“Razor…” she breathed, her voice meek and terrified even to her own ears. “The Glakin said a gator was around.”
His eyes narrowed. “Huhh—Huh—Rhuuhhh…”
If reptiles could smile, she swore he did.
“What do you want from me?”
A negligible distance separated them. Leeplu found her lungs so constricted they hurt. Her foot paddled the ground, but before she could blink again, Razor lunged.
“Aaii!” Leeplu shrieked and launched straight up nearly twice her height. Jaws clamped below with a hollow gush of wind and saliva, and then gravity pulled her down. She landed atop the meanest gator in the swamp, and didn’t much like it.
Razor twisted around, and Leeplu leapt froglike toward the pine, ricocheted off the trunk, and hit the ground running. She heard a burst of movement behind her, a sustained blast of rotten breath and a growing hiss.
Leeplu screamed again, running now on all fours toward the Glakin, the bell jangling around her neck. She dodged left, and the gator surged past her, demolishing a thin tree. Wood splintered, leaves cascaded, and Razor tore through with hardly a pause. She bounded halfway up a trunk, and dared a desperate somersault over the gator’s body. Teeth gnashed and hot breath caressed her, so close that Leeplu feared to see a maw opened like a well of fangs.
She touched to the grass and ran screaming for her life.
He didn’t obey, and Leeplu, already dejected and depressed, considered letting it eat her, just to get it over with. Swamp mists parted like a curtain, and there the Glakin loomed, still prone, chin cradled on its stumpy forepaws, staring at a rock.
“Help!” cried Leeplu. She raced to the Glakin, vaulted a furry leg, and darted to a blue pine. Razor charged into the clearing with steam churning from his nostrils and pale slime slipping from his jaws. He slowed upon seeing the Glakin, but Razorraw’s eyes followed Leeplu.
She fell gasping against the tree and then spotted a branch low enough to reach. She jumped, dangled by one hand, and almost fell when the monster scuttled beneath her.
“Huh?” rumbled the Glakin. Razor paused from his next strike, which would have snagged Leeplu from the limb. She kicked, pulled and huffed, and with a squirm and wriggle, squatted on the narrow branch. It bent under her weight.
“Help!” she howled again.
“Help what?” asked the Glakin. It rolled over to face the commotion. Razorraw lowered a claw from the tree. Three pale eyes blinked at the Glakin.
“Help ME!” screamed Leeplu from the branch. “Here!” It wobbled, and she felt it crack.
“Oh,” said the Glakin. “You again. Wasn’t one visit enough? You’re either very unwise, or exceptionally tough.”
“No! No! No!” screamed Leeplu. “That gator wants to eat me! And he ate my Slimee too!”
Razorraw surged at the Glakin as if to attack. The Glakin shielded itself. The gator spanned five adult lugs from snout to tail, with enough teeth to damage anything, even lyrical depressed giants. The Glakin sighed.
“I suppose gators get hungry too. Sorry, little lug, there’s not much I can do. Maybe he’ll eat me when he’s done with you, our problems over, through and through.”
Razor hissed, and slammed into the pine with renewed vigor. Leeplu rocked on her branch, wailing, looking for another tree.
“In my youth,” mused the Glakin, “I sang songs and hummed tunes, juggled, joked and laughed at the moons. But look at me now! I’m fat and I’m old. I’ve wasted my life. My stories all told.”
Waves of displeasure rippled from the Glakin. They rolled over Leeplu again, and weakened her so much she nearly toppled from the branch. The gator also writhed under the sensation, but shook it off and savaged the pine tree. Bark tore loose in ragged clumps, revealing naked flesh beneath.
Leeplu steadied herself. She could almost jump to another branch, but not quite. Oh, why had she ever come here! Fury heated her skin.
“Razor! Razor! You mean old gator! Leave me alone or you’ll regret it later!”
The Glakin shifted position. “Eh? What was that?” One wing fluttered, and its moose-horned head angled toward them. “Did—did you just say,” and the Glakin’s droopy nose curled up like trunk, ‘“Razor’s a mean old gator, and leave me alone or you’ll regret it later?’ ”
Leeplu inhaled and screeched, “Yes! That’s what I said!” Razor wheezed. The branch quivered.
The Glakin’s eyes dilated, its gaze reaching into the sky as if it could see something invisible. “What a clever rhyme,” murmured the Glakin.
An idea occurred to Leeplu as she sat upon the weakening limb. “Y-yes!” she stammered. “I—uh—Razor is a fat old thing, who chases us lugs summer to spring!”
Razor rammed the tree. The Glakin squirmed. “Go on.”
“He—he—he has nasty foul breath, and his ugly old face scares us to death!”
“Is that so?” asked the Glakin.
“YES! Please…now DO something!”
“When faced with the threat of impending doom, one often does request a boon. I apologize my friend for being so slow. I’ve not been myself, but that you already know.”
“I know!” shrieked Leeplu. “Do I need to sing you a SONG?”
“No,” said the Glakin. “Your words held the hint of a threat, but layered beneath with humor unmet.” The Glakin sat up, stretching its six legs. “It needs a tweak to truly work, to give it an edge, a finishing quirk. How about this,” and the Glakin cleared its throat.
