If you are reading this to a child, it is possible to skip the frame part of the story and begin the reading with Marley knocking on Mr. Toad’s door.
Angels of Storybook Land
The first story
Saved by Storybook Angels
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”
Matthew 18:10 NABRE
“Who are these little ones, who know how to receive the secrets of God? The little ones are those who are in need of the great, who are not self-sufficient, who do not think that they need only themselves.”
Pope Francis, March 17, 2018, at the Church of St. Pio
Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become as little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3 NABRE).
One twilight evening, the authorial ghosts Ken and Jaime popped into a people-empty Disneyland. Having heard from a reliable authority that they would soon ascend they wanted to say goodbye to their Fantasyland purgatories. Each of them paused outside of the rides based on their children’s stories. The Disney versions would remain, but their personal memories of what created the stories would go with them. On King Arthur’s Carousel a few authorial ghosts rode lifelike horses seemingly lost in their own recollections. One of the ghosts, a newcomer, called out to them. They waved back to her and then wandered away. They stopped at the entrance to the Storybook Land Canal Boats where they leaned on a railing and surveyed the miniature homes and castles.
“Our realm is almost completely empty of the original ghosts,” said Jaime. “Our souls now peaceful, it is time to say our goodbyes.”
“You know, I rather fancy one last visit to Toad Hall,” said Ken.
“A charming idea. I, myself, fancy a last visit to the fairies of Kensington Gardens,” said Jaime.
“It has been a while. Hold on, I think I hear a little girl crying on that bench over there.”
“I don’t see anyone.”
“It must be an echo from the land of the living. Shall we eavesdrop?”
“Not a sin, I should hope?”
“Not if our sole objective is to respond to a cry for help. Perhaps a final good deed must be done.”
In the tragic kingdom the sound of a little girl crying, while not unheard nor unheard of, was indeed rare. Ken, well aware of this, tuned his spirit ears to the sounds originating in the land of the living, which for the authorial ghosts was this themed amusement park in the city of Anaheim. They allowed themselves to be invisible spirits in that very real and very crowded place. On a bench they could see the sniffling little girl, about seven years old, leaning against Snow White. Standing near to them a security guard spoke into a handheld device and could be overheard saying, “That’s great. I’ll inform Snow White and the little girl.”
“They’ve been found?” asked Snow White.
“They’ll be here in a few minutes. They think she must have slipped away just as they were getting on the Matterhorn.”
Snow White looked down the little girl who rested her head against the trusted young lady. “Hear that, Marley? Your parents will soon be here.”
Marley nodded her head and shut her eyes. In spite of the milling slow moving mass of people, big and small, costumed and not, she fell asleep.
The invisible presences of Ken and Jaime hovered over the bench. They looked down at the child.
“She’s having a bad dream,” said Ken.
“We can fix that,” said Jaime. “And when she wakes in a few moments she’ll have nothing but a pleasant memory.”
“Such a minute good deed, barely a wisp of a water sprite’s mist.”
“It shall serve the purpose.” Jaime turned to his purgatory friend. “What scenario do you think?”
“The Eastland Fairies versus the Westland Pixies?” suggested Ken.
“An excellent suggestion; there’s nothing like a game of Bubble-Ball to cheer one up.”
Marley who had already been on the Storybook Canal boats, woke up, just the right size for entrance past the front door of Toad Hall. Curious as to whether or not Toad was at home, she reached her hand up to swing out the brass doorknocker and let it fall, thereby making a satisfying thud sound. She heard voices within. Seconds later, Toad answered the door.
“Marley! Splendid! We’ve been ever so looking forward to your visit.” said Toad. “We’re almost ready. Please do come in.”
Marley followed Toad into the front parlor where Ratty, Mole, and Badger all greeted her like a good friend they hadn’t seen in a good long while. Ratty held a picnic basket in his hands, and Mole and Badger carried folding chairs made of wood and brightly colored canvas. Toad handed Marley a chair. “Here you go, here’s a comfy chair for you.”
“Thank you,” said Marley.
“Now,” said Toad, “you did tell your mother and father you were dropping by?”
“No,” said Marley a little crossly. “I’m mad at them because they wouldn’t let me go back to Storybook Land again and so I sneaked away and got on the Canal Boats all by myself but when I got off, they weren’t there to find me and there were too many strangers everywhere and… and…”
Marley’s face scrunched up and she felt as if she were about to cry again as she did when she’d realized how horribly, terribly lost she had become. Oh, it was miserable to recall just how awful she’d felt sitting on the bench never knowing if she would ever see her family again.”
