The Animals of Fuzzywood Forest

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
The animals' souls are at stake when their champion engages in a deadly debate to the death.

Submitted: April 19, 2015

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Submitted: April 19, 2015

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THE ANIMALS OF FUZZYWOOD FOREST

 

In a remote corner of the world, far from human civilisation, Fuzzywood Forest had remained almost unchanged for millennia. It bloomed with life: deer skittered through columns of spruce and oak, sparrows and jackdaws jostled in the skies, bees ambled through silken flowers of blazing colour. Rabbits played, badgers skulked, squirrels hoarded. Animals ate, slept, mated, got eaten, and that was all that mattered. They paid no attention to the rest of the universe, and so remained ignorant of the evil eyes that were upon them.

 

The animals answered to no king, no government, but in matters of dispute, authority was vested in a quartet of the forest's wisest creatures: the Council of Four. The eldest and most respected of the council was Tawny Owl, whose slow, careful speech masked a remarkable intellect, though some suggested a hint of senility was starting to creep in. Next was the unpopular Seagull, shrill and boorish, bearing a grudge against the world. The third was Pig, absurdly flamboyant with a passion for melodrama. Finally there was Fox, whose sharp wit and cunning hid beneath a quiet, laid-back exterior. Every day the council held court, and every day the animals came bearing problems.

 

A forlorn-looking mantis stood before them. He twitched nervously, glancing side-to-side as he prepared to relay a tale of woe.

“Marvin Mantis,” said Tawny Owl. “What brings you here before our great and benevolent council?”.

Marvin shuffled on restless legs, as though watching for danger. “Well,” he said, “it's a bit awkward. I'm having a bit of woman trouble.”

“Ah,” said Pig, eyes solemn, “the times we've heard that before.” Tawny Owl feared he might break into a long-winded anecdote, but to his relief, Seagull interrupted

“Get on with it, then,” she said impatiently. “We haven't got all day.” Seagull was a comparatively recent visitor to Fuzzywood Forest, having arrived from a sleepy coastal town two years ago. She had spent her formative years chasing fishing trawlers, stealing snacks from schoolchildren, and dive-bombing old ladies. It had been a good life, but it had not been enough for her. She longed to see more of the world, and so one day she simply took to the sky and flew inland, not expecting to return for a long time, if at all.

Her journey led her to Fuzzywood Forest, where she decided the quiet life suited her perfectly. The animals of Fuzzywood Forest however, decided Seagull did not so perfectly fit into their quiet lives She made fast enemies of almost everyone she met, though a chance meeting with Tawny Owl proved far more amiable. The owl admired her blunt, no-nonsense demeanour, so much so he offered to take her under his wing. Even after Seagull pushed him away, telling him to keep his wings to himself, the two became fast friends. Thanks to Tawny Owl's high social status, Seagull soon found herself mixing in the most exclusive circles where she made enemies of a more upmarket calibre. Things chugged along quite nicely for the immigrant seabird until the day Red Squirrel, a member of the council, died under mysterious and gruesome circumstances. Seagull initially scoffed at the idea of taking his place; she had far too much contempt for the council, as she did with most animals she met. Tawny Owl would not hear of it though, he was determined the council make the most of the skills of his protégée. This, of course, did not go down well, however it was of little consequence. Tawny Owl had a way with words, and was able to convince his fellow councillors to see things his way. Thus was Seagull admitted onto the council.

Marvin Mantis cowered under the seabird's malevolent gaze. “I have a...suitor who appears quite insistent on becoming the mother of my children.”

Tawny Owl coughed awkwardly. Seagull rolled her eyes.

Fox grinned. “Marvin you sly old dog, Go you.”

“Indeed!” said Pig, “and yet I must ask the question that surely lingers on the tip of all our tongues. Why would the delightful prospect of carnal debauchery trouble you so?”

“You don't know much about mantis courtship, do you?”

“Surprisingly not,” said Seagull. “We have far more important things to worry about.”

“Let me explain it to you then,” said Marvin. Seagull groaned, anticipating a long story.

