Always morning, but never breakfast

Jill and Harry creep along the chilly crystalline corridors of the wicked Steel Witch's tower. The tower is elongated vertically and proportioned impractically, like a fairytale illustration, in ways that are architecturally unsound but for the sake of argument we will assume that it is magic which keeps it upright. The crystals are for the most part opaque and black or dark grey but all of them have the same unnatural gleam-- reflected light of the white, unearthly magical torches which keep the Tower and the rest of the Sleeping Kingdom lit through the seemingly-eternal twilight. Outside the Tower, in the sleeping towns, barely a soul moves, except for the occasional squeal of a baby (soon caught by woken parents, rocked, fed, changed and sent back to sleep again) and the odd itinerant child prowling the streets thinking "I'm not sleepy, mum, when will you all get up? It's time to get up!"

All the while the Sun just circles the world, just beneath the horizon, shining a rough and cold reddish light over this part of the sky and then that part and never daring to peep upwards. Some stars are visible, but not too many through the intermittent fog and thick cloud cover. The Moon is gibbous and oscillates around gibbous but never moves to any more magical phase (full, crescent, even half). Wild animals and cats and birds prowl as well but most of them have turned in for the day at this perpetual pre-dawn. The world floats forever between three and six o'clock, Jill estimates, but she'd be more sure if she knew what season it could be. She doesn't know how long the world has been asleep and overrun with ghosts and vulture-things!

"I'm tired," complains Harry, although he has the good sense to say it quietly this time. A fearful and dangerous chase ensued the last time he said something out loud, and they had to rush up some stairs and into a spare bedroom where they hid under an invitingly warm abandoned bed, where Harry nearly fell asleep and began to snore, despite all the excitement and tension. Jill watched the clacking black claw-feet of the Witch's unpleasant cackling vulture-things as they strode around the room, poking in all its corners. "Noot eeen heaaarglh," their leader (with his burning yellow crest smoking out of his helmet like a fiery plume) gargled, and they clacked off down the corridor to check the other rooms.

"Remember what Gollek the great Red Rooster taught us," Jill hisses back to her little brother, who is younger and much shorter and good for nothing really but getting into trouble and speaking without thinking and leaping without looking. He has been a terrible lazy pest. "Keep your senses open, no matter how hard it becomes!" Harry yawns extravagantly. He's the youngest and the smallest. That's why she is the one who is carrying the sword. It's small sword, but for an adult, so she has to hold it double-handed, pointed out in front of her defensively.

Then there's that sound again, the rippling mechanical laugh of the Steel Witch, passing through the corridors of the Tower and briefly disturbing each torch as it passes, making them jump and click with static and change shape and colour. "How curious," says Jill. "It's almost like her laughter affects the torches. Maybe her laughter is magic like the torches are."

"Even so, we're getting closer! Do you smell that? It smells like... like waking up!"

They creep forward towards a brightening light at the end of the curiously snarled and twisting corridor. (Harry is sure that the corridor looped around a full circle and passed through itself a couple of times, but holds his tongue in case Jill thinks he's just being silly.) They end up hiding behind a huge column of black and silver crystal, on a balcony far above a huge banqueting hall.

There in the middle is a seething cauldron. Out of it boils a rolling white sizzling steam carrying all kinds of smells, coffee and bacon and toast and jam and porridge, all the smells as distinctive and obvious as if they were full colour 3D pictures in Harry and Jill's heads. Waffles and scrambled eggs and fruit and juice. Seated around the steaming pot there are legions of cackling vulture-things, most of them with the black shiny pointy helmet-heads of the footsoldiers of the Sleeping Kingdom but here and there there are the higher-ranked yellow and red crests and even one which Jill and Harry have never seen before, which burns bright blue/purple (partly transparent, even) and burns as intensely as a gas hob. This vulture-thing is tall and along with the usual long black scraggly wings bound up on its back and the two gaunt hairy black armoured arms, it has an extra-large, extra-spiky beak and long feely things dangling from each side of the beak. The vulture-things are being served by a chief vulture-thing dispensing food onto plates from a ladle. When ladled out, each puddle of steaming liquid takes the form of another dish - sausages, croissants, fried tomatoes, Danish pastries.

"The Chalice of purest Primordial Breakfast!" pronounces Jill. As she moves to stand up, she realises that the tip of the sword is caught between two balusters, which twist it out of her hands and she drops it. CLASH!

