I wanted to write a story based around pets for a while now, and last week it was bugging me so much I did just that.
It's quite long....
I created a video from the powerpoint file with fairly short timings between page turning, so you need to pause the video to read the story, which isn't ideal - or else just read the full version here.
There once was a marmoset and this is his tale. Not that kind of tail… although his was long and beautiful and tufted with white, which allowed him to be easily found by his sisters. He was named Bijou by his father, which his mother agreed with, commenting on the beautifully vibrant colours of his fur and skin, but he knew he was small, possibly the smallest marmoset ever. He was also exceptionally curious, agile and had a good brain between those golden tufts of fur on his head.
Bijou lived on Mermaid’s Hideaway, although he didn’t know his home had a name until much later. He spent his days playing, exploring and foraging across the island and his evenings gathered with his family, sharing the bounty of fruits from the shoreline and trees. Often, Bijou would have questions which were quietly dismissed with a mutter and a turn of the head and a sudden grooming. What were the pictures on the rocks under the arch? Who placed a huge chair on the northern rock stack? What was the big metal fire basket for?
Frustrated with these evasions, he began to spend time with the only other being on the island who might be able to provide some answers – Five Paces Frank. The pigs and chickens had proved less than insightful and barely stood still long enough for him to finish his sentence, let alone offer a reply and the skeletons? Well. The less said about those the better. How sad though, to spend an eternity carrying so much hate.
So, Five Paces Frank it was.
Bijou had listened to him long enough to know he bewailed the loss of his ‘treasure’, something he’d buried near a tree? After a week of fruitless searching and scrabbling in the sand, Bijou concluded it might not actually exist, or that another pirate had in fact, made off with it.
Pirates. These were the ones who came to his island from across the big water somewhere - leaping off their vessels, running around for a bit like startled parrots, squawking and making the most horrible noises. They’d set off deafening explosions, make enormous holes in the sand and then leave, apparently having finished what they came for.
Now and then they’d give things to Five Paces Frank, but he never seemed very impressed.
Bijou wondered if perhaps the way to get Frank talking and answering questions might be to bring him some ‘treasure’. Bijou knew they often appeared on rock shelves, or just beneath the big water, or sometimes even just washed ashore by the waves. In fact, he knew there was a red glowing one round the back of the island right that very moment! He left Frank to his own devices and scampered off over the top of the island and down between the stacks. There on a grassy shelf, was a chest, glowing angrily red, with broken metal and barnacles encrusting the surface of the pale wood. It took him some time, heaving and pushing it until it fell ‘plop’ into the water below and then dragging it by the handles onto the sand, across to where Frank stood in the twilight, still debating whether he should use the other side of the tree or not.
Frank stopped mid-sentence and gaped at the chest, at Bijou, and back again at the chest.
‘Now then! What do we have here?’ He demanded. ‘A monkey and a chest? An Ashen chest by the looks of things too…… But …. but…. that’s not my treasure!’
His face crumpled in despair and he wrung his hands together as he repeated the all too familiar refrain ‘Did you take my treasure??’.
Bijou sat back on his haunches and scratched his head. He’d already missed the evening gathering and he could hear the chittering and squealing of his siblings away amongst the bushes. Frustrated and still with unanswered questions he walked slowly back towards the pond and sat in the moonlight pondering his options. His stomach rumbled and his head hurt with his need for answers, even the serene statues beneath the crystal water seemed to mock him.
It was then that he heard a sudden familiar sound from behind and scampered quickly into the long grass. The sound of wood grating on gravel met his ears and he watched as a small ship slid up the beach, narrowly missing a rock and sending the chickens cackling in alarm to all points of the compass. Curses were heard and the hammering of wood until the familiar shape of a pirate emerged onto the main deck.
Bijou thought for a moment, ignored his stomach and continued to watch the pirate. His ship was battered, and the sails ragged and the pirate himself dressed in shabby clothing. He heaved a deep sigh and strode towards the pond, towards the very grass patch where Bijou was hiding. Luckily, the moon was thin enough for him to remain unseen and he continued to peer between the fronds as the pirate took out a fishing rod, and, settling himself upon a rock, cast his line into the water.
Bijou grabbed the opportunity and rummaged excitedly about the roots of the tree for a gift of sorts, something to indicate his good intentions before the pirate swiped him with his cutlass and ended his questions permanently. His hands soon found a mango, a little old and squishy but still sweet, he twittered happily and then carefully, quietly approached the motionless pirate.
As he grew closer, Bijou made what he hoped was an endearing chirrup, the kind his mother made for him when he woke in the night to strange noises, and the pirate glanced down and saw him. Bijou froze then, uncertain. Before he knew what was happening, the pirate had leaned forward, scooped him up in his huge hands and grinned the widest, friendliest grin you have ever seen, his eyes lighting up like two lanterns and the smile spreading across his whole face.