“The courtship begins when the female lures an unsuspecting male to her by means of her sinfully irresistible pheromones. Oh, those pheromones!”

Pig grinned wistfully. “Ah, pheromones. Where would the art of copulation be without them?”

“If I may continue,” said Marvin. “The male, upon discovering the female, is instinctively obliged to woo her through the medium of dance. If the female is suitably impressed by the quality of his shape-throwing, she then presents herself, allowing him to mount her where...erm...copulation can then take place. Then she eats his face off.”

“Amazing,” said Fox. “Truly amazing.” Marvin could have sworn he saw a tear in his eye.

“It really isn't,” said the mantis. “When I say she eats his face off, I mean that quite literally.”

Tawny Owl rubbed his beak as though deep in thought. Marvin got the impression he was trying to picture the situation, though he chose to suffer the indignity quietly.

“Well, Marvin Mantis, I can see how that might pose a problem for you,” said the old bird softly.

“Gadzooks!” cried Pig, looking as though he might faint. “You mean to say that you must forever live ignorant of the greatest passion in life, lest you fall beneath the clacking mandibles of a she-insect?”

Marvin nodded, pretending to understood what Pig had just said.

“Oh, there you are,” came a familiar voice that made Marvin's blood run cold. The speaker was another mantis, only this one was nearly double Marvin's size. It leered at him through bulbous green eyes.

“Martha Mantis!” cried Marvin. “Stay away from me.”

“Marvin! Is that any way to talk to a lady?” She edged closer.

With a great leap, Marvin landed behind Tawny Owl. “Keep her away from me!”

“Stay where you are mantis,” said Tawny Owl. “Explain this intrusion.”

“Intrusion?” said Martha, feigning surprise. “I was of the understanding the ears of the council were open to all.”

“That may be,” said Tawny Owl, gesturing behind to where Marvin cowered “but it would appear our friend here would rather you weren't here.”

“Lies, lies, and more lies,” snapped Martha. “I am a mantis in love, and the feeling is very much mutual. Nothing will keep me from my sweetheart, not you on the council, nobody. Marvin, I can wait no longer. Come to me, take me where I stand, right here, right now.”

“Like hell I will,” said Marvin. “You just stay right where you are.”

“Why Marvin, don't you find me attractive? Do I fall beneath your standards?”

“What? No, of course not, it's nothing like that.”

“No need to explain Marvin,” said Martha, grinning mischievously. “I completely understand. You just don't like the ladies, do you? You want a nice, sensitive male mantis to take care of you, isn't that right?”

“What? No, no, I don't swing that way.” He met the inquisitive faces of the council. “Honest.”

Martha clacked her mandibles. “Then I guess you just can't handle a strong woman like me. Yes, that's it.”

“Oh for God's sake, it's nothing to do with that and you know it. I know what happened between you and my brother, Melvin Mantis, all right?”

Martha eyes seemed to brighten at the mention of the name. “Ah, yes,” she said. “He knew how to please a lady. You could never be half the mantis he was.”

“I'm more than double the mantis he is,” said Marvin. “You didn't leave much behind after you finished eating him.”

Martha reared up, exposing the deadly spines on her forearms. “You can't run from me forever Marvin Mantis. It's our destiny to be together.”

Marvin cowered behind his owl-shield. “Can't you do something about her?”

Tawny Owl shrugged. “I'm sorry, Marvin, but matters of the heart fall outwith our jurisdiction. You're just going to have to sort it out between yourselves.”

“Yeah,” said Seagull. “You've wasted enough of our time, now sod off.”

“But she'll kill me!”

“You heard them,” said Martha. “You can't escape. You are mine, Marvin Mantis.”

At that moment, there was movement like a brown, furry streak of lightning. It zipped towards the animals and stopped before them, revealing Sheridan the Prophetic Otter. As he paused for breath, he caught sight of the crushed body of a female mantis he had accidentally run over.

“Well Marvin Mantis,” said Tawny Owl, watching Martha twitch in her death-throes, “it appears your problem has been resolved. Now, tell us Sheridan, what brings you here in such a hurry?”

Marvin punched the air with joy, then quickly took flight before any more lady mantises showed up. Sheridan took a few more moments to regain his breath.

