In this story, gryphon musician Ballad Quill meets a group of skeptics who don't believe he's real.
(Rambling, spoiler-filled comments after the story).Illustration for this story:http://forums.furtopia.org/artwork-announcements/ballad-the-gryphon-comes-to-call/“Clap for Ballad”
A fantasy story, by Brent M. Parker“'Well, now that we have seen each other,' said the unicorn, 'if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you.'”
- Lewis Carroll, “Through the Looking Glass”
“You didn't clap hard enough – Tinkerbell's dead.”
- Christopher Durang, “'Deninty Crisis”Paromdon, Quintessentia.
Early 16th Century.
“I used to think you'd become High Doniyel,” said Cashop Candelfarb, shaking his head. “Now I think you'll be lucky not to get excommunicated.”
“Not when they see what I'm about to accomplish,” said Panin Diarsi.
The two clerics were standing by a window in the bell tower of the Brigadionist Chapel at Symet Square, with a lovely view overlooking the sloping roofs and winding alleys of the Zoho Bridge arts district. Lovely to Diarsi, anyway. Especially the particular spot in the particular alley he was staring down at. He watched as a small group of humans were swarming around a large gryphon, inspecting him with intense, unwavering scrutiny. All except their leader, who was standing back, looking past the beast as if he wasn't even there! Beautiful!
Candelfarb sighed. “The Church has their own plans for dealing with the gryphon, and they don't want you getting in the way. They're also worried about you. So am I, for that matter. I came here to convince you to give up your obsession with that beast and leave this dreadful place! I think I narrowly avoided getting murdered at least three times on my way here! And now, I find you've consorted with heretics - and entrusted them with slaying the monster?!”
“They will destroy his unholy powers,” Diarsi responded with youthful enthusiasm. “Perhaps even restore his human form. That he once had
, Cashop, I am sure of it! But if they slay him instead, at least we might save his soul, and prevent the curse from claiming the poor lad Sondrew as well.”
“And if it doesn't work -”
“- you'll just incite the gryphon's fury!”
“You don't know him like I do,” said Diarsi. “Watch.”
The heretics poked and prodded, and the beast just took it. He even helped two of them up onto his back, at their request! Meek, obedient, compliant – the human side, the good
side, was coming out! Candelfarb apparently picked up on this as well, because he asked,
“What exactly are
they doing to him?”
“They are unbelieving
him,” Diarsi explained heavily. “Have you heard that in the so-called 'enlightened' parts of the world, magical creatures are dying out from lack of belief? There are even poets who paint this as tragedy! Of course, this is impossible in our land, where everyone knows magicals are real. Or so I thought. And then, Lord Brigadion lead me to the Zoho Skeptics Society.”
As he said this, the heretics had moved away from the gryphon and formed a circle around him, like sorcerers casting a spell. They looked a bit confused though, and Diarsi was worried. They had believed the gryphon to be mere stagecraft. If they realized the truth, it would spoil everything. But then the creature was struck with a stillness that Diarsi had never seen him display before. And then suddenly, he was speaking loudly enough for Diarsi and Candelfarb to hear. Or perhaps Lord Brigadion was allowing them to hear.
“Alright, mates. It's been fun, but I just found out what's really goin' on here! That nutter who came to see you, he's up there right now, watchin'! He's tryin' to make me lose me powers! Maybe even snuff me!”
The lead heretic said something, and the gryphon responded,
“I did! And I wasn't worried until I stopped being able to hear him. Wait! Maybe it's just wax....”
He frantically wiggled a claw of his foretalon in one ear, and then the other.
“No! It's startin'!
I'm gettin' out of here, before it gets worse!”
The beast flapped his wings – and nothing happened.
“C'mon fellas, help me out here. Gimme just a smidgeon of belief so I can fly home. I mean, there's a very slim chance that there coulda been something kinda-sorta like a gryphon...somewhere...at some time...right?”
The heretics looked at him, once again smug in their doubt.
“Well, whatever you do, don't say 'I don't believe in gryphons!'”
The lead heretic reponded - presumably “I don't believe in gryphons!”
The gryphon clutched his chest with his eagle foretalon. “Ungh! I'm beggin' you!
“I DON'T BELIEVE IN GRYPHONS!” shouted the man, now loud enough for Diarsi to hear.
The beast spun around as if he were in a trance – as he did so, a whirlwind of street-dust spun around him and then began flying up above his head. His powers! He grasped at the whirlwind with his forepaw and foretalon, but it whisked away from him, up towards the sky.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” he screamed. Yes,
* * * * * Twenty minutes earlier.
