Beyond the Neverending Valley (of Ellsworth and Umbrage) Part 5
A story in parts
By Chris McGowan
Everyone who lives in either Ellsworth or Umbrage knows of the Neverending Valley that their 2 regions share. The Valley sits in between Ellsworth and Umbrage, acting as sort of a bridge, and when traveling from Ellsworth to Umbrage, to acquire some of Umbrage’s high-quality silk (and even better prices!) for example, you have to cross the Valley. There’s a well-worn path that most people take. Few stray too far into those woods. And definitely not at night. Because “neverending” can be quite scary.
Because while wooded areas are naturally scary, the term “neverending” is particularly unnerving. What exactly is “neverending?”
What if you turned on a faucet and the water “neverended?” It just kept flowing and flowing and flowing? You’d have to call a plumber at some point. Or move.
What if a crow cawed “neverending?” Constantly hearing the same noise forever? Not just a day, or a week, but forever. Caw caw caw caw, etc… You’d have to move again.
What if life neverended? Sure, it sounds great at year 60, even 90, maybe even at your 150th birthday. But what if you were 4,903 years old? And it was never ever going to end? Ever! That’s a long time. You’d have to move quite a bit!
Scientists (where you are) say that the universe is expanding. In fact, it’s expanding quite quickly. As far as they can tell, the universe will keep expanding for a very very very very long time. Almost neverending. But even then, scientists predict that eventually, billions and billions of years away, all energy will die out. It’ll just be a big black void, with nothing. Which could be something, but really it’s nothing. So even that’s not quite neverending. (* Although there is another theory that says everything might contract, which would eventually lead to a tiny point of all space and time, which would explode and start all this again, i.e., neverending)
Can you call something “neverending” if you can’t quite grasp what it means? Well, somehow, someway, the Valley of Ellsworth and Umbrage was deemed “neverending.”
So even though no one alive (or dead) can recall how the Valley got stuck with this descriptor, it sure has scared everyone enough to not find out.
Well, those outside the Valley, that is.
People live inside the Valley. Many people (and things). They sustain themselves off hunting, vegetation and coffee. And they use older ways. Some call it magic. Some call it advanced science. But those outside the Valley just call it witchcraft, practiced by witches.
Mary was one such person. She lived in a small hut, deep in the Valley and kept to herself. Well, mostly. She was a fierce defender of her way of life. Of the Valley’s way of life. And the secret to its neverending-ness. The kings and queens can do as they may, but the Neverending Valley was hers. And once you got into the Valley, you were now governed by the Valley’s rules.
On this day that the Fair Princess Linda wandered deeper into the Valley, Mary had been taking a short nap on her pullout sofa. One could describe Mary as looking like everyone. Mary had perfected an art of magic… er, science… where her face looked as plain as possible. So plain that anyone who looked upon her would describe her differently. Eye color, hair, skin tone - even her voice could sound different. She was so plain that people reflected back on her what they wanted to see. Marilyn Monroe. Mrs. Fiddlestudies, my 2nd grade teacher. Medusa.
All valid. Mary was a witch, remember?
So Mary awoke from her nap because her pigeon was “cooing.”
“Cooo,” Pigeon #28 cried out from his nest. #28 of the 38 pigeons that are part of Mary’s security team.
“This is unbelievable,” Mary shouted excitedly, hopping to her feet, wearing a green frock. “This is astounding.”
“Cooo,” Pigeon #28 cried out again, fixated on a specific point in a specific direction.
“What do you see, 28, what do you see!?!” She said, hopping over dogs and cats and books and papers and dishes and toys to go to a corner of her hut near where Pigeon #28 was stationed. Just beneath her roof, a circular platform, with comfortable nests, wrapped around in all directions and various flying creatures (mostly pigeons) sat there in shifts to let Mary know when living beings were ever in their sight.
Pigeon #28 cooed some more, as Mary took down serious notes. Pigeon #28 kept cooing.
“ALL RIGHT, enough!” Mary shouted. She grabbed some pigeon food and put it in a little air-powered tube that whizzed it out of the hut and up to the platform, right next to Pigeon #28. He stopped cooing and began eating.
Mary walked to the center of her hut and leapt into the air! She caught a dangling string and pulled on it. A ladder descended, which she raced up and onto the roof of her hut. A bulky telescope with a little seat attached to it sat up there. She hopped into the seat - science - and adjusted it, apparently to the coordinates cooed by Pigeon #28.
She twisted knobs and turned wedges and spun widgets.
