Unknown Date 2479 A.R.T
I should like to inform the reader that the following diary entry is an account of the most eventful day of my second life up to this date and thus it quite a lengthy passage. I would advise anyone who is planning to attempt reading it all in one sitting to organise snacks to avoid starvation, visit the lavatory beforehand to lessen the risk of soiling your undergarments and also to make yourself as comfortable and as warm as possible (maybe hug a snug or failing that fill a hot water bottle.) If you are the kind of person who likes to read alone then I suggest you inform friends and family of where you will be and what you are about to attempt. That way if you do not return, they can send help to you or at the very least recover your remains. I have included an interval midway through this passage in order to lessen its strain upon the mind. You will also find a poem on the interval page entitled ‘My Spoon and I,’ which I hope will act as a cleanser for your psyche and give you the strength to continue. I would also like to inform the reader that the following account includes violence, inappropriately shaped fruit, mild swearing, gore and accounts of explosive animal flatulence.
The forest in daylight had seemed nowhere near as threatening as it had during the night. The morning sunlight had brought an almost unbearable heat and humidity with it which had seemed at odds with the season and the unnerving cries of the creatures of the night had been replaced with the buzzing of flies and the chirruping of birds. Some of us, (myself included,) had felt rather homesick and we had travelled back the way we’d come hoping to catch a glimpse of our distant mountain before we began our foraging activities. When we had reached the band of ghostly brambles however we had found that the forest no longer had an edge. Instead the trees had continued fathomlessly beyond them, swallowing up the land which had previously held the valley with the pretty waterfall.
Something’s not right here, Horizon had written, tapping the dome of his celestial compass and giving it a gentle shake. We’re in the right place I’m sure of it but the terrain has altered and the sun is in the wrong place. Its rising in the north but it should rise in the east.
I had asked Horizon what all this meant and he had informed me that he was not entirely sure. He had advised that we found higher ground so that we could better survey the surrounding landscape and so we had headed toward a knoll of trees which had been visible to the south-east, exploring the surrounding forest as we went.
There had been a great deal of low-lying vegetation and plenty of grass and alfalfa which I had picked in great handfuls for the starving bunnies of Little Bedlam, packing it into my pouches and Scripts satchel. Oats had advised me to also pick some of the ripe seed heads promising me that he would do his best to grow the bunnies a supply of food back in the rich silt surrounding our mountain. He had been brimming with excitement and had told me that he had already found many useful plants, including some of the medicinal herbs which Doctor Phlegm had requested and that he had filled the pouches on his belt with seeds, cuttings and bulbs. He had also stated that prior to then he had only encountered some of the forest’s flora in the pages of botanical chronicles which had been brought back from distant lands, a memory which had been dredged from the remnants of his prior mind. He had admitted that some of the flora however was still a complete mystery to him and he had requested taking further seed samples so that he might study them further, a request which I had happily agreed to.
As we had ventured onwards Pulida had joined me and had shared an interesting and insightful theory with me, stating that he did not believe that the forest was part of the Known Expanse at all. He had theorised that it was somehow pressing itself into the Known Expanse from a distant region, periodically bulging into our midst like a hernia in reality. He’d gone on to express his concerns that the forest had once again departed the Know Expanse and had carried us all away to its place of origin, a theory which had explained the change in climate, the exotic plant life, the altered terrain and the confused dawn. I’d had a horrible suspicion that Pulida’s theory was correct and I had asked him to keep it to himself until we were absolutely sure of the situation. I do not know why but the thought of the forest vanishing whilst we were in it had never occurred to me and I had chastised myself for my stupidity. I had been so intent on reaching the forest whilst it was in our midst that I had neglected to think about what would happen when it departed again and I had feared that I had led my friends into an unknown and potentially dangerous land.
I had found the forest’s humidity to be quite stifling and I had been hampered by a film of condensation which had relentlessly accumulated on my goggles. The moisture had seemingly penetrated everything and before long the leaflitter, which had been dried out by the odd powdery precipitation the previous night, had once again been sopping wet and slippery underfoot.
