It all began because Wembley Fraggle got into a scrape again.
And that happened because Red and Gobo were in an argument over which Fraggle was the better explorer. Without question, the spat should never have begun, since everyone knew that Gobo was the not only the best explorer in the Rock, but also nearly the only one among them who had any interest in poking their noses into unfamiliar corners of the World-as-They-Knew-It. Yet, once again, the two friends were stubbornly pitting their wills against one another in a contest!
“C'mon, eh,” said Gobo, “You know you never go exploring."
“I have so! Lots of times!” snapped the hot-tempered Red.
“Not unless I dared you. Even then, half the time you turned back. And you quaked like a Trembling Stink Lily every step of the way.”
Red’s demeanor nearly bristled with electricity. “Gobo Fraggle, you take that back!”
The other Fraggle held his ground, however. “You've never even followed me out into Outer Space. Not once! You’ve chickened out every time that you’ve followed me up to the tunnel outside!"
Red wasn’t having any of that, however. "Outer Space doesn't count! That place is just plain weird, and there’s nothing important there anyway!”
“Nothing important!” Gobo sputtered.
“Well, is there?” Red drove her point relentlessly onward. “What did youever find in Outer Space?”
“Well … nothing but the Silly Creature and the Monster,” Gobo admitted. “I only sneaked as far as the trash bin where I find Uncle Matt’s postcards.”
“Aha!” exclaimed Red, triumphant.
That was not the end of the argument, of course.
Red and Gobo bickered for several more minutes before they decided on a contest – a not-unusual outcome for the two contentious Fraggles. The rules of the contest were simple. They would find partners – partly for help if there was trouble, but also as witnesses, to verify that they had found an “important" discovery. Naturally, Red would call on her best friend, Mokey, for her second.
In such situations, Gobo normally picked hisbest friend, Wembley. The problem was that Wembley had gotten into a scrape.
“I don’t believe it! How could you do this to me!” cried Gobo in their shared Hole, as he wrapped Wembley’s leg in bandages.
“Well, I don’t know,” answered Wembley, apologetically. “I was just minding my own business when I was suddenly in the way of that big meanie Jenkis, who told me to get lost. Then I sort of … stumbled … and next thing I knew, I hurt my ankle.”
“You mean that Jenkis pushed you, don’t you!"
“Um… I think so,” admitted the little green Fraggle.
Of course Jenkis had pushed Wembley. It wasn't at all normal for Fraggles to be mean to one another. Now and then, however, one like Jenkis might become bolder, and ruder, when another Fraggle was a pushover … and Wembley was almost the dictionary definition of a pushover.
Jenkis was a visitor from another Fraggle clan some distance away, and was in The Great Hall for some business that he never made entirely clear. Perhaps he had worn out his welcome where he came from ... or even the place before that. In any case, he had appeared one day in The Great Hall, and made himself unpopular from the start.
He did annoying things, such as muddying the water where it was only meant for drinking, not swimming or washing, or picking a place for a nap that was someone else’s favourite spot. He was quite large as Fraggles go, so few were willing to confront him. Yet, he would never step so clearly out of line that anyone that he might earn a rebuke from other Fraggles. Wembley, unfortunately, seemed to tempt Jenkis into outright mean behavior. Instead of merely annoying Wembley, as he did the other denizens of The Great Hall, he harassed the guileless little Wembley at every opportunity.
“One of these days, Wembley, you’ve have to stand up for yourself, you know,” Gobo said.
“Oh, he’s not that bad. Maybe a little clumsy. And rude … and large … “
Gobo shrugged. “If you can't help me beat Red in our contest, then I’ll need someone else to be my partner. Who do we know who is good at exploring? Not Boober. He’s afraid of his own shadow, unless it’s dark … but he's also afraid of the dark!”
“Gosh, I … I don’t know. Large Marvin? Rumple? No, no, how about Pedley? He's always taking trips to find inspiration for painting?”
“That’s a good idea, Wembley,” said Gobo, finishing the home-made bandage. "Unfortunately, Pedley is away somewhere, painting! We have to find someone else. And I think I know who… ”
“Who, me?” said Darl, incredulously. “Why me? I’m new to being a Fraggle, and barely know not to stand downwind from a Pop-Bladder full of pollen. I learned it the hard way, too, so I was still sneezing three days later!”
Kiki leaned in through the archway to the cookery, where she was preparing a late lunch. “He’s not kidding, Gobo. Itold him not to touch that.”
Gobo had been invited to share in their dinner, and was sitting in one of the chairs in the small nook where Darl and Kiki ate. Although small, the dinning space had an impressive view through a gap in the rock, over the Goblin’s Garden that led down to the Great Hall.
Gobo had been invited to share in their dinner, and was sitting in one of the chairs in the small nook were Darl and Kiki ate.
Gazing out at the scenery, Gobo tried to appear nonchalant, as though his contest with Red didn’t hang in the balance, but in fact he was quite anxious. Even at the best of times, he hated to lose bets or contests, and a challenge to his mastery of exploration by Red could not be ignored. So, he tried a new tack with Darl.
“When you lived in Outer Space, you must have seen a lot of fascinating places,” he said casually. “Not only your own home and neighborhood, but all sorts of strange, distant places. Didn’t you say you had even traveled in special carts that move by themselves, and gone so far away that it took daysto get there?”
“Oh,” said Darl, resignedly. “That’s true … I did mention before that I’ve driven in a car. Even flown.”
“That’s right,” said Kiki, bringing in lunch. “I’ve even seen the frightening contraptions! What's this about flying, though? You never!”
Not unexpectedly, the meal included freshly sliced radishes, a green salad, with thinly sliced raw fish and a tangy herbal dressing. For dessert, there was a plate of sweet, sticky buns.
Talk had to be deferred as the three Fraggles dug in, but eventually the plates and bowls were empty, and the chairs were pushed back.
“That was delicious,” said Gobo. Even Darl, who had not fully accepted that radishes were an essential part of almost all meals, agreed their meal was fit for a royal repast.
“It’s settled, then?” Gobo said to Darl. “Together, we can take Red’s challenge, and win! I know we can!”
Darl replied, “Why don’t you and Kiki go, instead? She’ll be much better than me at exploring with you.”
“The thing is,” Gobo slyly played his trump card, “Red sees the contest as between the gals’ team, and the guys’ team. So it has to be me and you, eh?”
“As long as you keep Darl from sniffing at Pop-Bladders, why not?” laughed Kiki. “Besides … all Fraggles have a natural sense of direction in caves, so that they can never get lost. Even you, Love.”
Darl make a dismissive sound. “By that logic, then, I should also warble like a caged canary … but I can’t even carry a tune in a bag.”
Bit by bit, however, the other two wore him down. Like it or not, it was settled, and he would join Gobo’s expedition.
On his way home, Gobo sang a few words sotto voce from his Uncle Matt’s favourite song, “Every day, the world begins again… ”
On the day of the contest with Red, Gobo explained the rules to an attentive crowd of Fraggles. He and Red, predictably, were unable to agree on those rules without considerable bickering over the exact wording, but fundamentally the terms were pretty simple. The two teams would start from a tunnel locally known as The Screwdriver, that took many twists and turns as it branched out in confusing directions, so that any Fraggle could reasonable be expected to set foot where no Fraggle had set foot before. The two teams would separate at the first fork, going in different directions, and each would take notes on whatever they found along the way. At the end of the contest, the two teams’ discoveries would be compared by an impartial panel composed of three judges.
It took another ten minutes for Gobo and Red to merely agree on who should be chosen as judges, before they could go on to howthe judges would decide who had won – whether by how many discoveries had been made along the way, or by how important those discoveries might be. Finally, it had to be decided what prize the winning team would actually win. Or what the losing team would forfeit, as the case might be.
Red was all for Gobo and Darl helping Boober wash laundry for an entire week! Boober immediately objected that washing laundry was fun, and should be a prize, not a punishment!
“Oh, all right.” Red amended her suggestion to Gobo and Darl reading Mokey’s poems all day, to everyone in the Great Hall who cared to listen, until night fell.
Mokey strongly objected that reading her poetry wasn’t a punishment either … but ought to be a reward! “And a perfect one, too,” since she had always wanted a public reading. “What a wonderful opportunity it will be to expose Fraggles to more culture.”
If he won, Gobo knew exactly what prize he wanted from Red’s team. “The next time my Uncle Matt visits the Rock, I want you to publicly apologize to him for ever doubting his adventures!”
“What? No way!” protested Red, but on reflection she said, “Agreed. I’m going to win anyway!”
“But your Uncle Matt, doesn’t know anything at all about Outer Space!” Darl whispered to Gobo, “no matter what he writes to you in those postcards! I know. I lived there all my life, before becoming a Fraggle, and his letters are complete nonsense!”
“Aw, well, I know. You told me. But I always looked up to my Uncle Matt. When I was just a little Fraggle, he was there for me after my dad died, and he looked after me as though I was his own son. I looked up to him for inspiration and guidance. He was a great hero, in my eyes. Not only that,” explained Gobo, “but his father was also a great explorer! I was named after my Great Uncle Gobo.”
Darl and Gobo two stood at the mouth of the broad tunnel into which Red and Mokey had departed only a moment before. Darl visibly hung back, reluctant to begin an adventure that he was sure he wasn’t prepared for, and that every fiber of his being told him would end badly.
Gobo clapped Darl on the shoulder reassuringly. “C’mon … it’ll be alright. I’ve explored hundreds of tunnels like this one. In fact, I've explored many branches of this tunnel, and there will probably not be any real surprises in store. That’s why we picked The Screwdriver – it’s confusing, but the others would never have agreed to explore a cave where was likely any real danger!”
“But you haven't explored all of them, have you?" Darl persisted doubtfully.
Gobo rolled his eyes upward, and simply said, “Let's go, eh?”
Only about two hundred yards in, the Screwdriver divided into two paths. After choosing directions, Red and Mokey had taken the one on the right, so Gobo and Darl took the left-hand way. Within another couple of hundred yards, the tunnel divided again, this time into three paths. After another short walk, the two Fraggles were confronted with half a dozen tunnels, including winding ways that led to higher and lower trails, and one that appeared to lead back on itself. In short order, they were in a hopelessly tangled labyrinth.
Darl was encouraged to realize that he didhave an innate sense of direction. He knew precisely where he was, and where he had been. It was where he was going next that worried him. He had no idea at all where the next twist or turn in the dimly lit and oddly pigmented walls would take them. Darl also knew that they were deep in terra incognita now, and neither would Gobo know where they were going.
When he nervously mentioned that fact, Gobo retorted brightly, “That’s the fun of exploring, right?"
This time it was Darl’s turn to roll his eyes.
Truthfully, the caves they passed through grew more and more strange, one by one.
As a Silly Creature from Outer Space, Darl could be forgiven for once believing that caves were uniformly dull grey or dusty brown. Once he had lived a while among the Fraggles, however, he knew that in fact his adopted home was a seemingly endless maze, like a Swiss cheese, and was as variously hued as a box of Prismacolors. Instead of slate and shale, he found he was living in a Painted Desert, a natural wonders even among Silly Creatures in the outside world.
