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The Legend of Mighty Mabel
By Vance Avis
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The Legend of Mighty Mabel
Copyright © 2006-2012 by Vance R. Avis
Print Edition not yet available
ISBN 978-0-615-52149-7 Kindle Edition
ISBN NOOK Edition not yet available
Published August, 2011 by Vance Avis in NOOK and Kindle Editions
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Evil MacPherson was afraid of the water, and the youngsters knew that. The cove was dark, hidden, and mysterious; it was more temptation than the youngsters could resist.
“Don’t go in there!” Molly whispered boldly from the back of the group as Andrew, the group-appointed explorer captain, was beginning to lead them through a long, jagged, rock-walled opening into the cove.
“Shush,” Andrew cajoled Molly. “We need to be very quiet,” he whispered to the group.
So tight was the gap, each had to swim singly along its entire extent. So looming, high, and forbiddingly dark were the walls, each had to endure the ever-changing black shadows alone. One by one, they swam through, handling their fears individually.
Some proceeded slowly, looked up, down, and back apprehensively, and trembled as they moved forward. Others looked only ahead and moved through at lightning speed. A few dared death to attack them. And several of the littlest had to be pushed, emerging from the other end with tears they hid.
However, their destination was no less frightening than the journey they had just traveled. None had ever seen a cove this deeply evil in its portent. Each swam slowly and quietly, round and round in tight circles, staying very close together as they became ever more aware of their chilling surroundings.
The cove was akin to a dank, heavily shadowed cavern, entrapping the youngsters from all sides and above. Everywhere they looked, rocks, punctuated with tall river grasses and weeds, entombed them. Overhead, a thicket of branches and vines blocked their view— and their escape. The fetid water was covered with decaying plant matter, blending the evil-smelling, humid air seamlessly into their ill-omened environment.
The area of the cove in which the youngsters found themselves was only the first, and most open, of several interconnected inlets, which became smaller and smaller as they entered deeper and deeper into the densely forested home of Evil MacPherson.
“Over there,” excitedly whispered Jorgie, the most fearless member of the group.
“Where?” Andrew questioned as he turned rapidly around to look in the direction Jorgie was facing.
“I’ll show you,” responded Jorgie, who swam off toward what appeared to be a small crack in the cove’s otherwise-impenetrable wall.
Andrew quickly followed, but the rest of the group held back, watching cautiously for what new adventure was about to ensue. When Jorgie reached the crack, he disappeared inside. Andrew, who was only a few seconds behind Jorgie, was also quickly swallowed by the crack.
The group waited and watched anxiously as neither adventurer returned. A minute passed with not a sound; Molly could wait no longer.
“I’m going to find out what’s happening,” she said, swimming toward the crack.
“I’ll go!” intervened Freddie, Molly’s brother, who dashed off ahead of her.
“We’ll both go,” chimed in Molly as she followed right behind Freddie.
The two reached the crack and immediately jumped back in fright as something rapidly emerged from the dark shadows and confronted them face-to-face. It took several rapid breaths of air to fully realize it was Andrew, who was exiting the crack.
“There’s another cove just beyond this one, and there might be another one beyond that,” exclaimed Andrew. “Jorgie has gone to check.”
“But is it safe for us to continue?” questioned Molly. “What about Evil MacPherson?”
“This place is so hidden, he’ll never find us,” reasoned Andrew, who then turned to the group and said, “Everyone follow me through the crack. We’ll all meet in the cove on the other side.”
Once again, one by one, the youngsters squeezed through a narrow opening, confronted their fears alone, and emerged on the other side. However, this time was forebodingly different. Each was immediately grabbed violently by the cove itself, which did not take kindly to the unwelcome intruders.
The cove held them tightly in its clench while the youngsters gasped from fright at what they saw; then the cove released them to their individually conjured up demons. Turning round and round, in awe and horror of their environment, each swam with more anxiety than ever before.
The youngsters were now in a deeply shadowed, dark cove that was smaller than the previous, affording less protection from Evil MacPherson. And it was farther into the woods— and more mysterious— illuminated only by infrequent, random, narrow streaks of light penetrating the dense foliage with difficulty. Just as in the other cove, they had no escape, other than that by which they had entered— or by death itself.
All of a sudden, a voice from within the group nervously asked, “Where’s Ellie?”
“Where’s Ellie?” echoed among all the youngsters until a small voice spoke softly, “She went back.”
“What do you mean ‘She went back’?” asked Andrew.
“She went home. She thought it was too dangerous to continue deeper into the forest, so she went home.”
“Okay… Is everybody else accounted for?” questioned Andrew, who had now been made more conscious of his responsibility as group-appointed leader to keep track of everyone.
One by one, most responded, “I think so.” The others were silent, only aware that they were not missing.
Just then, Jorgie popped through an invisible hole in the cove wall and excitedly announced, “There’s another cove just beyond this one, and there may be others.”
“Lead the way, Jorgie,” directed Andrew, who then told the group, “Follow Jorgie to the next cove.”
Yet another time the youngsters were required to confront their fears alone before emerging into yet another cove. But this cove was utterly different, utterly forbidding, and utterly more perilous than the youngsters could comprehend.
The cove was nearly circular with an enormous rock in the center occupying more than half the area of the entire cove. The youngsters were in the relatively narrow, outer circular area that was sandwiched between the center rock and the cove wall. Since this was the only water in which the youngsters could swim, it was also their only hope of finding safety from Evil MacPherson’s grasp.
The youngsters took a full minute of doing naught but turning round and round in small circles, absorbing the enormity of the moss-covered rock on one side and the imprisoning effect of the vine-and-branch-overgrown cove wall on the other side. Finally, each had gained the courage to begin exploring the areas hidden by the enormity of the rock.
Simultaneously, as if coordinated by some unseen force, the youngsters all started slowly and silently swimming counterclockwise between the rock and the cove wall while they looked back and forth claustrophobically at what so terrifyingly incarcerated them.
As the youngsters circled the rock, they began spreading out, some moving faster and some slower. Now each could see only the nearest two or three— all others being hidden by the massive rock— adding aloneness to the list of the fears they endured.
And with the aloneness came the quiet— the dreadful quiet. All the youngsters were ghostly silent as the quiet became their overwhelming fear— only the slight sound of the water hitting the center rock and the sound of a periodic insect flying by could be heard.
Then, that terrible quiet was shattered in the most deathly way.
Unexpectedly and horrifyingly came an ominous sound that instantly froze every muscle of every youngster, including Jorgie, the fearless one. Each listened intently, and then it came again, but this time frighteningly louder and closer.
Traumatized nearly catatonically, all the youngsters quaked in horror at the sound of the tiny, heart-falls-into-the-pit-of-the-stomach, telltale crack of the underbrush in the nearby forest that could signal the approach of Evil MacPherson!
“Everyone be absolutely silent!” admonished Andrew in a nervous, trembling whisper, making them all chillingly more aware of their mortality— and its end.
For a third time, the crack of the underbrush was heard, terrifyingly louder and closer than the previous two. Then silence, nothing but silence… deathlike silence.
Two seconds passed with no sound.
Three seconds passed with no sound.
Four seconds passed with no sound.
Then, on the fifth second, a demon from hell broke into their midst as Evil MacPherson leaped through the dense vegetation of the cove wall and onto the top of the center rock! He towered over the youngsters— ten times taller and fifty times more massive, with jaws that could crush and devour any one of them in a single bite— each and all were defenseless against him!
Evil MacPherson stood there on the rock, sneered broadly, and licked his lips as he surveyed his breakfast swimming all around him. He then focused his attention on what was directly in front of him and spotted Molly in a frantic attempt to escape. He swiftly reached out with his massive paw and swiped it over top of her toward himself, which sent her reeling head over feet across the water and closer to Evil MacPherson, who then reached behind her and started pulling her in— closer to his open jaws!
“Albert!” Molly screamed, as she struggled to escape the pressure of Evil MacPherson’s paw pushing her in toward his sneer-framed, razor-sharp teeth.
Albert, Molly’s boyfriend and the one nearest to her, took off straight toward Molly, swimming as fast as he was able. He rammed into her from the side, knocking her out of Evil MacPherson’s paw. Albert then hurriedly dived under the water and around Evil MacPherson’s grasp as Molly followed. The two moved as far from Evil MacPherson as the narrow water passageway allowed, which put them tight against the cove wall, where they huddled very close to each other.
Andrew hollered, “Everyone, get away from the rock and move as close to the cove wall as you can! Then move toward the exit!”
Two or three were lucky to be close enough to the exit to escape immediately. The others were trapped by the ill-fated geometry of the cove. It was Mother Nature’s cruel trick that the cove narrowed toward the center rock as it approached the exit from both sides. To escape to safety, all the remaining youngsters would have to swim through a section of water that was easily within Evil MacPherson’s grasp!
However, it was the good fortune of some of the youngsters that Evil MacPherson had his back to the exit— he was still preoccupied with several youngsters in front of him who were making a frenzied effort to move away from the center rock and close to the cove wall.
Evil MacPherson laughed derisively at their feeble efforts and sneered at them as a giant beast sneers at the ants under his raised foot just before crushing them. He then started playing with his food, repeatedly swiping at them as they frantically attempted to dodge and dive away.
Soon Evil MacPherson grew tired of playing with his food and decided it was time for breakfast. He moved close to the edge of the rock and leaned out over the water as far as he could. He then reached out and dislodged a pawful of youngsters that were huddled tight against the cove wall. With his jaws wide-open and his teeth scintillating in anticipation, he prepared to haul in his catch and devour them. However, for some reason, he turned his head just enough to notice those escaping behind him.
Evil MacPherson’s preoccupation with playing with his food had allowed the two youngsters that were behind him and closest to the narrowing on each side of the exit to escape quickly. Grace was the next to attempt to reach the narrowing on one side, and Little Petunia on the other.
Cunning and cold was Evil MacPherson! He looked at the youngsters in front of him and decided— why eat now what will still be there to munch on later. So he whipped himself around with lightning speed to catch Grace starting to enter the narrow passageway leading to the exit. Just before he could snap her up with his jaws, she hurriedly reversed herself and moved away from the exit into the wider area of the cove.
