Beast Fable

We are the animals who talk the fables
in which the animals talk. We are talking
animals, claiming that animals don’t talk.
-- Robert Kroetsch

After being forced for so long to play roles in our fables, tales, and myths, the animals at last rebelled.

No longer would they allow themselves to be used to symbolize human qualities (usually negative qualities) or illustrate human ideas. They wanted to live their own lives and inhabit their own stories.

And so, thousands upon thousands of animals left the human stories they had been caged in for so long and made a long and dangerous journey into an unknown, uninhabited region of the Realm that they could call their own.

Many turned back in defeat, many died along the way, but those who persevered founded their own republic, with its own government, laws and society.

Interestingly, there is no “king of the beasts” in the Animal Republic. That was a human notion, the animals assert. Instead, the republic is governed by a council made up of elected representatives from all species.

Just as the city of Fable is the unacknowledged crossroads of the human realm of Story, so the animals have a city where all species may gather and share their tales. A kind of “beast Fable,” one might say.

Humans are not allowed to set foot in the Animal Republic. Any human found there, according to their laws, is fair game for hunting, killing and eating.

There is still some illicit trade, however, between the animal republic and the human world, and one of the items that slips across the border from time to time is Story.

As might be expected, the animals’ own stories are very different from our own. Humans often find them disturbing and inexplicable.

In another post I will share a story from the Animal Republic.

Image: Detail from Walton Ford's painting "A Monster from Guiny" (2007).

Ammon Brax

The mountain had been carved in ages past by a forgotten people into the likeness of a great head. A head with eyes staring blindly into the sky and a mouth open in awe or horror or some other emotion that only the long-dead stonecarvers understood.

The young man with jet black hair and a long, sharp-boned face climbed the steep, narrow stair that led to the mouth of the vast head. He carried nothing but a slender walking stick of polished oak.

As he entered the cave of the mouth he opened the wings of his cloak. A pale green light came from the inner lining of the cloak and lit his way through the darkness of the tunnel. Small, skittering creatures fled the light and his footsteps.

He passed several piles of human bones but scarcely gave them a glance. The tunnel branched into many tunnels, and the young man paused for a moment, tilting his head as if listening, before he made his choice and went on.

In a chamber deep inside the mountain he found what he sought. Before him stood a naked giant of a man. Or rather, two halves of a giant man. This was the terrible Zofim, the One Torn in Two.

The two halves of Zofim were busy arguing over the thigh bone of the last treasure-seeker who had dared to enter the giant’s lair. When the young man appeared the two halves dropped the bone and turned their one eye each at the interloper. The two halves of Zofim’s mouth grimaced and slavered. Then both halves of Zofim moved toward the young man.

With one leg apiece you might imagine that Zofim’s halves had to hop awkwardly in order to get anywhere. In fact, over the centuries Zofim’s bony feet had elongated into grotesque handlike extremities, the toes so long and splayed out that they could crawl spiderlike over the stones. The halves of Zofim didn’t hop. They came gliding across the floor, each on one leg, their one foot like a taloned spider upon which they rode.

When they were inches from the young man and towering over him, they stopped and moved closer together. Close enough that their two halves of a face touched and formed one face with a red gash down the middle. This was the only way Zofim’s lips and tongue could form words.

“Did you bring it?” the hideous mouth growled.

The young man nodded. He slipped a small glass vial out of an inner pocket of his glowing cloak. Zofim leaned forward expectantly.

“I hope you remember our bargain,” the young man said. “In exchange for making you whole again, you give me half your treasure.”

Zofim’s bifurcated mouth scowled.

“We remember,” he said.

The young man held out the bottle. Zofim’s two hands grasped for it, pulled out the cork, then poured its thick syrupy contents over his tangled, blood-crusted locks. As the clear fluid ran slowly down the two halves of the giant’s face, neck and chest, it followed the red gash. The fluid traveled the length of his scabbed and filthy frame.

At last it was done. Zofim touched the middle of his face, then his chest tentatively. He strained to pull himself apart, but could not. The red gash still traveled the length of his body, but it was a scar now. The giant was whole. The One Torn in Two was One again.

 “And now,” the giant said, grinning, “you die.”

He reached for the young man, but Zofim’s legs refused to move. He looked down, snarling. His feet were stuck to the stones of the chamber.

“The Honey of Binding is a very tricky substance to use safely,” the young man said. “It will make anything one with anything else. I noticed that some of the honey made it all the way down your legs and to the floor. In a few moments you will be One with the mountain itself. You will be flesh merged with stone.”

The giant’s eyes grew wide with terror. He struggled and roared and foamed at the mouth. The young man stood nearby, watching. A short time later the giant was completely still, his eyes staring blindly upward, his mouth open in what was decidedly horror. And rage. And agony.

“Why settle for half the treasure when one could have it all,” the young man said. His voice was calm but hands were shaking and his brow slick with sweat. It had cost him much to hide his fear from the giant.

The young man was an apprentice mage from the island of Kyning Rore, but he had grand dreams. He was determined to become Archmage of the High Council someday, and he knew it would take as much gold as it would actual spellcraft to raise himself to that eminence. Gold opened doors, and bought allies, and silence. Gold was more important than spellcraft, which he had never been the best at anyhow. Even the teacher he looked up to the most, Nicholas Pendrake, had lost faith in him and refused to teach him all he knew.

