This post is for everyone who just likes a good tall tale. I wrote this one when I was a member of the writing club at Lakehead University. We were playing a writing game where you select some random words or things and then try to write a short story that uses some of the words. It's a lot of fun and pretty good to get a start on a story if you are having trouble deciding what to write about. Some of the results can be pretty surprising. The words/things we used for this game were: A Ship, Ostrich, and Pillow. I decided to try to include them all into the story and came up with this. Enjoy!
By: Kris Fedick
“Aye. I'll tell ye a story. A story 'bout tha crown ship iceberg and the mighty catastrophe it caused that gained it immediate stardom among some folks.” The old man said. He took a few puffs of his pipe while staring into space thoughtfully before continuing. “Twas a cold day... Neigh! Twas night. An tha sea was as calm as a sheet o the finest glass.”
A barmaid, who had just arrived with a round of drinks rolled her eyes. “Not this story again. How many times are you going to tell that old tall tale Jake?”
“Aye. THIS story again.” Jake replied. “And 'tisn't a tall tale. I seen it happen with my own two eyes.” He turned back to his crowd of spectators. “Now. Were was I? Ah yes. It was a cloudy day an the sea was calm as glass. There was a fog rollin in from tha south an all hands were on deck. We was carryin a special cargo o ostrich, vile beasts out a tha darkest pit o hell they be, and we was wantin tah get to port before the fog hit.”
The man was clearly drunk out of his mind and I wondered if he was even able to stand, as it was he could barely speak. But everyone said “If you visit the inn, buy old Jake a drink and hear his stories. They're hilarious.” Well, as far as tall tales go, it was quite a yarn. It also didn't make any sense but, somehow, the old man kept everyone enthralled by his tale of the demon ostrich that wrecked his ship and started the great pillow fight of 1848. How drunk was this guy?
“Now. While we was busy on the deck, one o them damn ostrich's managed tah escape its crate an pecked a way through tha hull.”
“Wait.” One of the spectators said. “An ostrich has a flat beak. How did it peck through steel?”
“God dammit boy. They was no ordinary birds. They was monsters straight from satin's unholy farm they was.” He replied with a nod. “Now. The bastards they pecked through the hull they did. Tha ship went down so fast we had no time tah react.” He lowered his head sadly. “Ship went down with all hands.”
“What a minute.” Another spectator interrupted. “If the ship went down with all hands... How did you survive?”
“God GOD man.” Jake replied in an exacerbated tone. “We went down with tha ship but we didna stay down.” He shook his head. “All we had tah do was swim fer it. Tis as plain as my left hand.” He held up his right hand for emphasis. In the background I noticed the barmaid move her mouth along with the old mans words as he spoke while pouring another drink. Obviously this question was asked many times before.
“Now. Tha ship went down an we all swam tah shore... My arms were never as tired in my life as they was that day I tell ye.” He finished his drink and ordered another. The barmaid brought the drink she had just poured and handed it to the old man. “Thank ye dear.” He said with a smile. “Now. No sooner had we reached tha shore had we seen tha most horrible sight our eyes ever beheld.” He took a gulp of ale and, after wiping his mouth with the back of his arm, continued. “Tha damn birds got to tha shore and were escaping to tha forest.”
“So what? They're just ostriches.” One of the spectators commented.
“Just...” Jake sputtered. “Are ye deaf boy? I'm tellin ye they was from hell itself. Bastards ravaged the countryside and ate all the crops!” He settled down with a sigh. “But that was just the beginnin of tha problems. Ye see. Ostrich feathers was used tah make pillows back in them days. Twas tha cheapest an softest pillow stuffers they was.” He looked off into the distance as if remembering something. “We failed in our mission tah transport them birds ta tha pillow factory. Now. Most folk have no trouble sleeping without a pillow. But they had nothing tah cover their ears with at night and couldn't sleep on account o all the honkin from them damn ostriches.”
“Do ostriches even make a noise?” Someone asked.
“Are ye daft man?” I replied. “He heard them make the noise. Tis as plain as his left hand.”
Jake held up his right hand. “Aye. My left hand.” He said with a nod.
“Now. Folks got mighty cranky on account o not gettin enough sleep. So they took to fightin over the littlest things. Eventually the law got involved and told everyone: Since they be fightin because o the crankiness because o the lack o sleep on account o tha lack o pillows then they aught tah be figtin WITH pillows.”
A couple of people scoffed and commented on how stupid the idea was. Jake waited until they were finished before continuing. “Now, un-stuffed pillows be mighty poor weapons. So folk began stuffin them with all manner o things. Pine needles, grass clippins, acorns, rope... Hell the town drunk even tried dog droppins...” He shook his head thoughtfully and puffed his pipe. “Aye. He did reak mightily but was never defeated... Eventually ole Irish Pete, don't ask me how he got that name on account a him bein french an all, he got it in his head that fillin his pillow with rocks was a good idea.” He puffed his pipe again. “Aye. He won himself many a fight with that pillow. Then people realized that they could put his idea to good use since everyone hit with the pillow got themselves a good rest afterward. An that my friends... Is how the great pillow fight o ‘48 was ended.” He shrugged. “Course their was still a wrecked ship off tha coast and them damn demon ostriches eatin all tha crops... but that my friends... is another story.” He finished his drink in one large gulp. “Now. Come back tomorrow an I'll tell ye bout tha time ole Irish Pete set out tah dynamite an ole stump an ended up bein tha first man on tha moon.”
The old man stood and, with a steadiness that was almost miraculous for how much he had to drink, walked out of the bar. The barmaid began gathering up the empty mugs as everyone found a new place to sit. “So. What do you think of old Jake?” She asked.
“He's an... interesting man.” I replied.
The barmaid laughed. “That's putting it rather politely. You should hear his story about how One Arm Joe.” She mimicked Jakes voice. “Don't ask me how he got that name on account a him havin two arms an all.” She continued in her own voice again. “Simultaneously invented donuts and won the state archery tournament at the local fair while showing off his mechanical butter churn.”
I laughed. “Well. I'll be in town for a few more days at least so maybe I'll get the chance.” I said.
I spent every night for the rest of my trip down in that bar listening to stories, each more outlandish than the last, and I'll tell you. If you're ever in a small town called Willowbrook, visit the tavern, buy old Jake a drink, and hear his stories. You won't be disappointed.