Phanticide – Part One

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The bath turned icy cold.

One moment, Burgess Vandergut had been settling back for a lengthy soak. Next, he was a bag of shivering flesh and bone, while the chill locked his toy galleon in the frozen straits between his knees, which rose like two blue mountains through the ice.

He had seen a few severe winters over the years, but never before witnessed such a cold snap in his tub. Only an hour earlier the servants had drawn the curtains on a warm spring evening and filled his tub with water fit to boil lobsters. Now he hauled himself out into a bathroom wherein steamy vapours had turned to arctic mists.

Ice cracked and flakes fell from his roast-swollen and mead-filled midriff. The galleon spun aimlessly, adrift in a sea of broken bergs.

Burgess grabbed every towel in sight, throwing most around himself and rubbing vigorously with the others to generate what heat he could. Where he couldn’t return his proper ruddy colour to his bluer parts he managed to purple his skin with bruises from towelling so hard. Swaddled like some damp mummy, he cast one last shiver-inducing glance at the white-capped surface of the bath water before storming out onto the landing.

He sent a shout echoing down the tower stairs like the tolling of a thoroughly brassed-off bell.

“Send for the exorcist!”

He was a tolerant sort, all in all, but this was the absolute limit.

He’d really had quite enough of this infernal ghost.

 

***

Archcleric Pygram packed his bags and rode all night through the rain.

The rain, with typical contrariness, drove in the other direction and left him thoroughly blasted and beaten at the end of his journey. But he dropped from the saddle, handed his horse’s reins to the waiting servant and hastened to the door of Vandergut Tower with an urgency befitting the situation. At least, an urgency that would create a good first impression on the client. The truth was, now that the morning light was blinking through the curtains of rain the emergency was less immediately pressing. In his experience, hauntings and other spiritual trespasses happened mostly at night. So for all his hard riding he likely had a good twelve or more hours before he needed to get busy.

Still, the client appeared to appreciate his promptness and professionalism.

The man himself answered his own door. Heavily bewhiskered and bejowled, he presented far too unkempt an appearance to be the butler or other member of household staff. Apart from perhaps a gardener, but a gardener that portly would have trouble bending over to pull up weeds. Furthermore, any seedlings put to bed by this gentleman would likely suffer from nightmares of a breed peculiar to plant life, with memories of this grave and ominous edifice of a face looming over them. The man was not unlike a version of his own tower, tall and forbidding, although the gentleman was of proportionately broader girth, while the tower sported dense claddings of moss and bushy clumps of ivy in place of whiskers and cracked castellations instead of a balding dome. Gargoyles would have gazed down from those high perches all around the tower’s crest had any of them still possessed heads. This gentleman’s attire was in far better repair, but gave the appearance of having been thrown on some hours earlier and having spent the intervening hours hanging onto a body as restless as a cat with the wind up its tail.

No doubt the fellow had been pacing his abode and peering frequently out of his windows, anxiously awaiting the Archcleric’s arrival.

“Good good, you’re here. No time to be wasted. Wave your holy symbols, spray your blessed water wherever you need and tell this bally thing to clear off!”

Pygram deemed it best not to open with the bad news. “Good day to you, sir. Allow me to introduce myself.” He bowed, then shouldered his bags so he could proffer a free hand. “Archcleric Pygram.”

“A little young to be Arch, aren’t you?”

Pygram wondered how best to expedite his ingress, indoors and out of the rain. Now that he was dismounted and stationary, he was more acutely aware of the quantity of water dripping off of him. And how that was surprisingly very little compared to the quantity that had soaked through his coat, waistcoat, shirt, breeches and undergarments. He was sure if he dared to flex his toes at all he would find he could go paddling in his own boots.

His obvious youth was a stalling point for many a client.

“Experience and promotion are not the progeny of age alone. I was admitted to the Temple Of Meloch on my twelfth birthday and my rapid rise through the ranks of the church owed much to my facility for dealing with demons, angry spirits and all manner of phantasmal phenomenon. Why, I have only just now, sir, ridden from dispatching a vampires who had risen from a hundred-year sleep to terrorise the community of Direweather.”

It had been a sorry business indeed. The creature’s muscles had atrophied after such a protracted slumber but had managed to prey on the calves and ankles of the remote rural village, not to mention the ankles of a few calves. Pygram had caught her attempting to sup on the varicose veins of an elderly milkmaid and the she-beast had tried to drag herself away into the night but it had been the easiest of tasks to catch her. And almost a mercy to plunge the stake into her heart and decapitate her in accordance with proper practice. He had administered the post mortem blessings and sprinkled a full flask of holy water over and around the corpse, even though it seemed something of a waste of sacred fluid in the pouring rain. He was going to have to re-stock before tackling this haunting, but while he was collecting ample rainwater in his clothing he was in no position or mood to go waving his holy symbol over it and imbuing it with the blessings of Meloch.

