I didn’t understand this week’s Chuck Challenge, so I reverted to a task Rebecca set me in November – take five things she listed and include them in a story. It’s 1001 words. I decided you wanted every one of them. The five things are at the end so you can guess on the way, and check them. And you’ll be delighted to see it features an old friend!
What Friends Are For
He had landed on one of the spars attached to the mast that towered above him, and fallen to the main deck. This was not the nice tropical island he had in mind. Was a deserted ship better than a desert island?
Sir Woebegone’s instant travel was an inherited gift, by way of a magical sword and the dragon it belonged to. Since the dragon had retained the sword, Woebegone’s destinations had become ever more curious. At first, he’d arrived exactly where he pictured. Now the picture bore only the roughest approximation to where he ended up. Today, sea and sun were the only common factors.
He groaned as he rolled back the other way and his visor flopped down again. He’d put it up when the seesaw of the ship sent him back the other way. He never went very far, just from on his face, propped up by his knee, to on his back, his knee in the air. He rolled back and flipped up his visor. The shadow that had crossed his face from time to time returned.
“Why don’t you straighten your knee?” said the shadow.
“I can’t. It’s rusted or bent or something.”
“If you rolled to one of those barrels you could use your arms.”
“What barrels?” asked Sir Woebegone. He rolled again, his visor tipped down, and he felt something land on his back.
“I don’t do this for everyone,” said the voice of the shadow.
The weight left his back.
“Drag yourself towards me.”
Sir Woebegone considered ignoring the voice. Then he decided the weight had been real, and obeyed.
“Just a few more inches. There!”
Sir Woebegone nearly wept with the relief of touching something solid, something to grab and stop rolling. He pulled himself up to the wooden cask, and hauled himself onto the one leg he could straighten.
“That’s better, thank you,” he said, staring at the albatross that stared back, a few inches from his nose.
“That’s what friends are for,” said the albatross, spreading its great wings and lifting into the air where it stayed, silently balanced on the wind.
“Where is this place, and why is it deserted?”
“They just jumped overboard one day. We check it every few months, but nothing changes.”
“Yeah, me and my buddies. Got any buddies?”
“No,” said Sir Woebegone, feeling the emptiness produced by a world where knights in shining armour were a myth.
“How are you going to fix your knee, then?”
“I’ll go to somewhere where they’ve got a hardware store, I think. Wanna come along?”
The albatross took a swoop around the ship, and dived over the deck long enough for his parting “no thanks!” to echo through the rigging.
Sir Woebegone shrugged an invisible shrug, since the effect was lost in his armour, and thought of a hardware store in a town he’d visited once…
The town was quiet; a few half-doors banged or rattled in the warm wind. Sir Woebegone lost his balance, pulled himself to the edge of the wooden sidewalk, and stuck his mobile leg into the road. Pushing up with his arms, he moved, crablike, to a post supporting the building above. Dragging himself up the post, he found the sidewalk was just the right height for him to walk along with one foot in the road and the other on the boards. Relieved, he took stock of the situation. He could make out the word ‘Saloon’ through the deep shadows above the door. Beyond the saloon, the sidewalk ended at an oak tree shading an empty water trough and bare hitching rails.
“Not another ghost town.”
“Who are you?” Woebegone asked.
“Nobody,” came the reply.
“Well, Mr Nobody, can you find me something, anything, which will lubricate this knee joint of mine?”
“How does vinegar and brown paper sound?”
“It sounds like something out of a nursery rhyme, but if you think it’ll work, I’ll try it.”
“Can you make it to the table and chairs over there?”
There were tables either side of the saloon door. Holding tight to the post he put his weight on his bent leg, and hopped onto the sidewalk with his good one. Lifting the bent one, he hopped four steps across to the table, collapsing onto the chair.
“Thanks,” he gasped.
On the table was an ashtray, a small lidded pot with a spoon sticking out, and salt and pepper shakers. “It’s not what I’d expect of a saloon in the middle of a ghost town,” he remarked.
”Always expect the unexpected. Try the pot. It’s mustard, but there’s vinegar in it.”
Maybe the sun got to me on that ship, he thought, but took the lid off the pot. The smell knocked him backwards. He took a spoonful and applied it to his knee joint.
“It don’t suppose I could order a nice cold beer while I’m waiting,” he said to the air.
“You could order it. It won’t come. That would be pushing your luck too far!”
Woebegone waited. He looked at his knee. I need to rub it in. Looking around, he spied a piece of paper under the cruet set.
“Dear guest,” it read. “We hope you will enjoy your stay. If there is anything you need, please don’t hesitate to ask. We can’t guarantee anything, but it’s better than being left to wonder, isn’t it? Yours sincerely, Marie and Pierre Celeste.”
Woebegone took the letter, brown with age, and rubbed the mustard into his knee joints. A few minutes later, he could move it again.
“That’s want friends are for,” the voice said. “But I think you’d better come back and get the sword. You need your magic regenerated.”
Light dawned. Woebegone thought hard about the dragon whose powers had allowed him this mind travelling gift, and hoped he’d arrive in the right place this time.
If not, he could be in big trouble.
(c) 2014 J M Pett
The random items were: mustard, a sidewalk, an oak tree, a letter, and an albatross