As he followed along behind Gobo, Darl saw bulbous formations of flowstone like mountains of grapes. Around the next corner a forest of crystalline shards clung to the walls … from which came a faint ringing, so high-pitched that it was nearly above hearing. That room came to an end, but a small opening at waist level admitted the explorers into a spacious dome, beneath which a sparkling fountain of fresh water burbled. They passed a balanced rock, too high to reach, teetering so ominously overhead that they were too fearful make a sound until they were on the other side. Pillars of multicolored onyx filled another room, while the next had damp walls entirely lost in mossy gloom. They crossed natural bridges, and climbed winding stairs. The changes from one room to the next were continuous and bewildering.
Nor was The Rock merely a study in contrasting rock formations. There was life among the stalactites, stalagmites, chimneys, arches, rock falls, hot springs, rushing pools and broad open spaces; they were far from empty of living things. Far from it. As the two friends traveled, Gobo pointed out the astonishing number of fantastic creatures that lived within the nooks and crannies of The Rock. Wherever there was even a tiny growing space, plants of every description took root, creating riots of colour, shape and fragrance.
“You don’t want to get too close to that, eh?” said Gobo. “Those Gibbershees are harmless, but the pollen makes you a bit giddy when you breathe their perfume too deeply. People who spend too much time close to them do foolish things, like singing backward or turning their pockets inside out for no reason.”
Darl quickly backed off. “But they look just like the those whatchamacallits… um … Glitter Buds.”
“Sure. But Gibbershee blossoms are bigger, and have more rows of petals around the center. Six or seven … not only three or four. Glitter Buds are also, well, glittery, but Gibbershee blossoms are generally one colour. You don’t have to worry about them, though … the worst they can so is make you act silly. Dragon’s Breath, on the other hand, you should never come close to if you can help it,” Gobo continued cheerfully. “It is perfectly safe if you don’t wake it, but if it hears you it will spray you with a sap that will stupefy a person for hours.”
“Fascinating,” Darl whispered nervously.
SONG “ON THE ROAD"
On the road again,
Can’t tell where we’ve been,
And can’t tell where it is we’re going to,
If we cannot know
Where we’re going to go,
I’d go home, if it’s all the same to you…”
As they went onward, Gobo continued to explain the differences between dozens of common and other less-common types of flora … but more and more often they met entirely unfamiliar plants, which Gobo admitted he had never seen before. Accordingly, they become increasingly cautious as they progressed.
“It’s just a suggestion,” Darl said nervously, “but this place is very strange. Even in my limited experience with living here, this place is beginning to feel a little creepy. At this point, perhaps you should start making discoveries, so that we don’t need to hang around here any longer than we need to?”
“Um… Good point. But there’s nothing that I think especially counts as an important discovery. Just a lot of cowwebby stuff and – whoops, watch out!”
Gobo dragged his friend backward several feet at the same moment that a “something” with far too many legs – nearly their own size – jumped out of the shadows and darted down a narrow passage.
“What was that!?” Darl cried in sudden alarm.
“I have no idea!” an equally rattled Gobo responded. “But I think we might almost can count that as a discovery … whatever it was!”
After catching their breath a while, Gobo said cheerfully, “Well! Let’s get on the road again, shall we?”
Neither of them moved.
Finally, Gobo stepped off again, and they proceeded with even more caution than before.
Darl they proceeded with even more care than before.
Eventually, Dark asked, “What do suppose Red and Mokey are up to? By now, they’ve had plenty of opportunity to get into trouble. You don’t suppose they might be in any danger?”
“Just because we were taken by surprise by that bat-thing? We were only startled. Why should the others be in any sort of danger?” said Gobo, as he warily walked around a nest of small, gaping mouths with razor-sharp teeth. “These caves are pretty safe, or I wouldn’t have chosen them. You just have to watch your step. Hey … ” he suddenly shouted. “Those are my toes, you nasty little things!”
“I’m so glad I’m in your capable hands,” said Darl, with only a trace of irony.
Meanwhile, in another part of the tunnels, Mokey was saying, “What do you suppose the guys are doing? We’ve been walking all afternoon, and so far we haven’t found anything of interest. Not even pretty flowers, or an unusual sort of Rumble-Bug. Just a lot of dusty, brown Carpet Sloths. Oh! We’ll never win Gobo’s contest at this rate!” she fretted.
“Relax! If I know those two, they have gotten turned around and found themselves back at the start!” scoffed Red.
They had been walking through a series of large halls, one after the other, without so much as a single unusual discovery … only familiar plants, creatures and rock formations that they might find anywhere. Red was growing increasingly impatient with their lack of discoveries, while Mokey was trying to think of a rhyme for “boring.” Finally, she began a little, sing-songy lyric.
“If you ask me, this exploring
Is nothing short of boring,
I’d have more fun just standing on my head;
As for finding something new,
I would leave that up to you,
I’d much prefer to be at home in bed… !”
“In fact, you know what?” Red interrupted her. “I think those two are up to something! I think they’ve had this contest rigged from the start! They planned to send us somewhere safe, and boring, where there was nothing for us to find!”
“Oh, Red,” said Mokey. “They’d never do anything like cheating! How can you think of such a thing? I’m sure Gobo gave us exactly the same chance to win the contest that he gave to himself and Darl!”
Red was mollified for the moment, but conceded only that there was nothing here that could be called a discovery. Everything they had seen so far had been as ordinary as Doozers working! “Well, what do you think we should we do? It’s obvious that we can’t win the contest without discovering something … anything!”
Mokey paused to consider the possibilities as she saw them. “Perhaps … perhaps, we could make something interesting, and that would count?” But then she shifted to another point of view. “No … that won’t do, because making something really isn’t discovering something, and you have to explore for it before you can discover a thing. But if you explored for something, then you wouldn’t know what it was until you found it, and how would you know what to make unless you discovered it first?”
“I’m not sure that makes sense,” said Red.
“Obviously, Red, we can only discover something that hasn’t been discovered yet,” persisted Mokey, “but we can’t make something that we’ve already found, now can we? So if we’ve discovered something, then we wouldn’t have to make it, but if we make something, then we can’t discover it because we already know it’s there, and we’ll have failed as explorers!”
Red groaned with exasperation, “That’s worthy of Convincing John. Let’s do something practicalinstead. I bet you have some poster paint, or some chalk, in one of your pockets, don’t you?”
The taller Fraggle searched her long robes, examining the deep pockets carefully before fetching out a handful of pigments in tiny sealed pots. “Here you are!” Mokey declared happily.
“Perfect!” said Red. “Now we just need a sleepy bug, or an odd shaped rock, and we can start collecting ‘discoveries’ to show to Gobo.” She began to search around the cave for whatever could be made into a “discovery.”
“REEEE-DD!” Mokie wailed.
“What is it now?”
“We can’t do that! Painting fake discoveries would be cheating!”
“No … that would be ‘creative.’ You like being creative, don’t you?”
“Red, Red, Red, ” moaned Mokie, sadly shaking her head…
Mindful of where they stepped, Gobo and Darl were deep in uncharted territory. Of the two explorers, both were troubled for their own reasons. Darl had no idea of where they were going, and that worried him. Gobo, on the other hand, had been certain he had chosen a tunnel that led nowhere other than where he expected to be, and certainly he ought to be nowhere that led to trouble. But yet it looked entirely possible that “in trouble” might be exactlywhere they were.
For one thing, the last few chambers they had come to had been nearly bereft of living things. The two Fraggles had been taking notes for the contest as they walked, and they didn’t much like what they were seeing of late. It was almost as though nothing but the meanest and most vile creatures would stoop to live under such conditions. Even the rare plant life seemed dispirited and grey. It was as un-Fraggle-Rocklike a place as Darl had seen in his short Fraggleish experience, and even Gobo admitted that they were in a rather disagreeable place.
“I’ve been in worse places,” Gobo admitted. “But things usually look worsethan they really are, eh?”
The farther they went, however, the darker and more gloomy the way grew, until they finally arrived in a large cavern that was nearly as large as The Great Hall. But where The Great Hall was alive with colour, laughter and activity, this grim, shadowy hole in the Rock resembled an abandoned blast furnace that had seen better days, and not been dusted in living memory.
Gobo slowly came to a stop, and motioned Darl to halt as well. “I’m thinking that we should go back, and try a different route. Not far, just back for an hour or two the way we came … take a left instead of a right… whatever,” his words trailed away to a whisper.
Darl was quick to agree. “I was thinking the same thing myself, now that you mention it. This place gives me the creeps. Let’s go back to that spot where we drank from the spring that tasted like cherry soda, where we’ll probably have better lu… ”
“Shhh!!!” hissed Gobo. “What was that?” his voice quivered. “I don’t like this at all. We need to leave, now.” But now was too late, as the Fraggles quickly realized!
Knuckle-walking out of the darkness, a pair of enormous creatures charged at the petrified Fraggles.
“Skeeks!” cried Gobo. “Run for your life!”
Darl had no idea at all what a Skeek was, but it was ugly and plainly dangerous. Running seemed like a very good idea, but there was no time. The one with sickly purple hair scooped up Gobo as though he were a child. While the struggling Fraggle kicked futilely at the creature’s shins, his efforts were useless, and he was effortlessly slung over a warty back.
The other Skeek was having somewhat less luck managing Darl, however. The monster grabbing at him had long, ape-like arms, shaggy orange hair, a nose like a gherkin, broken teeth and an undershot jaw that was the size of a bear-trap! Darl dodged as best as he could, but in a moment he too was collared.
Struggling desperately, Darl was dragged along in a grip like a gorilla’s, while Gobo bounced roughly over the other Skeek’s gnarly shoulder.
“What are these goons going to do with us?” Darl wailed.
“If we’re lucky?” Gobo gasped. “Drag us to their lair, beat us black and blue, then throw us into a deep pit, with the remains of past meals they’ve captured. If we’re not lucky … I expect they’ll eat us right away!”
Darl responded with a very un-Fragglelike expletive.
As best he could as he jounced along on his captor’s shoulder, Gobo explained more about Skeeks. They were fearsome monsters, with an appetite for anything that would allow itself to be caught. They were sly, malicious and unpredictable. They also had a body odour that could bleach cloth. For the most part, however, they stayed far away from the lighted areas where Fraggles lived, and the wholesome atmosphere around growing things. Instead, they preferred darkness and decay, and only hunted around the borders of their own blighted surroundings.
“This is all my fault,” Gobo confessed morosely. “I should have realized from the signs that we might be near a Skeek’s lair. It’s so unusual to come within a mile of anywhere that Skeeks live that I didn’t realize the danger! I was too caught up in exploring – ” he spat the word out, “ – to see the see the obvious!”
“So what do we do now?” asked Darl. “I don’t fancy being eaten, not even if we’re beaten first so that we have time to savor the terror!”
“I… I don’t know,” Gobo stammered in despair. No… no-one escapes from a hungry Skeet!
As Darl was dragged along, he saw that they were being hauled toward the mouth of a dark pit, from which emanated the fetor of unnamed things rotting. It would be no use to recite ‘A Elbereth Gilthoniel’ in a desperate situation as this, he realized – and then he acted so suddenly that he had no time to be conscious of what he was doing.
With a sudden, violent lunge, Darl kicked the Skeet that held him, right where he assumed the family jewels were kept under the matted, grey fur!
Instantly, the monster flung Darl aside, curled up into a fetal ball and screeched. The Skeet carrying Gobo dropped him to the floor and rushed at Darl with its snaggly fangs bared in a hideous grimace.
