This tale is a little too long to be an actual flash, I know.  But, here’s the thing, I intended it to be a birthday gift for my wife and I asked for any and all outside prompts via social media before writing anything. The list that came from that was: A birthday wish, a blind man, a candle, childhood, elven archers, a golden goose, Hercules’s Club, James Spader, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”, a knight in shining armor (though I didn’t actually put him in it) a lap dance, marijuana, an oddly sentient cat, penguins, Pep-O-Mints, a plastic trash can flung at a car, political intrigue, puking on the highway, a rhyme, squirrel pastry, a strong female protagonist, a threesome (again, I stretched this a bit), thrills and the letter W.  This uneven, thoroughly wandering tale is what I came up with.

Hope you enjoy.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Juniper Soot is eight-years-old and lives in a junkyard just outside of town.  It’s not her actual home, you see, but rather where she prefers to spend her free time, for reasons that are not the business of you or me.

On Friday she stopped by the gas station for a pack of Pep-O-Mints and a Cherry Coke.  The clerk was watching a little T.V. under the counter.  On the T.V. a man was getting a lap dance from a stripper.  “Who strips to Don’t Stop Believing?” the man wondered aloud, focusing on the screen as Juniper put her little purse up on the counter.  Looking up, the clerk turned off his T.V.

“Pennies again?” he asked, annoyed, “Why don’t you ever have any real money?”

“Pennies are coins.” Juniper told him. “Coins are money.” She continued to count out the pennies until she had paid him.  “Thank you!” Juniper told the man and opened her Pep-O-Mints, crunching them on her way out.

When Juniper got to the junkyard, she saw a brown cat waiting just outside the gate.  It was watching her as she approached.

“Hello there, kitty.” Juniper said, holding her hand toward the cat.

“Hello.” The cat said in return.

“What’s your name?” Juniper asked, seemingly unimpressed with a talking cat as the cat nuzzled her open hand.

“I’m Story.  I was invited to a party just inside here.”

“You know Sir Bannendworp?” Juniper asked as the two made their way through the junkyard gates.

“Indeed.” the cat named Story purred, “Though I have not seen him in some time.  Is he well?” she asked, hopping on top of an old tractor tire as they walked.

“Most days.” Juniper told her.  Then she twisted her face up, using her wondering look. “I don’t think he likes his birthday, though.  He holds his head and keeps asking if a mystery is here.”

Juniper didn’t know if cats could smile but she was pretty sure Story did just then.

“Not a mystery,” Story told her, “but Mystery.  Mystery’s my brother.  I’ve come in his stead to see poor Sir Bannendworp.”

Suddenly a loud crash from in front of them made Story jump down and stand in front of Juniper.

“It’s okay.” Juniper petted Story’s neck, “It’s just the penguins.”

A cloud of smoke billowed from a makeshift hut with a marijuana leaf painted on its side.

“I could take her to the dance. She said I look like that guy, with the face, in that movie Stargate and that show with the fat Captain Kirk…” A stuffed penguin was saying.

“James Spader.” A second stuffed penguin told him.

The first stuffed penguin nodded and pointed to the second while talking to a third stuffed penguin. “That guy.  She said I just need the glasses.”

She needs glasses.  Hey, what time’s the –” the third penguin noticed Juniper and Story.

“Hey guys, this is Story.” Juniper told the penguins.  “Story, this is Bob, Dodge and Weave.”

The penguins stared at Story.  Thirty seconds ticked by.

“I would love a squirrel pastry.” Dodge, the first penguin said.

“What?  You’ve never eaten squirrel.” Weave, the second penguin told him.

“I just like the idea of it.” Dodge replied while Bob sat down in the dirt and started yodeling.

“What a strange threesome.” Story thought as she and Juniper continued deeper into the junkyard.

Rounding the corner the pair came upon a busted down ancient-looking RV that was surrounded by old car parts.  A golden goose was painted above the door and a suit of shiny armor stood empty, a hollow sentry, just to its left.

Juniper knocked on the door three times.  A thin woman with large eyes opened the door.

“Juniper, so glad you could make it!” the woman said.

“Hello W,” Juniper said, following the woman into the RV and introducing her to Story.

W led the two back into the RV’s living area which was loaded with old books and magazines.  Story saw Juniper place her Cherry Coke in front of a young man who appeared to be blind, seated at a table.  A lone candle was lit before him and he was chewing something.

“Thank you, Juniper.  I’ll enjoy it later.  The penguins retrieved some Hercules’ Club from across the highway for me earlier.  Chewing the leaves helps my toothache, you know.  They were almost killed in the attempt.  Bob fell, puking on the highway and was nearly run down.  Probably would have been if Dodge hadn’t flung a plastic trash can at the car bearing down on him.  At any rate,” the man spit the leaves out into a handkerchief that W had handed him, “I hear you’ve brought a guest.”

“Hello, Ian.” Story said to him.

The man named Ian sat back, quickly inhaling.

“Story?” he said.

“It’s me.” The cat replied.

“Who’s Ian?” Juniper asked.

“He’s me.” Ian replied, “Ian Bannendworp.  No one’s called me Ian in years.  But, wait,” Ian sat back up quickly, “if you’re here, then…”

“Then your birthday wish those many years ago came true and my brother’s work is done.  It took quick wits in the political arena amidst the elves – they do love their arrows – but your past is no longer shrouded in the unknown.  It’s become a tale instead.” Story hopped onto the table in front of him.

“I don’t understand.” Juniper sat down on the floor and crossed her legs, minding a pile of books as W joined her.

“You see, Juniper, Sir Bannendworp and I know each other from a long time ago.” Story explained, “Who he is was lost to him in crossing over to this world and, once upon a time, he wished that my brother might help him.  This is what came of that wish.”

Story sat, staring into the flame of the candle.  As she began to speak, Juniper noticed her voice sounded different; more like Juniper’s teacher voice sounded when she read the class a book.

In the realm of Bellacree, across the narrow sea

Lays the Kingdom of Yurn.

A nation beyond dreaming, its white towers gleaming

And where time doesn’t turn.

But internal strife arose, and not one hero rose

The land, to ruin, fell.

To each surviving member, they couldn’t remember

The lives they’d known so well.

In their immortality, they crossed the narrow sea

Where’s the Kingdom of Yurn?

With the story now ended, your memory mended

To home you may return.”

The young knight shook his head as if out of a daze.  He looked around the room with fresh sight.  When his eyes landed on Juniper, he smiled.

“You’ve been a good friend, Juniper,” he told her, “but it’s time I leave.  I’m long overdue, I’m afraid.”  He turned to Story.  “Thank you, Story.  And be sure to thank your brother.  You will see that Juniper gets home safely?”

“Of course.”  Story said as she stood again.

Juniper didn’t understand what was happening.  Before she knew it, she and Story were the only ones left in the junkyard.  W had disappeared into a blue light with Sir Bannendworp and now the penguins were just stuffed animals again.  She picked them all up anyway and put them in her backpack.

Story walked Juniper back home, all the way to the edge of her own yard.

“Will you be okay?” the cat asked her.

Juniper thought about it for a little while.

“I think so.” She said.

“What will you do next?” Story purred.

“I dunno.  Maybe I’ll go visit the Kingdom of Yurn.”

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