“And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.” ― Meister Eckhart
I have been meaning to jot this tale down forever. Like every child out there, our son loves listening to stories. And like every parent out there, I make up stories to serve up some grand “moral code of conduct” in easily digestible, child-friendly nuggets. Well, that! But, more accurately, I make up stories to get our son to do things I’d like him to do at a rate arguably faster than snail-pace – like finishing up his food or taking a bath or doing his chores etc.
The grand Von Chomp family of No.9 Wolkeville were born out of that need. They have served me well for a good couple of years. During that time, the Von Chomps have evolved into complex creatures with their own set of idiosyncrasies. Needless to say, I have grown quite fond of these lovable antagonists of my made up world. And my son, as is to be expected, has developed an intense loathing towards them. He is, after all, a child. His world is clearly demarcated in terms of what he considers the “bad side” and the “good side”. Black and white.
However, as an adult, I am allowed the liberty of seeing shades of grey and that is exactly how I intend to tell this tale.
But before you invest your valuable time reading this online tale of adventure, here are a few things I’d like for you to know:
- I don’t know where this tale is headed. Granted, I know the characters, I know the things that move them in my make-believe world, but I don’t know where they will end up. This is an evolving work of fiction and I do hope, with all my heart, that it will conclude to your satisfaction, but I cannot guarantee it.
- What I can, however, guarantee is that I will publish a chapter (or more) of this story every fortnight (or sooner, if time permits!) on FertileBrains till it reaches its logical conclusion.
- Being a work in progress (aka “shitty first draft” to quote from Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird), there will be many grammar/other inconsistencies. These I promise to iron out during revisions. If, however, you find glaring inconsistencies in the storyline, please feel free to let me know in the comments section (This may beg the question why am I publishing a below-par work instead of refining it first? Mainly because if I waited for perfection, it will never emerge from the graveyard of my head where many good stories have existed their entire lives and eventually got themselves butchered to death by self-doubt. This time, my hope is for them to live outside, through this blog, if only for a moment and quite possibly in their most crude form.)
- Finally, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed making this literary nonsense up for my son and now writing and sharing it with you all. As always, I appreciate all reads/comments/shares. Many thanks!
“Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” – Kurt Vonnegut
Chapter 1: A Strange Arrival
The high-pitched whistles pierced one’s ears long before the giant wings covered the bright sun. For a moment, the clear blue skies flooded with gold. Then Aquila’s carriage touched down, subtle as ever, and rolled to a halt on the arrivals runway of Wolkeville, barely a foot away from the entry gate.
Aquila flapped his golden wings one last time, folded them in, and stood in perfect attention, waiting for Mr. Pemberton, the mayor, and his welcoming committee to receive the newcomers.
“Well, well, let’s get on with it, then. Shall we?” said Mr. Pemberton, emerging through the entry gate, walking swiftly with an air of authority towards the carriage. He rubbed his flippers together in an obvious sort of delight at his self-important role.
Mr. Pemberton was plump and round, with his shiny tailcoat and fat white belly moving side to side as he waddled towards Aquila. His yellow beard, eyebrows, and mustaches shone in the bright sun, his love for good food and banter quite evident in his hog eyes and impish smile.
He was followed by the skinny nervous duo of Mrs. Mustel and Mrs. Suricat, who were both visibly flustered from trying to keep up with Mr. Pemberton’s swaying drunken gait.
“Who do we have in your golden basket today, Aquila, my dear?” Mr. Pemberton said.
“It’s not a basket, it’s a carriage,” Aquila hissed sternly. “And you know the rules, Mr. Pemberton. I neither see nor care.”
“Of course! Of course!” guffawed Mr. Pemberton. “I was but teasing you, my dear. Still can’t take a joke, can you?”
Aquila did not reply and kept looking straight ahead. He loathed being made fun of. Yet he found it beneath his dignity to respond back, especially to Mr. Pemberton.
By this time, Mrs. Mustel and Mrs. Suricat had scrambled past them and were standing in front of the carriage door, huffing and puffing, as they tried to compose themselves.