Little Petunia was very young and not able to maneuver quite as swiftly. She too attempted to reverse her direction and move to the wider area of the cove on the opposite side of the exit from where Grace had just escaped death. But Evil MacPherson was much faster. Little Petunia’s tiny feet could barely get her turned around. She tried to dive head first into the water, but this caused her feet to pop up out of the water, allowing Evil MacPherson to grab them in his jaws and pull her up into the air.
As she was dangling upside down, high above the water, the thatched and flowered necklace she was wearing, which her mother had given her, fell onto the edge of the center rock far below her. She cried out loudly for her lost necklace, which was very special to her, too young to be aware that Evil MacPherson was about to eat her.
Evil MacPherson sneered broadly while his jaws were still clenched around Little Petunia’s feet. He tossed her high into the air with one quick flip of his head and sneered triumphantly, opening his jaws widely to catch her as she fell into them.
However, at that exact moment, a sudden rush of air pushed its way into the cove as Mabel, the mother of Molly and Freddie, followed a “secret” back entrance into the cove through the thicket of overgrown grasses, branches, and vines. She landed on a rock at the edge of the cove, which was off to the back, right side of Evil MacPherson.
Mabel immediately spotted Little Petunia falling through the air directly toward Evil MacPherson’s open jaws. With a mighty thrust off the top of the rock, she soared through the air directly at the back, right side of Evil MacPherson, slamming into him with all the power she had within her! This knocked Evil MacPherson off the rock and into the water, where he floundered, gasping for air as his head sank beneath the surface.
Little Petunia fell safely into the water between Evil MacPherson and the exit. However, her treasured necklace was still on the edge of the rock, near Evil MacPherson. Too young to be aware of the danger, she started swimming toward him to retrieve her necklace.
The youngsters that had been trapped under Evil MacPherson when he fell into the water had managed to escape and were now emerging from underwater, almost directly beside Evil MacPherson as he came up for air. Little Petunia was now amid them and still focused on getting her necklace off the rock, unaware that she was swimming directly toward Evil MacPherson’s wide-open jaws!
All the youngsters yelled at Little Petunia to turn around, but she was impervious to their warnings. Jorgie quickly swam back to Little Petunia and blocked her from going any farther. While he was pushing her away from Evil MacPherson’s jaws, he told her she could not go back and get her necklace now. She reluctantly complied, but it was too late!
Evil MacPherson looked at the youngsters near him while he floundered in the water. Then he noticed Little Petunia and Jorgie, who were only centimeters away, and he seized an opportunity for a quick snack. He sneered at them, opened his jaws even wider, and lunged to devour them in a single bite as they frantically tried to swim away. But Evil MacPherson was faster, and in no time at all, Little Petunia and Jorgie were entirely within his gaping jaws!
However, before Evil MacPherson could close his teeth on them, Mabel launched herself off the massive center rock and attacked him again, slamming herself at the front of his face above his open jaws, which pushed him away from Little Petunia, Jorgie, and the other youngsters.
Evil MacPherson sank under the water from Mabel’s blow, floundering and gasping for air. Mabel came back around to the top of the center rock to prepare for another attack when he emerged above the water. As she did, she hollered instructions to the youngsters:
“Everyone, single file, get out of the cove! Molly, go into the first cove and make sure everyone gets out to open water.”
Mabel then attacked again, and Evil MacPherson went under the water again, floundering and gasping for air. As Mabel came back around, she hollered more instructions:
“Freddie, follow the last one out of here and wait for Molly to tell you all are out safely in open water. Then yell back to me from the other cove, and get yourself out while I keep Evil Mac submerged.”
One by one, the youngsters escaped this cove and then the next and the next. And over and over, Mabel attacked Evil MacPherson, first from one side and then from the other side, keeping him from moving toward any of the escaping youngsters in either direction around the center rock.
Finally, Freddie yelled back from the next cove, “All are out safely, Mom!”
Mabel turned toward the exit and hollered back to Freddie, “Now get out yourself!”
“Okay,” came the reluctant reply.
Mabel then turned back around and dove with all her might at the spot where Evil MacPherson would soon emerge from underwater, aiming for one final, fatal blow before she escaped. However, she met the unexpected!
Directly in her face, as she came down to attack, was Evil MacPherson’s massive paw as he raised it above the water and swung an enormous blow at her, with his head still submerged. She went tumbling backward over the water and slammed into a rock at the edge of the cove.
As Mabel lay stunned against the rock, Evil MacPherson began a vicious attack! He thrashed through the water toward her with all his strength and with one goal driving him: KILL MABEL!
While Mabel lay against the rock unconscious, Evil MacPherson was getting closer and closer. “KILL MABEL!” repeated itself over and over in his brain, blocking out all other thoughts. He thrashed and thrashed through the water and was now no more than a mere twenty centimeters from her.
Then, with the sudden touch of the good hand of Providence through the water’s being spewed into her eyes from Evil MacPherson’s thrashing, Mabel regained some of her consciousness. However, her vision was temporarily blurred from the blow to her head— she could barely see a foggy but huge image of Evil MacPherson’s jaws and razor teeth rapidly coming directly at her!
Just as Evil MacPherson’s open jaws and knife-edged teeth were a scant couple of centimeters away and about to close on her, Mabel made a mighty sweep of her wings, as rarely a duck has done before, and she lifted herself into the air from directly in front of Evil MacPherson’s charge! Evil MacPherson slammed into the rock and sank under the water, and Mabel flew out of the cove to the safety of open water, where she met all of the ducklings, who were also safely in open water.
“Mabel and all the ducklings were now safely in the open waters of the river,” Jake says proudly as Mabel watches on with a smile of joy for her husband, who has become the duck clan’s revered patriarch and the one to whom all the ducks look for stories of the adventures, bravery, sacrifice, and “Lessons of Life” of his wife, Mighty Mabel.
Jake then continues relating “The Legend of Mighty Mabel” to the large group of ducks and ducklings gathered around him by telling them all, but especially the ducklings, one of Mabel’s “Lessons of Life,” or as Mabel would say, “Lessons learned by ‘an older but somewhat wiser’ Mother Duck.”
“Before accompanying the ducklings home,” Jake explains, “Mabel wanted them all to understand that there was a lesson to be learned from what they had just gone through. She gently explained to them—”
“Before you undertake something that involves success and failure, you should weigh the consequences of failure and be certain that you are willing to accept those consequences. I am not saying that you should never take risks— taking risks is often a part of life and frequently a necessity for succeeding in life. But first be willing to accept the consequences of failure because failure is also a necessary part of life in order to succeed.”
“When I flew into the cove to save you from Evil MacPherson, I knew the outcome could be my death. Nevertheless, success would mean that I would save your lives, and I was more than willing to accept my death to accomplish that goal.
“The consequences of your failing would also mean your death, even if you thought that was unlikely. Exploring is fun; I did a lot of it myself when I was young. But first weigh the benefits of success and the consequences of failure and be willing to accept the consequences of failure before proceeding.
“Also, you do not have to follow the group. Each of you can think for yourself. Little Ellie left the group because she thought for herself and decided the consequences of failure were not acceptable. Each of you could also have done that.”
Jake then pauses and asks, “Are there any questions?”
The timid voice of a small female duckling can be heard asking from somewhere within the group, “Did Evil MacPherson drown?”
“No, he didn’t,” responds Jake. “He’s a cat who is still very much alive, even though he is now certainly missing one of his nine lives. And that is where our story continues—”
When they got home from the cove, Mabel and the ducklings met with all the ducks to tell them of the ordeal they had just gone through. Mabel told them she had left Evil MacPherson to drown in the cove, but she feared he did not and would soon return to haunt them with his voracity for duck meat.
Mabel explained how Ellie had come back from the cove and had told her what was happening. Mabel also explained how she had become familiar with the cove and its back entrance while growing up in the rich waters of the grand ol’ river with its beautiful, lush, dense surrounding forest.
Everyone already knew of Evil MacPherson, the biggest, most feared, and most voracious cat of all the cats living in the forest. They knew how he prowled the area surrounding the humans’ picturesque log restaurant— a majestic structure set peacefully and scenically deep in the woods next to the grand ol’ river. And they knew how he acted as if he were king of the forest, terrorizing the ducks relentlessly every time he came near the water.
It took several hours for the ducklings and Mabel to tell the other ducks about their ordeal in the cove. Just as the ducks had finished listening to Mabel and the ducklings’ tale and were hoping to put the horror behind them, Evil MacPherson emerged from the dense, forest vegetation and followed a dirt path leading directly to the restaurant.
He walked with a cold, quiet gait that could freeze the bones of a rhino and that told everyone he considered this morning’s scuffle nothing but playtime. He had a titanic sneer that could melt the spine of an elephant. Whenever he looked at the ducks, he would lick his lips with pleasure at the terror he was causing them.
No human could stare him down, and no duck stood a chance against him— until now. Mighty Mabel had put a chink in his inner pride that he could not patch, despite his outward demeanor of nonchalance. She had ruined his duckling breakfast— and his day— but Evil MacPherson was too steely cold to allow revenge to affect his thinking. His goal was simple— he merely wanted to eat all the ducks— Mabel being nothing more to him than an appetizer.
Following closely behind Evil MacPherson was his klutzy companion, Fido, The Unterrible, a cat so clumsy and so inept that the other cats nicknamed him with a dog’s name to mark him forever with derision among all cats. While Evil MacPherson coolly climbed the incline up to the wooded outdoor eating area surrounding the restaurant, Fido, The Unterrible, tried to be just as cool but slipped backward two steps down the short hill for every three he attempted to go up. Yet never once did he let his expression show anything was wrong.
While Evil MacPherson wore his sneer of confidence and defiance, Fido, The Unterrible, always wore the same “nothing is wrong” expression, no matter what havoc he inadvertently caused and regardless of the predicament into which his klutziness had gotten him. His expression may have contained a slightly resigned smile indicating something a little less than confidence, but it never varied from that same “nothing is wrong” expression.
Evil MacPherson reached the restaurant’s wooded outdoor eating area and leaped with ease onto the top of a trashcan. From there he leaped onto the trunk of a large tree and climbed with adroitness to an upper branch. Fido, The Unterrible, followed with his version of a “leap with ease onto the top of the trashcan,” but he did not quite get the height he needed and ended up going into the trashcan through one of the hinged side covers. In a few seconds, Fido’s head emerged from the opposite hinged side cover with discarded, mostly eaten food all over his face but with no change from that same “nothing is wrong” expression.
