“Ah, laundry day,” Boober said in tones of deepest contentment. “Is anything else so wonderfully predictable, so perfectly ordinary, so splendidly unsurprising?”
As he walked along the tunnel towards his very favorite underground stream for washing clothes, he carried a basket brimful of all the other Fraggles’ dirty socks, shirts, and in Mokey’s case a feathered boa. Occasionally, other Fraggles passed him, staring at the bizarre freak of nature who not only enjoyed the most boring job ever, but who wandered along with a look of pure bliss on his face even as he struggled under the weight of the week’s work. Just before Boober had left, Gobo had shaken his head in disbelief.
“I’m going into Outer Space to look for mail from my Uncle Traveling Matt,” he had said. “Now that’s an exciting adventure, unlike laundry.”
“I don’t like adventure,” Boober had countered with a shrug. “It’s usually accompanied by danger and possibly germs. Have fun, though, if that’s what you want.”
Gobo’s reaction was far and away the norm. Boober was used to Red’s mocking laughter, Wembley’s puzzled expression, even Mokey’s polite confusion when he lapsed into talking about the simple joys of laundry. It made no difference to him. He loved being completely certain that he was going to have a day entirely to himself with no possibility of anything unexpected happening.
By the time he got to his favorite spot in the stream where the water rushed over a series of stones that were just perfect for beating the soap out of Wembley’s Hawaiian shirts, he hadn’t seen a single other Fraggle for a good long while. Boober squatted down at the stream edge and began enthusiastically lathering up one of Red’s sweaters (which was, naturally, red), enjoying the radish-scented soap, his own invention. He was just starting to rub it vigorously against his dented but immaculately clean scrub board when he began to feel cold. Sometimes a stray breeze would linger along the stream, carried in from Outer Space or the Gorgs’ garden or some other place that Boober had no desire to visit, but this came from deep within the Rock, the exact opposite direction from where he had come. He shivered a little and looked around at the otherwise completely empty chamber. It was quite a high one, its ceiling lost in darkness, and for the first time in all his years of doing laundry here, he began to feel a bit uncomfortable.
“It’s nothing,” he told himself, though there was hesitation in his voice. “Only a breeze. No reason to be afraid.”
At that, the breeze abruptly became a good deal stronger, and then stronger yet, until in only a few seconds it had become a roaring gale, whistling through the cave with a sound like a hurricane, shrieking over the rock walls until it sounded like someone wailing. Boober grabbed his hat tightly as it was nearly blown from his head, and he started to scream himself out of pure fear, but the sound of it was lost in the shrill whistling of the great wind. Forgetting even his beloved laundry, he got up and ran back towards home, feeling not only scared but slightly betrayed that his favorite spot had turned into something that certainly seemed to be an adventure.
By the time he got to the Great Hall, he was still screaming, which was rather an amazing feat all things considered.
“Hey, being the siren for the fire department is my job!” Wembley said when Boober finally ran out of air and lay panting on the stone floor.
“I am not trying to audition; I am trying not to die!” Boober said, still trying to catch his breath.
“Well, okay then,” Wembley said. “In that case… wait, what?”
“What happened, little Boober?” Mokey said gently, putting down her paintbrush and leaving her portrait of Red unfinished for the moment. “Did something scare you?”
“Yes!” he yelled, feeling as though they were all very dim for not immediately recognizing what a dire situation they were all in. “There is a-a-a something down at my laundry spot!”
“A something?” Red said, clambering down from the stool Mokey had told her to sit on for her portrait and looking quite relieved to do so since she hated being still for so long. “Can you narrow that down a little bit more?”
“I was doing laundry,” Boober explained, “then this big wind came up, and out of nowhere there was a horrible shrieking noise—”
“That was you,” Red said.
“No, this was before I started screaming,” Boober said calmly, though he was still shaking. “It was a terrible, horrible, awful noise like, like, I don’t know, some kind of monster or something.”
“Are you sure?” Red said, looking at him closely.
“I left my laundry and ran,” he said.
“Okay, if Boober abandoned his beloved dirty socks, that’s enough proof for me,” Red said. “What should we do?”
“I suggest we run around in circles screaming and flee for our lives,” Boober said reasonably.
“Nah,” Wembley said. “Too much work.”
“We could wait for Gobo to come back and see what he would do,” Mokey suggested.
“Who know how long he’ll be gone,” Red said. “Sometimes he stays at the entrance to Outer Space waiting for the Silly Creature to move for a whole twenty minutes or more.”
“Well, maybe the Storyteller knows something,” Mokey said. “She’s over by the Pond, just there.”
“Okay,” Boober said cautiously. “Maybe she’ll know something, but if not, I reserve the right to panic and run away.”
