An Elevenses Special: “Jasper the Porcupine’s First Birthday Party”

Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Juvenile-Male-Porky.jpg. Author: Charles Holmer.  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Every so often, when I need a break from my larger projects, I’ll churn out a quick piece of flash fiction. I’ve decided to start sharing them under the “Elevenses” banner, because they are snacks more than stories. First up, a story that takes place in the days before the Five ever became the Five.

Adventures of the Five

An Elevenses Special

Written by Mark Bousquet

“Jasper the Porcupine’s First Birthday Party”

“Notter!” Jasper the Porcupine yelled as he pushed aside a small bramble to let the otter into his bedroom. “We’ve been waiting for you!”

“Chip chip ahoy!” Notter yelled, pushing past Jasper to join the birthday party. Aurora the Fox, Flake the Rabbit, and Spicedrop the Owl were already inside, sipping on some lemonade that Jasper had mixed in an abandoned dog food bowl. The animals in the Meadow knew they were not like animals in most of the children’s stories produced by humans. They did not wear clothes and walk on their hind legs. Jasper’s bedroom did not have a bed and a bureau and a bean bag. It had dirt and he slept on half of a kid’s Red Sox t-shirt that he’d scavenged after it floated into the Meadow via the river. They did speak English, but that was because they were all taught a second language as soon as they were born. It was important for them to know what the humans who lived around them were saying.

But the humans did not know the animals of the Meadow could understand them, so there would be no human stopping by to wish Jasper a happy first birthday.

“Lemonade?” Notter asked after shoving his entire face into the bowl. “Where’d you get this?”

“I’ve been saving it!” Jasper said happily. “I found a packet after some humans didn’t pick up all their trash last summer! I wanted to save it for a special occasion.”

“And the water?” Aurora the Fox asked, but then a crack of thunder shook the warren and she had her answer.

Flake the Rabbit made a face at Notter as the otter was practically neck deep in the lemonade. Her right eye had been torn out by an attack from Dancer the Hawk, and it was a Very Big Deal that she had finally ventured back outdoors to come to Jasper’s party. The porcupine was so happy that she was here he almost didn’t care if Aurora, Notter, or Spicedrop had come.

“I thought you were going to invite the new kid,” Flake said, and the room fell instantly silent. Her scarred right eye twitched, as it always did when she was nervous. “What?”

Spicedrop wandered in from his spot on the other side of the room. “Not everyone is happy that Farm is in the Meadow. Some of the Elders,” he said, looking at Aurora because her father was on the Elders Council, “do not want him around.”

Aurora hung her head and felt shame rise up inside of her. It was true that her dad wanted Farm to leave the Meadow, but that was because, “His dad killed my mom.”

Notter licked droplets of lemonade off his chin. “You don’t know that.”

“We know-!”

“Stop!” Jasper insisted as he looked from Aurora to Notter to Flake to Spicedrop. “I want everyone to have fun! That’s why I didn’t invite him! Because I knew it would make some people mad. Now, come on! Let’s have some fun!”

Before Jasper and the others could start their fun, a voice from the doorway interrupted them.

“Um, excuse me, who are you talking to?”

Jasper spun as fast as he could (which wasn’t very fast, because he was a porcupine) to find the very animal he had just been talking about standing there. Farm the Half-Wolverine (on his dad’s side) and Half-Fox (on his mother’s side) was poking his head past the bramble. Though he was only a few months old, Farm looked like a black fox twice his age.

“You were talking just now, weren’t you?” he asked politely.

“Gah!” Jasper said, and spun back to his friends as fast as he could (which wasn’t very fast, because he was a porcupine) to see an empty room.

Farm’s arrival had crashed his fantasy.

“I was just …”

Jasper let his voice trail away as his head dropped to the dirt. There had never been a birthday party because he wasn’t cool enough to have any friends to come to a birthday party. Well, maybe if his parents believed in having birthday parties he could have convinced a few people to come: Notter was crazy so he’d come, and he’d been to visit Flake a few times so she might have come if she ever left her own warren, and everyone knew Aurora was going to be on the Elders Council someday because her dad practically ran the Meadow, so she’d come because she’d think it was her duty, and, well there’s no way Spicedrop would ever come but Jasper thought owls were the coolest animals and if he was going to have a pretend birthday party, then it was going to be a pretend birthday party with an owl.

“Were you talking to yourself?” Farm asked, entering the room.

“What? No! I …”

“Yeah, I do that, too,” Farm admitted. “I’m sorry to interrupt but Mother Hound said I should come over because it was your birthday. I think she feels bad I don’t have any friends.” He sniffed the air as his eyes found the bowl. “What’s that sweet smell?”

