The only photograph thought to exist, of the creature formerly known as: Snoddly Thumpernickel
A SYLVAN TALE OF HORROR
An original fantasy in long form
It occurred back in the year of eighteen-ought-three,
Deep in the murk-some woods of Mashamoquet.
If you’d have the tale, then pause while I sit, and
Speak of the Cabbage Patch Kid, who lived in a tree.
You know, that’s not really doing it for me.
I’d wanted to do a frightening kind of Halloween-type blockbuster poem.
Something epic, to endear me to the hearts of those people who like to have their hearts pounding, around this time of the year. A work of monumental proportions, combining many diverse themes – themes both classic and those more obscure. Something colossal; like the following ambitious, larger-than-life and rather impressive diagram:
[You wanna talk about horror – you try spending an hour or so mocking something like this up in WordPress, and then hit ‘Save Draft’ – and see if you don’t find yourself screaming rather impressively in horror.]
But for me the above poem reads to my inner ear, like a knock-off of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. (See what I did there?)
And… well, I mean…
But I’m no Longfellow.
We’ll attempt it the old-fashioned way.
Long ago and far away there lived a boy, who had the rather unfortunate pleasure to have been given the name of Snoddly Thumpernickel.
Now, with a name like Snoddly Thumpernickel, you’d think life had already dealt him just about the lousiest hand of all time. But even when life does saddle you with a handicap of such regrettable magnitude, it still kinda insists that you play the game.
There’s a lesson to be learned there – but you have to be the sort of person who’s open to lessons, in order to see it.
And was our Snoddly just such a person, you might ask?
Yeah… not so much.
Snoddly, it seems, only lived, it seemed, for the glories of music.
He was always to be found staring, and listening intently, whenever a villager sang at their work – no matter the actual task involved – whether it was over a forge or a hedgerow, or even the work being done by a part-time third-rate assistant scullery maid-in-training… second class.
His concentration was focused solely upon the music; and the more absorbed was his attention, the more fixated he became. He lived and breathed music. He thought about nothing but the celestial harmonies lurking in the background of the tailors mumbled humming. He pined for the rhythmic complexities to be heard just underneath the simple childish games that all the other children played. He gloried in the complex thematic developments he found in the songs the villagers sang around their fires at night.
He wanted nothing, but to be allowed to immerse himself in the universal music he heard all around him. And as such, because music was all he thought about, he soon became the most musically talented person for many villages around.
His renown for his purity of pitch and a righteously rigorous rhythm spread far and wide. He could produce a heavenly harmony at the drop of a hat. His thoughts on exquisite ensemble, alone, might have won him distinction, even without all the other talents. Combined with those others, it merely ensured he would eventually come to the attention of a wider world. And so his fame grew, expanding beyond the confines of his village, and increasing throughout the realm.
Now, Snoddly had always been able to sing any song he’d ever heard. Even if he’d only heard it once. But these never seemed to satisfy his musical hunger. Soon, he began to write songs of his own. Pretty little ditties and soulful ballads – songs of exquisite beauty, which awakened in the breasts of the villagers an ache they’d never experienced before… a longing for they knew not what. All the villagers became transfixed, and listened in humble rapturousness. They began to sing Snoddly’s songs, and embraced his wonderful new music quite enthusiastically.
Because Snoddly discovered he wasn’t content with having written the song. He also began insisting it be sung in the way in which he’d intended it to be sung. Which was really quite beside the whole point of singing at your work. But the boy didn’t seem to know about this little tidbit – or else, he didn’t give two rotten shakes of a mushrooms’ moldy behunkus for such conventions.
He wanted it sung right, damnit!
Yes, it’s true – poor Snoddly could have, perhaps, played the hand he’d been dealt a bit more intelligently. But then we wouldn’t have a tale to tell. Because he not only began to get a bit bossy about the songs he wrote; he soon became positively snotty, about any song he heard. No matter who was doing the singing. To the point where everyone else gradually stopped singing all together. And then they took to avoiding the boy. Eventually, they became actively engaged in a hide-and-seek game to end all others with the poor outcast.
No one even wanted to lay eyes on the lad – although hands were laid upon a stick or two, and given a practice swing or three, in case an opportunity should ever present itself.
