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Tim felt a pervasive sense of dread as before them their challenger emerged from the clearing smoke and dust: a giant, rumbling, quacking beast stood on a pair of gargantuan webbed feet. Tim held firm, an unconscious Lady Kackel hoisted over their shoulder, as they faced the enormous duck.
“That’s a massive mallard!” Tim called out, looking toward their party for approval - for they couldn’t let brilliant alliteration go unadmired - and was instead met with three sets of hands waving frantically at Tim, gesturing for them to move.
“Get out of the way you metal-headed idiot!” Misery squealed.
“But I don’t have a head,” Tim laughed incredulously, for they were but an animate (yet empty) suit of armour.
Misery, Matilda and Eric did not return a laugh. They remained planted in place, the horror they felt apparent across their faces. Eric screamed and pointed his finger at the danger. Tim snapped their attention back in the direction of the enormous duck as it roared out a “QUACK!” and pecked its bill with impressive speed toward the knight.
“Huzzah!” Tim cried, throwing Kackel’s comatose body into the air like a juggling pin, somersaulting away from the duck’s assault in time to catch Kackel, and hoist her back into position over their shoulder. With a clang of metal, Tim stood upright once more.
“That was a close one!” Tim said, taking a moment to bow and curtsey for their audience. “Quick, in here!” Tim continued, then leapt through the air in a grand jeté, and was narrowly missed by a second earth-shattering peck of the duck’s bill.
Tim dove into the safety of a crack between two large rocks. Eric, Matilda and Misery jumped in behind Tim, making their escape. They could no longer see the threat, but they could certainly hear it as it smashed its beak up against the rocks, quacking frantically.
“How are we meant to escape this bleedin’ quack attack?” Eric was exasperated, his nerve was wearing thin.
The duck peered into the crack. They saw his blinking eye look at the group through a monocle.
“Jabby? Is that you?” cried Matilda, eyes agog at the Jabberwonky’s new form.
“Quack!” came the reply.
Chapter 10: Critical Spit
If you want to know more about something mentioned in the story (e.g. a creature, place or person) go to the Lore of the Land:
If you want information about our hero’s characteristics and inventory at the start of this chapter go here and scroll to the relevant chapter:
“It can’t be!” Tim rubbed where their chin ought to be, “the Wonky one now a quacky one? Well, well, well… anyone for a succulent roasted Peking duck?”
“Yeah! Let’s pluck that duck!” Misery fluttered up, tiny fairy hands balled into fists.
“Put the chook on the hook!” Eric nodded, and licked his lips.
Matilda nudged Eric, “he’s not a chicken, he’s not even really a duck. It’s the Jabberwonky. Look, he’s got the same monocle and a stupid little hat. I’m telling you, it’s Jabby.”
“Jabby? Sounds like you two got close,” Misery teased.
“Either way, on the count of three, we make our advance,” instructed Tim, forming a game plan, “Eric, you grab the tail feathers. Misery, sprinkle some gold dust in his eyes. Matilda, you can-”
“No!” Matilda shouted, cutting Tim off, “that duck’s no schmuck!”
“He’s trying to kill us, he said so himself!” Eric cried.
Matilda insisted, “Drew E. Decimelle told me, Jabby isn’t actually evil. Someone’s controlling him!”
“Controlling?” Misery queried.
“Jabby?” questioned an about-face Eric.
“Who E. Decimelle?” Tim spat.
“Tim, you’ve got to believe me. I saw something, something that might help end this battle with Jabby’s life still intact!”
“Keep him alive? Why? There’s nothing pleasant about this pheasant!”
“Tim, enough with the bird puns. They’re a stretch at best. You’ve got to trust me.” Matilda leant in towards Tim. Her eyes glistened with sincerity. She was a friend Tim could depend upon.
Tim sighed and nodded at her, “alright, alright! No more puns. Now, let me think of a new plan.”
“You do that! But first,” she said before abruptly turning and running away, “quick, follow me! We’ve got to get Lady Kackel somewhere safe!”
The crew remained stationary, standing in confusion. Eventually, Eric stepped forward and patted Tim on their back. “She’s quite the firecracker, isn’t she?” he paused a moment and smiled. “Well, best be on our way after her, right?”