He held Bijou level with that gap-toothed smile and his booming voice burst out ‘Well hello lil fella!’
Bijou clung on tightly to the fingers and gazed at the face before him with eyes like saucers.
‘Now what are ye doin’ ‘ere on this rock, sonny? Ye should be tucked up in yer berth nice n’ snug like. I be fishin’ fer Moonsky pondies ye knows and hopin’ t’make me fortune with them thar Hunters!’ A thick finger reached out and stroked Bijou’s fur with a gentleness which belied the gruffness of the pirate’s voice.
Bijou cocked his head to the side and immediately stretched out his hand and offered the mango, juice running down his fingers, twittering for all he was worth. The pirate threw back his head and laughed.
‘Ye want to be friends, little one? Thank ‘ee kindly! Me stomach were grumblin’ away and truth be told, I been sailin’ these seas far too much alone, on account o’ me crewmate not returnin’ from the Ferry these last months.’
The pirate grimaced and took a large bite, offering the rest to Bijou and the pair sat on the rock under the moonlight, sharing the delicious fruit.
The night passed with the pirate hauling in his catch and Bijou foraging for more fruit, returning now and then with a succulent morsel to share and to listen. For the pirate talked and he talked endlessly – tales of his adventures across the Sea of Thieves, stories of cursed lovers, fierce battles against skeleton ships, regions where fire rained down from the skies, of Wanda the Warmaker – whose name Bijou knew from a book on the shore and of treasures the like of which only the Gold Hoarder knew. In between fishing, while waiting for his catch to cook, the pirate drew out his banjo and played while Bijou danced on the sand. They slept under the stars with Bijou curled against the sun warmed body and woke to more tales of mermaids and ghosts and skeleton lords. As dawn of the third day approached, a weight seemed to lift from his shoulders and his back straightened as the pirate announced –
‘I like the cut o’ yer jib, we shall sail together, you and I, lil fella!’
To Bijou, these were the most exciting words he’d ever heard, and he leapt and tumbled on the sand for pure joy! For adventure and to see the world with a friend and capable companion at his side! To finally learn the answers to …. everything!
It was on the way to the ship, however, that they were taken unawares and ambushed by skeletons. His pirate, Bill by name, had already proven his worth against the ordinary skeletons that rose from the sands, scattering their bones with ease and sending them back from whence they came. Bijou was able to show him where to refill his ammunition, when he was caught in the narrow pass after they’d spent time together naming the islands along the horizon. Bill had told him of great battles with Briggsy and Rooke and Graymarrow and how Graymarrow had sent him to the Ferry, cursing him that should he ever pass that way again, he would be powerless to return. He was always careful, he said with a wink, to ensure his cutlass were sharp and his blunderbuss loaded since then.
But against Ashen Captains, he had not yet been tested.
Bijou cowered and squealed in terror as the red form erupted from the earth, cackling and spouting arcane curses and before Bill could even drop the chest he was carrying, the cursed wretch had fired his first and only shot. Bijou watched in disbelief then, as Bill’s form crumpled to the sand fading to green and disappearing slowly in a haze of dizzy motes. The skeleton howled its triumph and Bijou fled to the safety of the trees.
Bijou knew of the Ferry of course. Bill had told him that pirates returned because the Ferryman made it so, it was the duty he had been entrusted with. So, he waited, clambering around on the empty ship, mournfully turning the wheel, perched on the bowsprit, watching. But he waited, it seemed, in vain. No friendly guffaw greeted him, no gift of pineapple, no gentle hand bearing him aloft. And one day, there was not even a trace of the sloop to be seen.
They were dark days then, for Bijou. He was bereft. A deep sadness seeping into his very soul. His whole world became a dank, dark grey as he lay immobile under the bushes. Even his family could not rouse him, though they tried desperately. His mind was filled with memories of his time with Bill. Though short, they had forged a strong bond of companionship strengthened by music and tales and the pull of a distant horizon.
Slowly, Bill’s words came back to him. He caught a glimpse of scars in his minds eye, heard words of hardships overcome, memories of their time together and the light slowly returned. With it, a new determination. He would find his friend and bring him back!
Bijou waited patiently on the shore, occasionally pacing backwards and forwards, or idly searching through the grains of sand until at last a tall and stately galleon dropped anchor nearby. Quick as lightning, he leapt aboard and hid himself amongst the barrels and crates of the lower deck. A risky business should the ship take water, but safe from prying eyes with the dim green and blue lantern lights. After some delay, the voices of the crew could be heard discussing their next destination. It was to be the Fort of the Damned.