Ballad walked down the winding alleyway, his paws and talons going pad-scritch, pad-scritch against the cobblestones, to the rhythm of a song (inevitably) running through his mind. He was wearing his informal brown (open) vest, and matching cap, with one of his own feathers stuck in it. In his beak, he held a basket containing a few groceries, a couple of books, and a cryptic note that had been left for him at the cafe. It promised payment for his “presence” at the Zoho Skeptics Society. His musical partner, Sondrew, usually handled the arrangements for private performances – their human clientele was more comfortable with one of their own. Even the shopkeeps he had seen that morning were a little skittish around an 12 foot tall, 800 pound gryphon peering through their cozy little doorways. They were, of course, more at ease when Sondrew was with him, as if the lad held him on some invisible leash, like some kind of exotic pet. But perhaps this note was a sign of progress. They had asked for him, Ballad, specifically. As long as he was out and about this morning, he might as well see what they wanted.
He was familiar with the address they'd given – a tiny meeting hall hidden behind a nondescript wooden door in a shadowy corner of the alley. It was generally used by philosophers and poets who wanted to discuss things that even the patrons of the local cafes might find taboo. Oddly, the bell tower of the Brigadionist Chapel at Symet Square could be seen peeking over the rooftops, as if it knew what was being said down there but couldn't get close enough to stop it.
He set down his basket at his feet and “knocked” at the door by patting it with his lion forepaw. The murmur of conversation within stopped dead. A few moments later, a male voice said,
“Good mornin'. I'm Ballad Quill!”
Locks clicked, and then the door opened to reveal a middle-aged man in formal purple robes. He seemed shocked to find a gryphon had come to call – a reasonable response, except, of course, when one has invited a gryphon over.
“Ah, thank you for coming,” he said. “Honestly, I didn't think you would. I am Professor Rhodissian, president of the Zoho Skeptics Society.”
“A pleasure,” said Ballad, bowing extensively with the front end of his body, while his tail swished high in the air.
After an awkward pause, the gryphon went on,
“So you, uh, wanna arrange a performance er somethin'?”
“Can you spare a few minutes right now?” The man showed no fear, but he seemed to be looking past Ballad when he spoke.
“Um...certainly, mate,” said Ballad, shifting his massive body to catch the man's line of vision.
“As mentioned, we'll gladly pay your fee. You can sing if you like, but it isn't necessary. You see, we've been challenged to prove the gryphon is a hoax -”
?” squawked Ballad, staring quizzically at the man. “You mean ME
“I'm sorry,” said the skeptic. “I'm getting ahead of myself. We can address it – you
– directly, of course. But if
you're an illusion,” (He called out, beyond Ballad,) “we'd prefer to address whoever's running it!”
“THANK YOU!” came a voice, echoing through the alley. “It's so nice to get some recognition for a change!”
“So you admit the beast isn't real?!” said the man, calling out to this unseen person, sounding almost disappointed (too easy!).
“No, I admit that's actually me -” came the voice again – now in Ballad's voice, though his beak remained clamped shut. “- throwin' me voice!”
(This last bit seemed to emanate from Rhodissian himself.)
“So y'see,” said Ballad, out of his own mouth. “I'm who's running the illusion!”
“Clever,” said the skeptic, raising an eyebrow, still not addressing Ballad directly.
Despite his grudging “if”
, the man plainly didn't see Ballad as a fellow living thing. Some progress!
thought Ballad. Either they think you're somethin' you're not, or they think you ARE NOT at all!
At Rhodissian's invitation, the rest of the Skeptics Society emerged from the doorway and dispersed around Ballad.
“May we touch it?” asked the lead skeptic.
“It?” said Ballad. “That's me again, right? So we're at least acknowledging that I'm a solid object?”
Then it occurred to him that they
might be running the illusion. Something about all this felt vaguely trappish. What if they were questers in disguise, trying to get in close so they could slay him, diffusing his skepticism by feigning it themselves? That would be a good plan. But,
he thought, I have no more reason to suspect them of bein' questers than the shopkeeps do of me bein' a man-eatin' gryphon.
So he went ahead and let them approach him.
An elderly skeptic fingered the fur on Ballad's lion foreleg.
“This is beautiful!” he exclaimed. “What is this, velvet?”
“Careful!” the lead skeptic warned. “It's probably very expensive!”
“Eh, go to town, fellas,” said Ballad. “I'm priceless
, but impeccably constructed.”
He lay down, so they could reach more of him, and stretched out his wings, so they could inspect his feathers. He even used his beak to help a couple of them onto his back, so they could have a look around up there.
“Hey, while you're up there, could you scratch behind me left shoulder? AWWWWWWWWW yeah, that's the spot!”
Rhodissian hung back, continuing to look at everything but the creature. Which, Ballad thought, was actually a rather interesting method.
