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Fantasy Bedtime

Brielle Noonypill hurried to stitch her sister’s spangled cotinga costume. Fredericka, the elder Noonypill sister, tore the gown’s train by tangling herself mid-pirouette, while rehearsing her Passage Day dance. 


“Hurry,” said Fredericka, entering Brielle’s room. “The Cotters are already here, and oh no….” Freddy peeked out the door. “Miss Brightly comes with the class.”


Brielle poked herself twice with the needle in the rush to have it ready, and her sister’s impatience was not helping. If her mother were still alive, she’d have it all done by now. Her father was no help, he was useless with a thimble, and no doubt outside arguing with Mister Cotter about what type of manure made the largest plantains. Brielle was near tears, but she burst into a giggle when she caught sight of Freddy’s face.


“What’s so funny?” said Freddy. Freddy’s cheeks were caked with pink blush, and thick yellow lines traced her eyebrows.


“You look like a macaque,Brielle said. 


Freddy shoved both fists into her hips. Both girls were familiar with the species, as their father had purchased six volumes of “The World of the Jungle Encyclopedia” from a traveling salesman when they were little. And thus, the joke landed. 


“Better a macaque than a spotted tiger quoll,” Freddy said.


That one stung, as intended. Freddy had the luxury of washing off her face, but the permanent light colored splotches on Brielle’s dark complexion had been there since birth. Brielle went silent and finished her backstitches. “It’s ready,” she said.


Freddy’s elation at her own wit faded. She took the gown from Brielle and donned it. 


Brielle’s mood brightened when she gazed at her sister in the dress she’d made. So elegant and pretty, in the black and teal gown adorned with sky-blue feathers. “Remember,” Brielle said. “Count to one between the turns and let the train settle, then you won’t fall on your face.”


Freddy gave her sister a hug. “Tiger quolls are beautiful and so are you,” she said, and she turned out the door to greet her audience.


***


Freddy performed the Passage Day dance in the Noonypill yard as perfect as any fifteen-year-old girl had ever done it. The feathers that stretched from her waist to her wrists folded neatly when she spun, and fluttered when she leapt. Brielle counted with her sister, from behind the curtain, while Freddy made half-turn pirouettes atop plank boards their father made into a stage. All went off without a hitch until Freddy finished. While the elder Noonypill girl soaked up applause, she beckoned for Brielle to join her. 


“Come!” Freddy said, after Brielle’s three shake-of-the-head refusals.


Freddy turned the adoring crowd. “You all must meet the designer of this gorgeous costume. My beautiful sister, Brielle.”


“Come Bri,” shouted their beaming father. “Take your bows.”


Puddles formed on Brielle’s palms. The applause grew louder and many shouted her name, and so she went. 


“Hurrah!” said Miss Brightly as Brielle joined her sister. Freddy lifted her hand, and the crowd doubled in enthusiasm. Though not all in attendance were courteous. From the front row, Arnie Cotter, the youngest of the Cotters, whispered to his brothers, “Mooo,” - gaining giggles from the boys and a swat from his mother. The eleven year old was Brielle’s classmate, and he frequently compared her to a piebald bovine, what with her spots, and round face.


Arnie’s utterance was deafening. Brielle stayed bravely, and took a bow, while the onlookers hooted and hollered. When they settled, she ran to her room and cried into her pillow. 


***


“Who cares about that stupid little kakapo,” said Freddy, coming upon her weeping sister. 


A kakapo, as the sister’s learned in volume two of “The World of the Jungle Encyclopedia”, was the stupidest of the birds, neither fleeing nor fighting when a predator was near. Rather, it blinked dumbly and waited to be eaten. For that, it became a favorite insult for any who caught the Noonypill ire. It helped that their late mother called the deposits of diapers kaka, lending an extra punch to the barb. And Arnie Cotter certainly deserved an extra punch or two.


Freddy tugged on her sister’s arm. “Can’t you be happy for me? Come down, Dad’s cutting the cake soon.”


Brielle rolled over and wiped her eyes. “You don’t know what it's like. Your nose is narrow, mine is flat. Your cheeks are slender and mine are round. And your skin is perfect and I look like a… like a cow.” With that climax of self pity, Brielle dove into her pillow.


“Perfect?” Freddy laughed. “Why do you think I lacquered myself with all this blush? I have so many pimples and blackheads that I look like one of Dads peppered cheese buns.”


