The Adventures of Robin Roberts and Little John Tamboli: A Journey to the Dreamlands
“Are you comin’ tonight?”
A burly ghoul wearing a faded green and brown checked newsboy cap, a tattered gray cable-knit sweater over a threadbare collared shirt, and ragged brown trousers sat on a filthy futon in a cavern crafted by ghoulish hands beneath London’s Royal Horseguards Hotel. He had a map and a musty old tome before him, which he was studying by the light of a dim lantern. A Victrola sat in the corner, playing “Nearer My God to Thee.”
The large chap glanced up from his work to see a diminutive ghoul clad in a reddish-brown newsboy cap, a gray sweater over a collared shirt, and a pair of ragged blue trousers. This was the same outfit that Robin Roberts wore every day, the same outfit that he had been wearing on the day he and John were placed in the mass grave in Crouch End on the 8th of June 1918.
“Aw, Rob, mightn’t we Scapa Fla ter the bloomin' carnival anovver night?” John pleaded. “It’s been there since afore we were even a thought, and it ain’t likely ter disappear anytime soon.”
“You’ve been sayin’ that fer a fortnight,” Robin countered, taking the needle from the record. “Why're ya listenin’ ter this maudlin dirge? At least pop on a bit of ragtime or sum sha tunes, summit a chap can snap ‘is Longers & Lingers ter.”
“Cause those kinds of tunes will make me plates of meat set ter tappin', and then I won't get aahhht done. Ya kna that I Kathy Burke Mae West chicken pen I earwig ter melancholy music. Anyways, that's the bloomin' last Ding-Dong that the band played aboard the Titanic ‘fore she sunk ter the bottom of Davy Jones Locker. There's a benefit ter raise funds ter commemorate the saucepan lids 'oo perished chicken pen the Titanic sank, and I wanna donate a few Bin Lid so's the Bruce Lee nippers can be honored as they deserve ter be.”
“So, yer plannin' ter rob sum rich evil blighter and donate the bloomin' proceeds ter honor the chuffin' kiddas 'oo went daahhhn wif the bleedin' 'appeny dip,” Robin realized. “That's a jolly Robin Hood scheme and wite up me alley. But we can't Kathy Burke on an empty stomach, Johnny. Come ter the carnival wif me. We'll fill our bellies and 'ave a giraffe and then we'll come Hammer and Tack 'ere and plan the 'eist.”
“Come ter fin' of it, I do 'ave a rumblin' in me tum,” John acknowledged. “A sugar and spice slice of plump rump sounds loike just the Bat and Wicket ter take the edge Frank Bough. You've talked me into it, Rob. A strappin' lad loike me needs ter eat 'is fill if 'e's gonna plan and scheme.”
“Na yer gettin’ the picture. Come along, there ain’t a moment ter spare, fer I’m so chuffin’ ‘ungry I could scarf down a whole bear!”
Planning the Journey
“So, ‘ow much urgency is there in yer need fer speed in reaching Xura?” Little John inquired. “Do we wish a leisurely stroll with lots of adventure in between? Shall we go by way of the tunnels, shall we travel through the Dreamlands, or shall we just pop off through a gate?”
“’Eaven and 'ell, I am keen ter steer clear of bof 'ip 'oppin' 'oodlums and rash inducin' radishes, so I suggest we avoid the city,” Robin replied. “’Owsomever, just thumb-suckin' Frank Bough through a gate does seem a bit anticlimactic. Oi'd say me preference is a stroll along an earthen frog and toad wif impenetrable bushes on either side, just for a Randolph Scott of eerie atmosphere, ya kna.”
“So, through the bleedin' Dreamlands, then. I’ve a Bruce Lee thought on that. If we take the bloomin' tunnels, we lessen our chances of encounterin’ a 'uman.”
“I daan't give a Kate Moss abaht 'umans. Fickle blighters they are. If it's an inexperienced dreamer that we encounter, they'll scream and Donald Duck Frank Bough daahhhn a steep Jack and Jill, fallin’ wite Hammer and Tack into their body. If we 'appen on sum sort of maniac 'avin' a lurk in the bleedin' bushes, we'll Ian Beale wif them, as necessary. Daan't be a fusspot, China Plate. It's been altogether too long since we ‘ad an adventure.”
