This story begins, as all good stories do, at a crossroads. Said the Pixie to the Jester, "should I go through this Cracker Swamp? For I have a dent in my head and many think it too great a challenge. My Summer Knight is destroyed and Chicky and I have no one to lead us through".
"Ah," said the Jester, in a superior voice, "it is true the swamp is full of perils, but I am just the companion for you. I am light and witty and my hat holds much water. You will need those to pass through. The Cracker Swamp is full of creatures both dead and not quite dead. It can be hotter than hot and the Mad Monster Matthew has recently trounced through. It is a long 767 miles through as well".
"Why Jester, Chicky and I will gladly accept your help. Chicky was given to me as a companion by the Mysterious Lady Susan of the East. Chicky also has local knowledge and is good with maps".
"QUACK", said Chicky.
"Pixie", said the Jester in a most serious tone, "I feel it necessary to point out that Chicky is a duck".
"Tis true," replied the Pixie, "but I have a dent in my head and named her in the topsy turvy times and she reminds me that I must be vigilant in protecting myself even from my own thoughts".
"Well then, Chicky and I will both see you through the Swamp. But I think it best if you leave the big decisions to us. We are both excellent judges of character. And before you go to the Cracker Swamp, you must consult a Blue Wizard of Rheumatology. They are experts in fending off the Brothers Itis who I see are walking in your shadow. Keeping them away will be important. And we must take care to avoid the Black Witch of the Swamp for she appears in the wee hours of night and will put you under a sleeping spell".
"There are so many things to keep track of", the Pixie wrinkled her brow, "and there will be others in the Cracker Swamp that may be allies or foes. I promise to follow your instructions at all costs Jester for I see that you are a noble companion and will never leave me".
And so the Pixie, Chicky and the Jester came to Castle Tavares, home of the Swamp King and his court, at the very edge of the Cracker Swamp. There they met a large number of others preparing for the journey. "You must follow all the rules of the Swamp King while you are in the Cracker Swamp," said the Jester, "he is a good king, but very strict in his laws. His castle shall appear to us 4 times on this journey for the Cracker Swamp is a loopy place. Each time, you must present him with magic coins you will collect on the route as a tribute to the laws".
"Well I am a lawful pixie so that should be no problem. And I am good at collecting things, though I like to travel very lightly. There are many here that I think I know from other journeys too. Like that sleek Panther who travels with her tiny dog, Deep. Or the Armadillo - she has traveled many, many roads and her shell looks very tough. And there are many here, but with a dent in my head and my eyes so bad, I can't seem to tell them apart".
And with that, the Giraffe came forth and greeted the Pixie merrily. "Do not fret over the dent in your head, Pixie, for I also have a dent in my head and I am healing my strong legs too. So for now I serve the Swamp King and will aid you as I can here at the Castle as will all the King's many servants. All are wished well on the long journey through the Cracker Swamp - the fast and the slow."
And so the Pixie prepared for the long journey and decided that though so many would be on the road at the same time, she would listen to the Jester's wise counsel and be very steady. "Your confidence is lacking," said the Jester, "so we will build and build on the journey and be steady in our ways - then you will be as safe as possible. But there will be many Rabbits as we start out and they are very focused, so hang to the back and let them go their ways for Rabbits are too busy sometimes to recognize others in their path".
And so the long journey across the vast Cracker Swamp started at the strike of 4 on the morrow and the Pixie found herself quite alone for a long while until she came upon the Panther, 2 Geese, and an Owl.
"Greetings Pixie", said the Owl", we have traveled these woods before and it is good to see you again. These 2 Geese and I are traveling together for now and you are welcome among us. It is a beautiful morning and we may see the remnants of the Mad Monster Matthew today. It is really quite amazing that the Swamp has recovered quickly and we were spared from the largest of his wrath".
And so the small group set together and the Panther had to stop for a time but the others continued on. The Jester was indeed a light traveling companion and was largely silent until suddenly, they all came to a stop.
"We have accidentally left the path!", said the Geese, "we must return whence we left".
And the Pixie was confused, for the way was indeed complex and she found herself suddenly alone as the others sped off. "Chicky, where shall we go, for the Jester is ready to run and you are best with maps".
"QUACK," said Chicky.
"Ah so you say left? I am puzzled but I will follow you and Jester because of your local knowledge". And a big wind came up behind them and they wobbled and continued on. "I must be vigilant," thought the Pixie, "for it is easy to get lost in the Cracker Swamp and sometimes following others blindly is not a good thing".