Brielle could not help but giggle-snort. “Can you do it to me?”


“What?”


“Can you hide my spots?”


Freddy put a finger to her chin. “Dad only let me this year. I don’t think—”


“It’s different. I don’t want to look like a macaque, I want to be normal.”


Freddy shrugged. “We can try, but you need a few things first. Concealer, a brush, a vanity mirror–”


“I have one,” Brielle said. She caught her reflection in the mirror sitting on her dresser. “Mooo,” came that little kakapo’s voice in her head, and she looked away.


“No, you need one you can move around.” Freddy said. She lifted the skin under her yellow eyebrows. “To see all the angles.”


Brielle nodded. “I have Grandma’s birthday money. Come with me to buy it?”


“Fine. Tomorrow we’ll go to the plaza, if you come down and celebrate with me tonight.”


Brielle sat up and contemplated the exchange, finally deciding the torment would be worth it. When she made her way downstairs, everyone gushed and complimented her, while Arnie Cotter sat in the corner, closely watched by his scowling mother.


***


“This one,” said Brielle. She held up a very dusty old hand mirror. The girls had the concealer, and the brush, but Brielle had a meager one dollar and twenty-seven cents leftover from Grandma’s birthday money. So they came to Auntie Kitt’s Antiques and Armoires, looking for a deal.


“That’s too old,” said Freddy, tossing dresses out of a bin in search of her size.


“It’s pretty.” Brielle wiped dust from the bronze handle. Under the price tag, reading one dollar and twenty-five cents, sat a blue marble inlaid at the base. The orb nearly came out when she rubbed her finger on it. “I’m buying it.”


Freddy made no response. Her head was buried in the bin. She popped out when a shout came from outside.


“Hey Freddy,” said a boy at the doors. It was Peter, Freddy’s classmate. He wore an indigo doublet, a pink beret and a pair of yellow boots - looking like a puffed up peacock.


Freddy blushed. She waved to the boy and scooped the clothes into the bin. “I’ll be in the courtyard,” she said, and she rushed off to greet Peter the peacock.


“An ancient and strange mirror,” Auntie Kitt said as Brielle made her way to the till. “The man who brought it in didn’t want a penny for it, and he told me it was haunted.”


Brielle paid no heed to the dire warning. Auntie Kitt said everything was haunted. Brielle bought a ‘haunted’ hairbrush from her when she was ten, and it’s been a fine, non-possessed hairbrush ever since. She paid for the mirror and hurried outside, eager to hide her spots.


Brielle found Freddy and Peter in the courtyard. They stood in a group gathered around a mandolinist with a pet squirrel monkey playing a drum. The spectacle left the rest of the plaza deserted, so Brielle skipped to the center fountain to give her mirror a wash. As she tore off the price tag, the blue marble fell out. She caught it before it dropped the water.


“Hey, can you hear me?” came a man’s voice from the mirror.


Brielle looked around in vain for the speaker.


“I’m here, in the mirror,” said the voice. “Don’t fret. You’ve freed the orb of sacred custody. You're the only one that can hear me.”


“Someone’s playing a trick. Is that you Arnie?” Brielle said. She went around the fountain, and looked up the ornamental trees, but there was no one.


“It’s no trick. I am a powerful wizard trapped in this infernal cage by a rival, and I need your help to set me free.”


“Like a genie?”


“What? No… um… yes! I can grant you any wish if you help me.”


Brielle sat on the edge of the fountain, dumbfounded, and more than a little suspicious. “What’s your name then?”


“Myrrh,” said the mirror.


“Your name is mirror?”


“No, it’s Myrrh, M.y.r.r.h”


“Myrrh the mirror? That’s not right. All genies have names like Aazim Alacram, or Zafir of the golden lamp, or—”


“I’m not a genie! I’m a wizard. But my magic won’t work until I’m released, and for the curse to be lifted I must reflect the eyes of true beauty. Tell me child, who’s the most beautiful person you know?”


“My sister,” said Brielle.


“Quickly, set her gaze upon me.”


“Then you will grant me my wish?”


“Yes, please hurry.”


“Don’t you need to hear my wish first?”


“Don’t dawdle when you're dealing with a wizard. Go!”


Brielle ran to her sister and tapped her shoulder. 