Whilst we had explored a particularly splendid portion of the forest, something small and furry had darted past us and had concealed itself in the vegetation. Bubbles, who seemed to have a great fondness for fluffy animals had skipped away to investigate, the words It’s so darn furry! hastily scrawled across her slate. Around the same time Blancmanche had paused to investigate some plump pink fruits which had hung from a thick overhead vine. He had fondled them with interest and had beckoned to Oats and Omen, his slate baring questions about the fruit and their palatability. Oats had deemed them to be an edible fruit known as angel’s feet. Omen however had looked upon the fruit with fear and had expressed concerns that, if picked, they might bring about our doom. I had turned toward Cloud to find that he had become entranced by a large flying insect which had been somewhere between a butterfly and a bumblebee, perching himself upon a fallen branch to watch it flit amongst the trees. Pulida, Horizon and Taboo had stood beside him, rather animatedly discussing the oddities of the land in which we’d found ourselves, Taboo making good use of my censored swear words.
I had turned when Skull had placed his hand on my shoulder. I’m just going to sit Butter down and try to straighten her beak whilst everyone is busy, he’d written. She’s a lot safer when she’s on her bum. I had nodded and had followed Skull’s example, deciding to do some exploring whilst the others were occupied. I had noted that Skull and Butter were still acting rather odd, keeping their distance from the rest of us and furtively exchanging messages on their shared slate.
Leaves of every shade of red, orange and yellow had drifted down from the canopy above us like confetti. At the time this had been a pleasant analogy but now the thought of thousands of pieces of paper falling down upon me fills me with a fear so deep that I find it hard to put it into words. Some of the leaves had floated gracefully while others had fallen like stones, thudding into the leaflitter. I had examined one of the heavy leaves and had discovered that it was in fact metallic and its autumnal colouring was due to a layer of rust which had accumulated on its surface. I had crushed the leaf in my hand crumbling it into large rusty flakes. Curious, I had examined one of the metallic leaved trees and had found that its trunk and boughs were also metallic, covered in a thick coating of shiny copper-coloured bark which had the pliable consistency of lead. I had looked up into its boughs to discover clusters of large metal nuts hanging from its lowermost branches. The nuts had varied in size from the size of a sparrow’s egg to the size of a clutch of eggs laid by several medium sized hens. Unlike the leaves, the nuts had been free of corrosion and were a shiny silver in colour. They had appeared to have been buffed to a mirror-like finish and as I’d watched, a small fluffy creature had appeared from a rusty hole in the tree trunk. The creature had been black in colour and it had owned an odd fan-shaped tail which it had held low between its hind legs. It had possessed both feathers and fur and it had also boasted a wattle and comb similar to those you might see adorning a chicken or a cockatrice. A set of long, curved claws had protruded from its forelegs which I imagine it used to anchor itself to the tree and it had skittered along the branches toward the hanging nuts. It had surveyed the nuts for some time and I recall wondering if it intended to attempt making a meal of one of them. Eventually however the creature had extended its forelegs and the feathers which covered them had stood on end, giving the appearance that the creature was holding two feather dusters. It had then begun to polish and dust the nuts and surrounding branches, behaviour which I had found very odd indeed.
At the base of the tree I had spotted a fallen nut amongst the leaflitter and, thinking that a shiny silver nut would make an excellent souvenir for Magpie, I had bent to pick it up. I had been delighted to find that the nut jingled like a bell when shook, its innards striking its metallic shell and I had gazed at my reflection in its mirror-like finish. It had been then that I had heard a shrill squeal of outrage from above me and I had looked up to see that several more of the feather duster creatures had appeared in the branches above and were gaping down at me with expressions which I can only describe as livid.
