THE THREE TULIPS

March 27, 2015

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Once there were three tulip sisters, Lily, Rose, and Petunia. One fine summer day they decided to leave the bed and travel the world.

‘We wish to discover what lies beyond the path between the boulders,’ Lily announced to Mama and Papa Tulip.

‘But you can’t go,’ said Papa Tulip. ‘How will you walk?’

‘On our roots. It can’t be that hard,’ replied Lily.

‘There’s no need to walk on your roots, dears. I’ve hoped you would take your songs to the wide world for a long time, and I have made three pairs of wooden shoes for you to wear,’ said Mama Tulip.

‘Daisy!’ said Papa Tulip.

So the grateful and excited sisters marched off down the path between the boulders in their new wooden shoes. They sang as they went, the blend of their voices soothing into the most pleasant dreams a worried hare, a nervous squirrel, and a grumpy marmot they passed along the way. When they reached a small village, they passed straightaway to the main square and sang for the villagers gathered there. So sweet was their song that the people had to sit down, weep for happiness, and fall to sleep dreaming most pleasant dreams.

‘Oh, what may we offer you as thanks for your gift of song?’ asked the mayor when he awoke.

‘A sword!’ said Petunia.

‘No, no,’ said Lily. ‘A thimble filled with dew if it wouldn’t be too much trouble is all we desire.’

Refreshed with the thimble of dew, the sisters went on their way. They enchanted people in village after village, singing across the world. Their fame grew and grew until finally they sang in the opera house of a great city, where their performance was watched carefully by a man dressed all in yellow.

That night the tulips slept in a specially prepared plot in the municipal flower bed. They were awakened at dawn by a soft voice.

‘Tulips, won’t you help me? I am Lemon, called Lem, jester and magician to the Rainbow Queen,’ whispered the man dressed all in yellow. ‘Alas, my power, though it is great, cannot cure Her Majesty’s unsleeping sickness.’

‘Take us to your Queen,’ said Lily. ‘We will help her if we can.’

Lemon raised his arms, summoning clouds. He sliced the air in a flurry with his hands. Rain poured. He shut off the rain with a toss of his head. A rainbow stretched down to the municipal flower bed. Lemon led the tulips up the rainbow’s stairs to the rainbow palace high in the arc. Into the Great Hall he guided the tulip sisters. The wretched Rainbow Queen sat slumped on her throne. Clad in gorgeous rainbow silks, she glared with red-rimmed eyes at Lemon and the tulips.

‘What now?’ she snapped.

‘Sing,’ hissed Lemon to the tulips.

And so Lily, Petunia, and Rose twined their voices in perfect harmony and sang the Rainbow Queen to sleep. And after that, the tulip sisters lived on the rainbow forever and ever.

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THE BLUE BINGLE – AN EDWARD LEAR HOMAGE TALE

March 24, 2015

The Blue Bingle

Chapter One

Next to a charming and nasty moat on a pile of sticks lived the blue bingle. It was larger than a hen, but smaller than a forest. In happy desperation one day the blue bingle decided to travel far, wide and narrow in order to satisfy its curiosity about the rest of the world. Wearing two hats and a feather, it set off carrying a crimson bucket filled to the brim with postage stamps to snack on. The local population waved with sullen joy to see the blue bingle depart.

Chapter Two

The blue bingle came to a city of glass with mounds of pepper sprawling about. A lengthy parade of furiously calm queens trailed by a chorus of singing badgers greeted the blue bingle with joyful disgust. All three heads of the blue bingle, two in hats, one with a single feather, bowed in sympathy. Moving on, the blue bingle visited in turn bold sheep dancing about wearing galoshes, sinister fish in an underground larder, happy goats reciting riddles, and a lone one-legged snarfendorgas fending for itself on a hill. By this time, the blue bingle’s crimson bucket was empty, and so it decided to return home.

Chapter Three

The blue bingle hurried back across the world riding on the back of a tremendously large flea. At last taking in the view of its beloved and uncomfortable pile of sticks, the blue bingle wept a single tear of emancipated cleverness. The local population welcomed it back with bitter happiness.

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JILL – A NONSENSE POEM

March 19, 2015

Once Jill was lost on a mountain

Once Jill was trapped in a fountain

Once Jill was captured by geese

Once Jill was jailed by her niece

Therefore, naturally

Jill now lives perched in a tree

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THE FEATHER

March 13, 2015

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There was once a sad Queen whose infant twin daughters had been taken off by the Feathered Dragon. The Queen spent her afternoons sighing in the palace garden. She could be soothed only by the singing of Melodia, one of her young handmaidens. So beautiful was Melodia’s voice that songbirds from all the world over gathered each afternoon in the palace garden’s trees to hear her sing. They burbled and tweeted in excitement until Melodia appeared. Then they fell silent and listened. When she had finished her song, not only did they remain silent, but many of them never dared to sing again, afraid of tarnishing the memory of Melodia’s pure sweet voice.

