West of the Lost Mountains, there lies a deep, green forest of great expanse. Once the domain of many woodcutters and other industrious folk, the sounds of saws and axes are now seldom heard. Likewise, few of the original forest creatures live there, having been replaced by new, strange species. Among those, and of particular concern, is the veermolf. Thought to be a cross between human and pundelbogg, these aberrant, cruel creatures possess the ability to change their appearance to that of a human, or even hide inside of rocks or trees. A true menace, it's said that the only possible way to slay one is when they're caught in the actual act of devouring an innocent.
Unaware of the terrible dangers, a small, polite girl from the south entered there one bright and sunny day. Seeking only the innocent pleasures of a woodland stroll, Sophira Keltabane, age sixteen, and her pup, Tiggles, walked happily along, she whistling and humming as they went.
"Come on, Tiggles, and quit sniffing at that tree. They're too numerous for you to smell them all, and I want to see what wonders await us inside this magnificent forest."
Tiggles sniffed once more and rushed to catch up with his brisk-walking master.
"That's a good boy, Tiggles. Now, stay on the trail with me and please don't bother the trees. Some of them are trying to sleep."
Dressed in her green cloak, brown dress and carrying a wicker basket, Sophira and Tiggles walked onward through dense forest until the sun set and the sky began to darken.
"Are you tired, Tiggles? I am, and hungry, too. Let's stop here and spend the night under old Mr. Hickory's sheltering arms."
Settling down beneath the large tree, the two ate buttercakes (baked by Sophira, of course) and watched the night sky fill with stars.
"Look how beautiful the stars are, Tiggles. There must be a million of them up there twinkling like fireflies. I wonder if, somewhere out there, a handsome man lies on his back, looking back at us. Maybe his heart yearns as mine does. Do you think so, Tiggles?" Already chasing a dream rabbit, Tiggles heard not a word of her fanciful musing. "Oh, you're not even listening to me, are you?" Patting his white, black-spotted head, she added, "That's alright, you're a tired pup. Since my parents died, you've been my one and only friend and companion. The world would be too lonely, if not for you."
Surrounded by her beloved trees, Sophira cuddled close to Tiggles and fell asleep amidst a chorus of forest sounds, but not before gazing up at the star-filled sky once more and making a wish. A calm night of peaceful dreams followed, but just at sunrise, Tiggles jumped up, howled, and ran into the woods barking loudly. Awakened by the commotion, Sophira got to her feet and ran toward the sound of barking. Finding Tiggles jumping all around one particular tree, she asked,"What is it, boy? What have you found? Did a bushy-tail run up that one?"
"Bow-wow-wow!" barked Tiggles, sniffing and pawing excitedly. Rubbing her eyes and looking close, Sophira saw that something about the tree wasn't right. She kneeled down before it and placed her hand on the bark.
"Why it's…..it's moving! The bark moves ever so slightly, as if it's alive! It really does, it lifts and falls like a breathing animal!"
Sophira rubbed her eyes and stared at the strange tree again, this time making another amazing discovery.
"Tiggles, the likeness of a man's face is on this tree! Oh dear, how can it be?"
Sophira traced the outline of the face with her finger, then stood up, stepped back, and studied it some more.
How does a tree breathe and move? And how does the image of a man's face appear on one? It looks as if it was not carved, butgrew there.
Overcome with wonder and a strange sadness, Sophira began to weep.
"Oh, Tiggles, we have found something phenomenal. This is surely the most wondrous tree in the world….and it has a man's face on it. If I could only speak to him and find out how this happened! "
"If you wish to speak to me, why don't you just address me by my name, and perhaps I'll answer you."
"Who said that?" asked Sophira, startled and looking all about.
"It is I, Oblidah Grabgob," spoke the voice.
"But, where are you? Are you hiding?"
"Of course I'm not hiding! You were looking right at me a moment ago. You even tickled my nose with your finger."
"Could it be?"Approaching the strange image, she touched its nose lightly with one finger, and then jumped back.
