Elena and the Giants

        Here is an uncontracted bonus novella, of pure imagination, for kids of all ages. Dedicated to my wife and child… and Danny Young.

 

Elena and the Giants

by

Matt Zurbo

 

 

A Gentle Giant 

Cielo was a giant with beautiful black hair. She was solid, as most giants are – they need muscle to carry all that weight – and had stunning, tired eyes that suited her friendly manner. Cielo had tattoos all over of pirates and thieves and Vikings and skeleton men and Indian warriors with long feathered tribal headwear. They moved about her and had their own lives. Each one was the size of a human and angry. When she walked through the morning mist it was hard to see her, and looked like her tattoos were dancing and floating in the air.
   The local villagers loved Cielo. “Good morning sister giant,” they would call. “How is the sky today?”
   Cielo loved the sky. She wore it like a dress. On cold, rainy days, wrapping herself in woolly black clouds would keep her warm.
   “The sky is what it is,” she would reply with a smile. Cielo liked all weather. She rarely enjoyed speaking and never wanted to tell anybody the way things are.
Cielo’s favourite day was market day. She loved the colours of it – everything greens and oranges and browns and reds. Usually, she was a vegetarian, only eating apple trees and big clumps of seaweed. But, on market day, sometimes, if one was offered, she’d eat the occasional Pegasus cow.
   To pay for her food, Cielo would stand in the middle of the stalls and let her tattoos tell their stories to children. Each tattoo would work his way down to her ankles and call; “Hear ye, hear ye! Gather around!”
   “My story,” Skeleton Bob would brag, “begins at sea…” All their stories would begin at sea, before they were swamped by tidal waves, or swallowed by whales, or went to war. All their stories ended with wide eyes and hollow, haunted voices. “Don’t end up like me, child!”
   At night they would chatter and moan and complain and sometimes fight amongst themselves. Lars the Viking was the toughest of them all. The short tempers of Cielo’s tattoos would make her itchy, but otherwise she would dream giant dreams and sleep fine.
   The only tattoo on her that was not a person was of a dingo with no name. It would curl up in the lobe of Cielo’s ear and grunt and sigh contented sighs, and once she was in slumber, chase possums from her hair and howl. All the villagers would sleep safe listening to that distant animal’s cry, knowing their giant was around.
   Except one child.
   Elena would complain to her father, who fished for dreams in the wishing lake, attach them to scrolls and sell them on market day; “Cielo’s lonely, father. She’s sad, I can tell.”
   Elena’s father would be up all night, watching the dreams he’d caught that day as they wiggled and danced on the table, deciding which ones to put back in the water and which ones to sell. They were long days and nights and often made him very tired. Sometimes, still working near dawn, he’d just chose a few dreams without giving them any thought at all.
   “Cielo says she’s happy, we must believe her,” he would tell his only child. “Now go to sleep.”
But Elena would not. She knew sad. She knew about being alone.
   Everybody in the village thought Elena knew about being alone because her mother – a stunning, bighearted woman with long brown hair – went walking in the moody fogs one day and never returned. But that, as sad as it was, wasn’t the reason.    And how Elena knew about sadness, she’d never tell.
   “I’m sure she’s lonely!” Elena would protest.
   “Sleep!” her father would command.
   Elena could never sleep, though. She’d just lie in bed and look at the stars, and sob quietly so no-one could hear, while listening to a dingo tattoo howl.

 

The Skeleton

Skeleton Bob didn’t like being a tattoo. He remembered when he was a person, with flesh and blood and a real name. Back then he lived with the crocodiles, no other humans as far as the eye could roam. The crocodiles would tell him stories and he would wrestle with them and build canoes and wage war on other crocodiles. The kookaburras and emus always told him he looked a sight – back arched, leaping into battle, spear held high.
   But he had grown old bored and lost and died and became part of the Dreamtime.   And, one day, as the goblin tattooists roamed the Outback swampy marshes on their holiday, they saw his skeleton, and Bob became an idea they kept for themselves.
   Now there were ten of Bob. A tattoo on a giant, a jacket patch for a motorbike gang, a tattoo surrounded by tattoo bats across the back of a railway worker. Skeleton Bob liked the thought of that one – moving about with the roll of the railway worker’s muscles. Always hunched in work, baking in the sun.
   Skeleton Bob saw the other tattoos of himself as distant brothers, pretty much strangers, spread across the world. The thought of them made him angry, though. He knew he was just ink, given life on a giant’s skin, but still, he was the only one. Bob! Skeleton Bob! Skeleton Bob! The others had simply stolen his name!

 

Bark Diaries

Today the market was super busy. The horse lotus hunters had been and gone. For two coins and a bag of rice they would give you one of their prey. When you cut open horse lotus belly, whatever it had eaten – fruit stalls, hopes and wishes, small bicycles, cupboards full of magic potions, a shelf full of books – would be yours.
   It wasn’t very fair on the people from whatever village the lotus had swarmed, but that was the law. A Simple Law. And everybody loved and obeyed Simple Laws. They kept things simple after all.
   Elena’s father had not time to be entertained. When he wasn’t fishing for dreams, he’d buy a horse lotus or two, then try to find whoever owned what was in its belly and return it to them. A gift unexpected was better than gold. Something lost then returned created smiles that were like diamonds for his leathery soul.
   Once, he found two small children in a horse lotus belly, alive and well, if slightly frightened and confused. Tracking down their parents took weeks on end, and involved many an adventure, and hardship for a peasant with hunched shoulders and small wage. But even a dream fisher must have dreams of their own.
   Every time Elena’s father went roaming she was left to fend for herself.
   “I’ve collected a whispering teddy bear and a bark diary. Their true homes must be found,” he told his daughter. “I’ll be gone a while.”
   “What’s a bark diary?” Elena asked, looking at a small tree in her father’s hand.
   “The most rarest art from the Dragon Plains,” he replied. “The dragon children get given a young tree, and breath on it with their warm dragon breath so exactly, each and every day, over so long, that the tree twists over time towards the warmth of their breath. With such delicate warmth the dragons shape the tree over years, until the bark forms stories of their lives. Bark that is a language, like we write. Stories who’s sentences and chapters shift as the tree grows, and flying foxes and tree ants, and falling branches alters its flow.”
   “I’m not sure I understand,” Elena confessed.
   “It doesn’t matter,” her father replied. “This tree holds the bark diary of a dragon and it is rare and superb and deserves to go back to it’s home.”
   Elena loved the way her father never treated her like a child. He told her things whether she understood them or not – all the time. She watched him go – a humble little man with strong heart and a fishing rod, who caught and sold dreams and returned precious things to the unknown. It made her feel proud and sad. Always sad.
   Children’s dreams often look alike. Elena’s father had no way of knowing that one day long ago, while fishing in the dream pond he had caught Elena’s dreams, attached them late at night to a scroll and sold them on. He was always too exhausted from work, and slept too hard, to notice his daughter, now without dreams, would lie awake all night, and softly cry.
   Elena looked for Cielo to cheer herself up. The giant’s tattoos could be rowdy and rude but stayed trapped, jumping up and down on her skin. Cielo wasn’t anywhere to be seen, though. It was like there was a big hole in the market air.
   Elena went looking for her, crossing the chattery bridge, and crawling through its underpass, so as to not disturb the shadow thieves. They were the cheekiest of all. Shadow thieves would wear your shadow like a coat, prancing around, imitating it, as if they were you, laughing like summer rain.

 

Snake Wrestling

Elena found Cielo out in the rolling hills, wrestling a river, two creeks and a small stream.
   “What are you doing?” Elena called.
   But Cielo was too busy to hear. Fortunately, the tattoo Skeleton Bob did. He worked his way past the grumbling pirates and grumpy Vikings to Cielo’s shin and said;
   “Har thee well, l’ill child!”
   “Har thee well, Skeleton,” Elena replied. “Why is your mistress wrestling creeks and streams, please?”
   She had to be polite because the tattoos were so short tempered, anything could set them off!
   “M’lady, don’t ye know?” Skeleton Bob said. “Every waterway is a snake! And sometimes dey need tamin’, and mistress Cielo’s be de one to do so.”
   “Taming?” Elena said.
   “Ay! She be warning dem not to flood again when de frost monsters melt, and do de village any harm.”
   “But rivers and streams go where they will. They have no say in it. Why fight snakes if they can’t help who they are?”
   “Arr, agreed, l’ill child! But neither can Cielo help herself. Secretly, I’z reckon she’s bored. Bored to dyin’.”
   “No…!” protested Elena.
   Before she could ask why, Cielo moved her mighty feet, and Skeleton Bob was now a long way away. Elena ran after him, but, Cielo moved again. It wasn’t easy having a conversation with a giant’s tattoos! Soon, Elena gave up. By now, not being able to finish his conversation, the skeleton would be angry again.
   Elena was catching her breath when something black and billowing caught her eye. Smoke! She looked over the trees, from where she’d come… The village was on fire! Two doom crows saw it, too, and flew towards her home.
   Doom crows? This is bad, she thought.
   Then, something rose from the horizon that even caught Cielo’s attention. A big, bearded giant was swinging his axe, shouting in rage.
   More doom crows flew towards the battle, crawing; “The village is under siege!”

 

Moog

The giant swung his mighty axe, sending villager after villager flying through the air. They threw spears and ironsmith’s hammers and bananas and chicken eggs and axes of their own and fluffy toys – anything they could find. The air was dark with smoke from broken huts and freed fires.
   Then Cielo asked the river if it was ready.
   “I am,” its water replied, hissing over rocks, sounding just like a snake. And Cielo cracked it like a whip, sending it hurtling towards the giant!
   The water hit everything at once. Fires went out, villagers were washed flat, houses and cows were cleaned. The giant, soaked head-to-toe, fell onto his bottom, hands in front of him, open and hopeless, and began to sook.
   “What was that for?”
   “Is he serious?” Skeleton Bob asked.
   “Let’s fight him!” Lars the Viking tattoo roared.
   “He’s not doing anything!” Elena protested.
   “What was any of this for?” the giant wailed.
   Cielo watched him sitting there, sobbing in his wet armour and beard. Her tattoos could feel she was going to talk, not fight. They jumped up and down all over her, furious, waving their arms and weapons, wanting more battle! But they were trapped in her skin, which just made them madder – scary, but easy for her to ignore.
   “Why were you fighting?” she asked.
   The giant looked up, briefly surprised to see another person as big, if not bigger, than he was. He pointed to the villagers, all spread about by his axe and the river, as it slithered back into gutters and burrows and found other streams.
   “They started it!” the giant wailed.
   “Did not!” yelled, Lordo Bombop, the village mayor.
   “Did too!” the giant wailed more. “I was just coming to say ‘Hi’! You assumed I was here to destroy!”
   “You stepped on my Pegasus cow!” protested a blacksmith.
   “Um, Mr Giant?” Elena said.
   “My name is Moog,” said Moog.
   “Moog…” Elena said, pointing to a spear caught under Moog’s chest plate.
   Everybody stopped and listened. The chest plate seemed to be whimpering.
   “No!” screamed Moog, ripping off his armour.
   When he took off his chainmail everybody saw that his body was covered in tattoos, too – but of beautiful women! Some ran and hid under his armpits, others slinked up into his hair, but most nursed a tattoo of a small Arabian Dancing girl pinned by the spear, covered in the giant’s blood.
   “No!” roared Moog. “Get that spear out! I’ll kill you all!”
   His eyes were wild, crazy. The doom crows crawed with anticipation as he thrashed his arms.
   “Shh…” a voice said.
   “Yes, shh…”  another agreed, then another. They sounded so soft, caring.
   It was his tattoos.
   “No!” he raged. “I’ll destroy-”
   Then Cielo knocked him out by tearing some lightening from the sky.

 

Giants Under Moonlight

When Moog woke up it was night. He was sore, thirsty, so pulled down the crescent moon and drank from its tip before putting it back in the Milky Way again. He pinched and rubbed the bridge of his nose, noticing some of his tattoos were whispering soothing nothings into his thick skull.
   “Thank you, that won’t be needed now,” Moog told them. “I’m calm.”
   Moog looked down to where the spear had been. There was a bandage on it. Next to the bandage was the small Arabian dancer tattoo, sleeping, with a tattooed bandage of her own, her head nestled in the lap of a tattoo cowgirl with a permanent wink and smile. The cowgirl was looking right at Moog with stern eyes – or, a stern eye – placing her finger to her lips.
   “Ssh.”
   Moog obeyed.
   He looked around. Cielo was sitting opposite him, in the dark. She was indeed bigger than him. Calmer. Gentler. There was a tattoo gun and ink by her side.
   Rivers flowed all round them. Their roar, in the dark, seemed to make peace with the world.
   “You tell me your story, I’ll tell you mine…” Cielo whispered. Her voice was almost a purr.
   Moog just stared for the longest time. He was used to fighting, to being strong and hated and tall.
   “I’ll tell you the bits that matter…” he finally said. “My full name is Amoroog Von Growl. I was born near the dawn of time, in a glacier when it met a volcano and the ice atolls formed. It happens sometimes. I’m angry and lonely and have been fighting for centuries. Now I’m just tired, but fighting is all I know.”
   “Why are you fighting?” Cielo purred.
   “The little people came and stole my land, then, wherever I went anywhere near it they acted afraid.”
   “Little people can be strange,” said Cielo.
   “They attack me, so I fight back and, as I said, it’s become all I know. My beautiful, beautiful tattoos are all that keep me calm and sane. The villagers hurt my Arabian dancer, who is so lovely. Now I will destroy them all.”
   “No you won’t,” Cielo said. Her voice was still soft, but no longer purred.
   Moog said nothing to that.
   “Your turn,” he grumbled.
   “My name is Cielo,” said Cielo. “I’m a sky giant. It was strange. I always thought I was normal – just a happy girl who likes to lie in the shifting cloud-flower fields and watch the sun. Then, when I fell from the sky I found all these little people around me and had to learn to walk and talk and live like I was stepping on eggshells.
   “My tattoos are mostly of boyfriends I’ve had. I only chose the toughest, who might be mean and strong enough to date giant. But my size ruined them all.
   “It’s been 400 years since I fell and lost my clan, as the winds carried their lands beyond me. I’m very alone.”
   Both of them were shocked by their honesty. This was a real moment.
   “What about me?” Moog said. “You would not crush or break me.”
   “No,” Cielo smiled. “You are too rough and I don’t need another tattoo. I think I might just soon die.”
   There was nothing left to say after that. Moog sat in silence. Only the lonely frogs made any noise, croaking just enough to remind the lost they were alone.
   “Good night, then,” Moog finally said, rolling over. “Most likely we’ll battle in the morning.”
   “Yes, most likely,” Cielo gave a sad smile.
   Yet, neither of them could sleep. So much so, that when they both listened, past the lonely frogs, and over the volume of silence, they could hear the muffled sobs of a little girl…

 

A Little Cause

The shadow thieves were having a mighty time. At night, almost everything was a shadow, especially when the moon was high. They could roam, they could roam! They could spy!
   “What are the giants doing?” asked Lordo Bombop, the village mayor. He was all jittery and nervous at the best of times.
   “They’re watching little Elena through her window,” said a shadow thief. “They’re breathing giant breath all over her.”
   “Can’t the giants just fall in love and walk off into the sunset?” protested the mayor, through clenched, hissing teeth.
   But that wasn’t the way it worked, it seemed. Ever. That stuff only happened in fairy tales.
   “It’s dark, there is no sunset for them to walk into,” said a shadow thief.
   “That’s not what I meant!” spat Lordo Bombop. “Can’t they go? Away from here!”
   But they couldn’t. Moog was too angry and lost and Cielo was too bored and wanting to die. And both had found something, in the shape of a little girl, that made them pause.