“Come on then,” said Seagull. “Out with it, today if possible.

“Forgive me,” said Sheridan, eyes bulging with terror, “but I was overcome by the dreadful news I bring.”

“What news?” asked Fox. The others drew closer in nervous anticipation.

With the council's full attention, Sheridan mounted himself on two legs, graceful as a classical actor. “Harken to my words, and listen with despair, fellow animals,” he boomed, “for I bring grim tidings.”

Seagull buried her face in her wing. “Oh for God's sake.”

Pig's eye's narrowed. “Speak then. In the name of all that is good, speak, otter.”

Sheridan gestured towards the east, where Fuzzywood Lake lay. “I saw it in the water as I partook of breakfast. Every day, the ripples speak to me. They speak of the past, they speak of the present, and they speak of the future. Today they spoke of something that chilled me to the bone. A terrible darkness is coming, a darkness that will blot out the light, a herald of great disaster. It is a curse none of us can escape, not the mightiest stag, not the tiniest ant. Doom awaits.”

Seagull looked at him as though he were speaking a foreign language.

“Can you be more specific?” said Fox. “Just saying doom and darkness over and over again really doesn't tell us very much.”

Sheridan fidgeted with his webbed fingers. “Not exactly, no.”

Seagull snorted. “Now there's a surprise. Bloody soothsayers are all the same. Just a load of vague mumbo-jumbo.”

“Do you at least know when this...doom, darkness, whatever it is, will come to pass?” asked Tawny Owl.

“Oh yes,” said Sheridan. “Right now actually.”

The words were barely out his mouth when there came a blinding burst of fire, as though a star had burst into life. The animals recoiled, shielding their eyes from the rising heat and light. Behind the blood-red glow of their eyelids, they heard a terrible scream, the sound of a thousand voices crying out in pain. From the screams grew laughter, cruel, guttural, terrifying, louder and louder Fear frothed their blood, raw fear that wormed deep inside their souls. The laughter was deafening now.

Slowly the light subsided until the animals dared to open their eyes. The sight that met them was horrific.

Everything was destroyed. The trees were gone, reduced to blackened stumps. The undergrowth was burnt to ashes. The animals looked up where once there had been blue sky, and saw only black, cinder-clouds. The stench of sulphur hung in the air, thick and choking.

Pig pointed in horror. “Ye gods! What manner of creature is that?”

The others followed his trembling trotter, and what awaited was a sight even more repulsive. A monstrous creature with serpentine eyes, horns like a goat, fangs long and yellow. Its skin glowed red as magma and it towered over the animals on shaggy-haired legs ending in cloven hooves.

With horror, the animals realised they were face-to-face with none other than Satan himself.

Pig puffed out his chest in a futile attempt to look intimidating. “Halt! State your business, foul being.”

Satan sneered, laughing that vicious cackle. “Courageous words from such a bloated lump of gristle.”

“We do not fear you, evil one,” said Tawny Owl. “Get back to where you came from.”

More laughter. “You dare defy the very embodiment of evil itself? I might admire your gall, were it not tempered with such stupidity. You see, I have absolutely no intention of departing this place, not until I have what I came for.”

“And just what is it you came for, redface?” asked Seagull.

“Your souls.”

“Then you will be found wanting,” said Tawny Owl as he fought to stifle the growing fear within. “We have no intention of giving them to you.”

“A stubborn one, aren't you?” said Satan. “We shall soon see how stubborn you are after I smash every bone in your body. You will know true pain, foolish animals, agony like you have never felt before. I will make you bleed from every orifice. I will cause your eyeballs to explode. Your internal organs will liquefy, your skin will turn inside out, your veins will swell and burst. By the time I'm finished with you, you'll be begging me to take your souls. But I can be also be merciful. So I offer you this chance to surrender your souls willingly.”

Tawny Owl spread his wings in defiance. “Never! Not one soul will you see as long as I draw breath. You will find no quarter in this forest, we shall resist you with all we have.”

