Below is the Introduction along with the first fable… Work by Frederic Colier © 2023
I first met Nick Klaus a long long time ago. Back then, he was already a strapping boy of maybe 10 or 11 (at the very most 12) years of age, full of life and smiles, eager to learn and satisfy his endless curiosity. But he was also terribly mischievous and, as a result, had gotten himself more than once into tricky situations. From what I understand, he had managed to get stuck inside a photo album, where, to free himself, he had to discover several clues hidden in the Grand Library of Books United and release the children of the rainbow tribe from the ruthless Mr. Crutchfield, who had kidnapped them. The incident, the Fall, as he called it (though I prefer the word stumble), started after he came across a forgotten camera in an old beaten, dusty trunk in Mr. Crutchfield’s stable. How he managed to get himself stuck inside a photo album is still a mystery to me, and to many. I have pondered a lot on this question, and the more I try to understand the more confused I get. It’s like staring at a blurred picture. If I understand clearly though, he was supposed to discover several clues hidden in the Grand Library of Books United to release the children of the rainbow tribe from the ruthless Mr. Crutchfield, who had kidnapped them— . . . Hold on a minute. I’ve just written these words a moment ago . . . Now you can see for yourself what sorts of mind pranks I must deal with when I deal with Nick Klaus. He may be way too clever for me . . . Still, I will not be discouraged to tell you what I have set out to tell you.
What I was trying to tell you is that Nick Klaus has not been back, yet. I guess he must not have found the kidnapped children. Or else he did and is having such a great fun with them that he does not want to come back into the real world. If that is the case, I don’t believe Nick has grown older since getting stuck into the photo album. How do I know this? For a start, I don’t believe that anyone has ever gotten older by having his or her picture taken. Second, I do believe that once the picture is taken, whoever has been photographed remains the age he or she was in that picture—forever. Finally, I’ve noticed over the years, especially as the end of the year draws near, how Nick Klaus grows restless. His increased activities consist in writing me numerous letters. They are always hand-written with the same noticeably shaky bubbly letters of a young person. The letters are also packed with quirky spellings. Now if that is not the most irrevocable proof of someone not getting older, I don’t know what qualifies.
Be that as it may, when I wake up in the morning, I find his letters on my desk. His letters are really chunks of stories, even though they arrive in envelopes with my address on them. They are not really letters, more like stories, of a different kind. They all share certain features. To begin with, all the stories are about a couple of pages long. Actually, let me rephrase this. Most are, because some do stretch beyond the two pages. . . but never more than three, maybe four . . . Some are funny, silly, others absurd. Some are baffling, others discomforting or outrageous. While still others are truly sad. All the characters tend to be animals. Sometimes really weird ones. Who has ever heard of a rhinoferocious, a hippotamtam, or even a basheful shark? Which tells me that the Grand Library must be a strange place indeed . . . All the stories end with the same question: “And the moral of this story is?” So, I’m tempted to call Nick Klaus’s stories fables. Because they only take a few minutes to read, I often find myself reclining in my chair for hours, wondering over their ultimate meaning, what Nick Klaus wanted me to learn. They have the same effect on the people who have read them. If they are in a great state of agitation, reading the fables calm them down. They fall silent, ruminating, sometimes even losing themselves in reveries.
I’ve tried to understand this phenomenon. If I recall from my years as a student of literature, the goal of a fable was always to make a statement and teach a lesson. Some people call this lesson a moral, another word for a code of behavior. Now most people don’t like to learn how to be, let alone being told how to be. But I’m curious to see what you think of them, because I’ve noticed that morals are just like eels. When you think you hold one tight, it slips through your fingers. This happens especially when someone says something you had never thought of before, and you have to stop doing what you were doing to think it over. Nothing worse than doubting what you thought you knew without a shade of doubt, in the depth of you.
