It’s that time of year again, when school finishes and families head across the world for long awaited Summer holidays. I myself am off for a week in Scotland with my own little family on Saturday, and to mark the occasion, here is a little short story I wrote last year, again part of my challenge to write one short story every month. It’s one for the kids, this time…
The Prince surveyed his surroundings. His parents, King Marcus and Queen Joanna were busy elsewhere in the Kingdom, sorting out whatever parents sorted out.
But he had his own job to do. No, not simply a ‘job’ – a quest! Being six years old came with added responsibility in the Kingdom of Caravannia, and the young Prince Michael knew it was only a matter of time before he would have to begin his quest to rid the Kingdom of all the foul, loathsome beasties and bad guys and maybe even find himself a Princess before time ran out.
The Prince was methodically arranging his garments in his chambers, a rather confined space, but this mattered not as it was merely a place to rest his head after a long, hard day’s quest, when his mother called him to the main throne room.
“Michael, darling, do you need help with your clothes?”
“No, mummy, I’ve done it already,” replied the Prince, a little put out at being treated like a baby.
“Okay, sweetie. Daddy is getting changed and then we’re going to find somewhere to have tea,” the Queen informed him, brimming with authority. Prince Michael adored his mother, and she was the be all and end all as far as he was concerned. His father, the King, was nice and useful when it came to the practical stuff, but wasn’t much good at cuddles and bedtime songs – things every self-respecting Prince needs in times of trouble.
The King was soon ready, and as the Royal couple talked about where to go for tea, the young Prince had a quick scout around the Kingdom for potential beastie hideouts.
“Right, Mikey,” the King announced. “We’re off now, so do you want the toilet before you get in the car?”
“I’ll be fine,” the Prince replied assuredly. “I had a wee in the café.” He shuddered at the thought of the grubby excuse for a toilet he’d encountered at the greasy spoon café that he’d had to use in an emergency. Not fit for a Prince, no way, Jose!
“Right, well if you want a toy for the car, get it quick because your mummy and daddy are ravenous and ready to eat!”
The Prince looked around for his favourite toy, a fluffy red dinosaur that the Queen had knitted for him. The Dinosaur had a name too – Dino. It wasn’t necessarily an original name, but it suited Dino very well. He was a Stegosaurus (sort of) with a red top and a pink underbelly and he went everywhere with him.
Later that evening, after the King’s best intentions failed and they ended up in a McDonalds in a faraway Kingdom, Prince Michael was nodding off to sleep in his bed with Dino clung tightly to his chest, and Queen Joanna singing softly to him. He was asleep before the song finished and as the Queen tiptoed silently out of his room, Prince Michael was already dreaming of battles with trolls and dragons in distant lands.
The Prince was woken suddenly in the middle of the night by an almighty banging coming from somewhere in Caravannia. Momentarily unsure of his surroundings, Prince Michael cried out for his mummy. The banging stopped soon after, and much to his relief, the Queen came into his bed chamber, looking quite un-Queen-like in a silk night gown that barely covered her tummy and messy hair all over her face.
“What’s the matter, darling?” She asked the Prince. “Did you wake up and wonder where you are?”
“I heard banging and I was scared, mummy,” Michael explained between sobs. The Queen looked like she was blushing, but it could have just been the heat.
“It’s alright my love. The banging has stopped now, go back to sleep.”
“Okay mummy. Will you sing another song?” The Prince asked hopefully. Thankfully, the Queen obliged and sang a gentle lullaby, and before long, the Prince was overcome by sleep again. He did not hear any more banging from within the Kingdom, and the creaking that followed was not loud enough to disturb his Princely slumbers.
The Prince awoke early the next morning, so early in fact, that the King and Queen were still in bed asleep. Prince Michael played with Dino for a while until he heard stirring noises from his parents’ chamber. He cautiously tiptoed in and seeing his father’s eyes open, he positively leaped onto the bed, burrowing under the duvet between them.
“Morning, champ,” the King said wearily, sitting up and ruffling the Prince’s blonde hair.
“Morning daddy,” the Prince replied, a big grin spread across his face. He turned to the Queen. “Morning, mummy!”
