These are the first four installments of the serialization of the Mighty Barribal. Each day will feature the next installment of the story.
The days were getting shorter in what was a sure sign of winter approaching, and so sharp little Ocelot, always thinking one step ahead, prepared for the future with a good stack of firewood.
“That’ll be nice and cozy once the snow gets here,” he thought. “I’m ready for everything now!”
Well, not quite everything, as we shall see.
One blustery morning in late fall, as he was checking on the draft of his chimney, his old friend from the neighborhood, Squire Olivier B. Bomble, came driving up to his cottage in a surprise visit.
“You didn’t expect me here today, did you now?” exclaimed the motoring gentleman. “But not to worry; I took care of everything. A drop of cod liver oil in the gasoline, a few aspirins in the coolant, and plenty of fresh air in the tires. In other words, young friend, all’s ready for a great road trip!”
“What road trip?” Ocelot asked dubiously. “And why now?”
“Because it’s cold and it’s damp is why now,” said Squire Ollie. “But down south the sun is shining and it’s nice and warm to boot. And that’s just the ticket for a gentleman with my fragile constitution—especially after all the hardships of this past fall. Now then, young friend, don’t always put yourself first. You wouldn’t want me to travel all alone, would you? So there!”
With this torrent of words, he ushered Ocelot to the patiently waiting Old Flash, and moments later the traveling party set out for the warm and sunny south. But it wasn’t long before a cold wind kicked up, tearing at the soft top roof, while smoldering clouds coursed ahead of them through a leaden sky.
“They are also going south,” Ocelot observed with a shiver. “So how would that make things better down there?”
“The sun eliminates all bad vapors and that’s a fact,” explained Squire Bomble. “Give it an hour or so and you’ll be glad that you came along.”
Little did he know what was really awaiting them down the road...
The Old Flash trundled on—over hill and over dale—giving its all, but the farther south it went, the colder it got. The wind had grown into a full-blown storm and the linen top proved no match for the roaring elements. Before evening fell, both occupants of the vehicle were chilled to the bone.
“I’m not enjoying this very much,” said Ocelot. “At least there would have been a nice, warm fire back home...”
“Will you please stop your nagging,” Squire Ollie chided him with chattering teeth. “What about me, then? By now, Jobes would have had a hearty meal ready, but here I am, driving for hours on end, just to treat you to a pleasant day. And what do I get?”
He suddenly fell silent and pointed to a ramshackle building shaking in the wind. The moon cast a ghostly light on its grimy walls and a battered sign above the door swung back and forth on rusty hooks, its creaks and groans audible above the howling storm.
“A cozy inn!” Squire Bomble exclaimed. “Now we can enjoy a well-deserved meal by a crackling fire. And after a good night’s rest, you’ll see that there’ll be plenty of sunshine in the morning.”
But it was not to be. As the thoroughly chilled travelers approached the front door, only the top half opened, revealing a haggard-looking innkeeper urgently flailing his arms in a signal to turn back.
“Flee while you can!” he squealed. “This place has the mark of Barribal on it. It’s history, and I’m packing up.”
Squire Ollie was taken aback for a moment, but then he bade the hotelier aside and entered the establishment with a reassuring smile.
“Are we talking about trouble with your suppliers, perhaps?” he suggested suavely. “Take comfort, my good man; I am a gentleman of quality for whom money plays no role. Please put a pot of soup on the stove, and I’ll see what I can do.”
Squire Bomble sat down at a wobbly table. He now had his first good look of the dining room and came to the realization that this shaky little inn was not the cheerful lodge he had imagined. Walls were creaking in the wind, windows were rattling in their frames, and the cloth on the table was doing its finest impression of sails ruffling in the wind.
The intrepid traveler, however, appeared ready to trade at least some cozy comforts for a solid meal. “A nourishing soup then...” he tried again. “For starters...”
“Gentlemen, I beg of you!” the innkeeper pleaded, wringing his hands with anxiety. “I cannot help you. It’s the end of the road for my business. It’s on Barribal’s black list.”
“Would that be the brewery, then?” Squire Ollie inquired, returning to an earlier theme. “I cannot imagine how that would mean the end of your fine establishment. But anyway, how about that soup—good and hot, please—and then we’ll see about...”
“No, it’s not about a brewery!” the innkeeper cut him off desperately. “It’s about a giant! An angry giant from the mountains. And he’s after me because I once said that I didn’t believe in him!”
“So there’s your solution!” exclaimed Squire Bomble, who at last seemed to understand. “Stop believing in him not once but altogether and he’ll go away quietly, simple as that. Besides, no giant will harm you while I’m a guest under your roof. What do you say, young friend?”
“Hm,” said Ocelot.
“What do you mean by that ‘Hum’?” Squire Ollie asked reprovingly. “I for one am not going back into that cold, especially since we’re only talking giants. Plus, here inside things could be a lot worse, so let’s make ourselves comfortable.”
Ocelot had been listening uncertainly to the wooden structure straining under the violence of the storm. But before he was able to comment on it, a terrific wind charged at the building like a herd of mad elephants, ripping the roof cleanly off it. And with that, the patrons at the once-inviting roadhouse found themselves enjoying the great outdoors after all.
Next up were the contents of the building. Tables and chairs, innkeeper and guests, hopes and dreams—all were swept up by the merciless storm and dumped unceremoniously behind the remnant of a basement wall.
For several long moments, the owner of the former hotel looked on helplessly but then he got up and left the scene of destruction with loud complaints about his lot in life. Soon though, his heartfelt groans dissolved in the wind, bringing to a close his brief and unhappy tenure in this story.
“It must be that Barribal...” Squire Ollie muttered. He had managed to liberate himself from some nasty wreckage and continued in a strangulated voice: “What a terrible ordeal, this wrath of a giant! A fair warning would have been most appropriate. How about you, young friend?”
“It was the storm,” said Ocelot. “This was a rickety old building and it couldn’t withstand the force of the wind. But let’s not stay out in the open; let’s go to the Old Flash. At least it still has a roof on it.”
Squire Bomble rose to his feet with near-superhuman effort and shuffled down the stone steps, leaning heavily on his friend’s shoulder.
“A roof over my head,” he said. “It’s what I need now more than ever. Whatever you call it, monster storm or monstrous giant; I am not built for hardships like this. What am I doing in this awful country, anyway? And how did I ever get here, I wonder?”
With these words, he climbed into his automobile and pulled his coat tight about him, trying to find what comfort he could behind the wheel. But the wind came at them from every which way, rocking the brave little vehicle like a cradle from hell. And the rain, too, was in on the nightmarish scene, showering them with lots of unwanted attention and soaking them to the skin. All in all, it was not a good night for sleeping.
Translation Copyright © 2014 by Adrian Meerman © Text and Images Toonder Company, Netherlands