Rupert's Story by Lilian Hall
Rupert was very bold to be so grumpy and judgemental. He lived under a bridge in the damp depths of the Forgotten Woods which one might think would accompany a degree of humility, but not for Rupert. When the sparse passersby dare walk anywhere near his slimy home, he found a sort of glee in shaking his fist and banishing them from the area. He sat today on stone steps beside his bridge and prepared himself for a day of solitaire and glaring. He had made himself soup last night and this morning he slurped the leftovers from a blue mug emblazoned ‘I went to Stjarnagaard and all I got was this lousy mug’. He had in fact not gone to Stjarnagaard; the mug was a gift from a long-gone friend. He grasped it in his three fingered hand and savoured the radiating warmth of the broth. The birds of the forest sang a melancholy song this morning, their calls floated between the matted forest canopy, reaching Rupert and consoling his not-being-asleep-anymore headache.
Surveying his mossy surroundings, Rupert locked his focus on a slice of sunlight across a small clearing where blanketed in the buttery light, was a ring of mushrooms that shone silver and blue.Rupert was almost drooling as he thought about the soup he would make with that fungi. He would have collected them right away but why would he do that when he could do it later. Upon the mossy steps, Rupert lay his cards. One at a time, he was in no hurry.
For 40 years, Rupert had been in no hurry. His days are almost identical except sometimes it rained and once a year on the coldest day sometimes it snowed. Where many struggle in monotony, Rupert seemed to thrive. He enjoyed the peace of the same sameness every day and as such, he very rarely travelled beyond a 3-metre radius from his home.
This peace is about to be disturbed. Half a minute later, Rupert had begun his game and was revelling in the good hand he had dealt himself when a boy hurtled across the clearing. He was panicked and his massive ears flapped behind him as he sprinted. His legs made up about three-quarters of his body and his nose reached down to his chin. Grasses and moss and flowers coated the earth of the Forgotten Woods and the boy’s flagrant disregard for where he placed the considerable length of his feet, revealed him to be an outsider.
Rupert’s eye twitched, his nostrils flared and his chest inflated as he prepared to howl obscenities, but before he could release this belligerence the boy breathlessly shrieked: “EVACUATION EVACUATION EVACUATION EVACUATION EVACuation ev-ac-u-ay-tion”, then promptly collapsed.
Rupert stood and approached the boy who rolled over and sighed out another ‘evacuation’.
At 4 feet tall Rupert very rarely towered over anyone so he took this opportunity to appear as intimidating and assertive as possible. ‘Listen here son, you are not welcome here. Take your enormous floppy feet and go far away.’ The boy propped himself up, his height sitting was almost exact to Rupert’s height while standing. ‘Sir, you dont understand!’, he had regained some of his initial fervent.
‘Go away’ Rupert spat, and as he turned back the boy reached out to grab him.
Rupert scrunched his face and tensed every muscle in his body. The boy recoiled, full of regret and braced himself for the onslaught of physical or verbal violence, but Rupert simply shook him off and resumed his storming away. Maybe the boy wasn’t frightened enough the first time, or maybe he was just stupid because he went for a second poke.
‘You poke me once boy, and I blame your youthful ignorance. You poke me twice and you will face my fiery wrath.’
‘GO AWAY FROM ME NOW.’
Rupert was red in the face and also red in the neck and red in clenched fists and under his woven clothes, he was red all the way to his hairy, balled-up toes. The boy watched as Rupert’s temper boiled and he didn’t enjoy the way the half-troll was glaring at him and decided his best course of action was to run away very fast. Which he did
while Rupert heaved grumpily in his direction.
‘These youths’, Rupert slammed the door-esque contraption that separates the remarkably similar inside and outside parts of his home and dropped his mug down on the slimy piece of timber that served as his dining table.
‘Sorry’, he nodded at the mug, seemingly apologetic at putting it down so forcefully.
‘A troll can’t even sit in his own forest without being bothered by youths and crazies, and today it was both and all wrapped into one.’
The mug didn’t reply.
‘This kid had the AUDACITY to poke me once and then, get this’ he gestured to his inanimate friend, ‘he poked me TWICE. You see mad people all the time in this pocket of the world, a walk this deep in the whispering woods is enough to drive anyone crazy.’
Rupert was chopping vegetables with the ferocity of a much larger creature, ‘but this child was out of sorts with his poking and his blabbering on emergencies and evacuations and the like’.
Rupert raged on like this for at least another 15 minutes, this was until he remembered the mushrooms from earlier, and then everything was all okay again. Rupert didn’t think anything of the boy or his crazy evacuation talk and calmly collected the mushrooms into a brown paper bag that had been so crinkled it felt like fabric. He whistled a tune and imagined himself choosing spices off the shelf and how he would shake a little bit of cardamon, and he’d add a pinch of chilli and how he would play solitaire as the soup simmered and how he
would be warm by the stove. This comforting image was rudely and suddenly interrupted by a loud crack of thunder and a flash in the sky. The clouds opened and where there used to be uninterrupted blue, the sky was now dominated by an overwhelming grey mass Rupert looked back to his solitaire cards, they were slightly beyond the extension of his
shelter and he sprinted as fast as he could on his stumpy legs to rescue them. He was soaked to the bone by the time he collected all 52 and returned them to their red tin.
