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Once upon a dreary time, there was a little Voodoo doll named Popinjay. Poor little Popinjay was sad because the naughty old woman who owned her always poked and jabbed her with needles. It was no fun being the old hag’s pin cushion, so Popinjay decided to run away.

One night she snuck out of the old woman’s house and ran as fast as she could. She was scared and was convinced that the old woman was chasing her so she jumped right into a well. Down, down she fell. Deeper and deeper into the well. She was certain that she would either land in water, or worse, land on the dark, damp stones at the bottom. But, to her surprise, she landed right on the ground.

 

It was dark but she could see that she was in a forest sitting right on a path meandering through the trees. She was frightened and confused but she got up, dusted off her dress, and looked around. “Should I go the direction I’m facing or turn around and go the other way?” she pondered. “Well, since I’m facing this way, apparently it appears I’m headed this way. If I turn around it will surely appear that I’m going back the way I came and that’s not a very confident thing to do.” So she started walking. 

She had never been a world traveler, but even she noticed that the trees in this forest were strange. The plants were creepy, the rocks were craggy, and the shadows seemed to move. She couldn’t see the sky very well for all the trees, but when she did catch a glimpse, it was dim and had a reddish glow to it. Apparently, she was in another world altogether.

Odd noises drifted through the woods and the trees made creaky noises. Popinjay was very scared but she kept on walking. Before long, she came to a crossroads with many paths leading off in all directions. And right in the middle of the crossroads was a tall pole with signs all up and down it. The signs were shaped like big arrows and had names like “Gehenna”, “Endor”, “Sheol”, “Purgatory”, and “Tartarus”.

Popinjay said, “I’m not the best reader, but I know enough to know that I don’t like the sounds of any of those places. I don’t want to go to any of them.”

Then a voice from behind her said, “Then where do you want to go?”

She was startled and whirled around to see a black cat sitting on the path. “Who said that?

The cat replied, “Why, I did.”

“Cat’s don’t talk,” she stated.

“Well, I do,” he said. “And besides, dolls aren’t supposed to talk either.”

“You have a point there, Kitty. So I suppose it’s alright. My name is Popinjay and I don’t know where I am. I think I should first like to know where I am before I decide where I should go – just so I don’t wind up back at where I don’t know where I am.”

The cat came closer and sat beside her and looked around. “Well, it’s quite obvious. You’re right here at a crossroads – and they’re not a good place to hang out.”

“Why?”

“I’m not sure. But I don’t think it’s very good to be indecisive and sitting for long periods of time at a crossroads is a sure sign of indecisiveness.”

“Now I’m thoroughly confused, Kitty –“

“The name’s Nightshade,” The Kitty interjected.

“Oh. My apologies. Now I’m thoroughly confused, Nightshade, because I know that I’m here at a crossroads. But I still don’t know where exactly I am. And it’s just non-sense to know where you are when you don’t know where you are. Do you understand?”

“I do understand. It makes perfect non-sense.”

Then Popinjay proceeded to tell Nightshade all about the mean old lady who poked her with pins and about running away and jumping in the well. Nightshade listened and then said, “I’m sorry I can’t help tell you where you are because I too ran away from a mean old woman. In my case she was a mean old witch who owned me. She made me do her bidding and treated me horribly, so I ran away just like you. Except I didn’t jump down a well. I ran right up the chimney and popped out here.”

“Well it seems we’re the same thing except different. Do you want to help me figure out which way to go and then we can go together?”

“Now that makes perfect sense.”

***

Meanwhile, the mean old woman who liked to stick pins in Popinjay – whose name was Tituba, by the way – was furious. She had discovered that Popinjay had run away and was in the middle of casting a spell, for she was a sort of witch too. She was a voodoo priestess who practiced dark magic. Her plan was to send a sprit called a loa to catch Popinjay and bring her home.

In order to do this, she needed to make contact with Baron Samedi. The Baron was a mean loa with great power. So Tituba began to chant her spells in a sinister, unknown language while she mixed all manner of bizarre things together, like hair, bones, weeds, insect parts, and foul smelling liquids. She cackled as smoke and eerie lights began to issue from the large cauldron suspended over her fire. Then, suddenly, the smoke shifted and took on the form of a tall man wearing a top hat and sporting a long cane. His limbs were thin and his face looked just like a skull. It was Baron Samedi laughing a deep, horribly evil laugh.

They greeted each other, for this wasn’t the first time these two sinister characters had ever met. Oh, no, they had been dealing with each other for many a rotten year. The Baron listened to Tituba’s story about Popinjay’s escape and agreed to see what he could do to help Tituba retrieve her errant little doll. He would send his hellhounds after her.