Snoddly had become quite the load to have around… if you know what I mean by that.
A tough room… all by himself.
Calling Snoddly ‘no fun’ would have meant the boy had actually gone and gotten a whole lot better.
On occasion, wandering minstrels might pass through; for they’d heard marvelous tales of a prodigy, who lived in a tiny village so very far away. Of course, news traveled a bit slower in those days. And while the minstrels had gotten the original message – of a musical virtuoso of marvelous, unrivaled proportions – they hadn’t received the follow-up message; with just that one word of exhortation…
And so they came on, in search of a genius of incomparable scope – for they were a modest lot, and wished to learn at the feet of so great a master. But Snoddly wasn’t at all interested in sharing his insights with his fellow troubadours. Instead, he followed along behind as they sang – clapping to the beat – and pointing out to the wayward musicians just how their rhythm and intonation left quite a few things to be desired.
Soon, the villagers were left wondering why wandering minstrels never seemed to mosey on up their way, as they had so frequently meandered by before.
And whenever the other children would gather at their games, Snoddly was always correcting their pitch and rhythm. Many an innocent game in the village was ruined – not through the selfishness of any one particular participant, but because they weren’t even allowed to play…
Not if the game involved a tune of any sort.
Red Rover, Red Rover, send Susie right over.
“Okay, once more. And Susie, your pitch is flat. Try tucking your buttocks way in, and support it more from the diaphragm. And you – Bobby. You’re late coming in. Can’t you hear that you’re behind everyone else? Take it again.”
Red Rover, Red Rover, send…
Rather understandably, it got to the point where no one wanted to play with the boy. The children, too, now took to running away, whenever they saw him approaching – which was fine with Snoddly. Correcting everyone else’s musical shortcomings had become rather tiresome for him. And it took him away from writing his own music.
The children, meanwhile, began to secretly go far off into the woods, in order to find a place in which to play in peace. Wolves and witches and bears, oh my, seemed like a small price to pay to gain a little space, in which to be the kind of silly that might serve you well in later life. And, of course, all the grown-ups had by now grown wearily resigned to working their chores in silence. Because no one liked being told they were not, in fact, happy and joyful in their daily lives – but merely, and only, inept.
The village grew into a dark and silent caricature of its former self. No one took any joy in their lives. No one ever, ever sang at their work. The villagers had even stopped speaking to one another, for fear of being sucked into a ‘rehearsal’, in order to work on their ‘ensemble’.
And then one day, Snoddly’s little sister, who had the equal misfortune to have been named Thumbelina Thumpernickel, (Now, don’t get upset. It’s okay. She thought it was cute, so it didn’t really bother her too much. But… I mean… honestly, where do these parents get off, giving their children such terrible names. Harrumph! I say) – I say – Thumby found herself in the possession of something sorta like an epiphany… of sorts.
“Why does Snoddly get to bully us around? Just because he’s a better musician than we are? It doesn’t make him a better person.”
So she gathered as many of her little playmates as she could, and they spent every waking moment hiding in the forest, trying to come up with ideas on how to get even with the boy. But it wasn’t until another little girl, by the name of Wilhelmina Whoops-a-daisy (arrggghhh!!!!), came up with a rather startling notion of her own, that a plan began to form. And so the children spent the next few days going over every aspect of their plan – honing the original idea, tweaking it; trying out variations on the central theme – rehearsing it, if you will – though they probably would’ve thrown things at you, had you couched it in such sinister and abusive language to their faces.
Finally, they felt as prepared as they were ever likely to feel.
Now, for the first time in ever so long, the children went out and actually looked for Snoddly.
When they found him, deep in another part of the woods, their plan was set into motion.
They immediately began to sing all of their favorite children’s rhymes.
With all the wrong words.
In as many different keys as they could manage.
Using as many different tempos as they could keep going.
And all while making the most outrageous faces they could think of.
(Well, you try sticking your tongue out while singing any of the following, and let’s how well you do.)
‘Tinkle, tinkle, little spar, how I ponder your cigar.’
