The Sleeping King: Part Two
When Bluetail awoke, his first thought was to the light. As he opened his eyes he could just not work out why it looked so naturally light inside someone’s body. Where was the light coming from? Opening his eyes fully, he realised that all the lights were on. Every single one was lit. He sat up, worried he might have overslept. However, looking around him, he saw that everyone else was sleeping. Not a single figure moved; they all just lay there on their beds, motionless and facing downwards. If they were all asleep, then who’d put the lights on? As Bluetail thought this, he noticed another peculiar occurrence. He could smell food, breakfast. It almost smelt like porridge. His eyes wandered over to Biscuit’s sleeping mat, but he was still there, peacefully dreaming. Then who?
Bluetail picked himself up and crept silently over the sleeping bodies, heading toward the cooking pot. To his surprise, nobody woke up. As he reached the cooking pot, he noticed two things. One, the step ladder had been moved to the other side of the pot, and two, a large wooden spoon was gently stirring the mixture. At first Bluetail thought that it was stirring on its own, but then he noticed four colourful hand-like things holding the spoon and stirring it round.
Carefully, he made his way around the large pot, and saw, for the first time who was stirring it. He was surprised. On the ladder, stood a Rainbow Spyder, he stood on four of his legs, and was using the other four to stir the mixture. He saw Bluetail and smiled.
“Hello!” he said his voice loud and cheery.
Bluetail winced, expecting someone to wake up, but no one did.
“You must be new here. Bluetail, is it?”
Bluetail nodded. How did he know his name? He decided to answer, but kept his voice in a whisper. “Who are you?”
The Spyder laughed, and said, again loudly, “Why, I am Stripes, leader of our little town here,” he bowed jokingly, “I have been here the longest of everyone. Didn’t Biscuit explain to you?”
Biscuit! Bluetail’s answer was a question. “Why’s he not cooking?”
Stripes laughed. “He’s still asleep. Bit hard, cooking when you’re sleeping.”
Bluetail looked back at the sleeping figures, all motionless.
“Why don’t they wake?” he asked. “I mean, there’s light, and noise, and yet they sleep on. Why?”
Stripes shrugged. “They’ve gotten used to it. You will too, soon enough.”
Bluetail remembered the question he’d been asking himself when he woke up. “Who put the lights on?”
“Me,” Stripes said happily. “You certainly are inquisitive, aren’t you.”
Another question came into Bluetail’s mind. He tried not to ask it, but it was too hard. “Where do you sleep? There’s no sleeping mats spare.”
Stripes smiled. “I don’t sleep much, but when I do, I don’t sleep here. I prefer the peace of the other passages. But most of the time during the night I explore. I’m an explorer by nature. This is not the only place we can go.”
“If you’re the oldest here, then, was anybody here when you came?”
“No,” he said calmly. “Just me.”
“How did you survive?”
“I was prepared. I’d brought food and everything I needed.” Seeing Bluetail’s puzzled look he went on, “Like I said, I’m an explorer, also a bit of a scientist. I planned to go inside Turmaculus, you see, like an expedition. To explore him, find out how he worked. There were meant to be two of us, but I was the only one who made it in.
“We worked out the pattern to what woke Turmaculus up, and then, carrying food, water and other necessities in our packs, woke him up. I scrambled inside his mouth, and abseiled down his throat. It sounds mean, but he didn’t feel a thing. I was meant to be able to climb the abseil rope back up, but it snapped. I was trapped, but I had a lot of food and I could survive for as long as I wanted.” He paused. “So I explored. As deep as I could, and for as long as I could, until more came, and formed the community you see before you.”
“But surely there must be another way out?”
“Impossible. I’ve tried, but I can’t. There’s no way.”
“The petpets here don’t seem to want to leave. They seem to enjoy it!”
“They don’t want to leave,” stated Stripes. “Being so close to Turmaculus does things to us petpets. They worship him, never want to leave him. It changes them.”
“That’s why they only call him The King, not Turmaculus,” Bluetail realised. “But you still call him Turmaculus, why is that?”
“I do not worship him as they do. What sort of king sleeps all day, and sleeps all night, never waking? What sort of king enjoys swallowing his own people? Not my sort of king, I can tell you that.”
