Inventing The Real

Short-listed Entry: Fiction Category

By: H. C. Turk

Willy Billy, the gingerbread boy, was about to break his crumby neck. With his lovely girlfriend, Bonnie Bunny, he was exploring for Mr. Inventor’s latest creation, a skyboat. But as Mother Gingerbread had told her son, cookies just weren’t meant to fly.

“How do we get through the fence?” Bonnie Bunny whispered as she crouched with her boyfriend behind the inventor’s property. She was so pretty in her pink dress, which matched her pink nose and pink eyes, that Willy Billy thought twice about crawling through the brush with her. But just as this average pair of children, her specific dress was made for grubbing.

Willy Billy replied by nodding for Bonnie to follow. So near that soft fur touched crisp icing, boy and girlfriend moved along the fence, seeking a gap.

“Why do so many weeds grow here?” Bonnie Bunny asked, looking from base to top of split and checked pickets. “Why isn’t Mr. Puma’s fence painted and repaired like all the others in the neighborhood?”

“Inventors are too busy making things to be fixing their fences,” Willy Billy sagely replied.

“Yes,” Bonnie Bunny concluded, “my mother says he’s too busy making trouble.”

“Shhh, we had better be quiet, Bonnie, lest Mr. Puma return from his errands to find us. Then he would….” But the children could not envision the inventor’s response.

Traversing a clapboard corner, they found a chink, a most pertinent niche, having been made by their goal. Mr. Puma the inventor had pushed his skyboat too hard against his fence and cracked it.

The children squeezed through, peering across Mr. Puma’s property, wary of guard frogs attuned to the scent of gingerbread, and cultivated plants with mucilaginous resins invented to bond bunny fur to their laciniated leaves. Sensing no danger, the exploratory pair proceeded to the skyboat, ignoring the laboratory beyond. Though having glimpsed the grand vehicle between pickets, the children now stood near, gaining not a view, but an experience.

“It looks just like a big boat, but with….”

“Wings,” Willy Billy concluded. Then he became serious.

“Tad Badger saw Mr. Inventor working the skyboat, so we know what to do,” he declared while looking firmly to Bonnie, noting that her nose twitched more quickly with tension. “So, are we going to potter about, or are we going to fly?”

“We are going to fly,” Bonnie Bunny replied decisively, and they clambered aboard.

Like a big boat with wings. Wings as though from a huge bird, but made of palm fronds. Palm fronds attached to posts. Fence posts. The children knew from Tad Badger that the wings were made to flap by working the converted butter churn attached to them with ropes. So boy and bunny churned, Willy Billy’s blunt hands above Bonnie Bunny’s clawed paws going up and down, up and down. Applying spirited effort, they inspired the wings to move, whooshing like wet sheets peristaltically waving on a clothesline. The flapping and wind produced excited the children; so they pumped harder. And harder. This created more wind, which ruffled Bonnie Bunny’s fur, affected Willy Billy’s dough not at all, and eventually lifted the skyboat from the ground. Then Willy Billy and Bonnie Bunny shared a thrilled look and a cry of delight, for they found themselves flying.

Once in the air, their task became easier, pumping, pumping up in the boat with wings that blew the very sky about them. Up, up, above the village, toward the center of their town. They experienced sights never seen before, for never had they looked down upon the rooftops of their homes, the heads of their neighbors. Willy Billy and Bonnie Bunny were flying and laughing and loving it as people noticed them and began to view upward and point, children cheering, their folks amazed. The two soarers above felt only the joy of flying, of gazing down from the sky and being seen. They sensed only the skyboat’s wonders until coming aware that they could not steer the thing.

“Oh, Willy Billy, we’re flying directly toward that….”

“Chimney,” he observed, and they hit it.

What solid masonry they found. Especially as to position, for the chimney did not shift a brick, but the skyboat toppled sideways. The wings sagged flat, the ulterior air reneging its grip, children and boat falling palm frond over butter churn down to the street.

After a moment’s settling, Bonnie Bunny was relieved to find that she had not ripped her dress. She was quite upset, however, to find that Willy Billy had ripped his head half off.