Still without thinking, Darl stepped inside the reach of the Skeet, and laid a desperate punch in its hairy belly – with unexpected effect.
The skeet folded up! It whistled out a blast of reeking breath, tried to straighten up, then bent over again, wheezing. It tried to straighten up again, but this time Darl drove an overhand punch square into the monster’s face, and his other fist crunched into a bloodshot eye.
The Skeet backed off in a hurry, but Darl wasn’t letting it off the hook so easily – he kept boring in with a barrage of one-two punches, finishing with a haymaker square its breadbasket! The monster went down like a column of teetering rocks.
The other Skeet was still rocking slowly back and forth on the ground, curled up, clutching itself and moaning quietly.
A shaken Gobo rose from the cave floor to dust himself off, then stared at the two fallen monsters in awe.
“How … did … you … do that?” he whispered.
“I don’t quite know. I just did… “ Darl muttered, shaking. “But let’s just get the hell out of here for now. Okay?”
“But I don’t see how it was possible to hurt anything so much bigger than yourself, especially so much bigger than yourself,” Gobo insisted, still gawking at the defeated Skeeks and ignoring Darl’s efforts to drag him away from the mind-boggling sight.
Darl was frantic to get the two of them as far away as possible before the monsters recovered. The Skeeks were probably still dangerous, and he was not about to risk another round with them.
“Use your common sense! Let’s go!” he hissed. “Haven’t you ever been in a fight before?”
“A fight? You mean with your hands?” replied an astonished Gobo. “Of course not.”
Apparently, no one had ever heard of scientific pugilism in Fraggle Rock before – not even the monsters!
No two Fraggles had ever been more grateful to be back in the Great Hall again than Gobo and Darl. They had run back the way that had come, only pausing at the cherry fountain, where after huffing and puffing, they drank heavily, then started off again at a jog, which eventually slowed to a weary trudge. Since the tunnels were now brighter and full of more normal plants and creatures, it seemed that they were safely outside of Skeek haunts – but they were unwilling to take a chance. Finally, they began to recognized familiar Fraggle territory.
They were dusty, bedraggled, tired and exhausted when at last finally they staggered into The Great Hall. The contest had begun only a few hours before … yet to the two spent Fraggles, it seemed as though their ordeal had lasted for days.
Red and Mokey had already returned from their own “expedition,” but most of the crowd of spectators had long since drifted away – even Fraggles viewing an exciting spectacle have short attention spans – so apart from Red, Mokey, the three judges and a handful of loyal friends and hangers-on, the area in front of the tunnel entrance was empty.
“Well, look who finally decided to show up!” cried a jubilant Red. "You lost your way, I suppose? We’ve had been waiting for you to show your faces for the last hour! Look at all the important stuff we found. We discovered a stone that whistles by itself, some sweet smelling, sticky sap and a funny-looking Doozer helmet from thousands of years ago … I guess ... at least I’ve never seen one like it before.”
Mokey rolled her eyes in exasperation, but then shrugged and kept silent as Red confidently played to the remaining spectators, and finally called, “Get the judges!”
The three judges ambled forward under Red’s urging. One had fallen asleep and had to be shaken awake, and the other two had been interrupted in eating a bag of gingerbread snaps … and all three had forgotten that they were the judges for a contest. Red marshaled them up on the reviewing stand where they belonged, so that they could declare unanimously that Mokey and herself had won.
"Now pronounce the penalty for the looo-sers!" she crowed.
But Mokey, peering at the exhausted Gobo and Darl, sensed that something was very wrong. “Red?” she interrupted. “Something has happened, I know it. Gobo, you must tell me what happened!"
“This is not a good time to talk about it,” Gobo wheezed. “We’re hungry and tired and sore all over, and we just want to go home to get to bed ... isn't that right, Darl?"
Darl only grunted agreement, as he embraced a badly worried Kiki.
“But this is the perfect time to talk about how badly you lost!” Red insisted, pursuing her victory with a one-track mind.
“I don't want to talk about it, either," said Darl … adding, “we may not have found much worth bragging about, but we were one step away from being eaten. This is one contest I didn’t mind losing!”
Red’s triumphant expression suddenly turned sickly. “Ea… ea… eaten?” she whispered, aghast.
“Eaten!" emphasized Gobo.
After that, no one suggested the two defeated explorers should do Boober’s laundry, or read hours of flowery poetry in The Great Hall. Instead, the subdued little crowd dispersed in silence, and the cavern echoed uncharacteristically quiet for the rest of the evening.
Kiki let Darl away, one arm tightly around him, and demanded to know everything that had happened to him, from the moment the boys were out of sight until their return, hours later.
But not without a bath first. Kiki insisted that Darl stop at the Pond and have a thorough wash on the way home. Whether at work or play, Fraggles are usually not overly fussy about dust and grime, but there are limits. Darl was not only filthy from head to foot, he had somehow acquired a very disagreeable odour. At a secluded corner of the Great Hall’s pool, Kiki steered the bedraggled Darl to the water's edge, and barely resisted the temptation to bodily push him in.
“You might have picked a spot closer the warm spring,” he complained.
Wrinkling up her lip, Kiki said, “Just wash. What did you do – roll in sour greaseberries?”
In fact, the water was at an ideal temperature for a soak. Darl pulled his favourite blue hockey jersey over his head, tossed it aside and plunged into the Pool. A murky cloud of dirty water immediately rose around him as he rubbed himself vigorously, sluiced himself with clean water and finally ducked under completely. Fortunately, the current was brisk at this end of the Pool, and the water cleared quickly.
Kiki also threw her clothes aside, and eased into the neck-high pool beside her mate. “I suppose we might as well both walk home wet,” she said. “Now, I want you to explain why you were almost eaten! I didn’t give Gobo permission to let you get eaten in one of his expeditions!”
Darl settled back against a mossy mound and sighed. Clearly, he was obliged to explain everything, and waiting to return home was not soon enough for the impatient female who was poking him in the ribs. Describing his adventures, he had to admit that nothing they had found on the had trip satisfied Gobo’s criteria for new discoveries until late in the day … long after they should have noticed how threatening their surroundings had become. Then the Skeeks had appeared as though by magic, and it was all they could do to escape.
“How in the world did you get away?” demanded Kiki, shuddering. “Skeeks! Your bones would have been picked clean by now! What did Gobo do?”
For a moment, Darl said nothing … then admitted, “Gobo thought we were finished … we should say our goodbyes. I didn’t know what else to do, so I kicked the Skeek that was holding me in the crotch! To my surprise, he collapsed like a bag of wet noodles! There was nothing else then but attack the other Skeek ... the one that had captured Gobo. I drew back a fist and punched that Skeet in the gut, as hard as I could. That stunned him, so I was able to finish him off … though I still don’t know how.”
Kiki stared at Darl for several seconds before she said, “Say that again?”
She coaxed him through the entire story from beginning to end, liberally annotated with skeptical questions before she was satisfied. Then she fell silent, clinging to him as she trembled…
At the end of the day, Fraggles are scrupulous about the state of their clothes, their blankets and rugs, their saucers and pans, and it simply wouldn’tdo to go to bed with dirty feet. When Darl felt he was clean enough to share Kiki’s bed again, he climbed out of the Pool, shook most of the water from his fur and reached for his shirt. Only then did he notice that it badly needed a wash as well. He decided to simply carry it home, and ask Boober to launder it tomorrow.
They walked home dripping, holding hands, with Darl carrying their clothes. Back safely in their cozy Hole, they carefully dried each other off with their worn towel … and, what with one thing and another, they did not have supper that night…
Kiki was up early the next day, mulling over her breakfast. She felt partly to blame for encouraging Darl to take part in Gobo’s foolish contest … one that had nearly ended so badly. Also, the idea that Darl might be some sort of super-Fraggle was hard to fathom. As for Skeeks … she had believed that they were only a story for frightening children who were naughty … boogiemen no-one ever met in real life. But what if Skeeks ever came all the way to The Great Hall, to the very Pool of The Great Hall itself?
She had not had time to think for very long before someone tapped at the entrance to their Hole.
“Come in,” she called up the stairs, wondering who it might be this early in the morning.
“It’s me, eh,” Gobo called back, and swept aside the beaded curtain in the doorway.
The blurry voice of Darl came from the sleeping area. “Who’s that? Who comes calling even before breakfast?”he complained.
“It’s Gobo, eh? Sorry, Darl, but I think it’s too important to wait.”
Darl appeared from the bed area, pulling on his second favourite shirt, a plaid “mac” that he borrowed from Kiki. Until Boober collected and washed the laundry, the Maple Leaf jersey that he habitually wore would unwearable.
“Did Wembley come, too?” asked Kiki.
“Naw, Wembley doesn’t know I’m here.
“So what’s all that important this hour of the morning?” Darl yawned, slumping into a chair at the little table, and waving Gobo into the chair opposite. “You look beat. Did you get any sleep?”
“Eh… no, not much,” Gobo said slowly. “See, some things happened after I got home.”
“What kind of things?” Darl asked.
Gobo paused, as Kiki poured cups of steaming cocoa-like brew for them, then replied slowly, “Well … Red came by, just as I was getting ready for bed. She was really embarrassed, and confessed that none of the discoveries that she and Mokey claimed to made yesterday were real … just ordinary stuff, you know? I said I can tell if someone had tied a ribbon to a Scooterfly or not, and that was okay. We were still friends.”
“Well… that’s nice, but hardly important enough to wake me up at this hour to talk about it,” Darl grumped, taking a sip from his cup.
“Well… eh… Then something else happened,” Gobo mumbled.
“What else happened?” Darl asked, with exaggerated patience.
“Well… eh, later, after Red had gone, I was getting ready for bed, when Mokey came by. She said it was very important. She seemed sad, nervous, determined but very brave – in that way of hers, you know?”
“So what did Mokey want?” Kiki asked curiously.
“Well… eh… I thought she was going to confess her part in their fake ‘discoveries’ too, so I said I knew all about that. Mokey surprised me by saying she knew all along that I hadn’t been fooled, and simply could admit to the deception without betraying her friend Red. She hadn’t come to see me about that at all. Instead, she released me from the promise to read her poetry, because it was wrong to win a bet under false pretenses. Of course, I had to say I love Mokey’s poems anyway, and would love to read them… I guess I do like them … when I understand them. So we’re still friends… ”
“Well, that’s just sweet, and I am very gratified to know you had such good reasons for your insomnia – ” Darl began ironically, and Kiki kicked him under the table. “ – OW! But still, that hardly seems important enough… OW!”
“Oh, eh… yeah, then something else happened,” Gobo mumbled.
“Whatelse happened?” Darl hissed, fighting down an impulse to scream. He knew from experience that most Fraggles have the attention-span of a chipmunk, and if he interrupted Gobo’s train of thought, they might be here all day.
“Well… it’s about my pal, Wembly,” Gobo said sadly. He had finally arrived at the real reason why he come to talk with Darl.
“So Wembley isn’t even coming?” asked Kiki.
“Naw, Wembley doesn’t want me to leave him alone by himself. That’s the problem. Something has to be done about that bully Jenkis. He picks on Wembley, and won’t leave him alone. I didn’t know anything about it until I got home yesterday, after … you know all about that. I coaxed the story out of Wembley later, when I got home, but he was practically in tears before he would say anything.”
