CRACKED FABLES // The Hedgehog and the Cactus

Hieronymous Hedgehog was extremely picky, it was true, but he never could see the point in settling for second best. Bothering to get out of bed each morning was his tacit agreement that he’d engage with the world, but that didn’t mean he had to take its rubbish as well. Crooked spines? Short legs? Sparse whiskers? No freaking way! His future wife would be the epitome of style and echination, and that’s all there was to it.

And so it happened one beautiful morning that Hieronymous Hedgehog awoke early and couldn’t get back to sleep. He’d tossed and turned incessantly, only to eventually give up, sit up, and get up. He stretched, scratched his big round belly, and wended his way downstairs to the kitchen on his short bandy legs. Okay, it was time to get this show on the road.

Hieronymous Hedgehog slammed the pantry door. It was empty again! No bugs, no worms, nor any rotten apple or nuts. He needed to end this barren reality that was his bachelorhood, and quickly, but he’d have to swing by the drycleaner first. He needed to pick up his pinhole suit with the natty pinstripes, then he needed a coffee while the shoeshine beetle got to work on his Testonis. He had a lot to accomplish today. He had to buy a newspaper to tut over the state of the world. He had to dominate his neighbour at chess. Oh, and he had to choose a wife.

Forgoing breakfast, Hieronymous Hedgehog combed his whiskers, then polished his spines with a big woolly caterpillar. He perfumed his armpits with amber musk, took an umbrella cane from the hatstand near the door, and plucked a big red hibiscus from the outside garden to garnish his suit lapel later on. He looked at his reflection in a random car mirror and snorted with satisfaction. Ruggedly handsome as always!

The dating agency was called ‘The Romance Factory’ and had a very good reputation. Its hostess, Miss Musquash, had been married about twenty times, and every one of those marriages had been very happy and successful. That’s why Miss Musquash could be trusted with the romantic business of everyone else in existence. She was clearly a true professional with years of relationship experience.

A short while later, the bell gave a little tinkle as Hieronymous Hedgehog burst through the front door. His stride bespoke purpose. Well, it was more of an amble actually, but at least it was a confident one. The office was very small and cosy, full of flowers and spider webs, and there was a drowsy secretary in the corner. Hieronymous Hedgehog could almost see the zees floating off her head—that’s how out of it she was. However, he would not be swayed; he approached the secretary and knocked on her shell.

“Sirrah!” he announced. “Is anybody in there? I need a wife, and urgently!”

The secretary jumped with a cute hiccup, and when she’d composed herself, peered at him over her equally cute glasses. Her beaked face then broke into a knowing smile. “Would you like a coffee?” she asked in a slow, nasal drawl. “A tea? Cocoa with worms? An orange?” But Hieronymous Hedgehog didn’t have time for silly chit chat or noticing others’ genders. He wanted a…

“Wife!”

Without further ado, the secretary pressed a button on her intercom. “Miss Musquash? Your three o’clock is here.” She looked up at him briefly. “A Mr Hieronymous Hedgehog.” The speaker crackled, then there was an audible intake of breath.

“Let him in.”

Miss Musquash was sitting on a sofa, chain smoking like lung cancer hadn’t been invented and there was no tomorrow. Around her were tossed folders full of the photos and profiles of potential fiancées. She gave a helpless shrug.

“Dear Hieronymous Hedgehog, you have gone through all of our applicants!” Miss Musquash indicated the folders. “Lucia was too short, and Maria was too tall. Helga was too fat, and Geraldine was too skinny.” She wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Too hairy, too squeaky, too lascivious! I don’t know if there is anyone alive that could meet all of your requirements! It’s not possible!”

Miss Musquash picked up a sheet of paper and shook it in Hieronymous Hedgehog’s face. It contained a long list of criteria that his potential future wife must fulfil. He ignored it, and began filing his nails instead. She sighed. It was clear that he wasn’t going to budge. In fact, Hieronymous Hedgehog even went so far as to sit himself down and plonk his short bandy legs on her desk. He then ever so ‘politely’ remind her that he was a respectable client and a chairman of the Forest Retirement Fund to boot. She shook her head and let out another sigh.

“Look, why don’t you come back tomorrow? I promise I’ll have something for you then.”

And so it came to pass that Hieronymous Hedgehog grudgingly left and the light stayed on in Miss Musquash’s office the whole night through. By four in the morning, the ashtray was full of stubs and a decision had been found, and it was the best of an impossible bunch.