“Direweather? Can’t say I’ve heard of it,” said the client. “Still, I daresay if you’ve defeated vampires and demons this ghost will prove no trouble for you.”

“Yes, quite.” Pygram smiled awkwardly. Despite his pressing desire to be in the dry, his heart deemed it past time for full disclosure. “As to that, I feel it only fair to warn you it is unlikely we will be able to achieve anything material until evening at the earliest. Ghosts are rarely to be enticed into any activity during the hours of daylight and until this one makes an appearance I will be unable to confront it.”

There, he’d said it. The client curled his upper lip like a rotten piece of lemon rind.

The skies cracked. Pygram looked up, expecting to see black clouds and lightning.

He only saw fields of grey and the arm of a gargoyle spearing down towards him.

He yelped like a distressed pup and leaped aside. The stone limb stabbed its pointing finger into the earth less than a yard from where he had stood.

“You were saying?” grouched the client. In a tone that dared Pygram to attribute the ‘accident’ to weak masonry.

 

 

[To Be Continued…]

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Figboot – Part Ten

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Figboot waited quite a while for any answer from the man in his ear.

When it came it was like an explosion.

A deafening, ear-splitting POP! Not unlike, he supposed, how the first crack of thunder must sound to a tiny creature like a man. A warm downpour burst forth in his ear, adding to the illusion of a storm in his head. Pain – furious, raging pain – spread like fire through his brain and put paid to any more supposing or imagining.

Figboot tried to lift his arm to cup a hand over the wounded ear. But he never made it that far.

His hand dropped to the ground and the rest of his body toppled to one side.

Then, after a long lifetime of doing everything slowly, he did one last thing with surprising suddenness.

Figboot died.

***

Siggy floundered in a lake of blood. At the bottom of a deep cave.

Thinning daylight taunted him from high above, hazy rays finding their way down through a distant ceiling of thick, matted hairs.

He’d won. He’d slain the giant. With victory so recent, it was a wonder just how far away freedom seemed. The blood around him was viscous as red treacle, he barely had to paddle to stay afloat. But the walls of the ear were smooth and rounded and looked well beyond his ability to climb.

All in all, his situation could have been worse.

Figboot could have keeled over in the other direction, slamming this ear to the ground and drowning Siggy under a cascade of blood. And even if by some miracle he survived that horrible fate, well, he’d have been as securely trapped as a spider under a teacup. With the full weight of a giant’s head and a giant’s brain above him instead of a glimpse of sky.

Light, hairy and hazy as it was, offered some hope.

Siggy swam. Applying his best crawl, he ploughed through the syrupy gore. If he got himself out of this, he’d need to bath for a full week. And he’d have to fork out on a new fork for Mr Tarwick, since the gardening implement had sunk without trace somewhere below him. Lodged, presumably, somewhere in the depths of the giant’s skull. Maybe on a bed of brain.

As his arms pulled and his legs kicked, Siggy’s stomach turned.

Whether he was disgusted with his situation or more with himself, he couldn’t say. He was no killer. Killing was another thing for other men besides him. But he’d had to do it. He’d had to. Stabbing those rusty prongs through a giant’s ear drum had been no easy thing, but once he’d pierced that wall all hell broke loose. The world had fallen over, placing hell on top. And now here he was swimming in it.

He touched the edge and hauled himself out. He dripped blood everywhere but as it happened everywhere was already red and wet and very slippery. He picked his way to the nearest wall, lifting his feet high and placing them down carefully – not unlike he’d seen the giant do.

The insides of an ear might be rounded but up close and this large they were not so smooth as you’d think. The skin was ridged and uneven and the hairs that on Siggy’s scale would have been fine were thick as tree-stumps when magnified to Figboot size. The ascent was going to be long and hard work but not nearly so impossible as he’d imagined.

About halfway up it started to get a tad easier as he began to turn tacky. Then he decided he ought to get a shift on in case the drying blood glued him in place.

Finally, eventually, Siggy stood out in the open air with the triumphant exhausted feeling of a man who’d conquered a mountain. He was still the width of a giant’s head above safe ground, of course, but he was confident the descent could not be as difficult as the climb out of the ear. There wasn’t much of a view from up here as he was lost in a forest of bristles. But heads being what shape they were he knew he could pretty much walk in any direction and soon find himself headed (no joke intended) down towards terra firma.