He lay flat on his back beneath the wings, torso pointing one way, head another. Bonnie was nearly too frightened to look, but would not abandon her only boyfriend. She reached for the frond against Willy Billy just as friends and neighbors ran to the wreckage. Willy Billy’s mother moved close, and did not hesitate to snatch the wing off her only child. Then Bonnie Bunny felt sickened, for Willy Billy’s cracked neck revealed a moist, dark interior as though his dough weren’t done in the middle. She whispered:

“Is he, is he…?”

“Very sore,” Willy Billy told them.

His mother then straightened, gingerbread hands on big cookie hips, looking sternly down to Willy Billy.

“I’ll mend you again, son, but you’ll need to do some explaining.” Then she turned to the townsfolk around her.

“Someone run home for my special icing,” she requested.

Half the village had gathered by then to wonder at this remarkable event. Significant was petite Mother Rabbit, who clenched her pointy teeth, tensely wiggling her nose as she reached for her unharmed daughter while asking Mrs. Gingerbread, “Is he all right…?”

He was. Better still the next moment when a neighbor returned with icing for Willy Billy. His mother began patching him, g-e-n-t-l-y straightening his head, coating his crack with sweet sealer. Bonnie Bunny required no healing beyond a firm kiss on the snout from Mother Rabbit.

Willy Billy was improving, remaining prostrate a moment while his icing set. After sharing a look of remorse with Bonnie Bunny, the gingerbread boy regained his feet only to stand still in shame. Respective mothers prepared to confront their charges as the crowd buzzed. Then the townsfolk parted for someone in pain, that person most damaged from this puerile adventure. In his neat but worn suit, Mr. Puma the inventor moved through the crowd to stare between demolished skyboat and brazenly culpable children.

“All my hard work,” he moaned with disaster in his eyes. “What terrible, thieving creatures to have destroyed my efforts.”

With less than utter objectivity, Mrs. Rabbit told him, “Don’t call these children thieves just because they borrowed your toy.”

“This is no toy,” Mr. Puma insisted harshly, his whiskers twitching, “this is an invention. A new and wondrous device never built before.”

“A new and useless gadget only good for tempting children,” Mrs. Rabbit snapped.

Unable to hang his head in shame due to his neck rift, Willy Billy noticed his mother give Mrs. Rabbit a calming look to inspire moderation, but no good. Back to erect-neck remorse for Willy Billy as Mr. Inventor replied.

“But the skyboat is a wonderful device. With it we can discover new and better lands.”

“This land is perfect,” Mrs. Gingerbread noted.

“Except for difficult inventors,” Mother Rabbit growled.

“Except for undercooked confections and destructive little rabbit broads,” Mr. Puma blurted, and glared at the youthful perpetrators.

“You did not invent name calling, but you may have perfected it,” Mrs. Rabbit scowled. “What a useless achievement.”

In this discussion, the crowd agreed with Mother Rabbit, gathering around the destroyed skyboat to protest the violation of their children. Their response scarcely impressed Willy Billy, who knew that his mother was angry enough at him to gnash her jaws to crumbs. The remaining townsfolk had settled upon Mr. Inventor for their vituperation, led by Mrs. Rabbit.

“This is all expected,” she alleged. “After all, you never have been a friend to the children like the other men. Like Preacher Weasel or Mr. Blackhead the negrow farmer.”

“No, no,” the town agreed.

“You’ve been too busy inventing useless things, like, er, ‘toilets,'” Mother Rabbit scowled. “Whatever were ‘toilets’ for?”

“Why, they were for, they’re for…pooping in,” Mr. Puma explained.

“What is…’pooping’?” Mother Gingerbread inquired.

“That is…that is hard to explain,” the inventor told them. “But you’ll understand if I ever get around to inventing biology.”

“What is…’biology’?” Mrs. Gingerbread asked.

“Probably something useless,” Mrs. Rabbit ventured.

“Yes, useless,” the town followed.

“It is probably something worthwhile and beneficial if only applied sensibly,” Mr. Puma declared with damaged feelings. “The problem is not that my inventions are useless, but that you refuse to appreciate new and unusual ideas. I would do a lot better with encouragement, you know. And I don’t have to invent philosophy to understand that ridicule inspires evil, not value.”

