The Squonk: An Agony in Four Fits
(Based on the song 'Squonk' written by Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford.)
Fit the First: The Creature
It was a long, long, long time ago, as I recall, deep in the Wickedest, Worst Wood in All The Land, among the tanpookas, the whoodinkers and boodoodlers, the what-nots and whither-tos and the falterers and plodder-onners, (and, of course, no-one is expected to know who or what any of these strange and mysterious beasts are, as they have been unknown to all but the very, very oldest of men for centuries,) lived another strange and obscure creature. It was relatively small, and yet, moreover, it could, by standing as tall on its hind-legs as it could without falling over, approach, but not quite meet, the proximity of a foot in height, and it resembled, at a glance, a bizarre form of rat. It was covered in muddy grey-brown fur, had a long snout, which was constantly red at the tip, huge whiskers that protruded from it and swollen, reddened eyes that were always brimming over with tears. It was always weeping for one reason or another and the only time it didn't was usually when it was asleep, and even then, sometimes it would continue to moan and pine in its sleep. In its right paw it constantly held a pointlessly thin and flimsy handkerchief with which to mop up it's tears with, a futile task if ever there was one.
Because of its constant weeping, and the relentless whining and lamentation that often accompanied it, the Squonk had little company, and the animals of the forest frequently avoided contact with it as much as possible. The falterers often tried to avoid the territory of the Squonk altogether, sometimes not coming out of their burrows for days, just to make sure the Squonk and his excruciating dirge were not close by. The plodder-onners took a less subtle approach: if the Squonk or the trail his constant tears left were within a yard of it, it would move at double its normal speed to get to its destination without the Squonk seeing it, or asking it for help, or even narrating its morose circumstances in its whining, high-pitched voice. Some animals even went around with clods of earth and beeswax shovelled into their ears, and the bears often made deals with the bees to buzz and hum as loud as possible in exchange for less honey, so as to drown the hapless creature out. And still the Squonk wept on regardless.
However, there were some, though only a few, who put up with the Squonk, and developed a strange affinity for it. The Wÿrdiebird, a fat, slow and ungainly creature which was perhaps the worst flyer in the Wood, who had, by some strange twist of fate, been given the gift of speech and knew how to mimic the sounds of human and Squonkish speech, would sit and listen to the Squonk speaking, so as to further its vocabulary. Sadly, the Wÿrdiebird was not an intelligent creature, and certainly did not understand a lot of what it was being told, or indeed what it was saying at times. Equally, the Squonk was limited in its own language and found expressing more complicated emotions and issues difficult at the best of times. However, the Wÿrdiebird could understand some of what it was saying, such as the names of objects that they may encounter, indications of danger or things of interest to itself or the Squonk. The two would sit under a tree and talk, listen to the other talking and, in the periods when the Squonk's eyes were not quite so full of tears, laugh and smile and venture what they considered jests to one another, though neither truly understood any that were said by themselves or by their companion.
Also, the Squonk's tears were very bizarre, in that they were not of salt water, as with every other creature that had the capacity to secrete tears, but they were, in fact, a silvery colour. When they dried onto whatever it was they landed on, the surface would set as a thin layer of pure silver. And because the Squonk cried almost constantly, not only did they leave trails of silver everywhere he went, but his eyelids were lined with a circle of silver that made him very conspicuous and easy prey to woodland predators. Wolves and fierce carnivores would chase Squonks through the woods for sport when they had been more plentiful in numbers, then devour them greedily when they ran completely out of energy, (male Squonks were terribly clumsy at mating with females, mainly because they never lived long enough to attempt it more than once or twice, and so their numbers never increased to more than twelve or thirteen per territory.).(*) Those who did escape the wolves were still doomed, for even if they lived to old age, which was usually no older than 5 years old and an extreme rarity for any Squonk, their eyelids, from years of silver tears building up on them, would eventually seal themselves closed in its sleep. If it didn't get attacked, maimed or ripped to shreds for its meat, it would probably starve to death. However, the threat of wolves had long since vanished, as they had moved on to more plentiful reserves of food many years prior. But the Squonk was still under threat, and it was from something outside of the Wood. It was Men.
