The One About the Quiggle
The soft knock might as well have been a sledge hammer banging on the door, so much did it disturb my concentration. Frowning, I put down the jar of peanut butter I had been eating out of and went to open the door. Standing on the worn out “Welcome to Pavilion Inn” mat was a bespectacled yellow Kacheek, looking a bit twitchy and nervous.
“Ah, hello there, um, Storyteller sir,” he stammered. He put his hand as if to salute me, but then, with an awkward wave, let it rest at his side.
“Hello,” I said, letting the irritation at the interruption lace my voice. “What can I do for you?”
“Oh! Yes, the reason I’m... Yes, well, y’see sir, there’s a woman who wants to talk to you,” the Kacheek explained, straightened his glasses constantly as he spoke.
I sighed. “Look, it’s late. I’ll go see her in the morning.” I started go back into my room.
“But, but, but sir! She’s, uh, dying, sir, and um, wants to tell you a story!”
I paused in midstride.
“She wants to tell me a story?” I repeated.
“Yes, she’s dying, and she said she wants this story to be known before she, um, y’know...” The little Kacheek gazed up at me pleadingly.
The thought was intriguing. Being a traveling storyteller, I was usually the one giving the stories, not receiving them. This little village nestled deep in the Meridell hills had not been a part of my route before, due to the severe lack of people living here, but this year I had decided to give it a chance. I had told a few stories early today, much to the people’s delight. I suppose that they did not receive many visitors, much less one who would give so many details about the outside world. Nonetheless, it had been a tiring day, and now I was preparing for my journey to leave tomorrow morning. I did not necessarily have time to listen to the ramblings of an old woman who would most likely tell me something I already knew. To be fair, though, my stories had become a little stretched, and I had had a few unresponsive audiences in the past weeks. It could not hurt, after all, to listen to a new story.
“All right,” I said at last. “Let me just grab my things, and I’ll be right over. Where does she live?”
* * *
The little house was not much different than the ones surrounding it, except perhaps for the little row of rocks that aligned the path. Still, it had a pleasant feel, as one might expect from the grandmotherly figure of the neighborhood. I knocked softly, yet briskly on the door, wiping my feet on the “Welcome” mat. A tired-looking pink Acara opened the door, staring at me for a few moments before launching into speech.
“Oh! You’re the Storyteller! Dear me, you’re very tall! Here’s me expecting a Lupe or a JubJub, but here’s you, an incredibly tall Lenny! Oh, I do love your color. It speaks so much of your profession. Rainbow! Just like your stories! Oh, listen to me ramble! I’m dreadfully sorry. Please, please, do come in.”
I smiled benignly, stepping across the threshold and into the house. “Thank you.”
The first thing that struck me as I entered was the humidity. The outside night air was cool and refreshing, but inside the house itself was like being near the hot springs of Mystery Island. The Acara must have noticed my expression, for she said:
“Oh, yes, we have to keep it warm in here for Grandmother, for the doctor says the cold air is bad for her lungs.”
“It’s quite all right,” I lied. “Is ‘Grandmother’ the one who wanted to see me?”
I followed the woman from the entryway and into a narrow hallway, and we stopped outside of a door.
“Yes. It’s really quite strange,” the Acara said, turning to me. “I don’t know how she even knew you were in town, but she kept repeating, ‘I have a story for him! I have quite a story for him!’ ”
“Do you know this story?” I asked, interested.
“I don’t believe so. Grandmother really isn’t the one for telling stories, y’see, so it’s all very strange.” She proceeded to open the door, gesturing I should go in ahead of her.
“Grandmother” was an elderly brown Yurble, with shots of white that entwined her hair. She was lying listlessly on the small bed when I entered, but as soon as I sat down on a nearby chair, her eyes shot open.
I must confess, it was a startling sight to see those milky white orbs gazing in my direction. Mixed feeling of pity and intrigue filled me as I searched for words. It’s not a pleasant feeling, not knowing what to say. Fortunately, the woman spoke first.
“Well? Speak up! I can’t see, y’know! Here I am, blind as a brick wall, and you as silent as one!” she snapped, struggling to a sitting position.
“I... I’m the Storyteller,” I stuttered. “I’ve come to hear this story of yours.”
Instantly, the harsh expression faded off her lined features.
“You sound very young,” she said, still a bit gruff. “I think I like you.”
I was not sure if this was supposed to flatter me, so I said nothing.
“I have a story. A rip-snorting good one!” she proclaimed, pumping her veiny fist in the air. “And I want you to hear it!”
It was even more stifling in this room than it had been in the rest of the house, and I was very uncomfortable.
“Couldn’t you just tell it to one of your family members?” I asked, taking off my jacket.
“No,” she said stubbornly. “Are you ready?”
Though her gaze was resting on my left shoulder, it was still disconcerting and I was very awkward in pulling out my notebook and a pen.
“Yes. So, um, just start whenever you’re ready,” I said, pen poised over the paper.
For as talkative as she had been, it was quite a few minutes before she spoke again.
“I want you to know that this story is true. Very true. None of that fiction stuff,” she said severely.
I started to nod my understanding, checked myself, and said, “Of course.”
“Okay then.” When she started to talk, her voice was drastically different, sounding far away, not only in distance but in time.
