By Andrew Goldfarb
“Get up!” the fiery orb yelled, as she did every day, sending flaming embers in the general direction of Slub Glub’s blue, globular body.
Slub Glub raised one of his two tentacles to cover his ear holes, ignoring the star’s hysterical screaming. In response, the Sun wound up one of its thousand angry fists and pitched a blazing comet down, setting Slub Glub’s tail on fire.
With a murmur of discontent, Slub Glub rolled over onto his belly, sniffing the acrid smoke that was now coming from his bottom. Emerging unwillingly from behind the veil of sleep, he opened his lazy yellow eyes and saw that he was on fire.
With a snort from his dangling trunk he briefly roused his bulbous head in alarm, but his yelp became a yawn, and Slub Glub decided to ignore his flaming tail and attempted to go back to sleep, burying his face in one tentacle and hoping to get a fresh start under better (and less fiery) circumstances a few hours later, or even the next day.
However, within moments his repose was again disturbed, this time by a violent pecking against where his belly button would have been, if he had had one.
A muffled “Squawk” emerged from the same region, and then with a concerted effort, the family of birds who had been uncomfortably squished beneath Slub Glub’s flabby, flatulent body managed to forcibly eject him from their nest.
Apparently he had been using their home as a bed, and was very much an uninvited guest.
Landing on a mound of dirt, Slub Glub was forced to greet the new day, and found himself eye to eye with an earthworm.
“Hmmph. Watch where you flop there, fatty,” said the disagreeable worm.
“It’s not my fault. I’ve been evicted,” said Slub Glub, getting up and dusting himself off, rubbing his lumpy torso with his two tentacles. “There’s a housing crisis, you know.”
“I wouldn’t know,” the unpleasant worm replied, burrowing back into his mound of dirt.
Slub Glub sat alone for a few minutes, until a distinct rumbling in his belly disturbed the silence.
Suddenly hungry, he poked his head into the earthworm’s mound of dirt and felt around for the nasty little grub with his tongue.
Successful, he swallowed the earthworm, only to find that the earthworm is aptly named in that he does indeed taste like earth, and not good earth at that.
“Let me out,” the undigested worm yelled from inside Slub Glub’s mouth, pounding his forehead against a cheek. Slub Glub obligingly spit him out back onto the ground.
“That was rude,” said the worm.
“Look who’s talking!”
“If you’re hungry, why don’t you go down the hill and find yourself some coconuts,” the worm said with finality, diving back down his hole in the ground, this time taking care to plug the opening behind him.
“Coconuts?” mused Slub Glub, who wasn’t sure what those were but liked cocoa and liked nuts, and figured the combination of the two would be a good way to turn the day around.
He raised himself onto his two floppy blue feet and began to waddle earnestly downhill, commencing a journey that would take him through the forest, to the bottom of the deepest sea, into the farthest regions of space, then face to face with The Cosmic Powers That Be, and eventually to another world entirely, all before dinner-time.
The coconut fell directly down onto Slub Glub’s soft noggin, but luckily for him his head has four knob-like protuberances jutting out on top, which proved perfect for the catching of a falling coconut, thereby protecting Slub Glub from a brain-crushing blow.
He grabbed the fruit from atop his head and stuffed it into his mouth, gnashing his four yellow teeth in an attempt to chew through the fruit’s brown furry shell.
Then, for the second time that morning, he experienced a searing pain in his rear end.
Wriggling around to take a better look, Slub Glub was dismayed to find that a shark was attached to his tail.
Its many pointy teeth were deeply immersed in Slub Glub’s dangling prehensile appendage.
“That’s curious, I didn’t know you fishy types got all the way out here,” Slub Glub remarked to the shark that was trying to eat him.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” the shark retorted.
“I mean, I thought you stayed in the water mostly.”
“I am in the water,” said the shark, and Slub Glub saw that this was so – he was up to his tentacles in murky, muddy fluid, which extended for as far as he could see.
