Last week on TSFKA there was a quick little conversation about fairy-tales. Someone mentioned that the best ones were nice and gruesome. Maybe that was me. Anyhoo, I decided to write a fairy tale that was gruesome, just to see if I could. I wrote this in three sittings in the past week, each of about two hours, and at best it is a first draft, and at worst, a first and last draft.
It's longer than I wanted it to be, and I think there's too many words to describe things that aren't interesting, and not enough words to dcescribe things that are. But if I was to make it a story I was happy with, it would have to be much longer but I wanted to stop it where it stopped so that I could let it sink in a bit. Also, just about every sentence could be improved.
But I'm happy with the story-line (even though it didn't come out as violent as I intended).
It's hard writing a fairy-tale! Having to come up with new monsters, and names, and characters, and plot twists, and it's especially hard to write in a way a child reader may understand.
I wanted to write the word 'cunt' a lot as well but held back.
But for what it's worth, I've given it a shot, and here it is. It's 7,800 words, so if you could be bothered reading it, make a cuppa first.
If anyone does an illustration for it, they win a prize.
Austin Burnett’s Birthday Present
Austin Burnett awoke very early on Saturday, June 25 for it was the day he turned 10 years old. His mum had promised him a special present for his 10th birthday and so he awoke before even the birds did and fell out of bed, for he was made heavy with excitement.
Austin and his mother lived alone in a small hut made of mud-bricks at the edge of Fowler’s Forest, a dense woodland said to be inhabited by ghosts, ghouls and worse. But if there were ghosts, ghouls and worse in the forest, they never came to Austin’s house. It was a safe and happy home.
Austin and his Mum had little money. For breakfast everyday Austin only had butter to spread on his toast, but each and every birthday he was given a large spoonful of strawberry jam. Austin thought this was the acest birthday present any boy could ever receive, but his mum had told him that for his 10th birthday, seeing that he was becoming a young man, he would receive not only a large spoonful of strawberry jam, but an extra present as well.
He stood up beside his bed and wondered what it could be. A cup of chocolate perhaps? A raincoat – for in the rain, all had had was a square of tarpaulin? Maybe even something manly and powerful, like a soldier’s hat, or a toy truck? He could hardly stand up from all the excitement and expectation.
He wobbled to the kitchen table and sat. It was four in the morning. His Mum wasn’t awake yet. He looked out the window and watched the day rise from the dewy weeds and grasses in their backyard. Behind their yard, Fowler’s Forest also awoke and the branches of the gum trees took a morning stretch. Though it was winter, the sun arose golden and large, and the sky was bluer than the sea.
He sat there as patiently as he could until six in the morning when his Mum awoke.
“Good morning Aussie,” she said, “Happy birthday, young man.”
“Thanks Mum,” he said. He was dying to ask what his special present was, but knew that if he did he would appear greedy and impatient. A little boy can often be greedy and impatient, but now that he was ten years old and officially a young man, he believed that he should act more patiently.
His Mum cooked a piece of bread on the fire and placed it on a plate next to Austin. He spread the butter across the toast and watched it melt. His mother then went to the cupboard and brought out a small jar of strawberry jam. Austin’s stomach growled with delight, and he was worried he was going to dribble down his chin. He slowly spread the jam across his toast and the sweet smell of strawberry reached his nostrils. It smelt so beautiful that he wanted to cry, but he held back his tears of joy.
He had saved a small amount of jam on the spoon.
“Would you like to share some of my jam, Mum?” he asked. He had never thought of doing this on other birthdays.
She said, “Austin, you are the best son a mother ever could have. And by wanting to share your jam, this proves that you will be a fine young man. It may be your birthday today, but you have just made feel like it is my birthday as well.”
Austin sat proudly upright in his chair.
“Thank you anyway Aussie, but it’s your birthday, and more than anything I want to you to have all the jam.”
“Okay, Mum. Thank you,” he said, and put the last of the jam on his toast. He ate his piece of toast slowly, savouring every mouthful of the beautiful sweet spread. After he finished his toast, he sat back in his chair with a grin as wide as the house.
“Now Aussie,” said Mrs. Burnett, “You may remember I told you a while ago that I would have a special surprise for your 10th birthday.”
“Oh, yes, I do remember you saying that. Now that you mention it,” he answered, hoping his Mum wouldn’t detect his excitement.
