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Shakespeare for Squirrels

February 12th, 2020 · 13 Comments

Chapter 1 – He is Drowned and These are Devils

            We’d been adrift for eight days when the ninny tried to eat the monkey.  I lay in the bow of the boat, under the moonlight, slowly expiring from thirst and heartbreak, while the great beef-brained boy, Drool, made bumbling snatches for the monkey, who was perched on the bowsprit behind my head, screeching and clawing at my jester’s hat, and jingling his bells in a festive manner.

            “Sit down, Drool, you’ll capsize us.”

            “Just one wee lick,” said the giant, grasping the air before him like an enormous baby reaching for his tiny monkey mother. The bow of the boat dove under Drools weight. Sea water splashed the monkey’s bottom; he shrieked and made as if to fling poo at the giant, but it had been eight days since any of us had eaten and he could birth no bum-babies for the flinging.

“There will be no monkey-licking as long as I draw breath.”

“I’ll just give him a bit of a squeeze, then?”

“No,” said I. On the fourth day, after the water ran out, Drool had taken to squeezing Jeff (the monkey) like a wine skin and drinking his wee, but now the monkey was dry and I feared the next squeeze would produce little but a sanguine monkey marmalade.

“I won’t hurt him,” said the oaf, so inept in the lie that he might as well have tied bells on the truth and chased it around the town square while beating a drum.

Drool dropped back onto the seat at his end of the dingy, his weight sending the bow up so rapidly that Jeff was nearly launched into the drink. I caught the monkey and comforted him by slapping my coxcomb over his head and holding it fast until he stopped biting.

“But…” said Drool, holding a great sausage of a finger aloft as he searched the night for a point.

“Shhhh, Drool. Listen.” I heard something beyond the lap of waves and the growl of my gut.

“What?”

I stood in the boat, still hugging the monkey to my chest, and looked in the direction of the noise. A full moon puddled silver across the inky sea, but there, in the distance, lay a line of white. Surf.  

“It’s land, lad. Land. That way.” I pointed. “Now paddle, you great dribbling ninny. Paddle, lest it be an island and we drift by.”

“I will, Pocket,” said Drool. “I am. Land’s the dog’s bollocks, ain’t it.”

He showed less enthusiasm than the revelation should have engendered.

“Land, lad, where they keep food and drink.”

“Oh, right. Land,” a spark finally striking in the vast, dark, empty of his noggin.

The pirates had set us adrift without oars, but Drool’s arms were long enough that if he lay down he could get enough of a hand in the water to paddle. By his sliding from one gunwale to the other, the little boat sloshed slowly forward.  My arms would barely reach the water, and as it turned out, though the monkey could swim, even with a sturdy cord tied round his middle,  Jeff was complete shit at towing a boat.

An hour or so later, what had been a calm sea began to rise up on rollers, the blue white lines I’d spotted churned into a briny boil. What had been the distant swish of surf now crashed like thunder before us.

“Pocket,” said Drool, sitting up, his eyes wide and alight with fear. “I don’t want to paddle no more.  I wanna go back.”   

“Nonsense,” said I, with enthusiasm I did not feel. “Once more into the breech!”

And before I could turn to see where we were headed, a great wave lifted the boat and we were driven ahead on its face, racing as if on a sled down a never-ending slope. Drool let loose a long, terrified wail and gripped the rails as the stern was lifted, lifted – and then we were vertical on the face of the wave. I looked above me to see a great flailing nitwit flying in the night and a monkey tumbling with him. Then the wave crashed down upon us. I lost my hold on the boat and was awash in a confusion of salt and chill. Over and down and over until there was no up, nowhere to go for air, and no way to get there. Then a light. The moon. A tumble, and there again, the silver above, shining life.  I kicked, hoping to find some purchase on sand, but there was nothing but water; then the moon, and a black specter diving out of the silver disc above – the boat. I tried to tuck my head but too late and then a shock and a flash in the eye as the boat struck me and all was dark. Oblivion.

                                                                     #  #  #

There were flames dancing before me when I woke from the dead, which was not entirely unexpected. The Devil was smaller and rather younger than I would have guessed. He danced barefoot around the fire as he stoked it in preparation for my torment. The fiend wore a tunic of rough linen, leaves and sticks clinging to it, and a bycocket hat with a single feather in the style of bow hunters back home in Blighty. Bit of a ginger fringe. Scrawny and pathetic, really, for the prince of bloody darkness.

As I stirred, the fiend made his way over to me and studied my face. He had wide eyes and high cheekbones, decidedly feminine, which gave him the look of a cat that has been surprised in the middle of his repast of a freshly killed rat — alert and fierce.  

“He’s awake,” said the demon.

