Alfred woke up in a pile of leaves. It was like waking up every morning; except for the leaves; except for the forest; except for the lavender sky; and of course, except for the tiny man.
“’bout time you came to”, the tiny man said, reading his tiny golden pocket watch, and then looking at Alfred over his tiny spectacles, “Day’s a wastin’ mate. Lot’s o’ people to see, lots o’ things to do”.
“But…” said Alfred.
“You are Alfred Leonard Freebaker, are you not?” said the tiny man, nestling the pocket watch into his tiny brown vest.
Alfred was looking closely at the tiny man.
“Have you forgotten who you are sir?” said the tiny man, taking off his glasses and closing a tiny book.
“Why, yes” said Alfred, “I mean, yes, I am Alfred Leonard Freebaker, and no, I haven’t forgotten who I am, but…”
The two looked at each other, the cool morning breeze ruffling Alfred’s unkempt brown hair and was tugging at the tiny man’s tiny hat. An insect droned.
“Is that ‘’Forever Wandering’’ by Gregory T. Parson?” said Alfred pointing to the book, eyes brightening.
“Yes it is, just finished it in fact, quite a good read!” said the tiny man patting the book like it was a good pet’s head.
“I, too, just finished that very same book last week…”
Sitting up, Alfred grabbed a handful of the soft leaves to hold over his “privates”. Looking around the base of the mound of leaves for his pants, his eyes gradually took a stroll down a nearby path, to end up gazing through the trees.
Alfred stared down the trail; he said, “What did you think of chapter 5, the one about Parson’s adventures in the … I say… is that a hippopotamus?”
Alfred was pointing with his collection of leaves at a hefty beast -- which was now disappearing into the trees. “But, the tail… much too long and thick for a hippo, I think…” he slowly replaced the leaves, his eyes wandering upward as the creature disappeared, “…and the color… not so much gray as it was green…ish”
He looked down at the tiny man. The tiny man looked at him. A leaf fell to the ground between them.
“Right then” said Alfred.
“Quite right” agreed the tiny man.
“So, where are your pants?” said the tiny man, patting his book and looking about.
“Yes. Where are my pants?” Alfred asked raising his eyebrows and looking at the tiny man.
“Ooot… this is exactly why you never, ever, ever send a Fleck to do a Gromlock's job.” Said the tiny man, “Hm… I suppose Kennimbuck’s could make you a reasonable set of clothes. No worries, around these parts someone walking around in the buff will hardly be looked at once, let alone twice.”
The tiny man stood up on the mushroom he was sitting on.
“Jorno Fillinbreyer, at your service” he said extending his hand.
“Alfred Leonard Freebaker, at your service” Alfred said, clumsily shaking Jorno’s tiny hand with his leafy hand.
“Right then. Right this way -- if you please -- Mr. Freebaker.”
They walked down the path, Alfred now holding two bundles of leaves to cover up with and Jorno trotting ahead leading the way. The crisp air reminded Alfred of the early mornings when he was at boy’s camp. The birds chirping, a cool breeze, the soft sounds of the forest wakening made him smile. How long had it been since he had strolled in the forest in the early morning? Twenty years?
“Kennimbuck’s has always… advertised they can… handle any size order… I’m sure… we will put them… to the test today.” Jorno puffed along, trying to stay ahead of Alfred.
“Where is this place?” Alfred said, adjusting his leafy cover.
“Oh… it’s just down… the way a bit… over Stone Bridge… and past Ol’ Grandpa Oak… Won’t take any time… to get there.”
“No, I mean, where are we?”
“Where… are… we?” Jorno asked, looking over his shoulder and up at Alfred, “What… do you mean?”
“I mean, what is the name of this world?” Alfred beamed; arms wide spread, hands full of leaves, naked and looking at the sky.
Jorno stopped. Alfred nearly kicked the tiny fellow’s head with his next step, but noticed just in time that he had was paused, pondering, his tiny finger pointing up, and his mouth open but unable to speak. Instead of teeing off on his little head, Alfred managed to lift his foot, only taking off Jorno’s hat; however, Alfred’s extra long step set him stumbling to the side of the trail; which, much to Alfred’s surprise, was a steep incline hidden in the brush.
Arms flapping, and legs slithering about like uncontrollable snakes, Alfred tripped through the brush. About the time he was almost in control - he hit the mud. Arms still wheeling he thought, briefly, that his sidewalk skating as a youth was going to pay off -- he was, amazingly, still on his feet and all in spite of sliding with increasing speed down the mud covered hill. A smile was covering his face as he realized, looking down at his big ski like feet, that he might just ride this one out. He always thought he unfairly inherited his big feet from his mother’s side of the family.
“Genetics finally pays off!” he shouted with glee to his feet.
“Oh dear!” a voice squeaked from in front of him.
Alfred’s confused brain had but a hair-width of a second to see the owner of the tiny voice, but that quick image was forever set in his mind: her hair like sunlight, her eyes of jade, her mouth the color of strawberries on pale blushing skin. She was beautiful. Tiny and beautiful.