Satan huffed, venting a puff of smoke from his large nostrils. “Very well,” he said, “then prepare for pain.” He swept his arms aside, throwing up a wall of flame that whooshed towards the animals, who immediately turned and ran for their lives. Sheridan was not quite fast enough, and was burned to ash on the spot.

“That's right,” roared Satan, watching the survivors flee. “Run while you can, but it will do you no good in the end. Your souls will all be mine!”

 

Over the next few days, Satan laid waste to more and more of the forest. Fire consumed the trees, putting the birds to flight. Rabbits scampered as their warrens filled with smoke. Many did not escape. Those who did retreated to the hills on the outskirts of the forest. From afar they could only watch helplessly as black columns of smoke wafted up from the charred remains of their homes.

In response, the council called an emergency meeting, and the animals turned out in force. They formed a ring around the councillors, trying to shout above each another about how terrible life had become. They pushed and shoved, some even fought. Tawny Owl waved his wings in the air and called for calm, but no one listened.

“Shut your faces!” yelled Seagull at the top of her voice. That seemed to do the trick, the noise quickly fading to a low grumbling.

Tawny Owl waited until there was near-silence. “My friends,” he said. “Dark times have befallen Fuzzywood Forest. The evil one stalks our homeland, burning down all that stands in his way. The charred corpses of our brethren litter the ground, and the fresh clean air burns with the stench of smoke.”

“But what can we do about it?” asked a rabbit. “We can't just sit around waiting for Satan to burn the whole forest to the ground.”

“Indeed we cannot,” said Tawny Owl, “which is why we in the council have called this meeting.”

“Words, words, words,” squawked a scraggly jackdaw. “All you bigwigs are good for is talking. We need action and we need it now.”

“Of course we do,” said Tawny Owl, “which is why I have a solution.”

The jackdaw huffed. “Let's hear it then.”

“Yes, let's hear it!” called more animals as they began pushing and shoving again. “Tell us!”

“I'm getting to that, but I warn you, it's not a solution everyone will find...agreeable.”

“Get to the point, old bird,” said Seagull, “we haven't got all evening.”

“Yes!” squealed Pig. “In God's name, tell us your plan, before we all perish in the fires of our grim foe.”

Tawny Owl sighed, glancing down at his taloned feet. He looked up, waited a little longer as though expecting someone else to speak, then finally cleared his throat, realising he could stall no longer.

“My friends,” he said, “for as far back as our history begun, the Council of Four has shouldered the responsibility that comes with keeping order in Fuzzywood Forest. With such responsibility comes great knowledge passed down from generation to generation. However, information can be dangerous, and indeed some of what was revealed to us was so terrible, we kept it to ourselves, hoping we would never have to use it. Alas these past few days have shown that this cannot be. It is my sincere belief that if we do not call upon this forbidden knowledge now, we will all perish in a tsunami of hellfire.”

Fox leaned forward. “Tawny Owl, you're not suggesting what I think you are?”

“I'm afraid so.”

“Gadzooks!” said Pig. “Say you aren't serious?”

“Deadly serious,” said Tawny Owl.

“Oh my sainted aunt!” said Pig, trotters flailing. “Oh sweet mother of Mary, lord have mercy! This is horrible! Dreadful!”

“Are you quite finished?” said Seagull.

“What on earth are you lot babbling on about?” yelled a young stag at the back.

“It's quite simple,” said Tawny Owl. “Long ago, in forgotten times, our ancestors had understanding of the ways of the universe. They traversed the unseen dimensions of time and space, shifting from plane to plane as easily as the squirrel leaps from tree-to-tree. They visited strange worlds and shared knowledge with strange alien races. One day, our ancestors made contact with a race who held the power of hindsight. Although they were friendly, they warned of a terrible catastrophe that would one day befall our forest. They wished only to help us, they claimed, and to prove it, they told us what to do should that terrible day ever come. The aid was accepted with good grace, but I don't think the threat was taken very seriously. We can all agree they were quite wrong to do so, so I say to you all that the time has come for us to perform The Ritual.”

The other councillors grimaced, as though the words projected physical pain.

“Saints preserve us!” cried Pig.

“For once, I agree with Pig,” said Seagull. “You're out your flipping mind, Owl.”

