SCHEHERAZADE’S 1,001 BYTES // A Paltry Fate

Once upon a time there was a paltry palt named Kolobok. He was a good guy, but he also had micaphobia, an irrational fear of breadcrumbs. He fled the bakery where he was made as it was there that he was surrounded by a hell of a lot of crumbs.

So, he ran and ran and ran—or rather, rolled—leaving behind a trail of breadcrumbs as thick as his arm. He was sometimes so out of breath that he needed to stop, but whenever he looked back all he saw was… well, crumbs. So, he kept going. It was a minor miracle that there was anything left of him to run from.

His flight of fear took him to different countries. In Germany, two strange children gave chase through a dark forest, yelling expletives after him. Fortunately for Kolobok, he didn’t know German—nor specifically the Hessian dialect—so their expletives had no impact on his emotional state. It was only the fear of being caught that did, for they seemed excessively hungry given the plumpness of their bodies. Of course, how Kolobok could have concluded they were swearing at him in the first place is another question for another time.

The children kept picking up Kolobok’s breadcrumb trail wherever he went, and throwing said breadcrumbs to slow his progress. They were relentless in their pursuit. They wouldn’t quit until they were sidetracked by a candy house tucked away in a quiet forest clearing. Loud cackling and shrill screams were the last thing Kolobok heard as he ducked back into the dense foliage to make good his escape. Served them right for being ill-mannered, gluttonous brats!

Somewhere near the border of France, Kolobok rolled over something. It felt alarmingly soft and squishy. When he looked back, he immediately wished to unsee what he’d seen. Poor kid! No bigger than a thumb, said kid was now no more than a pathetic mud puddle. Kolobok could only hope that he’d led a rich and full life before his unfortunate demise. But then… the kid began to splash about in the mud puddle, crying bloody murder. Kolobok hadn’t killed him after all! Huzzah! But when he listened closely to what the kid was shouting, it caused him to shudder. Yes, unlike German, Kolobok could parle français pretty well.

Few things are as terrifying than the sight of a thumb-sized child uttering curses in a ground-trembling, ominous voice. He was dooming Kolobok to a lonely death in a labyrinth of his own making. The palt was so frightened at this pronouncement that he was unable to grasp its meaning. He only knew that it couldn’t be good, and fled the scene as fast as he was able. Of course, Kolobok’s French wasn’t perfect. It can be too easy to mistake “la mort” for “l’amour”, which is exactly what he did—now his mind was awash with visions of a googly-eyed thumb pinching his soft, delicate buns. Holy gluten!

So it was that Kolobok moved speedily on, trailing more breadcrumbs. His fairy tale took a turn for the worse at the border of Italy. Said border was closed because the COVID-19 pandemic had just begun, so no one was allowed in or out. Also, no one in charge bothered to note that since Kolobok was made of simple flour and water—not frankenfood and gluten—he posed zero threat to the general public. Actually, that wasn’t strictly true about the gluten. He did have a little gluten in him. People would have been scandalised! Still, as it stood, the Italians were adamant that he was riddled with contagion, and so he was required to move on.

That’s when Kolobok headed for Spain. When he passed through the puddle again, that nasty child (let’s call him a schmendrick) shouted more words after him. Maybe it was “la tombe” this time, but Kolobok couldn’t be sure. It’s just what it sounded like. He was too busy trying to outrun his own crumb trail to listen very closely. His fright and flight response took him past the child as far as the borders of Belgium and Switzerland, both of which also declined entry. It seemed everywhere was closing its borders because of COVID-19. Where was a poor palt to go?

He eventually ended up rolling around on a beach somewhere, trying to avoid the incoming tide as much as possible. Getting wet would mean instant death, and he couldn’t have that. He still wasn’t sure if there was a hell for wayward foods like himself, and he was convinced he hadn’t racked up enough brownie points to get into heaven quite yet, so he’d have to live for a little while longer.

It was a terrible shame. So many difficulties had presented themselves on Kolobok’s long journey here, in the form of rocky terrain, unending border queues, and one bullying chiffchaff from the rough end of the Black Forest. These had caused Kolobok’s gravity centre to slowly and irrevocably become displaced. Instead of his usual, solid, near-perfect spherical shape, he’d turned into something reminiscent of a spitball with a crippling side dent. Of course, this made it hard for Kolobok to roll in a straight line. He would skid left all the time, so getting from point A to point B in a non-circuitous route became an absolute ordeal. He was as murky dish water circling the drain of doom.

And that’s how the hapless palt eventually died. He’d gotten lost in a maze of walls formed from his impossibly long and convoluted crumb trail. The thumb-sized child’s (or shmendrick’s) prophecy had come to pass, and it was only moments from death that its meaning dawned on Kolobok. So, he lay in a malaise of deteriorating pastry and… well, malaise. He’d always dreamed of being a Rolling Stone, not this! Now, all he could look forward to was having his guts carried away by armies of ants. How horribly, disappointingly banal. He should have been a chocolate éclair.

 

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
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