“There, there, Marley,” said Mole. “Snow White found you and you’re safe now. You’ll soon awake and be with your family.”
“Meanwhile,” said Toad. “We have just enough time for at least one whole dream excursion and maybe even a there-and-back adventure.”
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“Why, to the match, of course,” said Ratty.
“Our Eastland Fairies are playing the Westland Pixies,” said Mole.
While Toad held the front door open everybody else filed outside. Toad came out and shut the large blackened oak door. When he turned around, the sudden presence of a knight, armor the color of white gold, startled him. It was as though he’d simply popped out of the bushes.
“It’s the White Knight!” exclaimed Ratty.
“Well, sir, what brings you out of the Wonderland rabbit hole?” asked Badger. “Have you lost track of Alice?”
“No, I can’t quite say that I have,” replied the White Knight. “No, can’t say that, for I am not aware that Alice has a track.”
Badger thought about this for a moment and then said “You reason well, too well, some might venture to add. So, what brings you to our side of the canal?”
“That craft moored at the esquire’s dock.” The Knight pointed to a boat that floated like a boat but didn’t look much in the way of a rowboat, power boat, or sail boat. Its bow was in the shape of horse’s head, white, of course; the stern in the shape of a horse’s rump with it tail sticking up and waving like a flag in a slight breeze; and in the middle stood two large wheels, both upright like spinning wheels for yarn. “It’s my own invention, you know.”
By now, many of the other Eastsiders, on their way to the game, stopped in front of Toad Hall and they too stared at the strange craft. Badger cleared his throat before saying, “Aye, it’s an odd sort of boat, but we’ll leave it at that and once again, I must ask: What is your business here?”
“You mistake me, for I am a knight and an inventor and not a tradesman.”
“Oh, heavens to Loch Nessie. Sir knight, why are you here?”
Mole spoke up. “For instance, Marley is here because she wandered away from her parents.”
“Oh, I see. That is, I see the girl you are speaking of.” The White Knight smiled kindly at Marley. “I once met a girl who’d been wandering about. But she had a purpose. She was on her way to becoming a queen. Before showing her way, I recited her a poem which is called…”
“We’ve no time to spend on listening to poems,” said Ratty. “We’re on our way to a very important game.”
Badger, Toad, and Ratty nodded their heads in agreement, and turned to leave. Mole and Marley followed behind, but they turned their heads to wave goodbye to the Knight. Though dressed in armor and carrying a mace in one hand, which to some might seem warlike, his gentle nature shone from his face. He seemed lost in thought, as if he were trying to recall something, maybe the reason he’d moored his boat down there and had come up to the manor.
The crowd in front of Toad Hall, all Eastlanders, began to move along, all headed to the gentle slopes on the northern side of the Grand Canal. On the east end of that section of the Grand Canal, a giant stone bridge spanned the water. The other end of the Grand Canal, the west end, split into two channels and between the two waters on a point of land lay the sultan’s palace, home of Aladdin and Princess Full of Full Moons. In the middle of the Grand Canal a long thin island divided the canal for the middle third of its length. Marley and her Toad Hall friends set up their chairs facing the island. Across from them and, in a rather thick forest, another crowd flooded in from the west and began to make themselves comfortable.
Marley pointed to the island and asked Mole, “Is that where the two sides are going to play?”
“Goodness gracious, no. That’s Kensington Gardens Island, home to our fairies – except during the match, of course. Then it serves as the place where the referees referee the match. Look! Here come the referees now.”
In a row boat approaching the eastern end of the island, Marley could see three pigs.
“Are those The Three Little Pigs?”
“Oh, my dear Marley, we never say little around here,” said Mole.
“In our lands, we are all equal,” said Badger, “in height, at any rate.”
“Except for the pixies and fairies,” said Ratty.
“Well, of course, except for them,” said Badger. “But the rest of us – all equally tall.”
And this was true. Marley’s four animal friends when standing, all reached the same height as did Geppetto, Pinocchio, and all the others from various Eastland communities and homes.
“But when I was riding the Storybook Land boats everything here was really, really small. And the boat guy told us…” she pointed down the canal to a small island with three cottages set upon it, “those are the homes of The Three Little Pigs.”
Toad cast a glance at the island, shrugged, and said, “They’re not as elegant as Toad Hall, but those cottages look normal size to me.”
“And way on the other side of the giant bridge, he told us is the home of the Little Mermaid.”
“There is a mermaid living near there… I can’t quite recall her proper name,” said the Blue Fairy sitting just behind Marley, “And though we’ve never seen her standing, her length is probably equal to my height.”