***

Just then, Popinjay and Nightshade heard a disturbing sound echo through the forest. It was the sound of hounds, but these weren’t the sounds of normal, Earthly hounds – they sounded far too horrible. Nightshade, being a feline and acutely attuned to canine sounds, recognized the source first and said, “A pack of hellhounds! No time to discuss paths, we need to run and hide!”

So Popinjay and Nightshade chose the path labeled “Tartarus” because it seemed to lead into darkness – which seemed, at the time, to offer the best hiding places. Just before they rounded a bend in the path Popinjay chanced a glance behind her and saw the pack of beasts pursuing them. There were six or seven large hounds. Their bodies were just like a dog’s body other than being very large. The real difference that struck a chord of fear in anyone who beheld them was that their heads were devoid of any flesh – just large, menacing canine skulls with hollow eyes and large, sharp teeth. Popinjay shrieked and ran faster trying to keep up with Nightshade’s agile running.

Nightshade knew that Popinjay was slower and he kept slowing down to ensure she was keeping up, but the hounds were getting louder and it was just a matter of time before they overtook the two. And even though this part of the forest had grown murkier, it didn’t seem to slow down the hounds one bit.  So Nightshade yelled, “Into the woods!” and broke right. Popinjay was in no position to question the action and she followed still running as fast as her little doll legs would allow.

They ducked and darted through the trees but the hounds stayed on their trail. Finally, they came upon a very robust tree that afforded a hiding spot within its knotty bole. It was a feeble attempt at preservation but the only one worth trying being that the hounds would surely overtake them soon. The two scampered inside the dark hole and clung to each other in a desperate hug.

Suddenly, something inside the tree started moving and the two wondered if they had just gone out of the frying pan and right into the fire. The movement was followed by a gruff moan and then a burly voice said in the darkness, “Who disturbs my slumber?” But before any response could be made, the hellhounds rushed into the grove of trees and one of them proceeded to poke its huge maw into the hole of the tree. It growled and yapped while the huge teeth snapped opened and closed searching for something to sink into. Instead, what the hound got in the snout was smart rap from a huge tree limb. The beast yelped and went tumbling across the ground only to recover and come again towards the tree.

Popinjay and Nightshade were thoroughly confused but their bewilderment dissipated as they beheld a large troll emerge right out of the tree into the forest. The two cowered within the bole watching the troll rise to an enormous height and survey the situation.

If the hounds were aware of the troll’s presence, they didn’t show it in the least. Instead, the six hounds – for there were six that Popinjay could now count – attempted to circumvent the troll to get to the hidey hole in the tree. But the troll, angered by the racket of their barking, had something different to say about that. He hefted an enormous club and began to wield it with amazing dexterity whacking the hounds at every turn.

The hounds surrounded him and darted in one by one searching for an opening but their attempts were met with thwacks and clunks from the troll’s club each and every time. Soon the troll began to chortle as if he were enjoying the sport of the battle while one by one the hounds were knocked senseless. Thuds were answered with yelps and finally, the hounds were forced to give up their prey and turned tail and ran off into the gloom of the forest.

After the hounds retreated, the troll turned his attention back to the tree where Popinjay and Nightshade still hid. “Comety outalee out, wee little dittle ones,” he bellowed. “The doggies are all skittered awaylayay.”

Popinjay and Nightshade peered curiously from the trees shadows trying to determine if the troll was actually speaking in a language they could understand. Popinjay whispered to Nightshade, “I don’t recognize that musical language, but I understood it, so maybe I do speak it and just don’t know it.”

“Me neither, but I do too,” answer Nightshade. “I think it’s safe to go out, though.”

So the two cautiously stepped from within the protection of the tree and greeted the troll. “My name’s Popinjay and this is Nightshade,” Popinjay explained. “I’m a doll and he’s a cat and we’re very thankful to you for spanking those mean old hounds.”

The troll laughed heartily. He was at least ten-feet tall and had long, thin limbs and knotty joints. His nose was massive and his hair was the longest hair Popinjay had ever seen. The hair on his head merged into his long, flowing beard and continued on right down to his knees. “My namedy roo is Ganga Bwa and I’m a woodsily troll-ee-o.”

Popinjay was a little unsure what that meant but Nightshade clarified by purring, “Oooh, a wood troll.”

Ganga Bwa proceeded to squat down on the ground and listen to the stories of Popinjay and Nightshade. Once they were through telling their tales, Ganga Bwa told them, “Well, well, little friendily friends, this land is the landeroo of Nod and this here forestiferoo is me domaindy home. I protectily tect it and can never no never forsakety it.”

“You mean you can never leave the forest?” Popinjay asked.

“Yes,” Ganga Bwa said. “I cannotily not ever never leave it.”

