Bait and Twitch

There’s dirt, and there’s grime, and then there’s whatever lives beneath the cracked-claw fingernails of Arnold K. Sprouse, the fat man who everyone was sure had been a child at some point, and who forever twitched or itched at the boils beneath his skin. Worse yet, Arnold was the kind of scrounging sort of thing that had a dream, can you believe it? A dream

Ah, yes, poor Arnold had always had his dream, and though it was the same dream to which many had striven, it seemed all the much sadder on him. For, as you may know, The Distillery was a place so far beyond the stature of most in that hovel-realm of Onmarth that lowly Arnold was naturally a prime source of pity, in all his dismal dreariness, just for his dream of wanting, not only to work at The Distillery, no…but to become Onmarth’s Head Brewmaster! 

Worse yet, Arnold’s mother (whose real name Arnold did not know, but whom he called Tress like everyone else) had never taught pitiable Arnold about free will. And so he had gone and presumed hers as his own, following in her clubbed footsteps all his days—even abiding by the terrible meals of day-old cabbage that were his ration. 

I’m liable to admit of course, that many of us in Onmarth had paid to see that.

The throwing of the cabbage, I mean. 

Indeed, there were few who had not watched as, after a full day of warty magician’s foolery, Tress would finally throw Arnold half a head of the mouldy stuff, and poor Arnold would be forced into the gruelling – thankfully brief – task of transforming himself into a rabbit, as was his wont, just so the meal would be enough, or even appetizing. 

Yes, you’ve heard right. Although Tress was little more than a deceitful scammer pedalling bad tricks and false healer’s wares, Arnold could really and truly turn himself into a small, brown-splotched rabbit! 

It is prudent to mention of course that Arnold’s ‘talent’ isn’t the only one like his in the world. There are many of us who have a little something – a green thumb, or a purple tongue, as they say. The difference with Arnold? He was just so woefully ugly that we couldn’t pay enough to put his face from our sight!

But I get away from myself. The truly interesting thing is that, on the morning of Arnold’s 30th birthday, a strange, unmarked notice arrived at Tress’ door. (As it would turn out, one such notice had taken up the doorstep of every domicile in Onmarth, but this was of little import to either Tress or Arnold). From it, the residents of that abode did discover something quite of interest: Onmarth’s own Brewmaster had fallen terribly ill!

Already the streets were rife. Many knew that the Brewmaster had never a son, nor had he announced an heir to his proverbial fortune. And indeed, the issue of who would take over the brew-works (which of course supplied everyone in Onmarth with enough liquor to keep them pleasant) became like a disease in the Sprouse household, with Tress already scheming, and Arnold already…dreaming, thinking only of The Distillery. Why he could have wanted such a thing I’ll never guess, but as many before them (though with plenty different aims) had sought, Tress and Arnold soon set off on the hard week’s journey to visit The Distillery for themselves. 

Naturally, and by the time they arrived, many of the region’s best magical healers had already been to see the Brewmaster. They, much like everyone else, had concluded that a lack of heir meant the Brewmaster must live—but had failed nonetheless. This was of course to Tress’ benefit, who went solely for her own purposes, and who barely knew of her son’s truest and most deeply held desire. Come along, Tress would rag at Arnold, who rolled nervously along behind their caravan, munching on the leftover cabbage stuck between his teeth. We are going to pep that old geezer up with some spice-water and they’ll send us on our way with a nice treat, hay?

Though (and for the first time perhaps) it had occurred to Arnold that his mother was wrong to defraud the ill, I am sure poor Arnold was rather taken with the fact that he would finally be going there; that he would be…if they would not bar him…allowed entry into the very chambers of the Brewmaster himself!

The funny thing about Arnold, though, is that he’d never had the wits to imagine what The Distillery actuallylooked like. As such, while many were quietly disappointed with the place’s wooden-bracketed barrel-drums and thinning, rope-harnessed drain spouts (and who wouldn’t be, after hearing of its glorious golden turrets and towers from still-drunk patrons), Arnold himself was in a world of pure joy. His pea-brain lit up on all sides as his bawdy legs led the rest of him into a dark cavern—one that would turn out to be the Distillery’s dank, one-room main-house! And wouldn’t you know it, being of the rodent type, Arnold found he could see extremely well in the room’s low-light haze. 

Yet, it was perhaps due to this small advantage that Arnold could also see through the miasma (which, it’s been said, smelled of bed sores, candle-smoke, and raw alcohol) that otherwise hid the grotesque and riddled form of the Brewmaster, who lay sponging in his bed with skin so tired it withered away from his very bones. And it could be that the sight of this pimpled, throttled man (just as ugly as Arnold himself, and maybe more so) startled Arnold so much that he twitched, quite suddenly, into a small, fuzzy-brown rabbit.

Now, what Arnold made of what he heard next likely doesn’t matter: Arnold simply couldn’t understand humans when he was a rabbit. But Tress heard very clearly the frightening, rising bellow of a coughing drum; and she alone heard in it the ugly-hearty guffaw of a repugnant drunk-in-the-night: it was the Brewmaster himself! And he was laughing!

Ho! Ho! Ho! Wot’s that? Wot’s that? Ho! Ho! Ho!

And so it was, long before Tress had the chance to display her false foolery, that the Brewmaster rose, reduced by ten or twenty years by miracle of a good healthy chuckle, and pushed that deceptive Tress-witch out of the way. Oh, and how he stood, laughing and laughing at poor, hilarious Arnold, who by now had decided it was safe to turn back into himself. 

Ho! Ho! Ho! 

Well, from what they say, the Brewmaster was right then cured of that somber soldier called sobriety, and became drunk instead on the surprise delight he found in watching the grotesque pin-ball that is Arnold Sprouse turn into a harmless, impossibly small rodent. They also say too, that Arnold and his Brewmaster made quite the ugly pair throughout the next years together, the latter of whom left the former everything in the next few years after that. 

And since you were wondering, after throwing filthy old Tress out on sight (as he had the many others who had not made him feel any better) the Brewmaster went back to his brewing and allowed his tiny new pet to drink ‘til full. 

As for Arnold…well, I suppose his dream came true after all, which says something about that, I’m sure. 

Published by Jessica Barratt

Writer, Photographer, Academic | Founder of JB Editing, wordsofhers.com, and thosepicturesshetook.ca

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