“Well, because it’s your 10th birthday and you’re a young man, there is something I thought you should have. It’s something every 10 year old should have, but it costs a lot of money. So, while you were at school each day, I went and worked, to save up some money. On Mondays I go to Mrs McArthur’s house and trim her roses. On Tuesdays I walk the Llewellan’s white horses twelve times around the old paddock. On Wednesdays I help the magician Mr. Hall with his tricks – he cuts me in half and makes me disappear. On Thursdays I polish old Mrs. Hassett’s silver cutlery so expertly that she can see her feelings reflected in the spoons. On Fridays I cook the lumberjacks roast duck with beetroot and beer for lunch.”
“That’s incredible,” Austin said, “I never knew you went to work.”
“Well, I didn’t tell you because I wanted this to be a surprise. Here, look out the front window.”
He ran to the front window and looked into the yard. He gasped. He nearly fainted and had to hold on to the window frame so as not to fall. He could not believe what he saw!
It was a bicycle.
A shiny red bicycle.
He ran outside and marvelled at its beauty. Its wheels were thick, all the better for riding along dirt paths. The frame was bright red but the seat was shiny black and the handlebars were gleaming silver. It had a bell, three gears and a bike pump. It was the finest piece of machinery he had ever seen. Even if he was given a hundred years to design a better bike, he could not.
“I couldn’t dream a bike so grand,” said Austin, and then he turned to his Mum and said, “You never have to get me another birthday present as long as I live.”
“I’m glad you like it,” she said, “Now, I think you should go for a ride.”
“I will ride it into the forest,” said Austin.
He went into the forest every day, but only ever on foot. He couldn’t wait to see what it was like to ride along his paths at a tremendous speed, rather than slowly walking or running along them.
“Alright,” said Mrs. Burnett, “But you know the two rules.”
“Yes, Mum. Don’t go past the waterfall, and be home by lunch,” he answered.
“That’s right,” she said, smiling, for they were the only two rules he had to learn when heading into Fowler’s Forest. He was allowed to spend his time in the forest in any manner he pleased, but those two rules were never to be broken.
“Seeya Mum, and thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said as he rode the bike down their front path. His Mum gave him a final wave, proud of her young man on his new bike.
He rode to the end of their dirt street which comes to a dead-end, and down the thin path that leads people from the street and into the forest. Not that anybody ever went into the forest. Such was its reputation, people stayed away from Fowler’s Forest, but Austin, having grown up on its edges, considered it an extension of his backyard.
He rode past the ponds, filled with frogs and yabbies. He rode atop the ancient rickety bridges that weaved across the old creek from this side to that. He rode past the ‘slide’ which was nothing but a steep rocky incline covered in pine-needles. He rode past the ‘beach’, which was at an elbow of the creek with some sand on its banks.
He rode past the ‘office’ which was an old concrete pipe left there by quarrymen tens of years ago that Austin would sometimes sit inside. He rode past all these things at a breakneck speed until he came to the waterfall. It had only taken him a few minutes to get there, whereas normally it would take him half an hour if walking.
The waterfall, which was located at the end of the walking path, was little more than a trickle of water that dropped down a cliff and into the creek, but the tinkle-tinkle noise it made was very soothing, and mosses grew either side of the waterfall that were perfect cushions on which to sit for hours.
Austin gathered his breath. He was exhilarated. Riding at such a great speed, and with the winter chill in the air, his ears were frozen, his nose was running and his fingers had gone numb, but he could not remember a time in his life where he felt more excited. He sat the bike on its stand and sat himself on the moss and looked back at his bike with pride and happiness. He sat there and stared at his bike for some time, still coming to grips with the fact that it was his bike. He had often heard people say, “It took a while to sink in...” and now he knew what they meant by that.
“Is it really my bike? Is it really?” he was asking himself, and the answer was always, “Yes, it is,” but he had to keep asking himself anyway.
When he had gathered his breath, and fully accepted that the bike belonged to him, he stood up and jumped on the seat. He was about to ride back to the beach so that he could look at the bike in a different spot when he noticed the hole in the cliff-face, a little to the left of the waterfall. Now, he had often noticed this before, and he called it ‘the door’ because the hole formed an archway at about head-height. It looked exactly like an arched door, but he never dared to go through the door as the rules were: Do not go past the waterfall, and be home by lunch. Not only that, beyond the doorway was a darkness... it spooked Austin. Was it a cave? Did it lead to another world? Was it a trap, and would he fall into a bottomless well if he stepped through the door? He had often walked up to the door, even in summer when the sun is at its brightest, but he could never quite see what was beyond the door and so he had never dared enter it.
But today... well, today, he thought, was different. He was ten years old, and he was a young man. Surely today of all days, now that he can travel so quickly on his red bike, he could ride through the door. Why, he could ride through it, take a quick look, and then ride straight on back.
He sat motionless on his bike seat for five minutes, contemplating what to do, when all of a sudden, a voice in his mind, which was his own voice, said, “Now!”