“Oooo, that’s dreadful”

“Oh, no,” he corrected. “I would not want to everly never leave the woodsoopily oos. It’s the perfect home.”

“Well, in that case, it sounds delightful.”

They listened dreamily to Ganga Bwa as he waxed in his musical voice about being a guardian of the forest and all the creatures who thrived within its boundaries. Creatures large and small, mischievous and benevolent, dark and light, nocturnal and diurnal and plant and animal. He had been here since time out of mind and would be here till eternity it seemed. Finally, Popinjay asked what lay beyond the forest and Ganga Bwa simply shrugged and said, “I don’t knowdily oh.”

“Well,” Popinjay said, “We can’t very well go back where we came and we can’t stay here forever, but it sure would be nice if you could help get us where we need to go. The only problem is that we don’t have any idea where we need to go. But we know we need to get there.”

Ganga Bwa thought a moment as he scratched his massive beard then said, “I cannotilly tell you wheretilo to go but I can showdy show you the way. But firstily you must joiny oin me for a song!”

At this, Ganga Bwa ushered them into a clearing and invited them to sit. He too sat down beside them and then he clapped his large, gnarled hands. At first nothing happened and Popinjay began to wonder what this was all about, then a shimmering, small fairy fluttered out of the trees and alighted in front of them. Ganga Bwa laughed heartily as he introduced the fairy as Honeydrop. She then curtseyed and said, “This song is called ‘The Will-O’-The-Wisp’” whereupon she broke into a haunting song that went:

Lying listless on a lonely, loam[1] loch[2] shore

Flimmed[3] by fog and the bitter, brine[4] bog air

Curse the cruel fangs of fate that flung me here

My body beaten down by the black brood[5] of despair

T’would take a thousand years to tell the tale

Of the madness, misery, and miry[6] calamity

And I pray not ponder upon my past hell

Lest I beat my brain from my brow in insanity

Then lo, I spy through the gloam[7] a green, glowing globe

Bloated and bobbing, floating and flying right at me

Too weak to worry with groping or grobe[8]

I await its arrival in anxious agony

What would it want with a wretch with no will?

Then it howled by my head like a frumious[9] freke[10]

The will-o’-the-wisp wailed while the banshees brayed

And my lifeforce leached into the lonely loam lake

At the end she bowed low and everyone clapped while Ganga Bwa added an extra Hurrah that rumbled in his chest. “And now I’ll showdily oh show you to the edge of the woodsy woods, my new friendsies.”

And so Popinjay and Nightshade ran along trying desperately to keep up with Ganga Bwa as he strode along with his giant steps. Before long they came to the edge of the forest and beheld a limitless prairie of grass rolling away before them.

“This is the edgetsy of my domaindy lands, friends. From herety on outily out you’re on your ownsies.” Even though Popinjay hadn’t known Ganga Bwa for very long, she was sad to have to say goodbye to the kind old troll who had saved her and Nightshade from the mean old hounds. Ganga Bwa bid them “Farewellity well” and strode back into the forest. Popinjay and Nightshade waved goodbye and then they turned their attention to the grasslands. “Nightshade, I don’t know about you, but I hope there’s a Grass Troll out there because I’m scared again.”

“I’ve never heard of a Grass Troll, but I certainly hope so too.”

***

When Baron Samedi’s hounds returned with no doll, he was so angry that he threw his big, tall top hat on the ground and gritted his old skeleton teeth.  He had a deal with Tituba and he intended to uphold his end of the bargain. So, after venting his frustration, he set about brewing a monstrously diabolical potion that would produce a creature so fearsome and gruesome that it would surely be able to defeat a troll and bring back the voodoo doll.

The Baron poured strange liquids, powders, shark teeth, bat wings, lion hair, frog legs, and pumpkin latte into the boiling cauldron. The entire time a scared little monkey in a cage hanging nearby squawked and screamed as it flipped and shook the cage in agitation. Baron Samedi just laughed a sinister laugh and chanted in a strange language.

***

Popinjay and Nightshade had no idea where they were headed. This wasn’t only due to the fact that they had no idea where they were going, but even if they did have an idea, the grass was so tall that they could be going in big circles and not know it. Popinjay trusted that Nightshade had a better sense of direction considering she had absolutely none.

They walked and walked with Popinjay singing an occasional song. Finally, Nightshade grew bored and began to chase field mice. The strange thing about these mice, however, were that every time Nightshade caught one, it would evaporate like smoke and then reappear whole again.

“I’ve caught a lot of field mice before,” Nightshade said, “and these mice are the most elusive I’ve ever hunted. Even when I catch one, it manages to escape.”

Popinjay stopped the song she was singing, which was some sad ballad about the hanging of a witch, and began to take notice of the mice. Popinjay was no mouse expert, but she knew that mice should have fur and run along the ground. These mice were shimmering white and seemed to float around.