“Pocket!” I heard Drool say, at which point pretending to still be dead was a fool’s errand.

I looked over to see the great oaf sitting splayed-legged on the other side of the fire, a massacre of nuts and berries in his lap, the smeared evidence of their fate already streaming down his chin in red rivulets. “Cobweb saved us,” said the ninny. “She’s the git’s tits.”

“She?” said I. “So not the devil?”

“’Fraid not,” said the girl.

Of course, a girl. I looked over the figure crouched before me like some gamine gargoyle. Right tiny, and in need of a good scrubbing, but I supposed a girl she was. And not a child, neither, despite her size.

“I didn’t do so much of the rescuing as your large friend,” she said. “On the beach I jumped up and down on his back until he was breathing again. He carried you up here into the forest.” She leaned into me to whisper. “Methinks he may have taken a blow to the head during the wreck. He seems a bit slow.”

“Slow is his only speed, I’m afraid.”

“You took quite a shot to the noggin yourself.” She touched a spot above my forehead and I winced with the pain. “Covered in blood, you were. I cleaned you up.”

I touched the tender lump on my head and bolts of pain shot across the corners of my vision, a deep ache throbbed behind my eyes. Only then did I notice I was lying on a bed of ferns and leaves, naked but for my hat, which had been draped modestly over my man bits.

“Your kit is drying still,” said the girl. She shot a thumb over her shoulder to indicate my motley, propped on sticks before the fire, along with my jester’s scepter, the puppet Jones. “You’ll want to wash it proper in fresh water when you get a chance. Most of the blood came out in the sea, but not the salt.”

“What about Jeff? Where’s my monkey?”

            “Weren’t no monkey, sirrah. Just the big bloke and you.”

She held out a leather wine skin. “Here. Water. Slowly. Your friend drank it all in one draught and I had to fetch more at the stream.”

“Had a wee chunder,” said Drool.

I took the wine skin and thought I might swoon again as I drank the cool water and felt the fire in my throat abate.

“Enough for now” said the girl, taking back the wine skin. “There’s food, too, if the big one’s left anything.”

“I saved you some, Pocket,” said Drool, holding out my codpiece, which was spilling berries as he moved.

The girl returned and handed me the codpiece. “Wondered what these things was for.”

“Thank you,” said I. My cod was nearly full of berries and nutmeats. I thought I might weep for a moment at her kindness and pinched the bridge of my nose as if chasing away a headache.

“Your friend says you are fools,” she said, giving me shelter.

“I am a fool. Pocket of Dog Snogging upon Ouze, at your service.” I tow a train of titles behind my name — royal fool, black fool, emissary to the queen, king of Britain and France — but I thought it ill-mannered to be grandiose while lying on a litter of leaves with only a hat to cover my tackle d’amore.  “Drool is my apprentice.”

“We are fools and pirates,” said Drool.  

“We are not pirates,” said I. “We were set adrift by pirates.”

“But you were on a pirate ship?” She asked.

“For two years,” said I. “There was a girl, a Venetian Jewess who fancied me. She wanted to be a pirate but became homesick. When she returned to Venice I was not welcomed to join her.”

“So you stayed with the pirates?”

“For a while.”

“And they set you adrift?”

“With no food and only enough water for three days, the scoundrels.”

“But why?”

“They gave no rhyme nor reason,” said I.

“It was because you’re a shit, wasn’t it?”

“No, why would you say that?”

“Because I only have known one fool, a fellow called Robin Goodfellow, and he, also, is a shit.”

“I’m not a shit,” said I. I am not, that she could prove.

“Did you insult them? Make sport of their efforts and appearances? Craft clever puns on their names. Play tricks on the naïve and the simple? Compose rhymes disparaging their naughty bits? Sing bawdy songs about their mothers and sisters?”

“Absolutely not.  There was no way to know if they even had sisters.”

“I think you were a shit, just like the Puck, so they set you adrift.”

“I was not a shit. And who are you to say? Why, I am deft at being rescued by wenches of great beauty and character, one for whom my heart still currently breaks, and I’ll not be abused by a waif, an urchin, a linty bit of stuff like you?” 

“Feeling stronger then?” She asked, thin, sharp eyebrows bouncing over her disturbingly wide green eyes.

“Possibly,” said I.

A horn sounded in the distance, as if to call hounds to the hunt, and Cobweb leapt to her feet. “I have to go.”

“Wait,” said I.

The girl paused at the edge of the firelight. “What?”

“Where are we?”

“Look around, you’re in the forest, you git.”

“No, what land?”

“Greece.”

“It doesn’t look like Greece.”

“Have you been to Greece before?”

“Well. No.”

