TRIXIE & ROY
Read the first chapter below:
Once upon a time, Trixie and Roy were having an argument. They were making their way through the snowy forest, and couldn’t agree on the name of the forest, which wasn’t surprising. Roy called it The Woods behind my House, while Trixie insisted it was Trixie’s Forest. Roy had grown tired of the debate. It wasn’t worth much to him.
“The city calls it Northwood, lots 20 through 30,” said Roy.
“What does that mean?” asked Trixie.
“Someday they’ll cut them down and build houses,” said Roy.
“I don’t know,” said Roy.
“Maybe I’ll move into one of the new houses,” said Trixie.
“Why?” said Roy. “Your parents already have a house.”
“They can keep theirs,” said Trixie.
The pair of children continued walking. It was cold that day but not cold enough, much of the snow had already melted. Roy felt a frosty splash on his hat from the trees every now and then. Trixie seemed to avoid these. The woods around were quiet. No squirrels clattering, no deer strolling. A bird was somewhere near, but it made no noise so the children didn’t know it watched them.
“Anyway,” said Roy, “I’ve got a new knife.” He pulled it from his pocket as proof, a folded blade with gold on the handles.
“Not real gold, though,” said Trixie.
“It is,” said Roy, but he was wrong.
Trixie looked at the knife. “Why’d you get it? Christmas is in two weeks.” She tried to open the blade but couldn’t manage it.
“For making good marks in maths,” said Roy, taking the knife from her and flicking it open. “It’s just for going into the woods, Father says. Whittling and stuff. You can use it some of the time; you did help me, after all.”
She had helped him. The Autumn had been a nasty one: wet, grey skies that made it seem like the world was slowly falling asleep all day long, every day. Foggy afternoons, misty mornings, ugly breezes that were hot and cold at the same time. Worse yet were the days trapped in school, learning all kinds of preposterous rules about shapes and numbers. The leaves always fell the brightest and most beautiful on the days when there was an exam. But Autumn was over, the term finished, and Winter was new.
Roy smiled at Trixie, though she was looking elsewhere. They continued walking, crunching along the inch of snow in their boots.
“You really are the one who deserves a knife, Trix,” said Roy. “Would you like it?”
“Oh no,” said Trixie. “I don’t need knives. My mother has a whole block of them. It’s yours anyway.”
Roy frowned, feeling badly, but on they went. They knew the frozen pond would find them before long. They were going to see how frozen it was.
Soon there were crows laughing in the trees. Roy walked in front of Trixie, pulling his hat down on his forehead. She wore her nice felt pea coat. It had six buttons down the front, and was too big for her.
“The pond’s up ahead,” said Roy. “I can see it.”
“Do you think we could skate on it?” asked Trixie.
“I wouldn’t,” said Roy. “It’s melting all around. There’s probably not too much ice.”
They reached the water. And it was water, mostly. Roy had been right. He stopped and looked around. The pond stretched before them, filling up the land ahead like a river, but the water was still. Tall, skinny, dark trees popped out of the snow on the bank where they stood and the banks circling round the pond.
“Too bad,” said Trixie. “I wanted to walk on the water. It takes you to the next town over, if you walk far enough.”
“Father says there’s a lot of riff-raff there,” said Roy.
“Lower class types,” said Roy. “That’s what he said.”
“They might be interesting, all the same,” said Trixie in a quiet voice, almost mumbling to herself.
Neither child spoke for a while. The pond was perfectly quiet, and the crows were quiet now, or had been left behind. The water was as blue as you could hope. There were chunks of ice left over, all drifting apart slowly, like a shattered jigsaw puzzle upset by someone who is not good at puzzles.
“They’re like islands,” said Trixie. A dusting of snow was on each floe of ice, and the deep blue water all between them.
After a while Roy shivered, his hands in his pockets. “Well, I guess I’ll go back now.”
“It’s cold and there’s nothing to see,” said the boy. “Mum’s making hot chocolate right now, right out of the pan. She said there’d be a mug for me when I got back, the one with all the balloons on it.”
“Off you go then,” said Trixie, still gazing at the icy water.
“You can come too,” said Roy.
“I don’t like hot chocolate,” said Trixie.
“You drank some the other day,” said Roy. “I saw you.”
“Tastes change as you get older,” said Trixie.
Suddenly there was a noise that pulled their attention back to the pond.
“Halloo!” came a voice over the water. “Halloo there!”
They peered out over the pond, as far as they could. Roy put his hands on his knees, crouching, and looked at a more level view across the scene. Trixie stood up on her tiptoes, trying to see taller.
