Editor's note: A pig, a goblin king and a fairy princess? What's not to love? This is a charming story in the mold of classic fairy tales.
Jimmy Halliday was an ordinary schoolboy who came from an ordinary home in an ordinary town somewhere in the centre of England. At least he thought he was until one Monday morning when, cycling to school, he was forced to squeeze the break and skid to a halt, almost colliding with an old woman lying in the road. Strangely, he only saw her at the very last moment. Even more strangely, she seemed unharmed when he crouched down beside her and spoke to her, for the traffic was heavy that day.
|"Boy and Angel," Abbott Handerson Thayer, artmagick.com|
“What are you doing lying in the middle of the road?” he asked. Cars blared their horns as they skirted past Jimmy and the woman. It was a miracle she hadn’t been killed.
“Waiting for you,” she replied. She picked up her walking stick and struggled to her feet. “And you’ve passed the first test,” she continued, gazing vacantly into the distance.
“Please, let me help you to the pavement,” Jimmy insisted, supporting the old w
oman’s arm and steering her out of danger.
“And the second!”she added, a feint smile softening her wrinkled face.
“Sure!” agreed Jimmy, frowning. “Well… better be going. Late for school already.” He paused. “Will you be okay? Can I help you to wherever you’re going?” he asked.
“No, because this is as far as I go.”
“Fine… erm… bye, then!”
Jimmy got back onto his bike.
“What about the third test, Jimmy?” the woman asked.
Jimmy’s jaw dropped.
“You know my name?”
“I know your name and everything about you except for one thing.” Jimmy stared at her. “Whether or not you can pass the third and final test.”
The boy shrugged his shoulders. Maybe she was more than just a bit mad. But the name thing? Perhaps she was an old friend of his parents he’d forgotten.
“I’ll try,” he answered. “But what…?”
“To save my granddaughter from the Goblin King. She’s a fairy princess.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Jimmy. “Well, erm…”
Of course, he could have pushed his foot down on the pedal and just cycled away, but he didn’t. Something was preventing him.
“Thank you for committing yourself. There’s no turning back now. I can take you as far as Goblin Hollow and turn you into a pig, but after that you’re on your own.”
Call for help? The police… a doctor? Jimmy’s mind twirled like a carousel.
“Just follow me.”
Before he had a chance to say "sorry, no way!" the old woman flew upwards. For the first time he saw her four diaphanous wings, like those of some enormous damsel-fly. He began pedaling like crazy, but he, too, shot up off the ground, the bike following the woman as if pulled by an invisible thread.
“This isn’t happening,” muttered Jimmy as he peered down at the busy streets through half-closed eyes. But it was!
Soon they’d left the town and were soaring over fields and woods. Having no head for heights, he gripped the handle bars for all he was worth as his feet spun the pedals. Soon the bike began to descend. He had no idea where he was. He always thought he knew the surrounding countryside well, but the nest of hills ahead was totally unfamiliar. They landed below the crest of the largest of these.
“And this is where I must leave you until you’ve passed the third test – or not, as the case may be – for only a mortal can save the girl from the goblins.”
Jimmy felt truly afraid for the first time. A pig? He’d already seen what she could do.
“You must offer yourself up in the place of my granddaughter. The Goblin King wants to cook her and eat her. Just tell them pig is far tastier than young fairy.”
A dead pig? End up as pork chops? Jimmy struggled with his bike, trying to turn it the other way so he could take off down the hill, but the thing had a mind of its own. It would only face the brow of the hill.
“Leave your bike here. If you succeed, she will lead you home.”
There was no reply. Gradually the old woman was turning invisible. The bike fell sideways when Jimmy’s trotters could no longer hold onto the handlebars. He could see the end of his twitching snout through which became acutely aware of an unpleasant smell wafting down from the hill-top – like old socks, only a thousand times worse. But it was something else that forced his fat body to hurry up the slope. Something his large, flapping ears now picked up: the voice of a young girl screaming. He waddled to the very top of the hill and peered down.
In the hollow below a large fire was ablaze and a crowd of hideous goblins danced around the fire, whooping and brandishing spears. A particularly fat goblin, dressed in splendid gold and purple finery, sat on a stone throne watching the spectacle, his face contorted by an evil grin, but it was the sight of a girl tied to a tree that held the pig-boy transfixed. Her long, wavy black hair reaching her waist, a small crown of colourful flowers on her head, he’d never imagined anyone could be so beautiful. Sadly, her silvery dress was in tatters and her glistening wings drooped.
The girl’s screams cut Jimmy to the quick. Snorting and squealing with fury, he capered down the hill scattering the dancing goblins asunder. He trotted up to the Goblin King who emitted the same putrid smell that had invaded his nostrils on the other side of the hill.