“That it 'as, you'll get no argument from me there. Since that's settled, let's Crust of Bread through the bleedin' gate ter the bloomin' enchanted Do Me Good and make Robin Hood on the opportunity ter dine loike kings.”
“Kilts and kings an’ quilts and queens, I don’t care a fig fer any of them things,” Robin smirked. “Fill me quiver wif liver and give me a skull fer a bowl, and I’ll be as happy a ghoul as ever ya saw.”
Robin snapped his fingers, twirled around like a ballerina, shuffled back and forth while chanting arcane words, and waved his hand. An arc of silvery light appeared on the earthen wall.
John’s mood was much spryer than it had been when Robin first entered the room. His tummy rumbled and his feet grumbled as he stood. He crunched his toes against the floor to alleviate the stiffness, then skipped towards the portal, which caused Robin to burst out laughing.
“Oi, Petunia, wait fer me!” Robin called as John sashayed through the gate.
The wiry ghoul performed a swan dive into the portal. Moments later, he and John tumbled from a gate in the trunk of a tree into a grassy glen in the storied Enchanted Wood of the Dreamlands. They lay looking up at the clouds in the clear blue sky.
“It’s much too bright, it gives me a fright!” Robin complained, although his fit of tittering gave away his good cheer.
“Least we ain’t trolls, so it ain’t like the sun will petrify us,” John reasoned.
“The bleedin' Dreamlands are always so beautiful, ain't they, Little John? Daan't matter if it's day or night, they're a grand old sight. Leaves me verklempt, it does.”
A Bustle in the Hedgerow
“You ain’t verklempt, Rob,” Little John teased. “Verklempt means ‘overly emotional and unable to speak.’ It’s true that yer a bit of an emotional heap of coke, but I ain’t seen you speechless a day in me unlife.”
“Bleedin' wise guy,” Robin muttered, although a smile played at the corners of his mouth. “I'd punch aahhht your 'eadlights, but rumor 'as it that you've already been done ter deaf, so it wouldn't do me much good.”
“China Plate, if ya didn't 'ave me, the boredom of eternal existence would suction the unlife aahhht of ya,” Little John retorted. “Na earwig up, old chap, 'cause the way I figure, we've Bo-le Of Glue options for gettin' ter Xura from 'ere. We can take a stroll ter Dylaf Leen and 'itch a Charlie Pride on wahn of the green galleons, or we can 'ave a bowl of chalk ter the Valley of Narthos, where we can Crust of Bread for the Vale of Pnaf and take the tunnels there.”
“’Ang on a tick, Johnny,” Robin whispered. “It’s a bit of a bustle goin’ on in that ‘edgerow. What d’yer suppose it could be?”
“Creepy crud and Elmer Fudd?” John smirked. “Maybe old Elmer’s come ter the Dreamlands ter ‘unt ducks and wabbits.”
“Yer an eedjit,” Robin groaned. “Right, whoever’s following us, come out wif yer ‘ands up!”
“’Ang on a mo, Rob. I’m gonna grab a weapon!” Little John announced, picking up a fallen tree branch. “Arite, ya blighter, yer seconds away from a damn good whackin’! Do as me mate asks, or I’m gonna start beatin’ them bushes!”
“There’s no need for violence, Friend, none whatsoever,” came a chittering voice as a small, gray-furred creature with tentacles surrounding its mouth emerged from the bushes. “I’m simply doing me humble duty as a sentry. My name is Frost Graytwig. My, what a stalwart pair of ghouls you are, and brave to be out in the sunlight!”
“The sunlight in the Dreamlands don’t bother us, though we prefer the night,” Little John said, doffing his cap and giving a slight bow. “I’m Little John Tamboli, and this is me bosom chum, the one an’ only Robin Roberts.”