“You see, my dear,” said Toad, “In a world where everyone is small, no one is small a’t all.”
“Oh,” said Marley who remained puzzled for a few irritating moments and then remembered something. “Also, on the other side of the bridge is the town and frozen castle of…”
“Spitsbergen, isn’t it?” asked Mole. “Home of the Snow Queen?”
“Don’t be daft, mon,” said the Badger. “Spitsbergen is where the Snow Queen came from. The town has another name, it’s…”
“Get your programs here!” shouted a man wearing a hat twice the size of his head.
“Over here, Mr. Mad Hatter!” shouted back Ratty. After handing it to Marley, he told her, “Can’t tell the players without a program.”
Marley looked on as Ratty read the front of the folded once page. “Today’s match: Eastland Fairies vs. Westland Pixies. Eastland players: Fairies, Four baker’s dozens of them. Westland players: Pixies, 48 of them plus a handful if one doesn’t count the thumb.”
Marley frowned, evidently not seeing much value in the program. But Ratty turned the page and said, “Ah, here’s the good info: Watching the today’s game: The Eastland fans are Toad, Ratty, Mole, Badger…”
Ratty kept reading names while Marley numbly listened and nodded her head. But her head jerked up and her eyes opened wide with surprise when he read aloud, “and Marley.”
“How did they know I’d be here?”
Looking a little uncomfortable they all stared at Marley until Toad ventured to say, “We’re sorry, Marley. Was this supposed to have been a surprise visit?”
“Never mind, my dear,” said Mole patting her hand with his paw, “We’ll have a surprise party for you after the match. We won’t tell anyone else and that way it’ll be quite a surprise for the other story-folk.”
“Here comes our team!” shouted Pinocchio. They all looked to the east where a cloud of fairies drifted through span number two of the giant bridge. Everybody on Marley’s side of the Grand Canal cheered. Those on the opposite bank booed.
“And here come those awful pixies,” said Ratty.
A roar of cheers filled the air above the opposite bank. On the Eastland side, boos and hisses erupted all around Marley who remained silent.
“Come on, Marley,” said Toad loudly. “Boo along with us. That’s called being a good sport.”
When the booing had faded to a few faint hisses, and Marley could make herself heard she asked, “What’s this game called?”
“It has a different name, but, around here, it’s called Bubble-Ball,” replied Mole. “Ever heard of it?”
When Marley shook her head, no, Ratty asked, “Perhaps you know by its nickname? Whoopsy-woosy?”
Marley shook her again. “How’s it played?”
“It’s a bit like Rumble-skate,” said Mole.
“Not in the least,” said Toad. “It’s far more like Decline-a-Dance Derby.”
Seeing that Marley’s face showed nothing but blankness in reaction to those other names, Badger said, “Aye, lassie, it’s a very simple game. You see, the two teams take turns being defenders and offenders. Both teams race around the course which is over the water, mostly.”
“They all start down by the second archway,” said Ratty who then pointed at the giant bridge. “You see the four arches of the bridge? The first arch is over land; arches two and three span the canal, and arch four is over the land near to Pinocchio’s village.”
“So, they start each play down there,” said Mole pointing at the second archway. “They all race past us and down to the highest turban on the Sultan’s palace. They go around that and race up the other side of the canal and then through archway number three where they make their turn coming back through archway number two and that’s one lap.”
“So, it’s like a race?” asked Marley.
“More like hounds-and-hares,” said Ratty, “The offenders start the bubble ball moving and take it for a lap around the course, but the defenders will chase after them and try to knock the ball out of play.”
“What happens after the offenders finish a lap?”
Mole answered, “They start a second lap, but they don’t finish it. Just before the offenders reach the giant bridge they aim the ball at the fourth arch and try to shoot it through for a score.” Mole patted Marley’s hand. “It’s quite simple but oh so much fun. Above all, sportsmanship is the key to a good game.”
“I suppose once the game starts, listening to the announcer will help me understand better.”
“Oh, lassie, we’re all announcers,” said Badger.
That turned out to very true. Marley turned her eyes to the fairies gathered underneath the second archway and floating above the water. The Pixie defenders had lined up on both sides of the canal near to the giant bridge. Marley searched with her eyes and began to wonder if they’d forgotten to bring the ball. Under the water’s surface, she saw a spot of light become brighter and brighter as it approached the surface. A ball of light, popped into the air. Compared to the fairies and pixies the ball was huge, but to Marley it appeared to be the size of beachball, even as light as and as colorful as one.
