Archive for the ‘Complex Fairy Tales’ Category

The Adventures of Yarosah

Sunday, April 10th, 2016

by Sohail Dahdal

Long time ago, way back in history before books were written and cars were invented, life was more exciting and adventures were an every day occurrence, just venturing to the other side of the mountain would take days on end and bring the joy of seeing the unseen.

Yarosah was a princess living in that magical time. She lived in a small village hidden away from the world, protected from one side by a mountain, and the other side by the sea. Yarosah had the purest heart and a smile that penetrated deep into the hearts of everyone she met. Love was abundant, and so it should have been, for our princess was more than worthy of that love, her beauty enchanted strangers and friends alike, her smile brought happiness to all.

Yarosah loved to love and be loved, her favorite place, the garden of Edon, a garden full of Jasmine, little ponds with little ducks, and hundreds of happy singing birds in golden cages. How much did she love listening to the birds singing and how much did she not wish for anything else in the world.

Or did she?

Yarosah would never expect what was to happen next….

One day, like any other day, Yarosah was walking in the garden when she heard a bird singing not like she has ever heard before, it sang beautifully… but… it sang sadly, this made our princes feel strange, she was feeling something she’d never felt before, she was feeling sad. The sadness made our princess intrigued for she has never experienced such emotion before, salty drops of liquid rolled down her cheeks, silent tears, “so this is crying”, our princess thought, “funny that salty taste!”

From that day onward, Yarosah was on a quest? What? She didn’t know, but even thought she hadn’t heard the bird sing his sad tune again, she had the tune in her head, and tears would flow as soon as she thought of the tune, sometimes she would catch her self staring into the sky, tears in her eyes, even without thinking of the sad music.

It was the salty taste of tears that made Yarosah think about the sea, her heart was aching, restless. The village, the palace, the mountain all seemed too small. It was as if the sad tunes were a cue for our princess to look inwards, then feel the tears, then taste the salt, then think of the sea.

“Oh the sea, what is out there, what lies beneath the sea, and what lay ahead behind the horizon?” our princess was getting more restless by the day, no longer did she smile to strangers, no longer did she sing, but that sad tune.

Her father, the king of Dunia, was getting worried and consulted with the wisest of his men.

First his famous doctor and potion mixer suggested,  “Yarosah is sick she must have a heart ache and therefore she needs Gindo honey… If your majesty sends me on an expedition I will be more than honored to risk my life and find the honey”, and even though the Gindo kingdom was not a safe place to venture to, and the king had no ruling in that area, he decided to follow the advice of his trusted doctor and send an expedition to the deep forest on the edge of the Gindo kingdom.

Weeks past and yet no news of the honey or the witch doctor… as for Yarosah… by now she was even more sad knowing that everybody was concerned for her. Yes, she had tried to smile but she found it impossible to do so, for she had never learned how to smile, on the account of when she did smile – before – it was natural and from a place she can no longer find in her own self.

One day as our princess was being bathed with the help of her 12 maids – all beautiful with beautiful voices – singing as they bathed her with the most delicious milks and flowers. She thinking, they singing, suddenly the sound of the hornet was announcing and important event.

For it happened that the doctor has returned with the Gindo honey, not only that but he had managed to bring a new treatment, a cactus drink that was said to bring a smile to even the king’s treasurer – a man so serous that it was said he was never seen to smile.

Excited and grateful, the king ordered for the honey be taken to his daughter’s room immediately – in fact he would do so himself. And for the doctor, if the treatment works he will be rewarded, or else.

Yarosah, obedient to her father, but not caring for what will happen, drank the honey, three spoons in total. The taste was that of mint and sugar… except it had a honey texture – not bad thought she. But what is the point of this… what next? More honey?

“Try this cactus drink my daughter”

Yarosah took the drink and threw it in the bathtub… something she had never done before – disobey her father and more over… be reckless.

“What is wrong with you my daughter, why did you do that? Why are you sad?”

“Father… if only I knew”, said Yarosah as she ran into her chamber, her 12 maids in tow.

So my dear doctor your medicine did no good, I will be dealing with you later but now I am despair. And with that he looked at his magician and uttered what he never thought himself would say.

“But my king… you want me to do the tricks of magic on your daughter!”

The king waved everybody away but the wizard, “So what can be done? I can’t accept sadness to be upon my most beloved, do what ever is needed.”

The wizard was silent, thinking, it took what felt like eternity for the king before our wizard said to the king, “My king your daughter is bored, she is in need of ecstasy. She is to be taken into another world, be shown pleasures not usually reserved for humans, she is to find happiness again like she has never found it before.”

Oh wind… do bring me scents from far, far away, Yarosah sat on her balcony, it was a crisp fresh night, she had her favorite silk shawl warped around her neck and it gave a sensation of being caressed and hugged… in the distant the sky was lit by a moon… not full but bright enough to reflect on the surface of the sea.

Somewhere else, the wizard busied himself preparing his magic potions. He had asked the king for some unspoken of material to be brought from the mountain tribes, the men there were well known of their magic, and unspeakable acts. The wizard – not without great fear of offending the king – had requested to go there by himself and fetch the material “So necessary for my potion to work my king, I, your humble servant, will go and fetch it myself.”

The next day, the wizard decorated with all sorts of feathers, his body painted in many strange colors, on his head, a huge hat that looked more like an animal than a hat, the wizard rode his donkey – his donkey was famous for it was an albino donkey with one ear. Yarosah thought it a ridiculous scene the donkey with the wizard on top, then the hat that looked more like an animal and on top of the hat sat the wizard’s beloved crow. The king following him telling him to be back by sunset for he could no longer bare the waiting… he waited too long… and now things were getting out of hand, he needed his normal life back, he needed to go back to attend to the business of being a king.

Mean while, Yarosah felt great love for her father and she was disappointed in herself for throwing the drink and well… for occupying her father’s time – along with everyone else’s in the village. All what I want is… “Oh… I wish I know what I want” deeply sighing as her father entered the room unnoticed “What is wrong my dear dearest daughter? Has any body hurt you? Have I not given you love?”

“Daddy you are wonderful, you are the gentlest off all men and I love you dearly. I wish, my father, I know what is wrong. I am sad… just sad… inside…. from a place I don’t know” and so our princess cried and wanted to hide her tears from her father. In fact she wanted to hide her sadness, her soul, her everything. She asked to be alone but she wished she could be hugged. No she needed to be alone, but she wished a thousand hugs. Silently she cried… those salty tears.

The wizard came back, he had a small leather pouch, in it some red seeds. There was five tiny red seeds, so small that when the king looked inside the pouch thought of it empty, sick joke it was, he thought “This is not a time for silly games Belato [the wizard’s name] where is the magic potion? We have no time to wait”

“My king these matters can not be hurried, these seeds are the most dangerous poison if handled the wrong way, give me the night to prepare the mix and at midnight the princess must drink it all… exactly at midnight my king”

“Hmmm, how are we to make her drink the potion?”

“Leave it to me my king, just make sure that the maids are not there and that I have access to her highness’s room. I need to be alone with her for an hour.”

The king was not happy about leaving his daughter alone with the wizard, but in his desperation he said “Ok, Belato, but I warn you if any harm happens to my daughter you will be killed, and so will your donkey and your crow”, the wizard loves his crow more than his own life, and the king knew that his daughter will be safe on account of that.

That night, exactly midnight, the wizard sneaked on the princess, sound asleep, so angelic, so beautiful, for a second he was tempted to take advantage of the situation but he was a wise man and knew better not to. Besides after the princess drinks the magic potion… she will be under his spell, and there will be plenty of time for that later. First he must earn the king’s trust.

Belato approached the princess ever so slowly and produced a white cloth soaked with a drug to stop the princess from waking up. He now needed to push the potion down the princess mouth without choking her and it will all be done, the princess will wakeup under his spell. Smiling he will ask her, love he will demand from her. She is his forever, and one day he will become the king… [Oh, king Belato, sounds much better than Belato, the wizard]

In the morning, Belato was presently available in the king’s Diwan. Too excited for his conquest, he had spent a sleepless night, he waited there at sunrise, he waited for the palace to be awake and for the king to be awake… more importantly he waited with great anticipation for the princess to be awake… his forever.

What our wizard didn’t know was that the princess had already been awaken with a terrible nightmare, just after he left her room at midnight, sick, she lay in bed all night. The magic potion had been upset by the dream and so it became a terrible poison. As a result the princess was sick for many weeks. The felt king guilty for trusting the wizard and would have punished him, but the wizard was on the run, him, his donkey, and the crow – it is said he has joined the mountain tribes and vowed never to be back to the wretched village.