I had decided that it was time to quash my curiosity and leave the dusters in peace and so I had turned and walked back towards the others who had now grouped together to look at something in an adjacent tree. I had done my best to look casual but with every step I’d taken the dusters’ cries had become more and more agitated until, as I had neared Cloud’s side, their distress had erupted into a wailing frenzy. I had turned and had recoiled in horror to see that a dozen or so of the dusters had reorganised their feathers into wings and were now gliding towards me, their wattles aquiver with anger. One of them had glided straight into my face and had clamped its tiny jaws onto my goggles, whilst several others had attacked my hands. Unsure what I had done to engage the tiny beasts and not wishing to cause them further insult or injury I had flailed helplessly and had attempted to reason with them by writing, Can’t we talk about this like grownups, a fete which had been rather difficult as one of them had been gnawing upon my wrist at the time. Understandably this tactic had not got through to them and in the end, Skull had stepped in and had plucked the creatures from me, tossing them into the leaflitter. Despite imploring the creatures to stop their hostilities and kindly asking them not to make me run as I had recently suffered an horrific toe stubbing injury the creatures had quickly regrouped and had resumed their attack now targeting Skull too. Butter had attempted to come to Skull’s aid but she had quickly been taken out of the fight by a protruding root.
Bubbles had come racing through the trees from wherever she had followed the furry creature to, jingling as she had approached. Seeing our predicament, she had skidded to a halt. Did one of you take a nut? she had written. Her hands had been crammed with the metallic nuts so much so that she had struggled to hold her writing stone.
I had forgotten all about Magpie’s souvenir in my panic and I had realised that I still clutched the nut in my left hand. I had immediately dropped it and it had fallen into the leaflitter with a soft tinkle.
The dusters had instantly retrieved the nut and had begun to retreat towards their tree, chuntering angrily and glaring at me over their shoulders.
I didn’t know it belonged to them, I’d written, feeling foolish. I had eyed Bubbles’ impressive collection of nuts and had asked her why the dusters hadn’t accosted her for nut theft too.
Because I paid for mine, Bubbles had written. They like to trade for them. They seem to like these fruits as currency. She had indicated a low growing thorny shrub at the base of a nearby tree which had borne the most phallically shaped fruit I have ever seen.
Wishing to make amends with the dusters and hoping to reclaim Magpie’s souvenir I had decided to take Bubbles’ advice and attempt to trade a fruit for the jingle nut. I had reached my hand into the thorny bush and had grabbed one of the obscenely shaped fruits, feeling myself blush as I had picked it.
Oats had joined me and had squeezed my chosen fruit. That one’s no good, he’d written. It’s far too hard and not ripe at all. He had selected a much softer candidate for me. Try this one, he’d written. It feels good and juicy. I had accepted the fruit and had mused that no matter what, everything would sound like an innuendo whilst I held it. Do you know what they are? I had written, gripping the swollen fruit.
Yes, Oats had written back. They’re called pizzle pears. They’re meant to be quite tasty but I don’t recall ever having had one.
I had suddenly felt a strong desire to be free of the fruit and I had hastened to the dusters’ tree, holding it aloft for them to see. To my embarrassment I had looked back toward the group to see that Taboo had written a crude remark on his slate which had claimed that I was clearly a lover of hard pizzles.
The dusters’ had noticed my approach and one of them had quickly glided from the tree, my nut clutched to its chest. I had squatted and had held the fruit out towards it, waggling it temptingly. The duster had still seemed to distrust me and it had cautiously crept forwards to accepted my offering. It had gripped the fruit at its bulbous end and had pulled it from my grasp. After giving my nut one final polish, it had placed it in the leaflitter in exchange. Considering our transaction complete the duster had deftly dragged its pizzle pear up the trunk of the tree and had thrust it into the rusty hole from which it had emerged, a sight which had put me on the verge of swooning.
I had placed Magpie’s jingle nut in a pouch at my waist and had turned back to the others. I had been relieved to see that Butter had covered Cloud’s goggles but I had been disturbed by the words, Cocks aren’t fruit Taboo, they’re male birds, which was scrawled across his slate.
So, what were you all looking at? I had written, wishing to change the subject.
Horizon had pointed up into a tree. We were watching that thing up there, he’d written. Take a look.
It will bring doom upon us all! Omen had written, covering his goggles.
At first, I had thought that one of the jingle nuts had taken flight but upon closer inspection I had realised that Horizon was indicating a bizarre creature which was as shiny as the nuts surrounding it. It had flitted around the tree on buzzing wings and had settled upside down on one of the larger jingle nuts. It had possessed no eyes and only a small, round mouth. It was a metallic silver in colour and despite having four legs and a tail I had seen no visible seems on its body. Baring its blade-like wings, it had seemed that it was incapable of movement as if its whole body were covered in a carapace of solid silver.