And so they carried on until they once again rejoined their friends and came to hamlet of Oak Hill where a Fox was waiting with a bag of Magic Coins. "Ah Pixie, you have missed the group of 60 that were here not so long ago, but I see that was your plan all along. Here is a magic coin as tribute to the Swamp King. I will be watching you and you are only just a little behind the Armadillo, the Geese and the Owl. You can catch them if you try".
And so the Pixie thought it over and consulted with Chicky and the Jester and they decided that was a good idea. And the wind was at their backs and they moved swiftly. They came upon the Armadillo first.
"Why hello Pixie!", said the Armadillo, "I am glad to see you this fine morning. So far this Cracker Swamp has been quite a fun time and I am focusing on my many experiences to get me through the difficult times ahead - as you can see, I am a tough nut! But I am much shorter than you and so you will gain little in the wind from riding with me, but we are good companions so I look forward to seeing you from time to time."
And so the Pixie rejoined with the small party and they all enjoyed the nice morning. There were many mounds left by the Mad Monster Matthew, but the road was smooth and pleasant and very flat. There were many birds, but no gators to be seen in the Swamp and they past the large machinery that sometimes goes to the stars and back. This was Merritt Island, home of NASA, though it seemed quite deserted at the time. They even saw a fierce wild pig that ran across the road and disappeared into the forest. "Take care Pixie", said the Jester, "for wild pigs are very dangerous."
They climbed an enormous bridge returning from the Island and the scenery changed to one of many settlements and many machines. After some winding, they came to a long road full of others. "We must take advantage of the wind at our backs," said the Jester, "now is the time to stretch your legs".
And so the Pixie stretched out her legs and down the road they went pulling the others behind them. After a time, it was only her and a new companion, the Oklahoma Coyote. "Tis also my first trip to the Cracker Swamp and my first long journey", said the Coyote. "Let us ride together for a time and enjoy this fine day". And so they made their way along the Indian River which was lovely and the sun was shining. They crossed over another large bridge and felt the strong wind, glad that it was not ahead of them. And up ahead, there was the Fox once more with a smile on his face. There were many others with him this time.
"Ahoy," said the Fox, "your journey goes very well and I have for you another magic coin. Do have something to eat before you leave." And so the Pixie foraged around and found some very nice milk and pizza and filled the Jester's hat with water once more. "I am not ready to depart," said the Coyote, "but I will see you down the road".
And the Pixie departed for she knew that with Chicky and the Jester, she would never really be alone. They traveled along to be joined by several of the Rabbits and along they went passing many corners and the machines were somewhat fierce at times. "This is a well traveled spot of the Swamp, we must tread carefully!"
So by and by 128 miles, they came to the last place along the water at Indiatlantic and there was the Swamp King himself with a great feast and all his courtiers!
"WELCOME ALL!" said the Swamp King with a big smile. Tis' not often that I leave Castle Tavares but today is such a fine day that I would see travelers on my roads. Come and enjoy my feast. For I have arranged that you have 80 miles of winds at your backs on this fine day"
And so the Swamp King himself gave the Pixie a magic coin and she availed herself of the many treats and delicacies. But the clock was ticking and though many sat down enjoying the feast, the Jester beckoned. "Do not dilly-dally Pixie! For otherwise we may encounter the Black Witch in the Wee Hours".
And so the Pixie departed with the two Rabbits and the Geese and they made their way inland and away from the sea. This was a long road and though the shoulder was fine, soon the heat was much greater. Finally, the Rabbit behind her said, "alas Pixie, I must go much slower, for with my fine fur coat, I am not so good in the heat as you". And so the Pixie continued on alone stopping once to refill the Jester's hat.
It was to be many hours later before they would see another. At the hamlet of Randolph, they were stopped in a long line of machines and became confused, needing to backtrack for a very small distance. At the corner, they saw a Badger in a bright orange hat.
"Why hello Pixie," said the Badger, "we have ridden on many of the same roads but have never actually met and so I am glad to finally run into you. This way is long and the machines are fierce, let us ride the path together for a time".
And so they did through the old roads of the Cracker Swamp passing many sights along the way. They stopped for a time to pick up sandwiches and another magic coin and were joined by a Hedgehog. The three of them road along through the woods and into the first hills of the Cracker Swamp.
Finally, Castle Tavares appeared on the road. The clock had not yet struck midnight and all three of them were relieved that the Black Witch had not caught them unawares on the trail.
"Here we must stop," said the Badger, "and your company was a pleasure. If you like, I will meet you at 5 on the morrow".