But it wasn’t. At last both children, at the same second, saw the owner of the voice. There came a rowboat on the water, pushing through the ice. It emerged from the shadowy distance; they saw a tall man standing in the boat. It was he who had called, and he who was rowing the craft with one mighty oar. He switched sides every now and then to balance out his position. The boat came quickly like a waterbug skirting atop the pond.
“Halloo!” called the tall thin man. He never wavered standing up so in the boat. Roy had always seen people fall out of boats when they tried standing, but this man moved safely along in his craft, almost as part of it, like a human mast.
“Who is that?” asked Trixie.
“I can’t tell yet,” said Roy.
“What a silly figure he makes,” said Trixie.
He was closer now, and did not seem to be slowing his pace. He paddled along, flicking cold droplets in the air every time he switched sides for his oar.
“Make way, young’uns!” he said. The boat was headed exactly for the place on the bank where they stood. Roy and Trixie shuffled to the side, and with one last stroke the man rowed right out of the water and into the air. The boat scraped through the snow like a sled and the rower stuck his oar into the ground. His boat swerved and turned and stopped, and all this time the children watched, open-mouthed. Peppery bits of disturbed snow were in the air, some rising and falling, some blowing away for good. The man hopped out of the beached craft and gave a loud singular laugh. He wiped his forehead, rather tired from his grand arrival, or return.
“Are you a pirate?” asked Roy.
“A pond pirate!” said the man. “No, no. I’m no thief, lad.”
They had a perfect look at him now. He was tall, taller than either of their fathers, and skinny as the oar in his hand. He was old, not quite white and weathered yet, but wrinkly up and down. Especially in the face of two young children, the man was no spring chicken. He had tiny black eyes nestled in scratches of age. His nose was round and long, and a reddish grey beard and mustache were on his face. He wore lanky rubber galoshes, had an old cloak wrapped around his body, and a woolen cap on his head. There was a brown spotted feather sticking out of the cap, with funny thin strings sprouting from it. He looked like the kind of person who should be wearing an eyepatch, but he wasn’t. No wonder Roy asked him if he was a pirate. Trixie, however, knew better. But the man did not pause long.
He swirled around and went back to his boat, dropping the oar inside it and taking a wooden box from it. He put the box in the snow, then continued removing objects from the boat. He took out a hammer, then a belt with a long straight sword on it, like one a pirate might have, and a satchel that jingled as it moved, and a blanket made of fur, a rug made of reeds, a little plaque of wood with a goose head mounted to it as a hunter does with a stag or boar.
The strange belongings kept piling up and the children wondered if they’d ever stop, if there was no bottom to the boat, when finally the man finished unloading his craft. All his things lay about in a mess in the snow.
He bent his long knees and dug a hole in the ground. After that he took some tiny bead or berry from his wooden box (neither child could see exactly what it was, for they still stood a safe distance from the man). He dropped the bead into the hole he’d dug, spat in the hole, and three tall flames leapt upward.
“There,” said the man. “It’s too cold not to have a fire.” He began walking to different pine trees and snapping off dead branches.
“I know who you are,” said Trixie.
“You’re Trixie Abernathy,” said the man immediately.
“And you’re Michael Shambleman,” said Trixie nearly as quick as he’d said her name. “You used to train lions at the zoo.”
“I did, until one bit off my foot,” said Shambleman. “And you may call me mister, if you please, young girl.”
“Really? You only have one foot?” said Roy.
“I didn’t say that,” said Mr. Shambleman. “Maybe I have zero feet.”
“You never got your feet bit off,” said Trixie. “You were fired because the lions never got trained. Then you sold firewood in the Winter, and worked as a carriage driver in the Summer.”
“What did he do in Spring and Fall?” asked Roy.
“Nothing at all,” said Shambleman returning to the fire with a nice bundle of sticks. He broke some in half and tossed them into the flames, and gladly the fire snapped them up. The children could feel the heat from where they stood.
“Come here, if you like,” said Mr. Shambleman. He looked neither friendly nor cruel, but rather content with himself. His smile was widely ripping from cheek to cheek. “Or don’t you like fires?”
The children accepted the invitation; Roy because Trixie seemed to know him, and Trixie because she did know him. Shambleman had shown her and her parents about the city in his horse-drawn cabby many times in the prior Summer, and her Grandfather as well, the last time he visited.
Still, Roy kept his hands in his pockets, and a hand on his pocket knife. The fire was warm, almost hot. The children were far more interested in the man’s odd luggage, and the very fact that he had hailed them from the pond going about in a rowboat.
“It seems you have a story to tell,” said Roy.
