My interview with Chuck Wendig is up at Terribleminds, and as part of that interview, he asked me for a story “as long or as short as you like.”
Mine ran kind of long. Ahem. (It’s not my fault! He said!)
ANYWAY, in order to prevent reader attention from drifting down the Waverly River, Chuck and I agreed that I’d host the whole story here, so he could focus on the more interview-type stuff.
So, without further ado. Here it is. Enjoy.
Once upon a time, on the edge of the Slowing Lands, there lived a widower with his only son. The boy was very lonely (as was the widower), for his father worked many hours every day, and the boy was often alone. To keep both his loneliness and boredom at bay, he often went exploring in the Forest of Anything.
In all of his wandering, he eventually came upon a road; long and broad and straight as an arrow (you can find anything in the Forest of Anything, after all). He walked along the road for many hours until he came to an enormous house on an enormous hill; it was obviously the home of a giant.
Now, the boy was no fool; he knew as well as anyone that magical journeys that lead to a giant’s front step tend to end at a giant’s front step. But he was brave and curious, and while he knew he had to be careful, he also knew he had to get inside and see what he could.
So up he climbed along a trellis on the side of the great house (he was very good at many things that young boys are good at, and climbing was one of them), and clambered into an open window on the third floor. He found himself in a closet big enough to hold his father’s entire house.
Amazing as it was, the closet was still the most boring thing the boy would see that day.
You see, the boy didn’t know which giant lived in the house, but it would have been obvious to most that it could be none other than Mudferthing, the richest and most dangerous of all. Knowing that, is it possible to imagine a house with more wonders within?
The boy wandered from room to room, stopping here to gape at a golden spoon hung on the wall, there to stare at a suit of armor on a stand (with a very scary hole right through the middle) but, to his credit, he touched nothing and took nothing from the house. He knew that he had walked, not climbed, to get to this house (except for the window outside), and there were no convenient beanstalks to drop this giant from if he were caught stealing.
The day got on (as they usually do, even in the Forest), and the boy left the house before the giant returned, then made his way to visit his friend, who was named Kibber. As soon as he found him, he asked about the giant’s house.
“Oh ho, boyo, you found yourself Mudferthing’s place, and it’s lucky you took aught from it!” cried the wise fey.
The boy replied that he was no fool. “Still, I can’t figure out why someone hasn’t done something about that giant,” he said.
“Done something?” said Kibber. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” said the boy, “I went all through that house — the top floor, at least, and I saw all sorts of things that the giant has taken from other people. There’s armor, there’s treasure; I even saw a phoenix feather (I think, or something like it) standing in an ink pot! Why do people let Mudferthing get away with it?”
“Well, what do you think people should do?” asked Kibber. “And who do you think should do it?” He had crossed his arms across his chest, and looked like a grandfather who could not wait to hear his grandchild explain a spilt honey pot.
“I think people should stop him,” said the boy. “There’s all sorts of heroes and knights and hunters in the Forest of Anything, aren’t there? You’ve already told me about the King’s gamekeeper and how he was so good at guarding the King’s land that they made him guard his people and castle as well, and the Lorrigan has all kinds of –”
“Shh, boyo, I get your point.” Kibber looked over his shoulder to make sure no one had heard. “But you don’t know about Mudferthing; if you did, you’d understand.”
“Then tell me,” said the boy.
Kibber gave him his very best angry look, but the boy didn’t budge. Kibber sighed. “Fine, boyo. If you must know, Mudferthing cannot be hurt.”
The boy frowned. “What, by anything?”
Kibber nodded. “’There is nothing in Anything that can cut Mudferthing’s hide, and nothing so heavy it can crack his noggin wide.’ That’s how the saying goes, and that’s why heroes (and those who aren’t so much heroes) the land over can only dream of getting what was once theirs back from Mudferthing — no one can kill him, so they know that no matter what, he’ll come after them, and he’ll find them.”
The boy thought for a long time.
“I suppose that only makes sense,” he finally said. Kibber nodded and went on his way, sure that he had gotten his young friend to see reason.
But the boy whispered to himself after Kibber had gone. “I suppose it makes sense, except I don’t believe it.”
Every day, the boy would find himself alone in his house, and every day he would walk into the Forest of Anything and along the wide, straight road to Mudferthing’s huge house, climb the trellis to the closet window, and search for something that would show him how the heroes of the Forest could beat the unbeatable giant.
It took a very long time. The door of summer closed and the gate of winter opened, and in the end the boy still found nothing.
Until one day, Mudferthing caught a cold.
Now, some of you are being very pert and thinking to yourselves ‘A ha! The giant got a cold! That must be how he can be beat!’ Well, let me tell you that there is nothing in any story ever about a hero who saved the day by making sure that the monster went out-of-doors without his stocking cap and mittens, and there never will be.
