The Enchanted Press: Crime Takes Root In the Enchanted Forest Part 1
After a long day’s trek through the forest, I found myself in a cozy tree-ringed grove. Beneath a canopy of jeweled blossoms sat a single handsome cottage, the shutters drawn tight, a large “Keep Out” sign greeting me at the walkway. Directly beside the sign was a tidy mailbox that read, The Bears, indicating who occupied the residence and my destination.
Ignoring the sign, I strode toward the cottage, my hooves producing dull click-clacks on the flat stepping stones that led to a spacious porch. It was mid-afternoon and despite the sunlight warming my face, the chill of fear nipped at me. I gripped the strap of my satchel, squeezing the stiff leather between my fingers, and found a slight measure of warmth and comfort in the ritual.
Over the course of my many careers, I ran into a fair number of hostile characters without suffering so much as a scratch. But, confronting three frightened bears, holed up in their home, after suffering an affront on their personal space, was a dangerous undertaking. Caution and diplomacy were essential. In case you were unaware, bears can be extremely territorial and vengeful creatures, specifically the mothers.
High atop the trees, birds chirped from their leafy perches, sunshine streamed over pretty flowerbeds, honeysuckle and apple blossoms perfumed the air like fresh-baked pie.
It was a picture perfect spring morning, belying the purpose of my visit to the Bears’ home—theft, home invasion, and destruction of property. Crime had come to The Enchanted Forest and taken root. The Bears were the first in a growing list of victims I would be questioning.
I stopped at the door, peering through the keyhole of an ebony wood door, when a sharp snapping sound to my right caught my attention. As I glanced down, a long sticky tongue wrapped around my right hoof.
“Ack!” I cried trying to shake off the offending thing.
“‘m ry sry, s,” a frog mumbled around his tongue.
As we struggled to disentangle ourselves, I brushed against the door, setting off a deafening alarm. The sound shook the air with such force shingles rained down from the roof, planting themselves like jagged teeth in the gardens on each side of the door.
Thoroughly startled, the frog winced, gagged, and slingshot through the air like a cannonball, releasing my hoof. He soared through the air to a never-ending, “YOOOWL!” that cut through the alarm’s piercing punch. If I hadn’t been so troubled by him wrapping his tongue around my leg, I may have appreciated the pleasant sound of his voice.
Upset by the frog’s violent imposition, birds and leaves abandoned their branches, a flurry of wings and fronds scattering in all directions. Once the ringing ceased, a bellowing growl from inside the cottage took its place, sounding so much more menacing and lethal.
The muscles and tendons in my legs instinctively poised to flee. “H-Hello, my name is Mr. Tims,” I called, resisting the impulse to run away. I promised the high queen I would interview this family about their difficult experience. I would not break that promise.
“I’m here on the high queen’s behalf.”
“GO AWAY!” the voice growled again.
“I realize you’re upset, but I want to help you find the criminal who broke into your home.”
There was a loud bang, and the door gave a violent shudder; the cottage shook all over shedding bits of stone and rocked back and forth on its foundation. It swayed so vigorously I worried it would topple right over and smash to pieces. After a breathtaking moment, the house righted itself, the ground trembling beneath me as it settled back into its proper place. Despite my pledge to the queen, my resolve wavered.
My hands, still wrapped around the leather strap, were slick with nervous sweat. I dried them on my scarf, rapidly forming a fresh approach to the situation. I’d leave and return tomorrow. Perhaps another day would further prepare the Bears for visitors with questions from the queen.
“Good day to you,” I called. “I’ll drop by again tomorrow. Her majesty is very distressed about your situation and wants to help.”
“When have the royals ever cared about anything?” an irate voice snarled from behind the door.
I considered the statement a tad unfair to a large part of the royal family. Despite High King Rufus, who’d recently died, the royals had invariably taken a keen interest in the welfare of the Enchanted Forest’s residents. Rufus, or Dufus as they called him in certain circles, had only been high king for a brief period before a bizarre illness killed him. Although we observed most of the conventions of mourning, no one in the Forest shed a tear at his death, least of all his daughter, Princess Rosamont.
Normally, the successor to the throne is inaugurated a fortnight after the preceding monarch’s death, but at the urgency of the populace, they crowned Rosamont High Queen within hours of Rufus’s passing. The entire Forest rejoiced at her coronation. The festivities went on for weeks.
It thrilled everyone to have a compassionate and enlightened ruler on the throne again. But, the revelry was short lived. Within three months of Rosamont ascending the throne, serious offenses had started to take place in the Forest. Which was why I was on the Bears’ doorstep perspiring heavily as I fretted about my personal safety.
Anxious to get moving, I kept my opinion of the royals to myself and backed away from the door, faltering over an unanticipated obstacle. Head over heels, I tumbled down the stairs, my flanks scraping along the ground.