“Nightshade,” she said, “I believe these mice are ghost mice. That’s why you can’t catch them.”

Nightshade paused in his hunt to regard the mice and he agreed that Popinjay had a point. Apparently this grass was haunted by the ghosts of dead mice.

The two decided to press onward through the grass in the direction the ghost mice were flitting towards. Not long after the grasslands ended and they found themselves standing before an old town. There was but one dirt road running through the middle of the town with old, dilapidated buildings lining either side of the road.

“It looks deserted,” said Popinjay. But then, they noticed movement in the town. It was a white figure floating across the street. This one was followed by several others drifting in various other directions.

Nightshade said, “Those aren’t mice ghosts, those are people ghosts.”

“Why, it’s a town full of ‘em too. It’s a ghost town, Nightshade. Maybe they can help us figure out where to go.”

Popinjay and Nightshade ran into the town to talk with the ghosts. At first the ghosts were startled to see that the two little creatures running into their town who weren’t the least bit scared of them. Then they tried their best to put on their eeriest faces and moaned as they swirled about the doll and cat. But their tactics had no effect. Popinjay was trying to talk to them. So the ghosts gradually slowed down until they hovered and stopped moaning to listen to what Popinjay was trying to say.

 Popinjay explained her plight and how it was that she and Nightshade came to find themselves in Nod. The ghosts tried to talk to Popinjay, but she had trouble understanding what they were saying. To her, everything they said sounded blurry. For the most part, it just sounded like they were making a lot of creaking noises.

Suddenly, the ground began to shudder and the company of ghosts divided to direct their gaze to the end of the town road. The dirt began to churn and rumble and a figure rose from within the Earth. All the ghosts flew off to surround this mysterious figure.

Popinjay and Nightshade were scared. They certainly didn’t like the looks of such an ominous figure. “Do you think we should run, Nightshade?”

“I definitely think so,” he replied. “We could probably make it back to the tall grass and hide there.”

The two decided to make a run for it. Just as they began to run the figure began calling to them, “Wait! I’m not here to harm you! The ghosts called me to help you!”

But they didn’t stop running until they were safely hidden in the grass. Popinjay then called back, “Who are you that rises up out of the Earth?”

“My name is Crickety Creak, King of the Undead and Mayor of Ghost Town!” As he yelled this he ambled down the road with the throng of ghosts floating behind him. As he got closer, Popinjay and Nightshade peered out from the grass. He was truly a gruesome figure. He was a man, or least had been at one time. For, now his flesh was rotten and mottled. His teeth shown like a skeleton’s teeth and his hair was thin and stringy and protruded from his head in all manner of directions.

Popinjay new immediately what he was because she had seen them before when Tituba had used her dark magic to create them. She whispered to Nightshade, “He’s a zombie.”

“What’s a zombie?”

“A dead man who’s been brought back to life.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound so bad, but it sure does look so bad. We cats have nine lives so I guess we’re zombies in some respect too.”

“Should we trust him then?”

“I suppose we don’t have much choice if we’re ever going to find out where we’re going.”

Tentatively, the two emerged from the grass just as Crickety Creak ambled up. It was hard to tell if he was smiling or not because his teeth were always showing, but he made no move to harm them as he listened to them recount their story once again.

Crickety Creak adjusted his large bow tie and proclaimed, “Worry not, little guests, I know just the person who can help you figure out where to go.”

“Really?” Popinjay exclaimed clapping her hands. “That would be so wonderful! Who is it King Crickety Creak?”

“Queen Laveaux. She’s not my queen, but –“ He was cut short by the fact that his lower jaw dislodged from his face and plopped right on the ground. It was hard to say, but Popinjay thought he looked a little embarrassed as he knelt down to retrieve his lower jaw. He then stood back up and proceeded to pull a bag out of his shirt – it was tied to a cord around his neck. He placed two fingers inside the bag and pulled out a pinch of white dust. He then sprinkled the dust on his jaw and, to Popinjay and Nightshade’s amazement, the jaw floated back into place; there was an audible click and King Crickety Creak was fixed.

“Sorry about that,” he explained, “I have a tendency to lose my parts from time to time, but the magic Reconnection Powder fixes me right up. Now, as I was saying, Queen Laveaux is a nice witch who lives across the plains, over the mountains, and down in the swamps. She’ll give you protection from naughty needles and ornery brooms and let you live in peace, I’m sure of it. And maybe, just maybe, she knows the right spell to conjure up and give you both to make you free. You know what they say: two spells don’t break a curse but the stronger of the two makes the other one worse.”

“I’ve never heard that before,” Popinjay said confused.