“This is what it looks like. I have to go. The night queen beckons.”

“The night queen?”

“My mistress calls. Rest, fool. Your friend knows where the stream is and there are plenty of nuts and berries to eat. Stay clear of the captain of the watch. He’s a shit, too. And not so playful as you and the Puck.”

“Wait—“ but she was gone like a spirit in the night.  

“She were the dog’s bollocks, was wee Cobweb,” said Drool.

“She was not,” said I. “And where is Jeff? Have you seen him?”

The ninny wiped a smear of berry gore from his lips. “No.”

“Drool, Jeff is a friend and valued crew member. If you ate him, I shall be very cross with you. Very cross indeed.”

Tags: Writing

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Scott Bracken // Feb 12, 2020 at 6:48 pm

    Fantastic! After finishing the Pine Cove series and then just finishing William Goldman’s “The Princess Bride”, I think I am in the perfect headspace for this one.

    Thanks for all of the pleasant hours of reading and laughter!

  • 2 Beth // Feb 12, 2020 at 7:28 pm

    That tasted so sweet! Been binging on Serpant and Fool non stop for weeks now. But am stressed about Jeff. Know what I am asking for, for mother’s day.

  • 3 Robinson // Feb 12, 2020 at 7:42 pm

    Well. Worth. The. Wait. As always. Tackle d’amore? Tackle d’amore? How happy does that one little bit make me? (See what I did there? I’m making sport of the Fool’s junk.) I have said to people, ‘You should read Christopher Moore.’ And they reply, ‘What’s he like?’ And there are simply no words. (Which annoys me because in a small way, I spent my life as a writer and editor, keeping the world safe from the prose of young newspaper reporters.) I just say, ‘Read him. If you don’t like him, I’ll buy your copy back from you and give it to somebody else.’ Nobody has ever tried to return a copy of your work to me. So thanks for being so good that I’m not out of pocket backing up my big mouth. Cheers, and thanks for all the laughs, snorts, giggles and inappropriate sniggering.

  • 4 chris // Feb 12, 2020 at 9:37 pm

    Thanks, kids. So glad you liked.

  • 5 Lei Lani // Feb 13, 2020 at 6:58 am

    A cod full of nutmeats.
    A phrase that will forever live in my mind.
    Thank you, kind sir, for sharing your talents with us.

  • 6 RiversRoxx // Feb 13, 2020 at 8:39 am

    Bradbury, Heinlein, Robbins and now Moore. You have become my favorite author. Thank you so very much for all the happy hours I’ve gotten to spend with your creations. Pocket, Jeff and Drool, Minty Fresh, too, are my friends. So grateful, am I. Live Long and Prosper, please.

  • 7 DD // Feb 14, 2020 at 11:54 am

    Thanks for the VD gift, Mr. M. Always a pleasure to read your words.

  • 8 Patriotic Tech // Feb 22, 2020 at 11:01 am

    Indian Politics Explained

  • 9 Annie // May 24, 2020 at 6:41 pm

    Started with Lamb, which I loved, and have never stopped. So happy I”m in for a new joyous romp with this one.

  • 10 James Lee Pridmore // Jun 28, 2020 at 2:15 pm

    A trilogy disjointed. I picjed my first Christopher Moore volume.. Shakespeare for Squirrels. It has been long time since an author or tome had me so laughingly enchanted in so few pages. Pocket of Dog Snogging became an instant favorite. If Bertie Wooster had been possessed of Jeeves acumen and gainfully employed (within the broadest definition of said phrase), he could have been distant kin to immortal Pocket. Ending the volume. I sought out and read The Fool, followed by The Serpent of Venice (Dragon shagging, now there’s a phrase for a demented grammarian to wrestle with). Being a recent convert, I just purchased Lamb. Thanks Mr. Moore!

  • 11 Bo Breda // Aug 16, 2020 at 7:42 pm

    So glad you’re back at your best level! Must be honest, I didn’t really love NOIR. Have read every book you’ve published, some more than once. This will become a classic (in some universe). Mahalo and keep safe. Here on the big island, we don’t have much to worry about.

  • 12 Claudia Kitchen // Aug 19, 2020 at 1:24 pm

    I am so enjoying your books, which I only recently discovered. So far I have binged my way through the Fool series and the Grim Reaper books. That they are simultaneously literate and profanely funny is a delight. I’ll be sorry when I have to wait for you to write more. Yes, I may have a problem.

  • 13 allisonlewisphotography.com // Sep 10, 2020 at 1:38 am

    I work in a bookstore. Every month we receive ARCs from publishers, and when Shakespeare for Squirrels came in, I thought it sounded like something Terry Pratchett would have written, and that it would be funny. It was not.

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