Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Ralph looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. His cheeks were puffing out past his ears and his nose was as red as a cherry. His eyes were glazed over and he could barely see his own reflection.
"Sweetie, you're going to be late for school," his mother called from downstairs.
"Ungh," Ralph replied. He exited the bathroom and walked lazily down the stairs.
"Oh my," his mother gasped when he met her in the kitchen. "You don't look well."
"Bud I feel fined, momb," he said.
"No, I think you should go back to bed and get some rest. I'll call the school."
Ralph went to his room and lay down on the bed. In a few minutes his mother came up to give him a hug and say goodbye before she left for work.
Once Ralph was sure she had left, he took the mound of cotton swabs out of his mouth and removed the cherry from his nose. Lastly, he wiped the glaze away from his eyes and returned it to his donut. He proceeded to change into jeans and a t-shirt while jumping on his bed. He had fooled his mom once again.
"Eight wonderful hours of a mom-free house!" Ralph declared aloud as he munched on some potato chips. "There are a million and one things I could do!"
Within the next half hour, Ralph had done all one million and one things there were to do. He was very bored.
"Ah, shucks," Ralph complained. "Now what?"
A knock at the front door nearly scared him to death.
"Who is it?" Ralph asked.
There was no answer.
"Who's there?" Ralph asked again.
There was another knock.
Ralph picked up a fire poker from the fireplace and cautiously pulled open the door. A white package wrapped in a black ribbon was waiting for him on the stoop.
Ralph looked from right to left before stepping out onto the porch and picking up the package. Once inside, Ralph slammed and locked the door behind him. He shook the package up and down. It made no sound.
Ralph carried the package into the kitchen and set it on the table. He searched it for a card or tag or something that would identify who had sent this mysterious gift. Finding no tag, Ralph decided to go ahead and untie the ribbon.
Suddenly, the telephone rang. Ralph jumped into the air, his heart leaping out of his chest. When the telephone rang once more, Ralph hurried to pick up his heart and ran to answer the phone.
"Hello," Ralph said in a gruff voice, trying to sound like his father.
"Mr. Boden?" The voice asked. "This is Principle Albert. I'm calling to let you know that Ralph is not in school today."
"Yes. He's sick," Ralph lied, still impersonating his father.
Principle Albert grunted. "Well, are you aware, Mr. Boden, that young Ralph has been 'sick' almost everyday for the past few weeks?"
"He has the mumps," Ralph said, thinking fast.
"Well, if it's so severe that he can miss weeks of school, wouldn't it be smart to take him to the hospital for proper treatment?"
"Yes. That's exactly where we were headed before you called."
"Is that so?" Principle Albert questioned. "In that case--"
"Look here, Principle Albert," Ralph shouted into the phone. "My son is shivering and burning up at the same time, his cheeks are puffed out past his ears, he is in terrible pain, and only this phone call is keeping me from taking him to the hospital before he doubles over and dies right here and now!"
Ralph inhaled deeply and exhaled loudly. "Now if you don't mind, Principle, I'm going to escort my son to the emergency room. Good day to you, sir!"
Ralph hung up the phone and settled into a chair across from the mysterious package. He felt very proud of himself. He had always wanted to say "Good day to you, sir".
Now Ralph set back to the task of untying the dark ribbon from the pale white package. Before the ribbon could be completely untied, though, the door bell rang and Ralph hurried to answer it. There on the porch was a plain yellow envelope sealed with a sticker that displayed the words "Excellent Work!" beside a picture of a man giving the thumbs-up sign. Ralph took the sticker and smoothed it onto his hand before going back inside, forgetting all about the envelope.
No sooner had Ralph closed the door when someone knocked hard on it. Ralph swung the door open as fast as lightning but no one was on the porch. His eyes trailed down to the yellow envelope which had been stripped of its sticker. Ralph picked it up and went back inside.
On the way back to the kitchen, he opened the envelope. Inside were a five dollar bill and a letter which read: There's more where that came from.
Ralph closed the envelope and reopened it. Sure enough, another five dollars appeared. Another letter was stuffed beside it. It read: That's not what I meant.
Ralph took the money and put it in his wallet. He threw away the letters and stuck the envelope in his secret hiding spot for a rainy day.
He returned to the kitchen and finished freeing the package from the black ribbon. Once that was taken care of, he tore the white wrapping paper off. Underneath was a brown cardboard box. Ralph tried to open it with his fingernails, but it was no use. He extracted a cutting knife from one of the counter drawers and stuck it into the package.
A shrill cry made Ralph stop cutting. Once he pulled the knife from the package, the noise was gone. When he shoved the knife back into the package the shrieking and screaming resumed. Ralph ignored it as he cut away the cardboard edges of the box.
After several minutes the screaming stopped and the walls of the box fell open. Ralph carefully peered inside and gasped at what he saw.
Five tiny trolls stared up at him. They had big bulging eyes, large noses that whistled when they breathed, and their bodies were short and pudgy. They wore blue and black overalls and they pulled on the straps as they nervously surveyed their surroundings. Then, one by one, they nodded at each other and hopped out of the ruined box onto the table.
