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Fairy Tale


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A thinnest sliver of new moonlight at the horn tips of mule deer turned toward us, their dark eyes don’t know our dry heels imitate the mountains.

– Farid Matuk


Iridescent flowers lined up the sea. Buckets of joy poured in his heart. Quickly, he tried to board the boat. There seemed to be a glitter of diamond in his eyes as he had a nutmeg reminiscence of his days at Furth. The smell of memory deep within him, he paddled the boat away from the shore. He scratched his wide, curled moustache and thought about the possibility of finding the white triangular stone. The thick animal skin he wore covered his neck down to his knees. And in his mouth was a piece of bone which he chewed with great relish. His arms and legs, which were left uncovered, showed him to be a man of great hair. For a half-giant like him, strength wasn’t a debatable thing. He paddled the boat onwards, passing reeds, lilies and an assorted number of aquatic plants. In his pocket were coins of strange provenance. Coins he was told were used by the half-living and half-dead – people he would meet where the precious stone lay earthed. And he must find the man without a head who owed the wizard at Furth “a life” and “a handful of favours”. Again, he was to return the book on magical spices which the ugly monster Farran had stolen from the shelf of the wizard in an act of deceit. He rowed past shiny fishes and other aquatic animals – both great and small. The waters of the sea were quite cold and almost icy, and the half-giant tried to avoid a splash on his face. He had also heard that where he was headed had no ordinary sky, but clouds that rained candy corn. And that there was a certain Frenchman by the name Le Chatelier who had mastered the profound art of quenching fire with his tongue. As he traveled, he chuckled and chewed the bone or either sucked its marrow. The ripples on the blue sea went all ways as he threw his weight forward with the boat and his oars. By and by, he knew this mission was far from being called easy – but he admired the prospects and the adventurous side to it. So gently, he paddled his boat in search of The City of a Thousand Nights.


When he entered the city, the sky was lit by faint moonlight. He stood for a moment, looking at the sky and grabbing a handful of candy corns. He realised a certain hoofed animal was standing somewhere in the darkness, its eyes piercing through the dark like shiny nuts. He imagined poking his finger in them and began to approach the beast afterwards. He took out a sharp knife from his waist and lunged forward. But the animal yelped and struck with fierce aggressiveness, leaving him bleeding at his waist. With his grip on its convoluted horns, he slit its throat with such finesse you’d think there’s some mathematics to it. The animal fell to the ground, a dismembered heap. He took out his torchlight and examined the animal, and it was no genus nor species he had ever seen. He left the thing on the ground and returned his knife. As he raised his head, a sudden flash of light, like that from a headlight, hit his face. He raised his arm at an angle across his face and squinted his eyes in a bid to see clearly. Then he heard someone say:

“You are midway to your death. I got the memo. Your demons are out there. You are late.”

“Who the hell are you?” he asked.

“Have you been living under a rock?” the voice asked. And before he could say anything else, he got hit so hard on his head that he fell to the ground with shut eyes. And while he struggled to get up, he found himself being dragged away.


Four elves came out from the dark to sit with him. One was holding a long spear with the shiny blade. They sat patiently and looked at him.

“Please, I am looking for the man without a head.” the half-giant said, even describing with his hands.”

The elves turned and looked at each other.

“Please,” the giant continued. “That is what has brought me here.”

“Aren’t you the maddest man out there?” the smaller elf asked.

“Please, I have a message for him.”

“You look afraid.” the elf with a spear said. “And it’s not such a good thing for a man who has risked everything to be here. The more fear you have, the more liable you are to fall into the boiling waters of Ecklar. Now tell me, what does the headless brute owe you?”

“He cannot owe me, for I do not see what sort of affair I could have with a man who has lost his head. I am here in compliance with the request of a friend of mine, who happens to be the old wizard of Furth.”

“And do you know what dangerous pursuit this is?” the elf with a spear asked, thrusting his spear into the air. “Your life is in your hands, and so is your death. Go home, pursuer of a headless man. Your demons are out here looking to lead you astray. But if you insist on looking for him, you can find him head-in-hand in the breathing fields of Gasel where the flowers have eyes and where he lies occasionally, or at his home over the boiling waters of Ecklar.

“Take me there,” the giant said.

And before he could move a step, even an inch, music began to play as the elves stood up.

And young Gad woke up from sleep to find his family singing “Happy Birthday, Gad. You are sixteen today. Make a fabulous wish, Gad.”

He shook his head and wished they had allowed him to dream more, or that he was – indeed – a writer of dreams.

Marvel Chukwudi Pephel (NIGERIA)

Marvel Chukwudi Pephel is a Nigerian writer who writes poems, short stories and other things besides. He was a finalist for the 2020 George Floyd Short Story Prize.

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