Rascal and Beetle
A long time ago there lived a woodcutter with his wife and his two children, Rascal and Beetle. This peculiar nomenclature was a manifestation of the wicked sense of humor of the stepmother. Their actual names were Hansel and Gretel, but the stepmother used to chide the boy saying that he would grow up to be a rascal and castigate the girl by telling her that she looked like a beetle and no sane man would marry her. In fact the children had been exposed to these sobriquets for so long that they had forgotten their old names and responded to Rascal and Beetle.
The woodcutter was a good father who used to work hard in the morning and sing “Jiiingle bulls” in the evening in an inebriated state. The stepmother was considerably younger than the woodcutter and had married him only because she liked his home and lack of wits. But she hated the two trailers that accompanied the full film. She was desperate to get rid of them.
One night when the woodcutter had sung his lullaby and lay intoxicated, the stepmother approached the two sleeping children and said, Get up, lazy bones! We are going into the forest to fetch wood.” The children were surprised at the strange request but had the good sense of not arguing with her.
She gave each of them a little piece of bread, and said: "There is something for your midnight snack, but do not eat it up before then, for you will get nothing else.” She led them far into the forest, perambulating a path that was not familiar to the children. After walking six miles she asked the children to sleep and in an act repugnant in the eyes of humanity, left them to cater to the appetite of some wild beast.
* * *
It was Rascal who heard him first. A strange chant percolated his drowsy consciousness and he woke up. Rascal screamed as he saw the bushes tear apart and an ugly-looking gorilla charge towards him. Before he could react the gorilla was above him. But something was wrong: gorillas don't smell of polish and alcohol. It was then he realized that the gorilla was in fact a man with an overgrown beard. The man was sobbing and muttering something incomprehensible. Beetle had also woken up by now and by virtue of the idiosyncratic autocratic streak prevalent in every female shouted, “Please stop behaving like a child and be a man. And speak up, we can't hear you.” The man stopped sobbing and said in a hushed voice, “Aliens have landed. We are all doomed. I have seen them.”
Rascal asked in an excited tone, “No kidding? What do they look like?”
The man replied, “Oh those sods are ugly sons of guns. Let me tell you how it started. You see I was an industrious shoemaker minding my own business and being minded by my own wife. Well, I may not have been the best shoemaker in the business, but I earned enough to get my quotidian share of wine and buy my lady some fancy laces.
“One fine morning I woke up and, to my delight, saw that all my leather had been stitched into shoes. So I asked my lady whether it was my birthday and she called me an old drunken fool. So I knew that she has not stitched them.
“And then this became a routine. Every morning I woke up and found my leather transformed into shoes. Last night my wife ordered that we would stay awake and confront our benefactor. And mother of Mary Poppins, what do we see? Three naked men with pointed ears and pale bodies come and start working on my leather. One sight of them was enough for me to faint. When I woke up I saw my wife and the three freaks dancing and frolicking in ecstasy. My wife yelled to me, ‘Come honey. These are the most charming of gentlemen and they have a weird foot fetish.’ That is why they were...”
The man was sobbing unabashedly now. “That was the last I saw of her and the aliens.”
Rascal spat in disgust, “Those were not aliens, buddy. Your wife has fallen for the charms of three elves. All women are like that, buddy. Commitment is moribund.”
Rascal winced in pain as Beetle gave him a stinging slap and vituperated both of them: “Don't talk like a male chauvinist pig, Rascal. Well, shoemaker, you are a self-obsessed narcissistic old fool. You see two young adorable teens, hungry and lost in the forest and what do you do? Instead of inquiring about our welfare you go on haranguing about your problems. Shame on you. Do you know of any place where we can take harbor and get some food?”
The old shoemaker was stultified and replied, “Well yes. During my marathon across the forest I did see a palace. In fact I believe that we are not very far from it and it is within two miles of its vicinity.”
Rascal said, “Well lead us to the palace, old man.”
* * *
Now the kingdom was ruled by a paranoid queen who was also an overly possessive mother — a fatal combination. The prince had lived a cloistered existence with all his decisions being imposed by his mother. The queen wanted the prince to marry a real princess uncontaminated by the aura of the proletarian class. The prince did not care two hoots about the aristocratic blood in his wife; instead he wanted a girl who could play commando with him in his bathtub and sing rap like Eminem. The prince used to spend his days playing commando and pass his nights singing romantic rap soliloquies in honor of his would-be bride.
Though the prince was desperate to get a soul mate, the queen was adamant that he would marry a real princess. She had devised a foolproof test that used the concept of gravity in a 3-D space-time continuum, twenty-two mattresses and a solid green pea to measure the magnitude of the sensitivity of a princess. Till now no fair damsel had been able to detect the pea under the twenty-two mattresses. Members of the fairer species had arrived vying for the prince's heart but all of them had failed.
* * *
The trio reached the palace drenched in rain. Beetle knocked the imposing door. The prince had just stripped to his GI-Joe underwear in his bathtub, simulating his favorite commando game, when his manservant informed him that a new princess had taken up the challenge.
It was love at first sight for the prince. As soon as he saw Beetle engulfed by the purity of mud-water he knew that she was the woman with whom he would spend the rest of his life. He approached her and said, “No one has the right to so beautiful, o princess.”
Beetle blushed and replied, “Well that's because I apply yeast daily on my skin, sire. You know, Beauty and the Yeast go together.”
The queen had gone out, and the prince availed himself of the opportunity to talk to the three visitors. He was shocked to know that Beetle was a casual visitor and had no intention of taking up the dare. It took him three whole minutes to convince Beetle to take up the challenge. Eventually the prince was able to pander to Beetle's greed by promising her a new palace and twenty-two Britney Spears outfits.
Beetle was curious: “But what is this infallible test that you talk about, prince?”
The prince looked crestfallen, “Oh my lusteh.. I mean love, I am afraid I cannot betray my mother so explicitly. But I will tell you what. I will compose a poem that will implicitly tell you how to pass the test. I must warn you, though, that my poem will be profound and you will have to ponder it for hours before you can comprehend the meaning. If providence has brought you here in the absence of my mother, then rest assured that it will ensure whatever happens is for the best. Deal?”
* * *
The queen eyed Beetle like a hang- man/woman eying his/her victim. She then smiled at Beetle enchantingly. It was the smile a spider would give to a fly caught in its web before devouring it. “So you are a real princess are you?”
“As real as you are, my queen.”
“We shall soon see, my dear.”
The prince almost wept on seeing his work of genius. This time he had surpassed himself. Eminem would be so proud. He beckoned his manservant. The servant bowed obsequiously and enquired, “Will my prince have his dinner now?”
The prince brandished his arms dramatically, “No, Alladin. I am not hungry. Must be all those fingernails that I have chewed. But, my dear Alladin, the nails have not been sacrificed in vain. I have created my masterpiece. Don't you worry your plebian brain over what I say. Instead take this parchment and hand it to the princess who is in the test chamber. If she is as intelligent as she seems to be, and I hope that she is, she will become your new queen. Off with you, Alladin.”
Beetle opened the parchment and read the poem twice:
Roses are blue,
Violets are red,
What would it take,
To get you into the prince's bed?
You have to rise and see,
That your butt falls on a pea.
The next morning the queen asked Beetle how she slept with a smug smile.
Beetle smiled coquettishly at the prince and said, “Oh, very badly indeed. There was something very hard beneath my covers that kept poking me.”
The prince and Beetle were married and lived happily ever after. They had a son called Tom Thumb, but that's another story.
Copyright © 2005 by Bewildering Stories on behalf of the author