Elena was confused. Enormous, hairy arms were carrying her. Beautiful tattoos of women – gypsy singers and female pirates and cowgirls – huddled, watching as she stared up at a giant beard and above that, the giant’s distant eyes.
   “Here…” said Moog, gently placing Elena between him, Cielo and the rivers and their powerful flow.
   “Hi kid!” Skeleton Bob said.
   “Ssh!” all of Cielo’s other tattoos raged, jumping on top of him to cover his skeleton mouth.
   “Your sobs are not normal, child…” Cielo crooned. “They carry great weight. Why are you so sad?”
   And Elena told the giants and the snake rivers and lonely frogs how her dreams had been caught by mistake and sold.
   “So now,” she said, “without dreams I have no reason to sleep or wish or love and am hollow inside.”
   And these two giants, with enough power to shake the land and tear down empires, who didn’t fit in anywhere, had, out of the blue, found a home in a cause. A child so fragile, with a wish so simple, had given them something to spend their might on.
   They looked each other in the eye and knew they were going on a quest to find the dreams of a little girl.

 

Leaving Home

“I’m not happy!” Moog protested. “Not happy at all!”
   The shadow thieves had stolen his shadow and replaced it with that of a pregnant duck! Big mighty Moog stomped on, with his wee shadow waddling behind.
   Elena grinned like a dolphin. She knew out there, somewhere in her small village, a scrawny shadow thief would be casting a giant’s shadow as he rounded corners, just to give people a scare.
   The giants stood either side of Lordo Bombop’s door, as little Elena sat at his big desk looking up his registry. Each time a dream was sold, the address or location of the buyer had to be recorded, and Elena’s father did everything by the scrolls.
According to the records, there were three scrolls of dreams sold the morning after she last dreamed. One of them would be hers. But she was young and had never travelled, so she wrote down all three locations in hoot-speak and gave them to a direction owl.

   The owl flew out the window, followed by Elena, then the two giants, as they tippy-toed around buildings and carts.
   Eventually, the thoom, thoom of their steps receded into distant thunderstorms. Not a pin drop could be heard in the village until they faded. Then everybody sighed.
   “Praise be…” Lordo Bombop exhaled, straightening himself from his hiding spot under his couch pillows.

 

Casting Songs

The direction owl led Elena and the giants to the edge of the ocean, and kept flying out to sea.
   “Now what?” she fretted. “The owl is getting away!”
   “Here’s a rowboat!” Moog said.
   Elena looked at it, on the end of a bone jetty.
   “It will sink with you two in it!” she wailed.
   But giants know what giants know. They pushed it out until they were hip deep, and Skeleton Bob said; “Come on boys!”
   And all the pirate tattoos and tribal tattoos and anyone and everyone who’d ever been on a canoe or a Viking ship formed a line around Cielo’s waist and called to the ocean.

   Oh brothers who died at sea, who now keep crabs and stingrays fed,
   who are one beneath the romance of waves,
   rise,
   rise…

   And all the pirate woman and Egyptian Goddesses and sirens and angels on Moog, with all their mercy called

Carry us, carry us,

   as we would you,
   don’t let us down,
   don’t let us drown.
   Some are hard, some are beautiful,
   we are you, oh,
   we are you,
   carry us,
   help us be found…

   And the dead rose in their dozens and put their hands to the underside of the wooden rowboat, holding it up, carrying the weight of a little girl, who had lassoed the claw of a direction owl with a piece of string, and was sailing, determined, giants either side.

 

A Friend

Elena looked down at the edge of the boat, surrounded as it was by the knuckles of dead hands rising from the water. It was night, the giants were sleeping, she was tired. She wanted to dream of her dreams, to imagine strange and wondrous things, but felt empty, as always. As always, under the happy face she gave to people, all she wanted to do was cry. When no-one was around her smile came down.
   “Don’t be sad,” a voice said.
   It was Skeleton Bob. Elena looked at him. There was something different about the tattoo this time…
   “Psst! Arr, ye fool, Skeleton Mon! Get back ‘ere!” Jamar, the Caribbean Pirate, whispered and spat at the same time. He was furious! They all were, all the time. His anger made Cielo itchy in her sleep. Big giant fingers poked and scratched at Jamar until, grumbling, he moved on.
   “I just figured it out!” Elena whispered. “You’re off Cielo’s skin!”
   Skeleton Bob was still flat, but, indeed, standing out on his own. He looked around nervously.
   “Yes, now and then I can leave her, briefly. When something is really important,” he whispered.
   “I don’t understand, why are you speaking like most people?” whispered Elena. “You normally sound like a pirate.”
   “Oh,” said Skeleton Bob, and leaned right into Elena’s ear. “When I’m on my own, I sometimes forget to fake the pirate accent. I’m actually a bushman. I just want to fit in.”
   “Ho! What be ye two whispering ‘bout?” protested Lars.
   “Arr, nothin’, me matey!” whispered Skeleton Bob. “Hey, Elena, want to see what skeletons eat when they’re hungry?”
   Skeleton Bob lunged at a school of yapperty fish, caught one, and swallowed it whole. Elena watched as the fish fell down his non-existent throat, bounced around his ribs, then fell out his non-existent belly alive and well.
   “Me, the fish, everybody’s happy!” Skeleton Bob joked.
   Elena giggled. She was sure if he had lips, Bob would be smiling.
   Skeleton Bob caught the fish as it fell and put it in his mouth whole again.
   “The gift that keeps on giving…!” he said, as it tumbled through his ribs once more.
   Elena hugged Skeleton Bob. He was all bones, but made her feel glad.
   “Oh no! You’ve put my spine out!” Skeleton Bob joked.
   They drifted for the longest while, nothing more being said. Just watching the direction owl on the end of their string.
   Gradually, Elena realised something dangerous must have been about to happen for Skeleton Bob to be able to leave Cielo’s skin. She looked down. She wasn’t holding the string, he was.
   “You were falling asleep,” he whispered. “I caught it as it slipped out of your hand.”
   “But… I never sleep…” she said.
   Sleep? Was it even possible without dreams? Maybe without dreams she’d fall into a coma, or worse… the void… and never return? If legend was true, nothing was scarier than the void – a death without dying. She was out of the village and everything was new and dangerous at the same time. She wondered how she could feel so safe around a murderous giant and another giant with such angry tattoos.
   Skeleton Bob handed her back the string and was suddenly in Cielo’s skin once more.
   “Be careful,” he said. “This is the Passage of Wondrous Currents. We could drift towards the Firelands, where every flame is a soul, and each fire is a story being told, or the Land of Frosts, where snow is a language and death is trade, or the Mountains of Spice, where we might be food, or Upsy-Downs, where there’s no gravity and duelling castles are built in all directions in the air.
   “And in between are the riptides, and ocean wells, and crushing waves.
   “That small piece of string in your hand is all that’s keeping us alive, and the dead that carry us from being lost for all time.”

 

An Owl’s Song

Days and nights past. It was dark again. Elena watched the direction owl as it steered them through calm, glassy waters that reflected the stars.
   “How can I ever repay you?” she whispered.
   And the owl, being an owl, said nothing. At first. Then, it sang a song, long and slow, in the softest bird’s tone.

   Oh, give me your lost,
   Your unwanted and broken,
   Your romantics and lovers who need to roam,
   Oh give me your hurting,

   Your adventurous and brave,
   And just maybe, if we’re lucky, I’ll find them a home.
   
   Oh, let my wings carry and carry you,
   By directing you,
   And in that feel strong.

   Don’t hurt,
   If you’re lucky
   And you find me,
   Give me reason, sweat reason,
   To be flying, oh, flying,
   Over the dead, and the wounded, and the living,
   To be free, in the sky,
   The place that’s my home…

   And maybe, just maybe, if I find a place for thee
   I’ll fly up into the winds
   On my own, and be gone, and be gone,
   Oh, gliding and gone,
   Into the clouds and their currents,
   The storms that do buffer,
   Carrying the moon on my shoulders,
   All alone, all alone,
   Yet feel less alone…

 

Invisible Threads

Elena watched the feathers of their direction owl, each one laced perfectly into the next, with patterns of dusty dark, as if they were bound by the night itself, spreading out along the finest, invisible threads, touching everything.
   Skeleton Bob watched Elena. ‘She’s so young and small’, he thought. ‘Just a child, a village girl. Yet out here, in such dangerous waters. She’s my hero.’ In that moment, the tattoo decided he’d do anything he could to help. Anything!
   Moog watched the Falling Islands to their left. No matter the mountains and peeks, if you were a human, or animal, the second you set foot on one of their beaches you would fall and fall and fall, across the island through to its other side, until you were out to sea. The cannibals of the Falling Islands, not wanting to tumble out to sea, rarely used the ground except for their cooking fires. Over the day they would climb down, from tree trunk to tree trunk, hunting, eating what they could, until they were at the island’s far end, then sleep in the branch cages they’d made while the island’s gravity shifted overnight, and fall and swing and climb back again. They were mean, hungry, and knew all they had to do to feast was to wait with their nets for unknowing sailors to step on the beach and begin to fall.

   Moog’s tattoos watched for mermaids and their siren’s songs – those creatures of the depths that looks so beautiful and ate your soul.
   Sven, Cielo’s Viking tattoo, watched for any gods of thunder who would try to break them with violent sea storms.
   Cielo watched the Daddy Long Things; towering, harmless spiders with almost human bodies on five impossibly long legs that could walk them through all but the deepest seas.
   And the direction owl, it watched the world.
   All the while, the dead of the sea held the small rowboat from its underside, thinking un-guessable thoughts, kicking their bony, rag-covered feet, keeping them moving forward.
   Eventually, as dawn began to rise, the stars all popped out one by one.
   The Island Belt of the Abyss Edge was a place of wonders only someone travelling with the protection of giants might, just might, survive to tell of.

 

Puppet Birds   

The island was magnificent, intricate. Everything was puppet strings. They were thick, thin, made of rope, made of silk threads, made of string. A forest of dangling lines filling the air.
   Puppet people wandered about, into, out of balsa wood puppet houses, puppet thieves were chased by puppet police down dark cardboard cut-out lanes. The hills were paper mache puppet hills, with puppet castles, and, in the distance, fierce puppet dragons, swimming in violet puppet waters, breathing puppet flames.
   Elena watched puppet butterflies fly past her, on thin puppet wires.
   “So beautiful,” she whispered.
   The rowboat eased to a stop in sandy shallows, the dead snaking through the water to wait in the reefs, hidden amongst the seaweed and clams. Elena stepped onto land, her two giant friends cautiously walking either side.
   A puppet bird perched on her shoulder. It was made of feathers, wood and glue and sung the sweetest song.
   “Wait, I know some bird language” said Skeleton Bob, cupping his bone-tattoo hand to where his ear might have once been.
   “Arr, ye be mad,” said one of the pirate tattoos. “Chirpy-chirp, dey all sound the same.”
   Cielo’s tattoos prowled her massive frame, weapons ready, as if they weren’t tattoos and could fight side-by-side. Only Skeleton Bob didn’t move. He listened, he listened… Skeleton Bob was indeed a bushman, and knew about nature – that it was hard and often cruel and things were seldom what they seemed. He knew that monstrous sounds can carry sweet messages, and, sometimes, horrible things can be said in lovely tones.
   “What’s wrong?” asked Cielo.
   “That bird’s song,” Skeleton Bob said. “It’s a warning.”
   Moog was finding it hard to walk through this island without tripping on puppet strings. One caught the handle of his axe, then another, then another. It made him overbalance, which made his leg wrap around the strings of puppet children playing on puppet slides. The more he tried to untangle the more he pulled puppets into him until they were ranting and angry and wrapped around his limbs and gnawing at his elbows.
   “Wait, I’ll help,” Cielo said, but tripped over the puppet strings of puppet spiders and puppet steam engines, and knocked her head on a puppet sun. Soon, a whole puppet market was wrapped around her, dragging her down.
   “Who’s pulling these strings?” Elena protested, but could only see them rising into the sky.
   “These strings have always been here. Dangling, jangling, giving us funny walks,” said the puppet mayor, as he wobbled and bobbled along Cielo’s tangled hip.
   By now Cielo and Moog couldn’t move. Puppet strings even covered their mouths.
   “That’s why we have made puppet balloons,” said the puppet mayor, a puppet string pulling his hand out wide.
   Elena followed his hand to see huge hot air balloons everywhere. Each one colourful, made of paper mache, and moored, just waiting to rise.
   “We are going to ride in them up through the clouds to meet our makers,” said the puppet mayor.
   “Wait. We’re not here to get involved with your battles,” said Elena. “We just want to find my dreams.”
   Suddenly, every puppet on the island, the puppet fish, the puppet trees, the fan that made the puppet breeze, the puppet cats playing with puppet rats, the tinsel and rags that made the puppet sewers flow, all stopped still.
   “Excuse me?” said the puppet mayor.
   “In my village, the market records show someone from here bought a dream scroll off my father.”
   “We’ve been buying many dream scrolls. You want to take our dreams back?” protested the puppet mayor, unable to believe his little wooden puppet ears.
   “Just mine,” Elena said, softly. “If they are here. Please.”
   “Our dreams!?” bellowed the puppet mayor, dancing and jiggling on puppet strings.    “Silly girl, then what would we use to fuel our balloons?”
Elena looked closer. Each balloon had a dream scroll under it, its dreams flickering and slinking like cold flames.
   “Hot air balloons need hot air, but real fire would burn our strings!” said the puppet blacksmith.
   “Dreams burn in their own way, if you squeeze them enough,” said the puppet scientist.
   “Dreams have their own energy,” said the stray puppet dog.
   “Dreams!” roared the puppet mayor, then he squeezed a dream that once belonged to a little boy, about toy cars and racing to the moon, until the dream began to shout and hurt and turn into a nightmare.
   “Stop!” yelled Elena. “That’s cruel! That dream belonged to someone. You’re giving them pain!”
   “Ahh, but we bought it fair and crooked,” said the mayor, as the balloon the dream was under began to fill with the nightmare’s cold flame. “A deal is a deal,” he added, before breaking into song, as puppet soldiers and puppet voodoo clans from the deep puppet valleys came marching on thousands of puppet strings, and puppet villagers gathered around.

