2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #13
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
A Derby Hat
A live goat
A. Francis Raymond
“You’re lucky you weren’t turned into a rock,” said Lola.
I shifted my body so I could look up at her. The Vespa had run out of gas and we needed to walk, we hoped, only a couple of miles to where Bouncing Betty Babington supposedly lived.
Lola dismounted and walked around to the sidecar that I was awkwardly stuffed in. My front hooves rested on the handle bar, but my backside and rear hooves were fit into spots they weren’t meant to be.
“Just help me get out of here. And I need to eat,” I replied.
Lola did as I asked. Not as easy as it sounds. Goats don’t belong in sidecars, but it was the only option available.
Once out, I started munching on weeds on the side of the road. Rainwater from an early morning storm left puddles, too. Good, because I was thirsty. I saw my reflection in the still water before I put my face in to lap it up.
Oddly enough, my beard looked the same as when I was human. Besides that, I didn’t recognize myself. I looked like a typical goat, except for the Derby Hat strapped to my head so it wouldn’t fall off.
It was a cruel joke for Mr. Waters, the circus owner both Lola and I spent our entire lives with, to say we weren’t wanted anymore. It was even crueler to turn me into a goat, and remove Lola’s talents. But why give me the magic hat? I didn’t understand, but grateful that through the hat, I could talk.
But this morning’s rain also affected the hat. It wasn’t as powerful anymore. Should I tell Lola?
I looked over at her. She sat with her back to a large tree trunk. In her arms, she cradled the bugle she used to play while walking a tightrope. Now, she could do neither.
“Let’s go,” I said.
“Oh, Tony,” she responded, “What if this woman can’t help us?” Her knuckles were white as they clutched the brass bugle.
I didn’t have an answer. We stared at each other until she stood up, and started walking.
Bouncing Betty Babington was exactly where we were told she lived. Instantly, we understood the moniker. Outside a small shack was a rectangular trampoline. A woman, presumably Betty, bounced on it. Incredibly, her form changed at each bounce. On one bounce, her hair was blonde. On another, brown. Yet another, her hair stayed brown, but she grew a foot, or shrunk. Each was a transformation.
“Hello!” she called out. Her final move, one that our former circus colleagues would have envied, began as a double back somersault with half twists through each before dismounting and landing in her final transformed state.
Lola explained our predicament, since the magic of my hat was wearing out. The last thing I remember before returning to my human state was a teary Lola giving her bugle to Betty, then placing me on the trampoline.
By jumping on the trampoline in her back yard, eight-year-old Lolly Smith, grape-flavored popsicle clutched in one grimy hand, pigtails flying in the air behind her, can see over the tall wooden fences surrounding the back yards adjacent to hers. A single bounce gives her a bird’s eye view into Mr. Gvidas Petras’s back yard with its shrine to the Lithuanian flag. Two bounces allows her to see over the fence into Mr. Jones’s back yard with its precisely arranged lawn furniture, and Mr. Jones himself reclining on a lawn chair. With three bounces, she can just see over the fence into the Bailey’s back yard, which contains their children’s playground equipment and their pet goat, Emerson.
Boing! Over the top of the fence to the west, there’s Mr. Petras coming out with his bugle to perform his daily salute to the Lithuanian flag.
Boing! Boing! To the north, there’s Mr. Jones, napping, his derby hat pulled down over his eyes. Next to him, on the grass, a paperback copy of 100 Ways to Roast A Goat and a technical manual for dismantling trampolines.
Boing! Boing! Boing! Now she can see into the Bailey’s yard where Emerson the goat is munching on grass.
Boing! Mr. Petras is fitting the bugle to his lips and playing warm-up scales.
Boing! Boing! Mr. Jones’s lips are twisting into a frown beneath the brim of his hat.
Boing! Boing! Boing! Emerson the goat is looking around for something else to munch on.
Boing! Mr. Petras is erupting into a veracious fit of bugling.
Boing! Boing! Mr. Jones, pushing the derby hat off his face, is scowling at the racket from next door.
