As much as I've enjoyed writing a novel and now a children's book featuring my own characters, I still enjoy writing short story fan-fiction from time to time. In honor of the Autumnal Equinox, I've written a new Bugaloos tale which functions as a backstory for IQ. Enjoy!
The Bugaloos: Flying Free
[Disclaimer: I don't own any rights to these characters; this is a work of not-for-profit fan fiction. Please do not republish this story without permission from the author. This tale merely suggests a backstory based upon the series. It's as G-rated as can be!]
"It's getting closer to that magical time of year here in Tranquility Forest, when the oak leaves turn orange and brown and the scents of apples and spices are everywhere. You are really going to love it, Sparky."
Leaves, apples and spices? That's our IQ, all right. He often talks about things in ways that go way over my head, which isn't difficult as I'm not very tall. As far as I see it, a leaf is a leaf and all they are good for is falling into my hammock. That's nothing to get dreamy-eyed about.
"Why would the forest smell like apples?" I ask him while he uses a broom to sweep around me in a circle, stirring up whisps of dust that make me…ah-ah-ah-ah-CHOO!
"Oh, sorry Sparky!" he apologizes, handing me a rag that was hanging out of his pocket. "That's a wee bit too much dust for a nipper your size. To answer your question, Fall is when we start picking apples from our orchard. Then I go beyond the borders of the forest and bake fruit pasties, apple cakes and make apple butter for our scones and baps. Since this will be your first Autumn with The Bugaloos, I'm going to bake something special for you. Just you wait and see."
Huh? I have no idea what 'pasties' or 'baps' are. "You talk funny!" comes out of my mouth before I can catch it. I often say the first thing that comes to mind…but I probably shouldn't have said it that way. "Not 'funny' as in the same way that Harmony does, though. Funny…none of you talk exactly the same, now that I think of it. How come?"
The lanky boy with the big green and purple wings settles next to me onto a flat rock, which brings his head to just above my height. Since I am less than half as tall as IQ, I hardly ever see his eyes—big, dark and sincere—or the top of his bushy blonde head. He stares at me, looking so intent that I worry I have offended him.
"All of us came to this part of the forest from different backgrounds, of course," IQ begins, emphasizing his words by patting me on my shoulder. "Harmony is from a colony of bees, Courage came from a family of ladybirds and Joy comes from a bevvy of butterfly sisters, all with beautiful, colorful wings. Tranquility Forest is home to a great many beneficial insects; this is what keeps it safe, beautiful and ecologically sound. I came from a clan of grasshoppers, obviously. You might not believe it, Sparky, but once I was like you—a wandering orphan who was adopted by these lovely folks who call Tranquility Forest home."
"Wow!" I can't believe what I'm hearing. "You're…an orphan? Like me? Are you all orphans?"
"No, Sparky," he corrects me, shaking his hand for emphasis. "Harmony, Courage and Joy have families in the glen at the center of Tranquility Forest. We go to visit with them from time to time, especially during the Winter holidays. Everyone there enjoys sharing their traditions and, thanks to our orchard and vegetable plot here, we have plenty of food to share with them."
Maybe I shouldn't ask him but I can't help myself. "So…what happened to your family?"
IQ is silent for a few moments, which makes me sorry that I made him have to think about it. He then looks off into the distance, heavy eyelids not really letting him focus on anything in particular.
"I suppose they are out there somewhere…or at least I hope they are," he finally says, lowering his head a bit. "You see, my clan lived far to the northeast of Tranquility in a Scottish colony within a massive field of oats. I grew up watching the tall, tan shafts waving in the breeze as my cousins and I ran through them, making a game of chasing each other as children do. When I think of it now, I can see all the beautiful colors in my head—the sun playing in our hair and lighting up the trees and crops with sunshine. We had bright, warm summers and mild winters; it was a beautiful place to grow up."
"So that's why you talk funny!" I blurt out, covering my mouth when I realize that I said it out loud…again! "Sorry!"
"It's OK, Sparky," he says patiently. "I don't mind. I've been away from my home fields for so long now that I figure I'm losing my accent, really. I'm glad that you can still hear it."
"Just…somewhat," I add, trying to be nicer than I sounded before. "So…what happened?"