Presently, they looked at each other, straightened themselves up and flashed a thumbs up to no one in particular. Then with a smile practiced over the many years they had had the privilege of leading the welcoming committee, they opened the carriage door and yelled at the top of their lungs in a fake show of excitement, “Welcome! Welcome t-to…”.
Then they both gasped.
“Oh, mother! Oh, dear mother!” said Mrs. Mustel, looking heavenwards.
Mrs. Suricat just folded her paws in prayer and froze.
Mr. Pemberton and Aquila shared a questioning glance. What could it possibly be? In all the years of greeting newcomers, this was probably the first time the ladies looked this flustered.
Mr. Pemberton sprinted to the open carriage door to see for himself what made his seasoned welcoming committee forget their rituals. Aquila did not need to move an inch. He simply extended his long neck behind and peeked inside the carriage.
“Wha…haa…muh…” the quick-witted Mr. Pemberton was finding it hard to utter anything beyond monosyllables.
“Oh, my! How did that happen?” the ever so detached Aquila suddenly looked very anxious.
The three-member welcoming committee of the great Wolkeville huddled together, unsure how to react next.
“Why, this has to be a first!” Mrs. Mustel offered, still quivering.
“Yes, indeed! We have no precedents, I tell you.” Mrs. Suricat mumbled and nodded in agreement.
“Wha…how…muh…” Mr. Pemberton remained at a loss for words.
* * *
The community hall was filled with all six hundred thirty-four adult residents of Wolkeville. The children, all eighty-one of them were outside, as usual, keeping busy the way only children know how to.
In a corner, Ms. Tilia was speculating with Mr. Grotsky about the cause of today’s emergency meeting.
“I bet it has to do with Lil’s recent shenanigans. She is failing the rulebook…” said Ms. Tilia.
“Yeah, maybe,” said Mr. Grotsky. “But…”
“There is no but, G. She reeks! Had you been near her recently, you would have noticed too. She is cutting it close, I am telling you. This is it. An intervention. After all, it’s a question of our safety too and you know it!” Ms. Tilia said, emphatically.
“Or, probably, we will just discuss the decline in the number of healers like last time. We all know what happened in the old village square. We…” Mr. Grotsky never got to finish his thought as Mr. Pemberton and Mrs. Mustel entered the room that very instant. Unlike the past, there was no dilly-dallying, no chitter-chatter, no jokes. Not even Mr. Pemberton attempted one of his lame puns.
As soon as the members were all seated, Mr. Pemberton signaled to Mr. Cicadon, who brought the day’s proceedings to order by his trademark three-chirp loud call.
But Mrs. Suricat was nowhere to be found at the podium. Instead, to everyone’s surprise, the one-third part of the welcoming committee was standing on guard right outside the storeroom door; which was now heavily padlocked to keep the new arrival shut away from prying eyes.
Mr. Pemberton cleared his voice. He began “This morning, Aquila brought in a new arrival…and…ahem…we don’t know how to handle it!”.
No one said anything, so Mr. Pemberton continued.
“As most of you know, I am among the oldest residents of Wolkeville,” he said.
Then paused for effect.
“I believe I speak for all oldtimers here when I say this is highly unusual. In fact, I have spent the entire morning going over the records with our bookkeeper, Mr. Oligo…umm…um…ahem…and no, we still don’t know what to do. We have no precedents.”
The hall grew silent in anticipation. Mr. Pemberton cleared his voice, paused for a second or two, and then blurted out “A human. A living, breathing human child is our new arrival.”
The hall erupted in collective gasps of horror. A human? How could that be? Wasn’t that improbable? Weren’t there rules and protective checks specifically put in place to safeguard against such possibility? What did the Big Book of Rules say? What should they do? How are they supposed to handle it?
Everyone began to talk at once. But Mr. Pemberton, Mrs. Mustel, Mrs. Suricat and Mr. Oligo had zero answers. The Big Book of Rules had given them nothing except to remind them that a new arrival should be protected irrespective of who they were. This was all fine till you remembered why humans got banned from Wolkeville in the first place!
