Sand Castle Lands 5
Volume 3 . . .  Number 5
From The Gronicus Press and WWW --- Publishing Fantasy for over 30 years

January 15, 2000 Copyright c Robert J. White

Alchandra -- The Painted Camel
by Jason "Grey" Redbeard

"Oh No! Not another one. Damn those kids anyway. Okay! You there -- with that "amused" look on your face. Don't stare at me "that" way. . .  So how would you like a cold -- sticky, marshmallow-fluff ice cream sliding down your backside?" No, you wouldn't huh!  I didnít think so. . .

"I know. Sure, it's my own fault for being in the business, so to speak. But I tell you -- once I tried to get out, almost made it too. Really! I did. But you're too young to remember the story. I was famous too -- for a while at least."

Hey! Have you ever watched the merry-go-round and wondered what it would be like if all the animals -- the tigers, the lions, the dragons and horses and sure -- the painted camels like me -- I ask you what would it be like if they all got off one day?"

"Couldn't happen! Okay then, what if just one of them got off, for a while?"  But you don't think that could happen either."

"You want the story huh! I thought maybe you would. Okay, pull up a flying horse and we'll give it a go."

"You see, right from the start I liked the kid. He was something special. Quiet, gentle, and he rode only me. That's right, only me, Alchandra -- the painted Arabian camel. He didn't jump around, fickle-like from one mount to the next. And, then, after a while, he talked to me, told me all about himself. It wasn't long before we were good friends. Tadwas his name, an orphan living with a drunken uncle and a worn out aunt. Parents both killed in a car accident. There was once a brother too, sad story -- disappeared one day. He was only twelve or so -- just went to school and never came back.. Tadloved him too, missed him like you wouldn't believe. Well, I'm getting away from the story.

 Tad came every day, snuck out of the tenements and walked across town to the park. It got so I waited for him and was nervous until he got here. And then it was the two of us. Together we galloped off around the world, battling dragons, chasing tigers in Africa; you name it, we did it. It was us, me Alchandra and his knight-errant Tad. And suddenly some things werenít important anymore -- the squealing brats who kicked my ribs and dribbled ice cream down my sides. I could bear them as I waited for Tad-- that smiling face bobbing among the crowd, skipping, jogging down the way straight toward me. And when the merry-go-round came to a stop, he paid his dime and climbed swiftly aboard. And off we went with that band of cantankerous dragons, lions and wooly bears pursuing us through the sticky summer air.

 There were days when we slowed down and rode the range, far out on some lonesome prairie, and then stood silently watching the sun go down. Then it was time for him to leave -- it was a sad moment for him, for me too.

 Oh! that first summer was grand. But then the cold weather began -- that chill wind seemed to usher in an evil demon of sorts. Tadcame late one day, almost too late. Riders were few and the workmen were ready to close up. Tadcame slowly, silently and climbed aboard. Wearily his arms wrapped around me and the trickle of a tear ran down my neck. He didn't have to tell me. That brute of a drunken uncle had beaten up on him again. So the workmen closed the place, didn't see the boy, and we were left alone. Just a painted camel and a little boy worn out from life, hiding on a run down merry-go-round, at the edge of nowhere. Tadcried himself to sleep. It was cold that night and I tried to protect the kid, but by morning he was coughing. He awoke stiffly and slid off, patting my head with a fond "See you later my friend."

 He was back in the afternoon to slide up onto my back and we rode, quietly. I picked the gentlest paths through winding green hills and soft, wooded valleys. Then he dismounted, coughing. He patted me goodbye and walked silently away. As the days passed the kid grew thinner and more gaunt, and his cough seemed a little worse.

 With tearful eyes I watched his frail little body struggling through the crowd to reach me. Gone was the jaunty bounce, the smiling face. Why didn't they get him some decent clothing? Its cold out there.

