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December 2009

December 2009 -- Jungle

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  • Fiction: Woman on the Moon
  • Fiction: Vegetable Jungle

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  • Vegetable Jungle
    by Sarah Cuypers

    The forest (at other times a very peaceful place) was now quiet. Too quiet even. The newts and frogs had hidden themselves in crevices and nooks at the waterside. The dragonflies and water damsels knew better than to be caught in the open sky today and were nowhere to be seen. The local unicorn had suddenly decided on a long, long holiday in another forest, preferably several miles away from this one. The birds unanimously remembered today was a good day to stay a-nest for spending some quality-time with their eggs. And the rabbits... well, they had had a nasty shock to find the lettuce all of a sudden expressing a wish to nibble on them for a change.

    The only sound in the forest was the peaceful murmur of the forest brooks. That and the voracious gulping of the flock of wild onions that noisily drank from the water. Hungry eggplants roamed the forest groves. Sweet peas and bean stalks had conquered the trees and hung in vast strands from the branches, going for the fashionable jungle-look.

    Yes, something was definitely not all quite right in the forest today.

    "Well," said a voice somewhere in the trees. "That's a bit of a shocker, eh?"

    "It wasn't quite supposed to go this way," answered a second voice contritely.

    "You don't say, weed wizard," the first voice continued sarcastically. A hypothetical listener could have distinguished a strange amphibian quality to it.

    "Now don't start that again," Egidius the wizard said testily from his perch on an oak branch, several meters above the floor. "I didn't see you doing anything particularly heroic about the situation either."

    "Heroic? Me?" The toad asked with surprise, sitting next to the wizard. The hypothetical onlooker may have wondered too, how it had gotten up there in a tree. Eventually he would have come to the obvious conclusion that, yes, desperation could do that to a toad. Not many people have realised that there is no better encouragement to learn tree-climbing than having cobs of maize trying to chew on your back flippers.

    "What should I do about it?" The toad went on. "You're the weed wizard!"

    "Botanomancer," Egidius corrected with a sigh. It was clearly this conversation had been played out more than a few times between the two.

    Still, his amphibian familiar was not entirely beside the mark. Egidius was a botanomancer, a wizard to whom the mysterious ways and life of plants held no secrets. Well, mostly held no secrets - clearly there were a few small ones that kept escaping him. Like, for instance, the best method to keep your mobile, carnivorous vegetables under control.

    "We should move," Egidius said after a few moments of silence while tomatoes prowled the undergrowth beneath their feet. "Once leech-lemons take root, it's impossible to exterminate those suckers afterwards."

    They waited a little longer, just to make sure no vegetable was either in striking distance or in the general vicinity. Then Egidius clambered out of the tree. He helped the toad down, if only to prevent his familiar from making further sarcastic comments. The toad had been really on a roll since they had been driven from their cottage and there was only so much Egidius' much-tried nerves could take today. With all the carefulness and stealth they could muster, they sneaked through the vine covered trees. But alas, their escape did not go unnoticed.

    "Sweet peas!" Egidius cried aghast when a flock of small green vegetables appeared in front of them. "This is the end!"

    But this time it was his familiar that took measures into its own paws to save its warty hide. The toad boldly stepped forward and stated firmly: "No sudden moves! I'm a vegetarian!"

    Egidius opened his mouth to correct that comment but he managed to keep the damning words in just in time. The toad's bluff seemed to have an immediate effect: The peas went into a defensive huddle, indecisiveness spread over their bland green husks.

    The toad sucked in air and strutting on high legs, doing its best to look taller. Which --all things considered -- was easy when faced with peas. It took another brave step forward, bragging loudly: "That's right! Shiver and tremble, you little green pests!"

    The peas edged slowly away from the approaching amphibian. One of the toad's eyes swivelled towards Egidius who looked on with an interested sort of horror. "Any time now, wizard," the toad said urgently.

    "Oh," was all Egidius said, before he fumbled in his pockets and pulling out something shiny, took a grand dive towards the peas. The shaken peas had no chance to react and soon all of them were angrily jumping up and down in a glass jar, and trying to bite the wizard's fingers. Egidius quickly screwed on the lid. "I knew that pickle jar would come in handy," he said triumphantly.

    "So very clever of you," the toad said, finally able to let out its breath. "But I can hear the coleslaw moving in on our position. Let's scram."

    Egidius stuffed the jarred peas in one pocket, his familiar in the other, and started to demonstrate how he had once won bronze in the Yearly Wizard 10 Miles Race. (The fact that there had only been three contestants had nothing to do with it.) Behind him, the eerie hunting howl of coleslaw rent the forest air.