And just because they are hiding doesn't mean they are hidden. On a throne overlooking the Chalice the Steel Witch looks up - she has famously acute hearing with her steel ears - and points, screeching.

"Theeeeeargh theyy aaaarglll!" bellows the blue-hob vulture-thing, and before Jill and Harry can make one pace back up the corridor, it has zoomed around with a rocket WHOOSH and is blocking their escape. It kicks the sword back into the dark corridor and picks them up by the scruff of the neck, one in each hand, and with another dizzying sideways blur, like a ride on a roller coaster, it throws the two interlopers at the Steel Witch's feet.

"Harry andddddddd Jill Teeeeeempleton," says the Witch, through the little mesh speaker she has instead of a mouth, in her trademarked electronic vocoder buzz. "Whattttt are you ddddoing awaaaaake at thisssssz hour? Yyyyou should gggggo back to sleeeeeeeeep!" A wave of a dainty robotic hand and it feels like a heavy black blanket has descended on Harry and Jill's eyes.

Jill's head droops. "But we must keep our eyes open..." she manages to say, but even as she says it she is losing the battle against her own eyelids. Even prostrate on uncomfortable cold stone steps, without even a blanket, she wants to curl up and snooze until the adventure really begins and it's time to go to school. They have swimming on Fridays. It is a Friday, isn't it? Yesterday night, when she went to sleep an age ago before the Rooster and the Tiger and the Monkey woke her up, was Thursday, so it's Friday morning.

Harry is doing a little better. As the Witch laughs electronically, a servant vulture-thing brings her a plate of spaghetti hoops and bacon. The top half of the Witch's head cracks open and tips backwards, like a sliced melon, and the vulture-thing tips it all into the hole, scraping the bits in with a fork. Harry sees this happen and his eyes widen. "Of course! The bacon!"

"Bacon?" whispers Jill, still half-asleep.

"Bacon is what we saw Ulgthir feeding to the Noustromouse which made it mutate into the Monstromouse! Noustromouse was a weedy monster, really easy to defeat or outsmart, but Monstromouse was ferocious and nearly ate Ilzir before we distracted it with the Uncountable Sheep! I remember the smell!"

Jill wakes up. "And bacon is what the evil urkroll, Elsten wanted the fair folk of Comfy Thunder to cook for him! But a simple biscuit and a glass of water wasn't enough for him, he snarled and threw it away! Keep your senses open: not just eyes, but our noses, too! Bacon is the key!"

"Whaaaaaaattttt?"

Jill and Harry leap to their feet and scuttle for the enormous every-food-pot, from which ladles of steaming every-food are still being served and crystallising on plates that are handed around. Harry spots a confused vulture-thing with a plate of bacon and eggs and points. "There! Jill, look out!"

Jill turns and uses the Monkey's clever Elsewhere Tree rune to deflect the Witch's antifireball spell to a completely uninhabited region of darkened forest three miles away. But the rune evaporates straight away, along with the magic ring upon which it was inscribed. "Hurry, Harry!"

Harry has been grabbed in a bear hug by a lanky yellow-flared vulture-thing but still has enough reach to pluck a fragment of bacon from the nearby plate. He stuffs it into his mouth and scoffs it down with a distastefully audible gobbling noise. There's a moment's pause, during which another vulture-thing manages to grab hold of Jill, too, and the Witch cries "Seeeeeeend them to sssssssleep andddd away frrrrrom heeeeeeeeerrrrree!" The SHKLICTTT noise of a region of forest three miles away freezing solid and (in as much as forest can) falling into perpetual sleep echoes dimly across the hall.

All of a sudden, Harry seems to scrunch up on himself a little bit, as if curling into a ball in the vulture-thing's hands, then throws his arms and chest open again, bursting free from its grip. "Ah HA!" he cries, turning with powerful fatty and proteiny energy crackling from his fingers. With a wave of one stubby finger, Jill is free too. She daintily picks up another nearby piece of bacon from a plate carefully set down by a fleeing vulture-thing, and consumes it. Soon she has similar fiery energy bursting from her fingertips.

"So the bacon is what powers her!" she explains, to anybody who hasn't already figured it out. "You're keeping the whole world asleep so that you can consume our delicious food! Keeping us locked up in bed, asleep, or sleepwalking, or..." --she struggles to remember the word the wise Tiger taught her-- "in-som-ni-ac! Always morning, but never breakfast!"

