"Pierre, you idiot!" shrieked the Englishman. "Why didn't you bring a torch?"
"I didn't know the well would be this…dark!"
"Of course it's dark! It's a bloody well!" Lord Chutney-Weathercock slapped his forehead and sighed. "Bloody Frenchmen…"
You, kind reader, may be wondering why an Englishman and a Frenchman are spelunking down a well together. What you should be wondering is what sort of creature lives in that well, and if it prefers the taste of Frenchmen or Englishmen.
Jean Pierre and Lord Chutney-Weathercock were bitter rivals. The Lord was a baker, and Pierre, a candlestick maker. They lived in a small village called Poodletown, with a population of three. There were only four buildings in Poodletown: the bakery, the candlestick shop, the Smelly Place, and Paula's house. I suppose you want an explanation. Well, here it is.
The Smelly Place was an old abandoned mansion. Its windows were perfectly intact, there was no ivy creeping up its sides, and the lawns and gardens looked trim and well-kept. Everything about it seemed friendly and inviting…on the outside. But no one dared to pass through its doors for fear of the horrible stench within. It was a nasty smell, very hard to describe. Think of sour milk mixed with rotten eggs mixed with cherry cough syrup mixed with cat urine. Now think of something ten times worse than that.
Paula Strawberry was Citizen #3, an American, and the only female in town. She was a rather dull person who collected stamps and drank herbal tea. She didn't have a job, and instead survived by leeching off her neighbors. They didn't think of it as leeching, though. They called it courting.
You see, Paula was the main cause of the men's rivalry. Her hands were often caked with dirt from the garden, and her tawny hair was a mess, but she was quite attractive for someone without access to running water or electricity. Every night the suitors would serenade her, or smother her with flowers, or bestow her with free stuff. The Englishman would make her fat with biscuits, and the Frenchman's candles would keep her cottage well-lit. (The courtship was all scheduled, of course, to avoid conflict. Pierre had Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and the Lord got the days in between. Sundays were off-limits. The lady needed her rest.)
Paula was happy with this lifestyle, and wished to continue messing with their hearts in exchange for goods, but you know how men are; they don't like to share. Both men wanted her for themselves, and begged her to make a decision.
Paula stroked her imaginary beard in thought. (It was a real beard not too long ago, before Poodletown set up trade with a distant toiletry factory.) Both Pierre and C.W. were kneeling just outside her window, with puppy-dog eyes and smiles stretched as far as they could go. She turned to the Frenchman first.
"Jean is quite handsome," she mused, "With his dark features and that fancy goatee." Pierre caught her gaze and winked.
"Tu es très belle, ma cherie," he spoke in a low, sultry tone. "As beautiful as…euh…something very beautiful."
"Handsome, yes, but not very bright." She switched her gaze to the Englishman. He was dirty blonde with a bald patch on top; not very handsome, and probably twice her age. "But he's quite the intellectual." This was true; Chutney-Weathercock was the most erudite citizen of Poodletown. He even created his own edible library: stacks upon stacks of toast with letters burned into them.
"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"
"No," answered Paula. (She had heard this one before.) "How about a winter's night, for a change?"
"All right." C.W. stepped into his best Shakespearean pose. "Shall I compare thee to a winter's night? Thou art more lovely and more crisp of wit. Thy skin is fairer than the snow is white, and free of any blemishes or zits." Paula congratulated him with a light clap. Lord Weathercock gave a hearty chuckle.
"Ha, ha! In your face, Frenchie!"
"But…I'm still having trouble deciding. Why don't you two settle this the old-fashioned way?"
"A duel!" boomed the Englishman. "Capital idea! How about you, Pierre? Are you man enough to fight me? Or will you surrender, like the lily-livered pretty boy you are?" Pierre stood up straight with his hands on his hips.
"Je ne renoncerai pas!" he cried in response. "I will never give up!"
"Good. Now, since you're obviously at a disadvantage here, I'll show some kindness and let you choose the weapon. But bear in mind, I am an excellent shot and an equally able swordsman. Choose wisely."
The Frenchman's eyes narrowed into slits, and his mouth curled upward in a devilish grin. He scurried off to the candlestick shop to retrieve his arme de choix.
Meanwhile, Paula was slumped in her living room with a warm cup of tea, quietly crying her eyes out. When she told the boys to settle their dispute "the old-fashioned way", she had merely meant for them to draw from a hat.
"Men and their silly violence!" Paula Strawberry hated violence, and she hated to admit it, but she was starting to hate men also, or at least the blokes from Poodletown. But what she hated most of all was the notion that her mother was right.
Seven years ago, on the day she left home, Paula's mom gave her a warning. She said, "You better go to college, missy, or you'll end up in a two-man town named after a dog!" It was prophetic in an eerie way.
But Paula had dug her rut; she may as well sit in it. She heard a commotion outside. Pierre must've returned. She dragged a chair over to the windowsill, resigning herself to watch in case the fight got out of hand. She didn't want a death on her conscience.