“It’s lemonade,” Jasper grumbled, plopping himself down in the dirt.

Farm blinked. “You have lemonade?”

“Yeah.”

“Wow! You’re the coolest! Can I … can I have some? I’ve never had lemonade but it smells so good!”

Jasper brightened, but only cautiously so. Kids were always picking on him and he didn’t know Farm enough to know if he was going to pretend to be nice just to be mean, so he cautiously picked up his head. “You … you think I’m cool?”

“Heck yes! Mother Hound has everything at the Barn but I’ve never had lemonade.”

Jasper couldn’t help but smile. “Why, sure you can have some lemonade, Farm! Be my guest!”

“Thanks!” Farm said and shot across the room to try the lemonade.

“You … you can stay for a bit, if you want,” he said. “My parents don’t really like parties but-”

“I know!” Farm said. “I brought you a gift but they took it from me on the way in! Tough break. But yes, I’d love to stay. I don’t have very many – well, I don’t have any friends, really, except for Notter, but he’s crazy, and Aurora, but that’s only because coming to see me makes her dad mad, which she totally enjoys no matter how much she says that’s not why she’s doing it. There’s some pretty cool kids here. We should, I dunno, start a group or something and go on adventures. I love adventures! Do you love adventures?”

Jasper, who had never been on an adventure in his life, very enthusiastically said, “I love them,” and smiled as Farm dipped his head back into the bowl. He didn’t even care if his parents had taken his one and only birthday present. Having someone stop by uninvited was the best present he could have ever dreamed of having.

“Oh,” Farm said, picking his head out of the bowl, “I’ve been rude.”

“You have?”

“Yeah,” Farm said, wiping lemonade off his black whiskers. “I didn’t say what I came here to say.”

“What’s that?” Jasper asked, feeling the old fears return. He expected Farm to say something mean.

“Happy Birthday, mate!” Farm shouted. “Have you ever been to any of the bridges that cross the river? We should totally do that! After we finish the lemonade, of course. This is soooooooo good!”

Jasper smiled.

Birthdays were awesome.

THE END

Adventures of the Five and all related characters and stories are copyright, Mark Bousquet. For future tales in the Adventures of the Five series, please see the first two books, THE COMING OF FROST and THE CHRISTMAS ENGINE.

The Coming of Frost Front CoverThe Christmas Engine Cover

Free Kindle Offer for Adventures of the Five: The Coming of Frost Through February 28

The Coming of Frost Front Cover

Just a heads up that the first ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE novel, THE COMING OF FROST is available for free through February 28th for the Kindle. This is not a free borrow or Prime deal, but a totally free download. The sequel, THE CHRISTMAS ENGINE, is currently available for purchase, as well.

I’ve made the book free for the week in hopes of getting the word out. It’s a $20 paperback, so this is what my marketing friends call “a deal.”

The book’s description:

Welcome to the Meadow! Big Orange Toy Box’s flagship production is an all-ages tale of five furry friends trying to stop an evil human from conquering Wonderland!

Thirty years ago, Johnson Frost was just a kid from the Real who got lost and ended up in the Fantasy, where he was to meet his destiny by saving the Wonderland 31. When it was time to go home, however, Johnson refused, hiding in the mountains where he helped the Yetis battle the Nutcracker Army for control of Wonderland. Eventually defeated and exiled back into our world, the once wide-eyed kid grew into a bitter adult with dreams of making himself king!

In the present, a new generation of kids visit Wonderland 31. Farm the Half-Wolverine, Aurora the Fox, Jasper the Porcupine, Flake the Rabbit, and Notter the Otter find the entrance while exploring abandoned miner’s tunnels inside the Western Mountain. They encounter a world of Nutcrackers and Yetis, of Marshmallow Bogs and Gingerbread Castles, and learn that Frost is coming back to conquer Wonderland with his Army of Invasives!

It’s up to the Five to stop him. Ignored by their parents and the Meadow’s Elders Council, the Five embark on the most dangerous adventure of their young lives to save both their home and a world they only just discovered!

THE COMING OF FROST is a big book: 164,000 words, 400+ pages, containing a series of 11 connected short stories. Here’s an excerpt from the book’s second chapter, “Mother Hound’s Silent Night Gone Not So Silent”:

Farm looked alarmed. “Notter! Were you spying on Corin again? You’re going to make him furious! We can’t make him suspicious this close to Eve’s New Year! If he suspects anything he’ll keep Aurora home that night. You cannot spy on him, Notter. Not this month, at least. We agreed.”

Notter looked wounded by the accusation. “Spying is such a dirty word, Farm.”

“Not to you it isn’t.”