Fido, The Unterrible, merely jumped down from the trashcan, walked under a restaurant outdoor table where a couple was sitting eating in the woods, wiped his face off on the lady’s pant leg, and emerged clean, with that same “nothing is wrong” expression. This caused the lady to suddenly jump up from her chair, knock the table over, and spill food and beverages all over Fido, who continued walking with that same “nothing is wrong” expression, despite having food dripping from all over his body.
Fido soon shook himself off, leaped onto the tree trunk that Evil MacPherson had just climbed, and hugged it for dear life on his way up since he was afraid of heights, but always with that same “nothing is wrong” expression. By this time, Evil MacPherson had gone across the branch and had leaped onto an adjacent branch, and he was now nearly to the other tree’s trunk. When Fido reached the branch, he traversed some of it but then made the mistake of looking down. He became dizzy, lost his balance, and fell, landing upside down on the top of a large shade umbrella for a restaurant outdoor table.
Fido stood up and saw Evil MacPherson coolly going down the other tree’s trunk. Fido then moved back to the edge of the umbrella and took off running across the top of the umbrella, from where he attempted to leap to another umbrella near where Evil MacPherson would soon be. Naturally, he missed the other umbrella and landed spread-eagle, flat-on-his-belly, on top of a table around which five kids were eating, spraying food and beverages all over them.
One kid hollered, “Stupid cat!”
Another exclaimed, “It’s Fido, The Unterrible!”
Then a third said, while looking down at his food-and-soda-soaked clothing with resigned acceptance of his fate, “What’s so ‘unterrible’ about him?”
Fido ignored them and calmly jumped down from the table just in time to land right behind Evil Mac, where Fido, The Unterrible, continued following Evil MacPherson with that same “nothing is wrong” expression.
Evil MacPherson continued walking through the restaurant’s wooded outdoor eating area near where the hill dropped off sharply, straight down to the river. Two mice, nibbling a bit of purloined cheese, lay just off his path on a fallen tree branch projecting out over the water. With one deft swipe by Evil MacPherson, so fast only a breeze indicated its passing, one mouse was suddenly gone, leaving the other looking around bewildered while Evil MacPherson licked his lips.
Fido, The Unterrible, passed the remaining mouse and took his best Evil MacPherson swipe. He completely missed the mouse, which sat there staring at Fido, not believing what he had just seen. Fido, The Unterrible, then took another swipe and then another, over and over, completely missing the mouse, which was now laughing hysterically at Fido.
Fido then took one last, huge swipe, which, of course, entirely missed the mouse but ended up propelling Fido off the hill, where he began plummeting down toward the water. Evil MacPherson, without looking and without missing a step, reached down to where Fido was plummeting and grabbed his tail. Evil Mac then flung Fido up, dropping him neatly behind himself, where Fido, The Unterrible, continued walking with that same “nothing is wrong” expression while licking his lips in sync with Evil MacPherson.
Evil MacPherson continued roaming the outdoor eating area for a few more minutes. Then he sprang onto the restaurant’s pier, which extends from the eating area out over the river. As he drew close to the ducks and ducklings swimming in the water near the pier, they all followed his every move with trepidation.
The ducklings viewed Evil MacPherson from an entirely new perspective now— that of the hunted and lucky to be alive. If it had not been for Mabel, most would be dead. Some looked at him with fear, some with agitation, and others with panic and worry over what almost was and what might be in the future.
Little Petunia could not stop crying. She had lost the necklace her mother had made for her, and she wanted more than anything to go back to the cove to get it. It meant so much to her because it was all she had left of what was given to her by her mother, who was eaten by Evil MacPherson just a few days ago in a very sad and unfortunate sequence of events:
Little Petunia and her mother were in the water catching french fries thrown to them by restaurant patrons. A little girl, who came to the restaurant often with her family and who especially liked Little Petunia, threw a fry to her. The fry landed short on a rock, so Little Petunia’s mother attempted to retrieve it for her. However, her mother did not see Evil MacPherson lurking nearby, and when she climbed out of the water and onto the rocks to get the fry, she was caught and taken away by Evil MacPherson while Little Petunia watched in horror.
Little Petunia’s mother had just given Little Petunia the necklace only hours before she died— nevertheless, as much as the necklace meant to Little Petunia, she had been told she must wait until it was safe and there was a plan in place to retrieve it.
Jake pauses for a moment in his telling of the story of “The Legend of Mighty Mabel” and, with a tear in his eye, says, “We will come back to the ducklings’ efforts to retrieve Little Petunia’s necklace several more times, but our story is rich in its diversity and no telling of it and of Mighty Mabel’s goodness and of a summer we will remember for the rest of our lives can be complete without including the stories of those whom Mabel has touched so deeply, including especially our daughter Molly and her boyfriend Albert— and in the center of it all is the story of this restaurant itself.”
We all know well the waters next to the restaurant where we spend so much of our time, but few know details about the restaurant and the purpose it serves to the humans living and working along the river.
The large, picturesque, log-hewn restaurant, set serenely on the river at the water’s edge, is no less than a half mile deep into the wilderness and away from what the locals like to call the main road and humankind’s hustle-bustle. It is wonderfully constructed to dwell among the trees as one of their brethren, a compatriot in the peace of nature, the joy of life, and all that is beautiful in a deeply religious sense.
The restaurant has an indoor eating area and the large outdoor eating area set in the woods tranquilly next to the ebb-and-flow and slosh-slosh of the river, allowing patrons to become intimate friends with the mallard ducks swimming in the river and watching for food to be tossed to them.
It is in the spacious, indoor eating area and its all-wooden interior that is found the comfort of a ski lodge, the hominess of a log cabin, and the warmth of a roaring fireplace. The indoor eating area flows harmoniously to the serene outdoor area that peers a few seductive meters into the mysterious forest on the other side of the river.
The entire far side of the river that can be seen from the restaurant is dominated by that large wilderness area worthy of the intrigue it evokes and known to local old-timers as the Forest of the Eccentric and Insane. One can truly say that it harbors pirates (one old pirate and his pirate dog), the cavalry (one retired colonel and his grandnephew), an exciting train ride (provided by a jovial train engineer and his granddaughter), the insane (an innkeeper straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho), and several other strange characters. In addition, there is the convent of nuns making and selling what has become a very famous and highly sought item.
Getting across the river to the Forest of the Eccentric and Insane on the other side requires help from the restaurant or help from someone living there, since no bridge or ferry spans the river. Sometimes the restaurant offers wilderness tours to its patrons, and for such purposes it maintains and operates a motorized tour boat.
In addition, the restaurant has a number of small rowboats tied up in the water near the restaurant and used for enjoyable trips up and down the river. Those living in the forest across the river, including the nuns, maintain individual or shared conveyances, such as rowboats and small, motorized boats.
The restaurant and the river are not affected by the mysteries hidden by the Forest of the Eccentric and Insane, for those mysteries are largely unknown to everyone. Rather, the area is dominated by the restaurant itself and its patrons, who come to enjoy an appetizing breakfast, lunch, or dinner in the peaceful wooded stillness of nature. They are brought to the restaurant by the magnificent old sightseer boat plying the river, up and down, from river city to river city, several times a day.
The large sightseer offers its own daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner cruises, up and down the river, and past the restaurant— with the restaurant and the sightseer being a joint financial enterprise to bring the relaxation of nature to those living, working, and vacationing all along the river.
Nevertheless, the story of “The Legend of Mighty Mabel” is not about the humans per se but rather about the mallard duck clan, whose matriarch is Mabel, living on the river near the restaurant. Our story continues at the restaurant with some humans throwing french fries to members of the duck clan in the water just in front of the humans.
“Here, this is for you,” says one little girl as she tosses a french fry to Little Petunia.
This little girl and her family are regulars at the restaurant, and she particularly likes Little Petunia and always tries to make sure Little Petunia gets some of her fries. This is what she was trying to do a few days ago when she tossed a fry to Little Petunia that fell short on the rocks at the water’s edge.
Various restaurant patrons periodically toss fries to their favorite ducks. Lillian and Ira, a revered, elderly, duck couple, have their favorite spot, a bit out of the way of the younger crowd so they do not have to compete in the scramble. Several patrons know them and make sure they get plenty of fries and other goodies.
Some fries are thrown randomly, causing the ducks nearest to rush to be the first to grab them. And sometimes someone will toss a whole order of fries to the ducks, causing nearly every duck to swim full speed to the fries’ landing area.
After breakfast and after lunch, the restaurant patrons thin out, the pace slows down, and there is time to socialize and joke around. A few ducks remain in the water near the restaurant, watching what the humans are doing. A human father and son are talking:
“What kind of duck is that?” asks the boy.
“It’s an aqua-tailed warbler,” responds his dad.
The boy looks at his dad, knowing the answer was contrived for humor.
His dad laughs and says, “I don’t know what kind of duck it is. It’s a waterlogged duck.”
Two of the male ducklings in the water below hear their conversation, look at each other and laugh, and then parody it:
“What kind of human is that?” one duckling asks the other.
“It’s a two-legged cottontail,” responds the other.
To which the first duckling states, “I think you’re getting cotton mixed up with toilet paper.”
The restaurant has now mostly cleared out while waiting for the dinner patrons. The ducks are trying to put thoughts of Evil MacPherson behind them when one last element of fun appears in their lives before they have to face the coming night:
The ducks love frolicking in the wake of the big old sightseer boat as it passes by, and that is what is happening right now— the sightseer is on its mid-afternoon cruise and passing by the restaurant; and the ducks are bobbing up and down and enjoying life on the river.
This stressful day in the ducks’ lives is finally drawing to an uneasy close. Evil MacPherson’s appearance had made it considerably worse. The duck clan would have lost nearly all their precious young because of him if not for the mighty heroics of Mabel, the mother of Molly and Freddie. The story of what happened had been told and retold many times, allowing everyone to see it through the eyes of each one involved. Cathartic this may have been, but it forced the ducks and ducklings to endure for several hours an intense concentration, a pervading fear, and a relentless agitation they had never known before.
