At the bottom of the Wingly Wongly Well it was moist and dark and that was just how everyone liked it.
Cheeks – who considered herself to be the most beautiful toad in the whole, wide world – was perched on a stone sticking out of the puddle on the floor of the well. Every few seconds she would first lick her eyeballs clean and then squint off into the distance.
Henrik Hedgehog and Centipede Jack wandered past enjoying a private game of Winglyball Wonglyball before they noticed what Cheeks was doing and stopped and stared. It was several more seconds before, with a deep sigh and a slight shuffle around, Cheeks turned to the two and bellowed "WHAT?"
Henrik edged backwards at the volume of the question but replied politely "Cheeks, ve vere merely vondering vot you vere doink? Is zer a problem?"
"I’M FINE!" screamed Cheeks. This time Centipede Jack took a couple of steps backwards too. With his huge amount of legs this was quite hypnotic to watch and, after a second of complete stillness in the well, Cheeks slid off the stone and plopped onto the surface. Henrik and Centipede Jack looked first at Cheeks coming slowly out of her trance with amazement and then at one another with sheer horror on their faces. They turned and ran.
But they didn’t get very far. At that moment Crud The Crippled Cricket boinged in from somewhere off in the gloom. There was a high-pitched whistle as he soared through the air followed by a crunch of cricket on brickwork, an "Oof!", and a squelch. Crud rolled to a stop in the path of the fleeing hedgehog and centipede putting an instant halt to their attempt to escape.
"Oh man!" said Crud excitedly. "My aim is getting so much better! I almost missed the wall that time! Did you see? Did you? Huh?" He leapt to his feet but the deformed back leg gave way and he fell onto the boggy ground once more.
Centipede Jack leaned down and spoke quickly. "My dear chap, we would absolutely love to stay and observe your allegedly improving jumping prowess or lack thereof, but a feeling of impending doom has fallen over us and the urge to seek sanctuary as far away from this particular spot in the well as soon as possible is a desire too strong to resist."
"Oh Wow!" exclaimed Crud. "Are your psychic leg hairs tingling? What do you think it means?"
"I zink," interrupted Henrik, "zat a certain large toad of our acquaintance vill soon be killing most of us gathered here unless ve run. Und now seems a good time to do it."
Before anyone else could say or do anything a long tongue flicked out of the dim light and curled around Jack. He drew in a breath to let out an "I say!" but didn’t have time before the tongue picked him up and slapped his body into that of the hedgehog.
"HOW DARE YOU MAKE ME FALL?!" screamed Cheeks once she’d retracted her tongue. Crud was amazed at what he’d seen and Henrik was still in the sort of shock that usually follows a bout of being slapped by centipedes so Jack answered while rubbing at the parts of his body that had been impaled on Henrik’s prickles. "Dearest Cheeks, we apologise most profusely at the accidental mesmerism, but we were truly concerned as to your well-being. Please can you find it in your heart to forgive us? And, perchance, explain your earlier actions?"
Cheeks harumphed and squatted down a little more into the muddy well-bottom. She gave Henrik and Jack one more stare for luck and agreed to let them escape with their lives just this once. "IT’S A GOOD THING I’M GOOD-NATURED," she yelled. Crud, who had hobbled up onto his good leg by this point, was knocked flat from the force of her voice. "IF YOU HAVE TO KNOW I WAS TRYING TO WORK OUT WHAT THE LARGE BAG WAS DOING IN WINGLY WONGLY WELL" she continued.
As one, all three of the Well-Dwellers who weren’t loud toads looked off into the distance where Cheeks had pointed with a nod of her head. Sure enough there was a large bag, barely visible in the darkness but really quite prominent once you knew it was there. It was black and appeared to be made from plastic, and there was clearly something large and bulky inside and out of view.
"Wingly Wongly Well I never!" said Jack. "A bag! I wonder what could be inside it."
"I THINK IT IS FULL OF UGLY TOADS WHO ARE NOT WORTHY TO BE OUT IN PUBLIC LIKE ME!" yelled Cheeks.
"Oh, like, hey!" said Crud. "Supposing there are replacement legs in there! Like, I could have surgery and jump like I used to! Wow!"
"It’s probably just a bag of rubble dropped in by one of the Upper Worlders working in The Village," said Centipede Jack while shaking off some residual tongue goo from his waist.
"Upper Vorlders, ja," agreed Henrik. "But I suspect zat ze bag contains a bomb designed to vipe us all out und zat ve have been very lucky zis time."
A silence fell over the Wingly Wongly Well as this suspicion sunk in. A bomb! The Village was trying to kill them!
"Well, really, I hardly think …" began Jack but he was immediately silenced by a thunderous call for "A WINGLY WONGLY VOTE! A WINGLY WONGLY VOTE!" by Cheeks.
"Yeah man," said Crud in a far quieter tone. "I’m, like, not into war and things but if we’re under attack I think we need to act. Let’s have a Wingly Wongly Vote and decide what to do."
And so Centipede Jack, Crud The Crippled Cricket, Cheeks The Toad, and Henrik Hedgehog had a Wingly Wongly Vote. Voting in Wingly Wongly Well worked by assigning one vote to each appendage that could be raised in the air and should have given Jack a huge advantage in dictating policy. However, the democratic process was based on the British system of "First Past The Post" and the final decision was a resounding declaration of hostilities against the large people of the Upper World and the instigators of the war from The Village in particular. Centipede Jack lost his deposit and Crud merely lost his balance and fell flat on his back.
All through the night – except for toilet breaks, pauses for light refreshments, an impromptu singalong, and sleep time – the four made their plans. They would only need weapons as surprise was surely on their side. The large people probably thought they were all dead and would have let their guard down. So, they made their way to the Wingly Wongly Rubbish Tip and selected their implements of destruction.
Cheeks chose a number of discarded bottle caps. With her tongue she would be able to fire them from a distance like shuriken and wouldn’t risk her beautiful features in a pitched battle.
Crud selected a cocktail stick. Not only would it be perfect for sticking into the enemy but it could also help support him while walking.
Henrik found a box of safety matches which could be struck on his prickly fur. "Vith a stroke of good fortune ve may find some lighter fluid or maybe even a can of petrol und roast ze schweinhunds vere they stand!" he told himself.
Centipede Jack stumbled upon an old toothbrush and a used, disposable razor. With these he constructed a shiv. It reminded him of the good old days back in prison.
And then they were ready.
"Ladies first," said Jack half-heartedly that following evening.
"THANKYOU!" she roared into his face. Then with a final, stone-shaking flurry of "CRY HAVOC! BANZAI!! GORDON’S ALIVE!!!" she leapt up the Wingly Wongly Well and into the Upper World.
Crud left next. With a boing! and an "Oof!" and a ping! and another "Oof!" and a crunch! and the fading sound of "My other leg! Noooo!" Crud sailed over the rim at the top of the well and out of sight.
Centipede Jack and Henrik took the Wingly Wongly Elevator and rode into combat …
Cheeks tends to Crud The Even More Crippled Cricket’s injuries and finds herself falling in love …
A rainstorm threatens Henrik’s plan of arson but not as much as the captivating headlights from the car on the road he needs to cross …
Centipede Jack cuts little Timmy bad! And finds he enjoys it …