By now the king has lost all hope and was himself sinking into depression. The head priest, who was a wise man, very old, very frail, but known to be the wisest of all, had always come to the rescue when he was most needed. He knew something had to be done for the king was neglecting his duties and this posed a risk, so clear a risk that other neighboring kings might decide to take advantage of the situation. For all surrounding kingdoms had heard of the misfortune of the king and the sadness of the prettiest princess of all the kingdoms.

“Your majesty, I worry about the affairs of our kingdom and as a high priest I must worn you that we need to get back to the business of ruling, your princess will recover in her own time my king… but if we get attacked… she will be taken a prisoner… a slave… and you will be killed, you MUST get back to your duties my king.”

“I know your holiness, I know”, sighed the king, “what am I to do if my heart is broken like I never have felt, how can I be a king, if I have no heart for anything… nothing but sorrow?”

“My king let me speak to your daughter.”

The king could see no harm in the high priest talking to his daughter. It was now a matter for the gods to deal with, the only thing he could do is to pray.

The high priest in his wisdom thought the princess must need some love, a different kind of love than the fatherly love.

“My daughter, your father will loose his kingdom if you don’t help us”

The priest’s words made Yarosah so worried, “what can I do? I’ll do anything to help my father.”

“You must marry, you need to find happiness, you need a prince to help your father.”

Yarosah had no wish to get married – nor did she have anyone in mind. “I will do anything for my father but I have no one wanting to marry me.” The priest smiled – a little bit slyly thought Yarosah. “Don’t worry my daughter, leave that to me and your father.”

The priest feeling very proud of himself hurried to the king  “your majesty I have found a cure for your daughter.”

“What… what… don’t let me wait any longer… what can I do?”

“You must marry our princess.”

“But she is too young to be married and no one is worthy of her.”

“My king I have a plan.”

“Do tell… do tell… I am all ears… hurry up for god’s sake… I can bear it no longer.”

“Ok, my king, the gods have told me that your princess is in need of love – and not just your majesty’s love – but that of a prince that could become your heir.  You must announce that who ever brings the smile back to our princess will be her future husband… and the future king of Dunia Kingdom”

The king kneeled and kissed the priests hand.  Our priest, wise as he is, allowed the king to kneel so all his followers could see the respect the king had for him but he pulled his hand away just in time to show respect for the king – and so the search began.

Princes, Kings, rich merchants, and even clowns, all came from far, far away places trying to win the princess’s heart. Many strangers came by daily and the princess was polite to every single one of them but never did she smile… and so the search continued and the legend grew.

Many dreamt of making the princess smile and marring her. Many failed.

It will not be an exaggeration to say that Yarosah was also anxious to get married and end this whole ridiculous saga.

She must smile. She must marry and make her father happy, god knows she tried her best to smile, she even asked her maids to teach her to fake a smile but her mouth would only heed to the orders of her restless heart. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t smile, even when sometimes she fancied the guy asking for her hand.

One day a young gypsy man came wanting her hand, gypsies were the scum of the earth at those times… the villagers laughed at him, the priest announced that he was not eligible for he followed no god and could never be the king. The king was sure his daughter would never accept a gypsy and, fair as he was, he saw no reason why this young man not try make his daughter smile.

The gypsy, asked to be alone with the princess in the jasmine garden, “just for one hour.” This, he was allowed after much debate between the king and the priest, a debate that was interrupted by Yarosah accepting to see the young man in the Jasmine garden. This surprised her father for she has never been back to the garden since that incident, and he immediately granted the young man a one-hour audience.

Yarosah herself was surprised that she had wanted to go back to the garden, but this young man had brought with him… something that she could not understand, in his eyes… she saw the sea…

In the garden the young man sat on the ground and asked the princess to do the same… first she refused then accepted when he promised her stories from far away, she slowly sat down, taking care not to let him notice her great anticipation. The gypsy was perceptive, he had read in Yarosah’s eyes the desire to be far away, the salty tears, and the sea. And so he told her many… many stories… stories that made her heart even more restless.

The king was watching from a secret window in the tower and was surprised to see his daughter’s eyes come back to life. Smile she did not, but there was change, that was apparent – and even spoken when the princess begged her father that the gypsy man come back the next day to tell her more stories. Her father said yes, surprised by his daughter’s interest in this man, and a bit worried that she might fall in love with him.

Many weeks passed, and every day the gypsy man [his name he would not tell] told our princess stories that both intrigued her and made her more restless. One day, he produced a flute from his bag, he played a very happy tune. So happy the princess felt, that she wanted to dance. “Do you know this is what we play when we loose a friend”, the gypsy said when he stopped playing. Yarosah thought of this funny and sad, funny that they play a happy tune when loosing a friend, and sad that she could not imagine what loss meant – she had never lost anyone, well her mum, but she was too little then. First tears came to her eyes remembering her mum, then she smiled. Yes, she smiled… for she was happy that she would think of her mum while listening to such music… she was feeling free… free of many things that was holding her a prisoner, things that she didn’t even know existed in her and now that they are gone. She felt like floating.

Her father, having witnessed that episode from his secret window, was so excited that he almost fell from the tower. He ran to his Diwan to announce that the gypsy man is to become the new king. This news worried the priest greatly – and later worried the king too – feeling that he overreacted.

But there was no need to worry, for the gypsy man after he finished playing his music, had planted a kiss on Yarosah’s lips and said that the sea was calling him. He must go. Yarosah was still in her own world, she looked at the gypsy man and smiled again.

The king, relieved that the gypsy is leaving, asked him “how did you make my daughter smile?”

“I didn’t make her smile, your daughter had been smiling from the inside all along… smiles that are restless… the best kind of smiles… I only showed her that she was not alone. Now I must go.”

“How can I repay you”, asked the king.

“I have no need for anything, but perhaps some food for the next few days. Oh… I have one more request.”

“You are a modest man and you have my respect, your orders are my commands,” the king said, touched by this man’s simplicity.

“Your daughter, she needs to go to far away places… set her free.”

“But– ”

By now the gypsy had turned away and left the king pondering what had been said. How could he let go of his daughter? His only love after he lost his wife. No he can’t do it.

He walked in the jasmine garden feeling conflicted. He can’t loose his daughter. He looked at the birds in their golden cages… so beautiful, the jasmine garden… so beautiful, what more could his daughter want?

Not so many minutes passed when one of his daughter’s maids came running to say that the princess was no where to be found!

Yarosah had hid in the gypsy’s boat without him knowing. Once he was at sea, she announced herself. She had not expected him to be so angry with her, but he could see that she had unknowingly put his life in danger – and hers too.

“I travel alone, I will drop you off at the next port.”

“Fine, I don’t care. I only want to travel. I knew you wouldn’t take me if I told you I was coming so hiding was the only way. I need to travel, I can’t stay in the palace all my life.”

“What is it you are travelling for, my princess?”

“What is it YOU are travelling for?”

“Me, I have no choice, this is my life, I am a sea man.”

“Me, I have no choice too… I have tasted the sea…  the sea from within… my salty tears told me I must go.”

He smiled and said not much after…

Meanwhile, back in the kingdom, the princess’s departure was big news and her father ordered an expedition to look for her and the gypsy man. He thought, they ran away together, and he was angry. The gypsy had abused his trust.

After few days at sea the royal guards found the gypsy man sailing alone. He told them of how Yarosah hid in his boat and then after he had changed his mind and accepted her to travel with him, intending on returning her to her father, she had ran away from him when they landed at the next port.

Yarosah was following no path. She traveled, listening to stories, meeting people, smiling to strangers. Her travel tales were told many years later. Of this young girl, dressed in a man’s clothes, enchanting who ever came across her path.

One day – many, many moons after her departure from the safety of her father and friends – when our princess was in the forests of Malu, a small island famous for its giant mango trees, she heard it, it was distinct and clear, that sad tune, the same tune she had in her head. This time it was not in her head… but a bird… was it the same bird? Tears flew freely from her eyes, she thought of her father, her jasmine garden, her beautiful maids – more friends than maids – it has been three years now. She missed them so dearly, even the wizard with his white donkey, the farmers, the women of the village, she missed them all.

She sat under a mango tree and let her tears flow so freely…

She must have fallen asleep, for she was awaken by a gentle tap on her shoulder, an old man dressed in a dark grey gulabiah, very unusual in this part of the land for everybody here dress so colorfully, he looked like a desert man on an island.

“What is wrong my child, why are you here?”

“ I was crying and I must’ve fallen asleep… where am I?”

“Why were you crying…?”

“I never know why I cry… I miss my people.”

“So go and see them.”

“But I ran away.”

“Why did you run away?”

