Once upon a time there was a beautiful caterpillar named Ashley. As she crawled through the garden, munching on leaves and making her way, she came upon a toadstool. On the toadstool, she saw a garden gnome. His name was Phillip. Phillip looked down and saw Ashley and she looked up and saw him. Immediately, the two fell in love, but unfortunately Ashley, with her short stubby legs, couldn’t climb the toadstool to see Phillip and Phillip, like most garden gnomes, was glued to the mushroom and unable to move. So their love could amount to nothing. Devastated, Ashley crawled away.
Many days passed and Ashley became increasingly larger and more lethargic until one day she curled up and fell into a deep sleep. For weeks she remained in a comatose state, not moving, barely breathing. At last, one spring day her eyes opened. She stretched her legs, bursting from the crust that had formed around her. Blinking in the bright sunlight, she stood, turned and twisted and realized in her slumber she had sprouted wings. Elated, she allowed her wings to dry and then flew directly to the side of her beloved Phillip.
He sat, waiting for her on his toadstool. In the moments their eyes met again, their hearts beat as one and Ashley knew there was gnome one else for her and Phillip knew that she was for him. They bonded immediately and lived happily ever after…until winter came and Ashley froze.
Circle of life, right?
Unbeknownst to her true love, Ashley, prior to her death, had consumed a portion of Anna’s Incredible Edible Eggs, which gave her life, extended vitality and brought her to a nearly immortal state. Though all other butterflies met their demise with the onset of winter, Ashley found a hollow in a slab of granite and, as the last of the autumn leaves fell, forced herself into a deep hibernation. Days passed, seasons changed, until Ashley, somewhat weakened, emerged again into the open. Immediately she flew to her beloved Phillip, vowing to renew and rekindle the romance that had been seemingly snuffed out.
Unfortunately, Phillip was not to be found. “PHILLIP!” she cried, her heart breaking slowly. “Phillip, my one, my only true love, where have you gone?” But Phillip did not answer, because he was gone. Ashley nestled herself into a hollowed out stump and wept bitterly. “To what end have I preserved myself only to find the one creature, for whom my heart beat, has been taken from me?”
Little did Ashley know that Phillip, unable to defend himself and weakened by the devastating blow of Ashley’s presumed death, had been carried away by the evil beings of Friendship Meadows, perhaps the Badditudes. “I shall never love again,” he vowed. “Never again will I allow the compassion and caring and concern of another to enter into my soul. Never again will I open my heart to feeling. It mattereth not that I am stolen away, for what difference does it make if I am to spend the remainder of my days basking in the mountain meadows or here, caged away like an animal, if Ashley is not by my side?”
Ashley, rallying the last of her strength, used her wings to wipe away the last of her tears. “I shall have no peace until I have discovered the source that carried away my Phillip.”
Immediately Ashley flew to the lair of the pterodactyl ninja. “I need you to train me,” she announced.
“To what end?” asked the pterodactyl ninja.
“That I may defend myself against whatever force I encounter that has stolen my love!”
“Very well. I advise you to get some rest. We begin at dawn.”
“No!” commanded Ashley, “we begin immediately!”
“Very well,” said the pterodactyl ninja. “Your first task is agility.”
From out of nowhere, bubbles appeared. “Each bubble must be popped in turn. Only when you have met with success can you advance to the next task.”
For days on end, Ashley practiced her skills. Thrusting her arms forward as quickly as possible, she popped bubbles in turn. Over and over she practiced, working toward perfection, but without success. Finally, forcing herself to stay within her mind, she deprived herself of food, and sleep forcing all her energy into the task of not allowing even a single bubble to escape her notice. The very act that honed her skills also depleted her strength.
As her weakness spread, her mind began to wander and flashed back to her time as a caterpillar. Most difficult of all the memories was the first time she had seen Phillip and did nothing to try to reach him, allowing her stubby legs to hold her back. “Phillip,” she gasped, “I can’t fail you again.” Drawing upon the last of her strength, a thought reached her mind. With much effort, she climbed hand over hand finally reaching the source of the bubbles, the mythical pink duck. “I shall destroy youuuuu!” she decreed.
With six of her bare limbs, Ashley wrapped herself around the duck, squeezing and holding it until the duck drew its last breath and the bubbles belched forth no more. Slowly she relaxed her stiffened appendages only to realize one of her arms had been torn from its socket in the struggle against the duck. She paused only a moment to lament the loss of her limb and then, lacking extreme nourishment, she quickly consumed the duck, drawing on its energy. With renewed thoughts of Phillip she found the strength to move forward.