Ralph started to say hello when all of a sudden one of the trolls let out a high pitched squeak and shouted, "We're free! We're free!" Then all the trolls laughed hideously and bounded off the table, scattering in different directions.
Ralph blinked. He could not believe what had just happened.
The door bell rang and Ralph hesitantly got up to answer it. There on the welcome mat was another letter lying atop another package. Ralph was about to pick up the package when he heard a shrill cry from behind him. He spun around just in time to see one of the little trolls scurrying away with his wallet hoisted over its head.
They're little thieves! Ralph thought to himself. He stepped out on to the porch and shut the door behind him.
He sat on the stoop, opened the envelope, frowned when he saw no money, and read the enclosed letter: So you opened the package, huh? Well, we suppose, then, that you may want to open this one as well. They will help you recapture the demonic trolls. We'll be in touch. Signed, Us.
Ralph quickly opened the package and released five little knights on five little horses. The horses grunted and the knights greeted one another. Then they turned to Ralph and one of them said in a tiny voice, "Greetings, Mi'Lord.” He bowed. “I am Claude. These are my men. Lead us to the trolls.”
Ralph silently opened the door to reveal three tiny little trolls laughing fiendishly to themselves as they dragged a ball of string across the room. When they saw the five little knights on five little horses, they screamed and scurried away, dropping their treasure.
“CHARGE!” Claude shouted as the five knights galloped into the house.
Ralph shut the front door and slumped down on the stoop. He wished he had gone to school.
* * *
After a few minutes of kicking himself for skipping school, Ralph got up and went inside. He looked himself over in the bathroom mirror. His eye was bruised and there was a shoe print on his left cheek and forehead. He scrubbed himself clean and headed to the kitchen for a snack.
On the trek over, he could hear faint screeching and cries of triumph. At one point during his snack, Ralph spotted one of the horses dragging itself stealthily across the living room floor. When the horse disappeared behind the wall, a tiny demonic troll burst out of the shadows and chased the horse with a sharp little axe gripped in its tiny little hands.
Ralph shook his head, attempting to rid himself of images of trolls hacking away at defenseless little horses.
When the phone rang, Ralph jumped out of his skin. He answered the phone in his father's voice.
"Oh, um . . ." The voice on the other end stuttered. "Wrong number."
Ralph recognized the voice as that of his best friend and stopped him before he could hang up. "Orson, it's me."
"Oh." Orson sounded relieved. "You sounded like your dad for a minute."
A troll scampered into the kitchen, picked up Ralph's skin, and ran back out of the room.
"Um . . ." Ralph began. "I know we were planning on skipping school together today, but something's come up."
"What?" Orson asked.
Ralph peered out the kitchen doorway, watching nervously as the troll started to fold his skin.
"It's too hard to explain," Ralph said, desperately wanting to hang up.
"Try me," Orson pressed.
The troll shot a quick, wicked glance in Ralph’s direction and sank its teeth into his juicy flesh burger.
"Look," Ralph said quickly. "Come over if you want, but it'll be at your own risk."
He hung up and rushed at the troll. It yelped and scurried away. Ralph slipped back into his skin and bandaged up the troll bites.
* * *
Ralph was hiding in the chimney when the door bell rang. He jumped down and peered out the window, fearing that another mysterious package would be waiting for him. But only Orson stood there, swaying innocently back and forth as he waited patiently for Ralph to answer the door.
Suddenly, Ralph felt a piercing pain in his leg. He turned around and saw a tiny troll aiming another tiny arrow at his other leg. Then, quicker than you could say "Rumplestiltsken,” a knight rode in and chased the troll out of the room, his apologies to Ralph trailing behind him.
"Hey, Ralph," Orson called from the front porch. "Come on! Open the door!"
Ralph sighed and opened the door, pulling Orson inside as quickly as possible.
"So what do you want to do today?" Orson asked, smiling. But that smile quickly gave way to a frown when he saw two trolls slide down the upstairs banister and scurry into the kitchen, immediately followed by a tiny little knight on a tiny little horse.
Orson's eyes popped out of his head at the sight of the little creatures running around outside of their usual setting in fantasy novels. Ralph helped Orson push his eyes back into their sockets and quickly explained the situation.
"Why'd you open the package in the first place, dummy?" Orson asked in amazement.
"That's not the point," Ralph said.
"Curiosity did kill the cat, you know," Orson reminded Ralph.
"Look," Ralph said, ignoring the comment. "It doesn't matter why I did it, it just matters that I did it. Now I have five tiny trolls and five little horsemen tearing up my house and I need to get them out of here before my mom comes home in less than four hours!"
"Okay. I'll help you get rid of them," Orson said.
"I think maybe we should see what the horsemen can do first," Ralph replied.
A faint wheezing and coughing sound interrupted their conversation. Ralph and Orson looked around the room until they found Claude bleeding out on top of a newspaper headline which read: CURIOSITY SENDING MILLIONS OF CATS TO THEIR DEATHS --- IS THERE A CURE?