The sun has now abandoned the ducks and ducklings to the cold indifference of the night, a law of nature as fundamental as nature itself. The soft, cooling breeze from the west has been joined by moisture from the river water to create rolling waves of fog, which then begin taking on forms and shapes that animate the night. As with all amorphous creatures, their nature regarding good or bad is beholden not to their creator but rather to their beholder, for it is within the beholder’s imagination that is found the ability to see forms in what is inherently formless— and the ducks and ducklings can see only their own fears.
The ducks and ducklings are now leaving the area of the water near the restaurant where they had previously been gathered in a large group for the telling of the stories of Mabel’s mighty heroics. They take with them the horror that is Evil MacPherson’s malevolent gift. Some go to small groups to sleep; others go off alone or with their families. But all are nearly panicked that Evil MacPherson will attack again and soon. However, it is not Evil MacPherson they have to fear this fateful night but rather a new murderous villain— a villain more resourceful and more capable of killing than the ducks have ever known before.
The fog is continuing to thicken to near visual impenetrability as Mabel, Jake, and their two children, Molly and Freddie, find their sleeping place, a secluded little spot on the water nestled within the thorny thicket of a bush rooted at the base of some rocks. Some of the other ducklings and their families are also nearby, on rocks in the water. Lillian and Ira, the dear elderly couple, sleep in the forest across the river, but no one is worried since it is widely assumed that Evil MacPherson cannot get across the river because there is no bridge.
At first, the night begins normally, except most are more aware than ever before of even the slightest of sounds— the day’s encounter with Evil MacPherson has left a lingering anxiousness that makes sleep hard to achieve. Finally, most do fall into an uneasy sleep at best. Whether the uneasiness is from the day’s events or portends what is about to occur, only God knows— but surely those dimensions of the cosmos beyond space-time that are devoted to all that is life, truth, and love must be quaking to their foundations at the evil just ahead.
Albert, Molly’s boyfriend, whose sleep has been replaced by thoughts of how close he came to losing Molly, is the first to notice signs of the coming evil: Ever so slightly, the rhythm of nature has changed! At first, Albert is not sure what he is hearing.
Albert is the intellectual leader of the ducklings, the undisputed smartest one of the group— the one all the ducklings call upon when logic and intelligence are required. Even Mabel often turns both to her daughter Molly and to Albert for their suggestions on issues. So if a change in the rhythm of nature needs to be investigated, Albert is the one to do it.
The constant flow of the river is anything but constant in its normal course, for the river is as much a being of life as are the ducks and the other creatures that occupy it and the trees and the plants that shape it. The water flows forward in a relentless quest for what lies ahead, as do hope and dreams and life. The obstacles in its path— the rocks, the fallen trees, the constructs of humans and beavers— and the obstacles moving through its path— the tour boat, the sightseer, and the ducks themselves— all these are accepted by the river as a normal part of its life— it deals with them as the river knows how to deal with them. The river never complains and certainly never questions whether it should just give up on dealing with obstacles and give up on being a river— a lesson all of life can learn from the river.
As Albert listens intently into the darkness, he continues to notice what seems to him to be a change in the rhythm of nature, as if the river is currently dealing with a new such obstacle. The constant inconstant sloshing of the small ripples of water against the rocks surrounding where Albert and his family sleep has been replaced by a series of slightly larger and louder waves— the problem being that the distinction is not distinct, as if the new waves are being created to be as minimal as possible to conceal something sinister.
Nevertheless, Albert plainly recognizes the sound and wave action as being a miniature version of the same sound and wave action that occurs when the large sightseer boat plies its way along the river on its nightly moonlight dinner cruise, as it did a few hours earlier. Those sightseer-generated waves slosh against the rocks near the riverbank and through and over the shallow inlets to the small rock-enclosed coves, causing the water in a cove to splash around, back and forth, off one rock and then another, as if a child were playing in the cove and flailing both arms wildly.
However, the water movement Albert sees now is not that of the sightseer but rather that of a small boat— perhaps a rowboat— secretly and slowly moving through the thick fog with the cover of night.
Albert quietly slips out from his secure, secluded sleeping place so as not to disturb his family. Once outside, he can feel the slight increase in wave action, and he can hear the sound of what might be the oars of a rowboat pushing covertly through the water. He peers intently into the night and into the dense fog, but the impenetrable fog blinds him and he can see nothing, so he begins moving through the water toward the sound.
At first, the sound is barely discernible, and its direction of origin is confusing. For some reason, the sound seems to be coming from multiple directions.
Albert thinks about it and reasons, “Perhaps the sound is echoing off the rocks along the riverbank, and perhaps it is even echoing off those rocks that project above the water a little ways from the riverbank on the other side of me, giving a surround sound feeling.”
Eventually, the disorienting effect of the insurmountable fog overwhelms Albert’s thinking, and even the cool, logical thoughts of physicist Albert become distorted and twisted, to that point where what is illogical becomes logical, what is bizarre becomes the norm, and what is insanity becomes reality!
Albert’s entire world is being shaped by his warped thinking, which is being fed by the vague fears that well up from inside him. Albert thinks, “I have no clue regarding my location or direction of movement. The thick fog is swirling about me, grasping at my head and then at my back, enclosing me and enshrouding me, as if for burial!”
He cannot escape the fog’s clutches because there is no escape— up, down, right, left, backward, forward are all the same— fog, fog, fog— endless, ubiquitous fog. Albert is lost in a Bermuda Triangle of Disorientation!
And that sound— that sound surrounding him— that sound he was initially pursuing— that sound which was so faint and so indistinct— that very sound is now almost upon him and growing louder and louder as it gets closer and closer!
Not only is Albert trapped in a Bermuda Triangle of Disorientation but also he is being invisibly pursued by a ghostly rowboat coming at him from all directions!
Albert stops dead in the water because his situation is hopeless unless he can determine the direction the sound is coming from. Yet, no matter how intently he listens, he cannot.
Albert’s goal is to go in a direction perpendicular to the direction the sound is coming from, and his hope is that the fog will become his ally and hide him from the ghostly rowboat. He tries one direction and then another and another, but the sound keeps getting louder and closer. All seems lost, and a gamble presents itself as Albert’s only hope.
Albert resolves that he must pick one direction and stick with it, trying his best to swim in a straight line despite the disorienting effects of the thick fog. He stops and remains as still and as quiet as he can, listening carefully for any clues indicating the direction of the sound. He then takes his best guess and begins moving perpendicular to the direction from which he deduces the sound is coming.
Soon Albert comes upon a large, strange-looking rock jutting above the water, which he came within centimeters of running into because of the impenetrable fog. But he continues— swimming past the rock and onward as fast as he can. And the sound continues— getting louder and closer despite his near frantic efforts to escape it!
Then Albert comes upon a second large rock and sees something that causes his heart to freeze and his blood to congeal— the rock has an unusual shape and odd markings. Albert cannot believe what he is seeing and its implication. In a strange twist of evolution, the origin of the odd markings is less important than their existence here and now— perhaps they were carved by nature over the eons or perhaps they are the recent work of the extraterrestrial creature piloting the ghostly rowboat— all that is irrelevant because—
Regardless of their origin, those markings tell Albert that he is beyond doubt trapped in a Bermuda Triangle of Imprisonment from which it is impossible to escape— all paths, though different, are the same path, and all points, though different, lead to the same point and the same conclusion: There is no escape!
Albert stares at the rock and its odd markings, somehow hoping he can will the image away or will that it be replaced by something else, anything else— but it will not will away. As the sound approaches closer and closer, Albert’s body demands Albert that it be allowed to quiver and scream in terror, but Albert remains stouthearted, despite the undeniable, overwhelming fact that the rock’s unusual shape and odd markings are exactly the same as those of the first rock that Albert had come within centimeters of running into— Albert has swum in a circle and is back to where he started, trapped in a Bermuda Triangle of Unescapable Impenetrable Fog with the Ghost Rowboat virtually upon him!
Albert can now distinctly hear the sound of the oars as they move back and forth, squeaking on their rusty old pivot points and sweeping into, through, and out of the water in a noticeably labored effort. Nevertheless, Albert is still confused about the direction from which the rowboat is approaching, and he can imagine only the worst of its ghostly intent.
Albert has little time left to plan an escape and chooses not to risk fleeing to open water. Instead, he decides to reverse his thinking, play the Devil’s advocate, and allow himself to succumb to the evil seducers who are sequestering him in this Bermuda Triangle of Death. He will now count the fog and the rock with its odd markings as his allies in his battle against the ghostly rowboat. If he is wrong, his two friends again become his enemies, and they will inextricably draw him to his demise in this inexplicable Bermuda Triangle of Horror.
However, if he is correct and logic prevails over panic in his internal battle of fear versus reason, then the fog and the rock will provide him the means to hide himself from the rowboat, making this Bermuda Triangle of Pseudo-Realism nothing more than the product of a very active imagination on an exceptionally foggy night when it is impossible to swim in a straight line.
Nonetheless, the major problem remains the same— Albert cannot separate out the echoes in order to determine the direction from which the ghostly rowboat is approaching. He takes his best guess and places himself behind the rock, hoping he really is behind the rock and not in front of the rock with respect to the direction of approach of the rowboat.
Albert can clearly hear the rowboat with its ghostly squeak of the oars as they rotate back and forth in their pivot points. The squeaks are punctuated with sloshing as the oars enter and leave the water— squeak and slosh, squeak and slosh repeats itself over and again as the rowboat gets nigher and nearer.
Albert quickly looks around the rock, first on one side, then on the other, repeatedly, as the ghostly sound becomes overpowering— he knows it must be nearly upon him, but he sees nothing, until… Panic ensues!
Albert has been completely focused on dashing back and forth across the rock to look around it on each side, expecting the rowboat to suddenly appear through the thick fog from behind the rock on one side or the other. But the echoing sound has entirely reversed Albert’s sense of direction.
Just as he turns around and starts to cross to the other side of the rock, upon reaching the halfway point— that with the inauspicious appellation of the rock’s dead center— Albert hears the sound of the oars— loudly and clearly— as the Ghost Rowboat approaches not from behind but rather from in front!