Returning to the main chamber of his lair, the pterodactyl ninja said, “At last you are ready. The only other aid I can offer you in your quest for Phillip is this weapon.” Pausing he held out a pink handled mace topped with the acid pink poisoned quills of the venomous porcupine. “Use it wisely, warrior,” he said.
Ashley grasped the weapon and stowed it in the sheath she carried on her belt. She looked around the lair that had, in the past months, become her home. “I’ll miss you pterodactyl ninja,” she whispered. “I don’t even know where to begin.”
“The only advice I can give you child, is follow the pink rabbit. He will take many detours and try many tricks to get you off his tail, but follow the pink rabbit.”
“But where shall I find him?”
“You must first locate the Barnabas Magic Caravan. Ask to take a job as one of the carnies. When you have been accepted, get close to the Bearded Lady and the Third Eye Blind. They alone can help you in your quest for the pink rabbit, Bishop Cottontail.”
“But what about Phillip?”
The ninja looked down. “Let us hope you can reach him in time!”
Ashley bid farewell to the pterodactyl ninja, accidentally catching him on the spines of her weapon as she hugged him goodbye. He dropped dead, almost immediately with the shriek of his call resonating against the stone walls as the last sound to fill her ears. There was no time for tears; each moment wasted could mean an unimaginable torture to Phillip’s tiny pink body.
Ashley left the lair and forced a huge boulder in front of the entrance, turning the lair into a mausoleum, the final resting place of her ninja master. Neither horses nor bicycles were to be had in the region, so Ashley mounted an over-sized flamingo and took to the air. The flamingo, well trained in the art of travel, flew quickly to the glen beneath the arctic glacier, the known winter home of the Barnabas Magic Caravan. Just as the graceful flamingo circled the basin in its final descent, the bird killer perched just outside the protected dell, cast a boulder which broke the long neck of the tropical pink bird.
Grasping and extending the wings of the lifeless bird, Ashley glided steadily toward the rapidly approaching ground. Landing forcefully, she tumbled head over heels scraping all five knees and elbows.
Fall had entered the atmosphere, soon to be followed by winter. Within weeks the tiny troupe would be locked in to the enclosed valley. The delay gave Ashley time to hone her fighting skills and to formulate a plan.
Within the month, from the shelter she and her new found friend, the cast iron chef, had built on the hillside, Ashley saw the caravan enter the narrow valley. The mountain range surrounding provided much needed protection from the icy blizzards of the season. Shortly after the last stake was driven into the solid earth and the final tent had been erected in the winter camp, night covered the valley. Ashley, followed by the chef, stealthily crept down from the mountainside. The only way to get close to them was to become one of them and the weeks of preparation had primed her well. Slipping through the pass, she went outside the valley to retrieve her secret weapon.
Ashley had, like any good predator, studied her prey. Though her intended target was a snarky creature, Ashley knew several things. First, the creature always grew weaker in the days just before hibernating in her underground den. Secondly, she relied heavily on her minions. And lastly, the BEAST was anything but nocturnal. For many, the face of the Beast alone was enough to petrify a would-be-attacker, but Ashley had trained with the pterodactyl ninja and was well skilled in the martial arts. By capturing the Beast’s minions first, Ashley would be able to disable the defenses of the Beast and thereby begin the process of taming her. Only by attempting the entrapment at night, days before the snowfall would she, with her limited prowess, be able to overpower the Beast.
Heaving herself into the heavy cast-iron kettle of the cast iron chef, she signaled to him to lower her down to the entrance of the den. It was he who had provided the necessities of life; water, food, and warmth. It was he who had helped to shape her Phillip into a gnome like gnome other, a gnome worth searching for and a gnome worth fighting for.
Slowly, hand over hand the chef lowered the oven. It’s thick, even metal walls would protect Ashley until the Beast drifted into a deep sleep. With an almost undetectable clank, the three short legs settled on the ground outside of the lair.
Ashley adjusted her position and waited. At last, she heard the slow, even breathing of the Beast, signifying to Ashley that the Beast had at last fallen asleep. Moving noiselessly through the undergrowth, she first captured and silenced the minions in burlap bags. Then she crept into the den. It was with much difficulty that Ashley secured thick chains to the surrounding walls, for the least amount of noise would wake the only animal wild enough that to tame her would earn Ashley a spot as a carnie.
