The Sleeping King: Part One
Bluetail landed with a thump. His head hurt and his aching muscles struggled to lift his soft body. Trying to put his weight onto his feet, he collapsed. It was only then that he realized something. He was alive. Questions began to run through his mind. How did I survive? Why did I survive? What happened? Where am I? He looked around him. He was standing in what looked like a cave, but wasn’t. The walls looked craggy, and the floor was uneven. The passageway was quite wide, but only about the width of a corridor. The ceiling seemed to have a rocky texture also, but something wasn’t right. It was definitely not a cave. This thought came simply because the cave was pink. The walls, the ceiling, and the floor were all the same sort of reddy-pink colour. He touched the wall, and let his paw bounce off it. The wall wasn’t hard and rocky as expected, but soft and bouncy, almost like jelly. Bluetail was beginning to get very confused.
Bluetail was a Plushie Puppyblew who was normally very kind. Most of the time he would just try to have fun playing with his master Tonubakanari, an electric Tonu. He had a peculiar taste for custard, and an obsession for toys. He was often clever and good at puzzles, but this was one mystery he couldn’t work out.
He tried to think of what had happened. He and Tonubakanari and had gone to Meridell to deliver a message to The King. He’d done that, and he remembered it vividly. It was only what happened after that was a bit of a blur. He remembered queuing up to try to wake Turmaculus, the petpet king. He’d never seen it done before, but the petpet behind him had been bragging about how he’d woken him before, so it must have been possible. This is where Bluetail's memory became confused. It had been his turn, and he’d tried what he could to wake The King. He hadn’t done something extravagant, like some of the other pets had before him; he simply walked up to Turmaculus and tapped him on the shoulder. At that a lot of petpets cried out, because Turmaculus's eyes were fully open. He had risen up on his front legs and roared. The crowd had begun to disperse, frightened, and Bluetail, unable to move away, had been the first to be seen by Turmaculus, who then lifted him up, placed him in his mouth, and swallowed him.
That was all Bluetail remembered. He blinked his blue eyelids shut. How could that be possible? If he’d been eaten, why he still whole? None of his stitching was undone, and although he hurt a little, he didn’t have any visible wounds. So how – he stopped. Out of the corner of his eye he’d seen something. A shadow maybe, but definitely moving. He backed away form the shadow, and saw it move again. At the end of the passage, it turned a corner, and that was where the shadow was coming from around the bend. It was moving, coming closer still. Closer and closer. Even closer.
Bluetail blinked. In front of him stood another petpet. A Fire Angelpuss, with a broad smile and shining eyes.
“Hello,” she said again, “You must be new here.”
Bluetail realized that she must have been eaten too. If he had survived, then why not others? He looked once more at the pink walls, realizing where he was. If he’d been eaten, then he’d gone where all other food went. He was inside Turmaculus.
The Angelpuss was still looking at him expectantly.
She smiled. “My name’s Angelina, what’s yours?”
“Bluetail,” he said, still confused.
“Honestly, I know I can’t talk but why does no one pay attention to that sign. It says beware of The King’s appetite, but no one pays any attention.”
Bluetail looked at her oddly.
“You were eaten, weren’t you? When you tried to wake The King, he ate you, yes?”
Bluetail nodded, slightly embarrassed.
“Well then, you better follow me.”
She began to walk around the corner again, and Bluetail followed her, intrigued. Who was this Angelina? Were there more petpets down here, as well as them? They walked on for a while, silently. Bluetail noticed that the path seemed to be going upwards.
“You can’t blame The King really. What else is he expected to eat? It’s not like he eats us petpets constantly; he doesn’t wake up that often. And he’s always hungry when he wakes up.”
Bluetail could not understand what she meant. “He ate you! Aren’t you angry?”
Angelina gave him a funny look. “Why should we be? He’s our King.”
They turned another corner, and Bluetail was amazed by what he saw. He was standing in a giant cavern, filled with petpets. There were perhaps over a hundred of them there, every kind imaginable. The cavern was also furnished. In front of him, perhaps ten meters away were rows upon rows of sleeping mats, rolled out on the soft floor. Almost all of the sleeping mats were different from the rest, as if someone had gone mad with the colour scheme. Some petpets were sleeping on theirs; others were sitting up and talking, or playing games. To the left of him, four different large rectangular tables were laid out, with stools and chairs sat around them. The chairs and stools were all different shapes, sizes and colours, and at one end of one of the tables, many petpets crowded round, playing cards or another game of something similar. To his right was what looked like a kitchen. A giant cooking pot was hung over a wood fire. It was hung from the ceiling in a way that looked rather unsafe, but Bluetail didn’t comment on it. There was a step ladder placed beside it, and a tall, brown Jinjah stood on the top step, mixing whatever was in the pot with an incredibly large wooden spoon.
“Welcome to The King’s stomach,” whispered Angelina, and then walked over to the Jinjah, leaving Bluetail standing alone, admiring the glass bulbs that hung from the ceiling in different places, all with a lighted candle contained within the bulb.
“Biscuit, we’ve got a new arrival.”
The Jinjah wiped his forehead with his biscuity hand, and turned to look at Bluetail, who was still looking around at all the furniture. He nodded, and peered closer at Bluetail. “He seems to be a dreamy one. Sure is peculiar; we haven’t had a new one for months.” His voice was gruff, and hearing this, Bluetail walked over to them.
“Hello,” he said shyly.
“The name’s Biscuit, remember that. I’m the cook around here.”
Bluetail nodded. “I’m Bluetail.” He paused and sniffed slightly. “Smells good.”
