#8 The Capitol, where Sci-fi, Horror and Dystopia Meet
In-the-Know Joe

The drums are banging outside. Sunlight streaks into our cell, lighting the sand-covered floor where Twist nervously fidgets. She doesn’t understand what it going on, can’t make sense of the metal spikes that have been strapped to her tail making her look like a mini dinosaur, nor the horned helmet that adorns her head. We’ve been fed a disgusting grey gruel and dressed in ridiculous outfits, outfits we’re told will make it easier for us to fight!

This is the log of Science Officer Joe.

Cook Conomos is banging her ladle on the cell door, the one we entered through, still outraged at the slop they dared to call food. Our Captain is pacing the cell in her rusted and dented suit of armour. They let her keep her hat. Satnav Steve is banging his compass on the side of the wall muttering. ‘But I’m sure north-west is that way. I’m certain of it.’

He has a large shield strapped to his back and is sporting a magically light chainmail that the guards called Mithril. Copy-Kat has her face pressed up on the bars of our cell, the bars that face the arena. She is scratching an image into the dirt, an image of the amphitheatre-style seating that surrounds the arena on which thousands of onlookers wait for the entertainment to begin, every now and then stopping to scratch underneath the strange green-scaled armour that keeps irritating her skin.

‘What do they want with us?’ shouts Ship’s Boy Kate from underneath her bamboo plate protective clothing as she inspects a rather battered old brown leather whip.

‘Elementary, my dear wanderer.’

His voice came from the darkest corner of the cell. We’d been so shocked by our ordeal that we had not noticed him there. You could hardly blame us. You would have other things on your mind if you had been through what we had been through.

‘Who are you? And what’s going on?’ asked the Captain of the voice in the dark.

A tall man stepped out of the shadows dressed in a long grey travelling cloak and a deerstalker hat. He looked us all up and down and said…

‘Let me answer that by telling you something about yourselves. You have been travelling the world of stories in a prattle ship. Judging by the residue of narrative thrust on your fingers you are the science officer,’ he said, pointing at me, and then continued.

‘You are a crew on a story collecting mission. Your captain here still wears her hat. Elementary. The detailed sketching being done by this young lady tells me that you have an onboard artist who clearly illustrates what you find. The lost look of this gentleman with the broken compass tells me that he is your frustrated navigator, frustrated because his compass is broken and because he lacks the skill to navigate without it – why else would he be frustrated unless his incompetence has got you lost before? Yes! That’s it.’

His eyes sparkled as he became more animated.

‘Judging by the jitteriness of your bandicoot, famed for their fear of giant squid, I would say that your navigator took a wrong turn and led your ship within a tentacle’s reach of the giant squid that is said to live 20 leagues deep off the north shore of Animaland. Your ship was taken up by the squid and flung here towards The Capitol, the city where Horror, Sci-fi and Dystopia meet, one of the most dangerous cities in all of Fantasea. You crash-landed in The Capitol where the thought police gathered you up and put you into these cells ready to provide entertainment for all of the districts as you fight the monsters.’

We were all awestruck. He was totally right. Everything had happened just as he had said it.

‘Very impressive,” said our captain. ‘You seem to have us at a disadvantage, you know all about us but we know nothing about you.’

The steely-eyed gentleman extended his hand and said, ‘Holmes. Sherlock Holmes. Detective and at present captive just like you.’

The drumming outside got louder.

‘What’s happening?’ I asked.

‘It’s time,’ said Sherlock. The bars facing the arena started to slide up into the ceiling and the wall containing the cell door started to move! It slid forward, pushing us out into the arena.

‘I don’t want to go out there,’ yelled Ship’s Boy Kate.

‘Take this,’ said Sherlock, slipping her a small glass vial with the word MELANGE written on its side.

‘The Melange is from a far off planet. It will help you out-think any problem you have out there. I had an intuition that someone would need my help today. I must leave you now. I’m afraid my means of escape has room for only one.”

And with that Sherlock winked before flinging off his travelling cloak revealing an outfit identical to those of the thought police who had brought us here. He really was a master of disguise. He tapped on the cell door and, in a remarkably transformed voice, asked to be let out.

‘The prisoners are ready to fight. You can let me out now.’

The door was opened and he was gone, leaving us to the arena.

Without a moment to spare, we each guzzled down a bit of the Melange from the vial and walked out into the sun-scorched, sand-covered arena. A huge video screen floated overhead on which a woman’s face loomed.

‘Welcome to The Games,’ she hissed. ‘Peace in our districts is dependent on all of us remembering that in life there are monsters, but The Capitol keeps you safe by keeping the monsters in the arena. Let the games begin. Release the vampires!’

A gate opened and a teenage boy stepped out. He was very sullen-looking and devilishly handsome and as he walked out into the sun his skin sparkled! He was the strangest vampire I had ever seen but instead of attacking he fell to his knees and shouted, ‘Bella!’ in floods of tears.

‘Oh… erm. Forget the vampires. Release the Sandworm!” came the cold, calculating voice from the screen.

Twist leapt up in fright onto Cook Conomos’ head as the whole ground started to shake and rumble like an earthquake, shifting and groaning. A vast well opened up in the middle of the arena. We all started to slide into it and, as we got closer, we saw that the well had teeth! it was the mouth of a gigantic worm monster. We were terrified, but it was then that the Melange given to us by Sherlock Holmes kicked in. It suddenly seemed very easy to get out of this predicament. Almost too easy.