“May I suggest,” said Rhodissian, “there might be a puppeteer on the rooftop? In fact, if you look up, you might see a string glinting in the sunlight.”
“That's a cobweb,” said Ballad.
“Oh,” said the man, squinting up at it, dejectedly.
“Well, what if the puppeteer were inside there, somewhere!” someone else suggested.
“No, there's nobody in there!” said Ballad.
“What about me?!” came a voice from his stomach.
“Oh, don't mind him,” said the gryphon. “That's just the bloke I had for breakfast.”
“Funny thing, I didn't believe in gryphons either! Actually, I'm still mulling it over!”
“Take all the time you need,” said Ballad, patting the side of his belly with his forepaw. “But can you at least tell them there's no puppeteers in there with you?”
“No, just me!”
“Kidding, kidding! I'd never eat a potential audience member. I had halibut for breakfast.”
“The fish breath is a nice touch,” the skeptic admitted.
“Oh, thank you – the gryphonesses think so too.”
They continued inspecting Ballad's hyde, fingering through his feathers and his very shaggy mane, but failed to find any seams or bolts or anything that screamed “man-made” (excepting his jingle-bell earrings, which got them nowhere).
and stroked his beard.
“Well, if this is an illusion, I admit it's impeccable. Your fanatic is going to be sorry he missed this.”
“My fanatic?” asked Ballad.
“The man who challenged us at last week's meeting, Panin Diarsi. You must know him, he professes quite a ferocious belief in you!”
!” exclaimed Ballad. “He thinks I'm a human cursed to be a gryphon. (Heh! Some curse!) I told him me mum remembers
hatchin' me from an egg, but he won't believe me! Perhaps y'shoulda been more skeptical about HIM!”
“Oh, we were, we were!” said Rhodissian. “We still are! Regardless, we relish a challenge! Do you believe us to be 'nutters' as well?”
But Ballad didn't answer. It occurred to him that if Diarsi wanted this meeting to happen, it could be very bad that it did, maybe even worse than questers. He trained his ears on the bell tower, and he could hear the cleric up there, speaking to a companion.
“Maybe he's a clockwork, and he's wound down!” commented one of the skeptics, half-jokingly, on the gryphon's sudden stillness.
Ballad thought of suggesting that they wind up his tail, but he was still too distracted by what he heard.
So it was
“Destroy his unholy powers,” Diarsi said - that prob'ly means me voice! Among other things, but mainly me voice!
This worried him far more than the prospect of being slain. Were the skeptics a mere distraction, or had they been employed to DO something to him? He eyed them with suspicion, wondering if he should fly away, wondering if that was what Diarsi, in his tower, expected him to do. But with disturbing confidence, the cleric made it sound as if they had already done something to him – but what? He didn't feel any different. He hummed a tune under his breath – sounded fine! Surely, they had done nothing but try to see if he was real or not.
Then he realized - that was
what they had done to him.
And it was all he could do to keep a straight face.
* * * * *
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” the gryphon screamed. Yes
, thought Diarsi.
The heretics, steadfast in their unbelief, looked as if they were watching a dramatic performance. If they only knew the service they were providing to the People of Quintessentia!
The beast collapsed, a defeated heap of fur, muscle and feather, his beak making a terrible clank as it struck the pavement. He lay still for a few moments, and then -
“POOF!” shouted a deep, formal, narrator-like voice that seemed to come from above. “And thus the poor gryphon vanished into thin air. The world, of course, immediately regretted it. He was actually pretty wonderful...but now it was TOO LATE!”
Ballad – not at all “POOFED”, but still sprawled on the ground - began writhing in a fit of laughter. “Hahahahahahaha, hoo-hoo, hahaha! The idea that I'd need anyone to BELIEEEEEEEVE I'm real to be real! Hahahaha, hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo! 'Well, these random blokes don't believe in me, guess I better just give up on life!' A-ha-hahahaha-hoo-hoo-hoo! Oh Diarsi, what the hell are you gonna come up with next?!”
Defiant, mocking, scoffing...the curse had taken over the gryphon once more. Diarsi tried not to let Candelfarb see how disappointed he was.
“Now do you see that the gryphon is a threat only the church can handle?” the older cleric asked pointedly.
“He played dead,” said Diarsi, rallying himself. “He didn't fly up here and attack us in vengeance, he played dead, and he's satisfied! I'm telling you, there is good in him, and I can still save him!”
“'And Lord Brigadion said, 'Beware,'” Candelfarb quoted, “'for the Malevolent One will come in the guise of harmless folly. But be not fooled, for he is crafty and insidious, and will reveal his True Self only when it is least expected!'”
“Either way,” said Diarsi, “he's worth my close attention.”