Whoosh! He put his foot down on the pedal and rode straight through the door and into the blackness.
As he rode through the blackness it seemed to spread apart for him, as if an invisible doorman had welcomed him into this strange new region of Fowler’s Forest. Austin was surprised to discover that on the other side of the door was, just, well, more forest! It was just like the other side, his side. There were gum trees and pine trees and shrubberies and the creek, and there were paths to travel on and bellbirds went ‘ding’ and the branches of the trees swayed in their own time. But there was one thing different, and it was something Austin noticed straight away. The size of things. The trees were taller, the creek wider, in fact so much wider it was like a river, and the flowers were larger and the bellbirds louder.
Everything was ever so slightly exaggerated, but you wouldn’t notice unless you had grown up in the forest like Austin had.
He rode slowly along a path, observing all the new terrain, until he came to a fork in the path. He chose one way and then rode for a little longer. He noticed that the clouds were getting dark. He came to another fork and chose one of the paths. He rode along that for only a short while until he came to a small clearing where there were six paths to choose from. He chose one and then came to another fork and went one way, but immediately came to another clearing with four choices of paths and chose one. He rode for half an hour, during which time darker clouds slowly came across the sky and the temperature dropped considerably. It was starting to look like night-time, though it was only still very early in the morning. He continually came across forks and clearings until he finally realised he was very, very lost. Such was his excitement at riding he hadn’t remembered to take note of where the heck he had come from.
He stopped to take his breath and looked back. His bike had left tracks in the path, and he realised that all he had to do was follow his tyre tracks back to the doorway. Just as he was about to head back, the dark clouds unleashed a furious rainstorm across the forest. Thunder struck above his head and lightning bolts lit up the forest. The thunder roared with such ferocity Austin worried that the ground would tear apart and the planet would break into two. Water began to trickle down the path and so he climbed a small hill, carrying his bike with him, and took refuge under a Norfolk Pine which acted as a giant umbrella. He huddled under the tree, shivering in the wet, and watched the river swell and begin to rage and roar. After some time, the river finally broke its banks and it caused new rivers to form along the pathways, burying his bike tracks. In all his life he had never seen such dense and solid rain.
He sat there for what must have been an hour until the rain began to ease away, though the pathways were now fast-moving muddy rivers, and the main river at the bottom of the small hill raged so ferociously that it carrying whole trees with it. “I’m never going to get out of here,” he thought, and he was scared.
Though the rain had stopped, he could still feel very large drops of rain falling on his head and he thought that perhaps it was dripping from the tree, but when he ran his hands through his hair the drops felt warm, and when he looked back at his hands they were covered in blood! He looked down... his clothes were also dripping with warm blood.
Austin looked up. In the tree branch above his head was a hideous tree-monster. It was about the height and shape of a man but covered in thousands of dark spikes, like an echidna or a porcupine. The monster had three dark red eyes – two eyes where eyes normally are, and a third where his nose should have been. His open mouth exposed yellowing teeth, each as large as a shark tooth and just as sharp. His hands were the size of dinner plates and each thumb was shaped like a carving knife, and all its fingers were poison claws that secreted a venom.
In his right hand, the monster held the head of an equally disgusting monster. He must’ve chopped the head off its body very recently because the blood from the monster’s head was the blood that was dripping on to Austin as he sat under the tree.
Austin was too scared to squeal, or run.
The monster jumped from the tree, stood over Austin and bellowed, “What are you doing under my tree!”
“Nothing...” said Austin, very scared.
“You must be doing something!” yelled the monster.
“I was... I was just hiding from the rain,” said Austin.
“Hiding from it? Was it chasing you? “ asked the monster.
“No,” said Austin, “I just didn’t want to get too wet because I don’t have a raincoat. I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was your tree.”
“But everyone knows this is my tree. All across the forest, the creatures know that this is the tree of Skugra the Headchopper, and I am Skugra the Headchopper and you are under my tree! With one bite from my enormous mouth I could disembowel you! With one scratch from my poisonous fingernails I could kill you in a second! And with one slash of my sharp thumb I could take off your head, just as I did with this revolting Demondile that I found lurking....”
“Demondile?” asked Austin.
“Yes, a Demondile. A river ghost. In this river, which is called The River Aves, they are nothing but hazes and mists, but on land they have bodies like filthy reptiles and heads like devils!”
“It.. it doesn’t look like a ghost,” Austin said, hoping that by making conversation with the monster it may choose to not chop off his head.