“If you want to be valuable, why don’t you invent a way to fix the things you wreck?” Mrs. Rabbit countered, and looked to the unscathed bunny girl, the mended gingerbread boy.

Mr. Inventor was becoming perturbed, at his accuser, at the town’s being obnoxious in the background. Mr. Inventor was getting fed up.

“But these children are so easy to mend,” he insisted. “I’ll need a season to repair my skyboat. Inventions are much more complicated than people. But people are the ones who always damage and disparage my efforts. So I will fix that — and I’ll fix you. I will fix it so that the next time your fiendish offspring cause such damage, they will never be mended. I’ll make them so complex inside that they can’t be healed with icing and firm kisses. I will invent, I’ll invent…biology — just as I said!”

“I see you’ve already invented fertilizer,” Mrs. Rabbit scoffed, but Mother Gingerbread had a more reasonable reply.

“What is a…’biology,'” she wondered, “that it’s hard to mend?”

“Well, biology is…it is a type of science,” the inventor answered.

“But what is…’science’?” Mrs. Gingerbread asked.

“Yes, what is…’science’?” the townsfolk repeated.

“Well,” Mr. Inventor deliberated, “science explains how the world works, supplying details and describing causes. Science helps us understand and predict, helps us improve things by knowing how they behave and why they go wrong. Each part of the world is explained by a different type of science.”

“What type of science is…biology?” Mrs. Gingerbread asked.

Mr. Puma had already invented an answer.

“The science of living things.”

“What has that to do with making children complicated?” Mrs. Rabbit demanded.

“They’re not complicated now because there is no biology,” Mr. Puma claimed. “She’s just a ball of fur and he’s just a damn cookie. But if biology came to exist, then our bodies would match its descriptions. Then we’d know about blood and bones and…muscles.”

“What is…’muscles’?” Mrs. Gingerbread asked, the town in the background equally curious.

“Well, I haven’t determined that yet, but I’m starting to think about it now,” Mr. Puma responded thoughtfully.

“I bet it’s some type of fertilizer,” Mrs. Rabbit commented.

Mr. Puma then grimly pointed a claw at her and scowled:

“You’re the one who needs biology most of all. You’re too simple with that disappreciative mouth and that destructive, furry urchin. So you look out, rabbit, because the first one to get ulcers in this town will be something that hops!” And he stalked away, returning to his laboratory.

***

Mr. Inventor had been scolded so much that Willy Billy and Bonnie Bunny received hardly any vituperation of their own. But so intense had been the flying and wrecking and the public confrontation they shared that the two became even closer as girl and boyfriend. Willy Billy was beginning to think of their becoming permanent friends.

“Mother Gingerbread,” he asked one day as his mom kneaded dough, “when will I be ready to get married like you and Father?”

His bemused parent replied, “But, Willy Billy, you were baked as a gingerbread boy, not a gingerbread man. You will always be my baby. Whyever do you ask such a strange question?”

“Because, Mother. Because…because I want to marry Bonnie Bunny.”

Mrs. Gingerbread set aside her rolling pin and spoke to her son with a most serious tone.

“Willy Billy, even if you were to marry, you could never marry Bonnie Bunny.”

“Why not, Mother? I love her.”

“Of course, Willy Billy, and you should love everyone; but you cannot marry someone who is so different. Gingerbread boys do not marry bunny rabbit girls. Groundhog folk do not marry ferrets. This sort of thing is not done. You can’t marry Bonnie Bunny, because she is not your kind.”

Willy Billy was stunned. Within the universe of his life, Mother Gingerbread had just invented racism, and Willy Billy did not understand. Neither did a disappointed Bonnie Bunny when told. Most upset was effervescent Mrs. Rabbit, who reacted extremely, commenting so loudly that she was heard throughout the town.

“What?! They say my girl isn’t good enough for the precious gingerbread boy? Is he so supersweet a confection? Why are we inferior? Because we have fur and not icing? Because we’re soft instead of stiff? Are we to endure such humiliation from a batch of bleeding baked goods!?”