And so the Pixie returned to her room in Castle Tavares, ate a good meal and fell into a deep sleep. At 5 on the morrow, she appeared to meet the Badger only to find the Armadillo outside the Castle.
"Why hello Pixie," said the Armadillo. "You are looking well this day. I am waiting for an Antelope from the Far West but she has not appeared". And with that the Badger leaned his head out of the window and told the Pixie to go on, for he was not yet quite ready. And so the Armadillo and the Pixie left following in the wake of a mass of Rabbits.
"Today will be another fine day in the forest but not so flat," said the Armadillo, "I am riding on experience here and it is good to be cautious". And it was true that the Pixie did not feel quite as well the day before and agreed.
The next miles were very hard ones, for there were many machines on the road in the dark and sometimes Chicky would cry out warnings. Finally they came to quieter roads and the Armadillo was ahead with a Falcon. The Falcon looked a bit on the sad side as his wing was quite sore and so they went off together and finally the sun came up and the Pixie was hungry and hoped that relief was soon. And so it was.
They came upon the Pack & Sack sometime past 7 and the Jester once again advised caution. Inside, the merchant advised that fried chicken was nearly done and so the Pixie ordered some with salt and coconut water thinking that might help perk her up. "Clearly Pixie, your lack of ability to taste or smell is an advantage in the Cracker Swamp". And though Chicky had to turn the other way, the fried chicken was indeed very filling and went down easily with coconut water and a very nice nut bar that the Pixie had made herself.
And so they left the Pack and Sack much happier and the hills were more numerous as they passed through the very pretty forest in the early morning fog. Some very nice twin Eagles swooped by with a group of Rabbits and waved hello. The Armadillo, who was very charismatic, chatted with them for a time and the Pixie enjoyed the cool air.
Finally, the forest ended and an long rough road began. Alone once more, the Pixie had a hard time here and finally stopped on a bridge to gaze into the water. She rejoined friends briefly but came to Western Palatka alone. There were many turns and she squinted and was careful for the way was a challenge through many houses in the woods. Many were out cleaning after the Mad Monster Matthew, she supposed. While the Pixie felt for their plight, she also didn't like that many of them would point and whistle at her legs and other body parts as she passed. "Those are Rednecks," explained the Jester. "They are only really interested in one of your body parts so getting complements on more than one is an honor".
And so the Pixie finally came out of the western part of the town and crossed the huge bridge across the River St John. Here she stopped along with two Rabbits. This is a Scottish Diner, said the Rabbits, there are many tasty treats. And look there are two other travelers here as well.
And so the Pixie went inside and ordered something she supposed to be quick for the Jester was impatient. Outside there was one of two Gazelles. "We have lingered too long and my legs are ready to fly as soon as my friend returns." And with that the other Gazelle appeared and the three of them left. "I have no hope of keeping up with you Gazelles, but it will be safer in the intersection with three of us". And sure enough, the Gazelles took off. Then Chicky began quacky loudly.
"Oh we must turn here? Thank you for pointing that out Chicky - truly your local knowledge is unparalleled". The Pixie cried after the Gazelles but they were too far down the road. Alas, they would need to turn around and return later.
So the Pixie finally came upon Cracker Swamp Road and a short distance later came to collect another magic coin and rejoined with the Armadillo, who was ahead. The two of them rejoined the Gazelles but soon found themselves alone again as they exited the big town through some mad traffic.
It was here that Pixie was to encounter two Lightening Bugs flashing along together. As she road behind, their flashing lights suddenly made her dizzy.
"Ah Pixie, it is the dent in your head", said the Jester. "You must not look at the bright flashing lights or it will be doom, but the Swamp King has forbidden flashing lights so if you ask in a polite way, I'm sure that they will change to steady". But alas, the Lightening Bugs were unimpressed by the plight. "It is our nature to be flashing, we would feel odd any other way". And so the Pixie tried to move with her eyes closed or ride too fast, neither of which worked well. Finally, she resolved to slow down and let them go ahead and hope that they would remain far down the road.
And so the Pixie, the Jester, Chicky and the Armadillo made their way along until the sun began to set and they stopped to prepare for the night. "I cannot see so well in the dark," said the Pixie, "for I have a dent in my head and my eyes do not focus so well".
"Alas, I cannot see well myself but I have a magic guide that will tell us where to go," said the Armadillo.
And so they made their way along and the night was pleasant and fun. Soon Castle Tavares was once more on the horizon at Mile 452. The clock struck 30 past the hour of 8 and the Pixie was happy for the Black Witch was thwarted once more. "Let us partake of the magnificent feast of the Swamp King and meet at the stroke of 4 on the morrow, said the Armadillo, "for tomorrow has many hills and will surely be a most challenging day".
