1000 Words V: The Trouble With Magical Things

by Michael Brenner

Story Image: "Ernie"


Ernie sat beneath a tree in the park, looking pathetic. It wasn't his
fault, really. He was a Magical Thing, but like most Magical Things he had
to figure out what he was on his own. To judge by his brown fleshy skin,
beak-like mouth, webbed ears and point-tipped tail he might be a very
young dragon, but Ernie knew this was only one of several possibilities.
He could just as likely grow feathers and fur and change into a gryphon.
Or he might grow horns and hooves and change into a troll. In any case he
needed someone to help guide him through the transformation process,
someone that would notice him and believe.

There didn't seem to be much chance of happening, though. While plainly
visible, many were simply too busy to notice and those that did notice
obviously didn't believe. Most shook their heads and did a double take,
obviously deciding he was a very strangely-shaped tree formation. Finally,
as Ernie was deciding whether or not becoming an oddly-shaped tree
formation might not be the best idea after all, a young boy walked up to
him and stared. The boy was wearing a green shirt and blue pants. His skin
was a darker shade of brown than Ernie's and his hair was curly and black.

"Hello" said Ernie hopefully, trying to smile pleasantly with his
beak-like mouth.

"'lo." said the boy, smiling back. "My name's Malcolm."

"I'm Ernie. I'm a Magical Thing."

Malcolm nodded, though Ernie was pretty sure he didn't
understand. "What kind of Magical Thing?"

"Well I'm not sure yet. I was hoping someone like you might
come along and help me figure that bit out."

"Okay. How can I help?"

"Well we need to enter my world. I can't do it without someone
from yours."

"Okay." Malcolm tried to figure out how that might work out.

"Uh, take my claw." Ernie held up his stubby claw-hand.
Malcolm took it and a bright light flashed. Though the area around them
looked similar to the way it had before, there were no other humans
around, and the sight of the city through the trees was gone.

Malcolm did not feel as afraid as he thought he would. It probably had to
do with the fact that Ernie was about half his size and not at all
threatening in appearance or personality. Since he often pretended that he
went on strange adventures he wasn't sure whether this was all in his
imagination or not, but he planned to enjoy it either way. It could also
have been the fact that the forest around them was fairly cheerful.
Sunbeams painted the air green and gold and sweet twittering songs were
coming from the trees. A few multicolor flowers grew near the base of some
of the trees, filling the air with their sweet fragrance.

"This is a nice place. But how will I help you become something else?"

Ernie looked thoughtful. "Well, my instincts tell me that we
need to visit other, fully grown, Magical Things. I can only visit three
before I need to decide, though."

"Well you look a good bit like a dragon, perhaps we should
start with one of those?"

"Might as well." Ernie said. He waddled along beside Malcolm,
trying to be cheerful. He really wasn't sure where they might find a
dragon, but something told him they were heading the right way.

After walking for several minutes, they stopped. The forest had parted and
there were a long series of hills in the clearing. They were clad in grass
and flowers, but also had stone chimneys sticking out of the tops of them.
Each of them also sported a round door with a brass knocker in the middle,
round windows on their sides, and a golden bell on the side of the door.

"Dragon Mounds" explained Ernie. Malcolm nodded, though he felt both
nervous and puzzled. The hills were neatly laid out on plots of lands much
like houses, and they were hardly bigger than Malcolm's own home. He
always thought that dragons were supposed to be very large and live in
caves, but the Mounds seemed to argue otherwise.

As they walked around the Mounds, Malcolm noticed some very large, oddly
placed mushrooms. There were usually at least three of them together, the
center one bigger than the other two. Malcolm was about to ask Ernie what
the mushrooms were for when they came across a dragon. His single-clawed
feet were placed on top of the mushrooms head, his pudgy, striped tail
dangling off to one side. It seemed to serve him as a chair. The larger,
central mushroom worked as a table where his two forelegs were placed, one
two-clawed hand holding a steaming cup of something.

[Bonus Image: "Morning Dragon"]

The dragon seemed barely larger than Malcolm sitting like this. His skin
was a sort of red-purple color, except for his creamy underbelly. He had a
pair of wings on his back, though the material lining them seemed to be
some sort of cross between fur, feathers and scales. The material was the
same, or looked the same to Malcolm, as the mane on the creatures head - a
vivid mix of red and orange and yellow. The dragon's golden eyes were half
closed, and it sipped at the cup with its black beak-like snout before
looking at them.

"Another Magical Thing coming to find out what you are, eh?" he asked
lazily, sipping again "We dragons have a good bit to offer. We can fly, we
can breath fire, and we get as much cocoa as we want." He sipped at his
cocoa again "Mind you, we have our flaws too. No real motivation, some
kleptomania, and we can't wake up properly 'till after three or four
cuppas." He sipped again "This is only my second. I'll be a bit more
lively after the next one."