With this, the pint-sized butcher chased after his friend, the others close behind. The unconscious Kackel still in Tim’s arms.
“What’s the big idea here, anyway?” Eric asked, finally catching his breath after the party had stopped in the ruins of the Great Spaghetti Bowl.
“Quiet. Ducks have excellent hearing,” the knight whispered.
“They do?” Eric made a poor attempt to whisper.
The others shushed in unison.
“I don’t actually know, but being as inconspicuous as possible seems like the smart thing to do, regardless,” Tim answered shrugging their empty shoulder plates.
Matilda was distracted, scanning the rubble in search of something… but what? Tim thought. The huntscrabby peered out from within Tim’s breastplate and exchanged a look with Tim, for the huntscrabby had also noticed Matilda’s odd actions. Trust her, Tim thought to themselves. The huntscrabby nodded as though they could hear Tim’s thoughts.
“Okay, it’s time to incapacitate the duck, but not harm him,” Tim said, pointing a thumb towards the quack behind their back.
“Didn’t we agree to kill it?” Eric chimed in.
“That’s what I remember, right Tim?” Misery squeaked.
“No!” The knight said, “isn’t that right, Matilda?”
“No?” Misery and Eric asked, mouths agape.
“No, Matilda is right, the Jabberwonky is innocent…” Tim started, in a calm, quiet whisper.
“But what about my son?” a voice sobbed from a nearby home. No one in the party heard it.
Matilda let out a sharp exhale, her gaze fixed upon the item she had been searching for and she began to stride purposefully toward it. Tim (and Kackel on their shoulder) followed her.
Tim addressed the stragglers, “…the Jabberwonky didn’t want to do any of this! For hundreds of our human generations, he’s been under the thrall of Meatball!“
“That’s what Drew said,” replied Matilda.
“Who said?” Eric asked, running to catch up with her.
“Drew said. You know, the librarian on Jabby’s back. She said that Jabby is not actually a violent sort but that he’s being made to act this way,” Matilda explained.
“And Meatball was going to fend him off with the Dagger Eyes to make himself look like a hero, maintaining the threat of the Jabberwonky’s return to secure power for even more generations of the Meatball family.” Misery nodded.
“For power,” Matilda repeated, with a clenched fist.
“And control!” said Eric, arms crossed.
“And to hide the entrance to the catacombs at the bottom of the bowl,” added Misery who turned to Tim, “which you knew about, didn’t you Tim?”
Tim shook their head, though not in disagreement. Tim was in disbelief. The fairy knew. Tim had traversed the peaks of mountains, trekked through marshy valleys, sailed seas on the backs of killer whales - all to one day find the entrance to the fabled catacombs.
I’m almost there! Tim thought as they followed Matilda through the threshold of an open door, decorated with skulls and into the Necromancer Kackel’s lair.
Eric gasped at the skulls decorating Kackel’s house. Misery paused mid-flight to tip her tiny hat to them in a greeting.
“The catacombs? But I’m positive that’s just a legend,” Matilda said.
“It’s true,” Misery said as the knight lay Kackel on her bed. “Right Tim?”
“I might have heard that… somewhere,” Tim responded, eyes darting from side to side. Misery perched herself on a corner poster of Kackel’s bed, clearly dejected. Eric refused to make eye contact with Tim as he traced the grout in the stone-lined floor.
“So you came here for the catacombs, not to save our hamlet?” Matilda asked, her heart sinking.
“No. Well, yes. Originally, it was the legend that brought me here. I was going to tell you eventually,” Tim said, waving an empty arm of armour dismissively, preoccupied as he tipped out the contents of various drawers and cupboards in Kackel’s home.
“You didn’t come to save us?” Eric repeated, still looking at the floor. His foot met with a bone - a femur perhaps - he nudged it across the floor with his toe.
“Yes,” Tim said sighing and faced the group “I came in search of the catacombs. I can’t tell you why I didn’t say anything, but right now we need to focus on the problem at hand and I have a plan.”
The group didn’t respond. Even the huntscrabby jumped down from Tim’s shoulder and scuttled over to join the others.
