shoulder to shoulder in front of the Mirror of Truth and, simultaneously, asked the question, “Which of our wives is the most beautiful?” The image in the mirror began to ripple, as though it were a pond someone had tossed a pebble into. Then the image began to change, until it was a perfect likeness of…

“Billie! That’s my Billie!”

“What are you talking about? It’s Freema.”

“Are you two blind? It’s clearly Karen!”

It was clear that though they had asked the same question and were all looking at the same mirror, each prince was seeing a different image. They were each seeing their own wife smiling back at them. They were, in a word, confused.

“Don’t you see?” said the Witch. “Beauty is not something that can be measured or compared or contrasted. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So the answer to the question ‘Who is the most beautiful girl in the world?’ would be different for every person who asks it. You all have lovely wives, who are probably missing you terribly after all this time you’ve been bouncing around the world (sorry about that, by the way), so what does it matter whose wife is most beautiful.”

And that’s how the princes three learned that sometimes in life there was no biggest or best, there was no winner. Sometimes things were just different. Not better, not worse. Just different. As far as each of them was concerned, they had married the most beautiful girl in the world, so what else mattered?

Finally, the brothers returned home to their wives who were, don’t get me wrong, a little annoyed at their husbands for wasting all that time on such a stupid wild goose chase, but they had also gotten to know each other very well in the meantime and were now closer than sisters. As for the Witch of the Mirrors, she eventually did win the jackpot and retired from mirrormaking once and for all. Today she is known as the Witch of the Large Amount of Money.

And our Princes Three? They of course lived happily ever after.

THE END

If you enjoyed this long, rambling tale of competitive brothers and mirrors and Monopoly and...wait, what was this one about? I can't remember. Anyhoo, there's a lot more just like it in Flunkerer's Fables available from the Amazon Kindle Store for hardly any money at all! (But it does cost some money)

Monday, July 7, 2014

THE VOYAGES OF SINBAD THE SAILOR

Adapted from the Arabian Nights fables.


It was many, many years ago, when I was a much younger man. I was a sailor then, and had hired myself off as a crewman to a mighty vessel called...well, I don't remember. Bill or something, who knows?

The point is, there was another sailor on board that ship and at night, he would tell us all the amazing story of his adventures on the seven seas.

 “I was born for the life of a sailor,” began Sinbad (for that was the sailor's name). “My father was a merchant who traded across the sea, so it was only natural that, when the time came for me to choose my vocation in life, I would become a sailor. I set out on my first voyage with great hope and excitement. We were out at sea for days without sighting land. So when the cry of ‘Land ho’ did ring out, young and foolish as I was, I dove into the sea and made for the tiny island with all my might. My fellow sailors called after me, ‘Stop! Come back, stupid!’ and similar nautical expressions but I paid them no heed and kept going until I had reached the island…

“Which, as it turned out, was not an island, but rather a giant whale which immediately began swimming away with me on his back!

“I finally managed to get away from the whale and, come nightfall, found myself alone on a desert island. I stayed there for several days, eating the fruits and herbs that grew there and drinking from a stream. I was beginning to give up hope that I would ever get home, and began to despair of ever finding my way home.

“Then, one day, I began exploring the island. I came to a wide open area of land where I saw what was, at the time, the strangest thing I’d ever seen. It was a giant, round object, pale white and smooth. I rapped my fist against it and it echoed. There was an opening of some kind inside this thing. I had only a few seconds to try and figure out what it was when I, and everything around me, was plunged into shadow. I looked up and it instantly became clear what the second strangest thing I’d ever seen was based on the existence of the first strangest thing I’d ever seen:

“A giant bird coming out of the sky to sit on her giant egg.

“I saw at once a chance for escape! I unraveled the turban on my head (apologizing to Allah as I did so, but desperate times call for desperate measures) and used the linen to tie myself to the bird’s leg. Soon the bird took off (no doubt to gather food for its soon-to-be-hatched offspring) and flew away with me tightly bound to her leg. I didn’t know where we were going, but I assumed, as we began to land in another country, that anyplace was better than where I just was.

“I was wrong...very, very wrong.

