An adaptable story

king louis

I’ve just more or less closed down my other blog, Journey of a Blogvelist, and invited followers to join me over here. So by way of a welcome gift to those of you kind enough to make the switch (and a thank you gift to everyone already following), here is a short story (from a few years back) for you to adapt as you wish. If you want to change the name at the end, feel free. If you want to set it in Florida, Thailand or Ukraine, go ahead  – you just have to change the nationalities. As long as there’s a beach with a sand dune, you’re in business… 

The King

The summer that year was long and hot, the days a succession of empty strips torn from the future, exposed to the light, then tossed away and forgotten. Something occasionally happened – a trip into town, a museum visit, a walk in the park – but nothing provided lasting relief from the overwhelming boredom of the summer.

His parents assumed that a beach was all that was needed to keep a boy entertained, but after a while the beach becomes the very embodiment of boredom. The sea comes in and then goes out. The waves curl up, catch the light and collapse, one after another, listlessly, endlessly. The sand is monotonously flat. The rocks were somewhat better: he liked the way you had to take care where you put your foot, sometimes sharp, sometimes slippery, and once he fell and cut his knee, and although it hurt and he wanted to cry, he imagined himself a battalion commander on D-Day, which turned out to be a very good way of getting rid of the pain.

But even the rocks were boring after a while. The crabs amused him at first, the way they whizzed and scampered sideways, but try as he might he never managed to catch one, so in the end they made him bad-tempered, till really he would have liked nothing more than to crush them. One afternoon he amassed a bucket of pebbles in the hope of doing just that, but the crabs were always too quick. He came to think they were teasing him, calling him names in squeaky little crab language that humans couldn’t detect, so he ended up hurling the pebbles against the rocks, and at supper his mother kept asking what was the matter, till finally he threw down his knife and fork, stormed to his room and pummelled the mattress with his fists.

So when he saw three boys on the dune having fun, he knew straightaway that he wanted to have fun too. It seemed like a free-for-all, a scramble to reach the top of the dune, but the boy at the top, the biggest, was chanting something mysterious, which meant perhaps there were rules after all and he ought to enquire what they were.

“Qu’est-ce que vous faites? ”

The boys hadn’t seen him approach. Now they stopped to look at him. “What?”

“Ah… Vous êtes anglais?”

“Oui,” said the boy on the dune.

“Qu’est-ce que vous faites? Je peux jouer?”

“King of the castle,” said the boy, and turning to the others, “He wants to play.”

“Quoi?”

“King of the castle. Ici c’est le château. Je suis le roi. Quand je suis ici, je dis ‘I’m the king of the castle, you’re a dirty rascal.’ C’est tout. ”

“Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire? ”

“Ca veut dire, Je suis le roi du château, vous êtes un… ” He waved a hand around as if it might catch the word he wanted. “Vous êtes un dirty rascal.”

“Un quoi?”

“Doesn’t matter. Let’s just play.”

So he threw himself at the dune, and soon was panting and struggling and thinking what a great game it was. “Oui!” he shouted when the boy on his right got a grip on the big boy’s ankle. “Je prends l’autre!” And lurching forward, he grabbed the other ankle and tugged with all his might. The king fell flat on his back and together they dragged him down the dune, choking with sand and laughter.

The throne was vacant, his for the taking, but just as he was about to claim it, a hand came down on his shoulder and thrust him back. Picking himself up, he saw the third boy prancing around on top of the dune, punching the air, singing, “I’m the king of the castle, you’re a dirty rascal!”

This wasn’t right, he thought. The boy had done nothing to dislodge the previous king, he’d simply waited for somebody else to do it. He stood, perplexed, expecting the others to complain, to order the usurper to step down and allow the rightful claimant to take his place. But no, they simply launched another attack, and when he said, “Eh, c’est à moi le tour! C’est moi qui l’ai fait tomber!”, they took not the slightest notice.

He understood then that it really was a free-for-all. You weren’t just fighting against the king but against the others as well, which meant that alliances were useless, or rather for them to be any use, you had to be the first to break them. His strategy underwent a radical shift.

He started with the big boy, who now was close to regaining his throne, but still had a left leg dangling vulnerably close to other assailants.

“Ouch! You bastard! Ouch, he’s bitten me! You cheating bastard! I’ll get you!” But what the big boy got instead was a handful of sand in his eyes, and he slid to the bottom of the dune, wailing and swearing, gripping his calf where a ring of red teeth marks were forming a hideous grin.

