The Magical Kingdom

Once upon a time there was a magical kingdom. Everyone in the kingdom was magical, but their powers were all mundane. For example, Mr. Brown had the magical ability to fish. This did not mean he was any good at it, or even that he liked it. He just had the power to hold a fishing rod dangling over a body of water. Although this ability was magical, in fact it was identical in efficaciousness to an ordinary person’s ability to hold a fishing rod over a body of water. Likewise, everyone in the kingdom had a special magical ability to do something just as well as everyone else could do it without magic.

One day, the captain of the King’s Gourd decided to do something about that. He was in actuality the captain of the king’s guard, but the king made a spelling mistake and tried to pass it off as deliberate, saying that the guard was, in point of fact, primarily in charge of protecting his gourd (he rapped his head with a knuckle at this point to indicate what figurative gourd he meant), although not to the exclusion of the rest of his person. The Gourd captain’s name was Sir Pethinor, and his magical ability was to breathe through his nose. He was glad of the ability, but thought that magical powers ought to be a bit more powerful. He began to study the dark arts during his lunch breaks. He had some limited success, learning how to breathe through his nose evilly, but it still left a bit to be desired. He decided a quest was in order. He put on his magical armor (which magically protected him from blows up to but not exceeding the force required to puncture or dent the metal) and took up his magical sword (which could only be removed from stones by the One True King, or anyone else) and set out on his quest.

He began by visiting the village of Tumpledon, which was where witches lived. He asked for Madame Grizoul, the most magical witch in the kingdom. A helpful lad helped him gladly and directed him to a large house on a hill near the center of town. Sir Pethinor tied up his magical horse and walked up the walk and knocked on the door.

“Enter!” came a voice from inside the house. He entered.

There was an old woman there, stirring a large pot. “Is that a magic cauldron?” asked the knight.

“Yes, it is! It magically holds liquids while they are heated!” she cackled.

The knight was disappointed. It didn’t sound like her magic was any better than his. He decided to ask anyway, since he was there already.

“I am looking for magic that is more powerful than the lack of magic,” he said.

The witch looked up from the cauldron. “I might know the secret to that, but if I did I couldn’t tell you. But I might say that your magic works very hard to stay ordinary. It wouldn’t do for it to make you worse at breathing through your nose than normal people, would it?”

“How did you know that was my power?” cried the knight, impressed.

“Silly fool, everyone can tell what others’ powers are just from looking at them!”

“What? No—”

“—thing’s easier, I know. Now, I’ve told you I can’t tell you, but I’ve told you enough anyway. Be off with you!”

The knight left her house, confused. She hadn’t made a lot of sense. But she did seem to be able to tell what others’ powers were, and that was definitely real, proper magic that actually did something extraordinary. Why did she think everyone could do it though? Maybe she was just crazy. He wondered if being crazy were the key.

He shook his head and begin riding home. Something still bothered him about what she had said. He was lost in thought trying to figure out what it was when he realized the bridge he was crossing was blocked. Two rough-looking men with halberds stood in the way, and he noticed that others were moving to surround him.

“What’s this? Out of my way! I am a royal knight of—”

“That’s enough talking. We ain’t here for talk, just your money. And your sword,” said one of the bandits.

Sir Pethinor said “Oh, you want my sword, do you? Well, I’m all too happy to oblige! Ha!” He drew his sword and began to lay about him with it. Unfortunately, the halberds gave the bandits better range and he soon felt himself yanked from the saddle by a hook. He yelped as he hit the ground and struggled to get up, but he was quickly disarmed. The bandits searched him and his packs as he indignantly protested. Finally, the bandit who had spoken before came and demanded that he remove his armor. It was the most valuable thing he had, and his father had given it to him. It was magical, but that particular feature didn’t increase its value.

“Never!” cried Sir Pethinor.

“We’ll throw you in the river in a minute, so it’s really just to save you from drowning. We’re not such bad types,” the bandit said with a smile. “And it is easier to remove knight armor if the wearer is cooperative, so let’s help each other out, eh?”

This isn’t good, thought Sir Pethinor. It’s drown or lose my most prized possession. If only my magical ability to breathe through my nose worked underwater. Why must magic be so useless?

He remembered the witch who had been able to see his ability. What had she done? She hadn’t seemed to know she couldn’t do it? Would that work? Maybe if he thought it would work, it would? He began trying to convince himself that his ability would work underwater.