"Yes, and now you've made it itch! Ah…ah…ah-choo! Oh no, now I'm sneezing. Please, you must scratch my nose for me, dear."
Sophira scratched quickly and then pulled her hand back as if something might bite her.
"That's much better, thank you. Now, if you don't mind, could you scratch just under my chin? A bushbrim tickled me there with its tail a while ago, and it's driving me nuts!"
Sophira covered her mouth and giggled, "Nuts. That makes me laugh!" Quickly, as was requested, she gave another scratch.
"You can do better than that, can't you? I mean…..it's not like I'm going to grab you and kiss you, or anything."
Shocked by his brash words, Sophira stepped even further back and said, "Mr. Gobgrib!"
"Now, take it easy. I've had a rough time of it, you know. The least you can do is be nice to me. Oh, and please call me Oblidah. 'Mr.' makes me sound so old."
"Very well, Mr. Obra….glob, I'm doing my best, but this all is a bit unnerving. Girls my age aren't supposed to talk to strangers; least of all, those as strange as you."
Contorting his wooden face into a look of hurt, the image replied, "As strange as me? What are you talking about? I'm just an unlucky fellow who was accosted by ruffians and tied to this tree!"
Tiggles covered his eyes with his paws and moaned.
"Uh, well….." said Sophira, looking quite worried. "I think your situation might be somewhat worse than that. How long ago did this happen?"
"How long ago was I roughed up and tied here?"
"It happened just an hour or so ago. Those villains may still be in the area, in fact." Looking very serious, Oblidah added, "You really should free me so that I can protect you from them, should they come back."
"Perhaps I will, Mr. Gribblegob, but before I do, I want to perform a test. May I put something in your mouth?"
"Now I think you're the strange one, young madam, but what else can I do? Go ahead, feed me. I think I may have missed a meal or two. Just don't make me eat a bug or a gob of earwax or anything unnatural."
"Don't worry, I wouldn't do that," snickered Sophira. Pulling a buttercake from her basket, she put it to his wooden lips. "Now open up and take a bite."
"That smells good. Give me a minute---my jaw muscles are a bit tight…... uh, there seems to be a problem."
"Yes, I would imagine so."
"I can't seem to open my mouth. I'm trying really hard, but it just won't work. "
"Well, there's a rather good reason for that, sir. I hate doing this, but you must know." Pulling a small mirror from her pocket, Sophira held it before him.
"What the Harry Pinecone is that? That's not me! Where's my fine features? My strong jaw line? Where's my……..oh, I don't understand this at all!"
"I'm really, really sorry, Mr. Pine….er, Grabcone. I don't understand it, either…."
"You've got to get me out….I mean, off of here! I'm supposed to help father with some chores. If I don't, he's sure to punish me!"
"Mr. Glibglob, if there was anything I could do, I surely would."
"Oh no, I can't."
"I really, really shouldn't do that. Besides, how could that possibly help?"
"It always works in fairy tales."
"What's a fairy tale?"
"I'm somewhat of an authority on them, you see. A fairy tale is a very enjoyable story in which fantastic things happen. Brave knights slay dragons, magic beanstalks grow so tall that they reach the clouds, and a dead princess can be awakened with a kiss."
"Please, tell me more!"giggled Sophira, tapping her fingers together gleefully.
"Yes, and there are fairy godmothers that turn pumpkins into coaches, and when a princess kisses a frog, it becomes a prince!"
"Yes, yes! Just kiss me and see what amazing thing happens!"
"Heh-heh, Okay. Just one little kiss couldn't hurt, I suppose."
Sophira walked cautiously toward the wooden image.
"On the lips, now. You've got to kiss me on my lips," specified Oblidah, quite emphatically.
Puckering up her plump red lips, Sophira gave the face a small peck on the designated spot and then stood back, smiling with anticipation. A low moaning sound came from the tree and then it shook slightly. The facial image began to distort, as if something was on the other side, trying to break through. Tiggles became alarmed, bared his teeth and growled. Suddenly, the bark split and a hairy hand with long claws emerged. The tree split some more, and another claw burst through. Seconds later, the trunk of the tree tore completely open, revealing a horrible head with big red eyes.