Grasping the first of the iron restraints, Ashley crept toward the Beast. Suddenly there was the ear splitting scream. “Help me!” screeched the night-talker. “Ahhhhhh!.”
The eyes of the Beast flew open and with no time to react, the Beast pounced on Ashley pinning her to the ground. Caught in its powerful entrapment, Ashley’s mind was drawn to the only one who had ever defied the Beast; the Telepathic 25-Letter Alphabet Bow Hunter.
“Help me,” thought Ashley.
“I’m sowwy. “I’m twapped in the tent with a tewwible illness. It is a plague the likes of which this univewse has nevew seen.”
Ashley could feel the breath of the Beast, hot on her throat. In one gulp, Ashley could be devoured. With the Telepathic 25-Letter Alphabet Bow Hunter indisposed, Ashley was on her own. The nostrils of the beast oozed mucus as they passed over Ashley, the Beast sniffing her prey. Saliva dropped from an enormous pink tongue. Jaws opened wide and swept nearer. Ashley could see the uvula dangling at the back of the Beast’s throat. “Phillip. Oh my dear sweet Phillip. I’m so sorry. I tried. Please, oh please forgive me!”
Just as the jaws were about to close, the Telepathic 25-Letter Alphabet Bow Hunter appeared.
“Ashley, whewe awe you?”
“Follow the sound of my thoughts,” thought Ashley.
“I took some Pepto-Bismol and I feel bettew. I’m sowwy I was so dewayed.”
“I’m here. Hurry, before it’s too late.”
The Telepathic 25-Letter Alphabet Bow Hunter closed his eyes. Concentrating deeply, he loaded his bow with a dart laced with a sleeping agent. Drawing back the string, he took aim. Just as he was about to release the taught bowstring, a misguided spell from Harry Potter’s biggest fan struck him upside the head and he fell to the earth, overtaken by the cursed hex.
Once again, Ashley was on her own. Closing her eyes, she concentrated deeply. The reedy voice of the pterodactyl ninja came as though from the grave. “Only you have the power to defeat the beast.”
Immediately, Ashley knew what she had to do.
“Hey beast,” Ashley called out, “have you heard?”
“Kakaah,” answered the beast, which Ashley interpreted to mean, “heard what?”
“I thought everyone had heard.”
“Kakaah,” answered the beast again.
“B, B, B, bird, bird, bird is the word. B, B, B bird, bird, bird is the word.”
The Beast began to sing along, her lilting voice carrying beyond the den and into the world beyond. In her distracted state, Ashley was able to tether the beast and capture her once and for all. With the success of this feat, she would be able to join the caravan as a carnie; the butterfly who tamed the Beast.
With creature in tow, Ashley returned, dawn breaking, to the glen, just as the first snows of the season began to fall. Within moments, the pass became an impasse.
“I need to speak to Barnabas about a job,” Ashley said.
“No one speaks to Barnabas,” answered Third Eye Blind somewhat snarkily.
“Then who makes the decisions about the jobs?”
“I do. What do you have?”
“I will tame the Beast.”
“Let me see.”
“I’m not ready,” Ashley replied.
“Very well. Obviously you cannot cross the pass, so you have a job; cleaning up after the other carnies. If you can be ready by spring with your act, you may stay on as part of the show. If not, the Beast will have a fine meal of you; after all, we are an elite group.”
For the next months, Ashley spent her days working with the Beast and cleaning up after the other members of the troupe. Evenings were spent getting to know the other carnies. And at night, eyes closed, she spent her hours with Phillip, dreaming of happier times gone by and yet to come.
As the temperatures turned warmer and the accumulated snows began to melt, Ashley made a discovery. One night as she was cleaning up the shaving station of the Bearded Lady, she noticed the rug that sat in the center of the wagon was slightly ajar. Going to straighten it, she heard a hollow sound beneath.
Looking around to make certain that she was alone, Ashley lifted the lid to a trap door. Stepping inside, she lowered herself down the ladder and into a deep pit. Pausing to allow her eyes to adjust to the darkness, she saw a large pink rabbit.