‘Blue Bowser, blue Bowser, send your trouser right house-er’
‘Liar, liar, pants could be dryer’
‘Mary had a little lamb, and boy was she surprised’
‘Nanny, nanny boo boo, stick you head in duty-free Chardonnay, from the Alsace region of France’
One cute little girl was doing her very best to sing in as deep a voice as she could give wind to. She even tucked her tiny little chin way down into her chest, and furiously scrunched up her eyes, in order to give it that extra, added ‘oomph’. But of course, her best effort still had a rather high-pitched overtone to it. And coupled with the very serious face, and the words ‘the itsy, bitsy spider’ sung over and over again – because she couldn’t remember any of the other lyrics – all while stomping on the ground, and trying to do that spider thingy with her tiny little fingers – oh my, I say… it was simply adorable…
Not that Snoddly would have thought so.
He was crumbling under this malevolent onslaught of rampant un-musicality.
The atonality of their attack fell on the tonal centers of his brain like a ton of staff paper.
Desperately he clutched at his ears, frantically trying to block out this ambush of agony.
He wondered if his eyes mightn’t be bleeding.
Honestly, he didn’t see how they couldn’t be…
He tried to stumble away from them – to escape, by any means he could – but his vision was swimming and his hearing was compromised. He never could get far enough away, fast enough – for the chattering of girls simply stepped lightly after him, and continued their offensive.
Snoddly lashed out, blindly, swinging at those he couldn’t see. His hand struck something, and he instinctively grasped it, and then yanked at it. After an initial resistance, whatever he had ahold of came away, and he ripped it apart in sheer frustration.
All singing stopped, only to be replaced by a single, piercing scream of dismay. Oddly enough, this cleared Snoddly’s sight, and he saw that he’d grabbed the spider girl’s dolly and torn it to pieces. The other girls stared in horror at the shredded remnants of imagined parenthood. And – quite understandably – the bereft mommy apprentice was inconsolable.
“Aww… ya shouldna oughta gone and done that, now,” said a cackling, diabolically resigned voice, from out of nowhere.
“Why dya have to go and do something like that for?”
Snoddly looked around nervously – but of the three dangers presented by the forest, the only ones positively known to possess speech (probably) were the witches – so he perhaps should’ve guessed what it was he’d see.
It was a witch (shocker!), and when Snoddly didn’t immediately respond to her question, she threw her hands out to the sides and barked “Well?”
“Well what?” Snoddly less than intelligently offered.
“Why did you rip her dolly apart?” the witch demanded.
“I didn’t know what it was.”
“Still… you ripped it up good. Now you gotta pay.”
“Wait a minute,” Snoddly protested. “They attacked me.”
“So what?” the witch said dismissively.
“But I was defending myself.”
“She’s a little girl.”
“But… I was…” Snoddly stammered.
“She’s a girl. And smaller than you. End of discussion,” replied the witch.
“But they attacked me,” Snoddly insisted.
“She’s a girl? Hello?” the witch sarcastically replied.
“But I was the one who was… attacked…” Snoddly said, incredulously.
“Oh, so what, you think you’re being treated unfairly? Boyo, you ain’t seen nothin’, yet.”
She looked around her, patting down a dress three sizes too big for her frame as she did so; as if searching for something she couldn’t readily call to hand. She searched inside every inch of her sleeves. She pulled her hat off and felt around the inside. Scratching her head as she looked back and forth, she then returned the hat to its perch. She patted herself down once more. Exasperated, she propped her hands on her hips for a moment, and then thrust them out to the sides and shrugged; as if to say ‘well… screw it.’
She pointed some boney fingers at Snoddly, and gave them a wiggle and a waggle; and then flipped the end of her nose with the end of her thumb. And almost gave herself a whiplash in the process, because she’d forgotten how very long her nose was. And how her arm was up to the task of reaching the tip… but only just.
“You are hereby cursed,” the witch cackled, still waggling her skeletal digits at Snoddly. “I curse you, to wear the visage of the ugliest dolls of all time. And you’ll live for all eternity inside this tree. No… actually, let’s make it that one over there. No, the one to your left. Your left. Keep going. A little bit more. Yes. That one.
“You’ll live on, as a reminder to all children everywhere, of what can happen if they don’t eat their vegetables. And you’ll look like you do, as a reminder to all children everywhere, of what can happen to them if they eat too many of those vegetables. You’ll be a perfectly horrible example, for all to see, of the dangers of a lack of moderation.”