“How did this happen?” asked Slub Glub, expecting the shark to have all the answers.
“Danged if I know. Global warming, maybe.” The shark spit out Slub Glub’s tail with a grimace. “You taste terrible,” he said, swimming away.
Not being much of a swimmer himself, Slub Glub wrapped his tentacles around the coconut tree and inched his way upward. Once at the top, he peered out at the swampified forest, trying to figure out how it got so wet all of a sudden.
A group of about a dozen were clustered together, swaying back and forth and emitting piteous wails, their plumes of cascading branches shuddering as they shed great gobs of teardrops from their green leaves.
Slub Glub climbed down from his coconut perch and swam downstream to where the willows were gathered.
“My dear trees, you’ve got to stop this sobbing,” Slub Glub implored the inconsolable willows.
“Whaaaugh,” was their reply, as they continued blubbering.
“Why on earth are you so upset? Your crying is making a flood and we’re all getting much wetter than we’d care to.”
“We’re going bald,” replied the tallest of the trees.
Slub Glub looked up. “You seem to have plenty of leaves up there.”
“No, they’re all being eaten,” the tree replied, and with that the other willows began weeping and wailing even louder.
“Look,” he said, holding out one of his branches, which indeed seemed to have been the victim of recent nibbling; a number of the leaves had noticeable bite marks, and the end of the branch seemed to have been chewed to a nub.
“Ah, I know what that’s like. A shark was trying to eat me just a moment ago… Which is why we can’t have this many tears, you’ve upset the whole forest here, we’re awash in your misery and we’re not used to such streams of sadness puddling up our grasses.”
“Don’t blame us, blame those bark-biting thieves in black masks that come around every night,” said the weeping willow, his foliage drooping in forsaken fashion.
“Furry thieves on four legs! That’s who’s making us cry,” one of the willow trees moaned, and the other tress joined in with more piteous wailing. The youngest female willow tree screamed especially loudly.
“There’s one still in my hair,” she yelled, shaking her willowy branches furiously, flinging a sinister-looking raccoon to the ground.
The other trees recoiled in fear.
The raccoon, still munching on a leaf from the tree, hissed menacingly at Slub Glub and the petrified tress, then bounded off into the distance.
“Alas! These fuzzy demons will be the death of us! Without our glorious foliage, we will die of naked shame!” the tallest willow wailed, tears once again raining down onto the swampy soil.
“Stop!” Slub Glub cried, fearing that a renewed outburst of crying would carry him out to sea. “Dry your sappy tear ducts, I will follow this crooked creature to his lair, and convince he and his gang to cease feeding on your fragile foliage.”
“I’ll come with you,” said the young tree who had flung out the raccoon.
“Good idea,” said Slub Glub, extending a tentacle. “Slub Glub is the name.”
“I’m Willowmina. Pleased to meet you,” the tree replied, and with one of her branches shook Slub Glub’s tentacle.
She bade goodbye to her fellow weeping willows in the grove and then the two of them traipsed down the soggy hill and into the shadows beyond.
“There’s those blasted bandits,” Willowmina spat, pointing one branch towards a hollow log, from which a couple of bushy tails poked out. Slub Glub stuck his long, curly nose inside and snorted loudly.
“Hey! We’re sleeping in here!” grumbled one of the raccoons from inside the log.
“Hmmmph,” Willowmina muttered, rolling the log over with one of her root-feet. Three raccoons tumbled out of the hollow tree-trunk.
“What’s the big idea?” one of them asked, looking up to the willow tree and then over at Slub Glub.
Willowmina adopted a chiding tone. “Oh, so it’s okay for you to hang out in our hair all night chewing on our leaves, but as soon as we disturb your beauty rest, then heaven help us.”
The raccoons fell silent; surprise and then embarrassment registered on their faces. The black masks around their eyes made them look even guiltier.
“Oooh, right, about that. Um… You’re one of those willow trees from up the hill?” one of the raccoons asked.