They exchanged helpless glances. This was uncharted territory. Risky. A misstep would cost them heavily and the reason was lost on none of them. A single thought looped through their worried heads. What will happen when the Von Chomps found out?
“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.” – Graham Greene
Chapter 2: Baron ‘Gobble’ Von Chomp
“Oh, darling! Isn’t he the most handsome baby you have ever seen?” Mrs. Von Chomp gushed, as Mr. Von Chomp stood by the side of their pond at No.9 Wolkeville.
“Taking sides much, my dear? Aren’t we supposed to love them both equally?” Mr. Von Chomp said teasing his wife, who by now had plopped herself down near the lotus blossoms and was thrashing the water with her webbed feet. Baron and Knightley, who till now, were floating around aimlessly, began a game of catch with their mother, swimming away with each splutter and splash, then circling back near her feet as the ripples faded.
Mr. Von Chomp watched this gleeful play for a minute or two. Then, as if settling the ongoing debate in his head, he straightened the scrunched lines on his forehead and said, “Ahem, love…uh..say, don’t you think his eyelids should have…um…erm…separated by now?”
Mrs. Von Chomp’s body tensed up. Her heart was not ready to accept what her brain had been telling her for some time now.
“He is a late bloomer’s all. Some babies are like that! They will open, you’ll see. I bet by the time he is out of the pond, he will see clearer and farther than Aquila could ever.” Mrs. Von Chomp said.
“Yes, yes. Of course. Of course, dear.” Mr. Von Chomp agreed, a bit too quickly if you ask. Then again, a man is bound to agree with his wife sooner or later. Mr. Von Chomp was smart enough to know sooner is always better.
But when it was time for the children to move into the Von Chomp mansion, his worries remained unchanged.
So did Mrs. Von Chomp’s optimism.
“There’s still time,” she said as Baron wobbled out of the pond, gripping onto his parents’ arms and stumbled, slowly and awkwardly, towards the mansion. Knightley waited for a minute, watching Baron bump and trip. Then he was done. He whooshed past them all straight into his new bedroom.
“Still time, still plenty of time…” Mrs. Von Chomp kept mumbling.
Baron’s eyelids never separated to grant his eyes the power of sight. They remained as glued together as the day he’d hatched out of his egg into the lotus pond.
To have two perfect looking protruding eyes tightly shut in perpetual sleep was a cruel, pointless joke of nature and Mrs. Von Chomp suffered the most for it. After all, a mother’s hope tends to transcend the bleakest of despairs when it comes to her children. But there was nothing to be done. Baron was blind and all of Mrs. Von Chomp’s hopes and prayers were not enough to wish this curse away. As for Baron himself, he never really understood his mother’s desperation. How could he possibly miss something he never had in the first place?
* * *
With time, Baron’s senses evolved a notch above sighted beings with his nose and his tongue serving him in a manner his eyes never did. He could sniff out Knightley’s hidden stash of honeydew bubbles within minutes. His mother could be miles away from home but one quick whiff of the wind and he could tell how long before she was due back. He never got caught red-handed in the middle of a mischief! Not that Mrs. Von Chomp could ever envision Baron doing anything wrong. After all, he was her favorite son and no one could argue otherwise.
As a child, Baron liked being the “seeker” more than anything. In fact, to everyone’s delight, he loved being “It” every time the Von Chomp boys and their friends played a game of “hide and seek”. But, this joy, like Knightley’s stash of honeydew bubbles, would be shortlived. It was only a matter of minutes before Baron sniffed out the children, one after another. Soon, everyone would lose interest in hiding. “What’s the point?” they’d argue. But Baron would still be grinning, ear to ear and insisting that they should continue playing.
When the Von Chomp boys grew up, Baron decided to become an enforcer, just like his father had been before him. Not that he particularly liked the Big Book of Rules or following all the big and little rules in it, but boy did he love enforcing them! To him, it was an unending game of “hide and seek” and he was the perpetual seeker. The rest of Wolkeville residents were his hapless victims – always anxious, always scared of being discovered in the wrong.