Another pause and a sigh…and then his shoulders drop as he traces figure 8s in the dirt with a stick. "I was one weird kid, Sparky," are his first words, followed by a smirk. "I knew when I was wee that I was somehow different from the other nippers in my class; I just didn't fit in. One day when I was out gathering oat hulls with my parents and other kin, a strong wind came through the fields and rustled through the grain. Oat husks swirled at the center of a dust devil in front of us and I remember my mother fighting to hold down her apron. Suddenly, I was yanked off of my feet and lifted into the breeze. Instinctively, I spread my wings, threw my arms open wide and began to soar! It was the most wonderful feeling in the world and the more I became comfortable with it, I realized that I never wanted to come down. I know that flying tends to frighten you, Sparky, but I took to it like a duck to water."
"You can have it!" All the Bugaloos know how much I hate flying. If it hadn't been for these teens, I never would have attempted it for a second time. I still don't like it, but I keep trying because of them. I guess that's why little kids look up to teenagers, because they've been where we are going...and they make it look so cool. "So, why DID you come down?"
"I might not have, at least not any time soon," IQ starts again, "if not for the sight of my father glaring at me with his arms folded across his chest. 'Get down here right now!' he bellowed. Returning to Earth without a plummet wasn't the easiest thing on my first flight and, before I knew it, I had fallen onto my back into the dirt below. I didn't have much time to think about my wounded backside because my pride was to be wounded next: My father grabbed me by the collar and gave me a proper shaking-up."
I gasp and grab for my own throat as if it was happening to me. "But…why?!" I ask him. "Didn't he like the way you flew?"
"'Grasshoppers don't fly!' That's what my father screamed at me. What I had done was an embarrassment to him. Grasshoppers can take to the air, mind you, but generally we 'hop' by flapping our wings a bit for a short burst. Certain grasshoppers are known to congregate in large numbers and can maintain sustained flight. When that happens, it's bad news: They are referred to as a 'swarm of locust.' I didn't understand it at the time, but now I realize that my dad feared that the others of our extended clan had noticed my behavior. Even worse, he was concerned that I might have alerted the oat farmers to our presence, which would have been dangerous for us. 'We are plain people leading plain lives, Ian,' he said to me while shaking his finger in my face. I was sent to my room and told to stay there until I understood the gravity of what I had done."
"Wait," I have to stop him to ask, "who is 'Ian?'"
"That would be me," he replies bashfully, taking a little bow. "Ian Quinlan: IQ. And here you thought I acquired that nickname just for being a nerd."
"Later that same evening, I was too excited to get my kip on—to sleep, I mean, so I decided to sneak out to see if I had been dreaming earlier in the day. Thankfully, it was true: I took to the breeze, flying free just as before. I soared among the owls and bats all night long, only returning to my bed just before dawn. My night aloft was tiring, of course, but so exhilarating that I didn't mind how sore my arms were, nor how cold I was.
"Once my father finished his breakfast, he summoned me downstairs to our parlour. He was still quite angry with me," IQ continued his story. "In his hands, he held something I didn't recognize and he ordered me to come forward. When I'd had a better look, I was horrified by what I saw: It was a strap of some sort. I pulled away in fear of being punished…and how right I was about that, but not in the manner I had guessed. Before I had a chance to protest, my father spun me around and roughly fit this…thing…around me. It was a leather harness to bind my wings down flat, preventing any further aerial acrobatics. 'There!' Dad said, 'This will keep you on the ground where you belong!'"
My eyes open wide like blue balloons. "Your harness! Is THAT why you wear that thing?!"
"I'm afraid it is, mate," he says with a face filled with gloom, "but I'll tell you more about that later. At that moment, I had no idea how far my father was willing to take his idea, but I soon found that my harness symbolized my new life: Trapped on the ground, all day, every day, at home and at school. My embarrassment was never-ending, with people pointing and laughing at me. Those who hadn't been present during my brief first flight continually asked what it was all about; I just couldn't escape it. So…I decided to run away and never return."
Running away: I know all about that. I tried to run away from Tranquility Forest, though I soon learned that my friends here needed me as much as I needed them. "No wonder you kids understood when I tried to go it alone," I tell him.
"I certainly understood," IQ said, "but running away rarely helps with your problems; it only adds to them. I spent all day at school plotting my escape, sure that once I was free of my father's control that I could be happy, but I never got the chance to find out. On my walk home from school, I began to see and smell smoke. It blackened the skies above me and filtered through the trees; the sun turned a dark orange and faded away. Choking and coughing, I felt rather faint but was determined to get to my village to make sure everyone was all right."
