When I started to write my book, which was set in the spring and summer of 1588, the time of the Spanish Armada, I decided that I would stay as true to the time frame as possible. The telescope had not been invented yet, but the first pencil had – a Cambia pencil – and I wrote those into the story. But soon I found that some things are funny simply because they are incongruent. So I revised my philosophy to be “I would stay as true to the time frame as possible, unless it was funny not to.” And that worked.
This was especially true about animals. I found that the Disney technique of humanizing some animal characters and not others worked well for me.
* * *
First, of course, there are the Devil Chickens, who speak without moving their beaks. It must be noted here that, in this story, all chickens are named “Henrietta”.
High above them, in a tree at the edge of the meadow, two chickens covered in coal dust were reported to the Council of Chicken Knaves. The members had been busy kibitzing with one another, while they waited for the spies return. It was eerie to hear all that sound, but see no lips moving and it was difficult to finish a conversation, because whenever a chicken paused and asked “What do you think, Henrietta?” every other chicken tried to answer.
On seeing the spies land in the tree, the chicken in the highest branch call the council to order by the simple expediency of saying “Shut up, Henrietta!”
There was a sudden silence in the tree, except for the one rooster, whose name was Walter. “Then, I told the fox,” said Walter, to the hen he was trying to impress, “Lets take this outside the coop and settle it mano a mano, if you know what I mean.”
“Walter, shut up!”
“Henrietta, please give us your report. No! I mean that Henrietta.”
“First of all,” said Henrietta. “Can we come up with an acronym for the ‘Council of Chicken Knaves’? If I had to move my lips every time I said that, my beak would tire.”
“That’s a great idea. What acronym shall we use?
“How about the CIA or FBI?” asked another Henrietta.
“How about MAFIA?” suggested another.
“I like HEN,” said the Leader. “All in favor…”
“Wait a minute,” interrupted Walter. “The initials for ‘Council of Chicken Knaves’ is C.O. C. K., as in rooster.”
“Walter, shut up!”
“All in favor raise your wings. Opposed. The ‘ayes’ have it. Now, Henrietta, give us your report. No! I mean that Henrietta.”
“We found the girl that Don Swan is looking for, a Rosita Lucilla Cecilia Maria Maria Rojo-Reyes, alias Rosa.”
Several of the chickens snickered at Rosa’s name, but one of them was offended. “There’s nothing wrong with being named after two maiden aunts,” she insisted.
“We know, Henrietta-Henrietta,” said the Leader. “No offence was intended.”
“She’s still accompanied by two sailors from the sloop that Swan sank. We believe their intention is to take Rosa to England with them.”
“We’ll have to stop that,” said the Leader. “Do you have any ideas how we can do that?”
“I have a plan,” the spy replied. “Come closer. This is what we should do.”
The chickens of HEN huddled and listened to the plan. “They mustn’t take the Rhine River which is to the north” could be heard and “divert them to the east.” A listener would have picked up several references to the pirates from Turkey being anchored in the Danube delta.
“I approve,” said the chicken leader, as the huddle broke apart and she flew back to her perch. “Make it so,” she ordered and the spies flew off.
“Ouch!” said the hen, roosting in front of Walter. “Something pinched me.”
* * *
In far north Lapland, we first meet the ten penguins.
The others strained their ears, at first they could only hear the howling of the wind, but then…
“Three French hens. Two turtle-doves and a partridge in a pear tree.”
“Three French hens. Two turtle-doves and a partridge in a pear tree.”
“Where’s the rest of the song?” asked Chevy. “That’s only one line.”
“It’s not Christmas, is it?” asked Colleen. “I think I’ve been away too long.”
Suddenly from deep within William’s bag, the lines were echoed. “Three French hens. Two turtle-doves and a partridge in a pear tree.”
Chris tugged at the strings and pulled opened the bag. Out popped Walter. “Boy, I’m hungry,” he said. “Has anyone got an ear of corn?” Outside the song continued.
“That’s not you, is it,” asked Gretel. “You’re not throwing your voice without moving your lips?”
“No,” answered Walter, “and they’re leaving out the best verses. There’s something about geese and swans, I think.”
“What are you doing here?” asked Rosa. “Where’s my pan?”
“Wait…wait…wait,” begged Walter. “I’ve reformed.” When everyone looked dubious, he pouted, “I’ve got no place else to go and it’s your fault,” he told Rosa. “That boyfriend of yours got me fired.”
“William Morris is not my boyfriend. He’s a boorish simpleton who is rude, disobedient, not at all funny and he steals things!”
“Hey,” said Chris, crestfallen. “I thought you felt that way about me.”
“At least he can kiss!”
One side of the carpet was thrown open to the wind and in marched ten emperor penguins, wearing backpacks, in double file singing at the top of their lungs.
“Yes, yes. We know,” said Randolph. “Three French Hens, a couple of doves and some bird in a tree. What are you doing here? Penguins belong at the South Pole.”
“Sound off!” ordered the lead penguin. “One!”