“It was a long time ago, probably before you were born or at least when you were very young. In a village, not unlike this one, there was a boy. A delightful child, he was, a nice yellow color like the sun, and he was always cheerful and happy, this Quiggle. His family, like so many others in the village, worked as farmers, planting the crops every spring, tending them every summer, and harvesting them every fall. Every person was needed for such laborious work and it was not uncommon for families to work together. This boy’s family was especially hard-pressed for hands, as they lived some distance from others, and it was up to his father and brothers to do all the work.
“You ask, why did not the boy help also? Well, he was a magnificent storyteller. He had a story for every occasion, for every situation, for everything. Children would gather around him, hour upon the hour, listening to his stories. The word spread, and soon the adults came to listen too.
“ ‘Marvellous boy!’ they would proclaim.
“ ‘Entrancing!’ some would cry.
“ ‘You must be very proud,’ others would tell the father.
“The father, however, was not all proud of his son. True, it was very nice to have a famous child, but the boy had one flaw for all his marvelous gifts. He was very lazy. All he did every day was lie under a tree – right by the fields where his father and brothers worked all day, mind you – and tell his stories. His mother would bring him food and water whenever he wished, and it was unusual for him to move even an inch for hours.
“His brothers would come and plead with him, ‘Come on and help us! The faster we get it done, the more time we have for play!’
“But the boy would reply, ‘Why should I be bothered with work? You’re doing a great job, and I have all the time I want to do whatever I want!’
“The father would drag the boy to the fields, but he could not make him work. At last, it was decided that it was simpler to let well enough alone, and the boy became lazier than ever.
“One day, a stranger came through the village, looking for a good meal and a warm bed. It was a young Yurble, and she easily became acquainted with the village children, who told her the best place for good food was the Quiggle storyteller’s house. The Yurble saw the young storyteller before reaching the house, and the thought that perhaps it would be best to ask before intruding upon his family’s hospitality came across her mind. He was finishing a story to a pair of enraptured weewoos, as the Yurble approached.
“ ‘Excuse me, but would you mind giving a poor girl some food and a day’s rest?’
“The boy did not respond, but went on telling his story as if he had not heard her.
“ ‘Excuse me, I don’t mean to bother you, but I’m awfully hungry and tired,’ she said, a bit more loudly than before.
“The Quiggle finally glanced up at the girl. ‘I won’t give you anything. Go ask my mother.’
“ ‘Well, I wanted to ask if it was all right first, you see. I don’t want to take your only food,’ the Yurble replied with a touch of asperity.
“ ‘What’s it to me? My mother brings me food every day, I’m sure we have enough.’
“ ‘Don’t you know the condition of your own cupboard?’ the girl asked, surprised.
“ ‘No, and I don’t care to. I’m a storyteller, not an accountant or a farm laborer. I stay here all day and I’m content. I’m the best storyteller in the world! Now go away. You’re disturbing my creative waves.’
“It made the Yurble very angry to see this young child act in such a disrespectful way.
“ ‘Why don’t you help your family? I doubt storytelling is a valuable source of income.’
“The boy then grew very annoyed. ‘I’ve said before, I don’t care! I can tell stories if I want to! And I’ll tell them for the rest of my life!’
“ ‘Oh, you’ll tell stories all right. In fact, you’ll never stop talking. All day and all night, you will talk. But no longer will your stories be pleasing to the ear. Instead, they will sound crude and undesirable! And you will be mocked for your unpleasant voice instead of praised!’ the Yurble cried, waving her arms about grotesquely.
“The storyteller had risen to his feet during this speech, looking greatly alarmed and very angry.
“ ‘Listen, you. I –’ But then he stopped and a look of fear came across his face. His lovely yellow color had turned an ugly, mottled green.
“ ‘What’s happening?’ he cried.
“ ‘Exactly what was bound to happen!’ the Yurble shrieked. ‘Your laziness has finally come around full circle. You are to be a Mortog, doing nothing all day except croaking to any one who will care to listen.’ A spark of mania had come into the girl’s eyes. ‘Not much different than what you’re doing now.’
“The boy started to protest, but all that he could say was, ‘CRO-AK! CRO-AK!’
“At midday, the storyteller’s father came round to the tree to tell his son that it was time for lunch. But all he found was a very big Mortog, croaking like mad. To his surprise, it hopped over to the fields, as if it wanted to work. The father, of course, did not understand that this was his son, at last ready to help out his family. Very confused, the man took the Mortog to Pavilion Pond, where that unfortunate boy was to spend the remainder of his days. The parents searched for their lost son, but they eventually came to the conclusion that the boy had finally run away.”
The old Yurble gave a wheezing sort of cough and muttered, “And that’s it.” There was a bit of twinkle in those old eyes as she said, “Never heard a story like that, eh, laddie?”
I smiled, hoping she would be able to hear it in my voice. “I’ve heard men-turned-Mortog stories before, but you’re right. Never like this. Very interesting.”
“Terribly so,” she agreed, and grinned.
* * *
I should have been grateful to leave the stuffy, little house, but actually, I was very sorry to have to go. I stood just outside the fence, gazing at the yellow squares of light that marked the house’s windows.
“Very interesting,” I repeated to myself as I tore myself away.
In the distance, I could hear Mortogs croaking, the only sound that broke the stillness of the night. One in particular was very loud and its pitch went up and down, much like a person’s voice. I stood listening to it for awhile, then continued on back to the Inn.
“Very, very interesting,” I said again, and shut the door behind me.