    The wizard ran blindly while the toad shouted directions from his pocket. Knowing that vegetables, even the carnivorous ones, preferred sunshine, Egidius launched himself into the first dark cavern he could find. Stumbling in the dark, he sank to the ground wheezing. The toad crawled out of the wizard's coat.

    "That's the first bright idea you had so far, weed wizard," it said.

    "Boh… tah… noh… maan… ceh," Egidius wheezed.

    The toad pretended not to hear and walked a few paces away from the panting wizard, suspecting Egidius may choose to collapse on top of it out of spite. But it stopped abruptly when it felt something hairy under its paws, instead of the cave-floor.

    "Eh, wizard," said the toad uncertainly, "why do I hear you wheezing behind me, when I'm feeling your beard in front of me?"

    Something moved in the darkness. With a yelp the toad dove into the vicinity of the wheezing wizard and hid under his knee. Egidius managed just enough breath to summon a light-elemental that cast a sudden, pale yellow light in the dark cave.

    The little elemental's light revealed that the cave was packed with animals, apart from the open space in the middle where Egidius had fallen down. Deer, rabbits, song birds, a few wild boar, badgers, a couple of foxes and one very apologetic-looking dragon huddled together against the cave walls, edging away from the sudden light.

    "Oh," said the toad, as it came out of hiding. "So that's where everyone went." The toad turned to Egidius who was slowly finding his breath again. "Now look what you did."

    "Is my light elemental not to your liking yet again?" Egidius asked grumpily.

    "That's not what I meant and you know it," his familiar retorted. "This is your doing, you know. That's what you get with messing with dangerous greenery. You and your escaped experiments have sent half the forest looking for cover. Heck, you've even managed to scare the dragon back into its cave. You know, that same dragon that would have dined on your gimpy legs for this insult if the last knight in shining armour hadn't converted it into a friendly vegetari-"

    The toad trailed off suddenly.

    "Hang on," it said slowly after a moment as it rubbed one webbed paw over its chin. Its copper eyes looked particularly manic in the elemental light. "I'm having a thought…."

    ~~~

    One would have to be a bard to do justice to a description of the following scene. Unfortunately, the pumpkins ambushed and ate the last one, so posterity will never know the full glory of the Battle under the Trees, or as the toad put it: "Whatever happens when you release a group of miffed vegetarians upon a bunch of lively yet unsuspecting vegetables."

    It started with the apocalyptic scene of an angry dragon bursting from his cave, flames streaming over his jaw, an excited wizard trying to hang onto its flanks. Closely behind it, followed cohorts of hungry deer and wronged rabbits. Songbirds streamed from the cave in attack formation. The badgers, refusing to be badgered any longer, brought up the rear. The foxes joined because, while they weren't vegetarian, they never bailed out of a good fight. The forest fauna meant business.

    The vegetables never quite knew what happened. The very last thing that most of them perceived in their short, vegetable lives, was a flash of very neatly maintained, shiny teeth, accompanied by the yelling of incoherent battle-cries coming from an over-excited wizard.

    They never stood a chance.

    A veritable massacre -- or rather a decadent orgy took place. The death throws of potatoes echoed through the forest, occasionally interrupted by the sound of chewing. The rabbits took the fight underground and their slash-and-nibble tactics soon routed the carrots to the last carrot standing. The turnips put up a brave fight but it takes a sturdier vegetable to make a dent in a dragon. Egidius got hit on the head by a gang of furious grapes until a friendly deer ate them off him. That deer later had to go home early due to tipsiness. The toad wisely stayed out of the way of the fighting, but could occasionally be heard offering advice on how to catch beans in a full nelson.

    At sundown, the forest finally took on its usual appearance. Or rather its more usual appearance as the forest usually wasn't littered by animals lying around with thick, round bellies, and a vague, satisfied smile on their faces. Not a vegetable stirred as dusk started to fall.

    What hadn't taken on its usual appearance was Egidius' vegetable garden, which had been turned into a bare space of turf in the battle as the strawberries had had their Alamo here. A few sap-stained leaves were all that remained. The wizard stared at the empty ground and sighed.

    It had been a good vegetable garden, he thought mournfully. Of course, not all his of experiments had been entirely successful, but he had felt he was getting somewhere with his cucumbers. He turned away from his garden and entered his cottage. Now there just was nothing left. He had to start all over again.

    Something went ‘tink' in his pocket. He pulled out the forgotten jar with sweet peas and put it on his desk before him. The peas eyed him with deep suspicion. Maybe he didn't have to start all over just yet, Egidius thought. What could he do with sweet peas, he wondered.

    "Hang on," he told no one in particular, "I'm having a thought..."

    Sarah Cuypers writes fantasy and science-fiction short stories for fun. She also dabbles in drawing and wildlife photography. She’s from Belgium and adores frogs.
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