“Pleasure ter make yer acquaintance, Guv,” Robin said, doffing his cap. “Seein' as its us encroachin' on your territory, it wouldn't be quite wite for us ter pound ya ter paste. We're 'ere ter 'ave an adventure, but we ain't quite decided the paf we should take. If ya were garn ter scapa fla ter Xura, 'a would ya go abaht it?”
“Are you lads on your way to the Carnival?” the Zoog inquired. “Well, you’re in for a treat! Why don’t you let me accompany you and we can discuss your options? I overheard you mentioning the green galleons and I must say, I’d not recommend it. A strapping chap like this big fellow, and a small but stalwart specimen like you, good Sir, and you’re both immortal? Well, the Moonbeasts would be pure pleased to enslave you, quick as that.”
Hello, Is It Me You’re Looking For?
“This is Rob's and my Damien Hirst nickel and dime garn ter the bloomin' ghoul carnival, Frosty,” Little John explained, hoisting the Zoog onto his shoulders to save the small creature from having to scurry after them. “'Ave ya ever been? Wot do ya reckon we'll find there?”
“Oh, I’d suppose that you’ll find rosy red petunias and pretty pickled peanuts,” the Zoog chuckled. “You can stick the petunias in your cap and feast on the peanuts. That’s what ghouls eat, isn’t it? Popcorn and peanuts and cotton candy?”
“’E’s a right little tartar, this one,” Robin chuckled. “Long as ya daan't feast on any pussy chicken pen we cross the bridge ter Ulthar, Frosty, we ought ter be wite as Pleasure and Pain.”
“Oi, Rob, I see wot yer did there,” John smirked. “Me China Plate is full of innuendo, Frosty old son, but Oi'm serious abaht wahn fin'. If ya try ter pilfer any kitties for a snack, it's into the bloomin' Tiddley Wink wif ya. I’ve always been kindly disposed ter cats and won’t suffer ‘em bein’ dined on by Zoogs.”
“No worries, John, I have no intention of snacking on the cats of Ulthar,” Frost promised. “The fact is, I prefer to satiate my hunger with a nice nest of crunchy beetles to dining on feline. Say, do you fellows enjoy music? I was thinking that we might have a little sing-along as we head for Dylath Leen.”
“I loike that idea, but maybe we shouldn't let John pick the bloody Din' Dong,” Robin suggested. “'E listens ter the chuffin' most dreadfully morose tunes while 'e's workin'.”
“'Eaven and 'ell, that's just so I ain't boogyin' daahhhn chicken pen I ought ter be doin' research!” John protested. “Just for that, I fin' I will pick the Damien Hirst ditty. Wot do ya lads fin' of this?”
The large ghoul’s voice was surprisingly mellifluous and had a slight, emotive warble in the right places as he belted out a popular tune from the early 1980s.
“I’ve been alone with you inside my mind
And in my dreams, I’ve kissed your lips a thousand times
I sometimes see you pass outside my door
Hello, is it me you’re looking for?
I can see it in your eyes
I can see it in your smile
You’re all I’ve ever wanted, and my arms are open wide
‘Cause you know just what to say
And you know just what to do
And I want to tell you so much, I love you.”
“My friend, that was beautiful!”
Standing by a small boat on the shore of the River Skai near the bridge between Nir and Ulthar stood an unassuming, fair-complexioned middle-aged man with shaggy, coffee-brown hair. He wore a hooded brown robe tied at the waist with a rope and brown leather boots.
“My dear companions, this is Michael,” Frost announced. “He can take us to the Southern Sea, and from there we can obtain transport to Xura.”
“We'd be grateful, sir. which currency do ya prefer?” Robin inquired. “I’ve a few Lhoska, a couple queer coins of unknahn origin, and a pair of these big ones from Zar. Those might come in Jack an' Dandy. I can't remember where I acquired 'em. Pickman might 'ave paid me wif 'em on wahn of those occasions chicken pen I posed for 'im.”
“The ones with the square holes in the center are of Oriental design,” the boatman noted, examining the coins. “I’ll have those if you don’t mind parting with them.”