“If you're so against this plan, than might I suggest an alternative?”

“Yes,” bellowed Pig. “Anything, anything at all to spare us the horror of The Ritual.”

“What we do then, is this,” said Tawny Owl. “We sit back, do nothing and watch as Satan destroys the world. Because if you truly believe his bloodlust will be sated by the destruction of our forest, you are very sadly mistaken.”

Pig, Seagull and Fox stared at each other, faces blank as tailor's dummies. They began whispering furiously.

Finally Fox turned to Tawny Owl. “But The Ritual! Could we not take a bit more time to think about this?”

“Absolutely not,” said Tawny Owl. “There's no time to dither. We need to act now.”

“It really is our only option?” said Pig like a frightened child.

“Yes.”

“Oh, sod it,” said Seagull. “Let's do it. We sure as hell ain't got much left to lose.”

Fox shrugged, sighed. “Fine. I say yes too.”

Tawny Owl fixed Pig with his bright yellow eyes. “What about you Pig? This decision has to be unanimous.”

“In God's name,” cried Pig, “are you really quite sure about this? The Ritual was only supposed to be used in the direst of circumstances.”

“You don't think this qualifies?” said Tawny Owl. “Look at the forest. Look at the fires. You can smell the smoke from here. Our homes are ash. How long before the rest of the world follows suit?”

“I cannot bring myself to do such a monstrous thing!” said Pig. “Nothing you say will make me think otherwise.”

“How about this then?” said Seagull. “You agree to this and I don't peck your eyes out.”

Pig screamed “Oh horror and despair! Surely it has not come to this kind of barbarism, to stoop to base threats? You would not do this, surely?”

“Too right I would. Just try me fatty.”

“Travesty! You hold me to ransom! Very well, only under such duress do I agree to this. Let the madness commence.”

 

The four councillors gather on the hilltop that night. Using a branch, Tawny Owl scratched the shape of a pentagram into the ground. Seagull sprinkled the symbol with the dried blood of a hornless unicorn. Fox traced the circumference with the hairs of an arachnophobic spider. Finally Pig drizzled on the tears of a horse-headed centaur. The dark sky murmured uneasily.

“Remember your places everyone,” he said. “The Ritual must be performed flawlessly or there's no telling what might happen.”

“Mercy me, it's so cold, as though the spirits of Niflheim themselves clawed at my very essence,” said Pig.

“Oh, shut up,” said Seagull. “Grow some balls.”

“Be fair, Seagull,” said Fox. “He's the only one that doesn't have fur or feathers.”

“Enough,” said Tawny Owl. “The time is at hand. Take your positions.”

The animals circled the pentagram, arranging themselves according to the points of the compass: Tawny Owl to the north, Fox to the south, Seagull to the east and Pig to the west.”

“Oh spirits of the cosmos,” called Tawny Owl, “we ask that you heed our plea.”

“We call out to you in our hour of need,” said Fox, “that you might bring order where there is only chaos.”

A breeze played around the animals, a gentle tickle, though it appeared to be getting stronger.

“We call out to you in our hour of need,” said Seagull, “that you might bring light where there is only darkness.”

The wind pushed harder, gaining strength with every word.

“We call out to you in our hour of need,” said Pig, “that you might bring good where there is only evil.”

By now the animals were struggling just to stay on their feet, the wind whistled angrily now. Clouds raged across the sky. A bolt of lightning flashed, mottling the clouds with light. It speared through the air, striking the pentagram. There was a deafening crash of thunder.

Tawny Owl raised his wings to the sky. “Spirits we implore you, deliver us from this peril.”

The animals began to chant. “Deliver us! Deliver us! Deliver us!”

Rain began to fall in torrents, cold water slapped their faces, stinging their eyes. Lightning streaked the sky again and again as thunder pounded their ears.

“Deliver us!” yelled Tawny Owl. “Spirits, end our torment!”

Another bolt struck the pentagram. This time there was a huge explosion, and the animals were thrown from their feet.

 

Pig was the first to open his eyes. Everything had gone quiet. The wind had died, the sky was silent. A smell like incense wafted in the air. Memories came flooding back.

