Linking up once again for one of Kendra’s Character Encounters!
I’ll admit, this one had me stumped for the longest time. Having graduated more years ago than I care to admit, obviously I don’t need school supplies! So I tweaked it a little and put my literary self on a shopping trip during Back To School season.
DISCLAIMER: The story you are about to read is…not true. While I did recently go shopping for new shoes, it wasn’t at Payless. But hey, that’s why it’s called fiction.
The names of Real Life people were concealed to protect the innocent.
* * *
Mom turned the car into the little shopping center, headed for the Dollar Store, one fine day. For the under-eighteen crowd, it was Back To School season, and that meant new pencils, new notebooks, new backpacks. For reasons I haven’t figured out yet, the words “back to school” brought up images of the plastic lunchboxes Mom bought Bro and me for my first day of school. (Bro was only four at the time, so he didn’t technically have to do any formal schooling, but I imagine Mom taught him a few basics to prepare him.) My lunchbox was red, with a picture of Raggedy Ann and Andy riding the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees, with Raggedy Arthur running along beside them (and the random glittery heart sticker stuck here and there. Yes, even our lunchboxes were thrifted). It seemed like something from another lifetime now….
On our left stood a little building in which Payless Shoes resided, perpendicular from Dollar Tree and separated by a bit of parking lot. As we passed Payless, a poster in the window caught my attention. I twisted in my seat to read it a second time to see if I’d read it right.
“See something interesting?” Mom asked.
“Payless is having a buy-one-get-one-free sale!” I blurted. “I wonder if those shoes I wanted are still there, or if they’re part of the sale.”
“Those canvass ones? I would think so, if they’re trying to get rid of their Summer stock. How about you hop on over while I get what we need at the Dollar Store?”
“Thanks!” I beamed.
As soon as we’d parked and locked up the car, I dashed over to the sidewalk outside the shoe store. I slowed down as soon as my feet hit the cement, though, because I realized it’d be rather uncouth to dash in like a jet-propelled bat. Once inside the store, I located the aisle with my size in it and began looking. I was still in the next size down from mine, when I saw a movement further down the aisle in the corner of my eye. When I looked around, I thought I saw…something…dart around the corner, out of sight. Something sort of purplish-blue and furry. And I may have been mistaken, but I was sure the—whatever-it-was—had a long black horn, like a Unicorn’s. And wasn’t that a long, skinny tail with a purple-blue pouf at the end? The more I thought about it, the more familiar it all seemed, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Curious, I headed cautiously down the aisle, all the cute (and not-so-cute) shoes on the shelves completely forgotten in light of this mystery. I leaned forward a little as I walked, my steps getting faster and my heart pounding with suspense as I approached the end. I thought I spotted a bit of fur sticking out from around the corner, and sure enough, there was the puffball-tail lying halfway across the aisle.
The next second, a large, hairy shape leapt out at me, and a booming voice shouted, “BOO!”
“Yaiee!” I spluttered, jumping back and banging against the little bench for trying on shoes. I went through all sorts of gyrations to keep from falling over backwards, and ended up sitting hard on the bench. “Oof!”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” the Thing before me whimpered, wringing its gorilla-like hands. “I didn’t mean to scare you that badly—honestly I didn’t—I just thought it’d be kinda fun, and we could have a good laugh about it—and—and now I’ve spoiled everything! I told Ciaran it’d be a mistake for me to come, but he insisted”—stomping one thick, black hoof—“ and now look what I’ve done!” And the Thing burst into tears.
During this little monologue, I’d gotten a good look at my “assailant.” He—I assumed it was a he—stood about seven feet tall, and perhaps four or five feet around. His lower body looked rather like the hind legs of a horse, but from the belly up, he reminded me of those Popples that were so popular back in the ’90s (or was it the ’80s?). He even had little fan-shaped ears on the side of his head and the afore-mentioned pouf-ended tail. His arms, however, looked more like something you’d see on a gorilla—or a man in a gorilla suit—complete with hairy, long-fingered hands. The Thing’s body was covered in shaggy fur or hair the color of hyacinths—basically royal blue with a purplish tint—although the hair on his horse-legs got gradually shorter. His tail (the long, skinny bit), belly, chest and lower face seemed to have a shorter, finer fur covering, and much lighter—sort of a light periwinkle with more blue in the mix. A mop of shaggy blue-purple hair covered his eyes, stopping just above his little round nose—which was the same color as his fur. His heartbroken sobs revealed a mouthful of tiny, white, cat-like teeth—very sharp and pointy, and in my opinion, more frightening than whacking-great fangs.
The Thing covered his eyes and bent nearly double, and I had to leap sideways off the bench to avoid being skewered on the long, twisted horn growing out of his forehead.
“Easy, now!” I exclaimed.
“I’m sorry—I’m sorry!” he blubbered. “Please forgive me—please don’t delete me! I’ll be good—oh, soooo good—only don’t eliminate me as a character!”
Finally the pieces fell into place in my brain. I’d had a feeling this was one of my characters—I just didn’t remember him right off. To be perfectly honest, I’d actually forgotten about him, since I’d kind of given up on the book he was originally going to be in.