“Well, I know that bully Jenkis gave Wembley a sprained leg, so he wasn’t able to explore with you yesterday and I went in his place.” Darl said. “But I’m sure I saw Wembley at the start of the contest, when he came to see us off.”
“You did,” said Gobo. “He was sitting on a ledge next to Rumple, when that tough bully, Jenkis, pushed Wembley off the end of the ledge. He fell and hurt his leg again, had to be carried home by Rumple and Lou, and put to bed.”
“That’s terrible,” cried Kiki. “Will he be alright?”
“Yeah, I think so. I re-bandaged his leg, and it doesn’t seem to be any worse … just twice as sore as it used to be. He hasn’t left his blankets since!”
“I don’t think I like where this is going… “ muttered Darl.
“There’s no two ways about it,” Gobo said bluntly. “You have to do something help Wembley. If Jenkis goes on this way, Wembley will be too frightened to go outside at all! Jenkis is twice as big as any of us, but he’s basically a coward. He backs down from anyone with any gumption, and wecan stand up to him. But that doesn’t help Wembley. He’s easily spooked when he’s alone, and he won’t do anything to defend himself.”
“I see that,” Darl said, “But I don’t know what you want me to do. I can’t be with him all the time, any more than you can.”
“But you can teach him to fight …just like you learned how when you were a Silly Creature, eh!”
Kiki echoed Darl’s thoughts: “I don’t like where this is going, either… “
Wembley refused to come out into the Great Hall for three more days. He had good reason, since Jenkis lingered wherever he was likely to, sooner or later, encounter the smaller Fraggle. Sure enough, as soon as Wembley ventured from the Hole where he and Gobo lived, he discovered that Jenkis was shadowing him close behind. Other Fraggles, who disapproved of Jenkis’ obvious bullying, had done all they could, but unfortunately that amounted to little more than stern frowns, and one or two impolite snubs. On one occasion, Red summoned enough anger to speak sharply to the bully as she passed by … but not even that was enough.
It was only by summoning up courage for those three days that Wembley was able to scoot up the trail to the Hole where Darl and Kiki lived. Just as he feared, he found the oversize bully following close behind him the entire way. Wembley ducked inside the entrance to his friends’ Hole, with a swaggering Jenkis only a few steps behind.
Peeking out, Kiki found the oversize Fraggle lingering a short distance away, an intimidating presence outside their doorway. A moment later, a frowning Darl was at the entrance as well. But Jenkis had heard about Darl’s encounter with the Skeeks, and vanished down the tunnel … just a little too quickly to call it “nonchalantly.”
“How is your leg?” asked Kiki, seating Wembley at the table. “You walked all the way by yourself? Why didn’t Gobo come with you?"
Wembley looked uncomfortably, as he always did whenever he was unsure of himself. "Aw … well … Gobo wanted to come … but he also told me that someday I’d have show that I wasn’t afraid. So I said that if it was all the same with him, I’d go by myself!"
“I think that’s very brave of you,” replied Kiki, reassuringly. "If... "
“You don’t think I did the wrong thing, do you?" Wembley interrupted.
Darl brought a dish of Doozer sticks with sweet syrup poured over them.
"Dig in," he said, "No, I don't think you did the wrong thing. I think all you need is a little self-confidence, and then you'll have no trouble standing up to a dim-witted, Two-Ended Baloobius like Jenkis.”
“I ... don't ... know, " Wembley replied, sucking on a sticky confection. “I mean … he's so big. And I'm so small. What if Jenkis pushes me really, really hard, next time?”
“But he’s already done that! It wasn’t that bad, was it?” answered Darl. “Just get up again, and... well... just push back. "
“And if he knocks me down? Harder than a push?” persisted the small green Fraggle.
It was a point that Darl could not evade forever. As a former Silly Thing, he dreaded the idea of introducing personal conflict into this peaceful little society, but he found it difficult to ignore the need.
“If he knocks you down, you’ve got to get up again and hit him back,” he said.
“You mean, hurt another Fraggle? With my hand?” Wembley quavered.
Darl sighed. “Now look, you’d swat at a Blisterbug, wouldn’t you?”
“Well, yeah, of course,” Wembley said. “Blisterbugs sting! And it hurts.”
“But you know it only hurts for a little while, right? And if you swat a Blisterbug, it won’t ever sting you again.”
“But Jenkis isn’t a Blisterbug!”
”Yes, he is,” Darl said. “He may be a Fraggle, but he’s also mean for no reason, he hangs around waiting to hurt smaller Fraggles, he annoys everyone. He’s just a big, mean, dumb Blisterbug!”
Wembly held up his open hand and looked at it dubiously. “So if I just swatted Jenkis, you think he’d stop hurting me?”
Wearily, Darl extended a hand and curled his fingers up. “Just a swat won’t be enough. This is how you make a fist. I'll also show you how to make one so that you don’t break a finger. Now you try it. That's right ... ”
Wembley waggled his clenched hand loosely, as though to shake a bug off. Darl sighed again. This would not be easy.
Darl taught the awkward little Fraggle the basics of fighting over the rest of the morning. Kiki watched with fascination while Darl taught Wembley – the hard way – not to fold his thumbs inside his fingers. He demonstrated how keep his fists up, jab forward, then practice putting his weight into it. In fact, they were making good progress when Wembley backed into a settee, and nearly went head over heels after knocking over one of Mokey’s paintings.
Kiki strenuously objected that, henceforth, home was out of bounds for training. “Clearly, this is not the place for this kind of rough and tumble. You’ll have to take it outside in future!”
Next day, Darl led Wembley to a secluded spot at the end of a short tunnel. Red could often be found there, organizing team sports, lifting weights, exercising or encouraging young Fraggles to emulate her own strenuous life-style. In fact, she spent so much time there that she had all but claimed it as her own. It was, of course, the common property of all, and the floor had been polished by centuries of running, chasing, throwing, hopping, sliding and skittering Fraggles occupied in the business of having a good time. It was one of Red’s favourite spots.
At one end were a several different sorts of goal posts that could be used in marking almost any sort of score. The other end held a cubbyhole for all the paraphernalia of an ill-defined number of sports, including Rock Hockey, Bladder Ball, Butt Bouncing and Bowling with Rollies. For the spectators, rows of moss-cushioned seats were thoughtfully provided along both sides of the field … although in any case, most of the crowd, and some of the teams, were likely to have wandered away or fallen asleep well before the end of the game.
Darl and Wembley wouldn’t need any equipment, however, and they had even less use for spectators. It would be only the two of them, mano-a-mano.
“Yesterday, we practiced how you hold your hands,” said Darl. “You remember what I showed you?”
The smaller Fraggle was in much better spirits already. “I sure do!” Wembley cheerfully replied. “I hold my hands like this! And then I do this!” Unfortunately, the punch he demonstrated was slow and feeble, at best. In Darl’s opinion it would be a long morning before Wembley would be ready to strike a blow against a pillow… much less his teacher’s padded body. If not for the weak “poof” sound, Darl would not have known Wembley had even connected.
“You can’t throw a proper punch unless you put some weight behind it. To do that, you have to follow through. Understand?”
“Oh, sure!” agreed Wembley. “How… how do I do that?”
“Stand like this!” Darl said, using his feet to push Wembley’s feet into better position. “Now, see? You’re here, and now you can more forward with your weight, and use all that power in your blow. Now try it again!” he said.
Wembley tried it harder.
“Now again!” Darl instructed. “Harder this time!”
And Wembley tried again … and again … and again, landing an imperceptibly more solid blow each time. They spent the entire morning before Darl was satisfied with their progress, and both Fraggles felt need in of a rest.
There was little need to mention that they needed a dip in the main Pool after so much exertion. At the Pool they found the usual crowd of laughing, giggling, running, jumping, splashing, gossiping revelers, who greeted them joyfully.
Several called out, “Whatcha doing?” “Come join us!” and “Watch out, Red’s diving!” … just as Red landed in the Pool with an impressive belly flop that soaked Fraggles who were standing outside for several feet around.
Climbing out, Red gingerly rubbed her furry belly, and complained, “That could have gone a little better. Where were you two all morning? I asked Gobo, but he wouldn’t say anything … just that you two had things to talk about. Are you going to tell me, or am I going to have to pry until you give in?”
“Oh, sure… “ Wembley began an eager explanation, that Darl promptly cut off.
“It was really nothing,” he said.
Surprised, Red said, “Nothing?”
“Not really,” Darl continued. “Just a little pep talk … I wanted to give Wembley some confidence by telling him that … he has no reason to be nervous … around others, that is.” This was not at all what Darl wanted to talk about, and he was searching for ways to avoid touching upon the subject of conflict between Fraggles.
“That’s not what I heard!” crowed Red. “Mokey told me, that she overheard Lou talking with some of her friends, and they had noticed that Jenkis was picking on Wembley again. They complained to The World’s Oldest Fraggle, who said he already had enough problems of his own with his bunions, so he sent his helper, Henchy, to tell Gobo that something would have to be done about this nonsense! I bet Gobo went straight to you next, and that’s what’s behind all the secrecy between you and Wembley!”
Darl glowered at Red, not at all pleased by either her deduction, nor by the satisfaction she felt because she was more or less correct.
“That’s neither here nor there,” he equivocated. “This is a matter between me and Wembley, and it’s better if it remains between the two of us.”
Next day, the two friends arrived for their work-out, and found a small crowd of curious Fraggles ahead of them…
“Sorry. I tried to shoo them away,” apologized Gobo. “I didn’t mean for the entire Rock to know all about it, eh … but I guess Henchy blabbed.”
Darl frowned, then sighed. “I think everybody blabbed!”
Kiki took a seat on a bench along with other spectators. When Darl shot a look in her direction, she did her best to show encouragement.
Darl showed Wembley how to warm up, and then after a couple of minutes they began to practice the previous day’s lessons…
Gradually, Wembley began to get the hang of using his hands properly, as well as to overcome the nervousness that he felt by trying. He was landing solid rights and lefts on Darl’s pillow, and soon it was time for Wembly to be padded as well. As Darl began to rain real blows on his partner, Wembley learned to duck and weave, and not curl up in fright whenever he failed to dodge a blow.
All the while, Kiki sat on the sidelines, slowly growing more and more apprehensive as she watched two of her favourite Fraggles trade punches with each other.
Gobo, who had also come to watch the exercise, had a strangely unreadable expression on his face … and kept silent the whole while.
“I think I can say,” Darl congratulated Wembley, “that you know how to defend yourself as well as any Fraggle in the Rock. You should be more than a match for two Jenkises. Three!”
“Bam … you really think so?” said his sparring partner, jabbing energetically at Darl’s outstretched fist. “Bam! Bam!”
“Without a doubt.”
Darl looked over at Kiki, and then over to the other side of the makeshift gym, where Gobo sat. To his surprise, he was unable to clearly read either Fraggle’s face. Kiki stuck her tongue out in mock disapproval, while on the other side, Gobo sat as though made of stone.
“I think you better hit the showers, old sport,” said Darl. “That’s Silly Creature talk for go for a swim. Why don’t you and Gobo meet up with us, later? First, I have want to have a word with Kiki.”
Kiki scooted over and allowed Darl to occupy the other half of a stuffed cushion that was leaking feathers from several places.
Darl said, “Wembly did pretty well, don’t you think?”
“Too well, I’m afraid. I don’t like this fighting business at all,” Kiki responded. “Did you see the expression on Gobo’s face just now, when Wembley joined him at the sidelines?”
