Here we are, halfway through January already! This year the Ape has encouraged me in my idea of writing monthly Flash Fiction based on one of Danielle English’s illustrations.
Dani is my wonderful cover illustrator, and we’re also related. When I brought out my first book she was just finished her graduate degree in design and illustration, so it sort of came together. She’s now done well over a dozen covers for me, since we revamped the first four in 2015 when I brought new paperbacks out. I think they’re brilliant, but of course, I’m biased!
So, for the first in a series of flash fiction posts—which will connect to each other, although probably not quite a serial—I’m using this illustration, of a small creature dashing through the woods. I chose to set it in Erebor, a fantasy land I thought I invented last year when I used the title The Road to Erebor. The other day I realised why it felt so familiar. Erebor is the name of Tolkien’s Lonely Mountain, of course. D’oh. Well, I’m using the name anyway—but it’s not the same place.
The Start of the Adventure
Deep inside a twisted wood is a house, in a gully. The wood is about fifty kilometres east of Erebor, so it’s no surprise that it’s twisted. The trees cover the lower slopes of a rocky hill, just small enough not to be a mountain. The rain that misses Erebor falls there, and runs down, eroding the scant earth as it does so. That’s why gullies are highly likely, at any point of the slope.
The house—that’s a surprise.
It’s only a three sided house. The back of it goes into the hillside. But the front, well. It has a front door, flanked by two sash windows of pleasing proportion. A porch protects the door from the elements, and the porch has a little gable roof, echoing the gable of the second floor in pleasing symmetry. The big gable has five vertical beams supporting the roof from the main crossbeam. All the wood is carefully aged, a silver-grey-fawn colour that blends with the trees around it.
If you didn’t mind living in the middle of nowhere, no neighbours for miles, no shops, inns or other conveniences, you’d be in heaven.
Talbot Ponsonby-Booth did not consider he lived in heaven.
Talbot Junior (since his father had also been called Talbot) lived with a crowd of uncles, cousins, aunts, sisters and his mother, in the warren they’d developed that went way back into the hillside. Like most of his family, he had inherited his father’s foxy nose, and his mother’s rabbity ears. They all had fine bushy tails, also inherited from Talbot Senior. Talbot Junior was stuck with a strange apology for a tail, long and thin like a mouse, and ending in a flourish like a stoat’s. He found it very much more useful than all the other tails around him, since he could curl it around objects and pull them towards him (very useful when stealing acorns from a jay’s cache). And while stealing acorns from jays was a useful occupation, especially when food was short, Talbot did not consider it a suitable career for a young adventurous fox-rabbit.
In fact, nothing that any of his uncles, or aunts for that matter, called their ‘occupation’ was of any interest at all to Talbot.
Somewhere out there was his calling.
The question was, where?
“When are you going to settle down to a proper job?” his uncle Silas asked.
“I need to discover what I’m best at, uncle,” he replied politely, since it was always best to be polite to uncle Silas.
“You’d better make up your mind soon. You’ll get allocated to something in spring, and if you haven’t shown your talents, you’ll be foraging acorns forever.”
Surely there was something more in life for him than that? Even if he could do them in half the time everyone else took. He’d just be given double their quota. Talbot’s ears drooped as he pondered the problem.
Three days later when he was mushrooming with his sisters, he climbed up onto a rock which looked out over the valleys beyond their hill.
“What are you doing, Talbot?” asked Suzi.
“You’re always thinking. You think more than anyone in the warren. Aunt Portia said you think too much and you’d be off one day soon, mark her words.”
“Off? What does that mean?”
“Well, apparently,” she said slowly, settling down beside him, “young people of a certain disposition go off to the big wide world Beyond The Wood. I asked her once why they do that, and she said, ‘to find themselves’. I don’t know what that means, because you’re here, right now, with me. You don’t need to find yourself.”
Oh, but I do, Talbot thought. That’s what I need to do.
It only took one night for the idea to turn into a plan, and another day for the plan to turn into action.
Bearing in mind it would be winter soon, he packed his warm gloves, boots and scarf in his knapsack, along with a few extra supplies like Aunt Portia’s fruitcake and Uncle Peter’s rum butter, and a bottle of fresh springwater. He pulled his hooded snood over his head and shoulders, and carefully pulled his ears through the holes. He tie a small blanket on top of his knapsack and drew it onto his back. Then he crept along to the side door.
“Oi, where’re you going?” His second-cousin Doric had been snoozing across the doorway.
“Out, go back to sleep.”
“I weren’t sleeping, I was just resting my eyelids.”
“Yeah, of course. Just rest a bit more, then. I’m going for a walk.”
“Don’t wake me up when you come back, then.”
“Sure.” Talbot stepped over Doric’s body as the doorkeeper lay down again.
He closed the door behind him and stared at the clear sky. Stars, all over the place.
He breathed deeply.
He hesitated a moment, looked back at the door. No.
He stepped forward, then scampered down the path.
© J M Pett 2018
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