Boing! Boing! Boing! Emerson the goat is standing on his hind legs, nibbling at the leaves from a low-hanging branch.
Boing! Mr. Petras is starting his one-man concert by playing the beginning notes of a funeral march.
Boing! Boing! Mr. Jones, disappearing into his house.
Boing! Boing! Boing! Emerson the goat, leaping high into the air, aiming for another leafy branch.
Boing! Mr. Petras, cutting loose with a powerful, jazzed-up version of his country’s national anthem.
Boing! Boing! Mr. Jones reappearing from his house with a shotgun, heard muttering “a man’s castle” and “the virtues of silence” and “multiple things that shouldn’t be seen OR heard.”
Boing! Boing! Boing! Emerson the goat, up in the tree, ripping leaves and twigs from the branch with his teeth.
Boing! Mr. Petras, wailing away like Louis Armstrong on steroids.
Boing! Boing! Mr. Jones taking aim—
A shot rings out. In surprise, Lolly cries out and falls off the trampoline, her popsicle flying. Multiple screams, followed by a savage “Naa-aa-aa!” Lolly sits on the ground for a moment. Then she climbs back onto the trampoline.
Boing! Mr. Petras, not in his yard, the bugle lying discarded on the grass.
Boing! Boing! Mr. Jones, not in his yard, the shotgun tossed aside.
Boing! Boing! Boing! Emerson the goat, standing beneath a tree next to the fence in the Bailey’s yard, munching on a well-worn derby hat.
“So you’re going to time-travel by music?”
“Very roughly speaking. My resonance theory—“
“I’m quite familiar with it!” He glanced at the tattered trampoline in the corner of the room.
Despite his colleague’s response, the inventor continued. “An accident; and we did escape, after all. In any case, I’ve figured out the problem. The fabric of the trampoline set up an inter-dimensional resonance, but too irregularly. Thus the—”
“Ah, yes. Anyway, this bugle is made of a unique alloy and configured so that when it is ‘played’ it will set up a controlled set of hyper-spatial and trans-temporal resonances down to the quantum level. Your analogy to music is a good one; after all, music has complex timbres, resonances, and harmonies, and those quantum effects—”
“As we found out last week,” the colleague said a bit sourly, “quantum effects can cause unpredictable results. How do you know you won’t open another wormhole? Even worse—the slightest error in your ‘timbres’, and the very molecular structure of anything in this room—such as us—could be completely disrupted!”
“Each effect is produced by a specific resonance pattern—a different ‘tune’, if you will. True, my musical skills are not optimal; but my device will self-correct, and play the right ‘tune’ to open a portal to the Paleozoic Era!” As his colleague continued to glare at him skeptically, the inventor handed him a hat.
“A derby hat?!”
“’Bowler’ is the preferred term, actually. It is made of a fabric similar to that of the trampoline, but with a reversed resonance pattern. By molding the fabric to the exactly proper topology—which, oddly, produced the shape of a bowler, or if you insist, ‘derby’ hat—I have produced a shield for you. Put it on, and you will be unaffected by any effects produced by my temporal bugle. Not that you have anything to fear—“
“I’ll take the precaution!” The colleague put the hat on and found it to fit perfectly. He couldn’t put a finger on it, but somehow a feeling of calm descended on him, and there seemed to be stillness in the air around him.
“That’s the protective field you’re experiencing,” said the inventor. “Well, no more delay—I am off to the Paleozoic!” He placed the mouthpiece to his lips and blew a strange melody. The colleague watched in fascination. No portal to the Paleozoic opened; but the inventor had turned immediately into a large goat with an irritated expression on its face.
“You know,” said the colleague, “I think I can analyze your bugle, recalibrate it, and restore you in a few days. The goat brightened. “However—“continued the colleague with a devious grin. The goat’s face fell.
“You owe me for last time. Now my lawn needs to be mowed, and my mower’s in the shop, so I have a job for you while I’m working on your horn. They say a goat is better than a mower….”