No, they were not. So distraught became the Rabbit clan that they left town. Packed their belongings and soon were gone down the road for a village where they would be accepted as average, not segregated artificially for their inherent traits of soft hide and repetitive hopping. Out of town and out of sight, Bonnie trying to lag behind, but pulled along by ranting Mother Rabbit. Lagging to look behind at Willy Billy, who stared and stood in the street, watching his only girlfriend leave the universe that was his life, a realm whose latest invention was despair.

***

No one expected to see the rabbits again. No one had seen Mr. Puma for a time, but he remained aware of town news. And he was working hard on his promised invention, but required an experiment. He determined to find a living thing to help him discover the wherewithal of life, an animate subject to absorb his manifested intellection. Having previously invented society, the vagaries of populating a world together, the people involved became cooperative: Mother Gingerbread with her estranging, Mrs. Rabbit with her exit, and Bonnie with her love. The rabbits hightailed it from town, Mr. Puma went to gain one, and Bonnie Bunny snuck off the first night to return to her only boyfriend. But she got no farther than a sack in the evening, a bag the size of one bunny held by a scientist busy inventing revenge.

***

“You’ll get over missing your little friend,” his mother told him. But a full day later, Willy Billy still suffered, burdened with separation and resulting loneliness, recent inventions to appall a sensitive boy.

Perhaps his mother was right, but in the future, a realm incomprehensible to children and lovers. Being both, Willy Billy possessed only an unacceptable present. So, without a hint of mischief, he defied his mother by stealing a kitchen preparation and running away from home.

He ran, ran, ran down the trail leading from town, following the paw prints of the Rabbit clan. He ran and ran, becoming quite weary. Willy Billy felt stale, but continued, in a rush with his emotions. Upon reuniting, recouping their youth by rejecting the maturity of dejection, how would the children proceed? Willy Billy was not sure, but had to gain Bonnie Bunny to learn. Willy Billy ran and ran, away from this, toward that. He continued running not to augment his radicalism of subverting the world as explicated by social superiors, but to join his only girlfriend. He ran and ran until his feet wore off; then he had to rest.

Having procured a sack of his mother’s best dough, Willy Billy applied this boy batter to both ankles. Lacking a fridge to chill his icebox booties, Willy Billy cooked them right away, holding his new feet over a fire started with sparking rocks until they were done. Mother made better shapes, and always finished with icing, but Willy Billy was roughing it.

Night fell. The gingerbread boy had to sleep, because children are supposed to do this at night. Though finding the empty, endless darkness quite completely frightening, Willy Billy had no desire to be idling safe at home instead of performing this vital deed. He slept in the damp and the dark and the strange sounds of night, then awoke to run and run in daylight until gaining the Rabbit family, which was shy but one member.

The parents found no pleasure in receiving a gingerbread person, one of those scornful folk to have driven the cottontails from town. Mrs. Rabbit offered no anger or argument, however, only confusion to learn from this bread boy that her daughter was missing.

“We must have left her behind,” she said to Willy Billy. “Hard to keep track of twenty-eight bunnies. Send her along when she shows up,” she ordered, and left the boy in the dirt.

Poor Willy Billy was dumbfounded, standing ignorant on the road as the rabbits hopped away. Then he was struck with a towering idea. The thought came to him that Bonnie Bunny was returning to town and to Willy Billy that very moment. Perhaps they had passed in the night without knowing their nearness. This was a cold, cold thought to Willy Billy. But his belief that love sent Bonnie Bunny to him resuscitated the gingerbread boy. Thinking only of his girlfriend hopping back, Willy Billy ran.

He ran and ran faster and longer than ever before. He ran himself down to his ankles, but continued. He stumbled along until he could stumble no more, toppling over, stiff as a crust. And he lay on the hot road beneath the hot sun in the hot afternoon like an oven. He felt ill, too crisp at the edges, and felt himself a failure. Then he recalled the inventor’s words, and now believed him, Willy Billy feeling that he was not truly a boy, just a damn cookie. He was lonely and lost and wanted things to be the same as before, but Willy Billy could not invent the retrieval of time. He was hurt and sad, but not a tear came to him, because raw or overdone, cookies do not cry.

***

No one in town had seen her. Prejudiced by distress, an invention of those who find their living flawed, Willy Billy felt that his mother had caused his problems, so would not speak to her, though he accepted proper repair of his feet from Mrs. Gingerbread. Then back to the streets to ask everyone of Bonnie Bunny, a girl gone and not returned.

