Grumpus Buglish and the Turning Tree
Grumpus sat there eyeing the boy. The time of turning was upon him, and the boy would need every bit of knowledge the old man could muster into him if the boy was to survive it. Even now the boy had no clue. The old man remembered the day he’d changed. Things happen in life and not always for the better, but nothing had prepared him for the turning. As a child his old man was mean and kept his nose to the grind, never speaking about the way until the day it happened. So when it did Grumpus was ill-prepared and went wild and rogue. But that wasn’t the half of it…
But all that was long ago, a time he didn’t relish remembering now. Only thing that mattered was that the boy would not go through such pain. He’d see to that come hell or high-water.
Grumpus felt the creep in him, knew his skin was turning wood, rough and leathery; his snout seemed growing longer with each passing year, and have more white hairs coming out of it than his horse Juju. Warts the size of June bugs were crawling and popping out skin-wise on nose and toes, especially around his eyes like black toads. His knees kept snapping and creaking in the mornings, and his fingers were not as nimble as they once were. His feet looked more like scrimps, roots full of pimples and growths as if at any moment he might burrow down into the earth and become a swamp oak. The simples Mrs. Degler fixed for him no longer did him much good. His gimpy eye hung low, the good one was beginning to droop slime. He’d rub the burn oak oils into his swarthy skin, hoping against hope his bones wouldn’t creak like some old reliquary’s tomb wood. But every time he walked now something seemed to click and clank as if he were a living drum pounding the world back into some iron age kettle.
He almost envied the boy. Wishing he was again his age. But that was all foolishness. His time would soon be over. He knew that. He even relished it like an old lover. Death would be his last love. She’d come quickly too when he gave the boy the dark gift.
“Come here, Shandee!” a mite too harshly.
The boy looked up, his sprite eyes almost ready to burst, full of foxfire. He stood up and walked over to Grumpus with a big grin on his face. “So what we doing?”
He knew the boy wasn’t ready. But he’d have to make do. “We got things to do today, you and I,” he spoke with a lisp, as if he didn’t even like using his mouth anymore. His tongue felt like a dried up plum, squirmy like it didn’t belong to him but was some kind of snake crawling around in there waiting to get out. The boy was getting tall now, and a little too scrawny; he’d have to put more carp and crocodile on the menu, more potato’s and some hog jawls and buttered turnips. Fatten the boy up. His eyes were strong and healthy, his shoulders broad and had a grip on him now like one of those swamp wrestlers. Boy was growing up. Mop of brown hair and strange blue eyes. Must’ve gotten those from that no good daddy of his. Sorry son-of-a… enough, he thought.
“You’ll see.” Grumpus knew he didn’t see; no one at his age could see such things coming.
He grabbed his knotty stick, coat, and hat stood up rubbed the boy’s thick brown mop of thick-laden hair, and said, “Let’s go!”
Outside the leaves and wind seemed almost ready, waiting on queue to start up and make the scene as hostile and eerie as could be. Autumn always seemed to have that flavor: burnt oranges, umbers, caked-dried earth, the scent of winter on the breeze; the river colder, darker, and the stones along the creek, wet and slippery. He felt a sudden chill, turned his collar up, took his bone pipe out and lit it up. The smoke seemed to drift round and round and up toward the meeting place as if it too understood what was about to happen.
Grumpus pulled his coat tighter and told the boy. “Follow me.”
As he turned he saw the boy, changing…
Note: Just snippet of a series of children tale I’m working on…
Background: A fusion of old European notions of the Wood-Elf and Ogre, Amerindian notions of Windigo, Skin Walker, Wechuge; Japanese notions of Jikininki; Hindu notions of the Rakshasa; and, even H.P. Lovecraft (Ithaqua: Wind Walker) and Algernon Blackwood’s Windigo all play in the background. The notion of the Wild Man or the legends surrounding the spirits of the wild places in resurgence, manifesting themselves through time even in an Age of Reason such as ours still plays heavy in movies, books, etc. We seem to have a fascination with the unknown, with the dark powers outside the human range of being. From Kant’s time on the realm of the noumena was closed off, and philosophers have lived handicapped in the realm of phenomena as if nothing else could be questioned, known, tolerated in the House of Reason. Yet, during the whole time of the early 19th Century when the Enlightenment was supposedly to take hold through science etc. we saw a great influx of the Gothic and Grotesque/Macabre aspects of literature and poetry in Coleridge, Poe, Baudelaire, some of the German Romantics, the Decadents, etc. All dealing with the darker aspects of human and inhuman forces. My aim is to make it come alive, to bring a language that truly awakens the imagination of an old evil presence that is at once intelligent and crafty, wise and full of that mischievous power associated with the tricksters from Coyote, Raven, Fox, etc. A sense of the Wood Elf. To situate it in a southern gothic mythology and physically implant it in that culture with echoes of all the aspects shooting out in concrete metaphor and metonymy.