“Well, that seems like a rather bland sort of curse, doesn’t it?” Snoddly perhaps ill-advisedly said.
“Get over it… I already have,” the witch said, rudely. And she disappeared, in a rather huffy, snorty poof of smoke. In quite the snooty, and snotty, manner.
Snoddly found himself alone, inside the aforementioned tree – no, the other one – and repeatedly trying to say ‘snorty, snooty, snotty’ to himself, as fast as he could.
With the now added disadvantage of some rather seriously clogged sinuses.
Over and over.
He couldn’t stop.
Almost as if this were a corollary to the curse – a consequence of which the witch had simply neglected to tell him about.
“Ah, well,” he thought, between snorts and snots, “at least it’s a silly kind of curse. And at least I’ll finally get to be alone with my music.”
A voice off to his left made him spin around. But as he was no longer a boy, the effort wasn’t perhaps quite as convincing as it might’ve been; had he still been one Snoddly Thumpernickel, late of that tiny little village – just beyond those trees over there. He tried to look at where the voice had come from, but he really couldn’t see very well. And he didn’t know if it was because he was in a vast amount of pain, from trying to spin around while no longer being physically capable of it, or simply because he no longer actually had any eyes.
“Hello there,” said the voice, in something of an aspirated manner.
“We’re the Aspens. I’m Andy – Andy Aspen – and this is my wife Ann.”
“Hiya, thailor,” she said, in a voice so deeply smoky, it caught the attention of one eponymously like-named bear, miles away.
“Call me Raggedy.”
Her leaves rustled in an improbably sultry manner.
Snoddly merely blinked.
Or he thought he did.
It was getting a bit difficult to tell; for all the normal processes of his life were becoming absorbed in his newer nature.
He knew he’d blinked.
He just didn’t know if it had had the desired effect upon his audience.
There was another snotty sort of a snort, and with a puff of snoot, the witch reappeared.
“Sorry about that. Even witches have to go potty every once in a while.
“I swear, if there’s a witch in the coven with a tinier bladder than moi, I just don’t know whom it could be…
“But look what I found.”
She admiringly held aloft a bent and battered stick, about a foot and a half long – which still had it coming in at just under about half the length of her nose. Finally, with a smile, she stowed it somewhere inside one of her voluminous sleeves.
“Where was I?”
“Ah, right. So. We can’t just leave you inside a tree, forever. That punishment isn’t nearly severe enough for your sins. No, I think that, given what you did to that little girl, you’re gonna need some company on your journey. So, all you trees gather ‘round. We might as well go through the motions.”
“Now, most of these trees will come and go – as trees do – but this tree over here’s gonna be your constant companion. For all eternity. She’s a sugar maple.
“Her name’s Barbie.”
Barbie started to giggle; shyly, almost coyly.
And to Snoddly, it was as if someone had stuck needles in his eyes, or perhaps taken an axe to his trunk. Her laughter started almost impossibly high in pitch, and went up from there – like a scurry of furry chipmunks, all being squeezed at the same time.
“Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee.”
And on up the scale; beyond the point of hearing.
Had Snoddly still been in possession of eyes, they almost certainly would have come under an undue amount of stress, of a somewhat sanguinary nature, by this point.
The witch continued.
“Now, Barbie’s got herself a Tree-Boy-Toy on the side. Can you guess his name?”
“How would I know? Um… Kenneth?” Snoddly hazarded, as a shot in the dark.
“No, no, no. Way too obvious,” the witch replied. “No, Barbie’s been branching out these days. Her current root fixation is an elm. Elmo Elm, to be precise.”
And Elmo started to giggle, which caused Barbie to titter, and the two of them went at it like nobody’s business.
“Ha ha, ha hee hee hee. Ha ha, ha hee hee hee.”
“Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee hee.”
Snoddly actually felt his bark peel – just a bit – every time one or the other of them went above the threshold of audibility.
The witch proceeded to introduce all the other trees in the little group which had gathered round; and each acknowledged Snoddly, in their own unique style.
“You know, actually, there is a Ken, here…”
“Oh, um… Whoopsie!”
“Oh my goodness, I’m just so terribly pleased and proud to make your acquaintance. Let’s talk!”
“The Kewpie trees…”
“And of course, the Troll trees.”