You should just sit and listen a bit longer and try to learn something.
Of course, the boy didn’t know that Mudferthing had a cold when he came to the giant’s house that day, and he didn’t know that Mudferthing had decided to stay home instead of wandering the forest in search of more princesses to eat and more children to boil. He didn’t realize it when he climbed into the closet on the third floor, and it wasn’t until he’d gotten down to the first floor (where he’d decided he would have another look at the giant’s trophy room) that he found out he wasn’t alone in the house.
He could hear Mudferthing sniffling.
The boy was no fool — I’ve said as much before — and his first thought was to get out of Mudferthing’s house just as fast as could be got.
But I’ve also said that the boy was brave and curious, and besides that — after so many trips to the giant’s house — he was more than a little tired of searching and searching and finding no answers.
“I’ll just take a peek and see what the old bugger is up to,” he thought to himself (not daring even to whisper). “Maybe I’ll see something that will give me an idea about how to beat him.”
You see, the boy had been at this for so long that he’d started to think of this as his quest, instead of something he would show a hero, once he knew Mudferthing’s weakness (which he very shortly will, as you might have guessed).
So the boy snuck ever-so-very-very-quietly up to the door frame of the room in which he could hear the giant’s sniffles — as well as a kind of shoop-shoop… whiiiir every so often — and crawled on his hands and knees under the door (which is how he gotten from room to room since his first visit).
The room was stifling hot — Mudferthing had stoked up a fire that could have burned the boy’s house down in a minute — and the giant himself was sitting on a stool in the middle of the room, working a loom.
The boy watched for several minutes, trying to figure out what it was that Mudferthing could possibly be making for himself that he couldn’t more easily have just taken from some hapless farmer (or King, for that matter), and finally he understood.
Mudferthing was weaving himself a scarf.
And the boy was no expert, but he was fairly sure that the giant was very bad at it.
The loom was a great and clumsy thing, and on top of that, so was Mudferthing (covered in sweat from the heat of the fire and sniffling constantly, he was quite the sight to see). It looked as though he’d been working on the scarf most of the day, and the ugly thing was still only about fifteen feet long, which is to say about enough to get once around his neck, and no real use as a proper scarf at all, if you were Mudferthing.
The boy, who had never actually seen the giant (or any giant) before, took note of everything he could — the broad, fat shoulders; the broad, fat stomach; the broad, fat hands… to be honest, ‘broad’ and ‘fat’ worked very well for most of Mudferthing until you got to describing his beady, black eyes or the tufts of wiry hair growing out of his ears like extra eyebrows.
The boy got a bit lost in examining the giant (from as far away has he could, naturally) until his attention was caught by Mudferthing swearing.
“Dragon’s balls,” the giant shouted, so loud the boy’s eyes watered. Mudferthing shook his hand as though something had gotten hold of it and wouldn’t let go, and then stuck his thumb in his mouth. “Forf toime todaw,” he mumbled, before withdrawing it and peering at the end, still sniffling.
And there, before the boy’s eyes, was a drop of blood on the giant’s thumb tip.
The boy almost slapped himself on the forehead and gave himself away when he realized what had punctured the giant’s thumb for the forf toime todaw; Mudferthing had gone short of thread for his scarf, reached (clumsily, as he did most things) for the spindle on the side of the loom, and poked himself.
“It makes all kinds of sense,” thought the boy. “Spindles are always the secret to things like this — that’s what mom –” He dashed away a tear. “That’s how to hurt Mudferthing — I just have to get that spindle!”
The question, of course, was how.
The giant wove and sniffled, sniffled and wove, for most of the day, and the boy saw him prick himself no less than three other times while he watched.
“It’s too bad he doesn’t work as a tailor,” he thought, “he’d have bled to death years ago and everyone would be happier.”
Finally, the scarf was long enough for Mudferthing’s needs and the giant got to his feet and shuffled out of the room to his bed, each step bouncing the boy off the floor almost a foot (by this time, he had moved to hide behind the coal broom next to the fireplace, which was lucky).
After Mudferthing had left, the boy waited. Waited some more. Counted to two hundred and, finally, started toward the loom.
First, he climbed up to the top of the stool (which was still warm from the giant sitting on it all day and, unfortunately, still smelled like a giant had sat on it all day).
From there, he got hold of a piece of yarn dangling from the loom — there were quite a few of these, since Mudferthing hadn’t bothered cleaning up any of his mess — and used it to swing to the leg of the loom, where he could stand on one of the cross-pieces, just a few feet below the spindle.
