A Thousand Bees

No automatic alt text available.This is a stand alone story from Orville Mouse and the Puzzle of the Sagacious Sapling (in progress). Feel free to share this post. Sophia Mouse is reading the story to a group of prehistoric birds in another world. It’s about the effect of our words on others and on ourselves. (includes a little easter egg to any Psych fans out there– and Princess Bride fans!)

A Thousand Bees
by Master Inigo

There was once a poor but happy vegetable farmer named Westley who lived with his lovely wife and two children in the small village of Thrumpton. Each fortnight he would load up his cart with fresh produce and wheel it to the King’s Market, an arduous trek along fifteen miles of winding and rutted dirt roads. The silvers gained from the sale of his vegetables went toward necessities for his farm and family, never failing to include a few sweets for his wife and little ones.

The King’s Market was in Burton-On-Guster, a bustling city surrounding Castle Umbra, the home of King Basil, a harsh ruler more feared than loved by his subjects. Westley had never set eyes on King Basil and had no illusions that he ever would. His was a simple life, far removed from the glittering heady atmosphere of the King’s world.

No one was more surprised than Westley by the events that lead to his first glimpse of the King. Truth be known, King Basil was the last thing on Westley’s mind as he wheeled his heavily laden cart down the narrow streets of Burton-On-Guster to the King’s Market.

A great commotion arose in the streets as a golden carriage drawn by eight enormous snow white rabbits clattered down the cobblestones on a direct course with Westley and his vegetable cart. Realizing it was King Basil’s carriage rolling toward him, he quickly maneuvered his cart to the side of the street. He was already imagining the look on his wife’s face when he told her he had seen the great King Basil with his own eyes.

The eight rabbits loped through the narrow street toward him, the heavily armored King’s Guard astride ten black rabbits, shouting out warnings to make way for the carriage. Westley pressed himself against the building as the white rabbits thumped past.

Unfortunately for Westley, there was sufficient room for the rabbits to pass, but not for the King’s gold carriage. The glittering coach came to a terrible grinding halt, jammed between the far wall and Westley’s vegetable cart. The King’s guard bellowed at Westley to move his cart, but try as he might he could not. King Basil leaned out of his carriage, glaring angrily at the vegetable cart, then directly at Westley.

“Worm!! Move your filthy cart or forfeit your life!!”

Westley froze, his fear so profound he was unable to breathe. The King’s guard leaped from their black rabbits, flipping the cart on its side, spilling the produce across the cobblestones, clearing the way for the King’s carriage.

Moments later Westley stood alone, his body shaking uncontrollably, his eyes on the ruined vegetables crushed by the golden carriage and the King’s guard.
Salvaging what he could, Westley took what produce was left to market, the profits barely enough to buy flour and eggs. There were no sweets for his wife and two young ones.

The icy terror he had felt during his encounter with the King transformed to a dark and simmering anger on the journey back to Thrumpton. The King had called him a worm, said his cart was filthy. Not once in his life had Westley uttered a harsh word against King Basil, not once had he failed to pay his taxes. His family worked long hours each and every day, barely eeking out a living from their small vegetable farm. He had done nothing wrong and yet the King had looked directly at him and called him a worm. His anger grew deeper with every step.

As he rounded a bend in the road a wizard stepped out from the shadowy forest, an indecipherable smile on his face. Westley stopped, his eyes wide. He had seen a wizard once before, but had never spoken with one. They were not to be trusted, that much he knew.”

“You seem quite distraught, young sir. What unfortunate event has befallen you?”

An uncontrollable flood of words poured from Westley’s mouth, the story of his humiliating and terrifying encounter with King Basil. The wizard nodded sympathetically.
“Dreadful, simply dreadful. How could he call you a worm? You have every right to be furious.”

Westley sighed. Sharing his story with the wizard’s sympathetic ear had calmed him somewhat. Perhaps he was overreacting.
“I suppose it is my lot in life and nothing more. The King is King and I am a poor vegetable farmer.”

The wizard placed his hand on Westley’s shoulder.
“Perhaps all is not lost.”
He pulled a long white feather pen from the arm of his cloak.

“How can a pen help me?”