   “A deal is a deal,
   a bargain an opinion,
   fair trade, my dear, is fair trade.

   “We travel over waters
   to shop at village markets,
   and buy stitches and britches and spades.

   “We get our potions and goblets,
   and oil for our hinges,
   through deep, violent oceans we wade.

   “A deal is a deal,
   and dreams are a steal,
   under Simple Law, once a deal is made!

   “So don’t put your nan’s bones on the shelf,
   bottle the anger of an elf,
   or sell any of your dream self,

   for to try to reclaim what’s been sold

   would be a crime

   most

   grave!”

   “I don’t care about Simple Law,” mumbled Elena. “I just want my dreams back.”
   “Don’t care? About Simple Law?” protested the puppet mayor. A puppet string lowered his puppet head into and angry glare. “Well then, that means war…”

 

Tangled in Blue

Puppet voodoo warriors let out tinny war cries from small puppet speakers attached to their puppet thighs, puppet soldiers charged on wooden puppet legs, as Moog and Cielo wiggled and withered furiously in puppet strings, until the island footings trembled as if everything might fall.
   Puppet coal miners rode out of painted foam puppet caves in their string-pulled puppet mine carts before their workplace collapsed on them. Puppet rainbows folded up and fell down.
   “War!” raged the puppet mayor. “War!”
   Moog threw his arm back, but more puppets got tangled up in him, pinning it down.

   “I know! We’ll squeeze the dreams out of these giants, that’s what we’ll do…” said the puppet mayor. “Yes! Imagine how many balloons that might fill! Then we’ll fly up and battle our creators, once and for all!”
   “No!” cried Elena.
   “Yo, aim for zeir strings, Lady Cielo!” cried Lars.
   “No, aye, avoid der strings!” called the Irish boxer tattoo.
   “Arr, if weez fall, weez go down as warriors, mon! Arr!” Jamar raged.
   Then, something stirred in Moog. The puppet string around him shifted, held apart by beautiful tattoo women who began to sing,
   and sing,
   and wail…
   Oh, they sang in high voices, in smooth voices, in mighty voices, the most delectable, exquisitely frightening songs! Songs that moved like tempests, that flowed into brains. They sung to bedazzle, they sung to confuse, that sung and sung until all the puppets were spellbound and half crazy and furiously fighting each other.
   “Woh…” said Skeleton Bob.
   All of Cielo’s tattoos stopped in awe, watching as, under the strength of tattoo songs, the puppets tried to destroy themselves. Cielo’s pirate tattoos now knew that each and every one of Moog’s lady tattoos were far more scary and tough than them all.
   And within the noise and conflict, nobody noticed a small girl had slipped through the fighting crowd.

 

Black Cotton Clouds

A storm was brewing. There was a rumble from above as ginormous, black cotton clouds gathered, black plastic waves rose, and white cardboard-and-wire lightening bolts came down.
   Elena ran from balloon to balloon, from dream scroll to dream scroll. None of them were hers, which broke her heart, but a dream was a dream. A precious thing. She had decided she was going to save them all.
   “Stupid puppets,” she mumbled to herself. “Silly puppet mayors.”
   She knew the puppets didn’t have to strangle their energy out, she knew each dream already had its own fire. The puppet mayor should have known! But the puppet mayor was too busy chasing wars.
   There was quite a collection of dreams. One for each balloon. The puppets must have been buying them for some time. Elena whispered to each dream; “Oh, please, if only you’d show me your passion. If only you’d rise. Rise! Imagine if you burned with you’re want and desire…”
   The dream with the small boy in the racing car was the first to come to life. In it, the boy finally won his race to the moon and burned with pride. Then, a dream with zoo animals came to life. In it, keys to their cages appeared, and the elephants and monkeys danced and ran and burned with the happiness of freedom. And the dream of the circus clown came to life. It burst with colour, as his dream audience laughed and laughed and laughed at all his jokes and he burned with pure joy.

   Elena released the balloons, and, powered by the passions of dreams, they rose into the storms. Lightening everywhere, they drifted off, safe from war, into the unknown.
   “Nooo…” protested the puppet mayor, small puppet fists waving on puppet strings. “War, war….!”
   He called on puppet monsters and puppet mountains and puppet bees, but Elena and the giants were already running through the sandy shallows to their boat, where the dead were fighting off puppet walruses, and puppet seagulls, preparing to set sail.
   “Can we go to the next location on our list, please Mr Owl?” Elena asked. “My dreams weren’t here.”
   The direction owl hooted, then flew into the air and the ocean’s dead pushed the boat adrift before resuming their place of belonging – holding two giants and a little girl aloft from under the waves.
   When the boat was far enough out to sea Elena turned back to look at the puppet island. The puppets were still running around shouting, declaring war, untangling themselves from each other, their strings still disappearing into black cotton storm clouds, lit by flashes of torch light lightening. But from that distance she could see; above the clouds was another, upside-down puppet island, with an upside-down sea, and upside-down puppets. Every time the puppet mayor from their island raised his fist, the puppet mayor from the opposing island would lower his.
   Whenever a puppet dog on one side would stand up, the puppet dog on the other side would lay down.
   “If they all just relaxed,” said Skeleton Bob, “they’d get on fine.”

 

The Skimming Rock Boy

More days and nights passed. Oceans drifted by. The boat eased to a stop in the shallows of an island atoll. When Elena looked over the edge, she noticed the dead staring up at her. She wondered why.
   “If only you could talk,” she whispered to the nearest one. His lips had long since been eaten away by small fish. He just kept staring, teeth showing, the pale blue, waterlogged skin shaped into a worried expression around his eyes.
   It was night, the air was still. There was a pond at the middle of the atoll, reflecting the rising stars.
   “Arr, I ‘av heard o’ dis place,” said Jamar. “Tis the Island of de Cursed Boy.”
   “That be just a story to scare children,” said the Irish boxer tattoo.
   “Something’s not right,” said Moog’s schoolteacher tattoo.
   “Shh,” said Moog, axe ready.
   Everybody looked around. Nothing moved. There was no breeze, no insects or night animals making noise.
  “It’s so still,” said Moog’s lady magician, Buvesz.
   “Ssh,” whispered Cielo.
   Then, on the surface of the pond, two small sets of ripples appeared.
   “It’s de legs, mon!” yelled Jamar. “De legs of de ghost boy who skips rocks across water!”
   And, before Skeleton Bob could tell Jamar he was mad, another ripple appeared, almost a splash. Then another, and another, all up about ten, in a row, across the water.
   Moog tuned to Buvesz, who had a black hat, bow tie and the longest, silkiest, wavy black hair. “Make the ghost visible, please,” he said with caution.
Buvesz waved her magic tattoo hand, which glowed with tattoo light, spoke a magic spell with tattoo lips…

   “Ghost, I give you options three –
   three requests,
   three demands.
   The number of witchcraft and awkwardness.
   Three:

   Be honest in revelation,
   thrice cursed,
   or gone.”

   Another set of ripples appeared in a line across the water, as if another invisible skimming rock had been thrown.
   “It doesn’t respond to magic,” shrugged Buvesz, tossing her tattoo wand over her shoulder. “I’m beat.”
   “Haunted!” squawked Cielo’s tattoo of the grim reaper. “The island is haunted!”
   “Don’ be daft,” said the Irish Boxer tattoo.
   All of Cielo’s tattoos began arguing and fighting each other, making her impossibly itchy, except Skeleton Bob, who ducked through the fists and swords. He crawled down to Cielo’s ankle, and watched Elena watching the dark water.
   “Look…” she said, getting even further down low. “A… reflection?”
   Skeleton Bob dropped to as far down Cielo’s heel as he could, until his head was at the base of her big toe. Sure enough, there was an image of a young boy on the water, his legs meeting where the constant ripples were. The boy had an armful of small flat rocks in one hand, and was skimming them with the other. A dog ran up to his side. He smiled, and gave it a pat as it splashed back out through the puddles. Moog, Cielo and all the other tattoos weren’t looking from water level, and only saw more ripples.
   “Black magic!” yelled the cannibal tattoo. “We must flee!”
   “We must fight it!” roared Sven, the Viking tattoo.
   Elena kept watching. There was something not right about the boy’s reflection. She lowered her head into the water…

 

Skimming Rocks for Time

“Hi,” said the boy. “Will you keep me company?”
   Elena looked around. She wasn’t wet. Neither was she upside down, like most reflections are. She was standing in the shallows of the pond as the boy skimmed rocks across it. Except, it was day on this side, not night, and when she looked at the water’s surface, rather than reflections, she saw her friends looking everywhere for her.
   “Cielo! Moog!” she called. But they didn’t hear.
   Gradually, Elena was aware that Skeleton Bob had broken from Cielo, and was rising through the water behind her. The boy just smiled more.
   “Will you skim rocks with me? I’m lonely.”
   Elena and Skeleton Bob looked at each other, confused.
   “Don’t do it…” a haunted voice called.
   “Leave while you can…” said another.
   “Come on, let’s all of us skim rocks together!” the boy insisted.
   Suddenly, Elena and Skeleton Bob were surrounded by frightful people. Their heads were crooked as they bent to pick up rocks and throw them with awkward arms, as if doing so against their will.
   On the other side of the water, where it was still night, the smooth, empty surface broke into a thousand violently splashing ripples.
   “What is this!?” cursed Moog.
   Cielo looked around frantically. She couldn’t see Elena anywhere!
   “Ah-harr!” cried Jamar, who was down near Cielo’s heel. The giant got down low and, following Jamar’s pointing finger, saw Elena and Skeleton Bob’s reflections on the choppy surface.
   “We must save the child,” Cielo shouted. Her fisherman tattoo put up his umbrella, as all of her other tattoos made out like they were about to dive, while she jumped into the water.
   “Whu…? Where did….?” Moog said, looking around. But Cielo was now also gone.

 

A Big Splash

Cielo stood in the daylight of the pond’s shallows, looking at all these pale zombies skimming rocks around Elena, Skeleton Bob and a young boy.
   “Hmm, a giant,” the boy said. “This will be fun!”
   Cielo felt something tug at her mind, small at first, then with a violent jerk. Her whole body convulsed, lurched forward, then back. Her arm spasmed. Before she knew it she was picking up a big, flat boulder against her will, and skimming it across the water, crushing other, haunted rock-skimming people.
   The young boy laughed and slapped his knees. His dog barked and ran around the shallows, chasing fish.
   “What do you want from us?” Elena asked.
   “You can be my friends,” the boy smiled. “We can skim rocks for ever and ever and ever! We’re safe here.”
   “Get away!” the haunted people pleaded to Elena and Skeleton Bob. “Please, escape…”
   But Elena felt her arm twitch, her legs brace. Her hand dropped below the water, picked up a rock, and against her will, skimmed it across the pond. It was a perfect throw, touching the water’s surface at least 14 times.
   “Hey, you beat me!” the boys laughed, and skimmed another rock, even harder.
   “What’s going on here?” Skeleton Bob asked one of the haunted people as they both looked for more rocks to skim.
   “I was a shark fisherman, I came to this atoll chasing my trade,” the man said. “Now I’ve been skimming and skimming and have become lost to time. Don’t let the boy’s smile fool you, you will skim rocks and skim rocks until your flesh rots away and all memory of you is gone.”
   “Flesh rots? A little too late for me, but I get the picture,” Skeleton Bob said.
   The atoll was a place of the damned.