The four of them walked over to the Storyteller, who was currently lounging beside the Pond and eating a Doozer stick from an elaborate construction nearby.
“Hello!” she called, brightening up when she saw them. “Is Gobo’s uncle with you?”
“Um, no,” Mokey said, and the Storyteller’s face fell and she went back to chewing her Doozer stick. “We need to ask you a question about a cave that has a high, screeching wind. Do you know any stories about that?”
“Are you kids still looking for the Terrible Tunnel?” she asked, frowning.
“No, no, we found that,” Wembley said. “This is a completely different cave.”
“And it’s interfering with the due process of laundry,” Boober said solemnly.
“Hmm,” the Storyteller said, cleaning her spectacles. “Describe it.”
“There’s a little stream, and some rocks, and usually it’s nice and peaceful and boring, but today there was a really loud wind and this horrible noise that sounded like somebody screaming,” Boober said, trembling at the memory.
“Huh,” the Storyteller said. “I don’t know what that could be.”
The four of them started to walk away looking dejected.
“Unless, of course, it’s haunted by the ghost of Fraggle Fiodoria, the famed singer of the caverns,” the Storyteller added as an afterthought.
As one, all four Fraggles turned around again, their attention piqued.
“Who’s Fraggle Fiodoria?” Red asked.
“Oh, the chronicles say that long ago, maybe a few centuries or possibly as many as twenty years, there was a Fraggle maiden who loved to sing. She sang at the Fraggle concerts, serenaded everyone in the Great Hall during festivals, and even learned all the ancient tunes of the oldest Fraggles and sang them as she wended her way through the caverns,” the Storyteller said.
“She sounds like a true artist,” said Mokey, enraptured.
“There was just one problem,” the Storyteller said.
“What?” Boober asked.
“She was a lousy singer,” the Storyteller said. “I mean she stunk worse than rotten radishes.”
“Oh, that’s sad,” Mokey said, starting tear up.
“Yes, but she was completely convinced that the other Fraggles simply had no taste, and to prove that she really could sing, she hatched a daring plan. She decided that if music really could tame the savage beast, then she would sing for a Poison Cackler, tame it, and bring it back for the rest of the Fraggles as proof,” the Storyteller said.
“How brave and noble!” Mokey said. “Did she succeed?”
“Of course not! Did you miss the part where I said Fiodoria couldn’t sing her way out of a Doozer tower?” the Storyteller said.
“Sorry, I got caught up in the moment,” Mokey said in embarrassment.
“So, as the story goes, the Poison Cackler ate her, and that was the end. Still, some Fraggles claim they’ve heard her voice in certain tunnels, always accompanied by the strong wind of her sighs as she wanders forever, looking for someone to appreciate her voice,” the Storyteller said.
“I guess, maybe, it could be Fiodoria,” Boober said. “So how do I get her out of my laundry cave?”
“How should I know? I just tell the stories, kid,” the Storyteller said. “Say hello to Gobo’s uncle for me if you see him, will you?”
“Sure,” Red said as she walked away, still chewing on her Doozer stick, then added under her breath, “not that he’s ever going to notice.”
“Notice what?” Wembley said.
“Thanks for proving my point,” Red said with a sigh. “Okay, so when do we leave for Boober’s laundry cave?”
“Do we really have to go back?” he said nervously.
“That’s my good sweater,” she said firmly, “and Wembley only has the shirt he’s got on other than the one you left there.”
“And that is my good feather boa,” Mokey admitted.
“Can’t we just, I don’t know, leave them there forever and never go back again? Doesn’t that sound like a great plan?” Boober said desperately.
“Boober,” Mokey said, taking his hand, “won’t that mean you’ll have to give up the thing you love to do most? Do you really want to do that?”
“It’s only laundry,” Wembley said with a shrug. “I mean, really, is it that big of a loss? Are you going to confront the ghost of a shrieking singer just to scrub socks?”
“I need to think about this for a while,” Boober said, sitting down beside the pond.
“Well think fast, will you?” Red said as she walked away with the others. “If I don’t get that sweater back, I’m going to have to figure out something else to wear for half of my life.”
Boober stared into the water of the Pond, watching the reflection of the Doozers as they built another tower on the opposite side. Even as he looked, three Fraggles broke off sections and started eating them, but the Doozers worked blithely on, repairing the damage that had been done and that would undoubtedly happen again. Boober wanted to go home and go to bed and never worry about ghosts again, but if he did, if he let it stop him, he was going to have to give up doing something he loved.
“Uh, guys?” Boober said as he entered Gobo and Wembley’s room. Sure enough, Red and Mokey were there with Wembley, but Gobo was still off in Outer Space. “I’ve decided to go back to the cave.”
“Oh, Boober,” Mokey said, giving him a hug. “You are such a heroic Fraggle!”