He asked everyone but the inventor. Willy Billy did not inquire of Mr. Puma, aware that he would receive no cordial reply. But the next morning, after a night’s sleep in his own bed — which felt no better than the roadside — Willy Billy gained some new thinking. He recalled the inventor’s threats. He wondered if possibly, somehow, perhaps the inventor had influenced Bonnie toward some undesired situation. Hmmm….

Mr. Puma was in. The gingerbread boy would not approach him. Willy Billy wanted to examine the inventor’s laboratory, not for a new creation, but for some clue that might lead him to Bonnie. But the inventor was in. Willy Billy would have to wait for him to leave. The gingerbread boy, however, suffered anxiety. If only Mr. Puma would learn that he was required elsewhere or that his order was ready. Then Willy Billy understood that this could happen, if only….

Davey Dog was the first friend Willy Billy found.

“Oh, Davey Dog, my friend. Could you please tell Mr. Puma the Inventor that Preacher Weasel needs him? If you do, I will be able to proceed with my errand.”

“Why, certainly, Willy Billy. I would be very glad to tell this man this thing for you, because we are friends.”

“And a greatgood friend you are to be so helpful, Davey Dog — thank you everso!”

The boys parted, one pleased to be such a friend, one dejected to have invented such a horror as lying.

Willy Billy continued with his errand, which was hiding until Mr. Puma departed. Hiding in the very weeds where he and Bonnie Bunny had crouched shoulder to shoulder, Willy Billy could almost smell her fur. Before he could imagine the sensation of her padded paws moving beside his crisp feet, Willy Billy saw Mr. Puma leave his laboratory. Out the door while donning his hat, then to the gate, and gone.

Running to the fence in back, squeezing through a niche decisive in his history, Willy Billy passed a sad heap of palm fronds and boat decking. He proceeded to Mr. Puma’s laboratory, a building he had never entered. There, he found a locked door. He found a window latched from within. Two. Needing repair, the third window would not close completely. Willy Billy reached within to pull, pull the glazed pane upward until he could enter. Then he crawled inside.

Though seeing no person within, Willy Billy moved with utmost quiet across the floor. Despite sensing no immediate danger, Willy Billy was so frightened he shook, leaving crumbs behind. The laboratory held many wonders, objects and items Willy Billy could not understand, materials and constructions beyond his experience. He looked behind boxes, walked quietly past tables, stared up at shelves, and continued. Soon he found something that seemed unpleasant. On a long bench lay a row of small tubes. Clear tubes each with a plunger like a tiny butter churn. But the opposite end held a long, sharp thistle-thing certainly made for poking. A row of many clear tubes filled with a hueless fluid. Several were empty. Too many, Willy Billy was sure.

Not liking these sharp parts, he continued past. Then he heard a noise. A small sound from another bench. Not a great noise, but enough to frighten him stiff. Too small a sound to have come from Mr. Puma, so the gingerbread boy stepped ahead to look. Then Willy Billy found something so odd, at first he did not know how to respond. Was he to be fearful or studious or amused? With a closer view, he found utter dread, and knew this response to be perfect.

A cage. A cage on a bench with something moving within. Something pretty and active. A white little thing with long floppy ears and a tiny tail, all furry. It jumped around on all four legs, sometimes on two, leaving unaccountable brown rounders behind. It twitched its pink nose and Willy Billy almost knew what it was. It was almost a tiny living toy just fit for the hands of a gingerbread boy. But truly it was a little rabbit person on all fours with no clothes and no expression in its eyes, no personality reflected by its face. A face that looked just like Bonnie Bunny’s, but missing something important, missing that part of her life which made Bonnie his only girlfriend.

Willy Billy turned away. He could not bear to look at…it. The bunny did not seem interested in him, hopping and dropping around the cage, upsetting its soiled water. Willy Billy felt soiled all the way through. He did not view his girlfriend, but a fur-encrusted paramour for some animal. Willy Billy felt ill. All he wanted to do was get away, get as far away from…it…as possible. He could not look, and thinking of…it…made him sicker. But he could not avoid understanding that this thing was no it — this thing was a her, Bonnie Bunny, his only girlfriend. He wanted to run and hide and never look or think or feel or be seen again. And he tried to run, stumbling about the lab, but was caught by the inventor.