I had jumped in surprise when an intense jet of roaring purple flame had erupted from the creature’s mouth. The purple flame had burnt into the metallic nut as if it were butter and the creature had extended a long, flexible proboscis from its fire spewing mouth which it had used to suck up the molten nut shell before it dripped to the ground. A gang of enraged dusters had quickly descended into the lower branches and had mobbed the silver creature, apparently furious that it was spoiling their wares. Cautious of its purple flames they had attacked it from afar, pelting it with rusting autumn leaves which they had deftly skimmed through the air like chakrams. I remember being grateful that they hadn’t used this tactic during our dispute as the edges of some of the leaves had been quite sharp and jagged. That being said however, the dusters’ attacks had seemed a futile gesture against the creature’s solid carapace but even so the creature had abandoned its nut and had flitted away on its buzzing wings.
In later years I had learned that the silver creature was called an acetylene drone, a very rare sight in the Known Expanse. I feel very privileged to have seen an acetylene drone that day as, in recent years, acetylene drones have vanished from the Known Expanse all together, the last reported sighting being over sixty years ago. It is my belief that we had seen the drones in their natural habitat and that those spotted in the Known Expanse were lost individuals which had either been blown drastically off course or had passed through a ‘hernia in reality’ similar to the one which had allowed us entry to the forest. Taken from their ferrous ecosystem and deprived of their natural food, the jingle nuts, the drones had taken to melting bronze statuary and eating iron railings. Their damaging behaviour had earned them the title of the ‘second most destructive creature in the Known Expanse’ beaten only by edifice bees which have a taste for brickwork.
As the drone had departed, Blancmange had approached the jingle nut tree with three large pizzle pears, a sight which had instantly distracted the dusters from their scorched nuts. The dusters had offered him the largest nut in the tree for the fruits and he had accepted, rubbing his hands with glee. The nut had easily been the size of a plump leprechaun’s stomach after he’d drunk several flagons of ale and Blancmange had struck it against a bolder until it had split along its seam and fallen into two equal halves. He had scooped the soft innards away from the shell of the nut and had been left with two metallic bowl-shaped shells.
The rest of us had been mystified by Blancmange’s behaviour and, fearing for his sanity, I had asked him what he was doing. He had replied that he thought the nut shells would make some excellent cooking pots, and he had gone on to say that he could easily whip up some tasty stew using fruits, fungi and root vegetables which he’d spotted growing on and amongst the trees. It was a statement which had struck me as odd for several reasons. Firstly, we had just witnessed the acetylene drone melt a hole into one of the nuts, and I did not believe ‘melting’ was a desirable trait for a cooking pot and secondly, though it was a very nice gesture, I was baffled as to who Blancmange was intending to prepare the stew for as none of us ate.
Horizon however had been very excited by the mention of the stew and he had excitedly asked Blancmange what ingredients he needed so that he could help gather them. I’d love a bowl of stew! he’d written. I’m famished after all of this walking! He had become quite consumed by the topic of food and had begun to question Blancmange on his culinary talents, asking him if he could make a variety of different dishes and desserts, all of which Blancmange claimed to have made before when he was, what he referred to as ‘his previous self.’ Horizon had taken the phrase on board and had said that his previous self, had been very fond of a particular type of savoury finger food, the name of which had escaped him. He had described it as a sausage wrapped in puffy pastry and Blancmange had immediately identified it as an exotic delicacy known as a sausage roll.
Yes! Horizon had written. That’s exactly it! It was a sausage roll. He had turned to me and had advised me to make Blancmange our official chef, describing him as a culinary genius.
