Figboot – Part Six

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Figboot took slow and ponderous steps.

It was a common trait among giants. Most lived long lives so there was no sense in rushing. And with strides the width of some men’s nations they could traverse a great deal of land in no great hurry. Added to which, a giant’s legs were tremendously heavy things which required a lot of work to lift, even at the steady rate of one at a time. Furthermore, much as the higher air was fresher and cooler it was also thinner and rapid movements grievously shortened his breath. Slow was the only speed he knew.

During his walks, he would often take rest breaks. To stand and marvel at the faster things. Birds darting and swooping about his knees, some daring to soar as high as his waist. Near the shore, he’d crouch and gaze into the water to watch the tiny fish nipping about. It was a miracle his eyes could catch them. They were too quick for his fingers.

As far as actual catching went, such creatures mostly trapped themselves – fish between his toes as he paddled and birds freely roosting and foraging in his boots when he’d stood still a while and flapping frantically away when he resumed his stroll. He often wondered if there were smaller animals in the world, too fast for the eye to see. He wondered what they might look like.

He might have asked other giants about such things. Other giants were shorter and of slighter build than him and so it made a kind of theoretical sense that they would have a closer acquaintance with smaller things. But Figboot had never had the opportunity to discuss matters small or large with other giants. In all his travels, they had always avoided him. Precisely because, Figboot suspected, they were shorter and slighter.

He didn’t know if he would call them giants, but for the fact that the few men he’d had chance to talk to assured him that, yes, they were indeed giants.

There were Forest and Steppe and Desert and Polar giants. There were giants for all terrains and climates the world had to offer, but some would fit in the palm of Figboot’s hand. If they didn’t run and hide whenever he saw one and waved one of his hands. Monolith giants would duck inside volcanoes and risk being red hot and misshapen rather than linger to greet him. Even Tectonic giants, those who closest approached Figboot in size, would not approach him in any other way. They would turn and lumber into the ocean and sink out of sight until sure he had passed by.

In Figboot’s vast experience, the smaller things were, the faster they moved. The bigger they were, the lonelier. Men gathered in towns. Elephants moved in herds. He had flicked one once with his finger, far from its family, but it had found its way back to them across the sea of grass. Other giants met sometimes in twos and threes, threes and fours. Figboots wandered the world in ones. In fact, a singular one.

Some days, Figboot felt sorrier than ever that he had slain the tortoise. The tortoise had been so large as to be thoroughly alone, just like him. They should have been company for one another.

An eagle flew past his chin.

Ah, eagles. So tiny and yet such magnificent birds, the only creatures to reach as high as him. Only company for a matter of moments, but Figboot appreciated them all the same.

He blinked and looked about him. How long had he been standing here, thinking? He didn’t know, since one of the many things he hadn’t been thinking about was the time.

He raised his right foot.

A flurry of motion burst from his boot.

Planting his foot back on the ground, he peered at it. It was so far away, but he fancied he saw a cloud of grey dust scattering down there, all around his boot. He bent over, peering intently at the tangle of trees. Over and around the toes the bark showed definite signs of wear. Extensive gnawing. Squirrels, he realised. A common menace to footwear.

He really had been standing here a while.

He searched his surroundings. And spied a close-knit shawl of trees on the shoulders of some hills perhaps three strides east. Figs too! His favourite kind. The wood was supple and malleable and the sap had a sweet odour, perfect for combating the occasional case of smelly feet. Time to attend to some basic shoe repairs.

He turned for the hills.

Home could wait. It wasn’t as though there was anyone waiting for him.

***

Siggy stood in a quandary.

The giant’s footfalls had fallen silent. Twenty, maybe even thirty minutes passed – and about a hundred times that many thoughts. A lot of them were the same, whizzing around his head in circles, and the majority came to nothing.

He thought of diving into the pile of bright bulbs, but didn’t trust them not to bury him. And who knew what magic energies they contained. Even assuming it wasn’t starlight within, there was no telling what harm it might do if, say, one of the onions, not to mix his vegetable metaphors, sprang a leak. Besides, what would he achieve by concealing himself?

Safety, maybe. But his mission here was to establish dialogue with the giant and he could hardly get up a conversation by secreting himself in the midst of the giant’s treasure.

Siggy walked as far as the cavern entrance and, lingering under its shadow, he looked outside.