"That is an excellent time", said the Pixie, "I will sleep for 5 hours tonight and that will help me".
And so at the stroke of 4, they started out once more. The first miles were quite flat but soon the hills began. The Jester was quite serious on this day. "Do not exhaust yourself for there are many hills ahead and we must do those at our own pace. We must collect a coin at the top of the Sugarloaf Mountain and then we can see where we are, but it will be dark for quite some time".
And so they started up the Sugarloaf Mountain and soon they were joined by all the others who also wanted the largest of the hills to be done. And though it was not long it was steep and required concentration.
And in the darkness up came the blazing lights of the Lightening Bugs.
"Cover your eyes Pixie," they shouted. But that was not a good idea while climbing a steep hill. And the Pixie became quite dizzy at the bright, scintillating lights in the total darkness and they burned into her eyes. At the very top, she stopped to retrieve her coin and the blazing lights were too much. She fell into a deep and aimless sleep and tumbled from the Jester to the ground.
"Oh Pixie", cried the Jester, "alas Chicky and I have let you down". And now all are staring and I see that the dent in your head is pulsing. You must not quit. Reach into my pocket for I have a special magic mushroom that will help you. But we must only ride alone once you eat it and we must go much slower for a time lest the mushroom make you sicker".
And so the Pixie was shaken but did not give up. They rode slowly still trying to stay away from the Lightening Bugs and finally the sun crept over the hills and the day was to be warm and sunny. The Pixie did not feel so well and at the next stopping place instead of a nice sandwich with her magic coin, she gave away some her food. She dutifully filled the Jester's hat and off they went once more. "The next stop you must eat much more," said the Jester, "for you look a little pale to me".
And so they rode along up and down the hills to tiny village of San Antonio. Here was a public house with many treats and every one was there to lunch as it was noon. And the Pixie ordered some soda and a grilled cheese, for she thought they would be easy to eat. Many came to say hello including the Carolina Parakeets who had known the Pixie for a long time.
"Tis good to see you, but our day has been a sad one so far and we are hot and tired".
And the Pixie tried to smile, but was hungry and it had been a long wait for the cheese. Finally it came and it tasted of chalk and the lateness of the hour was upon them and everyone was gone. And so with heavy hearts and still empty stomachs, they journeyed on. And in the tiny hamlet of Trilby, they came upon a small shop. Here the Pixie found some more food and some very tasty coconut water with bits of coconut in it. And the merchants gave many words of encouragement and this brightened things greatly.
And so they continued on and the hills became a little less for a time as they came across a trail that was very pretty with swamps and flowers and all manner of plants. Along the way, they passed the Armadillo, who was chatting with friends and several others enjoying the beauty of the Cracker Swamp.
And so they came to a special spot and the Parakeets, the Eagles and 2 Rabbits were there. "You must come here and put your name upon the paper and I will send it to the Swamp King for this is a special place, " said one of the Parakeets. "Then you should go quickly for though the day is fine, the wind will be against you and there are many hills." And the Pixie realized that the Rabbits were not Rabbits, but were in fact Hares.
"There is a big difference between a Rabbit and a Hare," said one of Hares.
The Pixie promised to remember this difference and smiled. And after a short stop to fill the Jester's hat, she continued alone. Do not fear the wind in our faces, said the Jester, for I am happy in the face of the Wind. He is not such a foe and will keep you cool on this hot day".
And so they continued on until a big group with the Parakeets, the Hares and the Eagles came up upon them and invited them to ride alongside, and the Pixie did so for a time, but was nervous and not certain that the pace was good for her. "Chicky says this is a bit too quick," said the Jester. "Let them pass and we shall be fine ourselves on this beautiful day".
They continued on over hill and down dale and the day was indeed fine and many sights created them including a beautiful snake. "Stay back from that," said the Jester, "for the yellow and red are warnings that the snake is poison to you and will summon the Black Witch even into the day". So they passed the snake and continued on and finally the Pixie had to stop to prepare for the sun to drop below the hills. And as they prepared to leave once more, the Armadillo came upon them.
"Ah Pixie, let us ride into the dark together for there is safety in numbers where the Black Witch is concerned and the Swamp King demands one more magic coin for this day." And so they made there way the last few miles going up and down the big rolling hills and the Pixie marveled at the Jester's bright eyes that could see even in the dark. The way seemed particularly long on the fine evening even though the clock had only just struck 8 bells, the Pixie could still feel the effects of the the magic mushroom. Once again, Castle Tavares appeared and they were greeted by yet another feast and the Mysterious Lady of the East herself appeared and aided the now quite tired Pixie.
