In the wild hills far beyond the edge of civilization, no one dared tread. Even the animals avoided the area, making it practically void of all life. This was not due to a terrible curse, a noxious swamp or even an evil witch. It was due to one lonely gremlin named Oswald.
Oswald had once been renowned among the other gremlins, but when he took it upon himself to kidnap a queen of the humans, they turned against him.
“Your foolishness will bring the wrath of the humans upon us,” they all said and cast him from their clan, forcing him to live alone as he slowly crept deeper and deeper into the madness that loneliness brought.
Every day, Oswald stared out the windows of his crumbling fortress, longing for someone to stumble upon him, but travelers rarely passed, knowing that the dangerous gremlin who kidnapped a queen lived there.
Oswald did have one friend, however: a friend with whom he shared all his secrets, a little wolf pup he named Gruffy. He had found Gruffy wandering the hills alone and injured. Unable to let the poor little critter continue to suffer alone, he took him in, nursed him back to health and gave him a wonderful home. He and Gruffy were inseparable, but Oswald wanted a friend with whom he could share a conversation or two.
“Gruffy!” Oswald leaped down the stairs two at a time. “Gruffy, I saw someone from the window.” He lifted Gruffy into his arms and scurried to a nearby window. “Where did she go?” He spotted a small figure running through the grass, toward his fortress. “There she is!”
Gruffy looked out the window and growled an adorable pup growl.
“No, she’s going to be our friend,” Oswald said. “You have to be nice to her.”
Together, they waited quietly in the shadows, listening. Finally, the door to his fortress creaked open as the girl entered. Her footsteps echoed throughout the fortress as she stumbled around, searching for something.
“Stay here,” Oswald said. “I’m going down to meet her.” He set Gruffy down on the floor and headed for the next set of stairs. Slowly, he descended them, but at the last step, he waited, listening just out of sight to make sure she wasn’t a violent or dangerous human who might hurt him or Gruffy.
“Any treasure over there, Flufferbutter?” the girl asked. “Yeah, I don’t see any either, and this place stinks. I don’t think I can stay here too long. When those people said bandits used to live here, I hoped they had left something good behind.”
Oswald peeked around the corner. The girl looked only about seventeen. She wore a long black cloak with a hood that kept her face in shadows. Beside her sat a very fat and very fluffy cat. The cat looked up at her and meowed.
“I know,” she said and pulled down her hood. “I really wanted to get him the best birthday present, but I guess I’m out of luck.” She pet Flufferbutter’s head, and Flufferbutter began to purr. “You know my sister already got him something brilliant, and then he’ll fall in love with her instead of me. I’m the one who should become queen. I have to make him fall in love with me.”
Oswald couldn’t hide his excitement any longer. He was about to make a friend, and from the sound of it, she needed a good ear to listen to her woes. If it was a good gift she wanted, he had tons of great things upstairs: broken swords, stones that kind of looked like faces and the best thing he’d ever found: an old ragged cape that had a cool design on it. He giggled and jumped around the corner to face her.
Upon seeing him, the girl let out a scream and jumped to her feet. Like a rabid beast, Flufferbutter leaped at his face. All Oswald saw were claws, fur and teeth. Flufferbutter gnashed on his face and scratched at his eyes. Even her luxurious fluffy fur tickled his nose, causing him to start sneezing uncontrollably.
“Stop it!” Oswald begged.
Flufferbutter did not stop.
“That’s enough, Flufferbutter,” the girl said.
With one last hiss, Flufferbutter released Oswald and jumped to the floor. She rubbed herself against the girl’s legs, purring once more.
“Who are you?” Oswald asked.
“My name is Angie, but the more interesting question is who are you?” Angie said. She circled around him, studying him without any hint of fear on her face. “You look quite familiar. I’ve never met a gremlin before, but I’ve seen your picture somewhere.”
“My name’s Oswald,” he said. “Have you come here to be my friend?”
Angie laughed and Flufferbutter swiped at Oswald. “No, I didn’t come here to be your friend, you little beast.” Suddenly, it dawned on her who he was. “I do know you. You’re the gremlin who kidnapped Queen Kalinda. How interesting to find you hiding here in this hovel. You know, you’re still being hunted. Queen Kalinda isn’t one to forgive and forget so easily.”
Oswald gasped and stepped away from her. “That was a misunderstanding,” he said. “I just wanted to know what humans were like, and the next thing I knew, I was taking her with me because all these soldiers were comming. I never meant to kidnap her, and I would never dream of hurting a human. I gave her back after only a few hours. Doesn’t that count for anything?”
Angie smirked. “I don’t really care anyway. I don’t like her at all. A good kidnapping or two could do her a lot of good. You’re lucky I’m not here looking for a present for her or else I’d bring her your head.” She tapped the sword she carried. “As it is, I am looking for something special for someone. Do you happen to have any treasure here? I’ll take it by force, if I have to.”