Her face gone pale and knees shaking, Sophira cried, "Mr. Glibgob; you're no prince---you're…you're an ugly, hairy beast!"
"They call me a veermolf, and hairy beasts like me always get to eat little girls in fairy tales!"
Extricating himself entirely from the tree, the monster snatched at Sophira with long, sharp claws.
Sophira jumped back and shouted,"And to think I actually kissed you!"
Rolling its big red eyes and drooling, the veermolf grumbled, "Yes, and the smell of your young female breath made me quite hungry!"
"If you're hungry, I'll give you food, even though you don't deserve it," squeaked Sophira, and she held out a buttercake with two trembling fingers.
"Buttercakes? I don't eat buttercakes--- I eat people!" snarled the veermolf, and it lunged at her.
"Eeeeek!" screamed Sophira, just barely escaping behind a tree.
Not especially brave, but seeing that it was time for a loyal pup to act, Tiggles darted beneath the beast and chomped down its big toe with all his might.
"Arrrghhh--my toe!"screamed the veermolf in agony. He tried to shake Tiggles off, but the little pup bit all the harder. Finally, after several moments of intolerable, excruciating pain, the veermolf fell to the ground like a rotten tree.
"Tiggles, you did it!"cried Sophira as she stepped out from behind a large sycamore.
His spirits bolstered, Tiggles showed his mettle and launched another attack, gnawing with such fury that he tore the toe clean off.
"Blaahaha," sobbed the monster. "My poor toe, give it back!"
"Grrrrrrrrrr" snarled Tiggles, shaking the hairy toe like an old sock.
"Mr. Grab, er…awful monster, I do declare!" cried Sophira, standing over the sobbing creature with her hands on her hips, eyebrows lowered and lips pursed. "I was very nice to you, and look what you did--- you tried to eat me!"
"Bwaaaa, snort, snort. I couldn't help it, I was hungry! May I have a buttercake now?"
"Oh, please! I feel like I haven't eaten in a thousand years. I won't try to eat you again---I promise!"
"Oh, alright, but I shouldn't," replied Sophira, and she handed him half a buttercake.
"Now I've got you!"laughed the monster as it grabbed her hand and savagely bit into it.
"Aaaeee," screamed Sophira, pulling back her bloody, injured hand. "Tiggles, get him!"
Once again, the little pup defended his master, viscously biting and nipping at the creature. Wild-eyed and furious, Sophira picked up a rock with her good hand and joined in the attack, bashing the veermolf about the head and shoulders. Moments later, the thing lay in a pool of blood, severely bruised and beaten. Wincing in pain and holding her injured hand, Sophira screamed, "I'm not going to be nice to you anymore!"
"I didn't mean it. You must help me," groaned the veermolf, but Sophira kicked leaves in its face and walked away.
"Come, Tiggles, let's get away from this bad, ungrateful thing….this veermuff, or whatever it is."
Tiggles pranced happily along, chewing on the prize toe while Sophira followed, still quite angry over the ordeal. Soon, a relatively secure spot between two fallen trees was located, so they took shelter there for the evening. Later, when the stars came out, Sophira looked up and wondered again if some handsome young man might be looking back. "Does he want to hold me and kiss me, or eatme?"
Gnawing on the toe, Tiggles looked up at her with sympathetic eyes. Scratching the scruffy little pup's head, Sophira lamented her cruel situation, saying "I'm so sad, Tiggles, so very, very sad. The first man I ever kiss turns out to be a mean old monster. If only he had been a nice young man and…..and not so interested in eatingme."
Tiggles felt his master's pain and did his best to comfort her, licking her face and neck.
Suddenly, a familiar voice somewhere out in the darkness moaned, "I'm still hungry!"
Sophira's heart began to pound as she hunkered down, hoping the veermolf wouldn't see them.
"I ate that little bushbrim that'd been tickling my nose, but I'm still not full, you know!"