Bluetail swallowed hard. “Will I become like them? Obsessed with The King.” He put his hand to his mouth. He was beginning to talk of Turmaculus the way that they did already.
Stripes nodded grimly. “Unfortunately, yes. You will start to worship him too. In a day, maybe two, you will be just like them in the way they think of The King. The new ones always start off like you, planning to escape and trying hard to deflect Turmaculus’s power. But then they change. I remember when Patch first came here, he was dying to help me to get out. He lasted a while; longer than any other. But then it faded; he forgot and became another one of Turmaculus’s minions. A sad story.”
“Why not you? Why don’t you become like that.”
“When I first came here, Turmaculus had not thought of the idea. He only thought of it after me, and by then it was too late. I knew his secrets; I was nobody’s minion, and will never be. Yet I have no one to help me escape; I am alone.”
“I’ll help you!” cried Bluetail enthusiastically.
“You say that today, but you won’t feel the same tomorrow,” warned Stripes.
Bluetail was about to protest, when he heard noises behind him and turned around. Every single petpet that was there was waking. In exactly the same way they rolled over onto their backs and sat up, eyes now fully open. They did it at exactly the same time. Bluetail moved backwards.
“Why do they wake now?” he asked nervously.
“Because Turmaculus up there – their master – told them too. They wish to serve their king, and so they do.”
Bluetail watched them rise, dreading the day he would be like them.
“Why are you up so early?” asked Biscuit, looking at him oddly. He walked past Bluetail and began to climb the ladder. Thinking it strange that he didn’t talk to Stripes, Bluetail turned around, but Stripes was gone. He had completely disappeared.
He watched everyone else rise. Once everyone had started moving around, Patch came up to him and asked him to play cards, so he did. There were 6 of them, including him and Patch playing cards. Patch, Teeth, and Bluetail played on one side of the table, and Droopy (the grey Spardel), Hugs (the blue Huggy), and Flower (the white Flowper) played on the other side.
“What do you do down here?” asked Bluetail. “Don’t you get bored of just playing cards?”
“We do other things, silly,” laughed Hugs.
“Competitions, games, jobs. Everything really!” These words were spoken by Flower, who dealt the cards as he said them.
“Also, we go and salvage from The King’s throat,” said Droopy. “To see if he’s swallowed anything good.”
“But I mean,” began Bluetail, “what will you do today?”
Flower got up and walked over to the other end of the table, where he picked up a piece of paper and brought it down to them. He put it down in the middle of the table, and all began to read:
12th day of the Month of Storing:
8:30: Take Breakfast and Wash up
9:00: Showers for rows 5, 6 and 7. Free time for others
Bluetail looked up in surprise. “You have showers here?”
Flower laughed. “He’ll eat anything, will The King!”
Bluetail continued to read.
10:00: Rows 1 and 2 free time. Rows 3 and 4 cleaning duties. Rows 5, 6 and 7 cooking duties. Rows 8, 9 and 10 salvaging duties.
12:00: Have Lunch and Wash up
1:00: Rows 8, 9 and 10 to clean out cooking pot. Others free time.
2:00: Lessons for younger petpets. Job duties for others
4:00: Further cleaning duties for rows 2, 3, 4 and 5.
“Why does Row 1 never seem to do anything?” asked Bluetail.
“Because they’re superior,” said Teeth impatiently. “Now can we play cards or are you just going to stare at that all day?”
Bluetail picked up the timetable. “I just want to read this. I’ll play after.”
Teeth shook his head in disbelief and they began to play without him. He carried on reading.
5:00: Free time for all.
6:30: Take Supper and Wash up
7:15: Back in Rows
7:30: Lights out
“Lights go out very early!” exclaimed Bluetail.
Patch looked at him strangely. “When you think about how much The King sleeps, we hardly sleep at all. You’ll get used to the times soon.”
“Breakfast!” called Biscuit.
Flower gathered up the cards and handed them back to Angelina. Then they headed over to the breakfast queue.
Once Bluetail had got him breakfast (which was porridge) he sat with Patch and Biscuit as he had yesterday. Teeth, Hugs, Flower and Droopy sat and the other end of the end. Teeth gestured for Bluetail to join then.
“Sorry,” mouthed Bluetail, not wanting to move once he sat down.
“Settling in?” asked Biscuit in a friendly voice.
“I’ll take you to see Stripes after breakfast.”