“Ahem. ‘You there, silly gator with eyes of three, don’t you know you can’t climb a tree?”
Leeplu wiped snot from her nose, staring at the Glakin. Razorraw stared too, distracted.
“Well, perhaps that jibe was somewhat rusty. Give me a mom’ and I’ll try something more gutsy.” The Glakin’s whiskered snout curled and its furry brow furrowed. “Aha! Ahem. ‘There once was a gator of our esteemed marsh, with teeth like daggers and temperament harsh. He would pick on poor lugs, chase them through the shrub, never knowing how they laughed at his stub.”
“Why, your stubby snout, my friend. Hoo! See how stubby it is? I’ve seen many a gator in this great mire, and your nose, dear Razor, is not one to admire. Ho!”
The Glakin guffawed, and Leeplu saw a hint of ease creep over the thing’s features. Its brow relaxed, and the creases of worry softened.
“Just playin’,” said the Glakin with a wave of three paws. “What is life without a jovial poke? Speaking of which, have you heard this joke?”
The Glakin’s demeanor changed, louder now, more animated. Barely visible forces wobbled between the three of them.
“A fat King named Gling watched his court jester, a yappy young fool known only as Lester. ‘You’d better make me laugh,’ warned the rotund king, and Lester responded by prancing in a ring, hands around his waist in a curious “O,” while the King of Gling snarled at his show. ‘I said to make me laugh! What you’re doing isn’t funny!’ Said Lester, “Don’t worry, sire, I’ll soon mock your big head instead of just your tub tummy!’”
The Glakin bellowed as if it had heard the funniest joke in the world. Again, Leeplu experienced the strangest sensation, quite opposite from her first encounter with the Glakin. Even though the story was not very funny, and somewhat insulting, her terror vanished. She giggled, and when she saw the ridiculous expression on the Glakin’s face, she outright laughed.
“Hey, why was the mouse crying?” it asked. “She found out her dad was a rat! Whoa! Ha ha ha! What did the farmer call the cow that had no milk? An udder failure! HEE! Ho! Ho! Ha! Why do fish live in salt water? Because pepper makes them sneeze! Oh, I just kill me…”
With that, Leeplu almost fell from the branch. It was not the quality of the jokes, but rather the Glakin’s presence and his laughter. It had changed the way she felt.
Razor slithered closer to the Glakin, wheezing and tilting back and forth, a one-gator audience.
“You ever had a bout of bad fish-gas? Gluckclaws are the worse, so I usually pass. My belly swells so big, and I’m all but thin. You’re laughing now— you should see me then!”
“Huuuhhh—Huh—Huh—Huh,” grunted Razorraw in his odd fashion.
Leeplu eased herself down from the branch. Joy bubbled from deep within, and her jaw already ached FROM SMILING. She believed that one probably _could_ die from laughter, so enraptured by the Glakin’s words that the next breath refused to come.
Birds flew down to circle the Glakin’s head.
“I feel much better friends of the feather. From this day forth we’ll know cheerier weather!” Several jackdaws and crimson jays landed on the Glakin’s head and its curving fringe of horns.
Leeplu scampered to the wood’s edge.
“Where are you going, little lug?” asked the Glakin.
Leeplu giggled and bounced. “I must go home, Great Glakin! Hah! Ah. You have helped me just as I hoped! Thank you so much! Th—th—ha! Hmm. Oh, thank you!”
“It’s what I do best,” said the Glakin. “And that’s no joke, and that’s no jest. But you helped me too, little frog maiden. Drug me out of a rut, when my days were ill-laden! Your simple rhyme arrived just in time, saved your skin and put me in line. So thanks be to you, and the things you do. By the way, your name is—?”
“And a grand name too! Farewell, little lug! Watch your path! Visit again—we’ll have a good laugh! See you then! HA! HEY!”
The Glakin cackled, nearly weeping so great was its mirth. The gator chortled, and the blue pines swayed in rhythm to the Glakin’s voice. Leeplu knew that this glum glade would soon look as beautiful as it did at the fringe. Such was the Glakin’s power.
Leeplu hopped blissfully away. Even the terror of Razor nearly eating her had vanished, and she wondered how long the crotchety old gator would spend with the Glakin. Perhaps he would never leave! Leeplu glanced back, and to her chagrin, saw that Razor watched her with one glistening white eye. He still nodded, chuckled and wheezed beside the Glakin, but Leeplu figured he probably wouldn’t feel sociable forever.
Perhaps not long at all.
She glided out of the Glakin’s home, pausing to smell the flowers and run her fingers over glistening moss. Hez and Wump would never believe that she had helped the Glakin and bested Razor, but they could not argue that she didn’t feel better!
She removed the bell from her neck, kissed it one last time, drew her arm back, and heaved it into the midst of the Ghosttrunk Groves where it sank into the muck. “Good-bye, Slimee.”
Leeplu was about to leave when a colorful serpent caught her attention. It flicked a tongue at her from a nearby limb. Leeplu gently picked it up, letting it curl around her fingers like smooth living jewelry. The tongue touched her cheek, and Leeplu smiled.
“I think I’ll call you Scalee,” she said.