“That’s because I just made it up,” King Crickety Creak retorted proudly.

“I don’t even understand it,” said Nightshade.

“That’s because it’s a new zombie saying and not an old cat saying.”

“Hey, I’m not old,” Nightshade said defensively.

“And I’m not new. Good, now that that’s settled, I have to return underground.”

“But, which way we do we go to find this Queen Laveaux?” Popinjay said.

“Like I said,” King Crickety Creak said pointing, “just head that way until you reach the edge of the prairie. You’ll cross the Ogre Bone Mountains and then you’ll enter the Dankmoss Swamp. Queen Laveaux lives in there.”

“It all sounds very ominous, those places; is it safe?”

“I doubt it. But nowhere is really safe here and you’ve managed to come this far, so I have faith that you’ll do just as good where you’re going.”

“That makes me feel better, I suppose,” Popinjay said, although not sounding very convinced.

“Oh, I know what’ll help!” exclaimed King Crickety Creak reaching into his pocket. “Take some Reconnection Powder.” He pulled out another bag tied to a cord just like the one around his neck and handed it to Popinjay. “It helps me when I start falling apart; maybe it’ll come in handy for you too.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever need to use it,” said Popinjay placing it around her neck,” although I’ll surely want to. And I can’t see that I’ll have reason to use it but I’ll always keep it ready to never use.”

“Perfect! And now give the King a bow and watch as I disappear back into the ground.”

And so they did.

***

Baron Samedi laughed diabolically as he hefted the strange potion in his hand. He sauntered over to the poor little monkey squawking in the cage, opened the door, and wrangled it out. The monkey fought like mad but the Baron’s grip was like iron. He forced the little monkey’s mouth open and poured the liquid in its mouth. Then, the Baron released the monkey. At first, the monkey scampered away searching for an escape route but then it halted abruptly. The potion took effect and the little monkey began to transform. It grew ten times its former size while it began to deform. Its legs grew long and muscular with webbed feet on the ends, great bat wings sprouted from its back, a huge main of hair sprouted around its face, and jagged teeth sprung out of its maw. When the transformation was complete, the great monkey monster sat growling and snorting awaiting its master’s instructions.

***

Popinjay and Nightshade walked for what felt like years. It was hard to measure the passage of time due to the fact that the sky never changed – just a constant, dim red glow. Eventually, the ghost mice became real mice and Nightshade was able to eat. They stopped periodically to rest, even though Popinjay didn’t really need to sleep. She did enjoy the rest, though. Eventually, the straight line of the horizon was replaced by mountains. This gave the two companions a sense of accomplishment, but it also filled them with a sense of foreboding. Something about the name of Ogre Bone Mountains made Popinjay shudder.

They walked and walked and the mountains loomed larger and larger before them. At one point, Nightshade pointed out an object that seemed out of place with the rest of the surrounding scenery. It was something large with red and white stripes. It was far ahead, lying just at the edge of the prairie.

“Should we go investigate it?” Nightshade asked Popinjay.

“Have you ever heard the saying: curiosity killed the cat?”

“That’s ridiculous! Curiosity is a desire to know or learn. A desire has no physical existence. Only things with physical existence can kill you; things like knives, hammers, logs, guns, and teeth. A desire wouldn’t even hurt you if I hit you with it. Have you ever been hit with a desire?”

“Well, I was hit with the desire to escape old Tituba and run away.”

“And did it hurt?”

“No. It was scary but very liberating too.”

“There you go.”

Popinjay thought about it a moment and couldn’t really find any way to argue with what Nightshade had said. “I’m curious as to what it might be too, Nightshade. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to take a little closer look.”

So the two of them began to walk in the direction of the big red and white striped object. As they got closer they realized that the object was in fact a giant circus tent. A large sign proclaimed: Flupplebuss’ Amazing Circus, the greatest show in Nod.

“Oooo, a circus, Nightshade!” Popinjay crooned. “Hopefully we’re in time for a show.”

Suddenly, a loud roar echoed above their heads and a huge shadow passed over them. Looking up, the two beheld Samedi’s monkey monster gliding above them.  It wheeled around, turned and bore down on them. The two managed to evade the assault as they dove for cover among the tall grass. The monkey monster roared again and turned for another approach.

“Run for the tent!” Nightshade howled as he ran out to distract the monkey monster so Popinjay could make a run for it. Popinjay had no time to protest as Nightshade shot out of the grass. She took off running towards the circus tent, which was a good hundred yards away now.

As she ran Nightshade darted in and out of the grass, keeping just beyond the claws of the monster as it swooped and dove in an effort to capture its prey.

