Copyright (c) 2016 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
All the objects from the refuse cart were tumbled downward toward the raging inferno. Wind rushing past the broken cup, Stein, made a mournful foghorn sound. Ladle spun round and round like the falling shaft of an arrow, his fond days stirring in the castle kitchen passing before him like images from a carousel. Lute played frantic descending scales that became a madman’s funeral dredge, his fragmented string streaming behind. The broken scissors beat at the air like wings without feathers. “Eeeeaaaahhh!” he screeched. Right before they reached the flames, a blast of steam lifted them all upward. “I’m about to enter the gates of hell and then I’m saved by …” Jack, the old worn-out boot gasped as he stared upward. “A river pouring from the sky!”
“You didn’t think I’d abandon my friends did you?” Rain said. She was hovering over the refuse-pit pouring torrents of water into the burning hole.
“Nor would I!” When they were once again above the rim of the smoking chasm, Wind blew them sideways where they plopped to the ground in safety.
The boy saw the load of garbage that he’d just dumped come flying back up out of the pit and reluctantly turned around. “This won’t do … they’ll blame me for sloppy work,” he said. He was approaching the steaming jumble lying everywhere on the ground when an enormous blast dropped him to his knees. A second explosion sent him running back to the village without his cart. “Don’t forget my help,” Thunder rumbled.
“Good heavens!” Ladle exclaimed. “No more than twenty of us went in from the cart but hundreds came out!” Jack, Lute, Stein and Scissors all stared. Charred books, wheels, pots and tools littered the ground.
“They had no right to destroy me!” a thick cookbook with a broken spine grumbled. “How was I to know the King doesn’t like worm pudding?”
“And I kept falling off the wagon because the driver never fastened me on properly,” a wheel said.
“I’m not going back in that pit again!” Jack began to stomp soot from his heel.
“I suppose it’s too late to catch up with the minstrels,” Lute sighed.
“We don’t have to go back to the way things were,” Ladle told them. “I noticed the carnival packing-up while the boy was hauling us to our doom. There is plenty of space in the market. Why not offer ourselves to people who will appreciate what we have to offer?”
“I could hold all kinds of things if I only had a pin to help me,” a table with a wobbly-leg cried.
“My whole family has been starving!” A bent-nail tumbled from a smoking bag. “Sure! Even my little ones have some rust, but aren’t we all tarnished in some way?”
“Alone we are worth nothing,” Ladle said. “But if we band together, we can make new lives for ourselves!”
All the broken and discarded items from the pit began to cheer as Jack announced that he would lead them all back home. They looked like a raggle taggle army as they marched down the dusty road toward the village and the castle beyond … and the Wind and the Rain and Thunder followed.
“There!” Table pointed his loose leg at the empty space left by the traveling minstrels. “We can set up our shop and find people who want us.”
Ladle noticed Stîngace’s glaring face behind a booth selling cabbages. The cook’s helper who had broken him lifting a heavy pot had apparently lost her job in the King’s kitchen. Stîngace noticed him and yelled. “That spoon was sent to the garbage heap!’
Several of the surrounding merchants began to look at the group suspiciously. “Who brought this load of junk into our market?” An overweight man sniffing stuffed meats to their left yelled. He threw a sour smelling sausage that just missed Lute.
“No one brought us,” Ladle told them. “We are castaways, thrown-out and discarded … therefore we consider ourselves free merchandise!”
A man selling snakes from an empty rum-barrel on their right, shook another barrel filled with terrified mice and laughed. “Who would want any of you?”
Ladle had to restrain Jack from kicking him as he and Rain mixed a cracked goose egg with dusty chunks of red ochre.
Scissors helped a battered Sea Captain’s log-book, that had lain underwater for years and then dried out, remove one of its unwritten crusty pages and soon they had a sign that read: Free to Good Homes. Two pieces of used chewing gum offered to stick it to the edge of the table.
Soon the empty market stall was filled with broken and discarded items each trying to show its best side to the prospective customers walking past. No one stopped or even looked in their direction.
“We need something to get their attention,” Ladle said.
Just then, a hissing snake startled a woman carrying a high stack of fabric and thread as she walked past. She jumped sideways and tumbled into a fat man eating a dripping sausage that he’d just purchased. “Spooked yah a bit did it?” he stared at the barrel of snakes as he helped the obvious seamstress pick up her cargo and then walked over. “Nice wiggly scarf to have around my neck when I comes home from the pub a bit late and the missus is waiting up an polishing her rollin’ pin.” He left two minutes later with an African Python wrapped around one arm and holding a bag of squirming mice in his other.
“That’s what we need,” Ladle said. “Something to get the people’s attention.”
Rain was helping Stein clean out the paint stuck to his insides but was running low on water. Thunder produced a deep rumble to help the cloud make more. Several people walking past finally looked in their direction. “That’s it!” Ladle cried. “We all need to make noise to get the people’s attention!”
Scissors began to click his blades together once each second. In between each click, Ladle would strike his wooden head against Stein. After eight beats, Lute began to play a rousing melody. The pause that came from the broken string only served to heathen the unique sound. Soon a large crowd had formed around the booth filled with junk.
“A doll with the stuffing missing from one leg! I had one just like it when I was a girl!” one elated woman exclaimed.
The other merchants in their booths were furious. “That pile of junk is stealing all of our customers!” they cried.
“All this wheel needs is a new bearing and it will fit my wagon!” a happy farmer said.
A bare-foot pirate with a peg leg howled when he found Jack and they danced away together toward a world of adventures.
Ladle, Stein, Scissors and Lute kept on playing and soon all of the unwanted objects had new homes.
The woman who had been frightened by the snakes pushed her way through the crowd and gasped when she saw Scissors. “That is a pair of Hinchliffe dressmaking scissors!” she exclaimed. “The finest fabric cutters in the whole world!”
