Mobile Tales 9: in which Christabel learns a disturbing fact about whales

By Vita Forest

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The whales!  Those alluring, majestic glamourous creatures which Christabel La Mouse spent far too much time watching and admiring from the deck of her galleon…  It was all very well to be high above them safe in the good ship Possession as it sailed on the ceiling, but Christabel had just read something very disturbing.

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Whales slumbering amongst the coral

Her whales spent much of their time slumbering amongst the brightly-coloured corals of the Booth Seat.  Or curled lazily atop a rocky outcrop called The Couch.  Or occasionally sitting on The Tabletop and blinking peaceably as they quietly meditated.

What all these places had in common were that they were below the surface of the sea.  Deep down in the water.  So far down that they required her to use her spy glass to see more than a black or white smudge in the depths of the ocean.  Which could otherwise have been mistaken for a boulder, or the shadow of a cloud, or an underwater cave.

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A boulder?

But her book, this book she had chosen to read in order to learn more about these magnificent creatures, insisted that they were not fish at all.  That they did, in fact, breathe air as she did.  That they needed to come to the surface of the sea to take great gulps of it and to expel stale air out of their bodies in a violent, shooting spout through a hole located along their backs!

It was a lot for a small mouse to take in.

Imagine such a sight!  Imagine the whales at the surface of the sea, where the good ship Possession floated…  It made Christabel fairly quake in her boots just to think about it.  Was it really possible?  Could the authors be mistaken?

Her whales never rose to the upper edge of the sea where it met the air.  And for this, Christabel was grateful.  They instilled equal parts fascination and terror in her small mouse heart.  What would she do if they came close enough to touch?  Was it really possible they were known to capsize ships?  It was a disturbing thought.

Christabel peered through her spyglass and trained it onto the top of their sleek sinuous bodies.  Perhaps it was beyond the limit of her spyglass, perhaps it was her own weak eyes, but she could not make out a breathing hole along their spines.

This pair seemed to be a special case.  Were they yet unknown to the scientists who spoke so authoritatively about spouts and breaching and plankton?  She would need to read further.  (And be alert for any mysterious jolts to the hull of the galleon.)  Possibly (she hoped) these whales were different.

The world was indeed a mysterious place.  And perhaps it was a good thing that there were still things to learn.

Especially about the sea.

Especially about whales.

 

Mobile Tales 8: in which Christabel becomes aware of an unusual weather system

By Vita Forest

One fine, balmy morning (was there really any other kind?) Christabel La Mouse peered out from The Good Ship Possession, through the far distant headlands of The Doorway and into The Kitchen.  There was strange metallic box therein to which she was often alerted by the rumbling and humming it made.  She believed it was called The Refrigerator.

The Refrigerator was a cheerful thing that kept up a steady stream of conversation.  Unfortunately, the language was quite unknown to Christabel, so she had to make do with sending a cheery wave its way and the occasional call of “Yoo Hoo!”  It was unclear whether The Refrigerator was aware of such communications, but it seemed happy enough as it gurgled and hummed and droned and whirred.

And happy it should be, for it seemed to be the home of much of the food in The Kitchen, and in particular, The Cheese.  Many was the time that Christabel would be distracted from her lookout post by the flash of light that signalled the opening of The Refrigerator and the accompanying waft of cheddar or parmesan.

But on this particular fine and balmy morning, Christabel was aware of a cloud of white that was buzzing over the pewter grey surface of The Refrigerator.  It shimmered as if alive.  Whatever could it be?


Her curiosity was piqued, necessitating this myopic mouse to withdraw her spyglass from its case and place it up to her right eye.  She twisted its segmented body this way and that, until the shimmering cloud sharpened into focus and to her astonishment turned into a cloud of words!  A cloud of words!  Whoever had heard of such a thing!  (It was true that her own vessel was formed from the pages of a novel but a cloud of words?  Was there really weather systems created by language?  Storms of similes?  Gentle patterings of adjectives?  A sudden flash of metaphor??)

As she watched, one of The Humans stood in front of The Refrigerator and peeled small rectangles from inside the cloud and arranged them in lines floating above it.

Was it a message?  She waited patiently until a number of words were thus arranged (and also for the large head to move out of the way so she could see).

What did it say?  Christabel swung the spyglass from right to left and read:

shadow ship soar over a smooth lazy lake

How lovely!  Then

watch above though

stop the spray heave & rip & blow

Wise advice indeed.  Then

live sweet summer honey music

It only needed an exclamation mark…

And there it ended.