Smashing into her, the two suddenly slid along together - just long enough for Alfred to introduce himself: “Oh… I say… good morning!”
The two flew through the air briefly before landing in a creek. Upon being covered in chilly water, Alfred tried to stand up, but the bottom proved to be as slippery as the hillside, which was probably a good thing since he had lost most of his leaves in the trip. He fell again, and grasping for something steady, took down his skiing partner again. The two fell, and then slipping and splashing in the creek for almost a full minute, both finally gaining some footing, faced each other taking deep gasping breaths.
Jorno tapped out his pipe on his heel. He was looking through a hole torn in the brush and down the pair of wide mud-ruts that pointed to the two in the water.
“Mr. Freebaker, this is Miss Melody Gheluck. Miss Gheluck, Mr. Alfred Leonard Freebaker.” he said, stuffing his pipe with a lump of khaki weed.
Alfred starting to rise, and then thinking he best not, tried bowing instead, dunking his head into the cold stream. Melody, who had managed to stand, tried to curtsy in her nearly transparent dress, which only caused her to start slipping again so she fell forward into Alfred. Both blushed, tried to push away, but found they couldn’t stand without each other’s help; so, they quickly settled for looking up at Jorno instead of at each other.
Jorno, concentrating on lighting his pipe, just managed to blow out a magnificent smoke-ring, when he noticed the drenched and mostly nude couple looking up at him for help.
“Right then” said Jorno.
“Quite right” said Alfred, Melody silently nodding her agreement.
Melody's frown caught Alfred's eye, then he studied the cold droplets running off her nose, then her quiet stare. Although he didn't know why, Alfred found himself reaching for her thin, wet shoulder. An apology was forming on his lips.
A sharp buzzing crossed his right ear, and Alfred found his arm blocked by an invisible force. He struggled to maintain his composure, and Melody rolled her eyes, as a buzzing blurry bug like being crawled around his wrist and shook a fuzzy appendage at his face. The voice was thin but unmistakably angry: "Youuuu - you - NEVER touch her!"
The little people, Jorno and Melody, were instantly exasperated at the insect's arrival. Alfred appeared unfazed, but his mouth was moving noiselessly. Jorno snorted, "Monty! Aren’t you supposed to be under guard after the incident at the DiGagni? Bridge."
Alfred couldn't be sure, but it seemed the tiny creature’s eyes stayed on his face as he answered. Its little voice was surly. "It was SURELY a case of meestaken identity. I just had to ... convince them. That is history, and you will tell me. What is this THING of which I have hold? I think it would have hurt you,” a bit softly, "my lovely."
Melody sloshed a bit of creek at Alfred's wrist and across its attached creature. "Monty ... ", she growled, "I thought I made things absolutely stang-eye clear to you." A moment of silence. "We were never supposed to see you again."
Monty's surprising strength was distracted from holding Alfred's arm, and he buzzed something about protecting lovely Melody from evil and harm, but Alfred's much larger human voice carried directly over to Jorno: "My little fellow, I'm afraid I still don't understand what is happening, I'm quite soaked, and my clothing - " His voice trailed off.
"Little?" responded Jorno, and he tapped his book nervously with his pipe. "Oh I see. Well, we've got to go, mate. We've really got to be going. A crossing would have been preferable, but -"
"I suppose we've proven the water shallow enough," finished Alfred, now gaining a firmer footing in the water. He offered a hand to Melody, but with a firm buzz Monty was somehow pulling her to her feet. Alfred's normally unflappable composure slipped a little as he regarded her, standing there.
She was delicately gorgeous, only half as tall as him and walking swiftly out of the water, obediently crossing to the other side where Jorno was pointing. She pulled together some of the shimmering fabric of her short dress and wrung a healthy portion of water from it. Just as Monty had done, she addressed Jorno while staring at Alfred. "Jorno, old pal, you've haven't made a lick of sense all day, and where exactly did your clumsy friend come from?"
Jorno tapped the book again, but his face turned pale as he heard a creaking vehicle just over the taller embankment on the opposite side of the stream. They all turned to see what was coming.
A thick steam-snorting creature, not quite a horse, nor an ox, but something ‘’in-between’’ crested the embankment, and pulling behind it rumbled a huge strange ornamented cart. “Gypsies?” was the first thought in Alfred’s mind. But the man-creature driving the cart was no gypsy, at least not by any stories he had read about gypsies.
The hairy man-creature was hunched behind a big wheel, much like the wheel of a sea-ship, and was singing a tune. Alfred had no doubt that he was singing to the beast who pulled the cart, because at times the beast seemed to smile or snort with his singing. He only caught part of the song, and it seemed familiar to him.
Sit on-back and I’ll sing this song a tale of a frightful float, started from da town of Snort, all-aboard a tiny boat. Pop-I was a powerful sailin' man, a Mud-Skipper brave and true, with twenty-five crew he set sail that day, for a fourt-noct tour, a fourt-noct tour. The weather started with a getting tough, Und the tiny boat was pitched. Off course but for the courage of the courageous crew The Meelow could be hitched. The Meelow would be hitched.“Whooo there, Moostal” the man-creature commanded when he spotted the group by the stream. The beast dug in and the cart came to a jangling stop. “Goooooood day, fair folk!” he said with a wave as he swung down from the cart in a deadly smooth motion.