The cloud of fairies rushed at the ball propelling it through the air. The ball and the fairies flew past the two sidelines of pixies. As they did the pixies fell in behind and began harassing those fairies pushing the ball. Marley watched the ball and the two teams race by looking for all the world like a cloud of angry bees chasing a sparkly ball.
“Good form!” shouted Ratty.
“They’re approaching the turban turn,” said Toad. “Careful, fairies. Those cheating pixies are forming a cumulous by the big turban.”
“Ricochet off the far wall!” shouted Toad. “What a move!”
The Eastland fairies had avoided the cumulous formation of the pixies by bouncing the ball off the giant wall behind the palace and were now chasing and pushing the ball down the opposite side of the canal. A small cloud of pixies burst out of the water in front of the ball.
“Sea fog! Sea fog!” shouted Badger and several others. “Cheat! Cheat!”
“What’s a sea fog?” asked Marley barely able to make herself understood over the roaring crowd.
“The rules clearly state,” said Mole, “no player may move backwards nor remain stationary, in the air, on the ground, or in the water. But it’s a bit difficult for the referees to see if a player is stationary when she is underwater.”
Except for Marley and Mole, all the Eastlanders had rushed down to the bank of the canal to display their hopping madness which they did by hopping up and down and waving their fists and paws in the air. Badger shouted at the pigs on Kensington Garden Island, “Wake up, you woeful refs!” Other Eastlanders began throwing cookies and cherries at the pigs which did nothing to improve their refereeing. Rather than watch the game the three pigs ran about picking up the tasty tidbits and eating them.
Meanwhile the fairies had rounded the archway and were now beginning the second lap. The roar of the crowd increased. A large cloud of pixies flew above the ball.
“Oh, no!” shouted Ratty. “They’re doing a nimbostratus!”
“Not a nimbo,” shouted Toad, “It’s… it’s…”
“Thunderhead! Thunderhead!” shouted the Westlanders. “Updraft down, down, down!”
The roar of the crowd became deafening. The pixies forced the ball downward and into the water. All the fairies and all the pixies disappeared into the water. The fans, on both sides of the canal, became totally silent. But when the ball and the pixies and fairies surfaced, the roar resumed. Then the pixies forced the ball again under the water, and when all the pixies and fairies disappeared beneath the water’s surface, it was as if someone had clicked the mute button. This time the ball and players didn’t pop up, right away. The seconds ticked by. Obviously, some of the players were being stationary underwater, or even worse, they might be moving backward. The pigs looked at the calm surface of the canal water, scratched their chins, shrugged and went back to nibbling tasty cherries. To be completely fair to the pigs, the cherry crop that year had been exceptionally good, very red, very juicy, and, most everyone agreed, the best tasting cherries in…
The ball popped up, very near to the shore of the sultan’s palace. Though swarmed by fairies and pixies alike, the ball floated mostly in the right direction and somehow the fairies managed to get the ball around the large turban. The ball, the fairies, and the pixies all raced down the final stretch.
“Look!” shouted Mole. “The pixies in front have gone all cirrus! Oh, joy! Oh, rapture!”
“Cirrusly, now,” asked Ratty, “are they up to something?”
“Line it up, fairies!” shouted Toad. “Careful, aim, charge, charge, charge!”
A group of fairies who’d hung back a little and then charged full speed into the ball, accelerated it almost straight at the dead center of the fourth archway opening. Almost straight at; it was a bit low and the lower side of the ball just skimmed a razor-sharp weathervane on top of the tallest building in Pinocchio’s village.
The skin of the sparkly ball ripped open, and through the tear thousands of little lights like miniature stars fell out in a shower. These floated down onto several roofs of the village covering them like sparkling snowfall. Meanwhile, the deflated ball coasted through the archway and came to earth just on the other side of the giant bridge.
“Goal!” shouted all the Eastlanders.
“Do over!” shouted back the Westlanders.
“Goal!” came the reply and the other side responded and for several minutes the two cries bounced back and forth like a bad echo. Then, from the island, sounded a loud trumpet blast. The three pigs held up their hands for the crowds to be quiet.
“The refs will take a vote,” said one of the pigs. After a few moments during which the fans on the two sides of the canal could see a hat being passed around and slips of paper being dropped in. A pig reached in and pulled out the slips of paper, counted them, and announced, “It’s a tie vote.”
“Don’t be daft, mon!” shouted the Badger. “There’s three of you, how can it be a tie vote?”
“One of us voted twice,” explained the pig.
“Oh,” said the fans collectively.