Baron, on the other hand, could take his time, savor the moments as long as he wished, before pouncing, unannounced mostly, on his prey. Yes, he loved the thrill of the chase. He loved the fear he instilled in the residents – the constant watching over their shoulders, the constant worry of rule breaking – and he loved the anticipation of a pursuit.
He’d sniff out the direction his victim was hiding in. Then he’d slowly drag his five-feet long, coarse tongue along the track, hanging loosely on one side of his open mouth, tasting every inch of gravel on the path to his prey. He’d stop often, sniff the wind, and grin. This insidious progression was enough to send chills down the spines of the six hundred thirty-four adult residents and eighty-one children of Wolkeville. But the eighty-second child, the new arrival, was different. She was blissfully unaware as to what her presence in Wolkeville meant.
If only she knew. If only someone could shake her awake this very moment in the storeroom of the community hall and give her a history lesson. If only she was even remotely aware of the legacy left behind by one Mr. Von Chomp of No.9 Wolkeville. If only she could hide deeper than Baron could seek.
“I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else.” – Pablo Picasso
Chapter 3: HRM Skiris, The First
“Hey, you there. You human child,” yelled Mrs. Suricat. “Wake up, wake up now!”
She gave the sleeping girl one rough push “Wake up right now! You must go. Run. Go, hide somewhere. Please, hurry!”
Skiris rubbed her eyes and sat up, squinting in the bright sunlight flooding through the open doors of the storeroom, where she had been fast asleep till now, not a single worry in sight.
Once Mrs. Suricat was sure that the girl was awake enough to have heard her message, loud and clear, she sprinted away as fast as her scrawny legs would carry her.
“Heyyyy!” said Skiris, looking in the direction in which Mrs. Suricat had run away on all fours.
“What the he…no way! Was that a giant ‘Timon’? I must be dreaming! What are those called again? Some kind of cat?…um..err…Wait! But where am I? H..how did I get here? Who put me in that storeroom? Mom! Dad!” Skiris started to panic as she began recollecting the moments just before this fantastic dream of hers, or as she thought it to be, began.
“Oh, I should’ve listened to mom. I should’ve put on my helmet.” thought Skiris, welling up. “I must have hurt my head or something.”
She instinctively touched her forehead with both hands to check for cuts or bumps. There were none. She pressed her hands all over her head. Nothing. There was definitely no pain. So she decided to get up.
“A meerkat! Timon from The Lion King is a Meerkat,” said Skiris to herself as she stood up. For a moment, she was proud of herself to have remembered it. Her brain was working just fine. But then how could she explain this?
“How did I get here? I remember my hands slipping off the handle…my bouncy ball!…yes, I flew through the air…Oh, I was so scared I’d break a bone or something when I landed…buh…buh…I don’t remember crashing…no…I…I think I landed on something soft, like…like a soft pillow or something….” thought Skiris.
“…I must have passed out because I sure can’t remember the rest….oh, what now? How will I ever get back home?” she thought, welling up once again.
But Skiris knew tears were not going to solve her problem. So she wiped them away. She had always been such a brave little girl.
“After all,” she thought “what sense would it make to just sit there and cry? I must investigate.” Skiris liked throwing big words into her sentences. It made her feel important and so very grown up. So like grown-ups, she cautiously began observing her surroundings.
“What is this place? Looks like some kind of a ginormous hall or something…” she thought.
“…but why are the animals in the paintings wearing clothes? Doesn’t make much sense now, does it?…. Unless…maybe it’s a museum! Yes, a museum…fantasy art like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or ‘Narnia’ or something. I am sure!” said Skiris, answering her own questions in the best possible way she could.
For an eight-and-a-half-year-old girl – she insisted on the half – Skiris was quite well-read and smart. She had as many answers as she had questions. And when her questions became a far too many, she had her books and Google to dig out the right answers.