Oswald was ecstatic. “You don’t have to take any treasure of mine by force. That’s what friends are for.” He hurried back over toward the stairs. “Come, come.”
“You mean you actually have treasure?” Angie and Flufferbutter trotted behind him up the stone steps.
He glanced back at them and winked. “Yep, but I keep it upstairs.”
They hurried up hundreds of steps to the very top floor of his fortress. He led her down a hall to a large wooden door. Outside, he paused and looked back at her with an excited grin. Slowly, he pushed the doors open, and together, they entered the massive room.
“What do you think?” he asked. “Take anything you’d like.”
Piles of random stones were stacked from ceiling to floor. A few raggedy clothes lay in a pile in the corner. Burnt books and torn scrolls lay strewn about, and broken swords littered the floor.
“This is your treasure?” she asked. “This is a pile of garbage.”
“It’s not!” he said and started going through the items. “Look at this and this. This stuff is great.”
Angie droped down to the floor. Flufferbutter sat down beside her. “He’ll choose my sister for sure.”
Oswald wasn’t sure what to do. He slowly approached Angie and sat down beside her, placing a boney hand on her shoulder. “What’s wrong, Angie.”
Angie wiped at her eyes. “It’s Prince Banner. His birthday is in a few days. He said he’s interested in us both, and he pretty much implied that whoever gets him the best birthday present will become his queen. My sister got him a wonderful present already. I’m so far behind.”
Oswald frowned. He didn’t know much about matters of the heart, but he didn’t like the sound of this Prince Banner. Anyone who chose his bride based on a birthday present just seemed too cruel. Oswald watched her continue to cry, wishing something in his treasure room or something he could say would make her happy. Behind him, Gruffy whimpered, which gave him an idea. “I know!” He jumped to his feet and hurried to his faithful companion. He looked at Gruffy with a sad expression on his face and kissed him. “I have a wolf pup. Isn’t that a good gift?”
Angie looked up at Gruffy and smiled. “You have a wolf pup? That’s a perfect gift.” She began to take him from Oswald, but stopped and looked at Flufferbutter. “But he’s your pet, isn’t he? I couldn’t imagine giving away Flufferbutter. Are you sure?”
Oswald kissed Gruffy’s wet nose. “Yes, please. I’ll miss him, but he won’t miss me too much. Besides, I want you to get your prince.”
Angie took the pup and stared into his adorable little face. Gruffy, however, kept looking back at Oswald. “It’s a much better present than gold or jewels,” she said and handed him back to Oswald. “But I can’t. It’s not fair to you or Gruffy. I think you’re wrong that he wouldn’t miss you. He clearly loves you.”
Oswald held Gruffy close to his chest. “You really think so?”
“I do,” she said. “Besides, when Gruffy got big, he’d probably terrify Prince Banner.
“Are you sure?”
She nodded and stood, brushing the dirt off her dress. “Yes, thank you though.”
Oswald set Gruffy on the floor and also stood. “This prince of yours doesn’t sound very great.”
“Oh, he’s not. He’s very boring, but he’s going to be a king. Isn’t every girl supposed to want to marry a prince?”
Oswald shrugged. He had no idea what girls were supposed to want, but he knew that Angie didn’t seem the type to be happy with someone boring. He turned around and grabbed a cloak from his pile of clothes.
“Give this to him,” he said and held it out to her.
“He won’t want that.”
“Give it to him, and tell him of your grand adventure to come find him a gift. The story is his real present,” Oswald said.
She took the cloak and examined it. “But I don’t think he’ll like a story as a present.”
“If he doesn’t, then he’s not the right man for you, Angie, but someone will hear the story, and it will amaze them. They will see how brave and strong you are, and they will want the cloak because it’s part of your story.”
“Do you think that’s true?” she asked.
Oswald nodded. “I know it is, Angie. Don’t settle for him because he’s going to be a king. Have adventures, make friends and keep living. Eventually, someone will want to hear your story, and if not, who cares. You’ll be living for you.”
Angie leaned down and kissed Oswald on his bald head. “You’re a good little gremlin.”
“Thank you.” He blushed. “And good luck.”
“Come on, Flufferbutter. We should get home.” She began to head for the stairs, but stopped and looked back at Oswald. “I’ll be back to tell you how much Prince Banner hated this gift.” She laughed.
Oswald’s heart felt as if it might burst from his chest. “You’re going to come back and visit me?”
“Of course. We’re friends now, silly.” With one last smile, she trotted down the steps and disappeared.
Oswald scooped Gruffy into his arms and hugged him. Together, they watched Angie though the window as she raced toward the forest trail that led back home. He smiled, excited for the day she returned.
Image from flickr.com/adelegalazka/