Alabama fable teaming up some of the most famous nursery rhyme characters to solve a strange wedding mystery.
Hi. I’m Jack. You probably heard of me. I’ve been a fixture in Storyland, Alabama for a long, long time. You probably heard of Jack And The Beanstalk, Jack Be Nimble, Jack And Jill, Jack Sprat? Well, I’m that Jack. Like I said, I’ve been here a long time. I’m sort of like the Mayor, or maybe Chief Constable would be more accurate. Something happens around here, I’m the guy people come to.
Storyland’s usually a pretty quiet place considering its citizens: talking animals, talking objects, giants, wizards, witches, you name it and they probably live here. You’d wonder if there’s any peace at all. But most people mind their own business and try to get along. I guess in that sense you could say that Storyland, Alabama, is pretty much like anyplace else.
Well, you could imagine my surprise when, the other day, I was sitting in my office sweet talking Goldie, my pet goose. I was trying to coax one more golden egg out of her. Goldie’s getting old. She’s not the goose she was when I snatched her away from that giant a long time ago. We were both a lot younger then. I’ll tell you one thing though, it was Goldie and her golden eggs that have enabled me to enjoy a comfortable retirement, but it looks as if the old girl’s through. I haven’t seen a golden egg in months.
Anyway, I digress. I was sitting in my office minding my own business when Cow and Cat came bursting in. Both looked distressed. I have known Cow and Cat for many years. They are both entertainers. Cat plays a mean fiddle and is the leader of a band called Hi Diddle Diddle. Cow has performed her trick of jumping over the moon ever since I can remember. I’ve seen her do it a number of times and still can’t quite figure out how she does it.
Well, anyway, they came bursting into my office both talking at once. I calmed them down and served them a cup of tea and a plateful of cookies I had put out. I put Goldie back in her cage in the spare room lest she lay an egg in front of strangers and her magical ability became public knowledge. When we are all settled around the table, I refilled the teacups (but not the cookie plate) and waited for their story.
-The Cat’s Tale-
Cat was a heck of a fiddle player. If you were thinking of throwing a party or a wedding, you’d want Cat and his band playing for you. The Hi Diddles were composed of four musicians: Cat, Donkey, Dog and Rooster. They have a story of their own (Town Musicians of Bremen) but I won’t get into it here. Suffice it to say that they have a distinctive sound which grows on you over time.
It was plain to see that Cat was nervous. He licked his paw, cleared his throat and began. “We were playing at a wedding earlier today. It was a lavish affair, people were dancing and laughing. Cow here was doing her Over the Moon trick to great applause.”
Here I had to interrupt. “Whose wedding?” I asked, suddenly hurt that I hadn’t been invited.
Cat blushed sensing my bruised feelings. “I’m sorry,” he said, “We thought you knew. It was Dish and Spoon, they were finally getting hitched after all these years together.”
How do you like that? Dish and Spoon finally get married and I wasn’t even invited. And here I thought we were old friends. Anyway, I covered up my hurt feelings by being the professional that I am and listened to the rest of Cat’s story. “So what happened?” I inquired.
“That’s just it,” said Cat. “Nothing happened.”
“I don’t understand. You just said they were getting married.”
“They were getting married,” Cat explained. “I was playing the wedding march expecting Dish and Spoon to come down the aisle but they didn’t come.”
“You mean they got cold feet?”
“No, you ninny. They vanished. They went missing.”
Now this was interesting. People in Storyland don’t simply disappear. Storyland is not that big a place. There is the deep dark forest and the enchanted castle, sure, but it was unlikely Dish and Spoon would go there. Dish and Spoon were a pretty cowardly pair and wouldn’t survive very long without regular meals and a warm place to live.
I considered the usual villains: Big Bad Wolf, The Wicked Witch, The Evil Step Mother, but I couldn’t imagine any of them being interested in a such ordinary folk. I was about to say that they probably just got nervous and will turn up in a day or two when Cow spoke up for the first time.
-The Cow’s Tale-
“I don’t think they were kidnapped either,” said Cow. “I think they ran off so they wouldn’t have to pay for the wedding.”
“What makes you say that?” I asked Cow.
“On my last jump over the moon,” Cow said, “I looked down and saw them run off together holding hands. There was no one with them.”
“Well,” I replied, “Everyone has the right to change their mind. Maybe they got second thoughts about getting married. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“There is nothing wrong with that?” said Cow looking at me like I had a screw loose.
“What? You want me to investigate? Find out what happened to them?”
“We don’t care what happened to them,” said Cow. “What we want is to get paid. You think I jump over the moon for free?”
“And you think me and my musicians play all night for the fun of it?” added Cat.
“Ah, now I understand,” I said. “It’s about money. It’s always about money.”