It was the most beautiful thing the boy had ever seen (which was quite an accomplishment, considering all the treasures in the giant’s house), it looked like pure silver and shone like a full moon, coming to a sharp, giant-hide-piercing point at one end and a thicker, safer end where it was tied to the loom with a strip of rawhide.
It was this strip of rawhide that the boy started to work on, so he could get the spindle free and get out of the giant’s house.
Now, while the boy is working on getting the spindle loose, I should let you know what Mudferthing is up to, because he certainly isn’t sleeping, not with a sneak-thief in the house.
Oh yes, he definitely knows about that.
The boy was lucky that the giant was sick that day, because as you know, a giant’s sense of smell is uncanny keen, and he would have squished the boy into jelly for his evening toast if he’d so much as caught a whiff of him. But, with his nose clogged up, of course he didn’t.
Still, Mudferthing knew that something was wrong; he could feel it. Giants have a kind of sense about them — a way of knowing things they couldn’t really know that almost makes up for their generally mean natures and utterly dim wits. Mudferthing, as I’ve said, was the worst of them all. He knew that he knew… something. He just couldn’t say what.
So, once his scarf was done, he shuffled out of the weaving room very loudly, then turned himself around and got very, very quiet. It’s not a thing that most folk know a giant can do, because it’s not in giants’ best interest to advertise the fact, but they can move like a cat when they need to, if they’re in a place they know very well, which Mudferthing certainly was. So, while the boy waited and waited and counted to two hundred, Mudferthing had crept back to the door, peeked in at the weaving room, and did a little waiting of his own.
When the boy started his run across the room, the giant thought, “Fee, there goes the little hairless rat! I knew there was summat there!”
When the boy climbed up on his stool, the giant thought, “Fi, what’s he up to? I’m gonna squish him into jelly for my toast, but I’ll see what his greedy guts have got into before that!”
When the boy swung under the loom and started working on the rawhide tie, the giant thought, “Foe! He’s after my spindle! My most prized possession!” (Which it certainly was not, and certainly was not what he had been cursing and calling it all day, but a giant who sees a thief going after any of his already-stolen things thinks of it as the most precious, and that is the honest truth.)
That was all the giant needed to see. He burst into the room and shouted, “Fum! You’ll not get away from me, my little jelly pastry!” Not a very terrifying battle-cry, really, unless it is being shouted at you by a giant.
Here, you must give the boy credit, because he did not lose his nerve.
The boy knew that he would soon be spread on toast unless he did something quite extraordinary, and he knew that in order to do something like that, he would need the spindle. So even as the giant stomped across the room, shaking anything and everything with each footfall, the boy kept working on the rawhide tie.
And just as the giant grabbed him, he got it loose and grabbed the spindle.
The broad, fat hand squeezed the boy until he thought his eyes would pop out of his head, then it shook him until he almost dropped his prize, but somehow he held on, and luckily Mudferthing decided not to squish him against his other hand like a mosquito right then and there. Instead, the giant brought him up close enough to examine. (Unfortunately, this was close enough for the boy to get a good look at the giant as well, and to be breathed and sniffled on, but in his current situation Mudferthing’s bad teeth and worse breath were the least of his problems.)
The giant squinted and peered, then snorted a mucus-filled snort. “You’re naught but a bratling! Not even a grown man or a knight! I’ll barely be able to get you spread over one piece of my toast, you little thief!”
The boy struggled, but managed to keep his right arm behind him. “That’s not true,” he shouted, “I am a knight! Look closer!”
The giant’s eyes widened at the pert attitude of the boy, and peered even closer, but all he saw was a simple boy’s clothing (because that was what the boy was wearing, of course). The giant snorted again. “If you’re a knight, I’m a dancing mouse. What’s your name?”
“Sir Bobby,” the boy said, and drove the spindle into Mudferthing’s eye as quick a flash of hope. For the barest second, the giant didn’t move, for the spindle was so sharp and the boy had moved it so fast that he didn’t realize what had happened.
So Bobby pulled it back and drove it into the other eye.
Mudferthing screamed, bringing up both his hands to his bloody face and dropping the boy. This should have, would have, killed the brave lad, were it not for the giant’s poorly-made scarf, which Bobby managed to catch as he fell. He tumbled end over end along the ugly mess, catching hold of the badly-woven loops of yarn that stood out all along its length, until he reached the floor.
Then the boy ran. He ran out of the house. He ran down the broad, straight road. He ran through the Forest and finally, he ran up to his house, where he managed to hide the spindle and clean himself up before his father got home.
The giant Mudferthing did not follow him — never did come after him, actually, and most believe he never left his house again, because Mudferthing was blind, poked through the eyes by the boy with the silver spindle.
And that was how everything started.