Notter’s look of concern grew into a wide smile. “Yeah, you’re right about that. Crikey.”

Farm smiled back; it was impossible to stay mad at someone as enthusiastic as Notter, and as long as Notter had already spied there really wasn’t any harm in hearing about what he discovered. “What else did you hear?”

“Nothing, really,” Notter shrugged, darting off his pillow and towards the rectangular, yellow toy box against the left-side wall. “Maybe we can just take some of these and wrap them up for you. Hound won’t know the difference and that way she won’t feel bad about you not getting anything.”

Farm shook his head. “She’ll know. She’s not dumb.” He watched his friend stare intently at a wooden Nutcracker figurine. The paint had almost completely faded away. The toy’s face was nearly absent of features, the jaw was partially broken, and the once golden jacket was now a dull yellow. Notter was studying the figurine as if he expected the secrets of the universe to come pouring out. Farm thought about Notter’s last answer and his brain started to tingle – Notter was hiding something from him. “What do you mean, ‘nothing really?’” he asked suddenly. “’Nothing really’ means ‘something actually’ or I don’t smell that honey starting to warm in the stove. What did you hear?”

“Ack, Farm, nothing,” Notter frowned, turning his back to Farm in an unsuccessful attempt to hide it. “Jiminy.”

“What?” Farm demanded, his heart starting to race. There was usually only one subject that could get Notter to act like this. “Was it something about my dad?” he pressed excitedly and nervously. “Is he back?”

Notter spun quickly, leaping on Farm and pinning him to the ground.

“Notter, quit it! Get off!”

“It’s worse than your dad,” the otter said in a hushed whisper, his voice unusually shaky.

Farm stopped struggling. “Worse than Jacob’s return?”

Notter nodded, his head darting around and his nose sniffing the air before his eyes came back to lock on Farm’s. “Worse than Jacob’s return,” he nodded, his voice barely audible despite only being inches from Farm’s face. “Forsooth.”

Farm’s voice, too, was lower than the wind that howled outside. “What could be worse?”

Notter’s eyes darted around again, as if looking for something. A board creaked and both Notter and Farm snapped their head toward the wall. When nothing came through, Notter whispered, “Human.”

Farm’s eyes went wide. “There’s a human in the Meadow? Tonight?”

Notter nodded. “An old human, too, Farm, and Corin said he was big and fat and knew the Meadow good enough to know which homes had creatures in it and which didn’t. Corin said he watched the human stepping right past the empty fox dens and entering the ones that had foxes in ‘em.”

“How’s that-?”

“Magic,” Notter whispered fiercely, pushing Farm’s shoulders hard onto the floor. “Human magic, too. The worst kind. Yeah, and Corin said this human’s got something to give a particular fox and isn’t leaving until he finds him.” Notter pushed his face in close to Farm’s. “Or her.”

Farm gasped. “You don’t think … Aurora?”

Notter nodded. “She’s the daughter of the most powerful creature in all the Meadow. If the humans were after anyone, it would be her, wouldn’t it?”

“We’ve got to save her!” Farm shouted, knocking Notter off him with surprising strength and leaping to his feet. Plans were already forming in his mind about where to take Aurora after they rescued her. If this magic human could tell which dens were inhabited and which weren’t, maybe that’s because he was a tracker of some kind. Maybe they could take her to the caves and sneak down through the abandoned miner’s tunnels and lead her to safety? Which safety, though? To another spot on the Western Mountain? To the abandoned mining facility? To the Factory up on the northern edge? To the Crop Fields in the South? They certainly couldn’t go east, to the human settlement of Eastbrook, unless hiding among the humans was the last place the magic man would look for them.

Decisions, decisions, too many decisions. Farm’s mind raced. The mountain had the most places to hide, but they’d be out in the open too much. The magic man could spot them easily just by looking, and besides, Farm shivered, the birds patrolled the mountain. The last thing he wanted to do was rescue Aurora from a human and deliver her to the hawks. It wasn’t Flake, but Farm bet Dancer wouldn’t mind making the rabbit a bit more scared by killing her best friend.