“You’re both smart children, aren’t you?” asked Mr. Shambleman. “I’m glad. Nothing more woeful than a stupid child, given your other disadvantages. But are you good children?”
“Yes,” said Trixie.
“I try to be,” said Roy.
“Wrong, and right,” said Mr. Shambleman. He then ignored them and took a bottle from his sprawling pile of things. It was a long purple glass bottle, encased in woven grass, and he drank from it. He seemed content and even smug, but to himself only. For a time Shambleman smiled and stared at the sky, and the children wondered if he’d forgotten them. A crow had landed on a near tree, shouting its arrival. Roy crouched down and took a closer look at the sword on the belt that lay in the snow. Its handle was true gold and its pommel a ruby.
“Well what’s your story then?” asked Roy touching the sword.
“I have just been on the most marvelous adventure,” said Mr. Shambleman. “These are my treasures and spoils and recoverings.” He waved his open palm over the junk lying about. “I’d hope to return in the dead of night, with no one around. Would have been more mysterious. But here you both are. And there’s the sun. And lad, don’t touch that sword. It’s not yours.”
Roy removed his hand and sat down next to Trixie. The crow was still making noise in the tree nearby.
“What was the adventure like?” asked Roy.
“Did you go to the town over?” asked Trixie. “That’s where the pond goes.”
Mr. Shambleman’s smile had returned, and it was so wide and bursting with delight that he then seemed insane, no longer smug. “You see this?” He took up another object, holding it out. The children leaned in. It looked like a flute.
“You hear that crow that’s been bothering us?” They did. It was croaking to itself about the humans below, busybodyish like most crows.
Mr. Shambleman blew one long kingly note from the flute, and the bird was silent. It lifted off the branch and flew away into the woods, back toward the houses. “This hushes and banishes any noisy birds. And this,” he picked up a book from the snow, “Listen.” He opened the book to a random set of pages in the middle, and suddenly the children heard a gentle voice speaking. Mr. Shambleman turned the book around toward them so that they could see the words; the bodiless voice was reading the book to them.
Mr. Shambleman shut the book and the voice was quiet, he opened to a different pair of pages and the voice returned, speaking a new part of the story to them. “This.” He picked up a little model sailing ship, put it flat on his palm, and blew against the back of it. The ship moved forward from his hand and, rather than falling into the snow, its sails were full of wind and it went voyaging along the air. It skimmed around several pine trunks, went past Roy’s ear, and then disappeared sailing forever into the shadows of the further wood.
Trixie laughed and Roy gaped. “Is it magic?” asked the girl.
“No! Not magic,” said Mr. Shambleman looking for something else among his belongings. “It’s the things themselves.”
“Where did you find them all?” asked Trixie.
“That way,” Shambleman pointed at the pond, still kneeling over his spoils and looking for something. At last he found it, a box full of tools with which to shave, just like the children’s fathers had. He picked out the brush and leaped to his feet, so abruptly that Roy and Trixie sat back a little. Mr. Shambleman ran to the pond, dipped the brush in the icy water and came back. He began grinding the brush against a bar of shaving soap, and soon he was painting his face all white and fluffy with suds of the stuff.
“You found all this floating in the pond?” asked Roy.
Mr. Shambleman’s cheeks and chin and even his nose were blooming with soap, but his little black eyes glanced over the suds. He began cutting away at his beard with his straight razor.
“An inventor, a genius sort of person, made much of these toys. I went the long journey to and from his shop for some of them. But not all of this jumble is from him. Some are treasures I found, spoils I discovered. If you got into my boat right now and took off into the waters, you’d discover a great deal of people to see and places to visit. I’ve been gone for nearly a month, before the first snow fell, and underwent more adventures than I had thought possible.” Half his beard was shorn now, but his face remained fluffy with all the suds on his cheeks.
“Like what?” asked Trixie.
“Were there battles?” asked Roy.
In answer, Mr. Shambleman drew the sword from the sheath on the ground and began dancing about the air, cutting at invisible enemies, fencing with the wind, flinging blops of his shaving soap all around like new snow. One sud landed on Roy’s sleeve and he brushed it off.
“Such battles,” said Mr. Shambleman resuming his shave, though this time he was using his sword. “There are the songful sea lions, who only sing sad songs, no matter how you try to cheer them up. There are the Saltwater Gnomes and their wondrous ships. There are islands and a long country, full of all kinds of creatures. Animals and inns and drink and feast and music. And somewhere in all of it the Inventor’s shop, with his clever handiwork. Why did I come back?”
He had finished his shave, looking just as old as before, perhaps older, without the beard. “Ah,” he watched the pond, “I remember.”