“Gobo seemed happy enough when I agreed to be Wembley’s teacher.”
“We’ll see,” Kiki said, doubtfully.
Gobo had been obviously relieved at the start of Wembley’s lessons, but – day by day – he grew more thoughtful-looking. Finally, he was watching the practice sessions as though something in his stomach was upsetting him.
Excited as he was about his new-found skills, Wembley noticed nothing wrong about his friend. Instead, he danced with excitement, and gushed enthusiasm like a small puppy. Gobo listened as stony-faced as before. But, then, a slow smile broke over the explorer's face...
“That was great,” Gobo congratulated Wembley. “I was really worried that Darl couldn't teach you to protect yourself, but he really came through, didn’t he? If Jenkis ever gives you a hard time again, you’ll be able to handle him like just like that!"
“Aw… he wouldn't even dare! Darl said I only needed to gain a little confidence, and I’d be alright. Just to be unafraid of him will be enough give that big bully something to think about!"
Gobo laughed, “What if next time, maybe I’ll need you to protect me, eh? Wouldn’t that be strange.”
“That’ll never happen, Gobo. Why … we’re best buddies. You’ve always been there for me," said a very sincere Wembley, “…and now I can be there for youtoo!”
“Of course you will. Now, let’s go have some fun, eh? I hear that Lennie has fixed his harmonica, and … "
Watching from the other side of the playing field, Darl and Kiki were unable to overhear anything that followed. Kiki commented, “They left in good spirits. For a second I thought something was wrong between them. Did you notice?”
“What could possibly have gone wrong?” said Darl. “And no guessing!”
The showdown came much sooner than anyone expected.
Jenkis had been conspicuously absent during most of the time while Wembley had been “training.” When seen at all, he remained quietly in the background, going about his own business. Fraggles even began to approach him cautiously with tentative “good mornings” and "how ya doings?” but Jenkis was untalkative, and refused to return anyone’s greetings. Instead, he lurked around the margins of The Great Hall, watching events carefully … clearly sizing up the situation.
The Great Hall was much more than what the name implies. In the middle of the enormous space that encompassed the Hall was The Pool, itself more than it seemed. The main body of water was long, and broad enough for a gaggle of Fraggles to swim and dive in without crowding. In places, it was all but bottomless, and Red could cannonball as deep as she wanted with no danger of touching bottom. If fact, it wasn’t clear if the dark blue depth even had a bottom, or whether it just came out topsy-turvy on the other side. It is said that folk known as Mergles lived in that strange place … but few Fraggles had ever visited there. Elsewhere, The Pond was shallow enough for the most unsteady toddlers, and in-between swimmers were able to choose whatever depth they were most comfortable with.
Fresh water ran into The Fraggle Pool from several springs, and by common consent, no-one was allow to muddy or taint the water for several yards around. The water that ran over the rocks was crystal clear and cold; however, there were hot springs as well, that burbled up from unseen fissures, and were a source of circulating warmth that promoted relaxation. At most times of the day, you could find one or more Fraggles in the tub-like warm basins, soaking limply in the water, or chatting convivially with their neighbors. For those who wished for a little privacy, it was easy enough to find a hot spring nestled not far away, but sheltered out of sight among the rocks.
At the far end of The Pool, streams from every part of the Great Hall collected together into a torrent, and rushed headlong into the Goblin’s Garden, whose rocky pinnacles of tortured stone drained the torrent into invisible pits, sinkholes and abysses. No Fraggle would have been mad enough to follow – not even Gobo, his Uncle Matt, or any of his illustrious family of explorers … however foolhardy they might be.
But The Pond in The Great Hall was only the jewelin the crown of the world that was known to Kiki and her kindred. The cavern that was the Great Hall was itself immense, and would have seemed so even to any Silly Creature who might have found a way inside. In every direction could be found large gathering spots, blind alleys, broad platforms, narrow ledges, inspiring towers, twisty passageways, rock curtains, natural bridges and private grottos divided into many smaller worlds. Any geologist worth his salt would had a field day.
Yet the heart of The Great Hall was not the vast underground dome under which its denizens lived, but the Fraggles themselves. Here they played, laughed, sang, danced, rambled without goal and took impromptu naps when it was quiet. It was its inhabitants that truly gave the Great Hall its life, and there was nowhere that Fraggles might not be found
And at the center of this pocket universe, Wembley had begun his morning stroll … closely followed by Jenkis.
Wembley had rounded the far end of The Pool when Jenkis caught up to him, and then jogged by the smaller Fraggle in a purposefully clumsy pass. The hard shove against Wembley’s ribs nearly sent him windmilling into water.
“Hey, watch where y’going,” Jenkis taunted. “You’re so short you trip over your own feet!”
“That’s not funny!” stammered the smaller Fraggle, pulling himself into a semblance of dignity and turning to face the smirking Jenkis.
“Yeah, it is!” said the bully, and made a noise that sounded like “schnert” when he laughed. He waited for Wembley to react, and get himself in deeper … and his smile wasn’t the pleasant sort, but the kind that says the owner wants to humiliate someone.
Jenkis had chosen his ambush well, too, without any very close witnesses. Although it was impossible to be this near to The Pool and remain totally unnoticed, several Fraggles had pricked up their ears when they heard the fracas, and begun to watch from a safe distance.
“No… it’s not!” said Wembley, backing slowly away.
“It is! And maybe it’ud be even funnier if you fell in. Why don’t you fall in … why don’cha, hey?”
Jenkis moved in closer to Wembley, leaving him no room to back away any farther. He was crowding the smaller Fraggle toward the edge of the pond, with the obvious goal of forcing him into the water. At this point, all eyes were watching closely. Several Fraggles were even emboldened enough that they cautiously gathered around.
That was when a furious Red arrived.
“You leave Wembley alone! You hear me?” she snapped. “In fact, why don’t you just stop being so unfriendly!”
Jenkis turned away from Wembley then, and gave Red a once-over with mild surprise. Red faltered, and backed ever-so-slightly away. Then Jenkis began a deliberate, menacing advance toward her…
“Don’t you DARE!” screamed Wembley! In an instant, he dropped into the defensive stance that Darl had taught him, and fear had fallen from the small Fraggle. No longer backing away from Jenkis, he was actually moving inside the reach of the much larger bully, and was choosing his attack!
Caught completely by surprise, Jenkis tripped over his own feet and tell to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs. Awkwardly, he rolled only his back, only to find Wembley standing over him, ready to do business.
The bully crawled backward as quickly as he could, scrambled to his feet and ran off like a Dry Bloatie on fire.
Red was paralyzed by astonishment. She had never seen a Wembley like this before, and wasn’t sure she was seeing it now.
“Wembley? Is that really you? Did you really stand up to that big bully?”
“Gee … I guess I did! I did, didn’t I!” Wembley was every bit surprised as he was impressed by his own success in standing up for himself.
Other Fraggles were thronging around the small Fraggle, laughing, slapping him on the back, shaking his hand, cheering him for a jolly good fellow. It was almost too much of a change in his humble station in life, to suddenly become the Hero of the Hour!
Suddenly, Gobo was there with a huge smile, bracing his shoulders.
“Way to go, Wembley! I heard about your run-in with Jenkis. I wish I had been there to see it! I heard it became quite the battle-royal when Red got involved.”
“Aw, naw… it wasn’t anything.” Wembley said modestly. “At first, I was scared, but then Red stuck up for me!”
Red couldn’t resist interjecting, “And Wembley stuck up for me! Didn’t you! I’ll say you did!”
“Well … gosh, I was afraid Jenkis would hurt Red. Then I just did what Darl taught me, and just like you said … once that bully saw he couldn’t scare me anymore … he ran away!”
Gobo laughed. “That suits me fine … the last thing I need is for you to protect me someday!”
It was the last anyone in The Great Hall ever heard or saw of Jenkis. “Good riddance!” was the unanimous sentiment, and three cheers for Wembley Fraggle!
The celebration went on for most of the day, as Fraggles, young and old, gathered around Wembley with their congratulations. In fact, just before the mid-afternoon snack, the World’s Oldest Fraggle mounted the podium next to the Fraggle Horn to announce that Wembley Fraggle was now an Official Hero of the Rock, and that he was henceforth entitled to wear a Very Special Medal – which had just been made by Mokey from paint, glue and an old pocket watch that no longer told time. Then, following Wembley’s investiture, the Great Hall Occasional Glee Club and Chowder Society sang a new song, composed in his honour.
Hooray for Wembley!
Once he was weak and tremble-ey,
But now he always comes through in a pinch!
Big bullies, he can stop ‘em,
And wallop, biff an’ bop ‘em,
To those bullies he will never give an inch…!
… and so on, until they came to a confused trailing-off while trying to find a rhyme for “invincible” that made any sense at all.
As it happened, Darl was not present at the great showdown. He and Kiki had been digging for wineberries along the riverbank, a mucky business at best, and had come home late, and spent the rest of the afternoon soaking at the far end of The Pool. News travels fast, however … except in the rock, where it ambles aimlessly. As quickly as they were alerted, however, Darl and Kiki dressed themselves and then hurried over to the podium, where the presentation was being made.
As it was, by the time Kiki and Darl arrived they were nearly late for the whole thing. Fraggles were already drifting away to their suppers and a nap. However, they discovered most of their friends in animated conversation next to The Horn, where Wembley was proudly showing off a gaudy decoration nearly the size of his head.
“Oh, look!” shouted Wembley. “Darl came! And Kiki! Look at the swell medal I was given for saving Red. And also for scaring Jenkis away for good!”
“That’s right!” Red broke into Wembley’s rush of words. “I had no idea that huge bully was so terrifying,” she exclaimed, missing no opportunity to overwork the drama. “Why, he must have been twice as tall as a regular Fraggle. Three times!”
“I almost fainted when I heard about it from Red,” added Mokey.
Boober, who was perpetually nervous, claimed that he couldn’t imagine how Wembley hadn’t been killed outright. “When I heard about it, I thought he was a goner for sure!”
“Really?” said Darl, a little skeptically. He spoke to Wembley directly. “You did okay? Tell me everything that happened. Right from the start.”
Wembley was only too happy to describe the morning’s altercation. It had been the ninth time in the last hour that he had been called upon to describe the events that ended Jenkis’s reign of terror … and it would not be the last.
Kiki had been silent throughout, glancing from Darl to Wembley and Gobo, trying to read their thoughts. Finally, she spoke to Wembley: “I’m so glad you weren’t hurt. In fact, I’m glad that nobody was hurt!”
Then she shot a clearly unhappy look at Darl. “This won’t happen again, will it?”
Uncomfortably, Darl replied, “I doubt it will … I mean, of course not.”
Next, Kiki turned to Gobo for his thoughts. She saw that Gobo looked subdued, and was eyeing the Very Special Medal awarded to Wembley with open envy. It did not take a Trash Heap to know that Fraggles often do not behave well when they sense any sort of inequality, unfairness or disharmony, and Kiki felt disturbing currents had begun to flow in The Rock.
“I was really proud of Wembley today,” Gobo said, after a brief hesitation. “Because Wembley had learned how to stand up for himself, that bully Jenkis backed down! That bully was really afraid … of Wembley, of all Fraggles! How funny is that, eh, Wembley!”