Startled, he began hopping away. This was the cottontail the pterodactyl ninja had told her of. Quickly she gave chase as the rabbit scurried down a tunnel which branched off in multiple directions. At times she fell scraping herself on the jagged rocks over which she stumbled. Other times sharp formations gouged at her scalp as she rushed past them. Twice the rabbit nearly escaped, but finally he hopped into an opening where the darkness faded into light.
“Phillip!” she gasped, for there he was, sitting, staring skyward from his toadstool.
She smiled, “Of course.”
“I thought you were dead.”
Ashley stepped toward him. “No, my love. I ate some of Anna’s Incredible Edible Eggs.” She took another step.
“Please don’t come any closer. I have been inflicted with the plague of the Telepathic 25-Letter Alphabet Bowman. I fear you advancing would jeopardize your life.”
“But Phillip, I’ve come to be with you.”
Phillip cast his eyes downward. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered.
“Not as sorry as I” raged Ashley. “Have you any idea what I’ve gone through for you? I trained with a pterodactyl ninja, who met with his demise. I wrestled a bubble duck and lost a limb. I was nearly eaten by a Beast and for months I’ve lived with carnies. Who are you to me that I would suffer so much for so long and be met with only an ‘I’m sorry.’ You are not the gnome I fell in love with.”
Phillip tore off his head, “No,” he said, “I’m not.” From within the shell of Phillip emerged the Badditudes. “Your time has been wasted. You shall not see Phillip again.”
Ashley collapsed and sank to the floor, despair overwhelming her. Her body shook with sobs that seemed would never be exhausted. “Oh Phillip, I was too late. If only I had been faster to tame the Beast. If only I had been quicker to master my agility. If only…if only.”
At long last the room fell silent and then the light that had come from overhead, slowly faded and at last vanished.
“You have failed,” said the first Badditude.
Ashley drew her knees toward her chest.
“Did it never occur to you that if Phillip had truly loved you he would have sought you out? That he wouldn’t have believed your death came with the first frost?”
Scalding tears slipped from her eyes, but Ashley cried silently, unwilling to let the Badditudes see her emotion.
“What a tragedy that it should end this way; him banished and you, the great hero, cowering here in the darkness.”
A spark ignited within Ashley’s soul. Banished? Banished? Banished was not dead. Banished meant that despite those that now surrounded and taunted her, Phillip was still alive. Banished meant that hope had a chance to prevail.
Slowly, Ashley drew herself to her feet. In the darkness she felt for her pink quilled mace. “How dare you!” Her steady voice filled the dark space. “How dare you fiends stand in the way of true love. How dare you nourish despair. How dare you hide my Phillip from me. Nothing, including you, can stand in the way of destiny, of true love, of a lifetime with my soul mate!”
The Badditudes had no chance to respond. In a flash, Ashley swung her mace and dealt the final death blows, one on either side, slaying the Badditudes. With their casualty, the light slowly began to illuminate the cavernous space.
“Phhhhhhillllllllippppppp!” she bellowed. “Where are you?” Her voice echoed in the large space.
“Ashley?” it was barely above a whisper.
She turned and looked behind her. There, duct taped to the wall in various shades of white, pink, and gray duct tape was Phillip. “Oh, Phillip, what have they done to you?”
“My sweet. The life I have lived is now complete for I have at last again seen you with my own eyes. Even when the snow fell and the frost came and I could see you no more, I never lost hope that I would once again see your short pink tresses and taste of your rose colored lips.”
“Phillip, you musn’t speak this way. I’ve come for you because there is gnome one else for me.
“I understand my darling, but we will never escape with our lives. You saw what they did to Bishop Cottontail; they cut his eyes out. They changed my name to Barnabas in an attempt to hide me from you and they spared my life, but now that we are reunited, they will hunt us relentlessly.”
“No sweetheart. You musn’t lose hope. We’ve come this far. We must face the Bearded Lady and the Third Eye Blind, as well as, numerous wand wielding wizards, but all is not lost. I have tamed the Beast who listens to me alone and we have each other; we have it all.”
“For your courage I love you all the more, Ashley. Now help me down from this wall and together, hand in hand we will venture forth. Should we live or should we die, it matterth not, for we are together.”
“I love you Phillip.”
“My darling, what happened to your arm?”
“We have the rest of our lives for me to explain. Let’s get out of here so we can get the rest of our lives started.”
As Ashley helped Phillip from the wall, hope was restored and though the journey would be difficult, they knew that together they were un-defeat-able!