Alexander White and the Pirates (and Goblins)
Goblin stories by Zsolt Kerekes
"I don't know what Alex is doing on that pirate ship" said Joanna, sounding much calmer than she actually felt, "but we've got to warn him before that other ship attacks."
"Does he have a mobile phone?" suggested Gunnar, trying to be helpful. "Most kids nowadays do."
Joanna shook her head. She started feeling guilty about that, until she remembered that mobile phones don't usually work at sea. You need a satellite phone for that. Looking back at the mirror she had come through earlier suggested another option.
"How about the star-gate?" she asked.
Gunnar and Spellerbyte looked at her blankly. So she pointed to make herself understood. "The goblin mirror magic wardrobe, portal thingamygig, that thing over there, whatever you call it."
Spellerbyte's eyes gimmered in comprehension.
"Ah! You mean the Earth-gate. Star-gates are just something you get in science fiction films. Forgive my slowness."
"Well? What about it then?"
Spellerbyte shook his head sadly.
"Sorry. That won't work in this case, because you need to have one working at each end of the connection. I don't recall any pirate ships being fitted with earth-gates, although some of my students did ask about such things in the old days because they thought they might come in handy for making quick getaways from the navy. But I had to point out to them the basic limitation in the design comes from the fact that they use the earth as the transfer medium which is where the name Earth-gate comes from. They don't work through water. Even a ship sitting in a harbour would be unreachable. Something to do with worm-holes I think."
This bad news was more than Joanna could take. So she stepped back and slumped down into a chair. There was an animal squeak followed by a human squeak, and she quickly stood up again, as a hedgehog programmer, which had been occupying the chair before her scurried away.
"Sorry!" Joanna called out to its back. Carefully she rustled through the curls of paper tape to see if there were any more hedgehogs. But she wasn't sure what to do with the paper itself. Spellerbyte intervened and gently took the crinkly mass off her hands, untwisted it carefully and wound it onto a spinning jenny type of wheel into a tidy reel, which he then dropped into a jar labelled "utilities".
Ignoring Gunnar and Joanna, he turned his attention back to his portable PC and did a few more clicks and some typing.
"What are you doing?" asked Joanna.
"I've just cut and paste the goblinsearch results into a couple of GIS (Global Information System) mapping web sites so we can get an accurate fix on your son's location. NeptuneSurf is a good general site for translating ocean coordinates, but now that I've narrowed things down, I should be able to get better results from another site, which is what I'm doing now."
"What's that called?" asked Gunnar, who was always interested in picking up new ideas, if they could be used profitably.
"SharkMeat.net" replied Spellerbyte. "It's a community site maintained by some genetically modified shark webmasters, which were trained by the CIA to track soviet subs during the cold war. But they ate their trainers and escaped into the wild. Ever since then, they've been keeping track of the ocean currents, mainly looking for boats in trouble, swimmers who have got out of their depth, US Navy seals etc. It's really a fast food franchise for sharks who are looking out for where to get the next nibble."
Joanna went pale at the sound of that. But Gunnar reassured her.
"Now you don't have to worry about that Mrs. Woyte. He's got his goblin minders with him, and that will protect him from being eaten by any sharks, crocodiles or even man-eating tigers for that matter."
"How's that?" asked Joanna.
Gunnar mumbled something unintelligible, and Joanna gave him a look of incomprehension. Spellerbyte supplied the explanation.
"Goblins taste disgusting."
"Er yes. That's it" agreed Gunnar. "It's helped our race avoid being eaten down the ages by dinosaurs, sabre tooth tigers and druids. Even the Norwegians and Japanese, who eat whalemeat, leave us alone."
"Your son is safe for the time being" said Spellerbyte, as a roll of parchment started to emerge from the back of his portable PC. As the roll got longer and longer (it eventually spread out more than twenty feet along the floor) Joanna could see that it was some kind of map. But she couldn't see how all that paper and a colour printer managed to fit into such a tiny space. Finally it stopped spewing out the back and then a door in the side of the PC slid open. Out shot a thin robotic arm with some scissors attached at the end where the hand should be. Snip! Snip! Snip! It cut the paper off neatly. The short strip of paper still left attached withdrew back into the PC, and the arm whipped back into the side with a whirr and a click. Spellerbyte started rolling the map up onto two wooden sticks.