“’Ere, ‘elp yerself,” Robin offered, dropping the coins into the boatman’s hand. “It's likely that you'll get more enjoyment from them than I will, and it's a small price ter pay for a scenic Charlie Pride ter the bloody Housemaid's Knee.”
“I thank you, Sir, these will make fine additions to my collection,” the boatman said. “Now, if you’re ready, we can begin our journey. The waters are calm tonight, though there will likely be patches of mist here and there. Also, you are welcome to sing again as the mood strikes. I quite enjoy hearing tunes from various lands.”
As night fell, the little punting boat cruised down the river. A variety of night-songs could be heard on the shore, and a quartet of bubbly Blupe floated through the air beside the boat, their transparent bodies revealing an internal core of blue liquid. They were accompanied by the smell of fresh rain.
As the boat passed through a patch of mist, Little John found himself compelled to burst into song once again.
“Little boat that floats on a river, it's drifting through a haze
She stops by whenever she wants to, well, there she goes again
Well, it's no trouble at all.
No, no, no trouble at all
Well, what she does
is all right with me, and
I kinda like that style.”
The group sang and chatted until they at last reached the warm Southern Sea.
The White Ship
The kindly boatman waited with his passengers at the mouth of the River Skai. After six minutes, a grand white ship sailed close to the shore. The bearded Captain was a wizened man of indeterminate age, but the friends sensed that his adventures began long before they were born.
“How are you on this blessed night, Michael?” the captain inquired.
“Blessed or blasted, I can’t say which,” the boatman replied. “There’s a thick fog rolling in and changes coming with it, but that shan’t stop either of us from our appointed rounds, shall it?”
“Indeed, it shall not,” the captain agreed. “Come aboard, my friends, and we will begin our journey to the Land of Xura. I must say, ghouls are not usually on my roster of passengers.”
“'Eaven and 'ell, we're not your garden variety ghouls, guv,” Robin explained. “We've never Kate Moss-ed our Geoff Hurst for learnin' and explorin'. Nah moldy old tombs, it's adventurin' fer us!”
“I rather loike moldy old tombs and Oi'm the bloody studious sort, but Oi'm glad that Rob talked me into garn on this quest,” Little John said. “'Ave ya ever attended the chuffin' ghoul carnival, captain? I 'ear that it's a first-rate experience.”
“I can’t say that I have, my good fellow, but I may drop in one day. All in now, let’s raise the anchor. We will sail past the lush land of Parg, and when we spy the grand spires of Thalarion, you’ll know that Xura is not far away.”
“Just let us kna if we can be of assistance, guv,” Robin offered. “Blimey, but it's a spotless craft ya keep! I daan't suppose you've sum moldy 'ardtack or a Dot Cotton Lilian Gish or two layin' abaht, 'ave ya?”
Thalarion, the White Ship, and Xura are the creations of H.P. Lovecraft. They make their initial appearance in The White Ship, first publication The United Amateur #2, November 1919.
Ghouls such as Robin and Little John make occasional appearances in Lovecraft’s work. They were initially described in Pickman’s Model, first publication Weird Tales, October 1927.
Crouch End is a real London borough. The version of Crouch End mentioned in this story is based on Stephen King’s 1980 short story “Crouch End” and is not meant to be an accurate depiction of the real Crouch End.
Hello is a song written and performed by Lionel Richie. It appears on his 1983 album “Can’t Slow Down.”
The Lady Don’t Mind is a song written and performed by The Talking Heads. It appears on their 1985 album “Little Creatures.”
Lessen Urgency Maniac Bushes Road Steep Headlights Scream Impenetrable Human Lurk Fickle
Suction Death Bridge Petrify
Weapon Little Bodies Rumor Verklempt- overly emotional and unable to speak.
Putting My Feet in the Dirt
Submitted to the Write about a character who’s known to be a cynic, but secretly romanticizes everything prompt on 6 August 2021.
The piece was also inspired by these prompts:
Write about someone who wants to stay home alone, only for their plans to be disrupted.
Write about an introvert and an extrovert who are best friends.
Start your story with a character saying, “Are you coming tonight?”
Write about a person trying to see something from another’s point of view.