“Right, Gobo! If there’s ever trouble again,” Wembley reassured everyone, “I’ll be right there to help anyone who needs it! Especiallyto help my best friend when he needs me!” And Wembley gave Gobo’s shoulder a friendly little buffet.
“Like that will ever happen,” quipped Gobo, rubbing his shoulder.
Now Kiki knew, without a doubt, that trouble lay ahead…
The next few days were uneventful. Life returned to normal. No sooner did the Volunteer Fire Brigade hold their annual Open House than it was time for the regular Water-Banging ceremony. Two days later, it was time for the Championship Yodeling Competition. One thing after another as the passage of time flowed endlessly onward.
The days roll ‘round and ‘round and ‘round,
There’s always something fun to do,
Until the new day comes, and that
New day’s a gift from me to you...
Not to be upstaged by a motley rabble of off-key yodelers, Red decided to organize a splendid costume masque, and – naturally – all of her friends had to be dragooned into it!
Keeping a dozen or so Fraggles in order is no small task, and Red had her hands full seeing that they didn’t forget the very reason that they were gathered in one place.
“That’s good,” said Red to a young Fraggle who was having trouble with his costume. “Just remember to keep your paper-mâché head on tight, okay, and don’t leave it somewhere while I’m busy with Morley.”
The same Morley protested that he lost his wings while he was eating, prompting Red to pin them on again for him. “Has anyone seen Boober? Or Wembley?" cried an exasperated Red.
“Did you want me?" answered Boober, from an out-of-the way corner. "I've been making sandwiches for the judges’ table."
“And I’ve been helping!” said Wembley.
A moment later, the two ambled over to Red’s work table, where she handing out “clouds" to three sisters who were to portray a rainstorm as seen from the Gorg’s Garden.
“What are you wearing?” Red asked Wembley. “You're supposed to be dressed up as a The Helpful Doozer.” Pointing at the big medal that the World’s Oldest Fraggle had given him, she asked, "Why are you wearing that?"
Indeed, Wembley was wearing his medal, hung around his neck under the painted basket that was supposed to be his Doozer construction helmet.
Thoroughly surprised, Wembley said , “I just thought, you know, it would be a good time to put it on. I mean … for being a hero and all that."
“But Wembley, you’re supposed to be a Helpful Doozer, not a hero. Besides, you’ve been wearing that medal of yours every chance you get! You even wore it when it was your turn to polish the Fraggle Horn!”
“That was a very important occasion!” Wembley reminded her.
“It was not.”
“Wasn’t!" Red declared emphatically.
Boober had been watching the exchange nervously, as usual, and ventured to say, “I thought he was sort of a hero. That was Wembley's mistake, you see! He never should have taken the chance of doing anything heroic, and just been a coward … like me."
Gobo, dressed as his Uncle Traveling Matt, elbowed his way through the busy preparations with an armload of mixed hats. He had overheard enough of the conversation, however, to take exception to Red’s remarks.
“Why shouldn't Wembley wear his medal if he wants? He won it, after all, by doing something heroic, eh?”
“That’s right!” agreed Wembley. “It's not every day I do something heroic!"
A little reluctantly, Red conceded that Wembley had been heroic after all. “But he wears it everywhere!"
“He doessss, doesn’t he... ” said Gobo. “But if Wembley wants to wear his medal, why not? It isn’t all the big a medal, after all,” Gobo continued in an oddly strained little voice, "and he really didn't do alllll that much for it... did he?"
“That’s right!” laughed Wembley, who didn’t notice Gobo’s change of tone. “It was nothing anyonewouldn't have done," he added, with self-effacing, yet not entirely convincing modesty.
That was far from the end of it.
Over the next week, Wembley found some reason to wear the Very Special Medal awarded to him by the World’s Oldest Fraggle on almost every day. He wore it to the Funny Name-Calling Contest, to Radish Carving Class, to Fire Brigade Practice, to Lou's Cider Tasting, to the weekly collection of heavy laundry with Boober, and even to a Special Peripatetic Poetry Reading Event that Mokey organized on the spur of the moment.
He did decide not to wear it to the “Slip’n'Slide" event … lest his decoration become all gross from Greaseberries. The ripe berries are notoriously hard to wash out, even with strong soap. Sensibly, he decided it would better to leave it at home for once. Wembley also forgot wear his medal it to the Tail-Balancing competition. Having been late for the start, he was unable to find it tangled in his blankets until it was too late.
Nevertheless, Wembley found reason to wear the gold-and-green, sunflower-shaped medal at every public occasion that he could. In fact, he wore is so often that the gilt was beginning to rub off in one or two places. It didn’t matter … Wembley wore it with pride!
In truth, seeing Wembley with his ostentatious decoration for extraordinary valour had begun to seem faintly ridiculous to everyone. More than one Fraggle even felt the stirrings of irritation.
Especially Gobo … whose feelings about Wembley’s lessons in self-defense had grown more and more ambivalent as the days passed.
It came to a head on Trophy Day, the day on which Fraggles everywhere pick a trophy for themselves from last year’s Trophy Day. There were rarely any surprises on Trophy Day. As a rule, everyone picks the same trophy as they did last year, and the year before, and the year before that… Every Fraggle picks the trophy that he or she feels best expresses their own unique qualities … whether it be for being able to eat more cream pies than anyone, for having the longest and fluffiest baloobius, or else for something really serious, such as belching out the complete words to the Radish Rag.
More fun than sleep or playin’ tag,
Is belchin’ to that Radish Rag,
Take a breath and give a shout,
Burp it out! Burp it out! Burp it out! Burp it out!
Truthfully, Trophy Day was not about prizes, but about everyone feeling good about themselves … and having fun.
As usual, Mokey chose a loving cup with a long, fluted stand and gilded flowers, while Gillis, the choir master, picked out a trophy that rang with a perfect B-flat when gently tapped against his tuning fork. Marlon, who was rather weird even for a Fraggle, instinctively chose a trophy cup that had a large crack in it, and was lopsided as well. Kiki was next, and from the pile of trophies she picked her favourite, a glass bowl that was perfect for sipping honeyed lemon tea. She had to urge Darl forward with a gentle push to take his turn, since it was only the third time he had participated in the game, and frankly he didn’t have a favourite trophy for himself … so as before, he took one that nobody else seemed to want … but which, he privately believed, resembled hockey’s Stanley Cup.
When it came to be Gobo’s turn, he immediately picked up his favourite cup, the which, as he claimed, represented his prudent feat of seeing a deadly Poison Cackler before it saw him … and before it had given chase.
“I suppose you’ll want your favourite cup again, eh?” Gobo said to Wembley, whose turn it was next.
It had long been Wembley’s habit of to be completely, interminably indecisive about which trophy to award himself, but eventually – with a sigh of resignation – he always gave himself the same award, a modest little cup for his accomplishment in wearing the best shirt with banana trees on it. This time, however, Wembley showed no interest in his usual, humble choice, and said nothing at all about shirts with banana trees. Instead, he took for his own an ornate, showy eyesore from the pile.
Gobo was startled, and blurted out, “That’s not your usual trophy! That’s the one that Murray likes because it holds up his cucumbers so well! Besides … you’re already wearing the silly medal Mokey made for you!”
“Silly? SILLY!”Wembley protested, “What do you mean, silly! I won that medal for fearlessly driving away a dangerous bully, and saving Red’s life!”
“You did not!” said Gobo, loudly enough that everyone could hear. “Red was only …surprised. She could have looked after herself! And what frightened Jenkis away was really Darl’s reputation … not yours! Don’t – make – me – laugh!”
Wembley was shocked to hear his best friend scoffing at him. “What!? I knew it! You’re … jealous, aren’t you? You are! I can’t believe it!”
“Why would I be jealous?” shouted Gobo. “Did you almost get eaten by a Skeek, or was it me and Darl who escaped from a blood-thirsty monster? Oh … I forgot … Jenkis PUSHED YOU!!! How terriblefor you!”
Words completely failed Wembley, reducing him to incoherent spluttering.
“You – take – that – back!”he shouted.
“I won’t!” Gobo shouted back.
Everyone was frozen in shock to see both Fraggles in an uncharacteristic rage. And then something truly astonishing happened. Wembley tried to push Gobo. He didn’t mean it, and in fact barely touched his best friend. But that was enough to raise a collective gasp of astonishment from the crowd. What was still more surprising … Gobo flinched from Wembley’s shove.
“How – dare – you!” Gobo choked.
“I… I… didn’t mean it,” Wembley quickly apologized.
“That’s right,” Red agreed.
“Wembley didn’t mean it, did he?” Mokey hastily added.
Gobo was not to be assuaged. “You did too mean it! Everyone saw that you pushed me!” Then he challenged the crowd to contradict him: “Didn’t you!”
Darl did not like how matters were developing, and murmured quietly to Kiki that it might be better if they were somewhere else – “In case it occurs to anyone to blame me!”
“It’s not your fault,” Kiki whispered back. “Gobo asked you to be Wembley’s teacher. This is all on those two, not us.”
Nevertheless, they remained discreetly at the back of the crowd.
Conciliatory words had no effect on Gobo, and soon Wembley was shouting back at his best friend again.
Once again, Red tried to intervene, but neither feuding Fraggle would stop their argument.
That was when Gobo unwisely shoved Wembley in retaliation for Wembley’s first, impulsive gesture. That did not go well. Wembley stumbled backward a couple of steps, and then lunged forward and pushed Gobo a second time – for real, this time – and Gobo went head over teakettle.
Gobo sat on the ground for almost a minute, panting. Then he rose suddenly and rushed away to the Hole he shared with his estranged friend, leaving the victorious Wembley to himself.
“Wembley… “ said Mokey, “What are you going to do now? Are you going to go home and apologize?”
“Apologize!” cried Red. “Why would Wembley apologize? This was all Gobo’s fault!”
“Gobo’s fault? Oh, no, Red! As anyone can see, this was clearly Wembley’s fault.”
“What? NEVER!” retorted Red. “Of course it was Gobo’s fault, right, Wembley?”
“It certainly was not Gobo’s fault!” insisted Mokey.
Wembley stepped between Red and Mokey, to prevent yet another argument from starting. He had a more urgent concern, now that he realized he had nowhere where to sleep that night. Fortunately, he spotted Boober lingering unobtrusively in the background, and cried, “Boober, old buddy! Can I sleep at your place for a little while?”
Neither Darl nor Kiki slept well that night. They talked long into the night, after the light from the Ditzies had faded, and the dark was held at bay only by adding glow-wood to the fire.
“They've had little spats before,” Darl said. “Remember when the two of them couldn't agree on switching bunks because Wembley thought he whistled in his sleep, if he slept too high from the ground, but Gobo insisted it was only in his imagination?”
“Yeah, I remember that, Love. It turned out that it was Gobo who was whistling in his sleep, because he had a cold,” Kiki replied.
“And then there was the time when they argued over whether to make Sour-Honey Biscuits, even though neither of them even liked Sour-Honey … but each believed that the other did?"
Kiki had to laugh at that. "But I don’t remember them ever having an argument this bad before. I don't recall them ever… " It actually pained her to say that the two friends had physically scuffled. It had been a terribly unFragglish thing to see. What was worse, the dispute had spread to Red and Mokie, and other Fraggles had muttered things out of Kiki's hearing that sounded very much like other disagreements starting.