Fit the Second: The Huntsman's Deal
The Huntsman arrived at the tavern with a thirst for alcohol on his lips and a thousand bloody cuss words on the tip of his tongue. This one was a regular, a tall beefy character by the name of Rueben. He had long, shaggy black hair that was so long it often got muddled up in his beard. He had dull, black, hooded eyes that gave away nothing and seemed to take nothing in either.(**) He had a musket, a horn, a net and a sack tied across his back, along with various other instruments with which to trap and track animals. To the casual eye he looked an absolute idiot, and most dismissed him with a glance. For, after all, all are not Huntsmen who can blow the Huntsman's horn. But there was more to Rueben than met the eye. Though he was big, hairy and oafish-looking, he was also crafty and skilled in the hunting of every animal in the Wood.
He arrived at the bar and sat on the stool, waiting for his usual pint. Another patron, a farmer by the name of Scroggins, was sat next to him. Scroggins was as unlike Rueben as anyone could be. He was as tall as him, but was incredibly lanky and gaunt, and was complete bald due to recurring bouts of ringworm that plagued him on and off for years. His teeth were all but broken, rotten or missing, but he was as sharp as an arrow and strong as the bow that fired it. Had the two been in cahoots, they would have been next to unbeatable at any game or sport. But Scroggins did not like Rueben. Years ago, the Huntsman, in a drunken state, had been urinating into an open drain in the street when Scroggins and his daughter, a beautiful lass if ever there was one, just happened to walk past. Noticing them walk past, Rueben's turned around, still urinating, and yelled out "Fancy a go, miss? He doesn't bite much!" and began singing lewd songs in the street. Three days later, Scroggins' daughter went blind. Three months later, she died of a brain tumour.
But tonight, Scroggins had plans. He offered the Huntsman a drink, and tipped the bartender a knowing glance that they had arranged hours earlier. He served Rueben with Stoutbeer, which was the hunter's favourite, as all who knew him would say. But the bartender had laced his drink with the most potent horse narcotic in the history of veterinarian science: Equotrip. One found it had a bizarre effect on humans. It makes the drinker drunker and bawdy, and allows his erect member to remain so in the midst of drunkenness. It also makes the drinker unusually numb, arrogant and thirsty for more alcohol. As planned, Rueben became drunk beyond all possible measures of drunkenness, and, unexpectedly quoted: "Mr. Scroggins, pardon my inebriety… yet I must say, with God and the people of this tavern as my witness, I am deeply sorry for whatever part I had in the death of your lovely daughter, if I had any." At this comment, Scroggins, who was also slightly tipsy, was touched by the apology, and momentarily reconsidered taking the money from Rueben's purse. But then he had an even better idea. Why steal it when he could win it?
You see, Rueben was not any old hunter. He had an obsession with Squonk and all about it. His father had written a book about them, and Rueben was convinced of their existence. He would, and often did, bet what ever he could lay hand on that he could find and bring in a Squonk. And so, Scroggins made a bet with the Huntsman: he had three days and three nights to find a Squonk and bring it back to him for inspection. As wager, if he succeeded, Scroggins would buy him a drink every evening for the rest of the year. However, if he failed, he was to hand over his musket, his horn, his net and his sack. (***) The Huntsman agreed to these terms and the two shook hands warily, but then, with a huge roar, the Huntsman vomited the contents of his stomach onto the counter. Realising what a state he was in, Scroggins gave him coffees and teas to sober him, and arranged with the bartender for a bed for the night; he didn't want to give an unfair advantage to his opponent, but he was also a sportsman, and his conscience would not permit him to allow a drunkard to wander in the dark, for the townsfolk's sake and the Huntsman's. And it was, after all, paid for with the Huntsman's money. Competition was Scroggins' most favourite pastime.
Fit the Third: The Capture of a Squonk
The Squonk was lying in the sun, looking and feeling as forlorn as ever, tears trickling, rather than pouring, from its eyes. The Wÿrdiebird was unusually absent, looking for a bird with which to mate with, as it was fast approaching its mating season. (****) The Squonk sat on its own, pondering what it would do with its day. It recounted all the things it had saved to do on a rainy day: it had two dozen clean handkerchiefs to iron and the clutter in its burrow needed uncluttering. And sure enough, as he thought of these things, it immediately began to rain. Then, the silence of the forest was broken by an unfamiliar sound. It was the voice of a Man.
The Squonk made a dive for cover, hiding behind a tree root. He tried his best to dry his tears but was so infuriated with himself it was almost impossible. The trail his tears left were clear for all to see at any hour of the day or night. That's what had brought the Man to his territory.
The Huntsman had heard and saw the Squonk before it had seen him. He had been walking stealthily at this point, but, considering himself to be at the upper hand, decided to try to bluff the creature. He deliberately stumbled about, looking lost and confused and calling out, "Mr. Squonk, please come out! Don't run away, I'm a friend! I'd like to play with you!"
