This is the third and last sample from my revised Monster Maintenance Manual, a book recommended for the very young who want to grow up as cryptic crossword champions.
Roger Rabid was a very mild-looking person because he was a very mild person. He was born with the name Peter Percival Rabbit, because his parents named him after the famous Peter Rabbit, but his grandfather was an artist and he warned Peter’s parents about copyright law.
“I got into trouble once when I was using the name Rupert Bunny, so put in a Percival to be safe,” he told them.
P. P. Rabbit grew up in his home burrow on Circular Island, embarrassed by his name. He got in the habit of telling people he was named after Padraic Pearse, a famous Irish rebel, but people soon found out that it wasn’t true.
Because P. P. Rabbit hated his name, he hated the copyright law. At a very young age, he decided to run away and become a copywrong pirate.
He wasn’t really sure what a copywrong pirate did, but he thought it was probably damaging to copyright. He hoped it meant smashing up the copyright laws, but whatever it was, it had to be more exciting than living at home, competing with aunt’s flock of lawn moas for a feed of grass, and very occasionally getting some grated carrot.
He decided to go and find a copywrong pirate so he could ask what they did. He worked out that most pirates use ships, and that meant they should be found near the sea, but he wasn’t sure where to look for the sea.
This should tell you all you need to know about P. P. Rabbit. He lived on an island, surrounded by sea, and he had several lucky rabbit’s feet. His mother said they had to be lucky, because they were still part of him.
One day, P. P. Rabbit heard a rumbling while was out walking, then he heard the squawking of parrots, and he decided that a troppo was coming along the road. Off the road he went, fast as he could, right across Circular Island—and fell into the sea.
Thinking quickly, he grabbed a bar of soap out of his pocket. “All I have to do is wash myself ashore,” he bubbled, but the soap ran out, and so did his luck.
Then his luck returned, as a kind old man with an eye patch scooped him out of the water, shouting ‘Aaaaarr!’ as he did. P. P. Rabbit smiled, even though he was cold and soggy.
Going on the eyepatch, if this man wasn’t a copywrong pirate, he must know about them. So as the man rowed him back to the beach, he plucked up the courage to ask a question.
“Thanks,” he said, shaking off the water. “Are you a copywrong pirate?”
“Aaaaarr!” said the man, either winking or blinking. P. P. Rabbit might have been a bit silly, but he worked out that when somebody has a patch, it’s hard to tell a wink from a blink. “That oi be! Me name’s Wrong John Sliver! Why did you ask that?”
“Oh, thank you,” said P. P. Rabbit. “Now can you tell me what copywrong pirates actually do? I think I want to become one…”
The man thought for a moment. “Well, we shout ‘Aaaaarr!’ quite a lot.”
“What does that do?”
“Well, it makes you feel a lot better if you’ve just stubbed your toe because some evil son of a sea-cook just shivered their timbers and didn’t clean up after themselves. Besides that, d’you know what our favourite letter of the alphabet is?”
P. P. Rabbit thought about this. “Could your favourite possibly be the letter P? That’s my favourite letter…”
“No, you hornpiped lump of unspliced mainbrace! It’s R!” bellowed Wrong John. “That’s why all our names start with an R!”
“But your name starts with a W, doesn’t it?”
“Only if you’re a copyright pirate, but we’re copywrong pirates. And I’m the pirate king! Aaaaarr!”
“So you don’t like the letter P?”
“Aaaaarr, we like it a bit. That letter’s the next best, but if you give it a wooden leg, it’s an R. Anyhow, you can’t be called anything Rabbit, so we’ll make that Rabid. Aaaaarr, we’ll call you Roger Rabid.”
Roger was glad they didn’t chop off one of his legs or even one of his lucky feet. Instead, Wrong John tied a lump of wood to one of his own legs. And he didn’t poke out one of Roger’s eyes, he just gave him a patch to wear. “Which eye will I wear it on?” Roger asked.
Wrong John Sliver grinned. “Aaaaarr, we be copywrong pirates! Different eye each day, lad!”
They stood, looking silently out to sea, but the quiet was soon ended with a roar.
“AVAST, YE BLUBBERS!” Roger jumped and turned to see two men with eye patches. One wore a kilt, but Roger noticed that instead of being tartan, it looked as though it had been made from a Hawaiian shirt. The other one held a teapot and wore a garland of leeks with camouflage shirt and pants.