"That's one of the disadvantages of the portable model" he sighed. "It doesn't have a proper paper tray."
He brought the scroll around so that Joanna and Gunnar could see it more clearly.
"This is a map of how to get there" he explained. He unrolled one end. "We are here " and then he spun the spindles over to the other end. " And your son, Alexander, is here. All we have to do is follow the route shown by this dotted line."
"But how do we do that?" asked Joanna.
Spellerbyte looked up from studying the map. "By magic carpet of course."
At the words "magic carpet" there was a rumbling from the broom cupboard in the corner of the cave. The door sprang open, and out rolled a bright scarlet carpet. If it had been one of Andrew's hunting jackets, then technically the colour would be called "pink". And truth to tell, it was more like a rug than a carpet, being about four feet wide and no more than eight feet long. After unrolling itself straight, it fell flat on the floor and then bounced three feet into the air, where it hovered stretched taught and quivering.
Joanna thought she could hear a low humming sound, from the carpet, but she wasn't sure. "Brrr" a shiver came from inside the broom cupboard. Then a thin metallic robot arm reached out and slammed the door closed.
"I don't usually take passengers, so I've only this, which is the two door Honda Civic model" Spellerbyte stated. "Funds are a bit tight at the moment."
"I didn't know Honda made magic carpets" said Joanna, who couldn't see any doors. Maybe they're invisible she thought, but then pinched herself. That's a ridiculous idea. But then, so was having a conversation with a giant mouse and a goblin.
"They're not actually made by Honda, the car company" Gunnar explained. "They're made in the tunnels under the Honda factory in Japan by Hub-goblins."
"Don't you mean hobgoblins?" asked Joanna feeling a bit surer of her ground on this point.
"No. Hobgoblins make cookers. Hub-goblins work in the car industry. They used to make go-faster wheels and hubs for sports cars. But after the great crash in 1929 they diversified into other types of transport, and nowadays they mainly stick to making making magic carpets. I'm not an expert though. I've read about them in magazines, but I've never actually seen one before in the flesh as it were" he said stroking the carpet as if he was feeling its smooth aerodynamic lines. "They're only sold to wizards On account of the special fuel."
"I can't see a fuel tank" Joanna stated.
"The fuel tank is located back in the factory" explained Spellerbyte, while firmly removing Gunnar's prying fingers from the carpet, before he could do any harm, or worse still, leave nasty slimy fingerprints on the bright shiny fabric. "There are three types of fuel:- Macallan, Talisker and Bells, which roughly approximates to high octane, lead-free, and diesel. You can go faster with the Macallan, but you get better fuel economy from the Bells."
"Those names sound familiar" said Joanna, thinking about the contents of their Discovery when they loaded up on their many cross-channel shopping trips. "In fact they sound remarkably like scotch whiskies."
Spellerbyte appeared not to hear this. He was concentrating and involved in some ritual which involved tapping his crystal ball with a magic wand.
"That's done. I've filled up with a rare Macallan, 25 years old, cask strength. We need all the speed we can get."
"You're right, Mrs Woyte" said Gunnar, returning to her unanswered speculation. "The wizards have accounts with the goblins who live under the distilleries. They can spirit away quality malts to anywhere in the world by some magic process. I believe that the customs and excise in Scotland call this disappearing quantity the "angel's share". Anyway, the Japanese hub-goblins prefer Scotch whisky to their local Nippon variety and they work with some Japanese wizards who run an international trading system "
"Yes, yes. I think I get the picture" said Joanna. "But when are we going to rescue my son?"
"You can hop on now" said Spellerbyte. "I just have to get a picnic hamper from the kitchen. Won't be long."
"Why's that?" asked Joanna, who was starting to get impatient about all these delays.
"The food you get on these Cloudway magic carpet stops tastes disgusting."
Gunnar took his boots off and made ready to climb aboard the carpet. There was a horrible kind of rotten eggy smell, and Spellerbyte stopped him and motioned he should put his boots back on.
"I'm afraid we won't have room for you Gunnar. I'm sorry. Not if we're to pick up four passengers."