Elena panicked as she threw rock after rock! “No!” she cried, but couldn’t stop. “Help!” But then she remembered how Moog’s magician tattoo had cast a spell, yet found no magic. If the boy wasn’t magic, she wondered what he was? Then, she noticed, on the edge of the pond, floating face down on its surface was a dream scroll.
   “Excuse me, are you a dream?” she asked.
   “I beg your pardon?” said the boy.
   Elena, just like the haunted men, couldn’t stop throwing rocks. They were skimming all over the place. Every now and then one would hit her and hurt.
   “Ow! Tell me about your past,” she asked.
   The boy stopped smiling. Everything got dark. Shadowy creatures grew from behind every tree. Boys, standing still and tall, grew out of the shallows. They were young, but big and leering. Bad boys.
   “I…” the young boy stammered. “I can’t remember…”
   “Try,” Elena insisted.
   “I… I was orphaned.”
   “And…?”
   “And… And… in the orphanage I was beaten, and the other boys bullied me, and I never saw daylight…. Except…. Except this one time…” the boy said. He looked confused.
   “What happened?”
   “This one time I escaped for a day… I found… a pond…”
   “And skimmed rocks?” asked Elena.
   The boy’s voice was small now, lost.
   “And skimmed rocks…” he mumbled.
   Elena turned to Cielo and Skeleton Bob.
   “Run,” she whispered.
   “What…?” Skeleton Bob whispered back.
   “The scroll is face down. The dream on it has been absorbed by the water of the pond. We’ve entered it. We’re in a boy’s dream! We could be trapped like them,” she pointed to all the haunted travellers, skimming rocks against their will. “Or…”
Elena didn’t have to finish her sentence. Skeleton Bob and Cielo knew if the young boy realised he was just a dream, the dream would end. With them still in it.
   The boy scratched his head.
   “Hang on,” he said. “How did I…?”
   “Run, run, run!” Elena shouted.
   “Where?” Skeleton Bob squawked, waving his skeleton hands in the air. “It’s a dream! How can we outrun a dream?”
   The darkness started folding in on itself, the mean bullyboys folded in on themselves. So did the pond. The haunted began to shriek and wither as they, too, folded up.
   “No…!” Elena cried, as the water beneath her began to collapse into black. A black that grew closer and closer. The void was approaching. Everything began to collapse around a lonely young boy…
   “This is… a dream…?” he said, as all light faded. “In the real world, I’m still all alone…?”
   Then, from nowhere, a giant, hairy hand appeared, grabbing Elena and Skelton Bob. Then another grabbed Cielo. Moog pulled them all through the water’s surface, to the other side of the pond.

Skeleton Bob was back on Cielo’s skin. She, he and Elena hunched and sucked in air in the still dark of an island atoll. When Elena listened close she could just hear the fading cries of those who had been lost in the dream of a small, bullied boy who just wanted to be less alone.
   “So sad…” Elena whispered.
   “The dream was not yours,” Moog said. “This place is not safe. Best we leave, now.”

 

Miette, Disco Tattoo

Skeleton Bob was arm-wrestling with Jamar, even though he didn’t want to. It was what angry tattoos did to pass time. All the others were asleep.
   He thought of how trapped he was, how much he missed his crocodiles and the freedom of his home, the Dreamtime. How he wanted to live forever in its stories, but was instead mostly trapped in the skin of a giant with beautiful tired eyes. Just the thought of it gave that quiet rage of his a boost. He grunted and strained and slammed Jamar’s hand down.
   “Arr, you be lucky this time, mon!” Jamar cursed, then stole a rum jug off the snoring Irish Boxer tattoo and staggered around to the arch on Cielo’s back to sleep.
Skeleton Bob couldn’t sleep. He found himself staring at a disco dancer tattoo with big, curly black hair, wearing a beautiful red glittering dress, and roller skates, who’d been watching him from Moog’s forearm.
   “Hi,” she said.
   Skeleton Bob looked left and right. Everybody else was snoring, blowing tattoo Zs.
   “Are you talking to me?” he asked.
   “Yes, I can’t sleep, and feel lonely, and you look lonely,” the disco dancer said.
    “Oh…” Skeleton Bob replied.
   “My name’s Miette. That’s French for Biscuit” said Miette. “I like you. You seem different to the rest.”
   “Oh…!”
   Miette blew Skeleton Bob a kiss and, suddenly, he knew what he had to do.

“You want me to what!?” protested Cielo.
   She said it so loud it woke her other tattoos. Skeleton Bob slapped his skull, which made his skeleton head fall off. He angrily put it back on again.
   “Just hold Moog’s hand.”
   “Never,” Cielo said like fact, all sassy, all lazy eyes. “I know what everybody’s thinking – He’s a giant, you’re a giant, you’re both lonely…” Cielo hesitated, as if thinking wistful thoughts. Then her determination returned. “Well, so what? He’s a bearded old slob! A killer! I have standards you know.”
   “Do it for me,” pleaded Skeleton Bob. “For all our adventures. Just hold his hand.”
   By now the other tattoos knew what was going on. They were furious!
   “Don’t!” they roared to Cielo.
   “Traitor!” they yelled at Skeleton Bob.
   They hated the woman tattoos – so soft and girly, yet so much tougher than them, and on a giant they despised because he was as bad as they had once been.
   “Arr, we want to protect ye from dat thug! We knows about thugs, Miss Cielo, ay!” raged Jamar.
   Skeleton Bob was angry at the other tattoos, but, for the first time, angry at himself, too. He didn’t want to pretend to be a pirate anymore. He was a bushman. A bushman! From the Dreamtime! And he’d been alone in an angry crowd too long. He worked his way to Cielo’s hand.
   Cielo watched Moog sleeping. For some reason she was surprised he didn’t snore. The direction owl was taking them through open sea waterfalls. Thousands of flying fish were spiralling up, in columns, water in mouths, which they were releasing into small clouds, creating waterfalls in the night, that quietly hissed as they flowed back down, their ocean spray lit by the moon. Beauty was everywhere. Cielo decided holding a sleeping warrior giant’s hand might not be so bad.
   She watched the flying fish tumble and fall back down the waterfalls they had made while reaching out, just as Miette, the disco girl climbed into the flat of Moog’s palm.
   “No!”
   “Traitor!”
   “We’ll flay you alive!” yelled the other male tattoos, waving their clubs and hooks and pirate’s knives.
   “Hussy!”
   “The boy tattoos will kill us all!”
   “Traitor!” the women tattoos called to Miette.
   But Skeleton Bob and the disco dancer both knew it was really jealousy that fuelled their rage.
   The last thing Skeleton Bob saw as Cielo’s hand clasped Moog’s tight, was Miette puckering up to kiss. He knew he and her were flat on skin and couldn’t really touch, but it was enough to know he’d be pressed close to her in the dark for a while.
   As the Cielo’s hand gripped, the sound of angry tattoos shouting was slowly blocked out. Skeleton Bob had made enemies, but right now he was in the flat embrace of the most beautiful tattoo he’d ever seen and just couldn’t care.
   Eventually, the rage of the other tattoos reduced to a murmur, then was gone. Cielo sat with Moog’s sleeping hand in hers, watching flying fish rise, and waterfalls fall.

 

Dancing Devils

The desert island was wide, it almost stretched forever. Yet it didn’t seem impossibly long. Moog had decided the easiest way past it was to carry the boat over its sandy surface. The dead slinked back into the water, finding their own way along the coast, through the sea sirens.
   “What’s that in the distance?” Elena asked, pointing to the sandy horizon.
   “It… looks like people… Dancing…?” Skeleton Bob said.
   Elena was sure if he had eyes he’d be squinting.
   She and the giants kept walking. Eventually they came within shouting distance of three dancing devils. Each one was blood red, with huge heads and horns – the middle devil had two sets. For some reason they were dancing backwards.
   “Ho!” called Moog. He wasn’t one for small talk.
   The devils kept dancing, shaking maracas. Elena noticed they had religious symbols around their necks. Corn grew wherever they had danced, only for black crows to eat at it, and farmers rise from the sand to take their share, then sink again.
   “This is sort of weird,” said Elena.
   Just then the sand bank they were standing on collapsed, and her and the giants tumbled down towards what they saw.

The dancing devils were very large up close, their heads three times so. It made them almost as big as the giants. They sang in a foreign tongue and were surrounded by brilliant, almost deafening music. Drums and trumpets, harps and small acoustic guitars.
   “Ho!” Moog repeated.
   The dancing devils just kept dancing. Gradually, Elena noticed the farmers, as they rose, were dancing, too.
   “Don’t ‘ho’ them,” said one.
   “They’ll flay you alive,” said another.
   “They’ll eat you,” said the third.
   “They’ll save you,” sang the first farmer.  “They’re the devil, and everybody loves their dance, so everybody claims them, both heaven and hell.”
   “They bring crops,” said the second.
   “They bring joy and hardship,” said the third.
   “Follow with us,” they sang.
   Elena watched the dancing devils as they worked their way backwards. In them she could feel the night, its sweat and taboos. She could feel the power of religions, the salvation of food and song, the mystery of things whispered, and stories only the old know. These three dancing creatures, jigging and shaking on the edge of the known.
   Each rising of faith took centuries. So much energy was needed to build enough of a following to become gods. It was common, as a god’s following dwindled, for it to be covered by the sands of time.
   Cielo knew all this. She was a sky giant. She had seen many a god rise and fall. These glorious dancing devils seemed like they were not as mighty as they once were. Yet she noticed all of her and Moog’s tattoos were dancing. The followers were right; everybody loves to eat and drink and dance. Up close these devils still had power.
   “We will feed the world,” the farmer insisted.
   “Thank you, but we have our own dreams to chase,” she told him and the dancing devils. “We will be on our way.”
   With that, everybody stopped.
   The dancing devils hunched, breathing all over Elena, as if fascinated. As if noticing power. She felt their hunger, their desire to be worshipped… Then they turned their heads. Someone else was approaching.
   The person ran across the sand in a hurry, as if it was hotter than it actually was. As if they were a creature of the oceans these days, made of, as much as anything, sea lice and salt water. As if crossing land might turn what’s left of him to bones.
   Soon, he was close enough for Elena to recognise. It was one of the dead that carried them. Judging by what was left of his tattered clothes he must have once been a Roman soldier.
   He stood in front of the devils and his knee buckled. Then his arm flopped through the air, and his feet, burning on the sand, flicked left and right.
   “What’s he doing?” said Skeleton Bob.
   “Arr, he be roasting, mon” said Jamar. “Dyin’ all over again.”
   “It’s like he’s falling,” said Moog’s cancan dancer.
   Cielo watched and watched this dead man flipping and flopping, watched the way only his eyes didn’t move. The way they stared at the devils, who’s three big, red heads surrounded him. The way his limbs were almost jerking in time. He was falling, he was roasting, but there was something more.
   “He’s dancing…” the giant said.
   Elena looked closer still. She took in the way the devils were staring at the dead man’s dance, the way they then took turns.
   “They’re talking to each other,” she said at last. “The dead can’t speak. He’s talking to the devils through dance.”
   Everybody watched the body language of a long drowned man as he moved to the rhythm of drums, pointed to Elena, then pointed to all three dancing devils and shook his rotted fist, while letting the rest of himself flip flop.

   She is ours,
   She is ours,
   She is our warmth when we have none,
   She is our light as our graves are dark,
   Her hope is what those without hope
   Hope on.

    I am the dead,
   We are the dead.
   You are small compared to us,
   We are everywhere,
   We are from all time,
   We will rise,
   Oh, we will rise

    Do not test us,
   Do not try to claim her,
   Our binding is to carry her,
   And, oh, oh,
   You giants, you dancing devils, you warriors,
   We are the dead,
   Oh, in comparison, you know nothing of rage…

   And the dancing devils, as much as they needed new worshipers, with their own legends to live and die over, kept on their path, dancing backwards, corn and crows following. Being everything a peasant needed and was scared of, dancing through the desert island, across waters, into legend or oblivion.
   “Dance with us!” the farmers called, as they faded from view.
   “Join our happiness!”
   “Be saved…”
   Elena looked down on the dead man, who was now dying all over again. The dead can’t smile, but his eyes looked relieved.
   “Indeedy, the heat o’ dry land was too mooch for him,” said Jamar.
   “He was bluffing,” said Skeleton Bob. “The dead aren’t loyal to the dead. Only a handful had answered our call.”
   “To help a small girl find her dreams when they had none,” said the gypsy tattoo, a tear in her eye.
   “Thirty, no more,” said Skeleton Bob.
   Only one would soon be gone.
   He held his shoulders and, looking to Cielo, shook as if he was cold. Nodding, the sky giant picked him up and threw him at the sun. All those decades of drifting under dark, icy water, if he was to cease to be forever, better to do have a grave of warmth and glory.
   “All this for my dreams,” Elena mumbled, feeling impossibly guilty.
   “Ho, the island’s other side!” Moog called.
   And the rest of the dead were already there, in the shallows, expressionless. Waiting to carry them on.

 

The Gatekeeper Crab

There are a lot of misconceptions and half-truths about giants.
   *That they are all the same type.
   *That they are all angry.
   *That they are all human.
   They’re the big three.
   The giant crab stood on the volcanic atoll, flanked by killer whales and dolphins and over 3,000,000 sharks, and dozens of old Spanish war ships.
   “I am the Gatekeeper of the Ocean,” it said. “And you cannot pass.”
   “What is your name?” Cielo asked.
   “I have no name,” the crab said. It wore dead humans for a necklace, and a whale’s scull on its head. “I am a crab. But I am bigger and tougher and meaner than anything else, and you cannot pass.”
   “Why?” asked Elena. Her voice sounded so small.
   “Because I don’t want you to,” the crab said. “Because Nature does not want you to. Because this is an I-told-you-so path. This path, my little snack bit, is too hard. Simple Law says you do not belong on its other side. I give you one chance – Go back.”
   There was a long silence as everybody and everything, sea armies, giants and living tattoos, waited on the response of a little girl.
   “I will eat you up and throw the remaining bits into the void,” warned the giant crab.
   Elena thought about a life without dreams. A thing without colour or hopes. Without imagination or a safe place to escape to each night. So the crab would turn her into a ghost? She was already a ghost. She thought of the effort to get this far, what they’d lost. She thought of the giants either side of her, their incredible might. She thought of her main reason for this quest, the one unspoken.
   Sharks waited. Mermaids and mermen appeared, circling quietly to form a ring of protection around the giant crab. Everything came down to the determined glare of a little girl.
   “No,” she said, to the crab. “Sorry. The Simple Laws are wrong. They have to be! I belong to my dreams, and they belong in me.”
   And with that, Moog let out a massive war cry as he raised his axe high…

 

Chaos is Wet

Elena’s giant friends were things to behold! Moog swung his axe time and again, raising water, knocking dozens of sharks and eels and weird deep sea creatures into the air. Cielo pulled down the sky, slamming it into the water, sending giant quids and mermaids flying through thunderstorms. Nothing could stop them! They cut a path, walking on reefs, wrestling with whales, towards the giant crab, who raised on its legs and snapped its claws.
   Elena looked at the chaos around her. She had two mighty creatures on her side – one of melancholy sky, the other of angry earth. The sea didn’t stand a chance. She felt confused, torn. All this violence because of her! She felt ashamed.
   But before she could call for everyone to stop, the ocean’s surface rose, and rose… and rose!
   The sea god Poseidon towered over everybody, long seaweed beard, scaly reef skin, muscles made of a million salmon and sea sirens singing, huge oysters for eyes. Water fell off of him, landing with the punch of violent waves. Even deep sea monsters and giants seemed small.
   Then, with a tsunami-like splash, Poseidon brought his watery trident down.

