“There are always strings you know.”
I looked around. Nope, no one there. I was alone in the town square.
“I’m a puppet. I know there are strings.”
Interesting. I knew that deal must have been too good to be true. Some stranger met in a tavern sells me his bags and vanishes without a trace. Now, I’m hearing voices. The larger trunk is of a peculiar design, that was clearly intended to be stood on end and opened up to be a stage for a puppet theatre. I’m not a puppeteer, I just got sweet talked into doing what I thought was a good deed.
I tipped the box up onto its end.
“You’re getting warmer. Flip down its legs and open the back and you’ll see.”
Now that it mentioned it, the box clearly had legs that would lift the stage up to eye level. I fiddled with that for a minute while I considered the wisdom of following directions issued by a disembodied voice. But what else was I to do? I had no actual plans for the morning anyway.
With the legs down, the back of the box opened up to reveal a surprisingly roomy backstage area for the puppet theatre. A good sized cast of puppets were hanging below the stage, along with an array of props and a few painted scenery backdrops. The curtains were closed. I reached for the puppet that seemed to be making the most noise. As I did so, he turned and looked me right in the eye.
“You’re a live one alright,” he said. “Most run away screaming, and you’ve assembled the whole theatre.”
“You don’t seem all that scary or dangerous,” I said.
“Looks can be deceiving,” was all he said in reply.
I poked around at the rest of the box. I clearly had stumbled into an itinerant Punch and Judy show. The more I handled the props, the more it just felt right. Peaceful. Easy.
Punch led me to a box of scripts, all set up to be easily attached behind the stage for easy reference. Although I was beginning to realized that my job was just to follow the stage directions, and that the puppets would take care of their lines themselves. As I read, I methodically ate my usual breakfast: an orange, peel and all.
Through all of this, Judy was quiet. At least until I went to pick her up.
“Hey there, why not ask a girl before running your hand—”
“Judy!” yelled Punch. “He’s our new professor. Don’t give him any trouble. You’ve made him turn as red as an apple already!”
“Hmph.” was all Judy had to say to that.
I was a little more careful picking her up, and soon lost myself in the world of their strange petty little battles which they treated as seriously as any war. The Baby was produced, sat, then sat upon, whereupon Judy was incensed. Punch’s stick found plenty of victims in need of its slap. The Constable joined the fray, but was beaten back by the stick. The Crocodile made a few tries at Mr. Punch and the Baby, but was beaten soundly each time. I still don’t know what the Camel was going to do, or where that mysterious Penguin came from who turned into a chicken when I was looking the other way, then vanished without leaving even an egg.
The last thing that Punch said to me before socking me unconscious was “I told you there were strings.”
When I came to, the box was folded back up, and the old hat was sitting in my lap full of silver.
Strings or no strings, it seemed like I could be their Professor for a time.