Gunnar was disappointed. He had been looking forward to the flight. But he could see that Spellerbyte was right. So he pulled his boots back on and shook hands with Joanna, who wiped her hand afterwards on her skirt.
"Good luck Mrs. Woyte. Give my regards to Alexander when you see him. I suppose I should be getting back now."
"Thanks for your help Gunnar" Joanna waved as he disappeared through the earth-gate. "And tell Darla I'm sorry about missing her tea and scones. Maybe another time."
Gunnar heard that last bit from the other side. He'd rather go and fight sharks and pirates. But he was sure that once he explained everything to his wife they could sit down together and have a nice cup of tea and eat all the scones on their own.
When Joanna sat on the magic carpet she thought that it had stretched a bit longer, but she didn't want any more lengthy explanations to delay their departure. She was also surprised to see that there were retractable safety belts hidden in the shiny weave.
"Strap in Mrs. Woyte" said Spellerbyte. "We're going to be flying at over one hundred and twenty miles per hour, and it can get bumpy."
He pressed a button and a windscreen popped up in front. He pressed a second button and a blast of cold air hit them from the air conditioning. He looked at Joanna guiltily.
"I'm afraid I wasn't sure if the air conditioning could cope with the smell of Gunnar's feet. We can always ask his minions to wash theirs, when we pick them up. But Gunnar's a king, and he might get upset. Anyway it'll be faster with just the two of us, and it's going to be a long ride."
He pressed a third button, and a surprisingly comfortable padded back rest popped up behind her.
"You can adjust it up, down or backwards, just like in a car" he said. "We've also got foot rests, if you want to put your feet up."
Then he pressed a fourth button, and the loud pulsing beat of Steppenwolf's "Born to be wild" from the movie Easy Rider came at her in quadrophonic surround sound.
"What kind of music do you like?" he asked. "My jukebox can play any CD ever recorded, including some rare tracks which went missing, and some CD's which haven't been released yet."
Joanna had seen enough of Spellerbyte's wizardry by now to guess that somehow this involved spin-goblins working under the Sony factory. She made her requests, and settled back in her seat.
They flew at cloud height and seemed to hop from cloud to cloud. When Joanna asked about this, Spellerbyte explained that the clouds were actually being conjured up in advance of their flight path, because otherwise motorists on the ground would get distracted on seeing the magic carpet, which could cause accidents.
"The clouds upset the weather forecasters though" said Spellerbyte with a twinkle in his eye. "Just when they think they've got a better version of their weather forecasting model, a magic carpet trail sends them back to the drawing board. And when the satellite pictures show a thin straight line of clouds, they assume it's due to a software fault. Some of the younger wizards used to spell out words in cloud shapes, but that was before they got environmentally conscious."
"How long will it take us to get there?" Joanna asked.
"A good seven or eight hours, I'm afraid. It will be tough and go whether we get there on time."
"Talking about the going... Where are the 'er facilities?"
"I can stop at a Cloudway service station whenever you like" Spellerbyte replied. "They've got toilets, shops and restaurants. But if you want to eat or drink, just take something out of the hamper. The tea in those places tastes like bilgewater, and the food..."
"Tastes disgusting?" Joanna suggested. Spellerbyte nodded. "That's just like the motorway services, on Earth" Joanna continued. "I wonder if they're run by the same companies?"
As they flew over North Wales an umbrella popped out of the middle of the magic carpet and the cold air of the air conditioning turned warm.
"We don't usually have to create cloud cover over Cwmru" said Spellerbyte "which means we can go a bit faster."
The sky turned dark and Joanna started to wonder where the day had gone. Spellerbyte switched on one of the stars in his wizard's hat which provided illumination for reading the map. She looked at her watch, and she looked at the map unrolling mile by mile, hour by hour. Her last thought was:- 'Alexander will be alright. His minders will look after him.' ... And then! She was being shaken by a giant mouse in a pointed hat.
"Wake up Mrs. Woyte! We've arrived. But we're too late. The black ship has already got Alexander."
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2000 to 2001 Zsolt Kerekes
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This is a work of fiction. All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to actual goblins living or dead is purely coincidental or due to ensorclement beyond our control