In The Fugwheel of Floeness, little does our starry-eyed Alice know what befalls her when she receives an unannounced, pompous furry ball on a lonesome wintry evening. Mr. Pompeii Snoot draws to his full height of five indignant inches and bears strange tidings as snow blankets down their world.
About the Author
Nidhi Singh lives with her husband in the idyllic Yol Cantonment, an erstwhile PoW camp for German and Italian soldiers during the two World Wars.
Nidhi’s short work has appeared internationally in Veggie Wagon Journal, FurPlanet, Millhaven Press, Phenomenal Literature, and many other literary journals.
Nidhi has also authored a few novels and several bestselling translations of Sikh Holy Scriptures. She enjoys writing funny, lighthearted stories set in a sunlit world.
The Fugwheel of Floeness by Nidhi Singh
A soft sound, not unlike the whimper of a person tucked cozily in for a dreamless sleep, awoke Alice, just as she was about to swoon in the arms of the dark, handsome stranger on horseback who’d rescued her from dancing and leaping ruffians—in her dreams, of course. For she was merely eighteen, starry-eyed, and had only the company of Mrs. Maud Stickle, in whose house she stayed in the capacity of paying guest; although sometimes, Alice did not pay. And then there were her books, so many of them lining the shelves on her walls.
Rubbing her eyes, she slid open the door. It seemed heftier than usual, and as it moved, something scraped the wooden floor behind it. Alice nearly stepped on a squishy and warm thing in the dark passageway. She flicked on the switch and found a grey furry ball curled up on the floor. It was like a tangle of dandelions, or a clump of fluff blown in by the damp, icy winds. She gingerly put a foot out and pushed it away. The thing suddenly uncurled and came to life. Rising to its full height, an indignant, five fuzzy inches, the thing cast a pale, one-eyed look of scorn upon her.
“My, my, what have we here?” Alice exclaimed, squinting at it.
“Never seen a Fugwheel before, Miss? A Fugwheel from Floeness,” the tittle replied, bowing ever so slightly at the waist.
“A talking one—most certainly not! Aren’t you far from home, Mr. Fugwheel?”
“I am headed thither, Miss, after concluding some business here, but strange mythical creatures are at large abroad. Why, I nearly got squashed under Sisyphus’s rolling stone. There should be a law against Greek refugees!
And orange kitties chasing me. It’s a downright insult,” he said, gravely. “I am quite alright with frost-breathing dinosaurs with snuggly snouts, but color-changing snowmen taking me home for their babies to play with, my nerves cannot take!”
“Oh, my! I must let you spend the night here then. How did you manage to get in?”
“Through the dog flap.”
“But I don’t have a dog!”
“It would appear so, Miss, you don’t seem a dog-person.”
“That, Mister, is rude, for I love dogs no less than cats or mermaids. But why are you all grey—aren’t you supposed to be crimson and green?”
He shook himself, spraying off a shower of frost and white flakes. His appearance transformed instantly. He had green fur, a cute pink belly, and baby soft twiddly toes.
“There,” he said, “is that better?”
Alice clasped her fingers to her agape mouth then slowly recovered. “Ah, but you must be cold!”
“It’s not the cold that bothers me much: it’s stimulating company, hot caterpillar soup and a good book to curl up with that I miss most. And if you would allow me for the night a safe place next to your door, under which I can receive the warm air from the fireplace, I shall be much obliged, and I’ll be on my way in a day or two.”
“Most certainly so. I am Alice by the way.”
“Mr. Pompeii . . . the pleasure, being entirely mine.”
“Mr. Pompeii? As in—”
“Do I, Miss, cross my arms across my chest, raise the chin, look down my nose at a humble speck, and mouth, ‘Alice? Alice . . . as in wonderland?’ No, I do not! I am Pompeii Von Snoot . . . Mr. Pompeii to my friends.”
“All right, Mr. Snoot, good night!” Alice stepped back into her room and shut the door on her visitor, who she imagined was not regarding her entirely with approval.
* * *
The next morning, Alice discovered the Fugwheel gone. She’d almost looked forward to seeing him again; he was so old-world, proper and cross, like someone out of the Victorian classics she was reading for her semester exams. And she knew almost nobody else in this new neighborhood.
She reported the visit to Mrs. Maud over a breakfast of fresh baked buns, rich and velvety scrambled eggs, and a mug of hot chocolate.
“Them Fugwheels never brought anyone any peace,” her landlady warned. “They are bad omen; they bring on ill fortune like moths to a flame. Stay him out.”
