You probably all know by now that I wrote Cottleston Pie (what of it I wrote) for my youngest sister, Grace. Gracie is the craziest kid I know: personality-wise she's a mixture of The King and Simpian Grenadine, so it's always fun for me to click open the Cottleston Pie document and write out the next dose of nonsense. I hadn't done this for months now--probably since January or February. To write nonsense, you must be in a very particular frame of mind where nonsensical things roll off your brain at a rapid rate. "Holy-Moly, m'boy. It takes brain-power!" So I don't push to write nonsense in any time-frame. Since Cottleston Pie is more episodic anyway, I work on it whenever the mood strikes me. :)
Last night while the younger ones were folding laundry, they asked for a story. I, in my ever-thoughtful imagination, told them a story about a Dingle-Hopper bird that had spoons for feet, knives for a beak, wings made out of waxed paper and a body made out of sugar. He stole all the fresh produce every night from the poor chef's garden, and finally one night the chef trapped him under a basket by way of a blueberry pie. It rained that night and the next morning the Dingle-Hopper had dissolved, leaving nothing but spoons, knives, and waxed-paper wings behind.
They all got tears in their eyes.
What on earth makes them throw their loyalties to the villain of the story? Eh. Anyway, to cheer them up from that tragedy, I read to them Cottleston Pie and this morning I tapped out another chapter at which I thought you might like to have a peep. You will need to know that the King thinks cows are "Skellingtons" (and is mortally afraid of them), and Simpian and the King just sent a message to The Friendly Ones (the friendly whats?) by way of a reluctant, nasty old crow and await the reply. Enjoy this chapter--it's especially inspired by Gracie who has a dread of getting rickets but isn't quite sure what they are. :)
Chapter 4: A Plague of Rickets
Simpian and the King lived for some days in a paste of Anxiety and Despair while waiting to see if the crow had taken their message like a proper carrier-pigeon to the Friendly Ones. There were just so many things that could go wrong with a mission like this; the crow could have untied the string with his bill—though since the King had threatened to cook him, Simpian wasn't certain he would have tried that—or perhaps the scroll of paper had dropped off his leg while flying and was now speared on some thornbush in the Middle of Nowhere and would never get to the Friendly Ones ever in their life; what a sad prospect.
So it was that the mood at Cottleston Pie was a bit less “Happy Birthday” these days and a bit more like “Time for a Bath”. Simpian tried not to be cross with the King for all the silly things he did, like tying Simpian's shoes to the door of the tree-house for a knocker, “carving” things with his pencil on the floor, or eating the ginnerbread Simpian was saving for the Friendly Ones whenever they came.
Simpian had just awakened from not-sleeping when he saw the the King running his red pointer-finger round and round the inside of a rather empty tin. “Your Majeshty!”
The King jumped and turned the color of Tottles's head-rag. “I'm washing the dishes so you don't have to,” he hurried to say, and popped the last of the crumbs into his post-box mouth. “The ginnerbread's all right.”
“There wouldn't be dishes to wash if there was still ginnerbread in that box. Did you eat it all?”
The King turned the tin upside-down over his head and shrugged. “I can't imagine where it went. Holy Moly, boy, but it's fast! It just took one look at me and said, 'Catch me if you can' and off it went toward the Rickety Pines.”
Simpian stood, brushed the grass from his pants, and took the tin from the King. It really was tragically empty. “You're lying to me. You ate it.”
“I'm not lying. I'm sitting up. Look at me: the model of Perfect Poshter.” The King sat up straight as a tree and even made an effort to fix his crown. Simpian looked at him closely. As far as he knew, liars grew enormously long noses—the King's nose was enormous, but it wasn't what you'd call long.
Simpian tucked the tin under his arm and drummed on it with his fingertips. “Did you maybe just taste the ginnerbread?”
The crown slipped over the King's nose and he righted it again with a sorry smile. “I did. As a reward for my Perfect Poshter.”
“How many times did you taste it?”
The King grinned and shook Simpian's hand. “And a very good 'aha' to you.”
Simpian scratched his head and wished the King hadn't eaten all the gingerbread...he didn't know if Tottles would let him have anymore and they must have a treat for the Friendly Ones. “Didja take that many tastes because you had such good Poshter?”