Then again, maybe they could hide her beyond the Old Wall. Even looking at the Old Wall was a violation of Meadow Law (in fact, it was a violation of the oldest Meadow Law), but that meant it would be the last place anyone would look for them – unless the magic man didn’t know about Meadow Law. Did Farm want to potentially lead this evil magic man to -

He shook the thought away; the Western Mountain was out. The North Factory was off-limits, too, according to Meadow Law, but visiting the factory wasn’t as severe a violation as seeing the Old Wall. Maybe that made it the best place to hide. Few would suspect them of going there and the noise and pollution kept the hawks and wolves away. Notter had been in the factory a bunch of times (or so he said) and there were plenty of hidden ducts and vents where they could hide out. Since it was Christmas time, the factory wouldn’t be running for a few days, meaning the humans wouldn’t be around to spot them, either. Hunting was illegal in the Meadow, but humans were allowed to shoot animals that wandered onto their property. They’d have to come up with some way to avoid the alarms, though, or else the police would come and-

Farm pushed the thought aside. The Crop Fields were … he scolded himself. He was spending too much time planning and not enough time acting. First they had to rescue Aurora. The rest they could figure out once they had her.

Farm spun on Notter. “We’ve got to get going! There’s no telling when the mag … ic … man …” He stopped cold as he saw Notter double over with laughter, his paws clenching his stomach as he wiggled back and forth on the worn red carpet.

“Notter! What’s so funny?”

“You’re so easy, Farm!” Notter giggled. “A human magic user walking around the Meadow tonight? Only visiting houses with people inside? With something to give someone special?”

Farm’s anger was blinding his ability to think; the half-wolverine had started to notice that he was getting angrier quicker than he used to get. Aurora was in danger and Notter was here playing riddles. They had to go warn her, or if they were too late for that, to save her. He didn’t see what was so funny about this magical human appearing in everyone’s house with something … to … give …

Farm groaned. “I’m so easy,” he mumbled, flopping back onto Flake’s pillow by the round table. He slapped his paw against his forehead. “Corin was talking about-”

“Santa Claus!” Notter shouted and then burst out laughing again.

Farm groaned.

Notter laughed.

This was the way it usually was between these two friends, and that’s why, when Farm had a secret to tell, he told it to Jasper the Porcupine.

–continued in THE COMING OF FROST!

Thanks for reading, all.

I Wrote That: Adventures of the Five: The Christmas Engine 2-for-1 Offer

Adventures of the Five (Book 2): The Christmas Engine - Written by Mark Bousquet

Adventures of the Five (Book 2): The Christmas Engine – Written by Mark Bousquet

The first official release for Big Orange Toy Box is ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE: THE CHRISTMAS ENGINE, available now for the Kindle and in paperback form.

The official book description:

The Five are back!

It’s March in the Meadow and Christmas is the furthest thing from the minds of Farm the Half-Wolverine, Aurora the Fox, Jasper the Porcupine, Flake the Rabbit, and Notter the Otter. A visit from the Christmas Ghosts changes all that. The North Pole is under attack by unknown assailants, Santa Claus (both of them!) is dying, and it’s up to the Five to save Christmas!

The Five do not travel to the North Pole alone, however, as Aurora’s little sister, Pyxis, surprises them by tagging along. The young fox faces a series of trials alongside the Five she could never have imagined facing, and learns the value of friendship and the true meaning of sisterhood. Can Pyxis save Farm’s life, win the Reindeer Games, and become the Queen of the Polar Bears? Which member of the Five gets swallowed by a whale? Who discovers a buried secret deep below the North Pole? Can the Five save Santa Claus (both of them!)?

Joined by old friends and confronted by new enemies, it’s up to the Five to journey to the top of the world and stop the ancient evil contained within the Scarlet Nutcracker!

Big Orange Toy Box is a new imprint committed to quality, adventure-driven entertainment for an all ages audience.

THE CHRISTMAS ENGINE is the sequel to THE COMING OF FROST,which is available again for the Kindle and in paperback with a new cover and new interior formatting to make it easier to read and put it in line with the cover/layout of CHRISTMAS ENGINE.

And now for the special offers.*

Buy a paperback copy of the reformatted COMING OF FROST, take a picture of it when it arrives in the mail, email me that picture, and I will send you a free paperback copy of THE CHRISTMAS ENGINE. That’s it. I will lose money on this offer, as the profit I make from FROST will not quite cover the cost of me buying and sending your a copy of ENGINE, but I believe in these books and am willing to take a financial hit to help get them into people’s hands in the hopes that you’ll spread the word, either through leaving a comment here or a review at your bookseller of choice or simply talking the books up with your friends.

If you don’t want to buy FROST (or already own the previous format) but do want to buy ENGINE, buy it and repeat all the photo stuff up above and I will send you a free paperback copy of my other kid’s novel, STUFFED ANIMALS FOR HIRE: THE CHRISTMAS OPERATION.

To repeat, buy FROST, get ENGINE. Or buy ENGINE, get STUFFED ANIMALS.

If you buy a Kindle version of any one of those books and email me (bousquet.mark@gmail.com) a picture of the book on your Kindle bookshelf or an image of your Amazon receipt, and I will email you a free .pdf copy of your choice of one of the other two books.