 

Bob. Just Bob.

“Hey, kid, get up,” a voice said.
   Everything was dark. Elena liked it that way. She felt safe not knowing what was beyond her closed eyes.
   “Come on, kid!” the voice insisted.
   It sounded familiar, yet different.
   “Who is this?” she asked, then realised. “Is that you, Skeleton Bob?”
   “Sort of,” he replied.
   Elena opened her eyes. She was alive. The rowboat must have been thrown forward by Poseidon’s blow, into the Lands Beyond. She looked at Skeleton Bob’s face staring down at her. Something about it wasn’t right.
   “I’ve got to warn you,” he said. “Things are different here.”
   His eyes furrowed and lip curled when he said that, which just puzzled Elena more. Then it hit her…
   Eyes? Lips!?
   Skeleton Bob was just Bob – he had skin. Behind him wasn’t the body of a big, gentle giant who loves sitting in the fields, but some sort of grey world made of twenty story grey boxes, and paths made of grey concrete and boxy steel horses with wheels which people sat inside, and red, yellow and green lights that told people when to walk, and foul, sticky grey air and oh, so much noise!
   “This is called a city,” Bob said.
   Elena was lost in her heart.
   “Where are the trees?” she protested! “The blacksmith’s huts, and goblin shacks, and witch’s cottage that walks about on giraffe legs?” Then panic set into her voice. “Where are Moog and Cielo!?”
   “Ahh…” Bob brushed the back of his neck. He looked guilty, as if he was scared to tell.
   “They’re lost here. Lost and small.”

 

Half Dollar Days

Cielo’s boss was angry again. She knew this because every time he was angry one vein on his forehead would bulge, and spread, like a pulsing, blood lightening bolt into his hairline. She also knew when he was angry by how he yelled at her, which he did all the time.
   “Don’t think!” he boomed.
   “I was daydreaming,” she said.
   “Daydreaming!?” he squawked. Sometimes he got so angry he had to sit down.
   Working on the production line of a boot factory wasn’t easy. Cielo couldn’t even remember when she started the job – weeks ago, years, decades? All day, every day, she horned the inner soles into new boots, sweating in the factory steam, concentrating hard, feeling her life pass by.
   The worst were the factory windows, covered with dust and chicken wire, up way too high. They were a tease. All you could see through them was the sweet, never-ending sky, yet every time she looked out one, her boss yelled.
   “If I catch you… daydreaming… again!” he raged.
   Cielo worked 12 hour shifts. When she was finished for the day, she walked to her tiny apartment, hoping it wasn’t robbed, which seemed to happen once a week, and that the gangs wouldn’t give her a hard time. The elevator was broken. She climbed the stairs, which always smelt like cat pee, hoping she didn’t have the same dreams tonight. The ones of all these angry, colourful men, and giants and little girls. They confused her, teased her, woke and kept her up all night, and made her painfully tired for work in the morning.
   The worst were the neighbours; the good, the bad, all of them, always fighting. Every day was the same, each apartment a cramped box of kettle whistles, broken hearts, frustration and pent up rage. This was no way to live. Every day a chore, every day the same, except this one.
   When Cielo unlocked her door there was a dark, skinny man with a flat nose who almost looked like a skeleton, and a little girl, sitting in her lounge.
Cielo’s lounge was also her bedroom and kitchen.
   “Well, this is cosy,” joked Bob.
   The apartment was so small, with three people in it they almost filled every wall.
   “It will do,” Cielo said, as she made a cup of tea for everyone. “Who are you again?”
   Elena watched Skeleton Bob, who was no longer a skeleton, but would always be Skeleton Bob to her. They had knocked on the wrong door at first, and a fat man had pointed a hand weapon at them, fear in his eyes, shouting things about crime rates. This building seemed to Elena more like a 14 story prison. The only thing that kept them all from killing each other, or loving each other, or thinking or doing anything, was this awful wad of noise people called morning television.
   This new world was dark of heart and grey and frightened her.
   At least Cielo was still friendly, even to people she thought were strangers.
   “I was one of your tattoos,” Skeleton Bob said to Cielo, happily. “You used to be a giant!”
   Cielo smiled. She knew she should be scared of this stranger who’d picked the lock on her door, and talked all crazy, but the child that was with him made her calm.
   “Nope, average height” she said, then pulled up her sleeve. “No tattoos.”
   Elena stared at Cielo’s naked arm, lost and confused. She grabbed Cielo’s other arm, rolled up its sleeve. Also empty!
   She stared at it open mouthed, while in the background, the morning television talked about wars in the Middle East, wherever that was, and crime rates, and violent protests about higher taxes, and how to cook a “simply dazzling mushroom omelette.”

 

Old Young Friends

Cielo tried furiously to make a mushroom omelette like they had on the television, but only had half the same ingredients, and didn’t have a good stove, just a small gas heater next to the blocked sink, and her mushrooms weren’t “pre-soaked in thinly sliced Italian garlic cloves and extra virgin olive oil before the show.”
   She worried about the little girl sitting in the corner. Giants, tattoos? Puppet islands? Pulling thunderstorms down from the sky? Her and her friend were obviously loony. There was work, there was sleep. Cielo never had time to even look at the weather. She listened to them as they talked.
   “In this land they don’t believe in the Dreamtime,” Skeleton Bob said. “I woke up in my desert home, but when I greeted the fresh water crocodiles none of them could speak to me. The sun wasn’t a burning emu egg, the mountain ridges weren’t goanna gods that had laid down to rest. There were no gods to walk amongst! So I set out on the long journey to find you.”
   “Long?” Elena said.
   “Time… is different here, ” he said, taking a plate of chunky eggs off Cielo. For some reason he wouldn’t look Elena in the eyes. “We’ve been in this place for years.”
   “Years…?’ said Elena. She touched her cheeks, then ran to the bathroom, where there was a cracked hand mirror above the shower.
   She was no longer a little girl, but a young teenager.

 

Police, Stop!

Moog woke in the middle of a crowded intersection. People were everywhere, with skin-tight clothes and glass-filled cages, or frames, over their eyes. They all had their heads down, bowed in worship of little, palm-sized flat boxes.
   “The Zombie Fields…” he whispered.
   But this was like no zombie field he’d ever seen. Long, grey serpents clickerty-clacked down even longer steel tracks, screeching on the bends, vomiting people in and out at each stop. Prehistoric beasts flew through the air, roaring on fast-rotating wings. Mostly, though, he noticed everybody was as tall as him! This was a land of giants! Moog hated giants. There were so many types, from so many tribes. None were the same, yet they were all the same to him. Moog was born of violent storms and volcanoes! There was only one like him. Only one!
   “There is only one Moog!” he roared, to the honking iron horses and their flashing lights and screaming masters.
   Until now, not once in his life had Moog been frightened, yet he was shaking as he put his back to a wall, and waved his axe, to keep the crowd at bay. This was a land of horrors!
   Soon, two men in blue uniforms approached, pointing small toys at him. They wore chest armour, and had weapons about their waists –cuffs, batons – and a badge of honour on their chests. Moog decided they were warriors.
   “Take me to your leader!” he yelled, and one of them pepper sprayed him!
   Moog swung his axe blind, screaming with rage! Then, the other tasered him. He felt a shock of pain course through his whole body, but he was Moog! Moog! Moog the Giant!
   “I will not be bowed!” he roared, then heard a loud bang from one of their toys and felt a great pain.
   “He’s down! Take the axe, and cuff him!” the policeman with the smoking gun called.

Moog sat, handcuffed in his cell, talking to the witch doctor who said she came from the land of Psychiatrist. She told him that the iron horses were called cars, the grey serpents trains and that her eye cages were called glasses, and the small zombie box she bowed her head to and tickled the belly of was a mobile phone and other such total gibberish.
   She told him he had assaulted a police officer, who was only trying to protect the public, and that he must have been on drugs to not bow when they tasered him, and the hole in his arm was from where they had shot him.
   Moog was used to pain, and had fought many witch doctors, and had never cried once. The thought of tears was laughable! Laughable! But now he was bawling.
   “My ladies!” he protested, wiping wet eyes. “My beautiful ladies! My calming, soothing voices! What have you done to them?”
   The Psychiatrist looked at Moog’s tattoos. Pretty dancers, female pirates, African queens. He seemed to think they were once alive.
   ‘Mad, delusional, dangerous’, she wrote. ‘Do not release from custody.’
   That was three years ago.

Moog sat in his cell, feeling fat. He watched his three cellmates watching television, to ‘kill time’ they said. The whole idea of killing time seemed preposterous! Absurd! Moog had met Time once, and found her fascinating and worth fighting for.
   The guards gave him pills every day for his anger. They made him feel sluggish and dumb, but nothing, nothing, stupefied him more than watching that soul-eating screen on his cell wall. It prattled and rattled and wanted him to buy bizarre, useless things and for him to be boring and flat. It was the enemy, thanks to the pills, he was now too lazy to smash.
   The other prisoners thought Moog was weird. They said he had watched too many Heavy Metal bands, whatever that meant, or should be in a bikie gang.
   “I am a warrior!” he would rage. “You are just thieves!”
   Then they would fight.
   It was so humiliating. Moog was a giant. The only time he had met his match in strength or size was wrestling a king griffin on Squid Island, and, maybe that blue whale. The tornado had been tricky for a while, but it was still in the eye of its storm, so he had stood in its middle and tore it apart. Now, in this place, in prison, everybody was as tall and strong as him. Or stronger. He often lost his battles, and when the prisoners ganged up on him he didn’t stand a chance.
   Every day was the same. He worked in the sweatshop, and would sleep in his cramped cell every night, constantly being woken by the farting of other prisoners.
   His psychiatrist was called Miss Valentish. He liked her. She had a quiet fire that was not unlike that of his tattoos – when they lived. Every day she would try to convince him he was mad, every day he would insist he was Moog. Every day she would write, ‘Not cured.’
   “Sometimes I come close to believing you,” he would say. “Especially when I watch that old story on one of those dreaded flat things.”
   “I thought you didn’t watch television, Moog,” Miss Valentish would reply. “That’s a bad sign. If you believe television eats your soul and you’re watching it anyway, it suggests you’ve given up.”
   “There’s this one story.”
   “They’re called movies.”
   “Story,” Moog would insist. “King Kong. It reminds me of me. As if I’m made up.”
   Miss Valentish would then always write more notes.
   “So what keeps you believing you are really a lost giant in a land of giants?” she would ask.
   And Moog wouldn’t tell her, and be dragged kicking and fighting back to his cell full of prisoners who loved to fart. And Moog would lie awake into the night, picturing a little girl without dreams that he had made a promise to. A promise to help, given what now seemed so long ago.
   The one thing that he just couldn’t figure out, though, above all the other things he couldn’t figure out, was why one of his tattoos was missing. He had no idea where Miette, the disco dancer, had gone.

 

Roughing It

Skeleton Bob lived in a hut he built on the roof of an office block. He jut didn’t want to be a part of what he thought of as a lonely world with no Dreamtime.
   “Eh, I’m happy enough. I’m still free,” he would shrug.
   Elena sat beside him unable to sleep. Now Skeleton Bob had flesh he snored! The hut would inhale with him, and exhale with his noise. It would be funny if Elena didn’t know how much he was hurting inside. These people, these dull, grey people, had killed his Dreamtime. He once had deserts to roam in! Gods to walk amongst! And, when he had died, he had a giant called Cielo to live legends through. The people of this place had taken it all away and expected him to be as flat as them.
Elena was older now. It frightened her. She wasn’t ready to like boys. She still couldn’t dream. She still felt this empty hole in her soul.
   “Hey,” she said, waking Skeleton Bob. “How did you find me?”
   Skeleton Bob just grunted and rolled onto his chest. Now, each time he snored it lifted him off the ground.
   “How did you find me?” Elena insisted.
   “I didn’t,” Skeleton Bob mumbled, half awake. “He did.”
   “Who?” protested Elena.
   “Him…” Skeleton Bob said, touching his ear.
   Elena listened hard, past the midnight traffic, and tick of traffic lights, and shuffle of strangers. Past the street sweepers and lost drunks. She heard a sound – something almost familiar. Distant. It was barely a whisper, but once she heard it, the howl of a far away dingo filled every drain, every sewer, echoed softly through every laneway and hollowed street. It called, it called…
   It prowled.
   “Cielo’s tattoo…” Elena whispered.
  “The dingo with no name,” mumbled Skeleton Bob. “And you aren’t all it’s found…” he said, before drifting back to sleep.