The robotic Steel Witch shrieks angrily at being figured out. Even the largest, fiercest vulture-things are hurriedly evacuating the room, terrified of the new powerful children in their midst. The ladle is dropped into the breakfast-cauldron and the magical superfood is left to stew peacefully. The Steel Witch leaps forward at the children, with claws wide open. But Harry dives low and wraps himself around her legs, and Jill, who is taller, is able to throw a mighty punch right into her electronic steel nose between her electronic steel eyes. The Witch's eyes go blank and she falls and smashes her head on the steps with a CLUNK.

And before the children can stand up, the evil crystal Tower and the vulture-things surrounding them are evaporating in crisp morning light, and the Sun is shooting up over the mountains and shimmering sweetly down on the rapidly Waking Kingdom, and the ghosts are fading. The sleepwalking and in-som-ni-ac children all scatter and hurry back home to bed, just in time for their parents, woken up by the morning light and their alarm clocks, to come along and wake them up.

Harry wakes up in his bed, rested and refreshed. Jill sits bolt upright, eager to get to school and get the day started. And a crisp smell of bacon fills the house and fills the world, and rises up into the sky.

Discussion (13)

2010-11-17 22:03:26 by qntm:

1924 words. Running total is 32857 words. The title of this one is a derivation from C.S. Lewis' book "The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe" in which the magical land of Narnia (also visited by upstart children) is gripped by the evil White Witch, and is "always winter, but never Christmas". I've had it as a nodeshell on E2 for a few years now and never got around to finishing it. Did you like the bit where bacon saved the day? Side note: replacing "Christmas" with "Breakfast" in Christmas songs is highly entertaining. "Do They Know It's Breakfast?", "I Wish It Could Be Breakfast Every Day", etc.

2010-11-17 22:36:21 by Turgid:

I'm dreaming...of a whiiite breakfast. Great characterization of the setting and people. Everything was clear despite us not knowing anything about their previous adventures. This felt pretty authentic, like something kids would come up with. Keep 'em coming.

2010-11-17 23:35:09 by Publius:

A partridge in a breakfast tree... I think that's a bit of a stretch. Was this story, in any way, inspired by, at least in part, by Paul Bacon? I had never known food to be so instantaneous at giving energy, but I may decide to try eating bacon one of these days.

2010-11-17 23:55:27 by Artanis:

That's 'cause replacing Christmas with breakfast in that line should leave you with "And a partridge in a pear tree."

2010-11-18 04:38:44 by LabrynianRebel:

On the 12th Day of Breakfast... I was starting to get sick of breakfast.

2010-11-18 07:50:08 by eneekmot:

Bacon Bell Rock? I think this is clear evidence that your grasp on sanity is slipping. Keep up the good work!

2010-11-18 15:50:03 by JoetheRat:

Maybe it's just my preference for unambiguous happy endings to stories, or the semi-absurdity of a children's fantasy quest which may-or-may-not have been a dream, but this is my favorite of the bunch. Somewhere between Narnia and Oz, just left of the Disc. I'd love to see this one filled out, but I don't know if it could be done with the same silliness that comes from the referring to ridiculous things that happened in backstory. I do think the challenge has made you loopy. ...and we need a little Breakfast, right this very minute...

2010-11-18 18:40:37 by Biscuit:

Father Breakfast! Give us some bacon!

2011-02-02 05:09:02 by Sysice:

Shade's Children with bacon. And silliness. YES.

2011-02-02 14:45:33 by Elyandarin:

Heh, when you eschew the sci-fi stuff for the twisted fairy-tale genre, your style reminds me of "Hitherby Dragons" :) Fun story :)

2011-03-06 22:05:44 by Paradoxia:

Imagine your alarm greeting you each morning with: We Wish You a Merry Breakfast We Wish You a Merry Breakfast We Wish You a Merry BREAKFAST And a Happy New Day!

2015-02-15 02:33:40 by Silhalnor:

I so have to do Christmas songs like this sometime. Get a bunch of people together and do a Breakfast themed karaoke event or something.

2020-09-15 06:21:37 by Mez:

Jews and Muslims: *Whelp*, guess I’m asleep forever.

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