“Well, it’s no skin off my nose!” said the bandit. “We’ll tie a rope around you and haul your armor back up when you’re done with it!” If you won’t let us remove it while you live, then we’ll see how recalcitrant your corpse will be!”

Sir Pethinor was briefly surprised that a ruffian knew such a big word, but then went back to thinking about how well his ability would work underwater. He began to believe it actually would, and so he smiled at the bandits as they tied a rope under his arms and began to push him off the bridge.

He splashed down into the water and sank like a stone. He hoped the armor wouldn’t rust. He’d have to give it a good oiling when he got back, since he could totally breathe through his nose magically and would, in fact, get back. He decided to give it a try.

Water rushed into his nose as he began to inhale, and he snorted it back out with the remaining air in his lungs. It wasn’t working! He hadn’t been able to fool himself. Did he need to be more convinced? But the witch had seemed like she knew she was fooling herself. She’d even interrupted him when he’d tried to correct her. She must have known what he was going to say.

Sir Pethinor suddenly realized the answer. The witch hadn’t been trying to fool herself into thinking it was normal to be able to see others’ abilities. She’d been fooling her magic! He needed to make sure his magic thought that breathing through the nose underwater worked for everyone and was normal. Except he was underwater and couldn’t talk. Oops, too late, thought Sir Pethinor as he began to lose the struggle not to pull more water into his lungs.

Then he felt himself moving upward, tugged by the rope under his arms. He gasped as he breached the surface, sucking in huge gulps of air. He heard laughter above him. “We decided to give you one more chance to give up your armor willingly! We won’t stab you when we get it off, we promise!”

“What care I for a dip in the river?” scoffed Sir Pethinor, only gasping a little now. “Everyone knows you can just breathe through your nose when you need air underwater! It was fun to hold my breath just now, but if you leave me under any longer I shall go ahead and breathe air through my nose down there, as anyone could!”

The bandits looked confused. “You think you can breathe underwater?” asked their leader incredulously. “Are you crazy? Don’t think we’ll let you go by pretending to be nuts. That’s the magistrate’s court you’re thinking of, not bandits. We just want money.”

“I’m perfectly sane,” declared Sir Pethinor. “Haven’t you ever tried it? You just breathe through your nose!”

“Ha! Then why do people drown then?”

“I supposed they must have been trying to breathe through their mouths at the time. Too bad they didn’t think to use their nose.”

The bandit leader gave him a strange look and then said, “Well, good luck with that!”

Sir Pethinor felt the rope go slack and he sunk back to the bottom of the river. OK, he thought. Let’s hope my magic doesn’t realize I was bluffing. He tentatively breathed in through his nose, and he found that he was inhaling air! I can’t believe it! It worked! He quickly wiped away his grin so his magic wouldn’t see his delight and get suspicious. He continued to breathe in and out through his nose as he wriggled out of the rope and began walking away. He walked down the riverbed until the shore was out of sight of the bridge and then walked up the bank.

“That was a bracing walk! I should do that more often. I have no idea why I haven’t done that before!” he said for his magic’s benefit, although he realized that he meant it. Walking underwater was pretty cool. He couldn’t tell anyone about it though; he had to keep his special ability secret so his magic wouldn’t catch on that it was a special ability. Oh well, he thought, at least I got away. And my mission was a success even if I’m the only one who knows. He began to walk home.

Night fell as he walked, and he began to make out a flickering light ahead. A campfire? He crept closer and saw that it was a campfire, with laughing people sitting around it. As he approached, they began to look familiar.

The bandits! He quickly dropped to his belly so they wouldn’t see him. He could see his horse tethered to a nearby tree. He thought about pretending to be his ghost, but decided that would be too risky. Better to wait until they go to sleep, he thought. But what then? He couldn’t leave them to be a scourge to travelers, but he didn’t want to sneak around slitting their throats either. That didn’t seem very nice. They had had the decency to give him a chance before drowning him, hadn’t they? If only the rest of the King’s Gourd were here to arrest them! Then he had an idea. He began to mumble to himself, too softly to be heard over the laughter around the fire.

The bandits were surprised when Sir Pethinor suddenly walked up to the circle. “A ghost!” cried one, scrambling away from the knight.