“Ah, I can see you know nothing of the Demondile river ghosts. They are ghosts so long as they stay in the water, but sometimes, when they are up to no good, they rise out of the rivers, usually during a storm, and take a solid form. Once they are on the forest floor, they cause all manners of problems. They are mischievous and argumentative. They taunt, and they harangue and they goad. They use big words and confusing language and I hate them. They point at me and laugh, and then run back to their river and become ghosts again where I can’t chop off their heads... but this one, this one here, I caught it fair and square and I took its head! Slash, I went, and the head came off straight and clean. I will eat it for lunch.”
“But... but why would you want to take off its head?” asked Austin, “If all they do is goad you? Why can’t you just ignore them?”
“Ah, because, you see, little stupid boy, everyone knows that each Demondile has a golden tooth! Look!” and with that, Skugra opened the Demondile’s mouth and showed Austin the single golden tooth within it.
“Well, that’s good for you,” said Austin, “But I really must be going because my Mum is expecting me for lunch, and if I’m not there on time she’ll come looking for me... with... with an army of Robot Killers. So I must leave now, because it’s unsafe for you if the robot killers come here.”
He went to get on his bike but Skugra stopped him.
“Not so fast stupid little boy. I’m not scared of robot killers. I can take off a robot’s head as easy as a devil’s head, and besides, it’s not lunchtime yet and you were under my tree, and so you’ll only leave when I say so. Tell me, what is this thing you have with you..?”
“A bicycle,” said Austin. “I got it from Mum this morning. It’s my birthday today.”
“A bicycle? What does it do?” asked Skugra.
“Well, you, um, ride it. You sit on this seat, and you pedal these pedals, and it takes you places much faster than if you were walking there...”
“Interesting,” said Skugra, “Show me. Ride to that tree and back... and no funny stuff. If you don’t return I’ll hunt you down and take off your head and eat it in front of your mother, and then I’ll take off your mother’s head too, and that would spoil your birthday I bet.”
Austin got onto his bike and rode to the tree Skugra had pointed at. He contemplated riding away as fast as he could but because the ground was still wet he feared he would get bogged down and Skugra would catch up to him. He rode back to the monster.
“Why, that’s a fantastic machine,” said Skugra, “I bet I could get one of those with this gold tooth... if only I could ever leave the forest, which I can’t. Here. Give me this bicycle of yours and I will forgive you for sitting under my tree.”
“But... but it was my birthday present,” pleaded Austin, “And my mum had to work every day to save the money to buy it for me and I’ve only had it since breakfast time. Please don’t make me give it to you Skugra. I promise not to sit under your tree ever again.”
“Enough blabbering idiot human thing! Give me the bike, or I take off your head!” and with that he raised his frightening hands ready to strike Austin.
“Alright, alright, you can have it!” said Austin, bordering upon tears.
He stood away from the bicycle.
“Here, hold this,” said Skugra, handing the Demondile’s head to him. The hair was slimy, like eels, and the eyes were like dark oily ponds and the skin of the Demondile’s face was scaly, peeling and oozing a green liquid that stunk like dead things. Only the golden tooth was beautiful. The rest was ugly.
Skugra awkwardly sat upon the bike seat, his spikes causing him some discomfort. He leant over and held on to the handle bars and took off down the hill. He couldn’t quite get his feet onto the pedals and before he knew it, the bike had picked up speed and he was rushing towards the river. He had obviously never ridden a bike before.
“How does it stop? How does it stop?” he yelled.
“The brakes,” yelled back Austin.
“What are brakes?” yelled Skugra, but before Austin could answer, Skugra had crashed straight into the river and fell under the water, still clutching the bike.
“Help!”, he yelled, “Help, I can’t float or swim!”
Austin Burnett whipped into action. He ran... down-stream, away from the horrible tree monster. He ran as fast as his legs would take him through the muddy banks of the river and he could hear Skugra the Headchopper yelling, “I’m drowning, I’m drowning, help me!” but he kept running away until he could hear the drowning monster no more. He must have run for ten minutes at full speed when he finally stopped to take a breath.
He sat on the riverbank and thought to himself.
“I can’t go back to get my bike, just in case Skugra was saved. He would chop my head off for sure, for not trying to save him. I’m also lost, but if I follow the river down-stream it should take me back to my creek, or to the waterfall. I’ve lost my bike though, but then again, I have this other monster’s head and in its disgusting mouth is a golden tooth. I bet if I could get this tooth out, I could take it home and Mum would be able to get me another bike, and who knows what else? She could buy herself a new dress, and even a little bike for herself. This gold tooth could be worth millions of dollars! We could go on a holiday to Tasmania, and even go on a plane, and eat all the chocolate and strawberry jam we wanted...”