But the Squonk saw through the bluff and remained hidden. The Huntsman knew where it was now, and despite the wind and the rain and the cold, he would no doubt stay there until the very Crack of Doom. The Squonk could not reach its burrow without moving or having to run past the Huntsman. There was only one thing for it: it had to try to scare away the Huntsman.
It leapt over the root, though rather clumsily, flailed its arms and legs in the air in a (vain) attempt to startle the Huntsman, and tried to shrieked, (though it sounded more like a half sob,) "Here I am, you ugly son of a tavern whore! I'm a fierce and angry Squonk and I'm… I'm…" and burst into tears like it had never done in all its life, and finally wailed in pitiful tones, "I'M COMING TO GET YOU!"
For you see, Squonks do not like violence or having to swear or even having to act in a fierce manner. They are, after all, perhaps the most fragile of all creatures when it comes to aggressiveness. They hate it. And so, being forced to frighten away another creature, whatever its shape or size, is a terrible feeling for a Squonk to bear, especially when its only wish is to have friends and people who care for it. The Huntsman came softly over to it, placed a hand on its head, stroked its scruffy fur and gently whispered animal-like comforts into its ear. If it had not been for the arrival of the Wÿrdiebird, that would have been the end of the hunt. But the bird, seeing the dagger the Huntsman was slow drawing from the back of his belt, screamed the first thing that came to its peanut-sized brain: "Squonk! Better watch out! Squonk! Huntsman!"
The Squonk took off at a run, but had not been running a matter of three metres when the Huntsman pounced on it, and bound it with rope and gagged it with a cloth rag. And then the Huntsman did perhaps the most inhuman thing possible. It pointed the musket at the Wÿrdiebird, which, in a fit of panic was trying to fly for help, and shot it down. The tears that flooded from the Squonk's tears were no longer silver or any other colour. They were tears of true pain.
Fit the Fourth: Just a Pool of Tears
The Huntsman was triumphant. It had taken less than two days to find a Squonk in the Woods and he had a two nights to arrive at his destination. At first it was difficult to carry the Squonk in the sack, (*****) but as he continued along the path to the tavern, his wobbling shuffle developed into a proud stride, and then a jaunty swagger. He arrived that night at the door of the tavern with a thirst for alcohol, a sack across his back and the sound of sobbing on his shoulder. But just as he went to open the door the sobbing stopped. Rueben thought nothing of it and went in.
He greeted Scroggins with a wry grin, and offered to showcase his find to the whole tavern: the first and only, he said, captured Squonk in the history of man. His father would be laughing in his grave. Scroggins was bowled over, and was ready to start buying the drinks when Rueben pulled the drawstrings on the sack open and tipped the contents of the sack onto the floor. What followed was a half gallon of what could have been water, a soaked pile of rope and a cloth rag. But there was no sign of the Squonk. The grin vanished from Rueben's face and transferred to Scroggins'. He held out his hand expectantly. Rueben was brimming over with anger, but, knowing better, he sighed and sullenly handed over his musket, his horn, his net and his sack, thinking almost immediately of how he could get them back.
No-one questioned, however, the disappearance of the Squonk. It had occurred to them that the creature had escaped and left its fetters behind along with something with which to disguise its escape. Others believed it had never been in the sack in the first place, and that Rueben had still been under the influence of the spiked drink when he'd supposedly 'found' the Squonk. But none of them knew or even cared that when it was faced with the truest sorrow of its entire existence, the Squonk had slowly and painfully dissolved itself into its own bitter tears.
*- The ritual of mating between Squonk is not the most beautiful or gratifying acts of nature, and I shall not go into any real detail of its method or trappings for the sake of the reader.
**- Because of the Huntsman's appearance, he was widely believed to be Jewish, and this increased dislike of him among the tavern regulars. However, because of the employment he was in and the fact that, as any of the prostitutes of the town would tell you, he was uncircumcised, this was obviously a lie.
***- Scroggins was, in fact, a notorious poacher in his earlier years, and had lost his own musket, horn, net and sack in a similar gamble, but that's another story.
****- The Wÿrdiebird, though a poor flyer at the best of times, was at least capable of mating in a gratifying manner to both parties and was at least 70% successful in producing offspring, but its mating season was sporadic and short-lived, so when the urge came over it, it had little choice if it wanted its species to survive.
*****- The sack was water-proof, arrow-proof and rip-proof but, unfortunately, not sound-proof.