“Don’t be stupid” said the one who had spoken on the bridge, making Sir Pethinor glad he had decided not to try that gambit. “He must have made it to shore somehow. But he’d definitely a loony, to deliver himself to us again!”

“That’s not why I’m here,” said Sir Pethinor. “I’m here to arrest you in the name of the King’s Gourd!”

After a brief silence, the bandits laughed. “You ought to make sure you’re not off your own before you worry about the king’s!” cried one of them.

“I’m perfectly sane,” said Sir Pethinor. “I am not just any knight; I’m the captain of the Gourd! And judging from the moon’s position, right about now the rest of the Gourd is armed and in formation, ready for nightly inspection at the castle.”

The bandits looked a little lost. “Does he have a point or can we rob him again?” said one of the bandits.

Sir Pethinor smirked and said, “Not this time. Now it’s my turn to rob you! Only legally, so it’s actually confiscation of property, not robbery.” And with that he reached up to his face, covered his right nostril, and sniffed. Instantly, he was surrounded by his legion of guards. Sir Pethinor knew they were at least as surprised as the bandits, but through their armor visors it wouldn’t show if their expressions were anything near as humorous as those on the bandits’ faces.

“Drop your weapons, foul bandits!” he cried. The bandits were mostly still holding their dinners, but they dropped what they held and raised their hands in surrender. Sir Pethinor ordered his men to seize the bandits and their loot.

As they obeyed, the bandit leader looked around in disbelief. “What just happened?” he said to no one in particular.

“You don’t know?” Sir Pethinor smirked. “Don’t tell me you don’t know about how any Gourd captain can instantly summon all the other guards by inhaling sharply through his left nostril! Or, come to think of it, how he can also return to the castle with them, along with any confiscated goods and prisoners as they may have acquired, by repeating the process with the other nostril!” And before the incredulous bandit could argue, he covered his left nostril and brought them all back to the castle with a sniff. The bandit leader looked at Sir Pethinor’s nose with wonder.

He ordered the prisons readied for the prisoners, and said to the bandits, “Well, you are in a lot of trouble. But if you cooperate you may be given another chance at life by working off your debt to the kingdom.”

As a groom led his horse past, toward the stables, some dust from its flank tickled his nose. He felt for his handkerchief, but realized his armor was on over his pockets. He tried to hold back the sneeze, going “Aaaah, aaaaah—”. He looked around hurriedly to see if there was something nearby to use for a handkerchief, distracted from the bandit leader’s words. “…so if you think I’ll bow and scrape for you nobles—” The bandit broke off his words midsentence, his eyes widening in horror. “Wait! I was just kidding! I meant to say we surrender! We’ll work off our sentence! We’ll do what you want, just whatever you do, don’t sneeze!”

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The Bering Strait Bears and Too Much Ice

Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Cub, and Other Cub After the First One lived in a tree house in Siberia. One day, it was the ice age so it was too cold for trees in Siberia, so their house died. They decided to move to America, Land of Opportunity™. They didn’t know what opportunities is was a land of, but they decided that it probably had the opportunity to not live in a frozen dead tree in Siberia.

Papa Bear made a sled and Mama Bear packed their things. The cubs had a learning experience about responsibility or health or something like that. Then they were ready to go. Most of their possessions were loaded on the sled, although there wasn’t room for all their cheese.

They set out, heading northeast towards the Bering Strait, which was the most convenient way to travel from Russia to America, although there were signs warning of closures due to being underwater. Papa Bear sighed, mumbling something about how sea levels weren’t what they used to be. They continued on, crossing the land bridge and arriving in Alaska. Then they kept going until they got to California.

In California, they settled in the Salinas Valley, because that’s where great Californian novels are written and they wanted this to be a good book. They had a farm and found a new tree and it was all very meaningful and thematic. They named their new home “Pulitzer” with this book in mind, and began to till the soil. They decided to give their cubs real names and called them Aang and Cable. They chose these names because one was the avatar, and the other set up high-speed internet in their tree house.

They lived there in California, until they died, and then stopped.

The End

The Old Man and the Ocean

An Original Story

The fisherman went out on his boat one morning. He wanted to catch fish. He brought his fish catching apparatus and bread. He caught fish with the apparatus and then put the fish in the bread and sold fish sandwiches to the other fishermen. They were happy that they didn’t have to catch their own fish until they ran out of money. Then they went fishing and got money. Through the sale of fish, not straight from the ocean.