“Well,” Darl said hopefully, “It will probably blow over quickly. Tomorrow will be another day.”
Pulling up the covers, Darl was soon asleep.
Tomorrow would come, certainly … but not quite as anticipated, and it was actually a few days later before it was clear that the problem with Gobo and Wembley had still not been resolved.
“I hope you don't mind me coming over so early,” apologized Gobo. “I should have waited until after breakfast, but I brought over some radish muffins."
“That’s very thoughtful,” sighed Kiki.
Darl was still rubbing sleep out of his eyes. “Have you and Wembley made up yet?” he said, hopefully.
“What? No! The last I heard of Wembley, he was still sleeping over at Boober’s place, eh?”
“No, really?” Kiki only feigned surprise at the news. She had seen Wembley from time to time at the other end of the Great Hall, near Boober’s laundry, but nowhere near the cave where he usually lived with Gobo. They had seemingly kept their distance from each other.
“So this is this a purely a social visit, then?” said Darl. “Or were you proposing we go on another expedition, to get hung by our tails over a stew pot?”
“Nothing as exciting as that, eh? As a matter of fact," said Gobo, "I was looking forward to becoming the World’s Oldest Fraggle by myself someday. It should only take about another two hundred years!"
On beginning his strange new life in Fraggle Rock, it had surprised Darl to learn that, with a little luck, he might easily reach such an advanced age, himself – that is, if he stayed out of mischief down dark, mysterious tunnels.
“Then to what do we owe the unexpected pleasure of your presence this cheerful morning?” Darl hinted.
“Does there have to be a reason to visit one’s bestfriends, and share freshly baked radish muffins that you like?"
Like most Fraggles, Kiki did indeed love radish muffins … as well as plain radishes, radish soup, radish ragout, radish soufflé, radish cake, radish toast and just about anything else made from radishes. However, Darl was quite literally of two minds about the spicy root. As a Fraggle, it was just as tasty to him as it was to other Fraggles – crisp, fragrant, developing a rich and versatile palatte of flavours, depending only on the imagination of the enterprising gourmet. Yet Darl also remembered how radishes had tasted when he was still a Silly Creature – just a bland, peppery salad filler. It was frustrating to live in two mental universes sometimes.
But the conversation over breakfast muffins wasn’t getting them any closer to the point of Gobo’s visit.
“Do you hear that Wembley has taken the job as Chief of the volunteer fire brigade?” Gobo said, without preamble. "Yeah. Wembley, if you can believe it.”
“That is a little surprising,” replied Kiki. “Wasn’t Ferguson the Fire Chief?”
“I know. He’d been Chief of the volunteer brigade since the old Fire Chief retired, years ago. All of a sudden, though, Wembley said he wanted to be Fire Chief, and not just be the siren because he was the newest member of the brigade.”
Kiki thought for a moment, then said, “That’s not like Wembley at all.”
“I know, eh?” Gobo replied.
“Was Ferguson alright with that?” Darl asked.
“Probably not,” said Gobo. “But Wembley said that Ferguson had no idea how to put out a fire, since there had never been one in the Great Hall – as far as anyone knew – so Wembley thought he was as qualified as anyone else, so heshould have a turn now.”
“Poor Fergie," said Kiki. "What will he do now?"
“Play the siren, maybe? But that’s not all," Gobo continued. “The other day, Rumple Fraggle was playing a game of Spinners. You both know that Rumple has a problem with making foolish bets … so we all try to find ways to notwin against him all the time, eh?”
“Spinners? I don’t know that game,” Darl said.
“It’s simple, really,” Gobo explained. “You use small wooden disks, and spin them on edge. You can spin two, three, four or as many as you want. They have pictures on one side, so you can spin them so that some come up with pictures, but some don’t. But you can also use some spinners without pictures, to make winning harder. The fewer with pictures, the less likely you are likely to win.”
“Pretty much only a fool would play the game unless the spinners had the same number with and without pictures,” added Kiki.
"Unfortunately, Rumple is that fool,” Gobo laughed, grimly. “Wembley took advantage of Rumple, won all his spinners, and kept them.”
Kiki was shocked. “Oh! Weren’t those were the ones that were so beautifully painted by Mokie, and that she gave to Rumple?”
“Apparently, Wembley thought they were beautiful too,” Gobo said dryly. “Not only did he not give Rumple's spinners back, but he even encouraged him to go on playing even after he didn’t really want to play any more. As he picked up all the spinners, Wembley said, ‘Winner takes all – what are you going to do about it?”
Darl was incredulous. “He said that?”
“So Morris the Reporter on the Great Hall Horn told me!”
Darl was still a little skeptical that Wembley would ever say anything so out of character.
“People have complained for days about Wembley’s changed behavior.” Gobo insisted. “Did you know that yesterday, Wembley cut to the front of a line for a share of Fermented Honeycomb? Morris also told me that Wembley might have taken two pieces … maybe even three!” Gobo paused for dramatic effect, then continued. “You won’t believe this, but just yesterday, Wembley actually told off Marlon!”
In point of fact, Darl half believed it, but he wasn’t sure which half to believe.
“You know how Marlon is,” Gobo told Darl. “With his suspicions and insinuations, it’s just his way, but he doesn't really mean anything by it. At one time or another he’s assumed the worst about almost everyone.”
“I just think he’s a bit peculiar," said Kiki. “It’s rather sad that he has such a suspicious mind, really.”
“All the same,” Gobo went on, “Wembley shouldn't have told Marlon to his face that he was a sneak … even if he is. And he threatened that if Marlon didn’t stop pestering him, he’d make him stop!"
“He said that?” said Darl, now veryworried.
“Marlon told me all about it, later! He said he was quite scared of what Wembley might do if he became angry!”
“This is certainly worrisome, but I’m afraid this is not any of our business,” said Darl, doubtfully. “Is it?"
“That’s why I came this morning,” Gobo said, finally admitting his real purpose. “I need you to show me how to deal with Wembley's growing mean streak!”
Darl and Kiki exchanged knowing glances, suspecting what came next.
“Darl,” pleaded Gobo, “You have to show me how you beat the Skeeks … In case Wembley ever, you know … loses control… I may need to stop him … ”
Darl had been afraid that was what Gobo meant. Exchanging glances with Kiki, he sighed in resignation.
“I want to make it clear,” Darl said firmly, "that my purpose is to prevent trouble, not so that you can pick a fight – not with Wembley, nor with anyone else. All I want to show you is how to not back down, so that Wembley – nor anyone else – won’t feel that he can throw his weight around!"
From the start, there was the delicate question of where to practice. The most obvious place was the same exercise area where Darl had taught Wembley to defend himself. But neither Gobo nor Darl were eager to be seen training Gobo for a grudge match against another Fraggle.
The cave where he had taught Wembley being out of the question, Darl asked if Willa, one of Kiki’s friends, would allow her workshop to be used as a training space. Willa was not only a potter, but an enthusiastic, if highly amateur, sculptor. The Hole in which she lived was not overly large, but the adjacent work area was as crowded and unkempt as one might expect from an artist. There were bins of broken bits of pottery, abandoned wooden forms, half-filled sacks, a number of poseable Fraggle models with mismatching limbs and tails, raw chunks of greasy clay on a big pedal wheel, scattered tools and unfinished projects that were in varying degrees of completion.
The workshop was obviously too crowded for teaching self-defense. Outside her workshop, fortunately, there was a rambling cavern where Willa dug for her clay. There was more than enough space in there for a little rough and tumble, away from prying eyes. It was musty and clammy, and one had to watch one’s footing to avoid tumbling into one of the softer parts.
Otherwise, the area was perfect.
Gobo caught on quickly – more quickly than Wembley had. But then, Gobo was bolder and far more adventurous than his former friend. It did not take a day a full day to coax Gobo into making punches – or to convince him of the advantages of ducking when taking them. In fact, it soon became clear that it would only take another day or two for Gobo to perfect his moves, and prepare himself for any eventuality.
Judging Gobo’s latest feints and dodges, Darl said, “I think you’re as ready as you’ll ever be. Perhaps we should celebrate your graduation … but to be honest, it doesn’t seem the sort of occasion you should celebrate. Instead, I think it should be kept quiet, and hope your new skills are never needed.”
Gobo replied in the same sober manner. “I think we agree on that.”
If there were any two Fraggles who anyone would have said were least likely to come to blows, they were Gobo and Wembley – yet, only two days later, they were squared off against each other!
It came about when Mokie and Red both decided they each needed the use of the Great Hall – Mokie having organized a performance of mimes, and Red a fanfare for trumpets – unfortunately, both at the same time. Mokie claimed that she and the assembled mimes had arrived in the Great Hall first, but Red insisted that she had announced the day before that the Jubilee Rag Time Dizzy Doozer Band would give a full costume performance, and wasn't about to postpone it! Neither would give way, and tempers frayed when some of the other Fraggles joined in, taking one side or the other. Such noisy rows were not uncommon among Fraggles, as such.
In fact, it was almost normal for public activities in the Great Hall to compete and sink into a rhubarb of one sort or another. What was unusual was that Wembley, with his new-found arrogance, decided that he had had enough bickering, and that he would bring order out of the chaos. Naturally, this attempt only created even more confusion.
“But Wembley,” protested a flustered Mokey. “We were here first! Red says she told the band to play today … but she didn't tell anyone else! How were we to know that Red would turn up just when we wanted to use the Great Hall?”
Wembley disagreed. “I’m sorry, Mokey, but Red is right. She put up a notice, and a notice is a notice. It’s Red’s turn to use the Great Hall.”
“That’s right! I put the notice up myself!” asserted Red. “We're all raring to start, just as soon as you stop prancing around in face paint!”
“But no-one wants to hear band music, and the mimes are all ready to perform!”
That was when Gobo pressed forward from the crowd. “What’s all this about, eh? Mokey doesn’t have to look for notices that aren’t there! Red should have told everyone yesterday … not just tell her dopey trumpet band!”
“DOPEY?” shouted Red. “Who are you calling dopey?”
“Well… why can’t the mimes and the trumpeters play together?” suggested Wembley.
“But mimes are supposed to perform in silence,” wailed Mokey.
Indignant, Gobo protested, “How could you come up with a stupid idea like that!”
Now every bit as riled up as Gobo, Wembley yelled, “Oh, yeah! Well, what makes you think you have all the answers, and what makes you the All-Knowing Trash Heap?”
“Oh, yeah!” Shouted Gobo. “If there’s anyone who needs to be taught to be humble, it’s YOU!”
“Hey, quit it, you guys,” Boober protested nervously, arriving late amid the suddenly-quiet crowd. “We’re all friends, remember?”
“Oh, shut up,” cried Gobo, Wembley, Red andMokey together.
That was when the shoving began.
Kiki burst into their cave, where she found Darl. With nothing much to do, he had been watching water drip onto a growing stalagmite, and was struck by her agitation.
“What are you so excited about?” asked Darl, piqued.
“You better follow me,” said Kiki. “Everyone has their tail in a double knot – and with hot pepper sauce on it!”
When Kiki and Darl arrived in the middle of The Great Hall, they found it packed. The World’s Oldest Fraggle vainly struggled to calm the agitated crowd from his speaker’s platform, but no-one paid him the least attention. While he waved his arms and stamped for order, it seemed as though everyone capable of holding a contrary opinion was expressing it vigorously! In the center of it all, Gobo and Wembley were circling each other like a pair of angry Hissyfits, all puffed up and bawling for each other's blood!