The Ritual! Had it worked?

Pig rubbed rainwater from his face. A charred crater was all that remained of the ritual site. Wait! No, there was something else, someone was inside the crater.

“By the power of a thousand suns!” he cried. “Look! The otherworldly cometh!”

Pig's yell roused the others, they opened their eyes and rose to their feet. Standing in the centre of the crater was the most bizarre creature they had ever seen. At first glance, it appeared to be a giant white rabbit, standing tall on two legs.

They realised it was no rabbit.

It was a human, a man dressed in a rabbit costume. His strained face bore an aura of dignity, at least as dignified as a face could be beneath large floppy ears.

“I am Fluffyman,” he bellowed. “Who dares rouse me from my slumber?”

Pig screamed. “Hell's bells! It's a human! A human! Our sworn enemy.”

Fluffyman glowered at Pig. “Speak sense creature, or hold your tongue.” He turned his glower towards Tawny Owl as the old bird slowly approached.

“Greetings Fluffyman, and welcome. We are so very glad you could come.”

“Spare me your niceties,” said Fluffyman. “Explain yourself, and quickly. Why have you brought me here?”

“We have summoned you hear during a time of great peril,” said Tawny Owl, stumbling nervously over his words. “Even as we speak, the evil one himself lays waste to our forest, incinerating all who stand in his way, that he might seize our souls and drag us all down to Hell.”

“Where is this forest of yours?” asked Fluffyman, just as he caught sight of the smoke plumes in the distance. “Never mind. I see it.”

“Fluffyman, can you help us?” asked Fox.

“Oh, are you kidding?” said Seagull. “You really think a human can help us? Humans are stupid. Plain stupid. I used to steal chips from these idiots for fun.”

Fluffyman's eyes grew fierce. “My dear Seagull, when I get back, you and I are going to have to have serious words about your total lack of respect.”

Tawny Owl's yellow eyes brightened. “You will help us then?”

Fluffyman scowled. “Didn't you hear what I just said? Yes, I shall deal with this nuisance. I would however, strongly advise that you keep well out of my way.”

They watched him walk off towards the forest at a slow, steady saunter.

“It'll all end in tears, mark my words,” said Seagull, deliberately loud enough for him to hear, though he appeared not to react.

 

Satan cavorted through the forest, or what was left of it. He was pleased with his handiwork. The ashen-grey wasteland he stood in was as lovely as wildflowers. The acrid tang of smoke was as fragrant as honey. The hills that housed the forest's refugees loomed in the distance.

“Animals!” he called. “You hear me? I'm coming for you! You won't escape me! I am all powerful! I am the very embodiment of evil itself!”

“Oh, shut up you narcissistic clown.”

The voice roused Satan as though it had awoken him from a pleasant dream. “Who dares insult me?”

“Over here,” said Fluffyman.”

The sight of a man in a rabbit costume reduced Satan to fits of laughter. “And just what are you supposed to be?”

“I am Fluffyman and I am here to end your reign of terror.”

“You? Do you know who you're dealing with?” Satan flexed his red muscular arms. “I am the living embodiment of evil itself.”

“So you keep saying. You really shouldn't underestimate me, you know. It seems you're the one who doesn't know who they're dealing with.”

Satan was astounded by this answer. No one had ever spoken to him like this before, no one had dared. “Is that a fact?” he roared mockingly. “What power you must have if you think yourself a match for me.”

“My power is sufficient for purpose and no more.”

“So, what are you capable of Fluffyman? Perhaps you can command the very elements themselves. Can you scorch a man with a pillar of fire, lay waste to a village with a hurricane, or call upon an earthquake to shake the defenses of your enemies to the ground?”

“I can do none of these things,” replied Fluffyman, straight-faced.

“Well, then perhaps you can bend the will of the beasts of the world to your own, compelling them to tear your foes to pieces with tooth and claw?”

“I cannot. As I said, my power is sufficient for purpose. No more, no less.”

“Ah, I know. You can summon spirits, or perhaps you can haunt dreams.”

“No.”