“Because of my salty tears… they made me think of the sea.”

The old man smiled and gave Yarosah a small rock. It was a shiny rock, not a diamond but looked more like a crystal ”This is made of salt. It is the sea but my dear so are your tears.”

“But tears make me sad.”

“Sad is good… restless is also good… when you get to my age you’ll understand… but for now go back to your people… as long as you know you are free to go whenever you want, then your tears of sadness will no longer make you restless, the sea will always be there for you. Life is like a river that eventually ends up in the ocean, the journey is ever more exciting. Go and be with your people… but be free.”

The king was frail and sick, and he had given up hope of finding his daughter, so when he saw her standing there in front of him… smiling… only looking older… wiser… and dressed as a boy… he thought “I must be dreaming.”

“Hello my beloved father.”

“My daughter you are back!”

“I had never left, my dear father, my heart has always been here and now I am back to be with you and my people.”

The princess’s return was the big news for many years to come… she smiled a lot these days… but she no longer stayed in the palace watching from her balcony… she was in village… visited the farms, the market, and the port. She paid attention to everything around her. The love she had to the people was also helping Yarosah to be the judge in any dispute, her words were accepted by both feuding parties and she became the loved princess and the judge, she was slowly earning the people’s respect.

This did not go unnoticed by her father. One day he called his daughter and asked everyone to leave them alone “My daughter I have become so frail… and it is time I pass my ruling to a younger wiser generation, you are my daughter, but more important you are loved by all, as of this day, the Dunia kingdom will be ruled by a queen… not a king”

And so princess Yarosah became Queen Yarosah…

The tears came as often as the smiles. The smiles reminded our queen of the gypsy man, the old man, love, and happiness. The tears carried the taste of the sea, of far away places, and reminded Yarosah of love, the love of life, and her freedom. The salty tears were the oceans within, and she felt freedom in that knowledge. She was happy.

This is how we came to know of the legend of Yarosah, later told in many different tongues, but always brought a smile to the storyteller and the listeners alike.

Queen Yarosah is the queen of love. Yarosah is part of the sea, her tears told of a restless hearts… of love… of passion… of sadness… of happiness – of life.

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The Witch of Forestgreen

Friday, April 1st, 2016

by Bob Ritchie

Dennis—a rather large bear with a weakness for tea—Dennis hopped once and skipped once, hopped once and skipped once. Thuds and bumps echoed through the forest.

Carl the squirrel, joining the wide path from the northern fork, started to scurry past and then slowed when he realized who was making all that racket. Carl was on his way to All the Nuts, the old cottonwood-tree market near Glen Meadow. He waited for a moment and then wrinkled his snout. For a squirrel, that’s as big as a fat man’s belly laugh.

“Dennis,” he called out, “the path ‘ere is smooth as a developer’s patter. What’s all this, then?” Carl sat back on his haunches, plainly perplexed: Less expert at deciphering ursine expressions than, say, the brain-like wrinkles and folds of a walnut shell, Carl still could see that Dennis’s serious expression didn’t match his apparent dancing gait.

Dennis’s paws slammed down on the hard-packed path, sending reverberations through the multihued greens that lined both sides of the trail. Falling leaves clattered and a blackpoll warbler hurled an epithet as he winged away from his comfortable perch. After shooting a worried glance into the forest, Dennis growled (normal enough for a bear), “It’s cursed!”

“Oh pshaw!” Carl retorted. He paused to tug his paw through a stubborn knot in his tail before he continued. Turning to face the wide head and massive teeth of his furry pal, he said, “I take this ‘ere path all the time. Off to work, the market—out to Miss Jessie’s. . . . Well, it ain’t cursed no more’n me!”

Usually Forestgreen whispered and shook with the myriad rustlings of tree branches and busy animals. Now, except for the distant rumble of thunderheads gathering over the mountains that ringed the valley, silence ruled.

“Then you better find yourself a good exorcist,” Dennis said. “Anyway, it’s a new curse.” He scratched at a flea and went on, “Don’t you know about the two-legger, the witch, who moved into the old Greystone Mansion?”

The Greystone Mansion was an ancient red oak tree that squatted amidst a new-growth section of the forest. Four generations of Greystones had called it home. Until the scandal.

The Greystones had been a wealthy family of hedgehogs. “Slam” Greystone, the patriarch of the family (come over from the Old Country) had cleared several acres of untamed forest and planted cheap pine, selling each unit at a markup that was probably illegal (but you know that Old Slam had probably greased a paw or two). Cheap housing alone didn’t account for the fortune; Slam had done what hedgehogs do and had dug tunnels that ran from dwelling to dwelling; no telling how many marriages ended when the blackmail couldn’t be paid.

Daddy Greystone, Slam’s grandson, had lost the bulk of the fortune speculating on the Bark Market, days later being arrested for insider trading. After having sold off everything—including the antique, gold toenail protectors—the Greystones had moved to the city and gone on welfare. To stay out of prison, Daddy Greystone had pledged the remainder of his dwindling wealth to Fox McGee, a respected defense attorney. Still, a verdict of “guilty” had seemed inevitable. Daddy ran off with his secretary (McGee’s younger sister), leaving Mama Greystone with all the little ones. Common opinion had it that she was better off: though he cut a dashing figure, Daddy Greystone was somewhat integrity-impaired.

Dennis hopped once, skipped once. He ducked to avoid the low-hanging branches of a poplar. His claws clattered on the hard-packed surface of the trail. “So I heard that the witch got it on a foreclosure deal when Strip Industries filed Chapter 7,” he said.

His normal rumbling growl lightened on that bit: Strip Industries had slashed and burned hundreds of acres of Forestgreen. The surrounding hills held large amounts of copper, apparently worth more than the wild beauty of the forest.

Dennis and Carl proceeded along in silence, thinking cheering thoughts of industrial collapse.

“Anyway, the first thing the two-legger witch did,” Dennis continued, “was curse the path so no one would bother her.” Dennis hopped once. “Yow!” he exclaimed when his foot landed on a sharp rock. He plopped down in the middle of the path. Fell. Carl had to do a quick skitter to avoid death-by-sitting. Dennis’s breath rasped as he rested. “That hurts!” He probed the injured pad with a claw.

“‘Ere then, lemme take a look.” Carl scampered to Dennis’s side and scrutinized the offended paw. “Ye gotcher a bitty little bruise, ye do. Buck up, mate.”

“It hurts,” the great, black bear complained.

Carl ignored him and asked, “Well now, what is it makes ye so sure about this ‘ere curse, then?” He cast a skeptical eye up at Dennis. Born in Hyde Park in London, Carl had seen his life change, for the better, when an accidental boat ride had dropped him just a dozen miles from Forestgreen. Still, his city instincts kept him practical and not much given to such nonsense as curses.

Dennis hid his head behind his paw. His reply was more sheepish than bearish. “I— well—” He took a deep breath, uncovered his face, swatted a fly away from his snout and plunged on, “Now, I don’t want to hear anything from you about this, but, well. . . . I used to keep a little tap on Daddy Greystone’s line—picked up the odd stock tip or two.” Boasting, he added, “my portfolio is pretty healthy. . . . So anyway, when the witch moved in, I remembered it. The tap. The Greystones left while I was hibernating, so I didn’t think about removing it until a couple of days ago. I didn’t imagine she would be any help playing the Market. I was checking to make sure it was clear—the line—cause I didn’t want her to hear the click from my disconnection. You know, in case she was using the phone. And the thing is, she was. Using the phone, I mean.” He cleared his throat; the harsh scraping cough echoed in the uncharacteristic stillness of the Forest.

“Cor! I don’t believe it. Ye listened in then? On a private converse, like? Must think yer bleedin’ MI5.” Righteous anger, something to which Carl and his brethren are prone, washed over him. His whiskers twitched, his tail slashed, his eyes flashed fire.

Defending himself, Dennis explained, “It was an accident. Sort of. I started to put the receiver right down when I heard her voice. I could hardly make out a word—the line always sounded staticky—but she said something about the path and hopping and skipping. It was her mother on the other end, so I figure the witch must have been giving directions on how to nullify the curse.” Dennis shook his head, making the dewlaps of fat under his neck waggle. “Her mother sounded nice. But it must be hard knowing that your daughter is an evil witch.”

“I don’t—” Carl stopped and froze into a posture of attentive listening. Faint sounds of breaking twigs and slapping branches. A fast-moving object was approaching. Without thinking, Carl moved into the shadow of one of Dennis’s haunches. He poked the wiggling tip of his nose around Dennis’s thick leg and shouted, “Who is it?” A scudding cloud blocked the watery light of the sun, and sharp slivers of wind kicked up, sweeping leaves and other forest detritus across the track. Carl shivered and pressed himself closer to Dennis, who dropped one of his paws to shield his friend. They both jumped at the far-off explosion of a rifle. Though it was not hunting season, enough two-leggers ignored the law to make life nerve-wracking.