Bijou knew that his best chance of success was the Fort, but also the most hazardous. Bill had told him of the altar and the ritual used to open a portal to the netherworld, the Sea of the Damned, and skeletons were seeping through into the Sea of Thieves and not only skeletons, but their Lord too. He trembled with the thought of what he would attempt… he was only one tiny marmoset after all.
It was the next day that Bijou discovered there were other animals on board the ship and that he could walk around unremarked, each pirate assuming he was another’s companion. There were crates of chickens in the very comfortable room at the top, and he found a macaw and a parakeet sleeping under a table on the middle deck. There was also a capuchin named Nugget, who followed him to his hiding place amongst the barrels. Nugget wasn’t the brightest of monkeys, but he was kindly and showed Bijou where to find food from the storage crate, or the small boat attached to the stern of the ship. When Bijou mentioned the Fort of the Damned, Nugget fell silent and folded his arms tightly around his body.
It was on the second day, late in the afternoon when Bijou saw a great black swirling cloud in front of the ship, not a storm cloud, but with green light glowing from within it somehow. It emanated pure evil and he shivered. Sails were raised as they approached, even the sea grew still, and the only sound was the hum and roar from the flaming torches along the fortress walls. The ship bustled with activity now, as the pirates claimed the flames from the lanterns to light their own and headed up to the main hall of the fort. Bijou scurried along with them, keeping close to the shadows, huddling terrified in corners when the atmosphere of the fort overcame him. He had never felt so alone.
He scampered up the final steps and stood in the doorway, his fur bristling, his eyes wide as he surveyed the scene before him. Some sort of table to the left, statues all around the room, a red skull placed in a cage atop a slumped skeleton and overlooking it all... the most menacing creature he had ever seen. Eyes glowing, it surveyed the scene below, gazing down upon the pirates gathered there, readying themselves for the battle. Bijou darted across the floorboards and hid himself under the table, the candles above flickering and sputtering.
Then, a sudden cry of alarm and the pirates left the room, shouting to each other and pointing towards the sea. It seemed another ship had approached and now they needed to defend their right to fight, or ally with the newcomers. Blue and white glowing skeletons burst from the earth and pursued them and then Bijou was unexpectedly alone in the Fortress. What to do now? How did one go about calling a Skeleton Lord? He looked around the room and noticed translucent hands rising from beneath some of the coloured lanterns. Maybe that was a way to the Damned Sea… Sea of the Damned… the place where Graymarrow existed?
Nervously he hastened over to one of the grills in the floor and began to chatter and chitter his story as fast as he could, begging whoever… whatever was down there to listen to his plea, he only wanted one thing, to be with Bill again, surely it wasn’t much to ask? His pleas became more animated, hands waving, standing on his hind legs excitedly emphasising his only need, his only wish. Then silence as he sank down again, head hanging, disappointment written all over his tiny face.
But then, from the very depths of the earth he heard a faint sound of laughing. It grew and grew and grew until the very walls reverberated with it. There was a roar and the sound of a great wind as if something was travelling at a million miles an hour along a vast tunnel, echoing and screaming. Bijou leapt back in terror as the roaring grew closer, as if all the devils of the underworld were approaching. He cowered and tried to shrink himself into the very floorboards, absolute utter dread freezing his limbs and tongue as Graymarrow himself burst forth from the grate.
Bijou cowered beneath his gaze, his whole body trembling and shaking, arms over his head as he whimpered in terror.
‘Who dares summon me!?’ Graymarrow boomed, in a voice which shook the very foundations of the Fort. His one blue eye scanning the chamber, he span to and fro, the skulls around his neck clattering.
‘I’ll hack you down where you stand!! Wait….’ And a huge booted foot descended onto Bijou’s tail, trapping it, ‘What miserable scrap o’ flotsam are ye?’
Bijou squealed and turned to grab his tail in both hands trying desperately to pull it from beneath the salt encrusted leather. He turned his face towards the horrible apparition and screamed!
Strangely, a look of recognition crossed Graymarrow’s distorted features and he cursed.
‘Bijou, is it, you measly morsel, I should skin the fur from yer bones!’ He snarled. ‘I know who ye are.’ And he brought his face down close towards Bijou, til the tiny marmoset could smell the fetid breath. ‘I know a friend o’ yourn.’ His blue eye spinning in it’s socket.
Then he laughed and laughed so much and so long, it seemed as if the sound would never end. Bijou looked aghast but turned to face the evil revenant Lord. Graymarrow reached into his pocket and drew forth a thick frayed rope, on the end of that rope was a metal box, which glowed with a faint yet discernible blue light.