Popinjay’s attention was focused on the plight of Nightshade even as she ran for cover of the tent, but she did turn her head in the direction of the tent long enough to behold an unlikely spectacle. Emerging from the tent – likely attracted by the noise of the monkey monsters attack – was a gaggle of the most unlikely characters and creatures she had ever seen. There were jugglers, acrobats, a bearded woman, a giant muscle man, a two-headed woman, a man with the legs of a goat, elephants, zebras, winged camels, unicorns, a giant horse, and numerous animals that she couldn’t even identify. And right at the head of the whole entourage was a fat clown decked out in every outlandish color of the rainbow.

Popinjay came to a halt in front the clown and between breaths was able to explain that the flying monkey creature was attacking her best friend.

The clown listened as he monitored the fray between Nightshade and his adversary and then said, “What kind of creature did your say that was?”

“I don’t know what it is,” she panted, “but it has the head of a monkey, the legs of a frog, the wings of a bat, the hair of a lion, and large teeth and claws!”

“Well, well, well,” he bellowed, “I gotta have him for my circus!” And with this he began barking out orders to the throng behind him. A more motley army had never been fielded. Performers, animals, and strange creatures of various sorts proceeded to march with all manner of assorted gear out into the plain.

Popinjay stood dumbfounded as the coordinated efforts of the group baited, netted, bound and tied Baron Samedi’s fabulous monkey monster.

Later, after they had retired back to the tent, Nightshade and Popinjay thanked the clown profusely for saving their lives.

“Don’t thank me! It’s I who should be thanking you for delivering right to my doorstep this most wonderfully horrible creature to add to my circus!”

“So you’re Flupplebuss then?” Popinjay asked.

“Yes, indeedy I am! Flupplebuss the Clown. I am the proprietor, recruiter, trainer, entertainer, and ring announcer of this, the most spectacular circus you’ll ever see.”

“Wow!” Popinjay exclaimed. “I sure would love to see everyone perform, Mr. Flupplebuss.”

“And so you will! But first, tell me why that mean old flying thingawhatsit was trying to get a couple little ol’ creatures like you.”

So Nightshade and Popinjay once again replayed their tales, although they couldn’t really say why the creature attacked them. Popinjay had a pretty good idea that old Tituba was behind it somehow, though.

“Why, I know old Queen Laveaux very well! And I know just exactly where she lives over yonder in the Dankmoss Swamp. In return for providing the newest member of our circus, I’ll see to it that you get there lickity split. But first, you gotta stick around and enjoy a most wonderful show.”

“That’d be swell!” Exclaimed Popinjay.

Nightshade, who was a bit more practical minded, was still confused about one important point. “Excuse me, Mr. Flupplebuss, but are your shows always so short of spectators?”

“Ha, ha, the cat is a keen observer. Most circuses travel around and go town to town in order to bring the circus to the people. Flupplebuss’ Amazing Circus doesn’t work like that. We don’t go to the people, the people come to us!”

And then he showed them a series of what at first glance appeared to be large oval mirrors. In fact, they were portals. And sure enough, as it got closer to show time that night, people began pouring through the portals until finally, the big tent was filled to capacity. Excitement was in the air as everyone anxiously awaited the show to commence. The lights suddenly went black and a large ring of light cut through the darkness to the center ring. Flupplebuss came tumbling across the ground rolling like a giant ball only to unfurl himself and greet the throng.

“Ladies and Gentlement, Creatures and Beasties, Goblins and Ghoulies of all ages, shapes and sizes! Welcome to the most fantacular, splendiferous, wonderzingly, glamtorious show of all time! It’s the one and only Flupplebuss’ Amazing Circus!”

The crowd erupted into cheers and Flupplebuss continued for some minutes to rile the crowd into a frenzy. Popinjay and Nightshade sat mesmerized as they watched the most amazing feats of daring mingled with shows of laughter, bravery, awe, thrills, dexterity, and chills. It was a show for the ages.

***

Things weren’t going quite so swimmingly for old Baron Samedi, though. Having magically watched the quick capture of his fearsome creature, he decided to go back to his spell books in order to find the perfectly wickedest concoction to create a most diabolical monstrosity. As he sat perusing his vast library of magic, Tituba paid him a visit. Samedi thought that she was ten times more fearsome than his monkey monster. She was madder than a hornet and fired up and giving him the what for.

“Baron Samedi! We had a deal and you’ve failed to uphold your end of the bargain, you crafty old huckster!  I paid you to bring back my Voodoo Doll! Where is she?”

“Tituba, that cursed little pin cushion of yours is the slipperiest little snake I’ve ever –“

“Don’t give me that, you old skull and bones! You mean to tell me that the mighty Baron Samedi has been bested by a little stuffed doll? You ought to be ashamed of yourself, you old fool! Where is she?”