Still as two stuffed animals, Dennis and Carl followed the approach of a menacing growl. A silver and grey wolf shot onto the pathway, stopping in mid-lope.

Both bear and squirrel relaxed: It was just Andrei. He growled again, and with as much menace, but Carl and Dennis recognized the defensive habit from Andrei’s stories about his run-ins with the Russian mafia back in post–Soviet Union Ukraine. Andrei was actually a very friendly wolf, given to drunken song (he liked his vodka) and tearful remembrances of the family that he’d left in Chernobyl.

“Hey! What you do?” His voice was rough from constant howling: He missed the dark, cold forests of his home, though, by his own account, they compared poorly to Forestgreen. The hoarseness combined with his accent made him difficult to understand.

Carl stepped out from the protection of Dennis’s leg; he ran through the story for Andrei, skimming lightly over the questionable wiretap. Though making no attempt to hide his skepticism, Carl nevertheless gave a fair account.

“It’s wot ‘e thinks, then, Dennis,” Carl concluded, “a witch.”

Andrei sat back on his haunches and thought for a long while. Carl and Dennis, content to wait, waited. Gray clouds shrouded the afternoon sun, and the shadows came out to play, dancing along the tree-covered path, reducing visibility in all directions. Finally, Andrei shrugged his shoulders, saying, “Tapping of phone of Batko, of father, no good.” Andrei’s mild gesture and look contradicted the harsh content of his words. “The witch. We should be going and seeing, tak?”

Carl turned to Dennis. “So Dennis, are ye still up to it?” He shivered when a stream of chill air spilled down the path.

Dennis took a deep breath, as if sucking up a fresh draught of needed courage, and nodded hard enough to set his jowls a-shake. “Let’s do this thing.”

The old wolf taking the lead, the trio approached the long lane that led to the Greystone Mansion. Hopping and skipping and jumping came easily to Carl—less so to Dennis, but he’d gotten some practice today. Andrei had two bad legs. Hopping, he could manage, but at each skip and jump, it seemed sure that he would fall to the ground.

They turned onto the lane, leaving the icy current of air and entering a zone without wind or weather. Though the sky had mostly cleared, the late-afternoon rays barely penetrated the thick cover. All around them, the forest seemed to be holding its breath. A smell of damp earth rose from the surface of the narrow lane. Passing a mossy plaque with the barely legible title “Greystone Mansion,” the three companions slowed, ditching the frolicking but not gait, instead creeping forward on twelve silent paws. Until Dennis tripped over a small, fallen pine tree that blocked the narrow lane. Shushing each other and their fallen comrade, wolf and squirrel waited as Dennis lumbered to his feet. “Sorry.” His hoarse whisper carried. Thinking of the nearby witch, Carl searched the shadows for furtive movements or black hats or bubbling cauldrons.

Three heads swiveled as one: A strong, unnatural odor had drifted from the way ahead and masked completely the fresh scent of recent rain.

“There it is,” Carl gestured with his tiny paw at a dilapidated old oak that towered over the stand of pale aspens surrounding it. The young and slender trees seemed to be guarding the older one, keeping it safe from intruders.

“We go,” said Andrei. They passed a toy digging set—rust blooding the edges of the implements—that the Greystone children had left behind. They passed the hollow stump that had been the servants’ quarters. Termites dug and swarmed over the soft, yellow heart.

The ever-sharpening odor knifed through delicate membranes.

They wound through the guarding aspen, passing the tiny brook where the family had bathed daily. The aseptic pungency of clean, running water almost succeeded in rinsing away the alien stink. The steady gush, unbroken by stones, reflected the afternoon light, all spangly silver.

A last turn and they entered a wide clearing; it was bordered by the aspens behind and to the right. On the left, a sloping hillside grew high enough to partially block the lowering sun. Tall grasses and low bushes clutched at the soil.

Before them loomed the mansion. Heavy rains had warped and stained the cracked planks that covered the windows; holes perforated the walls of the once-elegant home: thugs, thieves, and indifferent nature had been at work. A gentle sigh of drifting air surrounded the trio. Without a word, they sat, examining the structure. The unnatural smell had grown strong enough to burn. Andrei snorted, attempting to blow it out. He crept forward, noiseless. Carl and Dennis hesitated, followed. Andrei’s whisper sounded like rock scraping wet wood. “Come, come.”

The mansion spread before, them, mute and still. It appeared ominously empty of life. That’s what Dennis whispered to the other two, “It appears ominously empty of life.”

“Gods! ‘Ow can a place look ‘ominously empty’? Yer imagination’s makin’ a proper fool of ye!” Scornful in voice, Carl nevertheless did not hasten to pass either of his companions.

“Well, it looks abandoned,” said Dennis, “and why would anyone abandon a new home? That they just started refurbishing?” He swung his great head to the right, pointing with his nose. “Look, there’s a stack of planks, on the side porch.” He breathed deeply, “Cedar, it smells like. Expensive.” He had a point: Ominous. The three inched forward.

They turned a 90°corner, nearly running headlong into the tall double doors of the Greystone Mansion.

Andrei inhaled with a loud rush. Dennis sat back so hard that his breath whooshed out. The bear’s expression said something to the effect of I’d really rather be scratching my back on a nice, rough tree. To give him credit, he stayed put.

“Those’re some doors, then, aren’t they? A little exaggerated, mebbe, fer some teeny hedgehogs.” Furry shoulders hunched, fluffed-out tail rigid as a branch of black ash, Carl wasn’t so scornful now. A single gust of wind slashed at the surrounding trees, setting the branches to clicking and crackling, then stopped.

Andrei released his held breath with a scraping “chuff.” Dennis jumped. “Big,” commented the wolf. His silver/gray fur stood erect. He looked like a big puff ball; it would have been funny in any other circumstance that didn’t involve two-legger witches and scary houses.

A simple—large—set of doors, the wood cracked from age, they were dusty and grey, and with a hint of polished black. Level with Andrei’s shoulder was a single brass and crystal knob, tarnished and covered with smeared water-spots. Victorian curlicues carved into the two corners above the door threatened to uncoil and attack. On the low wooden stoop, someone had carved KV loves— Rusty brown stained and spattered the asymmetrical slice where, evidently, the carving blade had slipped.

Clearing his throat with a low growl, Andrei broke the silence. “We are to begin with the knocking, tak?” His accent, already close to incomprehensible, had thickened. Nerves.

The odor had coalesced into sharp, nearly visible wisps.

Before they could so much as touch paw to panel, the right door flew open, too fast and too easily for its size.

She stood, tall and beautiful (in a very two-legger way), with a question on her delicate-featured face. She wore paint-spattered blue jeans (the paint the same rusty color as the stain on the stoop), ragged at the cuffs, one knee sporting the beginnings of a hole. The witch—a youngish-looking two-legger girl—rested most of her weight on her left leg—so that her hip jutted out. Her right leg was bent slightly at the knee. Splotches and globs of paint covered her t-shirt and jeans, reaching all the way down to the scuffed, brown leather sandals. Originally, the shirt had been pink, with a pattern of swirling colors that twisted around the words “Sex Wax.” Too large, the shirt had been gathered and tied at the waist. The resulting space revealed a midriff tanned beach-bum brown. Little metal rings on her worn sandals jingled when she shook her narrow foot to discourage a mosquito from supping on it. She wore her long, blonde hair tied up in a pink and blue scarf. The pink of the scarf was several shades darker than that of the t-shirt.

“Dudes!” she said. Her voice came out light and half-amused. The girl (witch?) threw a rueful look at the dripping paint roller in her hand. From it, from her clothes, from the color-dotted tongue-and-groove plank floor came the unnatural, still assaultive, smell. Droplets of sharp-colored scent spattered her bare arms and her flushed cheeks. Carl, peering in, could see the reason for her dismay: she was painting the baseboards, and either she didn’t have an edger or she didn’t know any better. Carl had been a painter’s assistant before landing in Forestgreen. He should have recognized the smell. Fear, perhaps, had blocked the memory. Now that he remembered, the odor had lost—for him—its aspect of wrongness. Well, it was still wrong: Who used paint in a forest? Why would anyone want to spend hours and resources covering the beauty that nature provided free of charge? Carl shook his head. Two-leggers! Swathes of the stuff from the roller coated the walls as high as two to four inches above the baseboards.