“What is it?”


“Look at my mirror,” said Brielle.


“I’ve seen it.”


“No, look into it.”


Freddy held the mirror to her face and sneezed violently. Peter took a step back to avoid the spray.


“No, no, she’s not the one. She’s not true beauty,” cried Myrrh.


“How dare you! She is true beauty,” shouted Brielle. Much to the surprise of Peter, who thought he was being admonished.


“What’s wrong with you?” Freddy said. “You must need a nap. Take this and go home.“ Freddy slapped the mirror in Brielle’s hands and turned back toward the monkey drummer.


Brielle retreated from the pair, somewhat dizzy from the events. Myrrh sobbed, as much as a mirror can.


“Are you crying?” Brielle said.


“Oh, I’ve been trapped for so long. I thought this was my chance to see true beauty, but obviously you and your sister are not it.”


“She’s the most beautiful person in the world.” Brielle gave a scorn look into the mirror. “You’ve got your curse wrong.”


“You insolent speck! You know nothing of a wizard’s power.”


Brielle was about to call Myrrh a kakapo, but Peter waved to her, drawing her attention away. “Play the lucky bard,” he shouted to the mandolinist. “For I am the luckiest bard to have the company of the prettiest girl in the world.” He turned, tipped his beret, and gave Brielle a wink.


Brielle rolled her eyes, but then an idea struck her. “Why does it have to be a person? It could be something else, like a peacock or a… resplendent quetzal!”


“What nonsense are you talking about?” Myrrh said. “This is why children should not be allowed to speak, all dribble—”


Brielle tossed Myrrh into her knapsack and rushed home.


***

The World of the Jungle Encyclopedia - Volume 2. The Birds of the Tropics.


Travelers Note #54: 


With its iridescent green plumes, red breast, black innerwings, and a white under-tail, the resplendent quetzal is considered to be the most beautiful bird in the tropics. Indeed, by many, they are the most beautiful animals in all the world. Keep one eye toward the canopy, but always be on the lookout for danger on the ground, for the fearsome leopard loves the quetzal’s eggs as a treat.


“You see,” Brielle said, holding up the heavy tome for Myrrh to see.


“Ridiculous. You thought a picture of a shiny bird would break a wizard’s curse?” Myrrh said.


“No, we’ll find one, in the jungle.”


“Curses upon curses,” Myrrh said. “It would take a lifetime to reach the jungle. And you, child, can’t get there by your means. Only the heartiest of adventurers can, like sir Pollery and his merry band of —”


“The jungle’s across the highway. I can ride my bike there.”


“Oh, how have I come so far without taking a step,” Myrrh cried, and he broke into bad poetry. “A yearning spanning a thousand miles, with a thousand years between. A heart aches in the spaces unseen.”


“What?”


“It’s a poem,” said Myrrh. “They’re for sophisticated people, and I wouldn't expect a jungle dweller to understand.”


Brielle shrugged and shoved Myrrh into her pack, and they set off on her bike.


***


Brielle and Myrrh had gone well off the trails in search of a resplendent quetzal. Spending all afternoon on the hunt, the sun was setting over the horizon.


“I have to go home, we’ll try again tomorrow,” Brielle said.


“It's a waste of time,” said Myrrh. “We need to find a castle and a fair princess, or sail to the Isles so I may see the sirens in their splendor. That will lift my curse, not some mite ridden bird.”


“Keow, k'looooo,” came a melodic song from the trees. 


“Hush,” said Brielle. “It’s up there.” 


Green tail feathers poked out from a leaf above. Brielle hoisted up onto a branch, and then another, to get a better look. The bird lifted its wings and took flight. 


“Come back!” cried Brielle. 


As if the bird heard her, it fluttered down and landed above her head. Its green plumes and red belly were in full view. 


Brielle held Myrrh up. “You see!”


“Oh, she is beautiful,” said Myrrh.


At that moment, Brielle heard a growl. She froze. Climbing up the trunk, was a hungry leopard.


“Go away,” Brielle said. But the leopard kept climbing. “What do I do?” She pointed Myrrh at the spotted cat.


“Oh great heavens,” said Myrrh. “How does it go? If it’s brown, lay down...wait no that’s not the one.” 


The leopard licked her lips and came close.  


“Ummm..run!”