I had feared that we had spent too much time offending the local wildlife, picking obscenely shaped fruits and forging unusable cooking pots and I had expressed concerns about the extra time it would take to prepare the unnecessary stew. I had believed our priority should be to reach the knoll of trees in order to survey the land and discern our location as we’d originally planned but the problem was that Horizon and Blancmange’s culinary conversation had spread to Pulida and Cloud and soon everyone had been writing down their favourite foods and helping to gather the ingredients needed for Blancmange’s stew. Butter had expressed a fondness for burnt toast and Cloud had said he loved rice pudding with zangle fruit jam. He had also said that he liked custard, particularly the mint flavoured variety. In the end I had opted for the ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ approach and I had helped Oats to pull up some leafy plants which had thick magenta coloured roots. He had called them smort roots and had told me that they were the main flavouring used in smorted sausage, a delicacy he said he had savoured during his previous existence. Seeing my friends reminiscing over foods which had once given them so much pleasure and which I knew they would never taste again had been a bittersweet pill to swallow and I had decided that making the stew wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Even if it wasn’t going to fill their bellies, I had known that it was filling their minds with happy memories.
We had pilled the roots, fungi and fruit into Blancmange’s nut shell pots and we had finally resumed our trek toward the knoll. We had reached it relatively quickly and with a minimum of incidents. Butter’s little falls had been lessening largely thanks to Skull who had acted as her crutch wherever she’d ventured. Upon reaching the crest of the knoll we had looked out toward the west and my worst fears had been realised. Our mountain had been nowhere to be seen. The forest had continued into the west for miles, giving way to the glistening waves of an unknown ocean just before it had met the horizon.
Where are we? Cloud had written, taking my hand. Where has our home gone? I promised my butterfly I wouldn’t be long.
Well we’re certainly not in the ‘Known’ portion of the Expanse, Horizon had written, checking his compass, and if I remember correctly, stepping off the edge of the map is never a good idea.
We’re lost aren’t we, Skull had scrawled. The forest has taken us hasn’t it.
I don’t understand, Bubbles had written. How has our mountain moved?
It hasn’t, Butter had replied, leaning heavily on Skull, we have.
Don’t worry, Pulida had written. If the phenomena that brought us here continues in its previous behaviour then the forest will return to its position to the east of our mountain around noon tomorrow.
But what if it doesn’t? Omen had written, beginning to panic. What should we do?
It was at this point that Taboo had taken a step forward. I’ll tell you what we should fudging do! he’d written. We should all calm the narf down and put our dinglebuffing faith in Sunrise! If there’s anyone who can get us home its him. So, let’s not lose our plegging heads, let’s just settle down and make that stew!
I had been baffled by their continuing faith in my leadership in spite of it being my guidance that had led them to be stranded in the strange land in which we’d found ourselves.
I had decided that we needed a task to take our minds off our current predicament and so I had turned my slate over to view what items remained on our foraging list.
·Seeds of medical herbs
·Seeds of magical herbs
·Seeds of edible crops
·Dry wood for Ablazelea
·Long lengths of wood for Sawdust to construct new ladders
·Wool for Yarn
We need wood, I had written, still seriously doubting we’d find any wool for Yarn. We need some long lengths for Sawdust and some firewood for Smoke. Would you mind seeing if you can find anything suitable?
The others had nodded and Horizon had taken us north toward a rocky hillside which had protruded above the distant treeline, reasoning that solid rock would be a good place to set up camp for the night. We had collected sticks as we went and we had been fortunate enough to come across a fallen tree which had provided us with some long straight branches which I had hoped would be suitable for Sawdust’s woodwork. Blancmange and Omen had carried the branches between them, balancing them on their shoulders, their vastly differing heights tilting them at an extreme angle. The further north we had travelled the less jingle nut trees we’d seen and we had begun to encounter an abundance of bizarre umbrella-shaped trees, the branches of which drooped down toward the ground and were attached by a green membrane as if someone had taken a leaf and stretched it over the boughs. The best way I can explain it is if I were to describe a normal tree as the foot of a chicken; the chicken’s leg being the trunk and the chicken’s toes being the branches, then I would describe these trees as the webbed foot of a duck, the branches webbed with a continuous sheet of greenery.
