“A Curiosity” by Albert Berg

TWA 62 Al revision-01Mr. Boots was missing.

Ecila tried to find him. She looked everywhere. She looked in the basement, and in the cupboards, and under the stairs, but he wasn’t there.

“Where is Mr. Boots?” she asked the mother, but the mother did not know.

She lay awake that night in bed and thought she could hear scratching somewhere in the house. But it might have only been the ghosts trapped in the walls. It must have been. Because Mr. Boots couldn’t get into the walls, could he? “Mr. Boots,” she whispered in the darkness, “Where are you? Come back to me.”

If Mr. Boots heard her he did not say anything.

She had gotten Mr. Boots for her seventh birthday. There had been cake and presents, and the father gave her a box, wrapped with paper, but with holes cut in the sides, and when she took the box something stuck out a paw and batted her on the arm. It was Mr. Boots, and he had done a poo in the box, and the mother said, “Keep him company and he will keep you safe.”

And so far he had. He had killed a borogrove that came up through the floorboards, the venomous kind that spits green goo, and he had stabilized a glitch in Ecila’s bedroom that let you to sink into the wall if you stood in front of the wardrobe with your head cocked to the left.

And Ecila had kept him company. She fed him and watered him, and gave him scratches on the head and she was always very careful to keep him in her room when the father opened the front door. But now he was gone anyway. Ecila cried until her tears spilled out of her eyes and fell to the ceiling in big salty spots. She was so upset that when she finally got to sleep all of her dreams went in reverse so she was chasing monsters who could not run fast enough to get away, and everyone else was naked.

When Ecila woke up she thought to herself, “Mr Boots couldn’t have gone out the front door or I would have heard the unauthorized exit alarm. And he isn’t still in the house, because I looked in all the places he could hide. Therefore, he must have found another way out.”

But how could that be? The house only had one door, and there were no windows or cracks in the walls, because everyone knows that a leaky house is a house that will soon be infested with jubjub bugs. But Ecila was a child and and children do not know how to doubt the things that must be true. So she went on looking for the place where Mr. Boots had escaped. She looked in the basement and in the fourblebent, and all three attics, but all the walls were buttoned up tight to the floors and the ceiling, and still there was no sign of Mr. Boots, so she plunked herself down in the chesterfield and gave considerable thought to bursting into tears.

But then she heard that scratching sound again. Only this time she could tell it wasn’t coming from the walls at all, but from the book shelf. She took all the books off the shelf one at the time and listened very carefully to each one until she came to լֆԺՇ ՂԹաէօր’s Big Book of Fairy Facts (translation by Robert Chambers) and she could clearly hear the scratching coming from inside the pages.

She opened the book and read through the pages until she found Mr. Boots. He had gotten stuck inside of the a story called, “The Goblin King.” She found the spot where Mr. Boots had fallen into the story.

Now the Goblin King was the hungriest creature in the world. He ate nine meals a day, and he still bellowed for more. He ate so much that grew and grew until his rolls of fat swallowed up his short legs and stubby arms. And the thing that the goblin king loved to eat more than anything in the world was cats. He would eat them boiled and fried and baked and even raw if the cook were taking too long. He sent all of his goblin armies out into the world to gather as many cats as they could find. But at the end of one year his armies had captured and killed all the cats in the world. All except one. And he was a fearful and cunning creature called Mr. Boots. The goblin king put a reward of 10,000 gold pieces on the head of Mr. Boots and said that he would promote the person who brought him the last cat in the world to be the second most powerful person in the kingdom.

Ecila slammed the book shut to keep herself from reading more. As long as they didn’t capture Mr. Boots in the story there was still a chance. But even though he was a very smart cat he was going to need her help.

Just then the mother called her for lunch. Ecila said, “Mr. Boots is trapped in լֆԺՇ ՂԹաէօր’s Big Book of Fairy Facts and I’m going to go in after him before the Goblin King eats him up.”

The mother said that Mr. Boots could handle himself against any goblin, particularly the foolish ones in լֆԺՇ ՂԹաէօր’s Big Book of Fairy Facts, but Ecila would hear none of it. “He’s stuck in there, I know it. I have to go after him.”

Then the mother sighed and said that if she was going into the book she still needed to eat lunch, so she got a piece of paper and wrote: two pieces of white rye bread with roast beef and cheddar cheese and a nice lettuce leaf between them.

Ecila took the paper and when the mother wasn’t looking she wrote, And one slice of delicious chocolate cake with strawberry icing.

The mother gave her an extra warm hug and told her to be careful, and Ecila said, “I will.” She wanted to be brave, but truly the world of the Goblin King seemed dark and scary, the kind of world where almost anything could happen, and she couldn’t help feeling a little bit afraid.

Still, Mr. Boots needed her help, and at least if something happened to her inside the book the father and the mother could always grow another daughter so they wouldn’t have to be really sad.

She got a pencil and sat down with the book. She had quite good penmanship, and the margins in the book were rather large, so there was no difficulty in writing herself into the story. She wrote her feet first, and then her ears, then her knees and then her head, bit by bit, being sure to write away the hand holding the pencil last of all.