The Queen, who had been asleep until just then, yawned and stretched her arms out wide. She turned to face the Prince and smiled sleepily, then ruffled his hair as well.
“Morning, sweetie. Did you sleep well?”
“I did,” Prince Michael replied.
“Would you like to see the sea today, Michael?” the Queen asked. Before he could reply though, the King interrupted.
“I doubt we’ll be doing much in the way of that,” he interjected. “It looks right miserable out there,” he finished, pointing to the small window to the side of the bed. The Prince looked at the window and could see nothing but grey-ness staring back at him.
“Shall we have some breakfast then?” the King offered. Both the Queen and Prince Michael nodded back at him enthusiastically. As if honoured by this quest he had been set, the King flung back the duvet, revealing his completely naked body and jumped up to find some underwear. The Prince almost blushed with embarrassment. Perhaps he didn’t have enough gold to buy pyjamas, considered the Prince. The King, now partly clothed, headed out of the chambers, and soon, the sound of hissing, sizzling and whistling could be heard through the open door. Prince Michael decided to take this opportunity to get some mummy-cuddles in and turned to throw his arms around the Queen. To his shock and further embarrassment, she was naked under the duvet too! Imagine that – the King and Queen too poor to afford comfortable night wear!
Instead of waiting for breakfast, the daring Prince got dressed in his finest shorts and t-shirt and set off on his first quest in his new kingdom. He was going to find some entertainment to pass the time in Caravannia. Armed with his trusty sword and loyal companion, Dino, Prince Michael left his room and made his way past the King who was shouting some un-royal things at the pots and pans, and into the vast open spaces beyond. There was one door on the left, a door that had a dark, foreboding aura about it, and this door made the Prince, and Dino by extension, feel very wary as they passed it. All of a sudden, an almighty roar sounded from behind the closed door. It was so loud, it sent the Prince running for cover. But what was the source of that noise? The Prince knew he would have to face that terror before too long, to ensure the continuing safety of his parents.
Over the vast plains they travelled, the two companions, in search of entertainment. They stole through dark forests and clambered along steep, sheer cliff-faces, onwards and upwards. For what seemed like days they pressed on, until, when it seemed the quest would end in failure, the Prince came upon a deep and dark cave right at the boundary of the Kingdom. Being very conscious of the consequences of wandering in to dark caves unprepared, the Prince sent Dino in first, just to see what was what. The Prince stood at the cave’s dark, imposing mouth waiting for a sign from Dino that all was safe for him to enter. He waited and waited. Eventually, after quite some time, and with Dino still not responding, the Prince took a deep breath, pulled his sword, and went into the cave. He came across Dino before long – he was lying face down on the floor of the cave, apparently asleep. Michael shook Dino, but there was nothing. No signs of life. Michael shook him again. He was about to shout for help, when he realised two things. Firstly, they were here alone. Secondly, he looked around him and saw large boxes with writing on them. One said ‘Monopoly’, another had ‘Connect 4’ printed on it. A third, smaller box, was decorated with the face of a King that Prince Michael did not know. And he thought he knew all the Kings. Above the King’s portrait were the words ‘Playing Cards’. It looked like they had found what they were after. Taking a deep breath, the Prince hauled Dino up and flung him over his shoulder, then, picking up the smallest box, he headed out of the cave into the dim light of day.
The Prince found himself somewhere to sit and placed Dino down beside him to recover. He examined the box, searching for a way in. He was about to give up when, purely by luck, he tugged the end. A flap lifted, and the Prince’s eager fingers yanked at it. He tipped the box up, and a load of cards shot out all over the floor. He looked at them, unsure of what lay before him. The cards had all sorts of numbers and shapes on them. Red hearts and diamonds, and some black shapes he didn’t recognise. He knew the numbers, and counted up to ten. Then there were some other strange cards with the letter ‘A’ on them instead of the number one. The Prince spread the cards out on the floor in front of him and then his eyes fell upon a picture card. There was the face of a man, and the letter ‘J’. Before he could develop his thoughts further, the Prince was interrupted by the King, now fully dressed and no longer saying rude words.