Albert turns abruptly to face the sound— which unluckily traps him with the rock against his back— just as the bow of the boat pierces the thick fog taking a direct aim at him!
Albert is hugely smart and resourceful, but in size he is still a duckling, and the rowboat might as well be the warship TitanicBadNews because the bow looms over him.
Albert cannot see inside the rowboat since the top of the boat is several Albert-sized body lengths above Albert’s head. From Albert’s perspective, the boat is a massive, inanimate, soulless killing machine. The frontmost part of the bow forms a vertical carving knife cutting its way through the water with a direct aim at slicing Albert in half, right between his eyes while he is trapped between the bow in the front and the rock in the back.
What manner of evilly dark intelligence is controlling this monster machine can be conjured only by someone with a nightmarish imagination and the time to do the conjuring. But Albert has no time to conjure, let alone think. He acts reflexly as anyone would do and starts swimming as fast as he can to the side. That he should choose to move to the right is a mere act of chance, mixed perhaps with right-sided musculature dominance and a bit of quirky psychology too unimportant to ponder— PLUS an enormity of unfortunate, unforeseen, and most unwelcome BAD LUCK!
For just as Albert begins swimming feverishly to the right, an unintelligible cry of distress is heard shrieking from the rowboat. Albert then feels cold metal push against his back, and simultaneously he hears an earsplitting clank directly behind him— the sound of steel hitting rock loud enough to shatter Albert’s body into a thousand minuscule pieces from its sheer force.
Fortunately, Albert’s young duckling body withstands the shattering and bounces back into shape, which is better than Albert’s psyche will be able to do after he sees what is behind him.
Albert whips himself around and glimpses a sight that does indeed shatter the composure of normally cool Albert into a thousand minuscule pieces— the metal, whose piercingly sharp tip is now squarely against the rock and whose razor-sharp edge is resting a mere micron or two from Albert, is a large, substantial sword worthy of a strong warrior and not the presumed ghost wielding it now.
To add to Albert’s problems, coincident with the sword striking the rock, the rowboat began to veer in the same direction Albert was moving— Albert is being stalked by the carving-knife bow of the boat!
Logic would dictate that Albert should begin swimming in the opposite direction, but blocking Albert’s escape path is that very large and very sharp sword, which leaves Albert only one option— to continue swimming to his right.
Albert is still facing the sword and frozen in a fixed stare of disbelief. As he forces himself out of his catatonic state and begins turning himself around to flee to his right, he looks as hard as he can up the blade of the sword, attempting to see the creature holding it. The fog is thick; Albert is in a big hurry; and there is no time to stare at, ponder over, logic out, or wish away what he sees:
Towering over him is a withering giant of a hominid, contorted as the being extends from the rowboat to the sword in an awkward path through an ever-changing foggy morass— a ghostly wisp of a figure that could be mere skeleton! Then Albert gets but a mere glimpse of a second figure in the rowboat— smaller, more elusive, and even more ghostly than the first!
With his heart beating to the max, Albert turns the rest of the way to the right and begins swimming as rapidly as he can. Just as he manages to put a little distance between himself and the sword, the ghostly skeleton in the rowboat lifts the sword and slams it again into the rock directly behind Albert! And once again the rowboat veers in the direction Albert is swimming— the rowboat is stalking Albert head-on as the sword stalks him from a micron behind!
Again and again— thrice more— Albert endures the slam of the sword against his backside as the sword and the rowboat continue to stalk him. Soon the rowboat and Albert are about to turn the corner around to the side of the rock. At that point, Albert quickly considers making a bold move. He decides to assume that the rowboat’s ghostly sword bearer is not stalking him— and probably cannot even see him through the thick fog. Albert guesses that the figure commanding the rowboat is merely attempting to escape crashing into the rock after it suddenly appeared by surprise through the fog.
Albert then makes the bold move that saves his life— first he waits for the sword to be lifted from behind him. Then, in an effort to escape the sword’s relentless pursuit, he moves backward toward his previous location instead of forward, hoping the sword will continue forward. Just as Albert does this, the rowboat fails to round the corner and scrapes across the rock at the exact spot where Albert would have been had he continued moving forward!
The sword bearer pushes the rowboat away from the rock and heads for a course closer to the center of the river. Albert, having just escaped being squashed between the rock and the rowboat, watches the rowboat disappear into the fog with a relief that can be comprehended only by someone having endured the trauma.
After catching his breath, his senses, and his wits, Albert begins swimming in the direction from which the rowboat had approached him, listening carefully for anything unusual. Then, deep enough into the fog so he can see nothing, he hears crying and a raucous noise. Soon Albert comes upon a small hidden dirt area situated next to the river. It is the spot where Lillian and Ira, the dear elderly couple, have slept for years, but now it is overrun with members of the duck clan— some crying, some moving about deliriously, and some so stunned they look totally lost.
Albert swims closer. Then he moves out of the water and onto Lillian and Ira’s sleeping area to join the others. It takes little time for Albert to realize two things. The awfulness is that Sweet Lillian, Ira’s longtime wife, has been murdered, with much of her body missing. The awareness is that all clues seem to have been obliterated because the entire area has been overrun so much by the ducks. Albert can hear most of them condemning Evil MacPherson for this horrific deed, despite Evil MacPherson’s supposed inability to get across the river.
Then Albert spots something quite unseen by the others, something so frightening that it causes Albert’s body to freeze every muscle, his breathing to end in mid-breath, and his heart to stop in mid-beat as he stands staring at it— but life triumphs over death, and Albert’s heart begins beating again, his breath gasps itself alive, and his muscles fling him around. He immediately rushes to the area where Molly, his girlfriend, is still sleeping.
Daybreak, the supreme optimist, blithely unaware that life’s comedy is sometimes flung irreverently aside by life’s tragedy, joyfully plots to sneak its golden bright smile above the horizon in its own statement of eternal hope.
However, Albert is aware of only one thing— the urgency with which he must act to communicate his find.
He awakens Molly, who looks at him knowing something is dreadfully wrong. She says nothing as he tells her with fearful fervor, “Lillian has been murdered, to be eaten, but not by the likes of an Evil MacPherson. I saw something at the murder scene with implications your mother needs to know immediately. There were brown fibrous strands from some type of rope lying next to and around Lillian’s neck. The conclusion is undeniable— no cat— not even an Evil MacPherson— would be capable of using a rope… Lillian was murdered by a human!”
Molly and Albert immediately go to Mabel and tell her Albert’s findings. Mabel calls upon the elders to awaken all the ducks in the clan and bring them together in the water near a large tree stump. The stump, being a full half-meter in diameter and a meter and a half high, offers Mabel the perfect platform from which to lecture, inform, and warn the duck clan.
The ducks gather in the water in front of the stump, and Mabel flies to the top of the stump and pronounces loudly for all to hear: “There is a killer among the humans!”
While Mabel warns the duck clan of the duck killer and tells them of the tragic loss of their dear friend Lillian, daybreak’s golden-bright smile is attempting to light the somber faces of Molly and Albert as they swim behind the group and listen intently to everything Mabel has to say.
Molly is close to crying, and Albert has now been deep in thought about what to do for enough seconds that nearly a full minute can be counted. Molly has been staring at him and at her mother alternately, hoping patiently that Albert has the start of a clever plan for finding the duck killer.
As Mabel finishes and Albert emerges from his thoughts, Molly remembers dear Lillian and their grandmother-granddaughter type of relationship. She turns to Albert, looking at him and wanting to say something, but tears well up in her eyes. Albert returns her compassion as he looks at her, waiting for her to regain enough composure so she can tell him her ideas.
Molly then says, with a soft-spoken intensity that leaves no doubt about her resolve, “We must find him. We have to find Lillian’s killer.”
Molly is truly her mother’s daughter, and nothing less could be expected of her than to urge Albert in the direction of finding the killer. And Albert shows why he is Molly’s boyfriend and why Molly is his girlfriend and why he is considered by all and without equal to be the smartest of the ducklings and the most intelligent of all the ducks. Without reservation and with the enthusiasm and perspicacity of Sherlock Holmes, Albert has already started the formulation of a plan to hunt down a killer from among the humans.
However, Albert has a concern of higher priority— he wants to be certain that Molly is aware of the danger involved. Before speaking, Albert has paused and is looking at Molly with a markedly changed expression that visibly poses the question: “Are you sure you understand all the ramifications of what you are asking?”
He then looks at her even more seriously and says, “It will be dangerous. We will have to spend a lot of time across the river in the interior areas of the Forest of the Eccentric and Insane where we will be exposed to the killer’s easy attack— and who knows what else. There is no guarantee of success and every guarantee of failure. It will take time, and we are unlikely to be able to intervene and thwart the killer’s next attack. And of course there is the surprise attack on us because we have gotten too close to exposing him… Are you sure you want to proceed?”
Molly continues looking at Albert with the same intensity and nods her head, “Yes.”
Albert asks, “You said ‘We must find him.’ Why did you assume the killer is a man?”
“I don’t know,” responds Molly. She then asks Albert, “Why did you say we will have to spend a lot of time in the interior areas of the Forest of the Eccentric and Insane?”
Albert looks at Molly with a slight smile and replies, “Because I’m assuming the killer lives nearby, and I’ve heard that several rather strange men live across the river in the Forest of the Eccentric and Insane.”
Both give a nervous little laugh.
Albert then tells Molly, “My teacher and friend, Professor Charles, is intimately familiar with the Forest of the Eccentric and Insane and its inhabitants because he lives there, and it is he who could be the most help to us and who can point us in the most likely direction to the killer.”
Molly has never met Professor Charles, a very wise ol’ owl who occupies a part of Albert’s life that has heretofore been a mystery to Molly. As with any young couple dating, Molly and Albert’s childhood relationship is a work-very-much-in-progress, set amid their friends and studies. This is not to imply that their attraction for each other is shallow and based on mere whimsy, for it is solidly set to the opposite extreme— Molly sees in Albert the one duckling from among the many who approaches life with an intellectualism and an inquisitiveness that brings forth the best from her in those attributes she values most. And Albert sees in Molly an intelligent and equal partner with a deep love and understanding of him that supports his unbridled passion for the pursuit of knowledge and creativity.