Before I go further, I have to make something clear. You may wonder why he would choose to contact me rather than you or someone else. Which is a valid concern. Why would he write to me towards the end of the year rather than anyone else? It maybe because Nick Klaus rhymes with Santa Claus? But that is only a guess and not a serious answer. I can confess however, in all certainty, that his choice is far from random. I have grown used over the years to decipher children’ writings, not only their challenging shapes of letters, but also their dubious grammar and spelling of words. When you come across clusters of words such as jimnastix iz speshel, you know that you need someone of great intellect, with genuine decoding skills, and unique expertise to transcribe these “coded words” into an acceptable mundane and boring idiom (another big word adults use for language). I’m this specialist. Perhaps you’re dying to ask, ‘how come a 10-11-12 year old writes like a primary school student?’ The easy answer to this question is that I don’t think Nick Klaus goes to school at all wherever he is. Perhaps they don’t exist in the Grand Library. Perhaps kids don’t need schools there. In any case, that is the best explanation I have why his writing comes across as “creative.” What matters the most is that he is able to produce these stories, which, to me, is the sign of an agile, creative mind with tremendous potential. Without his writing, this collection of fables would not exist. So my humble expertise over the years has been helpful to rewrite these fables and make them accessible to anyone across the universe. Nick Klaus must have known that I could tackle such a complex and monumental task. That is why he chose me. I do hope I did honor to his writing. Whoever you are, wherever you are, I do hope that you fully appreciate them.
Between you and I though, I must confess something. Something that can come across as disgraceful, even shameful to reveal in public. Secretly, a part of me wishes that Nick Klaus would never come back . . . into this world. Reading his stories is such an enjoyment. I can’t wait to meet the weird characters he comes across, and the bizarre, zany, eccentric, not to say outlandish, world he has been stuck in. Our world in comparison seems dull, colorless, crowded with respected and respectful people. I thank his effort to bring some colors to my bloodless world.
Which reminds me not to forget to tell you how this book is organized. No moral is provided at the end of a fable. Your job as a reader consists in discovering what lessons the characters are teaching you. A word of warning. I can already hear some you puffing, ‘There is nothing to learn from them; it is all a ruse or a game.’ I promise that your mind will be challenged as soon as you read these fables. Nick wanted to see if you could learn lessons. (It is strange as well, I will concede, that a boy who does not go to school would want to teach you something). There may be several answers at times. But Nick is not cruel. He asked me to post the solutions at the end of the book. Before snooping into them, play fair game. Read the fables and see what you can come up with. Which reminds me to tell you that he insisted that I tell you not to read these fables in the company of people calling themselves adults, grownups, or even parents. Exercise cautious, not all readers are equal. This book is not designed for them. These people, calling themselves with these big words, have nothing to gain from reading fables and learning their lessons. Since they are already grown, they cannot be taught anything. The advantage of being grownups is that grownups have already learned everything there is to learn. Since they know already everything, there is nothing to teach them.
Remember too, I warned you about Nick Klaus’s mischievousness, which is extremely contagious. I wouldn’t be surprised if my doctor told me I caught some of his mischievousnesstitis, which is extremely contagious. How else to explain the impulsive pranks I played on people? Often against my own will and best intention? Know, for example, that if you find yourself in the companies these so-called grownups and intentionally leave the book of fables on a table, do not be surprised if arguments break out. I can assure you that this is one of the symptoms that you’ve caught the Nick Klaus bug. I know this from my own experience. I’ve witnessed unpleasant impacts dozens of times during festivities, after I forgot to remove the book from a living room table. If you are absent-minded like me, and it is too late the retrieve the book from the hands of grownups, pretend you know nothing. Claim that it is not your book. Though I do hope this doesn’t happen to you, listen to what they say. See how pretty politeness quickly melt like an ice cube as they bicker to be right. See how far they are willing to go to defend their opinions, because every single one of them, being grownups, is of course always right. Have you ever met a grownup who knows nothing or is always wrong? I doubt this kind of people exist in the Grand Library of Books United. But until I get the chance to visit the place, I’m yet to meet one of them who knows nothing . . . My point is, whenever possible, keep these fables away from adults. It is the best way to prevent families, neighborhoods, and communities from breaking up.
Preferably these fables should be read with your peers. To this end, I set up the book like a gameboard. In this game, at the end of each fable, you will be prompted to find the moral you think the characters has learned or should have learned. Don’t be fooled. Reading fables is not an easy hobby. I’m always amazed at how many different opinions young people come up with around a single fable. Finding the appropriate answer requires lots of concentration, a fair sense of judgment, courageous choices, and, of course, a crocodile patience, especially when others, in your opinion, speak nonsense. You have been warned.