Satan's brow wrinkled. “So, what exactly can you do? How do you possibly expect to defeat me?”

“It's quite simple,” said Fluffyman. “I aim to thwart you using only the power of my mind.”

“You mean like telekinesis?”

“No. I mean like wit and intellect.”

More laughter. “Then you are even more foolish than you look. You come here, bold as brass, and proclaim yourself equal to me, the very embodiment of evil?”

“You really ought to shut up about that whole embodiment of evil thing, you know,” said Fluffyman. “After all, it's a matter of some debate.”

“What? What do you mean by that?”

“Well, let me ask you a question. How would you define evilness?”

“That's easy. Murder, rape, robbery, treason, that sort of thing.”

Fluffyman stroked his chin. “Treason, eh?”

“Yes. Treason. Deceit, betrayal, stabbing people in the back, that sort of thing. All the good stuff, I mean all the evil stuff. Why, what of it?”

Fluffyman clapped his mittened hands together. “Okay, hypothetical situation. Let's imagine your best friend comes to you with a serious problem.”

“I have no friends,” said Satan, “only minions.”

“I said it was hypothetical,” said Fluffyman, irritation in his voice. “Just humour me, will you? Now, this friend, minion, whatever. Imagine he, or she, tells you they've committed a crime. Being best friends, you promise not to report him, or her. Later, you discover just what crime your friend has committed: the mass murder of sickly orphans.”

“Ooh, now that's evil,” said Satan.

“Yes, yes. But here's the point I'm coming to. When you find out what your friend has done, you're so repulsed you break your promise and turn them in to the authorities. Now, tell me. What you did was clearly an act of betrayal towards your friend, but under the circumstances, can you really say what you did was evil?”

“I...er...well...”

Cynicism crossed Fluffyman's features. “I see. You don't know, do you?”

Satan's eyes blazed as threw his hands up, blasting balls of flame into the air.

“Of course I do!”

Fluffyman shook his head with contempt. “Let me ask you another question then. Is it evil to steal?”

“Of course. Theft induces despair in the victims, especially if the stolen goods have sentimental value.”

“Ah, but what if you steal a loaf of bread to feed a starving family?”

Satan roared. “Stop this right now!”

“You're not doing very well, are you?” said Fluffyman. “How can you claim to be the embodiment of evil when you're not even sure what evil is?”

Flames spewed from the evil one's eyes. “I am evil and you can't prove otherwise!”

“Okay,” said Fluffyman, “last question. Is killing a helpless baby evil?”

“Of course it is!” said Satan. “Are you even trying anymore?”

“What if the baby in question is Hitler?”

“Yes,” said Satan, his voice soft, unsettling. “It's still evil.”

“Explain,” said Fluffyman.

“Because there are alternatives to murder. You could kidnap him from his birth family and give him to, I don't know, a Jewish family or something. That way he has a better chance of growing up without such hate and prejudice in his heart.”

Dammit, thought Fluffyman. He hadn't anticipated that response.

Satan was gloating now, he had the upper hand. “Any more stupid questions?”

“Give me a moment,” said Fluffyman.

Satan seemed to grow in size. “No,” he growled. “I grow tired of your nonsense. It is time to end you.” The evil one raised his colossal fists.

“So be it,” said Fluffyman defiantly. “I won't give you the satisfaction of pleading for my life.”

“Just a moment,” piped a small voice. It was Marvin Mantis.

“Foolish mantis,” said Fluffyman. “Get out of here while you still can.”

The mantis stayed put. “If I may, Mr Fluffyman sir, I couldn't help overhearing you. I have something that might be of interest to you.” The little insect leaped onto Fluffyman's shoulder and began to whisper in his ear.

“Wait, what's he saying?” said Satan. “Tell me what you're saying wretched creature, or I'll crush you underfoot.”

The mantis finished whispering. The slightest trace of a grin crossed Fluffyman's face.

“Evil one,” he said. “One final question.”

“No,” said Satan. “You had your chance and you blew it. It's time to smash you into little pieces.”

“There'll be plenty of time for that later. Just answer me this; do you believe it's evil to gloat over the death of someone?”

