The thick net swooshed through the darkness and silently fell around the broad, muscular shoulders. Before he could even decide to shout, it tightened all around him, swaddled him like a newborn or a sack of potatoes, and the thick rope from the ship on shore yanked him upside down!
“ Let me down!” he thundered then. But the thunder wrapped in layers of the thickest net, used for snaring big game, only allowed a muffled cry! Not very effective. The dark shadows, in the darkness were barely perceptible. They let him hang upside down as they melted in the night.
The noisy calling of the seagulls alerted the sea and the shore to another sound, unusual, like an angry crab buried deep in the sand unable to find its way out. A kind of muffled, angry cursing…. Actually, sounded human…could it be? Human?
Hanging from the main mast of the sea battered ship was an innocuous sight… Under the careful observation of Captain Jack, Chief mate Homer ordered the deck hands and the well browned sailors to lower their catch of the previous night.
The tiger kept low, effortlessly merging into the landscape, his eyes had found its prey. A picture of complete concentration, it was. Prowling low, invisible to all, the tawny eyes held a smouldering glow deep within.
The load was dumped unceremoniously on the deck with a loud: Thack! Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! As the net was rolled off, a shaggy head of dark brown hair appeared adorning a rather handsome face, framed in an equally brown beard, moustache and comfortable travel clothes, landed in a heap. The sunrays shining gleefully blinded him, as he raised a protective arm to ward it off.
He was as surprised to see his assailants as were the crew to see him. The short, stout leader, clad in sensible seafaring attire, with his long hair neatly tied in a ponytail under his tricone, had a long moustache delicately running to meet his beard somewhere across his chest. It gave him an air of authority, as he boomed , “Who are you? What do you want?”
“I am Bahadur, the brave. I came to see who you were, and what were you doing on our land.”
“ Ho! Ho! Ho! A brave man from this land of savages!”
“I like your attitude young man. You would make a fine sailor. We are on a secret voyage. We had laid the snare to trap a ferocious tiger we spotted a few days back. He carried away our goats and hens, the adept thief. Homer let this rascal go!”
“Wait, can I come with you? … On your secret voyage? You will find a pair of extra hands handy! Specially strong ones like mine!”
As the tiger settled down to wait, watching his quarry, he realised, it would have to be a man today. He liked that tall, gangly one… walked a little slowly, the muscles on his limbs would make a good meal.
‘Captain Jack!’ he said extending his hand in a warm shake, which was clasped by Bahadur in both of his strong, large ones. Surprisingly soft and reassuring. Jack liked him.
“Do tell me something more Captain! About where you are headed…. What are you looking for…? I could be of help, maybe.”
“ I think there would be plenty of occasions, you would find me useful.”
“ Don’t know about that. What the heck…. We are off to the South pole, to the land of the Winter Queen, to get the secret treasure. The last pirate we fended off had a map, centuries old, and it charted the route. The story they told was fantastic…. If we get even a fraction of it, I will be as rich as a king!”
As the sun withdrew from the zenith, the star-studded sky watched the tiger prowl close to the anchored ship, and pounce at its quarry. ‘Growl! GROWL! GRRRRR!’ and it found itself swathed in folds of thick net, hanging in midair.
Bahadur was stunned…. Someone was asking him to release them… who could it be? He hadn’t heard anything, yet he got the message… now he was being summoned… very clearly… what was going on?
The Tiger! The Tiger in the net! The Tiger in the net hanging midair!
“Jack! Captain Jack! Let him go… he is seeking his release.”
“Have you been drinking too much mate? Do tigers talk? Ho! Ho! Ho!” he boomed.
“ This one seems special. Let me check…”
“ Yes, he says he can help us if we don’t harm him… He can be of great help… Imagine a mind reading tiger! A telepathic tiger!”
“Alright, if I have one brave as a mate, I can take his talking tiger too! Be warned, one more missing chicken… then he is dead meat!”
“ What the bloody hell? He just spoke to me! Says, if we feed him, he will protect us! And I haven’t touched a drop of rum yet!”
Next morning as the sun lazily slipped up the horizon… the sky blushed, pink, crimson, and tangerine. The sea and the shore watched as the ship set sail, letting the strong wind fill their sails, heading south.