The other boys stopped mid-grapple, staring down at their stricken friend, speechless. The game, it seemed, had come to a sudden stop – though evidently not for everyone: “Ahm,” sang the newcomer, “ze keenguv ze kasseul, yura deutiraskeul!”

“Bastard!” shouted the bitten boy. “Let’s get him!”

But their first attack, fuelled by rage, was pitifully unplanned, the three of them storming the dune in a single group, offering an easy target for the king to kick showers of sand at. Within seconds all three were back at the bottom, cursing, coughing, spitting, rubbing sore and stinging eyes which, when they could finally function again, went wide with amazement to see the French boy, pelvis thrust forward, peeing as high and as far as he could all over the approach to his throne.

“Oh God, that’s bloody disgusting!”

“You bloody foul little frog!”

“Yoohoo! Ahm ze keenguv ze kasseul, yura deutiraskeul! Yah! Yoohoo!”

“You swine! You little bastard! You’re in for it!”

Putting this threat into action, though, meant climbing up through the band of damp sand, a prospect altogether too gross for one of the smaller boys, who began to walk away in disgust until yanked back by the big boy, eager to rally his subordinates with a speech as impassioned, if not as poetic, as Henry V’s at Agincourt: “We’re not gonna let that little turd get the better of us. Come on! Three against one. We’re gonna kill that fucking frog, all right?”

“Ahm ze keenguv ze kasseul, yura deutiraskeul! Yoohoo !”

For all his jibes and bravado, the monarch’s position was shaky. The English forces had this time realised that they’d fare much better with a three-pronged attack, against which a lone individual could not retaliate. In this situation, the only solution was to go for maximum impact: the angriest, the leader, the big boy. His allies, in any case, were hardly worth bothering with: the one, still put off by piddle, was faltering midway up the dune, the other was ineffectually flinging fistfuls of sand which barely reached as far as the French boy’s knee. So it didn’t take much – a mighty kick in the big boy’s face and the attack immediately ceased.

It seemed for a moment that the English nose had been reduced to pulp. The boy burst into tears and tumbled back. The king had only to glare at the others for them to retreat as well, pretending it wasn’t fear that made them flee but concern for their fellow countryman.

“I’m going to…” sobbed the bloody-nosed, bitten boy, “tell my… father… He’ll… get you for this!”

“Ahm ze keenguv ze kasseul, yura deutiraskeul!”

He watched the three of them stumble away till the wailing grew faint and they were back with their parents. For a moment his mouth went dry with apprehension: the father was standing up, walking in his direction. But then he turned back to his son and the threat was over. Hah! A family of mauviettes, lily-livered English wimps, a family of pansies. It would have been better if they’d been German, at least they’d have put up more of a fight; he’d love to have got the better of a bunch of Boches.

His triumph complete, the king stood on his throne surveying his territory. Some of his subjects were playing with rackets and balls, an activity he encouraged. One doesn’t want to rule a nation of slobs. Others were splashing about in the waves, which he also allowed in moderation, for it cleansed them of indolence and vice. Most, however, lay prostrate in worship before him, displaying a devotion which, however deserved, he found deeply moving. He dipped his head slightly, acknowledging their loyalty, in return for which they could count on him for protection. They knew that they were fortunate indeed to be ruled by one such as him.

As the afternoon wore on, anticipating his wish to be left alone, most of his subjects gathered their belongings and made their way up from the royal beach to their lodgings. The English boys went with them. He could have had them hanged, drawn and quartered straightaway, but he was magnanimous in victory. Tomorrow, perhaps, if they didn’t swear allegiance, he’d clamp them in the stocks and have his subjects pelt their pasty, snotty, shag-spotty English mugs with rotten tomatoes.

As evening approached, the sun displayed its approval of his firm, wise and merciful rule by painting the sky a fiery red. On the beach, a few stragglers, to whom he had granted leave to stay and watch, marvelled at this homage paid to their king. As they turned to go, they cast admiring glances at the throne: he stood there, proud, inspiring, undefeated, his aura mingling with the glow of the sun, bathing them in the comforting warmth of his glory.

“Mais qu’est-ce que tu fais là? Tu as vu quelle heure il est? ”

Slowly, the boy turned to see his mother marching towards him. Although he recognised her straightaway, her presence baffled him – it was incongruous, unwanted, it simply didn’t make sense.

“Ahm ze keenguv ze kasseul,” he said with an awkward smile. “Yura deutiraskeul!”

“Nicolas, je crois que le soleil t’a tapé sur la tête.” Madame Sarkozy clapped her hands impatiently. “Viens vite, c’est l’heure du dîner.”