Another loud crack and Rupert jumped back. Contradictory to his literal thick skin, Rupert was quite afraid of thunder. The sky was deepening and the landscape was becoming increasingly awash in a peculiar purple hue. Rupert squinted into the trees, experiencing a lingering concern for the boy who had run in that direction. He was busy replacing those caring feelings with more belligerence and didn’t notice the shadow that emerged from
behind the trees.
‘RUPERT,’ the voice called.
Rupert jumped again.
‘Ugh’ thought Rupert as he realised that the boy was back.
But when he turned he was greeted not by a young boy but an old woman. Her face was entirely wrinkled and her white hair lay wet and swirled against her cheeks.
‘Oh hullo Sal.’
‘Rupert.’ She nodded. ‘I thought you might still be here.’
‘Of course, I’m still here I’m always still here this is where I live Sal.’
Sal rolled her eyes and chided, ‘Were you dreadfully mean to that poor boy?’
‘What! I wasn’t mean! He was crazy and rude!’
‘Crazy and rude like the postie that delivered my birthday card to you?’
Rupert went quiet, Sal might be right about that one.
‘This child was crazy, really crazy, all wild in the eyes like going on about some evacuation. And you know how the city kids get around these parts Sal, he probably ate the wrong mushroom or something.’
‘You’re the crazy one Ru.’
‘I’ve told you to not call me that.’ They were both standing in the rain now, Rupert looked at his feet and Sal looked at Rupert.
‘I’m sorry Rupert.’
‘He was right though, the child. You have to leave, everyone does.’
‘What mushrooms have you been eating?’ he replied with a smirk.
‘I have very little fondness for mushrooms nor your stubbornness’, Sal didn’t share his humour.
‘I’m not being stubborn.’
‘Look up Rupert! Can’t you see it is already not right! If you want to live you have to leave’.
It was true, in just the time of this conversation, the sky had descended from an unusual shade of mauve to now a very deep purple. The purple of royalty. He seemed to only then realise that he was sopping wet and standing ankle-deep in mud.
‘Come inside Sal and please explain whatever codswallop you are yelling about.’
Sal exasperatedly obliged Rupert’s invitation.
Rupert found his guest a towel and lit a fire for the kettle, only once these tasks were
completed would he accept Sal’s explanation.
‘The boy was a messenger from town’ Sal began, they were sitting on either side of Rupert’s
‘dining table’. ‘If you hadn’t had frightened him away he would have told you of an Ahoy-wide
evacuation’. Rupert opened his mouth to argue this senselessness but Sal’s glare shut him
up. ‘The sky has turned this shade only once before, in a fight between the warlock Zathar
and ancient dragon, it stormed for days and Ahoy almost crumbled’
‘How are you so sure’
‘How old do you think I am?’
Rupert squinted at Sal, he didn’t know her age but definitely knew that he was in a trap.
‘Eigh-fift-sixteeeee-sev-exti-’ he gulped. Sal never broke eye contact.
A smirk from Sal and Rupert was released.
‘I’m very old, I remember last time and I remember the tragedy’
‘I simply just cant go’
‘You have to’
‘I just won’t’
‘I dont want to’
‘This is my home’
‘Because this is where I stopped moving around and stayed still- and stop asking why!’
‘Why won’t you leave?’ Sal repeated and then added a tentative ‘…Ru’
‘OUT OF MY HOUSE – WHY WON’T ANYONE JUST LEAVE ME ALONE – AND DONT CALL ME THAT!’
‘Ru’ she repeated, ‘he called you that didn’t he?’
Rupert turned away, hiding his eyes that glistened from angry tears.
‘Yes he did, and you don’t, so kindly please get out of my house’
‘You won’t leave because of him.’
‘You know nothing – you deserve to know nothing’
‘I know you loved him.’
‘I know you’re a disrespectful cow to come into my home and be so rude’
‘This isn’t a home Rupert, this is a refuge, a hiding place. you said it yourself, this is just the
place you stopped moving’.
With Sal’s words, Rupert slowly crumpled back into his chair that he had left earlier in rage.
The space in his ribcage constricted as he thought about it. ‘I just cant leave’.
‘You dont want to leave, that’s what’.
Rupert sighed and had to prop his head up, balancing his jaw on his hairy knuckles.
‘When I travel, bad things happen.’
‘Bad things will happen if you don’t.’
They sit in silence.
‘His name was Will.’’
Rupert choked on his words and after they spilt from his cracked lips he regretted sharing so much.