First of all he sat a while, his back propped up against one of the bristles. Catching his breath and recovering what he could of his energies.

But the longer he sat, the more he thought about how he was sitting on the side of a giant’s head. A dead giant. A giant that he’d done for.

In years to come, thousands of years maybe, earth would build up over Figboot’s bones and legends – or myths or fables – would probably tell of how Figboot ridge, there on one side of Tortoise Mountain, had once been a giant, the giantest of all giants.

Siggy dragged himself upright to begin the long walk homeward. The thought of his pasty and that cider waiting for him back at his boat spurred him on. Least ways, he hoped his packed lunch was still there, because he had every intention of scoffing and guzzling the lot before rowing back to town.

Most of all, he hoped that when folks told the legend they’d leave his name out of it.

***

Legends – and myths and fables – did tell of Sigfred’s heroic duel against the giant Figboot.

They told how the slain giant became Figboot Ridge.

They told how Sigfred returned home to a hero’s welcome and how he easily paid for a new garden fork out of his reward. They told, in many instances, of how he became a wealthy man who nevertheless stayed in his modest cottage in Heel district. Not quite as wealthy as Burgermeister Chaffinch, mind you, who lived more lavishly than ever up in Big Toe, rebuilding the Town Hall and adding numerous extensions to his already spacious home, obliging several neighbours to move to smaller Toe districts.

They told how Burgermeister Chaffinch, on hearing Sigfred’s tale, sent carts and wagons by the dozen to collect those mysterious bulbs from the giant’s lair and commissioned the town’s wisest scholars to devise some means of tapping the energies contained within.

They told how that was the way in which men first discovered how to harness the power of electricity. Which many said was almost as good as magic really.

They told how that was how the expression ‘too big for your boots’ came to be. For if Figboot had only been as giant as other giants people might not have colonised his footprint and there might not have been half so much trouble. But creatures of differing sizes were forever finding it difficult to live side by side in peace.

What they hardly ever mentioned, but Siggy was apt to remind townfolk for all his years of long life afterwards, was how every time there was a flood, an earthquake, a fire or disaster of some other nature the aftermath was always more difficult for a great many to handle with no one like Figboot around to blame.

 

 

 

SAF 2014

Figboot – Part Nine

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Was his audience sitting comfortably?

Figboot felt only an absence of movement in his ear so wondered if he should begin. It was very important to begin right. The last man he had spoken to in this manner had panicked – and if his voice did sound like a thunderstorm, Figboot supposed a measure of dread was to be expected. Thunderstorms were a nuisance and to such tiny creatures as men he could imagine they were fearsome entities. But the man had dashed about in such a frenzy, he’d managed to make Figboot dizzy, much the same way flapping birds did when they accidentally flew into his ear and found themselves trapped. And they were very difficult to extraxt without breaking their necks or wings. Small creatures were made of such flimsy parts. Had he made the world, he might have created small things strong and large things weaker, to even everything out. Then he may not have slain the Tortoise. Although the Tortoise would have been weaker than him.

Figboot sighed. There was no easy way to win in this world and he supposed it was just as well things remained as they stood. That aside, he reasoned he had best not remain standing, just in case the man currently in his ear got himself in a flap.

Slowly, he rearranged himself on the ground and sat. Laid his legs straight out in front of him and leaned his back against his home. The Tortoise’s shell had amassed a covering of rock and earth over the ages and it made for a great support when Figboot was in the mood for sitting up outside.

There. Now he was sitting comfortably at least, so he could begin.

He strived to remember how fast and high he had pitched his murmurs to communicate to that last man who’d visited, wanting to get it right first time on this occasion. And he mulled over the best words to set this latest visitor at ease.

He cleared his throat, then muttered the friendliest of greetings under his breath:

“Do make yourself at home.”

***

Siggy averted his eyes from the skull. His skin crawled with the idea that the hollow gaze of those sockets might follow him around the chamber.

He guessed the skull’s owner had ended up buried. In what he could only call a waxslide. Siggy hadn’t spied a shovel or other digging implement anywhere so perhaps the doomed chap had been forced to excavate with his hands. That must have made for a singularly unpleasant final few hours or days before his singularly unpleasant demise.

If it came to it, at least Siggy had his garden fork.