A week later, all of the forest’s inhabitants were invited to a wedding. Yes, that’s right… Hieronymous Hedgehog’s wedding! He was the happiest groom. His future wife was the epitome of perfection—height, weight, prickliness. And, the most important thing of all, she was never going to argue with him.

This time, Miss Musquash sighed with relief. She closed Hieronymous Hedgehog’s case file, and called the secretary into her room. She asked her to empty the ashtray and order a new cactus for the lobby. And then business would carry on as normal at ‘The Romance Factory’.

 

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2018

CRACKED FABLES // The Fox and the Hole

“And keep in mind. We do not sell watches. We sell happiness. That should be the main message when you talk to your clients.”

The Fox underlined this last sentence. He then pursed his lips, thought a bit more, and underlined another one. Then another. The lead in his pencil snapped. I guess the class is finished for now, he thought. He put the pencil down.

Everyone was crowded near the tribune where Coach was gathering papers. They vied with one another for his attention, their questions overlapping until the classroom was filled with a burble of noise. I guess I won’t be getting any one-on-one time with Coach today. Grimacing to himself, the Fox stood up and went to the door.

The Fox had it in mind to go and put these newly learned sales principles into practice. There was no time like the present, right? No one else was going to make his dreams come true. A flock of Rams was feeding in the meadow next door, and probably didn’t suspect how unhappy they really were. Silly Rams!

The Fox had walked not twenty paces down the road before a realisation struck. Of course! These Rams are my new clients! He did a one-eighty turn and made a direct beeline for them. The light bulb above his head had now morphed into a giant dollar sign. He was going to make himself happy by making them happy.

Look at them! thought the Fox, tutting in the most patronising manner. Those poor saps stand there bleating, chewing grass, pooing pellets, and mindlessly dangling their balls in thistle come rain or come shine. Dont they know theyre standing at the threshold of real bliss and happiness? Of sheer greatness?!

“Dear Rams!” No. That sounded far too official for the occasion. He didn’t need to be like Winston Churchill ordering a cream bun at a county stall. He needed to ingratiate himself, to make everyone think he was one of them. “Comrades in arms!” No. That sounded worse. “Comrades in Rams!” Shit. He needed to stop and think…

Another light bulb appeared above the Fox’s head. He smiled a slightly devilish smile then, drawing a big gulp of air into his lungs, and solemnly declared, “Gentlemen Rams! I have an offer one cannot refuse. And today, I give it exclusively to you. Are you ready to change your life right now?” Curious, the Rams looked up from their turfy repast. One even dropped some extra pellets, but this could have been an unrelated event.

“Behold!” The Fox hoisted one of the fob watches above his head. It dangled from his paw like a tiny, new-born star, twinkling so invitingly in the fawning light of day. The Rams glanced at the trinket with complete indifference then poked their muzzles back into the manure again. There was another emission of pellets somewhere but that still could have been unrela— Oh, who was he kidding? The Fox knew they were being disrespectful. Bloody Rams!

After some more strategising, the Fox decided to change his tactics. Accidentally on purpose, he addressed the Ram nearest him: “Well met, sir. Pray, would you be so kind as to tell me the time?” He was sure that this tricky plan would work, and that the Ram would realise how bleak and poor his life was sans timepiece. The fob watches would surely fly at that point. They’d be sold quicker than the sweetest sweets at a Willy Wonka convention.

Nope. That fool Ram stuck his nose back into the dirt, chewing like there was no tomorrow. And not just chewing, mind you — actively and obnoxiously masticating! It was as if he was grinding that grass down to prove a point. Evidently, grass was worth more to the Ram than all the glittering mountains of timekeeping devices in the known universe. The Ram turned his butt towards the Fox and gurked. Yup. They’re definitely taking the piss.

The Fox decided to change his approach again. “I heard that the Lion issued an ordinance today! He said that everyone in the forest should have watches, that otherwise they would be immediately gobbled up by the Hyena Guard!” All of the Rams looked at him, and still — it has to be said — somewhat nonplussed. Deliberately, and oh so very slowly, they all reached into their woolly folds and withdrew ‘pieces’ that were clearly not of the time-telling variety. Hm, thought the Fox. Note to self: Look into the weapons manufacturing business. Might be some excellent opportunities for cash flow there!

Suddenly, there was a tap on his shoulder. The Fox turned to see one of the older Rams peering back at him with wise, sad eyes. The Ram baaed with a deep voice: “We can’t wear pocket watches, moron. We have no pockets.” The Fox blinked to himself. Then where the hell were they storing their guns? It didn’t make sense! Maybe the Rams just didn’t want what he was selling.