“Yes, and my whole family is up there weeping wildly, their foliage falling out from all your rustling! Why can’t you spend the night down here in these hollow logs, instead of bothering us?”
The three raccoons looked at each other and then back at Willowmina. Slub Glub, meanwhile, had gotten his nose stuck inside the log and was struggling futilely to free himself. “We’re sorry,” the raccoons said in unison, and then the largest among them continued, “but it’s not our fault. We only climb on you and the other willow tress to get away from the evil grinning devils, who laugh at us in cruel mockery. And then while we’re up in your branches hiding from them, we get awful hungry and there’s nothing to eat but your leaves.”
Willowmina stared at the raccoons, unsure how to react. Slub Glub had finally gotten his nose free and he approached the group. “Devils? What devils” he asked.
“Hyena devils!” the raccoons shuddered together.
Willowmina put one of her branches to her head, and with great exasperation, said, “Hyenas. Fine. If we can get them to stop laughing at you and calling you names, will you then quit climbing up our trunks at night and chewing on us?” The three raccoons nodded eagerly. “Okay, then. Where are these hyenas at?”
“They only come out at night.”
In short order a decision was reached, that Willowmina and Slub Glub would stay with the raccoons into the evening, until the hyenas came around. Slub Glub, who still felt that he had been cheated out of his slumber by the rising sun, climbed back into the hollow log with the raccoons and began snoring loudly. Willowmina sat down next to them, folding her branches together and drooping her fragrant foliage onto the boggy earth.
Hours slithered slowly past, until finally the big angry sun in the sky descended, flailing his thousand arms as the world dipped once more into darkness. Then soon after, the silence of the forest was pierced with a chorus of cackling laughter. Hearing the hysterical hyenas in the distance, the raccoons awoke with a start. Slub Glub crawled out of the log, and instantly wished that he hadn’t.
Streaming out of the darkness came a dozen spotted hyenas, their toothy maws twisted into great clownish grimaces. With a bear-like gait they approached, and one of the sleek, fanged creatures learned towards Slub Glub, making an awful kind of laughing sound in his direction.
“Bwah-ha-ha!” the hyena taunted.
Slub Glub couldn’t take such abuse, and he climbed up Willowmina’s trunk to get away from the nasty animal. Willowmina, being significantly taller, had a different perspective. From where she stood she could see that the hyenas, all twelve of them, were not alone – on the back of each was a witch, and each witch was carrying a torch.
With a long sweeping swipe from her biggest branch, Willowmina knocked the twelve witches off their hyenas, and the horrid hags fell down onto the ground.
“A pox on you!” cackled one of the witches. Her green nose was spotted with warts, and a pointed black hat covered her stringy grey hair. She and her coven of eleven other sorceresses were rubbing their bottoms and moaning, still smarting from being smacked down. The hyenas, having now had their wicked riders removed, became calm and docile and stared blankly into space. Seeing that the situation was now under control, Slub Glub and the three raccoons came down from their hiding place among Willowmina’s branches.
“I thought you witchy women all rode on broomsticks,” Slub Glub commented.
“I’ll turn you into a toad!” cackled the hag. “By the dust of mummies and the crust in tummies, with fang and claw and tooth and awe, I call down thunder and cast you under, a spell to render you a frog, you hog!” The witch waved her torch aloft with great dramatic intent, but the fire on it had gone out, which apparently diminished her hex-casting techniques. “Um, just a moment,” she muttered embarrassedly, and she reached over to one of the hyenas’ hindquarters.
Slub Glub discreetly moved away from the witch and sidled up to one of the hyenas, who was sitting somewhat distant from the rest of the group. “Hyena, tell me, what is that crazy crone doing?”
“Oh, she’s getting some butter from under that hyena. These witches have been using our butter to light their torches.”
“I didn’t know hyenas made butter. Are you related to cows?”