Brielle leapt off the tree and hit the ground hard. Myrrh cracked.


“Be careful,” he cried, “If I shatter, I die!” 


The leopard roared and scrambled down the trunk after them.


Brielle sprinted. After a few strides her leg caught a root, and she tumbled down a crevice. The leopard came to the edge, took a sniff, and waltzed away.


“Are you okay?” Brielle said, holding up Myrrh.


“I’m far from okay. We’re trapped down here and now I’ll have to spend eternity beside your skeleton.”


“Quit your whining,” said Brielle. “I’m tired of it. I wasn’t planning for any of this. All I wanted to do was cover my spots and be normal.”


“Normal?” Myrrh said with a snort. “No child is normal. You’re all strange and stupid in your own ways.”


“I should've known I’d never get my wish,” Brielle said. Lacking a pillow, she thrust her face into a pile of leaves.


“Stop crying,” Myrrh said. He gave a long sigh. “Look, if it’s any consolation, I technically don’t have the power to grant wishes, so you wouldn’t get it, anyway.”


Brielle turned around and scowled. “Then what’s all this? Is there even a curse? You tell me what’s going on.” 


“Hrmph, I don’t have to tell you a thing.”


Brielle stood and held Myrrh above her head. “And what if I drop you?”


“Okay, okay! Put me down, I’ll tell you. I was a wizard’s apprentice, but I was a fool. I had to watch over my master's biffenduffle, but a pretty handmaiden caught my eye and the biffenduffle boiled over and starlight goo shot all over the master’s study. In a rage, he said that if I enjoyed looking at fair maidens so much, then I was no more use to him than a vanity, and poof! I was a mirror.”


“Then ask him to turn you back.”


“That’s the rub. That night he choked on a chicken bone while dining alone. He always ate too fast, in fact I heard his master once turned him into an anteater to teach him a lesson. Poor master Limerno never learned it.”


Brielle slunk back down. “Well, I guess a wizard was around when I was a baby to turn me into a…into a cow,” Brielle said.


“A cow? What nonsense, you don’t have udders.”


“I have spots like one.”


“I see,” Myrrh said. “Well, do you know who else has spots? That fierce, beautiful leopard up there. And do you think she’s crying about what she looks like?”


Brielle sniffled and shook her head. 


“And what do leopards do?”


“Eat eggs?”


“No, stupid child, they climb! Now be a leopard and climb and get us out of here.”


With that encouragement, Brielle stood and found grooves in the crevice and wedged up and up and out of the hole. But the danger was not over, for the leopard was lounging nearby.


“Easy kitty,” said Brielle. “You run along now.”


The leopard roared and took a step toward her.


“Brielle!” came a shout from a thicket. It was that kakapo, Arnie Cotter. “Hey! She’s over here.”


The leopard turned from Brielle and started toward Arnie. Arnie froze and blinked dumbly. Before the cat pounced and ate him, Brielle’s father and Freddy burst through the trees. The leopard hissed and ran into the jungle.  


“Dad!” shouted Brielle with open arms.


“Bri!” her father cried, and he ran to hug her. Freddy crashed into them, and the family embraced.


“It’s happening,” said Myrrh. “I’ve finally seen it, true beauty, and it’s wonderful.”


The mirror turned to smoke, and the smoke took the form of a man in gray robes. “Master Limerno. You’re alive,” Myrrh the man said, looking off to some other realm. “Wait, no master…put down that wing!” 


Myrrh disappeared in a puff, and the smoke rose to the canopy where a resplendent quetzal sang her song.


November 23, 2023 21:45

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5 comments

Kristi Gott
19:54 Nov 30, 2023

I love this story because it entertains with fantasy, evokes a feeling of empathy and inspires us with the wonderful ending. The creativity and imagination in the story makes it unique and original. The writing is well done with dialogue revealing much of the story and character's traits. Beautifully done!

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James Lane
03:53 Dec 01, 2023

Thank you so much for the kind words Kristi!

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J. D. Lair
02:36 Nov 26, 2023

A splendid tale James! Well-written, with some good lessons to learn along the way. :)

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James Lane
06:33 Nov 26, 2023

Thanks for taking a look J.D. I took a look at your work and it's high praise!

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J. D. Lair
16:08 Nov 26, 2023

I appreciate it! Hoping to contribute some new stories soon

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