Through the telescope’s lens, in focus and in the setting sun, was clearly visible Fair Princess Linda, atop Smileyface, along with a lumbering tree, walking down the path towards the coffee hut. Ignatius was there, too, Mary just couldn’t see him in Gus’s branches.
“Interesting. Excellent. Yes.” Mary said, licking her lips.
She hopped out of the seat and down the ladder and back into her hut.
She dashed to a smaller room and flopped onto her bed. She pulled out a small journal and threw it open to a blank page. She took out a pen and began to talk out loud as she wrote in cursive.
“Dear diary. Today I saw 3 living… no… 3 talking… no… 3 beings walking into the Valley. It’s been so long since we’ve had anyone come near the Valley. I can smile again. Things are looking good. Good ol’ Mary.”
She paused, thinking. She was hungry now, so she finished up the entry.
“I can’t wait to drain their life-force until they’re done so that I can continue living even longer.”
She smiled. Closed the journal. And went out into her kitchen to make some early dinner, as she had a lot of work ahead of her if she was going to drain 3 creatures. It’ll give her at least another 100 years on her life! Magic! Science!
Beyond the Neverending Valley (of Ellsworth and Umbrage) Part 4
A story in parts
By Chris McGowan
Part 4 (of 13, I’ve just decided there’s 13)
The sun was setting, casting an orange-golden glow throughout all the kingdom, but the glow was no more magnificent than on the Palace of the Most High Ellsworth and Most Taken Umbrage Kingdom.
Inside and about, waiters and servants and horse-rearers and handmaidens, window-washers and food-chewers, henchmen and henchwomen, butlers and drivers and wranglers and clowns, were running around.
They were frantically searching the palace for Linda.
King Tomas (pronounced normally, like ‘Tomm-ess,’ none of this ’Toe-mass’ business) and Lady Guinevere (pronounced ‘Goo-en-eh-vair-ay’), Linda’s mom and pops, stood at the top of the majestic steps of their palace, dressed in their majestic regalia, looking about, concerned.
“Wherever could she be, Tomas?” Queen Guinevere pondered aloud.
“I don’t know, my dear. She’s always home before sunset. Always!” Tomas tried to throw a napkin really hard, but as it is made of a light-paper-like-material, it dropped rather wimpily to the ground. Realizing the king’s anger was not expressed correctly, a butler whooshed in, picked up the napkin and carried it aloft, as if the napkin was flying though the air. The butler raced down the steps, holding the napkin high above his head, and then crash-landed the napkin into the dirt with a thud. He made minor explosion noises, which satisfied King Tomas.
“I blame you!” the queen said, walking inside, into the castle’s throne room.
“Harumph!” King Tomas replied, following after her. Swarms of staff scurried in behind them.
Inside, the throne room was breath-taking. The ceiling’s so high that one time, a neighboring prince leaned back and back to squint at the highest point, to see what painting or mural was in the tiniest corner, and fell over, breaking all his bones. He was in a fully body cast for 11 months and hated to laugh (it hurt so much!).
Queen Guinevere swooped past the pristine statues, the invaluable paintings by the greatest artists in all of Ellsworth and Umbrage, and walked across the most exquisite carpet ever made. She reached a small journal that sat atop a fine marble table.
“Have you even read Linda’s Super Secret journal, Tomas?” she said, holding it up threateningly.
“I would never, dear, that is our daughter’s private… let me take a look, actually.” Tomas took the journal and opened it up.
“She is… unhappy, Tomas.”
Tomas shrugged, now not needing to keep reading his daughter’s journal, and tossed it behind him. A fleet of valets and midwives fought for the right to have caught and saved the journal from the floor.
“How can she be unhappy?” Tomas shouted. “She has everything a girl could want! She’s got a great room all to herself, you and I rarely fight, and she has the best education possible. She has everything!”
“Tomas, have we ever asked her what she wanted?”
Tomas looked around, as if he dropped a nickel or someone gave him a pinch.
“I’m not sure what that means, dear.”
“She has no real friends, except for that slightly rude pony of hers,” she said.
“Not true! What about Angie the Singer?”
“She’s a singer we employ, dear,” Guinevere said.
“So, she comes here to sing. Then she leaves. She’s more my friend than our daughter’s!”
“OK,” Tomas said, scratching his long black beard. “What about… uh… Farrah? She’s nice - a fellow Princess from Yornah River.”
“Farrah sleeps in trees and calls us foul names.”
“That’s cuz of her father - learned it from him.”
“The only friend she has is Smileyface, that pony!”
“I know, dear, I told you she should’ve gotten the BEST pony, but no, we had to be fair and get the most average one.”
Guinevere held out her hand and her handmaiden placed the Scroll of Destiny in it. Guinevere whipped it open, letting it unravel.