Christabel felt like clapping, The Refrigerator gurgled and from the depths of The Kitchen, the kettle boiled.

How wonderful it was to discover new delights to monitor from her ship on the ceiling!   The world was certainly full of wonder.

Mobile Tales 7: in which the ship undertakes an unexpected journey

By Vita Forest

Another dispatch from the myopic mouse aboard the good ship Possession.


The ship lurched and keeled heavily to starboard.  Christabel’s eyes flew open.  She was glad she had continued her precaution of strapping herself into her cosy bunk, otherwise she would surely have been thrown to the floor.  There was a reason for putting such safeguards into her routine, even though at times it made her feel overly cautious.

There were sudden storms, sudden disturbances in the atmosphere, that meant the ship departed from its usual circular route as dictated by the length of chain and the anchor lodged in the ceiling.  Sometimes the world turned topsy-turvy.  Sometimes it was best to be prepared.

Christabel opened her coral and white polka dotted curtains and pressed her eyes to the porthole.

What was happening?  Had they unwittingly floated into a maelstrom?  Had a giant squid from the trembling, inky blackness of The Deep erupted to the surface of the sea and taken The Possession hostage in the rippling embrace of its eight arms?  Had the anchor chain broken?  Were they now adrift on the perilous sea?

Christabel’s eyes darted about but she could make out nothing.  Her eyesight really was dreadful.  She would have to go aloft with her eyeglass.  She reached for her life jacket (conveniently located on a hook above her bed) and strapped it on over her cotton night gown.  She slung her eyeglass in its case over her shoulder and grabbed the length of rope coiled and hanging neatly by the stairs, ready for such an emergency.

Christabel took one end of the rope and expertly secured it to the hook from which it had hung until mere seconds ago.  The other end she tied to a convenient ring on her life jacket.

She was ready.  It was time to leave the safety of her cabin and go Up There.  Taking a deep breath, Christabel mounted the stairs even as she felt the ship settle.

What had happened?

She emerged onto the deck and looked around.  There was not the white expanses of ocean and sky she was used to, they had moved.  Raising the eyeglass to her eye, it all became clear.  The ship was no longer anchored to the ceiling above The Table, it had sailed through The Kitchen Doorway and come to rest in The Kitchen.


Christabel was startled.  She was now in The Kitchen, a room she had only glimpsed from the ceiling before!  She could not have been more surprised if she had found herself in the Antarctic!  And rather than being supported by the anchor and floating in an upright manner, the ship was keeling sharply to port and seemed to be suspended in a kind of frozen whirlpool.

Whatever was going on?

Suddenly there was an ear-splitting whirr which seemed to pierce into Christabel’s very brain.  It sent her scurrying below deck again and huddling beneath her goose-feather quilt.  The quilt did little to muffle to noise and Christabel shivered in terror.

Then all at once the noise stopped and she felt the ship sailing once more.  The vessel swung as if cresting a huge wave, then it righted itself and took on a more familiar swinging motion.  Had they returned to The Ceiling?  Christabel crept up the stairs once more and peered up.  The world looked white again.  She tiptoed up on deck and raised the eyeglass.

She was back!  Back on the ceiling!  How relieved she felt as she spotted the sturdy anchor above her and felt the familiar gentle weaving motion of the ship!

Then she stopped.  Not all was as it had been before.  For there above them floated a new moon.


Christabel stared up at it, her hand on her heart.

A new moon…

She tried to stay positive despite her fright.  Perhaps it would aid in her calculations.  Perhaps it would aid her navigation.  It certainly seemed large enough to make a difference.  And it was a full moon, not the strange rectangular being that had been there before.

Christabel felt her heart fluttering beneath her hand.  It was all most perplexing.  Perhaps she would ponder this strange series of events over a cup of peppermint tea.  And after snapping her eyeglass back into its case, Christabel went below to do just that.

Mobile Tales 6: A rainbow of reading

By Vita Forest

In which Christabel solves a puzzle and resolves to rearrange her bookshelf.

Peering through her spyglass one day, Christabel watched the undertakings in The Lounge Room with great interest. The smallest human was seated on the ocean floor in front of The Book Shelf and was sorting those precious rectangular receptacles of Knowledge and Stories into piles.  Christabel could not quite understand the categorisation.  Whereas her own small library (residing on two precious shelves in her cabin) was arranged by subject and author, the Human seemed bent on an entirely new system.  The treasured volumes by Melina Marchetta were split asunder and placed in four different piles, however the Neopolitan novels of Elena Ferrante remained side by side.  What was the logic?  The largest human swam about too, picking up and volume here and a volume there and examining the books with a critical eye.