“Upon untying myself from the bird I realized that she had left me on the floor of the Valley of Diamonds. Those of you who have heard the legends will know that the good thing about the Valley of Diamonds is that the floor of the valley is, of course, covered with the biggest, purest diamonds you’ll ever see. The bad thing of course is that the walls of the valley are so steep that you will never be able to climb out.

“And even if you could climb out, the rest of the country’s not exactly hospitable either. Huge serpents, birds bigger than the one that carried me, savage beasts and…the giant!

“The giant is as tall as forty men and has skin as black as pitch and only one giant eye in the middle of his face. And every night, he searches the valley for men who have climbed in looking for wealth only to find death. When he reached out his hand to grab me, I quickly filled my pack with as many diamonds as I could before he took me to his cave and dropped me into a cage with two of my countrymen, fellow travelers named Bakbarah and Alcouza.

“‘We’ve been here for two days’ said Bakbarah. ‘He keeps saying that he needs more man meat before he can cook us. Now he might have enough!’

“‘I almost hope he does,’ said Alcouza. ‘It’s worse stuck in this cage knowing what’s coming but not being able to do anything about it.’

"'How is that worse? Seriously, how is being in a cage worse than being eaten?'

"'I'm just saying...'

“‘We can do something about it, my fellow ingredients!’ I said defiantly. ‘We can get out of this cage, attack the giant and make our escape!’

“‘Even if we could attack the giant,’ said Alcouza, ‘how can we get out of this cage? The bars are too hard for us to break through.’

“‘Not too hard for these,’ I said, opening my pack. Diamonds, of course, are the hardest things in the world, so it was no trouble to break through the bars while the giant was taking a nap. Then we went to the fire place and took a long piece of wood which was still smoldering at one end and drove it into the giant’s eye. He screamed in pain and started clawing around in blind fury, but we were long gone!

“My new companions and I ran for the seashore as fast as we could, just in case the giant was following. As luck would have it, a ship had stopped to gather provisions and happily brought us aboard. Unfortunately, our first night on the ship we ran into a terrible storm and I was, once again, cast into the sea where I spent a full day and night floating on a plank of wood before washing up on another desert island.

“But I wasn’t alone for long this time, as some very elegantly dressed men and women found me and brought me to their magnificent city of Karamesh and their great King Miraghe, who ruled over the entire island. I was welcomed by the king and soon became a favorite among his courtiers when I told the stories of my many adventures. And, when I observed that neither the king nor any of his subjects used saddles, stirrups or bridles when they rode horses, I described them to the royal craftsmen and had a complete set of riding accessories made for the king. Soon it caught on and, thanks to me, everyone in Karamesh was riding much more comfortably.

“‘Sinbad,’ said the king after a month, ‘I like you and I want you to do something for me.’

“‘Of course, your majesty, anything you want,’ I said, stupidly.

“‘I want you to marry my daughter. That way you can stay here forever and never return to your own home.’ Well, lovely though his daughter was and pleased though I was to be popular among the court, I couldn’t very well stay there forever, so I declined…the king did not take my refusal very well…he made a pointed argument in favor of my staying…I remained resolute…long story short, I soon found myself running away under cover of night.

“For a full week, I lived in the jungle, hiding during the day in case the king’s men found me and eating only what I could find. One day I heard human voices talking, and I hid in the branches of a tree until they had passed. To my surprise, however, they were not the voices of King Miraghe or his subjects, but voices I had heard before.

“‘Bakbarah? Acouza?’

“‘Sinbad?’ My friends embraced me. The captain of the ship that had so recently rescued us had been searching for me ever since, and my loyal friends, who perhaps felt they owed me a debt after I helped them escape the giant, volunteered to search every island in the area until I was found. So now we were set to return to the ship and bid farewell to Karamesh once and for all.

“Which is how I come to be here among you fine men,” said Sinbad, his story at an end. “And when at last we pull into port, I am sworn never to leave home as long as I may live.”

THE END

Sinbad's story is just one of many told by Scheherazade to the Sultan in the classic 1001 Arabian Nights. I have selected the best bits, taken out the long, boring, repetitive parts (which, while perfectly reasonable from an overall plot standpoint, do tend to make for some pretty tedious reading) and put them together in my own version of the book which you can purchase HERE.