“She’s fled to Nod and has been rescued by that crazy clown Flupplebuss. Give me a moment to find the perfect spell and I’ll –“

“Our deal’s off! If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself! You owe me, crooked man!” And with a bang and a billowing black cloud of smoke, Tituba disappeared.”

***

Back at Flupplebuss’ Amazing Circus the Twirling Tagotchi’s had just finished a trapeze performance that had the crowd standing in their seats. Flupplebuss came out riding a unicycle and was in the middle of entertaining the audience with his balloon act. He had a large orange feather that he plucked from his tiny blue clown hat. This feather was a magical feather that filled anything he tickled with it with hot air. Flupplebuss rode around the center ring tickling all manner of things with the feather and each time the object would immediately blow up with air and begin to float up in the air. There was an apple, a radio, a boot, a bowling ball, a frog, and all sorts of assorted objects drifting around through the air.

Suddenly, the lights went dim, the music lurched to a halt, and a pillar of smoke erupted right in front of Flupplebuss sending him toppling off of his unicycle and tumbling across the ring. Gasps emanated from the shocked crowd as a sinister cackle split the air. And when the smoke dissipated, there stood wicked old Tituba in the center ring with a nasty looking snake draped about her neck.

At first the crowd was confused at whether this was a part of the show or not, but Popinjay knew the moment she saw her that it was Tituba.

“Uh oh, Nightshade,” she whispered. “That’s her. That’s the mean old witch who likes to poke pins in me. We need to get out of here before she sees us.”

Popinjay and Nightshade slunk down real low and began to creep away. Somehow, Tituba sensed exactly where Popinjay was and hurled a spell right at her. The spell took the form of an arc of black smoke. Fortunately, the spell missed Popinjay but it was unfortunate for the poor creature beside her, the spell hit him and he locked up stiff as a board and fell over as if he were made of stone. At this, the crowd broke out into pandemonium. This was just the thing that Popinjay and Nightshade needed to help them hide, though.

Meanwhile, Flupplebuss was steaming mad because Tituba had ruined not only his performance, but his entire circus. In retaliation, he gave Tituba a swift kick in the rump with his overly large clown shoe. This sent Tituba tumbling head over heels as one of her spells went shooting off into the top of the tent.

The crowd was in complete chaos. People and creatures were running in every direction. The mayhem gave Flupplebuss just enough time to intercept Popinjay and Nightshade. “Come with me! Hurry!”

They followed him through the crowd and out of the tent. In no time they were disappearing into another, much smaller tent. Inside there were a few of the circus performers seeking refuge. There were also various animals and magical creatures. One of these creatures was a small black and red dragon. Flupplebuss went immediately to this creature and said to it, “Take the doll and the cat to Dankmoss Swamp as fast as you can! Take them to Queen Laveaux!” Then, turning to Popinjay and Nightshade he said, “This is Zaxxus! He can get you to Queen Laveaux faster than any creature here!”

Flupplebuss handed Popinjay his big orange feather while he lifted them into place on Zaxxus’ back. “Now be sure and hold on tight!” But before he could get his feather back from Popinjay, Tituba came bursting through the tent. She hurled a spell at Popinjay but Flupplebuss stepped in front of the jet of black smoke. Zaxxus was already in motion. The dragon slithered smoothly under the tent nearly knocking Popinjay off. Nightshade managed to grab her in time and the last thing that Popinjay saw before exiting the tent was Flupplebuss go ramrod straight and fall over like a tree. Then they were airborne, zipping off into the night sky like a rocket.

***

Flupplebuss didn’t lie when he said that Zaxxus was fast. Popinjay and Nightshade clung on desperately as they sped through the air, the mountains zooming past underneath them. And Popinjay couldn’t be sure, but she could swear that something trailed them out in the black of the night. She just hoped that Zaxxus could keep up the speed until they reached Queen Laveaux.

It still seemed like a long time even at the breakneck speed they were going but soon, the mountains gave way to scrub trees and the swamp was beneath them. And finally Zaxxus was darting downward and cruising to a halt in front of an old muddy hovel.

Popinjay and Nightshade scrambled down and the dragon shook his head, squawked and was off again, flapping back into the sky.

“Well, I guess this is Queen Laveaux’s. I sure do hope she can help us,” Popinjay said.

“I Just hope she’s home,” Nightshade retorted.

They didn’t have time to find out, though. Popinjay was right about there being something following them. Just then a jet of red smoke came shooting down from the sky and where it landed there erupted a pillar of flame and out stepped Tituba.