“What you got there, Mikey?” He asked, ruffling the Prince’s hair gently.
“Who’s this, dad?” the Prince asked, holding up the Jack of Spades card, though he didn’t know this.
“That’s the Jack of Spades,” the King smiled. Prince Michael looked at him blankly, expecting more of an explanation, which wasn’t forthcoming.
“What’s this then?” the Prince questioned, reaching for, then holding up, the Ace of Hearts.
“That’s the Ace of Hearts,” the King replied.
“Oh,” sighed the Prince. “What’s an ‘Ace’?”
“Well, it’s a special card, I suppose,” murmured the King, unconvincingly.
“Which King is this then?” Prince Michael asked, waving the King of Diamonds in the air.
“That’s the King of Diamonds,” the King retorted.
“Where’s he the King of?” Michael asked, trying to fit all this new information into his little mind.
“Huh?” the King asked, puzzled.
“Well, the Queen is the Queen of England, so where is the King of Diamonds King of?” the Prince clarified his question.
“Well, nowhere. He’s just on a playing card, son,” the King said, matter-of-factly, hoping to end this awkward conversation there and then.
“Is he related to the Queen of England?” the Prince continued, twirling the card in his hand.
“Of course not,” the King snapped. “He’s just a King in a pack of cards.”
“Oh,” said Michael, mulling this over. “So, what’s a ‘Jack’?”
Rather than answer him, the King stood up and told the Prince to stop being silly and pick up all the cards off the floor before someone stood on them and slipped over. Unconvinced, but equally bored, the Prince scooped up the cards and rammed them haphazardly into the box.
“Not like that!” the King chided him, and took the cards and box off the Prince and sat at the table, laying the cards out in some strange pattern of four lines, starting with the ‘A’ all the way up to the card with the Kings on. Rather than study this strange behaviour from the King, the Prince stood up, collected Dino and went off in search of his mother to inform her of these worrying developments with his father’s mental state.
He found the Queen in her bedroom, sat on the bed reading a comic. Rather than Bob the Builder or Fireman Sam on the front, there was some lady wearing a swimming costume with some drawings on her arm. The comic was called ‘Heat’, so the Prince assumed it was something to do with burning witches or something like that. He sat down beside his mother and was about to start talking about his father, when the Queen spoke first.
“Michael, darling,” she said, closing the comic and putting it down on her bed.
“Yes, mummy?” the Prince enquired.
“Do you like being on your own with mummy and daddy? Or would you like someone around to play with?”
The Prince thought for a moment. He thought specifically of Matthew, his school friend. He liked how Matthew was there at school when he needed to play with someone outside. He also liked when Mathew came round to play after school, or he went to play with Mathew at his house. And yet he also liked it when he had mummy and daddy, especially mummy, to himself for snuggles and so on. He looked at the Queen suspiciously.
“What? All the time?”
“Well, yes, I suppose so,” the Queen agreed.
“I don’t know about that,” the Prince said.
“So you wouldn’t like to have a little brother or sister to play with?” the Queen continued, a funny edge to her voice.
“Would I have to share my toys?” the Prince asked, concerned.
“Possibly, yes,” the Queen nodded.
“Then no. I don’t want to share Dino with anyone else,” the Prince said, putting it bluntly, and giving Dino a reassuring squeeze at the same time.
“Well, no. Dino is just for you, sweetie,” the Queen smiled, reaching for Dino. The Prince stepped away from her, so Dino was out of her reach. The Prince looked at the Queen once more, the suspicion nagging away at him. What was she getting at? Not liking the way this conversation had gone, the Prince gave his mother a wave and left the room, electing for the sanctity and security of his own room and his own Bob the Builder comic that Grandma had bought for him.
The remainder of the day was less exciting for the Prince. The King left the Kingdom for a while in the afternoon, to go and buy some food, apparently. When he returned, he opened the door and came in, soaking wet. Queen Joanna took the bags of shopping from him and fussed over him with a towel, and then a hair-dryer, which made the King’s hair all fluffy and silly-looking. The Queen cooked tea for them all – fish fingers and chips with beans – while the Prince and his father watched television. Or rather, the Prince watched television, and the King fiddled with the aerial on top of the television to stop the picture from going all fuzzy and snowy. It wasn’t all that fun, really, because there were none of the channels the Prince was used to watching at home.