“Anyway, it’s tea time,” said the pig. “So, if you don’t mind, we’ll be off for a spot of slop.”
Both sides of the canal erupted with boos and insults. The pigs hastily retreated to their rowboat. Eastlanders and Westlanders – having finished off the tasty cherries – began throwing walnuts at the pigs, unshelled, of course, which can really hurt. Fortunately for the three pigs, after reaching their island, the first house they took shelter in was the one made of bricks.
“Well, this is a fine how-do-you-do,” said Ratty. “Two more matches to play and this one isn’t even decided.”
“Aye, it’s a right pigs’ breakfast,” said Badger. “I donna know if I canna even face my haggis and black pudding.”
“Well, to be honest,” said Mole, “I don’t think I could either.”
“Aye, all food would be ashes in our mouths,” said Badger.
“It’s only a game,” said Marley.
“Only a game!” shouted Toad.
“Patience now, she’s only a child,” said Mole who then turned to Marley. “You see, Marley, Bubble-Ball is not only the most important game in the whole wide world, but…”
“It’s the most important thing in the whole wide world,” said Ratty.
Marley thought about this for a moment and then said, somewhat meekly, “Even more important than parents?”
This seemed to puzzle her animal friends into silence until Toad said, “Perhaps we’ve become a little carried away about our love for the game. Parents are most important. After all, it has often been said that we should all become like parents or we’ll never enter heaven.”
“No, that’s not right. You’ve mixed it up,” said Mole. “I think it goes like this: We should all become like children…”
“Even parents?” asked Badger.
“Hm, maybe not the parents,” said Ratty. “I mean, how can you have children if you don’t have parents?”
“Quite correct,” said Toad. “So, let’s be fair to both parents and children and divide the solution into two parts. The parents should say there’s nothing more important than children, and the children should say there’s nothing more important than parents.”
“Oh, good-o,” said Mole. “That way if the parents become the children and the children become parents then everything will turn out even-steven.”
Marley whose eyes had begun to glaze over, noticed what looked like seven flying carpets flying low over the canal and straight at the group of Eastlanders, herself included. She cried out, “Look!”
“At what?” asked Toad who faced in the opposite direction of the approaching flying objects. “At the glaze in your eyes? Think nothing of it, my child. I often glaze over my eyes. It is one’s best defense against things one doesn’t understand and…”
“No, Mr. Toad,” said Marley pointing at the seven flying carpets whose occupants could now be identified. “It’s the Seven…”
“Gem mining engineers,” said Mole wanting to spare Marley more embarrassment.
The seven flying carpets landed in front of Marley and their seven pilots stood up. Marley noted that the seven all stood as tall as her friends and concluded that it probably wouldn’t have been nice to call them anything but what they really were, seven odd looking humanoids dressed in dirty overalls and wearing hard hats each crowned with a lantern.
One of the mining engineers took a shy step forward, his face turned bright red and then he ran to hide behind the others. Next, another mining engineer stepped forward, yawned mightily, and, still standing, fell asleep.
“Oh, heavens to Loch Nessie,” said Badger. “This is going to take all day.” He pointed his walking stick at one of them and said, “You there, step forward – no, not you, you great grinning loon. The one with the glasses. Speak your peace, mon.”
“Uh-hem, we are delegated to invite all the Eastlanders – and especially you, Marley – to a grand summit of Bubble-Ball fans.”
“I see,” said Badger. “And where is this summit to be held?”
“On the grounds of the sultan’s palace. He’s hosting an all you can eat picnic lunch, but you have to bring your own food.”
“Typical of the great skinflint,” said Badger. “Tell the other Westlanders we’ll be there.”
As the entire crowd of Eastlanders surged west along the north bank of the canal. Marley kept her eyes on the sultan’s palace which had all throughout the match had fascinated her with its beautiful white towers each capped by gold turban. She was sure that the inside would be even more stunning in beauty. Though, she was a bit curious as to how everyone would cross the water of the canal to get to the peninsula that the palace and city sat upon.
“We’ll cross on the Bridge of Sighs,” said Mole. “I’d guessed that you’d be quite curious as to how we would cross the water, so I just went ahead and told you.”
“Are you talking about that giant bridge behind the palace?” asked Marley.
“Oh, no, lassie,” said Badger. “How could any of us climb up that sheer wall?”
“Anyway, that giant bridge was built by giants,” said Toad. “And we’ll have nothing to do with giants, thank you.”
“The mermaids will build us a bridge,” said Mole. “They’ll do it by sighing. They’re good at that.”
