Last Year at this time I was in Cambodia and I blogged about it plus I wrote a short story a day. This two-parter tickled me so I thought I’d re-do it. Part 2 tomorrow. It will feature in my next anthology of short Fiction, Life In A Conversation, due out for Christmas!
The Sleeks were a family of seven otter siblings who lived together in a holt on the edge of the Magical Forest, as you do in fairy stories. The brothers never knew their parents – another of those fairy stereotypes. Only in this case it wasn’t because of some wicked queen or wind from the east but rather because it has stretched my imagination to come up with seven otter names as it is.
They were called, oldest first: Oily, Fishy, Stinky, Slick, Nipper, Night Owl and Colin, and so far as it went they rubbed along okay, keeping the rivers clear of debris and providing fish to the usual bunch of low brow royals and unelected elites that people what passes for governments in Fairy Land.
Oily, being the oldest had always led the way when it came to visiting the Magical Citadel to deliver the day’s catch. Recently, however a Chamber of Commerce had been set up to regulate all supplies into and out of the Citadel. Oily was informed by the obese yet twinkled-eyed Burgermeister that the CoC had received a complaint, to whit Oily Sleek was leaving unsightly stains on the upholstery so could another otter bring the catch. Fishy tried but he couldn’t resist eating his cargo so Stinky took over. Needless to say the Citadel prided itself on its inherent fragrance so his tenure lasted one visit.
It is here we can glimpse the baddy in this story, for all fairy stories need a dastardly Villain. The Court Florist, who for convenience we shall name the Wicked Florist in keeping with the genre, but whose real name was Beryl, hated smells that she hadn’t decreed to be pleasant and was behind Stinky’s demotion. Indeed the general Parfum D’Otter gave her conniptions and she was determined to keep them all away. Sleek tried next and while he wasn’t as odiferous as his brothers, he rivalled Beryl with his vanity. When she spotted him checking his coat in each mirror he passed, his days were numbered. Nipper bit Beryl’s assistant and Night Owl overslept leaving Colin as the last hope. It was touch and go. While Beryl raged, saying fish should be banned the King, your archetypal wimp, dithered. His daughters, the Princesses Beige and Bland were used to having their way. They liked fish – it rarely came in strong colours after all – and they pressed their father to be tough.
While King and daughters debated, Colin sat in a bowl provided for him and listened to the chit-chat about him. Soon he heard something that horrified him. Deep in the Magical Forest the most wondrous plant grew. Lotus Flower was said to double the spectrum so vivid were her colours. She could be heard singing to raise spirits and being so sickeningly perfect that she could only exist in Fairy Land or on the fringes of reality TV. Few people saw her – it was said she only appeared to those who needed her – but her qualities were so well-known that no one questioned them. Yet, if Colin had heard right, The Wicked Florist was planning on digging her up and bringing her to the Citadel to win the King’s favour.
Colin wasn’t about to let this happen. He slid from the bowl, slipped a couple of carp in his day-bag and headed for the wood. Of course he had adventures and of course I should draw everything out making it seem like he wasn’t going to find her. Let’s skip to the chase. She was chatting to a couple of flighty Marigolds by a babbling brook, who frankly was driving the three Pretty Petal Peeps mad.
‘Lotus Flower, I have come to rescue you.’
The plant eyed the otter sceptically. ‘You know who I am, Otterboy?’
‘You’re Lotus Flower, the beauteous, the magnificent, the…’
‘Yeah, yeah. Point is I’m the one who does the saving, capiche? Why don’t you run along and do something useful. Like build a dam to stop this bloody brook babbling.’
‘I’m an otter, not a beaver….’
She turned away. ‘Talk to my agent. Morning glory. Always thinks he’s bigger than he really is. Over by the creepy old mansion. He’ll give you some of my dried petals and stuff.’ She turned to her friends. ‘So, I was minding my own business when…’
‘The Wicked Florist is planning on ripping you up and taking you to the Citadel to impress the King.’
Lotus Flower stretched her stem and sighed. ‘Not again? That woman will be the death of me. Ok Otterboy, what do you propose?’