The Frenchman staggered onto the common with a long metal pole in each hand. The poles were actually giant candlesticks. C.W. burst into laughter when he saw them.
"What are you planning to do with those? Decorate my dining hall? And they're awfully big, don't you think? Poor fellow, having to compensate like that…" Pierre opened his mouth to retort, but decided against it. He knew he was no match in a battle of words, but perhaps his opponent was all bark and no bite. He certainly hoped so; otherwise, the burly Brit would make mince pies out of his skinny ass.
"I call this one Napoleon," he said, throwing the weapon to his foe. "It's a bit shorter than the other. Elle s'appelle Grande Marie." C.W. snorted.
"You name your candlesticks? That's just sad. Have you considered seeing a psychiatrist?"
"I won't need a psychiatrist once I have a girlfriend."
"I know, but she'll need one!"
"Silence! Enough! Either we fight, or I go home."
"Very well, then. En garde!"
The metallic clang of candlestick on candlestick made Paula wince. She prayed for it to be over as swiftly as possible. Pierre was already on the retreat. C.W. backed him into the wall of the bakery. "I have you now, froggy!"
"I don't think so, rosbif!" With an expert move, he twisted himself free and knocked the weapon out of Lord Weathercock's hands. But the Englishman was quick to react; he reached into an open window and pulled out a baguette. A very stale baguette.
Paula rolled her eyes and groaned. "This is getting ridiculous!" she thought. "They're gonna be at each other all day! I might as well catch up on some errands…" She rose from her seat and went outside to get the mail.
The rusty tin mailbox was stuffed with envelopes, mostly junk, with one letter from home. It was probably her mother, writing to tell her about her new plasma screen TV, which she was able to afford because of her well-paying job, which she was able to secure because she went to college. Paula tossed it in the pile with the rest. She didn't care about the content of each envelope so much as the sticker on it. "Let's see…" she mumbled. "Flag, flag, pansies, flag, pinecone, Elvis, flag, flag…ooh! What have we here?"
A stamp with two hummingbirds kissing. She held the small envelope up to the light. It had just her first name on it, written in a looping script with no return address. It looked like a love letter, but the handwriting was unfamiliar to her. She opened it warily and read:
"My Dearest Paula,
I only know you by voice, but I am undeniably in love. For years I've listened to those two dunderheads arguing. They say you are very beautiful, but I don't think they respect you like I do. You must be sick of living surrounded by such loudness and idiocy. You should come and live with me, where it is quiet. I'm going to kidnap you on the twenty-third of April, so be prepared."
Paula rushed inside to check the calendar. April 23rd. She unleashed a series of unladylike expletives.
"Oh, if only I hadn't procrastinated!" she wailed. "I would've found out about this months ago!"
There was a slow knock at her door. She screamed until her face turned blue.
"Don't be afraid, my dear," said a high, raspy voice through the wood. "I won't hurt you. Didn't you get my letter?"
"Stay away from me, creep!" She grabbed a sharp knife from the kitchen and darted out the backdoor, only to get tangled in a big net. She couldn't see her abductor's face, but he was short and draped in black. He rolled her up like a crepe and carried her over his shoulder. "Where are you taking me?" she demanded. "Tell me now!"
"I have a nice little underground bachelor's pad. The entrance is through that well!"
He pointed a bony finger to the dried-up, long-forgotten well on the outskirts of town. Paula was reminded of her mom's other warning: "Always get the mail, or you'll be swept off your feet by a mysterious stranger and dumped down a well!" Ol' Mrs. Strawberry was quite the psychic. She could probably start a hotline and make millions. But none of that was helpful to Paula in her current situation.
Back at the center of town, the Frenchman and the Englishman were still locked in a wild duel. They had gone from fighting with candlesticks to baguettes to fisticuffs, and now, with no weapons left, they began to mud wrestle. They were so caught up in the brawl that they didn't hear her scream, which was ironic. The lady was, after all, the thing they were fighting for in the first place.
"Stupid donkeys," grumbled Paula. And then a funny thought hit her. At that moment, she was no longer afraid; she felt happy and relieved to be getting away from it all. And the mysterious Creature seemed like an okay guy…except for the kidnapping, of course.
"Oy, Frenchie!" C.W. was on his back, in the mud, wheezing. Pierre was crawling towards him at a snail's pace.
"I'm exhausted, and it's getting dark. I think we should call it quits."
"D'accord. So, who gets Paula?"
"No one. It's a draw."
"But you surrendered!"
"I didn't surrender, I quit! There's a difference. Speaking of Paula, we haven't checked on her in a while. I wonder what she's up to."
The men were shocked to discover that she wasn't at home. She wasn't at the bakery or the candlestick shop either, and she definitely wasn't at the Smelly Place.
"C'est terrible!" moaned Pierre. "Mademoiselle has run off somewhere, and it's all your fault!" The Englishman jumped back, angered and appalled.
"My fault? How dare you say such a thing? If anyone's to blame, it's you! You're the one who embarrassed her with that half-witted compliment!"