Ernie nodded and Malcolm just stared. "Excuse me, but I always thought
dragons were - well - bigger."

The dragon looked at him and half smiled. "Humans are always exaggerating
things. Do you think your St. George would be half so famous or well-liked
if people knew he went after something as big as a child?"

"You did say you breathe fire."

"Enough to get a good cuppa going. If you're looking to start a stubborn
bonfire or the like we dragons are right useful, but if you're expecting
us to destroy castles you're going to be sadly disappointed." He sipped
again "Anything else?"

"Er - no." said Malcolm.

"Thank you." said Ernie cheerfully. He tugged at Malcolm's hand and they
went back into the woods "That went rather well. Though I think I might
like to be something a bit more lively."

"Is it going to be like that with everything else?" asked Malcolm.

"Not likely. I mean if everything were the same I wouldn't have to
worry so much about choosing."

"No, I mean are all the other creatures going to be different than
what stories say?"

"Very likely. Humans tend to exaggerate things. They like to look
brave and strong when sometimes they aren't."

Malcolm nodded, though he didn't really like the idea that many of
the fairy stories he'd heard were likely exaggerations.

They were leaving the forest and heading into a rather swampy area. The
muddy ground squished beneath Malcolm's feet and the air became strangely
humid and warm, though not unpleasantly so. He was about to ask Ernie what
creatures they were going to try to meet next, when he saw them.

They were squatting on the ground, smiling with huge toothy grins
that also had two boar-like tusks. Their skin was colored green with
shades of purple on some parts. Their heads had two large, goat-like horns
spiraling out of them. They were quite fat, their huge bodies seeming to
move around like enormous frogs. Their feet and hands were cloven-hooved,
though they seemed to have no trouble holding martini glasses in their
cloven left hands. They also had goat-like tails. "Trolls" said
Ernie calmly.

[Bonus Image: "Troll Martinis"]

Malcolm was less calm. Though they were half the size of Ernie and
twice as wide, their sharp teeth made them look fierce. Despite the fact
they seemed to be happy, Malcolm couldn't shake the feeling that they
might be dangerous.

"Why look Jerry - visitors!" said the one on the right.

"Indeed Ian! A young boy and a Thing. Welcome! Care for a sherry?"
said Jerry.

"No thanks" said Ernie "I was just wondering about being a troll."

"Well being a troll is quite wonderful! You get to be quite fat
and lazy most of the time. We can leap a good way when we want. And best
of all, you get to torment goats!" said Ian.

"Goats?" asked Malcolm, confused.

"Yes, goats! Horrible traitors you know. Used to be trolls before
they hooked up with humans - no offense. They got to liking humans so much
they grew fur." Replied Jerry.

"Then they got bigger, and four-legged. Kept their leaping
abilities, though." added Ian.

"And you didn't like this?" asked Malcolm.

"Well no." said Jerry "Trolls are meant to be wild and fat, not
thin and tame! I would guess wolves would feel the same about dogs if they
thought about it."

Ian nodded wisely "Care to join us?" he said, looking at Ernie.

"Perhaps, but I still have one more Thing I can view before I need
to choose, and I'd like to have my options open."

Jerry nodded "Right then, but if you choose us, you know where to

Ernie smiled and lead Malcolm out of the swamp and back into a
drier region of the forest "That wasn't so bad."

"You're not seriously thinking of joining them are you?"

"Well they're a bit shorter and fatter than I could hope for, but
they are cheerful and lively."

"I suppose" said Malcolm thoughtfully "but I'm not sure it's
something I'd become if I had a choice in the matter. Far too many teeth."

Ernie shrugged "If you say so."

Evening was beginning to come. Malcolm was beginning to get
worried, not that he was really afraid of the dark, but he knew his
parents worried if he stayed out too late and he was quite sure he would
never be able to tell him where he'd been - they'd never believe him. He
also was feeling hungry - he hadn't had anything to eat since lunch.

"I'm going to need to be getting home soon." He said to Ernie.

"No worries, we're quite close to the last spot." With these words
the two found the first really large break in the wood since the Dragon
Mounds. Before them lay a field of tall grasses, stretching to the
horizon. In the field before them was a griffin. The creature was covered
in what looked like black and grey fur. It had tallow eyes and a yellow
beak that ended in a black tip. It was sitting on its hind legs, clutching
its forelegs to its chest. The next instant it let out a swarm of glowing
into the air, the things circling around the griffin once before floating
off into the evening. The griffin then turned its eyes towards them.

