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

AmericanGoldfinch10

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

leopard with green eyes

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

penguin

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

seahorse

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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THE MUSHROOM

January 10, 2015

mushroom

In the meadow at the edge of a great pine forest a tiny mushroom poked its head out of the ground.

‘I’m a mushroom,’ it said, surprising itself. ‘Why, I can talk. What a marvel! Say, green shoots, have you ever met a talking mushroom?’

The green shoots all around said not a thing. A few waved, but that was because of a gust of wind, not because they heard the mushroom speak. Not discouraged at all, the mushroom shouted a greeting aimed at the nearest tall pine tree. The pine tree, being regal and not a mere green ground shoot, replied.

‘I hear you,’ it said. ‘You don’t have to shout. And to answer your question, I admit that you are the first mushroom ever to speak in my presence, and that’s saying something, I assure you. For I am 213 years old.’

The pine tree went on and on, telling of this, boasting of that. The mushroom grew restless, so eager was it to have another turn at talking. In fact, the mushroom grew so restless that it wrenched itself out of the ground and began to walk. At once the pine tree fell silent.

‘Oh, look!’ said the mushroom. ‘I can talk AND walk. I must be marvelous. Why, I’m off to make my fortune!’

So saying, the mushroom hurried across the meadow and away. The pine tree, its dignity offended, muttered, ‘I could walk if I felt like it.’ But, of course, that was not true.

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RAGWEN’S ESCAPE

January 1, 2015

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Ragwen, a California mountain elf maiden, lived comfortably in a set of spacious rooms under three boulders in the meadow. Unfortunately she was just the ornament the giant witch from the land of giants was looking for to display in a cage on the window sill close by the giant witch’s favorite cauldron. I say unfortunately because Ragwen was captured and delivered to the giant witch by a free lance ogre that knew of the witch’s ornamental desire and happened to wander through Ragwen’s meadow when Ragwen was napping on the largest of the three boulders.

The witch, humming out of tune and cackling now and again for no reason Ragwen could see, often paused to peer at Ragwen in the little cage on the window sill and say, ‘Oh, dearie, isn’t it smokejoy?’ Not having the slightest idea how to respond to such nonsense, Ragwen merely shrugged. This seemed to satisfy the giant witch.

One day a spark jay, a bird with red wings and a blue head, landed on the window sill. The jay, smarter than two whips, had watched the witch fly off on her giant broom minutes earlier. Bending down to the tiny cage, the jay said, ‘So you’re the ornament they’re all talking about. Puny, aren’t you? But I do like your sash. May I have it?’

Ragwen, smarter than three whips, answered, ‘Of course. All you have to do is bend the bars of the cage, free me, and fly me back to my meadow in California.’

‘Well, I don’t know. California’s a long way from from here,’ mused the jay.

‘I’ll throw in my green cap. It’s made of satin,’ bargained Ragwen.

It’s a deal,’ said the spark jay, and before anyone knew anything, the bars were parted, Ragwen was aboard the bird, and they were off and winging.

Unfortunately, yes, again unfortunately, the giant witch had seen all with her far sight eye and was in hot pursuit. More than hot, flaming was the pursuit. Luckily, yes luckily and not unfortunately, the spark jay, smarter than two whips, led the chase with many a zig and a zag and cleverly climbed higher than high after reaching Ragwen’s meadow. Then, with a swift turn, the spark jay plunged straight down toward the earth, and the raging witch plunged after, drawing nearer and nearer. The spark jay turned aside with a double whip smart twist a bare instant before the bird would have crashed into the ground and been smashed to a pulverine. Unfortunately and luckily, depending on whether you were the witch or Ragwen and the spark jay, the giant witch was unable to make the turn.

Often, for years after, when the spark jay would visit Ragwen, they would sit by the three boulders and gaze out at the brushy end of the giant witch’s giant broom, all that was left to remind them of that time long ago when Ragwen had escaped the window sill of the giant witch.

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THE BROKEN ORNAMENT

December 24, 2014

Broken Christmas ornament

All of the decorations gathered in the closet to discuss what should be done with the broken ornament. The broken ornament waited, trembling in a dark corner.

