By Bosley Gravel (apologies to Charles Dodgson)
In the land of Nod . . .
Tweedledee threw three knives, one after the other; they sailed through the air, spinning in a blur of gray metal and brown leather.
Each knife buried itself into the trunk of an old sycamore tree with a satisfying thump. He nodded, pleased with the results, went to the tree, pulled out the knives, and went back to his mark.
It was a beautiful summer morning. In the trees, birds warbled nonsense to one another. A squirrel waited patiently for his tree back (he had a cache of nuts hidden in a hollowed out branch). Tweedledee always liked this time of year, the sun seemed to rise at just the right time as to balance light and temperature — a fleeting condition that only lasted for an unnamed season that bridged summer and spring.
He let the knives fly again, this time pausing a few seconds between each. When the last knife hit the wood, a voice behind him spoke.
“Nice throw, ‘Dee.”
Tweedledee turned to see Tweedledum grinning oafishly; two sacks were slung over his shoulder.
“Good morning, how are you doing?” Tweedledee said.
“Been digging, digging, digging,” Tweedledum said, and shook the bags with a rattle. “A dead man’s bones.”
“Which reminds me,” Tweedledee said. “How’s the love potion coming?”
“Just finished last night, the final ingredient is–” Tweedledum looked around, and lowered his voice to a whisper, and put his face next to Tweedledee’s ear: “The secret ingredient is the hearts of wild roses–” then even more softly, “–still beating.”
Tweedledee stepped back with a grimace, and turned to retrieve his knives from the tree.
“And of course, just pinch of the ground up gizzard of a spring pullet to thicken it all up,” Tweedledum said in his normal voice. “What is the scowl for?”
“One would think that a man who claims to have touched the philosopher’s stone would have discovered the mystical and ancient secret of good oral hygiene.”
Tweedledum breathed into his hand and sniffed.
“You’re smelling the bones,” Tweedledum said, digging in his pocket, until he produced a tiny vial of purple liquid.
“And yes, I have the potion,” he added. “But you can’t have it until you apologize.”
“For?” Tweedledee said while reaching for the vial.
“There is nothing wrong with my breath,” Tweedledum said, whipping his hand back and pocketing the potion.
“Instead, my amends will be to buy you a toothbrush for our birthday,” Tweedledee said. “It’s not the bones, unless you’ve been chewing them.”
Tweedledum’s cheeks and ears turned a muted crimson.
“I certainly have not been chewing them, don’t be absurd.”
Tweedledee let the three knives fly again, this time, to his dismay one bounced off the tree trunk and embedded itself in the dirt.
“You missed,” Tweedledum said. “Who is the potion for? Not that I should have to ask, love always ends the same for the groom: hen-pecked and far too many unexpected visits from the in-laws.”
“It’s for Lady Boo-Boo, and it certainly will not end that way,” Tweedledee said. “So hand it over.”
“What will you be paying with?”
“You’d charge your own brother? Your twin brother?”
“Even alchemists have to eat,” Tweedledum said.
Tweedledee looked at the sack of bones, but didn’t say anything.
“Bad choice of words,” Tweedledum said.
Tweedledee searched his pockets, and finally dug out an egg-shaped stone that fit nicely into his palm. He shook it gently next to his ear, and then carefully broke it in two, and held the halves by his fingertips. From the center of the stone, a two headed green snake rose up, tongue flickering, eyes like tiny blackberry drupelets in the creature’s heads. The heads turned in opposite directions.
“The Seeing Snake watches to the east and the west,” Tweedledee said. “If an enemy approaches it hisses in warning.”
“What if they come from the north or south?” Tweedledum asked.
“You’d need another snake.”
Tweedledum held out the vial, and Tweedledee carefully pushed Seeing Snake back into his stone egg and closed it tight. The exchange was made; Tweedledee held the vial up to the light.
“You are wondering, my boorish brother, how one uses it?” Tweedledum said.
“One drop on her tongue will make her blood boil in uncontrollable lust for the first man she sees.”
“I’d hardly call that a love potion, but it is an excellent substitute.”
“If it is broody you want, then two drops on her tongue will make her fall deeply and madly in love.”
“And, what pray tell, would three drops bring?”
Tweedledee laughed, shaking the bags of bones.
“Oh, you wouldn’t want to do that. I would say the results would be . . . undefined.”
Tweedledee put the love potion away, then retrieved his knives and after cleaning a bit of dirt off the misfire, he carefully wrapped them in thin leather.
“I must be off,” Tweedledum said, “these bones won’t render themselves, now will they?”
“Certainly not. And I, dear brother, I’m off to pay a visit to the lovely Lady Boo-Boo.”
Tweedledum grinned, showing suspiciously dark teeth, perhaps mussed with bits of bone and marrow.