It was the spine of the book, not the covers the humans were taking particularly note of.  Why was that?  The author and title could be gleaned just as easily from the front cover (and generally more easily too, being in larger print).  Christabel watched as the human picked up Eleanor and Park, and uncoupling it from Carry On, moved it to the first pile of books.

Then all at once the puzzle was unlocked.  These books were Daffodil, Sunshine, Egg Yolk and Fresh Butter. Carry On was placed with Turquoise, Deep Ocean, Midnight Sky and Glacier.  The new classifier was colour!


In the distance began The Yellows (rather small but imbuing that far-away corner with a cheery glow). Then the books progressed through The Oranges and into the drama of The Reds.  From there, it was a flicker into The Blues and then a lazy dappled wave over into The Greens.  This was Christabel’s favourite section.  She even held out her own green-gloved paws against the books to see where they would slot (third from the right Fangirl).


The Greens moved from a verdant jade through to an almost golden khaki, then onto The Browns proper.  A swift muddling of Greys and then into the solidity of The Blacks (where all Elena Ferrante’s tomes firmly sat).  Some books were most difficult to decide a place for.  The J.K. Rowlings in the collection were from that early multi-coloured era where each spine was made up of four lozenges of colour.  Which one to choose?  Christabel did not envy The Human those decisions.


When it was all done, she ran her eyeglass quickly along the finished shelves and delighted in the rainbow of colours.  Who cared if the books were not arranged by author?  Or by height?  What delight to make the books themselves a work of art, a pleasing object to look at!

And the smallest Human had made finding a treasured volume somewhat easier by writing out lists of books on colour coded paper to remind the reader that The Handmaid’s Tale had, in fact, a red spine and The Tao of Pooh, a blue.


Christabel snapped her spyglass back into itself and slotted it back into its holder.  She stared down myopically at the ocean floor for a moment, deep in thought.  All at once, she banged her palms lightly on the edge of the ship.  It was decided – she would emulate the Human creature – she would make a rainbow in her own cabin!

And with that decision made, she rushed downstairs to do just that.

Mobile Tales Despatch 5 – Christabel and the Huntsman

By Vita Forest

In which our heroine has an encounter with a being from another land.

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Sometimes strange, unidentifable beings appeared in the night sky.

On one such occasion, Christabel was alerted to the presence of the creature by the sudden agitation and interest of the whales.  They were both looking up from the ocean floor, their eyes wide and ravenous, as if, by willpower alone, they would erupt from the water and leap into the very sky itself.  They were swimming back and forth, their bodies rippling through the water, their eyes never leaving their prey in the sky.

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(At first Christabel was quite overcome – were they looking at her?  Were they formulating a plan to seduce her down below the waves and in between their jaws?)  She blinked to disrupt the green dazzle of their stare and then noticed that the force of their eyes was not fixed on her, but on something beyond.  She swung the eyeglass through a half revolution and pointed it up to the sky rather than down to the ocean.

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And there it was, the four green eyes of the whales replaced by the eight black gleaming eyes of an alien in the sky.  Christabel quivered with fright and almost dropped the eyeglass.

“Do not be afraid,” came a high silvery voice most befitting a creature from the celestial realm, “I mean you no harm.”

The voice was comforting in a strange sort of way and Christabel placed a green-gloved paw to her chest to slow the clattering drum of her heart.

“What manner of creature are you?” she whispered back, pulling the eyeglass away from her face and taking in the new heavenly body in its entirety.

It was dark against the sky, a star emitting delicate rays from its centre.  Only this star seemed to be made of darkness not light.  If Christabel squinted, she could see that the rays flickered and danced because they were, in fact, legs.

Christabel rummaged through her memories of rainy day reading, flicking through the heavy pages inside her head until she alighted on an image.

“Are you in fact… a crab?”

She knew crabs had many legs as this creature did and the same disc-like body.  But were crabs creatures of the air or of the element of water?

“Oh no!” came the reply, “I am a spider.  I took a wrong turn I fear, sliding through a crack towards the light and now I find myself here, hunted by those beasts below.”

At this, the rays of its legs shivered slightly, as if every one of its eyes were meeting every one of the whales’ below.  Christabel shivered herself.

“They cannot swim to the surface,” she called, “You are safe if you stay in the sky.”

“I see a ledge over yonder,” said the spider swiveling to starboard, “Is it a safe haven?”

Christabel turned to see what the spider was referring to.