“Oink, oink, oink!” he demanded. He knew what he wanted to say: "Let her go at once! Take me instead"’ But all that came out was "oink!"
The ugly goblin roared with laughter.
“What makes you think I’d be interested in roast pig when I can feast on roast fairy?”
Jimmy thought of the delicious smell that came from the kitchen whenever his mother cooked pork on a Sunday. Uncertain what to do next, he dithered.
“Put her on the fire!"ordered the Goblin King. “If we have room in our bellies afterwards we’ll cook the pig as well!”
So I’ll die anyway! Jimmy glanced at the fairy princess and their eyes met. He saw anguish, despair and purity in those beautiful eyes. Scampering over to the fire, he turned around and stuck his bottom in the flames. The pain was awful, but he refused to budge until his nose could detect that same deliciously-tantalising aroma his mother always produced from a pork joint. The goblins watched, mouths agape, when Jimmy returned to the Goblin King and stuck his bottom in the creature’s face.
“Mmmm!” exclaimed the Goblin King. “Smells delicious!”
Jimmy felt something stab into his hind-quarters. He heard a crunching sound, and turned his head enough to see that the Goblin King was holding a knife in one hand and in the other a hunk of meat coated with crisp pork crackling. An idiotic expression of sheer ecstasy lit up the goblin’s face as he chewed on the pork crackling.
“Let’s swap them round, boys!” shouted the Goblin King, his mouth still full. “This pig is seriously good. We can finish off with the fairy. She’ll be our dessert!”
There were further agonising stabs at his haunches and his sides, and Jimmy was aware of chunks of meat being flung in all directions to other goblins who fought greedily over the mouth-watering morsels of… himself! He glanced again at the distraught fairy, and was about to return to the fire to roast what remained of Jimmy the pig, when he realised that the only sound was that of a sobbing girl. The goblins had gone quiet, and the Goblin King sat still, his eyes closed. Jimmy crawled over to him and nudged the creature’s knees with his snout. No response. His soldiers lay motionless around the fire. The boy could feel a large hole in his bottom where the Goblin King had hacked chunks of roast pork from him. He wriggled backwards and squeezed himself out of that hole, emerging as Jimmy the schoolboy. Whether the goblins were dead, or sleeping after overfeeding on pork, Jimmy didn’t wait to find out. He ran to the fairy princess, untied her from the tree, took her by the hand and together they fled back up the hill.
“My – erm – bike,” Jimmy said proudly, pointing to his bike.
When the fairy girl looked at him with those eyes of hers he feared his legs would buckle in the face of such beauty.
“Thank you,” she said softly. “You’ve saved my life. Granny will reward you for sure.”
“Oh… it was nothing really. Look we’d better get going. Can you – erm…?”
“Fly? Wouldn’t be a fairy if I couldn’t!”
She spread her damsel-fly wings, and, after springing gracefully into the air, hovered above Jimmy.
“Follow me!” she called down.
Jimmy leapt onto his bike and started to pedal furiously. It came as no great surprise when he found himself climbing towards the sky rather than wheeling down the hill. Not for a second did he take his eyes off the fairy princess as they flew over meadows, farms and villages. He almost felt disappointed when he saw the town ahead, for he now wished he could travel on forever with the beautiful fairy girl in front of him. Only too soon, they landed in the very same street where he’d braked hard to avoid hitting the old woman.
“Is… is this it then?” Jimmy timidly asked, not quite knowing how to say farewell to a fairy princess. The girl smiled and, reaching up on tip-toes, kissed him on the cheek.
“Granny will reward you,” she repeated.
He cupped his hand over the spot where she’d kissed him, watching her face and body grow transparent before vanishing.
“Curses! Didn’t even to think to ask her name or find out how we can ever meet up again,” muttered Jimmy, feeling cross with himself as he rode on to school.
“Sorry, I’m late, sir! I was…” the boy began after rushing breathlessly into the classroom, but he was rendered instantly speechless by what he saw: a new girl sitting behind a desk in the front row. He’d have known her by her long, wavy, black hair alone, but it was because of those eyes that he could be certain.
“Prin–” he was about to say on recovering the power of speech.
“You can sit down, Jimmy,” interrupted the teacher. “I was just introducing our new student, Gabriella, to the class! I’m sure, like everyone else, you’ll want to make her most welcome.”
Gabriella? What a lovely name!
And when their eyes met, Princess Gabriella winked shyly at him. He was pleased she no longer had wings, for he had no head for heights.
So this is my reward, Jimmy thought, happily, as he sat at the back of the classroom unwilling to take his eyes off the girl who was once a fairy princess.
Oliver Eade is a medical doctor living in Scotland, with family in Texas, and is a writer of children’s and adult books and plays. Although unconfined to any particular genre, he is often drawn into the space of magical realism.