Waiting for them to answer, she tucked a stray wisp of blonde above a pink ear and in so doing left a rusty smudge high on her cheek. Dressed like that and standing so, she appeared utterly unthreatening. The smear of paint on her face gave her the aspect of a little girl playing with mommy’s lipstick.

Carl stepped forward. “G’day M’Lady—” he paused, not knowing what to say. And feeling foolish for his small fears. He turned an angry look on Dennis—now hiding behind jet black paws—then returned to blurt out in a rush, “See, Dennis was kinda eavesdroppin’ on a conversation ye had with yer mum, and he said ye was a witch what cursed the road, so he was hoppin’ and skippin’, hoppin’ and skippin’. Course, I thought it was a right load a hooey. Me and Andrei both. Anyways, we thought we’d come and find out.” He stepped back, relieved.

She laughed a tinkly laugh that called up the memory of small, silver bells chiming in a fresh breeze. “Like, wow! Awesome.” She laughed again and it was small waves breaking on sparkling, virgin sand, “I mean, like, I been called a rhymes-with-witch but, like, a witch witch? Too far out, man!” The girl balanced the paint-saturated roller on a paint-filled tray and her paint-spotted hands on her paint-spattered hips. Strong hands. Her splayed fingers pressed into the skin of her waist. She had slender wrists and arms, and the narrow cords of muscle stood out in alto relief. “See, I was, like, talkin’ at my mom, y’know? Tellin’ her about this rad place and how much I’m, y’know, diggin’ it? And, like, I was sayin’ ‘Mom, it’s too, y’know, far from the beach, but, like, if you take the old path it’s, like, only a hop, skip, and a jump from your condo.’” She shook her head, giggling. “A witch! Radical.” The roller began to slip from its perch and she whipped around to catch it. Fast. She turned back to the three and said, “Hey! It’s, like, pretty caloric in here, dudes. I gotta, like, unblock the windows. You want to, y’know, suck on some brews er somethin’?”

Carl, the first one to successfully wade his way through the girl’s muddy speech, turned to his friends, saying, “I am feelin’ a mite parched. Wotcher say, gents?”

Nods and Sures all around; the blocked-window interior was much hotter than the clearing they had left, than the front porch on which they waited, so everyone seemed amenable to the suggestion (even though beer made Carl’s stomach bloat, Andrei had already been at the vodka, and Dennis preferred tea). Feeling foolish does that. At her beckoning gesture, Carl, Dennis, and Andrei filed in behind her, careful not to bump up against any of the fresh paint. Outside, the rain that had been threatening all afternoon began to fall in great washes.

The mug she handed over to Carl had a chip in the handle. She smiled as he struggled to lift it with his two thumbless paws. For a moment, Carl imagined a glint in the guileless eyes. Then a shadow, perhaps, as a cloud blocking the sun. The bitter beer was frosty cold.

After waiting for the drugged drinks to take effect, she killed and froze Andrei and Dennis. Not much more room in the old walk-in, she thought.

She killed Carl too—had him that night for dinner. She kept his tail and put it on the antenna of her ‘65 Mustang. It looked totally, like, rad. . . . Y’know?

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A Place of Refuge

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

by D.A. Cairns

‘I’m so tired of this weather,’ said Spider.

‘Me too,’ agreed Beetle. ‘I want to be out running around in the sweet, long grass feeling the sun on my back.’ She extended and beat her wings suddenly out of frustration.

‘Calm down,’ said Spider. ‘It can’t rain forever.’

‘It feels like forever already,’ said Fly, coming in to land softly beside Spider.

Watching Fly land and settle himself, Beetle tried to control a shiver of disgust. Flies are so ugly, she thought, so unpleasant, I feel like flying away. Politeness restrained her.

Perhaps, she wondered, spiders find flies equally disgusting to look at and that’s why they eat them. They couldn’t possibly taste good.

‘Aren’t you going to say hello to me, Beetle?’

‘Hello,’ said Beetle in the coldest, most unfriendly voice she could muster.

‘I was just knocked down by a raindrop,’ said Fly.

‘Silly to be out trying to fly in the rain, don’t you think?’ sneered Beetle.

Spider looked at Beetle and then back at Fly, wondering how long it would be before Beetle’s rudeness caused Fly to lose his cool. They might even kill each other, thought Spider happily.

‘I had to try to get home between showers because my wife was expecting me,’ said Fly.

‘It’s been pouring rain continuously for days,’ said Beetle. ‘How could you have possibly flown in between showers?’

‘I’ve been waiting in here for days,’ said Spider. ‘Putting up with the cold and the smell and the occasional human. It could have stopped raining briefly.’

‘Nonsense,’ said Beetle to them both. Then she said directly to Fly. ‘You’ve been buzzing around inside liquor bottles again. You’re drunk!’

‘Now listen here!’ said Fly raising his voice and twitching.

‘Come on, my friends,’ said Spider. ‘As we are stuck in here until the rain stops, why don’t we try to get on. It’ll make it so much easier. I mean it’s bad enough being stuck in here without having to listen to you two argue.’

‘I just don’t like flies,’ said Beetle to Spider loud enough for Fly to hear. ‘No wonder humans are always trying to squash them or poison them.’

Spider reared up on his back four legs. ‘Who cares what humans think or what they do?’

‘That’s right, Spider,’ said Fly. ‘Who cares? We were around long before they came along and we’ll probably be here for a long time after they’ve gone.’

Beetle eyed Fly, then shuffled around to face Spider who was stretching his long hairy legs in all directions. Spiders aren’t exactly the most attractive species either, thought Beetle, but at least they have decent manners, and my, what wonderful engineers they are. Those beautiful webs!

‘It’s not true,’ Beetle said, ‘that we have been here longer than humans. Everyone knows humans came first and then we came along with all the other creatures and humans gave us our names.’

‘You are so stupid to believe that, Beetle,’ said Fly. ‘You think like a baby – I suppose you still believe in Santa Bug.’

‘I’ve had enough. I’m sorry Spider, but I am going to have to leave. It was nice chatting with you until Fly came along,’ Beetle said, staring at Fly for as long as she could stand the sight of him.

Fly buzzed right up to Beetle’s face but backed off when Spider reared up again to threaten him.

‘I’m sorry too,’ said Spider as he watched Beetle zoom up towards the gap in the toilet block between the roof and the wall. ‘Really sorry.’

Fly watched Beetle as she flew straight into a web and was helplessly entangled before she knew what had happened.

‘Excuse me,’ said Spider to Fly. ‘It’s lunchtime.’

‘Sure,’  said Fly suddenly worried about spending too much more time in this place of refuge. ‘I have to get going, anyway.’

‘What about the rain?’ called out Spider as he scurried up the wall towards Beetle who was lying still, trapped in his beautiful web.

Fly ignored the question as he buzzed upwards and headed for another gap in the toilet block wall. He could faintly hear Spider speaking over the sound of his own wings beating but he didn’t care to listen. He just wanted to get out of there alive and home to his wife and children.

Spider has spun intricate traps across all but one of the exits from the toilet block. Unfortunately, Fly chose incorrectly.

Now ensnared and still, Fly could hear Spider talking to Beetle.

‘It’s nothing personal, Beetle.’

Beetle thrashed around in one last desperate attempt to free herself, but Spider was soon upon her, and Fly watched in silence knowing he was next.

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Halfway point of Complex Fairy Tales

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

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The Story of Graw

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

by Katharyn Howd Machan

for CoraRose and Scarlett

Once there was a little green girl who lived in the rain, and her name was Graw.

All of her family had turned into flowers, and every day when it wasn’t winter (for that was when she slept safely—though fairly lonely—in ice) she visited them to make sure their roots stayed strong and deep and that their stems and their leaves and their petals and their seeds all followed the seasons as they should.

Graw’s life was happy and full of adventures. Every morning (except in winter) she went to a special place where she found good foods to eat. In the spring she dug up onions and leeks. In the fall she picked crabapples and gathered nuts and mushrooms. Summer was her favorite, though, sweet with strawberries and raspberries and—best of all—blueberries so round and firm she could carry them in her grass-basket backpack as she ran and climbed and hiked all over.

Graw had never met anyone just like her, but animals welcomed her and she welcomed them. Chipmunks, skunks, foxes, raccoons, squirrels, even striped garter snakes and bulgy-eyed bullfrogs did not flee when she approached. Bigger animals, though, made her turn still in fear—until one very early August morning when she woke up hungry and knew she just had to have

B L U E B E R R I E S !

Grabbing her backpack, Graw skipped quickly to her favorite bush. Three berries into her mouth, three into the backpack, three berries into her mouth, three into the backpack…but suddenly the bush began to shake and shimmy so hard it almost knocked her over—and she heard a big WHOOF! and a GRRR! and AH-CHOO! from the other side.