But as luck would have it, today she could neither peruse her vast home library nor the internet. So she decided to figure out the answers the old fashioned way – by finding a “responsible-looking” adult who could give her a satisfactory explanation and possibly let her use their phone to call home. In fact, she had memorized the phone numbers of all her emergency contacts – mom, dad, nana, even her annoying big brother. She was so glad she did not rely on technology to do this job for her. Now, if only she could find a good Samaritan with a phone.
* * *
The village square was in chaos. A mad dash to find cover was the top agenda on everyone’s mind.
For a moment, Skiris stood there frozen, wondering if some terrorist or mass murderer was out on the streets. It took but only a second for her to realize that there were no people in sight amidst the flurry of runners, only well-dressed animals scurrying about for dear lives. Had it not been for the terror on their faces, the sight would have been comical, something straight out of a fairytale or an Aesop’s fable perhaps. She was even more surprised to realize that all the creatures seemed to be of similar height. The bugs, the mice, the birds, the cats, the elephants, all were about six feet tall, no more, no less.
“Strange!” she said aloud. But there was no time to think or wonder about the peculiarities of this place as the mayhem seemed to have peaked in the meantime.
The Subterraneans burrowed through the main street faster than any drilling machine ever built and began disappearing into their freshly dug tunnels one after another. The Camouflagers braced against tree trunks, windows, doors, whatever they could stick to, and one by one merged with their surroundings. The Flight Crew pushed the slugs, the snails, the sloths and other slowpokes into their carriages till there was no more space left to fill. Then they took to the skies in a regal, airforce like formation and vanished into the horizon. The Possums, of course, just fainted right there in the middle of the street and played dead with their tongues sticking out and a foul smell erupting from their wide-open mouths. Within five minutes, the village square fell silent.
“What should I do? What should I do?” Skiris kept repeating to herself.
Right at that moment, she heard the pitter-patter of footsteps, as the skunk army marched into the village square and unleashed their signature spray.
“Ew, disgusting!” said Skiris, gagging at the sudden onslaught to her sense of smell. She covered her nose and mouth with both hands. Not that it helped one bit. The entire atmosphere reeked of the pungency the skunk army left behind. Once the deed was done, they left almost as suddenly as they had appeared.
Skiris was, once again, left standing all alone, wondering what her next move should be. Should she run away and hide, as the Meercat lady had suggested? But where? Or should she stay put and find out what the ruckus was all about?
She did not have long to wait.
“Come with me if you want to be safe,” said a voice from behind her. She turned around, but there was no one to be seen.
“What’s going on?” said Skiris, scratching her head. “Who are you, where are you?” she asked.
“Oh, how very foolish of me!” said the voice. “You can’t see me, I am invisible…well, technically, atomized, so unless you have a high-resolution microscope, you can’t see me. I wish we had the time for lengthy introductions – I am Horace, by the way – but right now, just follow the leaf,” continued the voice, Horace.
Just then, a green, heart-shaped leaf began dancing in front of Skiris’ eyes.
“Why?” said Skiris.
“Why! Why! You want to know why now, or you want to survive? Your choice!” said Horace, the exasperation evident in his voice. The leaf began to dance frantically in front of her eyes.
“Okay, okay,” said Skiris “I’m going to follow the silly leaf!” Nothing was making any sense to Skiris anymore. But she was tired, she was hungry, and she wanted to get back home. So she decided to follow the path of least resistance.
She trudged behind the leaf, which began moving in a straight line at eye level, pointing the way ahead.
“Hurry, will you?” said Horace impatiently.
“Well, at least tell me why is everyone panicking? Why did they lock me up in the storeroom?” said Skiris, picking up the pace.
“Oh, my, my! Did they explain nothing?” Horace sounded petrified at Skiris’ ignorance.
“I heard some shrill yelling, sure…buh…buh…”
“It’s Baron Von Chomp!” said Horace, cutting her off. “He is almost here…to catch you…t..to…um…gobble you up, of course!” he said in a hoarse whisper.
“Who? Guh…guh…gobble me? Wah…why? What have I done?” said Skiris, feeling rather stupid at her lack of familiarity with someone capable of inducing such mass panic and more importantly, someone who seemed to have some sort of personal vendetta against her.
