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How Papa Gheddy Saved the Village

by Chris Chapman

From his hut in a clearing near the edge of a stream, Papa Gheddy told tales to the children. Children from the nearby village would take flight from their homes on most afternoons. They would sneak away from their parents to go and find that slouched figure. It was here they would sit cross-legged on the floor waiting for Papa to wake from his afternoon snooze. Some would dare to poke at the top hat that lay over his face. They would reach out with a stick and jab the rim, causing the sleeping figure to snort and bat the air with his ebony hands.

But even when this was toppled from his head all it revealed was a pair of dark glasses with one lens missing. Papa would snooze until he was ready to talk, at which point he’d plug his mouth with a cigar, puff a huge dark cloud of smoke above the children’s heads and then once again tell all who dared to listen the tale of the Jibblins in the hut.

“I ain’t never opening it,” he’d say, pointing to the door of the shack. It was wadded shut with leaves and mud and on the front was scrawled a black cross. “Not for none of you little spider-bites, I will not open it.” Papa removed his top hat, tapped the ash from his cigar into it and placed it back on his head. A vast white smile cut a crescent on his thin, dark features.

“Yeah, the Jibblins ran wild in the village, they stripped the meat from all the pigs and chickens around and they worried all the folks away into they’ huts. They went rampaging through the streets and when they was done, they sat in the middle of the village and used the skinny chicken bones to play the skulls and ribcages of all the beasts they’d killed and eaten. Scary sound it was, too. Every night was boom and boom.” Papa stamped his foot on the porch floor. The sound shook the tiny hut and echoed through its walls.

“And clickerty click,” he dragged his finger along the wicker backing of his chair. With each sound he faked a look of fear, darting a glance over his shoulder as though the Jibblins were playing along to his description.

“Gotcha!” He screamed and the children jolted in fright as Papa held his top hat to his mouth and roared into it. The sound returned louder and more fearsome than it had been when it entered. The children dug their fingernails into the soft earth for support.

“No, you see it wasn’t just for music and meat them Jibblins be in town. While the people hid in they they’ huts the Jibblins had been using those scary sounds to drum up a magic storm. They be wandering past every hut and frightening the souls right out of folks and straight into they’ cooking pot. Yeah, they’ real goal be to steal the soul of the town and make it into a meaty stew. ’Course, they didn’t know that this little village got itself a protector, yeah the finest hero you ever could hope for.”

Papa held his arms out wide and turned to the left. He nodded and then turning to the right, he nodded again, soaking up the admiration of an invisible audience. Soon the gathered children joined in and clapped for the hero before them. Through the one missing lens of his dark glasses he winked at the child nearest, then he tipped his hat in respect for the appreciation and continued with his tale.

“Old Papa lived out in the cemetery back then. Just me, the pick and a shovel in a cave, it was, until the one night when it all changed. You see, back then the folks here didn’t have no smile to spare for Papa; they all thought that the gravedigger brought death along with him. They didn’t understand that all I did was to lead the dead in the right direction.

“I remember it well. It was a chilly night with a whispering wind. ‘Save us, Gheddy’, it seemed to say, tickling my ears, as I lay asleep. ‘Save us Papa, come save our souls.’ So up I get and straight out I dash, and taking a bush for hiding in, I look into the village and see the Jibblins be making they’ merry meat music, when they be bonking on brain holes and whooping as blood trickled down they’ fangs. I see bubbling in that pot a huge purple egg. It was the glowing knot of souls from the whole village.

“Now Papa finds him what’s left of a chicken, his brain is working fast that day, and he breathed a li’l life into that mashed-up body of hers and he ties a length of string from the remains leading up to a long stick.”

Papa take pauses and straightens his hat on his head as his free hand slyly slips into his pocket. He begins to cough, cough and cough until water runs from his bulging eyes. He cups his hands to his mouth as one of the children runs up and slaps him on the back, and as the blow strikes him hard his hands fly open and out shoots a flutter of feathers, flying through the air.

“Who be waking me from my deep sleep?” creaks Papa in a strange voice. “’Who be taking me from my final resting?” Papa smiles and wipes his eyes and lets the story continue on its way.