And even more faintly, he strongly suspected, he could hear the off-key singing of the beautiful Lady Boo-Boo. As he walked further and further up the path, it became steeper and steeper. His suspicions were confirmed, he came around pile of boulders, rounded from a slow roll down the mountain.
Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Agreed to have a battle;
For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
Had spoiled his nice new rattle.
Just then flew down a monstrous crow,
As black as a tar-barrel;
Which frightened both the heroes so,
They quite forgot their quarrel.
“Hmmph,” Tweedledee said, and followed the singing until he came around another bend. She repeated the verse with more enthusiasm than euphony. Up through a series of trees, where the path became smaller and more lightly used, up to a hidden little alcove of rocks where a hot spring filled a basin. A pink dress and a towel hung over a tree branch. Tweedledee hid behind a tree and watched as the ginger-haired Lady Boo-Boo bathed in the steaming water. Soap suds covered her most interesting parts, to Tweedledee’s disappointment.
“I see you Tweedle-y-dee,” she said. “And I thought you were a gentleman.”
Tweedledee came out from the tree.
“Whatever gave you that impression?”
She continued washing, careful not to flatten the suds with the hot spring water; her song nothing more than a soft hum.
“I am smitten though, and when a man is smitten he does things he normally would not do. Remember that muggy midsummer’s eve? I brought you heat lightening in a crystal decanter.”
“You brought me a lightening bug in a mead jug,” Lady Boo-Boo said, and slipped under the water so just her head could be seen. “And when you promised me the stars wrapped in spider’s silk, it was only sand and darning thread. Now shoo, Tweedle-y-dee.”
“But,” Tweedledee said, not easily thwarted, “I’ve brought you sweet nectar of tangerine blossoms harvested by wild honeybees from the Otherwhere Underneath. Where the men walk upside down, and it snows in summer. They have man-sized jumping mice that keep their babies in a hide-pocket.”
“There is no such place, and no such thing. The world is flat as everyone knows,” Lady Boo-Boo said. “Over by my dress is a towel, get it please, and do stay away from my underthings.”
Tweedledee pulled out the vial.
“One drop,” he said, “is like eating a meadow of flowers, the gods themselves spread it on their toast.”
Lady Boo-Boo rolled her eyes in her peculiar way, as if she were glancing to the earth, and then to the sky. She batted her eyelashes and made a soft clucking noise.
“One drop on the tongue, or perhaps two,” he said.
She stuck out her tongue, a shade lighter than a fig, but retracted it just as quickly.
“What if it were poison?” she said.
“What if it was a potion … ” she continued.
“What if it was a potion that made me sleep, and then you took advantage of my state?”
“I’m cut to the quick, Boo-Boo, I would never resort to glamour.”
“Of course not.”
She closed her eyes, leaned back, so it appeared her face floated in the steaming spring water. The faint smell of minerals wafted in the air. While she rinsed soap from her hair. Tweedledee in a gesture of good servitude fetched her towel. He dog-grinned as the pink buds of her interesting bits became almost visible amongst the burble and the bubbles.
“Turn around, and leave the towel where I can reach it. No funny business, or I’ll call for my big brother.”
Tweedledee dropped the towel and turned around; he could hear the splish-splash of Lady Boo-Boo exiting the hot spring.
“Your big brother is off on a fool’s quest.”
“He owns seven-league boots and a silver horn that he puts on his ear. He can hear for a thousand miles. I’ll bet he’s listening now.”
Tweedledee was silent, and listened to the soft rubbing of the towel on her skin.
“He’d be here in a second, if I yelled,” she said. “–no looking until I’m dressed. I see you turning your head, trying to peek. Cover up your eyes.”
Tweedledee obliged, but he could see through his fingers that she had wrapped the towel round herself. She was short, almost ample, perhaps a little gaunt from a long winter of living off preserved meats and fruits. Somehow, she managed to get dressed without revealing anything but flash of her freckled thigh.
“To be honest,” she said as she combed her hair with a wide-tooth ivory comb, “I am a bit peckish, maybe just a little taste to hold me over until I get home.”
Tweedledee removed a throwing knife from the leather wrapping, polished the end clean with the leather, and poured a drop of the potion on the very tip, where it glistened. Lady Boo-Boo finished combing her hair, and wedged the comb into her thick curls, pinning them away from her eyes. She stuck out her tongue, tucked her hands under her armpits, and leaned forward. Tweedledee shook the drop off onto her tongue.
“Oh my,” Lady Boo-Boo said as her cheeks flushed. “There certainly is a tang to it,” she continued, “I do feel a bit of sudden heat.” She fanned herself with her hand. “A most peculiar heat, and it is so cool this time of year.”
Tweedledee met her eyes, capped the potion, then folded the knife into its leather sheath.
“My, oh my, I never noticed you are a very handsome man, Tweedle-y-dee, very handsome indeed.”