A few days of gusty north winds helped them race on their route. Soon they came to the horse latitudes, and each sailor turned up to say his prayers without fail and fed the gulls and terns religiously, as well as fed the tiger.
They sailed for many days and many nights. The sunrise and sunset were brilliant, magical in fact, but the men on board had no time to admire that. There was always so much to do. They never saw the clouds amassing as soft fluffy pillows then dispelling into soft feathery tufts tinted in the glorious colours of the rainbow. Neither did they have time to write poetry on the amazing flying fish which would barely skim the sea, teasing the breeze, finally they would land on deck to say, ‘Eat me! Satiate your hunger!’ Nor did anyone write songs on the wild, beautiful giants- whales! Some seemed to have adopted the crew on the ship, swimming dangerously close and swatting the ship playfully with their flukes once in a while! Then leaping straight out of the blue ocean in a show of pirouettes like a dainty ballerina, creating gigantic splashes and huge wakes…. Only Bahadur and his new friend, the tiger watched… mesmerised! Their first voyage on the oceans!
The men wondered how much longer to their destination. Endless vistas of the ocean was getting on their nerves now. Food and water was somewhere near the bottom of their stores. All hands-on deck were getting restless one evening, when they caught sight of a spectacular light glowing on the starboard side. The fearless captain asked the ship to be steered towards it. That night he wrote in the logbook:
Tonight, we saw the most fantastic lights gleaming in the middle of the ocean. They were pink, yellow, and green, like a fireworks display. Plumes of light shot high into the dark night, followed by showers of glowing embers, golden and sparkling. We watched with fascination for a long time, till it suddenly grew dim and stayed that way. We will go ashore tomorrow, in broad daylight.
The island was fascinating. Like a magician’s playfield. There seemed to be trees, but not with green foliage. The silence was eerie. The colours they had witnessed seem to have been sucked out, replaced by dark hues. Were they boulders, sand, and gravel? The crew left only the cook onboard and carried their weapons along. The tiger effortlessly kept pace with them. Suddenly he started growling…. Out of nowhere small fuzzy objects came flying across at them. Alarmed, the men stepped back, some shouted running helter skelter, as a few fell down in fright.
Ha! Ha! ha! the tiger was laughing.
Soon, he was rolling with laughter.
What was that?
He was swatting the fuzzy objects, which seemed to fly gently back and forth and tickled him… of sorts. The confused men relaxed, wondrously they felt at ease. The fluorescent blue objects, fluffy balls, soon found them, softly brushing past them leaving them joyous, relieved of all worries, as if they had rolled in marijuana or some such! Bahadur realised there was something fishy, after all he was from India, the land of tantra… definitely something eerie about this island, he quickly hustled everyone off the island and onto their ship. He captured a few of the soft blue fluff and bundled them in his cloak.
Once on board, everyone seemed to come back to their senses. They were glad they had come away unharmed. Bahadur then brought out the bundle from which they could hear strange squeaks. He first placed it in a cage and then unfurled the cloth. The fluorescent fluffs squeaked to be let loose. They promised, they would not harm them, instead they would always help them. They felt indebted to Bahadur as he had released them from the Dark wizard’s malicious magic. He would attract lonely, lost ships then use the people for his magical experiments. Nobody ever went back alive.
“Who are you? Why are you telling us this?”
“ We are the magic Phoo! Phoo! We can remove stress and anxiety by merely our presence. Thus, we bring joy and laughter. We are the result of one of the experiments going wrong… they cried!”
“ Ha! That’s such irony! I don’t think any Phoo could ever be of any use to us!”
“You never know, Sir! Just let us be free… we will stay with you, but not caged! Flying free!”
Captain Jack rolled his eyes and wondered why had he relented to collect such a circus? He hollered to the deck boy, “Get me some rum, right now!”
In a few days they had run out of food completely… the cook was at his wits end… He wondered what to do! Killing the tiger for a good stock of meat, crept into his mind, but was blown away with the loud growl he could hear in his brain! Oh! That sounded like the collision of two ships! Distinctly he heard the order to cast the net in the sea and find some fish.
He did so!
And soon they had the largest haul ever. He could not pull in the net all by himself, so he called out for help. Bahadur happened to be close and leapt in to help. Slowly they got the net on deck. There were plenty of halibut and snapper, lobsters and salmon and a giant Narwhal!