"Claude!" Ralph rushed to Claude's side and held his hand with his pinky finger.
"Truly sorry, Mi' Lord," Claude struggled to say. "I have failed thee. Just . . . do me one favor, Mi' Lord? Kill those little demons!"
With that, Claude took his last breath and fell into eternal sleep.
Ralph and Orson flushed the little knight down the toilet in the upstairs bathroom then went back downstairs to formulate a plan to take out the trolls.
"We don't need a plan," Orson protested. "Just step on 'em!"
Just then, a troll ran into the room and Orson picked up his foot to step on it. As his foot came down, the troll stopped and raised its tiny axe over its head in a defensive position. Orson's foot slammed down on the little axe and quickly shot back up. The troll ran away, snickering, as Orson tore off his shoe and massaged his wounded sole.
"Okay, bad idea," Orson said. "Do you have a better one?"
Ralph was about to answer when the door bell rang. Orson looked out the window and swung back to Ralph, his face unusually pale.
"It's Principle Albert!" he exclaimed.
"What's he doing here?" Ralph asked, more to himself than to Orson.
"Mr. Boden," Principle Albert called from the porch. "I understand that you're upset with me, but I've come to extend my apologies."
"Just be quiet and maybe he'll go away," Orson whispered.
It was a good ten minutes before Principle Albert finally stopped rattling off tearful apologies and left. Over the course of that ten minutes Ralph and Orson sat on the living room floor and attempted to keep as still and quiet as possible. This was a very difficult task, due to the five tiny trolls and four little knights on four little horses who insisted on using Ralph and Orson's bodies as their battleground.
"Whew! Glad that's over," Orson said when Principle Albert was gone.
Ralph kicked at a troll. "What are we going to do about these?"
"Maybe we could burn 'em," Orson suggested.
Ralph shook his head, "No. . . . Wait! I know!"
Ralph whispered his plan into Orson's ear and their faces lit up with delight. They turned them off quickly before the trolls noticed. In a little over five minutes the trap was set. Now all they needed to do was convince the knights to use themselves as bait.
"Never!" One of the knights said.
"Bait for those demons? Puh-lease!" Said another.
"Neigh!" The horses exclaimed in unison.
"It's the only way to get rid of them," Ralph pleaded.
"Nonsense." One of the knights stepped forward. "We have them right where we want them."
"And where's that?" Ralph asked.
The little knight looked confused. "Well, we have them right under our feet, that's where. Ready to crush them at any moment."
"Fine. Go crush. Crush your little hearts out!" Ralph said, annoyed.
The four little knights and their four little horses disbanded and continued their useless chase of the trolls.
"Great," Orson groaned. "Now what can we use?"
"I've got it." Ralph snapped his fingers. "Scare me."
"Over twenty-five new deadly viruses have been circulating the air since November."
"That's not what a meant, Orson. Like, startle me."
Orson stared and blinked at Ralph. Ralph waited patiently. Then, without warning, Orson screamed and jumped at Ralph. Ralph jumped out of his skin.
"Okay, now we set my skin under the trap and wait for the trolls to come," Ralph said.
"Are you sure it's going to work?" Orson asked.
"Trust me," Ralph said.
They carried his skin into the living room and set it under the trap. Then they hid behind the couch and waited.
In less than half an hour, four trolls scurried across the living room floor, following the scent of the skin. When they reached their destination and were about to dig in, Ralph tugged on a string and a fairly large wire box slammed down around the trolls.
"Yes!" Ralph and Orson cried out.
As the trolls screeched and foamed at the mouth behind the wires of their new cage, Ralph lifted up the box long enough to retrieve his skin, but not long enough for any of the trolls to escape.
While Ralph dressed hurriedly, Orson counted the screaming trolls.
"There's only four," he said.
"What?" Ralph recounted the trolls. "Where's the other one?"
"Beats me," Orson said. He was looking out the window. "But we had better find it soon because I think your mom just pulled into the driveway."
"No," Ralph said, but when he looked out the window he saw his mother's mini-van disappear into the garage. "She's early."
"Hurry," Orson said. "Let's get rid of these."
Ralph and Orson hastily wrapped the wire box containing the four trolls with pale white paper and a dark ribbon. Then they told the four little knights that the five tiny trolls had scampered off to the neighbor's house, and the knights quickly gave chase.
"See you tomorrow," Orson said as he ran out the back door with the package tucked between his arms.
"See you," Ralph said. "And don't forget to send that thing far, far away!"
Just as Ralph closed the back door, his mother opened the front door. Ralph ran silently to his room where he waited for his mom to come up and check on him.
"How're you feeling?" his mother asked as she opened the bedroom door.
"Better," he said.
"What'd you do today?" She took a few steps forward as the last troll shot out from under Ralph's bed. Her foot slammed down hard on it. There was a faint, satisfying splat that only Ralph could hear.
"Nothing," he replied, smiling.
* * *
Weeks later, in a completely different part of the world, two young boys received a pale white package tied with a dark ribbon.
"Qui hic est?" one boy asked the other.
"Videamus," the boy replied, excitement glittering in his eager eyes.