‘Was it Bill, yer come lookin’ fer p’raps?’ And he dangled the casket in front of Bijou’s appalled face. ‘I likes to keep ‘im close, he’s a tricky one but ‘e never shuts up tellin’ about a monkey friend o’ his, do ye Bill!’ He glowered and rattled the box brutally, ‘An’ after losin’ Slate n’ ‘is crew, I want to be keepin’ tabs on me little pets.’ Graymarrow shook the box again and scowled at Bijou.
‘Begone!! Yer not worth me time. There be nothin’ for yer here unless ye be wantin’ the sweet kiss o’ death an’ damnation.’ He tucked the precious package back into his pocket, unsheathed his great sword and took an almighty swipe at Bijou who leapt back, losing the end of his tail in the process but escaping to the safety of the rafters. His fur bristling, he bared his teeth in fury and shrieked his defiance.
Graymarrow swivelled and eyed the tiny marmoset, a wicked grin on his putrid lips ‘Not if ye brought me all the stars in the sky! Why would I want t’remedy the sufferin’ of any o’ ye? Flesh is weak!’
He turned then, to face the oncoming horde of pirates who had returned to the battle in greater numbers, having allied with a brigantine crew, so as to defeat Graymarrow and claim the glory and his treasure for their own.
Bijou watched the pirates worriedly from his place of safety; the flash of the firearms, the swing of the swords and the roar as Graymarrow summoned his minions or blasted them hither and yon. As he watched, an idea began to form in his desperate mind.
What he needed might be easy to come by, a small marmoset could easily squeeze between ancient floorboards and he’d seen what he wanted below, in the vault. Bijou skilfully climbed between the wooden posts, until he reached the ramp. Then dodging in between skeleton and human bodies alike, he darted underneath. The battle raged on around him, pirates defeated and returning in an endless cycle of mayhem. But underneath that ancient wooden ramp, he’d seen a crevice, a place where one floorboard had decayed and fallen, leaving a slim window into what lay beneath. Holding his breath, he squeezed his way through, deftly grabbing the rocks for support and clambered down. What he wanted, lay on the floor – a small thing, but precious, nonetheless. Taking it in his hands, he scooted back up to the main chamber fighting the urge to cower in a corner.
Now was the moment when he needed to gather all his courage. He combed his fur back from his face, flexed his hands and feet, jumped onto the top of a nearby barrel and waited for his chance. Graymarrow was standing insolently in the centre of the chamber, hurling insults at his foes. The pirates launched an attack and pushed him backwards before he raised his diabolic chests and crashed them together, summoning more cursed followers. The concatenation sending the pirates fleeing temporarily, for safety. Graymarrow took a step back then, towards where Bijou was waiting, leaving his lackeys to do his work and at that same moment, Bijou launched himself with all his might, onto Graymarrow’s back.
Clinging on for dear life, with his one free hand, Bijou knew that his scant weight would barely be noticed. He clasped hold of the ropes which encircled Graymarrow’s chest and oh so carefully lowered himself down, down to the very pocket where Bill was held. Graymarrow was tossing insults at the pirates, cursing them roundly for their apparent ineptness, and all the while Bijou was edging closer to his goal. One more reach of his hand and his fingers closed around the frayed rope, a slight tug and the casket was brought forth. Simultaneously and carefully, he slid the sapphire mermaid gem into Graymarrow’s pocket. No time to lose! Bijou took the rope in his mouth and gnawed voraciously, the casket dropped into his hand and he fled! Fled the chamber, the Fortress and didn’t stop running until he reached the safety of the galleon’s lowest deck.
Once there, he placed his prized burden gently on the floor and lifted the lid. A swirl of blue vapour drifted upwards, slowly taking on a familiar form. It was Bill, his beloved friend.
The shade spoke to him in a whispered voice, ‘Well then, lil fella, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes! How can a poor pirate thank ye for savin’ me very soul? I am in yer debt for sure, but whisht, I am so very glad t’be back in yer company again!’
Bijou watched in awe as the shade of his friend coalesced and quivered, a warm glow filling him from the tips of his toes to his ears.
Bill continued thoughtfully, ‘I needs to be havin’ a word wi’ the Ferryman and see what he says about me comin’ back though. Wait fer me on Mermaid’s Hideaway, me lil friend, and what will be will be, keep a weather eye on that horizon!’
Bijou nodded and chirruped, his heart filled with love for his pirate, as he watched the blue vaporous figure dissipate until no trace remained.
Back on the Fort, Graymarrow sensed something was amiss, but it was too late by then as he sank to his knees and then into the ground, defeated once again.
Some days later, just after the wheel of the year had turned past midwinter, the sound of wood grating on gravel met Bijou’s ears. He watched as a small ship slid up the beach, narrowly missing a rock and sending the chickens cackling in alarm to all points of the compass. Curses were heard and the hammering of wood until the familiar shape of a pirate emerged onto the main deck.