Just as he was thinking through what he and his Mum could do with a million dollars, he noticed a greenish haze floating about in the river. It started to swirl around near where he was sitting, and then suddenly it arose from the water in the form of a dark green mist, and when the mist cleared, standing right in front of him were three dreadful monsters. They had the bodies of crocodiles but had small, thick stumpy legs that stood them upright so that they stood tall and erect. The one closest to Austin was the largest. He must have been eight foot tall. His face was exactly like the one Austin had in his hand, with eel-like hair, scaly, gooey green skin and eyes as black as oil, and as oily. These must be the Demondiles, thought Austin – the river ghosts that take a solid form when out of the water. To the right of the biggest one was another Demondile, much smaller, in fact, about the same height as Austin and to the right of the big one was a third Demondile, but this one was without a head. It just stood there, headless.
“Good morning to you young homo-sapien,” said the large Demondile.
“Er, good morning,” said Austin.
“My name is Shwah and I am the King of the Demondiles. This here is my son, Prince Shwah the Second.”
“Greetings, human kin,” said the polite young Prince.
“Er, greetings, Prince,” said Austin.
“And this is my beautiful wife and mother to our son, Queen Floatia,”
“Good morning, your highness,” said Austin, who was taught to respect royalty. The Queen stood there motionless and headless.
“Now, as you may notice my flat-skinned guest,” said King Shwah to Austin, “Our Queen is lacking an important appendage, indeed one that’s not only important, but very dear to her and to all Demondiles in this forest. Namely, her head.”
“Er, yes, I noticed that,” said Austin.
“Which is ironic,” continued King Shwah, “Because the Queen, despite her ravishing beauty and charm, is quite absent-minded. I often remark to her, in jest of course, that she would forget her head were it not screwed on. But of course, I vociferate this jibe in metaphoric terms. Imagine my surprise this morning when she returned home from her royal duties, literally, without her head. I asked the Queen, with all due respect, where her head might be but as you can imagine my young dry-haired visitor, she was unable to answer me in this instance, for, she had no head, and thusly, no ears through which to hear my question, and no mouth with which to answer it.”
“I see,” said Austin, getting ready to hand over the head and run for freedom again.
“Imagine our good fortune when, in searching for her highness’ beautiful head for only a short tenure, we came across you, a strapping young human boy, in possession of the very head which we seek!”
“Yes, that is fortunate,” said Austin.
“Indeed, and so I must insist you return the Queen’s head to me so that I may place it upon her royal shoulders.”
“Okay,” said Austin, “But... but, my bicycle...”
But before he could explain what happened the King continued.
“...and after the Queen’s head is returned to her royal body, we shall, as history and law dictates, punish you for decapitating the Queen in the first instance by means of drowning you in our river. We shall drown you quickly and painlessly, we are not barbarians after all, and the fish will eat your body and we, the Demondile, will dine on your soul,”
“My what?” screamed Austin.
“Can I have some of his soul too, Dad?” asked the young Prince.
“Why of course son, you may eat a little of this boy’s soul. I for one am looking forward to eating his memories. Memories are the most delectable portions of a soul.”
“I like the dreams,” said the son, “The dreams are really tasty.”
“Oh yes, the dreams are very satisfying to munch upon, particularly with a little salt on top.”
“Mmm... yum yum,” said the Prince.
“But wait, I didn’t... I didn’t...” stammered Austin, but they were coming towards him with every intent to drown him in the river which had swollen in the rains.
“Now now little human man, it’s too late to whine and complain, the law is the law, and regicide is a serious offence in Demondile lands for which the only punishment is death by drowning. Now come along with us and into the water and it will all be over in seconds...”
“Wait just one moment!” came a voice.
Austin looked around but could not see anyone else.
“You leave this boy alone,” came the voice. Austin looked down. The voice was coming from the Queen’s head, which was still in his hand, and still dripping red blood on to the ground.
“But, my dear Queen Floatia...” said King Shwah.
“This boy did not decapitate me. It was that spiky mongrel brute, Skugra. It was he who took my head as I was helping some nymphs back upstream who had become lost in the storm. I was bending down to help one of them when Skugra leaped down from a tree and with one fell swoop took my head. He ran through the thickets with my head and the nymphs tried to chase but he was too fast. The monster took me up a tree, and then he tried to bully this skinny human, in fact, he stole the human’s contraption, but the young man managed to escape Skugra’s brutality and brought me to this safe place by the river. And you talk of drowning him, husband? Bah. This boy deserves a reward, not a punishment, for if not for him, my golden tooth would be in Skugra’s horrid claws and the rest of my head would be digesting in his fat and vile guts.”