“Two! Three! Four! …No, I’m Four! …I am! …Only because you cut. Four! Four! Six! Seven! Eight! Nine! Ten!”
Randolph repeated, “What are you doing here?”
“Looking for pebbles, sir!” responded the leader.
“Looking for pebbles, sir!” responded the rest of the penguins.
“You’re looking for pebbles in Lapland?” asked Gretel.
Colleen made sure hers was safe.
“We got lost, Ma’am!” answered the leader.
“We got lost, Ma’am!” answered the rest of the penguins.
Randolph snarled. “Stand at attention when you’re in the presence of a superior officer!”
“Yes, sir! Captain, sir!” said the leader penguin.
“Yes, sir! Captain, sir!” said the rest of the penguins.
“How did you know he was a captain?” asked Chevy
“Because he was polite when he gave the order,” answered the smallest penguin, from the back of the line. “Sergeants are much meaner.”
“Thank you,” said the lead penguin.
Walter snickered, “You don’t have any kernels do you? Ouch! Who pinched me?”
“How can you end up in Lapland, all the way from the South Pole?” asked Gretel.
“Well, what are you doing here?” responded the sergeant.
“Oh. I see what you mean. We’re lost too.”
“I didn’t know penguins could talk,” said Irving, “and what are you doing so far north?”
“We talk, Ma’am, but usually its just name, rank and serial number.”
The smallest continued. “We wanted to find pebbles for our sweethearts for Christmas.” Colleen nudged Hombre in approval. ”We kept finding better ones farther and farther away and before you know it, five months later, we’re in Lapland and we’re lost. Did you know the North Star doesn’t move?”
“If you have sweethearts, why are you singing about other birds?” asked Rosa. “Do you even know a partridge?”
The penguins hung their heads. “It gets lonely,” said one of the number fours. “We’re just marching to it,” insisted the other four.
“I’ve met a French hen, once,” Walter interjected. “Oh, la, la!”
“Walter, shut up!” said Rosa.
* * *
Also in Lapland we meet Ekaraj, the Indian elephant who is a linguistics expert.
Christopher ran head long into a gray wall. He grabbed hold of a rope attached to it to keep from falling.
“Hey, watch where you’re putting your hands,” said the elephant.
“I’ve been told that before,” Chris admitted. “I wasn’t looking where I was going. I thought I was following something…abominable.”
“I can’t help it if I have little ears,” said animal. “I’m an Indian elephant. You’re not that good looking yourself. You’ve got a little nose!”
“I’ve been told that before, too,” admitted Chris. “What’s your name? And what are you doing here?”
“I’m called Ekaraj. That means king in Hindu. I’m a hermit. My girlfriend was an African elephant, but she left me. She said my ears were too small. I’m running away from an unrequited love.”
“I had a friend with that problem. Then they found they understood each other. Couldn’t she understand you?”
Ekaraj gave him a look of exasperation. “Elephants all speak the same language,” he said.
“But you understand English.”
“Well,” said Ekaraj. “I have always been fascinated by the remote branches of the Indo-European language tree.”
The ground began to shake beneath them.
“Oh, oh!” said Ekaraj. “I’ve been standing in one place too long. Run for it!” But before they could, the ground crumpled around them and they fell into a cave.
“Who are you,” asked Chris, when the dust settled. He and Ekaraj were surrounded by a group of men.
“We’re hermits,” answered their leader. “My name is Robin Hood.”
“Aren’t hermits supposed to live alone?” asked Chris, “and dress in rags?”
“We’re not fanatical about it,” said another hermit. “We’ve formed a club.
“You’re not all that well dressed yourself,” added another.
“I’m a hermit, too,” said Ekaraj. “Can I join your club?”
“There’s nothing in the rules that says an elephant can’t join,” said Robin. “Sure! The more the merrier.”
“I told you I don’t believe all this talk about merry men,” protested one of the hermits. “I, for one, am only mildly content.”
“The only rule is against hags,” continued Robin. “You’re not a hag, are you?” he asked Chris.
“No,” answered Chris. “I guess I’m an outcast.”
“Close enough,” said Robin. “Pay us your dues.”
“But you didn’t ask Ekaraj for dues,” Chris complained.
“Ridiculous,” answered the other hermit. “Who ever heard of an elephant paying dues? If he’s going to be difficult, don’t let him join. Let’s rob him, instead.”
“No,” said Robin. “I never want the name Robin Hood associated with an outlaw.”
“It might be too late for that. There’s this guy in England…” Chris started to tell him when he was interrupted.
“We could claim we gave it to the poor.” Several of them laughed heartily.
“But I don’t have anything on me,” said Chris
“What about luggage?” asked another hermit. “Did you bring any luggage?”
“The elephant’s got a trunk,” said someone in the crowd. “Ouch! Who pinched me?”
* * *
“One Wish” on Amazon Kindle. (http://www.amazon.com/One-Wish-ebook/dp/B004Z7SHAO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=digital-text&qid=1305752127&sr=1-1)