“Sighs?” Marley searched her brain for perhaps another meaning of sighs but couldn’t think of one and stopped trying when mermaid heads and shoulders popped up in the water separating them from the palace peninsula. The mermaids formed a line and began sighing. Wisps of mist floated up from their mouths and formed a bridge which looked like a rope bridge except instead of rope, thread had been used. The Eastlanders stampeded across.
“Hurry, Marley,” said Mole. “The mermaids can’t sigh for very long.”
“They’re very fickle,” said Ratty.
But Marley had let everyone rush past her onto the bridge. She was frozen in staring through the span of the giant bridge and to where lay the pretty forest and cottage of the seven mining engineers. She had fixed her eyes on an amazingly mesmerizing sight. Just above the forest towered a dazzling diamond, ruby, and emerald encrusted mountain. The mere sight of which forced her curious mind to mightily wonder – Why do men who own a mountain of jewels live in such a small cottage?
Meanwhile the bridge of sighs began unravelling in the middle and Pinocchio, who had rudely shoved his way past Marley, and would be the last to attempt a crossing, fell into the water. Fortunately, wood floats and he had, a few days ago, reverted to being solid wood (and his nose had grown more than a few inches – perhaps that had something to do with his return to woodiness). The Blue Fairy flew out and saved him from a severe case of wood rot by grabbing onto his stick like nose and plucking him out of the water. With great effort she flew him to the far shore. Immediately, the Blue Fairy collapsed on the ground, worn out and unable to move much less fly another heavy load much of anywhere.
Marley felt sad. Across the water, her friends excitedly waved and yelled. They pointed to something down the Grand Canal, just nearing the tip of the long and skinny island. She looked in that direction. First, she noticed a boat coming her way. Then, above the boat, she could see an approaching cloud of what looked like angry bees – if bees glowed in rainbow colors. No, not bees. Fairies! But then, on a second thinking-about-it, she began wondering if she might prefer a boat ride instead of being picked up by dozens and dozens of very tiny hands.
The fairies reached her first. They swarmed around her and tried to lift her into the air by this method and then that method. Some even tried to pick her up by her hair. She swatted them away. The fairies gave up and flew to the other side to join the picnic. Discontented, and a little disappointed not to be able to see the palace up close, Marley sighed. And was about to sigh again when out of the corner of her eye, the sight of the White Knight’s horse boat coming up the canal brightened her. She waved her arm hoping to attract the attention of the Knight who with vigorous effort was turning the two midship wheels around and around. Even so, he noticed Marley and steered his boat toward the shore on which Marley stood.
The bow of the boat touched land. Holding the reins of the bow’s horse’s head, the Knight attempted to hop onto the shore, but fell, full length of his body, on his face. Marley rushed over to help him up.
“I saw you wave at me with one arm. The recognized signal for requesting help is two arms waved overhead, you know. But I noticed a concerned look on your face, so I wheeled about anyway. How may I be of assistance?”
“I want to cross the canal, so I can visit the sultan’s palace.”
“Step aboard. As we cross the broad canal, I shall sing you a song.”
Seeing that the canal wasn’t all that wide and her voyage would be short, Marley feared any song would be long. Hoping to distract him from beginning to sing, she asked about the two wheels in the middle of the craft. “Do you turn those wheels to turn a propellor?”
“Oh no, no propellors on my boat. These wheels make the horse’s legs move.”
Marley looked over the side of the boat and saw two horse’s legs sticking straight down in the water. Somehow the wheels were making the legs swim the horse-boat through the water.
“That’s a very clever invention.”
“Yes, it is, isn’t it? It’s my own invention.”
As Marley looked about the boat, she noticed many odd devices here and there about the deck. She pointed to one made of a brass arm mounted on a plank of wood. It looked familiar. She pointed to it.
“Did you invent that?”
“Actually, yes. Its name is ‘türklopfer’, but it’s called a doorknocker. Would you like one of your own?”
The Knight reached into a bin and pulled out a türklopfer about the size of Marley’s thumbnail. She took it and raised its arm to let it fall and make a sound which it didn’t.
“I don’t hear anything.”
“Hmm, well, that model is specially made for dormice. They have very good hearing. Surely, you’ve heard of the expression, ‘As quiet as a dormouse’s doorknocker’?”
“No, but it sounds kind of like something I’d heard.”
They were getting close to the shore of the sultan’s palace. They could see the Eastlanders and Westlanders waving their arms and sometimes hopping from one foot to the other foot. The mixed-up sounds of angry shouts came across the water. Sometimes cookies and brownies could be seen arching through the air, thrown by both sides.