And so it happened one day that Melodia, humming happily while on an errand for the Queen, spied a long pale blue feather lying on the path. Delighted, she reached down and picked it up.

SHAM! She stood in a cavern. On the far side of it there was a cage. It contained a pair of twins. Staring at them was a monstrous blue feathered dragon. Shocked, Melodia dropped the feather. SHAM!

She found herself standing on the path as before, the feather at her feet. Oh, she thought, the twins. I must rescue them. But how? She pondered for a long time and stared at the feather. ‘So that’s it then,’ she said aloud and bent down to pick up the feather.

SHAM! In the cavern she began to sing. The dragon whipped its long slender neck in order to twist its head around to capture Melodia in its fearsome gaze. It opened wide the horrible mouth to show the dagger teeth. It took one great lurch toward Melodia, then paused. Melodia sang on. The dragon trembled and began to weep diamonds. Melodia sang on. The dragon melted away to plumes of smoke to nothing. Melodia collected the two small mounds of diamond tears before going to the cage and releasing the twins. ‘Hold on to my gown,’ she instructed them. She dropped the feather. SHAM!

She led the twins back to the palace. The Queen was no longer sad.

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THE GOLDEN SNAKE

March 3, 2015

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Once deep down in the underground kitchen of a great palace a little sculger toiled for all she was worth day after day after day. The sculger, being the lowest servant possible, didn’t even have a name. The cook ordered her about with ‘Here, you!’ or ‘Hurry up with that, you!’ The sculger, up early to build the fire, up late to sweep the ashes, hardly had time to think. But think she did every night for up to three full minutes before she fell exhausted on her straw to sleep.

O twig, she would think, one day perhaps if I work long and hard enough I ‘ll be allowed to go outside and look at the sky. I really would like to see it just once before I die.

The little sculger confided in her twig. She had found it among the kindling scraps one morning and had hidden it away in her smock pocket until she was able to shelter it out of sight in a wall crack next to her straw bed. She sang to it three minute songs and told it three minute stories before she slept, no longer able to keep her eyes open.

One morning Her Most Glorious Eminence, the Queen, descended unannounced to the kitchen. The cook nearly fainted. The little sculger, standing by the oven, tried to wish herself invisible.

‘Cook, what is that little bit there?’ said the Queen, pointing a finger burdened with jewelry at the sculger.

‘It’s the sculger is all it is, Your Most Glorious Eminence,’ said the cook.

‘Have it approach me,’ ordered the Queen.

The cook’s fierce glance caused the little sculger to shuffle forward a few feet, head bowed.

‘Hmm, have it cleaned more often, cook, and no excuses!’ said the Queen, and she turned and ascended the stairs without another word.

The cook, who normally never moved from her position standing by the table ordering the sculger to bring her this or that or the other, fetched a bucket of water and dumped it on the sculger.

‘There, that’s done then,’ she said before resuming her position by the table and calling out her next order.

At the end of the day, the little sculger wept her despair to the twig for three full minutes, then fell asleep. The twig shivered, lurched, began to glisten in the night. It became supple. It became gold. It twined around the sleeping sculger’s wrist.

The little sculger opened her eyes in the morning. How green and soft was the grass! How lovely the stream and the flowers! How sweet the perfect little cottage! And yes, how heavenly blue was the sky!

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THE WITCH TREE

February 22, 2015

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‘Go to the beach,’ her grandmother told her.

‘Sit on our favorite bench,’ her grandmother told her.

‘Here’s a sandwich. Wait there until noon,’ her grandmother told her.

‘And then watch closely,’ her grandmother told her.

Ambelinda followed her grandmother’s instructions without hesitation. For her grandmother was wonderful, magical, enchanting, and she had raised Ambelinda with loving care ever since the terrible incident.

Ambelinda sat on the bench, looked out across the lake and ate her peanut butter and honey sandwich. She crossed her legs at the ankles and swung them in a steady rhythm. Time passed. Her mind wandered here and there and back. As noon approached, Ambelinda sharpened her focus, darting glances up and down the beach. Noon arrived, and it happened.

Shimmering into existence right in front of her was a tall thin white tree with long rusty fringes of hair hanging from its branches. The tree beckoned to Ambelinda.

‘Come to me, precious jewel’ was a whisper softly sounding in Ambelinda’s ears. She stood, approached the tree, and disappeared in laughter.

Later that afternoon, the grandmother stood on the spot where the tree had appeared. She reached down, scooped up sand and allowed it to filter through her fingers. Her eyes glistened, but she smiled and nodded yes.