Since this is the first time Albert has ever talked to Molly about Professor Charles, she is feeling a little left out and has become somewhat subdued. She asks, with a bit of humility, realizing there is much of Albert’s intellectual life in which she has not yet been involved, “Who is Professor Charles? I’ve never heard you mention him before.”
At first, Albert is surprised, “So you aren’t familiar with the world of Professor Charles, the wise ol’ owl living in the forest? Your mother knows him well.”
Molly slowly shakes her head, “No,” while simultaneously chastising Albert, with her slightly taken-aback expression, for keeping this world from her, Albert’s steady and only girlfriend.
Albert, sensing Molly’s feelings of being left out and excited to include her, tells her, “I’ve told Professor Charles all about you, and he has almost been begging me to bring you with me on one of my visits.”
“So you go see Professor Charles regularly?” interjects Molly, who is still a little bit further taken aback.
“Yes,” states Albert. “Professor Charles is my college professor and personal intellectual leader under whom I am studying for my PhD in Physics Equivalency Degree.”
“Oh,” says Molly, still subdued. Then Molly perks up as she realizes it is not only okay but exciting as well for Albert to be doing these things. She gives Albert a big smile and says, “Great! I can’t wait to meet Professor Charles!”
Albert joins in her enthusiasm and says, “All right! Let’s head over there immediately!”
Then Albert just cannot quite keep his mouth shut, and he crosses a line that he should have left uncrossed for now and blurts out, “And maybe we can go catch a good movie at Mr. and Mrs. Peacock’s house.”
Molly abruptly reverts back to subdued and says, “Huh?… You mean you’ve been watching movies without inviting me?”
“Ahhhhh…” mutters Albert, searching his brain for an escape, but all he manages is to look away from Molly and say, in a likewise-subdued manner, “Yeah.” Then he adds, “But it’s just the three of us guys: Professor Charles, Pinch, and I… and, of course, the Peacocks.”
Molly insistently pursues it further, “So you all smoke cigars, play poker, and watch movies?”
Albert is almost lividly defensive, for Albert that is, and lets fly, “Of course not! That’s disgusting! We just watch movies. Nobody smokes cigars. We just watch movies while we sit on the windowsill of Mr. and Mrs. Peacock’s open living-room window. It’s something we do unplanned after my physics lessons at Professor Charles’ house.”
Albert pauses, softens his tone, and adds his first intelligent remark, “And there’s room for you on the windowsill, and I should have invited you sooner, and I should have told you about all of this sooner.”
Then Molly jumps in, also with a softer approach, “No, not really, Albert. I’m excited you’re pursuing your PhD in Physics Equivalency degree. I know it’s something you’re passionate about and something you want very much. And it’s nice you’ve been able to relax and enjoy movies with the guys after your studies. Our goal is to find Lillian’s murderer and not squabble over the unanswerable question concerning when you needed to tell me about this in a dating relationship.”
Albert responds, “Our relationship has become too serious for me not to have told you sooner… at least that is now my opinion, and I apologize, but we cannot go back and fix it, so let’s go forward and forget the past, and I’ll introduce you to Professor Charles and Pinch and the Peacocks, who, incidentally, are humans, not birds.”
“Well!” says Molly with feigned indignation, “I’m certainly glad you finally clarified that. I could have really embarrassed myself.”
Both laugh as they start swimming across the river toward the Forest of the Eccentric and Insane.
(And a New Friend)
On the way to
Professor Charles’ House
To get to Professor Charles’ house, Albert and Molly swim across the river to a rowboat landing first used by a kids’ camp but still used by those living in the Forest of the Eccentric and Insane, namely several reclusive and rather bizarre single men, each escaping the real world for the world of solitude and anonymity the forest affords.
Professor Charles lives in a 3-meter-by-8-meter tree house spanning several trees. It was built a number of years ago by a group of kids when the area was used as a summer camp. Now abandoned (for reasons known only to the Forest of the Insane), it makes the perfect home for Professor Charles. Books are stacked in seemingly random fashion all over. Some stacks go all the way to the ceiling. Others are scattered about the floor in varying heights. And then there are the books that have been used recently and can be found in piles ranging from one or two to several, which are spread copiously over the three tables and more than a dozen chairs.
From the rowboat landing, Albert and Molly follow a footpath to avoid the heavy growth of trees and underbrush next to the trail. It is the same path used by the strange residents of the Forest of the Eccentric and Insane, and it is to avoid those men, among whom could be the duck killer, that causes Albert and Molly to listen intently for anything telltale.
“What’s that?” whispers Molly, as a crack of the underbrush is heard somewhere not too far in front of them.
“I don’t know,” apprehensively replies Albert. “It’s a little too soon after our Evil MacPherson encounter to be hearing cracks in the underbrush again.”
Molly says optimistically, “I’m thinking hopefully that it is not Evil MacPherson. Do you think it could be Evil MacPherson?” asks Molly, now also worried.
“Hopefully, it is not,” replies Albert, with not a whole lot of confidence in his voice.
Molly worriedly but wittily states, “Your lack of confidence scares me a little and indicates it is not a hopeful fact that it is not he.”
Albert counters cheerfully, “True, but it is a hopeful thought that it is not he.”
Molly cleverly queries, “And who’s doing the hopeful thinking in your construction?”
Albert amusingly jumps on the opportunity that Molly has given him to opine boldly— one of Albert’s favorite things to do. He begins, “Let’s assume that it is not Evil Mac. Then we would say ‘Happily, it is not he’ or ‘It is a happy fact that it is not he.’ But how can facts be happy or, for that matter, curious or interesting? Facts are just facts until someone gives thought to them and asserts those thoughts to be happy or curious or interesting.”
“Since it is thoughts, not facts, that can be emotionalized in this manner, our sentence adverbs take the form ‘It is a happy or curious or thankful or hopeful thought that it is not he,’ which becomes ‘Happily or Curiously or Thankfully or Hopefully, it is not he.’ And all these express emotions about the statement ‘it is not he’ without the need for someone to do the emoting.”
“I will now wax philosophical and say that thoughts exist independently of those who think thoughts. After all, the laws of physics are thoughts that existed before any human thought of them. I could even say that we live in a universe that exists as thoughts, which include the laws of physics and God’s love and a higher truth.”
“Truce!” cries Molly. “I am way too worried about cracks in the underbrush to debate facts versus a universe existing only in thoughts because if we get eaten by Evil Mac that’s more than just a bad thought. So what do you think? Is it or is it not Evil MacPherson?”
Albert surmises, “There is no way for Evil MacPherson to get across the river— absent as it is of bridges— unless he took swimming lessons after your mother repeatedly knocked him into the water.”
Both laugh nervously as they try to be quiet and listen for more cracks in the underbrush.
Albert continues, “Since the swimming lessons would have to include psychiatric help for Evil MacPherson to get over his fear of the water, I think we can assume— almost certainly, probably, possibly, maybe— it is a hopeful thought that I am hoping in a hopeful manner— may God save us if I’m wrong— that he cannot get here without help.”
Both again laugh nervously but stop abruptly as the crack of the underbrush is heard again, only closer, and again closer yet.
Albert whispers, “That’s too close; let’s hide.”
Both immediately jump into the underbrush next to the path on the side opposite where they are hearing the cracks. Now well hidden within a thicket, they gingerly peer out as the cracks continue. Then they see something unbelievable rising slightly above the thick grass and weeds near the edge of the path directly across from them— a strange creature— a prehistoric monster— a living dinosaur!
Both gasp, trying to be as quiet as they can. Slowly, the dinosaur moves past them with its head hidden in the thick grass.
“What was that?” asks Molly timidly. “Was it really a dinosaur?”
“I don’t know what it was.” Albert pauses briefly and continues, “But I think we should reserve giving it a cute dinosaur nickname, such as Nessie, until we know more. For now, for lack of anything better, we’ll just refer to it as the quote, dinosaur, unquote.”
Albert and Molly resume walking along the path to Professor Charles’ house.
Molly humorously questions, “When you told me you would introduce me to your friends, I had no idea that would include a dinosaur. Any more surprises?”
“Many more!” Albert states enthusiastically. “I can’t wait for you to meet Tyro, my Tyrannosaurus rex friend. Then there’s Pinch, my little, movie-going buddy.”
“And Pinch is a…?” asks Molly.
“A finch… Pinch the Finch,” states Albert.
“How clever that his name rhymes with what he is,” says Molly; then she guesses, “I suppose he got his name because he’s so cute I will want to pinch him to see if he’s real.”
Albert explains, “Not pinch as in squeeze, but pinch as in capture, seize, apprehend, take into custody.”
Then Molly questions, “Who would give him a name like that?”
“That would be Sister Igneous,” says Albert.
“Is Sister Igneous related, such as his mother or older sister?” queries Molly.
“No,” explains Albert, with a bit of humor thrown in. “The Mother is Superior, or something like that, and Sister Igneous is one of the nuns at the convent and no relation to Pinch, as far as I know. We will be to the convent shortly…”
Albert looks past Molly and into the woods on the left side of the path and states, “In fact, we are already at the convent— I recognize the fence surrounding the woods that are part of the convent grounds. The nuns like to wander through the woods here. Sometimes a couple of human kids sneak over the fence into these ‘forbidden’ woods, and the nuns delight in scaring them, which causes the kids to run for their lives as the nuns laugh and laugh.”
Albert and Molly have just past the woods and have reached the part of the path where the convent can be seen in the distance with a large, mostly open area of neatly cut, green grass separating the convent from the path. The convent itself is an uninviting, cold, austere monolith of dark brown-and-grey stones— somewhat frightening to human kids and ducklings alike, for it suggests that capture by these strange-looking humans wandering the grounds would mean imprisonment and lifelong servitude— such is the consequence of combining the imagination of youth with the ignorance of youth— although such can many times also be said of adults.
In the grassy area are two nuns singing songs from The Sound of Music and hanging up just washed laundry to dry on clotheslines. Albert and Molly hide themselves behind a small shrub growing next to the path while they watch the nuns.
“The nun on the right,” explains Albert, “is Sister Igneous, the one we talked about earlier, and the other nun is her almost constant companion, Sister Bombastic. Sister Bombastic likes to make broad pronouncements on God’s love under all circumstances. She’s the perfect antithetical counterpart to Sister Igneous, who breathes fire.”
