The first of my ‘Alphabet Superset’ Flash Fiction challenges.
Ashipattle and the Meester Stoorworm.
A is for Ashipattle.
The deck heaved under his bare feet, threatening to spill the iron bucket of burning coals onto the warped timbers. A sharp tweak of the sail, a careful angling of the rudder, and Ashipattle nudged the tiny vessel back towards the Storm Worm’s gaping maw. He swallowed his fear, fought down the rising bile-filled dread, and wished for the dozenth time that he’d been able to find a sword.
If he could just get over the palisade of teeth, Ashipattle hoped, he could dump his cargo down the Worm’s throat and save the princess. And the Kingdom. He realised that he’d misjudged the monster’s breathing again, and would reach the teeth just as it started exhaling.
Ashipattle yanked the tiller over, the rudder creaking in protest, and snatched the sail round. Too slowly, the tiny boat turned, the waves from the Worm’s approach threatening to plunge the boy and his fire into the bitter northern ocean. He didn’t dare look back; seeing how close it was wouldn’t make the boat faster. The hairs on his neck prickled, he smelt the brimstone in the sea air, and flung himself flat on the deck. An instant later, the mast and sails dissolved in an acrid green cloud, and smoke rose from the planks that had shielded him.
The boy lay still as death, waiting for the burning gas to fill his lungs, or the planks to splinter and dunk him into the frigid sea. When neither happened, he raised his head; saw the Worm’s head rise above the water, triumphant. Ashipattle leaped to his feet, ignoring the rocking of the boat, and flapped his arms above his head. “Come and get me!” he screamed.
The Worm swallowed him and his tiny boat whole.
The burning coals cast a flickering, crimson glow around him, but he had no time for fear. He grasped the bucket, felt the flesh on his hands burning, and flung the embers over the side. The Worm’s stomach lurched, heaved, and even the muffled echoes of its roar of pain caused Ashipattle to cover his ears. The beast vomited hard, attempting to rid itself of the agony within, but only the boy and his boat emerged. As he broke off the rudder to use as an oar, Ashipattle wondered how for how many years the Storm Worm would burn.
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This story was inspired by the myth of Ashipattle and the Meester Stoorworm . This is a Scottish myth (primarily from the Orkney Islands) which tells the tale of a gigantic Sea Serpent terrorising the people. Knights fear to face it, and the King is convinced that the only way to appease it is to offer up his daughter to be eaten.