Before Graw could even think to move, the blueberry bushes seemed to split apart, and through them stepped, well, a creature MUCH bigger than her. Black fur, huge paws, a great wide chest, a big head with round ears and orange-yellow eyes and a snout with a red tongue hanging out of an open mouth…full of sharp white TEETH!

She wanted to run, but she felt stuck to the ground. She wanted to cry out, but who would hear her? Instead she just stared and stared at the creature as the creature just stared and stared at her. Neither of them moved.

Then something inside Graw said to her, Offer it your berries! So with both hands she lifted her backpack up and held it out in front of her.

A new sound started, rumbling from the creature’s chest, making its shoulders shake until it roared outward from its jaws. Graw realized it was laughing!

“Little one, little one,” the creature finally said. “You remind me of one of my cubs. He used to find berries for me.”

Cubs? Ah, now Graw understood: the creature was a bear, a MAMA bear. She had heard about them—and how dangerous they are.

“Pl-please, ma’am,” Graw said timidly. “Help yourself.”          

The bear laughed again and lowered herself down to all fours. “You have nothing to fear from me, little one. But what are you? A fairy?”

Graw was still uncertain about the bear, but she answered, “I’m a little girl. My name’s Graw. I live in the rain most of the year and sleep in ice during winter.”

“Hmmm,” said the bear. “Your kind is new to me.”

“I may be the only one, ma’am. I’ve never met anyone like me,” offered Graw.

“You’re certainly a polite little being,” said the bear. “But you may stop calling me ‘ma’am.’ My name is Lady Brunha.” The bear’s eyes seemed to smile. “I’ve traveled a distance to find this blueberry patch. Let’s both keep eating!”

And so Graw and Lady Brunha picked and ate and ate and picked (well, for the bear it was more like grabbing and chomping) with plenty of berries for both. Afterward they lingered to talk, and Graw felt more and more at ease.

“We bears are big,” said Lady Brunha, “and we can be fierce, especially us mama bears if our cubs are threatened. But mostly we just like to be left alone.”

“And I’m so small,” said Graw. “Mostly I am alone, and I love exploring, but in late autumn I always start to feel too alone.” And she told Lady Brunha about her family.

The bear listened, very carefully, looking steadily at her. “You are a brave little girl, Graw. I am glad we have met.”

And they continued to meet, most mornings in the blueberry patch while the fruit kept ripening. And then they shared other places with each other: not just where they could eat, but where they could play. Lady Brunha brought Graw to a river with a waterfall where silver fish jumped. Graw led Lady Brunha to an oak tree so old and tall and wide that both could climb its many strong branches. She even shyly brought her to where her family lived in all their splendid colors.

Summer ended. Butterflies and hummingbirds and geese flew south. Leaves lost their green, became red and golden and orange, then fell. Frosts came. Graw’s family settled calmly into the earth, and she carefully covered them with good clean straw.

Lady Brunha began to move more slowly, Graw noticed. One morning when they met for some last apples, snow began to fall. As the bear’s black coat became whiter and whiter with cold flakes, she turned to Graw and said, “It’s time, little one. I must go deep into my den and stay there until spring.”

Graw understood. Soon she would be entering her place of quiet ice. But she lowered her head in sadness.

A chuckle surprised her. “We have become so close, little green girl who lives in the rain.” Then Lady Brunha grew still. “I have not told you why I am alone. I had two cubs. A hunter shot them, dragged them away, after wounding me. I have never had cubs again.”

Graw could only gaze silently at Lady Brunha as she continued.

“Graw, you have told me you sometimes wake up lonely in the ice. I know it is not quite yet time for you to go there, so I hope you will consider this offer: might you instead join me deep in the mountain so we can together sleep through winter? I don’t know if nature will allow it, for we would stay warm together, not frozen. But might you try?”

Graw’s eyes filled with tears. To not be so very, very alone through the end of another year! Could she dare to try?

Lady Brunha said, “I know you must think about it very carefully.” And then, before leaving for the mountainside, she told Graw how to find her hidden den.

Through the cold air Graw walked to where her family slept. She sat and thought as snow continued to fall. She had always slept in ice through winter to be as much like them as she could. But must she? She was not like them; she was not like anyone else. She wasn’t a flower or a fairy or a bird or a wild animal of the woods. She was the little green girl who lived in the rain—Graw—and her friendship with Lady Brunha was strange and wonderful and exactly right. What would happen if she tried this change?

She looked at the white flakes settling slowly on the straw over her resting family. She imagined herself again soon lying down into her place of ice. And then she turned and started toward the mountain, to follow Lady Brunha, for whatever would happen next.

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Joy

Sunday, March 6th, 2016

by Freya Jackson

Once upon a time there was a girl whose name was Alice, but everyone called her Joy.

This was because Joy was so happy every day, nobody could think of a better name for her than Joy, so Joy she became.

Joy had a little sister, whose name was Amy. Some days Amy was happy, and some days she was sad, and so everybody called her Amy.

 

 

 

 

 

One day, Joy’s mother who was very wise told Joy that she must go out to seek her fortune as all young people are obliged to do.

And so Joy said goodbye to her mother and her little sister Amy, and set off into the unknown world.

 

joy_3

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Joy climbed up mountains.

 
 
 
 
 
 

joy_4

 
 
 
 
And walked through deserts.
 
 

joy_5

 
 
 
 
 
And rappelled down into
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
deep, dark caves.

joy_6

 
 
In fact Joy spent a lot of time travelling,

But somehow she didn’t seem to actually go anywhere.

She just kept on moving along.

joy_7

 
 
One day Joy was so tired that she sat down by the side of a stream and fell asleep.

Joy had never felt so tired in her life.

She was so tired that even her hair and her tonsils were tired.

She was so tired that her fingernails had stopped growing.

joy_8

She was so tired that Joy was sure that she had been cursed, and maybe she was right.

 
Because, in the night, while Joy was fast asleep, Joy’s happiness got up and walked away.

When she awoke, Joy felt inside her an empty ache where her happiness used to be.

Afterwards, Joy started to cry and could not stop. This was very strange, as Joy didn’t usually cry. Joy was usually joyful.

Afterwards, Joy felt very tired, no matter how much sleep she got. Some nights she couldn’t sleep at all.

joy_9Afterwards, Joy found it very hard to carry on with her journey, so she didn’t.

Instead she just kept on sitting by the river, waiting for her happiness to come back

But it didn’t come back.

 
 
 
 

joy_10

Slowly, an invisible cage descended upon Joy. She didn’t notice at first, but one day she looked up to see bars all around her.

Joy wept again. Now all Joy could see was the cage. Joy tried to push down the cage doors with all her strength, but they would not budge.

 

joy_11

 
 
 
 
One day a young man came up to the cage.

‘Hello, strange person’ he said ‘I have come to seek my fortune.

I was told to follow the Myrastarous river up until the Anjuou tree, and there I would find my destiny – but I seem to have gotten lost.

Please tell me, is this the Myrastarous river?’

‘I’m sorry I don’t know’ said Joy.

‘Aha!’ said the strange man, ‘you must be a wanderer like me, off to seek your fortune!’

‘I was’ said Joy ‘But then I got trapped in this invisible cage, and I can’t get out!’

‘Aha!’ Said the strange man ‘My sister’s husband’s cousin got trapped in an invisible cage but they found that they only had to give it enough will power and the bars weren’t there anymore.

Have you tried to do any of that?’

‘Yes!’ Said Joy. ‘I have pushed and pulled and prodded with all my might and the cage is still standing!’

‘That’s a pity’ said the rude young man, ‘since if this is the Myrastarous river, and that is the Anjuou tree maybe you could have been my destiny.

After all, you are very pretty which everyone knows is the main thing.

Are you sure that you pushed properly; it doesn’t look like you were trying very hard to me.

Maybe it’s for the best, though, after all no one wants to marry a person in a box’

And with that the rude man wandered off.

Time passed, and Joy became sadder and sadder, and the cage became tighter and tighter.

joy_12Then a young woman came up to the cage.

‘Hello strange person’ she said, ‘I have come to seek my fortune.

I was told to follow the Myrastarous river up until the Anjuou tree, and there I would find my destiny (it was a very common destiny) – but I seem to have gotten lost (and a very confusing route). Could you please tell me, if this is the Myrastarous River?’

‘I’m sorry I don’t know if this is the Myrastarous River. You see I am trapped in an invisible cage, and all I can see are the bars of the cage. Although I have tried my hardest to leave the cage, it will not budge.’ Said Joy.

joy_13‘I can’t see any cages’ Said the woman, ‘In fact, I’m not sure there even is a cage. You’re making it up!’ Said the woman, storming off in a huff.