“You make it sound so exciting!” said Trixie.
“I do?” said Mr. Shambleman. “It was! Go yourselves and see!”
Both children looked longingly at the boat for a quiet minute.
“You mean we could go?”
“Could? You can do whatever you wish,” said Mr. Shambleman. “I’m not your father, and I’m certainly not your mummy.” He had put the sword in its sheath on the belt, and the belt on his waist, and had begun picking up all his belongings, piece by piece, bundled in his arms. The little fire was dying. “You can take my boat, lad and young girl. I don’t need it anymore.”
Trixie waved Roy to stand with her near the pond, so they could talk it over. This took very little time, because children are quite bad at deliberating, or that is to say, they’re too good at it; they can only discuss an issue for so long before they admit what they’ve wanted from the first, and that is the decision they will come to. Adults are the opposite; they conceal their interests for the sake of being polite, displaying their good manners with expert duplicity.
Roy and Trixie both were equally willful, and neither were excessively foolish, and the matter came to a swift agreement, whether their decision was right or not.
Trixie said Michael Shambleman had always been kind to her and her parents in times past, and her father did not think him so odd to be dangerous. Her mother had always liked him and thought him sweet. Come to think of it, Roy said, he himself had known some bad characters in the past, and Shambleman was nothing like them. So with that ounce of discernment added to the passions his stories had put on them, they walked back to the camp, ready for the journey, which would in all likelihood end with them going a mile up the pond and finding the main road back to town, they agreed.
“We’ll go, then,” said Trixie.
“As long as we can use your boat,” said Roy.
“I haven’t repealed my offer,” said Mr. Shambleman, holding his belongings; boxes and bundles and the mounted goose head and the like, sticking out a hundred different ways from his arms. “So it’s decided?”
“Yes,” said Roy. “We’ll see what there’s to see. If anything you’ve said is true.”
“Fine, lad, fine!” Mr. Shambleman threw his heaping pile of treasures off to the side into the snow. “Board the boat, explorers. You’ll find shorter oars there. I’d like to keep my own.”
Roy and Trixie walked over to the craft and climbed in, and without any hesitation the thin man shoved the boat back down into the water. With another shove, he sent the craft out into the cold blue pond. Trixie had found her seat while Roy was collecting the oars. When he looked up, they were well into the water, so he stuck both oars out and began his duty.
Mr. Shambleman stood on the bank, and they could see him waving his hat at them in farewell. He called out, “Wait until you see it all! The song of the sea lions, the bogeyman, the Atrocity, the war of the Gnomes, the ghosts, the cherubs. Don’t trust any bears! Not even kindly ones! Be careful, too! I set out with a party of eight, and they were all lost!”
It started to sound like they were on a dangerous and irresponsible tour, and their boat was well adrift already. Water and ice put land at far reaches from where they sat. Both children separately thought about turning back, but Roy said, “We’ve started this venture. I won’t turn round, unless you want to.”
And Trixie said, “He’s a daffy old man. We’ll probably reach the other side and find ourselves in the town over.”
So he rowed, and she looked at the shadows and ice ahead.
This book is something of a tribute to the many books I loved as a child (and still do). Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, The Princess and the Goblin. You will notice that the bulk of these books originated in the UK, and as such, I have deliberately written Trixie & Roy in a pseudo-English style. I mean not to make a mockery of British and Irish idioms in my tale, but to revel in them. My apologies if any reader from across the pond finds my style tone-deaf or false. It was not my intention. I also elected to use certain English spellings, such as 'realise' and 'criticise', rather than writing those words with their American z's. And for as long as I can remember I've spelled 'grey' with an 'ey'. All of this comes from growing up reading these wonderful tales again and again. However, I could not bring myself to write 'colour' or 'neighbour'. The 'our' has never made sense to me, while the 'ise' does, especially when it comes to pronunciation and phonetics. Whatever the debate is, I'm not interested. All I'm saying is that this little tale is a conscious marriage between Britishisms and Americanizations. I am an American who loves British literature. And this is a story about children and talking animals and devils. So that's that.
I want to make a few acknowledgements here as well. My wife, who is my greatest supporter. My dad and mom, who cultivated my writing growing up through teaching and encouragement and actually reading what I'd written. My siblings, for much of the same reasons as my parents. Jean Bascom, who proofread this book for the fun of it and helped catch many silly errors, and who wrote a very generous review for the book (check out her great artwork here).
Please, get yourself a copy, settle in a chair with a hot drink, imbibe this pleasant little myth. Read it to your children, or let them read it all to themselves and enjoy it on their own.