After tea, the Prince stared out at the grey, miserable weather, and waited for bed time. When the time came, and he was lay in bed in his pyjamas, the King and Queen both came to read him a bed-time story and give him a good night kiss.
This time, it was the King’s turn to go all strange.
“You know we love you very much, don’t you?” He said, stroking the Prince’s head as he lay looking up at the King.
“Yes, daddy,” he answered.
“And we’ll always love you the same, no matter what,” the King assured him.
“Okay,” the Prince replied, and cuddling Dino, turned on to his side to snuggle up for sleep.
“That’s good, because nothing will change,” the King whispered, and bent over to kiss Michael on the head, before going out of the room. Then the Queen did the same and went out, turning out the light as she pulled the door behind her, leaving it ajar slightly.
Prince Michael dozed, not quite in a deep sleep, and then something jarred him awake.
What did he mean ‘nothing will change’? What was going to change?!! He lay there awake for some time, wondering what was afoot. He looked at Dino in the darkness, but he was no help whatsoever. The Prince eventually fell asleep and dreamed all sorts of strange things, from giant dogs on roller skates, to a dream where his friend Matthew came to live with them forever.
The next morning, the Prince awoke at the sound of a horrendous howling noise at his window. He climbed out of bed, picked up Dino, and cautiously opened his bedroom door. There was no sign of life, and he could hear snoring coming from his parents’ room. Suddenly, the door to the outside world rattled and banged in the wind. This sent the Prince scurrying into his parents’ room and cowering between them under the covers. Once more, despite his fear, he was horrified to find his mum and dad with no pyjamas on! He was going to have to say something about this; all the other Kingdoms would laugh and make fun of them if they found out. The wind howled against the walls, and finally, the whimpering of the frightened little Prince woke the King from his slumber.
“What’s the matter, Mikey?” the King asked him, sleepily opening his eyes.
“The noises from outside,” Michael muttered, squeezing Dino so tight, it looked like he would split at the seams.
“It’s only the wind, mate,” the King said. “It can’t hurt you.” The Prince nodded, understanding.
“Daddy,” he ventured.
“Yes, son?” the King asked, stretching his arms up.
“Are you poor?” Prince Michael queried. The King looked at his son with a mixture of confusion and amusement.
“What makes you think that?”
“Well, you and mummy aren’t wearing pyjamas. Can’t you afford any?” The Prince asked with a serious expression on his face. The King smiled and chuckled.
“We can afford pyjamas, of course we can,” the King explained. “But it gets a bit hot at night time, so sometimes we don’t wear any.”
Unimpressed, the Prince looked at his dad.
“But it’s cold and windy,” he pointed out, matter-of-factly, the way a six year old does.
The King had no response to this. He looked over at his alarm clock to check the time.
“It’s only seven o’clock,” he whined. He turned back and faced Prince Michael. “We’re on holiday, you can have a lie in, you know.”
The Prince regarded his dad with disdain. A holiday it may be, but as a daring Prince, he had quests to complete.
Throughout all of this, the Queen had remained fast asleep, and continued to be as the Prince gave up and returned to his room to plan the day’s adventures. The King came past his open door, thankfully wearing pants, and went into the room next to his. He could hear the sound of running water, then without warning, an almighty roar. The Prince had visions of dragons or dinosaurs hiding in there, waiting to jump out and eat them all up. He made a decision: he had to slay whatever lay behind that door, so they could enjoy the rest of their stay in Caravannia without fear of being eaten. He checked that Dino was happy with the plan and resolved to tackle the beast by the end of the day. At least until after he had had his breakfast – he fancied some Coco Pops today. Feeling emboldened, the Prince went back into his parents’ room to request his breakfast immediately without delay. They were awake now, both sitting up reading comics. Or, as the King often described them, ‘magazines’.