Ready to play the hero once more, Tiggles began a low growl, but Sophira muffled his mouth with her hand and whispered, "No, Tiggles. I'm afraid for you to fight him again."
Cracking twigs were heard as the menace drew nearer. "I smell you and that little pup. Has he still got my toe? If so, he mustn't eat any of it. No, that wouldn't be right. You aren't eating it, are you, little toe-biter?"
Sophira glanced down at the toe, and sure enough, a good bit of the flesh was missing.
Oh my goodness! I was so upset…. I didn't even notice you were actually eating it, Tiggles!
"Wharrrrr," growled Tiggles, only to have his muzzle squeezed tighter.
"I heard that!" growled the veermolf as he came closer. "
"Shhhhh," shushed Sophira, "He heard you, now be….. uh, Tiggles, have your teeth always been so long?"
The veermolf limped about on his sore foot, trying to locate his prey. Unable to see in the dark, he tripped on a vine and fell to the ground with a loud "Oof!" When he started to get up, moonlight broke through the clouds above and cast its glow on Tiggles'white tail.
"Now I've got you!"snarled the monster as it thrust a claw down between the logs and snatched around for something soft and fleshy. Finding Tiggles's furry back, the veermolf yanked him from his hiding place and viciously flung him through the air. Then, pulling Sophira up by the hair of her head, he snarled, "You're the one I want to eat first!" Bending back her head to reveal her tender throat, he opened his huge, tooth-filled mouth and started to bite, only to be paralyzed with pain as Tiggles tore into another toe.
"Aaarrrhhhh!" he screamed, and dropped Sophira to the ground. More resolute than ever to save his master, and pumped up on monster meat, Tiggles tore off two more toes and swallowed them, sending the veermolf into a maniacal rage. "I'll have you eating no more of my poor toes!" he yelled, then grabbed Tiggles up by his fur and swallowed him whole. Sophira, upon seeing her precious companion devoured, fainted and collapsed to the ground. Delighted in his hard-earned victory, the veermolf knelt down beside Sophira and poked at her limp body with his claw. "Now, I've got you, little miss difficult!" Opening his great, drooling mouth for a first bite, he heard a sound and paused. The veermolf turned his evil red eyes upward and saw an axe blade gleaming in the moonlight. No time was there for him to speak, move, or lick lips, and his hideous head fell to the ground with one clean cut.
The young woodsman laid down his axe, picked up the bloody head and sat it on a nearby stump. Turning to Sophira, he said, "You poor young, girl. If only I could have saved you. You would have made some man a beautiful bride, but now you lie bloodied and dead. I have no shovel with which to bury you, but will come back tomorrow and dig a deep, proper grave, as you surely deserve."
The woodsman turned and started to leave, but decided to put Sophira's body up in a tree to protect her from scavengers. After lifting the huge Veermolf carcass off of her, he gently picked her up in his strong arms. Seeing her lovely face up close beneath the bright moonlight, he thought again what a terrible tragedy her death was, and in a moment of tender thoughtfulness, kissed her lips. Sophira inhaled deeply, and as the woodsman's kiss yet lingered, raised her head and kissed him back.
Startled, the woodsman sat Sophira on the ground, and with his arms still around her, said, "Young maiden, I thought you were dead!"
Sophira smiled and replied,"It seems my spirit might have left me for a while, but your kiss brought it back. Are you the one who dreamt of me as I dreamt of you?"
"Uh…maybe, but how did you know?"
"Just a guess."
Tiggles crawled from the neck-stump of the veermolf and began licking Sophira's face.
Happy beyond compare, Sophira hugged her pup, gazed longingly at the young woodsman, but then had a worrisome thought.
"What is your name, kind sir?"
"Borhestimane, and what is yours?"
"I'm Sophira. Are you hungry?"
"Well, yes, a little bit, I suppose."
Sophira took a buttercake from her pocket and held it before his mouth.
"Mmmm, that's delicious," said Borhestimane as he tasted the goodness of the cake. Gently kissing her hand, he asked, "Are there more of these?"
"Yes, as many as you should desire."