We had encountered some odd and terrifying creatures too, though luckily none of them had noticed us. The land had begun to slope away to the west as we had neared the rocky terrain, the trees thinning and we had spotted two creatures in the clearing below us. Unfortunately, the smaller of the two creatures had been quite dead, its body bloated and stiff. It had been similar in shape to a griffin but unlike a griffin its body had been clad in scales rather than fur and feathers and its head had resembled that of a seahorse. The second creature had been around the size of a full moon when viewed from the top of a relatively tall tree and had been draped in great rolls of baggy, wrinkled skin which had hung from its bulky frame in bulging floor-level swags. Its legs had been obscured by its cascading fat and two tusks had jutted from the folds of flesh around its muzzle. It had looked sweaty and a powerful stench of body odour had drifted up to us on the breeze, making us gag. The creature had grunted in a pig-like fashion and as we had watched it had regurgitated what appeared to be a yellow coloured bile over the corpse of the griffin-like creature. The bile had caused a surprising and instantaneous effect on the dead body, melting the flesh from its bones in the blink of an eye. The baggy-skinned creature had then rooted around in the freshly exposed skeleton, dislodging the internal organs as it lapped up the puddle of liquidised flesh which was steadily creeping across the ground.
I had turned away from the sight and had been relieved to see that Butter had once again covered Cloud’s goggles, shielding him from the disgusting spectacle below.
Still want that stew? I’d written.
We had crept away, eager to avoid the creature’s attention but we had turned back when we had heard a blood-curdling squeal of panic. We had gazed back down into the clearing to see that the baggy-skinned creature was now under attack from a colossal winged beast which had appeared to be another of the Architect’s bodged designs. It was as if He had taken the upper body of a dragon, replaced its jaws with the beak of an eagle and grafted on the tentacles of a giant squid in place of its legs and tail. The draco-squid hadn’t appeared to have had any fire breathing capabilities but it had wrapped its tentacles around the baggy-skinned creature in an attempt to carry it away. The problem had been that the baggy-skinned creature’s hide was so loose and flabby that the draco-squid couldn’t gain a purchase on it and it had simply kept rolling out of its grasp. I imagine that trying to pick up the baggy-skinned creature with tentacles would be something akin to using a lasso to pick up a bowling ball which had been sewn inside a pillowcase full of custard.
Eventually the draco-squid had managed to wrap three tentacles around its prey and it had heaved it off the floor, its wings beating hard to take the weight. It had lifted the baggy-skin level with the treetops when it had once again lost its grip.
The baggy-skin had hit the floor with a tremendous splat, landing upside-down with its thick, stubby legs flailing uselessly in the air. The draco-squid must have decided at this point that its prey was far too much trouble for it and it had flown away across the trees to the east, leaving the flabby-skin in a state of perilous disarray. The creature’s fatty folds, which had protected it up until that point, had succumbed to gravity and had oozed downwards covering its head and preventing it from righting itself. It had grunted in distress and I had feared that it was becoming asphyxiated by its own blubber.
We have to help it, I’d written. I know it’s no bunny but it’s still a creature in distress. If we are to be carers then we care for all life, we do not discriminate on the grounds of appearance or lifestyle.
Well put, Pulida had written.
Goes without saying really, Skull had added.
The others had nodded their agreement and Horizon had made a gesture as if he were rolling up invisible shirtsleeves in preparation for the task at hand. Let’s get to it! he’d written. The sooner we get that thing back on its feet the sooner we can have stew!
This will doom us all! Omen had written.
Despite his portent of coming doom Omen had followed as we had cautiously descended into the clearing, concerned that the draco-squid would return and consider us a less cumbersome form of bite sized prey. We had passed the rapidly decomposing, bile-soaked carcass of the griffin-like creature and had approached the flabby-skin. The stench of its body odour had become almost unbearable as we had neared it and I had thanked The Architect for not gifting me with a digestive system as I’m sure that the vile stench it was exuding would have caused it to betray me. I had also wished that The Architect had crafted our masks to suit the purpose for which they had been originally designed. Before the days of medical magic, the style of beaked masks that The Architect had provided us with were traditionally used by plague doctors who would stuff the long ‘beak’ with herbs, spices and straw to help protect them from contacting the diseases of their patients and also to help mask the putrid smell of rotting flesh. I was fairly certain that the Architect had neglected to stuff the beak of our masks with anything aromatic at all and by the time we had ventured close enough to touch the flabby-skin my eyes had been watering with its pungent aroma.