“Well, this certainly does alter the action we should take,” said King Shwah, “Young man, I apologise profusely for not gathering the facts first and foremost and I hope sincerely that you can accept my most profound apologies for the injustice and emotional injury inflicted upon you this stormy morning.”
“Er, I accept your apology,” said Austin, wondering if it was too much to ask for the golden tooth as a reward.
He handed back the head of the Queen to King Shwah. He placed it gently in the water and it dissolved into a green haze, like algae. The body of the Queen then entered the water and became a green algae as well. The two plumes of haze joined together and the Queen came back out of the water, fully intact.
“That’s better,” she said.
“And now, your reward,” said the King, “What is it that you desire?” he asked.
“Well, all I really want is my bicycle back,” said Austin, “Skugra the Headchopper stole it from me. The last I saw, he was in the river, up-stream, drowning. Perhaps if you came with me back to the spot you could help me get the bicycle out of the water?” he asked.
“Very well,” said King Shwah, “The Queen shall lead us to the location of the crime. We’ll travel upstream in the water while you walk along the riverbank. By the time you return to the spot, we shall have your bicycle ready for you,” and with that, the three of them jumped back into the river, morphed into green slimy hazes and floated away. Austin trudged alone through the mud, shivering in the cold. It took him about twenty minutes and when he arrived, he found the Demondile royal family standing on the riverbank, but there was no bicycle to be seen.
“We’re very sorry my chimpanzee-man,” said King Shwah, “But it appears both Skugra and your bicycle have gone. We spoke with some river nymphs and they informed us that Skugra’s brother, Vawlex the Thrushcutter, came to his rescue and both of the monsters decamped deep into the forest, away from the river where the Demondile cannot venture safely. Is there some other reward we can offer you?”
“Oh no!” cried Austin Burnett, “My mum is going to kill me. That bike cost so much money, and I’ve lost in on the morning she gave it to me. I can’t go home without it!”
“Did you say... money?” asked King Shwah.
“Yes,” said Austin, “Money. You need money to get a bicycle, and we hardly have any money at home.”
“Why, we have money,” said King Shwah, “We have it hidden in a chest, and we’ve never known quite what to do with it. You see, we collect whatever treasure falls into the creek and over hundreds of years we have collected some interesting treasures, one of which is money. We have silver and gold... and I can think of no more a deserving person to be given this money than you, my little ten-toed goblin, in honour of your brave actions this morning. Son... fetch the money chest.”
Prince Shwah jumped into the river. Austin cheered up a little. Though he missed out on taking home the golden tooth, in a way, taking actual cash back home would make things a lot easier for his Mum to replace the bicycle. She could just go straight to the shop and get a new one!
Prince Shwah returned in a matter of seconds with a small but heavy chest.
“I present to you, human young man, the Demondile’s treasure of human money, so that you may replace the bicycle stolen from you by that spiky villain, Skugra the Headchopper.”
The King handed him the chest.
“I thank you, royal Demondiles, and I, Austin Burnett, am honoured by this reward,”
“You speak well, Austin Burnett... And now we shall return to our kingdom here in the River Aves. We hope that we may meet again young man,” he said, and with that, the three returned to their ghostly form in the river.
Austin opened up the chest and immediately his heart sank. Though the chest itself was heavy, promising much wealth, the contents were bare. Inside the chest was a one dollar coin, coloured gold, and a 20 cent coin, coloured silver.
“One dollar twenty?” yelled Austin, “Wait!” he yelled towards the river, but there was no sign of the ghostly Demondiles. They had vanished.
“This is a disaster,” cried Austin to himself, “First I lose my bike, then I lose a golden tooth, and all I have to take home is $1.20! My mum will kill me for sure!”
He started to walk sadly and slovenly back along the river, always on the lookout for a sign of the Demondiles on one side of him and spiky tree monsters on the other side, but as he walked and walked there was no sign of either of the creatures. He walked for half an hour and then noticed with dismay that the river was widening. He knew that the waterfall was naught but a trickle and he correctly deducted that it was not The River Aves that fed the waterfall, but rather, it must be some tributary that fed the waterfall, which means, it could come from anywhere. He was lost, lost, lost.
He sat on a rock to rest. By his reckoning he had only two hours to make it home for lunch. He was despondent, but he resisted the urge to give up. He must keep walking and find a way out of this exaggerated section of Fowler’s Forest.
Just then, from the river arose a beautiful young woman, nude, save for the reeds covering her most modest secrets. She stood right in front of Austin Burnett, dripping river water to the ground.
“What now?” groaned Austin.
“I am Vigo, the beautiful river nymph,” she announced.