Molly questioningly interjects, “She breathes fire?”
“Yes,” responds Albert. “Professor Charles told me there are some humans who actually do breathe fire, but he said it’s a trick used in shows, so I think that Sister Igneous may not literally breathe fire, but she does breathe fire in her broad pronouncements on God’s wrath. However, I get the impression that both nuns have a lot of underlying humor in their broad pronouncements.”
Just then a delightful surprise appears from the sky and lands right in front of Albert and Molly— it is Pinch the Finch!
“Hi, Pinch. This is my girlfriend, Molly,” says Albert with a big smile.
“Chirp, chirp, chirp,” goes Pinch.
“What did he say?” asks Molly.
“I don’t exactly know word for word,” explains Albert. “I can’t really speak finch, but Pinch and I have been buddies for long enough that I know what he is saying by intuition, by feeling, by all those myriad nonverbal things that go into communication if you simply remove the words themselves…”
“Pinch says that he thinks you’re really cute, and he feels that you and I belong together not just on a physical level but on a deeper, spiritual level as well, and he is wondering if he could borrow the flower you’re wearing on the side of your head and do a couple of quick flybys of Sisters Bombastic and Igneous.”
Molly looks at Albert with a huge amount of disbelief, and she questions, “He said all that in three chirps?”
Albert pauses, not understanding why Molly does not believe him, and then he says slowly, “Yes…” Then Albert adds, “What about the flower?”
Molly still cannot believe that she is having this conversation, and after a pause, she says indifferently, “Sure…”
Immediately, Pinch flies over, grabs Molly’s flower in his bill, and zooms through the air over to Sisters Bombastic and Igneous, who are still hanging up laundry. He then buzzes past them twice, so close to their faces that they feel they have to bend their heads back to avoid being hit.
Sister Bombastic smiles and says, “There’s that cute little finch with a pretty flower, spreading God’s love and goodwill to all people of the world.”
Sister Igneous frowns and says, “Up to no good he is, that pesky little troublemaker!”
Pinch then returns to Molly and Albert and manages to stick the flower back on the side of Molly’s head exactly where it was. He chirps twice and flies off toward the nuns.
Molly promptly turns toward Albert and, now almost believing that Albert really can understand Pinch, says, “What did he say? What is he doing now?”
Albert can only manage to say, “Ahhhhh… I think you are about to find out how Pinch got his name”
Pinch flies directly toward one of the clotheslines where the nuns have already hung their just-washed laundry. Flying from one end to the other, he systematically removes every single clothespin with his bill, causing all of the nuns’ clean clothes to fall to the ground. He then continues removing clothespins as fast as the nuns can pick up their laundry from the ground and hang it back up again.
Sister Bombastic smiles and says, “Wouldn’t our lives be dull without Pinch.”
Sister Igneous frowns big, shakes her fist at Pinch, and shouts repeatedly, “Pinch the finch! Pinch the finch!”
Molly looks at Albert and says, “You’re right. Now I understand how Pinch got his name. But what a wonderful, fun-loving finch to have as a new friend!”
Albert and Molly resume walking down the path toward Professor Charles’ house. Pinch stops removing clothespins, flies over to Molly and Albert, chirps twice, and flies off.
Albert turns to Molly and translates, “Pinch said it was really nice meeting you, and he thanks you again for loaning him your flower; and he said he’s now off to some new adventure.”
Eccentric and Insane
Albert and Molly have now traveled the path far enough for Professor Charles’ tree house to be visible just in front of them. It was a grand structure in its time by anyone’s standards but especially by standards measured with the reality that it was built by the camp kids over several summers.
It is still a splendid structure but shaped less by the hands of humans than by the growth of the several trees supporting it— for their growth has been, predictably, unpredictable. One tree has grown this way, and another that way, and yet another every which way. The result on the tree house has been an artistic blossoming— instead of a “boring” rectangular box, the tree house now slants here, and juts there, and bends at this window, and pitches at that window, and skews at the next rise, and tilts at the next skew, and leans upon the incline, and angles upon the decline, and…— pointless as it is to describe art in words, a word picture here is worth a few words, and the picture is now drawn.
Molly’s first reaction upon seeing the tree house for the first time is an unrestrained “Wow!” Her second reaction is to ask, “How do we get up there?”
Two of the several trees supporting the 3-by-8-meter tree house are rather close together. Between those two trees, and hidden by the forest overgrowth from almost any angle of view, is a magnificent— by standards befitting the forest— superbly built— by standards befitting the tree house— kid-size spiral staircase rising from the forest floor to the tree-house door.
Albert leads Molly to the “hidden” entrance, and they hop up the steps. As they reach the top, Albert pauses, turns to Molly, and says softly, “There is one thing I need to explain to you. Professor Charles got his name from the great writer Charles Dickens because the way Professor Charles talks is much the same as Charles Dickens’ writing style. So be prepared for some eloquent loquaciousness in response to our five-word questions.”
Molly whispers excitedly to Albert, “I love Charles Dickens!”
A quick knock on the door brings Professor Charles gleefully opening it. When he sees Molly and Albert, he gives them a huge smile and lets out a hearty “Welcome” as Molly and Albert enter the tree house. Instantly, Molly’s face flashes amazement at the sight of the hundreds of books scattered about, but before she has a chance to say a word, Professor Charles takes one quick look at Molly, and the Professor bursts forth with his gift of grandiloquent gab:
“Well there, Molly, you are even cuter and more radiant and more divine than Albert described you as being— something I never considered possible, given Albert’s already-highly-developed artistic use of hyperbolism; his constant flowered raves comparing you to the beautiful breeze-blown pinks and yellows of the lupines on the far meadow; and his assertion that interspersed are the radiant colors of the owl clover, bursting through brilliantly as your beaming eyes burst through the gracefully charming and classically stunning features of your face.
“That I can now verify this to be true, and even understated, is undeniably and most delightfully a fact, having partaken abundantly of your beauty as you stand in front of me, rendering doubt in these lofty matters unequivocally impossible.
“And I will now qualify these findings, not in any way to their degradation but rather to their amplification, with Albert’s claim that you are highly intelligent, driven by a love of living beings, and motivated to do a higher good, as your mother is— something I proclaim to be true, without further investigation, since it follows by logic from the fact that you have chosen to be with Albert, my prize pupil— allowing me to add, in my humble opinion and perhaps to the slight embarrassment of you both, that you two are worthy of your mutual affections, attentions, and support.”
Molly is now blushing modestly as she thanks Professor Charles humbly.
Albert then sadly tells Professor Charles the news, “Our dear friend Lillian has been murdered. I found numerous brown fibrous strands, which look like pieces of some type of rope, at the murder scene. I think that the rope was used in the murder, implicating a human…”
Albert stops abruptly, temporarily choked by uncharacteristic emotion.
Professor Charles attempts to complete Albert’s thoughts: “And you seek my advice on who, from among the humans living locally, would, in such a heinous manner, commit this atrocity on the duck clan and thus have the type of rope you saw at the murder scene. And, in addition, with the hope that you can prevent future murders, you also seek ‘the why,’ since preventing someone from doing something is most easily accomplished by eliminating the ‘why’ that someone is doing it.”
“Yes,” Albert agrees and nods.
“First, I must give you my disheartening opinion, which is to say that I cannot stand here and boldly point at one or two individuals and declare those to be the likely suspects, for when it comes to humans (and even many owls, I humbly admit), what is considered murder to some is considered food gathering to others— which is no less true of the odd assortment of puzzling— and often peculiar— reclusive, retired single men living in this Forest of the Eccentric and Insane, who all, for one reason or another or another, are not only living but also escaping life in their own personal— and seemingly strange— worlds they have created for themselves here in this Forest of the Inscrutable.”
Professor Charles pauses, looks at Albert and Molly, and asks, “Are you up to my travelogue of the eccentric, often bizarre, sometimes excessively weird, and occasionally insane residents of this Forest of the Inscrutable?”
Albert and Molly both silently and stoically nod their heads, “Yes,” and then Molly breaks the silence, “Please tell us everything, Professor Charles; we need to find this killer— it was our duty, and it is now our higher calling.”
Professor Charles smiles at Molly’s conviction, from one so young, and says, “All right, dear Molly, Mabel’s true daughter, I will start with Captain Spikes—”
“When you leave the warmth— augmented greatly because you two are here— security and hospitality— stay as long as you like— of my home, follow the path on the right for a short distance until you come to where it forks. Take the left fork and soon you will have before you the most wicked of woods and tangled briars seen anywhere in the Forest of the Eccentric and Insane. Continue following the path on faith, for you can see neither its course nor its intent but for a few twisted meters in front of you, each meter offering you its own reason for turning back.
“Beware that old Captain Spikes plants the path to his house with more-than-the-normal indigenous, forest vegetation— for among what most would consider to be more-typical-jungle attire are highlights and accents of the scary-animal variety, such as snake eyes, a tiger’s tail that moves, and an attacking crocodile of the usual, jump-out-from-the-swamp-and-scare-you-to-death type.
“When you come to what may appear to be a peaceful, calm, and serene waterway, do not be tempted to jump in and swim across, for it is stocked with the most voracious species of meat-eating piranha known to exist on earth, and made more so by the savage, near-starvation regimen that is their daily life, if indeed it is possible to bestow sympathy on such horrific creatures by characterizing their treatment only in terms fit for them.
“Show extreme caution and respect for you now stand at the foot of the moat surrounding the pirate home of Captain Saber-Tipped Spikes. Old Saber-Tipped got his name from the razor-sharp spikes protruding menacingly from one of his two wooden legs that he uses to replace the leg he lost while battling four other pirates and three killer crocodiles— simultaneously.
“Only his dog, Bloodthirsty, a gigantic, brave Black-Lab-Akita mix, stands with him in courage, tenacity, and strength, as Bloodthirsty did so valiantly in that battle to the death with the four pirates and the three killer crocodiles, a battle in which Bloodthirsty also lost a leg and so gained his own saber-tipped-spiked wooden leg, which Bloodthirsty wears proudly and honorably as he stands in oneness next to his master, each displaying the same toothy snarl and pattern of missing teeth and patch over their missing right eyes in the portrait above their fireplace and in the smaller picture that Bloodthirsty wears nobly around his neck on all occasions, even while being forced to take a bath.