 Then one afternoon Tad didnít show up at all. And I knew things were bad. I grew desperate, watching the crowd and every face. But he didn't come that day nor the next. And I knew there was only one thing to do. I just couldn't help myself. Sure, I knew it was against the rules. Yeah! I know what price the Omnipotent Master, Ruler of the Seven Universes, would extract from my hide, but it had to be done.

 I twisted and squirmed for two days at those rusty nuts and bolts before they finally gave way, and I was free. Do you know what its like to get off of a moving merry-go-round. So I marched by the lions, the tigers and dragons. Man! Were they ever mad at me! But I made it. Then I was moving across the floor, past the yelling children and screaming parents and out through the park. So far so good.

 In the distance there was the scream of sirens and I knew the law was coming after me. There I stood, a painted wooden camel in the middle of the park, not knowing which way was out. So I ran, I just picked a direction and ran. In a short while I came to a road and there was a housing project. That was no good, too many people. So back into the thicket I went.

 The sirens grew louder and suddenly whined to a halt. I knew they'd be coming for me soon. Paste started to rise in my throat. I could see them with their nets and ropes, police with drawn magnums. It was enough to curdle my paint. So I galloped down another path which took me to the beach on the bay. And I never learTad.to swim. Well, how could I? I''ve spent so much time chasing myself in circles I didn't have time. But this wasn't the place or the time  to worry about that. I could hear voices getting louder and the sound of a crowd moving toward me. Down to the beach and along the water's edge I ran. Out of the woods lumbered a swarthy, bald-headed tough with a club, then another and another.

  "There he is guys! Bring the nets, I think we got him."

 I put on some speed and made it around the bend, leaving that bunch benind. The shore-line looked clear and I charged into a gallop. Now there was hope. The beach stretched out and there was no one in sight; cool air rushed past. Greedily I gulped it in. I was feeling great then, until a boat pulled up alongside and their siren went into high agitation. And too, others were on the beach in back of me now, pounding in hot pursuit. I rounded another bend, and there, waiting on the beach was a squad car, its flashing lights strobing my eyes -- two guys standing near-by with raised shotguns. You bet I came to a screeching halt, dead in my tracks. With the crowd to the rear, the cops in front and a patrol boat to my left, what was I to do? Without hesitation I plunged down an embankment and came to the railroad line, with tracks going off into the distance.

 It was beginning to dawn on my that no matter how many maneuvers I made there was just no sanctuary for a camel on the run. There was no way that I'd be able to reach Tad before being caught. And then I'd be back on that merry-go-round. . . or worse... At this point the water in the bay was beginning to look good. But I was niver a quitter and vowed to keep moving as long as I could.

 With a lurch, I was off and moving down the tracks, moving always moving in the direction of Tad's home. Then, suddenly, I don't know how it happeTad.I saw a lone figure moving slowly down the tracks and I knew just by the way that he moved who it was.

 "Tad! Is that you?"

 "Camel! Come on. Follow me, there isn't much time."

 We moved down a side track, the kid really knew the territory. We stopped at an old, abandoned freight car. Tad slid back the door with my help, and in I went.

 "Hide here. I'll be right back."

 I held my breath. the voices got louder and then receeded into the distance. I could hear footsteps running. Next the door creaked slowly open and I looked down on the kid.

 "Come on out," he said.

 So me with the kid on my back started down a trail through the woods. It felt great to have someone who really cared, nestled close. I mean someone who really needed me, me, a painted wooden camel, accepted and loved by a real person, and a great one at that.

 Suddenly a thought dawned. Now what happens when they catch me? They'll hold Tad as an accomplice or even worse accuse him of stealing a painted camel from the merry-go-round. So I stopped dead and said. "Look buddy! This isn't going to work. We can't keep running forever. Don't you know the world isn't ready to accept a wooden camel as real. It just wouldn't be normal, you know what I mean?"

 The kid just looked up at me with a sad-happy expression and said, "I believe in you camel. We can beat em."

