Chapter 1 of Opal's Imagipen (children's story)

Excerpt from Opal's Imagipen

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Chapter 1

The Questionable Sincerity of Gentleparrots

“Just a few minutes more,” Opal said, tossing back her blond hair and adding the finishing touches to her most recent easel animal – a triceratops, which was having an uncommon amount of trouble keeping still, as far as triceratops went. Its blue tail and green horns dried more quickly than its orange body, so blurs of blue and green started to wander around Opal’s art studio, knocking over a vase filled with Mother’s petunias and poking much too fiercely at her seated Uncle Mortimer, who smelled strongly of sauerkraut and thus often attracted abstract organisms.

“I say, Opal,” Uncle said as he nervously swatted at the nosy triceratops tail and horns, “why on earth did you paint this creature in pieces? I haven’t the foggiest what I’m to tell the neighbors if that tail happened to waltz down Pickwick Avenue all on its own with a top hat and a how-d’you-do for every passerby. Suppose it should even be rude and forget to tip its hat!”

Her amused face turned towards her work, Opal smiled secretly at her uncle’s unfortunately narrow knowledge of easel animals, which were of course the most polite of painted creatures, even in separate pieces, as they often started. Monsieur and Madame Skwocke, who were also in her audience, knew much better than to ask such a hopelessly silly question and simply clamped their purple beaks in silent awe of both Opal’s remarkable talent and Uncle Mortimer’s hopeless silliness.

“Oh, everyone knows that you never paint an easel animal’s torso first. At least an easel elephant’s ears left on their own can hear when you call, and of course they will never see the butterfly net that every good easel animal artist keeps on hand to capture missing pieces gone astray. Who ever heard of netting an entire elephant?”

Monsieur and Madame Skwocke laughed heartily at this absurdity, ruffling their purple feathers and screeching in a rather vulgar but appreciated manner. Still not quite accustomed to gentleparrots, Uncle Mortimer frowned at this display of genuine feeling and busied himself with the adjustment of his monocle, recoiling from them in a manner not entirely unlike that of a disgruntled snake.

She dabbed at the last bit of orange paint on her palette, finishing up her triceratops’ smile with one graceful brushstroke. The blue tail and green horns, sensing that their time for free play was at an end, slipped into a pair of Opal’s roller-skates and zoomed across the glossy wooden floor until they collided with her easel, and, in effect, their new body.

“But how marvelous you are!” exclaimed Opal with pride as the finished blorange-green triceratops broke free from her easel and stomped heavily, which was quite normal, as far as triceratops went. Uncle Mortimer gave the new easel animal a standing ovation, and even the salamanders who were just then serving the afternoon tea felt the need to pause and savor Opal’s creation, hissing in approval. Again Monsieur and Madame Skwocke squawked for Opal, which made her somewhat doubt their sincerity and, to a lesser extent, the sincerity of all gentleparrots.

“I shall call you Quincy,” declared she.

In a rather generous show of support, her relative gamely reached out to pet Quincy’s orange scales. But, as Uncle Mortimer was quite unaccustomed to the physical nature of easel animals, his hand soon smeared with the orange paint so that even Monsieur and Madame Skwocke could not sip their tea without snickering.

“Yes, well,” stammered Uncle Mortimer, cleaning his hands with his regrettably white handkerchief, “perhaps a gallery showing is in order, Opal, my dear.”

“Mum and Dad will love him; don’t you think?”

At the mention of Opal’s parents, Uncle Mortimer tried to hide his frowning mustache in his tea, as he had done ever since he received a phone call long after dark one week ago. Much to Opal’s worry and frustration, her uncle had revealed nothing to her, but she had a sneaking suspicion that Mum and Dad would not be coming home.

Closing her eyes tight and sipping her tea, Opal tried not to think about how much she wished her mum was there to help her shape Quincy’s horns, or how Dad always had some new type of candy for her every time he returned from Bartleby’s BonBon Boutique. Opal’s mind started to turn to thoughts of scary places where her parents could be, so of course she soon tried to conjure that phantom dimension, the Grey Scale.

The other artistic children on Pickwick Avenue often discussed this mysterious place in which puppies, pastels, and pastries were long forgotten (the three best things in all the land of Luster!) and from whence no one ever returned. If, instead of partaking in fun activities with numbers, such as windsurfing or playing hopscotch, one was forced to mash them together or cruelly tear them apart, what other cruelties were imposed in that terrible place?

“I heard that no one there has wings!” said a rather worried-looking fairy named Mop.

“Or scales,” added Tunabelle.

“Or tails,” chimed Kit.

“Or,” gasped the betentacled Octavian, “even fingdings.”

None of the children knew what a fingding was, certainly, but, equally, none of them wanted to be without one if they could help it.

Uncle cleared his throat, finding very little to say to the vulgar gentleparrots, one of whom had begun to peck at his favorite tea cakes. “We’d best put...Quincy with the others, what-what?”

Sighing, Opal replied, “Yes, Uncle. I’ve only got to find that Sparkle Key!”

Now, the satchel containing this missing article was either where she had dropped it – in the middle of the ballroom in the middle of last night’s festive, impromptu jig – or it had been ferreted away by the family ferrets Phineas and Pete, in which case, her satchel and its contents, which unfortunately included her sparkling key to the Imagipen and T. Graham Portcullis’ manual on the Southwestern Unicorn Dialect, were all but lost. That is, until someone desired the family rubies and decided to knock down walls to find the precious stones. These rubies were of course were kept in a vault quite safe and secret from Opal or anyone else, and such a destructive action would only lead the greedy thieves to the Sparkle Key, T. Graham Portcullis’ manual on the Southwestern Unicorn Dialect, and possibly Mother’s “Scones of the World” collection, which had been quite missing for many years.