“Holy-Moly, boy. Did you ever see such a straight spine and fine legs? I had rickets as a child but lookit me now! I'm big as a genie in a bottle who's got out of his bottle.”
Simpian now sat on the tin, curious. “What's Rickets?”
“Rickets is a disease. A terrible sickness that'd kill you soon as look at you.”
Rickets. Simpian liked the sound of it...it sounded a little like crickets and a little dangerous. “Where do you get it from?”
“From dancing.” The King said. “Or...” and Simpian noticed his face looked a little pale, “Or from being too handsome. Or sometimes just because the Ricket jumps on you--not in a polite way such as 'Can I make you ill?' but more of the sort that catches you by surprise in the middle of the Night, or the middle of the day. Or at the tea-table.”
Rickets. Villains, that's what. “What happens to you when you've got a Ricket?”
“Your back hurts and your nose stuffs and then you start to walk like a hunchback.”
Simpian felt a shiver-fish slide over his body at the mention of a Hunchback. “What then?”
“Then your legs go like noodles and Holy-Moly, boy, that's not the worst part.”
“What is the worst part?”
The King's face was serious and quiet like he had a pain somewhere. “The worst part is that you can never ever ever get better again.”
“But how did you get better?”
“I didn't say I couldn't get better, did I? You're the one that would never get better. That is, if you were lucky enough to be stricken by Rickets. It's choosy about who it Strikes. You can't be too careful if you're a disease, striking people who don't deserve it.”
Simpian wished the King would stop talking about sicknesses and...and Hunchbacks. He remembered hearing about another king in a history book sometime. This king had a hunchback and he really wasn't very nice to the two little boys he kept locked up in a Tower. “I don't want Rickets,” he said, and plopped on the ground Indian-style.
“Well,” the King sniffed. “That doesn't much matter to them. What matters is, does Rickets want you?”
“I hope not.” 'Specially because the King had said he'd never get better, and though Simpian liked being coddled well enough, and getting things like pudding and cambric tea, he didn't much like the thought of having to be Only Allister forever an' ever. He always had to be Allister when he was sick, because things like Rickets don't bother Pirates named Simpian Grenadine. Which, Simpian thought, was probably just as well because Pirates don't have doctors either and there'd be no one to give him medicine.
“Ohhhhhhh!” The King groaned so loudly that he jostled Simpian out of his thoughts and made him jump like when someone says “Boo!” in a dark room.
“The Rickets have got me!” The King rolled over onto his side, clutching his stomach and blubbering to himself.
“What do I do?”
“There's nothing to do. Holy-Moly, boy! This is the end! Say goodbye to the dear old Cottleston Pie Tree for me.”
“It's right behind you.”
The King squinted open one eye and felt the tree with a groping hand. “So it is, my boy. So it is.” He wrapped his arm as far around the tree-trunk as he could. “Ohhhhh ow ow ow. Farewell, or as the French say, Ar-Ree-var! You have been a good home to me and how often I have spent a pleasant afternoon eating peppermint sticks under your leaves. Goodbye, stars! Goodbye moon! Goodbye Rickety Pines. Skellingtons and Crows can trouble me no more. Goodbye world.”
He kissed the bark of the tree and then returned to rolling around on the ground with his hands on his big stomach, moaning.
Simpian thought it a little curious that the King had said Rickets attacked your legs and back, but here he was holding his stomach. “Are you sure this is Rickets?”
But the King would do nothing but moan. Probably ate too much ginnerbread. Simpian watched the King for some time, and then he began to feel odd himself. It started as a tingling feeling in his legs. Rickets. And the tingle spread to his knees. Simpian tried to thing about something else—how a Pirate might kill a Ricket if one tried to attack him—but that was hard to do when your head started aching and your stomach flip-flopped like a drying tadpole. Was it really Rickets? Would he be sick for the rest of his life, or would it kill him quickly?
“Ohhhhhh, ow ow ow! The Rickets has a knife! It's killing me!”
Simpian dragged himself over to the King's side and grabbed his hand. “The Ricket has got me too. If we have to die we can do it together.”
“As friends?” The king asked.