The older Ram turned to the flock. “Let’s go home, brothers and sisters. It’s too hard to be good amid the temptations of this world. And the low air pressure is too much.” The Rams holstered their weapons then raised their hooves to the sky. “Baaa-aaa-aaack to the Mountain!” they cried as one. “Baaa-aaa-aaack to the Holy Mountain!” Oh, god. They were fools. Lost sheep.

The Fox opened his notebook and leafed through the pages. What would Coach do in this situation? He searched and searched, but it appeared that the option of someone refusing to buy watches wasn’t even a possibility. Coach wouldn’t have entertained this notion because, of course, who in their right mind would refuse such an amazing deal? If the Fox paid Coach a mere twenty dollars a pop for them, surely he could resell them for fifty? Who wouldn’t want one for a measly fifty? Easy peasy!

And so it was that the Fox planted himself at the very centre of the meadow, right between the heaps of manure and chamomiles, his thought processes radiating so intensely as to be almost audible. What would Coach do? What would Coach do? And it appeared as though the heavens themselves were listening to his impassioned supplications because no sooner had the Fox raised his eyes from the ground when the Coach roared past in a shiny new cabriolet. This surely had to be some kind of sign!

Sitting next to Coach was a young, pretty weasel, and for some reason the Fox felt compelled to throw himself at the car. Probably to intercept it or to serve himself up as an offering. Perhaps he was having a religious experience. Who knows? What’s certain is that the Fox was almost made a martyr beneath the wheels.

“Coach! Coach! I have a very important question!”

The car braked sharply. Red-faced, Coach jumped out and shouted, “Are you a moron?!” Obviously, he was very angry. “Seriously, man, are you tired of living?” The Fox ignored the fact that he was being called a moron for the second time in mere minutes, and approached Coach with the same fervour and reverence that a starving man would an oasis of cheeseburgers.

“Coach! Coach! If a client says, ‘No!’ then what should I do?” Coach looked at the Fox with a slight unease in his eyes, letting loose an involuntary nervous snicker. “Oh, you’re one of my trainees, aren’t you…” he muttered almost disbelievingly through gritted teeth. This ‘acolyte’ was just standing there looking at him in wordless expectation, all clingy and earnest and… well, needlessly needy. Who wants needy? Not Coach! “Ahhh… ahem… A refusing client is a dead client. Utterly worthless.” And, just like that, Coach was back in his car hitting the gas pedal… leaving the Fox to choke on his dust.

And so it was that the Fox still found himself standing at the very centre of the meadow, his head buzzing with confusion. What the hell now? he thought. A dead client? This made no sense. Was the Fox meant to take these words to his bosom and treasure them forever and ever, amen? He sat there deep into the night, not feeling one iota of wisdom in those words, or indeed any reassurance. There was simply no comfort or revelation to be had. The words of Coach pulsated in the juddering walls of his mind like bees in a fever dream. A refusing client is a dead client. Utterly worthless. Dead. Dead. So pointlessly dead.

The decision was made somewhere close to morning. The Fox rose from his dark thoughts and ambled off somewhere for a while. When he came back, the sun was high in the sky and there was a huge shovel in his paws. If he really put his back into it, the hole would be ready in a couple of hours. And so he did. And so it was. And then the Fox dusted himself off with much satisfaction. He masked the hole with branches and grass before sneaking off to wait behind a large yet inconspicuous shrub.

The following events came thick and fast. Really, the poor Rams had no chance. No time to react or even reel. Lured by the promise of more springy, delicious grass to chew, they were quick to fall into the hole that had been dug expressly for them. In a state of panic they all fired their guns into the air, hoping to achieve who knows what outcome but only succeeding in having a rain of bullets fall back down on their heads. Their cries of “Baaa-aaa-aaack to the Mountain!” were cut short, and it was at this point that the Fox whipped out his cell phone and called a fur trader. Oh my, what a massacre!

Later that afternoon, the Fox stood beside a huge rack showcasing many sublime ‘fur’ coats. You’ve got pockets now, buddy! he thought smugly. Who’s the real moron here, huh? By the time normal trading hours ended, one could say that he had made another ‘killing — a figurative one anyway. He was now in possession of more cash than one could wave a platinum credit card at.

When the Fox was leaving the store, he noticed a small stand full of watches. These were the ones that Coach had been selling for twenty bucks earlier in the day, but for some strange reason each now costed only five. And so the Fox took a gun from his newly acquired secret stash and went to find Coach. He was going to have that lady weasel for himself, and his last words to Coach would be: “I have an offer you cannot refuse.”