The substance, he supposed, must come loose readily enough without too much toil – otherwise how would it slide and bury a fellow? – but there was such a quantity of it all over this ear. And then what? Would the giant just transfer him to the other one?

Siggy did not fancy being crushed between the giant’s finger and thumb for the purpose of that transfer. Just to resume his labours all over again. Left ear, then right. Left, right. Left, right. Too much like being in the army and Siggy was no soldier.

What other options did he have?

The chamber rumbled and shook. Giant horses with boulders for hooves galloped up from the world’s darkest depths.

He could probably push his way through the dense growth lining the entrance, but movement through those thick hairs might tickle and then Figboot’s finger would likely come in to deal with the minor irritation. At best, shutting off his escape. At worst, squishing him. And even if he side-stepped that hazard, what then?

The throaty tremors seemed to form a word, crashing in on Siggy like some mighty iron avalanche:

“DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMM!”

Siggy clapped a hand over his ear. Without letting go of the fork, his other ear was left defenceless. The sound got in and rattled his brain around inside his head.

Far as he knew, the giant was still kneeling but that still placed Figboot’s ears at a height bound to do for Siggy in the event of a single slip. Sure, he might find a climb down through the beard safe enough, but after that? Would a giant’s chest hairs provide sufficient foot and hand holds? Siggy’s schooling was limited and he didn’t know of any education that included such details.

Siggy reeled as the ‘ground’ trembled some more and some hellish drum beat out another syllable:

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACCCHHHHEEEEE!”

People like us, his dear old Mar, rest her soul, used to say, don’t have many options, living down here at Heel. We have to make our own out of what we got.

Doom. Ache.

These were the only things he could expect if he stayed here and weathered this dread thunder.

Abandoning his ear to fend for itself, he grasped the fork in both hands.

“YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWRRRRRSSSSSSSSSS!”

He scrambled up the deposit of hardened wax and staggered deeper into the chamber.

“SSSSSSELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!”

The ‘words’ no longer made any sense. But the noise fell on Siggy’s thoughts like lead rain as the chamber shook itself apart.

“FFFFFFFFFFFFAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATTTTTTTT!”

Wax crumbled, throwing Siggy off-balance.

He had to make it stop.

“HHHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMME!”

Home. Precisely where Siggy wanted to be right now. Now the quakes were playing tricks on him, toying with his fears.

He was no warrior. But he had to make one out of what he had.

He had to make one of himself.

He had to slay the giant.

 

 

 

[To Be Concluded…]

Figboot – Part Eight

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Siggy collapsed on hands and knees. The garden fork rested under one palm. By some miracle he’d managed to hold onto it and even got in a few prods at the giant’s finger although apparently none had made an impression. Not on the rough-ridged skin nor any deeper neither.

The same could not be said of the giant’s tweezer-grip on Siggy.

He lifted a hand to feel his crushed sides. If he’d suffered from any butterflies in the stomach they would’ve all flown free from his busted ribcage. Actually, no bones seemed broken but he wheezed and gasped as though they’d shrunk, squeezing around his lungs and other vitals. His skin flinched at the lightest of his touches as if it had been replaced with a single enormous bruise. To make matters worse, his heart was thumping rapidly against his skin from the inside and his breaths were stampeding out of him.

Siggy forcibly reined them in, until he could suck in one long gulp of air then blow it out nice and slow. Then once, twice more for luck.

With slightly steadied nerves, he lifted himself to a somewhat wobbly stand. Like he was on a rocky boat, but the ground was firm and stable, if unusually pink. He blamed the wobble on a pair of weakened knees and traumatised leg muscles.

Picking up his garden fork for a small measure of security and a prop in case he should need it, he searched his surroundings.

He was in a ruddy great cave. Not of such daunting proportions as the Tortoise Mountain cavern, but still capacious as a cathedral. (He supposed, if the legends were true, the Tortoise Mountain cavern ought to be termed carapacious, but that was a thought for another day, in the even that he survived this ordeal.) Unlike any cathedral he’d visited, the floor formed an uneven sort of bowl and the walls and ceiling curved high with a similar disregard for architecture or straight lines. There were no columns nor decorative stained-glass windows, only large lumpy deposits of some ore and a not too holy light spilling in through tufts of fuzzy brown fronds.

Which he guessed were hairs. And the ore…

Well, the deposits were a golden brown, but it was an ugly mucky gold. Put him in mind of ginger cake turned to mush with the addition of too much treacle or gravy. He kicked at the nearest pile and his toes discovered the mush to be a great deal harder than it looked. Crusty and stale, it seemed, and a crumb like a sizable rock crumbled away and rolled past him.