‘I will dig up your roots and carry you to my holt where I will plant you and tend you and you will be safe from her evil plans. She’ll never find you there.’
‘Holt you say? Is that like a fairy princess’ boudoir?’
Colin wasn’t completely without gorm. ‘Near enough.’
‘Well lead on, spatula-paws. I’m all yours.’
Soon Colin and Lotus Flower approached the holt. Lotus Flower, being unused to the conditions wrinkled her petals. ‘Kiddo. There’s this, I don’t know how to say it politely, pong. Is that normal?’
‘My brother. Stinky.’
She swallowed. ‘Well-named. How many others live here? ‘
‘Me and my six brothers. We’re one big happy family.’ Colin clapped his paws and gradually one after the other of the Sleeks emerged to greet their guest.
Oily took Colin on one side. ‘I don’t want to put a dampener on things but is this wise? Getting on the wrong side of the Wicked Florist?’
Colin smiled. ‘No one knows. If we don’t say she will be safe and so will we. And we will have her wonderful scent.’
They both looked at Stinky. Oily nodded. ‘Fair enough.’ He turned to Lotus Flower. ‘Okay girlie. So what do you do? Cook? Sew? Keep house?’
Lotus Flower turned to Oily with a look of utter disdain. ‘Ignoring for a moment your outdated patriarchal assumptions about the place of women in society, in case you haven’t noticed I’m a bloody plant so can hardly go dancing around the kitchen, can I? Just pop me in the soil and I’ll look after myself for now.’
The Brothers Sleek took a step back. They weren’t used to such a forceful presence and certainly not a female one. While Night Owl, who’d woken what with all the noise helped Colin plant Lotus Flower the other brothers went about their daily work. Mostly they ignored their guest even though each of them had to take a turn with the watering and the pruning and trimming and seed collecting. Only Slick paid her much attention, discussing what she thought was his best side and how to ensure the best image when reflected in the stream.
Meanwhile, as is the way in Fairy Land, the woodland folk were missing their favourite daughter and full time gossip. Word got back to the Citadel that Lotus Flower had been rescued by a dashing young knight clad in black leather. Let’s face it, Marigolds aren’t the spiciest of weeds and wet fur can pass for shiny leather on a dark day with the light behind you. The Wicked Florist sent out word that she would pay handsomely for information concerning the whereabouts of Lotus Flower and the identity of this mysterious knight. And also, in case anyone was in any doubt those self-same people with information that they didn’t share with her would pay handsomely if she found out.
Back in the holt Fishy was the first to voice a commonly held concern. ‘When is she going to do anything for us?’
‘Beyond the lovely scent?’
‘That’s sort of a given.’
Oily was charged, as the eldest to ask Colin to ask her what she might be prepared to do, if that was alright, not that they were pressing or making a big thing of it or anything. Colin approached Lotus Flower rather cautiously but this being Fairy Land she already knew what he wanted to say. ‘What can I do for you guys? What can’t I? But each of your brothers has to believe I can help and ask and then I will.’
‘Um, okay. I’ll let you know.’
Meanwhile one of the Marigolds, who’d finally remembered the rescuer was an otter, was at the Potters, having her compost tinted when she bumped into a Petunia. She told her, you know in strictest confidence, who met Lotus Flower’s manager, the Morning Glory at a Cactus de-spining. He had felt deflated even since she’d gone without a word so he told a couple of tarty Fuchsias after a night on the fertilizer, who’d gossiped to a bed of Lilies during a seed-shower party and before you knew it the Wicked Florist had sent her Horticultural Hit squad to bring in the Marigold. It only took minimum torture – ripping out half a dozen petals and breaking a leaf in two – before she explained what she knew. Which wasn’t much but the Burgermeister was sitting in and said to himself, ‘That’ll be the Sleeks’. Not that he told the Wicked Florist, natch. I mean that would be too easy, perlease. Nope the hunt was on to work out which family of otters were destined to become the latest winter pelt to the cognoscenti.