She dropped the towel she’d just folded up, and put her arms around Tweedledee’s neck and gave him a big wet kiss on the lips.
“Would you, dear brother, happen to have a cunning salve?”
“Whatever for?” he asked.
“Chaffing down below, if you catch my meaning,” Tweedledee said.
“So the potion worked then?”
“‘Worked’ would be an understatement.”
“Hold your ground, and I will return,” Tweedledum said, set his stirring paddle on the side of the pot, and went into the door of his cabin. He came back only minutes later with a little round tin with a lid. He handed it to Tweedledee.
Lady Boo-Boo’s voice carried across the air from somewhere between the trees.
“Oh, I really must apply this salve,” Tweedledee said. “Keep Lady Boo-Boo company, just for a minute?”
“Certainly,” Tweedledum said with a chuckle and an unnaturally suggestive wag of his eyebrows. Tweedledee opened the door to his cabin, slammed it, then loudly bolted it. Only seconds later Lady Boo-Boo broke through the trees.
“Tweedley-y-dee, oh there you are. That was a dirty trick, but I forgive you.”
She brought herself close enough to put her arms up around Tweedledum’s neck.
“Something strange, I think … ” she said. “But I can’t help but forgive you … something very strange.”
“What dirty trick? What manner of dirty?” Tweedledum wagged his eyebrows again.
“The first taste of the honey brought a fever to my blood.”
“But now, after the second taste—”
“The second taste?”
“–you said to me, ‘Lady Boo-Boo, close your eyes and stick out your tongue and I will give you a surprise, don’t open them until I tell you.’, naturally I thought it might be something a little more substantial due to our . . . well, you know, our recent understanding, but it was just another taste of that honey. Then I waited and waited for you say ‘Open your eyes Lady Boo-Boo.’ but you never did, and when I finally looked, you were gone. But I found you now. And that fever has passed–I just feel–oh do you want children? I’d like less than fifteen, my mother had twenty, but I felt that was a little much.”
“I am Tweedledum. Tweedledum! You are looking for Tweedledee. He’s in there,” Tweedledum used his thumb to point over his shoulder. Then pulled down his shirt to show a tattoo just over his left breast. ‘Dum’ it said in baroque runes.
“Oh,” Lady Boo-Boo said and wrinkled up her nose. “All the better really. Tweedledee and I, we had our fun, but now, I’m really ready for something a little more … stable.”
Tweedledum gently took Lady Boo-Boo’s arms off his neck; he was certain he could hear Tweedledee snickering from behind the door of his cabin.
“But … but,” Tweedledum said.
“It’s really settled,” Lady Boo-Boo said. “I’ll start looking for a new dress this very day.”
“I won’t be getting married in this old thing. We’ll need rings. I don’t mind a simple gold band for you, but I really must insist on diamonds in mine.”
“Marriage?!” howled Tweedledum — more snickering from Tweedledee’s cabin. “But — but–”
“You’ll have to brush those teeth. What do bachelors eat? Don’t answer that, home cooked meals from now on. Mainly vegetarian is best, meat on special occasions only.”
Tweedledum followed the instinct of many a man before him.
“Look!” he said, and pointed to the woods, “What it the world is that?” And when Lady Boo-Boo turned to look, he ran off to his cabin, shut the door very quickly and engaged the lock.
Below, lit by foxfire, and glowing mushrooms that sprouted from the walls, were racks of wine, wheels of cheese and cobwebbed covered canning jars of Tweedledum’s special preserves, but none of this was what he was interested in.
He could easily stand once he was inside, and he made his way past the shelves into the long hallway that joined Tweedledee’s cellar. Minutes later he popped his head up into Tweedledee’s house.
Tweedledee was bent over, peeping through a crack in the log walls, and without a word Tweedledum joined him. Outside Lady Boo-Boo was knocking on Tweedledum’s door with her little fist, not much bigger than an apple, and almost as red.
“Another fine mess you’ve gotten us into,” Tweedledee said.
“You made the potion.”
“Yes, but, you gave it to her … twice.”
Through the chink they saw Lady Boo-Boo abandon her efforts on Tweedledum’s door and came to Tweedledee’s and started pounding.
“Open up in there!” she yelled. “I know you’re in there.”
“We’ll split the difference,” Tweedledee said, “We’ll both marry her, I’ll support her wifely needs in the bedroom, and you, of course, can support the children.”
Tweedledum pinched his brother on the arm; Tweedledee yelped like dog. They both stood, Tweedledee rubbing his arm, Tweedledum scowling.
“Only one thing to do,” Tweedledum said, after a wrinkled forehead, and several seconds of thought.
“Run away to Otherwhere Underneath? Become sailors?”
“A third drop,” Tweedledum said.
“You said the results would be undefined,” Tweedledee said.
“They are, but could it get any worse?”