There was Figboot, several miles away to the east. A towering towering figure making the low hills look like nothing greater than cobblestones, even as he was kneeling like a fellow, calm as you like, tying his shoe laces. Except the giant appeared to be stripping the hills of their trees. Plucking them up, one by one, between finger and thumb. Then applying them in some fashion to his boot.

Siggy peered as hard as he could but couldn’t make out the details of the giant’s operations even through the narrowest of squints.

Then he thought: if it’s a trouble for me to make out what he’s up to, well, consider what hardship he’ll have seeing you, Siggy. Casting back to when the giant had crawled from his cavern and loomed right there in the air above him, Siggy remembered feeling helpless, shaking under his net like a frightened boy besieged by bedtime shadows, but the giant had paid him the same notice as the surrounding blades of grass.

Hiding was not the problem.

His challenge was going to be attracting the giant’s attention.

Hmm.

Siggy pondered.

Figboot plucked up those trees like Siggy might pluck at his nose hairs. Siggy was no more than an insect to Figboot. Insects generally only attracted Siggy’s attention by crawling across his skin or, for example, ganging together to make anthills in his garden.

He stabbed his garden fork in the ground and leaned on it, thinking deep and hard.

An idea lit up in his head like one of those enormous magic onion bulbs.

He rushed out to the ground in front of the cavern entrance and started to dig.

 

 

[To Be Continued…]

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Figboot – Part Five

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Lights.

Bright lights.

Hundreds. Maybe more.

Counting them would have been like counting stars and although Siggy had taken a crack at that a few times out on the water when the fish were slow to fill his nets, well, he’d always had to give up before he got much past fifty three. Fifty three was quite a large number and after that the numbers only got bigger. And the bigger the numbers, the weightier they were and increasingly tiring to count. Back in his school days, if he was being completely honest, Siggy had even found it a bit of an ordeal to carry the one when doing his sums, so now he was grown-up he was quite happy to leave bigger numbers alone.

And these lights were not only large in number.

Heaped up against the back wall of the cavern, they were giant – wasn’t everything around here – onion-shaped bulbs. Kind of frosty off-white in colour, if white could be called a colour. Dear old Mar, rest her soul, always took care to keep whites and colours separate when doing the laundry in the sink so Siggy was rarely given to considering white a colour. And this white was an off-white. The sort of white that had decided against being too intense so as to allow the bright light behind it to shine through. Whatever material these onions were made of, their skins screened the illumination some and gave the light in the cavern that ghostly quality he’d first seen cresting the dark shape of Figboot’s slumbering form. Unobscured by sleeping giants it was brighter but still phantasmal.

Siggy imagined he could achieve a similar effect by shining a lantern through the tips of his fingernails. Assuming he let them grow a bit. The pink under his fingernails would surely be a lot pinker without the nails to mask it, so he could only guess at the sheer ferocity of light trapped within these bulbs.

Maybe – oh no! – maybe Figboot was tall enough to grab stars from the heavens and pull them down and store them up like a squirrel hoarding nuts for winter. Maybe – no! – maybe it had been one of these bulbs that had crashed down on Big Toe and set the district ablaze. Maybe it had been a falling star after all, dropped by a fumbling giant as he plucked it from the night sky, and maybe Siggy had mislead the Burgermeister with his information.

But it hadn’t looked like a star. And neither did these really. What they most resembled was onions. Huge onion lanterns with a little twist at the top. Little, that was, on the scale of the overall onion.

Siggy approached the heap of bulbs slowly. He lowered his net, thinking he wouldn’t need it against lights.

He wondered if this was the giant’s amassed hoard of treasure. He’d heard tales of dragons jealously guarding vast piles of treasure, often in great caverns. Generally, he questioned the mentality of creatures who treated their precious valuables so abominably.

If Siggy ever possessed any valuables he’d do better than to arrange them with all the tidiness of a haul of cod landed in the belly of his boat. Now, to be fair, dragons were said to have a lot of valuables and no doubt sorting them and finding somewhere to put each item would be very laborious but it was also said that dragons lived for hundreds of years so it wasn’t as if they lacked for time.

Siggy stood within arm’s reach of these strange treasures.

He prodded one with the prongs of his garden fork. These onions would seriously trounce Mr Tarwick’s prizest artichokes in the annual harvest fair. If there was ever a general vegetables category. Like laundry whites and colours, organisers of festivals tended to keep types of vegetables separate for the purposes of competition. Of course they’d happily bung them all in the same pot for a stew, but they never shared the same table come judging time.

Siggy prodded another.

