Worlds & Time

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Anti Narnia

A quick short story inspired by Hal Duncan's much more interesting Thoughts on Narnia over at his blog. Yeah, I know he writes long posts, but check them out some time. They're worth it.

It was the quiet and pensive Lori that discovered the door and it was only the dramatic change from her usual shyness that convinced her brothers and sister to go through it into the magic little world that she had found.

Edward struck out on his own almost immediately. He read adventure books and thought of himself as an explorer that didn’t need his siblings to get in the way. So he alone discovered the ruins of the great castle in this frozen world. Most of it had fallen in on itself but there were parts that were still covered, sheltering their contents from the omnipresent white snow that covered the ground.

In the otherwise empty great hall he found the gold coin.

It was about as big as a penny and shiny enough to look newly minted, although the image on it was still hard to discern. He’d always dreamed of finding an old pirate’s treasure and the gold coin represented all this. Wait till the others saw it, he thought.

So he tromped back to the door where Pete, Sarah and Lori all were waiting for him with a giant talking rodent of some sort.

“We’re going to go,” said Pete. “There’s apparently a crazy tiger around here killing people.”

“And Mr. Bumbles here says that we can’t try to take anything back,” piped in Lori. “He says that it’s wrong to go mixing up universes.”

“You haven’t picked something up, have you?” asked Sarah.

In his head, Ed weighed having his own treasure stash with which he could lord it over his siblings for several weeks back home against the wrongness of mixing up universes and came to a snap decision. “Nope. Nothing at all.”

With a roar, a giant red-orange tiger jumped into the snowy clearing in front of the door. It must have been twelve feet from the tip of the nose to the tip of it’s tail, and it looked like it could rip any of them to shreds in an instant with it’s three inch long bloody claws. All the children flinched back, not knowing that they should be running, but Mr. Bumbles scurried away so quickly it was like someone had edited him out of a film.

The tiger didn’t attack though. It turned to Ed and said aloud “Naughty boy.”

Before it could get out another word a huge white swan descended from the sky. All around it glowed a fierce golden light, like the aura from old paintings around the holy family done in gold leaf. “No fear children!” it called in a voice like rolling thunder. “I’ll protect you! Whatever the Tiger corrupts, I, the Swan, am here to defend”

Sarah rounded on Ed. “You did pick something up, didn’t you?”

He squirmed but held out his hand and opened it, revealing the coin. Sarah rolled her eyes, and Lori sighed pitifully. Pete just looked jealous.

Ed turned to the Swan. “So, uh, sorry about that. Look, here’s the coin.” He put in on the ground and scooted it toward the bird when it didn’t move to accept the token.

The Tiger laughed, and the branches shook snow off all around the clearing. “You have done more than steal, you’ve lied to your kin. A betrayal if I’ve ever heard one. You know what the punishment for that is?”

Ed shook his head.

“We’re going to pour boiling lead in your eyes and cut out your tongue. Then, I’m going to bite off your fingers and toes one by one before opening your stomach and knowing out your intestines.” The Tiger scrunched up its face as though it was thinking. “There’s something about rape in there too. I’ve got it written down somewhere. I’ll have to look it up. It’s part of the Great Laws of this land.”

All the children looked positively sick.

“I’m sorry,” Ed said, his eyes filling with tears. The Tiger was now licking its lips and inching closer to him, sniffing the air.

“He’s eleven,” Pete said. “I mean he’s just a kid. That’s ridiculous. This is a fairy tale, right? Surely there must be some quest he can go to make up for this.”

The Swan shook his head. “Nope. No quests. The boiling lead and the eating and the rape sounds about right.”

“What?” demanded Sarah. “Sounds about right? Are you kidding? I thought you said you were here to protect us.”

The Tiger reached out with a huge claw and poked Edmund in his shoulder. A stain of red started to spread slowly under his shirt and the Tiger licked at the blood like it was barbeque sauce.

“I am here to protect you,” the Swan said, apparently offended at Sarah’s insinuation that he wasn’t doing a great job. “But the Great Law is the Great Law and it needs to be enforced. I should know, considering that I wrote it myself back when I created this magical world.”

“Why on earth would you write torture and death into the law?” Pete asked.

“At the time it seemed like an good idea. I always thought that it would involve a grown man condemning his family to death, but it certainly seems like it applies in this situation too.”

“He’s a kid,” Pete said again. “Surely there must be some exception that you can make.”

The Swan shook its graceful neck. “The Great Law doesn’t have exceptions. I created it that way for a reason. It wouldn’t be just, otherwise.”

“You can’t possibly that punishment is fair,” said Sarah, even more upset than before. “We don’t care that he lied. We just don’t want to see him dead.”

“No, it isn’t fair,” said the Swan. “But this is Justice. Justice is rarely fair. It’s part of the Great Laws of this magical land. Ed betrayed his family by lying to them, so now he has to be raped, blinded, and then eaten or this magical land will disappear forever.”

“Oh,” said Lori, where she stood behind Pete. The children all looked at each other.

“I can live with that,” said Pete.

“Ditto,” said Sarah. Behind Pete, Lori nodded.

Now it was time for the Swan to look shocked. “But . . . it will mean the deaths of everyone that lives here! Mr. Bumbles! Me, the Great Swan! The millions of peons that support the few royalty that I pick to live in relative comfort!”

But already he was smaller. Less important. The golden glow that had surrounded him had diminished substantially and he seemed thin, as though he were made of paper.

Pete held out his hands. Lori took one and Edward took the other. Sarah looked at the Tiger. “Are you going to try to attack us if we leave?” she asked.

The Tiger shook his head. “No. I wasn’t ever interested in you. I was just trying to get the Swan in range.”

The Swan didn’t even have time to process what the Tiger had said before the cat was on him.

“Well, good. I will pay the price for the boy,” the Swan said happily. “And I’ll come back from death even stronger.

“You don’t understand,” the Tiger said. “I’m not going to mete out the punishment required. The whole idea of death as a punishment for lying is stupid. Besides, you’ve enforced slavery, murder and degradation on many others for years. Why should I care about a boy lying when there are so many more important crimes that you need to pay for first?” He paused. “After a jury trial, of course.”

It picked up the Swan in its teeth and wandered out of the clearing and out of sight.

Sarah went first to the door and opened it for her three other siblings. They all paused there for a moment, looking back. The trees were hazy now and papery thin now and the snow and mist were impossible to tell apart. The entire magical world was coming apart like erasing words from a sheet of paper.

“I really am sorry about lying to you,” Ed said as they closed the magical door and it began to fade away.

“We know,” said Lori.

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