The Shoelace King
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"Samara, you have to stop! Dad's going to be so mad if he finds out!"
I laughed and turned up my speed just a touch.
My brother, always the rule follower, the fun squelcher.
"Quit your belly aching and hurry up!" I called to Nico over my shoulder as I ran.
Dad had rules about playing in the woods at night, but it wasn't night.
The sun was starting to turn a shimmery gold colour sure, but it was still way above the trees, not a chance we'd be breaking one of Dad's rules.
Nico just wanted to go home and read, we both knew that was the reason behind his bellyaching. But I wasn't about to let him turn around, not just yet, there was still too much adventure left in this day to call it quits.
We were headed through the woods to the meadow that we always played in, the one with a little stream that ran down the middle.
The stream that was usually nothing more a tiny trickle, but after last night's thunderstorm I was sure to be much larger.
Maybe it would be deep enough to tickle the bottom of my knees; I couldn't wait to find out.
I charged ahead, my younger brother following in my wake, fussing up a storm, hoping I'd give in and let him be alone with his beloved books.
The clearing was not much further now; the books would have to wait.
I could tell something was different the moment I exited the tree line, the air was different, the noises were different.
I stopped dead in my tracks, hungry to figure out why everything was so weird all of a sudden.
"Hey!" Nico complained as he nearly collided with me.
"Don't stop in the middle like that; do you want me to crash into you?"
I rolled my eyes, "Shush will you? Help me listen."
Something pricked at my ankles; in that little gap between my shoe and my pant leg.
I glanced down to make sure I hadn't stopped in a thistle patch. Nope, nothing but regular old grass.
I took a few steps into the meadow, eager to get to the stream.
That's when I heard it, quiet at first, but growing steadily louder as I moved through the meadow.
It was a wild cacophony of chattering, like all the trees from the woods were shouting all at once.
By the time I reached the muddy stream bank it was loud enough to drown out the sound of the water bubbling over the stones.
"What is that sound?" Nico finally asked.
I sat down on a smooth rock to take off my socks and shoes, excited to stick my toes into the gooey mud on the stream bank.
That's when I noticed the tiny pin pricks of blood on my ankles. Right in the spot that had been hurting just a few seconds ago.
"I don't know, but look at this," I said, holding my leg out so he could see the tiny wounds.
"Yeah, maybe they're bug bites, do you have any?"
Nico pulled up his pant leg and shook his head. "Nope."
It was then that a flash of movement caught my eye.
A tiny yellow blur streaked across the corner of my vision and disappeared into the tall grass.
"What the..." I whispered, turning my head to investigate.
Another streak, this one blue and more pinpricks.
This time Nico cried out, grabbed at his ankle and bellowed like a dying walrus.
Whatever was in the grass couldn't be much bigger than a squirrel. But nobody ever saw a yellow squirrel, or a blue one for that matter. Things in the meadow were very bizarre indeed.
Just then a second yellow streak zigzagged around Nico's ankles.
He yelped and hopped to the side.
"It got me, that yellow thing! My ankle, it's going to kill me.
We have to go before I'm all the way dead."
He hopped around clutching his ankle like a complete goon for two full minutes.
I shooed him away and got down on my knees to investigate.
I flattened the grass down in a large circle, trying to see if there was some sort of game trail these mystery creatures were on.
A few minutes into my inspection a pebble the size of my thumbnail flew out of the grass and bounced off my elbow.
"Hey!" I hollered, and turned a nasty eye at my brother. "What was that for?"
He stopped hopping and looked at me.
"What are you talking about?"
I picked up the pebble and chucked it at him.
Probably a bit harder than I should have, because he yelped with pain.
Just then a second, slightly larger stone flew out of the grass and hit me in the belly. I jumped to my feet.
"It's them, those things, they're attacking!"
"I told you they're trying to kill us! I'm so out of here." my brother hollered and was halfway back to the woods before I could react.
I chased after him and got nearly to the tree line when my curiosity got the better of me.
"Nico, wait. I have to know what those things are. I'm going back; I'm going to try to catch one. Come help me."
"Are you mental?" my brother said from further up the trail.
"Those stupid things are dangerous; I'll see you at the house."
With that he turned and disappeared into the woods.
I rolled my eyes.
"Stop being such a baby, last time I checked nobody's ever died from taking a pebble to the elbow. Come on already."
Without waiting to see if he was coming back I turned on my heel and tiptoed through the tall grass to the spot by the water where I'd smashed all the grass flat.