 

Faded Tattoos

The pub was small and old and seemed like any other pub full of dusty old men. It had faded signs and stained glass windows that made it hard to see anything other than shapes inside. When Elena squinted just right, it looked like an old pirate ship without sails.
   “Every Friday we gather here,” Skeleton Bob said.
   The dingo with no name appeared out of the lane beside the pub, snarled, barked, then slipped back out of sight, only to appear on the pub’s two story high roof, looking out, guarding.
   “Who gathers here?” Elena asked.
   “Everyone the dingo and I have found over the years…” said Skeleton Bob, and they pushed through the doors into a wall of noise.
   “Aye, greetings to you! ‘Tis the wee girl, all grown!” bellowed a dockside worker who looked just like Lars the Viking.
   He was in the middle of an arm wrestle with a garbage man who very much reminded her of a Caribbean pirate she once knew. What was his name again? Jeffries? Jamar?
   “Arr! To be sure!” shouted an angry looking bricklayer.
   “Elena! The wee lass who canna dream!” yelled an Irish cement worker who had a beat up nose that suggested he might have been a boxer once upon a time.
   “Cielo’s tattoos…?” Elena said.
   They all let out a cheer!
   “The dog and I have found about 15 of us,” Skeleton Bob said, grabbing an ale. “The rest are lost in time.”
   “Aye, this is true…” said Lars, his head lowered.
   “It’s a pleasure to see you all,” Elena said, and the former tattoos were all happy again. They let out another cheer, and she joined their throng.
   “This place, it’s horrible!” a ticket collector told her.
   “Everybody thinks we’re mad,” complained a small-time poker player.
   “Arr!” protested Jamar. “Skeleton Bob! Do ye remember dot time we helped Cielo wrestle da lake wave, mon?”
   “The one made of threats and dead ends?” Skeleton Bob asked, his eyes wide and happy.
   Helping Cielo sew a gorge shut so villages could pass, and of her wringing clouds of their rain to water her apple trees, and the time they tickled her until she farted and blew the Deadly Serpent Flame out – the former tattoos drank and laughed and told tale after tale.
   They sounded so jolly, but all they did was tell stories of their past, as if they’d stopped living. It was sad.
   Elena watched the barwoman. For some reason she kept turning her back whenever Skeleton Bob looked her way. And in between serving drinks, she seemed to be listening to the stories being told and writing notes. writing notes. Her red lips, the black, curly hair – somehow, she looked very familiar.
   “My fellow friends and enemies and friendly enemies,” Skeleton Bob called. “My fellow tattoos…” Everybody cheered. “Now Elena is here, we have our heart back! Let’s help her find her dreams.”
   “No!” protested Lars, slamming his mead mug down. “This world is too strange! We helped her in the past for Cielo, was all.”
   The former tattoos argued and raged. Elena thought it was great! Only when they were angry did they really look like Cielo’s tattoos.
   “Cursed Cielo!” shouted a dark man in a stupid suit. “I used to be a great tribesman! A hunter of the shifting grass plains! Now, thanks to her, I’m an insurance collector!”
   “How is that Cielo’s fault?” asked Elena. “Why don’t you find her?”
   Elena noticed the barwoman whisper in Lars the Viking’s ear.
   “Better to just stay here and drink…” he called.
   “Hooray!” the former tattoos cheered and argued and shook their fists.
   “No!” Elena cried. The room fell silent. She looked at her angry friends. They all seemed older than when she met them, more worn.
   “Speak up,” Skeleton Bob insisted.
   She looked at the ground and spoke softly to her shoes.
   “Cielo must be lost without her tattoos, and you are lost without her. Look at you. You’re tattoos. Without skin I can see it, you’re fading. Soon, all you and this pub will be forgotten stories, lost to the winds…”
   Elena lifted her head to get a better view of the barwoman, who was whispering in Lars the Viking’s ear again.
   “Vot does this little teenager know? Let’s drink and tell tales!” roared Lars.
   The insurance agent came to the bar for a drink. Elena noticed the barwoman slide over to him, as if she was wearing roller skates. Suddenly, Elena knew where she’d seen the woman before! She sneaked over to the jukebox and looked through the songs.
   “This building will be our new Cielo!” cheered Lars. “We will colour its insides, like we used to colour her skin!”
   Elena picked song B52; My Boogi Woogi Boogi Dancing Shoes – the most funky tune in the world. Suddenly, the barwoman stared disco dancing against her will, right across the bar!
   “Miette…?” said Skeleton Bob.
   Moog’s disco dancer tattoo shimmied and shammied and boogied and woogied quickly past the crowd and out the door, yelling, “Curse you, child!”
   “Why didn’t I notice!” wailed Skeleton Bob.
   “Arr, a traitor tattoo!” said Jamar.
   “Aye, this is a real mystery,” said Lars.   

Five minutes later the front door burst open. Police charged in with a dull little man in the middle of them. Cielo’s tattoos included a lot of pickpockets and criminals. Everybody froze, not sure who the police had come for.
   The dull-looking man stepped up. “I’m from the Department of Education,” he said.    “Elena, you’re late for school again.”

 

School

“Miss?” Elena said.
   “Put your hand up, Elena,” Miss Pomp said.
   Elena didn’t know how best to describe Miss Pomp. Maybe that she looked like someone who was old and pinching you.
   The class was doing maths.
   “I’ve got that feeling again, Miss Pomp,” said Elena. “As if my head is going to explode and I just want to run in circles.”
   “I’ve told you, that’s called boredom,” said Miss Pomp.
   Elena just looked at her blankly. She had no idea what this horrible ‘boredom’ was that everybody talked about. Back in the village there was always chores to do, and goblins to whisper to. There was water to fetch, wood to cut and shadow thieves to avoid. There was Aunt Nabana to learn off. She was a music scriber who worked with the fairies and knew all sorts of important stuff.
   In Elena’s village there were always stories to hear, and, just as important, stories to tell. Now, there was a craft; storytelling. It was vital. A currency, a trade. But to tell a story you first had to live one.

   Tell a good story, receive a good deed,
   teach me with your fable, and in return I will feed thee,
   impress me with a truthful yarn, and I’ll offer my shoulder’s strength for free.

   Boredom? No-one she knew had ever heard of it.
   She looked around the classroom. Everybody complained about boredom all the time, yet they watched their phones and played games on them and watched televisions that chained them indoors and stopped them from living stories. They did everything they could to hurry up and be old and dull. Boredom, as near as Elena could figure, sounded like Death, but while you’re still alive – maybe Death’s kid sister. An invisible enemy, clawing at ankles, holding them down.
   “I hate this ‘boredom’, Miss Pomp,” she mumbled. “If I could, I’d kill it!
   The other students laughed.
   “Detention,” Miss Pomp said. “Again.”
   Everybody growled. More boredom. It felt like that was what Miss Pomp was really teaching her; how to be bored.
   “Elena, Little Miss Can’t-Explain-Anything-To-Her…” one of the other kids whispered.
   “Queen Loonie…” whispered another.
   “Looni Elena,” chuckled a third.
   Elena said nothing. She knew if she stayed here she’d die without dying. The dreaded, horrible, invisible boredom monster would oh so slowly swallow her whole.

 

It’s Me, It’s Not

The tattoos were growing old fast, fading into the background. When Elena walked through the door of the hut Skeleton Bob seemed to be barely there. What remained of him was watching television.
   “Television!? You’ve become one of them!” she shouted.
   “I’ve given in,” he admitted. “Just for this one show…”
   “One show? That’s how they get you!” protested Elena, then found herself watching. It was about a man from the Dreamtime who lived with crocodiles. “You’re right. This is very well made,” she said, sitting beside him.
   This character on the television was interesting. His life was an adventure. It made her life feel dull in comparison. Boring. Which made her want to watch him more. But there was something about it…
   The man on the television hunted and fought and walked through mountain ranges that were really lizard gods lying in the sun.
   So familiar… Elena thought. Then she realised…
   “Um, Skeleton Bob…? That character is you.”
   The two of them sat in stunned silence, watching the stories of Skeleton Bob’s life play out on television with a bad actor and commercials. Lots of commercials. These impossibly loud, grating things that seemed to shout at people. That told you how to live, what to buy and forced you back into your seat with volume.
   Then one ad came on that left Elena and Skeleton Bob speechless.
   “Join us for the highest rating show in the nation,” an announcer bellowed. “The fantasy of a little girl and her towering, tattooed friends, as they set off on a quest to find her dreams! 6pm, this Saturday, it’s Elanore and the Giants!”
   Images flashed before Elena and Skeleton Bob of an actress who looked just like Elena, sailing with her father, and of Cielo, happy and free, of Moog roaming battlefields, and shadow thieves sitting down for cups of tea.
   “My dreams…” Elena whispered.

 

Stand Off With John Piero

Elena took the bus to the television studio. It was as polished as glass oceans. Everybody was so nice she found it scary. The main building was five blocks long and the stairwells were made of gold. The whole thing made her feel impossibly small.
   The former tattoos found their own way there. They stole pushbikes, and slinked down lanes and rode the outside of trains, like pirates.
   “Arr, it feels good to be active again!” said Jamar, in his work overalls.
   One-by-one they appeared at the gates behind Elena.
   Finally, Skeleton Bob rode up on a stolen billycart.
   “Ohh… Big,” he said.
   “Aye, I don’t like it,” said Lars. “Ye could fit twenty pirate ships into each o’ dees here buildings. Everytink in des ‘city’ is bigger.”
   “But the people are still the same size,” noted Bob.
   They all thought about that. The big, empty houses these people lived in and worked so hard at such dull jobs for.
   “Why wouldn’t you just live in a nice little shack or hut and better spend your time eating each other?” asked the cannibal.
   “Or adventuring?” said Jamar.
   “It makes me mad!” protested the cannibal. “They make me mad! Everything is backwards here!”
   “Let’s go get Elena’s dreams,” shouted Skeleton Bob.
   They all marched with purpose, to the boom gate, determined.

John Piero was a big man. When we was younger he was a wrestler called the Perculator! A stupid name, he knew, but all the good ones were taken. He wore a mask and a love heart on his chest and would get his opponents in a four-leg lock and tickle them until they peed themselves. The crowd loved it! After that he worked as a bouncer at nightclubs, then as a bodyguard for rich people. Now he was gate security at a big television studio. He would sit all day in a little booth, staring at a wall, getting fat, greeting snobby rich and famous people and child actors who just sneered at or ignored him. He was getting old and knew it.
   “I once seized life!” John Piero complained to himself.
   A group of men approached the gate. For some reason, he could barely see them, even though they were right in front of him.
   ‘Great,’ he thought. ‘Now I probably need glasses.’
   “Stop,” John Piero said. “Pass cards.”
   He was sure this band of scruffy looking men were background actors for the latest pirate movie. ‘Extras’, they called them. Why none of them had photo ID baffled him.
   “Aye, no more gibber talk!” Lars said, advancing.
   John Piero hated actors, the way they were so rude to him, but credit to this one – tall, solid build, blond – if he put on armour he would look and sound just like a Viking.
   “Fantastic!” he smiled. “But no ID, no entry.”
   They stood nose-to-nose. ‘Brilliant!’ thought John Piero. ‘He even has stinky Viking breath! Like rotten tuna.’ Then he saw Elena.
   “Oh, hello Miss. Your fans can’t come in, sorry, but you can,” John Piero said, softly.    He could afford to be nice now there were twenty other security guards behind him.
   “Ho, look! Zey’ve all got bang sticks!” shouted Lars, pointing to the guards’ guns.
   “Arr! Pocket cannons!” cursed Jamar.
   “Bad ju-ju,” protested the one who, with the right clothes, might look just like a witch doctor.
   The former tattoos moved forward. The security guards tensed, hands on guns. John Piero couldn’t stop smiling. He’d never had an excuse to shoot actors before. Elena knew about guns from the security checks at school. The former tattoos didn’t stand a chance.
   “No!” she cried out. “We’ll go.”
   She wasn’t going to let any more of them suffer for her, they had lost so much already.

 

Possibility Rope

“What’s that?” said Miss Pomp.
   “My show and tell,” said Elena.
   “Only baby children do show and tell,” Miss Pomp said, sternly.
   Elena was still a child. Time and this place had simply done funny things to her. She ignored the teacher.
   “This is a possibility rope,” she said, holding a rope up.
   Her classmates laughed. They all thought Elena was different, the way she kept telling stories she’d obviously seen on Elanore and the Giants as if they were her own, never talking about other shows. She didn’t even own a mobile phone, or have a Facebook account. It was sad, really, and made her so easy to tease. Best to ignore her. But Elena was, for once, not going to sit and be quiet.
   “This is what I learned in my village, Miss Pomp,” she insisted.
   “Okay, but be quick,” scoffed Miss Pomp.
   Elena pulled out Skeleton Bob’s big hunting knife, which got the class’s attention! Then, she started to unravel one end of the rope, a threat at a time.
   “You’re life is made of threads,” she said, as she picked at the rope’s tip with the knife. If you are patient enough, and skilled enough, you can gather them, and bind them into a rope.” She continued to pluck each thread free from it’s binding, some came loose. “This thread,” she held the end of a long, black, silky strand of hair, “belonged to a giant I once knew. She took me to find my dreams.”
   A few of the class sniggered, but Elena noticed not as much as usual.
   “And this threat,” she held the end of another, “came from the coat of a dead pirate, one of thirty or so, that held up a rowboat that we had borrowed to get us across the ocean.”
   “Ohh…” she heard one of the class whisper.
   “And this is one of the old fishing lines used by my father to catch dreams with…”
   “I think I saw that episode of Elenore and the Giants,” said one student.
   “What do you do with dreams when you catch them?” asked another.
   “It takes a master craftsperson to bind a dream to a dream scroll. And, legend has it, only dream weavers can unbind them again. They’re monks who live above the talking forests of the Shifting Peaks, so are almost impossible to find.”
   By now, about forty of the thinnest strands of this-and-that spread out from the end of the rope. When the class looked real close, a few of them thought they saw some of the threads breathing.
   “You bind the threads of your life together until they become this possibility rope. It is as strong as the life you have led, made of the paths you have taken. With it, you can lasso hope fairies and ride them across waters, or lower yourself into the cubby caves to talk with your echoes for hours, or pull the bucket from the well when it’s your turn to get up before dawn and fetch the water, or bundle the hay so as to better carry it.
   “Look,” she said. “this strand is of straw from the broom I would use to clean the griffin stables. Their poo is as bad as their breath, but the wage was needed.”
The class looked at the strand of straw, tied in the smallest knots to other strands of straw, so easy to break on their own. So strong when bound with all the others. They were mesmerised!
   “Detention!” barked Miss Pomp. This was all too strange for her.
   The class was still transfixed on Elena’s possibility rope, its end now undone into a spread of threads.
   “Each time you use your possibility rope to help you on another adventure,” she continued, “you find another strand, and it becomes stronger…”
   “DETENTION!” yelled Miss Pomp.
   “Bigger adventures,” a student said, breathlessly.
   “If you work hard enough, and have the craft,” said Elena. “Mine is only five feet long, so far. Some old fishermen have entire nets of them.”
   “Imagine the things they pull out of the ocean with a possibility net!” said one student.
   One or two of them were thinking; ‘What if, just maybe, Elena was the original? Not Elanore?’
   “Detention, detention, detention!” screamed Miss Pomp. “A month of detention!”
   “What’s this strand here?” asked a student.
   Elena looked at the long, thin piece of string, hardened by sea salt, peppered at one end with small strands of feather, and suddenly knew what she had to do to find Cielo.