"Alas Pixie", said the Mysterious Lady of the East. "You are lucky for the breath of the Black Witch is upon you and to stay out longer would be folly". And she brought her a plate of food. "You must rest well tonight for tomorrow is your last day to finish your journey." "Yes," said the Swamp King, "I am impressed by your strength and your companions, Pixie. I see that you have honored my laws well and though you only have 130 miles remaining on the journey, you have almost 26 hours to complete the journey. I recommend that you spend a quiet and safe evening in the castle where you may heal from the trials of the day for tomorrow is to be very beautiful here in my swamp." And so the Pixie did so and slept soundly for the entire night. But Chicky was up just on 5 on the morrow.
"Ah," said the Pixie, "you are right Chicky. We should leave at an odd time so that we stay clear of the Lightening Bugs. Let us depart shortly, for I see there is a cockroach doing laps on the wall here and I find that rather disturbing anyway". So the merry party left for their last day in the Cracker Swamp. The air was still cool and the sky dark, but that was fine as they traveled out through a few more hills. "We shall have a nice day together on our final day of the journey," said the Jester.
And they wound round the hills together seeing only a very few on the journey for it was still a little early and many were still asleep at the castle. As the golden light came up, they stopped briefly to tighten the Jester's belt which had come loose on the journey and the two Eagles offered to help. "Only a tiny thing," said the Pixie, "but I am glad to see others on this fine day.
Nonetheless, it was lunchtime when they arrived at a place to stop and found the Eagles again eating a snack with vigor. There was a nice conversation and they left together to be joined by the Badger and the 2 Hares, but the Pixie was still nervous at the number and decided to let them fly together and instead talk to the Wind.
"Why Wind," said the Pixie, "I see you are back to once again keep me cool and fresh on this warm and fine day".
"Why yes Pixie", it will be hot this afternoon and better that I cool you and keep water from dripping in your eyes. I see you are well provisioned and that the Jester and Chicky are keeping you company. Together we will have a fine time".
Along the way, the party met with 2 Minks who were very sleek indeed and kind and helped them navigate a particularly treacherous corner with many machines. "Those Minks are very strong," said the Jester, "for I heard that they have helped others on the journey by carrying their bags when they were left behind".
And so they traveled together and the wind, while very strong, was still more help than hurt for the Pixie liked the Wind and found him a jolly sort. Finally, they came to the last stop for magic coins. "Amazing Jester! It is but 3 in the afternoon and here we are nearly at the end of the Cracker Swamp." And with that, a small group of Rabbits appeared looking rather tired for they perhaps did not like the Wind so much as the Pixie did. They sat drinking root beer and vegetable juice.
"Surely they will catch us soon," said the Pixie to the Wind. "But indeed you are quite strong and I am glad that I see you as a friend and not a foe". And so the last 16 miles went quickly and across a great lake they passed and Castle Tavares appeared for the final time. "See Pixie," cried the Jester, "we have led you safely through the Cracker Swamp".
And indeed they came into Castle Tavares to cheers of the Swamp King and his courtiers. "Congratulations Pixie!" said the Swamp King, "you have been most extraordinary and I must say that when I saw you 4 days ago you were the last on the path, but got stronger and stronger and here you are nearly 6 hours early at my court".
"Why thank you good King," said the Pixie, "I was true to myself and my companions and that made me a success this day. My great thanks to you and alll your courtiers who worked so hard to help me succeed and regain my confidence for it was deep within the Swamp and hard to find".
And the Mysterious Lady of the East came also to congratulate the Pixie and the two of them then started yet another adventure to aid the last of the Travelers, including the Lynx and the Antelope, but that is another story for another time....
Cast of Characters
The Swamp King - Paul Rozelle
The Mysterious Lady of the East - Susan Gryder
The Giraffe - Don Gramling
The Armadillo - Vickie Tyer
The Geese - Allen and Victoria Abbate
The Fox - Charles Fournier
The Parakeets - Melanie Ashby and Wayne Phelps
The Eagles - Art and Dan Fuoco
The Panther - Vicky Backman
The Minks - Jackie and John Schlitter
The Badger - Greg Smith
The Owl - Dick Felton
The Gazelles - Callista Phillips and friend
The Antelope - Ann Klein
The Lightening Bugs - Luann Brink and Larry Grabiak
The Hedgehog - Terry Hutt
The Falcon - Jerry Christianson
And many other fine riders and volunteers that make this a great sport