“Tastes better,” said Biscuit, seeming to be pleased. “It’s vegetable stew.” He turned to Angelina. “Get Bluetail here a sleeping mat and a plate. Come back for him in five minutes.”
Angelina nodded and rushed away. Biscuit seemed to be in charge here.
“Come up here and see the food, Bluetail.”
Bluetail did as Biscuit said, and climbed up the ladder carefully. It was wide, so there was just room enough for the two of them. He looked down; the food looked delicious.
“Where do you get all this food? And this furniture? If we’re inside Turmaculus, then how do you get it?”
Biscuit swallowed and looked at him, unsettled. “I’ll answer your question, but if you ever bring up The King again, then call him ‘The King’. That’s what we call him down here, so no ‘Turmaculus’. OK?”
Bluetail nodded, but didn’t really understand. Why didn’t they call him Turmaculus? That was his name, wasn’t it?
“Good,” began Biscuit, “Now, about your question. The King doesn’t just eat petpets, and as you know he’s quite large and so needs to eat a lot. When the first of us arrived here – the first to be eaten, I mean – a lot of this stuff was already there. Not the food, of course, but the furniture. Other bits of the furniture are other things The King’s eaten over time. Every now and again he goes on hungry rampages, and eats all sort of stuff; tables, chairs, plates, fridges full of food, petpets, bits of roofs, you name it, he’s eaten it. We’ve got thirty refrigerators; all came down since I’ve been here. Stuffed to the brim full of food. There are a lot of us, but The King eats a lot, so we’re fine. See we have to be thankful to The King, because without him, we’d have no food.”
Angelina was back, now holding a white rolled up sleeping mat, a metal plate, and a metal cup.
“Come down, Bluetail, I’ve got your things for you.”
Bluetail obeyed and climbed back down. She handed him the items she was holding.
“Roll out your sleeping mat in the last row.” She pointed to the spot. “Borrow a pen off someone and write your name on the top of it. It’s yours; you never lend it to anyone else. Write your name on your plate a cup as well. You use them at meal times. You wash up your own. Whoever’s serving will fill your plate with food, and fill your glass with water. Understand?”
Bluetail nodded. “How do you get water down here.”
“Very inquisitive, you are.” Angelina laughed. “The King has to drink too, you know. The water comes down where you did, and we collect it from there. That’s why the path here goes upwards, with a sort of ramp contraption, to stop flooding. Now go and get set up; it’s almost dinnertime.”
Bluetail rolled out his mat where he’d been told to, on the row furthest away from the entrance. Most rows had ten people in them, but this one, including him, only had three. The other occupants on his row were a Pirate Doglefox with the name of Patch, and a Halloween Slorg by the name of Teeth. Patch lent him a pen to name his belongings. These two were the most recent newcomers after him. It didn’t seem to bother them that they’d been eaten either.
Bluetail was last in the dinner queue. He got his plate and his glass filled, and walked over to the four tables. He was about to sit down with Teeth, when Biscuit called him over to sit with him. Patch was also sitting near him, and Bluetail was given the impression Biscuit liked to look after the newcomers.
“It’s very good food,” commented Bluetail after trying it. It was true; it certainly did taste nice.
Patch was finished already, which was amazing as he had only been one place before Bluetail in the queue.
“The newest petpet always goes last in the queue; that’s the rules. I’m the second newest; that’s why I’m before you. It’s the same with the order we sleep in,” explained Patch, then he turned to Biscuit. “Can I get seconds?”
Biscuit sighed. “Go on, but remember, tomorrow is the last day you’ll be allowed seconds; we’ve got to save up for the winter.”
After Patch had gone, everyone else started to go too. Bluetail did as well, longing for the taste of the vegetable stew, which had appeared so delicious the first time. When he got back, he asked Biscuit what he meant about saving up for the winter.
“The King likes to sleep all winter, so we never get any food then. In autumn, we start saving up food, so we have enough. We’ve always got plenty in the summer, but during the colder months we sometimes struggle.”
Once dinner was finished, Bluetail dipped his plate and cup in water just like everyone else did. It didn’t look that clean, but he didn’t complain. He was told by Patch that after dinner it was bed, so as soon as the meal ended, and after Biscuit had introduced him to everyone, he walked over to his sleeping mat. But Biscuit stopped him on the way. “Tomorrow I’ll take you to meet Stripes; he’s been here since the beginning. He likes to see all the newcomers.”
Bluetail nodded, too tired to do anything else.
Lying on his sleeping mat, just before lights out, he asked Patch about something that had been bothering him.
“Doesn’t anyone ever try to escape from here? Surely there’s a way out somewhere.”
Patch looked at him strangely. “Why should we? We’ve got everything we need here. We should be glad that we have the honour of living so close to The King.”
Bluetail was puzzled, but asked no more, so as not to cause offence. He looked around at all the other petpets. There were so many of them! He noticed that Biscuit’s and Angelina’s sleeping mats were both on the first row, implying that, as he thought, they were superior to everyone else.
“Lights out!” he heard Angelina call. There was a light above the cooking area, and a light above the dining area, and a light above every single row, at alternate ends each time. Teeth sat up, and Patch climbed on to his shoulders, so that he could reach the light. He opened the small hatch in the front, and blew out the candle. Then they closed the hatch and both lay back down on their sleeping mats. The last candle to go out was the one in the first row. Then it was pitch black, almost. In the dark you could just about make out the faint glow of Angelina’s halo. Bluetail rolled over and tried to get to sleep. That night he dreamt of escape.
To be continued...