The Scroll of Destiny was always written by the King and Queen for their sons and daughters. It laid out their entire life. Who they play with, what toys they get to have, who they socialize with, what they learn and get skillful at, who they like and don’t like, and of course, who they eventually marry and have babies with. Guinevere rolled out the Scroll of Destiny for her daughter, Fair Princess Linda. Tomas took the end of it and inspected it.
“This is one of the best scrolls we’ve ever done,” he remarked.
"And yet, she keeps avoiding it, Tomas. She’s avoided half these events already! Maybe our daughter doesn’t want this life,” Guinevere remarked, slowly rolling the Scroll back up. “Maybe she’d rather be a painter, painting the smiling moon shining down on her face. Maybe she wants to write a book about a fantasy world, filled with metal machines with wheels and small square devices that make noises and where people work 9-10 hours for 5 days a week!”
“Ridiculous fantasies,” Tomas laughed.
“But what if, Tomas!” Guinevere said, now nose-to-nose with her husband. “What if instead of telling her how to live her life, we just ask her what she wants? Or, better yet - let her do it all on her own and support her no matter what?”
Tomas took his wife’s hands in his, and smiled. “I love our daughter as much as you do, my dear. She is a wonderful girl and truly talented in many ways. But, I think tonight… she’s just lost and I really want to send the Sniffing Hounds out to get her back here. Plleeeeease?”
“Fine,” Guinevere said, tossing her hands up. “But if you embarrass her, I’m totally blaming you and she’ll hate you.”
“She’s not doing anything and she’s not in danger. She’s just lost,” the King said.
“I said fine!” Guinevere said. “But can I say it?” she asked.
“Of course, dear,” Tomas replied.
Guinevere faced the open doorway and cleared her throat.
“RELEASE THE SNIFFING HOUNDS! THEY MUST FIND FAIR PRINCESS LLLLLIINNNNDDDAAA!”
Queen Guinevere’s voice blasted throughout the throne room, through the palace, into the towns and villages close to the palace and beyond.
But only the 11 in Blue needed to hear it.
A large structure just outside the palace wall, which looked like an outdoor jail, began to make noise. The 11, Men and Women all in Blue, began walking, each holding small kerchiefs owned by Fair Princess Linda. They weaved and marched in between the jail cells, waving the kerchiefs around. Then, the chit-chat began, coming from within the cells.
“I know what she smells like, geez, come on!”
“She changed her perfume?”
“I saw her toss that one at the royal gala last year.”
The 11 convened on 11 switches. One at a time, they threw their switch, each one opening one of the gates.
Sauntering out of the jail cells were 11 giant chihuahuas! Their names were: Kelly, Hippo, Richter, Yolo, Pewter, Sweet-suite, Viral, Xanadu, B-8, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and Biff. The Sniffing Hounds.
The Sniffing Hounds formed a circle just beyond their cages and talked (like Smileyface).
“OK, so we got Linda on the loose, who wants to take Upper Valley?” Hippo asked.
“Me and Yolo will take it,” B-8 said.
“Biff and I got the Roaring Sea of Water,” Xanadu ordered.
“I might need a team of 3 for the Plains of Boredom,” Pewter said, “so lemme grab Viral and Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.”
“K,” Hippo nodded, “that leaves myself, Richter, Sweet-suite and Kelly. Who wants the Neverending Valley?”
“Not it,” all 4 remaining said.
“Cripes,” Hippo sighed. “All 4 of you are going to the Mountains of Radness?”
“FINE! We’ll rendezvous at nightfall. If anyone’s not back, we’re gonna come looking for you, too. Fair Princess Linda on ‘3’?”
All 11 gigantic chihuahuas put their paws into the middle of a circle.
“1-2-3! FAIR PRINCESS LINDA!”
They turned and raced off into separate directions, Hippo running solo into the Neverending Valley.
The 11 in Blue took seats next to their switches.
The palace staff began to resume their work duties, since the Sniffing Hounds were now on the job.
And King Tomas and Queen Guinevere stood in the doorway of their palace, inside their kingdom, for the first time in their reign unsure of what happens next…
"She’s just lost," Guinevere whispered.
A classic for many reasons, but Double Indemnity is a must-watch, especially on the LA Film Noir front.
Beyond the Neverending Valley (of Ellsworth and Umbrage) Part 3
A story in parts
By Chris McGowan
The Princess shot her hand out, grasping the branch with the squirrel standing on it.
"EEEYAAAAAAAAAAA!" cried the squirrel as he flew through the air.
"Oh no!" Gus the Oak Tree Who Always Needs Coffee cried out.