My goal is not to stir trouble. No one likes to see friends storm out of the room, friendships end, or divorces take place. Even more so, no one rejoices at watching cities go down in flames. Be reassured, I will not abandon you alone in those treacherous situations. This is why the morals (what I think the fables meant when I transcribed them) are grouped at the end of the book. Consult them however, only and only if you can’t come up with your own. You may not agree with mine. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you can explain why you don’t agree with my interpretation. This makes for amazing opportunities to prove your rightness and exhibit your great sense of moral responsibility to the world.
Before I let you go, I must also address a tricky question that I avoided. It deals with the question readers ask me the most: “Where is Nick Klaus now?” The short answer is that no one knows for sure. I certainly do not know. My guess is that he is trying to figure out how to come back to us. At least I hope that he is. He has to. His parents have been waiting for him ever since he stumbled into the Grand Library. I’m certain that he knows that they can’t wait to see him again. Think about it, who on earth would you like to remain stuck in an album of photos forever, without getting old, without having to go to school ever again, and be forced to deal with eccentric creatures and absurd characters? Many people would call this a cruel punishment. What about his parents? Think about how they must be feeling not seeing their son year after year? They must be worried sick. I would be devastated if I were in their shoes. (I always found that putting someone else’s shoes on to be an uncomfortable, if not dangerous, practice for this very reason. Imagine each time you do so, you end up feeling what the owner of the shoes feels. Never assume you will know what to expect.) All I know for certain is that one day, he will come back . . . Though, I’ve heard disturbing rumors regarding the date. It most likely it won’t happen any time soon because, apparently, a dust-licking monster may have locked Nick Klaus up in an ice-filled cave. It can’t be easy to write with frozen fingers. Have you ever tried to write a letter with frozen fingers? I personally don’t believe this is true, because I’m still getting his letters, which means that his hands can’t be that frozen.
I heard too that he may have been turned into a frog. Which would explain why he hasn’t been back. He is too ashamed to show his face. This is probably not true either. Do frogs write fables? I never heard of one. Mind you, I’ve been told that in the land of fables spotting a frog writing a fable would not be that unusual. So, if you do come across a frog writing on a paper pad you may have found Nick Klaus. If this is the case, I beg you to contact me at once.
Before ushering you off to read Nick Klaus’s fables, I have a final confession to make. This collection of fables is not entirely all from him. I could not resist the temptation to try my hand at one. Just a single one. So, I have inserted The Fabulist’s Fable, the very first one, as a way to introduce you to the delicate world that fabulists create. Writing fables requires an above-normal talent. The fable’s merit (and it does have some) is to explain the effective ways that fabulists use fables and to what end. I do hope that you will indulge my little liberty. Since I’m confiding in you, I must also confess something else. I have added words here and there in Nick Klaus’s fables. I had to for clarity’s sake. I replaced verbs, adjectives, and sometimes noun here and there. I inserted entertaining words when they were dull. Know that I took those liberties out of consideration for your experience. My only concern was to make sure that the fables made perfect sense, and what is written is what is meant, and not what is meant is not what is written.
I must stop here however. The editor of this book is hitting my desk with her ruler. I’ve gone on too long. Too many words to explain myself. My Foreword is already way more than three pages, which was my limit. She tells me no children would ever read more than two pages . . . Well, regarding this issue, I’d like to add . . . Ouch! Ouch!
The Fabulist’s Fable (#1)
Once upon a time, a King, who lived at the top of a tower, in the biggest castle in the country, woke up with a loud yawn. Stretching his arms, he glanced at the window. “I wonder if today is a perfect day for a promenade” (the French word for a walk) the King said sitting up in bed. The sun high in the sky kept the castle and its windows clear of shadows. Too many rainy days had forced the king to stay indoors. Eager to go out, he opened his windows wide. The sun warmed him up at once. He was about to fill up his lungs when he turned pale instead, holding his breath for a long time, unable to utter a word. He held his breath for so long that his valets held their own breath in panic, thinking the sun had caused their King to stop breathing. They closed the curtains at once.
When the King caught his breath again, he summoned his counselors. In they came rushing down cavernous corridors, some still slipping their boots on, others buttoning up their shirt and pants.