“The power of words is known to all. You have seen for yourself how a few harsh words from the King changed your life in a single moment, filling you with a deep and seething anger.”

“Am I supposed to write him a letter? Ask for an apology?”

The wizard smiled.
“This is no ordinary quill, it is the Mighty Pen, and it harnesses the power of words, turning them to reality. Whatever words you write with this pen, so they shall be. Remember to choose your words carefully, using wisdom and compassion.”

“I don’t understand.”

A piece of yellowed parchment appeared in Westley’s hand.
“Write the words ‘one gold coin’ on the parchment.”

Westley frowned, taking the pen. This smacked of dark magic. Nevertheless, he wrote what the wizard had told him. When he was done, the words faded away, a gold coin appearing his hand. Westley dropped the coin with a yelp.
“Dark magic! Nothing good can come of this.”

“Your words vanish, but their power lives on. With this gold coin you can buy everything you need for your family, even a box of delicious chocolates for your little ones. What fault can be found in such a kindness?”

Westley hesitated. Maybe the wizard was right. One gold coin couldn’t hurt anything.

The wizard bowed deeply before Westley.
“The pen is yours for one year, payment due for the harsh words spoken by King Basil, words which shall unerringly circle the world and return to him, as sharp as any arrow ever forged.”

Before Westley could ask the meaning of this cryptic statement, the wizard vanished, leaving him alone holding the gold coin, the parchment, and the Mighty Pen.

When he greeted his wife, Westley made no mention of his encounters with the King and wizard, saying only that his cart had been knocked over, the vegetables ruined, and fortune had smiled upon him by leaving a gold coin lying in the road.
Two weeks later, Westley saw the King again, this time sitting in his golden carriage near the market in Burton-On-Guster, four guards working furiously to repair a damaged wheel.

Westley was filled with an unexpected burning rage at the sight of the King. He pulled out the Mighty Pen and parchment, quickly writing, “Let King Basil feel the sting of his own words.”

A bee streaked past Westley toward King Basil. When the bee stung him on the lips the King squealed in pain. Westley grinned.

On the way home a curious thought grew in his mind. Why should such a despicable creature as Basil be king? Why shouldn’t a good and loving person like Westley be king? He grinned again. Harnessing the power of words would make it so.

Removing the pen and parchment from his coat pocket, he wrote,“Let King Basil and all his guards and soldiers feel the sting of a thousand bees, a thousands arrows, and ten thousand heartless warriors. Let me rule in his stead as King Westley.”

Chaos reigned in Burton-On-Guster for almost a month. When it was over, Westley was king. He moved his family into the luxurious quarters of Castle Umbra, riding daily through the city in a gold carriage drawn by eight magnificent snow white rabbits. He visited his treasury every other day, smiling with satisfaction at the roomful of chests overflowing with gold coins and gems.

Westley’s wife and children quickly adopted their lavish new lifestyle, soon becoming spoiled and complacent. Simple sweets from the market no longer satisfied them, only the most magnificent cakes and elaborately decorated confections would do. They mocked the vendors at the King’s Market, forgetting their past life as humble vegetable farmers, smirking when they drove past in their fine gold carriage.

One year passed to find Westley nodding in his great silver throne, his eyes half closed. With a flash of blue light the wizard appeared before him, giving a gracious bow.

“King Westley, your year with the Mighty Pen has come to an end. You have used it to teach King Basil a profoundly important lesson, that our own words circle the world and unerringly return to us, sharper than any arrow ever forged.”

“You bore me with your tedious words, wizard. I no longer have need for you or your ridiculous magic pen.”

King Westley pulled the pen from his robe, tossing it carelessly to the floor. The wizard nodded politely as he retrieved the Mighty Pen, disappearing before Westley could command him to leave.

King Westley gave a great yawn. His coffers were overflowing with gold, his soldiers loyal to him. He had everything he could ever want.

He rose at noon the following day, strolling idly onto the balcony overlooking his kingdom. He never saw the bee that stung his lip, a sting that caused him to shriek out in pain. He reeled back at the sight of a thousand angry bees streaking toward the castle, followed closely by a thousand arrows hissing through the air. Amidst a cloud of pale yellow dust on the horizon he saw the silhouettes of ten thousand heartless warriors marching toward him. The wizard’s voice echoed in his ears.