 

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2018

CRACKED FABLES // The Ass and the Brain

The Ass and the Brain went to the Family Psychologist. They were having relationship issues and wanted to see if this was something that could be resolved together.

The Brain was often quite arrogant. He’d constantly remind the Ass that, in the grand scheme of things, he was more important than she could ever hope to be. And so the Ass would say, “Come down here and say that. I’ll sit on you!”

The Family Psychologist said, “Well, the Brain, let’s unpack that, shall we? What makes you feel as though you’re more important? And what do you make of the Ass wanting to dominate you by using you as her seat?”

“I have a perfect spherical shape that’s to die for!” blustered the Brain.

The Ass snickered. “Is your ‘perfect’ sphere soft and smooth like mine?”

“It has two halves!”

“That’s not what I asked,” muttered The Ass with raised brow.

Ignoring her snarky comment, the Brain puffed himself up and said, “Having two halves affords me a higher degree of processing power. I can solve complex, mathematical equations!”

“You do realise that halves come only in twos, right? Yup, my ‘two halves’ can process things as well—usually on a porcelain throne. It’s called intuition.”

The Brain frowned mightily. It was time to cite one last piece of incontrovertible evidence to support his case. “I have deep, sexy furrows! No intellect can resist me!”

The Ass sighed. She was young and springy, with no furrows, yet all the science nerds still checked her out at the library. Was it worth the bother to mention this?

The Brain visibly deflated a little as the Ass humphed and left the room. The Family Psychologist looked at him and asked the obvious: “How does that make you feel?”

Twenty years later, The elderly Ass came to the elderly Brain. She said, “Look, I have wrinkles now! Are we finally equals?” But the Brain didn’t answer. He had dementia.

MORAL: Time puts everything in its place.

 

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2017

CRACKED FABLES // The Ant and the Cicada

Imagine, if you will, a field in Boring, Oregano. It’s a blisteringly hot summer’s day–the kind that makes bark peel off trees to find shelter from the sun’s calamitous gaze.

Cicada is lazing about wearing his customary bling. He’s chomping down on stogies while flipping through the latest copy of Big Buzzo Jumblies. This is what you do when you’re young, dumb and full of hum.

Ant, meanwhile, is nearby, huffing and puffing with a heavy trolley load of corn ears and woodworking equipment. She’s taking these essentials back to her place. She’s got a big project in mind…

“Wassup playa!” says Cicada. “Haul ovah’n rap wit’ me ’steada toilin’ moilin’ tha whole dam’ day!”

“I beg your pardon?” says Ant.

“Holla at’cha, yo!” says Cicada. “Hang wit’ me ho, ’steada slayin’ biz wit’ da wheel whizz!”

“I have no idea what you’re saying,” says Ant. “You do realise you’re not a gangsta rapper, don’t you?”

“Dawg, I’s that’n a bag o’ potata chips!” says Cicada. “Badassical!”

“I see,” says Ant, not seeing. “Here I am trying to build a shelter and lay up food for the winter, and all you can do is waste time showing off your posing pouch and speaking gibberish.”

“Yo, winta ain’t no thing but a chick’n wing!” says Cicada. “Sitch is I’skin already gets me eats an’ alcamahol and tasty blo’ hos any time I want!”

“Ooohhh-kay,” says Ant, rolling her eyes. “Have a wonderful summer then.”

Ant goes on her way to begin preparations. She sets about converting her place into a cosy, fifteen bedroom tree house with a spacious observation deck and outdoor heating. It’s from here that she plans to spend the winter, kicking back with a hot toddy, warm muff, and popcorn to view the Pleiades in all its stellar goodness. She’s really thought this through, you see, and stocks her new home with more ears of corn than one can poke ears of corn at. When the renovation is complete, Ant names the revamped abode Lady of Patience.

Winter eventually rolls around like a dial on an oven set to ‘Off’ and, predictably, Cicada has no food left by this point. He’s dying of malnutrition in a gutter. His rudey dudey mags have blown away to more clement climes. Even his bling has lost its zing. Ant, on the other hand, is spending every day on her deck, nibbling hot buttered, microwave nuked popcorn from the stores that she’d collected in the summer.

Cicada looks up from his self-inflicted misery and sees this. He finally swallows his pride, drags his sorry, withered arse to Ant’s door… and knocks. It opens, and there she is, looking down at him. His mouth opens–as if to say something contrite–then, changing his mind, he pulls out a piece, guns her down and takes all her stuff.

The moral of the story? “Good things come to those that wait.” Sure. Why the hell not.

 

by TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2016