* * * * *
With Diarsi's “plan” dispensed with, the gryphon performed a few displays of magical wind manipulation for the skeptics – little whirlwinds that gamboled about and bumped into each other, breezes that tousled the humans' hair and tugged at their cloaks.
“I'd tell you how this works,” he said, as he guided the enchanted breezes around with his wings,“but I don't know meself. Me mate Elspeth the alchemist says magic's just what we call what we can't explain, but even she can't fully explain it. Ah well. I like bein' called 'magical' anyway.”
When he lowered his wings and the winds vanished, the skeptics applauded. At a glance, he could tell they were all impressed, confounded – and utterly unconvinced that this was more than illusion.
“Well, Mr. Quill,” said Rhodissian politely. “You've been very accommodating. I'll give the matter of your reality further study.”
“Prob'ly a good idea,” said the gryphon. “Here, take a feather and a hair from me mane, to look over at your leisure. But in the meantime...This 'character' Ballad Quill...d'you find him entertainin'?”
“Yes, I suppose so,” the man conceded.
“Then I don't give a pond pixie's posterior whether you think I'm real or not!” He gave the skeptic a friendly pat on the shoulder with his lion forepaw – gently, of course. “I'm skeptical 'bout some things m'self! Back in me prideflock, some say we're the wind made flesh, sent by the Sky to serenade his love, the Earth, and when the two become one, we'll become the wind once more. Sounds like hogwash to me, but it makes for some beautiful songs! So does your Brigadionism, for that matter.”
“Now who's making assumptions?” said Rhodissian. “It's not *our* Brigadionism.”
“Is that so?” said Ballad, grinning. “Well, I guess we got somethin' in common. Maybe sometime I'll drop by one of them meetings, as a kinda...imaginary friend. How's that sound?”
Already he was planning how he could attach some strings to himself and have Sondrew act as the “puppeteer”. Then, he'd throw the strings off and say, “You were right, I WAS just a puppet, but now I'm real, and it's all because you BELIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEVE!”
THE END. SPOILER COMMENTS:
Writing this story, the question I ask myself is, “Am I justified in giving my readers an anti-climax in order to make a point?” I.e., that the good guy wins because the bad guys' plan is made of fail. Well, I hope so, in this case
. I plan to write stories with Ballad facing actual threats, too.
This story began as a response to a plot device in DreamWorks' “Rise of the Guardians”. The titular “Guardians” - a team of holiday icons – derive their powers from the belief of the children of the world. The villain attacks the Guardians by undermining that belief. For example, spoiling an Easter Egg Hunt. (Yeah, the children are kind of fickle). I actually kind of like the movie, but I have some misgivings about the “belief” theme, that were summed up nicely by this review:https://movies.yahoo.com/news/rise-guardians-review-magic-youd-better-believe-santa-000612999.html
This is also where I learned of that wonderful Christopher Durang quote.
I thought it could be interesting to explore what it would be like to have someone not believe you were real. Also, I wanted to show my fantasy figure having a different reaction to non-believers than the standard rage and/or depression – for this, see particularly holiday specials like “The Year Without a Santa Claus” or “'Twas the Night Before Christmas” (The latter of which I did a comedy review of:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_pJS3YoA68&list=PL0B116B7948CC6ADA&index=9
. Although I admit, I still enjoy both specials.
Another thing I wanted to address is that, in a fictitious universe where something supernatural is explicitly shown to be real, any non-believing character is usually made to look like an idiot. In this story, magic and gryphons are real, so we know that the skeptics are wrong, but I wanted to show them as generally reasonable people, whom I would agree with if they lived in the real world. I don't believe in gryphons either, although if one showed up at my doorstep, I wouldn't think “puppet”, I would think “hallucination." There are some actual cases of real animals initially being dismissed as hoaxes, like the platypus. Here's a list (that curiously does not include the platypus):http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_megafauna_discovered_in_modern_times#Megafauna_initially_believed_to_have_been_fictitious_or_hoaxes
Now in all fairness, “Guardians”, “Peter Pan” and other such stories are about retaining a sense of childlike wonder and fantasy, which I'm obviously in favor of. It is, specifically, the non-belief of children
that is said to be fatal to Guardians and fairies. Also, the “clap for Tinkerbell” scene is a brilliant bit of audience participation. But I still think it's curious to say that lacking belief in something is tantamount to murder.
By the way, “Peter Pan” and “Pinocchio” (referenced at the end) were both were written centuries after this story takes place, but my characters never explicitly mention them, so hopefully that excuses me from the anachronism. Ballad's modern-day cockney accent is another matter...but then again, why are they speaking English at all, instead of Quintessentian?
And speaking of that, when Ballad refers to “Me mate, Elspeth the alchemist” he means in the “friend” sense, not the “romantic” one.