Inspector Frogmouth

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: The Imaginarium
A short story written for an anthology base on the world of Lewis Caroll

Submitted: July 16, 2019

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Submitted: July 16, 2019

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Inspector Frogmouth had been hard on Alice’s tail, in as much as one could be, since a young lady having reached a certain level of evolution does not possess a tail. Even so Frogmouth had been close behind her ever since she had gone missing from the Mad Hatter’s tea party. He had been satisfied that the case had ended in the Queen’s Court even without his evidence. However, when the suspect had grown to an enormous size and subsequently disappeared, it fell to him to follow. 

He’d traced her back to whence she’d come, through a number of witnesses. He’d had to show particular restraint when interviewing the Caterpillar, but he’d decided to let slide the drug use in favour of following the main goal of his search. 

At last he found himself flying up the hole down which Alice had fallen. It took him some time as he had to wait for updrafts, which can be treacherous if not treated properly. One minute they’ll be taking you somewhere; the next they’re leaving in a huff, which to be fair is a hazard of all drafts. 

On seeing a light ahead, he thanked the moving air as any proper traveller should and flew directly toward the opening. As he flew out, he found himself in a cavernous room. There were strange moving shelves with rotating handles, and scurrying here and there were gophers fetching books and taking them on trolleys around the room. 

“Excuse me,” he said which instantly drew a crowd. 

One of the gophers pushed towards the front and appeared to speak for all there, although there was no sign that anyone had asked, or wanted, him to do so. “What can we do for you? We don’t get many owls down here you see.”

The Inspector ruffled his feathers indignantly. “I am not an owl at all; I am related more closely to nightingales.”

“Well that’s as maybe,” said the Head Gopher, “but it doesn’t explain why you are down here disturbing us Book Fetchers.”

“Book Fetchers?” enquired Frogmouth. 

One of the gophers started to chant, and soon all joined in:

“We get the books. 
The musty books, the dusty books, the books writ long ago.
Full of things to read and things to learn and knowledge for to show.
All stored down here ‘neath the ground, on shelves for you to read.
With a book in hand you will understand, and your mind be rich indeed.”

“Now then what book can we get for you?” enquired the Head Gopher. 

Frogmouth looked around and seeing no clues about him presently, said “My need of knowledge is more of a geographical nature than a literary one; could you possibly direct me towards the exit so that I can continue my investigations?”

There was a murmuring among the gophers, and one said “We never go out of here - we like it here.” 

The other gophers gathered closer to him and began to press in on him muttering about him staying with them and helping find the books. Then suddenly a hatch opened and a small blue piece of paper flew into the room, causing all the gophers to rush to read it. All of them were cheering the blue slip of paper containing a request for a book. Off they went with their new prize forgetting the strange feathered creature that had ventured into their realm. 

Frogmouth just had time to catch the attention of one elderly gopher that slowly followed the crowd, so he asked “Where do the books go when you’ve fetched them?”

The Elderly Gopher pointed at a door in the wall and said “The book lift,” and with that the Elderly Gopher went on the hunt with his tribe.

Frogmouth pulled the doors of the book lift open with his beak and he found the box inside fitted him very well. This was just as well, because eating and drinking could cause a change in stature to a young girl, but not to a frogmouth. Good fit or not the book lift was going nowhere, and so the Inspector looked around the box for a switch of some sort. Nothing was evident so he decided to wait it out. The structure seemed solid enough, but he thought it best to check it while it had the least distance to fall. He gave the side a hard, sharp bash with his beak. At first, he regretted the action as the box began to move, but his mood rose along with the lift.

Even before the door opened, he could hear the faint sound of a piano. Upon opening the door of the book lift, the face looking at him appeared somewhat confused. 

It was a Shetland pony, with mane that sat as a fringe across his eyes. He looked and sniffed at Frogmouth and said “You don’t look much like a book.”

“I’m not a book, I’m and inspector.” 

“Oh, an inspector is it. I hope you haven’t come to inspect a book, because it appears there isn’t one. Perhaps you’ve eaten it?” 

“Why would I do that?”

“I don’t know, it’s the only thing I can think of. Otherwise it means the gophers have sent up a bird rather than a book, and I’ve never known them to do that before.” 

Yes, well I do apologise for making you pull me up here under false pretences, but it was the only way to get up from the room below. 

The pony shook his mane and said “Oh no need to apologise, you’re not very heavy.”