“As best friends.”
“Bravo. You're a noble Pirate, Simpian Grenadine but--Ow--you might try getting us some Medicine!”
Did Pirates faint, and it they did, would now be a good time? Simpian wasn't feeling well at all, he imagined. “What sort of medicine?”
“Lemon-grass,” the king panted. His round face was pale in some spots and red in others. Simpian wondered if he looked as terrible as the poor King.
“Lemon-grass grows in India.” Simpian laid his head on his arms and watched a passing ant with one eye, deciding he felt miserable. So this was Rickets.
The King fished around the base of the Cottleston Pie tree and brought forward a handful of clover-like leaves and pretty purple blossoms. “This is lemon-grass.”
“Don't argue with a dying Majeshty.” The King curled up in a ball again. “Owwwwww. Quick boy, make a poultice.”
“A what?” Simpian got to his knees, forgetting to feel sick for a moment.
“A poultice. You chew up the leaves and smack them on my wound.”
“You don't have a wound.”
The King fixed him with one glassy eye. “Holy-Moly, boy. Don't argue with a dying—ooooooh.”
He sounded in terrible pain this time. Simpian took the handful of flowers and leaves and stuffed them in his mouth. They did taste like lemon, actually. Simpian swallowed because he was hungry, come to think of it, and picked some more to chew up for the poultice. When the leaves and flowers had been reduced to a paste in his mouth, he spat the mixture into his hand. It glistened green and sticky in the morning sunlight. “What now, Your Majeshty?”
“Put it on my wound.”
“Here.” The King tapped his forehead and Simpian made a face.
“On your head?”
“Owww. Do as I say.”
Well well. So this was how to make a poultice and cure Rickets? Being a doctor was easy. Simpian patted the lemon-grass into a neat green stripe on the King's head. He didn't have to bind it up because it stuck together on its own. “Now what?”
“Leave me in peace.”
“Will it help your Rickets?”
“Nothing helps Rickets.”
“But you said--”
“It helps me think,” the King moaned.
Simpian laid beside the King, starting to feel ill again. If only the Friendly Ones would answer their message and come looking for them. The Friendly One might be a doctor or an Indian-Brave who would know how to cure Rickets. But there was no one. They were all alone, the King and Simpian Grenadine; all alone at Cottleston Pie. They'd die quietly together, best friends and companions, and maybe someone would build a cross over-top of them and wonder who they once were.
Simpian thought all these things as the laid in the bright sunlight, and the day grew hotter and more impatient around them. It wasn't nice at all being sick. It felt just like being grumpy, only his stomach and head were involved. It felt a little like being hungry too, except for the grumpiness and the headache. In the background, the King whimpered.
“Do you think the Friendly Ones will come?” Simpian slipped his hand back into the King's and squeezed it a little.
“We could sing for them.”
“I could sing for them.”
So Simpian made up a song about the carrier-pigeons and Cottleston Pie, and the Friendly Ones and Rickets and he watched the land all round their hill:
“Rickets aren't crickets
They're ouch-er and meaner
And crickets aren't Rickets
They're nicer and cleaner.
And carrier-pigeons deliver
So we hope that our carrier-crow
will not fail.
We'd be willing to pay a good doctor a dollar
For splints or a bandage or something to swoller...”
(this last bit didn't quite rhyme and Simpian made a face while he sang it, but something had to go there and “swoller” would just have to do.)
“But nobody's coming, and waiting's no fun,
And if you don't come soon we'll get cooked by the sun.”
No one came. The sun grew even hotter and Simpian's head began to throb. He'd been keeping a watch through the whole song and could see very well the Dark Woods on one side of the hill and on the other, the Field leading up to Waterloo and the Rickety Pines. No one. Not a single speck that could maybe be someone by-and-by.
And just when Simpian was wishing the Rickets would hurry up and kill them—or better yet: go away--he felt a very small earthquake beneath him. Rolling over, Simpian saw the earth crack open in a furrow. Something very like a cigar-butt peered out at him with a grin and two bright black eyes beneath a paper soldier-hat.
“Are you a Friendly One?” Simpian asked, liking the look of this fellow. “Or better yet, can you cure Rickets?”