It produced a solid clunk, like striking a stone when digging into dirt.

These onions were hard. Hard as nails.

Fingernails, he thought again.

He glanced at his hands. His nails were rough-edged and grubby, a splinter wedged under one or two of them from the oars – and now some rope-fibres, he noticed, from the net. But otherwise they shared a strikingly similar texture to the onions.

He cast his mind back, trawling for memories of waking to the sight of the giant – that hugely giant giant – looming over him. Figboot had planted his monstrous spider hands either side of Siggy on emerging from the mountain but they’d been at a fair distance away and Siggy had been chiefly focused on the enormous face like a whole other world hovering over him. A big bushy-bearded world intruding on his world’s sky.

If he’d even glimpsed the giant’s fingernails, the recollection slipped through his memory’s net. As for toenails, well, they had been hidden in those boots woven from trees. So for all Siggy knew, bulbous nails were a feature of giants or perhaps a condition suffered by Figboot, like warts or corns. Although why they would contain light was beyond him.

It was all beyond him really.

What to make of it all, that was the thing. What to do.

Return to the town and report his findings? With a horse and cart he might be able to transport one of these glowing onion bulbs back for the Burgermeister’s inspection. Dear old Mar, rest her soul, had been a generous soul, not least with her opinions, and she’d often been of the opinion that Burgermeister Chaffinch was ‘a bit power-mad’. And if these bulbs contained power, well, it seemed to Siggy that the Burgermeister would be very interested in them. Of course, going back now would mean having to admit to not having yet exchanged words with the giant and there was a chance that might look bad.

In every adventure yarn Siggy had ever heard, not once had he come across a hero who’d returned from a quest to the folks depending on him to slay the dragon or defeat the evil sorcerer or whatever with the answer ‘not yet’.

Not that he rated himself a hero. But he got the impression many of his townfolk were expecting him to be one.

He mulled over his choices.

While he stood there thinking, the world grew impatient. It rumbled. And shook.

Like a distant thunderstorm brewing in the earth.

Or a giant coming home.

 

 

 

[To Be Continued…]

Figboot – Part Four

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Hairs.

Attached to a head which rolled like a boulder. Although all the nights Siggy had been out fishing he had never seen the Moon as big as this boulder. Of course, he had never seen the Moon up so close and personal, so it could well be larger – but less liable to roll unexpectedly when you accidentally brushed its hair.

The giant’s snores broke apart in snuffles, as though he had a thousand pigs up his nose, snorting away on his behalf. Then they sputtered to a stop and there came a groan like the world creaking open. Tortoise Mountain trembled. Not as much as Siggy but with a deal more noise.

An enormous shape like a spider crawled through the forest of hairs. A spider about the size of Siggy’s hometown, it seemed, limbs big as rows of houses. Three fewer legs than most spiders, but the deficiency failed to elicit Siggy’s sympathy for the creature. Clambering around the giant’s head, it squatted briefly, flattening the branches where Siggy had made contact. Siggy couldn’t have made any more impression than a flea would have made on his own normal-sized head, but the giant had felt the touch all the same.

Siggy backed a pace towards the opening, not keen to be squashed by a giant hand.

Thinking: perhaps he ought to return when the giant was awake. He knew he could be grumpy himself if he suffered from a disturbed sleep. He retreated another pace or two, putting back more of the footsteps he’d stolen in earlier.

Slowly. Stealthily. Patience battling fear and having a hard time of it.

The giant’s head rolled further, crashing to one side.

Figboot exhaled all the air he’d sucked in with the yawn.

It churned like a hurricane inside the cavern.

Baking winds blasted into Siggy and ripped his feet from the ground. Expelled him from the cave as easily as the giant expelled breath from his lungs.

Siggy slammed into the earth several stonesthrows from the cavern entrance. The marshy grasslands soaked up some of the impact, but he still felt like he’d been struck in the pit of his back with a tombstone.

He decided to sleep the pain off a little while. So he laid his head back and pulled his net up over him as a very poor blanket.

***

Figboot yawned. And stretched.

And bashed his elbows against the walls of his home. He always forgot, when waking up, what a squeeze it was in this tortoiseshell hovel.

He had slain the monster many many sleeps ago and still felt bad about it some mornings. It would have been disrespectful not to put its shell to worthwhile use. Figboot did everything he could to forget the rest of that story, even hummed rambling songs to himself to drown out the thoughts. But they kept coming back.