Then, soft as a feather, I sat myself down and waited.
Not blinking, not breathing, just sitting, really, really still.
I tried not to react as the pebbles bounced off my arms.
One. Two. Three.
Then a desperate volley of about 12 all came at once.
I gritted my teeth and did my best not to flinch.
I watched the grass to find the source of the stones, but the tiny military that had waged the pebble war kept themselves hidden for an impossibly long time.
Then slowly, just so slowly, a tiny round creature in a dirty yellow jumpsuit crept out of the grass.
He came to a stop and stood there, just staring at me.
I turned my hands over so he could see that they were empty. He nodded and seemed to relax just a bit.
"I don't want to frighten you," I said, my voice barely above a whisper, "I should have left with my brother, I know, but I'm just so curious."
The figure shrieked something fierce and ran back to the cover of the grass.
So much for diplomacy.
I chewed on my lip as I tried to figure out what to do next.
Just then a slightly rounder figure in a pair of denim overalls strutted out like he owned the place.
"Hello there." I said to the newcomer.
"Is that the price you pay for pickles around here?"
He grinned like he was telling an extremely funny joke.
"Um," I said, not exactly sure how to respond to his bizarre attempt at humour.
He shook his head and waved his hand, dismissing the joke.
"What have you brought for the king?"
I raised my eyebrows, "The king?"
He made a big production of rolling his eyes, like I was the dumbest creature he'd ever encountered.
"King Kiyah. You know, Protector of the known world, Lover of puppies and friend to all. Bless his name.
You failed to follow protocol when you entered his kingdom."
"Is that why you guys chucked all those pebbles at me? That wasn't very nice you know."
Another mega eye roll from Overall Man.
"You failed to present your gift upon entry. You broke through our perimeter of archers, what were we supposed to do, applaud?"
Those must be the guys back at the tree line, firing miniscule arrows at my ankles.
"Sorry, I didn't know. What sort of gift does the king require?"
I started digging through my pants pockets looking for a coin or something that might get me off the hook.
As I searched, Overall Man tiptoed over and picked up the end of my shoelace, examining it carefully.
This struck me as a bit odd, but I continued my pocket search.
Then, after he had finished a rather thorough examination, the tiny creature started stroking the shoelace and hugging it to his chest, his face the picture of bliss.
This was getting weird.
I cleared my throat.
"Uh, I don't mean to interrupt, but um, that's my shoelace and well..." there was no easy way to ask, so I just spit it out.
"Can I ask why you're hugging it?"
Overall Man dropped it, startled. "Oh, sorry, I um. I..."
He patted the lace, "nice shoelaces you got there."
We stared at each other in awkward silence for a few seconds.
I glanced down at my shoelaces, trying to figure out just what he saw in them.
They were dirty and gray and starting to fray just a bit on the ends.
On a whim I tugged on the end of one, causing the knot to unravel. I loosened the lace just enough that I could pull it out of my shoe entirely.
I folded the lace in half, then in half again and laid it on the ground in front of Overall Man.
"Here, take this. It's my gift to the King."
I bit my lip.
This was officially the weirdest thing I'd ever done; give a dirty, frayed shoelace to a miniature king so he wouldn't throw pebbles at me anymore. It didn't get any weirder than that.
Overall Man could barely contain himself.
He stammered and cleared his throat a few times before he was finally able to speak.
"Yes, well then, yes. This is good, thank you."
Several figures in yellow jumpsuits scurried out to help Overall Man drag the gift away.
They bumped elbows and clapped each other on the back in celebration as they dragged the gift into the grass.
"Can I ask why you people are so excited about my dirty shoelaces?" I asked to no one in particular.
Overall Man reappeared with a second tiny creature, this one wearing a tiny crown made of aluminium foil and a dingy red cape.
He had a regal air about him, despite his shabby attire.
A few Yellow Jumpsuits scurried in his wake fussing over just about everything there was to fuss over.
Overall Man spoke, "King Kiyah, lover of puppies and friend to all, would like to thank you personally for your contribution to the Kingdom. Your gift will be added to his own personal wardrobe."
I scratched my head.
Fitting clothing for a miniature king!
I wasn't sure I wanted to know what that would look like.
But if he was grateful for it, then who was I to argue.
I stuck my pinkie finger out to shake the tattered king's hand.
He took my finger and spoke in a rather regal voice, "Be at peace, dear friend."
I nodded and stood to leave.
My brother was never going to believe this!
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