“I am Austin, the human boy,” he answered, “But, aren’t others meant to call you beautiful? Shouldn’t you just say that you are Vigo the River Nymph, and someone else says you are a ‘beautiful’ river nymph?”
“Am I beautiful?” asked Vigo.
“I suppose so,” he answered.
“Then, I just saved you precious breath. Now, tell me Austin, is that... is that what I think it is? The treasure of the Demondiles?” she asked.
“Yes, it is. It was my reward for rescuing the Queen’s head from Skugra the Headchopper,” he replied, and then added, “Though it’s not of much use to me. $1.20 won’t help me get my bicycle back, or help me get home.”
“Are you lost, human boy Austin?”
“Very lost,” he answered, “I came into this region of the forest through a doorway that is beside a very small waterfall on my side of the forest, and now I can’t find my way back.”
“I know this waterfall of which you speak,” she answered.
“You do?” he said, standing up.
“Of course, I am a river nymph, and I know every inch of the River Aves, and not just the river, but every creek that feeds it, every tributary that runs from it, every puddle it leaves on the ground when the floods subside and every drop of water splashed onto every leaf in this forest, for that is where I live, in the water, with the Demondiles and the Delamotts and the Rutblaks and the fish...”
“I don’t know either the Delamotts or the Rutblaks,” he said, “But, I am very pleased to meet my first river nymph. Can you help me find my way to this waterfall? If I’m not home for lunch, I’ll be in big trouble. I’m already in a lot of trouble now that I lost my new bike, but if I can just get home in time it might make things better”
“Well, I suppose I could help you... but, perhaps, in return for my help, you could perhaps give me the chest. After all, you said it was of no use to you,” said the wily water nymph.
He didn’t have to think about it, he handed the chest straight to Vigo. She opened up the chest, took out the $1.20 and handed the money to him.
“But I thought you wanted the treasure?” asked Austin.
“The coins are not the treasure, little boy,” said Vigo, “The chest itself is the treasure. Inside the chest is a little of what the owner seeks. In your case, two coins. But what you didn’t know was that if you wished for something more grand than money, it would have given you just a little of what it was you wished for. What I wish for is love, and tomorrow morning, when it replenishes itself, I shall open the box and be touched by a little love.”
“Suit yourself,” said Austin, who was not interested in the magic chest, “Now can you help me back home?”
“Follow me,” she said. She fell back into the river, but she swam slowly and he found it easy to follow her back up-stream. He followed her for about ten minutes, back along the tracks he had just made, until they came to a thin but steady trickle of water that came off the river and beside a path he had not noticed earlier. She stood up in the water. “Here, Austin. Follow this thin creek which spills from The River Aves. Follow it for two miles and it will reach the top of the small cliff. From there, you will be able to wind your way down to a doorway which takes you into a horrible land where foul monsters and hideous ghouls rule the world...”
“You mean, my world?” he asked.
“I suppose so,” she said, “I have no interest in going past the waterfall. It’s not the type of place I’d like to dwell, just as this is not the type of place you would like to dwell. Good luck, human boy, and thank you for the chest,” she said, and with that, the beautiful river nymph Vigo ducked under the water and disappeared.
He trudged along the path that followed the small, thin creek for more than an hour. The going was rough as the ground was soft and muddy after the rains, and the path would disappear at times and he was forced to scramble over bushes and fallen logs, and sometimes even walk barefoot through the creek itself. Finally, he reached the top of the cliff. He looked down and saw that indeed it was the right place, and he saw the mosses at the base of the waterfall where he would often sit and contemplate the world. He began to look for a path that would take him down the side of the cliff.
He walked into a small clearing but discovered, much to his horror, he was not alone. Standing in the middle of the clearing was Skugra the Headchopper and his bicycle.
“Looking for something?” Skugra asked.
Austin stood still, and said nothing. Skugra was blocking the pathway down the cliff, and the only other way back home was to jump down the waterfall and that would surely cause pain, injury and even death.
“You left me to drown, idiot monkey boy. You left me to die like a heartless goon. In the river I was to drown a horrible death, to be eaten by Delamotts, if you had your evil way. You ran when I asked for your help, and not only that, you ran away with my Demondile head and its golden tooth. What sort of horrid creature are you? Well? Answer me?”
“You stole my bike...” was all Austin said.
“Stole? You say I stole? Not at all! You invaded my territory, and I was generous in letting you stay alive by taking the bike from you and letting you go, and what was the thanks I received? To be abandoned when I needed help. Little wonder they say humans are the foulest creatures of all the monsters in the world.”
“That’s not true,” said Austin, “It’s not true at all!”