“Our own words circle the world and unerringly return to us, sharper than any arrow ever forged.”

Sophia closed the book. The birds around the cage were silent. Captain Beaky had tears in his eyes.

Metaphonium honored with stellar 5-star reviews!

See how I did that? Stellar, 5 stars? Clever. I know, Proto didn’t laugh either. Here’s a few quotes from the wonderful reviews Metaphonium has received on Readers’ Favorite:


Reviewed By Sarah Scheele for Readers’ Favorite • 5 stars

Tom Hoffman is a delight to read. His world is endlessly complex, varied, and filled with flights of fancy, yet completely true and simple as well. The characters ring with a deep, supple humanity, and I was captivated, wanting to know what would happen next. Action, comedy, mystery, adventure, romance—it’s all here. Orville’s many little quirks make him thoroughly well-rounded, and the underlying theme that love and honesty can overcome fears was handled as melodiously as the concept of the piano-like Metaphonium, in which sets of keys provide portals to other worlds. Quiet sidekick Proto absolutely steals the show, his fears that he’s not loved and accepted threading a delicate subplot that is as poignant as it is satisfying. Verbally enchanting, emotionally human, and philosophically relevant, The Puzzle of the Last Metaphonium blends many genres into a really fun read.

Reviewed By Joel R. Dennstedt for Readers’ Favorite • 5 stars

In this fourth installment of a highly successful, award winning series, Tom Hoffman has produced in The Puzzle of the Last Metaphonium both a plot and a literal device that almost defy imagination. Except that imagination might verily be the name of the game itself. The last Metaphonium – the device – is one ingenious invention. Not your parents’ Sound Piano, nor your grandparents’ either; this one literally takes you to other worlds. And it is on the most important adventure quest of all – to locate a missing loved one – that Orville, his girlfriend, Sophia, and their personal protector, Proto, dare the prophesied terrors of a mysterious other-world in order to successfully complete (survive) their mission. Metaphysically replete with the wisdom, humor, adventure, unspoken love and oatmeal cookies that young and old have come to expect from Orville Mouse, The Puzzle of the Last Metaphonium satisfies all your cravings. Except for the oatmeal cookies. Those are incumbent upon yourself; unless, of course, you already happen to be a Shaper. Read the book!

Reviewed By Jack Magnus for Readers’ Favorite • 5 stars

Tom Hoffman’s young adult metaphysical adventure fantasy, Orville Mouse and the Puzzle of the Last Metaphonium: Orville Wellington Mouse, Book 4, is a glorious romp through the fabled land of Elysian where anything you dream of or fear may very likely come true. I had the grandest time reading this enthralling adventure yarn which somehow makes quantum physics painless and perfectly understandable. Hoffman’s plot is lively and filled with twists and turns that keep both the characters and the reader on edge. His characters, especially Orville, Sophia and Proto, seem to come of age in this tale as they confront their own demons and greatest fears, and find their inner combined strengths to be prodigious indeed. While this book can be read and enjoyed on its own, I would most strongly recommend the new reader start with the first book in the series, but if you can’t resist, Hoffman does give enough background without giving any spoilers to ruin the experience of going back after this one. Best of all, there’s a definite sense in the air that there will be more puzzles for Orville to solve and that’s such a very good thing. Orville Mouse and the Puzzle of the Last Metaphonium is Hoffman’s best fantasy novel yet, and it’s most highly recommended.

Reviewed By Angie Gallion Lovell for Readers’ Favorite • 5 stars

Tom Hoffman has written a great adventure. His characters are fully developed and endearing, with all their individual quirks and traits. Hoffman writes to a youthful audience (3rd-5th grade), and he writes with intelligence, drawing his readers forward, rather than relying on gimmicks so often employed for this age group. Hoffman offers a larger world to his readers, an expansion of their understanding of the possibilities. His word choices are precise and often chosen to increase his readers’ vocabulary by introducing a complex word, then developing the scene to provide context. Orville and his friends have to work as a team to solve the puzzle, each member of their party brought something unique to the table, and none of them could have done it alone. Orville Mouse and the Puzzle of the Last Metaphonium has everything a young reader will enjoy, humor, great action sequences, believable dialogue, fantastic friendships, and a powerful message about facing our fears. This book was nicely done, Mr. Hoffman.