"C'est vrai, mais…you bored her to death with that sonnet!" They began to circle each other like hawks, fists clenched and teeth bared. The fight would've broken out again, if it weren't for the sound of distant laughter.
"Did you hear that?"
"Oui. I think it's coming from beneath us!"
"Impossible! Unless…" Lord Weathercock scanned the horizon. His eyes fell on a little stone structure fifty yards away. "The well! She must've fallen in."
"Euh…then why is she laughing?"
"The trauma's made her delirious! We've got to rescue her. I have a length of rope in my basement. You go get the rest of the stuff, then meet me at the well!"
"Oh, Creature, you crack me up!" said Paula, between bouts of giggles. "Where on earth did you hear that joke?"
"Actually, I made it up. Would you like to hear another?"
"Why did the chicken cross the road?
"I don't know. Why?"
"To get away from its crazy neighbors, the Old World babbler and the little French hen!"
The Creature's pad was very nice, indeed; completely furnished, with a parlor, a kitchen and a half bath. Paula was stretched out on a comfortable sofa, and her abductor was perched on an armchair, slurping a sweet fruit smoothie. He mixed it in a blender, powered by electricity. This place was paradise, all right.
"Thanks for kidnapping me, Creature. I'm really enjoying myself here."
"You would've liked my other home better. It had thirty rooms, a hot tub, and a grand piano."
"Wow, you're rich! Where did you used to live?"
"Creature Manor. But I believe you know it as the Smelly Place."
"Ugh! I always wondered who lived there. What the hell happened to make it…you know, reek?"
"Figures. Those no-good peddlers ruin everything! Are they the ones who made you…um…"
"Hideous? Naw, I was born this way! But looks aren't everything."
"Tell me about it."
C.W. tied one end of the rope to a tree. He dropped the other end into the narrow chasm.
"Long way down," murmured Pierre. "Which one of us should go first?"
"You can, since you asked so nicely."
The Frenchman gulped. He tugged at the rope to make sure it would hold. Slowly and carefully, he gripped it with both hands and stepped over the stone rim, into the well.
"Zut! I can't see anything down here!"
"Pierre, you idiot!" shrieked the Englishman. "Why didn't you bring a torch?"
"I didn't know the well would be this…dark!"
"Of course it's dark! It's a bloody well!" Lord Chutney-Weathercock slapped his forehead and sighed. "Bloody Frenchmen…" Paula could be hurt, and there wasn't enough time to go back. He had no choice but to follow his rival into the abyss.
Thirty minutes passed. Pierre and C.W. were reaching the end of their rope, literally speaking. They looked up and saw nothing but black space with a circle of light at the top. They didn't realize how far down into the earth they had climbed. The air at the bottom of the well was cold and damp, but not as stifling as before. There was a draft sneaking in from somewhere.
They traced their fingers all around the rough, stone walls. It was Pierre who discovered the crack.
"Je l'ai trouvé!" he shouted in exultation. His outburst sent a sequence of echoes up the tunnel. He waited until the chamber was silent before repeating, in a quieter voice, "I've found it."
"Splendid. Maybe you're useful for something after all."
The men scratched away at the cement and uncovered a latch. Lord Weathercock, the stronger of the two, grabbed the iron ring and heaved with all his might. The walls began to tremble, and specks of well gunk were dislodged and fell like nasty snow. Finally the section of rock gave way and a big, rectangular block pulled forward. It was obviously a door of some sort, but where did it lead?
Pierre was shaking in his boots. He was more afraid than he would ever admit, and glad for once that the Englishman was by his side. Whatever happened would happen to the both of them.
"Creature, what's that terrible rumbling noise?"
"It sounds like the old stone door opening."
"Door? What door?"
"You and I took the elevator, but there's also a door at the bottom of the well. That means we're being invaded!"
The news took a while to sink in. Paula was so relaxed that she didn't feel like moving. The Creature had to pick her up and carry her like before. They tried to escape to the backroom, but the invaders were already upon them.
"Sacre bleu! A monster! And it's attacking Paula!"
"Unhand her, you vile fiend, or I'll break your neck!"
"Whoa, hey, guys! There'll be no neck-breaking here!" Paula tapped the Creature's head, and he gently put her down. "There. See? He's not a monster, just an ordinary guy with a birth defect. So, who's up for Monopoly?" She pulled a slender box from under the coffee table and began to set it up.
The Englishman and the Frenchman were very confused. They had come all this way for nothing but a stupid board game and a case of utter madness.
"Nice sconce," noted Pierre, pointing to a light on the wall. The host was ugly, but his place had a wonderful atmosphere.
"I suppose we could stay for a little while," said C.W. Paula clapped her hands together and smiled, glad to see that everyone was finally getting along.
"Great! Let's play! I'll be the thimble."
And that, dearest reader, is the story of Poodletown. You may be feeling ripped off, because nothing happened. It was just a bunch of crazy people doing crazy things without a purpose. But then again, so is life. Andactually,quite a lot of things happened that day: two men learned to put aside their differences and work together, a lonely creature found a friend, and a tired woman got the rest she deserved. If that's still not enough for you, then go to college!