“It is true, and there is only one thing left to be done, to make sure you don’t invade my territory again. Say goodbye to your head, human filth!” and with that, Skugra came towards him, holding his two meat cleaver thumbs aloft in the air ready to chop Austin’s head off, but suddenly, as if they were waiting for this moment for hours, days and even years, out from the trees came twelve tree-men. Their bodies were made of sap but all were wearing full body armour forged in gold, and each brandished a sword made of glistening steel. They surrounded Skugra.
“Back off, Headchopper,” said one of them.
“Out of my way you ridiculous Eucasaps. I’m going to chop that boy’s head off.”
“No, you will not,” said another of them, “Can’t you see who he is?”
Skugra stopped and looked into Austin’s face.
“All I see is a runt-like pathetic and foul human beast,” he said.
“Look closer,” said another of the Eucasaps, “Look at the shape of his blue eyes, and the shape of his face, with the spread of freckles across his cheeks. Look at his spindly, long legs. Remind you of anyone, tree-monster?”
Skugra stared intently at Austin for a while, then said, “You don’t think...”
“It was said that the Goddess had a son,” said one of the Eucasaps.
“But we haven’t seen her in eleven years!” cried Skugra.
“But she guards the edges of our forest, as promised... “ said a Eucasap.
“It can’t be,” said Skugra, to himself, bewildered.
Austin just stood there, hoping that Skugra would believe this stupid story about being the son of some Goddess. His Mum was just a Mum, not a Goddess, but he wasn’t about to blurt that out right now, so long as the tree-men, known as Eucasaps, were protecting him.
“What’s going on?” came a large voice. Everyone turned to see another tree-monster, just like Skugra, but slightly larger.
“Your brother was about to chop off this young man’s head,” said one of the Eucasaps.
“Brother Skugra, is that true? After I rescued you from the river and told you to return the bike to the boy?” said the other tree monster.
“No, it’s not true, Brother Vawlex,” pleaded Skugra, “It’s not true at all. I was just playing with him, pretending! I would never hurt the fine young man. Here, young human, here is your bicycle, take it back, and may you ride to amazing and magical places with it for years to come.”
The Eucasaps stood aside, and let Skugra pass. He propped the bike next to Austin and said, “Now give me a cuddle!” he said, laughing.
“Oh, you’re a bit spiky,” said Austin.
“Oh, how true, how true!” laughed Skugra, “I am a tree monster after all. Well, one day, if you grow spikes too, we can have a hug, but until then, safe journeys on your bicycle...” he said, but then he leant down and whispered into Austin’s ear, “Next time we meet, your head is my lunch...” then, laughing, he ran back into the forest with his brother following.
The Eucasaps stood down their weapons, and one of them approached. They were as tall as normal men, and though made of sap, their armour was made of such thick, ornate gold that Austin had no doubt they would be feared across the forest. Little wonder that Skugra made his escape.
“What are you doing here, young man?” asked the Eucasap.
“I... I was just riding my bike. I guess I rode too far,” he said.
“We are the Eucasaps. We live in the gum trees and we are the soldiers of the forest, just as the Demondiles are the soldiers of the rivers. We are busy enough without having to worry about protecting human children from the likes of Skugra the Headchopper. You don’t belong here. It is time for you to take your bicycle and leave,” he said.
“I know, and thank you,” said Austin, sitting atop his bicycle, “Thank you for helping me get my bicycle back. I shall go home, and won’t disturb you again. Bye now,” he said.
“Goodbye, young man,” said the Eucasap. Austin watched them wrap their armoured bodies in beautiful green velvet cloaks held together with goldn clasps in the shape of a eucalyptus leaf. They looked like fine and majestic soldiers, and Austin was grateful that they had saved him. He waved once more, and took off.
He rode down a pathway until he came to the spot. He took one look back at this strange section of Fowler’s Forest, took a deep breath, and rode through the doorway. He was back on his side of the forest, safe and well. He rode home as fast as he could and made it just in time for lunch.
“Anything exciting happen Aussie?” asked his Mum.
“Not really,” said Austin.
But when they were eating lunch, Austin said, “Mum, you grew up in this house, didn’t you?”
“That’s right,” she said, “I grew up here with your grandfather, who built the house many years ago.”
“So... so, you would have spent a lot of time in Fowler’s Forest, wouldn’t you?”
“Oh yes,” said his Mum, “Just like you, I went there every day.”
“What’s beyond the waterfall?” he asked.
She went silent, and turned a little red, but then answered, almost sternly, “I wouldn’t know. Just like you, I was never allowed to go beyond it. And I never did. Now, be quiet, and eat your lunch Aussie.”
He ate his lunch, but he was thinking to himself, “My Mum knows something she’s not telling.”