“He couldn’t harm a fly if he tried, Maud, but I will not entertain him again.” Alice pecked Maud on her cheek and rushed along to University. She watched out for rolling stones and baby Graeae but found only happy kids throwing snowballs at each other and trudging through the fresh snow to school.
That night, Alice had half a mind to stay awake till Mr. Snoot arrived and then to firmly tell him off, but luckily for him, he was late. She yawned, switched off the lights, and tucked the hardcover Mansfield Park under her pillow. The icy wind had set up an eerie howl and was now screaming over the frozen brook bed. On second thoughts, she got up and tiptoed to the kitchen. Once there, she collected some breadcrumbs, dunked them into parsley soup, and left the plate outside her door. Then, with an impish smile, she removed Mansfield Park and placed it next to the plate. After which, she turned in for the night. In no time, she was stargazing on a picnic blanket out on the greensward with her lover . . . in her dreams, only in her dreams.
* * *
Apparently, Mr. Snoot had used a piece of coal to scribble this on the back page of her book:
“I quite enjoyed reading MP again, though have never liked it near so well as P&P or S&S. I couldn’t agree with Ms. Austen more when she described her book as too light, bright and sparkling.
P.S. Thank you for the thoughtful nourishment; a good meal it might be for a skinny, eighteen-year-old. Though for a full-grown, man-size Fugwheel with a healthy appetite, it was rather frugal. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Alice snorted. A little gratitude would have been more in order. She checked herself in the mirror, searching for the loveliness people told her she possessed. But skinny—that was something new. Mr. Snoot, you could please stay out, thank you very much!
But her generous, Christian spirit got the better of her again that night. She snuck out of a warm bed to fetch leftover meat pie and lemony Kale salad for her uninvited visitor. (Maud had said fugwheels could eat three times their body weight.) And as just deserts, she also threw in with the goodies: Ulysses, Canterbury Tales and The Castle. She hoped he wouldn’t find them “light” reading. She didn’t want him leaving soot marks on her books so she also left him a notebook and pencil.
A loud slurping noise awoke Alice just when her dream boyfriend was kissing her on the Ferris wheel in the starlit sky. With a grunt, she shook off the quilt and opened the door. There, on the floor, leaning in regal poise against the wall, Mr. Snoot’s pink toes scraped away the last of the meat pie while he made notes in The Castle. He read as if he were climbing a hill, his frown changing from a smile to a definite scowl of disapproval. The other two books, probably finished already, were piled in a far corner with the salad bowl, which was sparklingly empty.
“You look well,” Alice remarked. “No canker blossoms or malt-worms to tease us tonight, Mr. Snoot?”
“Quite. No gonad-shattering noises of mugwumps singing out of tune either. But my labors have all been in vain, I am sorry to say.”
“I have been unable to collect enough sap of poppy wood, which my people need to make tonics and brews. I must return empty-handed and a failure, I’m afraid, but no further will I impose myself on your hospitality.”
Alice laughed. “Where will you find poppy wood in this season? Everything is buried under the snow!”
“Then I must return a losing weeper.”
“Don’t be so harsh on yourself. I’ll help you in your search for wood poppies, howsoever crazy that might sound.”
“Really, you will?” The Fugwheel wrung his twinkly tinkle toes in despair.
“Yes, Mr. Snoot.”
* * *
White were the far-off leas; white the fading woods grew, as they set out in quest for the poppy wood juice. The bare trees loomed wraithlike into the dun sky; the hedges dwindled and the knolls were flecked slowly out. The snow fell constantly, settling a dull weight on garbs and trees. The dusk deepened, and the hoary folded closer the earth and sky. They plodded stoutly on; stem and spur and blade and bristle, all were in an icy still, forlorn.
Mr. Snoot found what he was looking for, what with his fervor, and her faith.
But the adventure took its toll on our fragile Alice, and she was laid low with the chills, night sweats, and malaise.
* * *
“No good ever came of hobnobbing with odd creatures. My poor, pretty lambkin, see how you shiver and rack! I am going to put an end to this wheeling, wheedling madness,” Maud said. She rubbed camphor mixed with goose grease on Alice’s chest then tucked her in and bade her stay in.
She taped the dog flap, nay, nailed it shut.
“There, that’s done,” Maud said, surveying her work with a smirk. “I must be gone, Sweetie, to fetch supplies from the town, for we have run out of most. A bottle of Mrs. Winslow’s Trusted Syrup I shall leave by your bed; now be good, take it thrice daily, and stay out of harm’s way. Don’t worry, I’ll hasten back.”