‘One year to prepare another potion, and I, too, will join you, my darlings,’ she mouthed silently.

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HANNA AND THE GOLDFINCH

February 9, 2015

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A long time ago a maid by the name of Hanna tended the three cows of the master, milking them, taking them to pasture in season, and returning with them to the byre each evening, where Hanna ate her gruel and then bedded down on straw in the loft. She was content with her lot, for she loved making up fantastic stories about dragons and ogres and witches and telling them to the cows all the day long.

One day while the cows grazed, Hanna, seated with her back against the trunk of a tree, waved her arms about and shrieked, pretending to be a dying witch foiled by a clever milkmaid. She slumped to the ground, a dramatic finish to her tale.

‘Very good. Yes, very good. Indeed, quite good,’ piped a voice from up in the tree. ‘Tell another. Yes, tell another.’

Hanna opened her eyes and and righted herself to have a look up into the tree. A goldfinch sat there nodding at her.

‘Was that you speaking, bird?’ asked Hanna.

‘Me and none other. I’m magic, don’t you know. Tell a story about how a bird outwits a giant, and I’ll grant you a wish,’ said the finch.

Hanna doubted that the bird could grant her a wish. On the other hand, it could talk. And for that matter, Hanna did love making up stories. She was confident she could build something spectacular about a giant and a bird. So she set about to do it.

Did she succeed? Oh my, yes. As she danced about shouting in her gruffest giant voice, all three cows raised their heads from grazing. This was something they rarely did when Hanna told her usual tales. Collapsing heavily to the ground as the dead giant, then leaping up to run about flapping her arms and singing a bird song of triumph, Hanna finished the story.

‘How was that?’ she asked the goldfinch, knowing it had been splendid and expecting to be praised.

‘Oh, splendid. I’ve never been so thrilled. Now your reward. Go ahead. You must close your eyes and make a silent wish,’ said the goldfinch.

Hanna grinned and felt awkward, but she followed instructions. Her lips moved. She opened her eyes. The goldfinch was gone.

‘Well, never mind,’ said Hanna. ‘Come along, Della, Linda, Betty. It’s time to go home.’

When Hanna had finished getting the three cows settled for the night, she turned to face the loft ladder. She remembered the goldfinch and thought Could it be? Up the ladder she went, and reaching the top, she stopped to gaze in wonder. There on a shining gold platter was a round white cake with HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HANNA spelled out on its top in gold icing.

In the kitchen, Hanna’s mother, a secretly shapeshifting cook, smiled.

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GREEN EYES

January 30, 2015

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Once before the world was as it is now, an old man and an old woman tended their sheep and worked at their looms to make a poor living as weavers. The couple was childless and often sighed in regret of an evening when the old man filled his pipe for a smoke and the old lady shelled peas by the fireplace. On one of these evenings they heard a mewing at the door. Opening it, they discovered a beautiful baby swaddled and nested in a basket.

‘Oh my, oh yes, oh look,’ said the old woman.

‘Oh yes, oh look, oh the eyes!’ said the old man.

The tiny baby’s eyes were green jade beautiful. The old couple gasped, took up the basket in embrace, and decided on the spot that their daughter’s name was Jade.

Jade thrived, grew and blossomed under the loving care of her old parents. Soon enough she displayed remarkable agility and cleverness at the loom, where she sent the shuttle fairly flying back and forth to produce the finest cloth, cloth so fine that its fame eventually reached the palace.

‘I would see this weaver,’ remarked the Queen, examining the complex perfection of design executed on a bolt of cloth lifted from the loom of Jade.

Jade was summoned to the palace and went reluctantly. She had no desire to leave her home, where she could sit thrilled at her loom, batting the shuttle back and forth. In the palace, gasps and murmurs greeted her on all sides. Wherever she looked, jaws dropped at the sight of her lovely green jade eyes.

‘She must marry the Prince,’ said the Queen when first she saw Jade’s eyes.

‘I must not,’ said Jade, and she changed.

All in the palace slept, and the beautiful leopard with the jade green eyes padded silently home, where she changed back to maiden, entered the cottage with a smile, took her old parents into her arms and sat down at the loom, where she thrilled to bat the shuttle back and forth.

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THE MAGIC PENGUIN

January 25, 2015

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Far ago and long away a grandmother struggled to raise her granddaughter in a tidy cottage next to the windmill by the canal. One night, after a long day’s sweeping and scrubbing, the grandmother sat by the fire resting while Elsa, the granddaughter, prepared the gruel. A knock on the door sounding as if from a weary knuckle was heard. Elsa looked to her grandmother, who nodded. Elsa opened the door, revealing a bent crone dressed in filthy rags, who took a single step forward and fell senseless. The grandmother hurried to help Elsa drag the visitor to the fire.

