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Chapter 2: The Hunt
Chapter 2: The Hunt
Strange sounds were filtering through the woods -- scrabblings, bleatings, growlings, and, strangest of all, a sound closely resembling bagpipes, or the sound bagpipes would make if they were being strangled, viciously, under a blanket. In a small moonlit clearing in the center of the woods, the sounds grew louder. Suddenly there was a frantic rustling in the bushes on one side of the clearing, and three large barrel cheeses broke from the undergrowth, running as fast as their legs would carry them. Hurtling across the clearing, bleating in panic, they disappeared into the bushes on the far side of the clearing, and for a moment all was still again.
Suddenly a new burst of rustling came from the bushes where the cheeses had emerged, along with a horrid growling noise. Then a pack of hounds burst out into the open. They were a motley bunch, all different shapes and sizes, but they all had muzzles covering their snouts, and they all shared the awful reek of sweat. The hounds ran around in circles, growling through their muzzles. One small fat animal that looked like a cross between a sausage dog and a ball of wire wool kept his nose to the ground, sniffing intently. He gave a great snort, crossed the clearing, and dived onward after the cheeses. The other hounds followed.
The weird bagpipe sound grew closer, accompanied by vaguely human cries. Then there was a louder crashing in the undergrowth, and finally the strangest creature yet arrived in the clearing. It had four skinny legs that hung from what looked like an upturned boat made from a patchwork of old sacking. At its front was a head made from an old box, and on this the features of a horse's face were crudely drawn. A large, angry man rode high on its back.
"Which way did they go?" the man screamed.
An arm emerged from the sacking and pointed across the clearing. The rider took his horn (made from some part of a camel) and blew, filling the clearing with the horrible bagpipe-like sound. Then he raised the horn high in the air and brought it down hard on his steed.
"Hummgggiff Gummmminn Hoofff!" came muffled cries of pain from below.
The creature started to move in a wobbly line across the clearing, picking up speed as the rider beat it harder. More men on these strange creatures arrived in the clearing, following the sound of the horn. They were just in time to catch the lead rider disappearing. They, too, beat their mounts. As they did, shouts of "Tallyho!" and "Gee-up!" could be heard over the cries from the beasts below.
The front legs of the last of these creatures came to a sudden halt. However, the back legs kept moving and, inevitably, caught up with the front ones. There was an Ooof! and a sweaty, red face emerged from the front of the creature. The head looked up at the rider and spoke.
"That's it, Trout! I have had enough! I want a go on top."
"But I only got a turn since the start of the woods, and you had a long go across the fields," moaned the rider. Another face now emerged from the back end of the creature and joined in.
"Yes! And Gristle, you tried to make us jump that gate!"
"Well, I'm not going on, and I'll blame you two if we get in trouble for getting left behind," said the face at the front.
"All right then!" the rider said with a pout.
He jumped down, and as he took off his jacket and top hat, the creature's body lifted to reveal two men underneath. The man at the front unstrapped himself, and the rider took his place.
The body lowered itself, and the new rider put on the jacket and hat and climbed with some difficulty into the saddle.
"Don't you dare try going through the stream," the back end of the creature demanded.
"All right, but make sure we catch up," said the new rider. "You know the rules about being last!"
He then grabbed a large twig from an overhanging branch, snapped it off, and belted the back end of his mount. With a short scream and some cursing, the creature set off. Quiet returned to the clearing.
The woods now disgorged a weird procession. First the cheeses, then after a few moments the hounds, followed by the huntsmen. Baying filled the night air as the hounds got a clear sight of their quarry. Fear drove the cheeses faster. The hounds gained on them, and as they did, the cheeses' bleating became ever more mournful.
Then the first of the cheese-hounds struck. One of the smaller cheeses was trailing a few yards behind the rest. It was an easy target. In one leap, the hound landed its front paws on the cheese. Whimpering and bleating, the cheese struggled to get free, but it was no good. Its legs buckled, and it collapsed on the grass. The dog rolled the cheese onto its side with its snout and held it down firmly with his paws. Most of the other hounds raced after the other fleeing cheeses, but a few dogs paused long enough to worry the trapped cheese, growling threateningly. As they did so, the leader of the hunt arrived on his mount and clonked it mercilessly with his horn.
"Back to the chase, you lazy dairy-pugs!" he yelled. "Gherkin! Deal with this 'ere cheese!"
"Yes, Master!" replied a stubby rider close behind. He slowed his mount, stopped close to the cheese, and climbed down. Throwing a piece of dried bread to the ground to distract the hound, Gherkin put a boot on the cheese to keep it pinned down, then took some string from his pocket and tied it firmly to the cheese's ankle. Keeping a tight hold on the string, Gherkin climbed back onto his mount.
"Right. My boys, it's a gentle ride home for us," said Gherkin, stirring his mount back toward the town.
"It might be a gentle ride home for you, Gherkin, but it's a damnable long walk for us!" a muffled voice grunted from under the saddle. Still, off they set with the cheese in tow. The hunt was now in the distance, picking off the rest of the cheeses. Their mournful cries were replaced by a resigned silence.
Copyright © 2005 by Alan Snow
Chapter 3: From On High
Chapter 3: From On High
Arthur watched it all from his perch on top of the Cheese Hall. The procession drew closer to Ratbridge, and now he could make out most of the creatures involved. It slowly dawned on him what was happening. It was a cheese hunt!
He grabbed his doll from under his suit and raised it to his mouth.
"Grandfather! Grandfather! It's Arthur. Can you hear me?" There was a crackling and his grandfather replied.
"Yes, Arthur, I can hear you. What's happening?"
"I think I see a cheese hunt!"
There was a pause; then Grandfather spoke again. "Are you absolutely sure? Cheese hunting? Where are you?"
"I am sitting on top of the Cheese Hall. I am..." -- Arthur decided to gloss over earlier events -- "...having a break. I can see the whole thing. Riders and hounds chasing and catching cheeses."
"But they can't! It's cruel and it's illegal!" Grandfather sputtered. "Are you sure there are riders on horses?"
"Yes, Grandfather. Why?"
"Because all the cheese-hunting horses were sold off to the Glue Factory after the Great Cheese Crash."
"Well, they do seem to be riding horses...but there's something rather odd about them," Arthur told him.
"What is it?"
"They're very ungainly and somewhat oddly shaped. I can see that even from here. Who do you think is doing the hunting?"
"I am not sure," said Grandfather. "Where are they now?"
"They are approaching the West Gate."
"Well, they must be from the town then. If we could find out who was responsible, perhaps we could do something to put a stop to it. Do you think you could have a closer look without being seen?"
"Yes, I think so," Arthur said, starting to feel excited.
"Well, keep up on the roofs, and see if you can follow them." Grandfather paused. "But...be very careful!"
"Don't worry; I will be."
"And call me if you find out anything."
"All right. I'll speak to you later. And, Grandfather...I've got some bananas."
"Err...well...err...I rather like bananas...." Grandfather's voice trailed off.
Arthur put the doll away and wound his wings again. Here at last was a chance for some real adventure.
Copyright © 2005 by Alan Snow