‘It’s invisible’ Joy called after her, but the woman didn’t hear her.

And Joy waited and waited for someone else to come up to the cage, but no-one did.

Joy got so used to her misery that she started to forget the small moments of pleasure that passed by her.

joy_14Soon it got to the point in which she felt, she had always been unhappy. This is truer than you might have thought.

As a child Joy learnt that the best way to be happy is to forget unhappiness, suppress it learnt to hide it in the places she knew least: beneath her smile, that bitter sliver in her liver.

You never have to face it if you do other things, and now for the first time in her life, Joy really truly stopped.

And then, one day, Joy’s pain began to subside.

It didn’t happen suddenly, but a little bit each day like a pair of curtains slowly loosing their colour when faced by the glare of the sun.

Although Joy’s cage still remained around her, it grew bigger again, until she suddenly had the space to breathe.

Which is good, because some days, that was all she could do.

Mum, Mum, Mum

The sound of Joy’s mobile had burst the stillness of all her days.

Joy was almost surprised, like a solipsist she had tricked herself into thinking that the only world that existed finished with her sightline. That while she was trapped the rest of the earth had faded into sudden white.

joy_15Joy’s mother was worried.

She hadn’t talked to her daughter in three weeks, and although she thought it was important that Joy retained her autonomy, she wouldn’t be a mother if she didn’t worry.

But talking to her daughter made her feel more worried not less.

Joy, who was a child who never cried (something to worry about in and of itself), was suddenly joyless.

“You don’t have to do it alone, my darling.” Joy’s mother said. “It’s ok to ask me for help. It’s ok, to come home.”

“But what about my journey?” Asked Joy. “If I don’t complete it then I’m a failure.”

“Is that so?” Asked Joy’s wise mother. “And what’s so bad about failure, Joy”

joy_16“It’s failing” Said Joy. “That’s what’s so bad about failure. It’s failing.”

“All failure means is you have another experience to learn, and to live, and what, exactly, is so bad about that?” Joy’s mother asked, and Joy had no response to that. “You can always come back afterwards, my darling. All you’re doing at the moment is drowning in your own unhappiness, something has to change. Come back home with me.”

And Joy did.

Although the cage didn’t recede, somehow Joy learnt to live inside it. She learnt the art of treasuring the good days and the art of waiting out the bad days, and that is how she lived, sometimes happily, sometimes not so happily, forever after.

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To Catch A Prince

Sunday, February 28th, 2016

by Kaley Jemison

Lorelei threw down her copy of “Happily Ever After” magazine with a gasp. She could not believe that Priscilla from finishing school had found a prince just by kissing a frog. Lorelei had been trying for years to find a prince. She had attended every ball, sang loudly in the woods, and even left her shoe behind at a party like the famous Cinderella- all to no avail. Lorelei was the daughter of a seamstress and a baker and she lived in a small home on the edge of the forest. She hated sharing a room with her sisters and wearing the most unfashionable hand-me-downs. Like most girls, she dreamed of marrying a dashing prince and moving into one of the grand palaces with four-carriage garages that line Enchanted Avenue. She could not begin to fathom how clumsy Priscilla who could not even curtsey without tripping over her skirts had managed to become engaged to a prince. Lorelei suddenly stopped pacing and sat back down at the end of her rickety bed.  An idea had sprung into her head. Pricilla’s prince had been transformed into a frog by a vengeful witch. What if there were other disguised princes desperately waiting for a beautiful maiden to kiss them and turn them back into humans?

Lorelei hastened over to her wardrobe and selected the pink, silk gown that she had saved all her babysitting money to buy. Then, she sat before the slightly cracked vanity mirror and arranged her dyed golden, blond hair into curls that framed her face. After a final glance at her reflection, Lorelei slipped down the stairs. Her sisters, Beth and Alison, were washing pots in the kitchen. “I’m off to the market”, Lorelei told them airily. Beth glanced at Lorelei’s appearance and raised an eyebrow,

“Dressed like that?”

“You never know who you’ll run into”, Lorelei replied as she walked towards the door. Alison rolled her eyes,

“You have to help us with the dishes Margaret.” Lorelei glared,

“I told you. To call me Lorelei now”, she reminded. Princesses always had long, flowing names not like Margaret. Slamming the cottage door behind her, Lorelei walked along the path. After a quarter of a mile, she reached the town, it was bustling. Carriages crossed the cobblestone road, a crowd had formed outside the courthouse, protesting the Goldilocks verses the Three Bear’s case. The Big Bad Wolf leered down at Lorelei from a wanted poster. She passed the Everything but Apples bakery chain that was run by Princess Snow White. Next to the bakery was a large, shimmering tower that was the headquarters of the Fairy Godmother Assistance Bureau. A long line of weeping people snaked out the door. Two years ago, Lorelei had tried to have a fairy godmother turn her into a princess, but the woman had told her that they used magical interference only in the most desperate circumstances. Lorelei had cried for weeks after that disappointment. She slowed as she passed the True Love’s Kiss neighborhood on Enchanted Avenue which was lined with impressive castles and glistening swimming pools tucked away behind golden gates. This is where Lorelei dreamed of living. In a palace with servants at her beck and call, an indoor swimming pool, and a loving, handsome prince.

Turning off the street, Lorelei entered the forest and began scanning the trees for an oddly humanlike animal. She started to sing and twirl through the trees. Enchanted animals always sang along with fair maidens, but the forest remained silent except for the echo of her lilting voice. Then she spotted a brown and white speckled rabbit nibbling on a blade of grass. “Your majesty!” called Lorelei loudly, “I shall kiss you and lift the witch’s spell.” The rabbit simply stared at Lorelei, its whiskers twitching and then it hopped away. Her heart sank. A true prince would not have run away. Lorelei sighed dramatically, but continued down the path until she spied a squirrel sitting at the base of an old oak tree. He is sitting rather like a human, thought Lorelei as she slowly approached the squirrel and curtsied.  The squirrel chattered at her. Lorelei knelt on the leafy ground and crawled forward. The squirrel was nibbling on an acorn. She stared into his inquisitive, warm, brown eyes and kissed him. Then the squirrel promptly leapt up and bit her on the lip. Lorelei cried out. Her lip was bleeding. The squirrel climbed up a tree where it perched and seemed to be laughing at her.

The rest of the afternoon was not much better for Lorelei. Three birds flew away from her when she tried to kiss them and the gopher that she managed to kiss remained a gopher. The forest had grown dim and Lorelei was dejectedly walking home when she spotted a small, fluffy creature peering at her from under a bush. She approached the animal and it came out of its nest. Lorelei curtsied and before she could run, the animal lifted its tail and sprayed her. Lorelei gagged at the stench and her eyes watered. When a bruised, bedraggled, and smelly Lorelei walked through the door of her home, her family gagged at the odor.

“Did you find your prince?” ask Beth sarcastically, her voice was muffled because she was pinching her nose from the pungent smell.

The next day, Lorelei awoke with new determination to find her prince charming. She had finally washed away the skunk’s putrid odor after seven baths. She slipped into her second favorite dress and ran a comb through her golden curls. She tip-toed down the stairs and was just turning the knob to the front door when her mother appeared with her hands on her hips and a scowl on her face.

“Where do you think you are going?”

“For a walk in the woods”, Lorelei mumbled in response.

“Not after you skipped your chores yesterday. You will not leave this house until you have finished the mending and washed the dishes”, ordered Lorelei’s mother. It was not until late afternoon, when Lorelei was finally able to continue her hunt for a prince. She walked, singing under the canopy of trees and spied a duck lying beneath a bush. Peering under the leafy foliage, she saw that the duck was injured. Gently, Lorelei lifted the duck and cradled him. He must be a prince that was wounded in a battle with an evil enchantress who turned him into a duck. Lorelei carefully carried him back to her home where she gently stitched up his wound.

“What are you doing?” asked Alison, standing on tip-toe to see the duck in her older sister’s arms.

“This is my prince”, explained Lorelei as she bent to kiss the duck on the head. She held her breath waiting for a shimmer in the air and golden sparks to fall on the duck as he transformed back into a dashing prince who proclaim is undying love for her on bended knee and ask for her hand in marriage, but, once again, nothing happened. The duck was still just a duck. Lorelei turned away, wiping the tears from her eyes. She had been so certain that she would find her prince who would sweep her off her feet and they would ride away from this old home on a beautiful white steed and live together in an opulent castle. She released the unromantic duck in a nearby pond. Then, she crawled into bed and gazed out her bedroom window at the stars in the night sky, dreaming of her prince.  Just then, she spotted a shooting star.  Closing her eyes, she wished from the bottom of her heart to find her true love.