*The nitty-gritty: Due to cost concerns, the 2-for-1 paperback deal applies only to people who can have the books shipped to the Continental United States (no Alaska or Hawaii, sorry). I’ll be shipping these direct from Amazon, so it’s just not economically feasible to send them around the world. The Kindle/.pdf offer applies to anyone anywhere with an email address, however.

NOTE: THIS OFFER EXPIRES ON FEBRUARY 28, 2014 or after 50 paperback redemptions, whichever comes first. That means I must have the picture of your book in my email inbox (bousquet.mark@gmail.com) by the 28th of February, 2014, or you must be one of the first 50 people to claim the offer to be eligible to receive your free copy. I will post a notification if that latter limit is reached and I will honor anyone who has purchased a book prior to the date of that notification, even if it takes me beyond 50. This offer is also limited to one redemption per person.

Any questions, just ask. Anyone who is an established reviewer or blogger may contact me to receive a free .pdf copy of THE CHRISTMAS ENGINE. Just provide me the details of where you review or blog and I’ll be happy to send you the .pdf. Again, I’m trying to spread the word about my new venture. I’d also be happy to do interviews about the project.

Thanks for reading everyone. I hope you’ll consider giving my ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE series a look, and if you do, I hope you enjoy. All feedback is welcome.

Adventures of the Five (Book One): The Coming of Frost - Written by Mark Bousquet

Adventures of the Five (Book One): The Coming of Frost – Written by Mark Bousquet

Adventures of the Five: The Christmas Engine Now Available for Kindle (Free Digital Offer)

Adventures of the Five (Book 2): The Christmas Engine - Written by Mark Bousquet

Adventures of the Five (Book 2): The Christmas Engine – Written by Mark Bousquet

The first official release for Big Orange Toy Box is ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE: THE CHRISTMAS ENGINE, available now for the Kindle.

The official book description:

The Five are back!

It’s March in the Meadow and Christmas is the furthest thing from the minds of Farm the Half-Wolverine, Aurora the Fox, Jasper the Porcupine, Flake the Rabbit, and Notter the Otter. A visit from the Christmas Ghosts changes all that. The North Pole is under attack by unknown assailants, Santa Claus (both of them!) is dying, and it’s up to the Five to save Christmas!

The Five do not travel to the North Pole alone, however, as Aurora’s little sister, Pyxis, surprises them by tagging along. The young fox faces a series of trials alongside the Five she could never have imagined facing, and learns the value of friendship and the true meaning of sisterhood. Can Pyxis save Farm’s life, win the Reindeer Games, and become the Queen of the Polar Bears? Which member of the Five gets swallowed by a whale? Who discovers a buried secret deep below the North Pole? Can the Five save Santa Claus (both of them!)?

Joined by old friends and confronted by new enemies, it’s up to the Five to journey to the top of the world and stop the ancient evil contained within the Scarlet Nutcracker!

Big Orange Toy Box is a new imprint committed to quality, adventure-driven entertainment for an all ages audience.

THE CHRISTMAS ENGINE is the sequel to THE COMING OF FROST, which is available again for the Kindle with a new cover and new interior formatting to make it easier to read and put it in line with the cover/layout of CHRISTMAS ENGINE.

And now for the special offer. If you buy a Kindle version of THE CHRISTMAS ENGINE and email me (bousquet.mark@gmail.com) a picture of the book on your Kindle bookshelf, I will email you a free .pdf copy of THE COMING OF FROST, as thanks.

Welcome to the Big Orange Toy Box

Adventures of the Five (Book 2): The Christmas Engine. Written by Mark Bousquet. Coming January 2014. A Big Orange Toy Box Book.

Adventures of the Five (Book 2): The Christmas Engine. Written by Mark Bousquet. Coming January 2014. A Big Orange Toy Box Book.

Welcome to the Big Orange Toy Box!

I have started this imprint to focus on quality, adventure-driven entertainment for an all-ages audience. When I was a kid, it was books like The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Old Mother West Wind stories, The Three Investigators, The Hardy Boys, and The Chronicles of Prydain, television shows like Scooby-Doo, Speed Buggy, and Star Blazers, and movies like Star Wars that I loved, and those stories serve as the inspiration for this new publishing imprint.

My goal is to write and publish adventure-driven stories that the entire family can enjoy.

I have written two children’s books in the past – Adventures of the Five: The Coming of Frost and Stuffed Animals for Hire: The Christmas Operation – and I’ll be re-publishing them under this new imprint.

Our first all-new title will be Adventures of the Five: The Christmas Engine, and it will be available in early January 2014.

Thanks for stopping by.