One day, Bob, one of the other fishermen, decided he had had enough. Quite enough. He rolled up his sleeves, and then changed into a short-sleeved shirt because that was annoying. Then he went to meet his destiny.

Meanwhile, Bob’s destiny was walking along. His destiny was a girl that he was going to marry, but I won’t talk about that here; spoilers. Her name was Jill. She met Bob and they got married, after a sufficient courtship.

But let’s return to our hero. He is a great hero, even though he is only a fisherman (not that that isn’t a great carrier) and an old man to boot. Not that you should boot him, he might fall out of his boat. And he only sells fish sandwiches, which he may or may not clean the fish of. I didn’t say. I remember this tale from when I was a kid. I am the narrator.

But anyway, the old fisherman. He was the hero, yet he did nothing heroic. He thought about settling for being a protagonist, but I told him that I would be a narrator, and that he shouldn’t sell himself short. I told him he was the hero of the story, so he had jolly well better hop to.

That was when he began to be a hero.

Chapter 2

It started simple. I agreed to help him be the hero. I agreed to be the villain so he could be the hero. I went up to Bob and Jill and pushed Bob in the water. The old fisherman jumped in and saved him. That was heroic. I got in trouble, but it was worth it, because now he is a hero.

The next event was when a dragon landed on the village and started to terrorize the populace. I didn’t need to help the old man to be the hero because he was autonomous, like great heroes are. He swung to the rescue from the mast of his ship, and kicked the dragon, and threw one of the sandwiches of which the fish had not been properly cleaned down its throat, which grossed it out. It left and did not return for at least 40 minutes. That was a great victory.

In the new village, he began being a hero again. The old fisherman, not the dragon. The dragon was a right old jerkface right up until the end. But I won’t spoil that either. The old man crashed his boat into him though, it was pretty sweet.

Meanwhile, the old man defeated the enemies and saved the day. We wished he had saved the village instead, but the day was good too.

In the next village, we had a strict “no enemies” policy. Unfortunately, the enemies didn’t respect that, so we decided that we were the enemies of our enemies. We had to leave the town.

In the next town, we declared a malleable “no enemies” policy, where we could bend the rules and not leave our homes. The old man was still there. With us. The village was a new one though. He was heroic, let me tell you.

Then one day I decided to go for a walk. I walked up into the hills, and smelled the flowers and sunshine and trees. It was very beautiful. It made me think. I thought it was time for lunch. I went home.

Once upon a time, I think, is a good way to start a story. This is not the beginning, but like the wind in Wheel of Time books, it is a beginning. So I can say that.

Once upon a time, the old fisherman decided to sail out to catch fish and return home to sell them. It was a good plan. He did it every day.

A story from yesteryear

George and the Dragon

By Brentus, circa 2009 at 2 AM

George was walking home from college one day. He saw a dragon. He looked to see if it had captured any princi (which, as everyone knows, is plural for princess). However, there were none to be seen.

“Now look here,” said George, “How the deuce can I rescue a princess if you haven’t captured any? Dragons these days don’t lift a claw to work. Do you expect the populace to terrorize itself? And how can I save a princess if there’s no dragon to save her from. I’ll never get married like this.”

“But I like princesses,” said the dragon, who had not been to school and was thus ignorant of proper pluralization, which is a word. “I wouldn’t want to bother them.”

“My dear boy,” said George, “I’m sure they don’t mind. Go ahead.”

“If they don’t mind, then why would you need to rescue them?”

“Well, they would mind, see, if I wasn’t going to rescue them. But I am. So they will understand that it is a necessary prerequisite to getting saved by a handsome prince, like me.”

The dragon looked pensive, because he was. “I must be missing something here, because that actually made sense, and I am pretty sure it shouldn’t have.”

Writing Excuses 5.6 prompt


Those of you who have been faithfully following this blog, if existent, would remember that I said I would post things I write, other than just blog entries. So I will use this place to do the weekly writing prompts given in the excellent podcast, Writing Excuses. These stories are just quick practices, and will not be particularly good as I will speed-write them. This week’s prompt is: “Two critics who reviewed Dan Wells’ book and who had completely opposite reactions actually read two different books…”. Allons-y!