The next day, after mopping the floors, Lorelei returned to the woods. While walking through town, she spotted a farmer and his oxen. Full of hope, she leapt forward as they passed and kissed an ox.

“What are you doing”, bellowed the farmer, but seeing that the ox was still an ox, Lorelei promptly skipped off into the woods.  She began to sing and all the birds immediately took flight. Still optimistic, Lorelei chased after a rabbit that bounded away. Then she spied a little, brown deer nibbling on a blade of grass. She approached and it fled, winding between trees and around bushes. Lorelei followed it at a run, calling “Please, wait your majesty.” Suddenly, the deer swerved around an oak tree and Lorelei ran into something and fell to the ground. She rose and began brushing leaves off of her dress. Thinking that she had run into a tree, she looked up glaring and saw a man. He was tall with dark hair, green eyes, and was glaring right back at her.

“What are you doing? You have been scaring the game away. They hear you singing and flee. I need to catch something to eat, but because of you, I haven’t caught anything for the past two days.” Lorelei scowled and said indignantly,

“My singing is beautiful. It hasn’t scared any animals away.”

“Well if you wouldn’t mind leaving, so I can finally shoot this deer.” He raised his bow and aimed at the deer

“No”, Lorelei shrieked and leapt in front of the poor, defenseless deer. The arrow hit her arm and she gasped, staring down at the blood blossoming around the arrow shaft.  It hurt, but Lorelei had read all the magazines and knew precisely what to do. She swooned.  The hunter sighed exasperatedly and gathered her up in his arms and carried her back to his cottage. When he laid her down, Lorelei sighed and daintily opened her eyes.  The hunter quickly pulled the arrow out of her arm. She cried out and he wiped the blood away and said,

“It is not a deep cut, so you should be fine.  I am very sorry, but you should not have run in front of me. Is there anything that I can do to make you feel better?”

“Yes”, Lorelei replied as she sat up. “You can kiss me.”

“Kiss you?” the hunter repeated confusedly.

“Yes, kiss me. Last night, I made a wish on a shooting star to find my true love and today I ran into you, so you must be my prince.” The hunter shook his head,

“I am definitely not a prince. I am a carpenter. I don’t rule a kingdom. You can stay for dinner, but then you are going to leave.” He crossed to the table where he began to chop vegetables and throw them into a pot of water.  When the soup was done, he poured it into two bowls and handed one of them to her. They sat across from each other at his wooden table. His home was similar to her own. It was small with simple, unadorned furniture. Lorelei tasted the soup. It was very bitter and she made a face. The hunter, John, saw and said,

“I know it tastes horrible. I am a terrible cook.” Lorelei got to her feet and stepped outside. She was back in a few minutes holding a few herbs.  She added them to their bowls and gave the soup a stir

“Now it should taste better”, she said proudly. John tasted it and agreed that it was delicious.  They talked and laughed for the rest of the meal and afterwards, he walked her home.

Over the next few days, Lorelei met John in the woods. He taught her how to track an animal and she tried to teach him how to sing. He was far from a gallant prince, but he was kind and funny. One afternoon, Lorelei was strolling through the woods, picking flowers to weave into a crown. She sat beneath a maple tree and began sorting through her bouquet of daisies and lilacs when she heard a rustling in the foliage behind her.  Lorelei spun around and her heart leapt with fear. There, not six feet in front of her, was a bear. Lorelei shrieked as the bear approached.  Her hands scrabbling uselessly against the bark, she attempted to climb the tree, but her feet kept slipping. The bear drew closer until it was inches from her. She could see its onyx eyes and feel its hot breath.  Then, over the bear’s shoulder, she saw John. He hastily raised his bow and released the string. His arrow soared through the air and hit the bear squarely between the eyes and it instantly fell to the ground.

They embraced and John kissed her. There were no golden sparks and he did not transform into someone else, but the kiss had a magic all its own. He was not a wealthy prince, but Lorelei loved him anyway. Naturally, they were married the very next day in a serene meadow and afterwards they rode back to his cottage on a sorrel mare.  From that day on John and Margaret lived happily ever after.

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Honest Facepaint

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

by Paul-Newell Reaves

“To be is to be perceived”– Samuel Beckett

Carew emptied the drawers of his favorite possessions, tossing them haphazardly in his duffle, then slammed out the door. He ran the ten blocks out of town, slowing only once the houses petered out and the road turned to dirt. The vast savannah stretched before him, offering everything he had dreamed.

As the sun sunk lower in the sky, he saw the smoke trail whisping toward him. Sprinting the last three quarters of a mile to the tracks, he lay in the long grass till it was passing, then hopped up to swing himself onboard.

She saw him, out the window of her car, back side of the circus train, then sat down at her make-up table to fix her hair.

When Carew opened her door and saw the car occupied, he tried to close it before she noticed. “Come in,” she murmured, not even turning her head. She slid the last bobby pin in place, and began to unpack her make-up. “What are you running from?”

“I hoped no one would see me.”

“I won’t turn you in. I meant, why are you running away?”

“I’m not running a–”

“Yes, yes you are. Tell me, why?”

Carew’s mouth grew tight. “I– I don’t know,” he stuttered. “It’s, just… that town, those people…”

She told him, not smiling, not looking at him once, “I don’t like small towns, either.” Her hands began to smear a dark cream onto her face, turning it an olive brown.

“You’re making yourself darker?” He asked.

“Yes. For my act. I’m Auset, an Egyptian Princess who can see the future.”

“But you’re not Egyptian.”

“I’m not Egyptian, I am not named Auset, and I cannot see the future.”

“I see,” he said with a smile. “It’s a scam.” She stood up very suddenly, and turned to face him.

“I’ve never scammed a person in my life, I just tell them what they want to hear. I happen to be honest.”

“Uh-huh,” he was still grinning. “So honest you paint your face to work in the freak show.” Her eyes tightened and she turned back to her make-up mirror.

“At least I know who I am.” That shut him up and quit his grinning. “I’m an excellent fortune teller. People tell you so much without even knowing. You for instance. You’ve never had to provide for yourself, but you’re running away. A day and a half from now you’ll be at the end of the line, without a cent and very hungry.”

“I can take care of myself,” he mumbled, unconvincingly.

It was her turn to smile. “Why did you runaway?”

“They just… they want so much from me.” She walked over to him and gathered him in her arms, and he lay his head against her shoulder. “What if I can’t do it? What if it’s too much for me? What if I’m not what they think I am?”

“Aww, baby. All you are is what people think you are.”

They talked so till the train reached the next station. She gave him a dollar, and he caught a bus back home.

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Pixy’s Hidden Treasure

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

by R. El

There once was a cat named Pixy.

Said designated Pixy— under ideological occupation by European corporate entities of Constructed Beauty, Normativity, and Doom— was still a happy cat. 

She thought to herself,  “Why am I so hungry?  Why, why am I different from all the rest?  Although I feel empowered, I am designated in a classist society where I don’t belong.”

She pondered and she pondered.

Then one day, Pixy remembered her hidden treasure.

She went searching for her hidden treasure: through people, phenomena, spirituality and justice. 

But at the end, she looked in the mirror and saw her own reflection, just as her mothers and fathers before her had.

And that was Pix-See’s hidden treasure.

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Thomas and the Rising Sea

Sunday, February 7th, 2016

by Paul-Newell Reaves

“It was windy, so that the leaves now and then brushed open a star.”

Thomas dropped his Virginia Woolf book by the side of his rocking chair, and went inside and upstairs— to the kitchen on the top floor. The kettle was boiling, so he pulled the tea bags from their cupboard.

He looked out the window toward the encroaching sea. The tea was still too hot.

As a boy, he remembered, he had had to walk a narrow path to the cliffs, and then down a stair to reach the sea.

But the sea was rising, the cliffs were underwater, as was the narrow path. Ah, now the tea was ready.

He sipped at his tea and walked back to the porch, now overlooking the sea.

He picked up his book and waded into the water. Soon, he thought, just a few more feet. He went back to his rocking chair, sat down and read his book, so as not to think about death.

The waves lapped the foundations of the house, rising by the micro-millimeter.

The roads to town were flooded. He read in his goulashes, rocking his chair through surf.

The water snuck up the staircase, stair by stair.

Still he read and drank his tea. He donned his suit of neoprene and waded to his chair, every morning just the same.

The water was past his shoulders now. He held his elbows aloft to keep his book from soaking.

Now every day he read through a snorkel. He had wanted it this way, ever since he was a boy: to drown with his house, to go down with the island, to be swept away in the sea.  A death well worth waiting for.

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