“I met him already,” said Bluetail.
“No really,” began Bluetail. “I met him this morning.”
Biscuit was still laughing: “Where?”
“In here. He was cooking.”
Biscuit carried on laughing: “Don’t be silly, Stripes doesn’t cook. Besides, he never comes in here. He prefers the other passageways.”
“But he was here! Who did you think prepared all the food?”
“The King did. He is magical. He does things like that.”
Bluetail blinked; this place was crazy. He had to get out.
After breakfast, Biscuit took him along the passageways that led to Stripes’s little home. There was one sleeping mat rolled out, along with a small pot of food and a lone light hanging from the ceiling. Biscuit left him at the door and went back to the main camp.
“Hello again, Bluetail,” said the old Spyder, turning around to face him.
“Is this where you live?”
Stripes laughed: “Yes, it is.” He paused. “You ask so very many questions. But it will die down soon, and you will become like the rest.”
“I still want to escape.”
“Yes, but for how long? Your past will fade into nothingness, Bluetail; it always does.”
“Biscuit didn’t believe that you were cooking earlier on. He thought that The King – Turmaculus – had cooked it.”
“Ah yes,” began Stripes. “They think that Turmaculus does everything for them. They are under his spell.”
“Why don’t you tell them that’s it’s you?”
“The happiness of working for Turmaculus is the only thing that keeps them going. They’d be depressed if they saw the true side of him. Why should I make them sad? They love serving him. You will soon too.”
“I can’t stay in this mad place any longer. There must be a way to escape!”
“There isn’t, Bluetail. Let it take you; at least you will be happy then.”
“This can’t be happening.”
Stripes sighed. “I’m sorry, Bluetail. But you will become one of them. There is nothing that you or I can do to stop it.”
Tears gathered in Bluetail’s soft, material eyes. “I don’t want to be like them. I don’t want to worship The King.”
“You will want to soon. It is too late now; the process has begun. You have already started calling him ‘The King’.”
The rest of the day went well for Bluetail. He arrived back in time to so his salvaging duties. He enjoyed that, even though they didn’t find much and they got very wet in Turmaculus’s throat.
After was lunch, which tasted great. And then they had to clean out the cooking pot. They only had water and a very small amount of soap, so this was hard. However it was incredibly entertaining. Bluetail fell in the cooking pot twice, and kept on slipping because of the soap. Bluetail felt as if he had never had so much fun in all his life.
Next, young petpets like him had lessons. How to read, how to write, how to add and so on. He sat next to Patch and they learnt together. He didn’t think about escaping once.
After this, he had two and a half hours free time, in which he, Patch, Teeth, Flower, Hugs and Droopy played cards some more. They also drew pictures and talked.
Supper that night was vegetable stew and tasted even better than it had the night before. This time he finished it only a few moments after Patch, and went up for seconds immediately. When he washed up his plate and cup afterwards he knew exactly what to do; it was as if he’d been doing it for years.
After, when they were back in their rows he asked Patch about his previous owner.
“What was his name?”
Patch shrugged. “It was so long ago that I’ve forgotten. Besides, it hardly matters. We’ve got The King now; we don’t need owners.”
When it was light’s out time, Teeth and Patch put out their light and then proceed to lie down and go to sleep. Bluetail noticed that everyone lay down in exactly the same way.
Every other petpet there went to sleep almost immediately, except him, who couldn’t. Lying there, Bluetail reflected on his day, and how much he enjoyed it. Yet all the same he desperately missed his owner, and couldn’t stop thinking about all the wonderful times they had had together. Bluetail thought that Ton–.
Bluetail’s eyes snapped open. He’d forgotten his owner’s name. He tried to think of, but the name didn’t come. What was it? He tried to picture him in his mind, but he couldn’t do that either. His mind had gone blank. What colour was he? What species was he? What was he like? What was his name? It began with a T, didn’t it? Or was it a B? Bluetail couldn’t remember a thing.
He stared into the open, dark space in front of him. “But,” he spoke his thoughts aloud. “But that’s–” He paused, and in his mind he remembered the words that Stripes had said to him: “Your past will fade into nothingness, Bluetail; it always does.” Bluetail felt sick. Stripes was right; he was forgetting his past. Soon he would be like all the rest, a helpless slave of King Turmaculus.
To be continued...