‘Bring some gruel and our best water,’ said the grandmother to Elsa.

Soon the crone was revived and comforted, wrapped in the patchwork quilt and sipping water.

‘Your kindness shall be rewarded,’ said the crone. ‘Listen clear. South, far south, so south as you can go, there is a black bird with a white belly and flippers instead of wings. She lives on the Plain of Whedge, where the white blossoms bloom. Find her and say you are sent by Old Mombillia to collect a reward. Blessings on you, child and child’s grandmother.’

So saying, the bent crone staggered to her feet, waving away Elsa’s attempts to help her. She turned at the door, grinned toothlessly, and disappeared.

‘What was that, do you think, grandmother?’ said Elsa.

‘I don’t know, but heading south to look for a bird with flippers can’t be worse than staying around here sweeping with broken brooms and scrubbing with inferior wax, can it?’ reasoned the grandmother.

The next morning they began their journey. It took them a year to reach what they thought might be the place.

‘Well, grandmother, as far as the eye can see, the ground is blossoming white. This must be the Plain of Whedge,’ said Elsa.

‘I don’t see a bird,’ said the grandmother. ‘Let’s give up.’

They had just decided to turn back when Elsa caught sight of a far off black fleck. Her eyesight was sharper than any day creature’s anywhere. And so they began to run, Elsa struggling gamely to keep up with her grandmother, one of the fastest runners of any grandmother anywhere.

The black bird with the white belly and flippers instead of wings regarded the onrushing pair. Gasping, Elsa and her grandmother pulled up short in front of the bird.

‘Well, I am Whedge,’ said the bird. ‘What do you want?’

Recovering her wind enough to answer, Elsa said, ‘We are sent by Old Mombillia to collect a reward. We gave her gruel.’

‘That was kind,’ said Whedge, the bird. ‘You shall be rewarded.’

Whedge dipped her head, and Elsa and her grandmother found themselves back in their cottage, none the worse for wear. The cottage, however, had changed. Freshly painted and insulated, it was spruced up to a fine neatness. And there were new brooms and a lifetime supply of the most superior scrubbing wax. Elsa and her grandmother could not have been more pleased.

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THE SEAHORSE

January 17, 2015

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Once in a town not far from the palace there lived a baker’s apprentice. She toiled from well before dawn to far after dusk every day. She milked the cow, drew water from the well, chopped wood for the oven fire, gathered berries for pies and tarts, mixed the batters, kneaded and shaped the dough, baked everything all in preparation for when the baker awoke at noon and did his part. His part was to pipe ribbons of icing onto the cookies and cakes and pies, producing magnificent flowers, stars, and delicate whorls. Then he left to rest, leaving the cleaning up for his apprentice.

One afternoon while gathering berries in the wood, the apprentice, whose name was Millie, gasped in shock when an otter leaped from a nearby stream and ran up to her, shouting, ‘I know you! You’re the baker’s apprentice. You work, work, work, don’t you? You know what I bet? I bet you could win the baking competition at the palace next week.’

Millie replied, ‘Of course I couldn’t. My master is gong to enter. He pipes the most glorious flowers.’

‘Listen,’ said the otter. ‘I like you. You work hard. You deserve to win. So here’s all you have to do. Follow my stream to the ocean. Stand on the shore and shout over the waves, “Oven of fire under the sea, take me below and teach me to be the finest baker the Queen will see.”‘

‘Will it really work?’ asked Millie, hoping.

The otter assured her the spell wouldn’t fail and spent half an hour or more helping Millie to memorize the words. It proved to be a difficult task for Millie, for she had no formal education to speak of beyond baking.

Muttering the spell over and over to herself, Millie walked along by the stream until she reached the sea. She stepped to the shore, cleared her throat, and cried out, ‘Oven of fire under the sea, take me below and teach me to be the finest baker the Queen will see.’

A wave swept up, engulfed Millie, and hauled her down to the bottom of the sea. Before she could register shock, surprise, fear and amazement, a beautiful gold and white seahorse, speckled black, swam up to her and nodded. A great bubble of air surrounded Millie and the seahorse, who wasn’t a seahorse any more, but a golden sorceress in a white gown, speckled black. Down a path to the lava ovens Millie was led by the sorceress.

‘You shall be the greatest baker of all,’ said the sorceress. For she knew all about Millie from her friend, the otter.

Oh, the glory of the cakes on the day of the contest at the palace. Tables groaned under the weight and beauty of them. The Queen paced slowly around the table, observing each cake in turn. Then she circled the table once again, this time sampling a morsel from each. She stepped back, closed her eyes, and nodded. ‘This one,’ she said, indicating the half dome rainbow cake.

And so Millie became the Royal baker. She was most beloved by her many apprentices. For you see, she insisted on doing most of the work.

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