With an equally deft motion he pulled a long lever on the side of the cart, seeming to cause the cart to fold outward as parts of the interior of the cart came forth, moving about on hinges and gears, like some giant child’s toy that one moment is a truck, then after twisting this way and that is suddenly a killer-gun-robot-of-destruction. Alfred watched as the parts moved around, waiting for the giant guns to form and shoot them all, when suddenly it stopped; producing not a cart, nor a killer-gun-robot, but what looked like the front of a store. The man-creature leapt over the counter, and motioned for the others to come in under the colorful awning.
“So”, said the man-creature, “My name is Broostal. What will you are having?”
Alfred looked around at the other folk, hoping for some rescue. Everyone was silent. A bird chirped, far off an unknown beast let loose a mellow trumpet. The creek burbled. A leaf fell.
“Right then”, said Alfred, “Do you have any pants? A shirt perhaps?”
Everyone around him groaned, except Broostal and Moostal.
“What?” asked Alfred of the group. No one answered. Melody turned and looked at the buzzing Monty, who turned and looked at Jorno. Jorno was looking at his watch and giving Alfred a sweeping hand signal, which Alfred took to mean, ‘’go ahead, shop’’.
Broostal, producing an exceptionally toothy grin, motioned to a rack of clothing in the cart-shop behind him. Silently he turned the rack, watching Alfred and making the occasional questioning hum, or approving nod, all the while raising and lowering his bushy eyebrows in anticipation. The rack squeaked. Broostal hummed. Alfred alternated pointing and holding his finger to his lip.
“Hmmmm…. eh? No no. Oh! No… not that one. Oh…. Hmmmm… yes. Well, maybe not”, Alfred went on for minutes as the rack slowly squeaked along.
Suddenly Broostal pulled out two hangers, upon which hung a white shirt, vest, trousers, jacket and bow tie. Alfred’s eyes lit up, then he squinted; the clothing looked familiar to him.
“I say…”, Alfred trailed off. Moostal sneezed.
“Bless you”, said Jorno, Melody, and Monty simultaneously.
“Thank you”, said Moostal.
“Oh…I say!” said Alfred, locking eyes with Moostal. “Um, how… much?”, he asked turning slowly back to Broostal.
“Today, for you sir, the low-low price of… twenty-three… yes twenty-three I should think.”
“Twenty-three?” Alfred asked while taking a sideways glance again at Moostal, “Twenty-three”, he said again as if tasting the price, “Twenty-three…”, he was looking again at Moostal. A bird chirped.
Alfred turned, “Twenty-three, what?”
“Right. You drive a hard bargain: twenty-one. But I have mouths to feed”, he said motioning to Moostal and himself, “so, I couldn’t possibly go down any further.”
“No, no”, began Alfred.
“Well, I suppose I could take nineteen”, interrupted Broostal. He was looking at Moostal, who was chewing cud and nodding approvingly.
“No, no. I mean Twenty-thr… nineteen what? What do I pay in?”, Alfred said, trying not to look too confused.
“Oh, I see”, Broostal stroked his chin. “What have you got?”
Alfred went to check his pockets, and then realizing he had no clothing on, he stopped.
“Well you see, that is the problem”, he said looking around at the others, who were now looking about the forest. Jorno was whistling some tuneless song.
“Well, don’t think I’ll give you credit”, Broostal said, leaning over the counter and frowning, “I have mouths to feed after all, and places to go, things to…”
“Oh! No.” cried Alfred, “I could never ask…”
“Right then”, started Broostal, “Credit it will be then, shall I wrap these up for you?”
“What?” asked Alfred, his mouth agape.
“Oh, yes”, said Broostal looking him up and down, “Right. Here you go; sign here if you please.” He produced an oversized sales slip and pushed a big feathered pen into Alfred’s hand. He did everything but move Alfred’s hand in the signing. Then with smile as wide as a man’s head, he handed Alfred the clothes, already neatly folded.
“Thank you so much shopping with us, come again!” Broostal said quickly backing into the shop-cart while pulling the lever once again. This time the shop front folded up as the dark creature moved back into the cart. He gave a little wave as it folded shut, his beaming yellow smile the last thing to be seen as the front folded up. Alfred stared, and then gave a start as Broostal swung up –seemingly from no where- and was back atop the cart.
Giving another wave, he shook the reins and Moostal moved forward.
“Good-day”, the beast grunted as he pulled the cart passed them.
The stood and waited for the cart to slowly squeak its way over the crest of the hill. Then the group around Alfred then gave a collative sigh.
“I guess we burn the clothes now?” Jorno said as he was looking around; the others were all head-bobbing in agreement. “Right then”, he turned to Alfred.
“But… I just paid nineteen for these!”, Alfred whined.