“Yeah that old hen wasn’t happy at all. Well, who would be, being brought back alive in such a rude manner? I got me an idea though, and it’s this idea I put into play. So I say, ‘Silly old hen, you be a bit confused. You ain’t dead, not yet anyhow. You see, I got you tied up here and tied up you will stay, what I can see at the end of this rope is a meal for my roaring tummy.’

“Now she’s real scared. The dumb thing doesn’t even realise most of her insides are outside and she pleads for her life, just like I knew she would. ‘Oh Papa, Papa, don’t you be the Baron of Bones today. Let me go and I’ll do anything for you. Let me go and live just a little longer.’

“So I think to myself this fruit’s ripe for the picking, and I say in return, ‘Maybe, maybe, you see there’s a meal I know of and it’s even juicier than you, li’l hen. It’s not far from here, a lovely big purple egg. Maybe if you help me fish it from the pot, I’ll let you go and not visit for a while longer.’

“L’il hen’s so grateful, she just can’t believe her luck, and she clucks out a tune of relief. So with this zombie chicken under my arm I takes to the trees and leaps branch to branch until I sits perched over that bloody banquet.”

Papa hopped up and crouched on his seat. He looked down below him and pulled a face of mixed shock and disgust. The children all shied back as their imagination gripped the description of the feast and left a ghastly picture in their minds. Before him, Papa held an invisible stick that he’d waggle a little, still looking down at the gorging Jibblins.

“So I lower the hen right down in the centre of those Jibblins, but they too busy to notice. She clucks nervously as she swings over the top of that huge hot pot. ‘Too hot, too hot,’ she calls out to me.

“‘Grab it, you useless feather clot,’ I shout back.

“‘Too hot, too hot,’ she screeches again, to which I reply, ‘You think that be hot hen, just imagine how it’ll feel turning over my camp fire!’

“So she dips into the pot and grabs the jewel of souls, letting out a loud squawk as she does so, and straight away the Jibblins stop, and they look, and they see this scrap of meat dangling on a string and stealing they’ meal.

“Mad dashes they make just to grab the hen that dares to rob them of they’ spoils. Swinging it this way then that.”

Papa lurched forward as the invisible zombie hen tied to the end of the invisible stick swung towards the children. They shrieked or gambolled or dived out of the way, only to return once Papa had crouched back on his chair.

“Thirsty for the blood they then be, hungry to sink they’ teeth into what they think is hot chunky flesh. Now I’m having fun just whipping up a frenzy, and that li’l hen plays her part in the comedy, squawking away, ‘I ain’t yo’ meal, long fangs, I ain’t living in yo’ greasy belly!’

“So what I do is play some more, just swing it this way then that.” Once again he topples from his perch as though that ghost hen were dragging him right towards the clump of cross-legged children.

The children who were expecting his lunge had made way to the edge of the clearing, whereas the unlucky ones fell frightened onto their backs as they tried to scrabble away. Papa Gheddy swooped down upon them, his face a blur behind a large manic smile.

“So greedy those Jibblins that they lose sight to everything but that dead hen, which I keep on jerking just out of grasp. Desperation dribbles off they’ chins, so I begin to hop from branch to branch, then from tree to tree, and I lead those Jibblins away down the street and out the village. ‘Throw me that egg, li’l hen,’ I call down, ‘throw it up and I’ll cut you free.’

“So l’il hen takes that soul egg in her beak and tosses it straight up to me. I chuck her inside the hut and they all follow her in, tearing the hen to pieces in they’ rage. Now I already been to that hut, I worked up a brew in honour of Kalfu and asked for magic to make that shack a prison.

The hen’s remains were the sacrifice that sealed the deal. Kalfu kept his word, he did, making it impossible for anyone to ever leave. Finally, crafty old Papa cracks open that egg and every soul in that town crackles in the air, flying back to the place they belong, moaning out a thank-you as they flitter past. That’s how Papa saved the village, and that’s why he sits here, and will always be here, just sitting and guarding that hut.

“I wadded the door up to keep the curious out and to keep the sight of those things away from your young eyes. They still in there now, I know that much is true. You see even now if you walk past this place at midnight, you can hear those Jibblins tap a rhythm on the walls with the old hen bones.”

Copyright © 2008 by Chris Chapman

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