“To cross the moat will be challenging at best and impossible at worst, but hope for the worst because it is only in being forced to retreat that your survival is guaranteed. Circle the moat and watch for the woods to be kind to you, for it is within the tangled web of overgrown branches and vines that your opportunity to find a moat-crossing viny morass will present itself. However, beware, my dear friends, for things that look to the eye to be sturdy, thick, and secure can be merely fluffs of vegetation, nature’s legerdemain of trickery to feed the piranha.
“Once you have crossed the moat, you enter the world of Bloodthirsty, a tenacious protector of what he claims as his property, and the yard surrounding Captain Spikes’ house is entirely his property— so make not a sound, and hope Bloodthirsty is asleep; plan your escape well, and be at the ready to exercise it.
“As with most of the reclusive, single men living here, you will find in the yard a storage shed of one form or another, the home of a handyman’s tools and miscellany, such as rope.
“After you have finished investigating the home of Captain Spikes, whether or not you have found the type of rope you seek, you will still want to take a break— actually, the proper word is vacation— from Bloodthirsty, for he can be a challenge, and no trip to this forest can possibly be certified as complete without being able to tell— actually, the proper word is brag— about your no-less-than-heroic adventures riding Engineer Choo-Choo’s model railroad.
“To say that this train is Engineer Choo-Choo’s backyard railroad is to say that his backyard is the entire forest, for his model-train setup has expanded and expanded… and expanded, until now it requires five visas and an alien passport for outer-space travel just to ride it full circle. The ride is exhilarating and challenging and— let me put this gently— frightening— as you fly— sorry, I’ve made a Freudian slip— I mean ride— through the woods, into a mining tunnel, and up and down the hills.
“However, fear not, for you will not be alone on the ride. Engineer Choo-Choo himself, with his jovial personality and magnanimous spirit, will be guiding both of you and the train to max speed, while his adorable little granddaughter, Sweet Toot, rides with you— and delightfully steals your heart— and watches for signals from Engineer Choo-Choo— and gives you his moment-by-moment directions for surviving the ride.
“To find the path that will lead you eventually to Engineer Choo-Choo’s house is an exercise in ‘enginuity.’ Notice that I said ‘enginuity,’ not ‘ingenuity.’ As you take the path back from Captain Spikes’ house, you will be looking for an image trimmed into the shrubbery on your right that resembles the front of a train engine. When you find it, go through the opening next to the shrubbery, which puts you on another path, to be followed until you see another train-related image, and so on until Engineer Choo-Choo’s house is directly in front of you…”
Professor Charles pauses, smiles, and then tells Molly and Albert, “Have fun riding Engineer Choo-Choo’s train, and don’t fall off, because you will have a great story to tell, but be advised that leaving will be difficult, a testament to the depth of endearment Sweet Toot achieves.”
Professor Charles now becomes much more serious as he begins telling Molly and Albert about Innkeeper Cates: “That you have a good time at Engineer Choo-Choo’s is vital to recharge your internal sanity batteries, for what I offer you now is insanity— stark, naked insanity— it can be deemed nothing else— bared to the core and stripped of all pretentiousness— pure— if insanity can be called pure— simple— if insanity can ever be simple— insanity!”
“Innkeeper Cates is obsessed with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the Bates Motel— Cates rhymes portentously with Bates, Fates way of making them Devil Dates, and Hates way of making them Soulless Mates— insanity at its most primal!
“My dear Molly and Albert, I will now relate to you a story, which was sung to me by an old minstrel who stayed at Cates Inn a decade ago, until he realized he had been living with insanity for so long he could no longer tell the difference between insanity and sanity, so he had to leave to regain his soul.”
Professor Charles picks up his guitar and says, “I will do the best old minstrel rendition that I can. Please do not throw tomatoes or rotten eggs.”
He begins playing and singing:
“Innkeeper Cates has a very strange inn,
Skeletons in rooms is Cates’ insane sin;
A skeleton here, a skeleton there,
Four skeletons clad, and two more still bare.
And now you can see, if you didn’t doze,
Skeletons were dressed, in the finest clothes;
A classy red suit,
to match Bob’s red boot;
The other foot bare,
his bones out in air.
As the story goes,
and there are more lows.
Just take a look at Harry,
with his bony wife Sherry;
He with black bow tie alone,
all else nothing more than bone;
She with hat, gloves, and shoes,
and a bit of the blues;
Plus that see-thru hose,
as the story goes.
And see Tuxedo Joe,
dressed up from head to toe;
Ready and wanting to go out,
except his bony face sticks out;
So stuck in room two-seven-two,
Joe might as well be held by glue.
But Innkeeper Cates will leave a light on,
In each and ev’ry room you come upon;
So when your travels bring you to Cates Inn,
You’ll see all rooms are occupied therein;
Some with paying guests, maybe even Poe,
Others with Harry, or skeleton Moe.
And if you should need a room for the night,
Innkeeper Cates will pick one with a light;
He’ll remove whoever’s reclining there,
Be it Sherry or Joe, he doesn’t care;
Unless he forgets, then it’s time for doom,
‘Cause off goes the light, and you get your room.
And Cates may forget, and leave Joe or Moe,
Or Bob or Harry, or others we know;
You enter your room, all ready for sleep,
Flip on the light, without making a peep;
But there she is, the winner of scary,
Staring you down, is skeleton Sherry.
As the story goes,
but then come your woes.
You scream and you run, and you’re out the door,
Wanting no refund, and wanting no more;
But you left the light on, just as Cates does,
And the room is back, the same as it was;
All ready for Innkeeper Cates, to rent,
When his next victim is, devilishly sent!
As the story goes,
and that’s all I will pose.”
Professor Charles concludes, “And that is the story of Innkeeper Cates. I do not know what you will find as you wander his inn, but beware of insanity’s infection, creeping up as it does, until it grabs you and will not let go…”
“Also, there is something else— nothing more than a rumor— but a recent rumor— and I heard it only once— briefly— in a fleeting moment— from someone unknown to me: it was a human fleeing Cates Inn late one night in such all encompassing terror that the only words spoken were ‘It grabbed me!’
“Now, dear Molly and Albert, perhaps that was only a reference, as I just made, to insanity’s frightening ability to grab you unyieldingly— but I seriously doubt it— and possibly it was uttered as a result of an overactive imagination succumbing to terror so intense it overwhelmed all rationality— but that didn’t strike me as being the case either, and… dear Molly and Albert… I saw something— something that could corroborate a more sinister interpretation— an acting out of the insanity of Innkeeper Cates in ways that are more evil and more deadly than previously imaginable:
“As the human was fleeing Cates Inn and uttering ‘It grabbed me,’ she was also holding her right arm tightly at the exact spot where her clothes were severely ripped!”
Professor Charles pauses for a few seconds to let Molly and Albert absorb what this means for them when they search Cates Inn.
Then he continues, “It is as though Innkeeper Cates has used some form of technology to animate his skeletons in a most deadly manner… Beware, my dear friends, that they could also grab you.”
“To get to Cates Inn, leave Engineer Choo-Choo’s house via the alternate path, which meanders up a slow-rising incline, idyllically and serenely, but deceptively so, for what lies at its end is a steep hill and a stair climb up to insanity.
“Before you begin the ascent to insanity, pause at the base of the stairs and survey the milieu at the top— you may find it too forbidding and will want to delay your visit, for it is rumored that Innkeeper Cates takes periodic walks from the Inn’s office, where Cates sleeps in an adjoining room, to a pond on the hill, whose depth is unknown but rumored to go all the way to bedrock some thirty or forty meters below.
“And what does Cates take with him on these walks?... Mysterious packages wrapped in black, which he tosses into the pond, never to be seen again. In addition, he has an occasional walking companion— one of his skeletons— state of animation unknown. And it is rumored that the same walk is sometimes done by someone dressed as an elderly woman— undoubtedly Cates himself— state of sanity unknown.
“There are more characters, if I may refer to them as such, living in the Forest of the Eccentric and Insane— but, I gladly add, none as insane as Innkeeper Cates. As for the other characters, I will leave you burdened with what is already a very full day’s worth and tell you of the others on your next trip to visit me, a thinly disguised way of forcing the two of you to come back and brighten my home again.”
Just as Molly and Albert are about to leave, Albert turns back to Professor Charles and timidly asks, “By any chance, have there been any dinosaurs spotted in the forest lately— or dinosaur-like animals— or anything somewhat unusual of the animal variety? We didn’t even get a good-enough look to allow me to tell you more.”
“My dear Albert,” Professor Charles replies, “I think we can reasonably assume, being the scientists we are and using standard logic, that your mythical creature was not a dinosaur but rather a possible unfamiliar visitor to the forest or perhaps an escaped exotic pet or maybe even a dog in disguise, all decked out in his Halloween costume to please his master. When you have a description, we will go through my animal books and find the costume type, and, who knows, maybe we will ID a dinosaur hiding a dog.”
Just before exiting the door, Molly turns around, smiles, and says, “It was delightful to meet you, Professor Charles; I am a big fan of Charles Dickens, and I feel as though I have been the great writer’s guest while being in your presence.”
“Well thank you, most gracious, sweet, and beautiful Molly; but it is I who has been awed by the golden glow radiating from the warmth of your smile, the twinkle in your eyes still scintillating throughout my home, and the infectious love emanating from your caring personality. Indeed, much as a young lad is loath to wash the kiss of the beautiful, young maiden from his cheek, I shall also be loath to open the windows of my house lest those portals to the cold universe beyond allow the escape of the radiance, the scintillations, the loving emanations, and the cozy comfort of the friendship left by your visit to my now-vastly-more-welcoming home.”
Molly and Albert have finished saying their goodbyes to Professor Charles and are now on their way to the pirate home of Captain Saber-Tipped Spikes. They take the left fork, on faith, per Professor Charles’ instructions, and, per Professor Charles’ warnings, are now encountering a most unpleasant, wicked woods and impenetrable tangle of briars, each meter of which tells them not to continue.
Chapter Snippet Only
The Legend of Mighty Mabel
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