The one in the kilt held his hand out. “I’m Rrrrobert the Brrrruise!” he said in a broad Scots accent. “I jump to contusions quite a bit, while my friend here with the teapot jumps to infusions.”
The other waved his teapot and spoke in a Welsh accent. “I’m Roberts the Brew,” he said. “Care for some tea, boyo?”
“Hold your hand out then!”
“Umm, maybe I won’t,” said Roger.
Roberts the Brew shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
Roger noticed Long John Sliver was looking unhappy, and glaring at the other two. “What’s this BLUBBER stuff?” he asked them. “I’ve been losing weight!”
Robert the Bruise nodded. “We can see that. We’re just trying to be wrong, like the rule book says.” He pointed at Roger. “This here’s a new member?”
Roger held out his hand. “Roger Rabid,” he said. “Pleased to meet you!”
Robert the Bruise scowled at him. “Are you really pleased?”
Roger nodded. Roberts and Robert jumped up and down, chanting loudly “Keelhaul him! Keelhaul him!”
“Just a moment, lads,” said Long John Sliver. “He’s very new, and I haven’t explained yet.”
He turned to Roger. “See, lad, it’s, aaaaarr, like this. Everything we say has to be wrong, and the punishment for being right is keelhauling.”
“Right!” said Roger, but then he noticed their faces. “Umm, wrong, I mean. I’m sorry—I mean I’m not sorry at all.”
“Aaaaarr,” said Robert and Roberts, smiling. “Bad lad, you’re not catching on quite badly!” said Roberts.
Two more people with eye patches walked onto the beach. One was a good-looking short man with green skin, the other was a beautiful tall lady with blue skin. Long John Sliver introduced them as Richard the Repulsive.
“Which one’s Richard,” he asked.
“We both are,” said the lady. “We are identical twins from Poland. People can’t tell us apart, so we save them having to ask us which of us is which.”
Roger noticed that she had a strong Irish accent.
“And we’ve both got magnetic personalities,” said the short man, in an even stronger Irish accent.
Roger thought he understood now why they were called repulsive. He began to wonder what he had got himself into. “That sounds only a bit more exciting than stamp collecting,” he said.
“We do that,” said the man. “But we only collect forged stamps.”
“Because imitation is the sincerest form of philately.”
“Right,” said Roger, setting off another chant about keelhauling. He decided it was time to do something before they went from chanting to doing.
“Think about it,” he told them. “If it’s right to be wrong and wrong to be right, then every time I’m right, that’s wrong, so being right is more wrong than just being ordinary wrong.”
“I understand that,” said Long John Sliver. Roger realised this meant the opposite, so he took a deep breath.
“Think about it,” he said, “when I’m right, I’m being doubly wrong. It’s like being not unhappy, which is the same as being happy.”
Long John Sliver looked very unhappy. “But two wrongs don’t make a right!”
Roger grinned. “Is that right?”
“Yes, it is. No, that’s wrong. No it’s not, it’s aaaaarr …” Long John Sliver stumbled up the beach, sobbing.
The other copywrong pirates looked at each other as he disappeared. They pondered.
Then, when the copywrong pirates realised how they had been deprived of their wrongs, their lips trembled. Then they went into a huddle. Then they went into the kitchen, where Roberts the Brew taught them how to make tea.
Then they all went off in different directions to open tea shops in seaside villages where they charged pie rates, and there were no more copywrong pirates.
Or were there? I know the answer to that, but it would be wrong for me to say.
Legal notices (for groan-ups):
All the low-fat words in this story were laid by free-range word hens.
All blubbers mentioned in this story were derived from surplus tea shop proprietors.
The tea used by Roberts the Brew was actually an aaaaarr that had come down in the world. It is now feeling much better.
Peter Rabbit has gone freelance, and declined to be part of this story. His role in the back-story was played by a piece of tape, a bunch of keys, and three mice in a tennis sock.
Long John Sliver’s leg was played by the runner-up in the Hollowood Wooden Actors’ Award who wishes to remain anonymous.
The forged stamps were played by themselves, as was the tennis match, but that was in the binding of the book. It was a net gain.
Epimenides was invited to take part, but declined when he found he would have to change his name.
Johann Sebastian Bach, The Copy Cantata.