Reviewed By Liz Konkel for Readers’ Favorite • 5 stars

Orville Mouse and the Puzzle of the Last Metaphonium by Tom Hoffman is the next Orville Mouse adventure that you won’t want to put down. When Orville wakes up from a dream, he discovers that he brought back a book with him in a language he can’t understand. Pulled into the book’s curious origins, Orville teams up with Proto and Sophia to find the mysterious land of Elysian. With the aid of pirates, the group embarks on a dangerous adventure that may be more than they bargain for.

The mystery reveals the magic of imagination and books as Orville, Proto, and Sophia go in search of the book’s origins. The fact that they’re talking animals is never an issue as they’re lively and realistic characters with vibrant personalities, fun banter, flaws, and strengths. They’re easy to connect with and adore. Orville has a playful personality and is full of imagination. The story starts from his dream as he brings back this book. The journey to translate it and the discovery of the island that is seemingly there and not there make you want to be part of the story.

A charming adventure, Orville Mouse and the Puzzle of the Last Metaphonium is humorous and clever, with danger, pirates, a beautiful ghost mouse, and an exciting world brought to life with imagination.

Thank You!!!

IMG_0907My sincere thanks to everyone who helped make the Shattered Abacus two day promotion so successful! Readers downloaded a grand total of 4,272 copies!! These books are a joy to write, and my attempt to create a world of friendship, empathy, adventure, and love (and a little quantum physics) for young at heart readers. Thank you!

Wait, they still play that thing??

I am constantly surprised by the things I don’t know. There are so many of them, the list is endless, infinite, and really, really long. Like the Janko keyboard I used for the cover of Orville Mouse and the Puzzle of the Last Metaphonium. When I searched online for a weird piano keyboard that matched the one I was seeing on the Metaphonium, I found the Janko piano made in 1882. Awesome. What I still didn’t know is the Janko keyboard is still being produced and played. So cool. I reached into the world of the unknown and pulled out a cool piano. Nice. Enjoy this video!

Where did that Metaphonium come from??

I just finished the storyline (7k words of plot) for the next Orville Mouse book, Orville Mouse and the Puzzle of the Last Metaphonium. So I sat down and designed the cover. I’m retired, but I was a graphic designer and artist for over 35 years.  I wanted the Metaphonium to be on the cover, and I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like (I describe it at the end of Capricious Shadows) but how to create one?  I wanted it to have a half dozen rows of keys, but not normal piano keys, they had to be oddly shaped. I went on line and found a very strange piano made in the 1880s called the Janko keyboard. EXACTLY what I was looking for!! Have to wonder about that…  but I digress. After I found the Janko keyboard I did a search for brass dials, old wooden doors, glass tubing, and a bunch of other little design elements. Two days later I had the final cover.

meOrville Mouse METAPHONIUM cover lo

Space, the final illusion.

I’ve often said the things we take for granted prove to be the most interesting. The idea that a bird gets smaller and smaller as it flies away from us, eventually just blinking into nothingness. Curious illusion.  Let’s think about dreams. We’ve all had them, we all know what they are. In my dream I’m running through a meadow filled with glorious wildflowers on a sparkling summer day. Lovely. I turn around to check on the huffing grizzly bear who’s pounding after me. Okay, too stressful, let’s ditch the grizzly bear, there’s just a beautiful broad meadow, wildflowers, and snow capped mountain peaks in the distance. Done and done. Then I wake up and think, “Oh, pish posh, that wasn’t even real, it was all in my head.” Then I think, “Wait a minute, how could a huge sunny meadow and a mountain range fit inside my head?” Silly, right? But how does that work, exactly? In the dream I am experiencing a lovely meadow and a vast mountain range. It’s there, I see it, I feel it, but when I wake up I realize the three dimensional space I was experiencing did not really exist, it was all thought, only an illusion. Then I step outside my front door in Anchorage Alaska and gaze up at the beautiful snow capped Chugach mountains. They seem so real. So very real.