"AHHH!" Fair Princess Linda shrieked. The squirrel hit the dirt and spun around to race back into the tree… err… into Gus.
"EVERYONE FREEZE!" Smileyface said.
Everyone was frozen. Princess, Gus, and the yet-to-be-named-squirrel. Even a white bird, innocently flying by, was frozen in mid-air.
"There. Good. OK. Let’s relax. It’s just a squirrel, people," Smileyface said.
"En ee uneeze?" Fair Princess asked, trying to speak but finding if difficult, since she can’t move her mouth (frozen). Her accent was now hard to tell at all. Possibly Italian?
"What?" Smileyface asked, back upon his 4 hooves.
"Ee ed, an ee uneeze?" Gus the Oak Tree Who Always Needs Coffee asked unintelligibly.
"I can’t understand any of you," Smileyface huffed.
The squirrel, in a high-pitched voice, added, “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.”
The bird, who is not a part of this story and was actually en route to be a side character in a William Butler Yeats poem, also cried out, “Awww, awwww, awww!”
"Oh, sorry…" Smileyface admitted, "UNFREEZE!"
Everyone unfreezed! The squirrel bumped into Gus’s trunk and hit the ground. The white bird resuming flying at a hurried pace since she was now late for her Yeats poem, her stanza likely long past.
"I know it’s just a squirrel, Smileyface, but YOU were the one that screamed first!" Fair Princess exclaimed, dusting herself off.
The squirrel tried to sneak back into the tree.
"Hold it! What are you doing hiding inside Gus?" Smileyface shouted.
"It’s a tree. I’m a squirrel. This is where I get my nuts," the squirrel said sarcastically.
"Hey, hey, this is a children’s tale," Fair Princess Linda admonished. "None of that HBO / Cinemax talk!"
"No, seriously, that’s what I eat. I eat friggin’ nuts." Fair Princess Linda cringed, then covered her ears.
“Ignatius the Squirrel, I already told you, I’m out of food for you. I have no more nuts,” lamented Gus. Fair Princess Linda uncovered her ears, an idea apparently having struck her brain.
"Nuts? Well why didn’t you say so. We’re getting coffee for Gus - I’m about 74% certain they have nuts there. Or nutmeg. Or French Vanilla. Come with us, Ignatius!” Fair Princess Linda said.
Ignatius used his tiny paw to scratch his tiny head. He looked around - Gus was actually falling asleep, Smileyface was eyeing him suspiciously, the bird was long gone (that was like 5 minutes ago, let it go), and Fair Princess Linda smiled gently.
"What do I have to lose? Where are we going, pink dress lady?"
"The name is Fair Princess Linda and we are headed to a wonderful place that has coffee, as I want to talk with Gus the Oak Tree That Always Needs Coffee. I’m sure they’ll have some nut-like food, Ignatius the Squirrel. And maybe something to take the sass outta my pony, Smileyface - "
"Ain’t nothing that can do that, know what I’m saying?" Smileyface sassed.
"Then why all the yakkity-yak, let’s go!" Gus shouted. Fair Princess Linda climbed atop Smileyface and got in front of Gus. Tiny Ignatius was hanging onto one of the top branches
Smileyface looked up. The sun was nearly setting.
“Heya, Fair Princess Linda, I think we may be out of time - “
Fair Princess pinched him.
“We’re fine!” she said.
“I’m just saying,” Smileyface continued, at a quieter volume, “there’s supposedly that witch your dad keeps telling us about. The one that comes out at night? An evil witch. She haunts this very pathway!”
“Did I hear something about the witch?” Ignatius asked.
“It’s not a bother, Ignatius,” the Princess said, reassuringly, “we’ll get to the Coffee Hut long before the sun sets.”
“Good, because I do NOT want to run into her.”
“Agreed,” Gus agreed.
“From what I understand,” the Fair Princess explained, “She has a pilates class on Wednesdays, so even if the sun were to happen to set, I think we’ll have a few minutes to get to where we all need to go.”
"Oh, great, another plot device," Smileyface sighed. And the 4 of them began heading down the path to the hut to find coffee and nuts. Well, 2, since Ignatius is inside Gus and Fair Princess Linda is on Smileyface. But, ya know… come on.
From behind more trees, a figure stepped out, watching the foursome walk past her. She was dressed in workout clothes!
“Soon,” she whispered to herself. “Right after pilates…”
To Be Continued…
* * *
Part 2 here: http://chrismcgowan.net/post/88678877951/beyond-the-neverending-valley-of-ellsworth-and
"Meeting Tina Fey", from "Life The Universe and Chris McGowan"