 

A Sad Song of Mercy

   Oh direction owl, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,
   In this fuddle and duddle and lostfulness
   I forgot you…
   Elena sang from the rooftop.

   But I need you, we need you
   To save us, oh save us
   From this prison and sorrow,
   Where there is no tomorrow,
   Because every day is the same
   Until we are old,
   Your skills I must, please, oh please,
   Once again borrow.

Elena wasn’t a magician. She had no concept of chants and spells, so just sang with all her heart, into the sky. Just made it up, putting all her pain and need into each word. Hopefully, the owl would recognise her hurt, if not her lyrics.

Oh I would have thought of you sooner,

   But I have no dreams, so no imagination,
   Just apologies,
   And a task.
   We need you, oh, need you,
   And I forgot, oh I am sorry.

And that night, between 2am and dawn, when time has no meaning, Elena heard;

   Hoo…

   Hoo, hoo…

   Yes, I’m here, and I hear, I hear,
   Child, I feel your song calling.

   I can’t believe you forgot me,
   as if I was a tool,
   on a shelf,
   no sense of self,
   who was always free to roam.

   You had a request,
   that becomes a pact,
   an unescapable fact,
   to which I’m loyalty bound

   So come find me, come find me,
   follow my call,
   so I might find something for you,
   your quest,
   and rest,
   then, after all these years find a new home…”

 

Remembering Giants

Cielo’s boss was furious! F! U! R! I! O! U! S! He ranted and spat, face all red. A heart attack was not out of the question.
   “It’s not my fault!” Cielo wailed.
   The cannibal insurance salesman held his arms out, pleading to her while she ignored him.
   “Miss Cielo! How can you not remember me!” he protested.
   “Police!” raged the boss. This was the fifth madman they’d kicked out of the factory today. Old, faded, almost blurry workers who looked a bit like pirates and Vikings and Irish boxers.
   “Please, Miss Cielo,” said a postman, who might be mistaken for an old Indian chief.
   “You’re ruining the quota!” the boss roared at Cielo. “Double overtime! No pay!”
   “Yes, yes…” said Cielo, as more strange, angry men came in, only for the police to wrestle them out again.
   Cielo needed this job. It wasn’t much, but without it she’d have nothing. “I’m sorry,” she pleaded. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
   “Sorry!?” the boss pulled his hair. “I’ll show you sorry!”
   Then, over the boss’s waving arms and the strange men struggling with police and the other factory workers, and steam from the machines, Cielo saw a teenaged girl standing in the shadows, flanked by a skeleton of a man, and an owl, of all things, that she had on a string.
   Cielo paused.
   “How strange…” she said.
   “Strange!? I’ll show you…” the boss ranted.
   One of the other factory workers finally built up the courage to defend Cielo.
   “Boss, you can’t just -“
   “You’re FIRED!” the boss turned, pointing angrily at him.
   Cielo was transfixed. She watched as a… dog? No, a… dingo? Yes, a dingo. She watched as a dingo stepped out from behind the teenager, and walked towards her. Cielo was scared of animals. She saw them on documentaries when she got home from work. And this one was terrifying.
   “No, stay…” she  protested, but it moved in anyway, past all the chaos, and nuzzled her hand until the hand was holding the dingo’s jaw, gently, so they were looking into each other’s eyes.
   They just stared for the longest time. The dingo’s eyes were piercing. As if they talked.
   “I’m a giant…” Cielo finally whispered.
   “Double overtime, no pay – for everybody!” fumed the boss.
   “I’m a giant,” Cielo told him.
   “You’re a what!?” the boss squawked.
   Suddenly, he was flying back through the air. The police pulled their guns and battens, but found themselves flying through the air, too. There was this huge shift in weight as the factory filled with flesh. Press machines knocked over, production belts buckled.
   “I’m a giant!” boomed an enormous woman, holding the boss to the ceiling.
Cielo, large again, flicked him aside like a fly, and looking out the small skylight window said, “Tattoos, come home, I am missing you…”
   From outside, from locked in the back of police cars, from wrestling on the factory floor, old, working class men melted through bars and doors and ran at the giant and jumped and became flat and strong and forever young again. One-by-one, they leapt and turned to ink, prowling and sliding and fighting along her muscles. They became hunters, and voodoo warriors and skeletons and, oh, they became pirates! All of them angry and happy! All of them free and alive!
   Cielo ripped open the roof, wrapped the sky around her arms and pulled it down and hugged it. Buffered by clouds she closed her eyes and sighed a sigh that blew water towers down. As she did this, the dingo with no name lovingly entered her skin via her ankle, before nestling in her earlobe.

 

Silence on the Set

Elena walked through corridors as big as rivers, as smooth as skin. They were full of glass and polished things. Right now she had a craving to have soil under her sandals, to hear skinny sticks and dead leaves rustle when she walked, to know people in the street, to smell food cooking. To see butterflies.
   Without the tattoos about, John Piero, the gate guard, had been super nice to Elena.    He seemed to think she was Elanore, from the television show.
   “No, she’s me,” Elena insisted.
   “Either way, you’re the first star to be polite to me,” John Piero told her.
   He stopped at a huge door and pressed a buzzer. They waited.
   Finally, a female voice appeared on the intercom.
   “You can go now, guard person,” it sneered.
   “Yes, Boss,” said John Piero, then turned to Elena. “It was a privilege to meet you, Elanore.”
   The intercom voice crackled across the hall. “Come in, child,” it told her.

The room was an enormous sound stage.
   “Hello, can I help you?” Miette said. She was wearing a very smart grey suit, sitting at a desk at the end of the room. A ship’s captain, at the helm of dreams and memories. A producer of film and television.
   “You have my dreams,” Elena told her.
   “Ahh, you’re that girl. I’ve been told about you,” Miette said. “A Miss Pomp keeps writing us letters about one of her students. The little teenager who thinks she’s from Elanore and the Giants. I must say, I can see where you got the idea from. The physical resemblance to our lead actor Elanore is quite striking.”
   “I’m real,” insisted Elena.
   “We’re all real,” Miette told her. “ But Elanore and the Giants is a television show. I know, I made it. I even cast a character in it who looked like me.”
   “I am real!” Elena protested. “Yesterday I freed Cielo’s memory.”
   “Ahh,” smirked the lady who looked like Miette. “That would be last night’s episode: When a Dingo Comes Calling.”
   As she spoke, the lady pressed a remote control button, and there was everything that happened yesterday, on a big screen behind her. Elena and Skeleton Bob, the direction owl, Cielo throwing her angry boss through the air – all of it.
   Elena’s head was spinning, the room was spinning. This woman was so sure. And wasn’t the world full of dull, broken people who imagined they were someone special? Weren’t insane asylums full of patients who wanted so bad to be someone famous that they believed it? The more she thought about the television series, and school, and all the other kids, the more the life she thought was hers seemed absurd, like a silly fantasy – Giants? Sea crabs? Being carried by the dead? Puppet islands?
Her heart felt heavy, it wouldn’t stop sinking.
   “Anyway, here are your parents…” said Miette, as another door opened.
   A lovely couple stepped into the room with visitor passes around their necks. They looked like older versions of Elena, and seemed so worried, heartbroken.
   “Elena, not again! Come home, dear” said the father.
   “Please!” pleaded the mother.
   Elena was terrified. What if the reason she hated this ‘boredom’ so much was because she was boring? Just another girl who wanted to be someone? That would be a twist in the plot. She closed her eyes and whispered; “Cielo, if you are real, oh, I need you…”
   But there was no Cielo. Or Moog, or Skeleton Bob.
   Nobody.

   Nobody.

   “I…” said Elena, breathless.
   “Yes?” said the television producer.
   “I’m just a dull little girl…?” Elena whispered, tears flowing. “Why can’t I remember?”
   “You never do,” said the father.
   He put his hand lovingly around her shoulder and started steering her out of the building, thanking the television producer for her patience.
   Elena remembered something as she moped out the door, just as a slight shudder shook the stage. Something small, but important. There was another shudder, closer.    The thing she remembered was barely a notion, a silly notion, probably another false memory, but it gave her an idea, and she had nothing to lose by trying it.
   Elena began mumble a sound, then to sing, quietly at first, but louder and louder. Sing a very particular type of music to the television producer.

   I’m a disco girl, disco girl, disco girl,
   on my roller skates I twirl and I twirl and I twirl
   I like to dance, and be funky, and be funky,

   I like to disco dance like a monkey, like a monkey,
   Oh, I’m a disco girl, disco girl, disco girl…

“Damn you!” the television producer raged, as she leapt to her feet, which were wearing roller skates, and disco danced against her will. “My one weakness!”
   By now the shudder was a small boom. Then another, closer.
   “Ha!” said Elena. She knew it! The parents were actors. Extras. Cielo was real! The producer was Miette! It was all real! Elena was real!
   Just then, the booms turned to a mighty BOOM! and Cielo burst through the hanger doors, security guards and police hanging off of her.
   “You’re real!” Elena beamed.
   Cielo just looked at her and smiled that smile, full of love.

 

Down to Business

When Elena stopped singing disco Miette stopped dancing and sat calmly in her chair, grinning. She pressed a button. A curtain behind her ruffled. There was something enormous on the other side of it.
   “I like sound stages,” she said. They’re big!
   Moog stepped out, a giant again, as large as ever, axe in fist, glaring.
   “Moog!” cried Elena, happy. Then she saw the way he and Cielo were staring hard at each other.
   “I’ve told him if he helps me I’ll return his tattoos to life,” Miette smirked.
   “Moog…?” said Elena.
   But Moog would not stop staring at Cielo.
   “Now, I believe this is what you are after…” Miette crooned to Elena.
   A sole stage light shone on a small scroll of dancing, mist-like images.
   “My dreams!” exclaimed Elena.
   “Moog cannot beat me or my tattoos,” said Cielo, not taking her stare off him.
   “Ha, but you are not near the nature you love. And he’s not alone…” Miette said, casually waving her hand, as police and security guards and movie extras appeared from behind pillars and stage doors and two special effects large robot aliens stood either side of Moog. They all had weapons, enough to bring down even giants.
Cielo, and Elena, were hopelessly outnumbered.
   “But neither are we alone,” said Cielo, as her shadow grew, and grew, until it looked like the shadow of a giant octopus, eight arms uncurling, winding through everything. And the guards and police and extras stood back in horror as their own shadows stood to face them.
   Elena turned to face Cielo. “All this time… You brought the Shadow Thieves with you!?”
   Cielo just smirked, briefly, for her.
   Suddenly, the enormous sound stage did not seem so enormous. The place was crowded, everybody waiting. Only the shadow thieves moved, slinking, creeping…
   “Ask,” said Cielo, still glaring at Moog, who tightened his grip on his axe while staring back at her.
   Elena stepped forward. She felt shy and stupid.
   “Can I have my dreams back, please?” she pleaded.

 

Disco Moments

Miette smiled as she pulled a small lever on her desk. A disco mirror ball descended until it was in line with Elena’s dreams. The stage light shone through the dreams, projecting them onto the ball, which enlarged and spread them everywhere. Slowly moving dreams circled the stage. There were dozens of Elena’s in the dark, made tall by the light and mirror ball. Big enough to fit on movie screens, to be giants. Some were flying, some were whispering to ghosts, others were riding enormous tigers through impossible long grass. There were dozens of monsters that give you nightmares, and weird little creatures you imagine are under your bed, and unicorns and castles and spectacular flying turtles…

“So beautiful…” Elena whispered.
She walked through the dark to one of her passing dreams, watching a large image of herself dancing like a gypsy around a fire. She could feel its emotions, how the dream knew gypsies were poor and hungry and full of colour and that nobody wanted them. The dream, this close, seemed so real, like she might touch it.
   “The little girl who is already living most little girl’s dream by trying to find her dreams. That’s funny,” said Miette. “And exactly why the show we make about your life is so popular. The dreams are just the carrot, the little extra; they are the sub-plots and spin-off series and Christmas specials. No, you can’t have them. They keep you on your quest, which is far too good for ratings.”
   “But they’re my dreams!” Elena protested.
   “They’re stories,” Miette told her. “From somebody who’s lived them. An ordinary little girl. The audience can relate.”
   “Why can’t you get your own dreams?” Elena asked.
   “Our television writers have no more ideas.”
   “Why can’t people have their own dreams?” Elena pleaded.
   “Our dreams have ads in them. And are less boring,” said Miette.
   “But people’s lives don’t have to be boring!” Elena pleaded. “Every child is amazing!”
   “Ssh,” Miette smirked. “Don’t tell them that, they might stop watching.” Miette shuddered.
   Elena walked up to the projection of one of her dreams – a simple one, moving slow, made so tall by stage lights and mirror balls. In it, there was a woman with beautiful eyes and long, flowing hair in a wooden kitchen, making food, while the village went about its business through the wooden window shutters behind her.    The woman turned and looked down at the viewer just as the light from the setting sun caught her hair, and grinned the warmest grin, full of total love.   Elena stood in the middle of this dream, feeling its emotion, its sense of warmth and giving and complete protection. It made her feel safe, it made her feel wanted.
   “I bought your dreams, paid for them fair and crooked, by Simple Law. Yet, out of the goodness of my heart, I’ll pay you to give up the idea they were ever yours. What do you want?” Miette asked.
   Elena was too lost in this one dream to reply.
   “How about money? Your own TV show? I’ll trade for them. Every little girl wants her own television show!” Miette insisted.
   Elena said nothing.
   “Dreams can’t be that important!” protested Miette. “Are they really worth all this? To risk being so lost? Can’t you just let them go?”
   “No,” Elena finally said. “Sorry. My mother is gone, the moody fogs took her. In my dreams is the only time we can still be close to each other. In my dreams she’s still alive.”
   And her mother, in her dream, sun still in her hair, brushed Elena’s cheek and smiled full of pride.
   “So we fight,” Miette said, happily raising her hands in the air. “It will make another great episode of Elanore and the Giants – Season One; The Grand Finale!”