“Huckle—Huckle!” I soothed, approaching him carefully and giving his horn a wide berth. I reached up and patted his hairy blue shoulder. “It’s okay, Huckle; I’m not mad at you—not really.”
“But I scared you,” Huckle moaned, “and that’s exactly what I try not to do to people. That’s why I left the Monster World—they wanted me to scare little children, and—and I hurt you, to boot!” he added abruptly.
“You didn’t scare me,” I assured him. “And I’m not hurt—really. Startled, yes. Knocked on my fanny, yes. But scared and hurt? Absolutely not.” I pulled a tissue out of my purse and handed it to him. “Come on now, dry your eyes. It’s all forgiven.”
Huckle took the tissue and looked at me sheepishly. “You forgive me?” he asked.
“Sure I do.”
“And you’re not hurt?”
“Only my pride, but that needs taking down a peg anyhow.”
“And—and—you won’t—gulp!—you won’t delete me?”
“No way!” I laughed, giving him a big hug.
“Oh, thank you!” Huckle gushed, lifting me momentarily off my feet in his ecstasy. “You don’t know what this means to me. I was afraid, you see, that you’d never write my story ’cause you forgot about me so long.”
Now it was my turn to look sheepish. “I know,” I admitted. “I think it was because I tried to put you in Walter Barry’s book, but then I lost interest in it and filed it away—the story, and everyone in it. Now I’m the one who’s sorry,” I finished, lifting a corner of my mouth.
“But—but you remember me now,” said Huckle. “Does that mean you’ll write Walter’s book after all—and let me have a part in it?”
“I don’t know. I may change a few things, since there really wasn’t anywhere to go with the story as it was. Or I may move you and the other characters to other books that are more interesting to me. I haven’t decided yet. But don’t worry”—as he began wringing his hands again—“I always liked you, and now that I’ve remembered you, I want to use you somewhere.”
“Really?” Huckle beamed.
“Honest,” I smiled back.
Huckle let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you so much!” he said again. “You’ve taken a load off my mind. Now I can go back and tell Pádma what you said, and then she won’t say nasty things about you anymore.”
“What! Did Pádma tell you I’d delete you or something?”
Huckle looked embarrassed and rubbed one hoof up and down his other leg, hands behind his back. He seemed almost like a schoolboy caught snitching candy—except schoolboys generally aren’t seven feet tall and covered in blue-purple hair.
“Come on, boy-o,” I prompted, folding my arms, “own up. What did Pádma say? I can take it.”
“We----ell,” he drawled, “stuff like, you’d probably end up deleting us all eventually and ‘forsaking’ writing altogether—and you preferred keeping us in your head because you’re too lazy to work at writing our stories—and—and that you cared more about ogling all the trinkets and baubles you want to buy, than about any of us—especially—well, that part doesn’t matter so much,” he interrupted himself.
I tilted my head and just gave him a look.
He sighed. “She said you cared more about looking at stuff to buy than your characters, especially—especially—ugly blue monsters—that—that—haven’t the courage of a sheep.” He hung his head in shame.
I pursed my lips and exhaled hard out my nose. Neither of us spoke for several awkward seconds—awkward for Huckle, that is, because he felt so badly having to repeat the venomous words my female bandit had spewed at him. For me, those seconds were full of prayer for wisdom, and some hard thinking.
Huckle sniffled a little. “Please don’t be mad—I’m only quoting her, after all, and you told me to tell you.”
“Oh, I’m not mad at you,” I replied through gritted teeth. “Pádma’s right about one thing—I have spent far too much time on eBay and Etsy of late. Need to do some soul-searching and decision-making there…though it’s a little creepy that a character hardly more developed than you are knows so much about my internet habits,” I smirked. Then I got serious again and took a deep breath. “When you go back to the Land of La*, you tell Ciaran to send Pádma next time. Judging from comments he and Max have made, it sounds like she’s giving everyone a hard time, and I want to put a stop to it. Will you do that for me, Huckle?”
Huckle grinned, showing his sharp little teeth. “Oh boy, will I! That’ll show her! I’ll go tell Ciaran right now. Thanks, Author!” And he turned and began to walk away.
“Wait!” I called.
Huckle trotted back. “Something more you want me to do for you?”
A wave of self-consciousness washed over me, and the words stuck in my throat. The more I thought about it, the sillier I felt saying them out loud, especially to Huckle. But I knew I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t say them, so I pasted on a smile and tried to sound more laid-back than I felt. “Oh, I just wanted another hug before you left,” I stalled.
“Sure!” Huckle boomed, and the next second found me in the middle of a hairy, hyacinth-colored bear-hug.
“And by the way,” I managed to say, after blowing a tuft of arm-hair away from my mouth, “when you talk to Ciaran—tell him—tell him…well, just tell him I said Hi…and that I miss him.”
Huckle released me, smiled and nodded. “I’ll tell him,” he promised.
Huckle disappeared around the next aisle, and when I followed a few seconds later, the aisle was empty. Mom showed up fairly soon after that, and since the shoes I’d been debating on were gone by this time, we left the store without buying anything.
I must admit, though, that my mind was hardly on new shoes.
* * *
Until next time, Gentle Readers,