“Quite the commotion, over there, wouldn’t you say?”
“They’re having a summit to discuss how to referee Bubble-Ball.”
“Reminds me somewhat of glorious Agincourt – without the bloodletting, of course.”
“I wish they wouldn’t fight. I wish we could do something.”
“Describe to me exactly the nature of the problem, perhaps I’ll invent a solution.”
“I think the big problem is that when the fairies and pixies chase the ball underwater, nobody can see what they’re doing. Everybody thinks they’re breaking the rules.”
“Yes, I see,” said the Knight as he stroked his chin. “That would pose a problem. But there really must be a clever solution. Here, turn these wheels while I search around.”
Marley took his place between the two wheels, tried turning them, but hadn’t the strength to turn them even an inch. Looking up from a pile of various metal and wooden things, the Knight noticed how difficult if not downright impossible for her to turn the wheels. “Try turning just one wheel.”
This she was able to do, but in doing so the boat began turning to the right. The horse-boat’s left legs stroked through the water while its right legs just hung there.
“We’re going in circles!” she cried out.
“Quite alright for now. Continue our circular course. I think I’ve found just what is needed, just need to adjust it somewhat.”
Marley continued to turn the wheel and so the boat obediently continued to travel in a circle. Every once in a while, when the boat faced the palace, she could see the two sides still shouting and waving their arms. Less food was being thrown through the air, and she could see the reason why. Some of the storybook folks were catching the bits of food with their mouths.
“This should be just the thing.” He held up the device for Marley to admire. In his outstretched hands he held a long box almost as tall as Marley.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“By name, it is a beobachten.”
“Yes. You say that very well. Not every child can speak the language of science.”
“How does it work?”
“Easy as pie.” He took it to the side of the boat and stuck one end of it into the water. “It allows you to see underwater. Come over here and take a look.”
Marley let go of the wheel, the horse-boat legs stopping swimming, and the boat steered straight ahead where a nice soft sandy beach awaited their landing. She looked into one end of the box. What she saw amazed her! She was looking underwater clear as day. And the proof was she could see a smiling fish looking back at her. The fish gave her a thumbs-up, which was a little odd, because how could the fish have known just how useful the White Knight’s invention would be to the game of Bubble-Ball? On the other hand, maybe all the fish who lived underwater already knew all about the cheating done by fairies and pixies while submerged. That sort of poor sportsmanship probably made the fish very sad.
With the boat firmly grounded on the sultan’s beach, they hopped off and went running up to the still angry and arguing storybook folks. The Knight held his beobachten over his head. Marley waved her arms over her head. She yelled for everyone to listen. The shouting continued so she screamed, “Be quiet or you will all get a timeout!”
Every storybook folk shut his or her mouth. They turned to look at Marley and especially at the rather ordinary looking box that the Knight held over his head so proudly. Many of them wanted to mutter, “So, he’s got a box. What’s the big deal?” But the stern look on Marley’s face made them keep their mouths shut.
“The White Knight invented something that lets you see underwater!” shouted Marley. “Come take a look!”
The crowd followed Marley and the Knight down to the docks. After it had been placed with one end in the water, the sultan peered inside and then jerked his head back. He smiled broadly at everyone lined up behind him. “It works! Now our refs can referee the underwater shenanigans of the fairies.”
“You mean call the pixies for fouls,” growled Badger. But he lost his grumpiness when he viewed the thumbs-up fish. Next came Aladdin, and after that Ratty, and after that, Prince Charming, and after that… Marley looked all along the line which stretched back and forth along the shore then around the palace. She said to herself, “That has to be the longest line ever in Storybook Land. Why, it’s probably even the longest line ever seen in…”
“Wait a minute,” said Toad who had just finished his turn. “We’re going to need more than one.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” said the Knight. “They are not complex in the creating. The sultan’s workshops could easily make a half a hundred an hour. The spectators can line the canal banks with them.”
“Three chairs for the White Knight!” shouted the king of that place the Snow Queen came from.
“Excellent idea,” said the sultan. “I’ll just go up to the palace and fetch him three chairs.”
“I’ll do the same,” said the King of Elsewhere in the east.
“Shouldn’t that be ‘three cheers for the Professor’?” asked Marley.
“Now, child,” said Mole. “What would you rather have as a reward? Three cheers or three chairs?”