“Or you’re an idiot,” Red said, crossing her arms. “Seriously, Boober, forget what I said about my sweater. I can get by without it.”
“Are you really sure about this?” Wembley said.
“Yeah, I am,” Boober said, “and I think I have to talk to Fiodoria alone.”
“Alone?!” all three of them chorused.
“I think it’ll work better that way,” he said. “I’m, uh, gonna go now.” He started to shuffle out of the room, but at the door he turned back and said, “Wembley, if I don’t come back, you can have my other hat.”
“Gosh, thanks,” Wembley said. “I still hope you come back, though, even if it is a really neat hat!”
With that, he was gone.
Boober wandered quietly along the tunnel that led to where he’d had his strange encounter. Every step was as terrifying as if he expected to meet a Silly Person around the next bend, but he kept going. When at last he reached the stream, he followed it until he came to the spot where his overturned laundry basket and scrub board lay just as he had left them on the ground. Taking a deep breath, he knelt down, picked up Red’s sweater and the radish-scented soap, and dipped them into the water.
Almost immediately, the enormous wind came again with the shrill, horrible sound. Boober fought not to cover his ears. Instead, he reached as far down inside himself as he could, and he found the courage to do what he needed to do.
“STOP IT!” he yelled at the top of his lungs, but the shrieking continued. “FIODORIA, CAN YOU PLEASE BE QUIET FOR JUST A MINUTE?”
Perhaps it was her name that caught her attention, or it might have been the “please,” but the wind abated, and the shrieking slowly stopped until only a quiet whisper of wind remained.
“Thank you,” Boober said, standing up and looking around, not quite sure where he should direct his gaze. “I think I know why you’re here. You really loved singing, didn’t you?”
The murmuring sound increased to a plaintive wail.
“And nobody liked hearing you sing, but you did it anyway because you loved it. So now you’re angry, and you like scaring people instead,” Boober said, and the wind rose to a loud hurricane gale, making him hold onto his hat again.
“I understand that. The way you loved singing is how I love laundry or how Doozers love making towers,” he said, and the wind drifted down again as though it were listening. “It really shouldn’t matter if Fraggles eat the towers or if the others think I’m weird for liking to wash dirty socks, and it shouldn’t matter to you either if people don’t like your voice. If you really love singing, then you should sing, and I hope it makes you happy. But I’m not going to let you scare me away from doing what I love.”
The wind died down to almost nothing as though it were considering things.
“What do you say, Fiodoria? You can sing for me if you want, and I won’t laugh at you or make fun of you, but you let me do my laundry without nearly blowing me away or trying to scare me or my friends. Deal?” Boober asked.
There was a long pause, and Boober started to get scared again. The silence was somehow even worse than the shrieking wind had been. Then, slowly, Boober started to hear a voice instead. It wasn’t singing any song he knew, and if he were being honest, it was really off key, but it sounded pretty happy, and that made it not so bad at all.
“Okay then,” Boober said, smiling as he knelt down again and picked up the soap.
When he was through with the laundry, he put everything back in his basket, and Fiodoria stopped singing.
“That worked pretty well,” he said. “I’ll see, er, hear you next week then, okay?”
A soft breeze ruffled his fur, and then he left.
When he got back to his cave, he found not only Mokey, Red, and Wembley waiting for him, but Gobo as well. He was met with a rousing cheer, and when he put down the basket, he was suddenly surrounded by his friends.
“What happened?” “Did you see anything?” “Was it Fiodoria?” “Did she do anything?” “Is that my sweater?” “Are you going back?” “Tell us!”
Boober smiled and said, “Fiodoria and I have come to an understanding. She sings, I do laundry, and everything’s hunky-dory.”
“Oh, that is just perfect!” Mokey squealed rapturously. “I am going to write a poem about all this, an epic work of at least fifty stanzas! Or maybe it should be opera! I can see it now: The Valiant Launderer and the Vengeful Soprano!”
“I gotta hand it to you, Boober,” Gobo said, patting him on the back, “you worked that out really well. My Uncle Traveling Matt couldn’t have been any braver.”
“Aww,” Boober said, blushing.
“And speaking of my Uncle Traveling Matt, I got a postcard from him. Want to hear it?” he said, pulling out a piece of paper with a picture of what looked like a Silly Creature building on it.
“Gobo, Boober has faced enough horrors today,” Red said, petting her sweater fondly. “Do we really have to add you uncle’s weird postcards to it?”
“Sure, why not?” Gobo said. “’Dear Nephew Gobo…’”
As he began to read the usual, completely nonsensical note, Wembley leaned over and quietly whispered in Boober’s ear, “Can I at least borrow your other hat sometimes?”
“Maybe,” Boober said, then settled in to hear the rest of the story about some strange place called a pizza parlor.