“Please let me go,” wept the Narwhal.
Cook and Bahadur looked on stumped… a talking narwhal… would the magic end?
“ You will make a good feast for the next 10 days, I should say,” said the cook.
“Nooooo! Listen to me, I have magical powers I have received after meditating for a hundred years. Whenever you are in trouble call me! I will help you!” “Trust me humans!”
Bahadur had had enough of magic and magical beings, so he happily pushed it back into the ocean, with cook’s help of course! That unicorn like, long twisted sword would have been a great trophy, he regretted later.
Soon they felt the wind change. Now it blew from the south. Icy and cold. The sun too appeared to lose its charm, as it was not able to warm up the air or the weather. It could only blind. There loomed huge mountains of ice. Water seemed to freeze in places, but it was not bereft of life. No trees, no plants, no houses, no people but strange creatures, fearlessly roamed. The blue of the sky was reflected in the water, trapped in the ice bergs which lit up like magical lanterns in different shades of blue, teal and aqua.
Poring over the map for the hundredth time, the captain took out his bronze Treasure-o-pass (a compass to detect hidden treasure). “Stop!” he hollered. “Drop anchor! We have to go ashore right here.”
Trudging through the snow and ice for hours they climbed an icy hilltop and there it lay. Their jaws dropped when they set eyes on it. The most astounding palace, transparent and glittering under a cloudless sky, like the most precious handcrafted crystal. Crafted precisely, with beauty and skilled workmanship. A temple to the skill of the hundreds of creatures who must have laboured for hundreds of weeks. The steep turrets, the high arches, the carved walls, a fortress to defend the Winter Queen.
Adrenaline rushed into the veins of the motley crew, and they ran forward to enter the open gates, which seemed so inviting. There was none to defend this place, or probably none to threaten its inmates. As they surreptitiously moved from room to hall, to hallways, the Treasure-o-pass suddenly started swinging with all its might. As if they were standing atop Mount Meru. Looking around they realized, the psychedelic colours emanated from precious stones and golden artefacts. They were not prepared for this. “Each man to his own, pick up all you can, and we leave in half an hour. There’s bound to be danger ahead. This has been too easy so far!” whispered Captain Jack wisely.
In half an hour as each man rushed to the huge door, their move was arrested by the giant shadow cast by none other than the Winter Queen herself. They clustered close.
“Well! Well! Well! Who have we here? I smell humans! Greedy humans! Stealing from me, is it?”
She blew her conch and slithering creatures came towards them from different corners. Half seals, half men!
“Run!” shouted Captain Jack! And all scampered as fast as they could. Just as they reached the wide gates, their path was barred by a huge Sabre-toothed tiger. Tiger sprang forward to protect Bahadur, growling threateningly. The fuzzy blue Phoos whizzed around, and the Sabre tooth was soon found purring and rolling on the snow. Incredulously, it seemed to be smiling!
Hurdle crossed. They resumed their run, back to their ship. Only to be horrified that there was no signs of their ship. They could hear the slithering sealmen coming closer and the fury of the Winter Queen rendered her perfect beauty to an ugly scowl. The Tiger reminded Bahadur to call the Narwhal, just as they prepared to battle the strange creatures, pulling out their swords and cutlass.
“Narwhal time to prove you are a fish of your words!” shouted Bahadur.
“The ocean seemed to burst as there was a volcano of sea green freezing water, thrown up a mile high into the sky and the Narwhal came leaping out, like a true hero to the rescue. As the white wake and green water, bubbled and foamed there appeared quite a few of them. He said, “Cmon, leap onto my back and hold tight!”
The fuzzy phoo went back …. Around the Winter queen! And just as the Captain leapt onto his narwhal, she leapt on right behind him.
The Narwhals gave them a delightful swim and ride to a land far, far, away. How long it took none knew, none cared. But one morning, the sea and the beach watched the whole motley crew washed up on an island. All the treasure, more than a king’s ransom…. Lay scattered on the beach! They wondered if it was all a dream, when they heard the Phoos squeaking, and flitting around the Winter Queen, who looked like the most adorable girl they had ever seen! Whoever said she was wicked was dreaming!
And if you don’t believe me… when you reach the island you can pick up the sapphires, emeralds and rubies from the beach and they are still icy cold!
Connect with Penmancy:
Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!