Both were smudged and soiled from scuffling, as well as winded from their unaccustomed exertion. As yet, neither one had actually laid a hand on the other!
“You talk … a … good … fight,” panted Gobo, throwing a loose, half-hearted roundhouse that passed over Wembley’s head.
Wembley puffed, “I've ... I've been waiting ... for you to ... start!" Wembley swung on his heels to dodge a weak left, spun all the way around to face the watching crowd, and was momentarily confused.
Making the best of the opportunity to back away from Wembley, Gobo made a great display of raising his defenses again … but did nothing to renew the attack, merely pedaling his fists in circles.
That delay allowed Wembley to recover his balance and face his adversary again. Neither antagonist seemed overly anxious to close in for the finish, however. Instead, they shuffled in circles, dodging and weaving, looking for an opening that neither of them knew how recognize – or to exploit.
Darl found Boober hovering nervously in the back of the crowd, and demanded, “What’s going on? Have those two lost their minds?"
“Without a doubt,” Boober answered. “I always knew there would be trouble over those mimes one day. I don’t know about you, but they’re terrifying!”
“Everything terrifies you, Boober!” Kiki said,
“And your point is?" moaned Boober. “But do you know what reallyterrifies me? That's when I see that all my friends are fighting. Gobo is fighting Wembley. Red is fighting with Mokey. All our other friends are also beginning to take sides!”
Looking embarrassed, Darl admitted that in a way this might be his fault.
“I was going to blame Jenkis," said Boober, “But now that you mention it, maybe this is your fault!”
Kiki was quick to interject, “That’s not really fair, is it?"
“No, ultimately it is my fault," Darl asserted. “And I'm going to do something about it, now!”
“Just make sure that you don’t make it worse!”Kiki pleaded. “You can’t just thumpeveryone. That's what a Gorg would do, and not a Fraggle thing!”
Pushing his way through the excited crowd of Fraggles, Darl faced the two sparring rivals eye to eye. “Just what do you two idiots think you’re doing?” he cried.
Wembley had lost almost all his hard-learned skills, and was blindly throwing punches that never came even close to connecting. Gobo, limping slightly from a stubbed toe, was doing no better, and seemed unwilling to come near his windmilling opponent.
“Are you two going to knock it off!” Darl demanded.
“This is between … ‘tween me and Wem... Wembley,” panted Gobo.
Echoing Gobo’s willingness to brawl, Wembley swung a roundhouse punch that he was unable to aim, and only succeeded in spinning around and sitting down in the dust, rather unexpectedly.
Gobo cried “Aha!” launched a hopeful swing, and inadvertently joined Wembley in the dust on the floor of The Great Hall.
They two feuding Fraggles clambered to their feet again, and renewed their ineffectual battle.
By this time, Darl was thoroughly annoyed. He stepped between the two and announced crossly. "You may think you can settle this just between the two of you, as though one of thinks he can beat the other … but now let me show you a thing or two!”
With no further warning, Darl slipped between Wembley’s flailing arms, crossed a foot behind him, then gave him a hard push that left him sprawling on the ground. While Wembley struggled to get up, Darl turned to face Gobo, grabbed him by one arm and twisted. Gobo twirled helplessly, tangled his feet together and landed on his face. Wembley was just regaining his feet when Darl pushed him to his keister for a second time. Gobo was trying to scramble up again, but was not even half-way upright before Darl tripped him.
The two warring Fraggles had been reduced to a dusty tangle of limbs and tails in a matter of seconds.
Where a moment before, there had been a milling crowd of bad-tempered Fraggles shouting at each other, now their was a shocked silence; then, suddenly, there was a laugh from somewhere in the back. One laugh became several, as Gobo and Wembley lurched to their feet and made feeble attempts to either face each other, or Darl.
In the next instant, both hapless Fraggles were back in the dust … Darl standing over them.
The scattered laughter became an avalanche, as all the Fraggles in the crowd joined in raucous merriment at the expense of the two dusty, disheveled, would-be-warriors.
Darl had barely touched either one, yet the steam had gone out of their feud.
The two sparring partners slowly shook their heads to clear them of bewilderment. As they looked at each other’s dusty faces, first Wembley broke into embarrassed giggles, and then Gobo into his familiar, cheerful guffaws. Their strange madness was over.
Darl lifted both of them to their feet, dusted off their shoulders, and then said, quietly but sternly: “Remember, no matter how good you think you are in a scrape, there is always someone who is better. Now, have we had enough, or do I have to give more lessons about what to do with a couple of hard-headed Jenkises?”
“I guess we acted like Mooches who had too much fermented fruit, didn’t we?” Gobo admitted.
“Yeah… I'll say!” Wembley added, still giggling.
“Let’s go home, Wembley... "
“And you know what,” Wembly said thoughtfully, “I don’t think I want to be a Jenkis ever again. I think I prefer being a siren.”
At that, every Fraggle in the Great Hall broke into a spontaneous cheer – reconciliation had prevailed!
Who wants to fight?
It just ain’t right
To fuss and squabble all the day,
To see a Fraggle
Gripe and haggle
When he ought to laugh and play.
When day is done
We should have fun
To look back on, instead of strife,
We should take time
To sing in rhyme,
The best part of a Fraggle’s life!
It had been a long day, made longer by the sudden hilarity that Darl and Kiki met everywhere. They had to zigzag through the celebrating crowd, encountering dance, song or horseplay of every kind. After days of growing tension and dissension had put everyone on edge … but now all that been released at once with an outburst of Fragglish laughter, and the hard feelings created by the stress were instantly forgotten by everyone.
It was not likely that Darl and Kiki would soon forget how it had all begun, however – with poor Wembley being the victim of a bully, and the foolish contest between Red and Gobo. One thing had followed another with an inevitability that Darl and Kiki could still scarcely believe, even as they finally broke free of the crowd and trudged wearily, hand in hand, toward their cozy Hole.
Other Fraggles could laugh, but Darl was lost in reflection as he trudged up along the meandering slope that led home. Meanwhile, Kiki meanwhile watched Darl carefully, speculating on his thoughts. He had been given an awful lot to think about lately, after all.
Climbing the flight of shallow stairs halfway up the wall of The Great Hall, Darl suddenly stopped, turned to Kiki and asked, “What if someone were to pick on you? I don’t think it would ever be any of our friends, but … what if something like that did happen? What if some unfamiliar Fraggle came from somewhere else in The Rock and tried to hurt you?”
“It would never happen.” Kiki assured him. “Mean Fraggles like that Jenkis are almost unheard of, and I’m certain that all our friends have learned their lesson.”
As they resumed the climb toward their Hole, Darl continued thinking, and finally spoke again: “Suppose it isn’t a Fraggle at all? There are some pretty nasty-looking creatures in the Rock, any of which would find you easy pickings, you know.”
“Then I suppose I’d have to call for you to help me.”
“And if I wasn’t near enough to help,” persisted Darl. “What then?”
Kiki merely shrugged, and replied calmly, “I guess you can’t be ready for everything.”
“But there is something to be done,” Darl persisted. “I could teach youto fight!”
Kiki was shocked. “I’m sorry, Love, but I don’t want to learn to fight, however much it may worry you if I don’t!”
Hearing this, Darl finally broke into a smile. He felt that no matter what had happened recently, everything would finally be alright … now that no-onewanted the forbidden fruit that Darl had unwisely offered. But then he was genuinely surprised when, in the next moment, Kiki unexpectedly changed her mind.
“There is one person who does make me afraid. I wonder if I shouldn’t learn how to fight, after all,” she mused.
“Now, who could that be?”
“Who else could it possibly be but you– what if you become too big for your britches?”
Darl laughed helplessly. “In that case, my Dear, you will have to learn how to put me in britches that are big enough!”
I’m grateful to Walt Wentz for not only the time spent while proofreading my stories, and providing always-useful suggestions, but also for his creative input. By devising the short snippets of poetry you have read throughout the text, Walt created an extra dimension that I am nearly incapable of myself. It is hard enough to write what I mean, but I find it most infuriating, and almost impossible, to write with a rhyme scheme at the same time. I have tried, and come up with a smattering of doggerel, but the great majority of the rhymes are Walt’s work, not mine. Of course, a bit of poetry is only a reflection of real music, but we must make do.
And what is a Fraggle Rock story without song?
Fraggle Tails (The Stories)
Prologue to Heroes and Villains
It took my time over the writing. It’s been revised, proofread and tweaked. I showed the story to three or four people for comment (none so far). So what do I do now?
For the time being, I’ve picked about a dozen more people from my address list to show the story to. Ultimately, I will probably publish yet another issue of my “one-shot,” The Baloobius, and publish it for a slightly larger audience. But, for the moment, I don’t feel up to publishing another fanzine. Maybe around Christmas or in the New Year. I ought to add some drawings, and – in a way – that’s why I’m so unenthusiastic about drawing. I would need to create time to undertake new drawings. This year, I’ve so done very little drawing at all, and most of the starts I’ve made were never finished. Maybe next year will be better? (Could it be worse?)
The story is Heroes and Villains, a 17,500 word story that I think is fairly lively, and should not be difficult to read. The major difficulty with finding readers is the nature of the story itself. Between serious writing and humorous writing there is a grey area I call “whimsy.” It is not entirely either, and some readers seem unable to, or unwilling, to read whimsy. However, whimsy is precisely where the nature of Fraggle Rock most comfortably lies. Heroes and Villains involves two Fraggles named Kiki and Darl, as well as the entire cast of characters that were brought to live during the Jim Henson television show. Kiki is a rather more intelligent that usual Fraggle who became lost outside in what Fraggles call “Outer Space,” and where she made friends with a “Silly Creature” who lived there. During the events of a story yet to be written, turnabout becomes fair play, as “Darl” becomes lost in Fraggle Rock. The events that follow this beginning are long and complicated, touch up on tragic ... and discover magic instead, when Darl takes up a new life by becoming a Fraggle himself. This must sound like the most painful cliché in history, but you have to bear with me. For now, accept that Darl – whose Silly Creature name is mangled into “Darl” by Kiki – faces daily challenges in order to adapt. Hopefully, you will be able to follow all this without too much eye-rolling.
Writing these stories has been a pleasure, and a source of new experiments. It is a mistake to stray too far in the direction of either serious writing, or in the direction of humour, without striking the wrong tone. There is a lot of silliness in Fraggle Rock, but on occasion there are issues of life and death. I’ve chosen to err a little further in the direction of making Fraggle Rock into a real sort of place – there are rules for not dirtying the water in the Fraggle Pool, for example, and Fraggles do eat more than merely radishes and “Doozer sticks.” It’s all well and good that Boober Fraggle likes to do laundry, but it was necessary to explain where clothes come from in the first place. Also, how do Fraggles make a fire, or tell the time? At one time or another I’ve tried to provide explanations. (Not all in the same story, of course.) But if there can be danger in Fraggle Rock, or sometimes anger, it will not be in my mandate explain where babies come from in any detail! In that direction lies unwanted “serious” writing.
It’s hard to say how many of you will read any of this – I understand that many people have been unable to read the first chapters of Lord of the Rings, since it is too saccharine at the start, and are unable to read and of their darker, more frightening events that follow. At least I can assure you that boogie men that appear in Heroes and Villains are somewhat less formidable.