“Oh yes, I’m not sure how, but I think it could.”
“I’m calling for my big brother!” Lady Boo-Boo yelled, and then howled out her brother’s name.
“Let her in,” Tweedledum said. “We’ll give her the last drop.”
Tweedledee groaned and opened up the door.
“Lady Boo-Boo,” he said with a bow, “welcome to my simple home.”
She pushed by him with a snort.
“You had your chance, Tweedle-y-dee. Now Tweedle-y-dum, why did you run away?”
“I–I … was looking for a present for you!”
“Oh? I should hope so, my big brother is coming, seven leagues in each step.”
He searched his pockets, found the Seeing Snake in his egg-shaped rock.
“Yes, yes — Tweedledee, dear brother, where ever are you going?” Tweedledum said.
Tweedledee stopped as he was slipping out the door; his grin collapsing from clever to something almost equine.
“Checking on your rendering pot … ”
“–you see,” Tweedledum said, opening the egg to reveal the two-headed snake. It rose up and started hissing and striking at Lady Boo-Boo, “You see, it’s a, umm, a magic snake, it finds the most beautiful woman in the world, it and, umm, of courses hisses, and tries to bite her.”
Tweedledum handed it to her, and she held it in her palm for a moment watched it, a dissatisfied sneer hanging on the corner of her mouth.
“I don’t like it, it smells of a slue,” she said finally, and handed it back.
“Perhaps you’d like another taste of nectar then?” Tweedledee said, unconvincingly.
She wrinkled her nose.
“Perhaps,” she said. “But this time I’m going to keep my eyes open.”
Tweedledum tried to get Seeing Snake back in the egg as Tweedledee trembled ever so slightly as he put the third drop of the potion on the tip of his knife.
“Here you go then,” he said, and held it out, the purple droplet seemed to hang on the tip forever, and Lady Boo-Boo’s little fig colored tongue was poking out . . . the drop seemed to fall for an eternity, and finally it met her tongue and was absorbed. She smacked her lips.
Tweedledum still fumbled with the Seeing Snake, it was now crawling up his arm, slithering up around his shoulders.
“How do you feel?” Tweedledee asked.
She considered, “I feel, I feel–” she hiccuped, and then belched in a most unladylike baritone. “I feel–”
“Yes?” Tweedledee and Tweedledum said in a hopeful unison.
Tweedledee was now trying to catch the Seeing Snake in his cupped hands as it slithered down Tweedledum’s back, but it moved too quickly and in a moment of panic flung itself to the floor.
“I feel like–”
Her flesh seemed to be twisting and writhing on bones as she shrunk. The soft bits of flesh became leather, and then finally separated into delicate feathery constructs as she became smaller and smaller. Her pink dress went up in a puff of sparkles and dust. Finally, after some amazing contortions, she stood, not a foot off the ground.
The Seeing Snake rose up on its tail and hissed, one head staring at the hen, the other out the front door.
The hen looked up to the brothers, scolding them with a natter of clucks and cackles.
Outside a man bounded into the clearing, landing quite close to the pot of stewing bones. He knelt and pulled tight the laces of his boots.
“Sister Boo-Boo!” he bellowed.
The hen continued her chiding, but now made her way to where the Seeing Snake stood. She scratched at the floor, pecked one of the snakes heads, then the other, beating it down, gruesomely tearing the raw pink flesh.
“By all that is dear,” Tweedledee said, as the hen pecked again this time taking away one head’s eye, then grabbed the snake by the end of the tail, tossed it up into the air and choked it down. She voiced a satisfied cluck, cluck, cluck, cluckawwwk!
The brothers stood eyes wide, aghast. All that remained of Seeing Snake was a smear of blood and a few scales, which the hen finished off with a bob of her head.
“What did I say?” Tweedledum said calmly. “That’s how it always ends, now isn’t it?”
“No time for I told you so, her brother will be asking a lot of uncomfortable questions, I’m afraid.”
“Then we’ll distract him with our hospitably, and have him stay for supper.”
The man sniffed the pot of boiling bones, then swept the area with his eyes, finally he saw Tweedledee and Tweedledum. The hen flapped her wings and looked to brothers, and then to the man approaching.
“And what will we serve? Bones and fat from your pot? I won’t even eat that.”
“No,” Tweedledum said, “I was thinking of a chicken dinner.”
The hen scratched at the floor, looked at them with bright eyes, and scolded them for the very idea.
Bosley Gravel, eclectic hack writer, was born in the Midwest, and came of age in Texas and southern New Mexico. He writes in a variety of genres. His fiction focuses on the absurdly tragic, and the tragically absurd. He likes good black coffee, nightmares, Billie Holiday, and that hour just before the sun comes up. Coming soon: his debut literary novel “The Movie” from BeWrite Books (for pre-Christmas Release).