Mirkin Topp and the Hair of the Dog

A NaNoWriMo Novel by Phil Gardner

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I live in Brighton, work for the NHS, and write endless stuff online.

Chapter Ten

Back in the big bird’s love nest, Bray was weighing up his options. Reasoning with the giant bird by means of considered debate and well thought out arguments appeared to be a non-starter. Plunging two hundred feet off a ledge onto the side of a mountain also held something of a limited appeal. Yet the third option – to sit on a pile of downy bric-a-brac while a Mother Goose with fangs gave her goslings a lesson in dwarf-pecking, seemed least appealing of all.

Bray was not violent by nature – he could not have remained friends with Mirkin if he were, and indeed no court in the land would have convicted him had he beaten the elf around the head with a frying pan on several separate occasions. There is, after all, such a thing as provocation. Although a good barrister would have pointed out that in order to inflict wounds of that nature, the dwarf would have required access to a step ladder, a fact which suggests premeditation. So perhaps the trial would not have been so cut and dried after all.

It was a moot point however, because, as previously stated, Bray was not violent by nature. This was particularly true when it came to small furry animals. Unicorns and road hogs notwithstanding, the dwarf had a soft spot for many of Mother Nature’s creatures, from the soft-bellied aardvark to the wily moose, and he could often be seen pounding the streets of Melee, home-made banner in hand, protesting about the unreasonably high water temperature inflicted on his aquatic chums at the fish-boiling factory. And haddock weren’t even furry.

So when presented with the cute innocent faces of three white fluffy goose chicks, Bray found it harder than most to contemplate beating them to death with a roasted drumstick.

Nevertheless, action was required. The relentless pecking told him that. But morally speaking, the use of a cooked goose leg seemed off-limits. Bray needed a weapon.

Fending off the trio of goslings with one hand, Bray delved into the mass of debris which lined the giant nest in which he sat. Amongst the feathers, twigs and leaves, he found animal bones, small carcasses, and a rare copy of ‘King Pip the Fantabulous Sings the Easy Listening Classics’ on mini disc.

“Interesting…” thought Bray as he delved deeper.

He began to pull out small shiny metal objects: aluminium foil, sardine tins, artificial hip replacements. It appeared that the Giant Mountain Goose might be a distant cousin of the magpie. Bray wondered if he had stumbled across an important find for the naturalists of Phillysia. Perhaps the missing link between the crow and the mountain goat, whose love of sparkly fish cans was well documented. He made a mental note to contact the Museum of Natural History in the western city of Attenborough, should he ever escape from this predicament.

Rummaging around in the nest, his left little toe in the beak of a baby goose, Bray’s fingers touched a hard metal object. Unsure what to expect, but hoping against hope that it wasn’t another musical offering from King Pip the Fantabulous, the dwarf pulled it from the detritus and shook it free of feathers. He looked at the object with surprise. It was a shiny new tin-opener.

Unsure if it would make an effective weapon, but certain he could use it to open the syrup pudding he’d spotted in the back of the Fab-Wagon the previous day, Bray pocketed the item, and continued delving.

Deeper and deeper the dwarf dug, disappearing head first into the downy bric-a-brac which lined the nest, his protruding ankles being pecked by the orange bills of three hungry goslings and their pushy mother. Fighting his way past a dozen pieces of heavy metal, one of which proved to be a rare and all but forgotten recording from the misspent youth of King Pip, Bray’s enquiring digits made contact with an altogether larger item, made not of metal, but of wood. He ran his hands over the find, unsure of its identity, and unable to pull it free from the pile of debris in which it lay.

Fortunately he had reckoned without the assistance of his fowl captor, who was growing bored with her offspring’s well-meaning, but frankly ineffective, attempts at destructive pecking. As Bray grasped hold of the mystery object, the Mother Goose grasped hold of him, grabbing the dwarf by the ankles and pulling him clear of the feathery pit, before dumping him back down amongst her young, and demonstrating the correct use of the beak with a forceful peck to the midriff.

Bray was winded, but triumphant. He may have been surrounded on all sides by disagreeable waterfowl, but at last he had a means of escape. He looked down at the wooden object he had unearthed. It was a toboggan. But not just any toboggan. A Sister Sledge 9000™, the finest toboggan known to man (or dwarf) and the sledge of choice for any discerning Giant Mountain Goose. If he could make it to the snowy slopes below with this superior piece of kit, he stood at least a fighting chance of a clean getaway. Bray had a plan.