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“Oh no!” she exclaimed in realization, “For that is the moon.  It is cold and benign now but at any moment it can explode into a light so bright it could burn and consume you whole!  You cannot shelter there.”

“Where do you suggest I go?”

Christabel thought.  What the spider needed was another crack.  Not a crack in but a crack out.

“The Wall, ” she called, “There!” and she pointed beyond the icy moon to the place where The Ceiling met The Wall, where a rectangle peppered with clouds sat nestled in a hollow surrounded by cracks.  “Could you squeeze through there?”

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The spider contemplated the option for a moment, blinking all eight eyes.

“I believe so,” it answered, its voice tremulous with hope.  “I think I have the strength to make it.  Goodbye and thank you fair sailor”

“Farewell!” answered Christabel, “Safe journeying!”

And she waved her lacy handkerchief as the spider, slowly and precisely, inched its way across the heavens on its velvet tiptoes, a slow comet carefully arcing across the sky toward a new universe.

Mobile Tales Despatch 4 – a fishing expedition

By Vita Forest

In which Christabel is alerted to a passing school of Parmesan cheese.

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Christabel opened her eyes, suddenly alert. If she was not so suddenly distracted, she may have pondered that it was indeed strange that it was her eyes that reacted to the stimulus, when it was her sense of smell that had been awakened.  Her nostrils prickled.  Yes, there could be no doubt.  The People Below were eating cheese.  The sharp, tangy aroma drifted up to the galleon on the eddies from the deep, spiralling up past the domain of the whales, leaping up from the very surface of the water and through the open window of Christabel’s cabin.

She leapt from her slumber (an afternoon siesta – these late spring days could be so draining) and spun around in order to locate her Cheese Hunting Equipment. An operation of this sort demanded nerves of steel, the right tools (kept near at hand and in good working order) and a skill honed over years.

Luckily Christabel possessed all three. For though she verged on the jittery, there was nothing like the promise of Parmesan to sharpen her resolve.  As luck would have it, Christabel had, that very morning, found a delicate length of black cotton floating by the good ship Possession.  She had fished it out of the water with her butterfly net, attached it with a sturdy knot to her existing fishing line, and added a sharp hook made from a silver pin to its end.  All this before the heat and humidity sent her scurrying below deck with a wet hankerchief draped over her face.

Now she tiptoed up the stairs carrying her periscope and fishing line. She peered down into the depths of The Tabletop.  They were still eating, The Three.  When there was three, there was more chance of mess, more chance of pebbles of Parmesan to fly from the pasta, from a travelling fork, from a moist morsel of bolognaise sauce.  The conditions were perfect, she just had to bide her time and hope that the table was not cleared too quickly (or too thoroughly).

The meal progressed slowly, with the garbled sounds of speech rising upward, causing the ship to rock slightly and spin on its anchor in the ceiling. Christabel was forced to move from the port to the starboard side, but she quickly set up her watch again.  She was not flustered, she would remain calm and patient.  It would not do to fish too early or too late.  Timing was everything.

As the minutes passed, she tuned her ears to the slightest flick!the slightest pat! which signalled a wayward crumb of cheese on The Tablecloth. She located three.  Would there be time to get them all?  Was it better to concentrate on one?  Different scenarios and options scurried about her mind – but patience, patience! she reminded herself.

At last the opportunity came, one of the people left for The Kitchen carrying her plate, one left for The Bathroom and the other one left to answer a phone. There were two plates left abandoned, simply wallowing in cheese!  Christabel swung the fishing line over the edge of the ship and watched the line unravel, watched the silver hook, spin lower and lower, until…

It hit the plate with a tiny Ping!

She stopped.  Would the whales be alerted?  She had to work quickly.  She worked the hook around and around, drawing circles over and over again and catching up a bounty of cheese as she did so.

There were footsteps – she must hurry!

With all her might, Christabel heaved and heaved her catch up off the plate, up off the ocean floor, up through The Deep, through the currents, through the shallows, until it burst out into the air and over the side of the ship.

She sat on the deck of the boat for a moment to catch her breath.

Success!

There would be feasting tonight…

This week

By Vita Forest


This week I have been

WRITING 

READING The Lost Art of Gratitude by Alexander McCall Smith

DRAWING at May Gibbs’s old home Nutcote

WATCHING The Hundred Foot Journey with my kids

PICNICKING with Lucy, Max and our old buddy Fleur on a fine spring day

CELEBRATING 

  • my Dad’s birthday 
  • Diwali

LISTENING to Hamilton some more…

ADMIRING the Jacaranda and Grevillea Robusta trees in bloom