 And I knew in my heart that he meant it but I'd dreamt this scene too many times. Even before I broke loose I knew it wouldn't work. Sure!  was worth a try thought. Now there was only Tad to worry about. What happed to me didn't matter at all; I had to find a way to help the kid.

 "I'm getting cold camel." A slow smile spread across his face. "Let's get away from this cold place -- to the warm lands."

 I looked into that sad-beautiful face of my friend and companion and many tears flooded my wooden eyes. Then a roar of great strength came out of some whirlwind within me and filled my chest to near bursting -- and I knew that there was no power in the Universe that could stop us.

 "Hold tight!" I said, gathering up the boy just as the surging crowd roared up the trail toward us. I reared up on two legs and then galloping down the trail past the crowd of gaping people, back down the beach and we leaped boldly over the squad car, tumbling two armed cops in the sand. Heels kicking, braying, we dove toward the shore and Tad laughed deleriously all the way.

 "Stop him! He's got a kid on his back!"

 So I prayed to that power lying deep in my grain - promised anything - gave up everything -- forever,  for that short burst of freedom. With a groan and a leap, we were up, soaring straight into the sky, leaving sirens, and blinkers, crowds and screaming infants far to our rear.

 How I shuddered with joy as the air screamed on by and Tad was laughing and holding on tight. We were free."

 "I told you friend camel!" he said, "We could beat em!"
And we did.

 Then we danced on the cloud tops. I snorted while he sang and his body seemed to glow with a sheath of radiant light.

 We cloud-pranced down on to the warmer climes and stopped for a rest on an island or two, maybe three. And me and Tad swam in the warm ocean streams and we both wanted this journey never to end. But it did."

 We chased golden dragons on zephyrs beyond rainbows-end, and rescued a damsel or two. Then we fought in the great war -- with trollkings and elves, and -- distinguished, as heroes, marched proudly towards home -- with only a side trip or two for the pleasure of routing a pirate or more.

 With the purple-twilight we came to ďhisĒ island and there I glided in for a perfect touch-down at the pathway to his home. They were standing there to meet him, at the door of the cottage, his mother and dad, the lost ones, the real ones, smiling. With outstretched arms they gathered him in, as I stood beaming and switching my tail.

 Though they begged me to stay, I knew it wouldn't do. That was not in the bargain I'd made with the powers that be.

 "Goodbye amigo!" I whispered.
 "Please don't, please don't go," he begged.

 Then struggling for composure, with dignity I stared him straight on. "I'm off to the wars lad. I'll be back here one day."

 "Promise?" he begged.

 "Promise," I replied.

 Gathering speed I lifted and flew toward the tree-tops to circle the harbor before my flight back. Below on the shore-line he ran, just a skinny kid with knobby knees, waving and leaping, throwing his love with great armfuls up to me, just a glow of light receeding, a sparkling emerald glinting from happy sands, a twinkle, blink, and he was gone.

 Next morning they found me floating in the bay, fished me out, rushed me to a laboratory, bored holes in me, through me, X-rays, cut me in sections - then smaller pieces and finally glued the whole me back together, well almost the whole of me, cept for the samples they kept. It didn't hurt a bit -- not much anyway.

 Then I was back doing business at the same old stand, and I didn't mind a bit when those brats kicked me in the ribs or dropped ice cream down my backside. You see I'd found it, that special kind of love that grows between two, that once in a lifetime magic that makes you more than yourself, that gives you a power to go it all the way.

 Oh yeah! The Great Omnipotent Master paid me a visit, in person of course. And He, I mean She, never can get that part clear. We'll ... I'd best leave that story alone. Ugh! A thousand years infection by termites and no leave for another thousand. And . . . Well, anyway, it was worth it.  .  .   .

 And besides, I think I've found a loophole in my contract -- you can't break a promise to a friend, you know. Thatís the rule. . .
 

    Alchandra -- from the ancient forests of Arabia.


Go to next: Time Enough For All: Prelude