By the time the last of the folk had taken their turn, the Knight, aided by some of the sultan’s best lens grinders, had managed to build about half a hundred beobachten. These were taken to the two sides of the canal and set up all along the course. Shortly thereafter, both sides were almost ready to resume the best game in all the world. They just needed some refs. So, everyone waited for the pigs to come out of their brick house. Smoke curled out of the brick house’s chimney, so they knew the pigs to be still at home. After a short period of polite waiting, and after the grumbling of the crowd started to get loud, Toad said to Marley, “Come on. Let’s row out to Pig Island and see what’s the holdup.”
Joined by Mole the three rowed out to the island, walked up the brick cottage’s walkway, and using the door’s doorknocker, announced their presence. No pig came to answer the thud. Toad repeatedly banged the doorknocker as he shouted, “Come on out here, pigs! We know you’re in there!”
A barely understood pig voice answered. Mole, who had his ear pressed against the door, reported, “One of them said no, and then some nonsense words sounding like something chinny-chin-something. And then, all three together said… we quit. I definitely heard that last bit.”
“Oh,” said Toad.
“Does this mean the game can’t go on?” asked Marley.
“I guess maybe it does,” said Mole. “Well, come on, we better tell the others.”
First, they rowed by the side of the canal with the Westland fans. They told them the news. Leaving that bank of fans to puzzle and think about it, they then rowed over to the Eastland fans.
“That’s a fine how-do-you-do,” said Ratty.
Mole and Toad sat on the ground, their heads hung between their knees. Marley felt so bad for them she stood behind them and patted them on their heads. They each said, “Thank you, dear child.”
Badger raised his cane and waved it at the heavens. With his eyes squeezed shut, he shouted at the clouds overhead, “Will we ever finish a game? Is there no one up there to take pity on us?”
Marley looked up. She saw them first, then Badger did. Then everyone was staring at what was descending from the clouds above – baby pigs with wings, and each one wearing a striped shirt on the back of which was written the word, ‘ref’. There must have been about half a hundred of them approaching. They split into two groups. One group landed on the other side of the canal, and one group landed on the Eastland side. Each of the winged pigs took up a position at a beobachten.
“We’re saved!” shouted an Eastlander. “The flying pigs have saved us!”
“Well, I can see that. It’s perfectly apparent,” said someone close behind Marley and her friends.
“What did he say?” asked Geppetto. “What are they called?”
“A parent,” said Pinocchio who having ears made of wood couldn’t hear much better than his foster father.
“A parent!” shouted an Eastland fan. “We’ve been saved by the parents!”
Soon everyone, on both sides of the canal, was shouting, “Thank the heavens above for the parents.”
The fairies and pixies came out from the nail and wing salons where they liked to lounge during breaks in the game. They lined up. The ball of light floated out of the water and into the air. The game was on! The action was fast, but the winged pigs kept a close watch on the play. Sometimes they called out a pixie or fairy for a violation. When a fairy was called out, the Eastland fans would boo the refs, but the Westland fans would chant back, “Obey your parents!” When it was a pixie called for a foul, the Westland fans would boo and the Eastlanders chanted, “Obey your parents”.
However, sadly enough, having good refereeing didn’t seem to improve the sportsmanship of the fairies or the pixies. Soon, all Marley could hear, from both sides of the canal, was continuous shouting of, “Obey your parents!” Then the shouts became one voice in her head and she woke up in the arms of her mother.
Ken and Jamie, who had been closely following Marley’s adventures in Storybook Land, glowed with satisfaction at seeing Marley reunited with her parents.
“That was a wonderful ending to Marley’s dream,” said Ken. “I especially enjoyed being Mole.”
“Oh, you also inserted yourself into the adventure?” asked Jaime.
“Yes, I did and I noticed you said ‘also’. So what character were you, pray tell?”
“I prefer to keep it a secret,” replied Jamie. “But I will tell you this: It was one of your creations.”
“Ah. Was it Badger or Ratty or Toad?”
“That would be telling.”
“Fair enough, we’ll leave it as one of life’s charming mysteries,” said Ken and after a moment he asked, “Do you have any last words to seal the finish of our dream-tale?”
“It’s something Toad and Mole tried to say. It is from Saint Andrew’s gospel, words spoken by our Lord, Jesus, ‘Amen I say to you, unless you turn and become as little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.’”
“Is Jesus saying that we should all be like little children? Petulant as well as innocent? Selfish as well as sincere?”
Jamie shook his head. “No, it doesn’t mean we should be immature, not at all. It means we should be obedient to God as children should be obedient to their parents.”
“Oh, sorry. I misunderstood. I must’ve heard it read in church some Sunday or other, but I’ve never really thought about it. Though in my defense, in school, I didn’t read theology,” said Ken.
“And yet here you are.”
THE END OF THE FIRST STORY