“No time! Later!” said Horace decisively.
By then, the leaf had stopped flying and hovered in front of a rickety booth. The booth looked like the phone booths Skiris had seen pictures of in her children’s encyclopedia, the ones people used for phone calls before everyone owned a cell phone.
“Here, go in and follow the instructions,” said Horace.
Skiris went into the booth without asking another question and began reading the front panel.
“Atomizer.” It read.
“Instructions for atomization. Step 1: Press start button.” It said. So she did. A circular glass pipe appeared from the top of the booth and extended to her head.
“Step 2: Press atomize button.” It said. Skiris stood there, hovering her index finger over the “Atomize” and “Cancel” buttons for a moment, wondering whether she was making a big mistake.
Her head had begun hurting by now from all the madness she had encountered ever since waking up in that storeroom. The path of least resistance from now on, she would have said to herself if she knew what it meant. She did not. But that is exactly what she chose anyway.
“Oh well,” she said and pressed the “Atomize” button, almost afraid that if she thought too long she might change her mind.
The Atomizer began to whir and chirr and shake all over. Skiris started feeling funny, the way one feels when an airplane hits a patch of turbulence. Within seconds, her hands, fingers, arms, and legs began disintegrating and floating around her. It was the weirdest feeling ever. She felt zero pain. She was still in control of all her body parts, but she was not whole anymore. “Like a school of fish!” she thought “when they group together to form a giant fish to scare away predators.” Yes, she felt exactly like that. She could no longer see any of her body parts. She was not even sure she had eyes anymore but yes, she still could see and sense everything around her through the trillions of cells she disintegrated into, inside that booth.
At long last, the atomizer stopped with a beep and a message. “Process Complete.” It read. Then another loud buzz and she found herself – all of her trillion gazillion microscopic pieces – suctioned out of the booth through the glass pipe into the open.
“I…I am h..here,” said Skiris, seeing the leaf floating about.
“My voice sure feels funny!” she thought to herself.
“About time!” said Horace. “Follow me.” and the leaf started floating away.
Skiris wasn’t sure how she was going to follow the leaf without her legs or how she was going to make sure she did not leave bits and pieces of herself behind.
“Don’t think too hard,” said Horace, sensing that it might be the little girl’s first time in the atomizer ever.
“Just look at the leaf and think about walking towards it and you should be fine,” he said.
“O..okay,” said Skiris.
And sure enough, she felt herself rising with the leaf past the clouds.
“We all have 10,000 bad drawings in us. The sooner we get them out the better.” ― Walt Stanchfield
Chapter 4: The Infinite Store
Love is intrinsic. Hate, on the other hand, needs sowing. But Baron had no time to think through his hatred for humans. As he stood at the corner of the community hall and whiffed the air in the direction where the tiny green heart-shaped leaf had disappeared only moments before, all he felt was an intense rage bubbling up through his very core and spewing out, poisoning his calm in its wake.
For the first time in his life, he experienced no joy in pursuit. He was startled to realize that he was impatient, angry even. Angry that it took him this long to arrive at the community hall. Angry that the girl had managed to escape Baron. Mad at the unexpected interlude to his seeking.
“Not for long”, he said to himself, certain. “Not for long.”
Knightley, who was Baron’s second in command and always eager to please his elder brother, threw his arms in exasperation at the missed chance and said, “Great! Should I take some Flyers and follow her?”
“No, without me, you will lose track in the clouds. Let her enjoy this freedom while she can. We will get her…soon, okay? I promise. Don’t worry, kid.” said Baron, patting Knightley’s tiny head.
Knightley buzzing wings grew silent. It was true. Without Baron’s senses, the pursuit was hopeless. The human child could be anywhere by now.
“But how?” Knightley blurted out. “H-how are we going to find her now?”
“How else, kid?” said Baron. “We, we’ll guard the store, of course! Name one creature in Wolkeville who isn’t a regular at the Infinite Store? I bet seven days is all it’s going to take.”
“If you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there.” – Lewis Carroll
Chapter 5: TBD
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