By way of an experiment, Siggy dug a little finger in his left ear and brought it out again for close study. Sure enough, a miniature version of the rock, albeit softer and waxier, had adhered to his fingertip.

Yuck.

Siggy had heard the expression ‘a flea in the ear’. That, he realised, was pretty much what he was to Figboot.

***

Men talked funny. They squeaked, unintelligibly.

Figboot could only guess at how he must sound to them. Like a thunderstorm or a hurricane blasting at their feeble little skulls, he imagined.

And yet, they had come to him in times past, sent representatives to speak with him. The first few occasions, he really hadn’t known what the tiny creatures wanted or what to do with them. When he’d noticed the first one waving, he’d dipped his ear low over the ground to try to make out any words but it had only been a shrill and seemingly endless series of squeaks like a hungry gull chick pestering its parents for food. Figboot understood men ate cattle so had reached over to the next valley and proffered the man a cow, but he’d only turned and run. Others had done likewise as soon as he lowered his head towards them.

It was a conundrum.

Until that last time, one of those slow giant thoughts had completed a circuit of his brain and he’d had the notion to relocate the visitor inside one of his ears.

He’d had the idea one day when talking to himself inside his head. Being alone so much, he did that rather a lot. It seemed to him if he spoke under his breath, the words travelled up his jaw to resound in his ears. So if a man happened to be in one of them at the time, well, he ought to be able to communicate to the creature. And in return, if he could encourage the man to speak reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaalllyyyyy slooooooooooooowwwwwly he might be able to make sense of their insistent squeaks.

And it had worked.

It had taken a long while to get the man to speak sloooooooooooooooooooooow enough and Figboot had found himself having to mutter really fast but they had managed to get through to each other. The man’s voice, even slowed, was still an uncomfortable shriek in his ear but it turned out that he had come to express a series of complaints and in spite of it all Figboot enjoyed his first proper experience of conversing with another living thing.

Wonderful.

Through their dialogue, he learned that he had caused a flood in a nearby town and that news had not been quite so wonderful. Figboot expressed his apologies and promised to do his paddling further along the shore in future. The man, although not sounding overly happy, seemed to accept this offer and that had been that.

Figboot had poked a finger in his ear in order to help the man out but he had cried urgent objections and insisted that he would find his own way out. Figboot had shrugged and left the man to his own devices. Presumably he had climbed out and returned to his town as Figboot laid his head down to sleep, because Figboot heard no more from him.

And now another tiny man had come calling. Needing his help.

Figboot hoped there hadn’t been another flood or some other disaster.

***

Siggy stood still.

If he was a flea in Figboot’s ear, the last thing he wanted to do was give the giant an itch he’d feel the need to scratch. He surveyed his environs again, thinking on possible ways out. It being an ear, only one obvious opening presented itself.

What did giants want with sticking innocent fellows in their ears anyway?

Was that how they set to clearing out their wax? Forced labour?

Siggy examined the nearby gold-brown deposit, unhappy at the prospect of having to shift that lot. He gave it another kick and more oversized crumbs tumbled from the pile.

One of the smaller chunks settled upright and stared up at him.

Siggy stared back.

The thing was caked with wax but even so it was too round and smooth on top to be a lump of the stuff. Moreover it had a pair of dark, hollow eyes and a row of teeth that hadn’t been brushed in a long while.

A skull.

It wasn’t saying much, but it was telling him all he needed to know about his likely future here in Figboot’s ear.

 

 

[To Be Continued…]

Figboot – Part Seven

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Figboot fumbled with his repair efforts and dropped another tree.

Trunks and branches really were among the fiddliest of fibres to work with, rendered fiddlier when three of his fingernails had already started to grow back into their awkward bulbous shape. Like big teardrops at the ends of his fingers.

A natural defence against lightning strikes, they were nevertheless a bother when it came to dexterous labours. Figboot had twisted them all off last night and stored them safely at home – all except the one he’d lost. That had snapped free too suddenly and flown off into the night. He’d lost one or two like that before. He like to keep them, partly because they were part of him, but mostly because he liked their glow with the lightning bottled up inside. Such a heavenly energy to strike from angry skies.

Figboot gave each of his half-formed nails a twist and broke them off, discarding the nuisances in the dirt. Some always grew really fast – too fast – when he slept, as though his body was anxious to be prepared for storms every day. Although of course, if he hadn’t been woken by some animal brushing against his hair he might still be pleasantly dozing away and he’d probably have a full set of bulbous nails for the next time he roused. By which time there could well have been more storms. And if lightning struck while he slept? Well, he supposed that even lying down he was taller than quite a number of lesser giants and lightning would prefer not to travel all the way down to their head height when there was a closer target at hand.