Now it came to pass that a one day a great sorceress small girl came to the court of the goblin king and said, “I can find the cat you seek.” The goblin king rolled back in his rolls of fat and laughed a deep laugh that echoed through all the halls of the castle, for all the king’s greatest warriors and wisest generals had been hunting the cat Mr. Boots all the long year and none of them had seen even the shadow of his whisker in all that long time. “What will you do that all of my armies and wisest generals could not? For they have been hunting him all the long year and have not seen even the shadow of his whisker in that long time.”

And the sorceress girl said, “No army on earth can catch the wise cat who does not want to be found. But even the wisest cat is very curious.* I know the way a cat thinks better than anyone in the world.” Why do you want to eat cats anyway?

*[Editors note: the validity of this oft repeated truism has been questioned by many experts in the psychology of cats, who claim that the average cat is no more or less curious than a cow.]

Now the king laughed a bit less and thought a bit more. For he had expended great wealth already in the fruitless pursuit of Mr. Boots and he thought that if this sorceress did no better than his armies, she could assuredly do no worse. So he asked, “And what do you require to effect his capture?” And the goblin king said cats tasted the best of all the foods.

“There is a spell that can be cast that will draw him to this very room, whether he will it or no. I know the particulars of the spell, but I do not have the ingredients.” “Have you ever tried chocolate cake with strawberry icing?” asked the girl.

“It will require the eyes of the one hundred weakest goblins in the kingdom and the one hundred strongest,” the sorceress said.  “It’s really good.”

“Nothing could be simpler!” roared the goblin king. “It will be done immediately.” The goblin king had never heard of chocolate cake, so the little girl gave him a piece she had in her pocket.

And so it was done. The one hundred strongest goblins were easy to find for all of them served in the king’s army, and so they stood stiffly at attention as one by one the sorceress carved their eyes out with a spoon. The one hundred weakest were even less difficult for the king ordered that the one hundred youngest goblins in the land, still suckling at their mother’s teats, be brought to the castle to have their eyes removed.

The king tried a piece of the cake and said, “This is 100 times better than eating cats.” So the girl gave him the recipe to make more cake. The king had his cook bake 100 cakes, but when he tried to eat them he was too full of cats. So he opened his mouth and burped up all the cats he had eaten one at a time until they were all out.

It should come as no shock that the goblin king’s endless hunger for cats, and his long and fruitless campaign to hunt down the last remaining cat in the world had put the kingdom at a strain. And now when the order went out that the one hundred youngest infants in the land were to be brought to the castle to have their eyes removed in the presence of their own mothers, the discontent that had been foaming in the land boiled over into revolution. The goblins rose up and marched against the king in his castle. The king ordered that the revolt be put down, but his one hundred strongest men had been blinded and so the goblin army was severely disadvantaged against the angry populace.

And last of all came Mr. Boots who had been hiding inside the goblin king’s stomach the whole time because he knew no one would ever look there.

And so it was that the whole kingdom of the goblins rose up against the goblin king in a single day. And when they came to the throne room they found the sorceress standing next to the king with a candle in her hand. The king had been covered from his head to his toes in cooking grease and as the king screamed and tried to roll away the girl set the grease alight.

Then the goblin king was able to eat the cake all day long and the cats were not inside his belly anymore.

Because The king was very fat. It took three days for him to burn out, and in all that time his screams of rage and pain echoed through the kingdom.

The girl hugged Mr. Boots tight and told him never to run away again. And they all lived happily ever after.

Ecila closed the book gently and put it back on the shelf. “Well that was an adventure wasn’t it?” she said to Mr. Boots.

“Yes, it was,” replied Mr. Boots. “Though you needn’t have worried. As you saw I had the situation under control.”

And then the mother called Ecila to eat, and she, having completely forgotten her sandwich in the Big Book of Fairy Facts hurried into the kitchen to see what was for dinner.

 

 

 

 


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albertAlbert Berg: Albert was born in the swamps of Florida and quickly developed a gripping writing style by wrestling with crocodiles. You never know what you will get from Albert, be it sentient paper products or religious squirrels, but you do know that behind the flash there will be a well thought out story that will make you reflect on your own life.  Albert is the author of The Mulch Pile and A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw.

 

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3 Comments

  1. What worked for me: all of it. I was a little confused the first time through, so I read it again and realised I’d been reading too quickly.

    This story made me happy. It was fun, open to interpretation, made me giggle, got me thinking about how much was imagination and how much was being processed by an advanced child care system that might or might not be Mr. Boots, but mostly it was fun. I liked how Ecila amends the story she’s reading and how at the same time she changes the story we’re reading.

    This level of playfulness, carried off this well, makes this a really good story. Thank you, Al, this was completely worth the wait.

  2. I can’t.

    I just can’t.

    I cannot comment on this story in a way this serves it justice. So don’t even bother reading this comment. Instead, just go read the story again. I loved EVERYTHING ABOUT IT, from the story itself, the story it was not, and the manner it was all written and not written. Suffice to say we have found the true successor to Lewis Carroll.

    See? There you’ve gone and done it, haven’t you?…You bothered to read this comment. Don’t. Don’t, I say. Just go read this story again. And then again some more. You’ll be all the better for it.

    Thank you, Mr. Berg. Thank you, kindly for this story.

  3. Pingback: HEP - 178 - Love and Automata (The Best Offer Review + Peter Clines Interview) - Human Echoes

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