“I am much obliged to you.” Thinking that introductions would be best before asking for further information, Frogmouth said “I’m Frogmouth, by the way; Inspector Frogmouth of the Royal Court.”

“That sounds posh," said the pony, who then cleared his throat and said: 

“My name is Magnus, and I’m a pony of course of course,
Small in stature, with heart of a horse and the soul of a Norse. 
I run around fields with no remorse and pull things along with certain force.
My legs are too short of course of course for me to ever be a horse,
But there is no greater resource you can endorse,
Than a Shetland pony like me of course of course.”

“I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance,” said Frogmouth, all the while resisting the urge to add “of course,” to the sentence. “Have you seen a young girl pass this way at all?”

“I hardly think she would be allowed in here. I suggest you speak to the Kipper of the Books.” 

“Where would I find this Kipper?”

“Just follow the sound of the piano.”

Frogmouth nodded and went towards the sound of the piano.

He entered a large hall with drawers of filing cards all around, and in the middle of it all was a fish sitting at a piano, playing and singing:

“… item neque ignem nec flammam in bibliothecam inlaturum vel in ea accensurum…”

Frogmouth noticed that all the while the fish played, there was a bear dusting up and down the piano as she listened to the song. 

“Um hello,” said Frogmouth looking warily at the large bear.

The piano player stopped and grinned. “Hello, is there anything we can do to help?” Noticing Frogmouth’s concern, he added “Oh don’t worry about her, she looks more frightening than she is.”

The Bear said nothing and continued cleaning.

“I hope so,” thought Frogmouth, and he continued “I was told to come and see the Kipper.” 

“I’m afraid he’s not here today, can I help; I’m the Deputy Kipper.” 

“Oh, I see, well perhaps you can. I am following the trail of a girl called Alice. I thought she had come this way, but I might have gone a little off track.”

“We have seen many young women; does she have any distinguishing features?”

“She is sometimes as tall as this building, and other times as small as a caterpillar. She sometimes has a peculiarly long neck, she takes drugs from anyone that hands them to her and she has absconded from the Royal Court.”

“That could be several of the readers in this library,” said the Bear while taking a brief pause from her cleaning.

The Deputy Kipper played a few jazz chords and said “I’m afraid I haven’t seen such a person through here, and I would know because I give out the reader’s tickets.” 

“Then I find myself in a bit of a bind,” said Frogmouth. “The trail has gone cold.”

“Perhaps not,” the Deputy Kipper replied:

“If you are in a bit of bind you just need to travel over hill and paviour, 
Whereupon you will find your saviour.
With her wisdom you are bound to understand; 
When you’ve read a book touched by the Bookbinder’s hand.” 

Frogmouth felt his hope rekindling. “Where shall I find the Bookbinder.” 

“Follow the road to the east,” said the Bear as she dusted down the side of the piano.

“Keep going until you reach a green street,” added the Deputy Kipper. 

Frogmouth was about to ask for more details of where he was going, but the Deputy Kipper had started playing again, so he thanked them both for the information, and once out of the building, took off and gained height.

Below him on the river he saw a punt which had beautiful music coming from it. He decided to fly lower so that he could hear more clearly. As he got closer, he saw that the punt was travelling in bursts of speed and then slowing to a crawl. He could see that propelling the punt was a cuttlefish in an Oxford Blue blazer. It saw Frogmouth above and gestured him to come and join the punt party. As Frogmouth landed on the front, he was greeted by one of the passengers in the two seats facing towards him. 

“My name is Petunia,” said a rather splendid looking plant, “and this is Aspidistra.”

The second plant just waved a leafy stem and said nothing, as the punt lurched forward again. 

Petunia said “You’ll have to forgive dear old Aspy, she gets a bit travel sick you know.”

“Thank you for inviting me aboard,” said Frogmouth. “I was enjoying the music as I flew past.”

“Ah yes, there is nothing quite like a slow loris on a baritone ukulele. He can’t sing along of course.”

“Does he have no voice?”

“He’s just so slow that he would always be a song behind the tune so it would just be a cacophony.”

With that the Loris played a slow and soul warming tune that caused all on board to sit in silence, and sway to the lurching movement of the punt. Frogmouth noticed that the Cuttlefish was propelling the punt by squirting water out of its mouth. It was a relatively quick propulsion, but he began to see why Aspidistra was feeling so queasy.

 

When the Loris had finished, Frogmouth clapped his feathered wings and said “That was beautiful. It makes me sorry I have to be getting on my way.” In truth he would have been happy to stay longer, had his stomach not been so keen to avoid further lurches forward.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?” asked Petunia.