“Yet another stupid question,” said Satan. “Love they neighbour? Yes, it's evil. Now shut up while I kill you.”

“What if the deceased had wanted you dead? What if that person had tried to kill you and eat your face off, not in that order?”

Silence. Satan mumbled something that might have been intelligible. Anger boiled inside him.

“You haven't the faintest idea, do you?” said Fluffyman. “Totally clueless. Embodiment of evil? Don't make me laugh.”

“Enough!” roared Satan. “Enough of this nonsense! You're messing with my head. I'm going back to Hell, away from weirdos like you. You have won this time Fluffyman, but rest assured you have not seen the last of me. I'll be back.” With that, Satan erupted in a frenzy of flame before disappearing in a puff of smoke.

 

The animals had gathered expectantly atop the hill, and as soon as they saw Fluffyman returning, with Marvin Mantis atop his shoulder, they broke into cheers and applause. Fluffyman did not acknowledge them, he didn't even smile. Instead, he sought out Tawny Owl who was standing in the crowd.

“Fluffyman,” said Tawny Owl, who was with Pig and Fox. “The news reached us before you did. Is it true? Has the evil one been defeated?”

Fluffyman glanced at Marvin Mantis. There was almost respect in his expressionless brown eyes.

“It was done, thanks to the help of your friend here.”

“Oh, celebrations and joy!” cried Pig. “Our liberators! Our liberators!”

“Where is the fourth of you?” said Fluffyman. “I would have words with her for her disrespect.”

“Seagull?” said Fox. “I'm afraid you missed her. She's gone back to the coast. Said she didn't come out here to put up with devils popping up out of nowhere, so she called us all a bunch of idiots and flew off. I don't think we'll be seeing her again.”

“That is regrettable,” said Fluffyman. “I would have enjoyed the opportunity to teach her some manners. In any case, there is no further reason for me to remain here. It is time for you to send me back.”

Tawny Owl looked nervous. “Back?”

“Yes, back to the place you brought me here from,” said Fluffyman. “I'd like to leave now, so could we get on with it please?”

“Do you know how to get back?” asked Fox.

“Tell me you're joking,” said Fluffyman. “You mean to tell me you brought me here, knowing full well you didn't know how to send me back again?”

“Alas,” said Pig, “it is the painful truth. Please, have mercy upon our ignorant souls.”

“If it's any consolation, we would be delighted to have you live among us,” said Tawny Owl. “There's an empty spot on the council that needs filling.”

Fluffyman sighed. This was turning out to be a very bad day indeed.

 

It was as if she'd never been away. Not long after Seagull arrived back in her village, she was soon doing what seagulls do best, namely making a lot of noise and being a total nuisance. She was back in her comfort zone and she loved it, mainly because evil demons didn't have so much of a tendency to pop up out of nowhere here. The last two years hadn't happened as far as she was concerned. The past was the past and that was that.

Little did Seagull know the past was not so willing to leave her behind, as she discovered one day while trailing a fishing boat alongside a screeching flock. The vessel rolled precariously in restless waters as the crew hauled in their nets straining with twitching, silvery fish.

The gulls flapped alongside, ready to snatch any titbit they could. The fishermen kept them in sight out of the corner of their eyes as they set to work sorting out their catch.

Something didn't seem right to Seagull. What was that smell? Sulphur?

 

Her trail of thought was interrupted by a great explosion of fire and light. It was followed by a terrible sound, like a thousand tormented souls crying out in pain. The fishermen shielded their eyes, the gulls scattered.

Oh bugger, thought Seagull, this all seems very familiar.

The light subsided. There was a cry from the deck.

“Look!”

Sitting atop the bridge was a terrifying-looking creature, it's skin red as blood with cloven hooves, long, goatlike horns and deadly, sharp fangs.

Satan was back.

He laughed from his lofty perch, leering at the fishermen below.

“Foolish humans!” he roared. “I am Satan, the embodiment of evil, and I have come for your souls.”

The skipper threw a protective arm across the fish pile: cod, plaice, monkfish and sole.

“Get lost, mate. We caught these fair and square.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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