‘Throw her out of course, but in the nicest possible way,’ twinkled the silver icicles.

‘Broom, are you willing to sweep her outside?’ asked the grand gold globe, largest of the ornaments.

‘I’ll do it if you save me the place on the hearth by the fire. It’s cold out there in the blizzard, you know. My straws could stiffen and break,’ said the broom.

So it was decided. The wreathes and ribbons and lights and garlands and all else shiny and splendid retreated to the storage box, leaving the broom and the broken ornament alone.

‘Well, you got a tough break, kid, and I mean that in many ways, but out you go,’ said the broom.

Whish whoosh swept the broom, and quick as that, the broken ornament was scattered in the snow.

‘Lucky for you the storm stopped,’ said the broom before going into the house and slamming the door.

Oh, fragile despair. The broken green ornament was left without hope to stare at the bleak dark night.

A pair of owls, brothers, happened to swoop by and noticed a green sparkle on the snow. Down they flew and landed near the broken green shards of ornament.

‘This would brighten the old hole in the tree some, wouldn’t it, Rolf?’ said one.

‘That it would, Ralph,’ said the other.

They carefully picked up every last piece of ornament and sped back to their tree. They arranged the ornament inside, placing parts here and there and drawing back to admire the effect.

‘Perfect,’ said Rolf.

‘Spiff,’ said Ralph.

The broken green ornament sparkled all year round for years and years instead of being tucked away cramped for most of the time in a storage box in a closet.

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THE OWL OF WINTER

December 10, 2014

white owl

In the before time, Old Hareek lived with her granddaughter in a small cottage at the edge of a wood. When winter arrived, they tucked themselves inside near the fire and lived on roots and nuts. Lola, the granddaughter, listened entranced to Old Hareek’s tales. So it was that they passed the time.

One evening, when a slender slice of cold moon hung high in the sky, Old Hareek said, ‘Lola, I tell you now that today was your 8th birthday, and it is time for you to hear of the spell under which we have been cast.’

Lola huddled low, and her eyes grew wide, but she said not a word.

‘How fine it was when I had my powers,’ began Old Hareek. ‘Oh,I had them. I was a splendid witch, to be sure, until. Until the white owl challenged me to answer the question. I failed, Lola, and it was then that the owl cast its spell. Doomed to be powerless I was, doomed.’

‘What was the question?’ asked Lola. ‘We’re witches?’

‘We won’t be witches again until the question is answered. I can’t tell you the question. It must be heard from the owl’s very beak. The owl prophesied that I would one day have a granddaughter, and when that granddaughter turned 8 years of age, she, and only she, could break the spell by finding the owl and answering the question.’

Lola jumped up and said, ‘Where is it? I’ll go now.’

‘Yes,’ said Old Hareek. ‘Wear my cloak to keep warm. There is an open meadow in the center of the wood. Go there and spin around three times, calling “Owl, owl, owl”.’

Lola raced from the cottage into the black of night under the sliver moon. Her trail through the snow was straight and true to the meadow in the center of the wood. She spun around three times and cried out, ‘Owl! Owl! Owl!’

Low it came over the snow, white of wing, white of face. It settled softly and regarded Lola. The owl blinked its eyes, and of a sudden gold they glowed.

‘I am Lola, 8 years old and the granddaughter of the one they call Old Hareek. What is the question?’ said Lola boldly.

‘How can you count to ’17’ by ‘2’s?’ asked the owl.*

‘So easy,’ said Lola, who was quite clever with numbers. ‘Start at 1/2. 2 times 1/2 is 1. Then go 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17.’

The owl was astonished speechless and flew off in ragged confusion. Lola felt powers stirring and ran home, growing all the while. She burst into the cottage to find the 8 year old Hareek grinning at her. Old Lola looked down at her wrinkled, twisted hands.

*Thanks to L. Frank Baum for the question.

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CRANBERRIES 3

December 5, 2014

3 cranberries

We are the cranberries 3

Not one of us has a knee

We live in a log not far from the bog

And dine on peppermint tea

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We are the cranberries 3

You won’t find us climbing a tree

We roll all around the nice soggy ground

The finest of berries are we, are we

The finest of berries are we

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