Sunday, June 7, 2009

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Pinocchio swings his legs over the edge of his footstool. "Are you done yet?" he asks for the seventh time. His reedy voice echoes about the great chamber.

"No," says the Little Pig. He isn't taking any chances.

They stand within the Castle of the Door, right in front of the Doorway leading to the Lands Beyond.

And this little pig is in the process of walling it up.

Not entirely, of course, but just so that the barrier reaches a little higher than his head. It will be a tight squeeze for most people bigger than a pig or a puppet, but it should be enough to deter any but the cleverest of the walking dead.

And from the Little Pig’s experience, the dead aren’t very clever.

“What do you think happened here?” asks Pinocchio.

“I don’t know,” says the Pig, but upon seeing the carnage, he’d decided it would be best to secure the Doorway.

They’d found the castle’s drawbridge closed. Someone had tied a long rope ladder from one of the turrets to a nearby oak tree. Whoever had done so remained a mystery, but the Pig had to admire their wisdom – the dead weren’t able to climb in.

Yet the castle was empty except for a few abandoned weapons, tattered clothing and a ghastly stain on the staircase. Whatever had been killed in here - and done the killing - had since moved on.

A worrying idea, because how did they breach the castle’s walls? And how did they get out?

There was only one answer: the Doorway.

And that is very bad, indeed.

After scrounging about the ramparts for usable stone, the Little Pig has spent the better part of the afternoon blocking off the Doorway.

Pinocchio stops swinging his legs. “Do you think my father is on the other side?”

“I think so,” says the Little Pig. “I hope so.” He doesn’t have the heart to tell the truth. Dead things might dwell in the Lands Beyond, but there’s no need to worry the child just yet.

“Will you be finished soon?” the puppet asks again.

“Patience is a virtue,” says the Pig. He steps back and surveys his handiwork. It isn’t bad – not perfectly straight and level, but once the wall dries, it’ll be as sturdy a wall as any.

"I'm done," he says, and starts packing up his tools.

"Yippy!" cheers Pinocchio. He jumps to his feet. "I'll go first."

"Wait, wait, wait," says the Little Pig. "I should go first."

"But what if there’s danger?” The boy’s feigned concern is no match for the enthusiasm coursing through his body. “The monsters won't hurt me. If I go first and there's trouble, I can warn you."

The Pig nods. It's a good point. “But you come right back, you understand?”

He places the footstool in front of the wall and helps Pinocchio climb over. “Careful, now,” says the Pig. “It’s still wet.” It doesn’t matter if the top layer topples over, he knows, but it’s the principle of the thing, and he can’t help but take pride in his work.

In a moment, Pinocchio is through the Doorway and into the Lands Beyond. The Pig takes a moment to enjoy the silence and reflect on a job well done. This wall will be a fitting farewell to his homeland, he decides. Then, with a contented sigh, he closes his toolbox and steps onto the footstool.

The heavy chamber door swings open.

"Knock-knock, Piggy." The lanky form of the Big Bad Wolf sidles into the room. One of his cheeks is swollen and blackened.

"What are you doing here?" says the Little Pig. Even standing on the stool, he is still much shorter than the Wolf.

The Wolf winces with each step. One paw goes unconsciously to his broken rib – a result of his last encounter with Pinocchio.

"Not bad," says the Wolf, examining the makeshift barrier. "Not bad at all."

"What are you doing here?" the Pig repeats. He calmly removes the hammer from his belt loop.

"Same thing as you," says the Wolf. "I'm leavin’. There's gotta be something good out there in the great wide somewhere for a lordly nobleman like myself."

The Pig can't help but scoff – in his ragged, filthy trousers, the Big Bad Wolf is anything but noble. "What are you talking about?"

"You didn't look around the castle, Piggy?” The Wolf wipes some saliva from his lips. “There's a huge treasure trove in here. Unlocked, unguarded, and now it’s mine. It’s all mine.”

"It’s not yours,” says the Pig. His heart races, he knows he should just leave, escape, but he’s always stood up to the Wolf before.

"Prove it," says the Wolf, and he produces some pieces of parchment from under his hat. “Here’s some titles of property and nobility. Mine now.”

"You're stealing!"

The Wolf starts to laugh, but he winces as his chest flares in pain. He won't be huffing and puffing any time soon. "Yeah,” he admits. “Maybe I am, but it doesn't matter. You're not gonna tell anyone."

"Oh, yes, I will!" sputters the Little Pig. "You've always been nothing but a no-good scoundrel, and when I get to..."

"No, you won't," says the Wolf, and his smug tone silences the Pig. "You're not going anywhere. You're not so tough without your little rock-throwing friend.”

Leaning in closer – yet still more than an arm’s length away from the Pig’s hammer – the Wolf snickers. “You've got nowhere to run, Piggy. And you know what happens when you let the Wolf inside your home, don't you?"

He grins widely, revealing yellow, rotting fangs, and he enjoys his first meal in oh, so very long.