Kissing Alice on the burning forehead, Maud Stickle wiped away a worried tear. After checking that she’d left enough hard salted cheese, dried bread, and pickled pork over the hearth, she set out for town.
She was gone two days and nights, and Alice grew worse. She dreamt of Mr. Snoot throwing snowballs at her window and crying out her name. But she was too fevered and weak to get up and investigate. Finally, on the third night, there was a knock on her door. Thinking it must be Maud, she barely managed to murmur an audible, “Come in.”
It wasn’t Maud. It was the handsomest young man she’d ever laid bloodshot eyes on, eyes that she rubbed now in disbelief. A gentle voice wafted through the delirious haze. The young man felt her forehead with his palm, checked her pulse, and drew a chair next to her bed.
She tried to rise on her elbows.
“Please don’t,” he begged. “Lie still.”
“Good evening, dear Alice.” Another kindly voice emanated from the floor.
She looked down; it was Mr. Snoot. It wasn’t a dream after all. She smiled and reached down her hand to smoothen the burrows on his forehead.
He said, “I am indeed sorry to get you into trouble for my sake.”
“Why haven’t you gone back, Mr. Snoot?” she asked. “I thought you’d found what you wanted.”
“How could I, without saying goodbye? I was worried when I couldn’t see you for two days, because I knew you were in. I took the liberty of fetching this gentleman of medicine to accompany me to correct the situation.”
The doctor nudged open Alice’s mouth and poured some powder and water down her throat. “You will be fine in no time,” he said, propping pillows under her tousled head. He gazed at her fine features and ivory complexion, which were charmed a ruddy rose with the flushing.
“You have a fine collection of the written word,” the doctor observed. “I am fond of them myself too.”
“Go ahead and take a look,” insisted Mr. Snoot, ignoring the surprised look Alice gave him.
She protested, “It is quite late, Mr. Snoot, to trouble the gentleman so.”
“Lachlan, Miss,” the doctor said. “A pleasure making your acquaintance. Do you mind if I take a closer look?”
Alice shook her pretty head, and Lachlan rose and began to peruse the rows of books. He rummaged through her collection like an animated child, flipping pages here and there.
“Why don’t you read aloud to her?” Snoot asked.
“I absolutely must insist—” Alice began to object, but she was silenced when Lachlan said, “I would enjoy it very much.”
He read in a mellifluous voice well into the night, till both his companions were lulled into slumber. Then, finding a warm shrug on a chair, he pulled it over his knees and fell asleep himself.
For the first time in many days, Alice didn’t dream that night, but an astral smile flickered ever and anon on her face as if she did.
In the morning, both Lachlan and Snoot had gone. She felt better already, well enough to tend to her wavy locks and correct any imaginary blemishes on her glowy beauty. It was in good time as well, for a knock at the door brought Lachlan back into her life again.
“Here,” he said, shyly holding forth a small bouquet of get-well roses and lilies.
Alice drew a foot behind and curtsied handsomely.
“If you are up to it,” he said, “perhaps a walk will flatter your complexion and cure the blues.”
She smiled, and slipping a hand through the arm he offered, set out into the bracing light of day.
“I am afraid I can’t pay your fees,” she blurted, “not right now in any case.” Then she covered her mouth for the tactlessness.
“Not to worry. Mr. Snoot made the payment, much against my wishes.” Lachlan showed her a bright yellow sapphire nearly as big as her palm.
“It’s like the yellow sap of wood poppies,” she observed, holding up the stone in the balmy sunlight.
They walked about the sun-washed streets, listening to the winter wren’s songs, immersed in each other, till it was lunchtime. As he left her at her doorstep, he asked, “Alice, can I visit you again? Not as a doctor, for you look quite hale already.”
She blushed. “Do you really want to?”
“Certainly,” he replied, “if you have no objections.”
“Are you for real?” she asked, swaying ever so slightly at the hips. She would have broken into song and dance but for the very awkwardness of it.
He drew her face in his palms and kissed her. Had she not gripped the doorpost, she would have fainted, like in her dreams. He smiled and turned on his feet, wading through the garden path still unswept of snow.
Mr. Snoot didn’t visit her again.
And this is what Alice had to say in her diary:
In life, often we do not know what’s good or bad for us, except in hindsight. Round, furry, huggable fug balls are called wheels, because unless we let them come full circle, we do not know what delights and good luck charms are hidden within the seeming ill fortunes they bring to our lives.
About the Story
The Fugwheel of Floeness was written by Nidhi Singh and first appeared in Fabula Argentea in Apr 2015.
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