The man selling sausages laughed. “Not anymore,” he said. “Look at that point! It’s broken!”
The woman picked up Scissors and examined him carefully. “Only the tip,” she said. “I don’t take long snips, only short careful ones. The cutting edges are still excellent! I can’t wait to put these to work!”
Just then Stîngace pushed her way through the crowd followed by three of the King’s soldiers. “There,” she cried grabbing the spoon she had broken. “This collection of junk has been selling merchandise in the village without a license!”
“Is this true?” one of the soldiers asked Ladle.
“Not at all,” ladle told him. “We offer ourselves free to good homes and promise to work hard for the people that want us!”
“There is no law against giving things away,” the smiling soldier told Stîngace as he took the spoon from her hand.
Ladle, Stein, the scissors and Lute all began to cheer. No one noticed the clink as Stîngace dropped a penny into Stein. “They lie!” she screamed. “They’ve been collecting money all along and hid it to avoid paying the King his rightful taxes.”
The soldier lifted Stein and the penny fell to the ground. “I’m sorry but I’ll have to take you all to the magistrate!”
The soldiers bound the four objects with heavy rope and dragged them toward the castle. Some distance behind, Thunder followed grumbling, the Wind howled and Rain wept openly.
Stîngace made up lie after lie to the magistrate in the courtyard of the palace. She was determined to see all the unwanted objects burned. “We have to do something,” The Wind whispered to Rain.
“We’ll go fetch the King,” Thunder said. “He’s a good man and will set things right!”
The King was eating hot porridge from a golden bowl when Rain tapped on his window. He ignored her. Wind rattled the castle’s eaves and tore shingles from the turrets; still he did not look up. Thunder finally grew furious and shook the entire castle so that even the foundation stones trembled. “What the devil is going on?” The king threw open his window, looked up at the sky and then spied the proceedings below in the courtyard. Minutes later he pushed his way through the crowd.
“What is the meaning of this?” he asked the magistrate.
“These broken items are charged with selling without a license to avoid paying taxes.” The magistrate told the King.
Stîngace held up the penny. “I have the proof in my hand.” She cackled.
The King sighed as he looked up at the sky, the swirling Wind, the rumbling Thunder and the Rain that was beginning to fall. “I’m sorry,” he said. “But the laws in this kingdom must be obeyed.”
“To the fire pit with them!” Stîngace cackled. She was dancing with joy.
“There will be no burning,” the King proclaimed. “These four convicts will hang in the morning.”
Ladle, Lute, Stein and Scissors were all locked together in the highest tower of the castle. Stein sat glumly in a corner listening to Scissors snip at nothing while Lute played heartbreaking music. Ladle starred through the barred windows at the night sky. “At least we won’t burn,’ he said.
“The time we spent in the market making happy sounds was the best time of my life,” Stein exclaimed. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
“And just having that woman admire me was the best feeling,’ Scissors snipped.
“I didn’t realize how lonely I was until I had friends,” Ladle said. “Let’s make the sounds together on the one night we have left!”
Lute began to play the happiest songs he knew and joy echoed through the entire castle.
The King woke early the next morning from the most delightful sleep he’d had in years. “It was as if a chorus of birds had sung me through my dreams,” he told the servant helping him dress.
The magistrate, Stîngace and an angry group of merchants were just dragging the four prisoners away when the King spied them. “Where are you taking the prisoners?” he demanded.
“Why to Gallows’ Hill,” the magistrate replied. “It was by your decree that they were to hang!”
“That is correct, it was my pronouncement,” the King said. “But I didn’t say where … did I?”
The royal executioner placed four tiny hooks just inches apart into a wooden beam overhanging the elaborately carved doorway leading from the courtyard into the palace, and then bound thin but very strong wire around each prisoner.
“Will it hurt … this hanging?” Stein asked as the wire wrapped around his broken handle.
“I was often hung on a hook by the stove,” Ladle said. “Not so bad. At least we’ll die together!”
Scissors was elated when the executioner only placed the wire trough one handle eye. “I can still snip,” he whispered.
Lute couldn’t help but play the saddest song he knew.
The crowd gasped and then grew silent as the executioner hoisted the four skyward. Ladle, Stein, Scissors and Lute were all hung so close together they were almost touching. After several minutes of silence the crowd wandered away and after an hour … so did the sun.
Stars swept across the night sky and the kingdom was silent. The Wind found Rain crying behind some mountains and together they looked until they found Thunder hurtling lightning bolts at the ground in uncontrolled fury. “I just want to touch our friends one last time,” Wind said.
It was after midnight when the three floated above the castle grounds. Everything was deathly still. The four noisy friends hung lifeless from the wooden beam. Rain began to cry and her tears plunked against the silent body of Lute. Wind came in close and brushed against Ladle softly and he bumped against Stein. Thunder couldn’t hold back his grief and began a deep low grumble that made even the stout wooden beam the four hung from vibrate.
Lute was the first to open his eyes, then Stein, Ladle and Scissors. “We are alive,” they whispered to each other.
The Wind was so happy she became a summer breeze and Thunder a deep rumbling bass. Rain plunked out a steady beat of joyous tears and all the friends together began to make the most delightful noises.
On the other side of the village, in a barn next to a pig pen, Stîngace woke from the hayloft where she was sleeping and shrieked. The sounds carried on the night air were driving her mad. She loaded all her belongings into a small bag and left, never to be seen again, cursing the infernal noise that was in the air.
The King smiled in his sleep. Everything was right in his kingdom and in the world.
And on a silent summer night, if you listen closely, you can still hear the seven friends who hung together and proved to everyone that all things … even those broken … have value.