By now the tea was drunk and the cookies eaten and the sun was going down. I agreed to take the case. I saw Cat and Cow to the door and put on my detective’s cloak and boots and hurried over to The Queen of Hearts Tavern where the wedding was to have taken place.
Now The Queen of Hearts is the swankiest place in Storyland and I wondered just how Dish and Spoon expected to pay for their wedding. Everyone knew that Dish and Spoon didn’t have a farthing between them.
-The Little Dog’s Tale-
By the time I arrived at the Tavern, all of the guests had gone home. Little Dog was the only one there. He was cleaning up the mess and putting the big room back together. “Hi Jack,” he laughed when he saw me. Little Dog was always laughing. Some people found it endearing, I found it annoying. I sat down at one of the many tables and looked around. I could see it was going to be one heck of an expensive wedding. The tables were covered with fine cloths, crystal glassware and lavish floral center pieces.
“Looks like it was going to be one fine party,” I ventured. Little Dog laughed like it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. “What’s the joke?” I asked.
“Oh boy, Jack, you should have been here. It was the funniest thing. All those guests. People eating and drinking. The music playing. Cow doing her crazy thing. And just when you’d expect the bride and groom to take their vows, nobody’s there. Now if that’s not something to laugh at, I don’t know what is.”
“Did you happen to overhear them talking?” I inquired.
“I thought they were a little nervous but I just put it down to wedding day jitters.”
“Did you happen to notice which way they went?”
“Out through the kitchen door,” Little Dog said pointing in the direction of the big shoe house in the distance. “They just ran off that-away.”
I walked through the kitchen. The stove was filled with big pots of food that no one was going to eat. “What’s going to become of all this food?” I asked.
“I guess we’ll give it away to the poor like we always do. It would be a pity to waste it. We usually give some to The Old Woman Who Lives In A Shoe and some to Old Mother Hubbard. Why do you ask?”
-The Dish And The Spoon’s Tale-
Talking to Little Dog had given me an idea. I walked over to The Old Woman Who Lives In A Shoe and knocked on her door. The Old Woman is a kindly soul who keeps a dozen orphan children under her roof. She gets by on charity and left over food from Storyland’s many inns and restaurants.
“Who’s there?” asked a voice from behind the door. It sounded like an old lady’s voice but I couldn’t be sure.
“It’s Jack,” I answered, “I need to talk to you.”
The door opened a crack and I could just make out the Old Woman’s bonnet and apron. Something was amiss, she appeared very nervous. “What is it, Jack?”
“Can I come in?”
“Um, no, not now. I’m preparing supper.”
I could see through the crack in the door all of the children sitting at the great long table, their hands clasped in front of them acting so quiet and well behaved. Usually there was such a tumble of activity in the shoe house you couldn’t hear yourself think. Now the kids were sitting at their places so quiet and well behaved I was tempted to ask if something was wrong. Then I noticed that the table was bare, there wasn’t a plate or a spoon anywhere in sight. Something was definitely wrong.
I tipped my hat to the Old Woman Who Lives In A Shoe and took my leave. I heard the door close, and made believe I was walking away. As soon as I was out of sight, I doubled back to the shoe house and hid in the bushes. I didn’t have long to wait before Little Dog came down the road pulling a wooden cart piled high with all of the uneaten wedding food.
Little Dog helped The Old Woman load most of the food into the shoe and then moved on to poor Old Mother Hubbard’s house where I suspected he would deliver the rest. I crept up to the window and looked inside. I couldn’t believe what I saw. All of the children were still sitting at the great table exactly as before. The Old Woman was carrying piles of food—roasted chickens, roast beef, suckling pigs— into another room at the back of the house. She wasn’t giving her children any of it.
I snuck around back to see what was going on and what I saw made my blood run cold. There stood the Wicked Wolf gorging himself on the wedding feast. Two little children sat bound and gagged in the corner. I wasted no time. I burst into the Shoe House and arrested the Wicked Wolf. It will be many months before he is free again to terrorize Storyland.
Dish and Spoon were hiding out in Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. When I questioned Dish about the days events he told me this story:
The Wicked Wolf threatened to eat the Old Woman’s children unless she fed him something better. Being frightened and poor, the Old Woman got together with Old Mother Hubbard. They scraped together what little food the could but the wolf was not satisfied and demanded more. Out of despiration, the two old women urged Dish and Spoon to fake their wedding and run away at the last minute. All of the uneaten food would go to the wolf. It was a clever plan and makes a heck of a good story.
About the author
Harris Tobias lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of The Greer Agency , A Felony of Birds and dozens of short stories. His fiction has appeared in Ray Gun Revival, Dunesteef Audio Magazine, Literal Translations, FriedFiction, Down In The Dirt, Eclectic Flash, E Fiction and many other publications. His poetry has appeared in Vox Poetica, The poem Factory and The Poetry Super Highway. You can find links to his novels at: http://harristobias-fiction.blogspot.com/