How he had envied the Tortoise his beautiful shell the first few hundred times he’d seen it. How smug the Tortoise had seemed when he poked his head tentatively out to peer at Figboot – especially during really heavy deluges. How he had wandered the world in search of shelter and found none better. Indeed, wandering the world took so little time he did it several times over to make sure. How he had waited for the Tortoise to die of old age. How the Tortoise continued to roam, stripping forests bare and chomping lazily on the choicest jungles, quite at peace with the notion of living forever. How, one day, Figboot woke in a particularly bitter winter, a glacier creeping over his blueing shoulder, and how he had poked a finger inside the Tortoise’s shell, not overly sure why. Perhaps meaning to warm one extremity at a time. How the vicious creature bit him. How, after they were through wrestling and the monster was dead, he wondered if he had poked his finger in there with the intention of provoking the fight. How guilt had preyed on him before he slipped into his doze.

How he had slept soundly for that long long winter even so because the shell trapped his body heat better than it did guilt. He slept well ever since, untroubled by dreams, and the memories only ever bothered him when he was awake.

He scratched his head again where the small animal had crawled through his hair. Probably a mountain goat or lion. He tried to probe gently just in case but it appeared to have found its way out. Well, that was something. Half-dreaming, he had swatted at the bothersome intruder and might easily have killed it. He didn’t like to kill anything, not since the Tortoise.

He closed his eyes and told himself to go back to sleep. But no, his thoughts quarreled with that suggestion.

Figboot sighed.

Now he was going to have to get up and go outside just to complete his stretch. He didn’t like to leave things unfinished.

Groaning, he rolled himself over and hauled himself out of the shell. He had to squash his shoulders up tight to push himself through the entrance but eventually he was out on his hands and knees. He turned around and reached inside for his boots, sat and pulled them on. Then he was ready to stand.

It was a cloudless sky, except for a moody patch perhaps ten or eleven strides out across the water. He arched his back and stretched his arms out wide wide wide. The air at nose height was always fresh and cool and totally unlike the thick stuff close to the dirt that always made him so drowsy.

Then he set off for a walk, keen to properly work the creaks out of his bones.

He looked at the ground a lot because, being as giant as he was, it wasn’t every day he could see the world at his feet.

***

Siggy lay perfectly still. Or as still as the earthquakes allowed.

The giant’s left boot – a crude wickerwork item of footwear, it seemed, fashioned from interwoven trees – had missed him by a hair’s width. Thankfully, a giant’s hair’s width but still not nearly far enough from Siggy’s body to make him feel safe. The right missed him by a much greater margin but that didn’t help. He didn’t think he would feel safe until the giant had disappeared over the horizon. If he ever did.

He should have known. He should have realised.

A vivid imagination was one thing, but he strongly suspected that calculating a giant’s size involved mathematics and such dark arts did not feature among Siggy’s strong points. All of which had deserted him, in any case, for the time being.

You say the word ‘giant’ and it conjures an image of a very large man. Towering. Tall as a fortress, maybe. Tall enough, certainly, that the idea of venturing out to face one with net and garden fork in hand might cause stout hearts to murmur nervously.

Siggy stared down at his own boot, trying to see through the leather. Trying to picture his big toe. Trying to build a town hall and several large houses in the space of an imaginary imprint in the sand. Yes, he really should have been more prepared for what to expect. And now that he’d seen Figboot, he really ought to start working on believing it.

Siggy scraped himself off the ground, shaking. He gathered up his net and garden fork and ran for the only place he thought he might be safe from being stepped on. At least until the giant returned home.

Siggy raced into the Tortoise Mountain cavern.

He stumbled. Staggered to a halt. Blinked and shielded his eyes, admittedly fairly poorly, with the net.

Now that the giant was absent, it was much brighter inside.

A quality you didn’t tend to expect from caverns under mountains.

 

 

[To Be Continued…]

Figboot – Part Three

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Legend had a thing or two to say about Tortoise Mountain and Siggy believed every word. Not that he was any sort of gullible fellow, ready to swallow the tallest story to burrow its way into his ears. And tales involving giants were naturally among the tallest. But the stories or legends or myths – to be honest, Siggy had some trouble telling the three apart – surrounding Tortoise Mountain had a ring of truth to them.

Now that he stood in the shadow of this monstrous rise, his belief in the legends reached new levels. Like they’d collected nine more rings of truth to go with the original one.