“Right then,” Eric conceded, “you’re lucky we’re in peril and need to be saved, because the moment we’re done with the duck, you’d better spill the beans.”
“Yes,” Tim turned to face Eric. “I owe you that.”
Here the knight snapped their fingers in the direction of Misery.
“Misery, you need to find something to revive Kackel, something potent…”
“Yes, Knight,” The small fairy saluted and blew the knight a raspberry before speeding off in search of something to raise Kackel. Tim moved their finger in the direction of Eric.
“You’re going to have to get up close to the duck,” the knight put a hand on Eric’s shoulder.
The butcher sighed, turning his back to hide his shame, “b-b-but… I’m too scared.”
“Never fear, Eric, I wouldn’t set you up to fail. Here, take these.” Tim reached their arm into the mouth of their armour, and rattled about in their search before retrieving the golden, jewel-encrusted binoculars attached to a long stem. Tim tossed the Dagger Eyes to Eric.
“You have to be close for them to work,” Misery interrupted, informing Eric of the legendary eyewear of her people, “but we believe in you!”
She floated onward, a bottle of ointment, the quill of a porcupine, and a rotten apple in tow.
“Matilda,you’ve got the most important job of all,” announced Tim.
“Really? Do I get to do some super cool backflip strike? Or lead an army into battle? Or learn some all-powerful reality-bending spell?” Matilda swished her hands in front of her face.
“No, even more important.” The Knight plucked the ancient scroll from Kackel’s clutches, taken from the tied-up Meatball, and threw it to Matilda, “you’re going to read to him!”
“You have to read it clearly so he can understand, otherwise it won’t work.” Misery again interrupted with some important advice, as she toiled over a smoking cauldron filled with green potion.
Matilda caught the scroll in her hand, and said with a wry smile, “I think I can handle that, but what are you going to do?”
“I’ve got to find the source of the spell. The scroll says that somewhere on the Jabberwonky there is a glowing gem. The legend is that when the scroll’s words have been spoken aloud in the proximity of the Jabberwonky, the gem will cease to glow.”
Misery threw the quill into the pot, which belched in response. The fairy added, “without the glow, we will be able to destroy the gem.”
“And without the gem, he will no longer be susceptible to Meatball’s whim and will,” Tim explained.
“That’s brilliant!” Eric applauded.
“The only question is, where is the gem?" Tim continued, twirling their non-existent moustache.
“I saw it! When I was up there I saw it, on the Jabberwonky’s head under that questionable hat!” Matilda exclaimed, referring to the Wonky One’s silly little trilby. "A right, bright glowing ruby cloggin’ his noggin!”
“Eureka!” Tim shouted.
“Well, that’s the plan then. We kill one bird with one stone!” Eric said dusting his hands together as if the work had already been done.
“It won’t kill him, just restore him to his natural self,” Matilda corrected, “but what about our sorceresses? How will they be involved? Particularly with Kackel indisposed?” Matilda gestured to the snoring necromancer.
The cauldron began to spark as Misery plonked in the rotten apple.
“She won’t be asleep for long!” Misery giggled, suctioning some of the tincture from the pot into a dropper.
“Okay, by my calculations we’ve got lots of time to-" Tim started but was interrupted by the smashing of a window and a huge globule of purple sludge landed on a shelf of spooky paraphernalia, which melted into a charred shadow. The duck had hocked a loogie.
“Yikes!” Eric said, “looks like you’ll need a new calculator.”
But Tim had already run out the door.
Upon their exit from Kackel’s Hovel, Tim performed an entirely unnecessary commando roll into the open space for the duck was nowhere in sight. Evidence the Jabber-ducky had recently passed by was everywhere. In his path he had left a wake of destruction; giant globs of magical purple jelly and scorch marks.
Tim gestured toward Matilda and Eric that the coast was clear, and they followed behind the knight, Eric holding the Dagger Eyes in his trembling hand while Matilda unravelled the scroll, happy to see the text was short (for all its democratic principles the Spaghetti Bowl never really got a good education policy together).
“Quack!” the trio heard ahead of them as the Jabber-ducky spewed forth steaming jelly into the town centre’s fountain.