As the Mother Goose attempted to pull off his shoe with a single webbed talon, Bray held up the roasted leg of her departed offspring, and in an act of convincing ventriloquism, the like of which had not been seen since the days of Lip-Trembling Len and his Gabbling Gottle o’ Geer, the legendary old variety act of the Phillysian music halls, the dwarf began to throw his voice.

“Honk,” said the roasted drumstick.

The giant bird look confused. Bray wiggled his thigh.

“Honk,” he repeated.

Bray stood up and placed the toboggan on the floor of the cave, outside the nest. Then, with a honk of entirely convincing proportions, he tossed the drumstick onto the bed of the sledge, hoping it might flutter realistically, but not being surprised when it merely thudded to the floor like a piece of cooked meat.

The big bird distracted momentarily, Bray grabbed two of the goslings, stuffing one under each arm, and cautiously climbed out of the nest.

The Giant Mountain Goose was not an unintelligent creature, but the sight of a dwarf with a baby goose under each arm, edging towards the entrance of her cave with a Sister Sledge 9000™ on which sat a talking roasted drumstick which bore an uncanny resemblance to her deceased child, was enough to puzzle the oversized fowl. She looked on in a state of confusion as Bray nudged the sledge nearer to the rocky ledge with his foot, letting out the occasional honk as he goose-stepped to freedom.

Stunned into a state of near-catatonic inaction, the Mother Goose enabled Bray to make it unchallenged to the cave entrance, where he stood on the verge of something big. And possibly stupid. He wondered if it was a little foolish to place his life in the hands of two goslings’ ability to counteract the effects of gravity, and flutter him down to the mountainside below. But that was his plan, and there was no going back now.

Positioning himself on the state-of-the-art toboggan, cooked thigh wedged between his knees, Bray readied himself for action. He hoped the geese under his arms were similarly prepared. He took one last look at his wicked stepmother, and braced himself.

“There’s a goose loose aboot this hoose!” cried the dwarf for reasons he couldn’t quite put his finger on, and with one last ventriloquial honk, he launched himself into the cold mountain air.

To his relief, the fluffy goslings under his arms began beating their wings instinctively. To his mild alarm, their flapping proved a little too effective. Rather than floating gently to the slopes below, Bray’s flying sledge hovered in mid air. He looked panic-stricken towards the mouth of the giant bird’s lair, where Mother Goose, shaken from her confused stupor by the sudden departure of two thirds of her family (or four fifths if you include her stepson Bray, and the late roasted offspring between his legs), was approaching rapidly towards the ledge, a look of vengeful anger on her wide-billed face.

Lacking the presence of mind to honk, Bray resorted to drastic measures. As the giant fowl neared the cave entrance, he removed a flapping gosling from his armpit and chucked it for all he was worth, back into the feathery lair it called home, where it hit its mother in the face and rolled on by into the nest.

With only one aviation assistant remaining, Bray’s airborne toboggan began to plummet. He flapped his spare arm valiantly, in an effort to assist his fluffy accomplice, and with a velocity a little greater than he would have liked, the sledge dropped two hundred feet and hit the snow at speed. A lesser toboggan might have disintegrated on impact, but not the Sister Sledge 9000™, which was built to withstand the sternest of winter sporting tests.

The airbag which had activated automatically as he hit the ground was a slight hindrance, smothering the dwarf and preventing him from having any real idea where he was headed, but only one thing mattered: he was on his way. He released his hold on the gosling, and the young fowl fluttered upwards toward the mouth of the cave.

Where it collided with its mother coming in the other direction.

As Bray slid down the mountainside at breakneck speed, he glanced behind him, where an awesome and terrifying sight greeted his eyes. The Giant Mountain Goose was giving chase. Not on the wing, but on a toboggan of breathtaking dimensions. Though Bray could scarcely believe it himself, it appeared to be a Sister Sledge Turbo II™, a vehicle whose very existence was the stuff of myth, legend and drunken exaggeration. Bray had never seen one, indeed he had previously refused to believe that such a sledge had even been built, but now here he was, face to face with the mythical creation. And it was gaining on him.

“Honk!” cried the goose, the pressure of an extreme situation clearly not persuading her to start speaking English.