"Were they?" I ask, afraid of his answer. I was smart to be scared.
"I'm afraid not," he sighs. "The oat fields were aflame for as far as I could see. When I reached my village, I heard a great deal of screaming and could just barely see figures running from one burning structure to another, searching for family and friends. I reached my home as the roof burst into flames. My parents weren't there, so I gathered the things I knew were precious to my mother: Family photographs, a few small trinkets, a partial bolt of our family's tartan and a little box where she kept certificates. I threw them all into the tartan, knotted it and prepared to leave. Suddenly, the roof above me collapsed, blocking the door and trapping me in our parlour. The only way out was straight up. I whispered an apology to my father, wherever he was, unbuckled my harness and slipped my arms out of it, freeing my wings. Then…I took to the skies."
"Gosh, you must have been terrified!" Imagine a kid having to survive something like that!
"There was no time to be terrified, Sparky," he says with a shake of his head. "I had all that represented my family in that tartan blanket and was determined to save it. In an impulse, I shot straight up through that hole in the roof, finding myself floating above the rubble of my neighborhood. From that vantage point, I was able to concentrate on the scene in the street below. There were flames blocking off our main thoroughfare in both directions, leaving groups of villagers with no escape route. I caught a thermal updraft and soared higher than I had ever dreamt I could fly. From there, I spotted a route through the fields that was impossible to see from the ground. My throat was raw from the smoke, but I was able to get the attention of several folks on the ground. I waved them toward the path and watched until the last of them flooded out of our village, possibly forever. Meanwhile, the heat had become too intense for me to remain aloft, but by then the thickened smoke blocked my view of the path I had pointed out to the others. By the time I finally found a way around the flames, everyone else had disappeared. I spent days searching for any sign of my parents and the others from our town without any success. I eventually had to face the fact that I was all alone."
We sit silently for a few minutes, neither of us knowing what else to say. Nearby, Harmony, our resident bumblebee, exits the thicket of bamboo that conceals his home and flies over to join us.
"My, aren't you two little black clouds sporting a pair of gloomy boat races?" Harmony asks, his cheerful voice matching his kind, grinning face.
What?! I don't even have to ask out loud for a translation of his Cockney rhymes these days. He has learned to add one automatically for my benefit.
"Faces, darlin'!" he exclaims. "Whose hand got caught in the biscuit tin—yours or his?"
"IQ here is telling me about where he came from and how he got here," I update him. "It's a very sad story."
"That it is," Harmony agrees, taking on our glum expressions. Being a normally sunny lad, he soon returns to lightening the mood as he normally does. "However, look at the bright side, Sonny Jim: We wouldn't have ol' Brainy Bum here with us if it hadn't been for what happened to him. Of course, there's no real substitute for his own family, Bob's your uncle."
"But WE are his family, just like you kids are MY family!" I protest, throwing my arms around IQ's waist. He reaches down and puts an arm over my shoulder as Harmony pats me on the head. "So…how DID you get here, IQ?"
"Joy, Harmony and Courage found me," he pipes up with a smile.
"We certainly did, mate," Harmony joins in. "We found this poor devil out on his Jack Jones, didn't we? Me an' me china plates, Courage and Joy, were wingin' our Edna Mae back to the ol' homestead after banging off school, right? Joy does an 'I spy with my li'l eye' on this rad plaid mound in the grass on the far end of the forest near the frog and toad into Rock City. We sailed down to nab a bit of a butcher's when the mound started to move and back away from us; it stopped when it came up against a 'cold shoulder'—a boulder. Next we knew, that blonde Barnet Fair with the big brown eyes was glaring at us over the top of the blanket and yelling at us to hop it!"
Now what he'd said was that the three other kids found IQ on his own on their way back from school near the road into town, went down to take a look and he told them to get lost…but if it had come out that easily, it wouldn't be our Harmony. We both turn to stare at IQ who is looking pretty sheepish about now.
"Well..I was frightened," he states rather glumly. "I hadn't seen a friendly face in many weeks and I was sick with guilt that I was responsible for what had happened to my village. The first thing I noticed about these three was Courage flexing on me and looking ready to have a go. That was no way to greet someone like me who was cold, tired, dehydrated and in no condition to defend myself. I made a desperate search for water only the day before but fell under attack by a gang of wasps about 25 kilometers north of here. I didn't have the strength to fight another battle. Thanks to Joy and Harmony, I didn't have to."
