Monday, 28 December 2020

Highly Commended 2020 Buzz Words Short Story Prize

The Kingdom of Crunch

© Ann Harth (QLD)

Greetings to the people of the Kingdom of Crunch,” King Crunch shouted. The radio speakers rattled.

Jacob turned down the volume. He bit into his banana.

Shmush.

Bananas were soft and squishy. But the best thing about a banana was the quiet sound they made.

Shmush.

It has come to my attention,” the king bellowed, “that the most important law in the land has been broken.”

Jacob froze with his banana halfway to his mouth. 

The king continued. “I must remind you of the importance of living up to our name. The Kingdom of Crunch.

Jacob flinched as the last word blasted from the speakers.

The king coughed and cleared his throat. “Only crunchy food is permitted within the walls of the kingdom. Popcorn, chips, carrots, apples, crackers – if it crunches, it is allowed. We have all worked hard to replace your smooth peanut butter with crunchy and your vanilla ice cream with butter brickle. We thought we had rid the land of soft fruits and cheeses.” The king took a deep breath. “But we haven’t! One person has disobeyed us. We know who you are, and we will be coming for you.”

Jacob leapt to his feet, his heart thudding.

Someone pounded on the door. “Open up!” a man’s voice called. “We’re taking you to the king.”

Jacob grabbed a sack by his back door and raced into the yard. Peaches and pears dangled from two small trees and a bunch of bananas slowly ripened. Jacob plucked pieces of fruit and tossed them into his bag. Maybe he could hide them.

“You! Stop right there!”

Jacob twirled around. Two soldiers stood in front of him. One grabbed his arm. The other yanked the bag from his hand.

 “The king wants to see you.” A soldier shoved him toward the road.

With a guard on either side, Jacob’s feet kicked up dust as he trudged toward the castle. As they approached, the huge doors cranked opened. They stepped into a crowd. Everyone was eating ­– chips, popcorn, carrots, apples.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

Jacob covered his ears. He was led through another door where a small audience faced the throne at the front the room. A guard to his left chomped on a bag of chips. A woman in the front row bit into a carrot. A tall adviser beside the king munched on a crispy cracker.

A soldier dropped his bag of soft fruit at Jacob’s feet. “This is him, your majesty,” he shouted.

Jacob picked up his bag and held it to his chest. King Crunch always yelled and would show him no mercy. Jacob was sure of it.

Come forward,” the king roared. He coughed and touched his throat.

With wobbly knees, Jacob moved through a sea of crunches to stand before the king. He stopped.

The guard still chomped on a bag of chips. The woman bit off another piece of carrot. The adviser munched on his cracker as he stood beside the king.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

The king cleared his throat. “What do you have in that bag?” he shouted over the din.

“It’s just fruit, sir,” Jacob said.

Does it crunch?” The king bellowed, then coughed.

“No, your majesty,” Jacob said softly.

What? Speak up!” the King’s shout dropped to a whisper. “I can’t hear ­­…” He swallowed. His eyes opened wide as he grabbed his throat. The king’s mouth was moving, but his whisper couldn’t be heard above the crunching.

“Your majesty! What’s wrong?” A soldier shouted.

The king pointed at Jacob.

Were they blaming him? Jacob gulped.

The guard still chomped. The woman still chewed. The adviser still munched.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

Jacob held his bag close to his chest. The smell of peaches drifted into his nostrils. The king must have lost his voice because he always had to shout over the crunching.

Jacob had an idea.

Slowly, he reached into his bag and pulled out a peach. No one stopped him. He handed it to the guard. The guard stopped chomping as he held the soft fruit. He sniffed the skin and put down his chips.

Jacob turned to the woman crunching her carrot. He held out a pear. She looked at him and tucked the carrot into her back pocket. She took the pear.

Crunch. Crunch.

The tall adviser standing beside the king still munched his crispy cracker.

Jacob peeled a banana and stepped up to the adviser. The adviser handed Jacob his crackers and bit into the banana.

Shmush

The room was silent. The king reached up and pulled on Jacob’s elbow. He crooked his finger and Jacob leaned close.

“Please,” King Crunch whispered. “Before you go, may I have a banana?”

 

 

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