“No, any creature can make butter if they try hard enough. We use it to mark our territory, or at least we did, until these loathsome ladies started stealing it all from us. Then they light their torches and ride around on top of us all night, using their fiendish sorcery to make us hysterical and mean.”
“Why would they want to do that?”
“You’d have to ask them.”
Slub Glub came back to the coven of witches, who had now gathered around Willowmina and were trying to set fire to her with their torches, which had somehow been relit with the hyena butter. Willowmina blew the torches out by waving her branches around, which had the beneficial side effect of knocking the witches down again. Slub Glub walked over to the witch that had tried to turn him into a toad.
“Tell me, mystic lady, why are you riding around on these hyenas, and why are you hypnotizing them into laughing at everyone?”
“Goblin! I’ll banish you to the nether realms!” was her reply, and she pulled a gnarled old wooden wand from inside her natty dress. Waving it wildly towards Slub Glub, she recited this incantation:
Oh putridious fumescense and mottled bottles,
I doom your bones to dry rot and potholes!
The night is a mouth that will swallow you whole
Leaving you shiftless and fruitless in bowl.
Lichen and fungus will grow on your surface
Good riddance to you, oh blue shaded bug face~
Slub Glub liked the poem, and did a bit of a jig while she was reciting it, but didn’t feel particularly banished, and was starting to lose interest in the situation when the hyena that he had been talking to earlier spoke up.
“I think the reason they’re riding us around at night and having us make such a ruckus is that they’re trying to scare away the ghosts,”
“Oh, that makes sense,” Slub Glub replied.
The witch was still trying to cast a spell on Slub Glub. “With my fourth eye I espy your feet festooned with flies!”
“Be careful, Lumprella, remember what happened last time,” said a second witch, gesturing for the head hag Lumprella, the queen of the cackling crones, to stop her hoodoo-ing.
“What happened last time?” Slub Glub asked. The witches glanced at each other, but were mum on the subject. Then one of the hyenas ventured forth.
“They think their witchery has raised the spirits of the dead, and now phantoms are following them, seeking revenge for the disturbance of their rest,” the hyena said
“I know how they feel,” Slub Glub replied.
Lumprella broke down into confessional crowing. “It’s true! Our incantations have awakened the restless souls of the deceased! Our spells are too strong! Our hexes are too effective! Too black in their blackedness and magical in their magicality! The doorways of the doomed have flung open and hideous apparitions from beyond the grave now haunt our waking moments… Soon they will catch up to us and drag us back to their bleak and barren land! That is why we must light our torches with butter from hyena bottoms and ride these creatures though the woods, their hyena mockery reverberating through the shrubbery as we mesmerize their mammal minds, manipulating their mandibles to laugh at all in the night. What else can we do? What else can prevent these ghosts from feeding upon our bones and boiling us in our own brewed stew?”
Willowmina pondered this explanation a moment, and then commented back that this all sounded very complicated and perhaps these ghosts that they were running from were really just fireflies.
All the witches screamed and ran for the hills, and the hyenas and raccoons followed suit.
Slub Glub and Willowmina stared into the darkness, but didn’t see anything.
“Do you see anything?” asked Willowmina.
“No, but my ears do,” said Slub Glub, listening to the faint sound of drums in the distance, which were playing a helter-skelter rhythm.
Slub Glub began to dance. Willowmina put her branches to the ground to better pick up the vibrations, and as the strange beat got louder she started to shake, her leaves fluttering in the yellow moonlight.
Then the first apparition appeared.
A disheveled man in a striped shirt appeared, dragging his limbs behind him. He was semi-translucent, emitting a faint greenish glow.
The weeds and rocks were visible through his pale torso. He wore a cap and one eyeball was dangling from his head. It looked like it had been a long time since he was alive.
“Wuuuuuuugh,” he moaned, approaching Slub Glub and Willowmina, who stopped moving and stared back at him and his drooping orb.
“Let me get that for you,” Willowmina said, poking his eyeball back into its socket with one of her branches.