"Too right!" Harmony chimed in. "Cor blimey, he looked like a drowned duck, the poor blighter, so Joy gave him water from her canteen and I convinced him to come back to me digs. Me mum is a dab hand at patching wounds, mending broken hearts and playing Agony Aunt. Ol' 'Clever Trevor' here became so fascinated with our honey works that Mum took an instant shine to him and they became thick as thieves, the pair of 'em."
Huh? "Wait a minute," I stop him in confusion. "Who is Trevor? I thought we were talking about IQ?"
"We are, dearie—we are!" answers Harmony, "He's a brainy fellow, so when he told us his name, it wasn't long before we started calling him 'IQ' 'cause it fits either way, right, love?"
"Yeah, well, I guess that makes sense," I say, satisfied with his reply…though I still don't know who this 'Trevor' is.
"Harmony's family was really wonderful to me," IQ chirps. "They took super care of me and put me on the road to recovery. In turn, I tried my best to help out and learn all about the wonderful products his mum creates, like honey soap and beeswax candles."
"Mum had already tried to get me and Courage to help her out," Harmony jumps in on the story, "but it was a 'dead cert' that wouldn't last soon after we'd begun."
"Why not?" I ask, though even I could have guessed the answer.
"They kept eating up the profits!" IQ crowed, taking a swat at Harmony. "Every time Mrs. Bee came to check on them, there they were gobbling down spoonfuls of honey, so she had to bounce them right out of there. They were relegated to folding boxes and loading the finished products forever after!"
The pair of them have a good, long laugh. It's great to see IQ so happy after the terrible things he's been telling me.
"I was so lucky to have been found by three people who became the best friends I've ever had," IQ concludes, shaking Harmony's hand. "They came to my rescue when I needed them most. The townspeople didn't want me there, however, and kept nagging Mrs. Bee to get rid of me. Beneficial insects don't mix with grasshoppers, you see, Sparky; they see us as troublemakers who bring devastation wherever we go. After what happened to my village, I couldn't blame them for feeling that way; for all I know, that fire was started to drive us out of the fields. That farmer could well have been alerted when I flew above the grain."
"Don't be daft, you barmy bloke!" Harmony protested. "You don't know that. No one is going to burn their entire crop for a single grasshopper!"
"Right," I add in, surprised by his admission. "Besides, you're a hero! You saved the lives of all those folks you led away from that fire. That ought to count for something, I figure."
"The little cherub is right as the bloomin' rain, mate," Harmony states with an affirmative shake of his head. "Chuffin' heck, IQ—I thought we had cured you of that witch's potion a long time ago."
"Witch's potion?" I ask, flustered. "Which witch?"
"No, no," Harmony laughs, knowing he's caught me off-guard again. "A notion, love!"
"Oooooo, I got it," I let him know. "Hey, there's one thing I still don't get, IQ: Why are you still wearing that awful harness your dad made. Why didn't you leave it behind in the fire?"
IQ sits there pensively for a moment and then responds. "I know it seems odd, but it's all I have left of my father. It took me a while, but I finally realized that he wasn't being cruel when he created the harness. He was sincerely concerned for his son and his community and wanted to keep all of us safe; that's a 'hero,' in my book. Sometimes, things that parents do that seem harsh to you when you are young make more sense as you age, not that you necessarily like it any better. Each day that I wear this harness, it serves as a reminder to me to put the protection of others before my own comfort. That's something we Bugaloos truly believe in. We are proud to act as caretakers of the forest and all who dwell here."
"Come on, you two geezers." Harmony rises and beckons us to follow him. "Joy and Courage have set the table and it's time for a jolly good nosh. That ought to put the noses and chins back onto those boat races of yours."
"Wait, wait—I know that one!" I yell and jump up and down because I figured this one out without Harmony's help. "Noses and chins: Grins, right?!"
"Right you are, me ol' darlin'!" he says, taking my hand on our way to the table. "You're a bright little fellow and really catching on. You'll be speaking in rhyme yourself before you know it!"
"I hope not," I advise him, "because then I'll have to think them up long before I ever say anything. That could take forever!"