As I skidded across the grass, I felt something fleshy get tangled up in my hind quarters. Unable to resist the momentum propelling me forward, I slid several feet across the lawn, overturning stones that churned through the air like hail and nicked me in the face.
Once I eventually stopped, I lay there panting through the vertigo, praying I’d be able trot away from there as fast as my hooves could carry me. Waiting for the giddiness to subside, I closed my eyes taking inventory of my injuries: my cheeks and nose stung from the stones bouncing off of them, the painful beginnings of a knot was forming on my head, and I couldn’t move my back legs.
As the world stopped spinning, I writhed against the weight pressing down on my legs, then gave them a good shake.
My eyes snapped open. “What in the…” I shook my legs again, harder this time.
Propping myself up on my elbows, I peered down at my legs to discover a ukulele dangling from one and another mixed up with my scarf and the spindly limbs of the frog. “You, again!”
“Yes, hello,” the frog said, struggling to wiggle himself free of my scarf. After a few moments struggle, he lay back panting, his tongue hanging from his mouth like a long, sticky string. Retracting it, he raised his head to look at me.
I stared back and finally got a good look at him. I must admit, at first glance, his appearance shocked me. Over the years, I had met many frogs but none that looked like him. His skin was blue with black spots, a raspberry beret sat atop black hair that spiraled down to his shoulders, and the faint stubble of a beard covered his face.
“I’m extremely sorry about all of this. I simply wanted to apologize for getting my tongue stuck on your leg.”
He had an unusual accent I hadn’t come across in decades, so I couldn’t place its origin. However, it informed me he was not a citizen of the Enchanted Forest. I presumed he had somehow made it over The King’s Wall, or as Rufus’s critics had affectionately nicknamed it, Rufus’s Bloomer. The name derived from the guards admitting, “No bloomin’ wall will keep newcomers out of the Forest.”
As we continued to extricate ourselves, the frog formally introduced himself as Prince.
“What’s your surname?” I asked, plucking at the strings woven into my fur.
Prince worried away at the scarf binding him to my other leg. “I only go by my first name,” he replied with a certain finality. “What’s yours?”
“Shirley Tims.” I quit the strings and sought to help Prince with the scarf but it was coiled so thoroughly I couldn’t grip an area well enough to loosen it. I gave it an impatient tug. “This is useless.”
“Do you have a knife?” Prince asked. “We could cut the scarf off.”
“Allow me,” a deep voice said and a large pair of paws reached for us.
Prince and I grew still as the gigantic bear used his massive claws to separate us. In three dexterous movements, we were free of the scarf, with the ukulele restrung and slung across Prince’s back.
“Thank you, Mr. Bear,” I said tying the scarf around my neck.
Tight lipped and pale, Prince bowed his head in appreciation.
“Call me Fletch,” the bear said straightening. “All you needed was the proper amount of strength and skill.” He wiggled his paws, gave an embarrassed cough and tugged on his suspenders. “I’d like to apologize for my wife’s behavior earlier. She hasn’t been the same since the break in.”
“That’s understandable,” I said.
“If it were just the two of us, she wouldn’t be as furious, but the thief targeted all of our son, Junior’s, belongings. It’s left her unnerved.”
“What did the thief do with his things that has her so upset?” I asked.
“Broke his chair, slept in his bed, ate all of his food.”
“Curious. Can you tell me anything else about the burglar?”
Thoughtful, Fletch stroked his chin. “Well, she’d been squatting here for a few days. The three of us were on holiday fishing in the Chanting River. When we came back home, we noticed a strange odor.”
“What did it smell like?”
Fletch’s upper lip curled, a substantial set of sharp teeth gleaming like daggers in the sunlight. “A human.”
I swallowed, imagining the teeth tearing into the human’s flesh. “Were you able to get a look at the thief?”
Fletch nodded. “She was still here sleeping in Junior’s bed when we first arrived. The second she saw us she jumped out the window and took off. I hunted her through the grove and into the woods. I almost had her and suddenly poof!
“Poof?” Prince asked, finding his voice.
Fletch gave another nod. “She disappeared.” From his pocket, he removed a rough sketch of a young girl with golden hair. “She goes by the name, Goldilocks.”
“How did you learn her name?”
Fletch growled. “She scribbled it all over the walls and floors of my home.”
“Did she leave any other clues behind?”
A hint of dread creeping into his eyes, Fletch dropped a scrap of material in my hand. “We found this on Junior’s bed.”
The fabric was grimy and frayed at the sides. In the center was an image of a broken heart surrounded by a serpent breathing fire.
I flung the material on the ground and leapt away from it. Mouth dry, heart thundering against my ribcage, I felt the vertigo return. “The Scrivenger,” I gasped.
“Aye,” Fletch whispered, trembling.
Confused, Prince stared at both of us, proving without a doubt he was a foreigner to these lands. “What’s the Scrivenger?”
I was shaking so badly it took me a moment to reply. “An ancient evil.”