“You’re testing my patience, you little ball of rags!” she bellowed. “You will pay for your insolence!” Then Tituba unleashed a spell that sent a stream of stickpins hurling at Popinjay. There was no avoiding the barrage. Just then, the door to the hovel flew open and Queen Laveaux burst out casting her own counter-spell, but not before several of the pins had found their mark, three sticking in Popinjay and one hitting Nightshade. Nightshade howled in pain and Popinjay dove for cover behind Queen Laveaux. The counter-spell turned Tituba’s needles back on her and she warded them off with yet another spell.

Tituba turned her ire on Queen Laveaux now and the two witches commenced a most spectacular magical battle. The swamp erupted in lights, fire, booms and bangs as they hurled all manner of wicked spells at each other.

Meanwhile, Popinjay was pulling the needles out of her body and realized she was still holding onto Flupplebuss’ orange feather. As she was pulling out the last pin, she suddenly got an idea. She and Nightshade conferred and Nightshade sprang into action.

The witches were circling each other concentrating on their battle. Nightshade darted quickly around them and leapt towards the back of Tituba. The snake clinging to her neck rose up to meet his leap. Dodging the venomous fangs, Nightshade struck the snake’s head with his clawed paw and managed to pull a tuft of hair from Tituba’s head. At this, Tituba squealed in pain and grabbed Nightshade by the scruff of his neck and flung him through the air. Nightshade gyrated in the air trying to land on his feet. He landed with a thud on the ground.

Popinjay ran up to Nightshade to see if he was alright. He was dazed, but otherwise unharmed. She removed the bag on the cord that King Crickety Creak had given her from around her neck and gave it to Nightshade. She then took the tuft of Tituba’s hair and hoped that her plan would work.

Popinjay knew all too well how the magic of the Voodoo worked – she had been the magic tool of Tituba’s cruelty enough times. Whenever Tituba wanted to inflict pain on someone, she would gather an item – most often a lock of hair or piece of clothing – belonging to the victim and stick it to Popinjay. Then, whatever torture inflicted on Popinjay would be felt by the victim too. Now that Popinjay had Tituba’s hair, she hoped that the magic would work just the same way. She took Flupplebuss’ feather and proceeded tickle herself just as Flupplebuss had done on the objects in his circus. And sure enough, Popinjay began to blow up just like a balloon filling with air; but, to Tituba’s stark surprise, she too began to fill with hot air. By the time she realized what was happening, she was beyond help. Queen Laveaux and Nightshade stood there watching as both Tituba and Popinjay blew up and began to float ever upward.

Tituba struggled and kicked and tried to cast a spell but everything was out of proportion and her efforts were in vain. Popinjay, however, was prepared and once she saw that they were both sufficiently inflated, she took the last stickpin she had removed from her body and jammed it right into her own tummy. Immediately, both Popinjay and Tituba burst to pieces and came scattering down.

“Oh, My!” cried Queen Laveaux. “That dear little doll sacrificed herself just to stop that mean old hag. How noble!”

“Queen Laveaux,” Nightshade said, “that little doll’s name is Popinjay. Would you please help me gather all of her pieces?”

“Of course, kitty.”

They set about collecting the pieces of Popinjay and once all were gathered together in one, neat little pile, Nightshade removed the pouch that King Crickety Creak had given them. Using the Reconnection Powder, he sprinkled it over the pieces of Popinjay and the magic took hold. Nightshade and Queen Laveaux watched in awe as Popinjay reassembled. There was a tense moment when the little doll just lay there, but then, she twitched and started to move. And lo and behold, she stood up and said, “Did it work? Is she gone?”

Nightshade gave a full body kitty hug to her and said, “Yes, Popinjay, she sure is. That nasty old witch is gone.”

***

The next evening, Popinjay and Nightshade sat on an old log watching the fireflies flicker around the swamp. “I feel so much less dreary, Nightshade. How about you?” Popinjay said.

“I feel better, too. That Queen Laveaux is such a nice witch. I think I could stay here forever.”

“Me, too.”

Then Nightshade thought about a scary thought. “But what if the witch I ran away from comes looking for me?”

“Don’t worry, kitty buddy, as long as we stick together, we’ll be alright.”

THE END


[1] Loam – A rich, organic soil usually associated with abundant plant life and water.

[2] Loch – (Scottish/Gaelic) Lake

[3] Flim – (Scandinavian/Old Norse) Mockery; possibly related to flimflam.

[4] Brine – Salty water.

[5] Brood – 1. Offspring, usually birds; 2. To ponder sullenly.

[6] Miry – Boggy or muddy; “He brought me up out of the horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and fixed my path” Psalm 40.

[7] Gloam/gloaming – Twilight; dusk; sunset.

[8] Grobe – (German) Dirty work.

[9] Frumious – Portmanteau of fuming and furious; coined by Lewis Carol in “Jabberwocky”.

[10] Freke (pronounced as frake) – (Old English) A brave man, warrior, or creature.

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