Fingers liberated, Figboot tugged up another tree between finger and thumb and began weaving it into the matted branches of his boot. He realised he had nearly picked the hills clean, but he only needed about twenty more to finish patching the damaged portions. Assuming he got his proper length of sleep next time he turned in, well, the trees ought to have plenty of seasons to recover. A great many came up roots and all, but the next couple he picked he made sure to suck the fruit and foliage off, savouring the sugary taste before spitting out the green and – he hoped – sowing a few seeds far and wide.

Threading a last few into place he examined his handiwork. He flexed a toe and watched the knitted trunks and branches bend as in a strong wind. They stretched some but locked their woody fingers together. Lovely. He reached down and patted the toe of the repaired boot.

Then, with an effort it would take for the earth to move, he rose to stand.

Turning with the patience of the world he set off for his cavern.

Five leisurely strides and he would be home.

***

Siggy dug.

Furiously. Frantically.

It was hot, hard work and his tunic clung to his chest and slurped thirstily at his armpits.

He paused to run a sleeve across his brow. That sleeve was already soggy, so he had a go with the other one.

His tongue and throat panted for a wash of that cider. A dry crust of pasty would do him no good, but his mouth watered for the veg and meaty juices tucked up inside the pastry. After it was done watering, his mouth dried up all over again. But he couldn’t stop for lunch. He had to keep going. Press on. Keep digging.

He glanced easterly.

The giant was up and standing. A wispy belt of cloud streaked across his waist, but that soon broke apart when he took his first big stride through. Figboot’s boot crashed down, one less mile away. Down at Siggy’s feet soil crumbled and toppled from his neatly squared off edges to fall into the pit like miniature landslides.

He’d never get it done in time.

He pushed on anyway, putting his back into it. And his elbows and shoulders and every other part of him that went into wielding a garden fork. He forgot his neat edges and hacked up the dirt, digging up a rough and reasonably straight furrow.

Hoping and hoping that if the giant saw part of it he’d stop and let Siggy finish.

Figboot’s boot crashed to earth again. Another mile closer.

Siggy dug up a storm of dirt.

***

Figboot stopped half a stride from home.

He tilted his head forward and furrowed his brow. There were letters carved in the ground outside his home.

HELI, it appeared to say.

Or HEL and most of a straight line. Crisp and sharp excavations, giving way to a crude scratch towards the base of the last vertical groove.

Figboot bent down on one knee and leaned in for a closer examination.

That last upright line appeared to be growing. Little by little by little.

Figboot puzzled over this for some while before he saw it.

The man.

Digging as though in a desperate frenzy. Throwing up sprays of dust in his wake. Toiling so fast and hard it seemed his life depended on it. And yet, like all men, no matter how hurried the labours his progress was painfully slow.

Figboot felt sorry for him. But at the same time he wondered why the man would come to dig letters in the ground right outside his home.

HEL and this straight line continuing to lengthen fraction by fraction.

The desperation could mean only one thing.

HELP.

The man needed Figboot’s help!

Figboot should have realised sooner. He could have saved the man minutes of toil. But a giant’s thoughts could sometimes be as slow and ponderous as his steps, with such a large brain to circumnavigate. Thoughts, Figboot was fairly certain, were tiny things – often tinier than men or squirrels – and lacked the advantage of long legs.

It was really rather clever of this man to write his call for HELP so large in the earth. But it might take him a year to explain the problem in any detail that way.

Figboot wanted to help in any way he could. And he knew only one way to talk to men.

Holding finger and thumb a hair’s width apart he dipped his hand down towards the tiny burrowing figure.

The man glanced up and started to run, which was going to make things trickier.

Men had to be handled much more gently than trees.

Figboot cupped his other hand across the man’s path, creating a wall. The man, not that much bigger than an eel really but surely not as slippery, halted and appeared to turn his head this way and that. So fast. Almost too fast for Figboot to catch the movements.

Quickly – as quickly as he could manage – Figboot snatched at the figure and plucked him, as tenderly as possible, from the ground.

Men were so small, he could barely feel them wriggling between the tips of his finger and thumb. But he couldn’t see the man any more and so was reasonably sure he’d got him.

Slowly he lifted him and lifted him.

And stuck him in his ear.

 

 

[To Be Continued…]