Eric, whose body was abuzz with anxiety, did his best to pull himself together. He held the Dagger Eyes high above his head and ran as fast as his tiny legs could take him toward the town centre.
“Oi, you there!” he cried, “look over here!”
Eric dove behind a stack of wine barrels and held the Dagger Eyes out from the side. The duck turned and locked eyes with the binoculars. The golden lashes rimming their objective lenses fluttered, transfixing the bird in its magical stare.
“It worked!” Eric laughed, relieved. The Dagger Eyes had simulated a great force of critical glare, causing the target to take a deep, hard look at themselves in stunned, immobile silence.
“Great work,” Matilda cried, as she clambered up the barrels and unravelled the scroll, “we just need Tim to get into position and we’ll be home in time for tea.”
Tim, who had joined Eric behind the barrels, let out an ear-piercing whistle, ”here boy!”
The huntscrabby scuttled toward them, bringing with them a long piece of rope clasped tightly in its pincers. Tim reached within the cavernous confines of their armour and retrieved their harpoon, which they held forth for the huntscrabby to swiftly (and with impressive agility) tie the rope to.
The little insectoid then scampered up to Tim’s shoulder. The knight winked at the little fella.
“Right, well it looks like you know what you’re doing,” Matilda cleared her throat, looked down to Eric to ensure his grip on the Dagger Eyes wasn’t faltering, and then began to read from the scroll.
“ahem, ‘an order tall, an answered call, it’s time to fall from this thrall!’”
“Wait, let me get that stupid little hat off the gem first,” said Tim.
With one swift manoeuvre, Tim threw the harpoon towards the trilby. It struck straight through, exposing the glowing ruby, then looped around the neck of the beast forming an anchor.
Tim then climbed the duck, plucking an occasional feather till they reached the top, where they called down, “you know, this plan has gone extraordinarily well!”
The knight waved his armoured hands in front of Jabby’s stunned face. As he straightened Jabby’s monocle, Tim continued, “I’m something of a strategic genius, don’t you agree?”
“Let’s try again,” nodded Matilda, holding both ends of the scroll firmly.
“An order tall, an answered call, it’s time to fall from this thrall!”
The ruby kept glowing.
“Maybe, you have to read it with a little more panache?” Tim said gesturing at the last word, “this is your moment in the spotlight, Tilds. Time to shine.”
Matilda put down the scroll to enable her to increase the flair in her delivery. She was to gesticulate, pause at times for dramatic effect, and end with something fitting of a finale.
“An order tall,” with her hands she mimed measuring something of significant height.
“An answered call,” she picked up the receiver of an imaginary phone.
“It's time,” she pause for dramatic effect and tapped her wrist.
“To fall from this thrall!” she let her body fall from the top of the barrel as if part of a trust exercise, somersaulting gracefully mid-air and landing on her feet.
Tim applauded, Eric guffawed and Matilda curtseyed, yet still the ruby glowed.
“Bravo! Encore!” cried Eric, tilting the Dagger Eyes in order to join in on the applause.
As soon as the gaze was broken, the Jabberducky sprang back to life.
“Yikes!” screamed Eric, who had dropped the Dagger Eyes in his fright, smashing the precious enchanted lenses.
“An order tall, an answered call, it’s time to fall from this thrall!’” Matilda called out as fast as she could, even louder than before.
Still the ruby glowed and the Jabberducky advanced.
“You idiots,” a voice behind them called “a duck can’t understand human language! It’s not going to work.”
Kackel limped in their direction, supported by a crutch conjured with Misery’s golden dust.
“WATCH OUT!” Misery wailed, pointing at the duck who was once again pecking at the crew.
This is all my fault, Tim thought. I’ve got to do something.
ARGGHHHHH, everything was going so well. It looks like our heroes have this in the bag though… right? RIGHT?
Thanks to Prince Smith (one of the best princes) inventor of the Dagger Eyes - now sadly destroyed. Remember, like Prince, you can pitch new areas, creatures, characters, and items/spells in the existing threads and see them get added to the Lore of the Land encyclopedia.
Voting closes on the 13th of September, 2022. The next chapter will follow about a week after that… with luck!
Have a look at the latest Place I’ve Never Lived:
or don’t… it’s up to you… I’d appreciate it though.
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