“Something grave happened in my very own Kingdom,” said the King balling his fists. “My royal life has been threatened.” He turned red in anger. Now all the counselors held their breath. They had heard nothing and could not understand what got the King so mad.
“Wild animals from distant lands are invading me!” The King cupped his hands around his head, and everyone did the same. “They’re running wild around my castle and its gardens. Roaming across the country like feral animals. I just caught one grazing my roses in the royal courtyard.”
The King mopped his face, staring at the counselors for an answer. The counselors scratched their forehead in disbelief. “What must we do? What must we do?” they said looking at each other for answers.
“What good is a King if he can’t go out for a promenade?” said the King stomping his feet.
“Your majesty must fight back and drive these animals back to the border. Or the kingdom will not survive,” said a grave-looking counselor.
“Indeed, these beasts could overthrow you and bite your head off,” said a bearded counselor.
“Goodness gracious,” added another one, watching the King roll his head on the dining table, “they could tear you to pieces and eat you alive.”
“I suggest we take pictures of those wild creatures, put them on posters, and shame them to death,” stated with great authority and calm the most ancient counselor.
“I suggest that we put them on skewers and roast them like marshmallows,” said the counselor next to him with mockery.
“Whoever deprives me of my promenade will . . . will . . . hear from me,” added the King waving his angry fists to the ceiling.
A little girl, who happened to visit the castle because she thought it was a museum, tugged at the King’s regal gown.
“Your Highness, all you need is a fabulist,” she said, curtsying.
“A fabulist?” repeated the first counselor. “What kind of weapon is that?”
“Fabulists know how to talk to wild animals. It’s written in my nursery rhyme book at school,” she said with a preaching confident voice.
The counselors groaned, grumbled, and groused for a moment. They said: “How ridiculous to believe fabulists talk to animals.” But the King lost patience and now used his fists to hammer the table. “Find me a fabulist now! My promenade is awaiting me! And I can’t wait anymore.”
The army searched the kingdom inside out for a fabulist. They searched every house and stable, galloped through every hill and waded across every valley and river. But no one knew of a fabulist, and no one could find one because no one had even heard of one. No one could even tell what a fabulist looked like. Defeated, the army and its generals turned round to bring the King the bad news. They were crossing a river, when a foot soldier spotted a strange creature under the bridge, whispering into a dog’s ear. At first the generals thought it was another wild beast escaped from another kingdom. The creature had long and matted hair; its grey beard slopped below to his navel. It only wore rags for pants, and its body looked as bony as the starving dog it was chatting with. Fearing the King would be upset if came back empty-handed, the generals ordered the foot soldiers to capture the creature. They locked it up in a cage and brought it back to the King.
Weeks had gone by since his last promenade. Now the King looked pale and sleep deprived. When he recognized the wild beast that he had seen from his window grazing in the yard, his fearful eyes brightened with hope.
“Are you a fabulist?” said the King.
The strange creature would not talk and simply made strange groaning sounds. Everyone turned towards the little girl. A counselor approached her. “Well then. . . You said…”
“We heard you. You did say . . .” repeated all the counselors. Sensing all eyes looking at her, the little girl got close to the cage and whispered: “Can you help our King with his promenades (that’s the French word for a walk)?”
The creature swept its mangled hair off its face and stared at her with wild eyes.
“Pretty please?” said the little girl.
The King pushed her aside. “All these wild beasts have invaded my courtyard and are ruining my health. But if you stop, I’ll give you food for life.”
One of the counselors frowned. The King added, “and water.”
The fabulist puffed up and looked around calmly. “These beasts, you’re afraid of, are trying to tell you something. They carry messages for you. You live so high perched in your tower, you can’t heed their words and their wisdom,” he said, pointing a crooked finger at the King.
The little girl unlocked the cage. The King held his breath again. The counselors whisked out their swords, but the King rose his hand to stop them. For the first time in weeks, his eyes brightened.
“I’ve been ill-advised. I was asked to live in the clouds.” He sat next to the fabulist. “Tell me the truths you’ve learned in the wilderness.” The fabulist did not answer. Instead, he opened the huge front double-door: “Why not go for a promenade together and see for yourself?” he said.
The King followed the fabulist out. The little girl rushed out to catch up with them.