Mr. Puma strode into the room and cried out, “Ah hah! The thieving urchin now becomes a liar! Here he is to steal and destroy again. But just as I did your damaging cohort, I will teach you the wonders of science, and change you from diabolical to — biological!”

Oh no. Willy Billy did not like that. Even less did he appreciate Mr. Puma’s rushing to the bench with the pointy tubes to grasp a full example and charge at him.

Willy Billy ran. Willy Billy dodged. Mr. Puma reached this way, and Willy Billy dodged that. The gingerbread boy was too small and agile for the inventor to easily catch. An especially violent lunge caused Mr. Puma to stumble over a chair and stub his shin, the sharp tube skittering across the floor. “Ouch! Oouch!” Mr. Inventor cried, and became energized with anger, managing to reach out and grab Willy Billy’s arm. Seeing that his grip was too poor to last, Mr. Puma became so additionally angry that he stretched to take a bite from Willy Billy’s shoulder just as the boy slipped away.

Though hopeful that his mother could repair that minor wound, flight remained Willy Billy’s main concern. Not in any type of boat, but away from disaster. Mr. Puma had other thoughts. The former clambered toward the window he had opened. The latter grabbed for another acute tube. The two came together as Willy Billy was partially through the opening. Mr. Puma met the boy’s hip with his penetrating tube, stabbing him just before Willy Billy fell out onto the grass. Up and away ran the limping gingerbread boy, Mr. Puma calling out oaths from behind. The inventor did not follow through that awkward opening. Willy Billy had escaped. And though he did not know what would come of that hurtful penetration, he knew exactly what to do with that cage.

***

Most of the town was beating against Mr. Puma’s door. Willy Billy had widely described the confrontation, at least that part about the inventor’s stabbing him with something sharp and taking a mouthful from his shoulder — see? Of course, they did. So most of the town at once ran over to pound upon Mr. Puma’s door, demanding an explanation. While the determination was being made that Mr. Inventor would leave town as suddenly and certainly as the Rabbit clan, Willy Billy slipped away from the commotion. Again he snuck around back and breached that fence. Through the window and into the laboratory. He did not leave alone.

On his way back from seeing Mr. Blackhead, a kindly person who loaned Willy Billy a small corner of his barn, the gingerbread boy discovered more than exhaustion within himself. He found some red stuff inside that was now leaking out. A red liquid dripping from that bite in his shoulder. Willy Billy knew nothing of this substance except that manifestation of its fugitive nature in his corpus caused something terribly wrong.

My, my, how he hurt. As Willy Billy walked in the warm day, the leaking red stuff got sticky and smelled. He held his hand over the hole, and it was sore. The dripping slowed, but Willy Billy felt terrible. Weak and dizzy and he barely made it home, collapsing upon his doorstep.

Mother’s dough did no good with this bit of trouble. But a leak is a leak, so Mrs. Gingerbread stopped it with rags. Ending her boy’s drip did not improve his weakness, a condition not aided by Willy Billy’s sneaking off the next day, making it back, but only to the edge of town. Sick, sick was Willy Billy. Sick and a terrible worry until the following day when the new inventor arrived. He resembled the other, but seemed trustworthy. And he brought to the Gingerbread house his latest invention, which was called “medicine.” He sewed the boy closed like a sock to be darned, and this hurt Willy Billy very much. He sewed him up and placed the neatest fabric on his hole along with some sticky, clear substance that was not icing, but “salve.” He left some little white things for Willy Billy to eat. They could have been tiny cookies.

“Take two of these, call me in the morning,” he prescribed.

Willy Billy got better. His wound healed. Then the latest inventor’s current work had no application, for Mr. Puma’s sole injection was not enough to turn Willy Billy biological. Soon he was all dough again, just another bloodless cookie. All dough, but all heart, permanently moved by personal developments, by vengeance and lying and loneliness, inventions to make his world not good or bad, but real. Most genuine of all was the immutable youth assigning his days to a secret, an unscientific lad of inventive emotion maintaining reality by feeding carrots to his love.

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