Instead of being grateful, the phantom became irate, flailing his ghostly arms and emitting a mournful howl.
“Well, never mind then,” Willowmina said.
The striped once-was-a-man looked back towards the darkness, and soon a whole motley crew of broken-down specters appeared, all in various states of decay, and all of a see-through green composition.
They muttered and shambled, dragging their bones behind them, slowly scraping past Willowmina and Slub Glub.
“Hey, the witches went the other way,” Willowmina called after the last of the crusty derelicts.
“Witches?” said the shadowy man, seemingly confused.
“Aren’t you chasing after the witches who conjured you from your graves with their spells?”
“No, we’re not after any witches, we’re just going where the Baron tells us to,” he answered, and shuffled on.
Slub Glub and Willowmina stared at each other. “The Baron?” they both repeated aloud, wondering …
A glowing red ember slowly radiated outwards, attached to a cigar being smoked by a tall man in a top hat.
His face was painted a deathly white on top of his dark skin, an effect made even more morbid by a set of rib-bones that were tattooed on his torso, which was partially covered by a tattered tuxedo.
This formal attire was complimented by a large walking stick, which hissed at Slub Glub and Willowmina, as it was actually a snake.
The tails of his coat were adorned with feathers and a number of crosses and hearts scrawled in chalk.
A conga drum was at his side. Evidently it was he that had provided the ghostly rhythms that they heard earlier.
The Baron came up close to the willow tree and the little blue mutant.
“But I don’t know who you are,” he said with a large smile, revealing a few teeth made of gold and a few that were missing.
He stubbed out his cigar and put his head close to Willowmina’s trunk.
“But let me guess.” He breathed deeply, then stared deep into the willow tree’s foliage. “You, my dear girl, are a young sapling, of the powerful and wise weeping willow variety, who has recently encountered some friends of mine who have lost their way.”
Despite his jovial tone, Willowmina was scared of this unusual gentleman.
He then squatted down and inspected Slub Glub.
“And you, my little blue friend, are a thing that should not be; a creature born of chemical wastes and strange breeding.”
He took one of Slub Glub’s tentacles in his large hand, each finger of which was adorned with a ring, some of diamonds, some of tin.
“I am pleased to know you.”
His breath smelled of cemetery dust and fish, which Slub Glub found pleasant.
“Now tell me,” the Baron said, rising to his feet and addressing them both, “exactly what was it that you were saying to my men?”
“Now why would they be chasing after witches, and how is it your concern,” he slowly drawled, as he took a decanter and glass from inside his top hat and poured himself a drink. The liquid was a misty amber color, and small clouds seemed to gather above it. He stirred it with the tail of his snake.
Willowmina took a deep breath, and then replied, “There’s a coven of witches in this wood that believe that their spell-casting and hex-making and general witchery has somehow awakened the dead from their graves, and those restless dead are the ghosts who just passed by. The reason we care is that in order to keep these ghosts at bay, the witches have taken to riding on hyenas and hypnotizing the animals into laughing and shrieking, figuring that this would scare the ghosts away. The problem with that is that these hyena hysterics have had an unfortunate effect on the raccoon population; the raccoons become anxious and afraid, and take refuge in the branches of the weeping willow trees, such as myself, and while immersed in our green boughs they nibble on our leaves out of hunger.”
She waved a branch with tattered leaves in the Baron’s face to prove her point. The Baron took her branch in his hand and took a close look with his eye and a deep whiff with his nose, which was pierced with an iron ring turned red with rust. “Yes, I do see what you mean.”
Slub Glub tugged on the Baron’s pants-leg, eager to contribute his part of the story. “And then when the willows get all bitten, they start crying a great deal, which starts a great flood, reaching all the way to the ocean, and then sharks get carried in and start eating my tail when I’m trying to have breakfast.”
“I see,” mused the Baron thoughtfully.
To be continued.
Illustration & text copyright (c) Andrew Goldfarb