“I want some coco pops,” the Prince demanded impatiently.
“That may well be,” scalded the Queen, putting down her magazine. “But that isn’t the way to ask, is it?” She looked the Prince firmly in the eye. He returned the look, with interest. The King joined in the discussion.
“Come on, Mikey,” he reasoned. “What’s the magic word?”
“Pleeeaasse?” the Prince obliged, a huge smile on his face, hoping to win his way round his parents.
“Much better,” nodded the Queen, and swung her legs round and stood up. To the Prince’s delight, she was now at least wearing some underpants. Not quite pyjamas, but a step in the right direction.
Prince Michael followed his mother out of the room into the main living area. Then, without warning, Queen Joanna suddenly opened the door of the room next to the Prince’s bedroom and closed the door behind her. The Prince ran to the door and hammered it with his little fists.
“Don’t let the beast eat you, mummy!” he yelled.
“What on earth are you talking about?” the Queen asked from the other side of the door.
“The beast,” the Prince explained. “The one that roars.” And then, to illustrate his point, any response from his mother was drowned out by the now-familiar noise. Then the door was open and the Queen shuffled past him in the doorway. The Prince peered curiously into the room. It looked very much like a bathroom. Right down to the toilet and tiny little basin. He stretched his neck to see if there was anything else to see. There was nothing. Perhaps the beast has hidden himself, the Prince wondered. Then, resolving to investigate further, he closed the door behind him and went to wait for his Coco Pops.
As he ate his breakfast, he read the back of the cereal box, or rather looked at the pictures. He was just finishing the dot-to-dot puzzle when the King and Queen both came to sit down at the table. He could feel their eyes boring into the top of his head as he slurped up the remaining few spoonfuls of cereal. Something funny was going on there, and the Prince was beginning to feel uncomfortable.
“Do you fancy going for a swim today. Mikey?” the King said, taking a bite from his toast.
“Possibly,” replied the Prince. He didn’t want to commit to too much, in case it got in the way of his quest to vanquish the Bathroom Beast.
“It’ll do us good to get out of the caravan for a change,” the Queen reasoned. “There’s a pool on the park.”
“They’ve got a big slide too,” the King mentioned, hoping to garner some enthusiasm from the Prince, who simply nodded.
“And there will be other boys and girls too,” the Queen added. The Prince shrugged his shoulders.
“We’ll go in an hour or so, to give you time to play a bit first, okay Mikey?” the King offered. Prince Michael nodded, and with his breakfast bowl now empty, he excused himself from the table and retired to his room to plan the attack with Dino.
Moments later, with Dino in tow, Prince Michael stole into the bathroom and closed the door behind him. He waited for the beast to show itself. When, after a good few minutes, nothing had happened, the Prince felt the urge to wee. He flung the toilet seat up, and sat himself down, Dino wedged on the ledge behind him. Being in such a vulnerable position, the Prince kept looking all around him, hoping to find a clue to the beast’s whereabouts. With his bladder empty, the Prince climbed off the toilet and washed his hands in the basin.
Had the beast run away? Or had the Queen killed it earlier? Feeling somewhat let down, he came out of the bathroom.
“Did you flush, young man?” the Queen asked him. The Prince shrugged his shoulders and went back in to flush the toilet. That was when the beast came back. He drew his sword as the big, green dragon towered over him. Dino was no use at all, cowering in the Prince’s shoulder. The roar built to a crescendo, threatening to deafen the Prince, until he thrust forward with his sword, catching the dragon on one of his wings. Blue blood showered over the Prince, but he swung his sword again, unperturbed. The dragon thrashed his tail in anger, sending the Prince sprawling and knocking Dino to the ground. The dragon’s roar subsided to a subdued whimper as the blood loss began to take its toll. Then, with an almighty leap, the Prince jumped onto the dragon’s back and plunged his sword down into the back, through the sparkling green scales. The dragon gave out a defeated grumble and collapsed to the floor of the bathroom. The victorious Prince leapt off and collected Dino from the floor, wiping the bloody sword on a towel. In the final throes of death, the dragon’s tail twitched and reared up, knocking the Prince on the back of the head.