Sal looked at him searching for eye contact. Her eyebrows have long since faded from her skin but the furrowed skin around her eyes was so fine it was almost hairlike and her not-eyebrows crumpled in sympathy when she looked at Rupert and his pain.
‘Who was he to you?’
Rupert glanced up. He hated the way that Sal looked at him with so much kindness in her eyes, it grew an inferno in his stomach that threatened to escape in fiery tendrils creeping up his throat, grasping his vocal cords and irritating his tonsils. On the table, before him, his blue mug sat, a quiet observer to these emotional tirades. Rupert reached across with his pinkie and pulled it to him, holding its handle like the hand of a lover. The cool ceramic doused the figurative flames and he was calm.
‘A friend’ he replied, ‘we were boys together.’
He was still begrudging in the divulging of this information but he no longer felt like he should put his fist to his nosy neighbour’s nose. Sal wanted to probe further but decided silence would be a better choice. So it was quiet. This silence wasn’t harsh and empty like some silences are. This silence was soft; the neighbours breathing quietly and the rain falling in sheets on top of the bridge made for a gentle white noise. The moment lingered.
‘He wouldn’t want you to stay.’
‘You don’t know Will’.
‘Did Will want you dead?’
‘Sometimes’. Rupert smiled, for the first time since he stared at those mushrooms this morning.
He braved eye contact with Sal and her soft smile brought forth an image of Will. Rupert closed his eyes, trying to focus on his blurry remembered face. And although this was the face Rupert saw every time he closed his eyes, over the past 40 years he had gotten pretty good at sending it away. But suddenly he yearned for the memories. Squeezing his eyes shut tighter, Rupert tried to remember Will’s hair and the way his eyebrows moved together when he was confused and apart when he was surprised. It was all blurry as if Rupert was looking at Will through a thick fog. He couldn’t decide what his nose looks like. It might have had a bump or two but it also could equally as likely have been smooth and
In his imagination, the sun was shining and Rupert relaxed in the clearing across from his bridge. Only the mushrooms weren’t there, and Rupert’s leathered skin was significantly less leathered. He was young in his imagination and soon his best friend in all the world would emerge from their tent below the bridge. he wished this memory could be touched, Rupert thought. How nice it would be if he could grab his friend and pull him out into the rainy
present. Will would explain what was happening and then he would probably fix the problem while he was at it. But even if he could defy time, Rupert could never bring Will away from this moment. He remembered Will leaving the tent smiling. They skipped to each other, likely an adlib of Rupert’s memory. They must have spoken but probably just mundane ‘good mornings’ that missed the formation of long-term memories. Next happened a boyish game of chasey,
resulting in the friends lying exhausted under the then less mossy bridge.
‘We’ll move on tomorrow’ Will said to Rupert. ‘I heard of a pub at the top of the tallest mountain in the Dragonridge mountains, it’s so dangerous to get up there they give you a free beer.’
‘You’re so cheap that you would risk both of our lives to not pay.’
‘Well you still have to pay for food.’
Rupert rolled his eyes and sighed at his friend, but despite his exasperation, he knew that he would follow Will to this stupid pub or to the end of the world.
‘C’mon Ru, don’t be such a cynic’.
Rupert remembered his own reflection caught in Will’s dark eyes. He looked young and his
brow was yet to form its permanent furrow. He watched Will as Will watched himself give in.
‘Okay okay, we’ll go tomorrow afternoon, I want to stay here a bit, it’s lovely’.
‘It is lovely here’ Will echoed, ‘but we have so many more lovely places to go’.
When Rupert opened his eyes again, Sal was leaving. She had found an unravelled plastic
bag in Rupert’s cupboards and was in the process of wrapping it around herself as a
‘I’m taking this.’
Rupert stared and slowly nodded.
‘I’ve got to go back and grab my bags and then I’m going to go’.
Rupert’s eyelids were heavy and he thought that maybe he would like a nap.
‘We’ve missed the main convoy, but the second leaves at midday.’
Another slow nod from Rupert in response.
Sal left and Rupert sat still and confused. Every inhale and exhale required so much effort. Then, after many long moments of breathing and thinking and breathing and thinking, Rupert lept into a flurry. He kept a small, woven shoulder bag by his front door that he thought was quite fashionable, and into it, he threw his most valuable possessions; his bag of mushrooms, his pack of soggy cards, a mix of his favourite spices and a spare pair of
underwear. He affixed his bag to his shoulder and pushed out his door. There on the steps in the pouring
rain sat Sal. The splatters of rain rolled off her plastic bag raincoat but she was still
drenched. Rupert reached out his hand, she took it and was hoisted up.
‘It was nice that you waited.’
The neighbours smiled at each other. And then they walked, his shoulder level with her hip.
‘I’m so glad you’ve left with me… RuRu.’
‘Do not test me, Sal, I will turn right back around.’
‘Surely I’ve earnt a nickname.’
‘You have certainly not.’
They bickered the whole way there.