 

Cook Conomos with Twist on her hat, held out her ladle, I grabbed hold with one hand and shot out my other hand to grab Satnav Steve’s compass hand, Steve hooked his arm around the armoured elbow of the captain, she clasped one of Lookout Kate’s bamboo protective panels and Kate in turn clung to Copy Kat’s strange scaled armour. Thus connected we did the unthinkable. We allowed ourselves to slide inside.

We slipped between the monster’s giant teeth and then, as if on cue, we let go of each other and started to tickle the monster’s lips and gums. It seemed like the most natural thing to do in the world. The Melange given to us by Sherlock Holmes really was wonderful stuff. We now knew without a doubt that tickling the monster’s lips and gums could lead to just one result…

The monster SNEEZED!!!

It started as a rumbling,

as a groaning in its bowels.

It shivered into a trembling

a wet slithering of sounds.

It roared into a deafening,

a sound so loud and new.

To our surprise we were soaring

on a monster’s tremendous ATCHOOOOOOO!!!

We were shot high up into the air, up past the floating vidscreen with its image of the frosty Capitol leader, up high and out of the arena with its hordes of a now-booing crowd.

We chuckled as we soared, so delightfully proud of the clever escape that the Melange had enabled us to enact.

But as the effects of the Melange wore off we realised with utter shock that we had not considered where we might land…

 

 

#3 Baby Bunting and the Land of Limericks
In-the-Know Joe

This is the log of science officer In-The-Know-Joe. We eventually left the whizz-banging craziness of the land of laughter no thanks to that dastardly Bandicoot Twist. I have it on good authority that it was because of her that our sensitive ship, The Ever After went off course.  The Ever After is a delicate machine, it needs to be treated gently and not have a pig-footed bandicoot going cock-a-foot all over its finely tuned instruments. I spent all day feeding the narrative thrust drives ‘feel good’ stories and happy endings to get our Prattle Ship back on track and now we find ourselves on the island chain of Bardland.

Bardland is a strange group of islands where nothing is quite what it seems. We landed on a salt marsh where we overheard nymphs talking to Goblins of green glass beads and red ruby rings though no matter how hard we looked we could not find the owners of the voices.  Kate Rundell, the ships boy was convinced of treasure and ran off over the salt marsh only to disappear into a gathering mist.

We called for her to no avail, Satnav Steve was sure he could track her but after following him for several hours we found ourselves back where we started, that’s when we heard a bang, a crash and a clatter. We had chanced upon the Onomatopoeic Forests.

The wind was whooshing,

the leaves rustling

every stick we stepped on snapped!

Every log we went around cracked!

We snapped and cracked

past gurgling rivers

through bubbling brooks when we heard

a clanker, a boink and a bump coming from a big red box!

A big red box

sitting out in the wood

I did not like it

no smart person would

it banged and it clattered

it boomed and it swelled

“Don’t go near it!”

came a shout from a girl.

She was up in a tree

so very high,

a girl in a tree

swaying up in the sky

we squinted

we stared

with our binoculars out

it was Kate, the ships boy

on the look-out.

“There are Things

in that box

that will jump everywhere

I barely escaped them

I trapped them in there.

They are Things that are crazy

that juggle fishes and stews

they call themselves silly names

THING one and THING two.”

It was only after we got the big red box safely packed on to The Ever After that we realised we’d been speaking in poems – these islands truly are magic.

Once we’d eaten our lunch of alphabetty spaghetti we headed back out to explore hopping on dream boats to the near-by island of Lullaby where ship’s artist Copy Kat gathered several jars of the “sleep” gunk that gathers at the corners of your eyes when you dream. On Lullaby there are mountains of the stuff smelling faintly of malt and hot cocoa. She said she had been looking for just that shade of yellow for her pictures. We took a brief nap on Lullaby before finding a bridge made of bunting, of various coloured fabric triangles, joining the Island of Lullaby to the near by Isle of Limerick. Swinging across this bunting were loads of very active smiling babies.

“If babies can do it so can we.”

Exclaimed Captain Jones and so we joined the babies hand over hand over the bunting bridge. We did wonder where the parents of these brave babies were, there were lots of rabbits on the island so maybe they were hunting or milking the cows we could hear mooing in the distance.

As soon as we landed in Limerick…

we met an old man in a wheel

with an orange he was trying to peel

he got covered head-to-foot

in orangey gloop

that poor fruit-starved man in the wheel.

He said his name was Edward Lear as he rolled off in search of more fruit to peel.

We left the rolling hills of Limerick  with just enough time to see the

fun sun set on the jungles of Rhyme with its…

funky monkeys

and small, half-giraffes

nibbling from the low leaves

of the knee trees.

We gathered some bags of rhymes to add to our big red box containing THING one and THING two.

As we sailed away on The Ever After we could hear battles being fought on the last island of the chain – the island of Ballad where great poetic battles are had between knights and dragons and kings and queens. As the thrust engines thrummed Look Out Kate was in the Prose Nest shouting down to us who was winning the battles on Ballad Island until it became too dark to see and all we could hear was the splishing and splashing of the waves.

#2.1 Strange noises…
In-the-Know Joe

There were strange loud noises coming from the Nonsense Marshes. I took out my listening trumpet and galumphed through the muddy waters rubbing my hands on the bellies of the Tumtum trees as I went (they are supposed to be lucky). My space suit was ruined by the time I got to the place where the sounds were coming from. Whatever was making the noises must have heard me coming for it shrieked and bellowed away. But on the ground I found a sword, an original Snicker-Snack Vorpal Blade! I was so pleased I yelled “Calloh! Callay!” What a fine addition for our collection.