Prince Michael emerged victorious from the bathroom, and went to his room to recuperate so he could go swimming with the King and Queen. The next thing he heard was his name being yelled.
“Michael!” his dad was calling. He came into the Prince’s bedroom, a stern look on his face.
“Are we going swimming now?” the Prince asked.
“Not until the mess in the bathroom has been cleaned up,” the King yelled. “What the hell have you been doing?”
“I was killing the dragon,” replied the Prince, innocently.
“What?” the King regarded him with puzzlement. “What dragon?”
“The green dragon that was in the bathroom,” the Prince reasoned. “He was making all that noise.”
The King didn’t seem too impressed with the Prince’s explanation, and stormed back out.
Prince Michael followed him and stood in the bathroom doorway and watched as his mother wiped up the dragon’s blood off the floor, and picked up the previously white towel, now streaked with blue.
“You don’t need to use quite so much soap to wash your hands,” the Queen told him as she stepped past him.
It was about half an hour later that the Prince, along with his parents, went out into the world, towards the swimming pool. The wind had died down, and the sun was threatening to shine as they wandered through the other caravans and on to the path that lead to the greenhouse of a building that housed the swimming pool.
Once changed, the Prince and his dad went into the water. The Queen, who was not overly fond of getting wet, sat down at the water’s edge and dangled her feet into the lukewarm water and watched as the King and the young Prince splashed about. The Prince was feeling confident in the water, with his inflatable arm bands on and his goggles to keep water out of his eyes. But then a bigger boy swam past, splashing water everywhere, all over the King and Queen, and then a flailing foot caught Prince Michael a glancing blow on the head and flicked his goggles off. The Prince bravely choked back tears and watched where the boy went, swearing revenge. The Queen was exchanging scandalous glances with the King, muttering something about a proper upbringing. The Prince fished his goggles out of the water and placed them back over his head. He looked at his mum who had opened her mouth to speak, but any sound was drowned out by a cacophony of screams and squeals from the other side of the pool. The Prince looked around and saw the source of the noise was a large water slide, down which children were zooming into the water.
“Daddy, can I go on that slide?” The Prince asked.
“Are you sure, Mikey?” The King said, looking uncertainly at his son. “It’s quite high, and they’re coming down really quickly.” This did nothing to deter the Prince, who nodded enthusiastically. The King shrugged and held his hand out. The Prince took hold and they walked up to the shallow end of the pool and over to the steps up to the slide. At the bottom there was a picture of a dolphin with a flipper sticking out. The King stood Prince Michael up against the dolphin, and the flipper just touched the back of his head.
“You’re tall enough,” the King sighed. “But only just. Come on then, we’ll go down together.”
They climbed the steps to the top, and were stood in the queue along with a little girl in a My Little Pony swimsuit and a man. The Prince assumed this was her daddy. The group in front of them set off down the slide, and just as the four of them were about to get into position, the big boy that had kicked the Prince barged past them, almost sending the girl crashing to the floor. Before her dad, or his own dad could react more than shouting “Oi”, the boy had disappeared down the slide. The Prince looked at his dad, and then at the girl, who had a shocked expression on her face. Inside, he knew that there was a quest here. He had to defend this girl’s honour and repay the nasty boy for his horrible actions towards them. He may be without Dino, his trusty companion, but he felt strong enough and brave enough to tackle this one alone.
Down the slide they went, the Prince hitting the water with a ‘thwack’, and going under, then fighting his way back to the surface to find his dad smiling at him.
“Was that good?” the King asked him, running his hand through what was left of his hair. The Prince nodded, and retched as water went up his nose and then down into his throat. He looked around for the little girl, but she was lost somewhere amongst the other people in the pool. He did however, spot the nasty boy, who was once again going up to the top of the slide. Prince Michael and the King made their own way up the steps. By now, there was a pool attendant supervising at the top, so this prevented the boy from pushing in. He was right in front of them. The Prince had the urge to reach forward and pull down his Angry Birds swimming trunks, but hesitated at the thought of having to touch such a vile, horrible person.