[Bonus Image: "Lit By Fireflies"]

"Good evening" she said. Her voice was as soft as silk and Malcolm
took an immediate liking to her. "I am Kyla."

"My name is Ernie, and this is my friend Malcolm."

Kyla smiled at them and came closer. On two legs she was larger
than any adult Malcolm knew and he suspected that on four legs she'd be as
big as a horse. Still Malcolm was not as afraid of her as he had been of
the trolls, though he wasn't sure why.

"I haven't seen a human in some time." She said, smiling at them
both with her beak. "I was worried that they no longer believed."

"A lot don't or pretend they don't" said Ernie "but some do."

Kyla smiled again "How do you see me, young human?"

"I think you're very beautiful" said Malcolm "I'd be happy knowing
Ernie turned into something like you."

Kyla laughed "What do you think Ernie? We griffins can fly and at
night we release the light fairies into fields to play."

"I think I'd like to be a griffin. Would it be okay if I gave
Malcolm a ride after I changed?"

"Of course. I gave my human a ride."

Ernie smiled at Malcolm, then backed away a bit. He closed his
eyes and seemed to concentrate. As he did his body began to glow a soft
golden light. He grew taller and taller in the light, then his plain shin
began sprouting white fur. He grew silver-grey wings from his back and
around his head and down his chest. His claws became dark grey and he grew
a blue beak with a dark grey end. Finally he opened his eyes, which were
now a magnificent indigo, the same color as the dusk skies. He got down on
all fours, he was the size of a horse, and bowed lower "Climb on Malcolm!"
he said in the same familiar voice. Malcolm did immediately, relishing the
feeling of Ernie's soft fur between his fingers. "Hang on!" shouted Ernie.

Off they went, into the dusky skies as stars wheeled above them.
Kyla followed and Malcolm could see other griffins as well, coming to join
them in flight. He held to Ernie, but felt no fear of falling. Instead
Malcolm was happy and content, watching the fairy world whirl below them,
the stars above and the feel of Ernie's warm fur beneath him, the wings
rocking Malcolm to sleep


"Here he is." The voice was that of his father. Malcolm was half
aware that the motion of Ernie beneath him had stopped and something solid
and slightly damp was now below him. Somehow the image of the grass
beneath the tree where he'd first found Ernie came to mind.

"How could we have missed him? He's practically in the middle of
the way!" Malcolm felt his mother scoop him up into her arms. "Tired out
from a day of play, no doubt."

"No doubt." Agreed Malcolm's father, tousling his hair as he
half-slept in his mothers arms. Had he really dreamt it all? He half
opened his eyes and brought a hand to his face, as if to rub his eyes. He
opened it and saw strands of silver fur glistening, along with a silver
griffon's head locket and he smiled.


Raven's Comments:

I loved this story! It's been a long time since I read something that
captured that wry, whimsical air of the best children's stories without
turning either sarcastic or saccharine. This one pulls it off, managing to
be warm, funny and satisfying while remaining entirely sincere about the
story it's telling.

You had a bit of trouble on the technical side, notably in punctuation and
a few omitted words. In particular, please remember that a quotation
followed by "he said", or some similar phrase, should end with a comma, an
exclamation point or an apostrophe -- never a period, and never without
punctuation. Descriptive text prior to a quotation needs to either be a
complete sentence (with period) or end with a comma.

"Those are a lot of rules to remember," said Dexter.
"Nonsense!" said Percival. "It's easy enough, when you get used to it."
Dexter looked dubious. "If you say so," he said, "but I think I shall need
to practice."

In terms of Artistry, the story tended to be rushing a bit in some places,
as if you had a certain set of ideas that you needed to work through as
quickly as possible. To a certain extent that's a reflection of the genre
-- children's storybooks aren't given to long analyses of characters and
their motivations -- but it occasionally disrupts the enchanting narrative
flow that you've established.

On the Creativity side you gain high marks for the idea of a Magical Thing
needing a human's belief to shape it into what it's going to become;
that's an idea I've not seen before, and it works delightfully well as
we're introduced to a set of weird and wonderful creatures (as well as
more images than have ever before been seen in a 1000 Words story). I did
have to take off a bit, however, because you were drawing on not only the
images but also the descriptive text that Ursula used beneath them. That's
not against the rules by any means, but it does mean that the story was
less original than it might have been.

Questions of inspiration aside, though, it's a delightful little story,
and one that I enjoyed a great deal. :)

Spelling/Punctuation: B
Grammar: A-
Creativity: A-
Artistry: B
Applicability: A

Final Score: 43.5 out of 50

Copyright 2006 by Michael Brenner. If you want to post this anywhere else, please ask for permission first.

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