“I’m supposed to be heading for the Bookbinder, but I’m not entirely sure where to go, apart from the general direction, and that I’m looking for a green street.”

“Well my dear boy, you need only ask.” Speaking to the Cuttlefish, she said “Could you oblige?”

The Cuttlefish shimmered and then its skin took the appearance of an aerial photograph with an X in the river and a Y on a small street with a green surface. 

“There we are, now you can see what you need to do to get from X to Y. You can recognise the building by its buckram roof.”

As she spoke the Cuttlefish shimmered again and then took on the appearance of red buckram binding. 

“Thank you all - it has been a pleasure,” said Frogmouth as he prepared to take off. 

The two plants rustled their leaves in return, the Cuttlefish raised a tentacle and turned back to his blue blazer appearance, and the Loris gave a very slow thumbs up.

Frogmouth took to the air again. Now as anyone who knows a frogmouth will tell you, they have a good memory for aerial views, and it was not long before he was able to see the green street and the buckram bound roof. It was exactly as the Cuttlefish had shown him it would look like, so he glided down to a gentle stop just outside the door. From inside he could hear muttering, and the door was open so he stepped in.

“Oh where is it, where has it gone? My gold leaf, where are you?”

“Perhaps I may be of some help? I am Inspector Frogmouth, and I am well practiced at searching for things.”

“You can’t be that good at it can you - eh?”

“Why do you say that?” Frogmouth was a bit taken aback by the abruptness of the rebuke, and was beginning to wonder whether the Bookbinder would be any help at all. 

“People only come to see me when they need help, so you probably need my help, so you probably can’t find something.”

“Well it is true that I need your help, so I would be happy to help you find your gold leaf in return.”

“A tidy deal is what that is; yes, you help me and I’ll help you.”

The two searched the small workshop, but even with Frogmouth’s keen eyesight, they could not find what they were looking for. Frogmouth enquired as to where the gold leaf was last used, in the hope that it would narrow the search. All that did was cause more muttering from the Bookbinder.

“If I knew where it was, I wouldn’t be looking. That’s obvious isn’t it, no help that is, no help at all.”

“Where did you get it?” said Frogmouth thinking of a backup in case the gold leaf could not be found.

The Bookbinder pointed to a plant with the shiniest golden leaves. “It produces lovely leaves but it only had two more so I don’t want to take another one just yet.”

“But there are three on there now,” said Frogmouth. 

“Well blow me down, so there are, I must have only thought I’d picked it. There it was on the tree all along.” The Bookbinder now seemed very much more relaxed. “Now that you have helped me, I shall be happy to help you. What is it you are looking for?”

“I’m looking for a girl called Alice.”

“Any particular Alice?” 

“Yes, she has escaped from the court of the Queen of Hearts.”

The Bookbinder began to add decoration to the cover of a book by painting it with the gold leaf, she had freshly picked from the tree. “You must mean the Alice that went down the rabbit hole.”

“Yes that’s the one.”

“It doesn’t surprise me, if it’s not a rabbit hole it’s a looking glass; that girl was into everything. I haven’t seen her for many years.”

“But I have not long left the Mad Hatter.” 

“And no doubt you questioned him at length? You know of course that time plays tricks on him.”

Frogmouth covered his eyes with a wing and said in sudden realisation “No wonder the trail has gone cold; many years must have passed before I even set out.”

The Bookbinder put down her gold leaf. “Yes I’m afraid so. I heard she had gone underground for a final time at Golder’s Green. Her adventures are continuing though I have no doubt.”

“Well there is no point me following her now, and I can’t go back after all these years with nothing to show for it.”

“Perhaps this will help,” said the Bookbinder as she passed a book to the Inspector.

Upon reading the words in the book, the future, and Inspector Frogmouth’s role in it, became so clear that he could see no wisdom in any other course of action. 

And so it was that Frogmouth decided to stay amid the spires and become a Private Investigator for the animals in need, among the learned people of the city. Every year he goes to the great Starling convention where the Siberian cousins tell tales of their time in the steppes. 

They tell wondrous tales of wide open fields and mountains and of snow, 
They talk about Trolls and Dragons, in places that no-one dare go, 
They’ve seen the Holy Grail, the Cup of Life and fear of the Poison Chalice
But in all the tales and fables they tell, they never mention Alice. 
 


© Copyright 2019 Kevin Broughton. All rights reserved.

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