“So for you, boy, they’re gonna sing. All the time, singing. Just the one song. Over and over. Hit it, people.”
And the trees did indeed begin to sing – though Snoddly thought the word ‘sing’ had been given a wholly regrettable definition, if the example he now heard were any indication.
But the song that they sang… no… please… any other song… just not that one…
‘Hello, Loblolly, well hello, Loblolly,
‘It’s so nice to have you pine where you belong.
‘Your cheeks looked swelled, Loblolly, I can tell, Loblolly,
‘You’re still growing, you’re still blowing, you’re still growing fat.’
The villagers that day heard a bloodcurdling scream rising from deep within the wood.
A shriek of such cosmic distress, no one ever again dared to set foot within the haunted precincts of those trees.
What limbs could be seen from the village soon shed their leaves, and remained barren forever more.
Birds stopped flying above that canopy.
No animals were ever again observed to make their dens within those eerie confines.
And when on particularly dark and stormy nights, a weary villager might hear the wind moaning through that wood, and a howling come floating across the moors, he or she knew the origins of those tortured cries.
It was the lone, anguished wail of a boy, listening to thirty-seven trees singing the same, tired song, over and over.
In a minimum of at least 6233/4ths different keys.
At any one given time… in what passed for their version of the concept of ‘unison’.
And never with the right words, or the right tune.
But that didn’t stop them from belting it out.
At the top of their bowered lungs.
… for all eternity.
Of course, at least four or five of them, at any six or seven given moments, were always trying to do their best Satchmo imitation of the song – but it always seemed to come out more like a cross between Carol Channing and Charo, trying to do Schwarzenegger.
“Ah’ll be Bach, Loblolly”
“Cuchi, cuchi, cuchi, Loblolly”
“Well, isn’t that nice, Loblolly”
And as the days grew larger in number, Snoddly grew increasingly more distraught; as this outrage to his artistic sensibility continually pounded at his psyche, day and night.
He couldn’t see straight.
He couldn’t hear anything.
He’d lost touch with all rational thought.
There was only pain.
The ever-present, never-ending pain.
… the pain…
And then one day, the Devil – fresh off his defeat at the hands of Daniel Webster, and now forced to travel about in the guise of Andrew Lloyd Willow, as part of a settlement process that was currently under appeal – I say – the Devil wandered by. And he offered Snoddly a deal.
“I can release you from the curse of this infernal singing.
“I’ll release you from your eternal bondage to this one place. You may choose one of those options. You know… for the usual considerations… Which will it be?”
“If I choose to leave, what song would go with me?” Snoddly asked, in an impressive display of forethought and clarity, given the amount of punishment he’d endured.
“Why, one of my own, of course,” Sir Willow replied.
Snoddly rustled at him in disbelief.
“… you write songs…”
“I’m known throughout the forest as the preeminent composer, of the most Poplar of ballads.”
“Yeah, I’m sure. Like what, for instance?”
“Well, let’s see… there’s always Don’t Cry For Me, Arborvitae.”
“Uh-uh,” Snoddly said.
“The Phantom of the Olive?” Andrew Lloyd offered.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” the boy, er… I mean, the tree replied, shaking with derision – as if to say ‘talk to the twig, ‘cause the branch don’t rate.’
“Star Leaf Express?” the tree not known as Christopher Lloyd ventured.
There was a sharp intake of breath from the aggrieved party in question.
“No!” that tree vehemently refused.
The Devil, fearing he might be in danger of losing two in a row (which would have violated the terms set out in his bail hearing) – I say – the Devil billowed his willows and bellowed:
“♩♩ Ma-ples… all aloonnneee in the moon-light… ♬ ♩ ♩”
That’s why, were you to one day re-discover the knack of time travel… and should you wander through those fabled, haunted woods of a New England long past… and could you ever happen across the tree where resides that poor, wretched soul… a tortured being, whose only crime was to fight for a rigorous, standards-based musical accountability… and if you’d but listen, extremely carefully, and try your very best to quiet the noise inside your head… you just might actually hear… faintly, distantly… very, very far away… the sound of…
Nothing at all.
An eternity of show tunes – and only show tunes – is a fate just too horrible to contemplate.
Even if your name is Snoddly Thumpernickel.