 

Season One; The Grand Finale!

The police and security guards were too busy jumping at shadows to do anything about Cielo as she used all her might to rip a hole in the sound stage ceiling and let the sky pour through. The sky, running through her fingers, smashed into the floor, blowing most everybody over in fierce melancholy winds, that slammed them into walls and made them stop and hurt and think about things. Everybody fell away, except Moog, and Miette, who was safe behind him. Except Elena, who was safe behind Cielo.
   Moog and Cielo went to battle – the children of the sky and volcanoes.
   “Arrr! This will destroy us all!” wailed Jasper the Pirate.
   “Aye, death in combat!” Sven cheered. That was all a Viking ever wanted.
   “Flipping idiot,” Skeleton Bob moaned.
   The roof and its steel scaffolding rained down. Cielo threw clouds and storms and everything she had at Moog, but without his tattoos to calm him, Moog was ferocious! He swung his axe, knocking down more beams, they threw each other into walls, Cielo’s storms wrecked houses, Moog’s axe destroyed factories and milk bars.
   Elena nervously stepped out from the heel of Cielo and sang in a small, wobbly voice…

   Oh direction owl, oh night bird,
   oh finder of dreams and places and memories,
   oh,
   oh I need you, we need you,
   
   I’m sorry, so sorry,
   I only every call on you when I need you,
   but I need you, we need you,
   for this one last request, this one last adventure.


   Please find Moog’s ladies, his balms,
   the temper to his temper,
   the sirens that sooth him, oh sooth him,
   before he tears us all down.

   And the world

   lies

   bleeding beyond repair…  

   And the direction owl, with no time for song, flew out from wherever direction owls perch, straight at Moog.

   I’ll do it, the owl whispered. This one task,
   this last task, this end task,
   less for you
   than for romance,
   even though it will be the last of me.

   But what better way to cease to be,
   than charging enemies,

   than chasing dreams…

   And, following invisible trails towards Moog’s tattoos, the direction owl flew straight through the giant’s chest into his heart, without leaving a mark.
Gradually, one-by-one, Moog’s tattoo ladies began filling with colour. The cancan dancer began to twitch her leg, the cowgirl began to cock her gun…
   “Arr, I be not sure about dis idea, mon,” Jamar shouted over the chaos. “Dem lady tattoos can be da meanest when it comes to defending Moog.”
   “Aye, I suspect I be scared,” said Sven.
   The sky swirled, the ground rumbled. Finally, the tattoo ladies came to life. Six of them rushed down to Moog’s knees, kicking their undersides until he fell. Three of them rushed to his hands, prying his fingers free of his axe. Now on his knees, several more pulled on his hair, tilting his head back until he was looking up at Cielo.    Then the cowgirl tattoo and gypsy tattoo pried open his lips, while the rest pushed the back of his head forward.
   “Please,” they whispered, or was it him? “Moog’s been lonely so long…” just as Cielo, caught by the winds at her back, fell forward.
   And they kissed.
   Cielo’s tattoos were nervous. Who knew how she’d react? She might pull down the heavens, raining down angels and gods, cursing everything. Then, Buvesz, the lady magician tattoo waved her hands and there was a flash of light…
   Somehow, as Cielo and Moog kissed, the male tattoos found themselves dancing, waltzing with the lady tattoos through the air around the giants. All the while the shadow thieves were dancing, with guards and police, around them.
   And under the feet of kissing giants, and spinning, dancing tattoos of skeletons and jungle girls, was a little teenager, who used to be a little girl, staring at Miette. Only this time she was not nervous.
   “I’d like my dreams back,” she demanded, like a cold, hard fact.

 

The Twist

The magician tattoo’s spell faded.
   “Your breath is awful!” Cielo protested, as Moog broke free from their kiss, furious, and all the tattoos returned to where they belong.
   Moog was angry. Oh, he was angry! Too angry to deal with his rebellious, romantic tattoos. He turned, eyes wide, axe ready, and swung hard at Miette, who had used his tattoos to trap him and use him against a little girl. But Miette just laughed as the axe passed right through her.
   “You silly buffoon,” she said. “This is a battle of ideas!”
   Cielo threw spear-like slipstreams of air at Miette. They passed through, and gathered, into big, horrible versions of guard dogs behind the television producer.
   “You cannot beat dreams,” Miette said. “But dreams can be nightmares. Dreams can fill you with doubts, insecurities… fear. Oh, dreams are not innocent!
Skeleton Bob broke free as Cielo and Moog began to shrink in pain.
   “I don’t understand, what’s going on?” Elena asked him.
   “Dreams! She’s entered your dreams!” said Skeleton Bob. “She’s attacking us all through your dreams!”
   Elena was lost.
   “I… but…” she stammered.
   “There’s only one way to defeat her,” Skeleton Bob said, as the giants and all their tattoos started to fade. Fade to commercials, fade to credits, fade to black. Fade to ratings, to ‘Stay-tuned-next-week’. Fade to bad writers. “You’re dreams have been stolen. But maybe there’s a chance you can still dream. You won’t remember them, but they might appear on that scroll!”
   Elena knew what Skeleton Bob wanted her to do.
   “But I’m scared,” she protested. “If I sleep without my dreams the void will consume me. I’ll fall forever.”
   “No, have faith in dreams,” Skeleton Bob said, as he began to flicker out of existence.
   Elena had been awake all these years, she only had to relax and let go to be consumed by sleep. Humming a lullaby her mother used to hum to her, she felt her eyelids getting heavy… and was consumed by the void.
   In the middle of the large sound stage, a small scroll flickered with the energy of new dreams. Elena dreamed Miette’s impossibly tall guard dogs melted into flowing streams that washed over Elena’s tattoo friends, and made them alive and strong.
   She dreamed Cielo and Moog were behind her, united, protecting her. She dreamed they were 300 foot tall! She dreamed there was a small house, on a knoll, surrounded by flowing water, so that every window you walked passed had the soothing hiss of rapids. She dreamed that all rivers were indeed snakes, but they were one with nature, and protected you and fed you and talked to you if you listened right and, oh, they were needed, and oh they were belonged!
   She dreamed that every stream led to a river that led to oceans that drifted you away, to rough seas and smooth sailing and beyond. Flowing water, like veins, that covered all. That everything was wondrous and amazing and strange and was right in the world. That she was a small girl again, walking through the door of the cottage surrounded by flowing water, where Miette was sitting, waiting for her.
   “Dreams can save you,” the Elena in Elena’s dream said. “They can make you feel less lost, less alone.”
   As she said this Miette’s eyes went wide with fear.
   “No!” I want you to have old dreams,” Miette pleaded. “Dreams in which you know nothing about me!”
   But Elena did know about Miette now, and, Miette had willingly become a part of Elena’s dreams. They both knew that if Elena desired she could dream Miette was in a prison castle forever, or was a midget toad, or a puppy’s behind, or a foul smelling mother ogre trapped in the ogre caves.
   Elena, in her dream, walked over to an old record player, and lifted the needle, putting it on the record’s groove.

“This album is called Heavy Death Rock,” she said to Miette, the disco girl, and a million drums and fifty screaming voices, and a thousand screeching guitar solos started wailing. Elena smiled. “I’m going to dream you like Heavy Metal.”
   “Noooo…!” Miette yelled.
   Eyes wide with panic, Miette imagined a trap door in the wooden floor behind her and escaped.
   The Elena of the dream watched as Miette scrambled down into the dark. Miette was smaller now than ever, smaller than a little girl. Dreams were like that – sometimes they showed people for what they really were. Maybe that’s all Miette ever was – a tattoo that thought it was better than its maker. Somebody’s dream gone wrong.

 

Meanwhile…

Elena couldn’t wake up. Eyes still closed, she drifted through the void as if she would sink for all time. It was death. It was worse than death. Embraced by nothingness, she fell. She dreamed, without remembering dreams.
   “She won’t wake!” shouted Skeleton Bob.
   Moog lifted Elena’s sleeping body up, carrying her through battle with security guards, police, and by now military, as he and Cielo headed for the rowboat, docked in a river nearby.
   In the dark of the void Elena began to wake. She heard the Thoom, thoom! of giants feet as they ran. She heard a voice that sounded like Jamar’s cheer; “Arr! I got Elena’s dream scroll, mon!” and felt the wind of fresh country air against her skin.
   Elena heard the tattoos sing hurried songs to raise the ocean’s dead. Chattering seagulls followed.
   “Tell them all! Tell them all!” they squawked and chattered. “Tell them all!”
   “Who…?” Elena’s mouth whispered.
   “All of them! Tell them all!” the seagulls insisted.
   “Alright…” her lips purred.
   And Elena let go again, falling from the rim of wakefulness, back down, down, down, into the heavy gravity of the void. And, even though she couldn’t remember or feel them, continued to dream. Oh she dreamed! She dreamed that the television in the dream about Miette was still showing Elanore and the Giants. She dreamed her dreams were being broadcast to millions. She dreamed for every single viewer. For us all.
   Anybody and everybody watching Elanore and the Giants on television got a fright, as small calming moons grew from their television screens. Half moons, quarter moons, full moons. Moon rivers, moon tides.
   At first the people at home thought it was a part of the show, but the moons grew and grew, until they were hovering between television sets and ceilings, over top of mobile phones and computer tablets – lunar surfaces, glowing with the energy of imagination. The man on the moon. The cow that jumped over the moon. The moon made of cheese. Love to the moon and back. The place of mystery and romance. The thing that pulled oceans over themselves each night, that flooded our moods. That watched over us as we slept, as we dreamed. The moon!
   The moon!
   Each and every moon grew until a door appeared in one of their craters. Doors made of knotted wood, made of steel, made of feathers, made of lips. A moon for each viewer, a door for each heart. Whatever the door to your soul might look like.
   And each door opened, and behind each door was a mirror, a pond, a puddle, a store window, a pair of glasses, a whale’s eye – whatever might cast your reflection back at you. An image of yourself, not as the world sees you, but as you see yourself.    Huge, small, happy, sad. Yourself, as you see yourself in dreams. Wondrous dreams, painful dreams, joyous dreams. Dreams that didn’t need television. Dreams that were adventures all their own.
   Everywhere, in front of their screens, people slept. Everywhere, people were lost in the power of dreams.
   Some refused to believe what they’d seen, but oh, so many people were saved! Free, even if only for the length of a sleep. Free and ready to build their own amazing new worlds.

 

Beyond the Edge

Moog blew long forgotten warrior songs into his hollowed-out Ram God horn. Its call spread across waters and skies and spiralled down. From the ocean’s depths, sea dragons began to rise.
   Cielo squeezed high warm fronts and low cold troughs together until they produced wind and rain. Dark, grey waves rose and rose until the small wooden fishing boat felt like it was climbing and falling over mountains. Soon, when the seas were rough enough, dozens of dragons broke through the wave peeks, making even giants seem small.
   Moog called through the sea spray, in a voice so mighty it shook horizons; “We are sailing the Uncertain Currents with nothing more to propel us but the dead, and not so much as a direction owl. Can you help?” And the sea dragons, waves cashing against their necks, turned and left, diving back down into the depths. All that was left was the sound of wind and rain on water, until, one after another, bubbles rose to the surface. Each one carrying a dragon’s song.

   Oh, fire, oh water, oh the numbers
   we have slain.
   What passion life inspires that you
   might risk our flames!

   We are lost and are distant
   of sea and land and volcano…

   “What is your point…?” Cielo interrupted, with a slight smile.
   “We will not help. Dragons for dragons, all else is war. It’s a Simple Law,” came the bubbled reply.
   Cielo let the weather go. Soon everything turned to still air and never-ending flat seas. She felt rude, cutting off dragons mid song, but knew they have no concept of time. If you let them they will sing and sing until you are old. If even dragons would not help, they had no way of finding home.
   She turned and looked down at Skeleton Bob, as he finally called Elena out from her slumber.
   “Come on, Elena! Wake up! Follow my voice…” he chanted. “Escape from the void!”
   For a while there was just the occasional ripple against the boat’s hull. Then Elena bolted upright, gasping for air…!
   “Thank you,” she sighed, hugging the part of Cielo that Skeleton Bob was on, which caused his skull to fall off. “You saved me.”
   Skeleton Bob said nothing, red tattoo ink flushing into where his cheeks would be if he had skin.
   “Did it work?” Elena asked. “What did I dream of?”
   Skeleton Bob watched her rub sleep from her eyes. He wanted to tell her all, but didn’t have the words. She may have looked like a teenager now, but she was still just a little girl, it might be too much for her if she realised that in her dreams she was trying to save us all.
   “You dreamed we got away,” he told her.
   “And?” Elena asked.
   “We got away.”
   Elena looked around. Cielo smiled at her, then went back to scanning the horizon. They were lost, without a feathered compass, on a tide without end. But Elena’s company was superb. The most wonderful lady giant, an awful bearded giant, their male and female tattoos, the dead who held them all up and said nothing and were brave, and the tattoo of a dingo with no name.
   “I just thought of something,” said Moog’s Cowgirl tattoo. “Villains aren’t meant to win in stories. What if Miette let us escape so her television series could continue?”
   Nobody said anything for the longest time.
   Finally, Cielo spoke. Something she did so rarely. “No, this is our life. We beat her,” she said, without taking her eyes off the horizon.
   They drifted until wondrous islands with tall, pointy peaks began to appear in the distance. Each one surrounded by rolling clouds made of millions and millions of bats. Every beach was occupied by old men, faces buried in the shadow of their hoods, carrying big bags of bones.
   “Arr, the Blood Lands…” whispered Jamar.
   “Get your weapons!” yelled Lars the Viking tattoo.
   “Boys and their violence…” the Cowgirl rolled her eyes, as the lady tattoos began to sing their haunting songs.
   Elena smiled. Life wasn’t so bad, not with company like this. She still carried the horrible pain of a girl without dreams inside her, but knew a giant’s promise was an immortal thing. That all of them would keep searching until they found a way home, to someone who might reattach her dreams and bring the memory of her mother close again…

 

The end.