Once he had found and gathered up the giant’s gold, Ammon Brax returned to the motionless giant for a final farewell.

“It’s time we went our separate ways,” he said. “Some of us, anyhow.”

Story, cubed

A story created with Rory's Story Cubes:

I waited until the moon rose.

Then there was enough light to find my way through the swamp to the hut of the witchy woman, so that I could ask her to tell my future.

When I got to the hut I knocked on the door but there was no answer. I tried the door. It was locked. The moon went behind a cloud and I could barely see a foot in front of me. Then I remembered the cellphone in my pocket. I took it out and turned it on.

By the screen’s light I could see the witchy woman standing near me. I jumped in fright and dropped my phone.

“You want to know your future?” the witchy woman said. One of her eyes had a red pupil that glowed in the dark. “You want to know if your life is going to turn out a comedy, or a tragedy, or something else entirely?”

I swallowed hard and nodded.

By the dim moonlight just coming out from behind the clouds, I saw the witchy woman cup her hand around her mouth and whisper a word. Then she held out her cupped hand toward me, as if she was carrying something in it.

“Hold out your hand,” she said. I did as she asked, and she placed whatever was in her hand in mine and closed my fingers around it.

“Here’s your answer,” she said. “Wait until you get home to open it. And never come back here again.”

I turned and hurried away, stumbling in the near-dark. When the moon went behind clouds again, I tripped over something and fell forward. I opened my hand to break my fall, and I heard the witchy woman’s prophecy drift away on the wind so quickly that I could only catch a few words before they faded: “... once you've bitten the apple ...”

Panic swept over me. I got up and ran. I stumbled and fell again, and again. I had no idea where I was. After a while I saw a light in the distance. Some farmhouse, I thought. I ran toward it. Then I realized it was the witchy woman’s hut. I had been running in circles.

She had told me never to come back, so I didn’t dare knock on the door. But I couldn’t help looking in the window. The witchy woman was sitting at a table on which stood a burning candle. She had a single die in the palm of her hand. She rolled it across the table. I couldn’t see what number it landed on, but it seemed to please the witchy woman. She smiled, then she blew out the candle. 

All I could see now was her red eye. It turned and looked right at me.

I ran.


What is Riddle? A shapechanger, a creature of Story without a story of his own. He (if Riddle is a he) hid for years in the Forest of Eldark, waylaying travelers and forcing them to play his crazy riddle game, in the hope someone could tell him who or what he really is and where he came from. 
Those who saw him or were lured by him into his hidden grove in the forest called him the Woodwraith and feared him. Some said he was a bat, others saw him as an owl, and others as a wildcat climbing among the tree branches. As a shapechanger, of course he could be any of these creatures and more.

Riddle can take on the characteristics of whatever creature he shapes himself as. As a cat, Riddle is convincingly catlike, and yet there remains something uncanny and strange about him. 

Can this creature of many shapes be trusted?

The Marrowbone Brothers

There were three of them to begin with: Tuck, Hodge and Flitch. Three little pigs. When they were still quite young their mother drove the brothers out of the muddy wallow that had been their home, and they had to fend for themselves.

They got on well for a while, but then a garm-wolf picked up their trail and began to stalk them.

Tuck was killed by the garm-wolf, and Hodge and Flitch went on without their older and wiser brother. They might have been all right in the end, but something else happened to them on their travels: the two remaining Marrowbone Brothers got too close to an outbreak of werefire, and it changed them. It turned them into creatures of malice and hunger. It changed them from talking pigs into hogmen, vicious trolls with an appetite for human flesh. And it was in that form that Will Lightfoot encountered them in the sewers under the city of Skald.

Add caption

Maurice Sendak

The Nutshell Library ... read, reread and loved to pieces at our house.

Maurice Sendak 1928 - 2012

Thank you, Mr Sendak!

Letters to a Young Writer: The Pilot Light

In the last letter I talked about those times in writing when you get stuck, or bored, and you either don’t know how to proceed or you just don’t feel like it, and you give up.

I said that making a daily habit of writing can help you through those times. It’s like keeping a pilot light lit for a furnace. The pilot light keeps burning all the time so that a bigger fire can be ignited quickly and easily when needed. 

A habit of daily writing keeps the creative flame alive during those times when you’re stuck and the writing isn’t going well, or hardly going at all. Eventually the ideas and the inspiration and the energy will come back. And they’ll probably come back sooner if you keep a pilot light on.

Something else that helps is faith.

Over the years I’ve learned to trust the creative process, to let it work rather than trying so hard to control it and make it work . There are days -- lots of days -- even now when I can’t see my way forward or I get bored and tired of something I’m working on. But I’ve discovered that even at those times, the creative process is still going on in a part of my mind I can’t consciously access or control. I’ll get dejected and feel like I’ve got no ideas, no inspiration, and then one day a fresh new idea will suddenly pop into my head. It always seems as if it came out of nowhere, but really it came from all the work my mind was doing “behind the scenes.”

That’s what I mean by having faith. Keep at the writing, and those moments of inspiration will come.

For some other thoughts on how to spark ideas for writing, see my post on five important questions for writers (and other creativepeople).