Because what the mountain resembled more than anything was the shell of a giant tortoise – the giantest giant tortoise that ever lived – that had been hollowed out to serve as home for a non-tortoise giant. Which was exactly what the legends claimed.

Over the centuries, or whatever unit the time cared to be measured in, dirt had piled up on the tortoiseshell to make it externally little different to other earthen mounds, except for its size – which defied all the big words a man could throw at it – gigantic, enormous, ginormous – and its uncanny tortoiseshell shape.

Tortoise Mountain possessed no foothills. It just sat there, huge and round, curving vastly from the ground up to its summit and back down again. Siggy supposed it may have had foothills when or if it belonged to a tortoise. Feet as big as hills at least. He could not envisage such a massive creature stalking across the land, however, and considered it a good bit of fortune for the world at large that the creature had been slain by a giant of equal or greater magnitude.

Of course, that still left the giant.

If Figboot was at large, Siggy felt sure he would have seen him by now. Which meant either the giant was home or on the other side of the world. But Figboot was known to be a bit of a homebody, not given to far wanderings despite his enormous stride. The earth-shaking rumbles emanating from within the mountain seemed to back up Siggy’s feeling that he was at home. The tremors sounded like a whole country snoring at once so he was inclined to go further with his guesses and deduce that the giant was asleep.

Chances had been strong, if he’d thought about it, of finding the giant deep in his slumber. Dear old Mar, rest her soul, professed to have seen him three times in her lifetime and said he only woke every ten or twenty years. And every time he stirred, disaster came calling upon the town. The last occasion, Figboot had gone paddling in the ocean and that was the year of the tidal wave and the Great Flood that had washed away all the Toe districts along with his dear old Dad.

Siggy had been but four at the time and retained only vague recollections of his Mar placing him atop the wardrobe while the flood waters ran amok in their home. Followed by many nights of crying long after the waters receded. Heel had not been so submerged as the Toe districts, but there had been much rebuilding and a great deal of crying all across town. Last night’s blaze in Big Toe seemed a minor misfortune by comparison, but it was not for Siggy to belittle the woes or property damage suffered by the wealthier sorts who lived there. Disaster was a leveller in all respects.

Waking the giant for a talk did not strike him as the wisest of strategies if such widespread harms were the result of his rousing. Still, it was not for Siggy to go against the orders of Burgermeister Chaffinch. Higher men understood policy and tactics while lower men knew fish and artichokes and such.

He peered into the gloomy gaping mouth of the high-arching cave. The opening in the side of Tortoise Mountain where it was said the tortoise, when it had roamed the world, would poke out its head.

Siggy prayed that Figboot would not do likewise.

He wondered if he should knock. He had never knocked on a mountain before but he could not imagine it producing much in the way of results. There were no snows to cap the heights of Tortoise Mountain so avalanches were not a risk, but Siggy was inclined to act and tread quietly all the same.

He did his best to steel his nerve, but only managed a softer metal. Bronze, say. Gripping his fork and net to fortify his courage, he stole into the cavern. The cave was as big as a starless night sky and with all the steeling and stoling he felt like a thief. A species of visitor that, he warranted, giants did not welcome with tea and scones.

Inside, he could feel the full weight of the mountain overhead. A glow like the ghost of a sunrise over black hills bathed the highest vaults of the ceiling, as though a pale sun was hidden somewhere back there behind the dark heart of the cavern. The light was unshifting, more constant than a candle, which was especially strange given how the mountain shook. Space trembled in consort with the ground and hot air nearly blasted Siggy off his feet. The snores were deafening. Enough to smother a simple footfall a thousand times over.

But still Siggy dreaded to make a noise.

And yet he had never stepped inside anyone’s home so long without announcing himself.

Throat dry as a drought, Siggy coughed into the mostly blackness. “Er, hullo? Mr Figboot?”

He bumped into something. Immediately hopped back and swung his fork up to defend. He flexed his net like he was shaking dust out of a sheet.

He narrowed his eyes, trying to get a fix on what he’d struck. Or what had struck him.

As Siggy’s eyes adjusted to drink up the dregs of light spilling in from outside and over the solid mass of shadow before him, he fancied he could discern a hanging willow branch, thick as a tree trunk. The colour of straw, but shinier and smoother. Not a hundred miles, in colour distances, from the Burgermeister’s retriever, Goldichops.

He probed the air with his fork and the prongs brushed twenty or thirty other branches just like the first. They swished at the provocation.

Hairs.

They were hairs.

 

 

[To Be Continued…]