Grappling with the inflated airbag, Bray continued down the mountain at ever increasing speeds, skimming over the snow and ice, and dodging the occasional rock with no little skill. Well, no skill at all really – he couldn’t see where he was going, so the presence of such rocks in his path was news to him. But dwarves are nothing if not lucky. And short. Not to mention bearded. And for now, his luck held.

Still the giant goose came. Faster and faster, closer and closer, until Bray could feel her fowl breath on his neck. He turned around, wishing he’d had the foresight to arm himself with a few snowballs before he set off. Facing backwards, the icy mountain air blowing his beard out in front of him and freezing it to a point, he looked into the vacant soulless eyes of a tobogganing goose. Which wasn’t something he did every day. He brandished the roasted drumstick menacingly, but the fearsome fowl refused to be intimidated.

Travelling at speeds which would make a skydiver sweat, the Giant Mountain Goose drew up alongside Bray’s Sister Sledge 9000™. The dwarf swore he saw a smile pass across the giant beast’s bill, as she slowly raised a webbed talon, razor-sharp claw glinting in the bright morning sunlight, and prepared to strike.

Bray closed his eyes. Which was a shame, because it meant he missed the startled and panicked expression on the Mother Goose’s face as she noticed the ravine ahead of them. A jagged gorge, many hundreds of feet deep, it stretched across the mountainside in the path of the speeding tobogganers, crossable only via a narrow ice bridge, itself barely more than the width of a single sledge. It would be impossible to navigate at such high speeds.

Fortunately Bray wasn’t bothering with anything as complicated as navigation. He was relying on sheer good fortune, and as such, his vehicle sped across the ice bridge at a hundred miles per hour with inch perfect steering. Not that Bray was bothering with steering either. Let’s face it, his luck was in that day.

Behind him, the Giant Mountain Goose slammed on the brakes, but it was too late. Bray opened his eyes just in time to see the big bird on the state-of-the-art sledge disappearing over the precipice and tumbling down into the ravine below.

“I hope she remembers she can fly before she hits the bottom,” said Bray, unfailingly considerate to the last.

* * *

At the foot of Mount Baton, by the undulating curves of the Kellee Brook, Nyte stirred, and opened her eyes. There was no sign of the annoying elf. There was, however, a distant humming, drifting along on the breeze from the mountains above, and filling her ears, which she pricked, attempting to decipher the sound which greeted her as she awoke.

No, not a humming, it was more of a wailing, she decided. And it was getting louder. The white mare sat up and yawned.

Still the volume of the noise increased. Puzzled, Nyte stood up and turned towards the Bear-Faced Mountains. Something was approaching with speed down the snowy slopes above the impromptu camp. And it was responsible for the ever loudening wail.

If she could have rubbed her eyes, she would, for the sight which greeted the surprised mare was not one she could comfortably believe at first viewing. A toboggan was speeding down the lower slopes of Mount Baton at an alarming pace, taking an even more alarming and unconventional route through the rocky hazards before it. And onboard this runaway sledge, holding a roasted drumstick aloft, and having an ongoing battle with an inflated airbag, was Bray.

“Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrgggggggghhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!” cried the dwarf, as if to confirm the runaway nature of his vehicle.

Helpless to do anything but watch, Nyte stood open mouthed as Bray neared the camp, hit an incline, and sailed majestically into the air, clearing the Kellee Brook by a good three feet and slamming into the back of the Fab-Wagon, the right rear wheel of which shattered instantly, sending shards of cheap plastic flying through the air.

For a moment all was quiet. Nyte rushed over to the wagon, and there amongst the wood-effect debris, still sitting in the stricken sledge, hand on a cooked goose leg, face frozen to an airbag, she found a somewhat bewildered, but very much alive, Bray.

The horse opened her mouth to speak, only to be interrupted by a voice from the front of the wagon.

“What’s all the noise?” the voice said, with a tone which suggested its owner may have been drinking.

Nyte looked up to see the dishevelled and somewhat unsteady figure of an elf approaching, half-empty beer bottle in hand, walking the staggering walk of the inebriated. In a tender and moving scene of friends reunited, the elf looked down and saw his long-lost chum. His eyes lit up.

“Bray!” cried Mirkin, the emotion of the moment evident in his voice. “You found my lunch!”

He plucked the drumstick from Bray’s hand, took a bite, and with a drunken pirouette, collapsed on the ground before them.