At the mention of this satchel, Monsieur and Madame Skwocke stopped their pecking, saying in unison, “Why, here it is, child!” as they pulled the polka-dotted satchel from beneath the tea table with their featherhands. What on earth they had been planning to do with the sparkling key to her easel animal Imagipen or T. Graham Porcullis’ manual on the Southwestern Unicorn Dialect, Opal could not tell.

“What do we say, Opal?”

“Thank you very much, monsieur et madame.”

“What a polite child!” they chimed in unison as the returning salamanders pried the delicate teacups from Monsieur and Madame Skwocke’s featherhands.

“And there’s the eight o’time chime, my dear girl. What kind of uncle would I be if I permitted tardiness to Sweetwell Cottage three days in a row?” A flustered Uncle Mortimer hurriedly gave the sparkling key to the salamanders and directed them to corral Quincy into the easel animal Imagipen. In the Imagipen, Quincy wouldn’t be too terribly lonely while Opal was out studying with the other artistic children.

Bartholomew the brown bear, Herodotus the hermit crab, Maleficent the magnificent marmot, and John the portly insurance salesmonkey welcomed Quincy to their rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet, handing him a script so that he at least had a place to take note of his blocking, despite his obvious lack of the opposable thumbs typically required for handling a writing utensil. Opal trusted that the stage director, Cornelius Pettigrew – who was of course a koala – would help Quincy with his lines and make him feel quite at home.

“Farewell, Uncle and Monsieur and Madame Skwocke!” Opal called as she bounded from bouncy tortoiseshell to bouncy tortoiseshell on the path to Sweetwell Cottage at the end of the street, her long blond hair flowing behind her as she went.

As a lemonade rain began to trickle from the sky, Opal pulled her cumbersome umbroccolli from her jacket pocket, determined to look fashionable even if she could not look dry. Appearance was quite important to the little artist, who never wore one magenta skirt with the same eggplant top and had enough pairs of shoes to cross the entire land of Luster, lined up boot to slipper, heel to toe. She had only eleven years and already Opal had great senses of color and fashion, a wonderful group of friends and friendimals, and an uncle and parents who loved her even more than her friendimal Ceseal loved fish, (which was quite a lot).

Opal sighed in content and said to herself the sort of words that almost always invite trouble as she climbed up the steps to Sweetwell Cottage, “My life is so very perfect in Luster. Absolutely nothing could ever possibly go wrong.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

The sky grew dark with the looming marshmallow clouds that had accumulated throughout the afternoon, forcing Opal to use her trusty Magpielite ™ to light the way home. The little artist’s head was swimming with the new watercolor techniques that Miss Tracy had showed her when Opal suddenly felt a strange something in the air. Whether it was because the notoriously marshmallow cloud-loving family ferrets Phineas and Pete did not bound outside to greet her or because Uncle Mortimer’s land-roving submersible was still parked in the driveway, Opal knew that something was not right.

“Uncle Mortimer? Mum?” she said uneasily, opening the heavy front door with caution as her Magpielite ™ flickered out. The foyer was shrouded in darkness, something that had never happened in Opal’s after-cottage memory. As she sniffed for Uncle’s familiar sauerkraut scent, lightning struck outside, casting brief light on Phineas and Pete, who were shuddering in hiding atop the grand entryway chandelier.

“But you two rascals are never afraid of anything,” whispered Opal in disbelief. “Something strange is afoot.”

Thankfully, Phineas and Pete leapt down from the chandelier and followed her into the darkness, uncharacteristically noble in the face of such uncertainty. She was glad for their company and also to find that all of the easel animals were safe and sound in the Imagipen, only mildly upset by the blackout’s interruption of their rehearsal. However, Opal continued to worry about Uncle Mortimer and Mum – and even Dad, for that matter – who were still nowhere to be seen as the lemonade rain transformed into angry lemonade hail.

“We’re going away,” a voice said from the darkness. As the lights flickered back on, Opal saw that it was Uncle Mortimer who spoke. Opal wondered at his ability to see her without the aid of electricity, but then she remembered that his mother was part owl.

“What has happened, Uncle? Are Mum and Dad back? I’m – Phineas and Pete are very frightened, you see…” Opal explained. The ferrets looked up at her with a matching pair of glares that seemed to say that they were displeased both by Opal’s fibbery and by her false estimation of their bravery.

Uncle Mortimer smoothed Opal’s windblown hair and took her hand, leading her outside towards his land-roving submersible. “You’re not to say a word, right, my gem? We must be very quiet if we’re to make it.”

Once outside, Opal again covered her head with her umbroccoli to shield herself from the uncharacteristically aggressive Lusterian weather. She removed her hand from her uncle’s grasp and, with Phineas and Pete standing at each of her sides, Opal demanded, “Make it where? Where are Mum and Dad?”

A clap of thunder made Opal’s ears ring. The ferrets crept into the backseat of the land-roving submersible and Uncle Mortimer took her hand again, this time much more firmly than before.

“The Grey Scale.”

Copyright Alexandra Lucas 2015

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