The Book Identity

By Brentus

Mr. Fiend checked his watch for the third time and cursed. It was not a real curse, since Mr. Fiend was just a codename, and in any case, real fiends are more creative with their last names. He was running out of patience. The truck should have been here twenty minutes ago. He casually leaned against a street sign which gave the names of two streets at this T-intersection of the quiet suburban neighborhood. He hoped it wouldn’t rain, but the clouds looked threatening. It was harder to look casual standing around in the rain. The street was deserted at this time of day, with all the children at school and the adults working or staying inside. He was just beginning to realize that leaning against a street sign for no reason didn’t really look all that casual anyway when he heard the rumble of the truck coming up the hill. He started to walk slowly to the house where he knew it would stop, assuming Mr. Demon hadn’t messed up the address again. Mr. Fiend wished there was a less awkward way of secretly sending packages than slipping them into delivery trucks while the driver was not looking, but their secret evil organization, EVIL, had limited resources and could not risk sending packages registered in the computer system or deliver them with EVIL personnel. But they had found that long-range trucks would sometimes make stops on their way out of the city if there was a delivery close enough to the route, so they would order packages sent to people living there so they could secretly stash their parcels in the truck as it left town. A similar method was used to retrieve them at the other end.

The driver got out of the truck, found the package, and walked up towards the door. Mr. Fiend dashed over to the truck, placed the package in the usual place, and then sauntered away as the truck driver finished getting a signature. His work here was done. The rest was up to the receiver, Mr. Monster.


 

Mr. Monster checked his watch for the third time and cursed. He wasn’t any better at it than Mr. Fiend, but he was just as impatient. It was raining hard and his shoes were soggy. Soggy shoes were not in the EVIL pamphlet. “See the world!” It said. “And then rule it!” Well, when he was in charge, soggy shoes would be a thing of the past. He just wished they weren’t such a noticeable part of the present.

Headlights suddenly sprung up through the rain. The truck came to a stop, but one house down from where he had expected. Oh well, he could still walk quickly and make it in time. As the driver headed up the walkway, Mr. Monster dashed through the rain to the truck. He cursed again when he saw the package was not where it was supposed to be. But then he saw a package labeled “Mr. Monster ARC” in the middle of the truck. It must have shifted during the drive. Mr. Monster ducked around the truck just before the driver headed back up the walk.


 

Mr. Monster sloshed in through the double doors of the local branch of EVIL. He nodded to the secretary, and hurried past to his desk. Finally, they would have the documents necessary to gain access to the FBI databases. He tore open the box, wondering what Mr. Fiend had meant by “ARC”. He was impressed by the disguise. Usually Mr. Fiend sent him a book with papers sloppily glued onto the pages. But this one looked like it had been printed just for him. He began to read. It appeared to be in code too, as it cleverly disguised itself as a young adult fiction novel. He began to worry that the code might not be easy to break. But he was enjoying the story.


 

John Smith’s scathing review of Dan Wells’ new novel appeared on his blog the following day. It was the worst review by far that it had received. While Bob Jones had given the book a glowing recommendation, praising the clear prose and quick-moving plot, Smith’s review was very different. It read:

“I hate to say it, but the much-anticipated sequel to I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells is a total flop. I began to worry before I even opened the book, since the publisher didn’t even care enough to give it a real cover. They only scrawled the title of the book, Mr. Monster, on the shipping box. In fact, they didn’t even print the book, they pasted the pages over the text of an existing book! I receive many advance review copies of books and never before have I seen such shoddy publishing. Unfortunately, that was one of the best parts of the “novel” (my apologies to the word). I would say that the plot failed to provide a compelling story, but there just wasn’t one. And not only is there a lack of character development in the protagonist, but there is a complete lack of the character himself! Instead, Wells ignores the plot, characters, setting, premise, and genre of the first book and just gives us a bunch of secret FBI codes! The only mention of a villain is an address on one page of something called EVIL. This book is a disgrace. Let us hope that the third and final book gets the series back on track, since the first book left me wanting more. More story, not FBI codes.”


 

Shortly thereafter, the members of EVIL were arrested by the FBI on charges of conspiracy. The bureau rewarded the critic for his help in uncovering the plot by giving him an actual copy of Mr. Monster.